The business for the week commencing
Two weeks ago we were devastated to see the pictures of the fire at Notre Dame. Many colleagues have raised with me the similar risks that face the Palace of Westminster, which is one of the most celebrated UNESCO world heritage sites. We are redoubling our efforts to progress with the restoration and renewal of Parliament. Colleagues will have seen significant work going on to protect against fires and falling masonry. I am pleased that next week, the Government will publish their response to the Joint Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, and I hope to announce further news on the Bill shortly. In addition, next Wednesday, the House of Commons will launch a public consultation on the northern estate programme, which is a vital step in ensuring that we have decant accommodation when the major works get under way. There will be a briefing for all Members on
This week is Maternal Mental Health Week, dedicated to talking about mental illness during pregnancy or after giving birth. Giving every family with a new baby the best start in life is a real passion of mine, and I know that many colleagues across all parties share a real commitment to providing better support during the first 1,001 days of a baby’s life.
Finally, a display about Baroness Thatcher’s life will be installed on the first floor of Portcullis House on Friday
“Of all the challenges faced by the world community…
one has grown clearer than any other in both urgency and importance—
I refer to the threat to our global environment.”
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, and I wonder whether the portrait of Baroness Thatcher will be taken out of her room and put on display. Baroness Thatcher was a scientist, and we know that the science is right on climate change.
I thank the Leader of the House for the Opposition half-day next week. With debates on the Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill and on the 25th anniversary of the death of John Smith—the most amazing Labour leader and possible Prime Minister that we could not have—it feels like Opposition week, and we are grateful for those debates. Is the Leader of the House able to provide us with any further information on Whitsun or even summer recess dates? Of course, we also need an updated version of the list of ministerial responsibilities.
The business is quite light. I previously asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the Non-contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018, so that we can have proper scrutiny of it. The mum of my hon. Friend Louise Haigh is a probate lawyer, so she is quite keen to see the order debated.
We are breaking records again, with the longest time without a Queen’s Speech. I do not know whether the Leader of the House has raised this at Cabinet meetings, but can she confirm whether the Queen’s Speech will be in June or September, as some people have mooted? The Prime Minister’s spokesperson has said that there is “no specific date” for a new Session. This is a bizarre state of affairs. I do not know of any other Government being run like this, particularly as there have been only five years since 1900 in which a Queen’s Speech has not taken place. It feels like the Government do not want to or cannot get their legislative agenda through Parliament. When is the withdrawal agreement likely to be debated again? Will that be an ordinary debate or part of a new Queen’s Speech?
We list the Prime Minister’s engagements, and I wonder whether we should now list her dinner engagements too. There was ladies’ night this week, and someone donated £135,000. That is £19,285.71 for each of the Cabinet Ministers there. The previous donation by that donor was ruled impermissible by the Electoral Commission, but I understand that she now has leave to remain and is on the electoral register. Two former Home Secretaries and the Immigration Minister were at the event, and I hope there is no link between the two.
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, the Department for Work and Pensions was sending misleading letters to GPs and doctors stating that their patients do not need a fit note any more when they have been found fit to work. The lack of clarity about when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. My hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova, who is the shadow disabilities Minister, raised a point of order because the Secretary of State said that the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners have signed off these letters, when in fact they have not. They put out a letter yesterday saying that they have not. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State on exactly what the status is of these letters to GPs, and will they be withdrawn or updated?
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, schools and teachers were having to pick up the costs of Government cuts. An NASUWT poll has found that two out of three teachers add their own cash to squeezed school budgets by paying for classroom stationery. That is the reality: it is not the Opposition who are saying it; that is the reality from teachers on the ground. May we have a statement on why teachers and staff in schools are using their own money to keep schools running? The Government will say that they have had record investment, but that is clearly not the case on the ground.
