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Business of the House

Volume 586: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s—[Interruption.] Sorry. Will the Leader of the House please announce the business for next week?

I will. It is nice to be thanked in advance. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady.

The business for next week will be:

Monday 27 October—Consideration in Committee of the Recall of MPs Bill (day 1). I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the European Council.

Tuesday 28 October—Opposition day [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “The negative effect of the Government’s policies on disabled people”, followed by a debate on coalfield communities. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 29 October—Motion relating to the appointment of the chairman of the National Audit Office, followed by Second Reading of the Taxation of Pensions Bill.

Thursday 30 October—Debate on a motion relating to UK drugs policy, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the sale of park homes. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 31 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 3 November will include:

Monday 3 November—Consideration in Committee of the Recall of MPs Bill (day 2).

Tuesday 4 November—Remaining stages of the Modern Slavery Bill.

Wednesday 5 November—Opposition day [9th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 6 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 7 November—Private Members’ Bills.

May I thank the Leader of the House once more for announcing the business? It is always better to thank him once he has announced it.

I want to start by expressing our sadness about the loss of life, and our solidarity with our sister Parliament in Canada as it deals with the aftermath of the terrorist attack yesterday. This was an attack on democracy, and it will not succeed.

This week, the Recall of MPs Bill received its Second Reading, and on Monday we will consider it in Committee. As Members from across the House seek to strengthen its provisions, does the Leader of the House agree that the trigger for recall should centre on a Member’s conduct, not their opinions? Does he agree that we need to go further and reform the Standards Committee? Will he support proposals that seek to remove the Government majority on the Standards Committee and increase the number of lay representatives?

Last week, the Leader of the House accused me of suffering from amnesia on the deficit. I bet he wishes he had amnesia this week because the deficit has gone up. The Chancellor promised in 2010 that he would eliminate it by the end of 2015, and because of his economic failure he has had to push that back to 2018. Figures this week show that he is off track to do even that. Mr Speaker, you would not think from all the Chancellor’s complacent boasts that borrowing went up by 10% in the first half of the year. In its forecast in 2010, the Office for Budget Responsibility told us that wages would grow by 7.5% by the end of this year. They have actually fallen in the biggest squeeze on wages since Victorian times. Despite all the talk of Tory fiscal responsibility, the Prime Minister has just announced £7 billion-worth of pie-in-the-sky, unfunded pre-election bribes. With all the missed targets, is it not time for the Leader of the House to admit that this is less of a long-term economic plan and more of a really, really, really long-term economic scam?

This week, the Government were heavily criticised by the National Audit Office for failing to deport more foreign criminals. Unless they stand up to their Eurosceptic Back Benchers, on 1 December the UK will no longer be able to use the European arrest warrant, which enables the arrest and transfer of suspects across borders and was instrumental in the rapid return of one of the 7/7 bombers to face trial. The head of the Association of Chief Police Officers said that the warrant gives us

“a stronger, more effective means of arresting dangerous criminals”.

Until recently, the Tories were briefing that they would keep it. However, I hear that the Tory Chief Whip has been making panicked phone calls to his Back Benchers, suggesting that they may drop it. Will the Leader of the House therefore tell me whether he thinks that pandering to UKIP is more important than the security of this country? Will the Tories stand up to their own Eurosceptics and have a vote?

As Halloween approaches, it seems that the Tories are dusting off their ghosts of Governments past. This week, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) launched an astonishing attack on a campaign by the girl guides for more sex and relationships education in schools, claiming that it would increase teenage pregnancy. Last week, the Prime Minister turned up, for the first time in 14 years, to a meeting of the ultra-Thatcherite No Turning Back group to plead with his ever-loyal Back Benchers. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was openly conniving with the UKIP treasurer over lunch. It is no surprise that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) took to the airwaves to challenge more Tory Eurosceptics to defect to UKIP. Today’s Tory party just cannot stop banging on about Europe.

