The business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business. He announced the Northern Ireland Bill for Monday. As I understand it, the Bill will be published only later today. Despite a motion allowing amendments, there will be a window of only about half an hour for hon. Members to table amendments. This is a really important Bill, and the Opposition were happy to work with the Government to ensure that they get certainty on the Bill. Will the Leader of the House have discussions with the usual channels to ensure that we get scrutiny of this important Bill? We have always approached Northern Ireland on a cross-party basis, so I ask him to please think again.
Last week, I raised the issue of a debate on the Cox report, and the Gemma White inquiry is coming up. Can the Leader of the House update us on when the House is likely to be able to consider that motion?
I know that the Leader of the House is interested in tweeting: perhaps he could tweet a clarification. Last week, I raised the issue of the Government’s Value Added Tax (Reduced Rate) (Energy-Saving Materials) Order 2019, and he said that it was an EU requirement under its regulations. In his answer to a parliamentary question in 2018, when he was a Treasury Minister, he said that
Will he look again at whether it is possible for VAT to be changed on those materials, especially given the Prime Minister’s commitment to reduce emissions to zero by 2050? The Leader of the House said that it was not something that he would necessarily have brought forward, so I ask him again whether the Government have any plans to scrap VAT in this important area.
Perhaps the Leader of the House could also tweet the answer to this question. Who said that
“in a disruptive no-deal exit there will be a hit to the exchequer of about £90bn.”?
It was his right hon. Friend and former Treasury colleague, the Chancellor. I do not remember seeing no deal on the ballot paper. We did not get the sectoral analysis until we asked for it in the Chamber. The Leader of the House may say “It’s the will of the people”, but the people did not have the full information when they made their decision. I do not know whether he is aware of the message from the other place about the amazing cross-party support for a motion to set up a Joint Committee to consider a no-deal Brexit, which passed by 245 votes to 99. We all praise Select Committees, and this would be an important Select Committee because it would be a Joint Committee of both Houses. The motion would require the Select Committee to report by
The Leader of the House wrote a lovely article in “Red Box” saying that he sees
“a large part of my role as promoting parliament—to do what I can to ensure that people trust and understand its vital role”.
Does he agree with a former Leader of the House, now a Government Whip in the Lords, Lord Young, who has said that he views with alarm the promises made by Tory leadership candidates? The shadow Chancellor has costed those pledges, and the total for Boris Johnson is £57 billion and for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Hunt it is £43.4 billion—more than £100 billion in total. Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that both candidates were misleading people by implying that the Treasury’s Brexit war chest would fund their spending pledges and that if they intended to borrow more, they had not said how much. It is making Parliament look absurd that the candidates can make those pledges to win their election. The people one of them will govern will not even have a say. What can the Leader of the House do to stop candidates misleading people?
It took an urgent question for the House to talk about what happened with Serco. A screaming headline in The Law Society Gazette reads, “Serco subsidiary to pay £19.2m for lying to MoJ about tagging profits”. This is absolutely appalling. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Paul Maynard, was very helpful earlier—he is a very helpful Minister—but I think that we need a statement in Government time.
I invite the Leader of the House to visit the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid next Monday, when we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949, along with young legal aid lawyers. I am surprised that there are any left, but it will be good to see them there. The Leader of the House will know, I am sure, that since 2010 the number of cases assisted by legal aid has dropped from 900,000 to 15,000. This is about the rule of law and access to justice. If the Leader of the House could ensure that the Government will automatically fund legal aid for the families of victims of terrorist atrocities—a subject that I raised with him last week—that would be a nice way of celebrating the anniversary of the Act.
I know that you, Mr Speaker, went to see Richard Ratcliffe when he was on hunger strike. I saw “Speaker Bear” sitting on his chair. Both Richard and Nazanin have now ended their hunger strike. I said to Richard that I would raise Nazanin’s case from the Dispatch Box every week until she was freed. Will the Leader of the House please make representations, as the Foreign Secretary seems to have gone missing and is making promises that he cannot keep? I know that great things are in store for the Leader of the House, not least because he has a wonderful mentor in Sir John Hayes. Will he please stand in for the Foreign Secretary and raise the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? She is innocent, and she must be freed.
Earlier this week, Mr Speaker, you mentioned the loss of two of the House’s leading black and minority ethnic officials, Kamal El-Hajji and, of course, our own Speaker’s Chaplain, the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Kamal was the first person with a BME background to be appointed to the role of Serjeant at Arms, and the Rev. Rose is now the Church of England’s first black female bishop. We are sorry that she could not be the Bishop of London, and I know that she was trying to be a Canon of Westminster, but I think that was taken away from her. She has been a great comfort to everyone on the parliamentary estate. She has been here during debates, and she has talked to us one to one. She has been a reassuring presence, and we are grateful for both her presence and her prayers. We wish the two of them well in their future endeavours.
