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Business of the House

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 21 July—Second Reading of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill.

Tuesday 22 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to data retention, followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, as selected by the Backbench Business Committee.

The business for the week commencing 1 September will be:

Monday 1 September—Debate on a motion relating to hospital car parking charges, followed by a debate on a motion relating to mitochondrial replacement techniques and public safety, followed by a general debate on the position of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The subjects for debate were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 2 September—Second Reading of the Pension Schemes Bill.

Wednesday 3 September—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 4 September—Debate on a motion relating to regulation of the sale of puppies and kittens, followed by a general debate on the future of non-league football, followed by a general debate on the achievement gap in reading between poorer children and their better-off peers. The subjects for debate were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 5 September—Private Member’s Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 8 September will include:

Monday 8 September—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 4 and 8 September will be:

Thursday 4 September—Debate on stamp duty and the housing market.

Monday 8 September—Debate on an e-petition relating to research funding for and awareness of pancreatic cancer.

If I may, Mr Speaker, I would also like to thank my predecessor as Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley). In the past two years, he has led the successful delivery of the Government’s legislative programme; ensured improved levels of scrutiny by this House; overseen a record number of Bills and measures receiving pre-legislative scrutiny; and piloted continuing reform, making the House increasing relevant to the public. I wish him well for the future and I hope he continues to make a major contribution to public life. Finally, as is customary, may I thank all the staff of the House for their hard work? I hope they enjoy a well-deserved break before the House returns in September.

May I associate myself with the wish of the Leader of the House that our staff and all the staff of the House have a restful holiday?

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), who this week left his post as Leader of the House after two years in the job. May I say how much I have enjoyed working with him, especially in our joint duties as members of the House of Commons Commission, and may I wish him all the best for the future, although the Leader of the House has made an intriguing comment about what that might be?

Once again, I take the opportunity to welcome the First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague) to his new responsibilities. I thank him for next week’s business and the provisional business for our first weeks back in September.

On Monday, we will debate the pleasing sounding but completely vacuous Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill—a five-clause Bill that does something that the previous Labour Government legislated for in 2006. The Government could bring in a new law to guarantee rights for victims of crime or deal with the meltdown in probation or tackle the prisons crisis, so can the Leader of the House tell us why they are wasting time with this PR exercise?

This morning, we discovered that the Liberal Democrats had made their most shameless U-turn since their last one: this time it is the bedroom tax. We told them it would create misery and save no money, but their votes got it on to the statute book, and their votes defended it time and again. Given that there is now no majority in this House for the continuation of this pointless and cruel tax, will the Leader of the House make time for an emergency debate before the summer recess so that we can consign it to the dustbin of history?

Less than a month ago, the Prime Minister was leading the charge against Jean-Claude Juncker because nobody knew who he was. Now he has appointed an EU commissioner who has such presence that when he tried to resign from the Government, the Prime Minister did not even notice. Only last month, Lord Hill was telling ConservativeHome that he did not want the role because

“I quite like it at home here in the British Isles.”

When asked if he would accept the job as EU commissioner, he said, “No! No! No!” We know the trouble that was caused when that phrase was last heard in here. Lord Hill might not be a household name, but we really cannot fault his enthusiasm for the job! Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) that he would support parliamentary scrutiny of his nominee for the European Commission, so can the Leader of the House set out what form that scrutiny will take and when we can expect more detail?

This week’s super-spun but chaotic reshuffle was supposed to unite the Tory party, but the modernisers are furious, the right is furious, and the Eurosceptics never stop being furious. The Prime Minister says his new Cabinet is a team that represents Britain, but it is 95% white, 77% male and nearly 50% privately educated. That is not a Britain that most people recognise.

The Prime Minister appointed an equalities Minister who voted against gay marriage and sacked his own Minister for modernisation. It is no wonder that the Deputy Prime Minister just said on the radio that

“the head bangers have now won”

in the Conservative party.

I am glad to see that the Leader of the House is settling in to his new role. He spent four years travelling the world. He has rubbed shoulders with Angela Merkel; hobnobbed with Angelina; and now he is stuck with Commons Angela. In the words of the former Education Secretary, I do not know whether he would call that demotion, emotion, promotion or locomotion, but I certainly look forward to it. May I also congratulate him on his success in negotiating a huge pay rise for the Leader of the House in a triumph that surely indicates he has a new career opening up when he leaves Parliament at the next election as a trade union negotiator!

