The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 20 July—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Tuesday 21 July—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
The business for the week commencing 7 September will be:
Monday 7 September—Remaining stages of the European Union Referendum Bill.
Tuesday 8 September—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 9 September—Opposition day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 10 September—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 September—Private Members’ Bills.
I want to inform the House of two other matters. First, it might be helpful to right hon. and hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), to know that you, Mr Speaker, have authorised a trial during the September sittings in which the alphabetical groupings in the Division Lobbies will be changed. We will not be consigning the Mc’s to the outer darkness, but the letter G will move to the A to F desk. That is to try to address the issue, raised by several Members, of long queues at the current G to M desk. The trial will run for two weeks to establish whether the new arrangements improve the situation.
Finally, as is customary, I want to thank all the staff of the House for their hard work, particularly in supporting Members at the start of this Parliament following the general election. I hope that they enjoy a well-deserved break. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will also have a well-deserved break as well as spending a lot of time on constituency work—it is not all holidays, of course—before the House returns in September.
Let me begin by seconding the Leader of the House’s thanks to all the staff and employees of the House for the support they have given us since the general election. As he is trialling the moving of the letter G from one desk in the Division Lobbies to another, perhaps he will explain why we cannot trial his plans for English votes for English laws, because they seem more important.
Yesterday’s general debate on the Government’s rushed and partisan proposals to introduce an English veto into our Standing Orders demonstrated that there is no support for it outside the Government. The Leader of the House has not announced when in September he intends to force votes to introduce his reckless plan. Will he tell us now on what date he is thinking of bringing the matter back to the House? Will he confirm that, despite the huge doubts expressed yesterday, he intends to force it through with no further concessions?
This week we learned that the Government’s plan to pack the House of Lords with 100 extra, mainly Tory, peers has been blocked by the Cabinet Secretary—at least for now. Does the Leader of the House agree that the upper House is already bursting at the seams and that, even without these extra peers, it now has the dubious distinction of being the second largest legislature in the world, beaten only by the Chinese People’s Congress? Given that every peer costs £117,000 a year, can we have a debate about how on earth these plans fulfil the Prime Minister’s pledge to cut the cost of politics? Why does this Prime Minister think it is acceptable to slash the number of elected Members in this House while allowing the unelected House to expand seemingly indefinitely in his own party’s interests?
The summer recess is nearly upon us, and I bet nobody will be more relieved than the Leader of the House. He is just two months into his new job and the Government’s business has already descended into chaos. We have had the Prime Minister’s doomed attempt to enforce collective Cabinet responsibility over his own EU referendum, which he hurriedly abandoned at the first whiff of grapeshot. In the last week we have learned of the Government’s new “dodgems” strategy to pilot their business through the House. Their headlong rush to impose a shoddy and partisan “English votes for English laws” fix was replaced with yesterday’s general debate without a vote to manage unease on their own Back Benches. Then we had the absolute farce of their botched attempt to wreck the Hunting Act 2004. The first vote was meant to be today, then it was moved to yesterday to be rushed through in 90 minutes, and then, as most of us learned on Twitter well before the Leader of the House came to the House to announce the change using a point of order, the Government pulled the vote because they knew they would lose. Will the Leader of the House tell us what other chaos he is planning for September?
This week the Government’s farcical attempt to reincarnate themselves as some kind of workers’ party has been exposed as a sham. Before the election, the Tories had vowed to “transform policy and practice” to help more disabled people into work. After the election, they scrapped the independent living fund, and we now hear that the Prime Minister is considering forcing workers to save up for their own sick pay. The Chancellor’s so-called national living wage has been exposed as just a rebrand of the minimum wage, and with his huge cuts to tax credits, millions will be thousands of pounds a year worse off. The Mayor of London has let the cat out of the bag, acknowledging that these changes will not deliver “enough to live on”.
Yesterday the Government revealed their real nature with the most vindictive attack on trade unions for 30 years. Despite the Government’s spin, this is an attack on the basic freedom to organise in the workplace that any Latin American dictator would have been proud of. If they really were the workers’ party, they would be supporting trade unions, not attacking them.
Today we will hear the result of the Liberal Democrats’ leadership election. I would like to send my commiserations to whichever candidate is unfortunate enough to win. Since the Prime Minister’s pre-resignation, there have been interesting developments in the Conservative party leadership election. Yesterday the Home Secretary poured cold water on the Mayor of London’s plans for water cannon. He has sprayed around public money, buying second-hand German cannons that it transpires he cannot even use. The Home Secretary rejected his business case because it was not watertight. I just hope he bought them on a sale-or-return basis. The Chancellor has also been on manoeuvres. The Treasury sent out an email to lobby journalists that mysteriously read, “Blah, blah, blah.” That is the most sensible thing the Chancellor has said in five years.
