Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:29 am on 13th June 2019.

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Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The business for the week commencing 17 June will include:

Monday 17 JuneSecond reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill.

Tuesday 18 June—Motion to approve an ecclesiastical Measure relating to church representation and ministers, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (Specified Scottish Authority and Barred Lists) Order 2019, followed by debate on a motion relating to progress of implementation of the recommendations of the Cox report. The subject of this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 19 June—Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill.

Thursday 20 June—Debate on a motion on refugee family reunion, followed by a general debate on court closures and access to justice. The subjects of these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 21 JuneThe House will not be sitting.

Tomorrow marks two years since the devastating Grenfell Tower fire. The survivors and bereaved have endured so much with such dignity, and I know that the thoughts of the entire House will be with them at this time.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. My copy of the statement is on two pages; I wonder whether the second page is intentionally blank—we seem to have only one week’s business.

I thank everyone, including the Clerks, who is involved in the new edition—the 25th—of “Erskine May”, which is also available online, so lots of people will be able to look it up and hold the Government to account for what they do in the Chamber.

From the business next week, it looks as though the Backbench Business Committee has taken control of the business. Will the Leader of the House consider giving us an Opposition day? It seems that the Government have gone into the cupboard—it is a bit like “Old Mother Hubbard w ent to the cupboard”. I keep thinking of nursery rhymes, what with the 10 green bottles standing on a wall in the leadership election—

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

Yes, blue bottles. The Government have gone to the cupboard, and lurking in there is the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill, which was published only yesterday but has its Second Reading on Monday.

I know that last week was the Leader of the House’s first week, but he said that he would come forward with the dates for recess “in due course.” Parliament and the country have no idea what is going to happen after July and in September and October. The Leader of the House must have had some discussions; will he provide a bit more clarity on when he will announce the dates for the summer and conference recesses? This issue cannot be part of the campaign promises. The Leader of the House is Parliament’s voice in Government. Parliament is not irrelevant, particularly at this time, when we have a minority Government.

One of the many governmental powers that can be exercised without statutory authority, by convention, is the Dissolution of Parliament, or Prorogation if it is the end of the Session. The sovereign acts on the advice of her Ministers. We know that the breaching of conventions is not illegal, and we are talking about a convention, but the courts can look at it. It is outrageous, morally and constitutionally, for candidates in the Tory leadership election to suggest that they will put our gracious sovereign in a position to prorogue Parliament. Will the Leader of the House rule that out today?

At least three candidates have said that the UK will leave the EU without a deal, even though Parliament has expressly voted against it. Will the Leader of the House rule that out today? He must have seen the Cabinet note warning that the country is still unprepared for leaving on 31 October. It said that we need four to five months—that is at least until November—for trader readiness, and six to eight months to ensure that adequate arrangements are in place to build stockpiles of medicines. Should we not have a debate on whether the country is actually ready for leaving on 31 October?

The candidates are saying that they will renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. Are negotiations still ongoing? Is there anyone talking to the EU? May we have a statement on the current discussions with the EU? Instead, we are getting a string of policy announcements, none of which is costed, none of which has been put to the electorate, and none of which has been agreed by the Chancellor. Handouts to the highest earners, according to the Resolution Foundation, would see 83% of gains going to the richest 10% of households, with the biggest beneficiaries, as a proportion of their income, being those on £80,000. The shadow Chancellor has said that the money involved is more than we spend every year on justice or children’s social care. I am pleased that the Leader of the House mentioned Grenfell, but not a single one of the candidates has said what they will do to prevent another Grenfell.

The Prime Minister said yesterday that employment figures have risen in the west midlands. I ask the Leader of the House to kindly ask the Prime Minister to correct that, because business leaders in Greater Birmingham have warned this week that stagnating employment statistics in the west midlands present a concerning picture. Unemployment fell by 0.1% between February and April, but the figures remain significantly above the national average, second only to the north-west. Why is employment stagnating in Tory Britain? Can we have a debate on employment in the west midlands?

This week, the National Farmers Union organised an event at which farmers in the west midlands spoke of the terrible uncertainty of a no-deal exit and of how they need to use places such as the Netherlands to grow spinach, particularly in October when our growing season is coming to an end. Can we have debate on the effect of no deal on the food and farming industry?

