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Business of the House

Volume 601: debated on Thursday 29 October 2015

The business for next week is as follows:

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

Tuesday 3 November—Second Reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by the remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution relating to the access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill.

Wednesday 4 November—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, including on policing.

Thursday 5 November—A debate on a motion relating to the Government’s stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland and the future of UK banking, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the dog meat trade. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 6 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 November will include:

Monday 9 November—Remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.

Tuesday 10 November—Remaining stages of the Trade Union Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 5 November will be:

Thursday 5 November—General debate on funding for schools.

Mr Speaker, you and colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the November recess at the end of business on Tuesday 10 November and return on Monday 16 November. I should add that during that period we expect a visit from the Indian Prime Minister to this House and I hope that those colleagues who are around and able to be involved will be part of that visit.

Yesterday, Sepp Blatter confessed that FIFA’s award of the 2018 World cup to Russia had been decided long before England put in its bid, and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport grilled World cup sponsors on their complacent complicity in Blatter’s kleptocractic rule. May we have a debate as a matter of urgency on the sink of corruption that is FIFA? British taxpayers and football fans have been diddled out of millions, so surely it is time that we rescued the game from the clutches of these dodgy spivs.

Talking of stitch-up jobs, can the Leader of the House explain something he said yesterday? Referring to the rapid review by Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, the second Baron Strathclyde, of the privileges of us the Commons, the Leader of the House told Members:

“It is absolutely essential that we do not rush this”—[Official Report, 28 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 355.]

and, for that matter, that we should not “rush headlong into change”. However, Lord Strathclyde unfortunately undermined the Leader of the House by telling the “World at One” yesterday that this would all be done and dusted by Christmas. How can that possibly be right? If there is an issue, should not the House be debating it? Or will the Leader of the House just admit that this is not a review at all? It is a FIFA-style stitch-up, isn’t it?

I am not sure whether the Government have got over their little tantrum about losing the vote in the Lords on Monday, but I note that the Chancellor has said several times now that he will make substantial changes to his plan in the autumn statement on 25 November. The Leader of the House will know that the autumn statement is precisely that—a statement and no more. It does not do anything legislatively. So I ask him again, because he did not answer last week: will he allow a three-day debate on the effects of the autumn statement this year?

On Tuesday the chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs Council, Sara Thornton, and Craig Mackey, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police, said that if the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer get their way with the police budget, it will be the end of the era of bobbies on the beat. Is that something for the Conservative party to be proud of? Some 12,000 front-line police officers have already gone since 2010 and it looks likely that more than 20,000 more officers will be lost by the end of this Parliament. We shall devote our Opposition day debate next week to that. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary herself answers the debate so that we can take her to task?

May we have a debate on the ministerial code of conduct? Previously the code has made it clear that there is an

“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations”,

but last week it was revealed that the Prime Minister has insisted that that should be ditched. The former Conservative Attorney-General has said:

“It is impossible to understand why this change has been carried out”,

and Paul Jenkins, the former head of the Government legal service, quite extraordinarily broke cover to accuse No. 10 of

“contempt for the rule of international law”.

Surely to goodness a Minister’s word is still his bond when he signs a treaty, or does the Prime Minister cross his fingers behind his back when he negotiates with EU leaders and signs treaties? And why on earth was the code of conduct issued in a written ministerial statement to the Lords and still not to the House of Commons?

Many parts of this country, as Members around the House have said, still have terrible mobile telephone coverage. Last year the Government had to withdraw their poorly drafted electronic communications code that was intended to deal with the “not spots” around the country. In their manifesto they promised to bring in a new electronic communications code as a matter of urgency, but I note that there is still no sign of it. Can the Leader of the House tell us when it will appear? Mobile phone coverage is now every bit as much of a public utility as water and electricity, so will the Government get a move on?