While Ministers were having dinner with the donor, the Government were failing criminal barristers across the country. Some 95% of members of the Criminal Bar Association have threatened to begin walking out of trials and are refusing to take on new work over a pay dispute with the Crown Prosecution Service, and 84.2% of respondents to a Criminal Bar Association poll said that they were in effect working for less than the minimum wage, while the workload has increased over the past five years. May we have a statement on the criminal barristers’ pay dispute? After all, it is about the very foundation of our society.
The current Secretary of State for Transport, who was previously at the Ministry of Justice, oversaw all those cuts to the legal system, and he is the one, as we heard in the urgent question, paying out £50 million of public money, on top of the £33 million out-of-court settlement with Eurotunnel. I think we could ask schools what they could do with that money. When will we get a statement on the accountability for this waste of public money?
Last week, the Leader of the House wished everyone well in the local elections, but she did not say that there are no district or borough elections in Northamptonshire because the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has cancelled them. The seven district and borough councils would have been holding elections, but apparently the Secretary of State said that people might get confused when they move to the unitary authorities, so they will not get any elections until 2020. With no vote until 2020, people will not get a vote on the 5% increase in the council tax.
I want to take this opportunity to thank those councillors who are standing down in Walsall South: Keith Chambers, who was a councillor for Bentley and Darlaston North; Allah Ditta, for Palfrey, who may be back as a councillor to serve his community; and Eileen Russell, for St Matthews. Eileen was a teacher, and every time I go canvassing with her I find that she had taught practically everybody in St Matthews.
I do not know, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether you know the significance of
The hon. Lady has made some rather unpleasant insinuations and accusations, but I am sure those are a matter for her. I can absolutely assure her that none of her insinuations has any merit to it, and it is a great shame that she chooses to accuse individuals of making improper donations and to accuse people of dining while others are suffering. It is a very regrettable lowering of the tone, particularly at business questions, when Members are normally quite friendly and respectful towards one another.
To answer the hon. Lady’s specific questions, she says next week is Opposition week, but in fact the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill is a very important part of domestic legislation. Indeed, she has herself called in previous business questions for the Government to bring it forward, so I hope she will be pleased about that.
Whitsun and summer recesses will be subject to the progress of business, as they always are. She asked for a list of ministerial responsibilities, and I will take that up again on her behalf. She knows that such lists are issued periodically and will be again.
On the statutory instrument on probate fees, she raised this in business questions on
The hon. Lady asked about the length of the Session. I am sure she will understand that the purpose of the Queen’s Speech is to set the Government’s agenda for the parliamentary Session. It is available online for her reference, if she wishes to see how we are doing against the Queen’s Speech. I can assure her that our legislation is making a real difference to people right across the country. More than 40 Government Bills have already received Royal Assent, including: the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018; the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018; the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018; the Space Industry Act 2018; the Tenant Fees Act 2019; the Domestic Gas and Electricity (Tariff Cap) Act 2018—she is looking a bit horrified, but they are making a positive difference to people’s lives, which is great news.
The hon. Lady asks when the debate on the withdrawal agreement Bill will be held. She will be aware that cross-party talks are under way. She will know as much as me—possibly more—about the progress of those talks. We all hope they come to fruition very soon and that we make some progress in delivering on Brexit, which the House has committed itself to doing but has failed singularly to achieve so far.
The hon. Lady raised several other very serious points. I would encourage her to raise the question of doctors providing fit notes at Health oral questions on
Finally, the hon. Lady made a point about Northamptonshire. It is considering merging into unitary authorities and so it would not be right to hold elections this year; they have therefore been postponed for a year, and there will be more news about that very soon, but I would like to pay tribute to everybody who is putting themselves forward for public service at the local elections and to wish everybody great success.
I add my support to what the Leader of the House has just said about the local elections. So many people take part as candidates and most of course will lose. What local councillors do is a great tribute to our democracy.
