The business for next week is as follows:
As colleagues will be aware, discussions between the two main parties on the subject of EU exit are ongoing. Subject to the progress of those talks, there is the possibility that business will alter, and I will of course update the House as soon as possible in such an eventuality. We do want to enable all colleagues to have a break during holy week, but I would note that we will need to retain flexibility to potentially sit on Monday and Tuesday of that week—15 and
Subject to the agreement of the House, Westminster Hall will not sit during holy week, following a discussion with the Chairman of Ways and Means, in order to make sure that as many House staff as possible get a well-deserved break.
Mr Speaker, yesterday was the third anniversary of the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran. We continue to call for her release, and the Foreign Office is doing all it can to make sure that happens as soon as possible.
This week is also Autism Awareness Week, which gives me the opportunity to congratulate all those who have taken part in fundraising events this week, and to thank all those working so hard to support autistic people and their families.
Order. Today is not as heavily subscribed as sometimes, but the first of the two Backbench Business Committee debates is very heavily subscribed, and of course there is a ministerial statement to follow, so I think the focus today is on brevity.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business. I appreciate that it is difficult to have settled business, but this is yet another sign that the Government cannot govern, because again the Prime Minister has run down the clock. However, I have to say that we have not had an Opposition day—there are Backbench Business Committee debates and general debates—so may I ask again for an Opposition day?
Last week, I asked whether we could have a statement from the Government on the timetable for the progress of the key legislation that needs to pass through Parliament before exit day on
Will the Leader of the House update the House on whether she is confident that all the necessary Brexit statutory instruments will go through the House before exit day? The Brexit process has been a shambles. There is no solution, and Ministers are resigning. The Prime Minister has now decided that she wants to stop speaking Klingon—or should I say ERGon—to the European Research Group and start speaking to the Opposition. In her statement—made at No. 10 Downing Street, not to the House—she failed explicitly to rule out leaving the EU with no deal. The Bank of England estimates that the worst case scenario, involving border delays and a loss of market confidence in the UK, could result in the economy contracting by 5%. Nearly 30% of our food comes from the EU, and some imports are particularly high at the moment because they involve foods that we cannot grow ourselves at this time of year, such as lettuce, tomatoes and soft fruit. Academics at Imperial College say that two extra minutes spent checking each vehicle at Dover and Folkestone could lead to traffic queues of 29 miles on nearby roads.
In the meantime, my constituents want to know why spending per pupil has fallen by 8% since 2010. The Leader of the House has mentioned the fact that it is Autism Awareness Week. It was announced today that 17% cuts had been made for those with special needs in the past four years. Just last week, a constituent of mine was in tears because her 11-year-old daughter has to take two buses or have a 40-minute car journey to school because all the local schools are full. May we have a statement on school places?
We had Home Office questions on Monday, but no statement on knife crime. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker had asked for a statement, but nothing was forthcoming. One question to the Prime Minister is not sufficient. This is more than a public health issue; it is about giving young people facilities and community places where they can find their talents. So could the Leader of the House ensure that we have a statement, either from the Prime Minister or from the Home Secretary, on the knife crime summit?
It is the 20th anniversary of the national minimum wage, which was introduced by a Labour Government and opposed by the Conservative party. When will the Government implement the real living wage, which should be our goal?
We celebrate today the 70th anniversary of NATO. That treaty was signed by a Labour Foreign Secretary. The Leader of the House will be interested in the report published today by the Defence Committee entitled “Missile Misdemeanours: Russia and the INF treaty”. The Chair of the Committee, Dr Lewis, says that the continent of Europe is less safe as a result of the Russian decision to develop missiles in contravention of the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty. We are not a party to the treaty, but the Committee says that the Government need to push NATO for a proportionate response that sends a firm message. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this important report?