I am often hard on the Tory Chief Whip, but, looking at his party, he does have the hardest job in politics. He has lost two high-profile votes, lost two Ministers to resignation and lost two MPs to UKIP. It is no wonder he is never here. Apparently, he has been hiding in Rochester and Strood. When asked about the UKIP threat, he said:

“Does this face look bovvered?”

The way the Government are pandering to UKIP, they are less Catherine Tate and more “Little Britain”.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I absolutely concur with her opening words on our sadness about what happened yesterday in Ottawa and our strong solidarity with the Government and people of Canada. They were very much in our thoughts as news of the incident broke yesterday. Of course, we will continue to work closely with Canada and many other nations on countering terrorism and protecting our own and their national security.

The hon. Lady asked about the Committee stage of the Recall of MPs Bill. I certainly agree that recall should be about the conduct of Members, rather than the opinions of Members. The House will be able to make its own decisions in Committee. The Standards Committee does a very good job. It currently has 10 MPs and three lay members, and it is for the House to consider whether there should be any change. Proposals may be put forward by any Member of the House.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on mentioning the deficit this week. Last week, we were waiting for mentions of the deficit. It is brave of her to mention it on the day when the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown that, under Labour’s plans, there would be £28 billion of additional deficit and additional borrowing. That is the scale of the black hole that has been described by a left-leaning institute. It raises a set of additional questions that Labour has to answer. The Chancellor has emphasised all along that, although the deficit has fallen by more than a third under this Government, there is more work to do. That has to be recognised by Labour Members as well.

The hon. Lady asked about the return of foreign national offenders. There was an urgent question to the Home Secretary on that earlier this week, so the House has discussed the matter in some detail. Under this Government some 22,000 foreign national offenders have been removed. Numbers are now going up again, and we are taking additional action to reduce the number of appeals.

On the European arrest warrant, as the hon. Lady knows, the Government have exercised the opt-out from justice and home affairs measures following votes in both Houses. That will bring about the biggest return of power from Brussels to Britain since we became a member of the European Union. That is an entirely welcome development, but it is important that our law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to bring serious international criminals, such as members of paedophile rings and human traffickers, to justice. That is why we are negotiating to rejoin a smaller set of measures. Those negotiations have not yet concluded, but once they have we will return to the House. The protection of our national interest and fighting crime are obviously prime considerations, as well as the independence of the country and our freedom to decide things in this House.

The hon. Lady asked about a number of party matters, and I assure her that we are not pandering to anybody—[Interruption.] She is always fascinated by the whereabouts of the Chief Whip, and I assure her that he is gainfully employed in many different ways—[Laughter.] Gainfully was the word, just so Hansard is correct, rather than “gamefully”. In a similar vein, I congratulate the hon. Lady on still being in post following the first stealth reshuffle in the history of Her Majesty’s Opposition under any party. It was trailed in advance by the New Statesman as something that would bring back “the big beasts” to the Opposition Front Bench. The biggest thing we can identify is the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) becoming shadow Europe Minister. That does not constitute the return of the big beasts growling at us from the Opposition Benches, but it is possibly the first ever reshuffle that hardly anybody in the country has noticed. We wonder whether the people who were reshuffled have yet noticed that they were reshuffled because we have not seen much spark of life from them, but we are happy to see the hon. Lady in her position today.

May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources? Is my right hon. Friend aware that within a few days we will be undertaking the flawed ritual of putting our clocks back, thereby plunging the nation into darkness by mid-afternoon? Can we examine the benefits of having summertime in winter and double summertime in summer? If, as I suspect, the only objectors are a handful of Scots, can we say to them, “You want more powers for your Parliament, so we will give you powers to set your own time zone”?

The House has debated this issue over the past few years. I am not sure that Scots are the only objectors, as in North Yorkshire we would also be plunged into darkness quite early in the morning. There are many different views on the matter around the House, but it is, of course, open to my right hon. Friend, who feels strongly about it, to pursue it. There have been private Members’ Bills on the issue in the past, and I have no doubt that there will be in future.

