The business for next week is as follows:
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for announcing the business for next week. The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee seems to be the de facto Leader of the House once again, because he is setting the agenda with debates on two days—lucky him.
The motion for the House to rise on
Last week, the Leader of the House said that the House would return on
It is no wonder that ambassadors are saying that the UK’s standing around the world is diminished. On the one hand, the Government said that they are setting net zero carbon targets for 2050, but on the other hand the Treasury introduced its Value Added Tax (Reduced Rate) (Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2019, which is in effect a steep VAT increase for the installation of energy-saving materials. More importantly, is the Leader of the House aware of the point raised by my noble friend Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords? The Prime Minister said that Labour peers were blocking the motion relating to climate change targets, but it is a regret motion, not a blocking motion, and it seeks to improve the proposals. Baroness Smith said that she regrets the lack of detail in the SI, because it leaves shipping and aviation out of the targets. Will the Leader of the House ask the PM to apologise to my noble friends in the other place? The Prime Minister was plain wrong, and I have the relevant exchange here if it would be helpful to the Leader of the House.
Boris Johnson withdrew the dangerous bendy buses from London, and they have since been removed in Swansea, York, Bradford and Leeds. Despite that, the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, has proposed bendy buses for a route between Walsall and Birmingham. It is a wholly inappropriate use of public funds, because a perfectly good service already exists and local people are opposed to the decision. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ensure that the Mayor understands that bendy buses are dangerous and unwanted? The Mayor said that the buses were being introduced for the Commonwealth games. The Government have announced a funding package for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth games, with 75% coming from central Government and 25% being raised locally. However, there was no news of consequential funding for Wales, and the Secretary of State for Wales did not mention that yesterday. I am pretty sure that the Government have to provide such funding, so will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State writes to the First Minister of Wales to explain whether Wales will receive it?
More than 40 Members have signed early-day motion 2368, which was tabled by Stephen Lloyd and calls on the Government to automatically fund the legal representation of all victims of terrorist atrocities and their families.
[That this House expresses concern that victims of terrorist atrocities are not automatically eligible for legal aid; regrets that a recently published government review rejected introducing automatic non-means-tested legal aid funding to bereaved families after a state-related death; notes that state organisations involved in deaths from terrorist attacks have access to legal teams and experts at public expense; recognises that in France victims of terrorism, and their families, are automatically eligible for state-funded legal representation; and calls on the Government to automatically fund the legal representation of all victims of terrorist atrocities and their families, inclusive of all coroner hearings and inquests.]
Lawyers acting pro bono on behalf of families of the victims of the London Bridge terror attack have had their legal aid applications denied. At the same time, Government agencies have used public funds to hire some of the best legal teams to represent their interests in court. Families of victims of the March 2017 Westminster attack have also been told that they are unlikely to receive funding for the inquest, which ended last year. This is an insult to victims of terror, and the Government need to reverse it as soon as possible.
It is Armed Forces Day on Saturday to honour the men and women who make up our armed forces, and we had a good debate on that this week. At this very moment, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence Secretary are announcing our five pledges to support the forces and their families—fair pay, decent housing, a voice for servicemen and women, an end to privatisation, and support for forces children—but there has been a real-terms pay cut for our servicemen and women over the past seven years. The starting salary of an Army private is now £1,150 lower in real terms than in 2010.
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks, which I will address in detail in a moment.
First, Mr Speaker, I join the Prime Minister who earlier this week rightly congratulated you on having served as Speaker for 10 years. The Prime Minister said it does not seem like 10 years, to which an Opposition Member was heard to mutter that it seems more like 20, which was a foolish and misguided remark, as I am sure you would agree.
I have been feeling somewhat guilty since last week, as I invited several regular attendees of business questions to join me on holiday over the recess but did not extend the invitation to you, Mr Speaker. Do please join us. It is just £500 for the week, which you will be pleased to know includes all flights.
The hon. Lady specifically asked about the recess motion to which the whole House agreed. The Government are clear that there should be an opportunity for the new Prime Minister to appear before this House before the recess and that, in the event that there is any doubt in the matter, I have no doubt that Parliament will express itself. Hopefully that is now sufficiently clear.