The Ministry of Defence has instigated an inquiry into the use of a picture of the Leader of the Opposition for target practice. I am sure that the Leader of the House will condemn that activity. While the investigation is ongoing, will she ensure that the following questions are put to the Secretary of State for Defence? First, what action will be taken under section 19 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 against the soldiers on the grounds of good order and service discipline? Secondly, will the commanding officers and officials higher up the chain in the Ministry of Defence take responsibility, and how will they prevent this from happening further? Thirdly, can they confirm who supplied the image, and can they confirm that there are no other such photos circulating among the armed forces? If the Secretary of State for Defence or the Prime Minister would like to apologise to the Leader of the Opposition, I am sure that that would be very welcome. In the meantime, we would like a response to those questions.
Will the Justice Secretary meet my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper? We rightly paid tribute to her resilience yesterday when she received the House’s appreciation. She may have some suggestions about improvements to the trial process, given the terrible things she was put under while she was waiting for the result.
I do not know whether you are aware of this, Mr Speaker, but BBC Parliament has had excellent ratings. I want to thank my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and Sir Oliver Letwin for their great courage in ensuring that the Government do not put our economy at risk with no deal. Once again, I thank the talented and dedicated staff of the House for ensuring that our business was done.
Finally, it is cherry blossom time, so I urge hon. Members to go outside and look at the blossom.
Order. I do beg the Leader of the House’s pardon. People who came in after the statement was issued cannot expect to be called and should not stand. We really must observe the basic principle of respect. The Leader of the House delivers a statement and it is responded to, but people cannot wander into the Chamber and expect to be called. It is quite wrong.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was just going to say to the hon. Lady that I would love to be outside looking at the cherry blossom, as I am sure we all would. Maybe that is what some colleagues were doing before they wandered into the Chamber.
The hon. Lady asked about key legislation and the Brexit Bills, particularly the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill. As she will know, we want to consider the amendments made in the other place carefully. That Bill is relatively straightforward and seeks to deal with in-flight files during the Brexit transition period, but one amendment would have a more significant impact on the rights of the Crown dependencies, so it is right for the Government to take a bit of time to consider that properly. However, we will bring the Bill back in due course.
The hon. Lady asked about other Brexit primary legislation, and she will be aware that, in addition to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, nine other exit-related Bills are in Parliament or have already received Royal Assent. The Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018, the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, and the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019 are all now law. The Bills still in the Commons or the Lords are the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, as has been mentioned, and the Trade Bill. Progress is being made, and they are all scheduled to receive Royal Assent before they are needed.
The hon. Lady also asked for an update on the secondary legislation. Almost all the Brexit SIs needed for exit day have been laid—around 515 of about 550. The programme of secondary legislation is in hand and is almost complete. The remaining SIs are planned for completion when they need it.
On schools, I am sure that the hon. Lady will want to celebrate, as I do, the fact that 1.9 million more children are being taught in good or outstanding schools. We created 920,000 more school places between 2010 and 2018, and the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others has narrowed. All those things are important to give young people a good start in life.
The hon. Lady asked for a statement on the knife crime summit. I will certainly take that request away, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will want to update the House.
The hon. Lady mentioned the national living wage, and I am sure that she will share in the delight that it went up on Monday by the highest rate since it was first introduced in 2015, increasing by almost 5% to £8.21 an hour.
The hon. Gentleman shouts from a sedentary position, but it was actually George Osborne as Chancellor under a Conservative Government who introduced the national living wage—[Interruption.] No, I am talking about the national living wage. Full-time workers receiving the national living wage will now be more than £2,750 a year better off compared with 2015.
Finally, the hon. Lady raised the serious issue of a photograph of the Leader of the Opposition being used for target practice. That is utterly unacceptable, and I condemn it in the strongest terms, as I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members would. It is vital that anybody with any kind of role in public life is extremely careful about the sort of images and portrayals that they put forward. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has written to the shadow Secretary of State to respond to the points made to him.
The brevity tsar himself, Sir Desmond Swayne.
