The business for the week commencing 19 October will be as follows:
Monday 19 October—Second Reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords]. I also expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the European Council.
Tuesday 20 October—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on tax credits on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 21 October—Consideration in Committee of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords] (day 1).
Thursday 22 October—A motion to approve standing orders relating to English votes for English laws.
Friday 23 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 26 October will include:
Monday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
I should also like to inform the House about some debates to be held in Westminster Hall.
Monday 19 October—Debate on an e-petition relating to immigration.
Tuesday 20 October—Debate on the availability of cancer drugs.
Thursday 22 October—General debate on the conflict in Yemen, followed by a debate on fire safety measures in school buildings.
Monday 26 October—Debate on an e-petition relating to term-time leave from school for holidays.
As you heard, Mr Speaker, I announced that next Thursday we will be debating and voting on the Government’s proposals to allow for English votes for English laws. I should just inform right hon. and hon. Members that I have this morning published updated proposals for changes to the Standing Orders, reflecting the discussions and feedback I have had since July, as well as the letter I received from the Procedure Committee in September, which is published on its website. The revisions are clearly indicated in the new document. I have published these proposals today to give the House further time to consider them before the debate. I am also conscious that the Procedure Committee is due to report on Monday, and I will not be tabling the final proposed Standing Order changes until I have read that report and been able to make any final changes before we table them, probably on Monday night.
We should first pay tribute to two great men who have died since the last business questions: Denis Healey, the greatest Prime Minister this country never had, a man who showed that politicians need never be automata; and Geoffrey Howe, a man I had the great honour to know closely because of all the campaigning work we did together to keep Britain at the heart of Europe. As Robin Cook once quipped, because Geoffrey had been knighted and made a peer, and his lovely wife Elspeth had been made a Baroness, she was “once, twice, three times a lady”. That is a tribute to Robin Cook, too.
Deep in the bowels of the parliamentary estate lies a small, sweaty airless room where people go to spin. It is in the gym, and it is called the John Bercow spin studio! I have never seen the Leader of the House in the gym—I do not suppose anybody has—but it seems clear that his colleagues have been spending a great deal of time in the spin studio.
When the Prime Minister was asked yesterday when exactly he knew about Lord Ashcroft’s tax status, he started spinning away like a top, stuck his fingers in his ears and simply refused to answer. It got even worse later in the day when his official spokesman was asked precisely the same question 11 times—yes, 11 times—but answer came there none. Silence; tumbleweed. Can the Leader of the House therefore tell us when precisely the Prime Minister learned about Lord Ashcroft’s tax status? Was it as the Prime Minister declared in this House, or was it as Lord Ashcroft declared in his book? I know that the Leader of the House does not like books—for prisoners or anybody else—but there we are.
One might have thought that it was perfectly reasonable to ask the British Minister with responsibility for Syrian refugees how many Syrian refugees had come to Britain. One might have thought that it was the one thing that that Minister would know, but when he was asked this simple question seven times—yes, seven times—by the Home Affairs Select Committee, he refused to answer point blank. He even maintained that he knew the answer, but just did not want to tell anyone—like an eight-year-old hiding his homework from his older sister. So can the Leader of the House now tell us how many Syrian refugees have come to Britain?
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when we will have a proper debate on Syria? The country, to be honest, is crying out for leadership on this issue. The Prime Minister seems to think that a consensus will miraculously develop on what the UK’s response should be. We have heard press briefing after press briefing, but millions of people have been displaced, thousands have lost their lives—thanks to Putin, Assad and ISIL—and all the while, the UK’s diplomatic, humanitarian and military policy on Syria remains a blank page. So when will the Government come to the House with a proper plan of action on Syria?
Mr Speaker, it is clear that the Government’s
“changes to tax credits have been somewhat under-scrutinised. The changes are both eye-wateringly painful to those affected, but also reverse a key policy platform of the last five years—namely, making work pay.”
Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), a Conservative Member, and he is absolutely right. Millions of working people are terrified of what will happen to their family finances next year. About 3.2 million families will be hit. A two-parent family with one adult working full time and the other doing 20 hours a week on the minimum wage will get a £1,100 annual pay rise, but even after that, will be £1,800 worse off and out of pocket. We all know that the Government are going to back down in the end on this issue, so will they just get a move on? Will the Leader of the House be the champion of this House and fight for a change on the tax credits cuts.
Yesterday, the Government were quite exceptionally defeated in the Lords on a motion condemning the mandatory court charges that were introduced by the right hon. Gentleman when he was the Injustice—sorry, Justice Secretary. One magistrate has written to me to say that because of these mandatory charges, many innocent people are pleading guilty. He says that he recently had to impose—he had to, because it is mandatory on the magistrates—the court charge of £150 on a homeless man who had stolen a £1.90 sandwich from Sainsbury’s. That is not the rule of law; it is cruel injustice.
The new Justice Secretary has already overturned the Leader of the House’s ban on books for prisoners. He has put a halt on the right hon. Gentleman’s plan to build Saudi Arabia’s jails and execution centres, and we read in the press today that the new Justice Secretary is now going to beat a retreat on these cruel mandatory court charges. Just in case the Leader of the House is to be completely airbrushed from history, can we have a debate on his legacy as former Justice Secretary? It need not be a very long debate.
The Leader of the House has announced that we will debate his EVEL—English votes for English laws—proposals next Thursday. I still believe that they are a dog’s breakfast. However, during the last session of business questions I asked the Leader of the House whether he had any intention of replying to the Lords message asking for a Joint Committee to be set up before the measures were voted on. It is exceptional for the House of Commons not to reply to such a message from their lordships. The Leader of the House chose not to reply, either to me in the House or to their lordships subsequently.
I know the right hon. Gentleman’s old school, the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe, extremely well. When I was curate of the parish church I used to prepare the boys for confirmation at that school, so I know that they are taught good manners. Is it not time that the Leader of the House remembered his old RGS High Wycombe school lessons, and gave the Members of the House of Lords a proper response? Should he not reply, “Yes, we will not implement these changes until a Joint Committee of both Houses has been set up”?
Let me say finally that I am sure the whole House—every single Member—will want to wish Wales, Scotland and Ireland well in the rugby world cup this weekend, but especially Wales.
Let me begin by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s words about Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. They were two towering figures in the House, and they made a massive contribution to the national life of the country. They will be sorely missed by their families, their former colleagues, and all parliamentarians.
Let me also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman. Last week, he was responsible for ensuring that three new plaques were placed on the wall of the Chamber for three Members who died in the first world war. It is absolutely appropriate that we remember parliamentarians who have given their lives in the interests of this country, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for doing that.
I hope the House will also remember that a service is being held in the chapel today, and I hope that, straight after business questions, you and I will go down there together, Mr Speaker. The service is being held to celebrate the life of Ian Gow, who, rightly, has a shield at the end of the Chamber—another man who gave his life in the service of this country. We remember him today as well.
The hon. Gentleman could perhaps be described as a beacon of stability in his party this week, and I commend him for that. He is a ship that is sailing steadily forward in a party that otherwise seems to be slightly on the chaotic side. Yesterday the shadow Chancellor announced five times his embarrassment at the U-turn that we had experienced. Moreover, during an interview on Channel 4 News—I do not know whether you saw it, Mr Speaker—the shadow City Minister first admitted that he had no idea what the deficit was, and then, after prolonged questioning, said that he had no idea when, or indeed whether, he had been able to go to the City. In fact, he had not been there at all.
