Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next year?
The business for the week commencing 5 January 2015, and therefore next year, will be:
Monday 5 January—Second Reading of the Serious Crime Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 6 January—Remaining stages of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (Day 1).
Wednesday 7 January—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.
Thursday 8 January—Debate on a motion relating to higher education funding, followed by debate on a motion relating to Gibraltar. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 9 January—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 January 2015 will include:
Monday 12 January—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill, followed by motion to approve a carryover extension on the Consumer Rights Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 January will be:
Thursday 8 January—Debate on the first report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on winter floods 2013-14.
I would also like to inform the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced the date of the Budget statement. It will be on Wednesday 18 March.
May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all right hon. and hon. Members a very merry Christmas? I am sure that the whole House will join me in recognising the outstanding work that goes on to support the House throughout the year. I thank all staff who work in the service of the House and wish them a restful and peaceful Christmas and a happy new year. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the first week back—a task that he will have just 10 more times before Dissolution in March and before he bows out after a quarter of a century as an MP. We will all be sad to see him go, even though he may be mightily relieved.
I welcome yesterday’s unanimously agreed report from the House of Commons Governance Committee, which was presented to the House ahead of the extremely challenging schedule that the House laid down in its motion of 10 September. I would like to take this early opportunity to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), all the members of the Committee and its hard-working staff on producing such practical recommendations.
The report sets out a series of sensible reforms that have the potential to move the administration of this place into the 21st century. It is right to conclude that the role of Clerk and chief executive should be split; it is right that we should reform the House of Commons Commission and the Management Board; and it is right that we should explore quickly how we can share more services between the Commons and the Lords. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important that the House debates and acts on the report swiftly? Will he therefore confirm that it is his intention to move with alacrity to call a debate on it? Perhaps he even has a date in mind.
Amid the festive flurry of written statements that have been published this week, I note that we still do not have the long overdue list of special advisers and their pay. After the Prime Minister promised to cap their numbers and cut the cost of politics, he authorised a massive increase in their numbers and their cost. He now seems to have stopped publishing any details whatever. Will the Leader of the House tell us what on earth is going on and when we can expect the list to be published, or is he hiding something?
I note that, yet again, the Government have failed to bring forward the money resolution for the Bill on the NHS that is promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). Will the Leader of the House tell us when it will be forthcoming?
On Tuesday, the House voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) requiring large companies to publish their gender pay gap. We know that women earn an average of £209,000 less than men over their lifetime, and the Government are clearly so concerned that they have done absolutely nothing about it for four years. Seven Conservative MPs even voted against the Bill. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will now listen to the will of the House and implement section 78 of Labour’s Equality Act 2010? Will he also tell us whether his equivalent in the Lords, Baroness Stowell, is still being paid less than he is?
Given that this is our last sitting day before the Christmas recess, I want to take the opportunity, as the Leader of the House did, to wish all right hon. and hon. Members, all the House staff and you, Mr Speaker, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. It seems that everyone is getting into the Christmas spirit in their own way. The Chancellor, who is Parliament’s very own incorrigible Scrooge, has been visited by the ghost of Christmas future, and he is the only person in the country who likes what he sees. The Prime Minister has been spotted pigeon shooting with a full police escort, because apparently he misses killing things, and the UK Independence party has been busy putting on its very own nativity play—it sent the wise men back to where they came from and told the Virgin Mary to stop breastfeeding in public.
The festive season is now in full swing, and I have been hearing all about the coalition Christmas party. There was a bit too much excitement at the start, and there are now lots of people regretting saying things that they did not mean. They have learned that if you end up in bed with somebody, you can regret it for years to come. We can just imagine the games they were playing—for the Home Secretary and the Chancellor it was less musical chairs and more “Game of Thrones”. For the Liberal Democrats it was “Twister” when they should have been playing “Pointless”, and the Tories rewrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to reflect their past year—four resignations, three Euro-fudges, two lost MPs and a Chief Whip who’s nowhere to be seen.
It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. Lady, and it was nice of her to say that she will be sad to see me go. If it is a plot to get me to stay, it will fail. I am determined about the going bit, but also determined to enjoy the 10 further business statements that she talked about. I reciprocate the respect; she is the most cheery Opposition Front Bencher—not that that is a high bar when we look at them in general, but she unfailingly manages to clear that bar.