We have all been entranced this week by the news that a NASA space probe has made it to Pluto: a cold, desolate, lifeless place, light years away from civilisation. It sounds just like the Tory Back Benches. No doubt we are about to discover that it is a plutocracy run by old Plutonians—a bit like this place.
I have a high regard for the hon. Lady as a parliamentarian, but as a stand-up comedian, I would not go there. [Interruption.] I think hon. Members laughed in exasperation at how bad, not how good, the jokes were.
The hon. Lady asked about English votes for English laws and, indeed, the trial of the new Division Lobby arrangements. I assure her that the English votes for English laws procedure will last longer than two weeks when we put it into place. It is not customary to announce business further in advance than is normal in the business statement. When we return in September, I will as normal set out the business for the coming weeks.
The hon. Lady made a point about the House of Lords. May I once again suggest that it really is not a good idea to believe everything she reads in the papers? That story was simply not true, and it has rightly been described by Downing Street as “nonsense”. [Interruption.] I take it that the Labour party will therefore not nominate any peers in future. I take it that the hon. Lady is giving a self-denying ordinance that there will be no more Labour nominations to the House of Lords.
The hon. Lady talked about reducing the size of this House. I simply remind her, as I keep doing on English votes for English laws, that we believe in keeping to our manifesto commitments.
There was, however, one point on which we agreed—offering our good wishes to the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who will be announced this afternoon. As the hon. Lady rightly says, he faces a very big and uphill task. We now have a collection of fine Members of Parliament on the Government Benches who will be excellent representatives of their constituencies and will I am afraid freeze out the Liberal Democrats for the foreseeable future.
The hon. Lady talked about chaos. Let me give a simple explanation of chaos. Chaos is a party that claims to represent working people, but votes against a national living wage. Chaos is a party that claims to represent working people and not support benefit-dependency, but increasingly opposes our reform of welfare, as we see in Labour Members’ mounting rebellion at their leadership’s attempt to claim that they support our reforms. Chaos is a party that claims to support an extra voice for the English, but says it will vote against a sensible package of reforms that will do the right thing for the English. Chaos is a party that ends up with its leadership candidates fighting over whether it is good idea for a party leader to be a parent. Chaos is a party that cannot even condemn the strikes that left millions of people unable to make their normal journeys to work last week.
The hon. Lady talks about supporting trade unions. May I ask her, as one of two preferred deputy leadership candidates backed by a militant boss who says it is okay to break the law, whether that is really what she means by supporting the trade unions? She talks about places that are light years away from civilisation. There is one place close to here where that is definitely the case—in the Labour party.
We are very clear that British taxpayers’ money will not be put on the line as part of the support for Greece. We have huge sympathy with the plight faced by the Greek Government and their people. It is right and proper that action is taken within the eurozone to try to support them, but the reality is that this is a problem for the eurozone and within the eurozone. Britain is not part of the eurozone and we do not want to be part of the eurozone. It is for the taxpayers of the eurozone, not the taxpayers of this country, to put their money on the line to support this bail-out.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I sincerely hope that it lasts a bit longer than last week’s business and that it will not be hastily rearranged on the back of a point of order, as happened this week.
It seems as though the Scottish National party now has almost a magical omnipotent power. As soon as we announce our intention to exercise our democratic rights in the House and vote on a measure announced in the business statement, it miraculously disappears. Such is this omnipotence that we are seemingly credited for the election result in England, the near-death of the Liberal Democrats and the crisis in Labour, and now we are the saviours of the English foxes.
I am going to try my arm and see whether I can test that omnipotence a little further. I announce to the Leader of the House that the Scottish National party fully intends to vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Let us see whether we can get that miraculously to disappear and whether we can do the job of protecting the poor, the most marginal and the vulnerable in society from the callous Bill that the Tories intend to introduce. We cannot leave that to the Labour party. I have no idea what Labour Members will do on Monday, but I hope that they join us in the Lobby and vote against this callous Bill. When I look round at my honourable colleagues in the Labour party I have my doubts, but I hope they do the right thing.
The Leader of the House does not like me referring constantly to the Scotland Bill, but he will have to indulge me a little more. This week the Secretary of State for Scotland announced that he is in a mood to accept some amendments, which is good news for my hon. Friends given that we have had four days of debate on the Bill and nothing has been accepted. I appeal to the Leader of the House for sufficient time to discuss the remaining stages of the Bill, so that amendments are debated by elected Members of this House and none are taken to the unelected, bloated Chamber up there, where there are no representatives of the Scottish National party. The amendments must be discussed under the full glare of the elected representatives of the Scottish people. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that we will get sufficient time to debate those issues properly?
