The business for next week will be:
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
World Book Day’s campaign aims to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. It also offers a great opportunity for many children to go to school dressed as their favourite character. If this Chamber were to join in this morning, my choice would be for the Mad Hatter’s tea party as a theme, with my friend Pete Wishart taking the leading role.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Balance for Better”—promoting a more inclusive world, where equality for women is a right, not a privilege. A balanced world is a better world, and the UK has some way to go until we have a 50:50 Parliament. This is something I hope all MPs will push for so that future Parliaments look more like the society they represent.
Speaking of balance and equality, I am delighted that my hon. Friend Bim Afolami is the first male Member to take up proxy voting for baby leave. I am sure we all congratulate him and his family on the arrival of their new baby. We also send our warmest wishes to Luciana Berger and her family on the birth of their baby.
Last but by no means least, it is Apprenticeship Week, so I want to thank the many apprentices working in the House to support the work of MPs and of Parliament. I am lucky enough to have the support of apprentices in my brilliant Leader of the House’s office, as well as having my ninth annual parliamentary apprentice who is doing a superb job for my constituents.
I thank the Leader of the House for the very short business for next week and her very long speech on various other matters. I thought this was business questions.
I am absolutely staggered to hear what the Leader of the House says about the business next week. It would have been more appropriate to fulfil what the Prime Minister set out in her statement to this House on
The Leader of the House seems to be openly in defiance of the Prime Minister. We also see that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs appears to be announcing that the Easter recess will be cancelled. Will the Leader of the House confirm that he said to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that
“there may not be an Easter recess”?
More Government chaos: the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill was pulled before it was debated on Monday. May I ask the Leader of the House why, because a very important cross-party amendment was going to be put to the House? Will she say why, and when is it likely to come back?
Something else that needs to come back to this House is the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—[Interruption.] I am really sorry, but the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, has had her go. I need to ask the Leader of the House some questions, so would she mind not speaking so loudly?
Something else that has to be brought back to the House is the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. I do not know whether the Leader of the House heard the point of order from the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday, but he suggested that the Secretary of State is meeting individuals privately and has not said when he is coming to the Committee. My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn has made it absolutely clear that the Committee wants to hear from the Secretary of State before the vote on Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that the Brexit Secretary—with or without his other half, the Attorney General—appears before the Committee, particular as one of the Government’s red lines was lost in the House of Lords yesterday?
We know that the Government have paid £33 million to settle a lawsuit. Labour Members have totalled up the amount of money that the Secretary of State for Transport has cost the taxpayer, including in his previous guises, and it amounts to £2.7 billion. Imagine if all that was given to police officers, bringing them back on the beat. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said that there is “some link” between violent crime on the streets and police numbers. Of course there is—everybody can see that. It does not matter whether the Prime Minister is in Cabinet Office briefing room A, B or C, the fact is that west midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson has asked for £964,000 to set up a violence reduction unit. All PCCs should be given funds straight away, before another young person dies this weekend. Yesterday, my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker raised a point of order to ask when the Home Secretary or Prime Minister will come to the House to update it on knife crime.
There has been yet another defeat in the courts—yesterday the High Court ruled that the Government’s fracking guidelines were unlawful. Mr Justice Dove said that the consultation was
“flawed in its design and processes”.
May we have a statement on the Government’s policy—well, lack of policy—on fracking, given that High Court judgment?
It may be the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act 1968, but the Government’s “hostile environment” policy has caused immeasurable misery for ethnic minorities. A challenge by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that the Government’s right to rent scheme is “discriminatory” and in breach of human rights laws, and that evidence “strongly showed” that landlords were discriminating against potential tenants because of their nationality and ethnicity. That, again, is a judgment of the High Court, so may we have a statement on the change in policy following that ruling?
The Public Accounts Committee has published its report on the Windrush generation and the Home Office, and stated that the Home Office has failed to take ownership of the problems it created. The Home Office considered 11,800 Caribbean cases, but failed to renew around 160,000 non-Caribbean Commonwealth cases. When will the Government end their discriminatory polices?
Last week the Leader of the House said that the United Kingdom is doing extremely well, and that we are well prepared for exiting the European Union. I think she needs to correct the record, because the Institute for Government identified eight red areas where the Government will not be able to mitigate fully the major negative impacts of a no-deal scenario in 2019. On Tuesday, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs warned that businesses in Northern Ireland will not be ready for new border procedures if there is no deal. Which is it? The Leader of the House mentioned World Book Day—is she “Alice Through the Looking Glass” or is she going through the cupboard into Narnia?
