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Business of the House

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 5 February 2015

The business for next week will be:

Monday 9 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2015 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2015, followed by motions relating to the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payment Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 and the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment Of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.

Tuesday 10 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.

Wednesday 11 February—Opposition day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Labour’s job guarantee”, followed by a debate on tax avoidance. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 12 February—Debate on a motion relating to pubs and planning legislation, followed by general debate on the destruction and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq, followed by general debate on the mental health and well-being of Londoners. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 13 February—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 February will include:

Monday 23 February—Remaining stages of the Serious Crime Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 February will be:

Thursday 12 February—General debate on effect of national infrastructure projects on local redevelopment.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I welcome the publication today of the House of Commons Commission Bill, which will implement the recommendations of the Governance Committee’s report. Will he confirm that it is his intention to ensure that this legislation is on the statute book prior to Dissolution on 30 March? If that is his intention, may I assure him of our co-operation and support?

Yesterday we had two vital statements on the inquiry into child sexual abuse and Rotherham, and as a result our Opposition day debates were severely curtailed. Given that the Leader of the House has to make such a superhuman effort to fill the Government’s paltry programme of business every week, will he grant Her Majesty’s Opposition a further half day to make up for it?

I am sure we all enjoyed the first episode of Michael Cockerell’s documentary “Inside the Commons” on Tuesday. I think all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it was a beautifully shot, illuminating depiction of life in this place, and I look forward to the remaining episodes with only a little trepidation. I must say that after a mere 23 years in this place, I had not realised until I watched the documentary that until very recently Members were entitled to free snuff. I feel that I have missed out. I was especially struck by the Prime Minister’s description of this place as half church, half museum and half school. All I can say is that this place certainly does not look like any school I ever went to, and Eton should clearly get a better maths teacher.

This week marks the start of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history month when we celebrate progress on LGBT rights while recognising that we must do more to banish bigotry and discrimination. This week my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), the shadow Education Secretary, launched Labour’s comprehensive plan to tackle the baleful legacy of section 28 and end the scourge of homophobic bullying in our schools. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on how we can make LGBT rights a reality in this country and around the world?

On Tuesday we will debate motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, and nothing could better illustrate the huge gap between this Prime Minister’s rhetoric and his record. Before the election he said that a Conservative Government would not cut any front-line services. Five years later we have almost 17,000 fewer front-line police officers, 9,000 fewer front-line NHS staff, and the 10 most deprived areas in the UK have suffered cuts 16 times greater than the leafy Tory shires. Before he was elected, the Prime Minister promised that education would be a big priority, but his previous Education Secretary managed to alienate everyone he came across. Even the Conservative-led Education Committee has concluded that there is no evidence that the Government’s ideological dash to create academies has made any difference to standards whatsoever. In my own constituency on the Wirral, 19 of the 21 secondary schools are facing serious financial strain, and this week we learned that the Tories’ solution is to slash the schools budget by 10% if they win the election, disguised by the Prime Minister in a speech last week as “flat cash”.

The Prime Minister has broken so many promises that he has created a whole new medical condition—Camnesia. Cutting the deficit, not the NHS? Camnesia. The greenest Government ever? Camnesia. Balancing the books by the end of this Parliament? Camnesia. His condition is now so bad that he is officially even worse than the Liberal Democrats at keeping his promises.

The Prime Minister laughably asserted yesterday that this election is a choice between competence and chaos, but he failed to notice the chaos around him. We have a Tory Chief Whip who still pines after his old job and a Lib Dem Chief Whip so exercised by this Government’s legislative agenda that he is reportedly falling asleep in Cabinet. We have a Work and Pensions Secretary whose flagship benefit reform is so behind schedule that, at the current rate, it will take 1,571 years to complete. We have a universities Minister who is so out of touch that he is telling students not to worry about debt because three years of tuition will cost them only 13,846 cups of posh coffee. Using that coffee currency, I have estimated that the Government have missed their borrowing target by 64 billion salted-caramel lattes.

As ever, we have enjoyed the hon. Lady’s questions. In fact, I was having a look, as so many people are, at the betting odds for who will be the next leader of the Labour party. I must congratulate her, because it turns out that she has now entered the list at Ladbrokes at 100:1. Admittedly, that is only a start—the same level as Ken Livingstone and Lord Mandelson—but I might fancy a flutter on the prospect, because we know that we can laugh with her, whereas there are one or two of her colleagues whom we can only laugh at. I wish her well in moving up the odds.

