I have a supply of throat sweets, Mr Speaker, should you need them, although I admire your stoicism.
The business for next week is as follows:
May I first acknowledge the fact that Pete Wishart cannot be with us today? I thank the Leader of the House for the business and for ensuring that the Government comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court, because Prorogation is now just five days. He could have saved all that trouble, but at least we now have a definitive judgment about the “capital A” Advice that the Government give Her Majesty using prerogative powers. That was found to be “capital U” Unlawful.
The Opposition were asking for Parliament to be prorogued on Wednesday so that the Prime Minister could come here and account for himself to the House and to Parliament at Prime Minister’s Question Time. But, no show. He is like Macavity the mystery cat; he is called the hidden paw—it is National Poetry Day—although maybe, in the Prime Minister’s case, it is the not so hidden paws. However, as the Labour Chief Whip has reminded us, the Prime Minister has done only one out of a possible four Prime Minister’s Question Times.
We have had no Trade Bill, no Fisheries Bill, no Agriculture Bill, no immigration and social security Bill and no financial services Bill—all lost. The Government simply do not want to do their job and bring their Bills back. It is no wonder that the Opposition parties have to seize the Order Paper. We need to use Humble Addresses to get the basic documents and impact assessments. As there is such a paucity of business in the House next week, could we have our Opposition day? The last one was on
Section 1(4) of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 states that the Prime Minister must write and deliver a letter to the President of the European Council requesting an extension. Having read the judgment, the Leader of the House will know that Lord Diplock said that the Government
“are accountable to Parliament for what they do so far as regards efficiency and policy, and of that Parliament is the only judge;
they are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that the court is the only judge.”
Will the Leader of the House therefore confirm that the Prime Minister will comply with the law and that the Law Officers have warned him of the consequences if he fails to do so?
Let me turn to other breaches. The Leader of the House will know how important it is that Ministers stick to the ministerial code and avoid real or apparent conflicts of interest. My hon. Friend Luke Pollard has asked me to remind the Leader of the House that it is possible that the Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer broke the ministerial code when he did not resign from his paid job with a veterans company when he became Veterans Minister. My hon. Friend Helen Goodman raised a point of order on Monday on a possible conflict of interest.
The Leader of House will be aware that Crispin Odey, a donor to various parties and people, made £220 million overnight as sterling slumped after the 2016 referendum result. Given that the Government have taken the Labour party policy of having 20,000 more police officers and raising the real living wage to £10, will they now support the shadow Chancellor when he calls for an inquiry into the finance sector, including the regulation of hedge funds?
I hope the Leader of the House will now apologise to you, Mr Speaker, for what he said in his speech at conference, when he accused you of damaging the standing of the House in the eyes of the British public, bringing it to its lowest point in modern history. The Leader of the House should get out more, because if he spoke to people outside, he would realise that there are people cheering out there because of how you have made Parliament more relevant. And this from the person who slandered a good doctor and then had to apologise, and who slouched on these Benches because he felt entitled to and then had to apologise. Funnily enough, we thought he was one of your favourites, because you always called him before all of us when he sat on the Back Benches.
The Leader of the House has not updated the House on the British hostages held in Iran. These are British citizens used as bargaining chips. Nazanin’s health and mental health are deteriorating, because she must consider being separated from Gabriella, as Gabriella may return to school in England. This is cruelty. Could we have a statement next week on the Government’s policy towards protecting state-held hostages? Warm words are not enough. It is time to act.
It is Black History Month and I want to pay tribute to Dina Asher-Smith, and also to the shadow Home Secretary for her excellent outing yesterday, when she made history as the first black woman to speak at the Dispatch Box in Prime Minister’s Question Time. She put women at the heart of her questions, and I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and also to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, for their bravery. Black History Month reminds us of the contribution our parents made. They had to face terrible racism when they first came here. Racism is pernicious, whether blatant or unconscious.
Finally, Mr Speaker, I want to thank you and your office and all the House staff for ensuring that we returned after the unlawful Prorogation so that right hon. and hon. Members could rightfully take their places here in the House.
