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Business of the House

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 6 November 2014

The business for next week will be:

Monday 10 November—Consideration of a Business of the House motion, followed by motion to approve the draft Criminal Justice and Data Protection (Protocol No. 36) Regulations.

Tuesday 11 November—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons and draft estimates for 2015-16. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 12 o’clock on this day.

The business for the week commencing 17 November will include:

Monday 17 November—Remaining stages of the Childcare Payments Bill.

Tuesday 18 November—Remaining stages of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Day 1)

Wednesday 19 November—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, followed by Opposition half day (10th allotted day, 1st part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 20 November—Debate on a motion relating to devolution and the Union, followed by general debate on money creation and society. The subject for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 21 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 24 November will include:

Monday 24 November—Remaining stages of the Recall of MPs Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 November will be:

Thursday 20 November—Debate on the first report from the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, followed by debate on the ninth report from the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on carbon capture and storage.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on his promotion in the fallout from the spectacular exit from the Home Office of the right hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)?

On Sunday, I will attend a remembrance service by the war memorial on Egremont prom in New Brighton, overlooking the River Mersey. On that day, we will remember all the men and women who have given their lives to protect our country. Does the Leader of House agree that such events will be especially poignant this year, the centenary of the start of the great war? I note that we are commemorating on the Order Paper the Members who gave their lives in the great war. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should also find an appropriate way to commemorate all House staff who lost their lives in that war?

A week on Monday, we will debate the remaining stages of the Childcare Payments Bill. The Bill is too little, too late for parents for whom child care costs have risen five times faster than pay since 2010. They do not want to wait until after the next election for the Government to do something about it. Surely the answer is to nearly double the hours of free child care for three and four-year-olds.

Every week in Wallasey, I meet people struggling to feed their families at the end of the month, despite the fact that they are in work. Thanks to this Government, more than 12,000 people were forced to rely on food banks in the Wirral last year alone. This is living wage week, which Opposition Members are proud to support. Twenty-eight Labour councils are now accredited living wage employers, and Labour-run Brent council is putting our policy into practice early by incentivising local employers to pay the living wage. Does the Leader of the House remember his fight to prevent the introduction of the lower but statutory minimum wage, and does he remember declaring that it would price people out of work? Will he now apologise for getting it so wrong, and will he tell us why he is proud of an economic recovery that is leaving so many hard-working people behind?

As Tory Back Benchers continue with their never-ending plots to drive Britain out of the European Union, it is clear that the German Chancellor is losing patience with the Prime Minister’s desperate attempts keep his party together. She let it be known this week that tinkering with free movement was a point of no return for Britain’s membership. Yesterday, all the Prime Minister could do was to attempt an in/out hokey cokey that fooled no one. Before the Leader of the House is tempted to follow in the Prime Minister’s footsteps and quote extensively my deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), will he tell us if he agrees with his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), who this week wrote that

“the anti-immigration and EU minority tail, is wagging the majority British dog”?

May I thank the Leader of the House for heeding my call last week and for announcing that we will vote on opting back in to the European arrest warrant on Monday, just 10 days before the Prime Minister’s self-imposed deadline? Will he confirm troubling reports that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has in fact refused to approve the draft regulations because they are riddled with errors? Lords rules dictate that a statutory instrument will not be taken unless it has been approved by the Joint Committee, but the Government are now so desperate to get this vote out of the way that they appear to have scheduled the vote in the Commons before they are sure that they can get the Joint Committee’s consent. Will the Leader of the House explain what he will do if the Joint Committee rejects the proposals after the House has voted on them on Monday? Will he admit that Ministers should have been spending less time worrying about the revolt on their Back Benches, and more time ensuring that the Home Office got its drafting right?

I understand that after business questions last week the Leader of the House and his fellow Tories travelled to the Prime Minister’s constituency to shed the accusation that they are out of touch and privileged by recreating the Bullingdon club at a £200-a- night hotel. Apparently, it was billed as a “How to beat UKIP summit”, but the campaign effort appeared to consist of knocking back free champagne and cognac until 3 am. The Chief Whip played a special game of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”, but we know that already. The right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) unveiled an excruciating painting of the Chancellor naked and brandishing a carrot, and some after-dinner jokes were in such dubious taste that Bernard Manning would have been embarrassed to use them. I know the Leader of the House is a man of the people, so will he confirm that he had his usual 14 pints?