The hon. Gentleman talked about spin, and about the John Bercow spin studio. I am afraid that, actually, the spin lessons in the House of Commons came from the Labour party when it was in government. The present Government have set out a clear plan, and this week we are implementing it. The hon. Gentleman talked about English votes for English laws. English votes for English laws was a manifesto commitment which we are implementing. Yesterday we debated devolution measures for England and Wales, a manifesto commitment which we are implementing. On Tuesday we debated the Immigration Bill, a manifesto commitment which we are implementing. So I will take no lessons from the Labour party about spin. This is a Government who are delivering what they promised.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Syria. We all take the situation in Syria enormously seriously. It is tragic and distressing beyond belief to see a country in such a state of chaos and ruins, and to see the human cost. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that we debated the subject for several days in September, and we will undoubtedly return to it when we need to. It is a matter that will be constantly in the minds of Ministers and the House, and we will continue to debate and discuss it at the appropriate moments.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the availability of time for a debate on tax credits. Again, I remind him that we had five days of debate on the subject following the summer Budget in July. He asked about English votes and the Lords message. He will have to wait for the debate next week, when I shall set out exactly how we plan to respond to all the issues that have been raised during the last few weeks and months.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about my legacy as Justice Secretary. I remind him that when the Labour party was in power—for 13 long years—if you had been in prison for less than 12 months, when you left you walked out of the door of that prison with £46 in your pocket and nothing else: no support, no guidance, nothing. It was shocking, it was a disgrace, and in all the years when the Labour Government had the money to do something about it, they did not. Well, as of last February, following the “Transforming rehabilitation” reforms, every single prisoner who leaves our jails will receive, for a minimum of a year, support, supervision and guidance. That is a massive change. It is a change I am proud of. It is a change that did not happen under the previous Government. It is a legacy that will be part of the social change that I think will mark the future view of this Government and what they achieved.
Finally, I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the rugby world cup. In particular I offer my good wishes to Wales. May they do to Australia what unfortunately England were unable to do.
May I first thank the Leader of the House for his open and straightforward dealings with me as Chairman of the Procedure Committee? May I urge him, at this late stage, when he receives an embargoed copy of the Procedure Committee report tomorrow to seriously consider all our recommendations? They are not made lightly and I believe they will significantly improve the proposals in relation to English votes for English laws.
First, I thank my hon. Friend and all the members of the Procedure Committee. What I sought to do after the debates in the summer was respond to the requests of the House. We provided additional debating time and time for the Committee to look at these issues. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the collaborative way in which he has worked with me. He is bringing forward new ideas challenging the proposals, but it has been a productive discussion. I can tell the House today that I have already taken on board some of the recommendations to me in the letter that came from the Committee in September, and I shall be reading the report very carefully when it arrives on my desk tomorrow.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I too pay tribute to Geoffrey Howe and Denis Healey? I grew up in the 1970s when they were the absolute giants of this House, and many of us of that generation will remember them very fondly. I also thank the shadow Leader of the House for the three magnificent plaques we now have in the House. They are a fantastic addition.
We are back here after what is called the “conference recess”, but the third party of the United Kingdom is starting its conference today, which makes a mockery of the concept of the conference recess. Mr Speaker, I think that you, the Leader of the House and other interested parties should look long and hard at how we are organising the recesses over the summer period. That would find great support throughout the House.
Of course, we found out several things of course during the conference recess, some of them almost bizarre and utterly unmentionable, including the fact that the Leader of the House, probably in what is not a bizarre intervention, may possibly be seeking the leadership of the Conservative party. Apparently he will be the unity candidate for the Eurosceptics. I wish him good luck in that endeavour.
Next week we conclude the sorry saga of English votes for English laws. Over the past few months the Leader of the House has managed to convince absolutely no one, outwith the ranks of the Conservative party. The idea is opposed by every party in this House. It is opposed by every single legislative Assembly and Parliament in the whole of the UK. It is even opposed by the unelected cronies and donors from down the corridor, and the Leader of the House knows very well the views of Scottish MPs on this. I just wish he would have a quiet word with the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. Support for the Scottish Conservatives stands at about 12% in the opinion polls at present, and once they make Scottish MPs second-class MPs we can expect it to fall still further.
