During our short debate last night I had the opportunity to extend my congratulations to the Chairman of Ways and Means on his re-election. May I add my congratulations to the other two Deputy Speakers on their election?
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 8 June—Second Reading of the Scotland Bill.
Tuesday 9 June—Second Reading of the European Union Referendum Bill.
Wednesday 10 June—Opposition day (1st allotted day). Subject to be announced by the Opposition in due course. I also expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the G7 summit.
Last week the shadow Leader of the House was eager—indeed, over-enthusiastic—about Thursday’s business. She was keen to find out what was happening, and I can now tell her that it is indeed this:
Thursday 11 June—Second Reading of the European Union (Finance) Bill.
Friday 12 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 15 June will be:
Monday 15 June—Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 16 June—Consideration in Committee of the European Union Referendum Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 17 June—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). Subject to be announced in due course.
Thursday 18 June—Consideration in Committee of the European Union Referendum Bill (day 2).
Friday 19 June—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
I would like to start by associating myself with the many tributes paid yesterday to Charles Kennedy, who has died far too young. He was known for his wit, once quipping:
“Paddy Ashdown is the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught.”
We will all mourn his passing.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) on their election and re-election as Deputy Speakers of this House. Members across the House will be relieved that their enthusiastic campaigning for support will now cease—although I will make no such promise to my Labour colleagues.
I am concerned that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill has been introduced first in the other place despite its significant constitutional implications. This is against usual practice. While we support greater devolution, we have real concerns about the impact of this on effective scrutiny of this Bill. Will the Leader of the House set out why this decision was taken, and will he assure me that he will guarantee that there is adequate time to scrutinise the Bill properly when it finally comes to the Commons?
Yesterday the government published the 2014 league table for Ministers’ replies to questions from MPs, and I am beginning to wonder whether it might help to explain the reshuffle. The Communities and Local Government Secretary was the worst offender, and the former Justice Secretary—the Leader of the House—replied to just under two thirds of letters sent to him on time. Will the Leader of the House therefore set out what guidance he will be giving to himself on how he can improve his performance? May I also suggest that Members use the opportunity that business questions affords, because they are unlikely to get a written answer from him any time soon?
It is less than a month since the election, and the façade of Tory unity is already beginning to crack. This week alone, the Defence Secretary has publicly warned the Treasury that he does not see the need for any more cuts to his Department. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is reportedly infuriated at the Prime Minister’s lack of clarity on child benefit cuts—an emotion we all shared after yesterday’s evasive performance at Prime Minister’s questions—and we have had complete chaos on human rights and on Europe, including a predictable call from the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood)for an end to collective Cabinet responsibility. And we have only been here two weeks!
We will debate the European Union Referendum Bill next week, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House would answer some straightforward questions. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that he has a list of demands for Europe, but he will not tell us what they are. Will the Leader of the House set out when he will publish that list, and will treaty change feature on it? The Tories are split down the middle on whether to vote yes or no in the referendum, so are Cabinet Ministers going to be allowed to campaign to come out of the European Union and stay in their jobs?
Last week, the Foreign Secretary said that leaving the European convention on human rights was not “on the table”. Last October, the Leader of the House said the UK should be prepared to withdraw and yesterday the Prime Minister said he would “rule nothing out”. Will the Leader of the House tell us who is right: the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or him?
This week saw the welcome departure of Sepp Blatter from FIFA: a leader past his best, who had just won an election but decided to quit—it is easy to see why the Prime Minister used to be such a fan. Jack Warner, a former member of FIFA’s ethics committee—which must compete with “compassionate conservatism” for oxymoron of the year—said:
“Mr Cameron is a knowledgeable man…I certainly trust his knowledge of football.”
That is news to me, because I did not think that the Prime Minister knew his West Hams from his Aston Villas.
This week we learned of a serious security breach at the heart of Government. Staff at No. 10 were alarmed as an unwanted visitor was seen roaming the corridors—and no, it was not the former Deputy Prime Minister trying to get back in; I am told it was a heron. Perhaps it was fishing for a salmon, or a sturgeon or even a grayling. The incident gave rise to an interesting poll on the Daily Mirror website, which asked readers who they would rather lived at Number 10—a heron or the Prime Minister? The last time I checked, the heron was winning by 94% to 6%.
The hon. Lady started by referring to her own deputy leadership campaign. This week it has been a relief to learn, for her sake, that her sister, the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), is supporting her campaign. As the shadow Leader of the House knows, Labour leadership contests and siblings do not always go together well, so it is a pleasure to know that Sunday lunches in the Eagle household can continue harmoniously.
This week we have also seen the surprise entry into the Labour leadership contest of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who I am sorry not to see in his place. One of my colleagues suggested to me that perhaps that opened up an opportunity for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner)—I am pleased to see him in his place—to stand in the deputy leadership contest, as part of a joint ticket.