I will not take those questions in order, Mr Speaker, because I think it would be sensible for me to clarify what I said about you. I do not think I have said anything publicly that I have not said to you before. I have been one of your great admirers in some of the things you have done to help the House hold the Government to account, as is absolutely right and proper, but I disagree, as you know, with some of the decisions made over the last year. What I actually said in my speech to the Tory party conference was that your speakership should be taken in the round, with the bits I think have been tremendously important and the bits that have not been as I would have wished them. That is my position and I think it is respectful to the office of the Speaker and, if I may say so, not unfriendly to you personally. I hope and trust that you will take it in that spirit.
Valerie Vaz had the audacity to say that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not appearing in front of the House enough—that he was Macavity. Well, it is a rather odd version of Macavity. In the 10 sitting days since he has been Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend has spent 494 minutes in front of this House. He has been running at an equivalent rate of 49 minutes a day. He will be ready to speak to the House after these business questions. He is speaking at an incredibly dutiful and proper rate, and he can be held to account because in statements, Mr Speaker, you allow considerable latitude—rightly, if I may say so—to the questions asked. Instead of doing a brief Prime Minister's Question Time, he has done 494 minutes. I do not think that anyone can complain about that.
As regards the Opposition day and the Order Paper, I think these two come together. If the Opposition want control of the Order Paper, they can have an Opposition day. They can have it on Monday or Tuesday, for a no-confidence vote. If they have any confidence in themselves, they will do that, though I was in a toyshop recently with my children, who thought they deserved some toys, and there was a plastic chicken, plucked, with no hairs or feathers, and if you squeezed it, it made a squawk. I cannot think why, but it reminded me of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
The hon. Lady also said that the Government were accountable to Parliament and that Parliament was allowed to pass its laws, and of course the Government are accountable to the courts, but we all serve one higher authority. The courts, Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government are all accountable to the British people, and 17.4 million people voted to leave. Whatever laws we pass and whatever court judgments come through, we must remember that it is the people who have the ultimate say. That is the foundation of our democracy.
The hon. Lady made some points about conflicts of interest. Of course it is appropriate that the ministerial code is followed, and it will be, but moving from the private sector into the public sector fully is not always simple. One sometimes has so many commitments that it is hard to remember all of them. She then criticised Crispin Odey for making money out of sterling falling. I remind her that one of the major funders—allegedly—of the remain campaign, the remoaner funder-in-chief, was one George Soros, who made £1 billion when sterling crashed out of the exchange rate mechanism, which is five times as much as Mr Odey made. I fear that all she is saying is that Mr Soros is a better hedge fund manager than Crispin Odey, who is a great friend and supporter of mine.
The hon. Lady then made a point about the shadow Chancellor, and asked whether I would listen to him. I might listen to him when he apologises to my friend,—my right hon. Friend—Ms McVey for things that he has said about people being lynched. I think that, until he does that, he should sit in shame, not on that Bench but on the steps of your Chair, Mr Speaker, because it really is so shocking—so shocking —that Members of this House should call for other Members to be lynched. It is something that I think we should all criticise, and I am sure that Opposition Members feel that as well.
As always and quite rightly, the hon. Lady mentioned Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As she knows, and as I said last week, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been in touch with the President and the Foreign Secretary of Iran respectively, and that is quite right. This issue must be pushed continually. I wish it were in the gift of Her Majesty’s Government to achieve the liberty of all the people who are held illegally, unjustly and improperly by foreign states, but we must push wherever we can.
May I add to the congratulations to the shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott? It is a sign of what a good society we are becoming that we are now completely relaxed about what race people belong to when they appear at the Dispatch Box. I hope that that will continue, and I absolutely endorse what the has hon. Lady said about racism being wrong. It is not only wrong, it is evil, and it something that we should all wish to oppose and root out. It should be a sadness to all of us that the Labour party is the second party—after the British National party—to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for its anti-Semitism. That should be not something that we use as a party-political point, but something that is bad news in terms of the body politic generally.
As we come to prorogation, I should very much like to thank all the House staff for the terrific work they do. It is very impressive. We rely on all of them, and their commitment and their love of Parliament, which I think is something that many of us share.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the rights of British citizens held in prisons overseas? My constituent’s son Mr Lakhbir Sandhu has been held in a Czech prison for nine months without being charged. He is apparently being denied proper legal representation, and, worse still, his family are having great difficulty in obtaining visas to visit him.
This follows on very much from what was said by the shadow Leader of the House. The rights of British nationals in prison abroad were the subject of a Westminster Hall debate in March 2018, and I echo the response of the then Minister for Asia and the Pacific, who said:
“The Government are proud to uphold a long tradition of offering British nationals a comprehensive, responsive consular service.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 637, c. 306WH.]