Public Health England this week reported an increase in deaths from liver disease of 40% in 12 years as a result of increasing levels of alcohol consumption, which suggests that the Government’s alcohol strategies have failed. Is it not time that we had a serious debate in Government time on all aspects of Britain’s alcohol problem?

There is a case for a debate on that, and the matter was raised during the urgent question to the Secretary of State for Health a few moments ago. He pointed out that there can be benefits to moderate alcohol consumption, but not to excessive alcohol consumption. None of us has the perfect answer for this issue, but all parties will be concerned about it. The hon. Gentleman may wish to make the case for a debate to the Backbench Business Committee, or request an Adjournment debate.

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House send a message from this House to his counterpart at the Canadian House of Commons in Ottawa, expressing our condolences for the cowardly murder of the Canadian soldier there, and reiterating cross-party support from this House and this country to our Canadian allies and cousins?

Yes, I absolutely will. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been in touch with the Canadian Foreign Minister and, of course, our high commission in Ottawa has been closely engaged in and well informed about what has happened. Several hon. Members have raised this issue and our strong solidarity with the people of Canada, so I will certainly send such a message to the Leader of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

People are furious about today’s news that the notorious police killer, Harry Roberts, is due to be released, and the police say that it is a betrayal. The Home Secretary promised that life would mean life for anybody convicted of killing a police officer. What will the Government do to ensure that that evil criminal is kept behind bars where he belongs?

There will be much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. As I understand it, the decision has been made by the Parole Board, but of course people will be concerned by it and agree with what he has said. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and the concern in the House about that decision.

May we have a debate on metal theft? While instances of metal theft have reduced significantly since the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, recent months have unfortunately seen increases in metal theft from churches in particular parts of the country. We need to consider what support we give to the police following the disbanding of the national metal theft taskforce.

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Government have invested more than £6 million in the national metal theft taskforce since it was formed in January 2012. That has led to an obvious improvement, and the Church of England has reported a large and welcome reduction in overall metal theft since 2012, although I am concerned to hear my right hon. Friend say that it is going up again. We agreed to provide funding for the taskforce to cover the first part of the new legislation and ensure that individual police forces had the time to implement proposals to tackle this crime effectively, as it is predominantly up to them to do so.

On 30 April, I and several colleagues met the Prime Minister to talk about the issue of UK compensation for the victims of the Gaddafi regime’s sponsorship of IRA terrorism. It was a very positive meeting and subsequently the Prime Minister announced the appointment of Sir Kim Darroch to make progress on the issue with the Libyan authorities. May we have a statement to update the House on what progress has been made?

It is open to the right hon. Gentleman to ask questions of the Foreign Office. He will appreciate how difficult the situation has been in Libya in recent months, with the violence between militias. Libyan ministries have not easily been able to function, so it has been a difficult period to take the issue forward, through no fault of anyone in the UK. I will convey his request for an update to my colleagues and I suggest that he also asks the relevant questions.

The Leader of the House and I both represent mainly rural constituencies. May we have a debate on the need for the Association of Chief Police Officers to meet the Countryside Alliance and other rural organisations to ensure that, while maintaining security, the police do not take a heavy-handed approach to rural shotgun licence holders?

There are many rural issues we could benefit from discussing in the House, and I have no doubt that the point that my hon. Friend raises is one of them. I cannot offer a debate on it in Government time, but I am sure that he will be able to pursue a request for such a debate through the normal methods of Backbench Business debates and Adjournment debates.

The sad news this morning of 9,000 more job cuts in Lloyds banking group will hit hard in my constituency and elsewhere. Is it not time that we had a debate about what is happening in the banking industry? I do not want just to knock it, because it is vital and we need it to be successful, but may we have a debate on how we get return to a healthy banking sector that actually helps people rather than hinders them?

