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Business of the House

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 27 October— Remaining stages of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Wednesday 28 October—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on steel, followed by a debate on health.

Thursday 29 October—Back-Bench business day. A motion in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) relating to a House business committee, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the distributional effect of proposed reforms to tax credits.

Friday 30 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 2 November will include:

Monday 2 November—Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Tuesday 3 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 4 November—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill.

Thursday 5 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 6 November —Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for the week commencing 26 October will be:

Thursday 29 October—General debate on the future of the green investment bank.

Finally, Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your very gracious remarks earlier about Michael Meacher? He was a great figure in this House. Even those of us who very much disagreed with his policies respected him as a great parliamentarian, a man who made a major contribution to our public life. He will be much missed by his friends on both sides of this House.

I, too, pay tribute to Michael Meacher. To be honest, few Members can have had such an impact as he had in his years as Environment Minister. He was an indefatigable stalwart who battled away in the intellectual trenches of politics for nearly five decades in this place. In his last speech in this House, he delivered an absolutely excoriating attack on the Government’s economic policy, and he ended with the words:

“So much for the Government’s…‘long-term plan.’”—[Official Report, 4 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 819.]

Our thoughts warmly go out to his family and to all those who knew him well.

May we have a debate about how we celebrate anniversaries in this House? Yesterday, we completely ignored Trafalgar day, despite it being the 210th anniversary of one of the United Kingdom’s greatest naval triumphs. This Sunday, St Crispin’s day, will see the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt at which several hon. Members of this House fought, though not, contrary to rumour, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, brought along 12 men at arms and 37 archers. I think that you, Mr Speaker, might feel that you need them for your press conferences. Next year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

It was an immense pleasure this week to see the band of the Brigade of Gurkhas beat the retreat in the Speaker’s Court in proper recognition of their 200 years of valour and 13 Victoria Crosses that they have won, but should we not in Parliament do better at recognising these important national milestones?

Talking of beating the retreat, when will the Government beat the retreat on the cuts to tax credits? I can offer them two opportunities coming up very soon. There will be a vote in this House on Tuesday and another on Thursday. Before the Leader of the House gives us a whole load of tripe about financial privilege in the Lords, may I remind him that this is all his fault—his personal fault? The Government could perfectly easily have introduced these cuts in a Bill. That would have been a money Bill, which you, Mr Speaker, would have certificated as a money Bill and which we would have been able to look at line by line, but the Lords would not have been able to look at it because it was a money Bill. But oh no, the Leader of the House is too clever by half. He decided that a statutory instrument was best, so there would be just one-and-a-half hour’s debate on it and no amendments allowed. Unfortunately, the only downside—oh dear!—is that it has to go to the Lords. So he has been hoist on his own petard. In the end, every single one of us here knows that some way or other the Government will beat the retreat. Tory Back Benchers want him to retreat, and even The Spectator today says that they have lost sight of the human factor, so retreat the Government will. Will the Leader of the House just tell us when it will happen? I promise that we will not crow.

I warmly congratulate Mr Alex Newton on being appointed the new editor of Hansard and pay tribute to the retiring editor, Lorraine Sutherland, who had to cope with John Prescott’s contributions in this House. Members will know that Hansard is not exactly a verbatim record—thank goodness. It corrects repetitions and mistakes, so may I suggest that Hansard starts by re-examining the Prime Minister’s remarks yesterday. He said that he was “delighted” to be bringing in the tax credit cuts. Delighted! He cannot possibly have meant that. There must surely be a heart in this man.

On steel, the Prime Minister said:

“We will do everything we can to help”.—[Official Report, 20 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 956.]

What he actually meant to say was, “We will do absolutely nothing to help.” He also said yesterday that the Government intend to relax the Sunday trading laws. When will that be debated and when will it be tabled? What Bill will it be in? I ask that simply because many of us on the Labour Benches, and I suspect on the Government Benches too, want to keep Sunday special.

I thank the Leader of the House for granting extra time for psychoactive substances this week—sorry, I mean the Psychoactive Substances Bill. I noticed last week that the Leader of the House did not answer a single question that I asked, so I warn him to take notes today, as, from now on, I will be writing to him after each session for answers to any questions that remain unanswered.

On 25 November, we shall have the autumn statement together with the comprehensive spending review. It is surely incumbent on us to scrutinise public spending diligently, including public spending cuts. Will the Leader of the House set aside three full days for a proper debate about the implications of the Government’s cuts? Of course the deficit must come down. We have to live within our means, but we will oppose any measures that are unfair, counterproductive or false economies.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Public Accounts Committee published a special report this week on the conduct of the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People when he was a member of that Committee in the last Parliament and leaked a draft report to Wonga. The matter stands committed to the Privileges Committee for a decision on whether it is gross contempt of the House—or at least it would if the Government had set up the Privileges Committee. Will the Leader of the House tell us why it has not yet been set up? Is it because the Prime Minister knew perfectly well that the issue was coming along the track? When the noble Lord Touhig was found to have asked for a draft copy of a Select Committee report some years ago, he immediately resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary pending the decision of the then Standards and Privileges Committee, which later suspended him from the House. Will the Leader of the House explain why the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People has not done the same?