I join the hon. Lady in her welcome for the report by the House of Commons Governance Committee, and I thank the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who chaired it, and all the right hon. and hon. Members of all parties who served on it. It is for the House to reach a view and take a decision—there is no fixed Government view, but I welcome the report and judge that it will be well received in the House and that there will be a great deal of support for its recommendations. We will indeed move with alacrity, as the hon. Lady put it, to have a debate. Although I have not been able to announce a specific debate in the first week back, I will certainly facilitate a debate on the report in January so that if its recommendations are supported by the House—as I said, I think they generally will be—they can be taken forward expeditiously.
The hon. Lady asked about the so-called festive flurry of written ministerial statements. Today and yesterday there have been 49 of them, although I notice that on the last two days before the final Christmas of the last Parliament, there were 50—even more. Only one more, but one is enough, as we politicians know. One is always enough to prove a point or win an election, so I consider my point fully made.
The hon. Lady asked about the publication of the list of special advisers. It will be published today. There are more special advisers now given the nature of coalition, although their average pay is actually lower than it was under the last Government, which is an interesting point.
Latest figures show that the gender pay gap has closed for people under 40; although there is more to do, it has closed a good deal and continues to do so under this Government, which we want to continue.
The hon. Lady talked about the festive season in general, including for UKIP, and part of the festive season for Government Members is reading the Labour party document on UKIP, which has already been referred to—I am not recommending that my hon. Friends spend all of Christmas reading it, but it is good for a laugh now and again so I recommend reading it before Christmas eve. Page 18 gives advice on getting into a discussion with voters, and for when people ask about Labour policies it states:
“It does not however follow that…emphasising our policies in our conversations with electors is always the correct response.”
Indeed, when one thinks about some of Labour’s policies, that is pretty good advice for Labour canvassers.
The hon. Lady compared the coalition to a Christmas party and getting into bed with each other, but it is not often that someone signs an agreement to get into bed for five years specifically, knowing that at the end of those five years they will be happy to be on their own. That, however, is what we did in the coalition agreement, and at the end of this year of coalition Government, as we come up to Christmas, we can celebrate what in my view is the most important fact: unemployment is 455,000 lower than it was 12 months ago. There are 326,000 more businesses in this country than there were 12 months ago, and 440,000 people have started an apprenticeship in the past 12 months. Those things are happening because the parties in the coalition got into bed with each other.
The whole House will be united in condemnation of the massacre of 132 children and nine adults at the school in Peshawar. Following that atrocity, the Government in Pakistan have announced the reintroduction of the death penalty. If—God forbid—a similar evil was to be committed in this country, there would be calls for the reintroduction of capital punishment. May we please have a debate about what steps will be required to reintroduce the death penalty in the United Kingdom?
The whole House will join my hon. Friend in wanting to remark on the horror of what happened a couple of days ago, and the slaughter of children. Even for those of us used to hearing about terrorist events and attacks, this atrocity was heartrending, and the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have expressed the views of the Government and the whole country. The death penalty is a matter for Pakistan in Pakistan, but the United Kingdom’s position is to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. It is open to my hon. Friend and others to try to secure a debate on that subject, but my judgment is that the House has passed the point at which it would be possible to reintroduce the death penalty.
Around 15,000 British citizens in my constituency are of Pakistani heritage, and the atrocity earlier in the week has been profoundly shocking to them and the whole United Kingdom. I know that they will be grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and for the sympathy and condolences expressed.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and the Leader of the House for their approbation of the House of Commons Governance Committee report. I express my profound thanks to the Committee Clerks, who were drawn from all departments across the House service, as well as, formerly, the Clerks Department. Above all, I express my thanks to my seven colleagues on the Committee, who came to its work with different perspectives and worked fantastically hard. In some cases, we had three evidence sessions a week. Happily, we managed to produce an agreed and unanimous report. That was not just a negotiating fix; the report contains important and granular recommendations.
I thank the Leader of the House for his promise of an early debate. May I press him on one further matter? If the report gains the approval of the House, as I hope it will, there will be a need for minor, I think, consensual legislation to go through both Houses before the election.