Consular officials in Prague have been assisting Mr Sandhu since his arrest in January 2019, and have remained in regular contact with his family in the UK throughout. I am unfortunately not able to go into the details of Mr Sandhu’s case, but I understand that officials are responding to my hon. Friend’s specific questions, which he has also raised with Her Majesty’s ambassador in Prague. Let me point him in the direction of the Foreign Office’s consular hotline to see what more support can be provided—it is worth reminding Members that there is a hotline for their exclusive use if there are consular problems—and if he will write to me, I will pass his concerns to the appropriate Minister.
It is disappointing that prorogation is going ahead before Prime Minister’s Question Time can take place next week. My hon. Friend Hannah Bardell and I have been reflecting on the fact that the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, has probably spent more time on the Back Benches during Prime Minister’s questions since July than her successor has spent at the Dispatch Box, given his absence last week. I do not think that that is anything for the Government to be proud of.
The biggest loser from prorogation will be my hon. Friend Pete Wishart, who will not be able to present his Prime Minister (Nomination) and Cabinet (Appointment) Bill under the ten-minute rule next Wednesday. That will be a source of great disappointment to the House as a whole and, I am sure, the Government in particular, and to my hon. Friend. The only possible compensation will be the elevation to the Privy Council that he so richly deserves.
We are also very disappointed by the lack of Opposition days next week. We have made our requests through the usual channels; and, as we have pointed out before, Standing Orders allocate days to the leader of the third party, which will not now be granted. That must be getting very close to a contempt of the House, and it is at the very least a gross discourtesy to the third party. I urge the Leader of the House to reconsider his allocation of time for next week, important though the statutory instruments that he has scheduled are.
Perhaps we can end on a slight note of consensus. Last week, the Leader of the House spoke about Padre Pio. On
If I may, I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions in reverse order. The canonisation of Cardinal Newman is a matter of great joy to Catholics in this country and to other Christians. It is a matter of huge celebration. It is very rare that a Briton is elevated and becomes, by God’s divine mercy, a saint, and we should all rejoice at that. I do not know whether a member of Her Majesty’s Government is going to be at the ceremony. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that I should go, but if he was, that suggestion is very welcome. However, that is not for me to decide. I agree that it would be suitable to have a meeting to discuss the 10th anniversary of the Holy Father Emeritus’s visit, which was a wonderful occasion on which he gave a very moving speech.
As regards Opposition days, I am going to say what I said to the shadow Leader of the House. Should the hon. Gentleman want to have a vote of no confidence, time will be made available and we will give him a day in which to speak. That would give us the opportunity to speak in the other direction on the many virtues of this fantastic Government.
I am bound to observe that the Leader of the House’s enthusiasm about canonisation is beginning to sound a little like ambition.
Contrary to the claim by the Hollies, who were a well-known musical ensemble, the air that we breathe is not all that we need. But we cannot live without it, as more than 10,000 sufferers of cystic fibrosis know as they gasp for breath each day. Yesterday in this House, Gill Furniss drew our attention to the drug Orkambi, which can be a life-saving treatment. It is certainly a life-changing one for more than half those who suffer. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on how that drug can be made available in the United Kingdom as it has been in Scotland? I know that you admire Edmund Burke as much as I do, Mr Speaker. He said:
“There is but one law for all, namely that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity”.
In the name of those virtues, please make this drug available for those who suffer in silence.
I have raised questions in the House about other drugs, and I would encourage my right hon. Friend to use the facilities of the House to press his point. Mr Speaker, you kindly allowed me an Adjournment debate on the issue of Batten disease, and the drug used to treat that disease has now been made available. Orkambi is being discussed in the usual way between the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and NHS England to decide a fair price for the medicine. Vertex is the drug company concerned, and I think it would be right to urge it to accept the price that is being offered, but I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the Health Secretary is meeting Vertex again. This is really serious, and it is being looked at, but I would also encourage him to keep pushing.
Very well done. I am very glad to hear that.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House would agree that one of the most innovative and successful innovations in recent times was the creation of a Children’s Commissioner, particularly with Anne Longfield as a very brave champion for children. Does he agree that we should have an early debate on what she revealed only last week—that 20% of the children coming out of our schools have no qualifications at all? That was not mentioned very much at the Conservative party conference. Is it not about time that we looked at it in a debate in this House, and did something about it?