The hon. Lady also asked whether there will be a recess to accommodate the conferences. All I can say is that that will of course be a matter for the new Prime Minister, but it is usual for time to be set aside for the conference recess. One might reasonably expect time to be made available in the usual way.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of the VAT rise for energy-saving materials, but she did not point out that, in fact, the rise is due to EU regulations and an EU requirement. In the absence of that imperative from the EU, it is not something we would necessarily have brought forward.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the House of Lords regret motion relating to the climate change targets. I understand her point about the meaning of that motion, which will have been noted by this House. The main point remains that, as a Government, we have taken a leading step on tackling emissions and climate change, and that step should not be downgraded or overlooked in any way
The hon. Lady also raised the issue of bendy buses in and around Walsall, and I believe she was seeking my assistance in reaching out to the Mayor of the West Midlands. If she needs any assistance, I am happy to do that, but I am sure that if she were to approach the Mayor directly, he would, in his usual manner, be very accommodating and wish to engage with her.
The hon. Lady also asked whether I could prevail upon the Secretary of State for Wales to ensure that he writes to his counterpart on the matter of consequential costs arising from the Commonwealth games, and I will be happy to do that. As this has been raised at the Dispatch Box this morning, I know that that message will have been heard. She also raised the issue of legal representation for the victims of terrorism. I believe that the Justice Committee will shortly be considering these matters in some detail, which may be of interest to her, and of course a lengthy debate on just this subject took place in Westminster Hall a short time ago. I wish to echo the hon. Lady’s words on Armed Forces Day, which is on Saturday. We owe all our brave men and women a huge debt of gratitude for all that they do to keep us safe in these islands.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the UN International Day of Parliamentarism and rightly registered the fact that you, Mr Speaker, have played such an active role, over time, in making sure that the ideals of our mother of Parliaments and all the good things that flow from that are promoted across the world.
Finally, the hon. Lady rightly raised the issue of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who went to Iran on holiday to see relatives and has been incarcerated for far too long. Our thoughts are with her, with her family and with her husband, and I assure the hon. Lady that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues to work hard to try to secure her release. Indeed, the Prime Minister has raised this specific matter with the Iranian authorities and leadership on more than one occasion.
Mindful of the upcoming celebrations of Armed Forces Day, and notwithstanding the reports of Army instructors being accused of historical abuse, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate to mark Victory over Japan Day, so that we can record the terrible atrocities suffered by prisoners in the Japanese war camps?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of VJ Day. We tend to think about the victory in Europe, but of course the war continued beyond that point and, as he has stated, many awful atrocities took place that were particularly associated with the Asian element of the second world war. The Royal British Legion and the Government will be working together to ensure that the 75th anniversary of VJ Day on
May I, too, congratulate you on your 10 years in the Chair, Mr Speaker? You will recall that I was one of your sponsors, and a very good decision I made at that time.
May I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing what there is of the business for next week? As well as the purgatory of this business, we now have the purgatory of the never-ending Conservative leadership contest. May we therefore have a debate not on bendy buses but on the construction of model buses, historic photography and uncut fields? It has to be said that that would be a lot more interesting than all the unicorn chasing that seems to be going on over Brexit. When it comes to Scotland, it seems for both candidates to be a matter of their telling Scotland, “You cannae dae that”, “We’re no going to let you do this” and “Don’t even think about that.” I am not sure how telling Scotland what it cannot do is somehow going to endear them to the people of Scotland. We know that with just the prospect of Prime Minister Boris support for independence rises to 53%, so we on these Benches are having a particularly good Tory leadership contest.
May we have a debate about Select Committees, given that we are celebrating 40 years since they were established? As you said yesterday, Mr Speaker, they are the key to holding Ministers to account for the Government’s conduct—except that they do not, because Ministers regularly refuse to attend Select Committee hearings, thereby evading scrutiny. The Scottish Affairs Committee has asked for a Home Office Minister to give evidence to our drugs inquiry, to explain the Government’s criminal justice approach to drugs. The Home Office has contemptuously refused to supply a Minister to appear before the Committee. In the next couple of weeks, we are likely to receive the news that there will have been 1,000 drug deaths in Scotland last year, so this refusal is a gross insult to the families of those affected. What sort of message does it send to reluctant Select Committee witnesses when Ministers themselves defiantly refuse to appear before Select Committees? It is a disgrace and it undermines our Select Committees.
