The business after the recess will be as follows:
Monday 12 October—Debate on a motion relating to superfast broadband roll-out, followed by general debate on the political situation in Stormont. The subjects for these debates were recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 13 October—Second Reading of the Immigration Bill.
Wednesday 14 October—Second Reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords], followed by debate on a motion relating to the Charter for Budget Responsibility.
Thursday 15 October—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.
Friday 16 October—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 15 October will be:
Thursday 15 October—Debate on the ninth report from the Justice Committee on Prisons: planning and policies, followed by debate on the eighth report from the Justice Committee on the impact of changes to civil legal aid under part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
As you mentioned earlier, Mr Speaker, our Order Paper today pays tribute to four Members of the House who lost their lives in the service of their country a century ago. It is a sad fact that the first of them, Captain Harold Cawley, was not the only Cawley son to be killed—all three brothers died, two of them as Members of this House. Their shields stand here as a permanent reminder of the personal tragedy of war. I often think that we are not really worthy.
I thank the Leader of the House for his response. I pay enormously warm tribute to my irrepressible predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I think she will be a very difficult act to follow.
I gather it has been rumoured that I turned down the job of shadow Defence Secretary because I wanted this country to invade Russia. I can assure the House that I have absolutely no intention, either in that job or this job, of invading Russia. In fact, the way things are going I do not suppose we would be able to invade Alderney.
Besides, I could not honestly think of a better job than this one, up against the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I confess that I have been wondering how exactly I should deal with him. Some have suggested that I should be quite aggressive and angry—and that is just his Back Benchers. I have decided instead to smother him with my love. I might even take him on a bonding session in a B and B, though obviously it would have to be one that accepts same-sex couples, and I am not sure he would like that very much. Let us see if all of us, together, can warm the cockles of his heart and even raise a little smile—it is just peeking out there now, I see.
Last Friday we had a very moving debate on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill. Eighty-seven Members put in to speak—the highest number ever. On Monday we had the Trade Union Bill, on which 67 Members wanted to speak, and on Tuesday we had the statutory instrument implementing the single largest cash change announced in the Budget. In each of these debates, dozens of Members were unable to speak because of the lack of time. In the case of the statutory instrument, the measure will lead to millions of families losing over £1,000 a year as a result of cuts to tax credits and gaining £200 a year, at most, from the so-called national living wage. Yet the Leader of the House allowed a mere 90 minutes for that measure when he could have provided for a full day’s debate before we took the statutory instrument itself.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is a decent man—[Interruption.] Yes, I do, honestly. I know he was a member of the SDP, but then I was very briefly a Tory in my exceedingly misspent youth, so I believe there is much rejoicing in heaven when a single sinner repenteth.
In all seriousness, I ask the Leader of the House, given the circumstances, to make provision for fuller debates so that Back Benchers can have a real crack of the whip. He has announced today a single day for the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill, but we have no idea what is in it and I am not sure whether it has even been published yet. Maybe it was published an hour ago, but it has certainly not been possible for anybody to scrutinise it yet. We know one thing for certain: this is the most contested subject in British politics today. Our constituents would expect many Members to take part in that debate, not just a smattering. Would it not be far better to have a two-day Second Reading debate on that Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman were to provide that, he would be the darling of the House.
As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear on Tuesday, matters in Northern Ireland are at an extremely critical stage. Let me make one thing absolutely clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the shadow Secretary of State, made clear earlier this week: we stand four-square behind the principle of consent and a bipartisan approach to the peace process in Northern Ireland. We will do everything we can to help the Government ensure that the peace process remains on track. We are about to enter a three-week recess, though, so how will the Government ensure that all parties are kept abreast of developments? If necessary, will the Leader of the House, with your consent, Mr Speaker, recall the House?
The Leader of the House has said that he will bring his new proposals on English-only votes to the House before the end of October, but the House of Lords has now called for a Joint Committee to consider the implications of what we consider, and it clearly considers, to be half-baked plans to add four more stages to every Bill as it goes through this House. Can the Leader of the House recall any occasion when such a request from their lordships has ever been refused? Will he set up the Joint Committee as a matter of urgency and before we debate the matter in this House?
As you know, Mr Speaker, we have PQs, PMQs and WMSs, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House will allow us to set up MPAs—ministerial parliamentary apologies. Obviously, we would have to start with the Prime Minister, who could apologise to all the people of Yorkshire. The Leader of the House would obviously have to apologise to the people of Moss Side, about whom he was very rude a few years ago, and the Minister without Portfolio, the Mayor of London, would have to put in a daily—possibly an hourly—appearance.
The Prime Minister could also apologise for breaking his promise to the British people. In April he said he would not cut child tax credits. He said it on television programmes time and again, but this week he forced his Members to go through the Division Lobby to do precisely that. That is the kind of chicanery that undermines trust in politics. Surely the least the Prime Minister can do is to come to this House to apologise.
I hope that, between us, the Leader of the House and I, and all of us together, can help restore the Commons as a place of serious intellectual inquiry, with tough but fair scrutiny, proper respect for political difference and genuine open-minded debate. And maybe the Leader of the House will smile.
May I start by welcoming the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to his new position and echo his words of tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)? I said in the House last week that she brought a certain style to business questions. We will miss her. She has gone on to an interesting portfolio. I wished her all the very best last week and echo the hon. Gentleman’s words this week. I very much enjoyed debating with her.