The hon. Lady asked about the House of Commons Commission Bill, which has indeed been published today. It is certainly my intention to have it on the statute book by Dissolution. It has a great deal of cross-party support, so I hope that we can arrange Second Reading and other stages soon after the February recess.

There are several more Opposition days to come in this Parliament. We make a genuine effort to avoid having many statements on Opposition days. I think the House understands that yesterday’s statements from the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary were highly important, and indeed that it was urgent that they came to the House as soon as the report on Rotherham was available. Occasionally that happens on Opposition days, and it is unavoidable, but that does not mean we can create additional Opposition days; it means we try to avoid it on other occasions.

Like the hon. Lady, I enjoyed the BBC’s documentary “Inside the Commons”. My comprehensive school did not look anything like this place either, and I would have known that three halves add up to more than one. On the other hand, forgetting that three halves add up to more than one is a bit better than forgetting the entire Budget deficit, which was the performance of the Leader of the Opposition.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of LGBT rights. Indeed, the Education Secretary has just announced a £2 million fund to help tackle homophobic bullying in schools. There is a good case for a debate on these issues, although it is most likely to be successful as a Back-Bench business debate. I would certainly support such a debate taking place.

The hon. Lady asked about public services. It is a common mistake for the Opposition to think of public services in terms of inputs, rather than outputs and what is actually achieved. For instance, over nearly five years we have seen crime fall by a fifth, we have seen a huge increase in the number of children in schools rated good or outstanding, and we have seen satisfaction with the health service increase—except in Wales, where it has gone down. That is what matters to people: the actual performance and achievements of public services.

I hope that in the debates that the Opposition have called for next week we will be able to look at the recent economic good news, because just in the past week we have seen construction output growth rebound, manufacturing growth accelerate, and consumer confidence make a large jump, and the car sales figures announced this morning are up 7% on the year. The real jobs guarantee—they have a debate next week on a jobs guarantee—is that sort of success, as is the growth of 1.75 million jobs in this country over the past four and a half years. At least in that debate the Opposition will be able to tell us what advice they have received on jobs from Bill Somebody and their business supporters, or Fred Somebody, or Joe Somebody—or just somebody. It is not an age thing on the part of the shadow Chancellor that he could not remember the names of any business supporters; it is a being totally out of touch with job and business creation thing.

Even by Labour Members’ own chaotic standards, they have had a special week, with university vice-chancellors attacking their fees policy, saying that it would

“damage the economy…and set back work on widening access”;

with business people who were Ministers in the previous Government attacking their attitude to business and wealth creation; and with their own peer, Lord Glasman, saying they need bold leadership but have got the Leader of the Opposition. Nothing could better demonstrate the real choice between competence on this side of the House and chaos on the other.

I apologise for boring the Leader of the House on this subject, but I must bring him back to the debate requested by the European Scrutiny Committee one year and two weeks ago on the free movement of EU citizens. In answering my previous questions, my right hon. Friend has been immeasurably emollient and tactful, but nothing happens. It is a grave discourtesy to this House that the Government do not follow the proper scrutiny procedures. It is about time we had this debate, and it is a considerable disappointment that it was not in his announcement.

My hon. Friend is never boring. [Hon. Members: “Oh yes he is!”] Well, only occasionally then, in the view of the House. In my view, he is never boring. I always try to be emollient and tactful. Indeed, I am going to the European Scrutiny Committee to discuss some of these things next week. I certainly intend that some of the debates that the European Scrutiny Committee is waiting for will take place on the Floor of the House or in Committee in the coming weeks.

May I first express my very great appreciation to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to his private office for being so speedy and co-operative in ensuring that the House of Commons Commission Bill gets on to the statute book? I know that he is also committed to ensuring that changes in Standing Orders are brought forward.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about something slightly different, however, which is plans for handling England or England and Wales-only legislation in this place? I personally accept that that is a tricky and difficult issue, and one on which I hope, please God, we get a consensus. He may recall that in the House on 16 December I asked him to publish

“a list of legislation that…would not have gone through this House if it had been endorsed only by English or by English and Welsh MPs”,

and he said:

“I will certainly have such an analysis published.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1271.]