I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I shall come to them in a moment, but let me start by saying that I have some bad news. Unfortunately, I have had to cancel the holiday that I suggested last Thursday. The hon. Lady did not, I think, take my offer seriously, as she never replied to it. Pete Wishart was prepared to join us and provide the musical entertainment, but the appearance fee that he demanded was utterly disproportionate to his talent. Two pounds fifty and a couple of cans of Irn-Bru was a generous offer, and the hon. Gentleman should have accepted it. I mean, who does he think he is, Pete Wishart or something? Perhaps not.
Let me now deal with the hon. Lady’s questions. She rightly raised the business for Monday, and asked whether there would be time for sufficient scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Bill and the tabling of amendments to it. All I will say to her is that we are very aware of the importance of both those matters, and discussions are taking place in the usual channels.
The hon. Lady asked me about a potential debate on the Cox report. We did, of course, have a debate on that report recently, but she also raised the important matter of the Gemma White inquiry, which will be reporting soon. We are at one in respect of the desirability of a debate on that matter, and I am already engaged in discussions with my end of the usual channels with a view to such a debate.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of energy-saving materials again, and asked whether VAT was or was not applicable. More specifically, she asked whether it was a requirement of the European Union that we apply it at a certain level. That is my understanding, but given that the hon. Lady has pressed me again, which may mean that she has some information on this matter that she is keeping to herself—perhaps I am wrong; I do not know—I will check with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General, who I believe is the Minister responsible for that particular issue and tabled the statutory instrument.
The hon. Lady also raised the matter of the £90 billion that the Chancellor has referred to in respect of a potential no-deal exit from the European Union. Of course that is a figure that has been out there for quite some considerable time, not least in the analysis that the Government provided some months ago—an across-Whitehall report on the potential impact of no deal on the Exchequer.
The hon. Lady also raised the matter of the Joint Committee proposed by the House of Lords, and referred to the vote on that. We will of course consider that proposal very carefully when it comes to this House, but I would point out to the hon. Lady that there have been numerous opportunities in the past to debate at length the potential consequences of no deal. None the less, we will take the Joint Committee proposal seriously and have a very close look at that as a potential vehicle for further discussion of that matter.
The hon. Lady referred very generously to my lovely article, which was rather a kind way of introducing her remarks on that, and then she plunged into the costs of the various promises that the two candidates in the Conservative party leadership contest may have been putting forward. At one point she totalled them up to the dizzying heights of £100 billion, which pales into insignificance compared with the £1 trillion that her own party seems to be putting forward in additional borrowing, or indeed in additional tax to be raised from the hard-working men and women up and down our country.
The hon. Lady referred to Serco, but of course we have had an urgent question just this morning on the matter. She made some important points about legal aid. Justice questions are on Tuesday and, as I mentioned last week, the Justice Committee is looking at precisely the issue she has raised around the availability of legal aid to the suspected perpetrators of atrocities compared with its availability to those who have suffered as a consequence of their actions.
I applaud the hon. Lady for raising Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe again, as I know she intends to at the Dispatch Box every week as the shadow Leader of the House. I can once again assure her that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and others have been very engaged in ensuring that somebody who went to Iran simply for the purposes of a holiday and meeting family and friends is not incarcerated in the way she has been.
Finally, may I also welcome the hon. Lady’s comments regarding Rose Hudson-Wilkin and her appointment as Bishop of Dover? She will be much missed by this House, but will be a great asset and of great benefit to Dover.
May I first sincerely congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking on the role of Leader of the House and say how lovely it is to be asking the questions rather than answering them?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday the fantastic diversity and inclusion awards were held, celebrating all the House of Commons and Digital Service staff here in the House of Commons for all the amazing work they have done to try and improve the rates of diversity and inclusion here. So will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating everybody—all the nominees and award winners?
Will my right hon. Friend particularly join me in congratulating all those who worked so hard across parties on a very long-term basis—and also yourself, Mr Speaker, who supported the work—on the independent complaints and grievance procedure, which was one of yesterday’s award-winning entries? May I also thank all the staff of the House of Commons, Members’ staff, trade unions and so many people across the House who have really helped to ensure that everybody in this place in the future will be treated with dignity and respect?