Finally, as is customary as we head towards the recess, may I wish you, Mr Speaker, an enjoyable summer recess? I also wish the staff of the House an enjoyable recess, and on behalf of all new SNP Members—this is practically a new parliamentary group—let me say that the kindness and good grace shown by the staff of the House in assisting all our new Members has been recognised by us all. I also wish the Leader of the House an enjoyable summer recess. He has been kind and courteous to us in our new enhanced position here, and I wish him all the best for the recess. I hope he comes back, drops his EVEL plans, and I am sure we will get on just famously.
Let me reciprocate and say that although we will have lively debates across the Floor of the House, I have found initial relations between myself, my colleagues and the new SNP Members at Westminster to be pleasant and congenial. I return the hon. Gentleman’s wishes and I hope that all SNP Members—indeed, all Members of the House—have a pleasant recess. Having gone through an election period when everybody works immensely hard, although lots of us have constituency work during the summer, I think that everybody deserves a short break as well. I wish everybody the best for the summer recess.
Perhaps over the summer, as the hon. Gentleman relaxes on the beach or wherever he is, he might consider whether he really wants to pursue the policy of reversing what he rightly said when he gave evidence to the McKay commission about the need for the Scottish National party to stay outside matters that do not affect it. That has been a policy of principle for the SNP over many years, and it is a shame that he has walked away from that. If anybody is U-turning at the moment, it is him. He is a man of principle, and I am sure that he will reflect again and perhaps take a different approach in the future.
I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, because I suspect that the Scottish National party’s view on that will not change many opinions on the Government Benches. This is a Bill on behalf of working people, and I am certain that it commands support among working people in Scotland who—like everyone else in the country—want a welfare system that is fair, and also fair to those who pay for it. That is what the Bill will do.
On the Scotland Bill, I say simply that there will be a further day of debate in the House and the conclusion of proceedings. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to table amendments and debate them with the Scottish Secretary, he will of course have the chance to do so as normal.
With the news this week that the promise that the European Union made to our Prime Minister has been reneged on, may we have an early debate on how we can hold the European Union to account so that it complies with its word? For example, can we bring forward a breach of promise action against the European Union?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point and I have every sympathy with what he says. We have been clear that we in this country will not allow taxpayers’ money to be put on the line for a bail-out. We are also clear that the political agreement reached between member states must be adhered to. That is a matter for the eurozone and for its members to resolve. We cannot be in a position where countries outside the eurozone have their taxpayers’ money put at risk in circumstances such as this. We are clear about that, and sympathetic to, my hon. Friend’s point, and there will be a number of opportunities next week for him to raise a point about which he is absolutely correct.
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is currently finishing its progress through the other place and will come here shortly. Will the Leader of the House tell us when that will be? Will he also ensure that this English devolution Bill takes as much time on the Floor of the House as we have rightly spent discussing the Scotland Bill, which is a devolution Bill for Scotland? Will he ensure that the 85% of the UK population that is English can see that this House fulfils its obligations by considering the Bill on the Floor of the House and not in Committee?
I will take a careful look at the timetable for the Bill. We have a lot of business to get through in the autumn, but we will endeavour to make sure there is as much time available for key measures as possible. I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman’s view on the importance of this measure. It is a part of a devolution package designed to provide additional powers across the United Kingdom. It is right and proper that cities such as Manchester have additional powers. My hope and expectation is that the Bill will pass and deliver those powers.
Ladder for Staffordshire is a new campaign to promote apprenticeships across Cannock Chase and the wider area. It created 50 new apprenticeships on the first day alone. May we have a debate on the role that such campaigns can play in helping to create apprenticeships?
Local work done to promote our overall national goals on apprenticeships is absolutely vital. I praise all those in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have been involved in that work, and her for the work she is doing. Engaging employers in providing apprenticeships is vital, something she will no doubt wish to discuss during the passage of the Finance Bill or when Treasury Ministers are here next week. We need to keep getting across to employers the role they can play.
I note on the Order Paper today that nominations for membership of the Backbench Business Committee have been forthcoming. We are not yet completely open for business, but I hope that by Monday we will be and that on Tuesday we can have our first meeting. Under normal circumstances, we would be looking for submissions to the Committee by the previous Friday, which would be today. I have contacted colleagues and people are agreeable for submissions to be made by mid-afternoon on Monday, with the first meeting of the Committee hopefully at lunchtime on Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House please recommend to right hon. and hon. Members that they make applications for debates to the Backbench Business Committee on subjects of their choosing?
I am very happy to do that. I see the hon. Gentleman is making a number of appearances on the Order Paper today, since he is one of those who appears to be not entirely in line with his party’s acting leadership on other matters. I absolutely support his request. Given that we are setting out Committees late before the summer recess, it is right and proper that a little flexibility is shown. I am sure everyone in this House would accept that that should be the case.