I welcome the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) to—I was going to say to his new job as Chief Whip, but he is not in his place. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] He has not had the most auspicious of starts. Yesterday, he not only lost his first vote, but he managed to get stuck in the toilet in the wrong Lobby, and nearly broke his own whip. We know all about the former Education Secretary’s love of free schools, independent of any central authority, so I wonder whether he is keen to allow the emergence of lots of free Tory MPs, who do not have to submit to his authority. At least the only book that he can ban now is “Erskine May”. When the Prime Minister asked the Chief Whip to take up his new role, he apparently asked him to become the “hand of the king”. Now, I am no “Game of Thrones” expert, but is it not the case that so far the hands of the king have been variously beheaded, knifed and shot with a harpoon—and all by their own side? I note that the last time a Conservative Foreign Secretary became Leader of the House he helped to depose the Prime Minister a few months later.

As this is our first business questions together, may I just say, “Welcome to the cause”?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, in particular because hardly any of her questions were about the business of the House, but I entirely understand that.

The hon. Lady joined in the tributes to my predecessor. It was not meant to be intriguing to wish him well. I think that it is taking criminology and conspiracy too far to think that an innocent wishing of him well is to be interpreted in some deep way, but I know that the whole House will join in wishing him well. I also thank her for her welcome. I have a great respect for the hon. Lady and look forward to working and sparring with her. She pointed out that the last Conservative Foreign Secretary to become Leader of the House joined in deposing the Prime Minister. I am unsure whether the Foreign Secretary in question expected or wanted to become Leader of the House, whereas I asked for this duty, which I am delighted to take up. I am a strong believer in the power, vitality, role and relevance of the House, as well as in the policies of Her Majesty’s Government and the support of those policies by all coalition parties. I look forward to advancing both those things.

The hon. Lady will have to be careful with some things, such as criticising the nomination of Lord Hill for European Commissioner. This is quite a big glasshouse in which to throw stones, given what happened the last time a commissioner was appointed. Lord Hill occupies the same position that Baroness Ashton occupied when she was appointed by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). She was appointed after the most chaotic saga: Lord Mandelson was to be the nomination, then was not, then various other former members of the Cabinet were, and then Baroness Ashton appeared at the last moment. This is a dramatically more orderly process with a strong candidate, whom we will support. I will of course be happy to discuss with the Select Committees what the process should be for the House taking evidence from the nominee. I will have the advantage over the hon. Lady of being able to pronounce Llanelli a little better than her, but that comes from having been Secretary of State for Wales in my extensive political career—

Well, it is shortly to end—intentionally—but I assure Opposition Members that I am going to enjoy it a lot before it ends.

The hon. Lady joined in welcoming the new Chief Whip and made fun of what he was doing yesterday. Knowledge of who is in the toilets in whatever Lobby is an important piece of information for any Chief Whip. I take it as evidence that he was carrying out his duties very assiduously.

The hon. Lady also commented on the Government reshuffle. The Cabinet will meet tomorrow and eight women will be sitting around the Cabinet table, which is more than ever before. One third of the Conservative members of the Cabinet are now women. The Liberal Democrats intend to catch up in the coming decades. It is an even higher proportion than was achieved under the previous Government and we are proud of that.

The hon. Lady asked about holding an emergency debate on what Liberal Democrats have said today about the spare room subsidy. I do not think we will be able to have an emergency debate on every occasion they change their policy, but—[Laughter.] I am deeply fond of our coalition partners. I helped to negotiate the coalition and despite what I have just said I am enjoying working with my deputy, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).

No representations have been made within the Government about this. It is an important policy and the Government’s policy remains unchanged. There were 1.7 million households waiting for social housing in April 2013 and 1.5 million spare rooms across the working age social sector in Great Britain, so this is an important reform. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady and hon. Members from all parties across the House.