I thank Sir Amyas Morse for all his public service. He said that not enough Ministers “sweat blood” over how they spend public money. That lesson needs to be learned by us all, and particularly the Secretary of State for Transport.
We are celebrating International Women’s Day. It was women’s pay day yesterday, which means that as of today women will start being paid for the work they do—they will not be paid for the work they did in the first 65 days because the current pay gap stands at 17.9%. May we have a statement on how the Government will close that gap? We also celebrate the next generation of young women activists, including Greta Thunberg who started a movement to combat climate change. Our young people are getting ready for their day of action on
Just before the Leader of the House responds, I thank her very much, as will other colleagues, for what she said about World Book Day, and I report that my daughter has today gone to school dressed as Pippi Longstocking. I am sure other Members will have examples with which they can regale the House.
That is very reassuring, and not at all surprising, Mr Speaker. I am sure the whole House will celebrate the fact that maths A-level is now one of the most popular subjects for students to take, and the whole country can be proud that more children are getting a serious and good education. Thank you for sharing that, Mr Speaker—I shall not share what my children have gone to school, as because they have not dressed up. That is mainly because they are 23, 20 and 15—[Laughter.] It would be a little odd! They used to go as things like Peter Pan. It used to be fun. I remember making many a costume, but sadly those days are behind me.
The hon. Lady raised a number of extremely important questions. She asked about next steps. She will appreciate that the Prime Minister’s commitments mean that I have had to announce the business as we know it today. As she appreciates, it is the Government’s intention to seek to win the meaningful vote on Tuesday. Should it be the case that the Government do win it, I would then need to come forward—if I had already announced contingent business, I would have to come forward to change it. What we are expecting, and what the Government are working towards, is winning that meaningful vote on Tuesday. As the hon. Lady will know, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Prime Minister herself are very carefully seeking agreement from the European Commission and the EU27 to resolve the outstanding issues on the backstop. It is very important that she understands the reason why the business has been announced as it has.
On recess dates, the hon. Lady will appreciate that for decades, if not longer, Leaders of the House have had to say that recess dates are announced and will then take place subject to the progress of the House. I am sure she appreciates that I will have to make that comment to her again.
On the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill and the fact that that business did not go forward, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend Mel Stride, said on Monday, it is right that we take the time to look properly at the proposed amendments and consider their impact with the Crown dependencies, which are separate jurisdictions with their own democratically elected Governments. Taking the time to review those amendments was therefore extremely important.
The hon. Lady asks if the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will appear before the Select Committee. I understand that he has agreed to do so. As she will appreciate, his absolute priority is to seek the support of the European Union for the changes that the UK Government are looking for to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. He always shows himself willing to appear before this House for scrutiny. He has been absolutely assiduous in his determination to be open to scrutiny at all times.
The hon. Lady asks about the two debates earlier this week, on Eurotunnel and the
The hon. Lady asks about fracking. She will be aware that the Government are determined that, as we move towards a carbon-free future, we will need to continue to rely heavily on gas for some years. Gas is the cleanest carbon fossil fuel and it is essential that we take our gas security seriously. Fracking offers not only a UK-grown source of gas security, but huge opportunities for economic growth in those areas that have it.
On the right to rent, the hon. Lady will be aware that the Government are challenging the judgment. The Government do not agree with the findings and that will continue to be looked at.
Finally, the hon. Lady made a point about the pay gap for women. She will be aware that the Government have brought in mandatory reporting on the pay gap for large employers, with unlimited fines for those who do not comply. The official overall gender pay gap in the UK is 17.9%, which is a record low. There is much more to do, but on the Government side of the House we are committed to reducing and eliminating the gender pay gap.