You missed it, Mr Speaker, because your focus was properly on what was happening in the Chamber, but the prolonged demonstration in the Public Gallery was a function of the fact that, first, the police had to be called and, secondly, the police, frankly, have a different way of operating and different priorities. Our Doorkeepers are trained in the practice but no longer carry it out, because the House will not insure them. Can we have a statement next week on how this is to be remedied?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter and I am tempted to mention the bare cheek of such a demonstration in the Public Gallery. The police certainly had to deal with a very sticky matter. I will be seeing the director general later today to talk about what more we can do.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for what would have been the first week of our Easter recess, which we are giving up for that. I just hope we will see some more substantial business that would justify our giving up time to be available for our constituents. The thing is she has absolutely no idea what will be discussed and considered next week.
Yesterday’s innovation should be commended, and this House should be proud that we delivered a piece of legislation within a few days that will underpin the seeking of an extension to article 50. Of course, most curiously, there are those among the take back controllers who do not want this House actually to take back control and who would prefer the Government to continue in their ways unfettered and to continue ignoring the decisions of this House. It has taken legislation to get this minority Government to do what the majority of this House wants them to do. Maybe now they know we can do this they will start taking the decisions of this House more seriously, but I seriously doubt that will be the case.
The great unelected ones in the House of Lords will now consider the Bill, and the message from this House to the aristocrats, the Church of England bishops, the cronies and the donors is that they should do nothing to thwart the progress of this Bill. We have already seen loads of amendments tabled down there, particularly, and curiously, by some Scottish Conservative Lords. They must do absolutely nothing that would stop the will of this House and the democratic will of this Parliament.
Can we have a debate about modern romance? There was a real Mills & Boon glow yesterday, as the Leader of the Opposition sat down with the Prime Minister so that she could share the blame for her Tory Brexit with him. Last week, the Prime Minister said that he was
“The biggest threat to our standing in the world, to our defence and to our economy”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 313.]
He is now the saviour of her Brexit.
We in Scotland are watching very carefully the reinvention of Better Together—Better Together 2.0, the sequel, the latest in the Tory-Labour disaster franchise. This time they have come together to take Scotland out of the EU against its will. Scotland is sick of being ignored. The Scottish people are watching our nation being carved out and disrespected, and we will not sit idly by as the usual Better Together squad play their games with our nation and the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that Better Together did quite well last time. As he will know, the Prime Minister is seeking to find a way to leave the European Union, and it is extraordinarily apparent to everyone that, so far, the House has not agreed a way in which to leave. It is right that the Prime Minister continues to seek a way to deliver on the referendum, which is why she is talking to the Leader of the Opposition, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
Can we have a debate on budgeting and the transparency of public projects and their finances, particularly in the light of the delay to the notice to proceed on High Speed 2 and the revelation that it is now spending millions of pounds on consultants tasked with trying to reduce, or even control, the mammoth costs of this project, all of which will be paid for by the taxpayer?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue. She will be aware that many of my constituents also have concerns about the cost overruns, and I have written to ask for reassurances on that. The Department for Transport assures us that the project is still working to its budget, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue to seek her own reassurances.
The demonstration in the Public Gallery has been referred to. I wondered whether it was a manifestation of a modern-day Rump Parliament—I’m here all week.
The Leader of the House mentioned that the business next week could be subject to rescheduling. I genuinely offer a hand of friendship and, if there is rescheduling, I hope there will be consultation with me and the Clerk of the Backbench Business Committee, so that we can fill any gaps due to business being moved.
I am a member of the Education Committee, and I wonder whether we could have a debate in Government time on school funding. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that school funding in real terms is 8% lighter than it was several years ago. The Minister for School Standards said at the Education Committee on Wednesday that the schools budget has been protected in real terms, like the Department for International Development budget, but the DFID budget is 0.7% of GDP and has been protected at that level—it has grown in financial terms. Education funding has diminished from 5.69% to 4.27% of GDP in only seven years. That is a real-terms cut from both the IFS’s perspective and the GDP perspective. We need to invest in our future if we are going to engage and be successful in the fourth industrial revolution.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman took pains to flesh out the matter of the protests, but we now need to crack on a bit with the business of the day.