You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Prime Minister went to Brussels and, on her own devices, decided to keep us in the European Union past
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to address this issue again. He may be aware that our hon. Friend asked that this debate be had once the views of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments were known, and that will indeed be the case. We will come forward with further details in due course.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Who would have thought that there were council by-elections in England today, given that every Member on the Opposition Benches, other than the Whips, is either from Wales or Scotland? [Interruption.] I said Wales.
I thank the Leader of the House for saying that we will be proceeding with the refurbishment of this place. For most of this country, R and R means rock and roll, but in this place it means restoration and renewal. I think we will all get on down with R and R in this place soon.
I was intrigued by the Leader of the House’s response to the inquiry of the shadow Leader of the House about the Queen’s Speech. We are only a few weeks from what should be the end of this parliamentary Session, but apparently there is no intention to bring forward a Queen’s Speech. The parliamentary Session has now lasted two years and is about to enter its third. We can talk about having too much of a good thing, but probably not when it comes to this Government. They have said there will be no Queen’s Speech until the withdrawal agreement is agreed, but that timeline ranges from months to weeks to about never, so I would be interested to hear her thoughts about when we can expect a Queen’s Speech.
We are acutely aware that if there is a Queen’s Speech, some loyal Members of her Majesty’s Back Benches may feel obliged to vote it down in a pique of Brexit rage, so we are looking forward to more weeks of business like this: conjured up Bills, Opposition days and—I mean no disrespect to my good friend Ian Mearns—more Backbench Business debates. There will be no new substantial legislation and no new programme of Government. To call this a zombie Government would be to show massive disrespect to the brain-eating living dead, and the purgatory that we will now endure in the business of the House is acquiring a semi-permanent nature.
May we have debate about when a Government can no longer call themselves a Government? This Government have now lost almost half their ministerial team. They are running out of people to promote, and even more Back-Benchers are saying, “No thanks”, and want nothing more to with this shambles. I do not know how much longer that can be sustained or endured. There seems no prospect of a general election—even these zombies will not vote for a zombie Christmas to put them out of their misery, and the Prime Minister seems to limp on from week to week. Perhaps it is now time for Prime Minister “Shaun of the Dead”, and the full, unleashed zombie apocalypse to come.
How does one respond to that, Madam Deputy Speaker? I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman might allude to the fact that he is after Mr Speaker’s job. Had he raised that issue in the context of next week’s Bill, which will ban wild animals in travelling circuses, I could have questioned him about whether he in fact hopes to be the new ringmaster, or the new greatest showman. Since we all absolutely love Hugh Jackman—well I do anyway—I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman could completely fill his shoes, but I would be willing to give it a try, particularly because he said that if it came to a tie he would vote against Scottish independence.
Among many other things, yesterday was National Gujarat Day in India. I was privileged to be at the Indian high commission last night as we joined celebrating not only what is going on in the economic powerhouse of India but the contribution of the Gujarati people in the UK and across the world. Wherever Gujaratis have made their home, education, entrepreneurship and family life have improved, as has law-abiding behaviour. Will my right hon. Friend make time for us to debate the contribution made by Gujaratis to the United Kingdom, especially given that only in the past few days we have held excellent debates about the contributions made by Jains and Sikhs? It is time to celebrate what those in the Gujarati community have done for this country since they chose to make it their home.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent proposal, and I agree that the Gujarati community has made a significant contribution to the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to him for raising that issue on behalf of his constituents. He might wish to seek a debate in Westminster Hall so that all hon. Members can share their experiences.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and particularly for Thursday’s Backbench Business Committee debates on acquired brain injury—that debate is sponsored by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant— and on the 25th anniversary of the death of the late John Smith, leader of the Labour party. Only last summer I had the privilege of visiting John Smith’s graveside on the beautiful island of Iona, and I am glad that we will commemorate his loss, which was a tragedy for the Labour party and for British politics.