In Carers Week, in Tory Britain, there are around 7 million carers in the UK, 58% of whom are women. Hon. Members will have seen the display of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in the Upper Waiting Hall. One in three people with MS are not getting the care that they need. When will the Government publish the social care Green Paper?

The Leader of the House will have heard the words of the outgoing ambassador in Singapore, who said that people outside the UK have described the UK as beset by division, obsessed with ideology, and careless of the truth. All the major investment is going to Germany and France, but, worryingly, this is what we are hearing: £350 million to the NHS, free television licences for the over-75s, trade deals are easy, no deal is better than a bad deal, and strong and stable. You cannot run a country on rhetoric. The Government may have won the vote yesterday, but we will try again for the good of the country and for our reputation in the world.

May I ask the Leader of the House to kindly join me in wishing the Opposition Chief Whip a very happy birthday, as he has worked selflessly all his life for the good of the party and for the good of the country as a Minister and in Opposition? We wish him a very happy birthday.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

There is only one person in this House whose birthday is more important than that of the shadow Chief Whip and that is the Chief Whip. I do not know when it is, but whenever it is I wish him a very happy birthday, too. I do not know what the shadow Chief Whip treats himself to on his birthday. Perhaps he polishes the instruments of torture in the Labour Whips’ Office. [Interruption.] He is a softy indeed, as the shadow Leader of the House says, and I wholeheartedly concur with her best wishes to the shadow Chief Whip.

The hon. Lady raised a large number of points, which I will attempt to deal with in turn. She made reference to the blank page that she has received in the forthcoming business. That is indicative of the large amount of business that we will be bringing forward in due course to fill that page and many others. She quite accurately raised the issue of the preponderance of Back-Bench business debates that we are putting forward at the moment. That is for two reasons. One is that we want to hear and engage with Back Benchers, because, as Conservatives, we have a very inclusive style of government. Secondly, the persuasive abilities of Ian Mearns know no bounds, so if we want to see fewer of those debates, we will have to have a word with him. The hon. Lady also made a request for Opposition day debates. They are handled through the usual channels and will, of course, be considered in a sensible and measured manner.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) Bill. That is a very important piece of legislation. The fact that we have brought it forward so quickly underlines its importance in making sure that businesses up and down the country are able to have more frequent valuations of their rates and bringing forward the first revaluation by one year to 2021.

The hon. Lady, once again and quite understandably, asked about the recess dates. I do not have an announcement to make this morning, but I will of course come back to the House with one at the earliest opportunity, and it will be for the House to pass the motion in that respect in the normal way.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of proroguing of Parliament as, I think—I am paraphrasing her comments —a device, perhaps to ensure a no-deal situation in the absence of Parliament sitting. That is not the Government’s policy on this at all, and it is certainly our feeling that Her Majesty the Queen should be kept out of politics; it would be unfair to draw her into a political situation in that form.

The hon. Lady made several references to no deal and the various positions of the Conservative candidates—the runners and riders in the forthcoming contest. I do not think it would be right for me to comment specifically on any of them other than to say that what does perhaps unite the whole House is that having a deal is better than having no deal, provided that we can come together to secure that outcome.

To my surprise, actually, the hon. Lady raised the issue of employment—specifically in the west midlands—on which this Government, of course, have an outstanding record. We have the highest level of employment in our history. We have the lowest level of unemployment since 1974. We have halved the level of youth unemployment since 2010. We have continued economic growth, and living standards and real wages are rising as we go forward.

Let me finish by saying that the hon. Lady and I have already struck up a good relationship. We are already seeing eye to eye on many important matters such as restoration and renewal and the work that we will jointly be engaged in on the independent complaints and grievance scheme. We both believe that Parliament must have a strong and loud voice, and of course we both believe in debate and scrutiny. So given that we agree on so much, perhaps I could quote the immortal words of the late, great Amy Winehouse:

“Why don’t you come on over Valerie?”

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

We are what we remember, and what our forefathers did helps to shape the places we call home. In my home—my constituency—we remember Captain Matthew Flinders, who first charted the coast of Australia and whose body was found by chance during excavations in London recently. We want to bring him home to Donington in Lincolnshire. What ministerial statement might be made to help us in that effort, 200 years—more than that, actually—after Flinders was buried? South Holland simply wants to pay its final farewell to our master mariner.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for raising this issue. Matthew Flinders was a very great nautical man—a great explorer of Australia, in particular. Of course, my right hon. Friend and I share something in common in that we were both distinguished members of the Government Whips Office at various stages in our careers, which is probably why he has alighted on the fact that he is so good at finding out where the bodies are buried—but in this case we have established that it is somewhere near Euston station. I will do whatever I can to assist him in his quest to make sure that the remains of Matthew Flinders find their home where they should be, in Donington in his constituency.