Before the Leader of the House replies, I should like to echo very much what the right hon. Lady has said. Yesterday’s ceremony was a very happy, even joyous, occasion on which we were able to mark and commemorate great progress while being very aware of the continuing challenges and the great deal of additional work that remains to be done. She herself won an award, which she has been too modest specifically to reference, and I think that she regarded it as a tribute to her, but also to all those who worked in her support. This is one of those situations in which we prefer to regard the glass as half full rather than half empty, but there is a fine line. I think we are deservedly proud of the progress, but we know that we still have a lot of work to do.
Mr Speaker, I entirely echo your comments, not least those about the typical modesty and generosity of my right hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom in recognising everybody who contributed to the team effort and achieved so much around the complaints and grievance scheme’s steering group, but that does not for one moment take away from the critical role that she played in ensuring that we made progress not just on that matter but—as I am increasingly becoming aware as I get deeper into my role—across the many matters that the Leader of the House rightly has an interest in. I also thank you, Mr Speaker, and the staff of the House, the trade union representatives and all those who have been involved in these important issues.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing another exciting instalment of business for next week. I join him and the shadow Leader of the House in paying tribute to Kamal El-Hajji and Rose Hudson-Wilkin and I hope will get an opportunity to pay fulsome tributes to both individuals in the next few weeks.
The Leader of the House would do well to abandon this place for the next couple of weeks, given what is going on with this leadership contest. I am even prepared to come on his holiday bus. I would bring my banjo and my cans of Irn-Bru, and I might even be prepared to waive my fee. I would even endure his rotten jokes, because surely we should do more than endure the purgatory of the business that we are facing right up to the summer recess. So, to spice things up a bit, may we have a debate about the Tory issue of the day—the return of foxhunting—and may we have the Foreign Secretary to introduce it before this particular fox is shot? When we are through with that, maybe we could have some legislation to reintroduce the children up chimneys Act, and then maybe a Bill to reintroduce work- houses before we move on to the dunking of witches. Such are the great offerings from the Tory leadership contest to keep us up to date with the modern zeitgeist.
Then can we have a debate about the precious, precious, precious Union? The Tories are beginning to sound like a demented Gollum who is about to throw the ring that unites them all into Mount Doom, which is probably quite apt. The Prime Minister is in Scotland today with yet another devolution plan—and no, of course it is not another desperate attempt to salvage the “precious”. This is the problem, and the Tories just don’t get it. For them, it is all about doing things to Scotland; it is never about listening to what Scotland actually wants or understanding the type of nation that we want to be. Scotland will never accept their buffoons’ Brexit. For them, Scotland is probably already lost. The “precious” is already beginning to melt in the pyre.
Lastly, can we have a debate about Brexit? You know how we were given all this extra time to try to resolve it? Maybe we should debate it occasionally. We have heard both the candidates for the Tory leadership saying that they are prepared to take this country out of the EU without a deal, and we have to start to prepare the parliamentary fightback. There is a huge moment coming, and it will be the no-deal Brexiteers versus parliamentary democracy. Democracy says no to the Brexiteers, and we now have to get ready for that fight.
Before the Leader of the House responds, I would just say to Pete Wishart, so that the business is not left unfinished, that there most assuredly will be tribute sessions for the Speaker’s Chaplain, the Rev. Rose, and for the departing Serjeant at Arms, Mohammed El-Hajji. Those are likely to be separate sessions—my office is in discussion about that matter—but the hon. Gentleman can be assured that, consistent with the principle of showing respect for people who have made an outstanding contribution in the service of the House, those sessions will take place.
I thank Pete Wishart for his usual cheery contribution to our proceedings, but he was playing the same old tunes, as he does week in, week out. However, I have discovered that he and I actually have something in common, because we share a love of the Rolling Stones. Indeed, I believe that the hon. Gentleman once recorded a cover of a Rolling Stones classic for charity. Given the Scottish people’s firm rejection of independence, the song could serve as the Scottish National party anthem, because it was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. The hon. Gentleman’s love of the Stones may explain why, when it comes to the Government’s record, he always paints it black and why, even after becoming the current longest-serving Member of a Scottish seat—18 years—he still can’t get no satisfaction. [Hon. Members: “Oh.”] I know that that was all unbearably cheesy, but that is the whole point of the jokes on these occasions.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that I should desert this place because there is not enough going on, but I point out that 44 Bills have completed their passage through the Commons during this Session. In fact, since the Prime Minister appointed me as Leader of the House, a new Bill has been introduced every three sitting days, so we are actually upping the tempo.