If we are allocated time on
When we come back after a bank holiday we change the sitting hours so that on Tuesday the Chamber sits with Monday hours. The times in Westminster Hall are a variation of that, so instead of starting at 9.30 am it starts at 11.30 am, but on a Monday Westminster Hall does not start at 11.30 am. That makes life difficult for those who wish to participate in those debates but have to travel from further afield, including Members from the north of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and the south-west. May we have a look at that issue, because it is rather unfair if Members who wish to take part in debates at 11.30 am on a Tuesday following a bank holiday have to travel down the night before, as that is not the case for all Members across the House.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I am happy to look into it. Perhaps I can meet him to discuss it further. I will bear in mind his point about
I know that the Leader of the House will be seized with the importance of dealing with the climate emergency we face, and she will agree that this place must show leadership in achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible. Let me make three immediate suggestions. First, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority should allow carbon offsetting as part of travel expenses; secondly, those travelling on House of Commons business should be steered towards low-carbon transport options where available, or otherwise have their carbon offset by the House authorities as part of those travel arrangements; and thirdly, IPSA should make available a one-off fund for the installation of energy efficiency measures and other clean tech in our constituency offices, so that we can decarbonise our efforts beyond here.
My hon. Friend makes excellent recommendations, and since 2010 the Government have been delivering on our ambition to be the greenest Government ever. I look forward to introducing the first environment Bill in more than 20 years, and I will certainly take seriously his recommendations about what more Parliament can do. I myself always choose to travel by broomstick since I am so frequently accused of being a witch. I find it a very low-carbon, green form of travel and I commend it to all hon. Members. We can certainly consider what more can be done.
Delays, mistakes, lost documents, extortionate application fees, and being on the receiving end of a default mode of suspicion is the experience, every single week, of my constituents in their interactions with the Home Office. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the systemic failures of his Department, and say what he will do about them?
The hon. Lady makes a serious accusation, and hon. Members frequently raise particular constituency problems. I am always sympathetic to individual issues, and have raised a number of them on behalf of Members with the Home Office directly. If she wishes to seek a more general discussion about the way the Home Office manages visas and so on, I encourage her to seek a Westminster Hall debate or raise the issue directly during questions to the Home Office.
Earlier this week, “radiotherapy for life” organised an excellent venture in the Palace of Westminster. My wife is a therapeutic radiographer who treats patients with cancer on a daily basis, not just in Brecon and Radnorshire but throughout the Welsh borders, and I remind Members that one in four of us will require radiotherapy treatment at some time in our life, and 40% of cancer cures are thanks to radiotherapy. May we have a debate on what more we can do to help those excellent medical professionals carry out their job, and to encourage more people to enter that worthwhile profession?
I commend my hon. Friend for raising that issue, which gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the important work of radiographers. A number of my family have benefited from the hard work and skill used in radiography, and I am sure that is also the case for many right hon. and hon. Members here today. He will be pleased to know that we have over 3,200 more diagnostic and therapeutic radiographers compared with 2010, and NHS England has confirmed funding of more than £600 million to support the delivery of the cancer strategy in England.
May we have a debate on the cruel impact of no recourse to public funds? One of my constituents who first came through my door in May 2015 is working all the hours she can, but cannot earn enough to make ends meet and her British-born daughter asked me why they do not have any money. No recourse to public funds is pushing families into poverty and I would like the opportunity to hold the Government to account on this issue.
The hon. Lady raises a very serious issue and she is right to do so. As ever, if she wants to write to me about a particular case I can take it up on her behalf. Otherwise, I suggest she seeks an Adjournment debate, so she can raise the issue more generally with Ministers.
May we have a debate on Yemen? My constituent Luke Symons is being held captive by the Houthis in Sana’a. Despite the efforts of the Foreign Secretary, the United Nations and others, that is still the case and his family are becoming increasingly exasperated. The new Minister did promise a meeting before Easter with me and the family. That has not materialised, and I have not yet heard back from his office. Will the Leader of the House use her good offices to encourage that meeting to take place as soon as possible?