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

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing this thrilling instalment of non-business for next week. I also wish the Labour Chief Whip a happy birthday. All he wants is for his Back Benchers to observe a three-line Whip for once.

Can we have a debate about sustainable populations? Because today the cull begins in this grotesque Tory horror show as the candidates are cut down to more manageable numbers—cruel, but necessary to maintain a healthy population. This is where “Britain’s Not Got Talent” meets “I’m a Tory, Get Me Out of Here”, as they are whittled away until the coronation of “the one”.

It is almost unbelievable that Boris Johnson is the runaway favourite, with all his baggage of Islamophobia and misogyny. He even now wants tax cuts for the rich in England to be partly paid for by national insurance contributions from Scotland. The only good thing about his soon-to-be ascendancy is that it speeds up the whole process of Scottish independence.

After all the difficulties, can we have a debate on drugs legislation and perhaps even “draw a line” under the problems? I do not think we should be locking up these senior Tories for all their drugs indiscretions, just as I do not think we should be locking up problem drug users who have addiction disorders, mental health issues or have suffered adverse childhood experiences. They should not be locked up either, but as with so many other issues, for this Government it is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” We have a criminal justice approach to drugs that locks up the poor and allows others to stand for the post of Prime Minister.

I listened carefully to the Leader of the House, but I still hear the candidates being prepared to suspend our democracy and prorogue Parliament to get this disastrous no deal through. That is the agenda of so many Members who are standing for the post of Prime Minister. Some of them refuse to rule it out. We need to hear clearly and definitively from the Leader of the House that he is not prepared to have our democracy suspended. Who would have believed that taking back control meant suspending our democracy and this House, when they ranted and raved about mythical, undemocratic Brussels bureaucrats denying us our democracy? We know who the true democracy deniers are now.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman, as we all know, is one of the most talented musicians in the House, having been in a very fine band or two and even appeared on “Top of the Pops”. None the less, it is simply not good enough to come to this Chamber week after week and play the same old tunes—and as far as I can tell, they are all out of the ABBA playbook. Whenever he is pressing a Minister, it is “Money, Money, Money”. When he is pressing his electorate, it is always, “Take a Chance On Me”. Once again, he took the opportunity to raise his push for a second referendum, but if he continues to do that, it will not be long before we hear his version of “Waterloo”. That is about as good as it gets, I am afraid; I will be back by popular demand next week.

The hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on drug legalisation, which is a very serious subject. The House has much debated the matter in the past, but the largesse of the hon. Member for Gateshead might extend to that if he feels it appropriate. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my answer in response to Valerie Vaz about prorogation.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on strengthening the law on people who are found guilty of animal cruelty? I am sure the whole House was shocked at the recent hunt where someone was found guilty of feeding fox cubs to the hounds, yet that person can still keep animals. The law should certainly be changed.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

May I first pay full tribute to my hon. Friend for all the extremely effective and important campaigning that he does on animal cruelty? I should point out that the Government have taken this matter extremely seriously. We have increased the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. We have introduced CCTV coverage in slaughterhouses, and we have taken action on puppy farms and online sales of young dogs. The debate that my hon. Friend requests would perhaps be a good one for the Backbench Business Committee.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I am very pleased to be in charge of the business of the House. [Laughter.] I thank the Leader of the House for the business announcement.

Applications for estimates day debates must be submitted by tomorrow. We understand that a number of applications are being thought about or prepared, but we have not actually received any applications so far. The Backbench Business Committee will consider applications next Tuesday afternoon, and we understand that the debates will go ahead on 2 and 3 July.

May I reiterate the birthday wishes to my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour Mr Brown, our Chief Whip? I do wish him a very happy birthday. He has been very gentle with me recently, so I am very grateful for that.