With the opening of the new Bond movie next week, will Ministers celebrate the British film industry by auditioning for the next film? I can just see the Health Secretary, who will doubtless be playing Dr No. The Home Secretary will make a cameo appearance in her steel-tipped kitten heels as Rosa Klebb, and I can just imagine the Culture Secretary jumping across roofs in a fine exhibition of parkour on Her Majesty’s secret service. The Chancellor would look very fetching as Miss Moneypenny, and I gather that he is quite a cunning linguist—that is from “Tomorrow Never Dies”, Mr Speaker—and the Mayor of London’s career is surely proof positive that you only live twice. As for the villain running an evil media empire, intent on world domination—well, Members can pick their own. I note from the press that the spectre of dismissal is hanging over the Leader of the House, but perhaps he can take a quantum of solace in the fact that it would be the Work and Pensions Secretary who would get the part of the smooth-pated Oddjob, who comes to a grisly electrocuted end.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned anniversaries and he is right to say that we should celebrate all the work that the Gurkhas have done on behalf of this country. I think that he and the Leader of the Opposition will join me in recognising another, rather sadder anniversary today, as it is the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Aberfan, a terrible event that led to the deaths of 116 children and 28 adults. It is a blot on our history and something that we should never forget. I hope that everyone in the House will remember those tragic events today.

The hon. Gentleman is, as we know, highly regarded among those on his Benches for his knowledge and understanding of the procedures of the House, so I am slightly mystified by his comments about tax credits and legislation. He will know that tax credits do not come within the scope of a Finance Bill, so I am a little puzzled by his assertion that we should have put the measure into a Finance Bill. He will also know that even if this House were to resolve to change that process, it would open up a range of additional questions about the role of the House of Lords and whether they should debate Finance Bills. I am surprised that he appears not to understand the processes of this House and I advise him perhaps to consult the Clerks afterwards who can put him right, I am sure.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of tax credits more generally. It is, of course, a matter that has been carefully debated in this House and voted on twice by MPs in the past few weeks. The measure has been supported by the House twice and it is interesting that the deputy leader of the Labour party did not turn up to oppose the changes, which we believe should now go forward and be put into action.

I suppose we should not be surprised that there is a degree of uncertainty on the Labour Benches, because we have had some interesting reports about what is going on. A message is being passed to me from a person with a vested interest, as is often the case for the Leader of the Opposition. A member of the Labour party has said to me:

“Farce doesn’t begin to describe our position any more. It’s the political equivalent of all the slapstick staples rolled into one. The Three Stooges pie fight. Stan Laurel stuck up a ladder. The house collapsing on Buster Keaton.”

That is a message for me from Simon of Rochdale. You know, Mr Speaker, the people of Rochdale are wise and that is why, I think, they elected him as their Labour Member of Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman talked about steel. We are very clear. We are doing everything we can to support the steel industry in a difficult period for the workers and all those who live in those communities. We have looked at changing the rules on procurement. We are working to provide financial support. We are in discussions with the European Commission about what support we are able to provide. We have raised the issue of dumping with the Chinese this week. We will do everything we can to support our steel industry, but I remind the Opposition that it was when they were in government that steel output in this country halved, and manufacturing in this country almost halved as a share of our national income. Under this Government manufacturing is growing and the steel industry has held up in output terms and has employed more people, so I do not think we should take lessons from the Opposition as we work very hard to address an extremely difficult set of circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman raised questions about Sunday trading. That is a matter that will be debated in the House shortly.

I am rather surprised. The hon. Gentleman claims to know all about the procedures of this House, and he will know that at Business questions each week the Leader of the House gives the business for the following two weeks. That is the way it is today and it is the way it will continue to be. He will have to wait for the business to be announced when we come to that point, and I will make a point of announcing that when the time is right.

I have always had high regard for the hon. Gentleman as someone who knows the House of Commons procedures, but once again he seems be getting it wrong today. He is asking me for answers to questions of detail about ministerial responsibilities. This is a session for asking about future business, so when he asks me about numbers of asylum seekers or details of the Prime Minister’s knowledge about issues, I understand that he wants to ask the questions, but he needs to go to the relevant departmental questions and raise those matters himself. Today is about the future business of the House and I will be delighted to answer questions about the future business in this House. I just cannot help him. If the Clerks can spend a little time with him giving him a refresher course, perhaps next week we will not see quite such a lack of understanding of parliamentary process.

I had the pleasure of working with Michael Meacher in Parliament First. He was a great parliamentarian and he always wanted to put the House first. In that regard, what is my right hon. Friend’s view of the motion to be voted on roughly this time next week about establishing a business of the House committee? Would he regard it as House business on which there should be no whipping on the Government side?

I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this and how expert he is at working at parliamentary procedure. Perhaps he might like to give the shadow Leader of the House a lesson afterwards. It might be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. I am going to have to make my hon. Friend wait for a few days. I will give the matter careful consideration. Whipping is not a matter for me—it is for the Chief Whip, and I am sure he will make that point as well. I do understand the point he makes.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I paid tribute to Michael Meacher last evening at the start of the debate on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, but I associate the Scottish National party with your comments this morning, Mr Speaker.

This is not a particularly good week for those who are poor or struggling to make ends meet in Tory UK. The tax credit whammy will be followed by the remaining stages of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill next week as this Tory Government up their assault on the poorest, most marginal and most vulnerable in our society. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) raised the issue of suicides related to changes to benefit arrangements for disabled claimants right across the United Kingdom. Apparently, something like 60 live investigations have been undertaken by the Department for Work and Pensions into the circumstances surrounding these suicides and deaths. May we have a debate—that is the only thing we can do—to assess what is happening to the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginal in our society? Will the Leader of the House publish the results of those DWP investigations?