As the first Back Bencher to be called, may I warmly welcome the First Secretary of State to his post? I hope he does not view this as a gentle full stop to a most distinguished career and that he will be a reforming and great Leader of the House of Commons. Will he, in his remaining year in politics, push the reform agenda forward and, in particular, may we have a business of the House committee? That would transform Parliament and ensure that Parliament was in control of the business. Will he do it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Having had my first meeting with the Procedure Committee, I do not regard this as a gentle end to my political career. There will be a lot to do, so he need not be concerned about that. He knows that there has been previous discussion about a business committee and that no consensus has been arrived at. I know that there is strong consensus between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is sitting next to him, but that is not a universal consensus, even though it might seem like that to him. I look forward to discussing this with him and to discussing any concern or opinion raised by my hon. Friends or by hon. Members, but there has been no consensus so far.

Will the Leader of the House accept that the most successful Leaders of the Commons have been those who while recognising their responsibilities in the senior ranks of Government have nevertheless in practice borne in mind their responsibility to the House as a whole? Perhaps, despite what he has said, when we come back we could have a debate on the bedroom tax. That would give an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to explain why they supported it in the first place, without which it would not have become legislation, and why, so near the general election, they have changed their minds.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the role of the Leader of the House. I hope there will be plenty of evidence of that over the remainder of the Session and I shall endeavour to make sure that there is. On the question of a debate, I have just announced that on the Wednesday of the first week back in September there will be a Opposition day debate, subject to be announced. It is very much open to the Opposition to choose that subject or any other subject they wish.

In welcoming the Leader of the House to his new responsibilities, may I appeal to the notable and, indeed, readable historian in him as he occupies this important office? Given this week’s events, as yesterday the House of Lords was understandably unhappy about its perception that for the first time in contemporary political history there is no fully fledged Member of the Lords in the Cabinet, and given recent events in the coalition, with the Liberal Democrats’ belated U-turn on the bedroom tax—it would be churlish of me, as I did not support it, not to welcome that—and with what the Conservative side of the coalition is saying about its future plans over the European Court of Human Rights, will he consider over the recess the appropriateness of him or the Prime Minister making a statement to the House about the nature of collective Cabinet responsibility and the conduct of government in both Houses for the remainder of this Parliament?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He raises an important point about the importance of Cabinet government and collective Government responsibility. On his first point about concern in the House of Lords, there need not be such concern. When the Cabinet meets tomorrow, all full members of the Cabinet and those attending Cabinet have exactly the same rights and join in exactly the same discussion, so it is not a distinction about which there needs to be a huge constitutional debate. My right hon. Friend is a great admirer of politics across many European countries, many of which are used to having coalition Governments and an election going on at the same time, and maintaining the Government working together while parties within a coalition sometimes set out different positions for what will happen after that election. We are a mature enough democracy in this country to be able to cope with that.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I join in warmly welcoming the new Leader of the House to his position and thank the previous Leader of the House for his work on behalf of the whole House. I have no doubt that interest in the business for the following weeks will increase enormously in the remainder of this Parliament as a result of this appointment. Given the right hon. Gentleman’s previous responsibilities as Foreign Secretary, will he consider updating the House regularly about progress in the search for the schoolchildren in Nigeria whose kidnapping evoked an enormous public response? The British Government have given aid and assistance, and it would be worth the House and the public knowing where things stand.

I am grateful for the warm welcome from the right hon. Gentleman. The United Kingdom remains very strongly engaged not only in the work to find those schoolchildren—we have military assets that have been joining in that—but in working with the Nigerians to ensure that a vastly greater number of girls are able to go to school in Nigeria. When I hosted the Foreign Minister of Nigeria here last month, I announced British assistance to help a million more girls go to school in Nigeria. I know that my successor as Foreign Secretary will want to keep the House updated and it is Foreign Office questions next Tuesday.

The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) stepped down from the role of Foreign Secretary and became an excellent Leader of the House. He was the House’s representative in Government, not the Government’s representative in the House. I am sure my right hon. Friend will follow that example. He is very committed to the coalition, and he will know that it is a coalition agreement to have a business of the House committee by the end of the third year of this Parliament. It is slightly past the third year of this Parliament, so when are we going to have that business of the House committee?

I join in my hon. Friend’s tribute to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who was not only an extremely energetic Foreign Secretary but successfully applied himself to the rigours of this job too, and I will follow his example in doing so, although there is a bit of both in representing the House in the Government and the Government’s views to the House. That is understood. These things have to be reconciled. My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of the cause of a business committee. I will be very happy to discuss that with him but, as I pointed out earlier to our hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), no consensus has yet been established on that.