Yesterday, in points of order following Prime Minister’s questions, some very disturbing points were made on the ruling of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the Wilson doctrine. Several of us were incredulous at what was said: that it has no legal force and is nothing other than an ambiguous political statement, directly contradicting what the Prime Minister said on this issue only a few weeks ago. We absolutely require an urgent debate on this issue. I hope the Leader of the House will support any such initiative so that this is brought to the Floor of the House and we can hear from the Prime Minister exactly what he meant when he made that statement a few short weeks ago. We must approach this in a spirit of honesty, openness and transparency. I hope the whole House will support any initiative to ensure we get a debate on the Wilson doctrine and the worrying allegations that MPs are being spied on.
Lastly, the Government got their fiscal charter through last night. Congratulations to the Conservatives for once again, through their measures, picking on the poorest and most marginal and vulnerable in our community. Last night we saw three positions: the Conservatives’ position, backing the fiscal charter; the SNP position, opposing it with most of the Labour party supporting us; and there was a rebellious abstention, which I have never heard of in this House. I say to the Leader of the House and the Labour party that they will find those on the SNP Benches resolute in the objective of opposing the Tories. We hope the Labour party will unite and join us in that mission.
May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his comments about Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe and telling him how much we all regret keeping him away from his conference today? I am sure that he will be jumping on a train as soon as business questions are over and heading off to have a great time with his delegate colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of English votes for English laws. I must gently chide him on the way in which he and his party are approaching this matter. They keep coming up with the line that they will be excluded from certain votes as a result of the proposal. He knows, and I know, that that is not the case. What is more, he knows that I would not do that to him anyway. Although we spar across the Chamber, I have a great regard for him and we get on very well. Perhaps one day we will get to walk through the Division Lobby together—I know this is theoretical; it has not happened yet—and I would not dream of taking that opportunity away from either of us. Let me assure him again that on no occasion will he be excluded from a vote that he is currently able to take part in in this Chamber. That is really important for both of us and for our relationship.
The hon. Gentleman made a more serious point about the ruling in the court case yesterday. I remind him that two clear messages emerged from that case. First, the case was not successful; the court upheld the current situation. Secondly, it was made clear that all the activity was within the law. As Leader of the House, I take these issues very seriously and I would not be happy with the House being treated inappropriately. My ministerial colleagues and I will be keeping a careful watch over the matter.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the fiscal charter. Again I pay tribute to him: he is right to say that over the past few weeks the Scottish National party has formed a united front, voted consistently and behaved as one. He is also right to point out that the same cannot exactly be said of the Labour party. After last night, it is difficult to see where Labour is going. I am not sure what its policies are now, or whether a leadership coup is being planned for the near future. Of course, the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), has a track record in that regard. He was the person who pulled the trigger when Tony Blair went, and he was instrumental in pushing Gordon Brown out. Maybe it will be third time lucky—or unlucky, depending on where in the House you are sitting.
At 4.25 pm yesterday in Westminster Hall, a unique event took place. For the first time, a question in Westminster Hall was not agreed to. Under subsection (13) of Standing Order No. 10, a motion should be brought to the House in those circumstances so that the House can then vote on it without further debate. I listened carefully when the Leader of the House announced the business for next week, but I did not hear him mention any such motion. Was that an omission that he would like to correct now?
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. Members will be aware that we resumed on Monday following the conference recess with heavily subscribed debates on superfast broadband and the political situation at Stormont. The time available for those debates was curtailed, however, as a result of statements being made before the Back-Bench business commenced. I note that there was no mention in today’s business statement of any dates being allocated for Back-Bench business. I understand there is a possibility that 29 October will be allocated for that purpose, but that has not been confirmed. Will the Leader of the House confirm the next dates for Back-Bench business debates in the Chamber as soon as possible?
In two Bills before the House—the European Union Referendum Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill—amendments have been proposed both by this place and the other place to refer to a change in the age of the franchise. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that we should approach this debate properly and pay it proper attention rather than dealing with it piecemeal under other Bills?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that she is doing in and around youth engagement, which is very important to all of us from all parts of the House. Undoubtedly, this will be debated seriously, as indeed it should be because it is a very real issue, given the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds have the vote in Scotland. There are different views in this House, so of course the matter should be given the proper attention that it deserves.