Following the point made my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) about the breach of promise by the EU, as I understand it, we are now required, as the United Kingdom, to put £1 billion towards the bail-out of Greece. I think people will find that unacceptable, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week on that subject?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be here on Tuesday and will certainly be explaining where we have got to on this matter. He is clear, and I am clear, that British taxpayers’ money cannot be put on the line to bail out Greece. That would not be acceptable to the people of this country. We have a debate to come in this country on our relationship with the European Union. I think people would look very hard if we were put into a position where our taxpayers’ money was on the line for a bail-out in the eurozone when we are not a part of the eurozone.
Great progress has been made in recent years in tackling cancer and increasing survival rates, but there remain great discrepancies between the various regions and countries of the UK in terms of early diagnosis and treatment. May we have a debate at some point early in the next session on how we can ensure that all our constituents get equal access to early diagnosis and treatment?
We would obviously want the best possible treatment for every citizen of the United Kingdom. We have arrangements where the health services in the four parts of the UK are managed separately. These are devolved matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is important that we share best practice from the NHS in England to the NHS in the other three countries in attempting to make sure that the best possible treatment is available, but that is of course a matter for the devolved Administrations to decide.
I thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for your quick response in recognising and responding to Members’ concerns about the arrangements in the Division Lobbies.
Allegedly, Kettering is the most average town in England. It is, however, very special to those of us who live there, and its special status has been confirmed by the award of a purple flag for it having a thriving, safe and vibrant night-time economy. That is similar to green flags for parks or blue flags for beaches. May we therefore have a debate in Government time about the importance of provincial town centres, and how best practice from places like Kettering might be rolled out to the rest of the country?
I am sure that my hon. Friend did not intend to inadvertently mislead the House, but I have to say that no constituency represented by him could possibly be an average town. [Hon. Members: “Hear, Hear.”] I congratulate everyone in Kettering who has worked towards that award. I know Kettering; it is a fine town. It is a great community, and it is a tribute to the strength of its community that it has been marked in this way.
Yesterday, I and other colleagues attended the opening of the new parliamentary education centre. I commend you, Mr Speaker, and the other Officers of the House, and Westminster City Council, for ensuring that it was up and running so quickly. Given the importance of the regions to the development of Parliament, would it be possible to look at setting up sub-offices of the parliamentary education centre in those towns and cities that are associated with the development of parliamentary rights? We obviously do not have a purple flag like Kettering, but we do have Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester. May we have a debate on that very important subject?
As long as the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we might relocate Parliament to Leicester, I would be very happy to table that as a thought for the Commission. I was very sorry to miss the launch of the education centre yesterday; the shadow Leader of the House and I were obviously in this Chamber for the debate on English votes. I congratulate everybody who has been involved in it. I am looking forward to visiting the centre to see the work that has been done, and I see no reason why we should not explore ways of ensuring that people around the country have an opportunity to learn more about Parliament.
May we have a debate about local democracy and local accountability? In particular, may we explore the practice of electing people to local councils by thirds, which not only is a spectacular waste of money compared with all-out elections every four years, but undermines local accountability? When the local people want to get rid of a corrupt or poorly performing local authority—such as we have seen in the past with Doncaster and Rotherham—they cannot do so when it is elected by thirds, when one party has a massive majority. All-in and all-out elections surely bring about much more local democracy. May we have a debate on them?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have both in my constituency—part of the constituency is all-out, part is by thirds. It is certainly the case that thirds creates a constant programme of elections, which cost the taxpayer. I cannot comment specifically on the circumstances that he refers to, but of course these decisions are taken locally, can be taken locally, and with a proper debate locally things can be changed.
Prior to the general election, the Chancellor advised that my constituency of Dewsbury would be designated an enterprise zone within 100 days. Will the Leader of the House agree to ask the Minister to meet me to discuss the implementation process?
Of course, the Chancellor will be here for Treasury questions next week and I would simply suggest to the hon. Lady that she puts that question to him. The enterprise zone programme is part of our plan to shift the focus in this country—in our deprived areas and our challenged areas and in towns that need support and development and economic growth—away from excessive welfare dependency and on to a focus on better conditions for people in the workplace through the national living wage and better support for business. It is a shame that the hon. Lady appears to oppose the measures that we shall bring before the House on Monday, because they would help her town and others like it.
Corby is under threat from plans for a gasification plant. Local people are united in opposing the plans, and I am standing shoulder to shoulder with them in fighting against them—Corby really does say no. May we have a statement from a Minister setting out the protections that are in place for communities that are under the threat of gasification plants being built?
August 6th will mark the 70th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and a few days later will be the anniversary of Nagasaki. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time to reflect on the legacy of that event and the horrors of nuclear war, and will he perhaps tell us when we can expect a statement from the Defence Secretary about the timetable for the maingate decision on Trident?