Indeed, yes—I welcome the fact that we have a Children’s Commissioner, and share the hon. Gentleman’s concern that 20% of children leave school with no qualification. That is the reason for so many of the education reforms that have been going through, and the extra expenditure that will be going to the Department of Health and Social Care should bring about an improvement. That is, of course, a subject that will be easy to raise during the Queen’s speech debates; one of the advantages of having a Queen’s speech is that many issues of importance like that can be raised, and Members can expect a ministerial response in the debate.
The Government led by my right hon. Friend Mrs May were very supportive of a Shipley eastern bypass, and paid for a feasibility study with a specific intention to complete the bypass when the study had ended. So will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to come and make a statement to the House on that subject, so that he can, hopefully, restate this Government’s commitment to building a Shipley eastern bypass?
What a great place Shipley is. I had the huge joy of visiting Shipley earlier this year to campaign for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to become leader of the Conservative party, and it is brilliantly represented by my hon. Friend. I will pass on his message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, because I am sure we want to follow in the excellent footsteps of my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who I notice is sitting behind me, watching proceedings closely.
The Government will produce information in the normal way, to ensure that people are properly informed about what is going on. Bear in mind that enormous preparations are being made in the event that we leave with no deal, and that the problems are therefore being worked through and sorted out to minimise anything that could happen. Therefore I am not sure that producing a black swan document would be enormously valuable, but the good news is that if the hon. Lady holds on a bit there will be a statement from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the prospects of a deal, which seem to be brightening by the minute.
As my hon. Friend says, there was the £62 million fund, and the Government are always there to help when acts of God or natural disasters hit. The awfulness of having 4 feet of water flood a property is very hard for individuals to bear, and they need support in these difficult circumstances. We are quite limited in time for debates, but again, this could come up in the Queen’s speech, and I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s point is passed on.
I recently met Centrepoint, which does fantastic work on youth homelessness, which is sadly rising, with an estimated 103,000 young people in the UK homeless or at risk. One of the main drivers is that under-25s receive less financial support for housing, which often does not cover local rents. May we please have a debate in Government time on the shared accommodation rate and tackling youth homelessness?
One of the things announced at the Conservative party conference was that the age entry rate for the minimum wage will come down, which will help younger people to earn more money—that must be a good thing to ensure that they have the resources that they need. It was also announced that we will be building more houses, because one of the problems is a shortage of them. I think last year was the highest year of all but one in the last 30 for house building, so we are moving in the right direction.
Can we have a debate about making better use of time? Is the Leader of the House aware that in three weeks we will go through that ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the country into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon? Can we have a debate to look at the benefits of staying on summer time all year round?
When we had this debate some years ago in this House, I proposed that we should restore the situation to that before the railways came, and that Somerset should go back to its own unique time, because Somerset deserves to be represented in a special way. Do you know, I find that one of the best days of the year is the day the clocks go back? One gets an hour extra in bed, and I have always thought that that is rather welcome.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of this, but a few days ago at Treasury questions a number of colleagues on both sides of the House pointed out to Ministers that there had been seven suicides by people affected by the loan user charge. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in July 2018 I urged Treasury Ministers to install a mental health helpline at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. My urging was rejected then, but I urge him to go to his ministerial colleagues in the Treasury and get that mental health helpline put in at HMRC before there are any other unnecessary deaths.
The hon. Gentleman raises a point of the highest importance. Any Government policy that is linked to suicide rests on the Government’s conscience, and I will certainly pass his suggestion on to Her Majesty’s Treasury.
Ian Mearns, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, is detained on urgent constituency business, so, on behalf of the Committee, I want to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the Committee dissolves on prorogation, and therefore the Chair and the members of the Committee will have to be elected as soon after the state opening as is possible.
If I may, I shall make a number of quick pleas. First, can we ensure that that election takes place quickly and expeditiously, so that the Committee comes back into operation? Secondly, we will meet on Tuesday to produce a list of prioritised debates for Backbench Business time, so if the Government are putting on general debates, we will give the Leader of the House an opportunity to select many of those. Thirdly, can we move away from this nonsense of the Committee, including the Chair, being disbanded at the end of the parliamentary Session and having to be re-elected, so that we keep the same process for all Select Committees for the duration of a Parliament?