The Leader of the House has just been extolling the Government’s record on employment, but 30 local and regional newspapers across the north of England have come together to campaign on powering up the north. Our chamber of commerce in the north-east of England has issued a report this week saying that employment has fallen by 20,000 over the past quarter in the north-east of England and by 26,000 over the past year. Unemployment in my constituency has grown month on month, and it now stands at 7.1%. May we have a debate in Government time on the northern powerhouse and the unprecedented unification of 30 local and regional newspapers across the north of England on the disparity in economic progress between the regions of England and the south-east?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and for the fine work he does as the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. The House will have noted his very pertinent call for action on the estimates day debates and for applications to come through to meet tomorrow’s deadline so that those subjects can be debated in early July.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate in Government time on the northern powerhouse. This Government are certainly extremely proud of the investment that has gone into the north. Specifically on the north-east, it has had faster productivity growth than London since 2010, and we are of course investing £600 million in infrastructure and jobs in that region.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash

Just two days ago, a vehicle fire severely damaged a road bridge in my constituency between Sandiacre and Long Eaton. This has resulted in the road being closed, and a long diversion through the constituency of Anna Soubry on roads that are already congested. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate dialogue between the Department for Transport and Derbyshire County Council to ensure that we have a rapid assessment of this bridge and see what can be done to repair it quickly, so that people can travel freely again through my constituency?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend’s raising of this very specific matter is entirely indicative of the very assiduous approach she takes to her constituency matters. She is quite right to raise this issue, and I can confirm that I will do whatever I can to assist her in the approaches she is seeking to be made to the Department for Transport.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

May I caution the Leader of the House against trading song lyrics with my fellow colleague from MP4, Pete Wishart, and indeed the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, not least because the preceding line to the lyric the right hon. Gentleman quoted—

“Why don’t you come on over Valerie?”— from “Valerie” is:

“Stop making a fool out of me”,

which is exactly what she will be doing here every week? And

“So I say

Thank you for the music”,

but let us stick to the business of the House.

Will the Leader of the House at the very least endorse the words of the leadership contender he is supporting this afternoon, who has said:

“Proroguing parliament in order to try to get no-deal through, I think, would be wrong for many reasons.”

Will he at least endorse that?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As for the lyric

“Stop making a fool out of me”,

nobody was attempting to make a fool out of the hon. Gentleman, I can assure him.

On proroguing, I have made it very clear that the view of Government Members and of the Government is that this should not be used as a device to ensure that Parliament is absent from the decisions that may have to be made towards the end of October and, furthermore, that it would not be appropriate for Her Majesty the Queen to be drawn into those kinds of political decisions.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

GCHQ, headquartered in my constituency, is now in its centenary year. It was founded in 1919, under the then name of the Government Code and Cypher School. May we have a debate to allow hon. Members from across the House to pay tribute to the brilliant men and women who work in that organisation and who keep our country safe in an increasingly complex and dangerous world?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and within our security services there are many unsung heroes who make many sacrifices—some, indeed, make the ultimate sacrifice—for the defence and security of our country. It would be a good subject for a debate, perhaps in this case an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Mr Fearon delayed his pension for two years. He did not know, and he was not informed by the Department for Work and Pensions, that the law had changed, and that if he wanted to reclaim that backdated two years’ pension in a lump sum, he could get only one year, with the second year paid in instalments over 20 years. But Mr Fearon does not have 20 years. He has lung cancer and has had his last session of palliative chemotherapy. He has lost out on a year of his pension for which he worked all his life. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the effect of those pension changes on people who are terminally ill, and will he go in to bat for Mr Fearon?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot comment on a specific case, but given the terms with which the hon. Lady presented it, I recognise that this issue perhaps needs to be looked at rather urgently. I would be happy to facilitate whatever approaches can be made in that respect to the Department for Work and Pensions, and if she would like to write or speak to me after business questions, perhaps we could work out the best way to do so.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

May we have a debate on police pension sharing arrangements after divorce, which I believe to be a genuine scandal? One of my constituents has lost tens of thousands of pounds—roughly a quarter of his pension—because the part of his pension that was supposed to be paid to his ex-wife is not being paid to anybody and is being pocketed by the Treasury as a result of decisions made several decades ago. I think that is a genuine scandal, and I wonder whether we could debate it in this House.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