I join the right hon. Gentleman in thanking all members of the Committee, and I thank him too. I recognise that there were a lot of evidence sessions. The Committee got through a lot of work and heard from a lot of people with expertise and experience. That has clearly benefited the report.
On legislation and the possible amendment of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, we will of course have to listen to the views of the House in the debate. If, as I expect, there is a great deal of support for the Committee, it will be important to be able to get on with the legislation. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate better than most how difficult it might be to ensure proper scrutiny at this stage of a Parliament. The House has a record of wanting to scrutinise legislation on House of Commons matters, as indeed on most other matters. I cannot guarantee that, but I am happy to discuss the matter further with him and the other members of the Committee.
Further to the reply my right hon. Friend has just given, may I join the chorus of approval for the work of the Governance Committee, so ably led by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)? It has been a model for how a Select Committee should work. Can I take it from what my right hon. Friend has just said that he plans to table the draft motion in annex C when we have the debate on the report? Who has responsibility for implementing the recommendation in paragraph 186:
“that the ‘paused’ recruitment process be formally terminated. We believe that this action should be taken immediately.”?
I will clarify the motion when we announce the debate. It is very helpful of the Committee to put forward a draft resolution, which must be the frontrunner candidate to be the motion for that debate. On the responsibility for implementing that recommendation, I think that rests with the appointment panel that worked on it. The matter can be considered even before we come to a debate.
I thank the Leader of the House for arranging an early debate on the report. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) for his steering of the Committee, and for putting up with me in the private sessions as well as the public sessions. The report is important: it does not look backwards and it is not a slap in the face for anyone. We are making progressive recommendations, not least to ensure that Members understand that there is a split in the role and that they are both very important roles. I also appreciate the fact that the urgent debate will take place earlier, rather than later.
I thank the hon. Lady very much for the part she has played on the Committee. It was clear that all members of the Committee were very engaged in its work. The recommendations are clear. As I said, I think they will be well received by the House. We will have the debate in January.
We had a very good debate on Russia and Ukraine last week, but events are moving fast. For example, evidence emerged over the weekend of discussions between President Hollande of France and Mr Putin. Various compromises may be in the air. This is an important issue. I am not asking for a debate immediately, but before Dissolution at the end of March will the Leader of the House have it in his mind, as issues relating to the Russian economy develop, to have another debate?
One way or another, the House will need to be kept abreast of developments and to be able to comment on them, whether through statements from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or debates. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to this international issue, which is fast moving and immensely important. I will certainly remind colleagues of the need to keep the House informed.
A short time ago the Foreign Secretary announced the development of a new British base in Bahrain, and he accompanied that announcement with a statement suggesting that the human rights situation there was improving. It is the first British base to be developed outside Europe for a very long time, and that is a complete change from the Wilson Government’s east of Suez policy of the 1960s. Does not that deserve at least a full parliamentary debate, because it appears to be a complete change in foreign and defence policy that has not been reported to the House and that we have therefore not had an opportunity to question or debate?
As a former Foreign Secretary, I do not see any change of policy in that; it will be a change in facilities for British ships based in Bahrain. The hon. Gentleman may know that Royal Navy minesweepers have been based in Bahrain for a long time—they are based there now—and play an important part in ensuring the safety of navigation in the strait of Hormuz. For them to have improved facilities in Bahrain can hardly be described as a complete change in defence and foreign policy.
May we have a debate on the identity of political parties? Given that nearly 31 million people are now in work, the highest level on record, youth unemployment is at its lowest level since the 1970s and we have 2 million more apprentices, is it not the case that we on the Government Benches are now the party of labour and the workers and those on the Opposition Benches are the party of dependency, welfare and reactionary conservatism?
Yes. That is a most perceptive question from my hon. Friend. Of course, we are going to have a debate on the identity of political parties in a few months—it is called a general election. I am sure that debate will take place fully across the country. He is right that for the millions of people lifted out of income tax altogether and the 2 million people who have been able to start an apprenticeship, this Government have stood up for working people, and we will do even more in the months ahead.
One of the surprise inclusions in the Smith commission’s report was the proposal to break up the British Transport police. It was surprising because commentators over many years have commended them for the safety and security they provide on our transport networks, especially our rail network. Will the detailed proposals for that break-up come forward as part of the Smith commission proposals, or will there be a separate statement from the sponsoring Department, the Department for Transport, because I know that many Members will be interested in looking at that very carefully?