For years I have waited, with a degree of patience that verges on indulgence, for any glimmer of insight or glint of inspiration from Caroline Lucas. Finally, listening to the wireless this week, the eureka moment came, when she persuasively backed a campaign for all children to be taught something of natural history—our native trees, birds, flora and fauna. One might describe it as “the wind in the willows”. Will the Leader of the House bring an Education Minister to this Chamber to say how schoolchildren will learn about those things, not because they are useful but just because they are lovely?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that learning about natural history—and, indeed, the history of our country and of the world—is absolutely vital for the education of young people. In particular, in the context of the extraordinary peace that has broken out between him and Caroline Lucas, I am sure that there is a campaign there somewhere. If they perhaps wanted to seek a Westminster Hall debate, I am sure that that would be widely welcomed across the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I, too, welcome International Women’s Day and join the celebrations around World Book Day today. If we are looking for further Lewis Carroll characters, perhaps we should look at the Government to find out who is the mad March Hare, and possibly who are Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
I suppose this is about the closest that the business statement will ever come to being a work of fiction—it is sort of Walter Mitty meets “Waiting for Godot”. What it is not is a tablet of stone. I do not think that anyone in the House believes that the statement will survive the rigours of next week, because Tuesday is when the Prime Minister finally faces her Waterloo, and it is not going to end well. With 22 days left before we leave, on Tuesday the road finally runs out and we approach the end of these chaotic, clueless Brexit days. In the intervening weeks, the Government have wasted all their available time by trying to make their rotten deal more palatable to their Back Benchers while hoping beyond hope that the EU somehow bends to their will. Neither of those things looks like it is going to happen, and the Government will go down to another glorious defeat.
There has been lots of talk about postponing that vote, and there is even more talk that this fiction could indeed be the business for next week, and that if the Government are defeated on Tuesday, they will renege on their commitment to hold consecutive votes on taking no deal off the table and extending article 50. We have been here before with the Leader of the House, when she said to me categorically at business questions that the last meaningful vote would go ahead, only for it to be pulled a couple of days later. While we are grateful for all the reassurances that this will go ahead next week, will she write to party leaders today with a cast-iron commitment that the sequence of events, as put forward by the Prime Minister, will be honoured in full? We need to have it written down that under no circumstances will the meaningful vote be pulled and the subsequent votes taken away.
If there is a defeat on the meaningful vote, we must have those other motions. The Leader of the House must say to the House that they will all be amendable, and that the Government will fully honour the outcome as determined by the membership of this House, without any equivocation. If she will do that today, we can take this work of fiction off the table and have it as nothing other than a little, depressing footnote to the bounties of World Book Day.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his very precise and specific question. I am very pleased to be able to confirm to him that each of the motions that the Prime Minister has committed to next week would be amendable. The Prime Minister has committed to a second meaningful vote by
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on re-establishing a new town building programme in the UK? When I represented the new town of Basildon, I found the development corporation and the new town commission to be extremely effective in delivering affordable homes in large numbers and in building a vibrant community, certainly while I was there. Can we have a programme started again?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about new towns—although I would have expected him to talk about new cities, which is what he usually does. I had the pleasure recently of visiting the new Bicester garden town with my excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, who is sitting just in front of him. The Government have backed new towns through their garden communities programme, with 23 towns and villages in the current plans and more to be considered. We have also committed a new £10 million fund to help local areas prepare proposals for development corporations, because we recognise the need for strong delivery vehicles for significant new developments. He will have opportunities to put his views on those proposals in due course.
I was aware before I left the house that it was World Book Day, but I was still glad to be joined on the bus by the Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter, Snow White and Princess Elsa from “Frozen”—some were not readily recognisable, but I certainly recognised the Cat in the Hat.
I am aware that Back-Bench business can be a moveable feast, but if it comes to pass that the debate scheduled for next week has to move, we would look to get repeat time as early as possible, because it is an important debate about the appraisal process for the treatment of rare diseases, and the obstacles to funding for appropriate treatments for muscular dystrophy, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis and so on.
I would like to give notice of another matter. We have had on the stocks for some time now an application from Dame Cheryl Gillan and friends for a debate on world autism awareness, this year being the 10th anniversary of the Autism Act 2009, and we would prefer a debate before World Autism Awareness Week, which is on 1 to
As ever, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me prior notice of upcoming debates. He mentions the Back-Bench debate proposed for next week on rare diseases. I have two young people in my constituency with cystic fibrosis who are both desperate for access to the Orkambi drug, so it is my very dear wish that that debate go ahead. It will not surprise him to know that I am also extremely keen that it go ahead because that will mean that the House will have passed a previous motion. I will take careful account of what he is asking for.