No one could look back on the bombings at the end of the second world war without a sense that we must never allow that to happen again. The reality is that for 70 years the world has managed to keep a nuclear peace, and long may that continue. The Defence Secretary will be in the House again after the summer recess, will continue to be available for questions and will set out our plans in due course.
Yesterday the Auditor General for Wales published a damning report on the Labour Welsh Government’s handling of the regeneration investment fund for Wales and the underselling of a large amount of publicly owned property. May we have a statement on the issue from the Secretary of State for Wales as soon as practicable?
My hon. Friend gives me an example that I missed out when I talked about the chaos in the Labour party. It is chaotic in opposition, chaotic in government, letting down Wales and failing to deliver the services and environment that Wales needs. It would be great to see Wales have a Conservative Government, not the current Labour Administration who have let it down year after year.
Today the Home Secretary has published the terms of reference of the Pitchford inquiry into undercover policing. To be frank, I expected an oral statement, not a written statement, given its significance. The purpose is to investigate to what
“extent and effect undercover police operations have targeted political and social justice campaigners.”
Some months ago, we revealed in the House the extent of undercover police surveillance of trade unionists, but there is no explicit mention of trade unionists in the terms of reference, which we expected there to be. Will the Leader of the House seek clarification from the Home Secretary that trade unionists who have been under surveillance will be included in the inquiry’s terms of reference?
Last Friday I was delighted to look at three brownfield housing sites in my constituency, at Valley Road and Hope Mill in Barnoldswick and at Knotts Lane in Colne, where the Together Housing Group is delivering 95 new affordable homes this financial year. May we have a debate on brownfield generation and on what more can be done to ensure that we prioritise brownfield land over greenfield land?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. When the Chancellor announced our reforms to the planning process last week, he was clear that there should be a strong, and in many cases automatic, presumption of development on brownfield sites, and that we should protect our green belt. We as a party feel strongly about that. Yes, we face housing pressures and need to build new houses, but that must not happen at the expense of the character of our country. I believe that we have a portfolio of policies that will secure that.
As the Leader of the House will fully appreciate, the Secretary of State for Transport’s recent announcement that the electrification of the trans-Pennine route will no longer go ahead as planned has been met with widespread concern throughout the Chamber. Given the importance of the matter, does the Leader of the House agree that time should be allocated to debate the future of that major project?
Of course, the Transport Secretary has just been in the House answering questions on that very issue. We have not cancelled the programme; we have simply had to delay it. We will go ahead with the electrification. I remind the hon. Lady that when Labour was in government, it electrified 10 miles of railway line. We have a major programme of electrification that could have started when Labour was in government, but it did not.
The one more disgraceful thing I have seen in recent days than a trade union leader saying that it is okay for his members to operate outside the law has been the Labour party’s deafening silence in condemning such an irresponsible statement. I waited for the acting leader of the Labour party or any of the four candidates for the leadership to stand up and say, “That is wrong. Trade unionists should not break the law”. But silence followed. I heard nothing—no condemnation. That is because they are so in hock to the trade union movement that they do not even dare to tell them that breaking the law is wrong.
Following recent reports that the Ministry of Defence has spent almost £120 million in one year on car rental, may we have a statement or a debate in Government time on whether that kind of practice can possibly represent value for money in MOD procurement?
We can safely assume that the Ministry of Defence, under the high-quality leadership of the current Secretary of State, looks to make sure that it maximises the value of its budget. I am pleased that we will maintain our 2% commitment to NATO, but that does not mean that the Secretary of State will not look to drive out extra efficiencies to ensure that we put as much resource as possible into the front line.
BCG is an important ingredient in drugs to tackle bladder cancer, but there is a shortage and only one manufacturer of it—MSD, which to its credit is producing as much as it can. Several other manufacturers have left that particular business. May we have a debate on ensuring the security of the supply of those most vital drugs?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he has done in this important area. He is a great champion for the health service in his constituency and for his constituents who need healthcare. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health is aware of the concerns my hon. Friend raises, and gives him a response before we come back in September.
In Transport questions, on a question on parallel tracks, the Secretary of State moved into a parallel universe when he refused to answer a question about the Brighton main line 2 rail upgrade programme and a feasibility study mentioned on page 69 of the Budget Red Book, which clearly states that the feasibility study exists. The rail Minister could not give the answer because the study does not exist, as revealed in a parliamentary answer I received this week. May we have a statement to bring clarity to the situation? Either the Department for Transport or the Chancellor is in danger of misleading the House.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to put the question directly to the Chancellor, he will be here on Tuesday for Treasury questions. The hon. Gentleman could also request an Adjournment debate in which he could put his questions directly, over a longer period of time, to the Minister concerned.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the great work being done by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which allocates some £375 million to projects across the UK every year? An event last week, hosted by my predecessor, Sir Peter Luff, showcased many works connected with the centenary of the first world war.