One thing that happened in the past week—like Brigadoon, it appears once every 100 years—was the emergence of compassionate conservatism. The remarkable speech from the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) showed that there was some element of that within the callous heart of this Tory Government. We also hear about concerns from the Mayor of London, but such signs of compassion are to be chopped down just as they appear.

The Leader of the House is even considering suspending the work of the House of Lords because it dares to disagree with the Government. I am not a friend of the donors and the cronies in that place, but at least I respect their right to have their view on these issues. The Leader of the House seems to want either to suspend the business of the other place or flood it with even more Tory donors—a place that is already bloated with more than 800 Members. Here is another solution that the Scottish National party might support: how about just abolishing the place? That would solve the problem at once, because the Tories would get their way and face no opposition, having stamped down on dissent on their Back Benches. We would give that proposal a sympathetic hearing.

Mr Speaker, this is the last business questions at which I will be addressing you as an equal Member with my English colleagues, if the Leader of the House gets his way and consigns me and my colleagues to second-class status in this House following today’s EVEL vote. Indeed, a week on Monday we might see the first certification from you, Mr Speaker, on the Housing and Planning Bill, which I know you are looking forward to with great interest. Can the Leader of the House confirm that that will be the first EVEL certification? While we are on the Bond theme, I think I prefer Austin Powers, because after today’s vote the right hon. Gentleman will forever and a day be known as this House’s Dr EVEL.

I think that I still have fractionally more hair than Dr Evil.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great affection for him as a parliamentarian and very much enjoy debating with him, but I cannot help but feel that today we are getting some slightly mixed messages. For one extraordinary moment I thought that he was about to reinvent himself as a champion of the House of Lords, but then he returned to his view that it should be abolished, raising my expectations and then dashing them at a stroke. Whatever my views might be—I happen to have great regard for the other place, as well as for him—I am afraid that I do not have the power to suspend the House of Lords. Therefore, I counsel him not to believe everything he reads in the newspapers.

I also encourage the hon. Gentleman not to be quite so cynical about compassionate conservatism. Let us look at a couple of things that have happened under this Government. We are seeing child poverty come down, not up, despite all the warnings from the Labour party. One of the achievements I am most proud of is the fact that our party, both in coalition and now in a majority Government, has overseen a rapid drop in unemployment and in the number of children growing up in workless households. To me, that makes a crucial difference for the development of the next generation. That is something I will always be proud of, and something that I think lies at the heart of a compassionate Conservative party and what it is achieving for this country.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the debates on tax credits, but I am afraid that he has a rather misguided view of our approach to the poor. I remind him that we are cutting the rents of social tenants, increasing childcare, perhaps to the tune of £2,500 a year, cutting taxation for people on low incomes and boosting the national living wage for people on low incomes. This is a Government who care about people on low incomes and are doing practical things to help them. However, we cannot continue to have a high-tax, high-welfare and low-wage society. We have to change that, and that is what we are doing.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about what the Government are doing for the steel industry. Many of my constituents are affected by the redundancies in Scunthorpe, so we need regular information to pass to them. Will he give an absolute assurance that the Business Secretary will come to the House regularly to make oral statements, particularly after visiting Brussels for talks with the European Commission in the coming days?

That is an issue I take very seriously. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that Ministers with responsibility will want to keep the House informed. Indeed, the Prime Minister has addressed the issue on more than one occasion. We will do everything we possibly can to ease the problems caused by a deeply distressing change in world steel markets and to protect the livelihoods of workers in this country, but at the same time we will continue to pursue a policy that has succeeded in bringing down unemployment right across the country. It is much better to deal with these challenges in the context of an improving labour market, rather than a worsening one.

A large group of women born in the 1950s have been badly hit by the acceleration of the state pension age as a result of the Pensions Acts of 1995 and 2011, and many of them, including my constituents, were not informed of the changes, which clearly have a key impact on their future pensions incomes. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) requested a debate on the issue last week but received a fairly dismissive reply. This issue is very important to hundreds of thousands of women, so I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider.

I understood the points that were made last week, but I would simply say that Governments of both sides have taken the view in recent years that we have to increase the state pension age. It was done under the previous Labour Government and it has been done most recently under the coalition Government. We are seeing life expectancies rise massively in this country, and that is good. People are living far longer than they did before, but the inevitable consequence is an increasing state pension age, and that is what has happened. If the hon. Lady wants a debate, she can certainly refer the matter to the Backbench Business Committee. I understand that it is difficult for the women concerned, but in a world where people live much longer than they did before, it is impossible to make a transition without some kind of impact on those involved.

This morning, the Competition and Markets Authority released a report outlining a number of issues in the current account market that affect personal and business customers. May we have a debate in Government time on what measures can be taken to create more competition in this market?

This is an important issue. We very much want consumers to get the best possible deal. It is a marketplace where issues have been raised, as we have seen from today’s developments. The Treasury team, including the Minister responsible, will be here on Tuesday for questions. I encourage my hon. Friend to take part and make sure that Treasury Ministers respond appropriately to her concerns.