Lastly, we have estimates next week. Thanks to the SNP—and perhaps in part because of my intervention—we can now actually discuss estimates on estimates day. A couple of amendments have been tabled that would link the estimates to a no-deal Brexit. Given that we will not have an another opportunity properly to discuss Brexit, take a view on it and vote on it, I hope that the Government will engage with the process constructively, so that before we break for recess we can have another say on their Brexit plans.
As usual, it is the same old tunes. As we know, the hon. Gentleman is a gifted musician—I will keep coming back to this—and the House may or may not know that he played in Runrig, which was an excellent band, and Big Country, in which he was not the best-looking member in the line-up, I have to say, but he was none the less—[Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] All right, it might just have been the way they were photographed. Anyway, he was indeed very talented. I have been thinking about the other bands that perhaps he should have played in at some point in his career. Given his grip on the great issues of the day, perhaps it should have been Wet Wet Wet; given his party’s manifesto, perhaps it should have been Madness; or, given the heartbreak and blubbering anguish that the hon. Gentleman would cause if his scaremongering policies ever led to Scottish independence, perhaps he would have been best placed in Tears for Fears. [Hon. Members: “Oh.”] Well, it was better than last week, Mr Speaker, if nothing else. You will have to agree that I am improving. [Interruption.] Perhaps it was worse than last week.
As for the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised, he asked for a debate on model buses; I think he was referring to my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson and the cheery faces that he paints on these model buses, apparently. All I can say is that that is one of the most sensible suggestions I have ever heard the hon Gentleman make in the Chamber. We will certainly take that forward as a serious proposal.
More seriously, the hon. Gentleman rightly salutes 40 years since the formation of Select Committees. We should remember Norman St John-Stevas, who was instrumental in ensuring that Select Committees were brought to bear. The hon. Gentleman raised the specific issue of the appearance of Ministers before Select Committees, particularly in the context of the effect of drugs in Scotland. I am sure his comments will have been heard both in the Chamber and beyond the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the amendments to the estimates that we will consider next week, and suggested that there should be some discourse on matters relating to Brexit. I assure him that my door is always open to him so that we can discuss whichever matters he would like to raise with me.
Notwithstanding the Leader of the House’s gentle teasing, which has been taken in very good part by Members across the House, I think it only right to record that Pete Wishart is a distinguished member of the parliamentary rock band, MP4—I say this really by way of a public information notice—and he performs with great skill and dexterity on keyboards. MP4 raise money for Help for Heroes and have performed with considerable distinction in my own constituency. Their performance is still talked about widely in the highways and byways of my beautiful constituency. The hon. Gentleman is greatly appreciated and I would not want him to feel unloved in this place.
Can we have a debate on the issue of transparency and the Heathrow third runway decision? Yesterday, like many Members, I met climate and environmental campaigners. People in my community are simply baffled as to how such an irrational decision to expand Heathrow could have been taken by a Government who, I know, care about the environment. When I put in freedom of information requests, what came back was so heavily redacted that there was little information to tell me how the decision was reached. Will the Leader of the House approach the Department for Transport to encourage it to be more transparent and to remind Ministers that they should bring people with them on a decision by explaining it fully, not by hiding it away in secret?
First, let me congratulate my right hon. Friend on the strength and veracity of her campaigning on this matter, albeit that the direction of travel is not exactly as she would wish. She raises the specific issue of transparency. I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with any Minister whom she may wish to approach in order to discuss that matter.
As the Leader of the House has announced, the Backbench Business Committee has debates on both Wednesday and Thursday of next week, but, of course, it also determines which Department’s estimates will be debated on Monday and Tuesday, so it is a clean sweep for the week: four days of business determined by the Backbench Business Committee. Under those circumstances, it would be churlish of me to ask the Leader of the House for more time on this particular occasion.
I have a bit of sadness from my locality. I and my hon. Friend Liz Twist, who is in her place, discovered this week that, as we anticipated, 170 members of the workforce at De La Rue are being made redundant as a result of the Government awarding the contract to manufacture the British passport to a French-Dutch company. In future, the passports will be manufactured in Poland. One hundred and seventy workers lose their jobs in Gateshead, and our post-Brexit blue British passport is to be manufactured in Poland—you just could not make this stuff up.