Last week, the Tunisian national dialogue quartet received the Nobel prize for peace, but that country faces huge economic difficulties, especially in the tourism industry, in part owing to the travel advice of our Foreign Office. May we have an urgent debate or a statement on what we can do to help Tunisia, especially with regard to tourism?
We all have the greatest admiration for the prize winners in Tunisia and for all those who have worked so hard to make Tunisia a stable and peaceful country. The decision of the Foreign Office was taken with a heavy heart, because we understand the implications of it, but we also have a duty to look after the safety of British holidaymakers. The Foreign Secretary will be here on Tuesday, and I will ensure that he is aware of the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. This is a matter that will be under continuous review, as we all want to do the right thing by Tunisia.
The Prime Minister said that the whole focus of the Government will be on implementing the Conservative manifesto of the last election. That manifesto said that we would toughen sentencing and create a victims law. From what I have seen so far, perhaps it would be helpful if the Leader of the House introduced the new Secretary of State for Justice to the manifesto. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will bring forward their proposals from the manifesto to toughen sentencing and create a victims law?
The victims law is an important part of what we brought forward at the election. I can assure my hon. Friend that the intention of the Government is to fulfil their manifesto in full. We have a lot of business to get through, but I have no doubt that we will move on to that soon, and that it will make a difference.
Among the remaining orders on the Order Paper, the Leader of the House will see that there is a motion signed by Members of all parties saying that this House concurs with the Lords Message that a joint committee be set up to look at the constitutional implications of English votes for English laws. It is 104 years since this House has refused to acknowledge or answer a message from the House of Lords. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the English votes for English laws proposals come forward next week an answer to that message is made very clear to their lordships?
When we come to this issue next week, I will have acted on that message. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a debate about the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and it would be quite a big step for us to take a move towards inviting the House of Lords to rule, consider and act on our own Standing Orders.
Given the 20% increase in the number of reported hate crimes in the past year, will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to explain why the Metropolitan police have written to me to say that they do not consider it necessary to take legal action against identified individuals who were protesting outside Downing Street on 9 September when a mob was waving Hezbollah flags, shouting anti-Semitic remarks and making anti-Semitic gestures?
Let us be clear: hate crime is unacceptable in our society. Anti-Semitic behaviour is unacceptable in our society, as is the reverse, which is when we sometimes see hostile actions taken against mosques in this country. This is an issue that my hon. Friend should raise on the occasions that are available to him with both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. All of us agree that this is something that should be acted on; it is not acceptable and we would always wish to see the police take strong action when such behaviour occurs.
I wish to be associated with the comments made by the Leader of the House about the memorial to Ian Gow. We have a service of thanksgiving today to commemorate his murder by Irish terrorists 25 years ago. I hope as many Members as possible will join us in St Mary Undercroft for that service.
On an equally important matter, police recruitment in Northern Ireland has been disrupted in the past two weeks by bomb attacks on the recruitment centre. It is quite unbelievable. No other police recruitment centre in these islands faces bomb attacks when young people try to sign up for public service. Will the Leader of the House bring forward a statement on additional resources that the police in Northern Ireland will have available to them to combat those attacks?
Of course, we have just had Northern Ireland questions, but I will ensure that that concern is passed to my colleague the Secretary of State. What the hon. Gentleman has just described is absolutely unacceptable in our country and should never be tolerated in any way, shape or form. Those who express support for terrorist actions are not only utterly misguided but out of place in a democratic society and should be ashamed of their views. In my view, what he has just described underlines the need for the parties in Northern Ireland to continue the dialogue they are engaged in. We need to work our way through the current difficulties to secure a stable future for Northern Ireland in all respects and to ensure that what we have seen in the past can never return.
Sue Wathen, one of my constituents, is experiencing terrible difficulties in trying to access treatment for a condition caused by contaminated blood. I know that Members on both sides of the House have constituents who are facing similar difficulties, so may we have a debate in Government time on this tragedy? We need action.