The hon. Gentleman offered to fill in any blanks in the business next week. Of course, if there are opportunities for Backbench business, we will always take them. He also raised the important matter of school funding. He will appreciate that the achievements in our schools are incredibly positive for improving young people’s education, and I pay great tribute to all our teachers’ professionalism. Nevertheless, he makes an important point about funding, and I encourage him to raise that directly with Ministers on
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the difficulties that converts to Christianity are having in achieving asylum status in the United Kingdom? While I am sure the House understands that the Home Office has to be very careful, I simply do not understand its reluctance to approve those applications, given all the checks and balances.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. All asylum claims made in the UK are carefully considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account individual merits against a background of relevant case law and up-to-date country information, which covers issues relating to freedom of religion and belief. I can assure him that the Home Office provides protection for all those who genuinely need it, in accordance with our international obligations under the 1951 refugee convention and the European convention on human rights.
Can we have a debate about the challenge we have in our constituencies and in this place in the way we treat one another and the language we use? Could the Leader of the House particularly bear in mind something very offensive that was said last night by Mr Francois at this time, when we are in Lent and approaching Easter weekend:
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 657, c. 1217.]
As a Christian and former parliamentary churchwarden, I found it deeply offensive for that phrase to be used in the context of a debate on Brexit. I hope we can have a discussion about what is and is not appropriate to say in this House.
As I have always said, it is vital that everybody in this place and in this Palace of Westminster treats each other with courtesy and respect and I completely uphold that. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, behaviour in the Chamber is a matter for the Chair. On the other hand, I am sure you will also agree, Mr Speaker, that it is vital that everybody is treated with courtesy and respect.
Yes, that is absolutely fair and reasonable. I did not intervene at the time, as the hon. Gentleman will know. Mr Francois felt extremely strongly and expressed himself with force, and I respect the right hon. Gentleman’s sincerity and integrity—I make no bones about that; I do—but moderation in the use of language and the importance of trying to keep the temperature down can hardly be overstated. I think Mr Sheerman has served a useful purpose today, of which we can all take note.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware that I go on and on about the lack of accountability of NHS trusts in my constituency and around the country, and there are often lots of nods when I raise this. As the Leader of the House knows, I raised this before and she suggested that I get a Westminster Hall debate. I have got that, so I am back now—going on and on. May we have a debate in Government time about the lack of accountability of NHS trusts, which seem to ignore not just politicians and elected representatives, but the people they are supposed to be looking after?
My right hon. Friend is very passionate on this subject and he is absolutely right to be. If he has exhausted all his own means by which to achieve debates on this subject, I encourage him to go to the Backbench Business Committee and seek the support of other Members across the House. I am sure he would find that there were plenty of Members looking to support their own local hospitals.
I heard the Leader of the House’s answer on the knife crime summit and subsequent events, but it really is unacceptable that the Home Secretary has not been here reporting on the knife crime summit, while our constituents—our young constituents—are regularly being murdered. When will he come here and give a report? Further to that, he really should be coming to this Chamber on a regular basis to give those reports.
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly serious issue, as he often does, about the appalling nature of the rise in knife crime, the impact it is having on communities and the fear in communities. There are far, far too many examples of young people being stabbed and murdered. It is absolutely appalling. He will be aware that the knife crime summit on Monday was designed to look at what more the Government can do. There are a huge number of plans in place. We have already had two debates recently on serious violence and what the Government can do, as well as a number of urgent questions and statements on the subject. However, as I said to his hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, I will certainly go away and see whether we can organise a statement on the same subject.
Mr Speaker, I hope you will accept that I am willing to call out the Government on occasion when they abuse Parliament—I voted for the contempt motion—but I thought there was a conspiracy to defraud Parliament itself yesterday. On a huge constitutional issue, we rushed the Bill through in a day. There was no time for proper debate. There was not even a Third Reading debate. Amendments were not down. It was a total farce and it was an abuse of Parliament. It seems to me that the solution to this—it was something that both the main political parties agreed to—is a business of the House Committee that is responsible for the timing of debates. The Backbench Business Committee has shown that it works really well. Seriously, will the Government now consider a business of the House Committee and please, Leader of the House, do not blow this off again?