Finally, let me make a very impassioned plea. A Nigerian mother and her three children live in my constituency. I will not give their names out at the moment, but I am very, very concerned that, if they are deported as they are threatened to be, the smallest child, a two-year-old girl who was born in this country, will be sent back to Nigeria where the family will subject her to female genital mutilation. It must not happen. Please, can we get it stopped?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to his prowess in bringing forward the various motions and debates to the House. I just have this feeling that all this will end up, on around
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of De La Rue and the passports, which I know will have been noted and is on the record. As to the very serious matter that he raised at the end of his remarks around the Nigerian family facing deportation, I say not only that my door is open, but that I would be personally very keen to sit down with him and look at that in some detail so that we can determine between us the best way forward.
I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on reaching the halfway mark in your career as our Speaker.
That we plant trees for those born later seems lost on the denizens of Network Rail who continue, despite a very good independent report, to destroy trees and shrubs trackside on an industrial scale, including in places such as Grantham in Lincolnshire. This is certainly unethical and much of it, given the effect on protected wildlife, illegal. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement by Ministers to say how this decimation and destruction can be brought to an end before all that is bright and beautiful is made dark and ugly by the brutal bureaucrats of Network Rail?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed for his eloquently placed question regarding trees and Network Rail. As we know, he is a lover of poetry, particularly the poetry of John Clare, who wrote a poem called “The Wind and Trees”. I know my right hon. Friend has a long-term love of trees and a long-term problem with wind, by which I mean, of course, his verbosity in this Chamber on occasion. May I share one small section of that poem with the House?
“I love the song of tree and wind
How beautiful they sing
The licken on the beach tree rind
E’en beats the flowers of spring.
From the southwest sugh sugh it comes
Then whizes round in pleasant hums”.
On that rather beautiful note, I think I should concede entirely to my right hon. Friend’s request and ensure that I secure a meeting with him and the Environment Secretary as soon as possible.
That exchange should be framed and displayed in a prominent place in the Lincolnshire abode of Sir John Hayes .
As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, Hull is a beautiful city and definitely a place that every Member should take time to visit. One way to make it even more beautiful than it already is—if that is possible—would be to introduce butterflies throughout the city. Hull wants to become the first city in the UK to be a butterfly city and adopt the brimstone butterfly, so please could the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the importance of biodiversity, butterflies and the beautiful city of Hull?
How nice to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for raising the matter of the brimstone butterfly, about which I currently know absolutely nothing, but will shortly know a great deal. I would perhaps point her to an Adjournment debate, where an appropriate Minister could be brought to the House to listen to her proposals.
The Leader of the House will be aware, as we all are, of what seems to be a rise in homophobic attacks across the country. I say, “what seems to be a rise”, because the reporting has probably not yet caught up with the day-to-day reality. This is causing alarm across the country and on both sides of the House. Could we have a statement from a Home Office Minister on homophobic attacks?
I think the whole House is united in saying that there is no place in a civilised society for homophobia or anything related to it. Let me take this opportunity to refer to the Duke of Cambridge’s recent very positive remarks on this matter. This may well be an opportunity for a further debate in the House—perhaps a Backbench Business Committee debate.
My hon. Friend raises an extremely important. He has campaigned on this issue for a considerable period of time, and I congratulate him on being instrumental in bringing forward the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I believe he also has an article on homelessness in The House magazine this week. He asks specifically about the Vagrancy Act, which is indeed well over 100 years old and its fitness for purpose is highly questionable. If he would like to have discussions with me, I will have a look at what possibilities there may be along the lines he has suggested.
These proceedings are being watched live by the pupils of Hillington Primary School, who invited me last Friday to see the outcome of their school project on the keys to unlocking education, which is about ensuring that young people across the world receive education, particularly in poverty-stricken and war-torn nations of the world. May we have a debate or a statement from the Government about how we, as Members of Parliament, on behalf of pupils like those at Hillington Primary School, can advance this cause to ensure that young people across the world receive access to education?
The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely important point about the importance of education. We often focus on that in the context of our own country, but it is also extremely important globally in terms of raising young people and families, and people generally, out of poverty. The hon. Gentleman and Hillington Primary School are to be thoroughly congratulated on the excellent work they have done on the keys to unlocking education. I am delighted that the pupils are all watching at the moment. May I say to each and every one of them, thank you for all you have done?
We welcome the pupils of Hillington Primary School to our proceedings this morning. I hope that they think the Chamber this morning has been as well-behaved as they have.