I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s specific point to my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport and the Scotland Office. The Smith commission put forward a package of proposals agreed across parties, and where legislation is needed it will be brought forward in draft form by 25 January. I think that the best time to discuss all the implications, including the one he raises, is at that time, as implementation of the recommendations is being prepared.
National and international corruption inhibits this country’s ability to collect taxes that are rightly due and hampers the ability of Governments in developing countries to help themselves stand on their own two feet. I welcome the publication of the UK’s anti-corruption plan today, but will the Leader of the House consider ensuring that an annual statement is presented to the House so that we can see what progress is being made in that area?
We have just had an urgent question on the matter, during which the Minister for Business and Enterprise set out the Government’s position, so I refer the hon. Lady to all the answers he has given. He pointed out the importance of the plan in bringing together all the Government’s work and assured the House that he will keep it regularly informed. I am sure that she will find the answer to her question among those provided by my right hon. Friend.
May we have a debate in Government time on unemployment? I fear we cannot rely on the Opposition to use one of their Opposition days for such a debate. In such a debate, we could highlight the fact that the unemployment rate in Shipley is 466 lower than it was this time last year, and we might find out why unemployment has dropped by another 29 over the last month in my constituency. I like to think it has something to do with the jobs fair I held in Shipley last month, which was very well attended.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the jobs fair in Shipley, which is a further example of the outstanding work he does for his constituents. He is right to draw attention to what has happened on unemployment. I referred earlier to the reduction of 455,000 in unemployment this year, but it is also important to note that long-term youth unemployment is down 53,000 this year. Such changes are greatly benefiting people in Shipley and across the country.
As stated already, we have all been shocked by the barbaric actions of the Taliban in Peshawar over the weekend. My constituency has many Pakistani residents, and on behalf of the Rochdale council of mosques I would like to express our deep sorrow for the people burying their dead and to offer our support in the continuing fight against extremism. Does the Leader of the House agree we should debate this issue in the new year?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. People in his constituency and across the country will be deeply moved by the sight of families burying their dead children in such huge numbers. It underlines the need to work together internationally to counter terrorism. The need to do that is one reason we have been debating the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill several times over the past few weeks, and in the first week back we will be devoting two days to its remaining stages. These events underline the importance of that.
May I welcome the publication today of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill, which will provide the opportunity to fast-track into the House of Lords women consecrated as diocesan bishops? My right hon. Friend will know that there was widespread support and rejoicing in both Houses for the Measure to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England, but there was concern that if the rules of seniority prevailed, it might not have been possible for women bishops to be in the House of Lords for perhaps another Parliament. This is a simple measure in a one-clause Bill. Will he confirm that he intends the Bill to be taken in a single day, with a Second Reading in one half and the remaining stages in the other half of the same day?
The Bill is minutes away from introduction and publication, and this whole issue has indeed been the cause of rejoicing in both Houses, as my right hon. Friend rightly says. I will confirm the arrangements for the handling of the Bill in due course, but he is right that it is a short and simple Bill that should enjoy widespread support. When I come to announce the handling of business, I will certainly hope it can be considered quickly, with these facts in mind.
NHS England has announced at a late stage that it is halting the assessment for the Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment Translarna. This decision has caused significant anxiety for people affected by the condition, so will the Leader of the House set aside time to debate the emergency interim measures that the Department of Health and NHS England need to put in place to ensure that Translarna completes the approval and funding process and can be made available to the boys it could help from as early as next April?
I know that Health Ministers are conscious of this matter. It is a priority to ensure that patients in England have access to new and effective treatments on terms that represent value for money for the NHS and the taxpayer. I believe the decision-making framework for adoption of new treatments and interventions was discussed yesterday at the NHS England board meeting, but there will be many further opportunities to put questions to Health Ministers in the early weeks of the new year.
Could we find time before Dissolution for a debate on the impact— the positive impact—of the Government’s academies programme? In that connection, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Jackie Steel, the principal of Bourne academy in my constituency, who retires this week and who has transformed that school and the prospects for its young children?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in congratulating the principal of that academy. So often it is the principal or head teacher who sets the ethos and creates the performance of a school or academy. We should all be grateful to those who successfully transform educational institutions, and a great deal of that is happening among academies. My hon. Friend’s local example is a very strong one.
