On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wrote to the Prime Minister just a few days before Christmas seeking his support for those who have gone voluntarily to dangerous locations in Africa where people are suffering from and dying from Ebola. I felt that their unstinting and selfless work should be recognised and acknowledged in some formal way, and I received an acknowledgement of that letter, but have heard nothing further.
I was somewhat surprised that earlier today, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), the Prime Minister said that he was looking to recognise such volunteers and was taking that forward. Is it not somewhat discourteous to announce that in this place when he has not even replied to my initial letter?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and I do understand why he feels aggrieved at not having received a reply to his letter. It is not a matter of order for the Chair and although all letters should of course be answered, it is not for me to say quite where the letter is in the system. I am sure that the Prime Minister, as a matter of course, responds to many thousands of letters and does his best to do so in a timely and courteous way. Whilst understanding the hon. Gentleman’s irritation—and I do—perhaps we can just take pride in the fact that there is to be such recognition. He has got his point on the record, but if it is understood by him and by the House, I think it best to leave it there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As we approached midday today, the noise in the Chamber went up, as so often happens just before and during Prime Minister’s questions, and I and others, and yourself too, found it even more difficult than usual to hear colleagues asking and Ministers answering International Development questions. Although it is natural that the noise level goes up and it is right and proper that you try to control it, I do wonder whether the microphone levels may be lower than they used to be, or whether the loudspeakers at the back of the seats are perhaps turned down a bit too much because of fear of feedback. May I ask that the technicians investigate this, so that we can better hear not just you, Mr Speaker, but Ministers and questioners?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) was shouting in my ear, so I did not hear the Secretary of State’s answer to my question—will councillors elected in Rotherham in 2011 be held to account at the ballot box in May, or is the Secretary of State extending their term by a year?
The 2015 elections continue as normal.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had two exceptionally important statements today, and with your great courtesy, as usual, you have got every Back Bencher in. However, it is a little unfair on the Opposition, on a day when they have two official Opposition day debates. We do have the Leader of the House here. Is there any mechanism whereby we can extend today to make up for the two hours the Opposition have lost?
The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not fair-minded, and a champion of the rights of all parliamentarians. As he knows, I would be perfectly happy to sit here for an indefinite number of hours because I enjoy nothing more than listening to all hon. and right hon. Members from all parts of the House expressing their views. There may be people attending to our proceedings who think, “What a strange chap”, but the fact is that I like listening to hon. and right hon. Members. I do not sense any great desire on the part of the Leader of the House urgently to accommodate the hon. Gentleman’s fair-mindedness, but he is a very fit and lithe fellow and if he wishes to leap from his seat to offer comfort and encouragement to the hon. Gentleman, there would be no happier Member of the House than I.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Of course we try to avoid having a large number of statements on Opposition days, but sometimes it is unavoidable and there were good reasons for having both those statements today. I am sure that that is understood across the House. To extend the ensuing debate would have required a motion to be placed on the Order Paper earlier, and that has not been done.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House. I shall take this opportunity to mention that nine Back Benchers are seeking to contribute to the first debate, on apprenticeships, and 11 to the second debate, on electoral registration. In conformity with our normal procedures, there can be no time limit on Front-Bench speeches, but I feel sure that in each case the Minister and shadow Minister will tailor their contributions accordingly in order to facilitate their Back-Bench colleagues, which is a way of saying, “Get it out pretty pithily”. We will leave it there.
House of Commons Commission Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr William Hague, supported by Tom Brake and Mr Sam Gyimah, presented a Bill to amend the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 so as to make provision about the membership of the House of Commons Commission, so as to confer a new strategic function on the Commission, and so as to make provision about the exercise of functions on behalf of the Commission or its members.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 169) with explanatory notes (Bill 169-EN).
Right to Buy and Right to Acquire Schemes (Research) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Tim Farron, supported by Dr Julian Huppert, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to undertake a programme of research into the costs and benefits of extending control of all aspects of Right to Buy and Right to Acquire schemes entirely to Local Authorities, including the operation and consequences of such schemes and the introduction of the right of Local Authorities to suspend them; to report to Parliament within six months of the research being completed; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March, and to be printed (Bill 167).