May I point out for the benefit of the House that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) tends to be at business questions every week and, in my experience, he has never been averse to repetition?

Perhaps I will strike a slightly discordant note, although I get on very well with the Leader of the House as a fellow Yorkshire MP whom I have known for a long time. The world is almost in meltdown in so many places—the slaughter of the innocents in Gaza and the Israeli conflict with Gaza—and he has left the deck at a crucial time. Many people in our country will ask, “Why? We are looking to him as a seasoned and experienced Foreign Secretary to play a leading part in that”, so my welcome is tempered. May we have an early debate on the situation in Gaza? There is time next Monday or Tuesday. The world is distressed indeed at the recent deaths, so may we have a debate soon?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the number of crises in the world; any discordant note simply shows the way Yorkshire Members are used to speaking to each other anyway. I know that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary are well on top of all those issues. Having long-running crises in the world does not mean that exactly the same people have to deal with them all the time; there is a balance between experience and renewal, as I said on Monday night. I made a statement, as Foreign Secretary, about Gaza on Monday. I know that my successor will want to keep the House well informed. We have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday, so there will be an opportunity to discuss this next week.

Last week I met my local nurses’ union in the Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow to discuss nurses’ pay and conditions and hospital car parking charges. May we have a statement on nurses’ pay and hospital car parking charges so that we can do everything possible to alleviate the problems that lower-paid nurses are facing and ensure that all nurses are paid fairly? [Interruption.] I also ask my right hon. Friend to suggest to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) that he keeps his trap shut, because the Opposition do not have a policy on this—

Order. That is enough. It is unlike the hon. Gentleman, who is a very competent parliamentarian, but that was tasteless. Also, I say in all courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, whose interest and commitment I always seek to accommodate, that his question was simply too long.

To give a short answer, my hon. Friend is a strong champion of the national health service, particularly in his constituency, and he is right to recognise the great service given to all our constituents by nurses in the NHS. That is why our priority has been to staff the front line properly, including with over 4,000 additional nurses since the last general election. All NHS staff will receive a rise of at least 1% in each of the next two years. I know that he will continue to raise his concerns, including in the Back-Bench business debate on hospital car parking charges that he has secured in September.

The Leader of the House, having set up the Waterhouse inquiry when Secretary of State for Wales, and having been present for part of the previous urgent question, will be aware of the real concern in north Wales that the House should be kept informed over the next few months. Will he have a word with the Home Secretary to ensure that she informs the House of the terms of the new inquiry and about what is happening with the Macur review, which she set up?

Those are very important issues, as I remember all too well from my time as Secretary of State for Wales. There will be intense and continuing concern in north Wales about them. We have just had an urgent question on the matter, and I think that it was well understood across the House that the terms of reference for what the Home Secretary has announced must be got right and that the right person to lead the inquiry must be found. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made that point earlier. I know that the Home Secretary will want to keep the House updated on that and on the other matters the hon. Gentleman raises.

One month ago the Pakistan army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against militants in north Waziristan, but it did so without giving any prior notification to the civilian population, in stark contrast to previous operations in Swat and south Waziristan. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Office to update the House on what is being done to help the now 1 million internally displaced persons, many of whom fled their homes with nothing, and on what assistance the UK Government and others can give?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise those important matters and the terrible circumstances for many of the people affected. The Government of Pakistan face a tremendous challenge in establishing order and defeating terrorism in parts of the country, so we should show some solidarity with the Government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in doing that. The hon. Gentleman will have opportunities to raise those matters in Adjournment debates and in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday.

I, too, welcome the Leader of the House to his new job. May we have a debate as soon as possible on ongoing issues at the Passport Office? Staff in my office contacted the MPs hotline yesterday with an urgent case but were told that they could contact the Liverpool office only by e-mail and not by phone. I suggest that the Home Office should invest in some phones for the Liverpool office and some people to man them so that we can get these urgent cases sorted out as quickly as possible.