May we have a debate on the newspaper industry—local and daily, and perhaps with particular reference to the excellent new daily paper in Scotland from the Herald stable, called The National? After a few weeks, its circulation is almost up to that of The Herald itself and far higher than the established The Scotsman. Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to join me in congratulating The National newspaper on that and on the jobs it has created? Finally, may I, on behalf of the SNP, wish you, Mr Speaker, and all hon. Members a merry Christmas—Nollaig Shona.
I think that is not so much a question as an advertisement! I am sure readers in Scotland will be able to make up their own minds about what they want to read without our having to endorse it. There is always something a bit suspicious about newspapers being endorsed by politicians of any colour, and those politicians often live to regret it when the newspaper decides to change its editorial line. I caution the hon. Gentleman a little about that.
May I say how happy I am to be able to join all those who have commended the House of Commons Governance Committee report, and urge my right hon. Friend to bring forward the debate as quickly as possible so that the findings can be implemented? I say that not least because I was the guy who came up with the idea of this Committee; I drafted the motion that was accepted by the House; and I was even the first to invite the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) to take on the role of Chairman—and he has done so most ably. Moreover, the report concurs with the evidence submitted by the Public Administration Select Committee.
Anybody would think that the matter was about the hon. Gentleman! If he wishes us to think that, it is Christmas time, and we are pleased for him.
Indeed, Mr Speaker. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having an idea that was taken up by the whole House. We look forward to taking up more of his ideas in the future—provided they are just as good as that one. The support he has given and the ideas he has supplied are a further illustration of the widespread support in the House for the work of this Committee and indeed for its findings, as I have no doubt we will discover when we come to debate it.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the recent report of the Environmental Audit Committee on air quality, and particularly of the recommendations pertaining to the planning system. This is really important for my constituency, which forms part of the Greater Manchester air quality management area, and there is great concern about a new proposal for 200 homes in a very heavily air-polluted area alongside the M67 motorway. May we have a statement in the new year on that Select Committee report and particularly on the Government’s intentions on taking forward the planning recommendations?
This is clearly an important issue for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and he has already succeeded in raising it powerfully on the Floor of the House today. There are, of course, opportunities to debate Select Committee reports, which come up regularly. I announced one such debate in Westminster Hall in early January and there will be opportunities for further such reports to be debated. The hon. Gentleman has made a good case for that particular one.
The value of the all-party group was evident in the urgent question we have just heard. Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday saw the launch of a new all-party group on e-cigarettes, bringing together representatives of the 2.1 million users of e-cigarettes, manufacturers and those with an interest in public health. May we have a debate on the use of e-cigarettes, including perhaps, Mr Speaker, their use on the parliamentary estate and how they can be a valuable tool for people wishing to reduce or cease their use of tobacco?
I agree with my hon. Friend that e-cigarettes have the potential to support public health objectives and to support smokers who want to cut down or quit. It is important, too, for users to have confidence in the quality of the products, which must be licensed like other nicotine replacement therapies. I am not sure when we shall have the opportunity to debate this, but my hon. Friend can of course make the case for it in all the usual ways.
Pelamis Wave Power in Edinburgh has gone into administration with the potential loss of 50 jobs. It is tragic not only because those jobs are lost but because this company comprised the leading experts in wave technology in the world. May we have an urgent statement on what the Government might be able to do—in conjunction, of course, with the Scottish Government—to support Pelamis Wave Power so that we do not lose that wonderful research facility?
Just a few moments ago, we had topical questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, so the immediate opportunity to debate that subject in the House has just passed. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to express concern about the jobs in his constituency. There will be further opportunities to raise that matter with the Energy and Climate Change Secretary on the Floor of the House.
May I welcome the Governance Committee’s recognition of the obvious fact that the qualities necessary to be a first-class manager are not the same as those necessary to be a first-class Clerk? Has the Leader of the House followed up his pledge to me in business questions on 27 November to speak to the Prime Minister about the possibility of making an award for the three women who acted so bravely to try to help Lee Rigby in very dangerous circumstances? Finally, will he speak to the Prime Minister on the question of a final settlement for those people infected with contaminated blood by the NHS—sometimes decades ago? One of my constituents in that situation pointed out that the Prime Minister said in June on the record in the press that this would be sorted out within six months. I do hope that this can be done before the end of this Parliament.