The hon. Gentleman called for further debates on Brexit. I think that many in this House would feel that we have probably had more than enough such debates, but I assure him that it is inconceivable that there will not be many more Brexit debates in the weeks and months to come.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I endorse, echo and say how pleased I am to have heard your remarks about time being made for Rev. Rose and the Serjeant at Arms so that we can thank them in the appropriate manner.
I join others in paying tribute to the Serjeant at Arms and the Speaker’s Chaplain. I also joined the protest at the Iranian embassy. I am also delighted to say that Southend-on-Sea was a regional winner in the Tiffin cup, which is another reason why Southend should become a city.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the legal position of parents who have children with learning difficulties after those children reach the age of 18? The matter needs to be looked at, because those who really do know best about the needs of their children can currently be overruled by the state when it comes to their future welfare.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the success of the restaurant in his constituency. I completely appreciate the position of parents who have been caring and making decisions for their children, and it must be incredibly difficult when they do not have the automatic right to continue to do so when a young person turns 18. That would make an excellent subject for a debate, or if my hon. Friend would like to write to me, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the appropriate Minister.
The Leader of the House will be delighted to know that, as a result of recent generous allocations of time for the Backbench Business Committee, we have now started to get a bumper bundle of applications from Back Benchers from across the House on a weekly basis. If and when time arrives, we already have a healthy list of debates pencilled in for future dates, including an important application for an urgent debate from Andrea Leadsom and Lucy Powell. We also have a long queue of unallocated debates following applications from Members from across the House, so with three weeks remaining before the summer recess, any time thrown our way will be greedily snapped up.
Finally, I chair the all-party parliamentary rail in the north group, and some of us regard the rail investment situation being more northern poorhouse than northern powerhouse. We recently had a presentation from Arriva Northern, which told us, gladly, that Pacer trains were to be phased out by the end of the year, but we found out only a few days later that that was fake news. Can we have a statement from the Department for Transport about rail investment in the north? It is time that the decades-old Pacer trains departed from all the stations in the north of England.
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has great demand for debates. I am always happy to point colleagues in his direction when they have good ideas for debates, and I congratulate him on his excellent work.
The hon. Gentleman specifically raises the issue of rail in the north, and we have invested a record £13 billion in transport in the north. Investment across the UK in transport, and rail in particular, is at the greatest level since Victorian times. Of course, looking at investment per capita, more is going to the north of our country than to the south.
This issue of Pacer trains has also been raised in the Chamber this week, and I am happy to see whether we can organise a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and a relevant Minister, or to decide an appropriate way forward on that specific matter.
The Leader of the House will know that next week’s planned Westminster Hall debate on libraries has been postponed due to the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow, being on compassionate leave. I know that you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House send our heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies. None the less, she, you and the Leader of the House will want the debate to be rescheduled, because we need to know what the Government will do about the nationwide closure of libraries, through which new horizons are seen, new ideas are seeded and second springs start.
John Clare said:
“E’en the small violet feels a future power
And waits each year renewing blooms to bring,
And surely man is no inferior flower
To die unworthy of a second spring?”
And for you, Mr Speaker:
Are we a breed that no longer loves to learn?
Is ours an age where once-cherished books burn?
Or will we come again to seek and yearn?
To decipher, to distil, to discern?
I think we feel enriched, elevated and energised as a result of the right hon. Gentleman’s characteristically cerebral intervention.
I begin by echoing the thoughtful comments of my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes about the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow. Of course, the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with her and her family at this very difficult time.
Mr Speaker, you suggested that our last exchange was of such cerebral quality that it should be framed and presented to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings, and I have the framed copy here. I will, of course, present it to him directly after business questions.
It is, indeed, splendid. I think I am right in saying, knowing John Clare well—I did not confirm this with my right hon. Friend prior to his question—that he may have been quoting from “The Instinct of Hope,” which includes the line
“And why should instinct nourish hopes in vain?”
Well, his hopes of me will never be in vain, for my instincts are always to deliver for one of those I admire most in this House.
On the very important debate that needs to be delayed, I am happy to meet him, and perhaps the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, to see what we can do to bring that important debate before the House as soon as possible.
That is really very satisfying indeed. I am now looking for a brief contribution.
The injustice of the Windrush scandal continues. Many of the people in my caseload have still not had their cases sorted out. I do not know anyone who has been successful in claiming compensation, because the required level of evidence is so ridiculous.
I also know people who have been promised help that has not been delivered. To add insult to injury, one of my constituents, who was kept from returning home for years and who has finally been allowed home, has been told by the Department for Work and Pensions that he cannot claim universal credit because he has been away from the country.