The House’s loss is the Heritage Lottery Fund’s gain. Sir Peter was a distinguished public servant in this House for many years. He was well regarded and will be much missed in his constituency, even though he has a great successor. I pay tribute to the Heritage Lottery Fund and to all the organisations that have been involved in commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. The Woodland Trust in my constituency has begun to create a new area of woodland to mark the occasion, as it is doing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Several other organisations have been involved, and it has been an example of this nation at its best.
This issue has rightly caused enormous concern across the House. Many of our constituents have been touched by it, and the hon. Lady is not alone in having tragic circumstances in her constituency. I know that the matter is very much on the minds of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. It is our intention to respond in the timetable that was committed to.
This summer I am very much looking forward to my annual week of volunteering, when I will join the volunteers of the National Trust, the Holme Valley mountain rescue team, the Pack Horse trail, Huddersfield Canal Society and The Cuckoo’s Nest in Marsden. May we have a debate about the wonderful service that volunteers provide in our communities day in, day out?
By the sounds of it my hon. Friend is not going to be getting much sleep that week! I hope he finds that that experience is helpful to him and enables him to do what we as Members of Parliament should all do, which is to pay tribute to the work that volunteers do in our society. Our society is a better and stronger place because of their work, and every one of us will have examples in our constituencies of people who go more than the extra mile to do good work for the areas where they live. We should praise every single one of them and be grateful to them for what they do.
The access to, and availability of, cancer drugs throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an issue that concerns directly more than 50% of our population. The current cancer drugs strategy runs out in March 2016. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate about this vital health matter in the autumn?
It is of course important that we deliver the best possible support for cancer victims. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence makes a real effort to try to identify the right products to make available through the national health service, and individual local responsibility for decision making lies with the devolved Assemblies, but there will be opportunities after the summer recess to raise the issue with Health Ministers —in questions, in an Adjournment debate and now that the Backbench Business Committee is up and running. The Health Secretary is also in the House regularly to take questions from Members.
Yesterday I went to the Diabetes UK lobby, where I met a brave triple amputee, along with two of my constituents who live with diabetes. One of them gave me the Daily Mirror, which reports that 135 amputations are taking place every week. We have found ourselves in an appalling situation, and it is only going to get worse with the obesity time bomb that is about to hit us. Is it possible to have a statement as early as possible from a Health Minister on exactly what the Government intend to do to tackle this appalling tragedy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that very real health challenge which this country faces, and the very real issue that many of our constituents face. I am pleased that we are the first Government, I think, in one of very few countries—if there are any others—to have a national strategy to address the issue. The Health Secretary takes the issue very seriously, and I will make sure that he is aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns so that when my right hon. Friend is next in the House he can provide an update about the work he is doing in that important area.
It was an act of cowardice by the Government to deny this House a democratic vote on fox hunting, just because the nasty, blood sports party has become too nasty even for many of its own MPs. When can we express the settled view of the country and of MPs that the tormenting and killing of defenceless animals for fun is not acceptable?
The hon. Gentleman represents a Welsh constituency, and it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Labour party lost seats in Wales at the general election, because it does not appear to be very much in touch with the concerns of Welsh business or, in this particular case, of Welsh farmers. I suggest that he talks to them about their concerns.
In January I turned 40—[Interruption.] I know, I know. The reason why that is relevant is that the year before I was born is the last time we had wholesale reform of local government. Following on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), I think the time has come for a debate about how we run local government and whether it is fit for purpose. Mr Speaker, I know you are keen on brevity, so may we have a long debate about local government reform, one which needs to start specifically with the democratic accountability of one member per ward?
One challenge that many smaller councils face is that they have three-member wards, and several have decided they cannot afford to have so many councillors and have reduced those numbers. It is a live issue, but one that can be and is decided by local authorities themselves. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make strong representations in his own area on their moving to a more efficient system.
Given the shambles of the debate around EVEL, the Government’s intransigence over the Scotland Bill and their all-out attack on the renewables sector in Scotland, may we have a debate in Government time about their one nation approach, because it would be very enlightening to know which nation they are referring to?
It still baffles me why the Scottish National party appears to believe that covering the Scottish mountains in endless wind farms is the best way to preserve Scotland’s character. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues talk about English constituents raising concerns with them, thereby giving them the right to vote and express a view, but plenty of English people have expressed profound concern about wind farms in Scotland and the damage they do to the Scottish environment. We are listening to them.
In the early hours of this morning, two young men were admitted to hospital with stab wounds following a major gang fight in my constituency. I understand that several individuals are under arrest as a result. I also believe that statistics have been published this morning showing that knife crime is on the increase for the first time in four years. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate an early statement from the Home Secretary on what we can do to remove the scourge of knife crime from our streets once and for all?