On that point, I had one pint actually, which another hon. Member paid for—it is a fine Yorkshire tradition that somebody else buys the round—so I do not know where that comes from. I have had to cut back quite considerably since the days of having 14 pints.

The hon. Lady is quite right, of course, to refer to the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, which makes this year’s remembrance services especially poignant, exactly as she said. We will all have that in our minds as we attend local or national remembrance services this weekend. There was a service in the Undercroft yesterday, which you attended, Mr Speaker. It is important for us to commemorate on the Order Paper the sacrifices of House staff as well as former Members, and I am sure we can all join together in giving further thought to how to do that.

On Commons business, the hon. Lady asked about next Monday’s debate. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not completed its consideration of this statutory instrument, which is a substantial one, because it brings together all the measures necessary for opting in to those of the 35 measures that require regulation to be passed. It is substantial, and I understand that the Committee will return to this on Tuesday. It is not unprecedented for the House to consider a statutory instrument—[Interruption.] It is unusual. It has not happened in this Parliament, but it has happened in previous Parliaments. [Interruption.] I am assured that it has happened in previous Parliaments, and I think the assurances I have received should be good enough for the rest of the House. There is no barrier and no ruling to prevent this from happening. We will do so on Monday—subject, of course, to the Joint Committee completing its consideration on Tuesday. Our rules are different from those of the House of Lords in that respect. By having the debate on Monday, provided that the business of the House motion is carried at the beginning of the day, we will be able to have a full day’s debate—a much longer one than would be usual on statutory instruments. We are also able to ensure that the issue can return to the European Council agenda, for which we need to give 16 days’ notice before 1 December—and there are very good operational reasons for us to have completed our consideration before that date. [Interruption.] I am explaining to hon. Members on both sides why this is being timed when it is, and why it is important to do this on Monday. We shall do so, subject to the clearance of the JCSI the following day.

The hon. Lady asked about a number of other subjects, including the cost of living, food banks and the living wage. I remind her that this Government have cut tax for more than 26 million people and frozen fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament. We have helped to freeze council tax for the fourth year running, when council tax doubled under the last Labour Government and energy bills increased hugely. Town hall charges doubled and fuel duty was increased 12 times, so when it comes to the cost of living, the Opposition have nothing to teach us.

The hon. Lady asked about the minimum wage. Government Members have long supported it, and if everybody is to apologise for past errors, we are waiting for some very big apologies from the Opposition. Perhaps the hon. Lady will supply them on one or two of these occasions.

She asked about the article by my Parliamentary Private Secretary, which strongly supported the immigration policy of Her Majesty’s Government—she can be assured of that. I commend the shadow Leader of the House—I try to find some way to do so every week—for being so cheerful about the situation of her party. An examination of this morning’s media shows that their election guru is losing patience with Labour. The Opposition have had a reshuffle in order to forestall a coup—and things are getting pretty bad when that happens. The editor of the New Statesman, the only publication to support the Leader of the Opposition when he was elected, has now disowned him. One shadow Cabinet Minister said to the newspapers:

“Morale has never been lower”.

Another said that they were all “very concerned”. On the subject of real congratulations this week, however, we have a special guest appearance by the shadow Deputy Leader of the House for sheer honesty. Because he is not really allowed to speak at business questions, I will helpfully read out his words for him:

“The state that the Labour party is in right now is we are in a dreadful position. And we’ve got to be honest about ourselves…The electorate looks at us and has no idea what our polices are. We have a moribund party in Scotland…And we have a membership that is ageing and inactive.”

That is the hon. Gentleman’s own description of his own party—to which he assents, for he is nodding. It will take a lot more than a reshuffle to forestall the judgment of the voters on that party next May.

May we have an early debate on the costs of paying in-work benefits to foreigners? The Migration Advisory Committee said this week that the cost just of paying tax credits to foreigners is £5 billion a year. I tabled a question to the Department for Work and Pensions asking for more information, but so far I have received only a holding reply. I think this is an issue of increasing urgency, and I hope my right hon. Friend agrees with me.