Finally, on my own behalf, can I invite my right hon. Friend to wish all those Hindus celebrating Navratri jai ambe?
On the last point, yes, I am very happy to do that.
In response to the points raised about the Backbench Business Committee, yes, we will ensure that it is re-established quickly, and yes, it is extremely helpful and welcome that the Committee, before it dissolves, will propose a list of debates. May I thank the Committee, and particularly its Chairman, for the terrific work it does? It is invaluable to Back-Bench Members that they have this facility. It is also of immeasurable use to the Leader of the House, because I can often say, “This is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee,” which is something of a stock answer, as Members might have begun to notice. Without it, I might find this question time rather harder.
As regards changing to a longer period of appointment, the Backbench Business Committee has unique powers, which are unlike those of any other Select Committee, including allocating a significant amount of time in the Chamber. Although the Government are happy to think about his—the Procedure Committee might want to think about it too—I am not going to promise any rapid change.
The Leader of the House mentioned IPSA, which is very tempting, but I am not going to go down that route, as I want to make him promise something. The United States has now had two traumatic brain injury Acts, which have made a dramatic difference for many millions of people in the USA, whereas we have never yet had one. Will he therefore include this in the Queen’s Speech? Some 1.4 million people in the UK have suffered from acquired brain injury. They often do not get the rehabilitation they need, and we could give them real quality of life if we took action across the whole of Government.
The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes an important and significant point. I cannot make promises as to what will be in the Queen’s Speech—it is not entirely within my remit as Leader of the House to dictate what Her Majesty will say—but his point is very important. On legislation, once there is a new Session there will again be 13 days for private Members’ Bills, and it may be that this matter has the level of consensus to make it very suitable for a private Member’s Bill.
May I wish you a speedy recovery, Mr Speaker? On next week’s business, the Speaker is clearly suffering from a problem with his voice and he puts in enormous hours in the Chair, staying there for quite extreme times and having to shout at times to keep the House in order. Would it be appropriate, or would the Leader of the House recommend—I do not know the propriety of this—that the Speaker is asked not to chair those sorts of debates, particularly on the European Union, in order to protect his health?
It is entirely a matter for you to decide which debates you chair and which debates you do not chair, Mr Speaker, although I would say that for the convenience of previous Speakers in past times, before there were deputies, there was a curtain—
Is that not true? It is reported in good history books, but clearly not ones as good as those written by the hon. Gentleman.
Unlike the hon. Lady, I welcome the decision from the courts today. The Government did commit £1.1 billion to support those affected, and no one will see their pension age change by more than 18 months relative to the 1995 timetable. So it is an 18-month maximum change from 1995 and, crucially, the new state pension is more generous for many women; by 2030 more than 3 million women will gain an average of £550 a year, so I think this policy is worthy of support.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to celebrate the canonisation of Cardinal Newman by joining us at the parliamentary choir’s concerts of “The Dream of Gerontius” in both Coventry cathedral and Westminster cathedral in the coming weeks?
May I also ask my right hon. Friend to arrange time for a debate on the financing of new hospital buildings? I welcome the announcements this week, but of course they will be financed by the Treasury at rates of some 3%, whereas the Royal Stoke hospital is having to pay much more than that under a private finance initiative arrangement, which has been going for almost 13 years and is costing us well over 3%, at some £15 million a year. May we have a debate on that? Let us have equality of funding for new-build and restored hospitals.
I am grateful for that invitation. I hope it was to hear the parliamentary choir rather than to join it, as I think they would chuck me out quickly if I started warbling.
My hon. Friend makes such an important point about PFI. As a matter of ordinary routine, the Government are always the least expensive borrower; this was a fundamental flaw in many PFI schemes, hence the 6% rate paid by the Royal Stoke hospital. We could perhaps broaden the debate out into one about the general failures of the previous Labour Government to understand basic economics, because that is where the problem comes from.
Overnight, the US Government slapped a whopping 25% tariff on Scotch whisky imports to the USA. As we both know, Mr Speaker, my constituency produces some of the best whiskies we have ever tasted. The tariffs affect jobs, investment and growth, so may we have an urgent statement and debate in Government time to highlight the massive importance of the Scotch whisky industry to the UK economy? What steps will the Government take to tackle the issue and protect this vital industry?