The hon. Gentleman and I were born in the same year, share the same name and were elected to this House on the same day. Notwithstanding his comments, we both agree that his party’s defence policy would be a danger to the security of our nation.
I also echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Members’ shields in this place. Their names are rightly commemorated on these walls as having done great service for this country. They played a vital role in protecting its security. We should always remember and honour them. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to refer to them.
Equally, it is also right to pay tribute to the victims of terrorism whose names are commemorated on the walls of this House, and to state that we as politicians—every single person in this House should state this, although that is not always the case—stand united against terrorism. It diminishes this House when that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the debate on the statutory instrument two days ago. I actually agree with him. I think we should have had five days of debate on the changes that we discussed this week, and we did—as changes announced in the summer Budget, they were debated over five days, which is the right and proper way to deal with such issues. We take such issues seriously, and we provided the time to discuss them in the House.
The hon. Gentleman commented on the Immigration Bill, which has been published today. There will be extensive debate in this House, including in Committee and on Report, so I am absolutely satisfied that we will have adequate time for debate.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the things we have done as a party in government is to provide much more time for the Members of the House to secure debates of their choice in their own time. I have just announced two sessions organised by the Backbench Business Committee on subjects of concern to Members. It is right and proper that we, as responsible stewards of the House, make time available for individual Members to secure the debates that they want.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the situation in Northern Ireland, which is a matter of great concern to all of us. I send very best wishes, as I am sure do Members from both sides of the House, to the Northern Ireland Secretary in her efforts to make sure that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to all those involved in stabilising Northern Ireland. The progress we have made must not be lost, and I sincerely hope that we can reach a resolution. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we will update the House on Northern Ireland as and when necessary. This Government will always take the view that if there are matters of sufficient seriousness, we will seek a recall of the House. Clearly, however, those matters have to be of sufficient importance for a recall to be considered essential.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Joint Committee. I simply say that I have noted the House of Lords motion, which we have considered and are considering carefully. I would also say, however, that the Standing Orders of this House really are a matter for this House.
The hon. Gentleman made comments about broken promises. I simply remind him that the biggest broken promise of the past 10 years was the previous Government’s promise that we would have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. They tore up and ignored that promise, so I will take no lessons on broken promises from the Labour party.
I am slightly disappointed about today. Yesterday, we saw a new approach from the Labour party, with a public consultation about what questions should be asked in the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman sent an email yesterday, or a message via Twitter—
I do not know whether he sent an email as well, but he sent a tweet to all his supporters asking for suggestions about the questions that should be asked today. I have to say that we have heard none of those questions, so there must be a large number of disappointed people. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that they were censored. I must say that one or two tweets about him were very unparliamentary. He referred to past events. One or two of them he may not wish to remember, but they were certainly highlighted on that Twitter feed. Let me do the right thing, however, and give a response now to Graham from Glasgow, who asked, “Do I like salt and vinegar on my chips?” I am afraid I prefer mushy peas and gravy.
May we have a debate on the co-ordination and efficiency of roadworks undertaken by the utilities? At the moment, Stafford is often brought almost to a standstill by necessary work that is not being done in the most efficient and effective manner.
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. I know that the Secretary of State for Transport has taken a lot of interest in that subject. The issue involves not just that point, but the quality of repairs. We as a House should always say to utility companies that when they dig up a road, we expect them to do a decent job of repairing it. Nine times out of 10 when our roads develop potholes and problems with the surface, it is where a utility company has passed by and not done a decent enough job of repairing it. They have a duty to help to keep this country moving, but they do not always fulfil it.
I thank the Leader of the House for outlining the business for when we return from the recess. I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is one of the few constants in the great Labour revolution of 2015. My colleagues and I on the Scottish National party Benches look forward to working with him in getting rid of Trident as early as possible and in our resolute opposition to Tory austerity.
We are going on recess again today, and we are only just back! This recess is called the conference recess. Apparently, it is designed to accommodate the conferences of the three main UK parties, but we actually return in the week when the third party has its conference. We are disrupting the work of this House to accommodate eight Liberal Democrats. I get the sense that we could just about muddle through without the contributions of those hon. Members, if they felt that they had to be at their conference. May we look at the ridiculous conference recess and decide that we should instead be in this House, addressing our many key responsibilities? Let us get rid of this silly conference recess.
Tomorrow it will be one year since the independence referendum. I am surprised that there is to be nothing in this House to mark that defining moment in UK politics. That experience certainly changed Scotland, if not the UK, for ever. Perhaps when we come back, we could have a State of the Union debate. I and my hon. Friends are in the Union-ending business, but we seem to have been joined in that mission by the Conservative Government. They seem to be doing absolutely everything they can to throw us out the door—making us second-class Members in this House and rejecting any amendment to the Scotland Bill. Perhaps we could have such a debate, so that the Scottish public can observe the Conservatives in action. Just about 50% of them are for independence. If they could listen to what the Conservatives are suggesting, perhaps we could get it up to 60%.
You will have noted, Mr Speaker, that we objected to the setting up of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That is not because we have any issue with having a Committee on human rights, but we do have every issue with the membership of the Committee. Four Conservative and two Labour Members from this House will be joined by six Members from the House of cronors down at the bottom of the corridor. I do not know why, on such an important issue, there should be parity between that unelected House and this House. Within that Joint Committee we will find a Liberal, who comes from a party that has been overwhelmingly rejected, and an unelected Cross Bencher. Will the Leader of the House go away, have a think about the motion and ensure that the third party of the United Kingdom is included in what is such an important Joint Committee?