There has been an interesting new development on the Labour leadership front today, with the news that the former Foreign Secretary is set to make a return to this country this autumn, when he will make a keynote speech at the conference of the Institute of Directors. As somebody once said, “I wonder what he meant by that.”
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) asked why the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill had been introduced in the other place. I regard the other place as an extremely important part of our democratic process. It is important that it plays a prominent role in debating the key issues of this nation. It is entirely right and proper that it is scrutinising a Bill of this importance. There is no shortage of crucial business in this House for the next two months. I am absolutely satisfied that it is the right thing to do, and I assure her that when the time comes there will be plenty of opportunity for this House to debate what is an extremely important measure and something that this Government are proud of.
On letters and parliamentary questions, I remind the hon. Lady that when I was first elected to this House in 2001, there was no five-day target and Members could wait weeks and weeks before getting a reply from Labour Ministers, so I will take no lessons from them about their record in government on responding to Members of this House.
The hon. Lady talked about Conservative party unity. Last night, every single Conservative Member of Parliament who was eligible to do so voted in the first Division of this Parliament. However, there were 15 Labour MPs missing. Where were they? On the subject of divisions, you might have noticed, Mr Speaker, the rather interesting body language in the healthcare debate on Tuesday between two of the candidates for the Labour leadership. They were trying very hard not to look at each other.
The Opposition talk about divisions on the EU, but it is the Labour party that is all over the place on EU policy; we are united. We fought the general election on the platform of a referendum and we will hold that referendum. We also fought the election on a platform of scrapping the Human Rights Act and we will scrap the Human Rights Act.
I will conclude by going back to where I started—with the hon. Lady’s deputy leadership campaign. She has produced a video to support her campaign and the soundtrack is that great Liverpudlian song, “All Together Now” by The Farm, which contains a particularly moving verse that might be deemed apposite:
“The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learnt and nothing gained
Only hope remains”.
That is the Labour party today.
Order. As experienced Members know, it has been my usual albeit not invariable practice at business questions to try to accommodate everyone who wishes to take part. Unfortunately, given that well in excess of 50 hon. Members wish to contribute to the subsequent debate, I fear that some Members will be disappointed in business questions today. To maximise the number of contributions, brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike is imperative. The tutorial on this matter will be led by Dr Julian Lewis.
You always do that to me, Mr Speaker.
At this time of the year, when the thought of the D-day landings is very much in our minds, may we have a statement from a Defence Minister on the position of defence in the nation’s priorities?
My right hon. Friend is a powerful advocate in this place for our armed forces and Ministers always listen with great care to what he says. Defence questions next Monday will be the first of what will no doubt be many opportunities for him to continue to articulate the importance and heroism of our armed forces.
Forgive me; this will, I hope, be the last intervention from the Chair. For the benefit of the House, I should emphasise that the third party spokesman has acknowledged rights on this occasion, as was the case when the Liberal Democrats were the third party, so I hope that there will be proper forbearance and tolerance as I call Mr Pete Wishart and allow him to develop his line of questioning.
I am very grateful, Mr Speaker.
May I pay my tributes to Charles Kennedy? I was with him on the night of the tuition fees vote when we left the building through the back door, as thousands of angry students descended on the House. Even though Charles had not voted for the tuition fees measure, he told me, “Pete, if you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows, and tonight you are with the crows.” I can report that we made it to Waterloo station safely.
The Leader of the House does not know how excited SNP Members are that the first Bill is the Scotland Bill on Monday. I am very grateful to him for giving us an extra day to improve the Bill, because improvement it needs, as I think he knows. We want to see all the Smith proposals in full, but that is just the baseline—the very minimum that we expect to improve the Bill. It is fantastic that we are getting such time to debate it and that the first Bill in the House is about getting more powers to Scotland. I hope that he is listening to the many representations from the Scottish Government and that he will accept the mandate of the 56 SNP MPs out of 59 as we try to improve the Bill. That is the way to do it—a Bill is brought in and we have First Reading, Second Reading, and then long debate and scrutiny.
I just wish the Leader of the House would do the same for English votes for English laws, something with such significant constitutional implications. There is not even a Bill, just a change to Standing Orders. Will he tell us a bit more about what he intends to do with EVEL? Will we get to amend it? Will we get to scrutinise it? How will scrutiny be exercised? What about the House of Lords? There are 100 Scottish peers down the corridor—will it be English votes for English Lords? Where are we on that sort of thing?
I noted that there was no discussion or debate on the Queen’s Speech about reform of the House of Lords. The only thing that the Leader of the House wants to do is put more of his cronies and donors into that already overstuffed House. Ermine-coated, never been voted—let us get rid of the House of Lords. It has almost a thousand Members, and the public need reassurance that we will have some sort of reform.
We are almost three weeks into the House’s business, and we have not yet had a departmental statement. May I suggest that the first statement should be a clear statement of what the Government intend to do about the Mediterranean crisis? They should be willing to play a bigger part and take seriously their responsibilities, particularly when it comes to assisting refugees.