I confess I am a little worried about the Chancellor’s state of health. He looked really pale earlier this week, I thought. He has, dare I say it, something of the night about him. With Hallowe’en upon us, can the Leader of the House reassure us that the Chancellor will be staying home on Saturday night when it is dark? It is one thing to scream along with “The Amityville Horror” or “Psycho”, but quite another to encounter the Chancellor in a dark alleyway. His form of trick or treat, after all, is to suck family finances dry.

Talking of Hallowe’en, in Scotland it is a time for guising, when people go around disguised in fancy dress. Has the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) not exposed the fact that however hard the Prime Minister has tried to dress up the Tory party, hugging the gays and marrying huskies, the truth is that compassionate Conservatism is dead? All that is left is a fake skeleton costume.

I see that we shall be debating a motion next Thursday on the dog meat trade. I wondered whether this was a debate on the dog’s breakfast that the Chancellor has made of the tax credits fiasco, but I gather that today is when we select the Westminster dog of the year. My deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), has an extremely badly behaved Rottweiler, Sam, and I wish Sam well in the competition. I gather that the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) has two dogs called Boris and Maggie, and that he found that Boris’s behaviour improved considerably when he had him castrated. Will the Leader of the House pass on this advice to the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and all the other candidates for the Conservative party leadership?

I start by delivering some good news to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) who, sadly, is not in his place today. I should inform the House that you, Mr Speaker, after receiving positive feedback, have authorised that the new alphabetical groupings trialled in the Division Lobbies during the September sitting be kept in place for the rest of the Parliament, so the new warm relationship between the Fs and the Gs will continue. Speaking as a G, I can say that the line is moving much better than before, although I have had one or two complaints from those between the As and Fs. In overall terms the system has worked well and we will continue it.

I associate myself with the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House about FIFA. The hon. Gentleman spent a lot of time working very hard when he held the shadow Culture, Media and Sport brief—I am reliably informed that he was slightly disappointed to move from it—so he knows very well how shocking the developments at FIFA have been. There is absolutely no excuse for what has taken place. It is utterly scandalous. I commend everyone involved in pursuing the investigation to the stage we have now reached. It looks likely that prosecutions will follow, and rightly so. It is vital that the game, which is watched around the world and a beacon to many young people, should be absolutely clean and that those who have left it besmirched by corruption should feel the full force of the law. I completely agree that change is absolutely essential.

With regard to the Strathclyde review of the House of Lords, I repeat what I said yesterday: there will be a full statement to this House about the review panel’s terms of reference and composition when Lord Strathclyde is ready to publish those details, as is right and proper. He will take the time that is necessary, given the scope of work he intends to embark upon, and he will make clear shortly how that will work.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about tax credits, I remind him that for the autumn statement we will be using exactly the same procedures that operated in 13 years of Labour government. Now that they are in opposition, Labour Members seem to want to change how this House works, but it was all very convenient for them when they were in government. We will continue to operate as we have done, debating issues fully. We have already had extensive debates on the tax credits issue, and no doubt we will have more.

On bobbies on the beat, let me remind the Labour party about one simple fact: under Conservative leadership in the coalition Government and under this Government, crime has fallen. Yes, we have had to take some difficult decisions, and yes, there are difficult challenges facing the police, but crime has continued to fall. That proves that change can happen without adversely affecting the effectiveness of our public services.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about the ministerial code. I will simply say that under the new ministerial code, Ministers are still required to uphold the law.

The hon. Gentleman says hurrah, and we would expect that from him. The situation will not be different under the new ministerial code.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the electronic communications code and the work of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Let me remind him that the former Secretary of State, who is now the Business Secretary, secured a deal to ensure £5 billion of investment in mobile telephony in this country. We are a Government who do things. We do not just publish documents; we secure new arrangements and deliver improvements. That will continue.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Chancellor’s health and suggested that he looked pale. I must say that over the past few weeks, since events in the Labour party back in the summer, those of us on the Government side of the House have watched with interest the pale faces on the Opposition Benches, the huddles of pallid people asking themselves, “How do we get ourselves out of this mess?” My worry is for the health of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, not the health of the Chancellor, who I can assure him is on great form.