Lastly, as we go on the conference recess, the Leader of the House needs to promise that if there are any developments in the great international issues, such as the refugee crisis and the Conservatives’ desire to push us further towards conflict in Syria, he will recall this House, even if it might disrupt the eight Liberal Democrats.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that each of the party conferences could perfectly well take place over a weekend—something that some of us have long argued should happen. However, there will be a change of the kind that he wants only if there is consensus across the House.
I doubt very much that the attention of the nation will be on the Liberal Democrat conference next week. Indeed, I doubt very much that the attention of most Members of the House will be on the Liberal Democrat conference next week. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the job of Members also involves working in their constituencies. I suspect that next week, most Members of the House will be found not glued to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), but doing valuable work in their constituencies. I assume that the same will be true of Scottish National party Members, although they do have MSPs who do most of the work in their constituencies, so I can understand if they feel a bit under-occupied. Perhaps they will think of tuning in to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the anniversary tomorrow of the Scottish referendum. The Scottish National party still has not quite come to terms with the fact that the Unionists won the referendum and the people of Scotland chose to remain within the United Kingdom. Every week is a bit like groundhog day with the hon. Gentleman as he talks about the tension between England and Scotland and—rather nonsensically, because it is not true—about our apparent attempt to turn the SNP into second-class Members. Of course, if he read the detail, he would know that that is all total nonsense. They simply have not come to terms with the fact that the people of Scotland—very wisely, in my view—voted for the United Kingdom and not against it.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the composition of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the fact that it is balanced equally between the Commons and the Lords. I simply say to him that that is because it is a Joint Committee. It would hardly be a Joint Committee if all its members were Members of the House of Commons. I appreciate that he would like to change many parts of this place, but the workings of a Joint Committee have been in place for a long time, and they represent a balance between both Houses of Parliament. That is not something that we intend to change.
Finally, it has always been the policy of this Government, the coalition Government, and the Labour party in government, that if a sufficiently serious matter occurs, this House—subject to your consent, Mr Speaker—will be recalled. That has happened many times over the years since the hon. Gentleman and I were elected to this House, and it will not, and should not, change. The three weeks that lie ahead are an important part of our political calendar and give people time to do valuable work on behalf of their constituents. I know that is what most Members of the House will be doing.
There is a clear need for new investment in low-carbon technology, and the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is an essential element of that. Associated skills programmes are already running, and 25,000 jobs have been promised locally. Will the Leader of the House come to the House to update it about progress on this crucial power station?
It is essential that that project goes ahead, as its success will be an integral part of this country’s future energy strategy. We must ensure that we keep people’s houses lit and businesses running, and this morning we heard questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I assure my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State will keep the House regularly updated about progress on that important project.
Following the innovation of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I have a question from Jane from Liverpool on the election of police and crime commissioners. As the Leader of the House will know, those elections are due to be held in May 2016, but signals coming from the Cabinet Office suggest that they are likely to be delayed until June 2016. Will the Leader of the House explain why that might be the case?
I suspect that Jane from Liverpool has a vested interest in the answer to that question. I encourage George from Knowsley to tell Jane from Liverpool that she should not believe everything that she reads in the paper until the Government make an announcement. If any decisions are taken that would change the timetable of those elections, I am sure that Ministers will first inform the House.
May I declare a potential financial interest? Is the Leader of the House able to persuade the Health Secretary to make a statement—even a written statement—on future research and the potential use of the precautionary principle, following recent research that was initially aimed at variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease prions? Sadly, that research indicated the potential for proteins related to Alzheimer’s to be transferred on surgical instruments.
That is obviously a matter of great concern. I saw those reports, and I know that the Health Secretary will have taken a close interest in the issue. We have Health questions two days after we return from the conference recess, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise that matter. Alzheimer’s is a dreadful disease. I suspect that most of us in the House know family members or constituents who have suffered from it, and anything we can do to reduce its impact in the years ahead must be desirable.
Why did the Government abruptly cut the ESOL plus—English for speakers of other languages—mandation fund? That has put in jeopardy those who want to get jobs and learn English, as well as providers such as Walsall adult community college. May we have an urgent statement on restoring that fund, or at least a reply to my letter from the Minister?
I understand the concern and we seek to do everything we can to further education in this country. Our colleges do a great job for many of those who sought refuge in this country, and they help them to develop English language skills. I will ensure that the Minister of State for Skills is aware of the hon. Lady’s concern, and that he replies to her letter as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on coastal erosion? Although this is not a new phenomenon, it is occurring in East Yorkshire at an alarming rate. I accept that defending the coastline is not always economically viable, but the local authority needs to have sufficient resources to take whatever other action is appropriate, so it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, as ever, in defence of his constituency. Coastal erosion has a real impact on many constituencies. The last thing we would want is to see his constituency disappear into the sea. I commend him, because I know that he has secured a visit from the Minister with responsibility for this matter. I hope that that leads to a dialogue that will improve the situation in his constituency.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us advance notice of the business for 12 October, which is Backbench Business Committee-nominated business—debates on superfast broadband rollout and on the political situation in Northern Ireland. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that following the misunderstanding last week, the Backbench Business Committee is reverting to meeting on Tuesday afternoons. That will help in the communication of information to us. During the recess the Committee will still be open for business and will welcome bids from right hon. and hon. Members.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work and I am glad we have a good process going forward. I pay tribute to him for the work that he is already doing. I was very pleased by the selection of the situation in Northern Ireland for debate immediately after the recess. As the Government have given control of such a large block of time to both the Backbench Business Committee and the Opposition parties, there are times when, on a subject on which we would like to have a debate, the Backbench Business Committee does the job and picks that subject, which makes the Government’s job easier. Also, it makes sure that issues of vital importance to the House are brought before it at an early opportunity.