To take the last point first, the Foreign Secretary was of course in the House earlier in the week, and there was plenty of opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise with him that issue and other issues related to international affairs.
May I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Charles Kennedy? His untimely death is a great loss to Scotland, and this House has shown itself at its best in the cross-party recognition of the contribution that he made.
With regard to the Scottish National party’s well-advertised desire for more powers for Scotland, I say to the hon. Gentleman that in the Government’s view, the Scotland Bill will deliver a major change for Scotland and a significant enhancement of the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. Some of the arguments that the SNP is making simply do not add up. It wants much greater power and full fiscal autonomy, but it simply has not addressed the fact that were it to have that, it would have to choose between massive spending cuts and substantial tax increases in Scotland, neither of which I think the Scottish people would wish for.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should sometimes go down and have a listen to the quality of debate in the House of Lords. We have in that place people with immensely important expertise, who bring something to the quality of debate in Parliament. I have to say that I disagree with his view of that House.
I finish by referring to reports that I have seen today, and rumours that I have been picking up around the House, about the time when Members take their seats in the mornings. I understand that both Labour and Scottish National party Members are looking to come in earlier and earlier in the morning to secure their seats, possibly even earlier than 7 o’clock in the morning. It has been suggested to me that, to accommodate that, a trolley service of breakfast might be provided to Members in the Chamber to enable them to come in that early. I simply say that I do not think that would be consistent with the traditions of the House.
New house building is an important priority for the Government, and buying a new home is the biggest purchase that most of our constituents will ever make. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to examine the quality of new house building and how the current system is working to expose substandard building companies that fail to deliver the quality of new build houses that we would all expect?
That is an important issue, and I praise the work that my right hon. Friend has done in her constituency, where a substantial amount of new housing has been built in recent years. Of course, the people who buy housing and find themselves in possession of properties that simply are not up to scratch go through an immensely difficult time. I simply suggest to her that she use one of the mechanisms available to her, such as Adjournment debates or Communities and Local Government questions when they come up, to keep making her important point and ensure that the message gets across to both the Government and house builders themselves.
At the time of the 1975 in/out referendum on the then Common Market, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, very wisely agreed that the Labour party would have a free vote. I hope that that wisdom will be observed by all parties when we come to make a decision again. Will the Leader of the House be advising the Prime Minister and his Chief Whip to observe that wisdom in future?
The town of Wellington is in my constituency and the famous Wellington monument is prominent from the M5 as one goes south. The town will be having lots of celebrations for the 200th anniversary. May we have a debate to celebrate and discuss this wonderful anniversary? Might the Leader of the House find a little pot of money to restore the wonderful Wellington monument, which is in such great need of an upgrade?
I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I do not have a budget from which I could give her that small amount of money. There will, however, be many opportunities to lobby those of my colleagues who do have such a budget. I commend her for the work she is putting into her constituency to celebrate this great anniversary of a great moment in our history. The anniversary is being celebrated in a variety of ways around the country, including with the production by the Royal Mint of a celebratory coin, although I gather that on the other side of the channel there has been some resistance to producing a euro coin to celebrate the same event.
Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the news that the BBC is due to air a programme entitled “Britain’s Hardest Grafter” which has been dubbed “The Hunger Games for the unemployed”? May we have a debate on whether the BBC is fulfilling its objective to air programmes of quality and distinctiveness?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is certainly the case that challenges in our society should not be used to create show business opportunities. I would always ask broadcasters to approach their work on analysing life in this country and elsewhere with the utmost caution and sensitivity. She will have the opportunity to raise this issue with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in a month’s time, and, of course, she can always ask for an Adjournment debate on this subject.
My constituents in Lewes, whether from Seaford, New Haven, Lewes or Wivelsfield, are experiencing acute rail delays and poor service due to both Network Rail and the train operator. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to discuss these severe issues, which are affecting all MPs in Sussex, to see if we can improve the service and communications to rail passengers?
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend and her constituents. These issues are partly being caused by the necessary improvement works at London Bridge; an investment in the future that is absolutely vital and will be enormously beneficial, but is disruptive while it happens. Nevertheless, she is aware that there have been some real issues concerning services on the Southern routes, and the company needs to address them. I urge her to raise this question again at Transport questions next Thursday.
May we have an urgent statement next week on the plight of 25 British citizens who are trapped in Sana’a? The civil war in Yemen has so far cost 1,000 lives. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is an obligation to try to help our citizens in need? May we have a debate on this very important issue?
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about what is happening in Yemen. We have every reason to be concerned about events in many parts of the middle east at the moment; it is an area of enormous challenge for the international community. He will, early next week, have an opportunity to raise this issue directly with the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions, and I encourage him to do so.
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. I represent the county next door, where there are also significant demographic pressures—we are going through a baby boom. These are tough times for the public finances, but I encourage him to talk directly to the Secretary of State, who has proved very thoughtful and very receptive to discussing these issues with colleagues.