We have taken additional steps in this area to introduce tougher legislation. I pay tribute to our former hon. Friend, Nick de Bois, the previous Member for Enfield North, for his work in this area. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who has worked hard in this area too, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). We have introduced measures as a result of which anybody caught carrying a knife for a second time will be subject to an automatic jail sentence. We have to send a strong message that it is simply not acceptable in our society today to carry a knife. If knives are carried, tragedies follow; they must not be carried.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), the Prime Minister promised a statement before the summer recess on the contaminated blood scandal. By my calculation, that leaves next Monday or Tuesday. Will the Leader of the House confirm that we will have a statement on Monday or Tuesday?
As part of my constituency role, I sit on the board of the Links Trust, which looks after the St Andrews golf courses. As the Open begins, will the Leader of the House join me in wishing well everybody travelling to my constituency to take part, and will he find time for a debate in the House on the benefits of golf to the social and economic wellbeing of everybody in the country?
That is certainly true, although I might not be alone in thinking that time on the golf course is sadly at a premium in the busy life of a Member of Parliament. None the less, golf plays an important part in our national sporting life. I am disappointed that Rory McIlroy cannot take part in this year’s Open, as he has proved a great champion for the United Kingdom as well as for Northern Ireland, but let us hope that despite the strong American challenge this year, one of our fine British golfers will win through come Sunday night.
I join colleagues in calling for an early debate on the situation in Greece. I am well aware that we are not part of the eurozone, but Greece is the cradle of democracy and a member of the European Union and the European community, and there are many young people in desperate straits and many children starving there. Surely, in the name of our common humanity, we can find room in our hearts to help Greece in its hour of need.
I do not disagree for a moment with what the hon. Gentleman says, but there is a big difference between being friends to the Greeks and saying that a country that is not in the eurozone should be part of eurozone support for Greece and should help to sort out its financial challenges. That is the issue and the challenge. We stand clearly as friends of the Greeks—we will work with them, seek to be their partners and help and encourage them out of the problems they are in—but we cannot, and should not, address the problems of the eurozone from the outside. We consciously, and rightly, decided as a nation not to be part of it. The eurozone must take the lead in sorting out the problems within its borders.
A recent report by Citizens Advice Wales shows a 14% increase in the number of people going to their offices for help and support. The top 10 issues that people go for advice about are the personal independence payment, the employment and support allowance, working tax credits, child tax credit, housing benefit and disability living allowance—and the rest all relate to debt. May we have a debate on how the Government’s benefits policy has led to an increase in debt in many regions of the United Kingdom?
What the Government’s policies have done is create more employment in Wales, as they have in every other part of the country. What our policies in the benefits arena are doing through the introduction of universal credit is to simplify a complex system and create proper incentives for people to move back into work. People with disabilities should do small amounts of work in order to enable them to start making a move back into the workplace. That is the kind of strategy this country needs—to help those who genuinely cannot work, but to make sure that the support is there for those who have the potential to get back into the workplace and that the jobs are there when they need them.
On 18 June the Leader of the House answered questions that I had raised on behalf of a number of people who were unable to get information from the Scotland Office through the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Clearly, I, a Member of Parliament, should not have to rely on that Act. Is the Leader of the House aware that I subsequently attempted to use a number of parliamentary procedures, but have as yet been unable to get the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us who wrote and who received the infamous “Frenchgate” memo? I cannot even get him to admit whether he saw a copy of it before it was leaked. I cannot get him to tell us which Ministers or whether any Ministers saw that memo before it was leaked. No doubt the Leader of the House would agree that it would be enormously embarrassing for this place if I as an MP were forced to raise this matter under FOI. Does he agree that a Government who have nothing to hide should stop hiding? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be brought before the House to explain himself as soon as possible?
Of course, one of the benefits of how this place works is that Members have a number of ways to bring Ministers before the House to answer questions—whether it be through Adjournment debates, oral questions, debates called by the Backbench Business Committee or whatever. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will use one of those different approaches to bring the Secretary of State for Scotland here so that he can put those questions directly to him.
The third international conference on financing for development, which took place in Addis Ababa last weekend, made it clear that aid donor countries received five times as much in illicit financial flows as they gave out in aid—for every $1 in aid, they received $5 in illicit financial flows. We have not had a statement on the conference, which has been some surprise, but will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on what this country is doing to stop such illicit financial flows from flowing back from the developing world into the UK?
We are—I believe rightly—good citizens in the world when it comes to providing development support where it is needed, but none of us would ever condone illegal practices; in fact, we have some of the world’s toughest and most highly regarded anti-corruption laws. I will make sure that the Secretary of State for International Development is made aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Yesterday, I met a representative from Addaction, which provides drug and alcohol treatment services to prisons. She explained that because of staff shortages prisoners simply cannot be escorted for their treatments. May we have an urgent debate on the difficulties experienced in implementing drug and alcohol treatment regimes in our prisons?