This year we celebrate 100 years since the Women’s Institute was formed. Yesterday was 100 years to the day that the first branch began. May we have a debate to celebrate the work of the WI and to recognise its valuable contribution to this country?
I echo my hon. Friend’s appropriate words of tribute to the WI. It not only plays an important role in voluntary work in my constituency, in her constituency and in the constituencies of Members across this House, but it played a vital role in wartime in this country—we talked about wartime earlier. The WI’s work is immensely impressive. On one or two occasions it even played a role in the political process. Those of us on the Conservative Benches remember warmly the meeting between a recent Labour Prime Minister and a group of WI delegates, which will remain etched on our memories. I say to every single member of the WI, “Thank you for what you do.” We have just had a conversation about the Backbench Business Committee. The work of the WI could be a topic that the House chooses to debate in recognition of that 100 years.
On Monday we had an important debate about the future of trade unions. In that debate it came to light that the vast majority of recent disputes occurred in the public sector because mayors and Ministers refused to negotiate. As a matter of urgency, may we have a further debate about the responsibilities of Ministers in disputes, and make sure that this happens before the Trade Union Bill progresses into Committee?
The hon. Lady and I might have different views about responsibility for recent disputes. Ministers become involved in discussions with unions when it is necessary to do so, but it is often better for those discussions to take place between the public officials responsible for those areas and the workforces who work for them, without politicians getting in the way of that discussion. It is always a matter of judgment as to what happens. However, I have little sympathy with those who argue in favour of a minority of trade union officials, who are often dominated by people with extreme views, of which we have seen quite a lot in recent months, causing massive disruption and chaos in the lives of the working people of this country in a way that is wholly inappropriate.
May we have a debate on the forthcoming plastic bag charge, which is not only yet another triumph for the nanny state, but absolutely ridiculous in the sense that it refers to single-use plastic bags and fails to take into account the fact that many people already re-use their plastic bags? According to the TaxPayers Alliance, it will cost residents £1.5 billion over the next 10 years. Tesco has already announced that it is going to charge 40p for every home delivery, even if people use only one or two bags. This Government should be on the side of hard-working people trying to bring down the cost of living, not unnecessarily increasing it.
I know my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this issue. Normally, he and I find ourselves with common views, but I am not sure I am entirely of the same view as him in that I recognise the very real impact on our environment of the number of disposable plastic bags that get into our ecosystem. My hon. Friends in the Department handling the charge will have heard his comments. It is absolutely important that we get this right, and I will make sure his concerns are passed to them. He will, of course, be able to use the usual methods to bring forward a debate, if he chooses to do so.
I am delighted that repetition is welcomed in this House. On 2 July, the Leader of the House told us that independent assessments have shown that the Scotland Bill is meeting the Smith commission recommendations. I have asked written questions, I have asked oral questions and, finally, I have resorted to writing a letter, but so far I have received only fluffy responses. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on whether Ministers of this Government should be able to back assertions made in the Chamber with fact?
I quote from a press release issued by the Law Society of Scotland:
“Following publication of the Scotland Bill today at Westminster, Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: ‘We welcome the introduction of the Scotland Bill into the House of Commons. It reflects the Smith Commission agreement and provides for further powers across a range of areas for the Scottish Parliament.’”
Last week, as my right hon. Friend may know, I launched a campaign to save the hedgehog. May we please have a debate on how we can save the hedgehog population and the role that badgers play in their decline?
This is one of the issues that tends to be avoided by those who oppose badger culls. There is a clear causal link in parts of the country between the growing number of badgers and the diminution in the number of hedgehogs. I am with my hon. Friend on this. I used to have hedgehogs in my garden when I was a child. The disappearance of hedgehogs in many parts of this country is a crying shame. We should do everything we can to help restore their population. Controlling the number of badgers seems to me to be a very good way of doing so.
May we debate Ministers meddling with the BBC? The Culture Secretary has just announced that the BBC’s “10 o’clock News” should not be at 10 o’clock. Would a debate about ministerial meddling not allow us to explore why a party that once was a supporter of public broadcasting and an independent BBC has been reduced to its Ministers just mouthing the mantras of Murdoch?
We strongly support the existence of public service broadcasting in this country, but it is also important that the BBC plays the right role in our society, leaves space for local media and competes fairly with commercial broadcasters. We want a fair environment for broadcasting, as well as an accurate and authoritative environment for broadcasting.
Many of my constituents are affected by poor mobile phone signals, on top of often very slow broadband. Since the summer, there has been a particular issue for the residents of Yateley who use O2. May we have a statement on what the Government are doing to hold mobile phone operators and broadband providers to account where customers are paying for a service but not receiving it?