First, Mr Speaker, I thank you for affording us the opportunity yesterday to pay tributes to the much-missed Charles Kennedy.
As we move towards the summer, may we have a debate on the case for reducing VAT on tourism? It is a policy pursued by all but three countries in the EU; it was endorsed by two Select Committees of this House in the last Parliament; and many regional and national economies of the United Kingdom would benefit immeasurably from it.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be an opportunity for such a debate. As the Chancellor has already indicated, between now and the summer there will be an additional Budget statement, and the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise this issue at that time.
The contaminated blood tragedy is affecting families the length and breadth of Britain. May we have a debate in Government time on the difficulties that my constituents and other Members’ constituents face in trying to access appropriate treatment and support?
This issue has affected constituents of Members across the House. It is a matter of great concern for this Government and it was addressed by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health in the last days of the last Parliament, and I know that the Department of Health is working carefully on it. I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue further opportunities to discuss this matter, either here or in Westminster Hall, and to continue to ask for updates from the Secretary of State at Health questions.
May I request a debate to address the promise made by the Chancellor just a few days prior to the election that constituencies such as my own—Dewsbury—will be identified as enterprise zones within 100 days of the new Parliament? Many businesses in my constituency are struggling significantly and would undoubtedly welcome a period of zero business rates.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer will undoubtedly have taken note of the hon. Lady’s comments; I will make sure that his team are aware of what she has said. Of course, we are not yet 100 days into the new Parliament. Nevertheless, I point out to her that Dewsbury, and indeed the whole area of west Yorkshire, has benefited enormously from the economic progress that we have made in recent years, with falling unemployment and more businesses being created. Of course there is further to go, but what we have seen is a real step in the right direction for the country and the area she now represents.
May we have a debate on the deficiencies of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012? We may need two days to go through them all, but one pressing matter is that the
“Offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon”
set out in the Act applies only when it happens
“in a public place or on school premises”.
It misses out many occasions when threatening with a knife takes place either in the home or on other private property. Can we ensure that this Act is amended as soon as possible, to make sure that violent offenders do not escape justice through a loophole that should not exist?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point about crime and justice matters. I will ensure that my colleague the Lord Chancellor is aware of what he has said. I am no longer able to provide a direct solution to the issue that he raises, even though, as he knows, we share many views on criminal matters. However, I will ensure that the Ministry of Justice is aware of what he has said.
The Leader of the House will be aware of a leak in the press at the weekend that HS2 Ltd says there is no business case to take the project up to Scotland. Scottish National party Members would welcome the opportunity to make that case to the Government. So can he—acting in the spirit of his party’s much-vaunted “one nation” approach to politics—ensure that we have an urgent statement on this issue?
First, we regard High Speed 2 as a crucial part of the future infrastructure of the United Kingdom. I am not aware of any plan that has been brought before this House to change the plans that we set out in the last Parliament, but the hon. Gentleman will have two opportunities next week to raise this issue—once in Scotland questions and once in Transport questions—and I hope that he will take them.
May we please have time in this Chamber to debate rural broadband? We are still not getting BT to pull its weight; it is doing part of the work in constituencies across this country, but it is not fulfilling its obligations, including its contractual obligations. The time has come for this House to speak out on this matter and secure the future for rural people.
The House has debated this matter extensively and will continue to do so, and I encourage my hon. Friends to continue raising the matter. My hon. Friend’s comments will have been heard by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The new Secretary of State is a long-standing and experienced Member who does not take prisoners, as the BBC knows—and I have no doubt that BT will have the same experience.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) has just mentioned, the Secretary of State for Health announced in Liverpool this morning that the 18-week target for elective operations will be scrapped. Does the Leader of the House recognise that this shows absolute contempt for this House and our democracy? Did he know about the announcement, and what will he do to ensure the accountability of the Executive to the country’s elected representatives and, in turn, the people?
It is important to put on the record that the Secretary of State has made no announcement today. The news story that has emerged has come from the senior official at NHS England who has responsibility for the area under discussion. While it is the responsibility of Ministers to make statements to the House about decisions they personally take, where the NHS has been put under the operational control of the experts best placed to run it, as is the case now and has been argued for over many years, it is not always for Ministers to announce the decisions they take.
May we have a debate on the workings of the neighbourhood planning process in the Localism Act 2011? The intent of the Act is to bring decision making closer to communities, but that does not appear to be happening in Warminster in my constituency, so I would welcome an early debate.
I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. The process is clearly a new development as part of the Act designed to ensure that local communities have as strong a say as possible over the future development of their areas. I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is made aware of my hon. Friend’s comments, and I hope he will take advantage of the Adjournment debate system to bring forward a debate as soon as he can.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. I know that he might have to do some additional campaigning elsewhere in the next few weeks—having just finished one election, his family has another one to fight.