Can he say when this is going to happen?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the House of Commons Commission Bill. We have certainly done everything we can speedily to implement his Committee’s excellent report, and we will continue to do so.

I will be publishing that analysis. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me about this yesterday. The analysis is almost complete. There are several different ways of cutting the numbers in making such an analysis, so it has been a bit of a task for the officials doing it, but I will ensure that it is placed in the Library of the House pretty soon.

Further to that question, on Tuesday my right hon. Friend announced that he and the Prime Minister had selected option 3 as the best one on English devolution—a decision with which I wholly agree. He went on to say that this option would be

“put forward to Parliament and the country”.

Can he confirm that it will take place in that order?

I can confirm, as ever, my earnest hope that it takes place in that order. There is a very good case for this to be debated in Parliament before the general election. As I have indicated before to my right hon. Friend, we are having discussions within the Government about how to structure such a debate. Those discussions have not yet been concluded, but they are going on vigorously.

May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on election spending by political parties? Many people in this country do not know that, against the Electoral Commission’s advice, the limits on spending have gone very high indeed. We have had news this morning that the Conservative party is spending £10,000 a month on Facebook alone. This used to be a country, unlike the United States, where money did not count that much, although even at the last election, under the old rules, the Conservatives spent twice as much as the Labour party. Now we know that about £40,000 can be spent in every constituency, and massive sums are being put into social media and elsewhere. This is not the sort of democracy that most people in this country want. May we have a debate on that?

There have been many debates in the House on such matters over the years. Ministerial responsibility for them rests in the Cabinet Office and there will be Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday, so the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to pursue the matter on the Floor of the House. The increase in spending limits that has been introduced for the coming election is the first increase in a long time. It is necessary in a thriving, robust democracy for the voters to be informed. There should be no criticism of the discussion of elections on social media, because that is how much of the world now conducts its discussions. Other parties will have to catch up.

The whole country has been shocked by the animal cruelty at the Bowood Yorkshire Lamb abattoir at Busby Stoop, which was the site of hangings at the time of Dick Turpin and so is known for historic reasons. An investigation is rightly ongoing, but will my right hon. Friend permit the earliest possible debate on animal welfare provisions, particularly in slaughterhouses, and on the European provisions for the labelling of meat produced for halal purposes? It is essential that farmers are assured that the high levels of animal welfare that they respect are not let down at the last moment at the point of slaughter.

The whole country takes this matter very seriously. This country rightly has a high reputation for animal welfare, and that must be preserved. Investigations into the matter are taking place, as my hon. Friend says, and those are important. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering the evidence for a possible prosecution. On labelling, we support the EU study that is looking at consumer opinions on methods of slaughter labelling. That study has been delayed, apparently, but it is now expected in the next couple of months. We will be able to review the options at that point and I am sure that the House will want to debate them.

I am delighted to see that action 20 of the Government’s anti-corruption plan states:

“House of Commons to approve the proposed amendments to the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members”,

with a deadline of March 2015. The Committee on Standards is very happy to support the Leader of the House in implementing that Government policy. When will the debate take place?

I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support. I absolutely hope that the debate will take place. He and I have discussed it a number of times. There are a number of outstanding Committee reports to address in the remaining weeks of this Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) talked about a European Scrutiny Committee report, there are important reports from the Procedure Committee and there is this important report from the Standards Committee. I will do my best to accommodate these things in the coming weeks, with the right hon. Gentleman’s support.

When will my right hon. Friend publish the draft changes to Standing Orders that will be necessary to implement English votes on English issues?

That is a party matter, rather than a Government matter, since there are different policies among the coalition parties. However, it is important to show the detail, so I intend later this month to set out how the proposal that I made earlier this week can be implemented in Standing Orders.

City college Brighton and Hove is struggling in the face of cuts to funding and rising costs. The staff, students and unions are all rightly concerned. May we have an urgent debate on funding solutions for the further education sector that are progressive and fair, and can that include looking again at a remedy for the historical unfairness in funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, in that they have to pay VAT in a way that their colleagues do not?

There is always a good case for debating further education and other educational issues in this country, but I do not know that there will be time to do so in the remaining six weeks before the Dissolution of Parliament. That will be a common answer for me to give to Members who raise many important issues. After today, there are only 26 sitting days left for the House of Commons before the general election, so we have to bear that in mind. However, I think that the hon. Lady could make a good case to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on that subject.