In the first instance, it might be worth my hon. Friend writing to me with the details of that case, so that I can ensure appropriate discussions with Ministers at the Treasury or the Department for Work and Pensions.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is shocking that hundreds of people each year are sent to prison for non-payment of council tax, often because the law is wrongly interpreted by magistrates, and the issue affects the most vulnerable and often the poorest people in our society. Chris Daw QC has started an e-petition, calling on the Government to change the law. This requires just a tiny change to the law, so may we have a debate in Government time so that we can sort out this terrible injustice?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I think that I can offer the hon. Gentleman something a little more useful than a debate, because if he has specific ideas about how what he expressed as a relatively modest change to the law might make a big difference in this area, I would be interested in discussing that with him and putting those ideas to the relevant Ministers.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

On 22 June, I shall again have the honour of opening the Droitwich Spa food and drink festival, which for many years has been led by an inspiring man called Patrick Davis, who will be standing down this year from those responsibilities. May we have a debate to celebrate the many food and drink festivals, boat festivals, heritage events, plum festivals and a whole host of things that happen right across the country, to celebrate our food and drink, our heritage and our culture, and to show our thanks to the many people who do so much to make that happen?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I echo everything that my hon. Friend has said about the Droitwich Spa food and drink festival, and if I am in that area at the appropriate time I would very much look forward to attending it. Curiously, somebody on the Front Bench told me that my hon. Friend’s favourite food is asparagus—I do not know the relevance of that, but I am sure there will be plenty of it at the food fair.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

Despite being part of Lloyds Banking Group, the Halifax, which is predominantly located in England, offers more competitive products to customers across the board than the Bank of Scotland, which is almost solely based in Scotland. There is only one Bank of Scotland branch in England, but there are three branches of Halifax in Scotland, which shows clear geographical discrimination against consumers in Scotland and is deeply unfair. Will the Leader of the House make a statement and say whether he agrees that that is unfair? Does he agree that Lloyds Banking Group should apologise and offer all customers the best deals, regardless of where they live in the UK?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Clearly, I do not know all the specifics of the matter the hon. Lady brings before the House. However, we do have Scotland questions on Wednesday 19 June, and that might be a good opportunity to ventilate the issue.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

I know we are all concerned about ending poverty pay. Yesterday, I was among a group of MPs who met care workers from AFG—the Alternative Futures Group—who are being paid below the minimum wage because of cuts to sleepover rates. Closer to home, staff employed by Interserve at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are on strike in a dispute over pay and terms and conditions. The Government really should be concerned to learn that these hard-working staff, one of whom was awarded an MBE in the recent honours list for his years of work in the Department, are being paid less than they should be. Food banks have had to be set up to support these workers who are currently in dispute. May I urge the Leader of the House to ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement as a matter of some urgency, agree to bring this contract back in-house, treat these workers with the dignity they deserve, and ensure poverty pay is well and truly ended?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. More generally, there has been growth in real pay for over a year, thanks to our economic policies. Of course, it was this party and this Government who brought in the national living wage, which was increased well above the rate of inflation at the beginning of this financial year. With regard to the specific issue and the strike that he raises, I would be very happy, if he wants to write to me, to facilitate a meeting with the relevant Minister. I also point him to Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday 25 June.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Labour, Nottingham South

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust continues to burn thousands of tonnes of coal to heat its buildings at City Hospital, despite promising residents two years ago that the 50-year-old boiler would be shut down permanently. The hospital is blaming the Treasury for the delay, but frankly that is no comfort to the visitors, staff, patients and local people whose health is damaged by air pollution. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—I guess he may have more time on his hands after today—on how he intends to end this shameful situation?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

On the general point about coal, this Government’s green policies have led to us having had the longest extended period of not having to use coal for power generation in our history, but in Cumbria, a Labour council is seeking to reopen a coalmine. We take this issue extremely seriously. On the specific matter of Nottingham hospitals and air pollution, if the hon. Lady would like to write to me about that, I will make sure the relevant Minister engages with her in an appropriate manner.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

May we have a debate in Government time on the privatisation of visa processing? My Swinton constituent, Jack McGruer, wants his fiancé Sarah to come over from Brazil, but due to a breakdown between the Home Office and VFS Global, they find themselves in limbo. Can the Leader of the House use his good offices to help me intervene with the Home Office, and try to get them out of limbo and back together in the UK?