As my hon. Friend will know, we have cracked down on the number of benefits to which European Union jobseekers can gain access. There is now a three-month delay before they can receive jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit or child tax credit, entitlement to housing benefit has been removed from them, and we have taken a number of other measures. The benefits bill is being reduced in that respect. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will receive a detailed reply to the question he tabled.

More and more Members are becoming frustrated at the length of time Departments take to reply to our constituents’ inquiries. Will the Leader of the House present a report to the House, naming and shaming the worst-offending Departments?

It is very important for Departments to answer letters promptly. When I was Foreign Secretary, I took a good deal of action to ensure that the Foreign Office improved its performance in that regard. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Procedure Committee reviews the issue each year and, I believe, publishes data, but if he has a problem with a particular Department, I should be happy to help him pursue it.

In his written ministerial statement on the northern powerhouse, which was published on Monday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:

“The Government will now prepare legislation to enable these changes”.—[Official Report, 3 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 37WS.]

Now that the House’s appetite has been whetted by the prospect of more local government legislation, will my right hon. Friend tell us when we will see the Bill? Will it appear before the curtain falls on this Parliament?

My right hon. Friend knows very well that current Session is now pretty full of legislation, and there is, of course, further legislation to come, on counter-terrorism powers, which I hope will receive wide support from Members on both sides of the House. My colleagues in the Treasury are considering the legislation that will be necessary to make the changes outlined in the written statement, and will introduce it when parliamentary time allows.

Did the Leader of the House see a television programme entitled “Baby P: The Untold Story” last week? If he did, is he as concerned as I am about the role of those who save and protect children in our country, and does he agree that there are great lessons to be learnt? Lessons about the behaviour of Ofsted might actually lead to an inquiry, but, in the short term, may we have a full debate on the real story behind Baby P? Many people wrongfully lost their livelihoods and their reputations.

I did not see the programme, but Members in all parts of the House will of course be very concerned about that and related issues. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to take the issue further on the Floor of the House during questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on Monday—I know that he is always assiduous in asking questions to a wide range of Departments—and he could also promote it by means of Adjournment debates and Backbench Business motions. I have no Government time to give away in the next couple of weeks.

Yesterday I visited Chatsworth primary school with the aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), to hear about the impact of Heathrow airport on the learning and development of the young pupils, who spoke of suffering sleep deprivation because of the aircraft that arrive throughout the night. The Airports Commission is due to report next year, but it has said that the options are Heathrow and Gatwick. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a full and frank debate, in which we can discuss what is best for the United Kingdom and take account of the views of residents?

My hon. Friend always speaks up strongly for her constituents on this matter. The impact on residents is of course one of the issues that the airports commission is considering in its review. It is crucial that we take long-term decisions on our aviation capacity that will keep Britain competitive for years to come. As she knows, the commission will make its final recommendations in the summer of next year, and I am sure that hon. Members will have many opportunities to make their views on this issue known and to represent the views of their constituents in the coming months.

A constituent of mine found that his payslip showed a deduction of £50. When he asked why, he was told that it was for making toilet visits. It appears that call centre staff, who are provided with copious amounts of water to keep their voices lubricated, are also being fined for going to the toilet. May we have a debate on the toilet tax?

Well, that is a new proposition for the House. I am sure that the hon. Lady will wish to pursue the matter directly with the company concerned—

I see that she is doing so. If this were a widespread problem, there might be demand for such a debate, but I hope that she will be able to resolve the matter for her constituent without us having to debate it on the Floor of the House.

May we please have a debate on green belt policy and on the threats posed by greedy developers and the local councils that wish to profit from their actions? Residents in my constituency have been appalled to discover plans by the neighbouring Cheshire East council to allow 2,500 houses to be built on green fields opposite the Marks & Spencer store in Handforth Dean. If that were allowed to happen, it would have a massive impact on local traffic volumes across my constituency and on the A34 in particular. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning those who seek to exploit valuable resources to the detriment of local communities?