I am sorry to hear from the hon. Gentleman that there has been no progress on the meeting. I will certainly make contact with the Department again and remind them of that commitment. As all hon. Members know, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in Yemen. The UK Government are doing an awful lot to try to find a way forward. I am sure they will be very happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman.
The Leader of the House values the contribution that faith communities make to our society, so will she arrange for a Home Office Minister to urgently come to the House and explain why recent changes to the tier 5 visa system will make it more difficult for churches and temples to bring in supply ministers over the summer? Catholic churches in my constituency are very concerned—the issue is on the front page of the archdiocesan newspaper—and she will know that Paul Masterton raised this matter with the Prime Minister. When will a Minister come and explain this unnecessary and unexplained change of policy?
I certainly recall my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire raising the matter at Prime Minister’s questions. If I recall, the Prime Minister said that she would ensure that it was considered. I will also take steps to ensure that the Home Office are aware of this particular concern. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me with any specific examples, that would be helpful.
In January, the Department for Work and Pensions announced draft regulations for compensation payments for those who have moved from universal credit and lost their severe disability premium payments. Three months on, there is no movement from the Government and in the meantime vulnerable constituents are suffering. When can we approve this much-needed support for severely disabled people?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government have sought at all times to put people with disabilities at the heart of our policy. The intention behind introducing far greater personal independence was to provide better support for people living with disabilities. Hundreds of thousands more disabled people are now in work than there were in 2010, giving them the opportunity to support their own lives. She raises a particular question about a judgment that was made. Work and Pensions questions will be on Monday
Next week is national Deaf Awareness Week, a unique campaign in that many different organisations participate, each able to provide their own work within the broad spectrum of deafness. This year’s theme is celebrating role models in education, employment, health, sport, entertainment, family, youth, technology and politics. May we have a debate in Government time on how best the Government can support deaf people to contribute even more fully, as they wish, in society as a whole?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Deafness is incredibly difficult for people to live with and the Government have sought to take strong steps to improve quality of life, the inclusiveness of services and so on to try to support people who suffer from deafness. The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important issue and I recommend that she perhaps seeks a Westminster Hall debate so that all hon. Members can share their ideas.
I do not think so cruelly of the Leader of the House. I think of her more as the Wizard of Oz. Hmm. I know she dismisses the whole issue of how long the parliamentary Session has gone on for, but in the old days we used to have a new parliamentary Session every year. The Government laid out their programme and then we debated it. Opposition and Government Members had the chance to hold the Government to account. We had a new process of starting private Members’ Bills with a new ballot, and we had a fixed number of Opposition days and days for Backbench Business. All of that has gone out of the window. Today, we are sitting for the 296th day in this Session, which makes it the longest Session of this Parliament since the Glorious Revolution in 1688. I think that that is a mistake. We used to get two weeks’ business in a row. Now we get just three days’ business in a row. I know she will say, “Oh well, it is because there are all sorts of important things that you shouldn’t have to worry about,” but the truth is that we all have constituents. We like to make commitments to our constituency. Some of us have important medical appointments. I have heard of male and female Members who want to go to a screening, because they are over 50 or over 45, but have not been able to make a commitment to do that. In the interests of everybody’s health, will she please get back to a proper process of having a Queen’s Speech every year and announcing the business two weeks’ in advance?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. He will be aware that at the beginning of this Session we announced that it was going to be an extended Session because we had a significant amount of Brexit legislation to get through, as well as a very packed domestic legislative programme. That remains the case and we keep the end of the Session under review. He talks about announcing two weeks of business. There is no specific convention around announcing the future business. It has been the case for a very long time that the period of future business announced depends on the predictability of future business. If this House were to embrace the opportunity to deliver on the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 referendum and vote to leave the European Union, we could get back to normal. We could end the Session. We could move on. We could all start talking about something else. I therefore encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to think again about voting for the withdrawal agreement Bill when it comes back.
Perhaps the best comparison to the Government are the white walkers in the “Game of Thrones”.