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

It has been widely known for some time that the Ministry of Defence, for reasons best known to itself, is planning to hand over the MOD fire and rescue service to Capita. There has been no statement and no indication of what lies behind the process or this decision. Will the Secretary of State at least come to the House and make a statement on why the MOD is planning to hand over this valued service to Capita to prop up that company?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises a very specific point, so I think the best way to move forward would be for him to write to me. I will then be very happy to take up the matter with Ministers.

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

Following on from the question by the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and his reference to newspapers in the north, including The Yorkshire Post and the Hull Daily Mail, campaigning on powering up the north, on 23 June it will be five years since the then Chancellor George Osborne launched the northern powerhouse. I would like to echo the Chair’s request for a debate on what progress has actually been made in closing the gap between the north and London and the south-east, on giving the north real devolved powers to drive change and not just have talking shops, and on whether it is time to regenerate the Humber docklands in the same way and with the same impetus that the London docklands were regenerated over 40 years ago.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

This is the second question calling for a debate on the northern powerhouse. As I said in answer to the first, I think it is a very good idea. We should collectively across the House, depending on the routes available, think about having such a debate, principally, from the Government’s point of view, because we feel we have made a substantial commitment to the north of England. We have had unprecedented investment in better transport across the north, as the hon. Lady will know, with £13 billion of investment so far—a record level—and further planned investment to come.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Dozens of my young constituents attend the Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus in nearby Coatbridge. There has been much concern about the health of children attending the school since reports of teachers falling ill with the same type of cancer, and one boy with autism going blind, reportedly due to arsenic poisoning. Given that the site the school is built on is a former landfill that included arsenic, I am very grateful to the Scottish Government for having instituted an inquiry into this matter, following representations from Fulton MacGregor and Alex Neil, but I hope that the parents are involved at an early stage. Can the Leader of the House bring about a debate on building public buildings, including schools, on former landfill sites, so that we can get to the bottom of this?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

What the hon. Gentleman describes is obviously of considerable concern. I am pleased there is an inquiry, as he has set out, and I would certainly recommend that he raise the matter at Scottish questions on 19 June.

Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Opposition Whip (Commons), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee)

Last weekend, another unauthorised encampment was set up in Newport, this time on Beechwood Park, causing huge frustration and cost for residents, local authorities and the police. The Government have recently consulted on extra powers for local authorities and the police to deal with such circumstances, so can we have a quick update from Ministers on giving our authorities the powers they need?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

That would be a very good question to ask on Monday 17 June at Housing, Communities and Local Government questions.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

Can we have a statement or debate on the actions of the Home Office contractor Serco, which yesterday announced that it will go ahead with 300 lock-change evictions of asylum seekers before its contract ends in September? Does the Leader of the House recognise the anger and disgust of many Glaswegians at the actions of Serco, and does he agree that the Home Office should instruct Serco to halt that policy, especially given that there are live legal proceedings brought by a Glasgow South West constituent, who is appealing this decision in the Inner House of the Court of Session?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I believe the hon. Gentleman tabled an urgent question on this matter that was not granted, so I recognise how important it is to him. If he would like to write to me in more detail, I will make sure that appropriate Ministers are engaged on it.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Leader of Change UK - The Independent Group

Madam Deputy Speaker, I warn you and everyone else that I am about to use the C-word. It is 203 sleeps until Christmas, which most people of course will welcome, but it is also 140 days before we are due to leave the European Union without a deal, which business certainly does not want, and for which there is no majority in this place or the country. Unfortunately, Labour Front Benchers were unable yesterday to deliver enough votes from their own MPs to begin the process of stopping us crashing out of the EU without a deal. The Leader of the House, who is a good man and will always do his best, has said that the Government take the view that Parliament should not be prorogued by whoever is our next Prime Minister, to the exclusion of Parliament, so that we crash out without a deal, so the Government apparently think that would be the wrong thing for any future Prime Minister to do. What will he do to ensure that Parliament takes control of the process, and that we do not leave without a deal at the end of October because of an irresponsible Prime Minister?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Government’s future position will of course be determined by a new Prime Minister, but I feel confident, from all I have heard from those putting themselves forward for that position, that all of them recognise that a deal is the best way forward. The answer to the right hon. Lady’s question, I think, is that the best, most secure, most sensible and rational way forward for us as a Parliament is to come together and support a deal with the European Union.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour, East Lothian