I will make it crystal clear, as the Government always do, that the green belt must be protected from development so that it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl. Recently issued rules have strengthened those protections further to ensure that, whether a project involves new homes, business premises or anything else, the developers first look for suitable brownfield sites. Those rules exist in addition to the range of other measures that the Government have taken to protect the green belt, and I hope that they will be of help to my hon. Friend’s constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) recently raised the question with the Prime Minister of the firefighters pension dispute. May we have a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on why the dispute has been settled in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but continues in England, given the optimism that met the arrival of the new fire Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt)? Her appointment heralded the possibility of the dispute being looked at with a fresh new pair of eyes, and a real hope that the matter could be dealt with.

Of course we all want to see that matter resolved, and the Prime Minister commented on it yesterday. There will be questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government on Monday, which will provide a further opportunity to question the responsible Ministers about the issue.

One of the untried technologies that we are not getting right in this country is wave power. There are two opportunities to use it in Sedgemoor in my constituency, but the money we need for the studies to find out whether it would work is not available. Will the Leader of the House find time in the next couple of weeks for us to discuss this matter? We have the opportunity to produce energy through wave power around the country, but we are unable to get the technology right.

That is an important issue for the future of our country and its energy supplies. My hon. Friend will actually have a good opportunity to raise the matter further in a couple of minutes, when we have the annual energy statement.

May we have a debate on the impact of the Tory obsession with leaving Europe on the family of nations throughout the United Kingdom? If big brother England votes to leave the EU but the smaller members of the family vote to stay, we will be treated like upstart children, told what is good for us and dragged out of Europe against our will.

The Conservative party is advocating that the people should make the decision in a referendum. I thought that the hon. Gentleman and his party were in favour of people being able to make decisions in referendums, but, evidently, he does not like the answer that the people give. When we come to have that referendum it will be one of and for the whole of the United Kingdom, of which the people of Scotland have voted to remain a part.

Following on from that, the European Union (Referendum) Bill passed this House by 283 votes to nil—the biggest majority for any private Member’s Bill—yet the Leader of the House has still not tabled the money resolution. We are led to believe that the Liberal Democrats are blocking it, though they did not have the courage to vote against the Bill. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that he brings in an emergency statement tomorrow and introduces that money resolution, so that it can be debated and the Bill makes progress? If the person sitting to the right of him, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) wants to leave the Government at that stage, so be it.

My hon. Friend rightly says that that Bill was carried by a very large majority, and he and I both voted for it. He asked about the money resolution, but, as I explained last week, there has not been agreement in the Government on money resolutions for two private Members’ Bills: the Affordable Homes Bill and the European Union (Referendum) Bill. Such a resolution can be moved only if there is agreement in the Government on it. But what he says is further evidence that only the Conservative party will and can deliver in the future an EU referendum.

This week is national youth work week. May we have a debate about the utter destruction of youth services across the country because of Government cuts, so that the Minister can explain how, despite the cuts, he is making sure that local authorities can and do fulfil their statutory duties to provide a sufficient youth service?

There is a lot of demand evident today for DCLG questions next Monday. The hon. Lady is asking about local authorities’ obligations, which are a matter for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and so she will be able to ask him and Ministers about that on Monday. During the short recess next week, we will also welcome here the Youth Parliament, where young people will be able to discuss in here these and related issues, and I will join in welcoming them. I encourage the hon. Lady to raise these concerns with the relevant Ministers.

May we please have a debate on the effectiveness of our international aid budget? Recent research by the TaxPayers Alliance has shown that of 20 countries in receipt of UK aid 10 had shown little or no improvement in the amount of political, economic and press freedom they enjoyed and five actually enjoyed less freedom.

I am sure that my colleagues in the Department for International Development would welcome a debate. We have, of course, had a good deal of discussion about this issue in the debates on another private Member’s Bill and on its money resolution, carried just a few days ago, and in DFID questions just yesterday. Investing in overseas development is creating a world that is healthier, more stable and more prosperous, but that does not mean that the issues about freedom and human rights to which my hon. Friend refers do not remain. Development does not always deal with those.

Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), may we have a debate or a statement on accountability within British airports, as London City airport is planning to spread misery among my constituents by changing the flight paths and the concentration of flight paths over my constituency?

Those are legitimate things to debate and to raise with Transport Ministers. Of course, changes in flight paths have a major effect on constituents, particularly those in London. The hon. Gentleman can pursue that issue through Adjournment debates or through the Backbench Business Committee, and he is entirely entitled to do so.