The House has been able to discuss over recent weeks the problems that have arisen from a huge increase in demand for passports—the highest demand in 12 years. Of course, it is very important that specific cases raised by hon. Members are dealt with quickly, so I will absolutely inform the Home Office of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have already deployed an additional 1,200 people as call handlers on the helplines, and we are providing another 300 staff and longer opening hours. A lot of good work is being done in dealing with this, but, as I say, I will absolutely refer to my colleagues what he has said.

I start by warmly welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new role in the House. May we please have a debate on the junior individual savings account scheme for young people in care, which was announced in the 2011 Budget and which is operated by the Share Foundation charity? The scheme provides a small capital fund for some of the most vulnerable young people, and 145 young people in the care of Bury MBC currently benefit from it. A debate would give this House the opportunity to explore ways in which it could be used and developed in future.

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. He makes a very important point: over 50,000 junior ISAs for children in care have now been opened, with an initial contribution of £200 from the Government. A young person’s transition to independence is a very critical period, and for care leavers it is even more critical. This is giving people savings and a financial education that they would not otherwise receive, and my hon. Friend can be sure that that will remain a priority for this Government.

I think it is fair to say that the Leader of the House got off to a flying start. May I remind him that this year is the 40th anniversary of the illegal occupation of Cyprus by Turkey? Will he therefore arrange for a statement by the Foreign Secretary to inform us of exactly what the UK Government, the guarantor of power, are doing to mark this anniversary to ensure that we do not have another 40 years of illegal occupation?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as I have pointed out before, we have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, so there will be plenty of opportunities to raise this. Of course, the UK Government support all those working for a solution to the Cyprus question. We have done a great deal of that in recent months, particularly working with President Anastasiades. Talks in recent months have made some progress, and we will continue to encourage that. I know that Foreign Office Ministers will be able to talk about that.

I think everybody in the House is looking forward to my right hon. Friend’s time as Leader of the House, apart, perhaps, from the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who might not be looking forward to it with as much glee as the rest of us.

Last year, a person already convicted of burglary offences on 65 separate occasions committed another burglary and was still not sent to prison. Surely it is an outrage that a burglar committing a 66th burglary is not sent to prison for many years, let alone avoids prison altogether. May we have a debate on this so that we can look at measures to tackle pathetic sentencing guidelines and even more pathetic judges?

I know that my hon. Friend is as regular an attendee of business questions as any Leader of the House. He puts his question in a typically restrained way, of course, but he makes a valid point. I am sure that over the coming months there will be opportunities to raise these matters. The Government have achieved a 10% reduction in overall crime, but that does not mean we have attended to everything, and his point is well heard.

Is the Leader of the House aware that last Saturday between 7,000 and 8,000 Coventry City fans demonstrated in Coventry against what has been going on between the football club and the other parties concerned? The Culture, Media and Sport Committee did a report on this some time ago, so when are we going to have a debate on it? Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that the club has not conformed to the rules of the football league? Why can we not have a debate, in general terms, on the football league and how we regulate it?

I do not want to comment on the details. The hon. Gentleman asks why we cannot have a debate, but there are well-established mechanisms for having a debate, including through applying for Adjournment and Backbench Business debates. I encourage him to take those opportunities.

I wonder whether we could have a debate on the political career to date of my right hon. Friend. He might occasionally regret it, but he started a number of us off in our elected political careers and it would be a fitting way for some of us to say thank you.

That is an innovative idea, but I think such a debate would be a little self-indulgent of me and I would be somewhat criticised for it. I am very proud to have helped launch my hon. Friend on his political career with the slogan “In Europe, but not run by Europe” in 1999. I am pleased that it has helped to carry him all this way.

May I welcome the Leader of the House to his new position? Could we have a debate on the reinstatement of the aggregates levy credit scheme, which was halted by the European Commission in consultation with the Treasury back in autumn 2010? It benefited the construction industry in Northern Ireland. Some four years later, it has not been reinstated, despite the fact that much information has been submitted by the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Executive. It is important, because we are in ongoing competition with the quarry industry in the Republic of Ireland and it would bring benefit.