I am sure my hon. Friend’s comments will be greeted with a degree of concern and interest by those involved. We have, of course, secured a very large investment programme in the spread of superfast broadband. That is absolutely right and proper, and work is taking place in many parts of the country. There is an opportunity to discuss this matter immediately after the recess in a Backbench Business debate on precisely the subject of superfast broadband. I encourage my hon. Friend to bring up this point at that debate. Ministers will, I am sure, listen very carefully.
May I again urge the Leader of the House to ask the Attorney General to come to the House to explain the legal advice that led to a fundamental departure in UK policy, when two British nationals were targeted and killed by an RAF drone attack in Raqqa? This is particularly important now, given that in the past few days the explanation of the legal grounds for that move have become ever more murky.
The Prime Minister has explained in detail to the House the reasons for his decisions, and he will provide more information in confidence, as is normal, to the new Chairman and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It has always been customary practice when either party has been in power, and in the legal world, that legal advice is not published but a matter of privilege between a lawyer and a client. That is how Governments have always operated and how they will continue to operate. The difference in this place is that both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General are regularly before the House for scrutiny, and the hon. Lady will have opportunities to put questions to them.
My right hon. Friend will remember that I have asked for statements about the EU renegotiation. I am keen that the House should have the opportunity to understand that the Government are working energetically and wholeheartedly towards a fundamentally different relationship with the EU. We need to guard against any scurrilous suggestion that the Government might be heading towards some sort of essay crisis, so may I ask him again for a series of statements to help the House understand the EU renegotiation, which we all hope will lead to a fundamentally different relationship?
My hon. Friend and I agree that the status quo in our relationship with the EU is not in our national interest. It is essential that we pursue this renegotiation, put the new deal to the country and give it a choice between staying in and leaving the EU, and of course the Government are bringing forward that choice in a way that never happened under the previous Government. I absolutely understand his concerns, and he knows I believe radical change is necessary. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will be in the House regularly over the autumn to take questions from colleagues about what is happening, and I know my hon. Friend will be here to ask such questions. I know that many in the House are determined to see change. The interesting question is where the Leader of the Opposition stands. I have heard mixed messages this week
If 52,500 people were dying each year in road traffic accidents, the Government would have to respond to the public outcry and act. Last week, the Government revealed that 52,500 people were dying from air pollution every year in this country. The Supreme Court has found that the Government’s failure to prepare a plan to deal with that is illegal, and the UK now faces infraction fines. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate, in Government time, to set out the Government’s proposals to deal with this damage to the health of the British population?
There will be plenty of opportunities to question Ministers about this issue. It is a matter that the Government take seriously, but of course it is a challenge for any Government to deliver dramatic change to our society overnight. Ministers are working carefully on ways to improve the situation, and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to call a Back-Bench debate, either here or in Westminster Hall, bring a Minister to the House, and ask questions at one of the monthly Question Times.
On 15 July, the Foreign Secretary told the House that as part of the nuclear deal with Iran the International Atomic Energy Agency would agree a road map and a set of activities that need to be completed before sanctions can be lifted. He said that it would take about six months. Will the Leader of the House ask him to come to the House before Christmas to update us on progress?
I will certainly pass that request to the Foreign Secretary. We all take the situation in Iran very seriously, and we hope that the agreement reached will improve it. It was probably better than the alternative, even though many colleagues have expressed concerns about our ability to see it through. In the Government’s view, it is the best available option. We must be careful to ensure that the agreement is adhered to, while recognising that if the Iranians step back from where they have been, we should seek to improve our relations with them.
Developing the skills of local people in the renewables industry is vital to the economic future of the Humber area, so may we have an update statement from the Government about their proposals, announced a year ago, to establish a national wind college there and a timetable for its being established?
Network Rail is considering enhancements to the line between Yeovil and Exeter. If the improvements could be extended to Salisbury, it would enhance the service for commuters and local businesses. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the rail Minister on these improvements so that we can consider their scope?
I will certainly make sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is made aware of my hon. Friend’s point. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the potential for improvements if the route is extended to Salisbury. I will make sure that the Department for Transport gives the proposal due consideration. He is also right that the route has always been much slicker up to Salisbury and that improvements beyond Salisbury will be very welcome. I quite understand why my hon. Friend wants to see the whole route rather than part of it improved.
During a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday this week, the Minister for Civil Society, the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), appeared to confirm that after Scottish Government Ministers have had private meetings with overseas Governments it is common practice for Scotland Office civil servants to ask the embassies of those Governments for an account of their private conversations—without telling the Scottish Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be brought here in person—not by proxy—to explain why his civil servants are routinely spying on our Government?
I do not think anyone is routinely spying on the Scottish Government. The Scottish First Minister denied emphatically that she had indicated that she wanted to see the current Prime Minister back in No. 10 Downing Street, and we absolutely take her word on that, although I would pay tribute to her if that was her view because it is quite clearly in the interests of the country. The Scottish Secretary will be here after the recess to take questions, and the hon. Lady will have the opportunity to put her point to him.
I have a question from Terry who lives in Whalley, but there could be a number of questions on the abuses of private car park operators. They include inflexibility when somebody wrongly enters just one character of their car registration, eye-watering fines that bear no relationship to the fees paid and threatening letters from enforcement agents who act like a paramilitary wing of the parking industry. They are not going to regulate themselves, so may we have a statement from a Minister with a view to reining in these abuses?