I entirely endorse the first part of my hon. Friend’s question. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the article 50 Bill contained 58 words and it went through the entire parliamentary business and legislation Committee process. It was consulted on widely and it had five days of debate in this Chamber, compared with the under one hour on Second Reading for yesterday’s Bill. I therefore agree with him that it was extremely damaging to the way in which we carry out business in this place.
On the second part of my hon. Friend’s question, as I have said to him on a number of occasions, I do not believe that a business of the House Committee for determining business would have the necessary flexibility to be able to ensure that, as we are seeing at the moment, swift changes to business can be properly and reliably agreed. From time to time, the House needs to go through the usual channels with a very quick decision when emergency changes are necessary.
I do not want to dwell at any length on what the hon. Gentleman said and I completely respect his sincerity, but I think it is fair just to note, reputationally for the House, that many of the Members who are complaining about the paucity of time for the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill did nevertheless seem untroubled by the absorption of three hours on the business of the House motion. It was partly for that reason that there was so little time left for Second Reading. But there is an argument to be had about the matter and I respect the hon. Gentleman’s point of view.
I have heard what the Leader has said about a business of the House committee. That is the Government’s position. The hon. Gentleman has been a keen and articulate champion of the cause of such a committee for many years, and, as he knows, I have joined him in that quest. It is a matter of recorded fact that the coalition Government were committed to the introduction of such a committee and Prime Minister Cameron—I say this as a matter of fact—reneged on that commitment. It is unarguable, it is incontestable, it is incontrovertible. That is the reality. He may think that the situation changed, but he promised it and he broke the promise. It is as simple as that.
Last weekend proved to be the perfect tonic when I was joined by over 75 members of my constituency for the Great British Spring Clean. Next week I will be out again, in Mirfield, supporting the indefatigable community champion Ruth Edwards in her spring clean. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the incredible work done by the likes of Ruth and others, and encourage our members to get involved in cleaning up their communities?
The hon. Lady is to be hugely commended for taking part in the Great British Spring Clean. My Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, who is sitting behind me, is a huge fan of it and is yelling in my ear, “Fantastic, fantastic!” I think all Members would agree that it is a superb thing to be involved in a community clean-up. It sends a good message and it cheers us all up to get outside as well. I congratulate Paula Sherriff, her constituent Ruth Edwards and all those taking part.
Working parents of children with a disability or serious illness often have to take their entire holiday entitlement off for surgery or hospital appointments. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on what support the Government can give to those working parents and how we can ensure they get the quality holiday time that other working parents enjoy?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Parents often have additional responsibilities to holding down a job, particularly when they are caring for children with disabilities. It is absolutely vital that they get quality time to spend with their families. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek an Adjournment debate in the first instance, so he can discuss with Ministers what more can be done.
May we have a statement on the attitude taken by Departments, particularly the Home Office, when MPs telephone them? I telephoned the hotline seeking very urgent information and was given another telephone number. I was hung up on when I phoned it. When I phoned back later, they were unable to give me any information—I will be careful about what I say—about what I asked for. I have now emailed on two occasions and not received a response. The challenge is that my constituent faces an approaching deadline, and without that information I cannot advise him and he cannot take action.
I am genuinely very sorry to hear that. My own experience of the MPs’ hotline has been good with the Home Office, but I totally respect what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If he cannot get through to the right people and they are not responsive, that is absolutely unacceptable. I encourage him to perhaps take this matter up through a parliamentary written question, but if he wants to contact me, I can contact the Home Office on his behalf.