Can we have a debate in Government time to discuss the breakdown of the voisinage agreement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland? The impounding of two Northern Ireland fishing vessels recently shows the Republic of Ireland imposing a hard border while its vessels are still allowed to fish in UK waters off the coast of Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend raises a very important matter, and I know she is very knowledgeable in this area. The voisinage arrangement has been in place since 1965 but was suspended by Ireland following a decision by the Irish Supreme Court in October 2016, as she knows. On
Unfortunately, skin cancer is very much on the rise in the UK, partly because lots of us have skin like mine with freckles and fair hair and are not really built for the sun, but still go on holiday to Spain and other places and do not cover up properly when the sun is out.
May we have a debate on skin cancer, so that more people can be made aware that if they have a dodgy mole, going to the doctor can save their life if it is caught very early; so that everyone covers up their kids, particularly when the sun comes up; and so that no one uses a tanning machine, because, frankly, those things are death machines?
While I am here, let me say this. I am nobody special—I am just one of the many, many hundreds of people who have received diagnoses of skin cancer in the last few weeks, including other Members—but I am enormously grateful for the love that many people have shown in the House, some of them people to whom I have been phenomenally rude across the Chamber. I am not going to stop the being rude, but may I just say thank you to those who have been truly, truly lovely, including the Leader of the House herself?
Let me say first to the hon. Gentleman that he is very special to me, and he is very special to many other people both in the House and outside it. He has made some incredibly important points, not the least of which was that his own skin cancer was under his hair. We often put sun cream on the exposed bits, but not necessarily in our hair, because that would be slightly odd. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to wear a hat.
I am pleased to hear it. I hope it is one of those Foreign Legion hats with the collars that we make our five-year-olds wear.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point. I will look very carefully at whether we can provide Government time for a debate, but in the meantime I urge him to seek a Westminster Hall debate. I think that sometimes when one of us in the House has a very personal experience we can send a clear message to which people will listen, and I commend him for raising his experience here.
The whole House sends good wishes to the hon. Gentleman. It is good to see him back in his place—and it would not do if there was nobody being rude to people; it just would not do at all.
As someone who has not always agreed on everything with Chris Bryant since we have been in the House together, I too join the chorus of welcome. It is fantastic to see him in his place, and we all admire him for the courage with which he has spoken up to warn others of the dangers of this dreadful disease. Now, that is it for 18 years.
I understand the argument that the Leader of the House has advanced, but the truth is that the Government’s Brexit policy is in chaos. Collective responsibility has disintegrated, junior Ministers run amok—some of them threaten to resign about 27 times, but never have the guts to go through with it—senior Ministers blackmail the Prime Minister in Sunday newspapers and nothing happens to any of them, but a popular parliamentary private secretary is sacked for having the temerity to table an amendment that was in line with Government policy, which the Government then adopted with a Division in the subsequent debate. This is a farce.
May I make a positive suggestion? Given that the Cabinet members are so divided, would they like to come down to Rayleigh and sit in on a meeting of its town council? It is well run, its members are all on the same side—pretty much—it does not leak, it makes decisions, and by God it sticks to them.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving us both barrels. Mr Speaker said earlier that my right hon. Friend was no retiring delicate flower, and I think that that is absolutely the case. He is right to raise his concerns in the Chamber, but I must say to him that I remain absolutely committed to supporting the Prime Minister, to delivering on the referendum, and to ensuring that we leave the European Union on
I think that the hon. Lady will have heard a number of Members agreeing with her that we should celebrate our membership, and being one of the original signatories, every day. We have enjoyed the protection—the mutual protection—of NATO for many decades, and it is right that we continue to support it as a core part of the UK’s mutual defence. As the hon. Lady will know, we are committed to meeting our NATO pledge to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence in every year of the current Parliament, and the UK remains completely committed to NATO. I will certainly take away her request for a debate and see what can be done.
I feel that before I say anything else, I must put on record that I found out today that my daughter—although she did not dress up as a fictional character for World Book Day—is adorned from head to toe in Peppa Pig paraphernalia, which does not surprise me in the slightest.