The hon. Gentleman reminded the House that this weekend is Hallowe’en. My sympathies today are with the children of the Rhonda. I simply hope that he is not planning to go trick or treating this Saturday night. Imagine the horror of a person—a small child, perhaps—answering the door and discovering that the hon. Gentleman was out trick or treating in his constituency.

Kamal Foroughi is a 76-year-old joint British-Iranian citizen. He has been held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for more than four years on charges of alleged espionage, and his health continues to deteriorate. His son and grandchildren are in the Gallery today. They have a simple message: “Please let Grandpa come home.” Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate his case and others where simple human compassion demands their immediate release?

I extend my very good wishes to my hon. Friend’s constituent’s family here today, and to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on the case. Given the obvious urgency of the case, I will make a point of ensuring that it is communicated to my colleagues in the Foreign Office immediately after business questions, and I will ask them to respond to him as quickly as possible.

I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I am sure that this morning his thoughts, like mine, are very much with the school community of Cults academy who are tragically mourning the loss among their pupils. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) was a pupil at Cults academy. Particularly for those who represent the north-east, it was quite an appalling tragedy that we witnessed yesterday.

It is day four of the great war of the nobles, and it is starting to get ugly as this House sees the battle of the Tories versus the Lords. The Tories have unleashed their not-so-secret weapon, codenamed Big Boy, to go down to the House of Lords, in all his aristocratic splendour, to sort it out. He is going to emasculate the House of Lords to ensure that it never does anything like this again. He can do this because the House of Lords is without a shred of democratic legitimacy; it represents absolutely no one. I am certain that the Tories will get their way on these particular issues. I am sensing a real desire among Conservative Members to deal decisively with the House of Lords. I am beginning to sense that they have had enough of the unelected Chamber down there with its forelock-tugging barons, earls, lords and baronets, dancing around like Santa Claus and having a stake in this democracy. I appeal to Conservative Members to join us on this. If we are not going to have a report by Christmas, let us have a proper inquiry to look into the role of that place in democracy and ensure that it is dealt with decisively.

We get the Scotland Bill back in a couple of weeks’ time. I am disappointed to see that only one day is set aside for its remaining stages and Third Reading. We had four days in Committee in this House where not one amendment was accepted, even though they were backed by every single Member of Parliament who represents a Scottish constituency other than the sole Conservative. The Secretary of State said that he would be spending this period reflecting and would try to bring back a series of amendments that kept the Bill in line with what was promised in the vow and with the true purpose of the Smith commission. Surely we need more than one day when we are considering such issues.

This is the first business questions in which I have the opportunity to speak as a second-class Member of this House. [Interruption.] Yes, exactly that. I am sure that the Scottish people are watching what is going on just now. I am fairly certain that the Leader of the House has recognised the sheer anger that has been caused in Scotland about our Members of Parliament—Scotland’s Members of Parliament—having a diminished status. “Don’t leave the Union”, they said, but the minute we get our backsides on these green Benches our status is diminished. We still have no idea how this is going to work. We have the Housing Bill on Monday. Is that going to be subject to an English veto, and if so, how will that work out for my hon. Friends?

We are very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for backing the call by SNP Members to get rid of the ridiculous concept of the conference recess. It is absurd that we break and abandon our business to participate in associations of voluntary organisations. I ask you to use your considerable authority to ensure that the summer recess period covers the school holidays of all parts of the United Kingdom and is not exclusively for English Members of Parliament.

The Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House will no doubt be guising, as we say, on Saturday. A new tradition has been taken up by the children of Scotland where they go out disguised as Conservatives, because they are such a rarity in Scotland. The problem is that when they turn up at people’s doors they create real fear in their beholders. They have very little chance of securing any sort of trick or treat when they go out as Conservatives, that is for sure.