On those three questions—[Interruption.] It is indeed Christmas, so it is right to have Christmas generosity on this. On the first question, my hon. Friend, in common with others, expresses his support for the report on the governance of the House. On the second, of course I followed up the question he raised on 27 November, although I cannot comment on any potential outcome. On the third, which is a health matter, I know that my hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising it for his constituents. I will inform my colleagues in the Department of Health of his anxiety about the timetable, and ask them to respond to him.
This is my fifth contribution this morning, Mr Speaker, so thank you for being so generous. There is growing concern that the Conservatives are considering a rise in VAT after the next election—I very much doubt it will appear in the 18 March Budget statement. May we have a full debate in the new year on the consequences of a rise in VAT for people on low to moderate incomes and on businesses in my constituency, so that we can go into the election fully informed about what that policy would mean?
I hope we will have many exchanges and debates on the economy. Of course, any concern about increases in taxation will be about those parties that want higher deficits and higher spending rather than those that control deficits and spending and therefore do not need to increase taxation. Since it is now clear from the last few days that the Labour party wants higher levels of Government spending than we have today, it is for Labour Members to explain how increased taxation will have an impact on the people of this country.
I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to dealing with the recommendations of the excellent report from the House of Commons Governance Committee with alacrity, but may I join others in encouraging him to deal with them expeditiously as well? I am thinking particularly of the recommendations concerning the different roles of the Clerk and the subordinate director general. The past three months have been a period of great uncertainty for people both in the House and outside, and that uncertainty needs to be brought to an end so that we all know where we stand.
I do not think there will be any contradiction in regard to the need for those matters to be dealt with both expeditiously and with alacrity, and I hope that they will be, although it will, of course, be important for them to be debated in the House so that it can be fully consulted. Everyone who works for the House has coped very well with the last few months—all services have been successfully provided and important developments have continued—but now that the report has been published, we shall need to discuss it as quickly as possible.
Because there had been no ministerial statements during the week, I attended this morning’s session of oral questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to try to establish the Government’s position on the United Nations climate change conference in Lima and the agreement that was reached on Sunday, as it has huge implications for the discussions that will be held in Paris next year. It worries me that the House has not discussed the United Kingdom’s position on the legal structure of the agreement. There has been no discussion about the deferred decisions on ensuring a flow of finance to developing countries, about where the burden for cutting greenhouse gas emissions should lie, or about the dropping of the requirement for countries to provide information about their “prospect reduction targets”. May we please have a debate in Government time, so that we can discuss those important issues?
I think we have already had it.
They are globally important issues. This morning, as my hon. Friend may know, a written statement was issued to update the House on the outcomes of the conference, and my ministerial colleagues from the Department of Energy and Climate Change were here to answer questions from Members, including topical questions. I am sure that there will be further opportunities to debate the issue before the meeting in Paris next year. Indeed, my hon. Friend may wish to create such an opportunity with the help of the Backbench Business Committee.
Yesterday saw the publication of the long-awaited report of the independent inquiry into excessive pension charges and the selling of pension products, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. The report gives the full details of the scandal of excessive charging. The Minister for Pensions has said that he is deeply shocked, which is surprising, given that the Leader of the Opposition gave some of the details of the scandal more than two years ago. When the Minister has recovered from his shock in the new year, may we have a debate in Government time to establish how the Government intend to stand up for the hard-working people all over the country who have been ripped off?
As has already been said, the Government have a strong record on standing up for hard-working people. However, these pension issues are very important, and there will be opportunities to ask my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions about them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is also open to him to press for a debate through all the normal means.
I hope to accommodate the remaining questioners, but may we please have brief questions, without preamble?
That is about to be exemplified by Mr Rehman Chishti.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Local businesses in my constituency have contacted me expressing real concerns about the sale of illegal tobacco in Gillingham, which has previously been named as the capital of illicit cigarette sales. May we have an urgent debate on how the government are dealing with the problem around the country?