With reference to the debate on the remaining stages of the Finance Bill, will the Leader of the House give consideration to a debate on the aggregates industry, which is particularly relevant to Northern Ireland as a taxation issue? We want to see the reinstatement of the aggregates levy credit scheme because our construction industry has to compete at a disadvantage with that in the Republic of Ireland.

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady says. This is always a challenge because it is so easy for business to flow one way or the other across the border. Treasury Ministers will be here for the debate on Monday, when she can raise her concerns, subject to your ruling it in order, Mr Speaker. There are also Treasury questions on Tuesday, so I am sure she will take advantage of that opportunity.

When are the Government likely to provide time for a debate about the consequences of the agreements made with the Chinese Government this week concerning nuclear power, which are clearly very significant? Not only is the possibility of a new power station at Bradwell, overlooking my constituency, likely to have very detrimental effects on the marine ecology of the Blackwater estuary, but the ownership, construction and control of our critical national infrastructure appears not to have been fully considered by the National Security Council, and no proper assessment has been made of the consequences of these very significant decisions for our national security.

I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are raised with Ministers. There will be a number of opportunities for these matters to be raised at oral questions and, should he so choose, in debates on upcoming Bills. Clearly, the issue could be looked at in some of the discussions on Treasury matters coming up in the next few days. I will make sure that his concerns are raised and give careful consideration to what he has said.

When can we have the details of the arrangements for the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the House when he visits this country in the middle of November? I know that you, Mr Speaker, are very supportive of the visit of Mr Modi to the House. Following the successful visit of the President of China, it is important that we should treat the leader of the world’s largest democracy in a proper and appropriate way. That will be also be welcomed by constituents in Leicester East, which has the largest number of British Indians, and Harrow East, which has the second largest number of British Indians.

First, let me say on behalf of the Government and everyone in this House how much we are looking forward to Prime Minister Modi’s visit. India is a country with which we have long and historic ties. It is a close friend and ally. It is also, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the largest democracy in the world. This is a friendship that we should cherish and support and always seek to sustain. I hope and expect that when Prime Minister Modi comes to London, we, as the mother of Parliaments, the Government, and, indeed, the whole country will extend the warm welcome to him that he has every right to expect. This will provide an opportunity for us to mark the very real and important contribution that the Indian community has made to this country. It is a real opportunity to celebrate our ties and that contribution.

Further to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—I shall call him my right hon. Friend—about the visit of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, which you also referred to earlier this week, Mr Speaker, could we have a statement on the Floor of the House from a Foreign Office Minister on the arrangements, so that this country’s Indian diaspora can join Parliament in the celebrations? I am proud to represent the Indian diaspora in Harrow East and have no doubt that my right hon. Friend is proud to represent them in Leicester, too. Can we also note the fact that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor both sought to block a visa being issued to Narendra Modi only two years ago?

I am not sure about the exact mechanism you will choose, Mr Speaker—because it is first and foremost a matter for you and the Lord Speaker—to announce how this Parliament will receive the Prime Minister of India, but I know that the matter is very much on your minds. We expect to be able to give details to hon. Members shortly.

May I ask the Leader of the House about proper celebrations of big anniversaries? It will be the centenary of Harold Wilson’s birth on 11 March and I hope we will be able to mark it appropriately.

May I also push the Leader of the House on the need for a debate about the importance of this country’s film industry? I was born near Shepperton studios and my brother and sister worked there. One of our neighbourhood friends, John Glen, left school at 14 and went on to direct some of the James Bond movies. I want to know who pays taxes in the film industry and where they pay them.

The British film industry plays an enormously important role in this country and has a great tradition. There are not that many major adventure movies that do not have some kind of footprint in this country. That is a great tribute to this country’s creative industry, and long should we cherish, support and be proud of it.

This House should note the anniversary of Harold Wilson’s birth, because he was another great figure in our politics. His wife, Lady Wilson, is still alive and I hope that, as we mark the occasion, we will also think of her and that the House will send a message to her about how much we value not only her husband’s contribution to the country, but her personal contribution during his years as Prime Minister.

May I just make it clear to the House that, as much as I enjoy watching them, I have no association with James Bond films?

Yesterday we heard that comments made in this House formed part of a campaign that undermined a police investigation. Will my right hon. Friend grant time for a debate on the issue of how hon. Members conduct themselves in such serious matters?

My hon. Friend makes a very serious point. I heard the remarks made in the Home Affairs Committee yesterday, but the conduct that has been unveiled in the past few days is nothing less than shocking. From time to time, every one of us is presented with difficult information that may or may not have substance. Of course, we have a duty to ensure that that information is followed through properly, but this country has a fundamental principle of people being innocent until they are proven guilty. For any Member of this House, let alone one who holds high office in his party, to make public statements about innocence and guilt before the evidence has even been assessed properly is shocking and betrays the principles of this House. I hope and believe that the relevant organisations in this House that can take a look at this matter will do so with great seriousness.

May I urge the Leader of the House to make time to discuss the very serious and sensitive issue of why successive British Governments have failed to secure compensation for the victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA violence not just in Northern Ireland, but throughout the United Kingdom, including the Harrods bombing? This really sensitive issue should be discussed on the Floor of the House.

I understand the seriousness of the hon. Lady’s point. It is a genuine issue and there are tragic stories behind her question. I will ensure that her concerns are raised with my colleagues in the Foreign Office, and I suggest that she considers bringing this subject to the House, through either a Backbench Business Committee debate or an Adjournment debate, so that she can raise it directly with the Minister responsible.