Can we please have a debate in Government time, ideally on a votable motion, so we can hold the Government to account and make sure that victims of the Windrush scandal can properly receive the compensation and benefits to which they are entitled?
The hon. Lady raises an extremely important issue, and there is no question but that the events around the Windrush situation were deeply, deeply unsatisfactory. For that, Ministers have apologised. We have set up a compensation scheme, as she will know, and there is a taskforce engaged in ensuring that it operates effectively. That said, if there are any specific cases that she wants to bring forward, I would be keen to see them and to liaise with Ministers accordingly.
The Tiffin cup has already been mentioned. You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that it is an important part of the parliamentary calendar, and it took place on Tuesday this week. I am delighted to say that a new restaurant in my constituency, Soi Kitchens—it started up in only February or March of this year—came second out of, I believe, 78 entries. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the restaurant and ensure that as many Members of Parliament as possible are aware of the Tiffin cup? Will he encourage them to enter more restaurants next year, so that my constituents’ business could perhaps win first prize?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to bring to the House the great success of Soi Kitchens. The House may be interested to know that the winner was Kuti’s Brasserie, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Royston Smith, but that does not for one moment take away the huge success that Soi Kitchens has achieved. I will be desperately trying to find an excuse to go to Milford to sample its cuisine.
Mr Speaker, you had vacated the chair last week when I asked my business question, but I had a great deal of help from the Leader of the House in relation to a constituent who had gone missing in Zante. I would like to advise him that, sadly, my constituent still has not been found.
I want to move on to a more positive question; unfortunately, I always seem to ask difficult questions about Bridgend, particularly in relation to the news about Ford. Will the Leader of the House join me in celebrating the fact that Bridgend Further Education College has won the national award for further education college of the year? Bridgend College tops the league table in Wales for qualification completion, with a rate of 90% across all qualifications; it was awarded a double excellent in the education and training inspection carried out by Estyn; and the college’s staff survey shows that 98% of staff are happy to work there. Can we celebrate what a wonderful place Bridgend is to live, work and invest in, for anyone who is seeking to take over the Ford factory, because we have a population committed to the best in education and training?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks about her missing constituent. It is deeply distressing that he has still not been located, but I am grateful that she brought the matter to my attention and we were able to meet immediately after the last business questions to see what could be done. Our thoughts and prayers are still with her constituent, and with his family and friends.
I am delighted to hear the news about Bridgend College. One of the most important drivers of social mobility in our society—I think we can all reflect on this, across the House—is education. It is one of the ladders by which we climb up in life, so it is wonderful to be able to celebrate the award that the hon. Lady’s further education college has received. The fact that it is a further education institution is important, because there must be parity of esteem between further education and universities in our country.
It is not often that an MP receives emails from constituents praising their local council for not doing something, but that is exactly what has happened in respect of Rugby Borough Council’s urban meadows policy, whereby it is letting grass and wildflowers grow on areas that were previously mown. That encourages insects and a diversity of flora and fauna, and it looks very attractive, particularly when the flowers grow through. One constituent has drawn my attention to the fact that it also provides a disincentive for unauthorised parking in areas where people used to park. Could we have a debate to consider the environmental benefits of this approach?
I both join my hon. Friend in congratulating Rugby local authority on the measures it has taken in respect of the urban meadows policy and congratulate him on his hard work locally on those issues. The environment is always a good subject for debate, not least because of the Government’s record in this policy area—the House will know that we are at the forefront internationally in having committed to net zero carbon by 2050.
Along with my colleagues, I welcome the announcement regarding UK Government funding for Birmingham 2022 and seek assurances that the Barnett formula will be applied with 100% comparability. Given the fact that Scotland has thus far lost out on £3.4 billion, due as a result of the confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist party, and with another DUP bung imminent, may we have a debate on the departmental application of the Barnett formula to ensure that Scotland is not shafted yet again by this Government?
I will not use the same language as the hon. Gentleman, but having served in the Treasury until quite recently and been fairly intimately involved in two Budget cycles, the idea that Scotland has somehow been short-changed by our stewardship of the economy is grossly unfair. If he wishes to debate the Barnett formula, perhaps I should direct him towards an Adjournment debate, at which he can interrogate an individual Minister on that subject.
Last week, the northern powerhouse Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Jake Berry, aborted a visit to Great Grimsby. I had hoped that that visit would involve an announcement, after nine months of waiting, that would start the OnSide Youth project in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House please explain why this much-needed initiative requires a ministerial cavalcade and long-range cameras, when surely a written statement, preferably before
If the hon. Lady would like to avail herself of my time after questions, I would be happy to discuss the specifics of that issue, which sounds slightly complicated in terms of visits, not visits, dates and so on.