May I associate myself with the Leader of the House’s earlier comments about apprenticeship week? The international engineering business Score Group plc, whose headquarters is in my constituency, is the largest private employer of apprentices in Scotland. It has 30 facilities around the globe, including one in Brighouse, Calder Valley, where an apprenticeship open evening was held on Tuesday. A similar event is to be held this evening in Peterhead, in my constituency, and I hope to arrive home in time to attend it. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the award-winning efforts of Score Group in this respect, and may we have a debate on how we can encourage more young people to embark on engineering and technical roles through apprenticeships?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Score Group on its brilliant efforts to encourage more people to take up apprenticeships. He is absolutely right to highlight the fact that, particularly when it comes to the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and the gaining of technical skills, apprenticeships are often a good choice for young people. As he will know, there have been more than 1.6 million apprenticeship starts since May 2015, and we can all be proud of that, because they are giving more and more young people a good start in life. Apprenticeships are devolved in Scotland, but I welcome my hon. Friend’s request for a debate, and thank him for expressing his desire to see more young people enter the engineering and technical industries.
My constituent Connor MacLeod, who is 23, has Asperger’s and type 1 diabetes. He cannot monitor his own blood sugar levels, and has issues with understanding written and oral questions and requests. He cannot prepare or cook a meal or plan a journey without supervision, and is heavily dependent on his parents. Ewan Lamont, who is 47, suffered brain damage at the age of three weeks as a result of meningitis, and now lives in supported accommodation. He has issues with comprehension, reading, writing and planning journeys, and relies on his elderly mother. Both were awarded zero points in their assessments for the personal independence payment. The changes announced this week are welcome, but they are not good enough. May we have a debate on the wide-ranging issues relating to PIP, as a matter of urgency?
The hon. Gentleman has raised very concerning constituency issues, and he is absolutely right to do so. I am glad that he welcomes the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that we are improving the system by scrapping regular PIP reviews for those with the greatest needs, but he is right to cite cases in which there is concern about the assessment itself. If he will write to me following business questions, I will take up those specific points with the Department on his behalf.
The coroner of north Staffordshire, Mr Ian Smith, who is retiring—I congratulate him warmly on his work and thank him for it, along with my hon. Friend Sir William Cash—has raised the problem of the lack of availability of pathologists to coroners conducting inquests. May we have an urgent debate on the matter? It means that funerals are being delayed, sometimes for weeks, which is causing huge concern and distress to families whose loved ones have passed away.
My hon. Friend has raised a very concerning issue. I pay tribute to the amazing work done by coroners: I have had something to do with them myself in connection with constituency matters, and I know that they do an incredible amount of work that is often quite stressful and harrowing. It would probably be best for my hon. Friend to raise the issue in an Adjournment debate, so that he can discuss it directly with Ministers.
Last week I asked the Leader of the House when the review on expulsions would be brought forward to the House. The Leader of the House, surprisingly, said that I needed to give advance notice of this question, so I have written to the Leader of the House and will ask her again this week: when will we be getting the Timpson review into exclusions? This is extremely important.
I did see the hon. Lady’s tweet saying that she did not know she had to give prior notice. Of course she does not have to give prior notice. My point was merely that she was asking a question about a particular date, and since I am not a mind-reader, if she wanted a specific answer she could have asked me and I could have come to the Chamber well prepared. So the specific answer I can give her now is exactly what the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, said in the urgent question: it is expected that the Timpson review into exclusions will come soon, but my hon. Friend does not have an exact date for it. [Interruption.] Well, the reality is that there is not an exact date for that report. When I see the hon. Lady’s letter I will try to find out if there is any further clarity on when that can be brought to the House, but I absolutely accept her desire to see urgent evidence on the issue of a link between exclusions and what happens to young people. She is absolutely right to be so passionate about the problems with serious violence, and I commend her for that.
I was pleased to support the ten-minute rule Bill of my hon. Friend Vicky Ford on low-level letterboxes, and I am delighted that that has come to fruition and that there will be changes. However, I was shocked yesterday to receive a letter from Royal Mail informing me that no mail would now be delivered to one estate in my constituency and that the residents would have to go to the Royal Mail depot to collect their post. The reason for this is that the postie who delivers that part of the round was threatened with a knife at his throat on the estate and, as a result, Royal Mail has withdrawn postal services. May we have a debate or a statement in Government time on the threats our posties face in carrying out their duty to the wider public?