I am aware of the legacy of coal mining, including open-cast mining, in the area the hon. Gentleman represents. In a recent visit to the valleys, I was impressed with how the hills were returning to nature in many places, but he makes an important point about the impact of open-cast mining, and I hope that he will take advantage of the many opportunities available to him to bring a Minister to the House or raise a question directly with Ministers at Question Time to ensure that this issue is firmly on the agenda.
In welcoming the Government’s commitment to end many new subsidies for onshore wind farms, which have marched across Yorkshire like a plague of locusts in recent years, including a number of applications on green-belt land in my constituency, will the Leader of the House provide a clear timeframe for when these proposals will be implemented?
One of the many reasons why I am delighted that we now have a Conservative Government, not a Conservative Government with Lib Dems attached, is the issue of onshore wind farms, which, in my view, has to be handled with the utmost care. I know that the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is looking at this matter carefully. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are drawn to her attention, and I expect her to bring forward a new approach at an early opportunity.
Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I and many other Members have in recent weeks received urgent pleas for help from British nationals stranded in Yemen. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary about the matter in April and was informed that there were no plans to evacuate British nationals from the country. It is heartbreaking to have to reply to these cries for help with such a response. May we please have an urgent statement about what more the Government can do to ensure the safe return of British nationals stranded in Yemen and neighbouring countries, such as Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and Oman, as the situation remains extremely volatile?
You will know, Mr Speaker, that there are few more shocking or grotesque practices than supermarkets throwing away 50 million tonnes of food as waste every year. Today, the chief executive officer of Tesco, Dave Lewis, has announced that Tesco will stop this practice and ensure that the food goes to charity. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to clarify what is being done to ensure that, if Tesco can do it, all the other supermarkets can do it so that this grotesque practice can be stopped, and to ensure that if they refuse to do it, we will consider bringing in legislation, as has happened in other countries?
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend had to say. He is, of course, absolutely right: it is inexplicable and indefensible that good food should be thrown away. He is absolutely right, too, that the step taken today is a positive one. I will ensure that my colleagues in the Cabinet Office are made aware of what he said. There will shortly be an opportunity to raise the issue directly with them at Question Time but, before that happens, I shall make sure that they are made aware of my hon. Friend’s message.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the women’s institute is celebrating its centenary this year, and he may be further aware that it was founded in the pioneering county of Anglesey, at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogo goch—I will help Hansard later! May we have a debate in Government time on this important organisation and the things it has done at local level, national level and international level? Will the right hon. Gentleman, along with Mr Speaker and the House authorities, use his good offices to provide an exhibition for this fine organisation?
I had no idea that the women’s institute was founded in the village with the world’s longest station name, which I visited last year—but I will not even start to seek to pronounce it in the way that the hon. Gentleman clearly can and does so well. Collectively and across party, the whole House should pay tribute to the women’s institute for the work that it and its members have done for this country over many decades. It has been the backbone of our voluntary sector for a very long time. I was delighted to see its achievements celebrated at the palace recently. This provides an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to bring forward what would be an ideal subject for an Adjournment debate.
Places of worship in Kirklees were targeted 132 times by thieves in the last three years. There have been many stone thefts, and last night Scapegoat Hill Junior and Infant School had tiles stolen from its roof, just days after the scaffolding required to make repairs after previous thefts had gone. May we have an urgent debate on the scourge of stone thefts that are blighting our communities?
I am very sympathetic to those who have experienced both stone and metal theft. We have, of course, legislated to toughen the penalties for metal theft. What I did for the business community in my previous role was to provide an opportunity for them to explain in detail to a court the impact of the loss of what might sometimes appear to be a small amount in value terms but can be enormously important to the organisation involved. I encourage my hon. Friend to bring the issue forward for an Adjournment debate so that a Minister comes to the House to address it. I express my sympathies to those who have been the victims of this theft over the past 24 hours. Stealing from a place of worship is one of the most despicable crimes one can imagine in our society.
In the light of the eye-watering projected costs and at a time of austerity, will the Leader of the House undertake to make a statement on the renovation of the Palace of Westminster to explain how Members, and indeed members of the public including my constituents in Airdrie and Shotts, can scrutinise the process?
An independent report into the condition of the building has been prepared and it will be made available in the next couple of weeks. There is an extensive discussion to be had across both Houses of Parliament about how to respond to the needs and challenges. This is an iconic building—an enormously important building, not just for our democracy, but for our nation and as a source of tourist revenue from around the world. We should cherish it and look after it. We have to deal with the reality of fiscal austerity and challenging financial times but I would be very reluctant indeed to see anything happen that left this building with an insecure future.
Many of my constituents have contacted me about a threatened neo-Nazi demonstration in the neighbouring borough of Barnet. Although I support freedom of speech, anti-Semitic hate crime is completely unacceptable. Can my right hon. Friend facilitate a statement by the Home Secretary about what action she is going to take to prevent such hate crimes, which threaten the Jewish way of life?