My constituent was refused a home visit to assess her employment and support allowance entitlement, despite her GP having advised that her health needs absolutely necessitated one. After three weeks of stress, threats of sanctions and calls, my constituent spoke of feeling suicidal, before her GP’s recommendation was finally upheld. May we have a debate in Government time on the impact of sanctions on the wellbeing and mental health of social security claimants?
The Leader of the House mentioned £13 billion of transport funding for the north, but I am sure that figure would be met with great disbelief throughout the north. The latest dithering is over the reinstatement of the Colne-Skipton link to connect East Lancashire to West Yorkshire. That is shameful: it should be a priority for Government expenditure. In this zombie Parliament, perhaps the Leader of the House could ask the Government to hold a debate on how the expenditure of the two proposed candidates for the Conservative party leadership and office of Prime Minister will affect investment in the northern powerhouse. We could then discuss the lack of investment in the north.
It is slightly surprising that the hon. Gentleman should continue to push on the issue of our commitment to the north in terms of expenditure, because the Mayor of Greater Manchester said:
“There is a tendency to be London-centric in the Labour Party and that tendency needs to be constantly challenged.”
That is why we, as a Government, have injected £13 billion —a record level—into better transport throughout the north, and why we as a party have planned central Government transport investment over the next three years that will be, as I said, higher in the north than in the south, on a per capita basis. We have also committed to more than £5 billion through devolution and growth deals.
With the ongoing dispute at the Environment Agency over pay and with staff morale at Natural England being at an all-time low, will the Leader of the House organise an urgent debate on the relationship between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its key agencies, so that we can look at how it deals with its workforce issues?
I think that that may lend itself particularly to an Adjournment debate. If the hon. Gentleman would like to drop me a line, I will make sure that I am supportive of any such request that he may decide to make.
Pharmaceuticals company Avara Avlon, which was sold by AstraZeneca two years ago, has gone into administration, leaving many long-standing employees, including my constituents, high and dry without the benefit of AstraZeneca’s redundancy and terms and conditions. Can we have a debate to highlight the need to protect TUPE conditions in cases such as this and to highlight what the employees and my constituents feel is AstraZeneca’s lack of duty of care?
On this particular matter, involving a particular pharmaceutical company and the issues of TUPE, I would direct the hon. Lady to Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions on
Last week, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister dismissed accusations of Christian persecution in Pakistan, claiming that any examples are only individual incidents that do not constitute a trend and comparing it with knife crime in the UK—what a comparison. It is very concerning that any member of the Pakistan Government should view 1,500 people of religious minorities being charged with blasphemy in Pakistan since 1987 as not constituting a trend. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I travelled to Pakistan last year and heard at first hand horrific accounts of abductions, child marriages, rape, forced conversions and other forms of persecution that Christians and other religious groups face in Pakistan. This week, I went to the Backbench Business Committee and requested a debate— 67 Members of this House want to speak in that debate. Will the Leader of the House agree to set aside time to discuss the persecution of Christians across the world?
I know that the hon. Gentleman, rightly, persistently raises—as he has done at more than one business questions since I have been the Leader of the House—the issue of religious persecution. He is absolutely right to do so. I know that his commitment to that particular issue has, as he has outlined, involved travelling to Pakistan and looking closely at some of the deeply disturbing matters that he has just raised. Given his persistence in raising these issues, perhaps he and I could meet at a time of his convenience and look at some of them and at the particular ways in which, using the parliamentary timetable, it may be possible to further the points that he is making.
I am proud to represent a borough that has some of the best schools in the country, so I am very disturbed that, in the past few days, Hackney New School has lost its fourth head in two years. The reason I raise this matter here is that it is a free school, which means that it is directly accountable to the Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time about how we ensure accountability of free schools in England and will he ensure that the Education Minister writes to me about that school?
On the hon. Lady’s last specific question, I have no doubt that her comments will have been heard and I will certainly follow up to ensure that an appropriate letter is written to her on that particular issue. Obviously, I do not know the specifics of the school in her constituency, albeit that it may be a free school—obviously, I cannot be expected to know as much about it as the hon. Lady—but I do not think that we should conclude that, because there are some problems with some free schools, as would be expected given the large volume that there are of them, that means that free schools per se are not a good or a successful idea. The reality is that, compared with 2010, there are now 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools as a result of this Government’s educational reforms.