May we have two statements? First, may we have a statement on what the Government are doing to try to resolve the industrial dispute between Interserve employees and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Secondly, may we have a statement on why those Interserve employees, who were due to be paid for their work in April, have not been paid? The suggestion was that their pay dates would be changed to June. That does not seem to have been the case. We now have some of the lowest-paid workers left unpaid for their work in the FCO. Does that not demonstrate that Interserve is unfit to deliver public services?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government take very seriously any private sector provision of public services, and ensure at all times good value for taxpayers’ money as well as proper safeguards. We have Foreign and Commonwealth questions on Tuesday
I know that we will all welcome the fact that the Transport Committee is conducting an inquiry into road safety, but it strikes me that it has been a heck of a long time since we have had a debate on road safety issues in this House. One particular concern of mine is excessive speeding and driving bans, or in many cases the lack of driving bans. I can think of some examples in north Wales—a car going at 122 miles an hour and a bike going at 138 miles an hour. I believe that they were both on single carriageway roads in rural areas. I am really concerned about this issue. Will the Leader of the House please consider having a debate on it in this Chamber in Government time?
The hon. Lady raises the incredibly important issues not only of top speeds on single-lane roads but of people speeding through towns, past schools and so on, creating dangerous situations. I absolutely encourage her to go to the Backbench Business Committee and seek a debate, so that all right hon. and hon. Members can make their views known.
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma—DIPG—is the second most common type of primary high-grade brain tumour in children, affecting around 40 children each year in the United Kingdom. It is not amenable to surgery, and radiotherapy is only for palliative purposes. Only 10% of children affected survive longer than two years after diagnosis, and that prognosis has not improved in the past 40 years. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the need to increase funding for research into DIPG, to further improve and enhance recognition and treatment of this devastating illness as we approach DIPG Awareness Day on
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Quite often in the House, colleagues raise rare and unusual forms of cancers and other illnesses, and it is absolutely right that they do that. While we can all be proud of the significant increase in people surviving cancers in general, it is concerning, as she says, that those survival rates have not improved in many decades. Health Question Time is on Tuesday
I associate myself with the concerns of the hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) about clergy visas, which has also been raised by priests in my constituency. While churches are a critical part of our communities, many other aspects are also important, particularly our high streets. I commend Scran, a new café on Alexandra Parade in my constituency. It won the Scottish entertainment and hospitality award for best café in Scotland, despite being open for only seven months, which is a great achievement for its staff after all their work. Could we have a debate in Government time about the critical role of high streets and small businesses in our communities, and what we can do on business rates and VAT restrictions on those businesses to maximise the environment in which they can flourish and form an important part of our town centres, high streets and cities?
The hon. Gentleman often raises pieces of great news from his constituency. I congratulate the café he mentions for its contribution. He is absolutely right that thriving high streets and community hubs are a vital part of all our lives, and he is right to pay tribute to his constituents. The Government are determined to ensure that we do everything we can, through our advisory council and our reductions in business rates and so on, to support our high streets. I recommend that he seeks a Westminster Hall debate, so that all hon. Members can share their experiences.
The Leader of the House may be aware of the Parliamentary Review, which is apparently a key fixture in the political calendar; it is so important that the foreword is provided each year by the Prime Minister or the Chancellor. Staff of Alite Systems, in my constituency, have been asked to appear as experts in this year’s review, and to attend a grand ball full of political dignitaries. However, the reality is that they are being asked to purchase a £3,300 advertorial. Can we have a debate on the merits of the Prime Minister and politicians associated with this publication being involved in what is, frankly, a money-making exercise?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that sounds of concern. I am sure he will have taken this up directly, in his own way, with the Prime Minister’s office. However, I think it is absolutely right that Ministers write forewords for important documents and reviews. He has not mentioned the purpose of this particular one, but I am sure he will find a way to perhaps raise a parliamentary question about its appropriateness.