I shall be happy to raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Let me, however, make it absolutely clear that anti-Semitic crime in any form is unacceptable, and—like anti-Islamic crime, and crime against any other religious group—should be treated with the maximum toughness by our justice system. As my hon. Friend says, while we should generally cherish free speech, free speech that encourages hatred or violence will never be acceptable in our society.
Is the Leader of the House aware that thousands of children throughout the country who suffer from special educational needs, and autism in particular, cannot be assessed or treated? May we have a debate about that very soon?
All Members of Parliament have probably had far more exposure to special needs, and developed a far greater understanding of them, since being elected. I certainly have, and I recognise the importance of getting the arrangements right. I believe that this issue concerns the Education Secretary. She will be answering questions in the House on Monday week, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of that opportunity to raise the issue directly with her.
Next week’s business includes the European Union Referendum Bill on Tuesday and the Scotland Bill on Monday, and I think that the family test will feature less centrally in those Bills than it will in some other measures. However, the Chief Whip and I have noted what my hon. Friend has said, and Ministers in all Departments should do so as well. Getting things right for families is central to protecting the fabric of our society, and we should always work towards that end.
May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s decision, announced just hours after the general election, to limit access to the higher rate of work support for deaf people who earn more than £27,000? That is not a cap on benefits; it is a discriminatory cap on career opportunities for the deaf.
Following the successful introduction of video games tax relief, which was announced in last year’s Budget, and the contribution that the video games sector makes to our economy—not least in my constituency—may we have a debate about how we can help the industry to grow further, so that it is on an equal footing with the United Kingdom film industry?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in supporting a sector that is enormously important to our economy. We are world leaders in that sector, and we should work to maintain our position. Even many Members are enthusiastic participants in the products of the video games industry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer—who is, of course, preparing his Budget—will be in the House on Tuesday week, and Members will have an opportunity to make representations to him about the issue then.
I do not think anyone could disagree with that. It is very important for us to have quality staff, quality support and quality service in our care homes. The hon. Gentleman will have many opportunities to raise the issue directly with Ministers, but in many instances care is provided by private companies, some of which are good and some of which are not. As Members of Parliament, we should always seek to highlight poor performance in the care sector when we encounter it, because we can play a role in ensuring that standards are raised.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House has had the displeasure of using the Dartford crossing recently. If he has, he will have noticed that the free-flow system there seems to have improved the flow of traffic. However, the administration of the scheme through the Dart Charge has exasperated many of my constituents. May we please have a debate about the charge, and about the frustrations that are being experienced by my constituents and people in the surrounding areas?
I understand the issues that my hon. Friend and his constituents are facing. I myself have used the Dart Charge on a number of occasions in recent weeks when, for reasons I cannot quite recall, I spent quite a lot of time driving to Essex—to places such as Thurrock and Basildon, which are still represented by Conservatives. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State in Transport questions next Thursday. The scheme has the potential to make a real difference, but it needs to be got right.
In the light of the publication of the Shrewsbury report on the baby ashes issue earlier this week, and of the fact that this is an issue in many constituencies up and down the land, including my own, where the family of Mike and Tina Trowhill have been affected, may we please have a statement from the Government on what assistance they will offer to local councils to carry out independent inquiries into what happened to babies’ ashes in those local areas?
This is an enormously sensitive issue, and our hearts go out to the families affected. They have had to go through not only the trauma of losing a child but the aftermath that the hon. Lady has described. I know that my colleagues are carefully considering that report, and they will seek to deal with the matter sensitively and appropriately. They will come forward with their response in due course.
May we have a statement on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the welcome changes designed to prevent nuisance phone calls are actually having an effect? It was quite apparent during the general election that the problem had certainly not gone away, and that these persistent unwanted phone calls were continuing to blight the lives of my constituents.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Work is under way to try to curb this practice, but we are dealing with people who are constantly looking for new ways to do this and who are working around the law. I myself have been the victim of these calls. When I was Secretary of State for Justice, it sometimes came as a bit of a shock to the person making a nuisance call to my mobile phone when I told them that I was the Minister responsible for regulating the sector and asked them for the name and address of their company. They normally hung up on the spot. It is a serious nuisance, however, and we must continue to work hard to address it. I know that my colleagues will do so.
I want to raise a small but important matter. Yet again, this place will take its summer break a month after midsummer, which will coincide—accidentally, no doubt—with the English school holidays and stretch long into the autumn. Could we not have a shorter parliamentary break that coincided with the Scottish and the English school holidays? This would help Members with children, and it would also help all MPs to get round to some of the events in their constituencies.
Of course we will always seek to provide recess dates that work as well as possible for Members across the House. The hon. Gentleman talks about holidays, and every Member of Parliament deserves a holiday, but to allow the narrative to continue that says recesses are holidays does a disservice to the House. They provide the time that we all need to spend in our constituencies, working on our constituents’ behalf.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the report on the failings at the Emstrey crematorium in Shrewsbury, where babies’ ashes were not returned to their bereaved parents, was published earlier this week. The report found that at least 60 families were believed to have been affected by these failings. May we have a debate on the failings at the Emstrey crematorium, and on the lessons that could be learned by local authorities to prevent such failings from happening again?