I understand the importance of what the hon. Lady says and I thank her for her welcome. I do not have any new information to give her, although the Northern Ireland Secretary is in her place and will have heard what she has said. I will also remind the Treasury of what she has said. I cannot offer any immediate debate, but, as I have said, there are well-established channels for going about securing a debate.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on war crimes, particularly those committed many years ago? That would enable us to discuss the 1971 civil war in Bangladesh and the war crimes committed then. I also hope it would encourage the Government to encourage the Bangladeshi Government in their pursuit of a fair and transparent legal process, to ensure that the criminals from 1971 are finally brought to justice.

My hon. Friend is, of course, right to stress the importance in any country of a fair and transparent process. That is something that I discussed with the Government of Bangladesh in my previous role as Foreign Secretary. My hon. Friend makes a very important and valid point about that. The House has been able to discuss issues of war crimes many times over recent decades. I cannot offer my hon. Friend an immediate debate, but he understands very well how to go about getting one.

May I, too, welcome the Leader of the House to his position? The Foreign Office’s loss will be this Chamber’s gain.

Following on from the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), could we have a statement on Gaza on Tuesday, after Foreign Office questions? I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman made a statement on Monday in his previous role, but the situation is not just dreadful, particularly given the increasing number of deaths of children, but is changing very rapidly, so could we have a statement on Tuesday?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will assess the case for a statement in addition to answering questions on Tuesday. I do not want to commit him to that, but it has been our habit over the past four years to have regular statements on developing crises. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right that the situation continues to develop. There have been further tragic deaths in Gaza. I am pleased that there is a humanitarian ceasefire in force for a short time today, but of course what we really need is an agreed and sustainable ceasefire and a restoration of the ceasefire of November 2012.

The Supreme Court has recently suggested that our law on assisted suicide may not be compatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and it has issued an invitation to the House to consider that question. When will we respond to the invitation?

The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that we will give consideration to that matter. It is an important and topical issue, on which there are very strong feelings—not on any party basis—and there is intense interest in the debate about it in the House of Lords tomorrow. I will reflect on when it would be appropriate to have such a debate, as well as on the various means of bringing it about. I cannot yet promise one in Government time.

I join Members in their unanimous welcome to the new Leader of the House, and I pay tribute to him for his outstanding work at the Foreign Office. May I take him back to one of his successes—Yemen—and the democratic transition that resulted in the election of President Hadi? The situation is now very critical, with 11 million people in poverty and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula making enormous gains. May we have a statement or a debate on that? I know we have Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, but we cannot deal with it in just one question.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of and concern about Yemen has been remarkable, constant and much respected over many years. He is right that a great deal of progress has been made, as we saw when the Friends of Yemen met in London under our chairmanship a couple of months ago. He is also right that formidable problems remain, and it is now very important that the help the international community has pledged is delivered and used successfully by President Hadi and his colleagues. There has been widespread demand in the House for statements by the Foreign Secretary, and I will not commit my successor to a long list of them—hon. Members will have to use Foreign Office questions—but I know that he will make as many statements as he can about such topical issues.

It has just taken 18 days to repair a mobile phone mast on the island of Islay. That is completely unacceptable, and it is not an isolated incident. Part of the difficulty is that many different telecommunications companies were involved in the repair, and it is difficult to pin down which has responsibility. May we have a statement on how licence conditions might be tightened to make sure that companies have to carry out repairs speedily? After all, people have to be able to make calls in an emergency.

My hon. Friend makes a point that is very important for his constituents. Eighteen days does seem unusually long and an unacceptable time for such repairs. I will ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to respond to him directly, and depending on how satisfied he is by that answer, he may want to press the case for further and wider action.

Given the road to Damascus conversion by Lib Dems on the viciously unfair and punitive bedroom tax, please may we have an urgent debate on that policy, or at least a debate on the apparent hypocrisy of Lib Dems?

I think it would strain the coalition a little too much if I launched a debate with that particular title, but it is open to the Opposition, who have an Opposition day on the Wednesday in the first week back, to have a debate on that topic if they so wish.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment. May I also congratulate him on his appointment as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, and thank him for his personal commitment on an issue that affects millions of women, men, boys and girls around the world? Will he make a statement to update the House on how he will take forward that vital campaign in his new role?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend both for his welcome and for referring to my role as the Prime Minister’s special representative on that issue. As he and the House will know, I feel passionately about it, and we have begun to make some progress on changing attitudes globally on sexual violence in conflict. A written statement has been published by the Foreign Office within the past few days, which sets out what we will do next to deliver practical change in various countries where this problem has been endemic. I look forward to helping to drive that forward—still working with many other countries—over the next 10 months.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the new Minister for disabled people, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), to make a statement on the Access to Work scheme, which is often described as the Government’s best kept secret? This morning, I was informed that any contact with the Access to Work electronic mailbox receives the response, “This mailbox is full and cannot receive messages.” With a response like that, it is hardly surprising that it is such a secret.