I know that this issue concerns Members on both sides of the House and is a matter of concern to the Secretary of State, so I am worried to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituent is having those difficulties. If my hon. Friend wants to contact me after questions, I will ensure that his concerns are passed on to the Secretary of State. These things are probably subject to local decision making, but we should all be concerned if people who have been through a terrible experience are not getting the support they need.
Given the Care Quality Commission’s report on hospital safety and the £3.3 billion bill for NHS temporary staff, may we have an urgent debate on the skills shortage in the NHS? The University of Wolverhampton, some of which is in my constituency, has said that it has had 5,000 applications for 500 nursing places. Supply could easily meet demand locally without having to go abroad.
I am well aware of the pressures in different parts of the health service and I pay tribute to our healthcare professionals. We are announcing measures today to try to ease pressures on nursing. In my view, today’s CQC report is a positive in that it is part of a drive by this Government to push up standards. If we do not look at where challenges remain to be addressed, we will never be able to address them. Fantastic care is provided across many parts of the national health service, but where it is not fulfilling its full potential we obviously have to know about it and work to improve it.
I think we are all concerned about what is happening in Israel and the west bank. Utterly unacceptable incidents have taken place, including stabbings out of the blue and other incidents that have led to death and serious injury. We need to be constantly aware of that in this country and use every opportunity to try to facilitate talks and peace between the two sides. Obviously, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary addresses the issue in this House before too long.
Yesterday I attended a reception organised by Citizens Advice Scotland about the barriers facing Scotland’s rural customers. It has produced an excellent report that is well worth a read, and one part that caught my eye was the section on rural banking provision, which lists the difficulties facing rural areas and villages. I am sure that the situation is the same in constituencies across the country. May we have a debate on the issues facing rural communities with banking and other services, such as post offices?
We have to work to protect services in rural areas. It is vital that we do, and I hope and believe that the additional powers being provided to the Scottish Parliament through the Scotland Bill will give the Scottish Government greater ability to deal with the challenges the hon. Gentleman has described in his constituency.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends three rounds of in vitro fertilisation on the NHS, but my clinical commissioning group and many others can afford only one or two. May we have a debate on whether the commissioning of IVF should be transferred to NHS England so that we can have a standard, fair number of IVF rounds across the country?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but of course there will always be differences in provision in different parts of the country under a system in which we offer power and decision-making responsibilities to local doctors. I suggest that he look to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject, as I know that it will be a matter of concern to my friends in the Department of Health.
The Royal Borough of Greenwich and the Mayor of London have approved a planning application for a cruise terminal at Enderby Wharf on the Thames, despite the absence of the provision of a shore to ship energy supply, which would prevent ships from having to use their diesel engines for power while they are berthed there. Has the Leader of the House had any indication from the Department for Communities and Local Government that it will be making a statement calling in this application for a proper examination of the impact on air quality in London?
Parents in Rugby were delighted when our new free school opened in September, providing additional choice and extra places, but they have been very concerned this week when, for the second time in a short period, a Traveller encampment has been set up at the entrance on the public highway to the school. May we have a debate about additional powers for local authorities to deal with encampments where they occur in sensitive areas, such as around schools? Perhaps some consideration can be given to how we fund defensive measures such as bollards to prevent such encampments.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In my experience in Surrey, police and local authorities have more powers than they sometimes realise. If they use those powers effectively, they should be able to move those encampments on quickly. They need to do that, and I encourage my hon. Friend to put pressure on both those organisations locally to make sure that they get on with it.
I bobbed furiously yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions, such is the importance of this matter. The national media recently reported the findings of a coroner’s report on a young man from my constituency named Kane. He was the same age as my son, who is 18, and he killed himself because Wonga cleared all the money from his account. May we have an urgent debate so that this cannot happen again? These companies should not be allowed to leave someone—our children—so destitute.
It is tragic when anybody takes their life, but particularly when someone so young does so. The point that the hon. Lady makes is a valid one. I encourage her to apply for an Adjournment debate so that she can put this point directly to my colleagues at the Business Department.