My hon. Friend raises a really concerning case; it is appalling to hear that a postal worker would be threatened with a knife in that way. That is appalling when they are doing their best to give a good service to all residents. It equally seems very harsh on the residents of that estate to have the entire postal service withdrawn. I encourage my hon. Friend to raise that matter directly on
Depression amongst men and women is one of the hidden ailments in society in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The smile often hides the true fact that the life and soul of the party is in reality empty, exhausted and perhaps even hurting physically. People can be active socially but inside are depressed, numb and self-loathing. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on this matter?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue and is absolutely right to do so. He will be aware that the Government are putting a record £12 billion into mental health issues to try to achieve parity of esteem between mental health and physical health issues, and at the heart of the NHS long-term plan is the biggest expansion of mental health services in a generation. It will see 350,000 more children, at least 380,000 more adults and, very dear to my own heart, 24,000 more new and expectant mothers able to access mental health services; that is very important. It will also see 24/7 mental health crisis care for adults, children and young people rolled out through NHS 111, giving them access to vital support when they need it, and for the first time ever we will have comprehensive access standards for mental health. So we are seeing change; it is absolutely vital that we do, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue.
On the day before International Women’s Day will the Leader of the House join me in recognising that there are currently almost 4,000 women in prison in this country, many of whom have been victims of domestic abuse or require support for mental health or drug and alcohol addiction? Will she also recognise that at least 17,000 children are affected each year by maternal imprisonment? May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the female offender strategy?
The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue. Of course, quite often those women have very young children so the impact of being in prison is not just on them; it is on their families, with the breakdown of the family that ensues. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have prepared a draft Domestic Abuse Bill that will be receiving pre-legislative scrutiny. That will radically change the way that women are protected from the kind of domestic violence and abuse issues that all too often wind up with them being imprisoned because of retribution or lack of access to justice. The hon. Lady is right to raise the Government’s strategy on women prisoners, and I will certainly see whether Government time can be found for that.
May we have a debate—another debate—on Home Office incompetence? I have a constituent who is going to become an overstayer in the country today because she cannot sit her Home Office life-in-the-UK test as the same Home Office has failed to return her expired passport. We have had no progress via the hotline, so may we at least have a Minister come to the House and take some responsibility for this shambles?
I am very sorry to hear that; I, too, have had cases where passports have not been returned in good time. I am also sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman has not had any success with the MPs’ hotline, which is designed to enable MPs to intervene on behalf of constituents. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman raises this directly with the Home Office and if he wants to write to me after business questions I can do that for him.
It is nice that the Leader of the House talks about World Book Day, but 700 libraries have closed since 2010 under this Government. May we have a debate about that, because earlier this week the National Literacy Trust released research showing that a quarter of eight to 18-year-olds now read daily, compared with 43% back in 2015? That is a pretty shocking statistic; is not the loss of our libraries a lot to with that?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s love of libraries, and he will be aware that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport works with the Libraries Taskforce to support libraries, and the Government are committed to seeking a sustainable future for them. He will no doubt appreciate that the change in the reading levels has a lot to do with social media and so on—I am constantly struggling to get my own daughter to read a book rather than go on Instagram, for example—so there are challenges. The hon. Gentleman is also right to raise the importance of libraries not just for reading books, but also as community hubs. Many other activities take place in libraries, and it is vital that we ensure that local authorities in England keep up their statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.
May we have a debate in Government time on postcode discrimination? The Leader of the House will know that I have raised many times the issue of unfair delivery surcharges which result in £38 million of additional costs for Scots citizens every year. Is she content that her Government’s latest dismissive response to my MSP colleague, Richard Lochhead, is to tell Scots that they will just have to “shop around”, rather than taking action on this outrage?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s concern at the postcode lottery around delivery charges to different locations. He will appreciate that there are obviously different costs incurred in delivering to more remote areas, but the principle of a single charge where that has been agreed should be upheld. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to perhaps seek an Adjournment debate so that he can discuss this properly directly with Ministers, who could then see what more can be done.
Today is indeed World Book Day, and I am sure we all want to thank teachers, parents, mentors and schools in our constituencies for their efforts in delivering quality literacy education to young and old alike. Shockingly, the UK ranks 17th for literacy out of 34 OECD countries, and one in five children in the UK cannot read well by the age of 11. Today sees the release of the incredibly moving documentary “H is for Harry”, described by The Sunday Times as
“casting a spotlight on one of the biggest education scandals in Britain”,
It was filmed at Reach Academy in my constituency and tells the story of 11-year-old Harry’s struggle to learn to read, and indeed that of his father and grandfather. Following the release of that documentary, may we have a debate about intergenerational illiteracy, which is more widespread than we realise, its impact on social isolation, life chances and wellbeing, and the increasingly urgent need for much more early intervention?