The Leader of the House represents a north Yorkshire constituency, so he will be familiar with the F40 campaign for fair funding for those chronically underfunded education authorities, in which I was first involved when I was chair of education in Somerset back in 1996. To their credit, the Government have recognised the injustice and have done something to mitigate the effects next year, but what we need is a basic change of formula. Will the Secretary of State for Education make a statement to the House on that issue, or if not, may we have a debate?

My hon. Friend is right: as a north Yorkshire Member of Parliament who represents a very rural constituency, I am conscious of that campaign. He is also right to give credit to the Government for what we have done. In the coming financial year, we will distribute an additional £390 million to 69 of the least fairly funded education authorities. That is the biggest step towards fairer funding for at least a decade and, as he will know, we have committed to moving to a fully fair and transparent funding system by introducing a national funding formula in the next Parliament. For the reasons I gave earlier, I cannot offer additional debates, but this is a very important commitment for the future.

Four days before Christmas, my 12-year-old constituent, Phebe Hilliage, was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing by a hit-and-run driver. Her foot was shattered and she may never walk properly again. The driver has not been caught. May we have a debate on what more can be done to tackle such offences? There are thousands of these incidents every year and I would like to know what more can be done, and which police forces have the best records, and why. Do not victims such as Phebe deserve justice and should it not be a much higher policing priority to apprehend these callous offenders and bring them to book?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue about which Members on both sides of the House will have strong feelings. Victims of such crimes, like Phebe, deserve justice. I know that much ministerial attention has been given to the issue in earlier years, but I do not deny that there is a good case for Parliament to examine the matter. We do not have much time for additional debates, but the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise it with Ministers at questions and with the police and crime commissioner in his area. I will also convey his remarks to Ministers in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.

Many people on the Isle of Wight are dismayed that sailing has been axed from the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo. My young constituent, Natasha Lambert, who suffers from cerebral palsy, proves that disabled people can now compete on more than equal terms—she is inspirational. Will the Leader of the House join me in praising Natasha’s considerable achievements and find time for a debate on how that decision can be challenged?

One of the greatest things about our hosting of the Olympic games was the immense success of the Paralympic games. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the inspirational achievements of Natasha Lambert to the attention of the House this morning. The decision on what sports are in the programme for each Paralympic games is a matter for the International Paralympic Committee. National governing bodies can make representations, but it is not something for us in Parliament or Government to decide. I will certainly share Natasha’s achievements and her concerns with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the five declared nuclear weapon states are meeting in London to discuss the preparations for the non-proliferation treaty review conference in New York in April and May. Will there be a statement from the Government on the outcome of those meetings and on their position ahead of the conference? Specifically, will the Government give us some good news or otherwise on the preparations for a middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone conference, which—as he will appreciate from his time as Foreign Secretary—is crucial to try to bring about a long-term peace and prevent a nuclear arms race in the area?

I very much appreciate that, and how assiduously and regularly the hon. Gentleman pursues these issues. Preparations for the non-proliferation treaty review conference are extremely important. The United Kingdom has always made a major contribution, including at the last conference in 2010. I know my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will want to inform the House about how they are approaching that. I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request to them.

May I say what a pleasure it was hearing you open the Magna Carta exhibition in the other place this morning, Mr Speaker?

The Leader of the House will know that Magna Carta enshrines the principle that no man is above the law. How is it then that the chairman of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Sir Ian Kennedy, who has lied about Members to the media and still refuses to apologise, was appointed with no debate in this House for a further two years using the deferred Division device? Does my right hon. Friend not think it time that we should have a debate on the failings and rising costs of IPSA and the back channels to the current and former Chief Whips?

It is up to the House whether it wishes to debate those matters. My hon. Friend is well familiar with the means of doing so; he has succeeded in raising his concerns about IPSA on the Floor of the House today. That can, of course, also be done through Backbench Business Committee or Adjournment debates. Having seen a lot of IPSA’s work since I became Leader of the House, I think Sir Ian Kennedy will be able to make a good defence of its work, but hon. Members have concerns and they can be raised in the way I have described.

In responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the Leader of the House referred to inputs as well as outputs in the public sector. With that in mind, may I bring to his attention a recent contract relating to sexual health in Cheshire, where the winning bid appears to have been allocated not on the basis of value for money or the right skill set, but a political fix? This is a very serious issue about public integrity. May we have a debate about such contracts? Will the Leader of the House ask both the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to investigate this very serious matter?