If my right hon. Friend would like to visit the beautiful constituency of Stafford, he will see that we are contributing greatly to house building in the UK, with a rate more than double the national average. However, developers are taking advantage of rules about councils falling very briefly below the five-year land supply to put in developments that are unwanted by local residents and environmentally unsound, particularly in the village of Penkridge. May we have a debate on the way in which developers are taking advantage of loopholes in planning legislation, and on how we should abide by the plans that have been put in place by our councils, in consultation with residents, and not see these unwanted, unplanned-for housing developments springing up simply because the developer wants to put them there?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point about housing. We too often speak simply about volume. Of course, the Government have a very clear record in that regard, with 220,000 homes built in the last year for which we have records—the highest number of each of the past 31 years, bar one. None the less, he is absolutely right that quality of development, in the right place, is absolutely key to getting our housing policy right. I would perhaps point him to an Adjournment debate to discuss this and make his points to the relevant Minister. He is no stranger to that, as I believe he has an Adjournment debate next week on the issue of precious metals.
A constituent of mine sadly diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s has started a petition signed by over 26,000 people that outlines the devastating impact on her life and calls for routine screening to be extended to younger women. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on what we can do to increase early diagnosis of breast cancer at all ages?
The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. Cancer is one of the key targets that the national health service has in terms of getting survival rates up, and they are at historically high levels. A lot of progress has been made in that respect. She also raises the equally important issue of prevention and early diagnosis rather than dealing with problems later on. That is central to the national health service plan that has been brought in on the back of the record cash funding that we are now putting in.
Early-day motion 2453 has very quickly gained substantial support from 47 MPs to date.
[That this House welcomes the establishment by the UN General Assembly of the UN International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on
The EDM welcomes the establishment by the UN of an international day commemorating the victims of violence based on religion or belief. Will the Leader of the House also welcome it and consider how this annual day could be appropriately recognised by this House, bearing in mind that it will fall during our recess on
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that she is, rightly, deeply passionate about that matter, and we have discussed it personally on a number of occasions. The Government are entirely committed, and rightly so, to freedom of religion and belief and to promoting respect between people of different religions and beliefs. I wonder whether this would be a good subject for an Adjournment debate. However, as she pointed out, the event to which she refers falls within the recess. I do not have a ready answer to that conundrum, but I would be happy to discuss with her later what options there might be, if that is of use.
The Leader of the House is getting on my right side this morning. As chairman of the John Clare Trust, I was delighted to hear him quoting John Clare’s poetry. My favourite poem, and probably his best love poem, is entitled “I do not love thee”; I recommend that the Leader of the House reads it.
The Leader of the House also mentioned Norman St John-Stevas. I knew Norman St John-Stevas in the early part of my career here. I add my thanks to him for setting up the Select Committee system. He was also a great social campaigner. To read his speeches against capital punishment, social injustice and women in prison is a wonderful treat. He had a sense of humour and dagger- like incisiveness when it was necessary.
There have been many big demonstrations this week, but there was a smaller one by women in prison. On the whole, I do not believe that women should go to prison unless they are very violent. We should not be sending women to prison for not paying television licences or for minor crimes. Can we have a debate on women in prisons? Why can we not have women’s centres up and down our country that support women who get into trouble with the law? At the moment, they come out of prison with no housing, no support, no counselling and no work.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reference to John Clare and Norman St John-Stevas. As he may know, they have a connection, in that they both come from Northamptonshire, I believe. They are both great, late and much missed individuals.
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about women in prison. The female prison population is a minority. None the less, there are issues as to whether incarceration in that form for women is appropriate in all instances, as he suggested. He referred to the very effective rally yesterday in the Emmanuel Centre here in Westminster, and I believe that the speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, was well received. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks will be heard.
May we have a debate about the Send My Friend to School campaign? Last Friday, I attended an assembly at Hythehill Primary School in Lossiemouth where P6 pupils Jack MacKenzie and Chloe Thomson spoke in front of the whole school about the campaign. Along with deputy headteacher Rachael Blackhall, I received hundreds of brilliantly designed messages from pupils across the school, which I delivered to Downing Street earlier this week. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Jack, Chloe, Mrs Blackhall and everyone at Hythehill Primary School on what they have done for this campaign and, indeed, what schools across the country are doing to raise awareness of it?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the important Send My Friend to School campaign, which recognises the global importance of education. Just as he has entreated me to do, I congratulate Jack, Chloe and Rachael Blackhall on all they have done for this very important campaign.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I ask for your assistance and that of the Leader of the House? Ten days ago, a 73-year-old constituent of mine was on holiday in Zante. He left to go for a walk to a monastery on top of a local mountain, and he has not been seen since. The Greek authorities have pulled out of any search and rescue efforts. The Western Beacons Mountain Search and Rescue Team are willing to leave tomorrow to conduct the search, but they need £5,000. I have contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether any financial assistance is available, but may I ask for your assistance in finding a source of Government funding that would allow the team to leave just after 12 o’clock tomorrow, so that we can at the very least find this gentleman and bring him home?