Could we get a bit more clarity on the business for the week after next? The Leader of the House said that it is possible that we will be sitting on Monday 15 and Tuesday
My right hon. Friend is tempting me to get my crystal ball out. As all hon. Members appreciate, and I think we can all agree, we and certainly the staff of the House, need a break. We are very conscious of the need to try to ensure that people are able to meet prior commitments. As well as that, many colleagues have commitments in their constituencies that they need to fulfil. There is no doubt that the Government and I are extremely well aware of the need for colleagues to have a break. On the other hand, as we all know, the business is changing very rapidly. We are extremely keen to ensure that we can leave the European Union with a deal, with a majority of the House supporting it. In order to achieve that, it requires the next few days to be quite flexible. I can only repeat that I will keep the House as updated as possible, but certainly at the moment, as I said in my opening remarks, we need to retain flexibility to potentially sit on Monday 15 and Tuesday
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. The Government are concerned by the recurrent clashes involving pastoralists and local farmers. We continue to call for an immediate de-escalation of violence and for the Nigerian Government to demonstrate a clear strategy for resolving the conflict, ending the violence and ensuring that the needs of all the communities are taken into account. There is no doubt that these clashes have a devastating impact on lives and communities, as well as, of course, being a major barrier to Nigeria’s economic development.
I am very pleased that the Government are investing £290 million in improving the A1 road north of Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Sadly, north of the border, 17 miles of the A1 still remain a single-track road. Transport policy is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and yet the Scottish Government are refusing to take any action to improve this important cross-border route. Could we have a debate about how both the UK and Scottish Governments can work together to improve cross-border connectivity?
As always, my hon. Friend raises an important issue on behalf of his constituents and many others. He is right that under the devolution settlement, roads within Scotland are the responsibility of the Scottish Government, and it is for them to prioritise and fund any relevant schemes. I hope that they will take the decision to do so. For our part, UK Ministers and officials regularly collaborate with their counterparts in Scotland on issues of mutual interest, including cross-border connections, and they have previously discussed the dualling of the A1.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. She has raised this on a number of occasions and, as I have said to her, I have chased for a date on which this report will be published. She is absolutely right to keep pursuing it and I am continuing to seek to get an answer for her—[Interruption.] She is asking “Why?” from a sedentary position. As I have tried to explain previously, the review is considering the difference in exclusion rates between different areas and why that is taking place. That, therefore, makes the review quite complicated and time-consuming.
The Leader of the House will recall that three weeks ago, I raised with her the accountability of Network Rail. That particularly relates to its proposed closure of Suggitt’s Lane level crossing in my constituency. The accountability issue has become more serious, because the Grimsby Telegraph is reporting that when contractors moved in to lock the gates, they hauled away cars parked near the crossing. Surely Network Rail should not have the powers to haul away private vehicles. Could we have a statement from the Department for Transport on this issue?
My hon. Friend’s concerns sound very justified. Of course the safety of our railways is paramount, but as he knows it is a matter for Network Rail, working with the independent regulator, the Office of Rail and Road. I understand that an urgent meeting on the Suggitt’s Lane level crossing closure has been arranged for Monday between the rail Minister, senior representatives from Network Rail and my hon. Friend himself. I hope that there will be some progress as a result of that.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for reminding us that it is the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Washington treaty. I also remind the House that London was the first home of the NATO alliance and that the first shots fired by NATO came during a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in 1996. If the Leader of the House is short of business for next week, may I suggest that we celebrate the NATO alliance, which has kept peace and security across Europe and north America for 70 years?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to pay tribute to the amazing achievements of NATO, which has been the cornerstone of our defence for 70 years, as she rightly points out. I will certainly take away her request for a debate in Government time and see what can be done.
There is a sense of anticipation in Rugby because the finalists of the “Pride of Rugby” awards, run superbly by our local radio station, Rugby FM, have been announced. They recognise local achievers in businesses and charities and among our volunteers and young people at a time when we hear a lot about the challenges that communities face. May we have a debate to recognise some of the great work going on in our communities?
It is always welcome that business questions gives colleagues a chance to praise the excellent work that goes on in their communities. I congratulate my hon. Friend and join him in congratulating the finalists of the “Pride of Rugby” awards. I wish them all the best for the event. The UK is undoubtedly a very generous place; I understand that the British public donated £10.3 billion to all causes in 2017. That cements the UK’s place as one of the most generous nations in the world—something that we can all celebrate.