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to be familiar with the particular matter he raises, but before any consideration of a debate it would be best for him to write with the details to the Secretaries of State for Health and for Communities and Local Government. I will certainly alert them to what he has said today, but he will need to give them the details of what he is alleging for them to be able to look into it.

On Tuesday 27 January, Ian Thomson, a committee specialist on the House of Commons Defence Committee, was severely hurt while accompanying my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and me on a visit to the Falkland Islands. He broke his elbow very badly—it was incredibly painful—when he fell out of a Land Rover in the rain on the airstrip. He immediately went through the casualty evacuation procedure. A Sea King flew him to Stanley hospital, which said the injury was too bad for them to deal with—there are only 3,000 people on the island—and that he required an orthopaedic surgeon. The RAF flew him back to Mount Pleasant airfield from where he was immediately flown—first in a 1564 flight Sea King helicopter and then in the back of a 1312 flight C-130 Hercules aircraft—across the south Atlantic to a hospital in Montevideo in Uruguay. Throughout, he was accompanied by squadron leader Jen Russell, the unit medical officer. May I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in thanking our service personnel in the south Atlantic for the way they have dealt with one of our own? They would have used exactly the same procedure for one of their own.

My hon. Friend well demonstrates the professionalism and dedication of all our armed forces, consulate and embassy staff. We should express our thanks to the British embassy in Montevideo for visiting Ian Thomson daily and looking after him so well. We are very grateful for such professionalism so far away. I understand that he is on the mend after three operations, but is likely to have to remain in the Montevideo hospital for the next seven to 10 days. It is a reminder of the hard work of our Clerks and the professionalism of our armed forces.

I fear that the Leader of the House was a little unfair to the Prime Minister earlier, in that the many leaking roofs in corridors and rooms in Parliament are reminiscent of my comprehensive school in the 1980s.

Is it time for a debate on modernising the procedures of this place, particularly in relation to Committees? Yesterday, I was in the Committee of the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). The full two and a half hours were filled with bogus points of order and a spurious debate about whether we should meet on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at 9.25 am or 10 am, right up to the point of interruption. Is it not time we got rid of these archaic procedures so that people out there can start to see MPs debating the issues that matter? As the Leader of the House knows, the NHS is people’s No. 1 concern.

I remember, in my A-level politics class at Wath comprehensive, studying next to a bucket catching drips from the ceiling. I did not think that 40 years later I would be standing in the House of Commons with buckets in the Central Lobby. It has seemed very familiar recently.

I do not know the details of what happened in the Committee, but I am sure that the Chair acted perfectly correctly in taking whatever points of order were raised and ensuring that procedure was followed. On the modernisation of procedures, I referred earlier to outstanding reports from the Procedure Committee—[Interruption.] Its members are nodding vigorously at the idea of debating them, and I hope that many of them will be so debated in the coming weeks, so that those changes for which there is considerable demand in the House can be taken forward.

Today, all four copies of the Magna Carta, including the best one, which is usually at Salisbury cathedral, are on display in the House of Lords. On this historic occasion, will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the Government intend to honour the commitment in the Magna Carta to delaying justice to no one by overcoming the difficulties across Government and both parties of the coalition, and ensure that the House has a vote on English votes for English laws at the earliest opportunity?

I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend on his question and pay tribute to Salisbury for long hosting one of the great copies of the Magna Carta.

The best copy, as he has explained, although I had better remain neutral on that point. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I very much believe that there should be a debate on English votes for English laws and that the changes we have set out should be implemented, come what may. I will do everything I can to bring about both those things.

Last autumn, NHS England halted the testing and licensing of the drug Translarna—a drug that could transform the lives of young boys with Duchenne muscular disease—to embark on a bureaucratic internal discussion on how it does business. Despite genuinely warm words from the Prime Minister and his attempts to move things on, we have been advised this week that the process will not change and that NHS England will continue with its public consultation and further discussions. While it is talking, young boys will stop walking. Can we have a statement from the Health Secretary about what exactly is happening, so that the House can express it views? Clearly, he does not seem able to intervene with NHS England, and as long as that does not happen, these young boys will see their lives destroyed.