We see some extraordinary examples of abuse by some operators, although not all—there are good firms out there but there are, equally, bad firms. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think all Members will have received legitimate complaints from our constituents. I will make sure that the Transport Secretary is made aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I would also encourage him—I know he always would anyway—to raise the issue again when we have Transport questions in October.
In many respects, I am delighted that the new Labour leader and those who supported him are so dismissive of the traditions of this country. The reason I am delighted is that it means the people of this country who value those traditions, value our monarch and value our history will vote comprehensively to reject their offering in 2020.
Will the Leader of the House call on the Education Secretary to come to this House as soon as possible to make an important statement on the improvement of educational standards, so that all young people in our schools and indeed any adult learners who need help can learn the words of our national anthem?
It is now a matter of national priority. A few people might well be tested about knowing the words of the second and third verse of the national anthem, but I think most people would regard not knowing the first verse as a little disappointing, not least if that person happens to be the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition—perhaps not that loyal.
Last week the Treasury decided that unrestored Scottish mines were purely a devolved matter. That seems to be further proof that we are neither “better together” nor seeing any sign of the “broad shoulders” of the United Kingdom that we were promised a year ago. Will the Leader of the House provide for a debate that would allow restoration options to be discussed and explored more fully, as promised in the Budget last March?
We are delivering substantial changes for Scotland. A devolution package is in train that will transform the powers of the Scottish Government. Discussions are taking place constantly between Ministers and officials here and Ministers and officials in Edinburgh, and the discussions will continue.
For several years I have been raising the issue of discrimination against the lettori, foreign lecturers in Italian universities. Despite the best efforts of consecutive United Kingdom Governments and our ambassadors in Rome, the issue remains unresolved. Next month, the Pontignano conference will bring UK and Italian officials together. May we have a statement from the Government on what we can do to ensure that this 35-year injustice is brought to an end immediately?
Like other Members, I have constituents who are affected by birth defects resulting from the use of hormone pregnancy tests in the 1960s and 1970s. Following a Backbench Business debate some 10 months ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences agreed to set up an expert panel of inquiry, which will sit for the first time on 14 October. It now appears that the panel’s terms of reference are at variance with what was promised in the Chamber. Will the Minister come to the House as soon as possible after the recess to make a statement explaining why?
I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences takes that issue seriously, but a number of very difficult inherited historical problems have arisen from treatments that have gone wrong and treatments that have not been proved to be right for the future, and the treatment that the hon. Gentleman has raised is clearly one of those. I will ensure that his concern is drawn to my hon. Friend’s attention, and I will ask my hon. Friend to respond to him directly and to the House.
One in four people experiences a mental health problem during his or her lifetime. I have introduced a Bill to require health commissioners to ensure that they take full account of mental health needs when commissioning health services, and I have a forthcoming ten-minute rule Bill on perinatal mental illness. Both Bills are supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. May we have an urgent debate on the support that has been given, and the support that is needed, for people suffering from mental health conditions?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I hope that his ten-minute Bill will be passed, and will create an opportunity for debate about the issue of mental health. Many Members in all parts of the House take the issue enormously seriously, but it has for too long been the Cinderella of the health service. I am delighted that the new NHS constitution places it on an equal footing with other healthcare challenges, and that this year’s Budget increased the funds to be channelled through local organisations for the treatment of mental health problems. There is a great deal of work still to be done, but it seems to me that we are starting to move in the right direction.
Will the Leader of the House revisit the question of whether we can have, in Government time, a full day’s debate on the recent changes in tax credits, following Tuesday’s wholly inadequate 90-minute debate? According to a detailed briefing issued by the House of Commons Library in the last few days, people earning just over £13,000 will lose £1,500 from their net incomes next year. We must debate these measures, and, in particular, debate the social consequences for families up and down the country who will be pushed into making difficult decisions on the basis of the cuts that will be made in their budgets.
As I said earlier, we have had five and a half days of debate on this matter. It was included in the summer Budget, and it was voted on as part of the Budget resolutions. The opportunity to vote was there at that point, and the opportunity to vote was there this week. Indeed, there was a further debate this week.
I appreciate that Scottish National party Members do not agree with this measure, but they need to understand that we in the Government have had to make some immensely difficult decisions, many of which we would rather not have had to make but were forced to make because of the appalling public finance position that we inherited in 2010, and they need to understand the task that still lies ahead of us. We have to complete the job of eliminating the deficit and give this country security for the future, because that is the only way in which we can create prosperity, security and good employment for people throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
May we please have a statement on what preparations the Government are making in the event that the people of the United Kingdom should vote to leave the European Union? Answers to my recent questions suggest that little, if anything, is being done across Government to prepare for that eventuality, and a statement would give the House the opportunity to probe whether that amounted to dangerous complacency or simply a lack of prudent planning.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I remind him that at the moment we have not even got Royal Assent for the European Union Referendum Bill, although I am confident that we will secure it. If the country does vote to leave the European Union, a process will take place beyond that. I understand his concerns; they are shared by many Members of the House. He knows my view, which is that we need a massive change in our relationship with the EU and that maintaining the status quo is simply not an option. However, the renegotiation process is of paramount importance and the Prime Minister has been absolutely right to embark on it. He was also absolutely right to promise a referendum offering a choice between a new kind of relationship with the EU and leaving it, rather than maintaining the status quo, which I firmly believe is not in the national interest.