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Scott Glynn of Tranent in East Lothian, who was awarded an MBE in Her Majesty’s birthday honours list? Since 2013, the Walk With Scott Foundation has raised over £300,000 for local communities and charities, but more importantly, Scott brings people together to chat, talk and make new friends. Can we have a debate on the role of volunteers in keeping our societies strong, safe and together?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

A short while ago, of course, we had a very good debate on the voluntary sector. I recognise its utter importance, and like the hon. Gentleman, I salute all that it does. I echo his remarks and congratulate Scott Glynn on his well deserved MBE.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

I am assisting a veteran’s widow who is living on the breadline in Bosnia, on an armed forces pension. She loses a significant proportion of her pension due to a steep service charge for processing her cheque, and she has to receive a cheque because the UK cannot transfer funds electronically to Bosnia. Will the Leader of the House ask his former colleagues in the Treasury to find a way to ensure that she and others like her are not penalised, and to make a statement setting out the solution to the problem?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises a specific matter regarding the use of cheques to pay pensions. I would be very happy to take that up—perhaps in conjunction with him, if he writes to me—with the relevant Minister at the Treasury.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Labour, Barnsley East

The Government stated in answer to my written question that they do not collect centrally the figures for spending on veterans’ support services by region. Can we have a Government statement to determine where money is spent on supporting veterans who have served their country?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

With regard As to the precise presentation of those statistics, clearly that is something that I do not have sight of at this moment. However, if the hon. Lady would like to drop me a line about that, I would be very happy to take it up, see what the situation is and discuss with Ministers whether this might be done slightly differently or on a more disaggregated basis, as she suggests.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can we have a statement, or indeed, a Government U-turn, on TV licences, so that over 3 million pensioners continue to receive free TV licences?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

There has actually been a statement on the issue of free TV licences, which will be—[Interruption.] It may have been an urgent question, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to that.

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

I again welcome the news that Asia Bibi has been relocated to Canada after being falsely accused of blasphemy in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the blasphemy laws are still in place, and are still being used to persecute religious minorities. In fact, the very cell that held Asia Bibi is now occupied by Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Masih, two Christians also falsely accused of blasphemy. Worse still, in February, upon hearing that four women had been accused of blasphemy, an angry mob attacked a Christian village, leading to the displacement of approximately 200 Christian families. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or debate on this very important issue?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this extremely important matter. We welcome reports that Asia Bibi has been able to travel freely and can now make decisions about her future. We are very concerned about the persecution of members of all religious minorities and the misuse of the blasphemy law, which is why in December, the Foreign Secretary announced an independent review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office support for persecuted Christians overseas. As to a debate, this would be an excellent subject for, perhaps, an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The consumer safety Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kelly Tolhurst—has finally told Whirlpool UK that she intends to order the recall of at least half a million of its dangerous tumble dryers, responsible for hundreds of fires in homes across the UK. Whirlpool has until tomorrow to respond. Can we have a statement on Monday, so that the Government can say, after four years of inaction on the worst consumer safety crisis of modern times, how they intend to proceed?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

On the face of it, there is clearly a very serious issue here, which has been highlighted in the past. It is very good that the Minister has intervened in this way to make sure that action will be taken.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy)

On the day of the European elections, my constituent, Christine Fletcher, had to rush her unwell daughter to hospital for a brain scan. Christine could not then get a proxy vote, because she was not the person who was incapacitated by the medical emergency, yet as far back as 2015, the Electoral Commission recommended an extension of the grounds for proxy voting to cover such circumstances. Can we get a Government statement on when they will adopt such a sensible, simple measure, so that people such as Christine do not have additional stress when they are dealing with an already stressful situation?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The best place that I can direct the hon. Gentleman to is questions to the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, which are on 20 June.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I have had complaints from two of my smaller charities about a letter that they received from the noble Lord Pickles on behalf of The Parliamentary Review, asking them to take part in a competition by submitting 1,000 words on what a worthy charity is. The only problem is that they are then asked to cough up £950 for what they wrote to appear online, and £2,800 for it to be in print. Does the Leader of the House think that it is appropriate for people to trade on the name of Parliament? And might he just have a quiet word with the noble Lord, and all the other great and good people who put their name to this scheme?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do not know the details of the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but on the basis of what he has said on the Floor of the House, I would like to know a bit more about it. If he were to write to me, I would be very happy to look into the matter.