I was hoping the hon. Gentleman was going to offer a tasting for right hon. and hon. Members, perhaps in celebration of the Queen’s Speech. Many people think that whisky is good for sore throats, so it may be that a bottle will be winging its way to the Speaker’s apartments.
The great advantage of leaving the European Union is that once we are outside the European Union, we will not be punished for the failures of the EU and the—[Interruption.] This action has been taken because of a World Trade Organisation judgment. The WTO has ruled against the European Union giving subsidies to Airbus. If we were not part of the European Union, we could have separate agreements with the United States and no extra duty on Scotch whisky, which would be very good.
RAF Brize Norton is to be thanked for and congratulated on having created a science, technology, engineering and maths inspiration programme with Carterton Community College, as mentioned in the Chief of the Air Staff’s report to Her Majesty the Queen. The school has now taken on that programme and created a group that is working with local businesses to further that inspiration. That is a sign of an exciting new era for the college. May we have a debate in Government time so that as a House we can spread examples of good practice and discuss how we can create further links between local organisations and businesses and schools, to create programmes that not only develop the high-tech skills that businesses need, but from which pupils will benefit?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and is quite right to advertise the great work done by the RAF at Brize Norton, which I believe is in his constituency and is therefore virtuous simply by that fact. It is certainly true that the Government, business and schools should work together to ensure that technology can be improved. There is wonderful technology in the military that can be built on for civilian purposes. I encourage what my hon. Friend says.
Tempting as it is to ask the Leader of the House whether he will change the Order Paper for Tuesday and bring the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill or any of the other missing Bills back into the House, I am not going to do that. Instead, I ask nicely whether he would consider supporting my plea to whoever it is we plea to that the Queen’s Speech includes a commitment to a travel fund for the families of children with cancer and related diseases. Thankfully, this affects a small number of children, but it is often a huge burden and it would make such a difference to the lives of those children and their families.
May I say that my near neighbour always asks for things nicely and with considerable courtesy, both in the House and when we have debated in other forums? I wonder whether I might refer her to Carolyn Harris, who I see is in her place and who campaigned very effectively for a fund to help parents whose children die by having the costs of the funerals borne by the Government. It was a most wonderful campaign and proved to be effective. That shows what Back-Bench Opposition MPs can do when they have the mood of the country behind them.
One of the harder issues raised with me at constituency surgeries is economic crime, which affects businesses and individuals who fall victim to fraud. Older people can be particularly vulnerable, and it is often hard to get full recovery of funds. I recognise that there is cross-Government work involving the police, financial education and the Crown Prosecution Service. May we please have a debate to explore the issue and to see what the Government are doing to tackle this serious crime?
Were I his constituent, I would find going to visit my hon. Friend extremely reassuring. It is hard to think of anybody who could be a better advocate for his constituents in his very beautiful constituency. Economic crime is a terrible scourge. It is amazing the extent to which it is replacing other forms of crime as criminals realise how lucrative it can be. It does of course require a comprehensive response from the Government in different Departments, as well as from the police. There were worrying reports in The Times recently that some areas of the police were not taking the issue as seriously as they should. I hope that those revelations have encouraged the police to take such crimes more seriously.
I thank the Leader of the House for his remarks—I think.
In September 2005, 17-year-old Ben Bellamy, the son of one of my constituents, was brutally murdered in Swansea. The Parole Board has recently recommended that one of his killers be moved to an open prison ahead of an early release. Ben’s family are understandably upset about this, particularly about the lack of communication from the probation service. May we have a statement on this lack of communication and what interventions can be put in place to prevent other grieving families facing similar situations?
I did actually speak to the Lord Chancellor about this matter earlier today and have an answer that, if I may, I will read out because I hope it provides the equivalent of a statement:
“The murder of Ben Bellamy in September 2005 was a terrible crime, for which Joshua Thomas and Joel Taylor are rightly serving the juvenile equivalent of life sentences. Ben’s family are receiving the services provided under the Probation Victim Contact Scheme, as they are entitled to receive under the law. The Probation Service has apologised”— let me stress that—
“for not notifying the family in 2017 in time that the High Court was hearing Joshua Thomas’s application for a reduction in his minimum term of imprisonment. The family’s Victim Liaison Officer is committed to ensuring that the family are notified well in time to exercise their rights in relation to both prisoners’ future parole reviews.”