Given BBC Parliament’s success and viewing figures in the past few weeks, are there any plans to broadcast Cabinet meetings live? The details of the meetings are leaked within minutes, so should we not just cut out the middle man? Can the Leader of the House tell us which is true: is there more infighting in a Cabinet meeting or in the next episode of “Game of Thrones”?
What goes on in Cabinet would not be a great TV show—too often, what gets reported is not correct. It either has to be a documentary or it is a fabrication. Sometimes I sit in Cabinet and hear one thing and read about it in the newspapers but it is not the same at all—it is someone’s interpretation.
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about how Cabinet commentary gets out into the press. There are interpretations on all manner of meetings that take place. What that really says to me, and what I always urge young people to understand when I go to universities and schools to talk to them about democracy, is that people should not believe everything they read—it is definitely not always true. People need to go to the source.
Congratulations to my hon. Friend—a number of hon. Members would love to do the same in their areas. He will be aware that the bus market outside London is deregulated and that decisions about service provision are primarily a commercial matter for bus operators. Individual English local authorities will make decisions on whether to subsidise bus services. The Bus Services Act 2017 provides the tools that local authorities need to improve local bus services and increase passenger numbers, but I am sure I am not alone in this place in thinking that we need to do more to provide better bus transportation for all our communities.
May a debate be held on the urgent need to fund community-based projects to tackle climate change? North Glasgow Housing Association is the biggest community-owned housing association in Glasgow, and with Lambhill Stables, it is doing fantastic work in all sorts of fields using climate challenge funding from the Scottish Government, including community swapshops for furniture and even using comics to educate young people. Unfortunately, that funding has not been renewed this year, so the projects cannot continue. May we have an urgent debate on the need to advance funding for community-based climate change initiatives?
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituents on their work. It is incredibly important that we do all we can to make people aware of the importance of climate change and the steps we can take to address it. He will be aware that our 25-year environment plan seeks to ensure that ours is the first generation that leaves our environment in a better state than we found it. Within that plan, there are many different initiatives. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to talk to Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about what more they can do to support such initiatives.
It was mentioned earlier that it is cherry blossom time. I encourage every Member of the House to come and see the Japanese garden in Clackmannanshire in my constituency, where recently I joined the Japanese consul-general to plant new cherry trees, whose blossoms we hope everyone can enjoy in the near future. May we have time to debate rural development? We spend a lot of time talking about our towns and cities, but our rural communities are working hard to improve prosperity and employment through schemes such as Can Do Crieff shared workspace, which was recently established in my constituency? Country is just as important as town, so may we have more time to debate rural issues?
I completely agree that the countryside is every bit as important as towns, and we need to do everything possible to ensure that our rural communities thrive. We have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise with Ministers what more can be done to support rural communities.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s volunteering achievement award has been presented to pupils in Coventry to celebrate 9,360 hours of voluntary service by the city’s young people over the past 12 months. We know that such volunteering efforts help young people to develop, build confidence and gain important life skills, while improving the health and wellbeing of the local community around them. Will the Leader of the House join me in commending Coventry’s young volunteers, and will she arrange a debate in Government time on the importance of volunteering and how it can inspire a generation of young people who care about where they live and are willing to make a commitment to improve society?
The hon. Lady always speaks up for Coventry, and she is right to do so. I definitely join her in congratulating all those young people. I think she quoted a figure of 9,360 hours of volunteering in the past 12 months. That is a superb record of which they can be very proud.
Can the Leader of the House tell me where the Home Secretary is? I asked last week whether he was going to come and make a statement, and she said she would speak to him. We had a knife crime summit, but nobody has a clue what happened there; he has not bothered to come to the House of Commons to explain. We read in the papers about search powers being changed—not a word to the House of Commons about it. We read about extra money for all sorts of groups—not a word to the House of Commons about it. Will the Leader of the House go again to the Home Secretary and tell him to get over here and start making some statements to this House about the national emergency this country faces with knife crime?