The hon. Lady raises an important topic. It is important that people receive a response and that the system works well. I will tell my colleagues who handle those matters, including the Minister of State, of her concern and have it looked into.

I join colleagues in warmly welcoming my right hon. Friend to his place. Last week, we had the announcement on the local growth deals, which saw funding allocated to colleges across the country, including £4 million to Harrogate college. May we have a debate when we get back from the recess on how important colleges are in our education system because of their combination of academic and vocational qualifications, the offer of apprenticeships and their major contribution to delivering the skills that businesses need?

I cannot promise such a debate, given all the pressing matters that the House has to deal with, but my hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue. Indeed, Harrogate college is one of the very long list of things that we are proud of in North Yorkshire. He raises the importance of local growth to our long-term economic recovery, which will be supported not least by last week’s announcement of £6 billion for local growth deals. He highlights the importance of colleges in the education system. I know that he will join me in welcoming the £1 billion that has been put into the Youth Contract for more apprenticeships, work experience places and wage incentives.

Lawyers in Plymouth are very angry. The right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and mine are getting pretty desperate in their attempts to find ways to access the law, particularly those who are on low pay. The latest issue is the summer contract changes. Lawyers are becoming very worried that they will not be able to meet the timetable and that law firms will close. Will he please encourage the Justice Secretary to come to the House in September to update Members on the effect of that change?

I will, of course, alert my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary to the hon. Lady’s concerns. There will be an opportunity to raise them with him at the next session of questions to the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, and I encourage her to do so.

Our sitting in September will be the last opportunity to debate the future of the United Kingdom before the Scottish referendum. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time to debate that most important of issues for the United Kingdom and the people of Scotland?

That will be a very important time for the people of the whole of the United Kingdom. The decision will be made by the people of Scotland. The debate will go far beyond this House and will be conducted on the airwaves and doorsteps of Scotland. Many hon. Members will join that debate in September, and that is probably the appropriate place for it to be conducted.

One of Britain’s most eminent scientists, a fellow of the Royal Society and the principal of Jesus college Oxford, Lord Krebs, last week published a report that said that, given the Government’s spending plans, two thirds of our flood defences will be inadequate. May we therefore have a debate on the preparation for winter floods in the UK, so that the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can find a new ingenious form of words or some new outrageous statistics to justify what the Government are doing?

Those are important issues. The hon. Gentleman will know that over our period in government we have spent more on flood defences than was spent in the equivalent period before. I believe that there were many questions about this issue at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions today, because it is an important topic. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be interested in what he has to say and in the work of Lord Krebs. I cannot offer an additional debate, but the opportunities to discuss this matter with DEFRA Ministers will continue.

Will the Leader of the House find time to discuss with the Health Secretary why NHS England is refusing to spend any of the extra £42 million that the Department has made available for increasing the use of radiotherapy this year on treating cancer patients with stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, which works?

As my hon. Friend knows, we introduced the cancer drugs fund which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said in the House, is not only for drugs but also for innovative treatment. There have been changes in the way radiotherapy is carried out and new technology is used, but as the Prime Minister said—I know this applies to Health Ministers—we would be happy to discuss the matter in more detail with my hon. Friend.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the role of the police and crime commissioners policy that his Government introduced? Such a debate would allow me, and indeed the whole House, to pay our respects and condolences to Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner for the west midlands who died unexpectedly earlier this month. It would also allow us to recognise that he was a great and committed public servant who was never too busy to meet the people he served. He was a great friend and a great comrade.

The hon. Gentleman has used this opportunity to pay tribute to Bob Jones. I remember hearing about him, and across the House we are sad to hear of the tragic death of a very fine public servant. I join the hon. Gentleman in sending condolences and tributes to the family of Mr Jones.