May I say gently to the Leader of the House, who I know to be a fair man, that he should not underestimate the level of dissatisfaction with the Government’s approach to the Northern Ireland business on Monday? It seems to be a pretty transparent and poor attempt to stifle debate on issues such as abortion, equal marriage and restitution for victims of institutional abuse. Actually, it is an attempt not just to stifle debate, but to block any progress on them. I urge him to work through the usual channels and do the right thing: give us the proper time to scrutinise these important issues in this important Bill.
I hope that that is reassuring. It is very explicit that, although there are ordinarily deadlines for the submission of amendments, it is possible for there to be manuscript amendments, and the decision as to whether manuscript amendments are permissible is a decision for the Chair. Therefore, Conor McGinn, although legitimately concerned about this matter—and, I hope, reassured by the Leader of the House—should not languish in perturbation for the rest of the day because there is help at hand from the Leader of the House and potentially from other sources if necessary.
I am finding it increasingly difficult to elicit any kind of response from HMRC to my letters on behalf of my constituents. The phone lines are often not staffed, attending HMRC parliamentary drop-ins brings no progress and chasing letters are simply ignored. But the plot thickens because alongside this, after two previous corrections from me, I have just received a third letter from HMRC to my home, informing me that I am an English taxpayer. Will the Leader of the House make a statement setting out the importance of HMRC responding to MPs’ correspondence, and can he investigate how much potential revenue may be lost to Scotland as a result of HMRC classing Scottish taxpayers as English taxpayers?
Clearly I am not privy to the specific case that the hon. Lady has raised. However, I urge her to beat a path to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has departmental responsibility for HMRC. If the hon. Lady requires my assistance in that purpose, it will be available. As to the observation that she might have been treated as an English taxpayer rather than a Scottish taxpayer, I would imagine that that might be slightly welcome, given that she might pay less tax as a consequence.
As was mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the company that owns Vauxhall Motors at Ellesmere Port has announced that we are going to get the new Astra model, but only if we avoid a no-deal Brexit. Now, I cannot help thinking that the reason the company has said this is that both the men who want to be the next Prime Minister have been talking up the prospects of a no-deal Brexit. Given that there is now a very specific threat to the livelihoods of many of my constituents because of a proposed Government policy, I am astounded that the Business Secretary has not been here to give a statement about how we are going to avoid those job losses. Please can we have a statement from the Business Secretary on this issue as soon as possible?
I am not going to stray too far into the comments made by the two candidates to be the next leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister, but my understanding is that both those individuals clearly recognise that it is better to have a deal, and that one of the reasons it is better to have a deal is to avoid the frictions at the border that would cause problems to car manufacturers and just-in-time elements of their production processes. As to how we might go forward, the hon. Gentleman is of course at liberty to propose this as a subject for debate, to request an urgent question on the matter or perhaps even to apply for an Adjournment debate, where he might have an opportunity to quiz the relevant Minister in some detail on the issues he has raised regarding Vauxhall Motors.
Families who adopt have specific support needs. Given that the all-party parliamentary group on adoption and permanence took evidence from over 1,600 people, including young people, about their specific needs, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the future of the adoption support fund, which is due to end next year?
I thank the hon. Lady for all her work on this very important issue, not least as the chair of the APPG for adoption and permanence. I believe that she may have put in for a Backbench Business debate on the particular issue that she has raised. If she has a moment to meet me briefly over a cup of tea, I will be very happy to have a chat with her further about the matter and to see whether we can prevail upon the good offices of Ian Mearns to secure that debate for her.
Earlier this year, the Information Commissioner presented a substantial and important report to Parliament requesting an extension of freedom of information laws to outsourced public service providers, particularly drawing on the experiences of Grenfell and Carillion. I have discovered through a written question that the Government have responded in a letter that has been hidden away in the Library, but they are not proposing very much. Given the importance of this subject and the importance of the Information Commissioner’s work, can we not at least have a statement from a Minister?
I do not know the specifics of the letter that has been placed in the Library, nor what it says, but I am sure that the Ministers concerned will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
Mr Speaker, your enthusiasm for curry was very much on show at the Tiffin cup event on Tuesday night, when you made some quite inspirational remarks about the contribution that south-east Asian cuisine has made to this country. I invite the Leader of the House to recognise the excellent work done by all 69 nominees from across the UK who were put forward—in particular, that of Nakodar Grill in Dennistoun in my constituency, which won the Scottish regional heat and was then submitted to the final. That was fantastic. It is not just about the quality of food, which was ably judged by a team chaired by Ainsley Harriott, but the great contribution that these restaurants have made to local communities. Tony and Johnnie Ginda, who come from one of the first Asian families in Dennistoun, established that restaurant. Many thought it would fail, but they fought against all the odds to make it a huge asset to the community. They do amazing community work as well as all the work they do to provide fine cuisine in Glasgow. I invite everyone to try it out if they are ever in Glasgow. I think we should have a debate in Government time on the fantastic contribution that south-east Asian restaurants have made to this country’s heritage.