May we have a debate on the NHS providing a purpose-built national centre of excellence to treat rare diseases such as epidermolysis bullosa?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I hope that the work being done in this country to develop an understanding of genetics, and to develop gene-based treatments for some of the most difficult and rare diseases, will make progress and help provide solutions to sufferers. I am confident that we will make real progress through the high-quality research being done in this country to tackle many diseases. I encourage my hon. Friend to return to this issue so that we do not take our foot off the gas in relation to research that makes such a difference to so many people.

I caution the Leader of the House against the idea from Labour Members about a celebration of the battle of Agincourt in parliamentary terms, since Scotland was basically on the other side—if I remember correctly, it was assisting a rebellion by progressive forces in England against the Lancastrian autocracy of Henry V.

On current military engagements, why is there no statement on developments in Syria? There are 12 combatant countries in Syria, and the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary want Britain to be the unlucky No. 13. The new Canadian Government have withdrawn from military operations in Syria, and there has been not a single Government reaction or comment—not even a tweet—about that development. Does that silence speak volumes about a Government who regard military intervention as a substitute for political and diplomatic strategy?

We do not regard military intervention as a substitute for diplomatic strategy. The Government take military action only in extreme circumstances, and when it is essential and the right thing to do. Should we choose to take any sort of military action in the future we have committed to discuss the matter with the House, and should such circumstances arise, we will of course do so.

We have a crisis in Avon and Somerset policing. Our police and crime commissioner has not had a chief constable for nearly her entire tenure. She has lost the confidence of the police and of MPs, and we have no mechanism to get rid of this person. We need a debate in Government time to decide on a mechanism for getting rid of PCCs who are not up to the job, are not capable of the job, and have not got the intellectual rigour to do it.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and there will be such a debate, not in the Chamber, not in Government time, but over the next five months. I hope that we as Conservatives will put forward a better strategy for policing in that area, and that we will win the election next May.

Illegal, large-scale waste dumping is a growing worry in north Staffordshire and east Cheshire, and the activities of one haulage company—Frizells, which is based in Crewe— are of particular recent concern. May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the Environment Agency in licensing, monitoring, and enforcing the law on the dumping of waste materials?

This issue causes concern in a number of places. Just before the election I visited the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), where we saw an extraordinary 1 km long illegal dump at the side of the Thames. It was absolutely shocking, and if the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has suffered anything like that, I understand his frustration. If local councils are on the ball, they have powers to be tough about such issues. Where they have not been tough, the problem is much exacerbated. My advice is for the hon. Gentleman to talk to his local council and ensure that it uses the powers available.

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate, in Government time, on parliamentary privilege, to ensure that it is not abused by any hon. Member?

This is an issue to which the House will want to return, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee. We must not make the same mistake that perhaps some hon. Members have made in relation to putting guilt before innocence. There is due process. A Select Committee inquiry is taking place and there may well be another one. I believe there may also have been a referral to the Standards Committee. We need to let that process take shape. Every single Member of this House must remember that whatever information comes to us, people outside are innocent until proven guilty. We must conduct ourselves accordingly.

Order. As always, I am keen, if possible, to accommodate all colleagues, but the pressure on time is very real. The House will not be surprised to learn that the subsequent debate is very heavily subscribed, the consequence of which is that there is now a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. We can be led in our important mission of brevity by Mr Thomas Brake.

Will the Leader of the House make time available for a full debate on the future of St Helier hospital, which I know he would welcome? In response to a question I put to the Chancellor, he said the Government will support the project. Subsequently, I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Health who said that he will not.

The future of local hospital services is indeed very close to my heart, since St Helier is part of a trust that includes Epsom hospital. My prime concern is to make sure we retain services in our areas that are right for our constituents. I want them to have first-class services and I want the right treatments to be available to them. The right hon. Gentleman can be absolutely sure that I will continue to monitor carefully the future of the trust. He will have the opportunity to raise the question directly with the Chancellor at Treasury questions next week.

May we have a debate on civilian use of remote-controlled aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles near major airports such as Gatwick, as they pose an increasing safety risk and a potential security risk?

This is a very significant issue. The availability of drones is now making this a very real problem. The Civil Aviation Authority is looking at it carefully at the moment. Transport questions will be next Thursday and I encourage my hon. Friend to make sure Ministers keep focused on this issue.

People in my constituency and the surrounding constituencies are worried that hospital services are being reduced in our area. May we have a debate on the ill-founded proposal from NHS England to transfer neo-natal services from the high performing North Tees hospital to the South Tees hospital, which currently has major performance problems?

As somebody who has always been concerned about hospital services in my area, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Given the structure of the health service, I have found it most helpful to engage local GPs in a discussion. Indeed, I have found them very useful allies in ensuring that the local service configuration remains what people want.

You know better than anybody, Mr Speaker, that one of my favourite days of the year in this House is when we debate international women’s day. On 19 November, it is international men’s day. In the interests of gender equality, which I know many Members take very seriously, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in this Chamber on international men’s day, just as we have a debate on international women’s day?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being such an effective champion of equality in this House. I was not aware of international men’s day, but I will look very carefully at the suggestion he makes.

The draft guidance released by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence not to approve Translarna was devastating news for the boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who need still to be able to walk in order to access the treatment. Will the Leader of the House seek a statement from the Department of Health, or even allocate time for a debate, on Translarna?