This is clearly a matter of the utmost urgency, and I would be very grateful if the hon. Lady met me immediately after these questions to discuss it.
The hon. Lady asked if the Chair could do anything to help. I can merely say that this is clearly a serious and urgent matter, and I am delighted to hear what the Leader of the House has said, which I am sure will move matters forward.
May we have a debate on UK resilience planning in the face of weather emergencies? I ask this because, last Monday, the people of Stirling experienced an extraordinary weather event, which resulted in widespread flooding and flood damage in the constituency. Will the Leader of the House also join me in expressing appreciation of the professional and highly effective response of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland; the business community and their employees; and especially the employees of Stirling Council—led by the chief executive, Carol Beattie, as well as Brian Roberts, head of infrastructure, David Creighton, head of roads and land services, and Kristine Johnson in relation to emergency planning—and the staff of Castleview Primary School, and Ochil House and Wallace High School, because it was one of their finest hours?
There is no doubt that in these changed circumstances, with different weather conditions right across the United Kingdom, including in the south-west—the seat I represent is in Devon—we are seeing just such effects of erratic weather. As Members, I think we all know of the devastation, and the highly personal devastation, that can bring when it has an impact both on people’s businesses and their homes. I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Carol Beattie and all those at Stirling Council on their work with primary schools and the others he mentioned in his question.
This week, we saw a report of a leaked A-level maths paper. In my constituency, there have been allegations about questions being shared when one part of the country takes exams before the same paper is sat in another. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the security processes maintained by school exam boards? The situation appears to be deeply unfair to students up and down the country.
I can but wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady that the situation she describes of tests being taken at different times—with questions common to both tests therefore being available from the earlier stage to the advantage of those taking the second test, as it were—is clearly totally and utterly unacceptable. I believe, although I stand to be corrected, that there have even been some arrests in relation to this particular issue, such is its seriousness. It would perhaps be an excellent subject for an Adjournment debate, with an opportunity to put such points to a Minister from the Department for Education.
Earlier this week, Crawley News 24 reported that the recently relocated main post office in WH Smith in my constituency did not even have any of its self-service counters available—ironically, due to a lack of staff. Can I get an assurance from the Government that pressure will be brought to bear on the Post Office—obviously, it is a Government-owned entity—to ensure that there are adequate staffing levels, particularly where the relocation of main post offices has taken place, as it has in Crawley and other towns across the country?
My hon. Friend’s question does not surprise me in the least, knowing how vigorously he has campaigned locally in his constituency on the matter of post offices and local services, and he is absolutely right that they are vital. As we all know, post offices often provide the vital banking services that are often not present because the last bank in the town or local community has disappeared. On his specific question about staffing, I would point him to Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on Tuesday
Following what has been said about Wales, may I say that Scotland and Northern Ireland are also due full Barnett consequentials from the Birmingham games funding? We recently heard the Tory leadership candidates and their Conservative representatives in Scotland state that only an outright SNP majority would be a mandate for the Scottish Government to implement their manifesto promises, despite the Scottish Parliament having voted to do so. Given those statements, may we have a debate on parliamentary democracy, and on where this minority UK Government’s mandate has emerged from?
On that matter I would probably point the hon. Gentleman towards Cabinet Office questions. I do not have the precise date, but I know they are coming up before the recess.
This year marked the 75th anniversary of D-day. It also marked another anniversary—that of the Great Escape, during which 50 prisoners of war were murdered by the Gestapo. One of those 50 was Sandy Gunn, from Auchterarder in my constituency, whose Spitfire has recently been discovered in Norway as a result of the ongoing AA810 project. Sandy served as part of the photographic reconnaissance unit—a highly skilled and dangerous unit that carried out missions across enemy territory to try to bring valuable information back to allied forces in the UK and elsewhere around the world. Despite that great service, more than 70 of those who died are still without any known graves or national memorial. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate a national memorial for those men who served in the photographic reconnaissance unit and gave so much to our country?