As I said a moment ago, this is an enormously sensitive and difficult issue that we need to treat with enormous care and respect for the families involved. The Government will respond to the report in due course, and it is really important that we get this right.
May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on when young boys in this country who are suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy can expect to have access to the drug Translarna? The drug is readily available across Europe, but its approval has been delayed in this country because of bureaucratic arguments within NHS England that are a direct result of the health service reforms. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health in the previous Government guaranteed to me and the parents that this matter would be speeded up, but it is still being held up today.
There is a troubling example of poor development in an area of outstanding natural beauty in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the subject, and in particular whether there should be restrictions on the use of retrospective planning permissions in AONBs?
I am always concerned when I hear about planning going wrong in the way I suspect it has done in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It may be most helpful to Ministers if he could produce a short summary of what has gone wrong and pass it to them. That will enable them to look at the regulations and see whether anything needs to be changed.
The House was at its best yesterday, but also at its worst in another degrading spectacle of Prime Minister’s Question Time, which was an exchange of insults and non-responses. May we debate early-day motion 51, which seeks to reinvent the format for Question Time so that it retains the robust questioning but is carried out in an atmosphere of calm and mutual respect?
[That this House is appalled at the demeaning and deteriorating spectacle of Prime Minister’s Questions; notes the widely expressed public revulsion at this ill-mannered, pointless exchange of insults; and calls for its reinvention into a new format in which the Prime Minister can respond to questions in an atmosphere of calm, respect and dignity.]
One of the things that make this one of the great debating chambers of the world is that there are lively debates between the two sides. I would never condone insults across the House, but I think we would lose something in this Parliament if we did not have a vigorous and sometimes challenging debate of the kind that we see regularly.
The Queen’s Speech contained reference to a reduction in the subsidies for onshore wind turbines. This has caused some uncertainty among businesses serving my local community that deal with offshore wind. May we have an early statement to reassure them that there is no uncertainty about continuing subsidies for the offshore renewables sector?
I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised. I know that the prime concerns of those on the Government Benches are to protect our countryside and ensure that onshore wind is handled sensitively. I shall ask my right hon. Friend to address the issues that my hon. Friend has raised.
I and the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) have contacted the new Secretary of State for Energy to ask her to continue with the successful cross-party oil and gas promotion group, which had notable achievements in the previous Parliament. May I urge the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State and ask her as a matter of urgency to make a positive decision on this request?
My thoughts and those of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), are very much with those seriously injured at Alton Towers in Staffordshire. We would like to praise the community first responders, who were so quickly on the scene. May we have a debate about community first responders and in particular the issues surrounding markings on cars, which my right hon. Friend knows about, because they are causing great concern to my constituents and those of my hon. Friend?
I have been aware for a long time of the fine work done by first responders in my hon. Friend’s constituency. In a past role in opposition I made a number of visits to the Staffordshire ambulance service and learned about the work done by first responders. Clearly, this week was a moment when that work was enormously important. Our hearts go out to the young people affected in that tragic accident. We wish them all the very best for their recovery. I praise all those involved in the rescue efforts and hope all the lessons that can be learned are learned. I encourage my hon. Friend to use the Westminster Hall or the end of day Adjournment debates to find an opportunity to put on record the importance of the work done by first responders and to make sure that Ministers are aware of the issues to which he draws the attention of the House today. I am aware of them and believe they are very important.
My 82-year-old constituent was refused a blue badge, despite having had one for the past 10 years and having a progressive condition. May we have an urgent statement on and a review of the blue badge guidance to stop this unfairness?
The blue badge guidance always has to be fairly tight in order to ensure that people cannot abuse the system. One of the things that we can all do as constituency Members of Parliament is challenge the local authorities when they get it wrong. I have done so in the past and I know that the hon. Lady will do so now to ensure that the right decision is taken.
The Leader of the House may be aware that Thoresby colliery will close in July this year. Will he encourage the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to the Chamber to make a statement about the measures that will be put in place to assist the employees there in retraining and reskilling so that they can move on to jobs elsewhere?
Extensive support is now available across government for those unfortunate enough to be caught up when a business closes, be that support through Jobcentre Plus or the skills development work done in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be in this House in a couple of weeks’ time. I encourage my hon. Friend not only to raise these issues then, but to go directly to the Department now to make sure that the teams there that can help in these matters are ready and available when the change comes.
The Leader of the House’s views on human rights law and conventions are at least clear—he is against them. But could he clarify the Prime Minister’s view, which has moved this week from support for the European convention on human rights—reportedly—to now contemplating leaving it? In the absence of a Bill, may we have an early statement or debate so that we can explore the full range of the Tory party’s views on this matter?