It is always a difficult balance when new drugs come on stream. The role of NICE is to evaluate whether such drugs really can make the difference that is sometimes suggested by those producing them. That can often lead to very difficult, unhappy and challenging decisions. We, as politicians, are not really in a position to judge the rights and the wrongs of the effectiveness of drugs. What I will always do is ensure that such concerns are raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, so that he is aware of them. I am only too well aware of what a terrible disease this is. A number of children in my constituency are affected and, like the hon. Lady, I want them to receive the best possible treatment, but of course NICE has to take difficult decisions as well.

May we have a debate on first wave academies? The Voyager academy in Walton, Peterborough, administered by the Comberton academy trust, recorded catastrophic GCSE results last summer—19% grades A* to E—but nevertheless the regional commissioner has failed to take proper action to remove the trust sponsors. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to encourage her to use her powers to intervene and sack failing academies for the benefit of my constituents in Walton and across Peterborough?

I will indeed do that. The measures passing through both Houses at the moment are designed to make sure we can deal with failing schools as effectively as possible. It is important that we celebrate the success of our education system while being willing to act when it is not there. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be before the House on Monday, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise this issue then as well.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the air accident investigations branch is publishing a report tomorrow on the Clutha helicopter crash in Glasgow, in which 10 people lost their lives on 29 November 2013. Will he grant a debate on this tragedy and the report on the lessons to be learned from it, particularly given the implications for the safety of helicopters?

I caution Members to wait for the report to come out. It was a tragic incident and lessons must absolutely be learned, but let us wait for the report. If lessons or questions arise from it that need to be discussed in the House, those in the Department for Transport and I will give careful consideration to how that can best be done.

NatWest bank in my constituency is planning to close its Hayling Island branch. This follows closures in Leigh Park and Emsworth. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on bank branch closures? Banks must remain at the heart of our successful and booming high streets.

Having experienced several bank closures in my own constituency recently, I understand my hon. Friend’s point. Of course, most of us now bank online, so branches are not always viable, but they can be a central part of a local high street and community. The responsible Treasury Minister is before the House on Tuesday, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make his point then so that we can do everything possible to preserve local banking.

Now that the Ministry of Justice consultation on proposed court closures in Wales and England has closed, may we have a debate in Government time, or at least an oral statement, so that those of us who have significant concerns about the effect of these proposals on the communities we represent can put them on the record?

I will ensure that that point is made to my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. Of course, these are difficult decisions, and I am sure he will want to make sure he gives hon. Members on both sides the opportunity to raise their concerns with him.

Love the Lorry week starts on Monday, and the Road Haulage Association estimates that 45,000 drivers will retire in the next few years, causing an acute shortage of drivers. May we have a debate on the state of our road haulage industry?

I know that this is a matter of great concern to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Transport. I hope that the Government’s focus on apprenticeships will provide a vehicle to bring more people into this important industry, which is a lifeline for many businesses in the country. We must do everything we can to ensure a steady flow of new drivers.

Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the costs of the options appraisal report on the Palace of Westminster refurbishment works? I politely remind him that I requested this information from him on 9 July. Perhaps he could furnish colleagues with that information in a written or oral statement.

It is technically a matter for the House of Commons Commission to release that information, to which he will have access as a member of the Committee of both Houses that is studying these issues. As co-Chair of that Committee, I do not want any secrecy around what we are doing; I want it to be transparent. I have a simple goal: to deliver a solution that protects the integrity and historic nature of the building but in a way that causes minimal disruption to the workings of Parliament and offers the best possible value for the taxpayer.

There are communities in the middle east facing persecution for their beliefs, including the Baha’is and Yazidis in Iraq, but there are also good examples of tolerance and co-existence, such as in Bahrain. In the capital, Manama, there are 19 churches, three Hindu temples and a synagogue, all within close proximity to one another. This shows tolerance and freedom. May we have an urgent debate on the Floor of the House to discuss religious freedom and—a point I made earlier—the Baha’is in Iran.

Religious persecution, wherever it takes place, is utterly and totally unacceptable. I think we should all be particularly distressed at the moment at the way in which minority religions—Christian, Yazidi and others—are being treated so brutally by ISIL. If ever there were a justification for what we are seeking to do in the military action we are taking in Iraq, it would be the sight of what happened to the Yazidi community and the extraordinarily brutal way in which young women have been taken as sex slaves. That is a kind of evil that we should always stand up against.

When can we debate early-day motion 599?

[That this House judges the Chinese investment in Hinkley Point C to be an act of desperation to rescue the failed EPR design after all prudent investors, including Centrica, have fled; is appalled by catastrophic delays and financial losses at all other EPR reactors; notes that Flamanville is six years late and costs had tripled to 10.5 billion euros and the Finnish EPR is seven years late and four billion euros over budget; and believes gifting China with unparalleled rights over UK nuclear development will seriously debilitate the UK’s future economy.]

It deals with the disastrous record of EPR nuclear reactors, none of which works. One is five years late, the other seven years late; one €4 billion over budget and the other €10 billion over budget. As all the sensible investors have fled from the Hinkley Point future disaster, should not Chinese investment be judged for what it is—a cynical sprat to catch the mackerel of control in perpetuity of the British nuclear industry, which will greatly debilitate the future economy and rob us of future jobs?