May we have a debate on the management of trunk roads in England? Earlier this week, there was a serious accident on the busy A628 in Hollingworth in my constituency. Pedestrian crossings are a lifeline for people in that area to get to schools and local shops. It is always difficult when national trunk roads have to pass through residential areas, but there is a strong feeling in my area that traffic calming and pedestrian visibility are not being given sufficient attention at the moment.
This is an important issue. We are lucky to have some of the safest roads in Europe, but as we have seen from recent research, single carriageway trunk roads remain the most dangerous in our society and the ones on which motorists are most likely to have a serious accident. Most of those trunk roads are now the responsibility of local authorities, and the power of central Government to dictate what happens to them is limited. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of the opportunities available to him after the recess to make the Department for Transport aware of his concerns so that it can make them known when it deals with his local authority. I would also encourage him to talk to his local authority about that particular area, because he as a constituency MP can make a difference in securing improvements.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I should like to begin by placing on record my personal tribute to the former Member for St Austell, Mr Agar-Robartes, whose plaque is on the wall and who, as you said earlier, was killed in action 100 years ago this month.
Moving on to slightly more mundane matters, I should like to raise the question of public conveniences. There is no statutory requirement on local authorities to provide them, but they are considered an essential service by many residents. The Liberal Democrat-led council in Cornwall is closing many of our public toilets. Indeed, it has withdrawn funding for all of them. Many residents are very concerned about this, particularly as Cornwall is such an important area for tourists as well as having a substantial elderly population. May we have a debate on the importance of public conveniences to our local communities?
I suppose the only explanation for this is that, having been flushed down the pan politically, the Liberal Democrats have decided to do the same to the public conveniences of Cornwall. I am sure they will continue to pay the political price for doing so.
On 16 July, the Leader of the House gave me some helpful advice on how I might track down the elusive Secretary of State for Scotland so as to get a direct answer to the question of whether he was on the circulation list for the infamous “Frenchgate” memo. Since then, like a good obedient Back Bencher, I have followed the Leader of the House’s advice and pursued the matter. I asked an oral question in the Chamber, but it was not answered. I put a written question to the Prime Minister but that was not answered either. In a Westminster Hall debate on a Scotland Office answering day, not only did the Secretary of State not answer my question; he did not turn up. A Cabinet Office Minister turned up instead, but he did not answer it, either. Will the Leader of the House now find 30 seconds of parliamentary time in which to get the Secretary of State for Scotland in here to give a simply yes/no answer to the question of whether he was on the circulation list for that memo?
The Leader of the House will be aware that many cheap home energy deals will shortly come to an end and that customers potentially face significant increases in their domestic bills. May we have a debate on what additional protections can be put in place to protect customers from such increases?
This is going to be a very real issue in the weeks and months ahead. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that prices go up very quickly and come down very slowly. Given the big falls in the oil price, it is surprising that falls have not occurred more rapidly. It does not seem to me that there is an obvious case now for pushing prices up heavily again. This profoundly affects consumers, especially the elderly, and I am not convinced that the energy companies respond to the very real needs of the elderly in their pricing, and that should change.
The hon. Gentleman is very assiduous in making this point. I remind him that he can vote on education in my constituency but not his own. That is an imbalance in the devolution settlement. We are not planning to take away from him the right to vote in any Division he currently takes part in. We are simply saying that if a Government covering the United Kingdom seek to impose on England—and indeed on England and Wales, because this is not simply about England—something that MPs in that part of the country oppose, they should have a comparable say in whether it happens. That is all we are suggesting.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register of interests. The Leader of the House will be aware of the considerable impact of low milk prices on dairy farmers in Eddisbury. I am aware that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made a written statement on EU talks, but given the importance of the talks to dairy farmers throughout the UK will the Leader of the House schedule a debate?
There is clearly a very real issue for our dairy industry, and our farming industry is strategically important not simply for feeding the nation but for the protection of our countryside and environment. I do understand the very real issues in constituencies such as Eddisbury, which I know well, and I say to my hon. Friend that I know her concerns are in the in-tray of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will make sure her comments today are passed on to it.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement on when he is willing to visit my constituency, which he so kindly offered to do in the Procedure Committee? My constituents are extremely excited at the prospect and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say today when he might be available to visit and discuss EVEL—English votes for English laws.
We have a big event next May, and it is very much my hope that a Conservative MSP will represent the hon. Lady’s constituency after the elections. It is therefore indeed my intention between now and next May to spend some time visiting Scotland, but not necessarily with a purpose she will find terribly congenial. I am very happy to talk to her constituents, but mostly to get them to vote Conservative.
I welcome the new shadow Leader to his post. He made a good point about lack of time for debate. It is very frustrating for Back Benchers when we are waiting to speak and the time limit has to be reduced. That point has also been made by SNP Members. Surely, in this new Parliament, we should look again at having a business of the House committee. It would not be the Government deciding timing; it would be an independent committee, and Members would at least be satisfied that their concerns were being looked at. May we have a motion on the Order Paper creating a business of the House committee and allowing a free vote by MPs to see whether the will of Parliament is for such a committee?
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this issue. There will shortly be a debate on it, but I simply say to him that more than half the allocated time in this House is already beyond the control of Government—the Opposition days, the private Members’ Bill days, and Backbench Business Committee days. We already allocate more time than most other Parliaments to the will of Parliament, but the Government also have to timetable and get through their own business.
Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI made an historic address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. It was the first state visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom, and of course it began with a joyful reception in Edinburgh and a mass in Glasgow. Many great occasions of state are commemorated with plaques on the floor of Westminster Hall. Can the Leader of the House advise on the process for deciding on the installation of such plaques and the appropriate route for making representations to those responsible?
Last week, the Grimsby institute of further and higher education did an excellent job in hosting the World Seafood Congress, a very prestigious event that was attracted to our area. Many jobs in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area are dependent on the seafood industry. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate to consider the challenges and opportunities the industry faces?
It all sounds a bit fishy to me! I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for being a first-rate representative of his area, and I know how important that industry is to him. It is good to see the local authorities and the local Members of Parliament working to support that industry. I know that my ministerial colleagues would also share the view that this is something we would want to champion and support.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill will be held on the Tuesday after the conference recess. Given that the Bill is going to be published only in the next hour, does he really think he has given Members of this House enough time to analyse and consider the consequences of such important legislation?
The Scottish National party was complaining earlier that the recess was lying ahead and there was not enough focus on important work during that time. SNP Members have three weeks to read the Bill, give it due consideration and bring forward the amendments that they want to table after the recess. I would therefore hope that they could use that time wisely and fruitfully.
The Government’s road investment strategy was firmly welcomed by residents in east Northamptonshire. It committed not only to improve the Chowns Mill roundabout, but to dual the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister setting out the progress against that strategy at this point in time?
I know how important these investments are to the area my hon. Friend represents, and I will certainly ask the Transport Secretary to give him an update. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being so effective in representing Corby, but of course these improvements could have happened only as a result of this Government’s policy of getting our economy back on to the straight and narrow. Corby is seeing the benefits of that.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 455?
[That this House notes that 26 September 2015 marks the centenary of the death of Keir Hardie, the first independent representative of working people to be elected to this Parliament, a consistent champion of Scottish Home Rule and votes for women, and an unswerving opponent of British involvement in the First World War; further notes Hardie’s seminal contribution to democratic politics, as founder of the Scottish Labour Party (1888), the Independent Labour Party (1893) and the Labour Representation Committee (1900); notes his commitment to women’s suffrage, trades union rights, free schooling, state pensions, Indian self-rule and the end to racial segregation in South Africa, long before these social reforms were attained; notes Hardie’s principled opposition to British participation in the First World War and regrets that his rejection of jingoism and mass slaughter led to Parliament paying no public tributes to this great democrat, on his untimely death at the age of 59; and expresses the hope that Hardie's lifelong support for Scottish Home Rule, universal social justice and equal rights for women will yet bear fruit.]
May I remind the Leader of the House of Keir Hardie’s commitments, detailed above, which of course included a commitment to Scottish home rule?
One thing that makes this House strong is that over the decades and the centuries people have come here who have been passionate democrats with profound and determined ideas, to whom, although individually we may disagree with them, we would pay tribute for the contribution they have made to this country. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s view: Keir Hardie was one of the great figures of our political history. He was the pathfinder of the Labour movement, and even though I disagree with many of the policies that his successors have sought to bring before this House, I would say, none the less, that he made an important contribution, as did many others in our past. We should always champion them.
Many of my constituents will welcome the recent changes to the definition of “a Traveller” within the planning system, which will remove the requirements on local authorities to provide caravan pitches for those already settled in bricks and mortar housing. As such, may we have a debate on this new guidance, to reinforce the need for greater fairness in our planning system for both the settled and the Traveller communities?
That is a really important point. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made that same point a little while back, which led to me receiving a number of messages and letters from people in Traveller communities saying that this was not right. I take a simple view on this. If a Traveller hopes to have beneficial arrangements in the planning laws but does not intend to travel, most people in this country would say that that is simply not right. We cannot have people who intend to live in a fixed abode having their own particular arrangements within our planning laws. Our laws should apply equally to every single person in this country regardless of how they live their lives. My view is straightforward. If a person is not travelling, they cannot claim to be a Traveller within our planning system and have special arrangements. I hope that this new Government policy will deal with this issue, which I know frustrates many constituents.
I have been contacted by my constituent Maureen from Fallin who has asked me why this Government have so manifestly failed to live up to the vow that they and other parties made one year ago this week. Can we have a debate to discuss the failure of the Government to deliver on the vow?
If I was a Scottish National MP and I had come to Westminster with a determination to achieve independence for Scotland, I would seek to foment division between England and Scotland. I absolutely understand where that party is coming from, but it does not mean that this Government have gone back on their promises in the vow. We are delivering the Smith commission findings in the Scotland Bill as we promised.
The number of refused applications made by employers for a sponsor licence to employ non-EU workers has more than doubled since 2010. One of my constituents has had their licence removed for fatuous reasons. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary as to whether hidden targets regimes are in operation, which is damaging businesses across the country?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is right and proper that we should seek to tackle abuses in the immigration system. Such abuses clearly exist and the Home Office is right to take action. At the same time, he is also right that it has to do so with great caution to ensure that it gets it right. There will be an opportunity at Home Office questions, straight after the recess, for him to raise such issues directly with the Home Secretary. I am absolutely behind her in what she is seeking to do, which is to manage our immigration system properly, but of course we must get the detail of it right.