My constituent, Christine Solley, has raised concerns about the sale of offensive and illegal weapons such as knuckledusters over the internet and through popular online auction sites. May we have an urgent debate on tackling the sale of illegal weapons online?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter, but the position on that is already clear. The legislation says that the sale, importation or possession of such weapons is an offence for which there is a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment. All concerns about the sale of knuckledusters or any offensive weapons should be reported to the police or local trading standards department. If the seller of those things is based abroad, then concerns should be reported to the helpline run by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. So we already have a clear position on those things.

Post-polio syndrome is a neurological condition suffered by 80% of all polio victims nationwide—100,000 people—yet awareness in the primary care system, especially among GPs, is very low, and there is no national strategy in the NHS to recognise the condition. May we have an urgent statement to the House on what the Secretary of State will do to remedy that?

Awareness of such issues is important. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is doing his bit to increase awareness by raising the matter in the House today. I will contact Health Ministers so that they can judge how best to respond to his point.

May I bring to the attention of the House early-day motion 455, which stands in my name?

That this House believes that the UK’s air passenger duty is acting as a barrier to allowing hardworking families to take holidays abroad, when the majority already have to pay a premium due to school term-time restrictions; and calls on the Government to reduce the financial impact on hardworking families by scrapping the air passenger duty applicable to children.

Currently, all children aged two and over flying from a UK airport pay the same amount of air passenger duty as an adult. That puts a significant amount on the cost of flying for families and the policy is out of line with most taxes, including on clothes and books, where children are exempt. British families face the full whammy of paying full APD on all flights plus a premium for taking their children on holiday out of school time. May we please have a debate on the amount of tax levied on children’s flights in the UK?

The right time to debate air passenger duty is after the Chancellor presents his autumn statement or his Budget each year. My hon. Friend will recall that the time when the House decides whether to pass what the Chancellor proposes is after the Budget each year. Of course we will take what he has said as a Budget representation. He will remember that the Chancellor recently simplified air passenger duty. I think that that will have been of assistance to a lot of people, but it did not deal with the point that he has raised.

May we have a debate in Government time on the state of local government? Coventry, Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands are facing horrendous cuts and redundancies. Why do we not have a proper debate on local government and treat it with the respect that it deserves?

We do debate in different ways the condition of local government. Sadly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had to make a statement about Tower Hamlets earlier this week. Again, there are further opportunities to raise such issues in questions to him next Monday. It is also open to the hon. Gentleman to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate.

The European Commission unveiled its latest forecast on Tuesday, predicting that the UK economy would grow 10 times faster than that of France. May we have a debate on why the British economy is winning the European growth race, on what lessons we can learn, and on what lessons the Leader of the Opposition might choose to learn?

Again, we might well want to debate such matters at the time of the autumn statement, which is only a few weeks away. As my hon. Friend says, the British economy—according to the European Commission —is growing 10 times faster than that of France. It is only two years since the Leader of the Opposition said:

“What President Hollande is seeking to do in France…is to find that different way forward. We are in agreement in seeking that way.”

That is the policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

There is a crisis on our high streets throughout the country, as anyone who attends the all-party group on town centres will testify. May we have a debate on the impact of VAT rises on small businesses in our constituencies, so that the Prime Minister can make clear the Government’s position, which, again, he did not do yesterday?

The Government’s commitment to small business is clear and strong. We removed £2,000 from employers’ national insurance contributions, which means that many small businesses, including some high street businesses, do not have to pay any such contributions at all. There is a good case for debates not just about VAT, but about a changing economy and the impact of social and economic trends on the retail world. The appropriate time to debate VAT and other taxation matters is around the autumn statement and the Budget.

May we have a debate on the Youth Select Committee’s recommendations in its report launched yesterday “Lowering the voting age to 16”? The inquiry was carried out by many young people. Some 478,000 young people voted to select the topics debated by members of the Youth Parliament last October in this Chamber, and votes at 16 won the day. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should debate the committee’s well considered findings?

I am sure that this will be debated in many different ways. It is one of the issues that the UK Youth Parliament itself will debate in this very Chamber. Members of the House have strongly held and opposing views on the issue. They were aired here in the debate brought forward by the Backbench Business Committee in January this year. Our noble Friend Lord Tyler has introduced a private Member’s Bill in the other House on this issue and tabled amendments to the Wales Bill. I am sure that there will be opportunities for further debate in this House.