No, I do not believe that to be the case. The first thing to say, of course, is that this project is being led by the French. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that one reason why we do not have a nuclear power station building capability in this country is that, under last Labour Government, Gordon Brown sold it.

Will the Leader of the House allow MPs the opportunity to discuss the proper role of parliamentary privilege and whether it has been abused under a partisan campaign by any Member of this House?

I should apologise for not answering the question from the shadow Leader of the House about the Privileges Committee, which is due to be set up in the next few days. Members will know that it tends to mirror the Standards Committee in that the parliamentary Members are the same. The Standards Committee has to be established before the Privileges Committee can be. As I say, the Privileges Committee is due to be set up in the next few days and, by the sound of it and from experience of its work, it has quite a big project still ahead of it.

I would like to associate myself and my party with the fine tribute you paid, Mr Speaker, to Michael Meacher. I am sure that the high esteem in which he was held across the entire House will be of some comfort to his family.

When a statement is brought forward about the recent visit—successful visit—by the President of the People’s Republic of China, will the Leader of the House ensure that some comment is made about our agri-food trade with the country? Many promises have been made over the years to include pork and other food produce being exported to China, but very little has been delivered. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that some comment is made and that the matter is urgently brought to the attention of the Prime Minister during the current talks?

I will most certainly ensure that the attention of the Prime Minister and his office is brought to this. We are keen to find all avenues for expanding our trade—both with China and, indeed, other international partners such as India, which is why we are looking forward so much, among other reasons, to the visit of the Indian Prime Minister. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point, and will make sure that it is drawn to the Prime Minister’s attention.

I have recently been informed that the annual inflation rate in the transport construction sector is around 19%, while general inflation is running at zero. This is because of the threat of HS2, sucking up all the required materials and labour for future years. May we have a debate about the impact of the HS2 project on the cost of improvements to conventional rail and other infrastructure projects going forward?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is aware of his concerns. I have to say that this a challenge of success rather than failure. This Government are spending substantial amounts of money on infrastructure. If we are creating demand problems, they will, I hope, create an opportunity for new businesses to emerge to service that work. I think we should be proud that we are delivering infrastructure improvements to this country—something that it has waited for much too long.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on freedom of speech in the workplace? Given that cleaners working for contractors in the Foreign Office have been disciplined for what is seen as the “crime” of asking for a living wage, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Foreign Secretary to attend that debate so that we can express our dismay at what has happened? Will he draw this to the attention of other Ministers to ensure that no contractors working in Government offices treat their workers in this way in future?

I can only speak as a Minister, but I would not countenance circumstances in which anyone working in my Department was unable to raise concerns about their terms and conditions. I do not know the details of the situation in the Foreign Office, but I know my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary very well, and I am sure that he shares my view.

Would my right hon. Friend consider granting a debate on parliamentary privilege, given that comments made by an hon. Member have formed part of what a serving police officer has called a “baseless witch-hunt”?

I think that the extraordinary situation that the House faces over the conduct of the hon. Gentleman will prompt a general debate in the House about the behaviour of Members of Parliament and the way in which privilege works and is used. I also think that, most immediately, it is important for the individual case to be dealt with, and I am confident that it will be, but once that has happened we shall have to ask some serious questions about what has taken place, especially in view of the fact that it has been carried out by someone with such a senior rank in the House.

On Tuesday next week, a statutory instrument, the Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, will be discussed. It would allow fracking wells to be drilled through protected groundwater source areas, which I think would horrify a number of Members. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the debate to take place in the Chamber, so that all Members can take part in it?

In a previous role, I was the Minister responsible for the Health and Safety Executive, which is in turn responsible for safety standards throughout our energy industry. I believe, and the Government believe, that fracking is a necessary part of providing a sustainable supply of energy for the future, but we also believe that we have world-leading standards of safety in works through the industry. For those reasons, I simply do not share the hon. Gentleman’s concern.

With Trafalgar day just past, I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will welcome the launch of the Joining Forces credit union, which will offer affordable credit products to people serving in our armed forces, to veterans, and to those people’s families. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate so that Members throughout the House can draw attention to the availability of the new credit union, and will he join me in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) and our hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) for their long campaign to secure a credit union for the armed forces?

What we learn about during sessions such as this is the great work done by individual Members of Parliament to make a difference. That gives the lie to what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) about the attitude of our party. What we have in our party is a group of representatives of their constituencies who work to make a difference both for local groups and for those who have served our country, and we should be proud of those efforts.

May we have a further statement on Government policy as it relates to Syrian refugees? I have constituents who were born in the United Kingdom, but whose parents and sister are Syrian nationals still trapped in Syria. My constituents can support their parents here in the UK without any recourse to public funds, and normally they would simply apply for a visa, but Syria clearly does not represent a normal set of circumstances. Will the Leader of the House make some inquiries within the Government, and perhaps send me in writing any advice that I can pass on to my constituents?

I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the Home Office. What he has said, however, shows why it is so important that we are supporting refugees in the neighbouring countries and providing a refuge for a number of refugees from the camps there, rather than simply taking some of those who have been strong enough and able enough to find their way to Europe.