I praise Addaction for the work it does. I have had many dealings with it over the years, and it does excellent charity work. The hon. Lady is right, and I know from my former role that there have been staff shortages in parts of the country. That has been a result, ironically, of our economic success and a buoyant labour market, particularly in the southern part of the country, where unemployment levels have been below the conventional full employment levels in many areas. It poses a challenge for public services. I know that my former team and the current team in the Ministry of Justice have been working hard to address those shortages and will continue to do so.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement, either before the recess or during the September sittings, on the future of the access to elected office for disabled people fund, which helps disabled candidates with the additional costs of putting themselves forward? I hope that I shall have the support of the Chief Whip in this regard, given that he has been a firm supporter of the fund.
I am very sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s request. I am observing all sides of the various selection processes with great interest, especially that involving the Member who shadowed me in the days of my justice role, who is one of those now vying to be the Labour candidate in London. I always watched his Twitter feed with amusement, as about one tweet in 10 was about justice. and nine out of 10 were about his travels around different parts of London.
The hon. Lady has made a very important point. It is good for our democracy that disabled people stand for elected office, whatever party they belong to. We should always do what we can to help them, and I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s comments are drawn to the attention of the appropriate officials.
This weekend, I shall somewhat advisedly seek to double the number of Labour MPs in Scotland—albeit temporarily—by visiting Ayrshire to serve as best man for my friend Alan Gemmell, who is marrying his partner Damien Stirk. Does the Leader of the House share my pride in the fact that Britain has led the way on equal marriage, and will he provide time for a debate so that the House can show solidarity with lesbian and gay people throughout the world who are denied this and many other rights and freedom?
Equal marriage is one of the big social changes of recent years for which the House has voted. I supported it, the hon. Gentleman supported it and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends supported it, and I think that it has been a positive step. I wish the hon. Gentleman well, and I wish the friends whose wedding he will be attending all the best for the future. I have to say that I think the Labour party will probably be outnumbered by the Conservatives in Scotland this summer, as I know that a number of my hon. Friends will be taking advantage of the tourist destinations and, in some cases, fishing rivers which that fine country offers.
Although more than 90% of the highlands and islands is mainland, my constituents, along with people in neighbouring constituencies, continue to be unfairly discriminated against, and are forced to endure excessive delivery surcharges from some traders, particularly online. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate in Government time on the practice of delivery surcharges in rural areas?
That is an important issue, which does not affect only the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The provision of services in rural areas is an issue in many parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We have had a number of debates in recent weeks about, for example, the provision of rural broadband. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, as I would assure colleagues on both sides of the House, that when the Government can help to improve the situation in rural areas, that will be a priority for us.
If the Leader of the House and his colleagues wish to visit Northern Ireland as well during their holidays, they are welcome to do so.
During the passage of the Scotland Bill, we have had two debates on English votes for English laws, and the possibility of other legislation on devolved matters in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Will the Leader of the House set out his vision, or the Government’s vision, for the Union during this Parliament, so that we know exactly what their priorities are, and can be assured that theirs is not a piecemeal approach?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and we will continue to discuss that issue. It is important for us to set out that vision for the Union. We want a strong Union with strong devolved Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We want fairness for the English. We want local communities and cities in England to have greater responsibility for managing their affairs. Ultimately, however, we want a strong Union in which we all work together.
I might add that the hon. Gentleman, in Northern Ireland, benefits from what I believe to be one of today’s finest and most popular tourist attractions, namely the Iron Throne.
Reference has already been made to the Chancellor’s proposed planning reforms, which will involve a near-presumption in favour of housing on brownfield land. Given that that is a substantial departure from the current plan-led system, in which such pieces of land are identified for other uses and particularly for employment use, will the Leader of the House first tell us how those measures will be brought to the House for discussion, and secondly what the time scales will be?
There are regular opportunities to discuss planning matters. We will be debating the Finance Bill next week, at which point such matters can be raised, and there will be Treasury questions and Department for Communities and Local Government questions when we return in September. It is important that we should move ahead with the development that we need, and that we should use sites that are sitting idle as the focal point for that development. That is the Government’s strategy. We do not want sites that could be used to meet urgent housing need to sit idle for years and years. That does happen in some places.
May we finally have a statement from a Health Minister on the ongoing chaos and delay in the process of approving drugs for those with ultra-orphan diseases? My six-year-old constituent, Sam Brown, and many other children are no longer getting the drugs they need, and they are deteriorating and will die early as a result. Can we please, finally, have a statement on this, before the recess?