The Prime Minister has spoken about this before, in response, I think, to the hon. Gentleman, who regularly pursues this matter in the House. I think the best thing I can do to help is to inform the Health Secretary of his concerns about the time scale and ask him to respond directly. It is also possible for the hon. Gentleman to pursue debates through all the normal methods, in addition to his having raised it in the House today.

The shadow Leader of the House should not get her hopes up too high because I am also 100:1 to be the next leader of the Conservative party. As the Deputy Prime Minister is also 100:1 to be the next leader of the Conservative party, I think 100:1 means we have absolutely no chance whatever.

There is no greater admirer in this House of the Leader of the House than me, but his proposals for English votes for English laws are completely unacceptable and inadequate, largely due to the fact that they do not deliver English votes for English laws and still deliver Scottish votes for English laws. English MPs have no impact at all on legislation to do with Scotland and most people think that Scottish MPs should have no impact on legislation that applies only to England. Can we make sure that we have the debate on English votes for English laws and can he make sure that all the options are put for a vote in this House? He would then probably find out that most of the parliamentary party on the Conservative Benches actually believe in true English votes for English laws.

I am impressed to discover that my hon. Friend is 100:1 to be next leader of the Conservative party, and I would not rule out voting for him myself, provided quite a lot of the other alternatives had been exhausted by that point. [Laughter.] I will not go into quite how many would have to be exhausted. On the question of a debate on English votes for English laws, I hope that I have already answered that question. On the question of what is the right policy, I think I might have a better idea than anyone of the views of Members of the Conservative party, having consulted them extensively. I am confident that the proposal I put forward enjoys their support. But of course in any debate my hon. Friend will, as always, be free to give his own views. Who could ever prevent him from doing so?

I understand that the Government have decided to extend Flood Re to cover the most expensive houses in the country but not to cover the new properties that are being bought under the Help to Buy scheme, many of which are on Kingswood estate in my constituency, one of the most successful parts of that scheme in the country. Could we have a debate on flood insurance, which is such an important issue to householders, and on whether there is now an extension of the Flood Re scheme to help the rich to buy, by allowing them to get flood insurance, whereas a poorer person will not be eligible?

Flood insurance is a very important issue, as I know from when flooding has taken place in my constituency. It is of huge importance to people. I do not think there can be any serious suggestion that the policy on this is being decided on the basis of rich or poor. Nevertheless the hon. Lady is making a case for a debate on an important subject. I will reflect that to the Ministers responsible and I encourage her to pursue it through all the normal methods of achieving a debate on a general issue in this House, with which she is very familiar.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) says that, at 100:1, he has no chance of being the party leader, I, at 200:1, cannot even expect the support of the Leader of the House. Interestingly he is only 7:2 to be the next leader of the party.

This may help my cause, Mr Speaker: I and my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley, for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) have been conducting a pilot scheme on behalf of the Prime Minister for the whole of this Parliament which, only this week, the Prime Minister announced he was in favour of. On Sky News he said that he wants more people to vote according to their conscience and not the party line. He wants more free votes. Could we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on whether he has been able to transmit that information to those people who represent the forces of darkness?

I did not know that they were taking bets at 200:1 but I wish my hon. Friend well on shortening those odds. As someone who has served for most of his parliamentary career on one Front Bench or another, I have always been in favour of MPs voting according to their conscience, provided there is some co-ordination of how they feel about their consciences before they come to do so. I have not noticed any great inability of my hon. Friend to vote with his own conscience at any point in this Parliament and I am sure that he will feel free to continue that record in the future.

May we have a debate on trade with Bangladesh? I was fortunate enough last week to visit Bangladesh with the Wales Bangladesh chamber of commerce, led by my constituent Dilabor Hussain and accompanied by Trefor Jones and Llinos Lanini representing a local company in my constituency called Iviti, which develops and manufactures in Wales an innovative LED light bulb that stays on when the power is cut. Would not having such a debate give us an opportunity to emphasise the strong ties between the UK and Bangladesh, as well as opportunities to trade with this important growing economy?

Yes, it would. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that little advertisement for something made in Wales. Our ties with Bangladesh are important. While the hon. Gentleman was over there in Bangladesh, I was speaking last week at the British Bangladeshi power and inspiration awards, saluting the many people of Bangladeshi origin who make an immense contribution to this country and our business success. This is something to celebrate. I hope the hon. Gentleman will push the case for a debate, but given all the constraints on our remaining time, he will have to do so through all the other normal channels.