We are fortunate in Colchester to have two of the best grammar schools in the country, and I was delighted to hear the announcement that the Government will imminently approve a new grammar school in Sevenoaks. May we have a debate on the Government’s policy on grammar schools and whether we can open any more during this Parliament?
It is important to say that the decision taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education involves the expansion of a successful school. If that expansion goes ahead, it will mean that a successful school will be able to offer more places to more students, but it is the expansion of a successful school. Our policy is always to ensure that every successful school—grammar school, academy or otherwise—is able to expand to offer places to young people who need that support.
In Chesterfield over the past few years we have been conscious of the huge difficulties in accessing GP appointments. The Government’s policy, which seems to suggest that GP contracts are over-generous at a time when the country is desperately struggling to attract GPs, and the moves that they are taking in relation to junior doctors, which are discouraging people from pursuing a career in that field, make the problems worse. May we have a debate in Government time to ascertain what the Government’s strategy is to improve access to GP appointments?
My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary was in the House on Tuesday answering questions. It is his policy to encourage the development of a seven-day NHS to improve access to GP services. He is working with the relevant representative groups on plans for employment structures for junior hospital doctors to ensure that we provide the right framework for that to happen, and also to provide the right support for our junior doctors.
Tomorrow afternoon I will be attending the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate Napoleon Bonaparte’s sojourn on HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound, following his defeat at Waterloo 200 years ago. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating and thanking Alain Sibiril, who is the French honorary consul in Plymouth, who has organised this event? May we have a debate on the entente cordiale?
In this country we always try to welcome our French friends with open arms. It is quite unusual for them to be detained in a ship offshore. They are otherwise welcome to come here as part of an entente cordiale that, happily, has lasted 100 years. It is quite a long time since we had a conflict with the French, and long may that continue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, as I know that this is not the only historic event that he is involved in. He is also involved in the celebrations of the sailing of the Mayflower, another important occasion to mark in the history of this country, and I commend him for it.
May we have a statement on the plight of six merchant seamen, including my constituent William Irving, who have been detained in Chennai for over two years on charges of piracy and are now undergoing their second trial? If they are again released following the trial, will the Government commit to securing their return home as soon as possible?
We always try to provide proper consular support to people who are charged abroad and ensure that they are treated fairly and justly by overseas justice systems. I encourage the hon. Lady to raise the case with Foreign Office Ministers when they are here next Tuesday, because I know that they will try to do the right thing.
Just 6% of mobile phone users change contracts each year, and more than half the population have never changed carriers. According to the consumer group Which?, that means consumers are paying more than £5 billion a year more than necessary because 70% of people are on the wrong contract. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on ways in which mobile network operators could better communicate the best available deals to their customers?
That issue was addressed in our manifesto, and I know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently looking at it and hopefully will shortly take steps to enhance what we do shortly. I encourage my hon. Friend to seek to bring the matter before the House, either through the Backbench Business Committee or in an Adjournment debate, because I think it is very important.
In the Finance Bill Committee we recently discussed the issue of VAT on female sanitary hygiene products. The Financial Secretary told us that it was a matter of European legislation. Therefore, may we have a debate on the Government’s strategy for negotiating a zero rate as part of the Prime Minister’s talks on our EU membership before the referendum?
I think there will be many occasions to discuss our relationship with the EU over the next few months—indeed, we have done so with the European Union Referendum Bill. The hon. Lady makes an interesting point that I know she will want to make in those debates, or during Foreign Office questions next week.
Anni Nasheed is the first ever democratically elected President of the Maldives, yet he has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for terrorism. The UN working group on arbitrary detention has found that unlawful on three counts and urged for his immediate release. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement from a Foreign Office Minister to explain what the British Government are going to do, including the possibility of sanctions, to ensure that he is released as soon as possible?