The Conservative party’s policy on human rights has not changed since last October. What we do not know is where the Labour party stands, because it says it wants to defend the human rights legal framework as it is, yet on prisoner voting Labour Members will line up to say that they do not want to give votes to prisoners. Those two things are not compatible and Labour needs to decide where it stands, because at the moment it is all over the place.
In September 2014, the Conservatives gave a commitment that we would scrap the 15-year rule for British ex-pats so that these people could vote in elections. What progress has been made on that? What is the timetable for making sure it happens?
Will the Leader of the House secure an urgent, early debate on the future of NHS walk-in centres, which were opened by a Labour Government and a quarter of which have been closed by this Government? The one in Jarrow is due to close, because of unaccountable management, and 27,000 people are going to be dumped on local GP surgeries that are already overburdened.
The hon. Gentleman has already had the opportunity this week to raise this matter, in Tuesday’s health debate. This Government have already increased spending on the health service and we are committed to spending a further £8 billion extra on it. We are, as yet, uncertain what his party’s policy is.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the flawed review of children’s heart services in the previous Parliament. Although much can be welcomed in the new review, access to units is still omitted from the standards, which is causing concern. May we have a statement or debate as soon as possible so we can ensure that the review is first rate this time?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on behalf of his constituency and West Yorkshire on this deeply sensitive matter. The concern he has shown is typical of the approach he has taken as a constituency MP and it is one of the reasons he was so successfully re-elected to this place. There will be many opportunities in the coming days to requisition debates so that Ministers come to address these issues, either in Westminster Hall or in this Chamber, and I suggest he take advantage of those.
The Government announced a bus Bill to allow some local areas to re-franchise services. In Tyne and Wear, similar plans are already under way, but Ministers have consistently failed to back them. May we have a statement from the Department for Transport about what, if any, implications this planned legislation has on our existing proposals?
The bus Bill will be an important part of our devolution plans and we will be introducing it in the near future. The hon. Lady will have an opportunity in next Thursday’s Transport questions to raise the issue directly with the Secretary of State, and I am sure she will take advantage of that opportunity.
May we have a debate on the importance of local arts festivals? The forthcoming weekend sees the first ever Kett Fest, a spontaneous celebration of local arts, culture and music in the town of Kettering. Although supported by the relevant local authorities, it is—rightly—drawing on only a minimal level of public funding, and its success will be almost entirely due to the individual initiative, enthusiasm and endeavour of a large number of public-spirited individuals who are proud of the town in which they live.
I know that Kettering is a town with a very strong community spirit, and what my hon. Friend describes is this country at its best, with people coming forward to deliver change or events that really bring communities together. It is great to hear of such a good example and one that is not simply dependent on public finance to deliver real community togetherness.
Will the Leader of the House give consideration to a statement on submarine activity in the Irish sea that has already interfered with fishing efforts? The latest incident took place on 15 April, when the boat and fishing gear of one of my constituents was destroyed.
I do understand the concerns about this matter, including in the fishing community. There will be Defence questions on Monday, and the hon. Lady will have the opportunity in topical questions to raise this issue then, should she choose to do so. Of course, she will have other such opportunities this summer.
One unintended consequence of the general election is that we have a gap in our Question Times, as there is now no need for Deputy Prime Minister’s questions. One very talented Minister, who has a lot to do with the running of this House, has been sitting silently on the Front Bench. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on instituting a Question Time in future for the Chief Whip? We could then ask him how he united the Conservative party on Europe, how he got every single Conservative Member through the Lobby and how he has had no rebellions.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to praise the Chief Whip, who has made a brilliant start in his job. I would, however, have been slightly worried if he had had a rebellion in his first vote. There is a long tradition in this House, only occasionally broken, of Chief Whips simply getting the job done, rather than advertising what they are doing. I suspect that my right hon. Friend will prefer to keep things that way rather than change the practice of the Chief Whip remaining a silent participant in the House.
Will the Leader of the House now answer the points made by the shadow Leader of the House on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill? A great many Members, on both sides of the House, from Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Hull wanted to speak in yesterday’s oversubscribed debate on devolution to the cities and regions in England. There is clearly a great demand here, and it is doing this House a disservice to start the Bill in the other place.
First, it may be appropriate to wish the hon. Gentleman a happy birthday. May I point out to him that there is an Opposition day next week, and the subject of that debate has not been announced yet? A couple of Opposition Members have expressed an interest in discussing the issues he raises, so there is an ideal opportunity for them and they should speak to the shadow Leader of the House.
Later this month, the Government will receive a report from the Electoral Commission on the completeness of the electoral registers, in preparation for full implementation of individual electoral registration. May we have a report, and a debate in this House, on that very subject?
I believe the new approach to electoral registration has been absolutely the right thing to do. We are a society and a democracy that prides itself on being clean and free from fraud, but that has not always been the case in recent years. The reform takes us a step nearer having a fraud-free system. The House will of course have the chance to study the Electoral Commission’s report when it is published, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issues when he chooses to do so.