My hon. Friend raises the important issues of the Great Escape and Sandy Gunn, and the importance of photo reconnaissance to our efforts in winning the second world war. Sandy Gunn is one of many unsung heroes in that conflict, and the idea of holding a debate on that issue is a good one. Perhaps my hon. Friend might seek a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate, or he could prevail on the good offices of Ian Mearns.
Last week, NHS Health Scotland published the first data from the official evaluation of minimum unit pricing in Scotland. The figures are highly encouraging, and I commend them to comrades and colleagues in the House. They show that alcohol consumption in Scotland dropped by 3% last year. It rose by 2% in England and Wales where no minimum unit pricing is in place, although it will be introduced in Wales next year. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming those results, and will the Government make a statement on their plans to reduce alcohol harm in the rest of the country?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the fall in alcohol consumption in Scotland. He suggested that it has been rising in England and Wales, which I am not sure is the case as I think it may also have been declining, although I may be wrong on that point—[Interruption.] Somebody says I am wrong, so perhaps I am. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that under our national health service long-term plan, we have signalled our support for improving treatment for patients, and expert alcohol care teams will work in the 25% worst affected parts of the country, supporting patients who have issues with alcohol misuse and their families.
Before he left the Chair, Mr Speaker mentioned the rock band MP4, and I cannot resist segueing neatly into a tiny little plug for the newest entry in the parliamentary musical bloc: string quartet the Statutory Instruments. Modesty forbids me from saying much more, other than that Members should check their emails for an invite to the debut concert next Tuesday.
The Leader of the House may have been forewarned by his predecessor that I have a penchant for asking for the location of missing pieces of legislation. In no particular order, and with no priority, can he say where the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, and the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill are? I could go on, but those are the three at the top of my list.
Currently, two in five pensioners who are eligible for pension credit do not claim it. In my constituency, over £7 million of pension credit payments are not claimed and are therefore retained by the Treasury. All of that is occurring as we witness an increase in pensioner poverty. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out what his Government will do to ensure that all pensioners eligible for pension credit are made aware of this support and how they can claim it?
The hon. Lady raises a very important and specific point about the non-claiming of pension credit. I totally agree with her. It is very important that those who are entitled to it are aware that they are able to claim it and do make that claim. This is important finance which aims to support them. Given the fact that this is a very specific matter, I will point her to Work and Pensions questions on
Eighteen young people from Coventry are to take part in the 53rd international children’s games this summer, which are due to be held in Ufa, Russia, in July. The Coventry team will be competing against 1,500 other children from 90 cities around the world in many different sports, including athletics and swimming. I know these young people will have an unforgettable experience, and will build friendships with children of different nationalities that will hopefully last a lifetime. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing all those young Coventrians all the best? Will he look to arrange a debate in Government time on the benefits of sport, not just for health and wellbeing but for its ability to develop cultural relationships between cities and friendships between competitors?
I congratulate every single one of those children who have stepped up and said they are willing to travel halfway round the world to engage in what sounds like a fantastic sporting competition involving 1,500 other competitors. I wish them well. Sport and exercise for young people is a very worthy subject for debate. I might direct the hon. Lady to the hon. Member for Gateshead and the Backbench Business Committee.
I thought the Leader of the House was very ungracious to suggest that Pete Wishart was not the best-looking member of Runrig. If I can paraphrase Paul McCartney, he is not even the best-looking member of MP4! [Laughter.] I’m not saying who is, obviously. By some strange omission MP4 have not been booked to play the Glastonbury festival this weekend, but it is a reminder of the importance of music festivals to the economy and to people’s wellbeing. A lot of smaller music festivals are now being hit for the first time by business rates bills, making their survival marginal at best. May we have a debate on why it is that music venues and music festivals now seem to be being picked on for business rates and other costs by the Government, when they contribute so much to our wellbeing and our economy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, first, for his observation about Pete Wishart. I think we have plumbed new depths in terms of his desirability. It is a very cruel observation, but I will check the photographs and see whether it is true. Perhaps I will report back next Thursday with my observations.
On the serious matter of music venues and business rates, I think the hon. Gentleman may be referring to the applicability or otherwise of tax reliefs, which have recently been announced, in relation to business rates. They typically apply to pubs, but currently I do not think they necessarily always apply to music venues. On music festivals, I am not familiar with exactly how the business rating system works in that respect. These are both matters for the Treasury, specifically the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. If he would like to drop me a line, I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with the Financial Secretary to discuss them.