The issue of illicit tobacco is taken very seriously. It often involves organised crime, and causes a large loss of revenue at the taxpayer’s expense. Medway is certainly an area of Government work on the problem, involving the police, trading standards authorities and HMRC, and a number of sanctions are available to the various enforcement agencies. However, I will let my ministerial colleagues know of my hon. Friend’s anxiety.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that festive cheer in Mottingham has been increased by the Planning Inspectorate’s decision not to allow the demolition of the Porcupine public house, which has been mentioned in the House before. Will he make time for a debate so that we can consider what further financial incentives can be provided to enable community interest groups to take over the running of such valued local facilities?
I am happy to join in that festive cheer in the knowledge that a public house has been preserved. Its preservation will be dear to many of us throughout the House and the country, and I congratulate my hon. Friend and his constituents on their work. The Government have, of course, greatly enhanced the ability of communities to preserve assets to which they attach great value, but, if my hon. Friend presses for them in all the normal ways, there will be chances for the House to debate the further development of that policy.
Yesterday we heard the news that unemployment had fallen again in South Staffordshire and the west midlands. That has been largely due to the growth of apprenticeships and, in particular, the fact that Jaguar Land Rover has opened a new engine manufacturing facility in my constituency. Could time be made for a debate on the creation of more apprenticeships, especially in the automotive and aerospace sector, which plays such a key role in the economy of the west midlands?
This is a matter of fundamental importance, particularly to the west midlands economy. During the most recent academic year, 850,000 people were in apprenticeships. Two million apprenticeships have been created during the current Parliament, and many of us would like to see 3 million created in the next Parliament as part of our aim to abolish youth unemployment altogether. I hope that, during all the debates on the Budget and the economy, the House will be able to discuss precisely those matters.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I am the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the private rented sector. We have conducted a couple of inquiries and produced a couple of reports over the past year or so. May we have a debate on the recommendations of those reports, and, in particular, a debate on the proposed review of shared accommodation rates?
Those are important issues, and I know that my hon. Friend does very good work on them. We have no Government time to allocate to such debates, but, as I have said to other Members in connection with other subjects, it is open to my hon. Friend to press for them through all the normal channels, including the Backbench Business Committee.
May we have a debate on imaginative partnerships between the further education sector and private companies, such as the launch of the Risual academy by Stafford college and Risual, a fast-growing IT consultancy in my constituency?
We may not be able to have a debate on that subject immediately, but it is exactly the sort of co-ordination that is bringing great benefits to the economy and to local people, and I know that my hon. Friend’s support for it will be greatly valued.
Britain has an exceptional trading relationship with the United States, but more can be done to make trade easier for small business in particular. May we have a debate about the way in which the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, or TTIP—the current negotiations for a better deal between the European Union and United States—can bring only opportunities for Britain’s smallest businesses?
I hope that TTIP will be discussed regularly, and, indeed that great progress will be made on it in the coming year. It constitutes an opportunity to boost world trade considerably, and to add further to the vital economic relationship that my hon. Friend has described. Our bilateral trade with the United States is the greatest that we have with any country, and we have 1 million people working on each side of the Atlantic in companies that are owned on the other side of the Atlantic. I hope that there will be strong progress on TTIP in the coming year.
A few days ago, my constituency team and I became dementia friends following some very good training by our local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society. May we have a debate on how we can boost public understanding of all forms of dementia, making our communities more dementia-friendly and thus helping those who are suffering from this cruel disease, and, of course, their carers as well?
As we are not currently having a debate about the issue, it is important for us all to get on with it, which is exactly what my hon. Friend is doing and encouraging in his constituency. We are creating dementia-friendly communities which will help to support those who live with dementia, and we are educating 1 million people so that they can become dementia friends. I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for that.
All of us in the Cabinet have been taught about the issue, and, to date, there are more than 600,000 dementia friends. This is another issue on which we should continue to work hard in the new year.
Order. In wishing all parliamentary colleagues, and everyone who works on the parliamentary estate, a merry Christmas and a happy 2015, I am minded to mention that there is one upcoming item on the agenda to which they can look forward with eager anticipation: on Tuesday 13 January in Speaker’s House we will be addressed, in the lecture series for 2015, on the subject of William Pitt by the Leader of the House. He is a very considerable authority on that matter.