Further to what was said earlier about the so-called northern powerhouses, I urge the Leader of the House not to forget that cities elsewhere in the country, such as Bristol, would very much benefit from devolution of powers, particularly on issues such as transport and housing. May we have a debate on that, and perhaps discuss the issue of elected mayors at the same time, as we might have some salutary lessons for our friends in Manchester?

The Government are conscious of this issue, and since 2010 have set out on more decentralisation than has happened for decades to many cities and towns in the UK. I think, from memory, that Bristol has entered into a city deal. There are further opportunities to push that forward. When we have the debate that the Backbench Business Committee has nominated for two weeks today on devolution and the Union, it will be entirely right to raise those issues.

Many residents in the village of Bishopstone, just 5 miles from Salisbury, have been cut off without a landline for most of the last three months. That is a massive challenge when so many of them are elderly and there is no mobile signal. Unfortunately, BT has given conflicting advice about when the problem can be resolved. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how we can avoid such a thing happening in future, and how better connectivity can be achieved in rural areas?

I can understand my hon. Friend raising this in the House when people have been cut off from their telephone service for so long, which is obviously not good enough. This year, Ofcom introduced a series of performance targets for providers—in particular for Openreach—which they are required to meet or they will face penalties, including fines. This year, Openreach announced the creation of 2,400 new engineering roles. I hope that providers will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, so that the problem will be rectified and we will not need to have a debate on it in the House.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sub-postmasters in this country with an air of criminality hanging over them based on the outcomes of the Second Sight report into the Horizon computer programme. On behalf of cross-party MPs, may I urge the Leader of the House to seek agreement from his Cabinet colleagues to publish in full Second Sight’s final report into the Horizon computer scandal so that these people can move on and clear their names?

I will certainly inform colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. They will be answering questions in the House on 20 November, so he will have a further opportunity then to raise it with them directly. I will tell them of his concern in advance.

As my right hon. Friend well knows, the Pitcairn Islands are one of the most remote British overseas territories, and their environment is pristine. Will he consider making time available for a statement from our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on establishing a marine environment protected zone around the territory’s thousands of square miles, as supported by the people of the Pitcairn Islands?

We have a strong record of not only giving stronger and more coherent support to the overseas territories over the past four and a half years than ever happened in the previous decade, including taking a great deal of care over the Pitcairn Islands, but of advancing marine protected areas around some of them. What my hon. Friend asks for is absolutely in line with that, so I will encourage colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide more details.

Given the current uncertainty about the future of Long Products UK, may we have a statement from the appropriate Secretary of State outlining what the Government are doing to ensure that foundation industries such as steel are there as a bedrock for future manufacturing success?

The steel industry is very important for this country. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that steel production here has risen in recent years. The Prime Minister commented on the matter recently at Prime Minister’s questions and there was an urgent question within the past two weeks on the future of the industry. It will remain an important topic of discussion in the House. As I said, BIS questions will be on 20 November, which might be the next opportunity to pursue the matter.

A continuing concern in our country is the disparity in infrastructure spend between London and the English regions—roughly speaking, it is a ratio of 10:1 in terms of spend per capita. Much of that has been driven by Crossrail 1. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that Crossrail 2 will not have significant sums spent on it without a proper series of debates in this House?

Debating infrastructure investment in many different places and in many different ways is very important for the House, so I can assure my hon. Friend that there will always be plenty of discussions on these matters. He will also be aware that part of what we are trying to do with our regional growth fund and city deals is ensure that there is investment in infrastructure, transport and science across the regions of the United Kingdom. We now have the largest rail modernisation programme taking place since Victorian times. We are investing nearly £800 million in superfast broadband. There are many infrastructure developments benefiting the whole of the country, and we must ensure that they continue to do so.

When will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on the third report of the Committee on Standards, “The Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules”?

That important report has only recently been published. I have read it. I have not been able to schedule it for the next two weeks, but it is important that the House debates it, so I will get back to Members on that.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and that I was present at its meeting yesterday? I can confirm that there was only a slight administrative delay, as he has told the House, due to the length and complexity of the measure, not because there were any specific problems. Also, my understanding is that on at least one occasion in this Parliament the House has debated a statutory instrument before the Joint Committee did, and I seem to recall that it had Labour support.