Parts of the banking sector are on a long journey back to health. The announcement, which will of course be of great concern to individuals working in Lloyds bank, is another illustration of that and of the pressures that remain in the sector. The good news is that it comes against a background of increasing employment overall, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Indeed, the fall in unemployment in the past year is one of the biggest we have ever seen in the history of this country. Nevertheless, the banking sector is an important topic and I will convey that point to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman might also wish to seek debates through the normal methods.

May I correct the record and say that I did not criticise the girl guides earlier this week? I merely criticised the Labour party for claiming that the child abuse scandal in Rotherham was caused by a lack of sex education rather than the politically correct culture of Labour councils.

May we have a debate on the Government’s ludicrous proposals to give GPs an extra £55 every time they correctly diagnose somebody with dementia? Surely GPs are already paid to diagnose their patients correctly with whatever ailment they have. If the Government do not have enough money to give low-paid nurses a 1% pay rise, how on earth can they find the money to give highly paid GPs an extra £55 a pop for doing their job?

This is a proposal from NHS England. The remuneration of GPs is structured to give them additional remuneration for particular tasks. As my hon. Friend appreciates, dementia is a horrific and heartbreaking disease. We are in a situation where fewer than half the people with dementia know that they have it and that has to be unacceptable. A timely diagnosis is therefore vital for people with dementia and their families to get the care and support they need. This proposal is designed to help that, but there will of course be opportunities to ask the Secretary of State for Health and other Health Ministers about it.

The Leader of the House will know that the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill is on the Order Paper again tomorrow. The Government are on record as officially supporting the Bill, but they have contrived to have it blocked on the past two sitting Fridays. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify this apparent contradiction and indicate whether tomorrow the Government Whips might assist in progressing, rather than hindering, the matter?

The Government support the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and I pay tribute to him for introducing it. We have always said that we want to legislate on this matter and that has certainly not changed. I cannot predict what individual hon. Members will do, but his point will have been heard throughout the House.

May we have time to debate the Environment Agency? It has changed out of all recognition since the problems we had at the beginning of the year, but we do not want it to revert to type. The problem with any such organisation is that it tends to go back to the basics. If that happens, the people whose lives were blighted right across the United Kingdom at the beginning of this year, and last year too, will feel that we have let them down. It is the pressure from this House that has made the agency change. May we have time to debate that pressure on the Environment Agency, to keep it changing and to maintain the work it is doing?

This is an important issue and my hon. Friend has been assiduous in pursuing it. I hope it is not necessary to have a debate on it. There have, as my hon. Friend says, been important changes in the Environment Agency, including changes in leadership and personnel. We all hope that that change will be sustained. If it is not, my hon. Friend would be quite justified in calling for a debate.

May we debate the role of the Chief Whip, whom the Leader of the House said was gainfully employed? Does he include in that the bizarre set of videos that have appeared on the internet showing the Government Chief Whip doing his impersonation of the fictional Tory Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, and appearing in somebody’s back garden declaiming lines from the TV programme “Game of Thrones”? Has the Leader of the House seen these videos and does he think something should be done about the increasingly attention-seeking antics of the Government Chief Whip?

I am a little busy with the British constitution and many other matters, and I have not been watching these YouTube clips in my spare time—not that I have much spare time—but they sound fascinating. It is of course right that right hon. and hon. Members use all the new forms of social media to communicate with our constituents and the country at large, as I do on Twitter, which I recommend to hon. Members. No I have not seen the clips, but I look forward perhaps to taking a look.

The Leader of the House will know that I have previously raised the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children, who had been sentenced to death by the courts in Pakistan under its unacceptable blasphemy laws. After four years in custody, she has now lost her appeal at the high court in Pakistan, which has sentenced her to death by hanging. May we urgently ask the Government of Pakistan to review this miscarriage of justice and reform its completely unacceptable blasphemy laws, which run contrary to religious freedom and basic human rights? May we also have an urgent statement or debate on the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan?