I know the hon. Gentleman cares passionately about this issue, as do the many right hon. and hon. Members who raise it frequently at business questions. As a matter of fact, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was here yesterday, making a statement on Windrush compensation. He is of course always willing and keen to update the House as soon as some important breakthrough takes place. The hon. Gentleman will know that a tremendous amount of work has gone into our serious violence strategy, the Offensive Weapons Bill, the creation of knife crime prevention orders, the youth endowment fund and the recent discussions about making knife crime a public health matter, so that we can do everything possible to steer young people away from a life of knife crime and violence. I totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. I will again raise the issue with the Home Secretary, but he is willing to—indeed, has he done so very regularly—come to update this House whenever there is more to say.
At his last meeting with the all-party group on steel, the then Steel Minister, Richard Harrington, committed to bring together all the key steel stakeholders to look again at how to progress a steel sector deal. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on how we are to bring about this steel summit?
I was not aware of the commitment that was made, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me, I can take the matter up with the Department on his behalf.
On my way into Westminster, I walk through the Canary Wharf Crossrail station on most mornings. It is a pristine station that cost £500 million. It was opened in 2015, but no trains will use it until at least 2020. It is a bit like the hospital in “Yes Minister”—the Leader of the House might remember—where there were no patients but it was seen to be a very efficient hospital. The Public Accounts Committee has said that the cost of Crossrail has spiralled out of control, at more than £18 billion and counting, and question marks remain over its completion. We cannot get new signage or the toilets sorted out in the railway station in Hull, let alone electrification of the line, so may we please have a debate on investment in rail in the north and not just in London?
I am sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s desire to see more investment in the north. She will be aware that the Government are investing significant sums in new rail infrastructure and in improving the experience of all train users.
With regard to Crossrail, work is now being done to deliver a revised schedule for the project, and the Department for Transport is working closely with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and the National Audit Office to ensure that lessons are learned for the delivery of major projects. Once built, the new Crossrail line will provide a boost to the UK economy of up to £42 billion and enable 200 million journeys across London and the south-east. I absolutely understand that the hon. Lady wants to see more investment in the north, and that is also happening—it is not either/or but both.
In the past fortnight, households up and down the country have received their council tax bills. Members will be well aware that people have seen significant increases of almost twice the rate of inflation and twice the rate of pay increases. In my constituency, there has been a 5% council tax increase and a 12% increase in the police levy, and residents are concerned that they are getting less for paying more. Against that backdrop, my local authority wishes to build a new council office. May we have a debate on the terrific One Public Estate programme, which was introduced in 2013, so that we can examine where we are with those sorts of programmes?
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of council tax rises; he will be aware that council taxes have fallen since 2010 in real terms, under the Conservative and coalition Governments. It has been important to hold down those increases. At the same time, I am sure he will want to celebrate that this week there is more than £1.3 billion extra available for local councils, more than £1 billion extra for schools and of course, really importantly, a rise in the national living wage, which has given a full-time worker a £2,750 annual pay rise since its introduction. There is also another rise in the personal tax-free allowance, leaving a basic-rate taxpayer more than £1,200 a year better off than in 2010. I totally sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point about council taxes rising, but on the other side of the economy, the Government are taking steps to ensure that there are better services, that people get to keep more of their hard-earned income and that people in our economy are better off through job increases, wage increases and increases in their personal tax-free allowance.
Some of my constituents have received letters this week informing them that the owner of their homes—the freeholder—has changed from one company based in Guernsey to another company based in Guernsey. We have had a very powerful Select Committee report and various vacuous pledges about what will be done to tackle leasehold abuses, but the fact remains that these kind of manoeuvres are making it harder and more expensive for my constituents to purchase outright the freehold of their properties. May we have a statement from the Government about what they will do to protect existing leaseholders?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the way in which some properties are being sold as leases and then those who have bought them are being charged additional sums on an increasing basis. That cannot be right. We have Housing, Communities and Local Government questions on Monday. I encourage him to raise the matter there.