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this to the attention of the House. I believe that the Lord Chancellor has taken this very seriously, that the probation department has taken this seriously, and that this must not and should not happen again.
Can we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster concerning his ministerial responsibilities? He is denying responsibility for data protection and for electoral reform, which are clearly within his Department, but, again this morning, a Minister confirmed that he thought he was responsible for these issues. If he is responsible for these issues, I consider that he has obligations under the ministerial code, which I have conveyed to the Department. This is a very serious matter, going to the heart of integrity in Government and I would like a straight answer for once.
All answers are straight answers; they are sometimes simply not the answers that people want. These are two very separate concepts. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has his specific responsibilities, and periodically the Government produce a list of ministerial responsibilities. That has been asked for by my office on behalf of the House of Commons, and we will ask for it again and we will release it to the House when it is available.
In August 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that parents who were not married should be eligible for widowed parent’s allowance, but the UK Government have failed to pay this allowance to parents affected, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that failure to do so is both discriminatory and incompatible with the European convention on human rights. Fourteen months after this ruling, I ask again: when will the Government finally do the right thing and obey this ruling?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question. As she knows, there is a simplified procedure for amending laws that are found by the Supreme Court to be incompatible with the European convention on human rights, and that is working its way through the system, though I do accept that, though the wheels grind fine, they sometimes appear to grind a little slow.
Following the devastating impact of austerity, my constituency of Leigh has been starved of the investment that we need to unlock the potential of our towns. We are without any rail connectivity and we now find ourselves at the bottom of social mobility rankings, but, incredibly, this Government have chosen not to award us any stronger towns funding or future high streets funding. Can we therefore have a debate on the allocation of this crucial funding to ensure that it has been fairly allocated, based purely on need?
The allocation of funding is always done properly and there are very tight regulations to ensure that, so I can assure the hon. Lady that everything was done with propriety. However, I encourage her to keep on arguing for facilities and funding for her town because that is what we are here to do as constituency MPs: we are here to argue the case for our areas, and I am sure that she will continue to do so.
Citizens Advice and Macmillan told me that there are extreme difficulties for the terminally ill over explicit consent for accessing universal credit. These organisations are being ignored by this Government, which is preventing them from providing vital support. Can we have a debate in Government time on why the Department for Work and Pensions allows implicit consent for other services, but not for the dying on universal credit?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that has to be looked into. Every possible facility should be given to those who are terminally ill and every pathway should be cleared for them so that they can receive what they are entitled to. I will take this matter up with the DWP and write to the hon. Gentleman after seeing exactly what the situation is. If it is as he says, I hope that it will be improved.
May we have a statement on progress in introducing the parking code? ESPEL, which operates a car park in my constituency, is notorious for its punitive treatment of motorists, and I, its industry umbrella body and the landowner seem powerless to do anything about it. Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent update on this matter?
I think my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight, who was here a moment ago, introduced a private Member’s Bill on parking, and I have a feeling that I put my name to it when I was still a Back-Bench MP, so the hon. Lady will understand that I share her concern about the way in which some of these companies behave. What she is saying is unquestionably important. I cannot promise her a debate, but she may want to raise this issue again in relation to other matters in the Queen’s Speech.
Can we have a date, as promised by the Leader of the House, when the Government will bring forward the proposals on private hire taxis and taxis in general? I am told by the Government that the legislation is available, but we have been waiting for months now for a date. When can we have a debate on this?
As Prorogation is now going to be on Tuesday, I cannot promise any debates in this Session of Parliament, but there is a new Session coming up, and we will obviously have the Queen’s Speech and new business statements then. What the hon. Gentleman has said has been heard and will be borne in mind by me and, no doubt, by the Backbench Business Committee.
As the longest parliamentary Session draws to a close, the Government have had plenty of time to pass their Bills through this place. I am reminded that on
Any Bill that has not received Royal Assent by the time of the Prorogation will fall. That is the simple constitutional position. What I would say to the hon. Lady is that it is the Government’s view that all primary legislation needed to leave the European Union on
Just 49% of Glaswegians own a car, which means that the citizens of my constituency are disproportionately reliant on public transport, which is effectively in the monopoly control of a private company called FirstGroup. This company has been responsible for cutting hundreds of route miles across the city while hiking up fares and benefiting from generous public subsidies. Will the Leader of the House consider calling a debate in the new Parliament, or including in the Queen’s Speech provision for a debate, on the municipalisation of our public transport system, particularly with regards to extending public control back over our municipal bus services and advancing Labour’s proposals for a universal free bus service? Our plans would ensure that people had a proper quality of life, with access to jobs and services that are otherwise denied to them because of the punitive measures of profiteering private bus companies such as First.