The United Kingdom is being forced by the EU’s Brussels bureaucrats to replace on our railways distance signs showing miles with ones showing kilometres. May we have a statement on what this will cost and on the potential risks to staff and passengers?

I understand from the Department for Transport that this European traffic management system is meant to be a major improvement in safety on the railways. We already have one of the safest railways in Europe, and this is expected to make the network even safer. Where it is installed, it will apparently use the metric system, but when drivers operate in areas of the conventional system, their speedometers will automatically switch to imperial measurement. My hon. Friend will be relieved to hear that. In the UK, the drivers of trains and the signallers will not be required to convert units between imperial and metric. They will be able to concentrate on driving the train.

Next month, the European Commission will publish its INDC for the contributions on emissions reductions towards the Paris conference of the parties in December. Unfortunately, INDC stands for intended nationally determined contributions. What progress has the Leader of the House made in ensuring that there will be parliamentary scrutiny and accountability of the European INDC? Given that it is supposed to be nationally determined, what element of the European INDC will be allocated to the UK, and how? How is Parliament going to address these issues at a national level as it should do in contributing towards the COP?

We have just had Energy and Climate Change questions. I was not here for all the questions, so I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman or others raised this issue. In any case, as he says, there are further announcements to be made. I am sure my colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change will want to keep the House informed one way or another. For all the reasons I have given about the constraints on our time in the remainder of the Parliament, I cannot make any commitment to the hon. Gentleman on how the House will consider this. He makes a good case, however, and I will make sure that those Ministers are conscious of what he says; I am sure they will want to keep us informed of this country’s commitments.

I bring good news from Kettering. Since 2010, not only are there 43 more hospital doctors and 55 more nurses at Kettering general hospital, but the number of operations performed each year has increased by a massive 15% to 48,000. With a 24% increase in diagnostic tests, a one third increase in the number of people treated for cancer and a 71% increase in the number of MRI scans performed, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House about how increasingly world-class standards of health care are delivered to ever-larger numbers of people by hospitals such as Kettering general hospital?

Once again, my hon. Friend brings the House good news from Kettering—and, as I said last week, I suspect that it may continue for some time, because he never fails to do so.

During our next debate on the national health service, it will be important for Members to analyse the figures from Kettering and from other constituencies. In Kettering, there has indeed been an increase in the number of hospital doctors and nurses, and a large increase in the number of operations. Moreover, I note from the figures that I have here—because I was prepared for the good news from Kettering—that there has also been a huge increase in the number of diagnostic tests, and, at the same time, a tremendous decrease in the incidence of hospital infections. Indeed, the incidence of hospital infections throughout the country has virtually halved in the last four and a half years. That is exactly the sort of good news about the health service that people do not hear enough about.

I recently met representatives of a Scunthorpe firm, Clugston Logistics, who briefed me about the increasing difficulty of recruiting drivers of heavy goods vehicles. The Road Haulage Association estimates that there could be a shortfall of as many as 40,000 if action is not taken. May we have a statement about how the Government are trying to address that very real need by ensuring that we have more UK-resident trained HGV drivers in the future?

That is a legitimate question. Those who travel around the country nowadays will see a great many advertisements for HGV drivers, which reflects the demand. Questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will take place next week, and will provide an ideal opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter directly with the Minister who is responsible for that area of policy.

I was pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned the NHS in Wales in his response to the business question. Wrexham Maelor hospital, which is just across the border from us in Shropshire, is meeting only 64% of its A and E targets. As a result, more people are coming across the border, and from north Shropshire, to use my local hospital, the Royal Shrewsbury, thus putting pressure on it. The Health Secretary, to whom I spoke earlier in the week, is being given anecdotal evidence by other English Members of Parliament on our side of the border who are also feeling the strain. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about the impact that Labour’s mismanagement of the NHS in Wales is having on hospitals on our side of the border?

As I said earlier, it will be important for details of that kind to be discussed when we next debate the national health service. As we learnt last week, satisfaction with the NHS in England has risen from 60% to 65%, whereas—I speak from memory—satisfaction with the NHS in Wales has fallen from 53% to 51%. The performance of the health service, in the view of the people who use it, is clearly diverging. A and E targets were last met in Wales in March 2008, and that is a record that must be borne in mind when we hear complaints from Opposition Members.