I am not so sure about a debate, but perhaps we should resurrect the bus trip and go to visit all 69 of those locations, have a good meal and see just how good those places are—I know they are outstanding. I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Gindas on the hard work that they have done and their deserved success.
I had hoped to be asking the Leader of the House to join me in congratulating constituents on the opening of the community pub in Ryton, Ye Olde Cross, which has been bought by community shareholders, but, sadly, I have something much more serious to raise. Just over a year ago, I raised in this House the loss of over 100 jobs that would arise from the Government’s decision to award the UK passport contract to a French-Belgian company. Last week, I was again at the delivery plant in Team Valley, being told about the loss of up to 171 additional jobs, this time on the money-printing side—a direct fallout from the loss of the passport contract. This is devastating for these highly skilled staff and for the local economy. Can we have a debate in Government time on steps to support these highly skilled print jobs for the future?
First, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions are on the 16th of this month, and that would be an excellent matter to raise with Ministers on that occasion. As to the loss of jobs around the printing of passports, the procurement arrangements and so on, if there are specific questions that the hon. Lady would like me to ask of Ministers, I will be very happy to facilitate that if she writes to me.
I am sure that all Members, and indeed the Leader of the House himself, are keen to try to reduce plastic usage or to recycle plastic where we can. It is therefore extremely important to have labelling on what plastics can and cannot be recycled. However, research from Which? has shown that 42% of the supermarket packaging that it analysed was either labelled incorrectly or was not labelled at all. Could we have a debate on plastic labelling so that we can ensure that what can be recycled is recycled, reduce the overall use of plastic and help towards the climate change crisis that we are now facing?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question because he raises an extremely important point. I think that right across the House we are all deeply concerned about plastic. This Government have taken a variety of important actions, not least reducing the use of single-use plastic bags by some 86% because of the charges that we brought in in that area, but there is always more to do. He is right to raise the issue of the labelling of plastics to make sure that it is appropriate. I wonder whether an Adjournment debate might be the best forum for bringing that matter forward.
Yesterday evening, I received the tragic news that a man had been fatally stabbed in Battersea. This is truly devastating, and what makes it more painful is that it seems to be happening too frequently. My constituents should be able to live freely and safely, but increasingly they feel as though they cannot. Could I ask Leader of the House two things? First, can we get a statement from the Home Secretary on the serious violence strategy because, as it stands, we are facing a national crisis and we do not appear to be hearing anything from him on this? Secondly, can we have a debate in Government time that will look into the root causes of the rise in violent crime, and the urgent resource that desperately needs to be put into our schools, our youth service provision and our police services?
First, I take this opportunity to thank the hon. Lady for our recent meeting on nystagmus. I look forward to coming back to her on the points that I undertook to look into, in the hope of giving this issue a higher profile, which indeed it deserves.
On the tragic event in her constituency—the death of, I assume, one of her constituents—our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of that individual. She commented that these situations are occurring too frequently, and I cannot but agree with her—they are indeed. It is the Government’s view that there are complex issues underlying why these stabbings occur, such as young people getting involved in drugs, in gangs and in county lines. It needs a multi-agency approach that goes right across Government in order to unpick it, as the hon. Lady suggests. It also needs some finance. In the last Budget, £100 million was made available to make sure that we have the resources in order to undertake the work required. She specifically called on the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a statement. The Home Secretary has made various statements over time on precisely these matters, but I know that he will have heard her comments on this subject.
I am very privileged to have in my constituency the largest population of showpeople in Scotland. Can we have a debate on the forthcoming census, which would allow us to remind them that, for the first time ever, they can tick a “showpeople” box and be recognised in their own right?
My other question would be to ask you, Mr Speaker, whether we might be able to host some colleagues from the Showmen’s Guild in New Palace Yard who have kindly offered to bring some teacups and other fairground rides to put there. I wonder whether that is something that could perhaps be organised in the weeks to come.
It is rather nice that the hon. Gentleman should have mentioned showpeople, who contribute in an important way to our culture and our society. I would be very happy, if he would write to me, to give some serious thought to how we make sure that the points that he has raised are better ventilated.