I think we may be trespassing on devolved issues. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is calling for a wider debate on the competence with which the SNP runs Scotland, and how it can ensure that public money is spent efficiently and effectively, because the Westminster Government are doing a great deal to improve public transport—buses and trains. I think £48 billion is to be spent on the rail network, and there is more money for buses, so I think this is really a matter of devolution and the competence of the SNP.
The transitional arrangements for those in receipt of the severe disability premium who have been wrongly transferred from the employment and support allowance to universal credit have left them worse off. That includes a number of my constituents who are very severely disabled. May we have an urgent statement on Monday or Tuesday next week, before Prorogation, from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about what she is doing to resolve this terrible situation?
On Sunday, a vigil will take place outside Downing Street in memory of children who lost their life or disappeared at the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009. Could we have a statement from the Foreign Office on whether it will ever apply serious pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to allow an international investigation into the very serious allegations of war crimes and grotesque human rights abuses that have dogged Sri Lanka ever since the end of that conflict?
We were told by every leading climate scientist in the world that we had only 12 years to act to stop climate change. Unfortunately, that was almost a year ago, and the clock is ticking, so would it be a good idea for the Government to schedule—perhaps quarterly, at most—a statement or debate to allow the House to monitor and expedite progress towards achieving our decarbonisation aims?
I continue to be the ventriloquist’s dummy, because the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who is sitting on my other side, has said to me that we will be doing what Christian Matheson suggests much more frequently than that. I am pleased to bring that good news to the House.
One of my constituents is among the 2 million recipients of the personal independence payment whose case is scheduled to be reviewed as part of the “Legal entitlement and administrative practices” exercise, following the Government’s defeat in the courts on the issue of the treatment of people with mental health conditions. Without my office’s intervention, his case would still be sitting in a huge “pending” pile, potentially for up to two years, and he would have no information on when his review would be carried out. Could we have a debate, or action in the Queen’s Speech, on the lack of resources being made available to the DWP for complying with the court’s decision? Is this yet more evidence of the Government’s cavalier attitude to complying with court judgments?
It has been reported that Royal Mail is looking to recruit a director to run its UK operations. I would suggest that the next director stand with postal workers on protecting jobs and terms and conditions, and opposing the selling off of Parcelforce. Does the Leader of the House agree, and will he ask the relevant Minister to make a statement to that effect on the selling off of Parcelforce?
A member of my team went to a chemist in my area this morning and saw a poster outside that said,
“Please don’t blame us for the NHS medicine shortages. It’s a nationwide problem. Please ask our local MP to help”.
There is clearly uncertainty and fear in the community. Will the Leader of the House, as a champion of a no-deal Brexit, make it clear that there will be no medicine shortages if we crash out of the EU? If he cannot confirm that, will he hold a debate on this issue at the earliest opportunity?
Once again, I am fortunate that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is sitting at my side. He reminds me that we have had endless debates on this matter. He very wisely put controls on 24 drugs that, in the ordinary course of events, were in short supply—19 of them were for hormone replacement therapy—because the supply of drugs is always a complex issue. Fortunately, the Government have procedures in place in all circumstances to ensure drugs are available, so I can give the hon. Lady the reassurance she requires.
In Bulwell in my constituency, we are developing a “pots, pits and people” project with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to celebrate our local heritage, and a successful bid would help to connect our community with our proud past. May we have a debate in Government time about the value of celebrating our local history?
I would be tempted to fill all this House’s time with debates on local and national history. We could spend hours debating the glories of our wonderful nation, but such a specific example may be more suited to a request for an Adjournment debate.
As a consequence of new localness guidelines for commercial radio, hundreds of jobs have been lost, studios closed, and listeners are not getting the local news content that they want and need. Can we have a debate in Government time about the importance of local commercial radio, including news coverage, and how best to allow it to thrive?
The issue with things that are commercial is that they are commercial, and they will do well if what they provide commercially is successful.