I am really sympathetic to the hon. Lady. Through the work that I have been doing for the Prime Minister in an inter-ministerial group looking at early years, I have found that one of the challenges that parents often face is their child having delayed speech. That has an impact on the child’s ability to learn, and therefore to learn to read. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that we need to look at earlier interventions. On the other hand, I am sure she will join me in celebrating the fact that 1.9 million more children are being taught in good or outstanding schools than was the case in 2010, that 86% of all schools are rated as good or outstanding, up from 68% in 2010, and that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others is narrowing. All these outcomes represent a good direction of travel, but she is absolutely right to raise the importance of literacy at an early age.
I have engaged in extensive correspondence with successive Secretaries of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to urge them to introduce a cap on the price of resale tickets on online platforms, as that is the only way to protect consumers from the extortion and sharp practice of big business. I have been told repeatedly that imposing such a cap would not work, but I have been given no explanation as to why it would not work. Will the Leader of the House make a statement acknowledging that the current system is not working and explaining why such a cap on the price of resale tickets would not work? Will she work with me to stand up for consumers?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to stand up for consumers, and we are all aware of issues relating to the unfair resale of whatever it might be—it is often concert and theatre tickets. I recommend that she seeks an Adjournment debate, so that she can put her points directly to Ministers to see what more they can do.
I certainly join the hon. Lady in welcoming that new strategy from the Welsh Government. It is incredibly important that we do everything we can to protect the mental health of young people. It is pleasing to see that individual universities right across the United Kingdom are doing more to try to support the mental health of their students. It is right that they should do that. Equally, I am sure that she will welcome the fact that the Government are putting a record £12 billion of investment into mental health and that we are developing a 24/7 health crisis care service that will be accessible to adults, children and young people. It will be rolled out through the NHS 111 service and give people access to vital crisis care whenever they need it.
May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of, and investment in, cervical cancer charities? Local charities such as the Michelle Henderson Cervical Cancer Trust in my constituency and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust play a huge role in reducing the rates of cervical cancer, but the uptake of cervical cancer tests is at a 20-year low. Many years ago, when I was in my teens, I was unfortunate enough to contract the human papilloma virus. I went on to give my cells to develop the new vaccine, and I am very proud of that. That vaccine is saving lives, but young women are still contracting cervical cancer and dying because they are not going to get their cervical smears. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss this important issue?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that having a cervical smear is a critical thing that every woman can do to protect herself. I am sure all hon. Members would encourage every woman to please go and get that smear and not to let time go past, because there are often no symptoms until it is too late. I would also like to commend the hon. Lady for her own personal contribution to ensuring that others do not have to go through what she went through. I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can contribute their thoughts on this important issue.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of knife crime, which has been the subject of much debate this week. Yesterday, the officers of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime, which I chair, wrote to the Prime Minister with a range of suggestions and asking for a meeting. They suggested that, alongside her summit, she should host an event with young people who have been affected by knife crime, so that they could put their point of view across, as that is also important. Will the Leader of the House convey that message to No. 10? Will she also tell us whether she can guarantee that the Offensive Weapons Bill, which has been through the Lords and is due to come back to this place, will come back before the Easter recess?
I commend the hon. Lady for her efforts. There is huge concern across the House about the recent spate of knife crimes and the loss of so many young lives. What a terrible waste. I will certainly draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the letter that the hon. Lady has written asking for a meeting with young people. She will be aware that the Prime Minister will be holding a summit in Downing Street with community leaders, including the police, in the coming days to look at what more can be done. She will also be aware that we have published a serious violence strategy and established the serious violence taskforce. With regard to the Offensive Weapons Bill, we will be bringing it back to the Commons as soon as possible. I cannot absolutely commit to that happening prior to the Easter recess, simply because we do not know what the course of events will be following next week’s votes, but I will certainly take her request back to the business managers with real urgency, and we will see what can be done.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House may be aware that the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims recently came together and published a definition of Islamophobia. Given the crisis that the Conservative party finds itself in over Islamophobia, does she agree that it is right we should have a debate in the House on Islamophobia?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. I am sure she will be pleased to see that the Conservative party is taking very strong action in any cases of Islamophobia that we identify. We have been extremely robust and urgent in our response to this. She raises the important point about whether we should seek a definition of Islamophobia. I encourage her to seek an Adjournment debate in the first instance so that she can discuss with Foreign Office Ministers whether that would be a useful way forward.