This is a very concerning case. I have in the past, as Foreign Secretary, discussed the application of blasphemy laws in Pakistan with senior members of the Government there. It is concerning that in the recent appeal hearing the court sadly upheld the death penalty. The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle, including in this circumstance. The EU is raising the case with the Pakistani authorities, and will continue to do so at a senior level, and our high commission in Islamabad will be supporting the EU-led action. We will continue to pursue this case.

May we have a debate in Government time on the proliferation of police cautions? My local newspaper yesterday exposed this issue. More than 100 cautions have been issued in the past 12 months for very serious criminal offences, four them rape. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which was supposed to help by allowing cautions for only minor offences, is clearly not working.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. As with so many requests, I cannot offer a debate in Government time, because so much of the House’s time is allocated to Backbench Business debates.

And some people would like still more.

However, it is open to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) to pursue that avenue for a debate. Across the country, as he knows, we are achieving a reduction in crime, but that does not mean that everything is perfect. We have an increase in the number of neighbourhood police officers and so on, but I encourage him to pursue a debate through all the normal methods.

First, may I wish everyone who is celebrating it a happy Diwali?

Harrow council is currently consulting on closing libraries, day centres and the local arts centre. At the same time, the Labour group has decided to bring back the role of chief executive, which the last minority Conservative administration abolished, at a cost of more than £1 million. May we have a debate in Government time on these wicked proposals across the county to close centres when money could be saved in other ways?

My hon. Friend can certainly promote a debate on this issue, but of course his point is that these decisions are made locally; councils are in the driving seat. Every part of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the inherited deficit, including local government, but councils should be protecting front-line services and keeping council tax down by merging back-office services and ensuring that administration costs less, rather than more. I am sure he will continue to encourage his local council to do exactly that.

Two hundred years ago, the British Government made in France one of the canniest property investments in British history. May we have a debate on Britain’s incredible relationship—despite its ups and downs—with France, particularly in terms of trade?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the Duke of Wellington’s purchase for 800,000 francs of what became our embassy in 1814. I was there on Monday night to celebrate that fact. Many historians were assembled to help us look back at the events of those times and to understand how, since then, we have moved on from centuries of conflict with France. There was the entente cordiale from 1904, and we are now inseparable allies. I am not sure when we can have a debate about that, but my hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to it today.

On Saturday, I shall be leading the Wellingborough taskforce campaigning in east Northamptonshire on our EU referendum. During that campaigning, the No. 1 issue on the doorstep will be EU migration. The new President of the European Commission has said that the free movement rules cannot be changed. Our Prime Minister has rightly said that we will control immigration from the European Union in the future. Will there be an opportunity on Monday, when the Prime Minister makes his statement, for him to update us on that position?

My hon. Friend and others will have every opportunity on Monday to ask the Prime Minister about these things. A number of statements by EU officials and leaders have been made over recent days, but as my hon. Friend knows, the Prime Minister has a track record of outperforming expectations in EU negotiations, including reducing the EU budget for the first time ever and getting us out of the eurozone bail-outs, for which the Labour party left us liable. The Prime Minister has said that he will set out his intentions later in the year, but my hon. Friend will of course be able to ask him about them on Monday.

The largest annual fall in unemployment since records began is a hugely significant moment in the life of our nation, yet it is being treated by the media this week as if it were just last week’s news. Likewise, the Conservative proposals to abolish youth unemployment in the lifetime of the next Parliament is another hugely politically significant moment. May we have a full day’s debate in Government time—with a vote at the end of it—on Wednesday 3 December, the day of the autumn statement, so that we can publicise to the nation the tremendous economic progress the coalition Government have made?

My hon. Friend draws attention to what is perhaps the most important thing happening in this country at the moment, and it is vital that we always remember the work of Parliament in that. He has reminded us that employment is up by 1.75 million since the last general election, and over 2 million more people are employed in the private sector since the last general election. This is the strongest possible vindication of the economic policies that the Government have pursued. I hope that the autumn statement on 3 December will indeed concentrate people’s minds on that, and on the opportunity to have 3 million more apprenticeships over the next Parliament, as set out by the Conservative party. I am sure we shall all want to debate these things.