I am sure that there was a request for a statement or debate somewhere in the interstices of the question and that we just did not find it.

Indeed, my hon. Friend is right that there have been previous cases, including in this Parliament—for example, the debate on prevention and suppression of terrorism on 10 July last year. I am grateful for what he says about yesterday’s deliberations by the Committee, and we all hope that it will complete those deliberations next Tuesday.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I am the Government’s pharmacy champion. Plymouth’s Peninsula medical school is very keen to have a pharmacy school attached to it. May we have a debate on pharmacy schools and on the much wider issue of pharmacies as a whole and their contribution to the national health service?

My hon. Friend does a very good job of representing these issues. Pharmacists do indeed make a crucial contribution to the health service, and it is very important that we have well-trained pharmacists for the future. I cannot promise him a debate, although of course he can pursue one in all the normal ways, but by raising the issue today he has already drawn attention to it very successfully.

In Harrogate district there are nearly 800 charities and voluntary sector organisations making a difference in their communities every day. Last week, the work of the volunteers was recognised at our volunteer Oscars organised by local councillor John Fox. May we have a debate on what more can be done to better recognise and celebrate the work of the voluntary sector bodies and charities that are so active in all our communities right across the country?

We cannot do much better than my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of volunteering and the voluntary sector and does a great deal of it himself. He draws attention to the sheer scale of such activity. The figures show that last year 74% of people volunteered in some way—an increase from 66% just four years ago. We recognise the tremendous contributions that people make through the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the Big Society awards, and the Points of Light awards. I hope that all hon. Members will join in that effort, with or without a debate.

The Leader of the House will recall a memorable visit to Cleethorpes around the end of 2009, when he launched a policy document called “No Longer The End Of The Line” outlining policies that would re-invigorate seaside towns. May we have a debate to review those policies and to outline what future Government initiatives await us?

I do remember visiting Cleethorpes in 2009. Actually, I also remember visiting Cleethorpes around about 1966, when I was five years old, so I have many fond memories of Cleethorpes. Like my hon. Friend, I very much believe in the future of our seaside towns. This is an important topic for debate, and I encourage him to pursue it through the Backbench Business Committee and other opportunities.

This morning my right hon. Friend has shown his appetite for reviving obscure parliamentary procedures by asking the House to vote on Monday on a measure that will not have completed its other Commons stages. Will he therefore revive the obscure parliamentary procedure of debating Opposition policy in dedicated Government time? Given the importance to our democracy of having a healthy Opposition, and as a reward for the refreshing honesty of the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), who said that the public have

“no idea what our policies are”,

may we test the proposition that this House has identified Her Majesty’s Opposition’s alternative programme for government?

That would be a fascinating debate. Perhaps the shadow Leader of the House could lead it for the Opposition in order to clarify and expand on all the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about Labour being a “moribund” party, rather than the Leader of Opposition leading it and demonstrating that it is a moribund party.

Yesterday I had the honour of captaining the House of Commons bridge team in our annual match against the other place. I am happy to report that we successfully retained the Jack Perry trophy with an outstanding victory. Sadly, I was the only sitting Member participating and I had to enlist a number of ex-MPs— former distinguished Members of this House—to join me. Even more sadly, UK Sport refuses to recognise bridge, chess and other mind sports as sports. May we have an early debate, in Government time, on ensuring that there is recognition of those mind sports, which are important for sporting purposes in schools and for older people, so that we can encourage participation in them?

I am sure the House is pleased to learn of the hon. Gentleman’s prowess and distinction at the bridge table. It is a prowess and distinction of which I was hitherto unaware, but I am now better informed.

I was also unaware of it, Mr Speaker, and I congratulate my hon. Friend. To defeat the House of Lords at bridge is no small matter, although I do wonder how many former world champions he recruited to his team in the absence of any other Members of Parliament. I hope hon. Members will join him in future years so that the title can be retained. He makes an important point about the importance of games such as chess to the development of young people. I would certainly welcome a debate. I am not able to offer Government time for it, but I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue it in all the normal ways.