I welcome the Leader of the House to his new role and thank him for the dedication, energy and enthusiasm that he put into the role of Foreign Secretary. Before he became Foreign Secretary, he played a key role on an individual level in negotiating the coalition agreement, going through it line by line, paragraph by paragraph. He will remember that in chapter 24 at the bottom of page 27 are the words:

“A House Business Committee, to consider government business, will be established by the third year of the Parliament”.

Consensus was achieved when those words were written, and I know my right hon. Friend attaches huge importance to upholding the tenets of the coalition agreement. In the last year of this Parliament, will he introduce the Hague reforms, to allow the House of Commons to timetable its own business as long as it allows the Government to get through their legislation?

That would be quite a mouthful, Mr Speaker. I remember pretty much every line of the coalition agreement—I certainly remember every minute of negotiating it, which was quite a painstaking process. My hon. Friend is right that that commitment is in the coalition agreement, and as he knows it was raised earlier today by two of our hon. Friends. I know there are strong feelings about this issue and consensus on it in part of the House, but I do not think there is consensus across the whole House. I would be happy to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend, but I do not envisage the situation changing at the moment.

I, too, welcome the Leader of the House to his new position. Despite the Government’s claims that they will tackle false self-employment, construction firms continue to exploit loopholes which mean that people like my constituent, Ron Boyle, are losing hundreds of pounds every month. Will the Leader of the House give the House time to debate that issue and discuss how those loopholes can be closed, so that people like Mr Boyle are not robbed of a fair wage?

The fair treatment of people in all walks of life and employment is always an important issue for the House, and raising and redressing such matters is part of why we exist. I understand why the hon. Lady has raised the issue, although I do not have a lot of time to give away for debates. That sort of issue can be raised in an Adjournment debate and at questions or through the Backbench Business Committee, and I hope she will go about it in that way.

May we have a debate on GP services? In Hightown in my constituency, the GP practice is staffed by locums, despite promises that a full-time doctor would be employed when a change was made to the running of the practice. Patients cannot get appointments and, as a result, many have to leave and go elsewhere. May we have a debate on GP surgeries in communities such as Hightown, so that we can discuss how to ensure that the decline that patients are experiencing is reversed?

These issues are discussed often in the House. It is clear that the demand to see a GP has gone up greatly. The Royal College of General Practitioners says that there are 40 million more GP appointments a year than there were five years ago. We are trying to ensure that our resources are focused on increasing the number of clinical staff. We are increasing the number of newly qualified doctors who go on to train to become a GP to 50% by 2020. A great deal is going on to improve these services, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point about his local situation.

I congratulate my constituency neighbour on his new position. Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman said that he will have to come to this place often and reflect the Government’s position to the House. With his new powers, will he give us a statement on whether he supports or opposes the Health Secretary’s confirmation of the decision to close maternity services in Friarage hospital?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that decision has been determined by the independent reconfiguration panel and the Secretary of State has accepted its advice. That is what it is for—it is independent. This is the end of a long battle on that particular issue and all of us who were involved have had to accept that. I think that in all such cases the Secretary of State takes its advice. It is very important that there is a strong future for Friarage hospital in Northallerton. We are getting into constituency matters here, but I would encourage the clinical commissioning group and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to set out a very strong and ambitious future for that hospital.

I welcome the Leader of the House to his position. Given the location of his very scenic and beautiful constituency, he may be aware of the importance of transport infrastructure expenditure on the prospects for local economies. Given that Northern Rail and Network Rail do not have an investment programme in the next five-year control period for anywhere north of York, may we have a debate on the importance of transport infrastructure expenditure in generating economies, particularly in places like the north-east of England?

These are, of course, very important issues. It is one of a long list of issues on which hon. Members have asked for debates today. It is evident to the House that it is not possible to agree to debates on all of those subjects. The hon. Gentleman gives his opinion. It is also true that the Government are investing more in the roads than at any time since the 1970s, and, with HS2, more in rail than at any time since Victorian times. Important announcements about transport infrastructure across the north of England have been made recently by the Chancellor and the Transport Secretary, so it is important to have a look at those.

I think I can speak for the whole House in saying that we are extremely grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for an invigorating and therapeutic series of exchanges.