Following on from the question from Patricia Gibson, I have previously raised the issue of understanding pension credit and doing more to promote it. After the launch of the independent “Credit where it’s due” campaign yesterday, I was shocked to find out that £5 million was not being claimed by pensioners in my constituency. I ask the Leader of the House to find time for a debate and not to refer us to DWP questions—there needs to be a debate so that we can highlight this issue. It affects not just one or two Members, but Members right across the House, so can we please have a debate on this important issue to ensure that pensioners receive the benefits and pension credit that they deserve?
The hon. Gentleman has quite fairly pressed me to go a little further than I did in answering Patricia Gibson, inasmuch as he points out that this is quite a wide-ranging issue. I point him to DWP questions on Monday—it is worth being there to ask a question on that point—but equally, perhaps he would consider applying for a Westminster Hall debate. [Interruption.]
As a fellow hay fever sufferer, I send my best wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you are obviously suffering from the high pollen count today.
Can we have a statement before the summer recess on progress in the infected blood inquiry? We know that a victim dies on average every four days and that the inquiry will probably not finish for another couple of years. Along with seven Opposition party leaders, I have requested the Prime Minister, and the two people who are standing to be the next Prime Minister, to commit to providing compensation now rather than waiting for two years, when we know that so many more people will die. Can we please have an interim statement?
The hon. Lady has put an enormous amount of work into the whole issue of infected blood and highlighting how important it is, and she should be congratulated on that. On compensation, the best way to take that forward would be a meeting with a Minister, and I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with the appropriate Minister so that she can discuss those issues.
The blistering incompetence of the independent members of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is becoming legendary across Staffordshire. Their most recent wheeze is to instruct a secondary school in my constituency, Birches Head high school, to increase the number of children that it takes but not to provide a single penny of capital funding to build the classrooms for the children to work in, forcing the school to cancel its in-house bus transportation scheme for the rest of the school to make budgets work. Can we have a statement at some point, perhaps from the Department for Education, on the sustainability of capital investment in school buildings, and perhaps a debate on a fit-and-proper-person test for cabinet members such as Ann James and Janine Bridges and whether they are fit to run cabinet, executive-level positions in any authority?
I do not think I will get too drawn into the—how shall I put it?—cross-fire of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in respect of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, other than to say that if the hon. Gentleman writes to me about the general matter of capital investment in schools, I will be very happy to have a close look at whether a debate might be appropriate or whether I might suggest facilitating a meeting with an appropriate Minister.
It was announced to the press this morning that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has appointed Henry Dimbleby to lead on a food review that will result in the publication of a national food strategy next year. A lot of us have been very excited about this and have spoken to Henry about it, but I am quite disappointed—particularly given the Environment Secretary’s fondness for appearing at the Dispatch Box—that we have not had a statement on that, nor have we even had a written ministerial statement. It is another example of things being announced in the press and not here. Will the Leader of the House lure the Environment Secretary to the Dispatch Box next week?
The Environment Secretary should be congratulated on all that he is doing in this area. I know that he takes it extremely seriously, and the appointment that has been made is an extremely good one. None the less, the hon. Lady is urging us to make a statement. Her remarks will have been heard by the Secretary of State, and if she wanted me to help to facilitate a meeting with a Minister in that Department to discuss the national food strategy, I would be very happy to do that.
There is a heatwave rolling across Europe, with record June temperatures recorded in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Yesterday we saw huge numbers of people from across our communities—30 or so from my constituency—travel to Westminster to lobby MPs about the urgent need to respond to the climate emergency that we as a Parliament have declared. May we therefore have a debate, in Government time, on the role that tidal energy could play as part of the UK’s future energy mix? There are many projects all the way along the west coast, from Solway to Somerset, but I am particularly interested in the potential for tidal energy on the River Wyre at Fleetwood.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and she is right to refer to yesterday’s gathering of people from across the country to underline the importance of global warming and the need for renewable energy, including tidal energy. She will be aware that we are now the leading economy to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We have also reduced emissions by 25% since 2010, we have now had the longest period of producing power without the use of coal since the industrial revolution, and we are seeing more and more energy being generated from renewables. I think that tidal energy would be a very good subject for an Adjournment debate.