I know that the United Nations has looked at that matter closely. The Government are extremely concerned about what has happened in the Maldives and want to see the issue addressed. The Foreign Secretary will be here next Tuesday for Foreign Office questions, so I encourage my hon. Friend to take advantage of that opportunity. We should always stand up when political leaders are imprisoned inappropriately. We should be, as we always have been, a beacon of liberty for political protesters suffering in that way.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), I would like to request an urgent debate on today’s report from the Care Quality Commission, which states that two thirds of our hospitals are offering substandard care, that one in eight are rated as inadequate for safety and that three quarters overall are rated as requiring improvement.
As I said earlier, the reason we have the new regime, and why we go through these performance assessments, is precisely so that we can drive up quality and performance. Where hospitals have been put in special measures as a result of the CQC’s work, we have seen measurable improvements in the quality of care, which is something we should all welcome.
Harrow Council has announced its intention to impose a £75 charge for the collection of garden waste. This back-door council tax increase for a monopoly service is likely to be the most expensive in London, and possibly in the whole country. May we therefore have an urgent debate in Government time on councils imposing additional charges for monopoly services that the public have no choice but to accept?
My hon. Friend highlights the risk of monopoly services generally. We should always seek to deliver choice in the public sector where we possibly can. Seeking to offer consumers choice has been part of what this Government, and indeed our party, have done for a very long time. I understand that the situation he describes must be hugely frustrating locally. I know that he, as a powerful advocate for his area, will be biting at the council’s ankles for what it is doing.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in praising Leeds business week—the UK’s biggest week-long business event, bringing businesses, entrepreneurs, the private sector and the third sector together to discuss business issues. May we have a debate on how the Government’s devolution proposals, currently somewhat confused with the different options in Yorkshire, will affect businesses so that they have a clear idea of what to support?
We very much hope that our devolution proposals, with the plans that are coming through—we had a Second Reading earlier this week and we have a debate in Committee on the Floor of the House next week—will provide a real opportunity for partnership between local authorities and businesses to drive up the economic performance of our cities and our regions. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to take part in the debate next week. He makes an important point and I am sure that Ministers will listen to it.
On Saturday it was great to see the last flying Vulcan bomber fly over Rolls-Royce in Barnoldswick as part of its farewell tour of our country. My family have very close ties with this iconic aircraft; four members of my family, including my father, worked for A.V. Roe and Company, which designed and built the aircraft. Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate where we could pay tribute to Vulcan to the Sky, the charity that has kept the plane flying, and the remarkable farewell tour across the UK that has delighted thousands of spectators?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his family for their involvement in an iconic aircraft in the history of this country. He must be very proud that they have played a part in its construction. For so much of our heritage, we rely on groups of volunteers who give up their time to protect for future generations what has been. He describes a very important group of those volunteers who are doing a great job; I commend them for it.
Changes to the state pension as part of the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011 have adversely impacted, not just once but twice, on a number of women born in the 1950s. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the impact of those pension changes on women born in the 1950s and potentially look at solutions to put right the injustices?
These issues have been debated in this House extensively over the years. Yes, there are difficult decisions to take when deciding to raise the state pension and having to set a framework within which to do that. These decisions were taken under Governments of both parties. We have all recognised the need to increase the state pension age and the logic of equalising the pension age between men and women, and we have tried to do that in as sensitive a way as possible. It has been extensively debated in this House, but I do not think we could move to further changes now.
The continued retention of weapons of mass destruction for the UK is of grave concern to millions of people, not least in Scotland, where people live in their shadow. This issue is much too important to be about gaining advantage at an election, as has been suggested. Will the Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the timing of the vote on the Trident replacement?
We will bring this issue before the House in due course. I appreciate that Scottish National party Members feel strongly about it. What I have never been quite able to understand is why, since the nuclear deterrent is such an important part of the Scottish economy, they want to see it go.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
One recent health issue has been the increase in type 1 diabetes. Many schemes have been put forward to address that, including dose adjustment for normal eating, which controls carbohydrates in tandem with physical exercise. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate in the House on type 1 diabetes and how to address it?
That condition affects very large numbers of people, and we would wish health research to continue to try to alleviate the burden that people face. The subject is absolutely right for requesting an Adjournment debate or asking the Backbench Business Committee to bring forward a debate, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to do so.