Recent events involving the use of parliamentary privilege when serious allegations have been made clearly serve as a cautionary tale for all of us in the House when we name individuals, but it is also clear to anyone who reads the books written by Paul Gambaccini and Jim Davidson that an investigation carried out in the full glare of publicity makes the terror and trauma worse. May we have a statement from the Home Office about what action may be taken to protect those against whom allegations are made?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and one that he perhaps more than anyone in this House understands well. It is important that we have a police force with the freedom to take actions in the interests of justice. I think of the case of Stuart Hall, where allegations that appeared to be questionable initially proved to be very serious and very substantial once his name entered the public arena. I was brought up in a world where the reporting tended to be, “A 30-year-old man is helping police with inquiries,” not the publishing of the full details of the person arrested. Unless our police forces, and indeed all involved in our criminal justice system, are absolutely certain that there is very good reason for putting the name of a suspect into the public arena, they need to think very long and hard before doing so. That lesson needs to be at the heart of the way in which this House behaves, but clearly in recent times it has not been.

The Government have made a number of attacks since the election in May on support for green energy. In the light of reports this morning that our current emissions targets may be insufficient to meet the challenge on global warming, may we have a debate in Government time on support for sustainable energy?

In the past few months the level of electricity generation from sustainable sources in this country has passed 25%. That is far in excess of anything that was envisaged in the early days by the previous Labour Government, so I do not think we have anything to be embarrassed about in our record on sustainable and renewable energy. Also, in a week when the Labour party has been complaining of the high energy costs faced by our steel producers, it is surely right and proper that we in this country do not seek to impose on consumers an ever higher burden of support from either the taxpayer or from bill payers without recognition of the impact that that can have.

Following the questions raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Salisbury (John Glen), for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), for Bolton West (Chris Green), for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and others, it is clear to the Leader of the House that many hon. Members wish to have a debate on parliamentary privilege, particularly when we now hear that comments made in this House led to an unlawful interview and what has been described as a baseless witch hunt.

I can see that feelings on this issue are very strong. It is important to allow the Select Committee to do its work first, but I will take the comments of hon. Members away today and think about how best to address them. These are very serious and important matters. When we have such a clear example of questionable conduct in this House, we clearly have to learn the lessons from it.

The Ministry of Defence’s latest published list of military assets includes jets officially retired in 1993 and grounded helicopters and tanks retired in the mid-1990s. Clearly it would be dangerous to rely on this information, so may we have a statement or debate in Government time on the UK’s real military capability?

I suspect that it is as simple as the armed forces retaining old equipment for training purposes. That is what happens at airports for fire crews and in training in a variety of fields. The hon. Lady is perhaps seeing things that are not actually present.

The crisis facing the steel industry has brought into sharp focus the importance of buying British products. May we have a full debate in Government time on how procurement policy across Government can better help our industries and give them a welcome boost?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and in the case of steel we have worked hard to do that already. I am pleased that 97% of the contracts for steel for Crossrail, the biggest engineering project in Europe, have gone to British sources. It is important that we continue to focus our procurement policy, where we possibly can, on local sourcing and the support of local business. I commit absolutely to that being at the heart of what the Government are trying to do, particularly in what has happened to our steel industry.

Since the Leader of the House is so confident about his Government’s record on sustainable energy, may we have a debate on Government plans to cut energy feed-in tariffs and the reports that that will cost us 20,000 jobs, devastate the rooftop solar industry and lead to 1 million fewer solar panel installations by 2020? That is not very green or efficient.

We take decisions on the basis of what is workable and affordable, and we will see whether the impact of the policy is quite what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

On Tuesday, the Business Secretary failed to mention the Scottish steel industry once in answering an urgent question on job losses in the industry. Will the Leader of the House now secure an urgent debate in Government time on the future of the industry in Scotland, so that we can hold this Government to account for the promises made but not delivered?

Of course, when we talk about the international challenges facing this country, we are referring to the UK as a whole. That is a given. Many aspects of the way in which we as a Government interact with the steel industry are devolved. Transport is an example. It is disappointing that, while we are working hard in England and Wales to ensure that we source as much steel for transport projects as possible from local suppliers, the same has not happened in Scotland, whose own Administration have responsibility in this area.

The reply from the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) made it quite clear that he did not understand the issues surrounding the state pensions of ladies born in the 1950s. May I politely suggest that he meet representatives of Women Against State Pension Inequality, in order to understand that they are not against the equalisation of the state pension age, but that this is an equality issue? Those women have been clobbered not once but twice, and there is no transition. When he has met them, will he change his mind about having a debate on the matter?

I have already had discussions with people who are affected, and I understand why they are frustrated, but the Government have to take difficult decisions about transitions and increasing the state pension age. That is what took place under the previous Government, and it is taking place under this Government. When life expectancy rises sharply—which is good—we have to raise the state pension age, and we have to take difficult decisions about how to do that.

Since I was elected in May, 44 new Lords have been sworn in to the other place, despite this Government’s pledge to cut the cost of politics. Given that, yesterday, even the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) expressed his concern about the performance of the other place, will the Leader of the House now agree, on the second time of asking, to bring forward a debate in Government time on the merits, performance and value for money of the other place—because we might now all agree on abolition?

We are definitely back to the status quo, following the brief glimpse of support for the other place from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). This issue has been debated exhaustively in recent years. There have been at least three debates on it since I was elected, and there have been discussions in the other place. I have no doubt that the other place will in due course have further thoughts about how it should evolve and develop, but this Government’s greater priority at the moment is to sort out our economic challenges and address some of the other issues that our nation is facing. Frankly, reform of the House of Lords is not at the top of our priority list right now.