I have a confession to make. Until last week, I had not heard any of the work of that distinguished band, MP4, of which the hon. Gentleman is a great part. I had not realised what a great showbiz performer he is. I pay tribute to him; the music is excellent. He brings a bit of that showbiz performance to this House, with a little bit of faux outrage and theatre. He showed a chink of something different a couple of weeks ago when he started to say nice things about the House of Lords, but he is very much back on his usual form today. I know where he is coming from, but we are concerned to do the right thing for our constitution and our democracy. I am very confident that under the good guidance of Lord Strathclyde we will be able to find a resolution to the current problem.

There was also a little faux outrage on the Scotland Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows—the Law Society of Scotland has emphasised this—that we are delivering what we committed to. Of course, I would not expect a group of politicians whose mission is to secure independence for Scotland to do anything except express faux outrage, but I am absolutely confident that we, as a party and as a Government, are delivering what we promised.

If ever there was an example of that little bit of showbiz and faux outrage that the hon. Gentleman brings to the House it was on the issue of English votes for English laws. He describes himself as a second-class citizen, but he will never be a second-class citizen. Interestingly, having heard all the arguments he has made with great flamboyance during the past few weeks, I can remind him of what he said on 14 October 2014:

“I sympathise totally with English Members. Of course they should have English votes for English laws…we respect English Members. They have every right to demand exclusive rights to vote on England-only legislation.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 212.]

The hon. Gentleman brings flamboyance to debates in the House, and I admire him for that, but he has a habit on occasion of delivering slightly mixed messages.

As regards the Conservatives in Scotland, the people who have reason to be scared this autumn—come Halloween and, indeed, the weeks ahead—are those in the Labour party in Scotland, because they have been done over in their own areas by the SNP and we intend to do them over as well. They are the ones in true danger when it comes to the elections next May.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence quality standard on autism calls for waiting times between a referral and an initial appointment for assessment to be no longer than three months. Currently, the targets are not being met across the country. May we have a debate on research from the National Autistic Society showing that the wait from initially raising a concern to diagnosis is, on average, three and a half years for children and five years for adults? That is very important because every Member of the House has approximately 1,000 people in their constituency who suffer from autism and the long waiting times are pushing people to avoidable crisis points.

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. All of us, as constituency MPs, have direct experience of the challenges that families with an autistic child face and of the importance of doing everything we can to give those children the best possible opportunities in life. I pay tribute to those in my own constituency, particularly at Linden Bridge school, who do fantastic work in this area. I am sure that hon. Members from across the House share her interest and her concern that we do the best we can in this area. I know that that view is shared by the Secretary of State for Health, for whom this is an important issue. I will make sure that her concerns are raised with him, and I encourage her to keep bringing this matter before the House through the different channels that are available.

Do the Leader of the House and the Government not think that looking once again just at the House of Lords is like looking at one wheel on the bicycle, while not looking at the other wheel and the Executive who drive it? Should we not have a comprehensive review of how to bring this institution into the 21st century as a legislative body?

There are many different views about how all our constitutional arrangements should work. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee is engaged on such matters at the moment. Its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), is hard at work looking at our constitutional arrangements, and I am sure that the Select Committee will come forward with interesting ideas in due course.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the credentials of the current UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expire next week. As the membership of the new delegation is the responsibility of Parliament, not of the Government, will my right hon. Friend make time next week for the House to express its opinion?

I am obviously aware of the motion on the Order Paper. I would say to my hon. Friend that I have no doubt the House will give this matter careful consideration. The point of having a Backbench Business Committee is of course to ensure that time is available to Members who are not in the Government to allocate time for debate. I am sure that he would be able to make his point to the Committee.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement. The Backbench Business Committee has two debates on Thursday—one is on the Government’s stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the second one is on the dog meat trade. For the avoidance of doubt, the second debate is about the trade in dog flesh, as opposed to selling tins of Winalot or Pedigree Chum. Will the Leader of the House give the Backbench Business Committee an early indication of whether there is any possibility of time in the week beginning 16 November for Backbench Business Committee debates?

I cannot yet give that undertaking, but I expect there will be time available in most weeks. I have no particular reason to believe that time will not be available during that week, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that we have not yet finalised the business for it. He is picking interesting subjects for debate and I think they will command great attention, particularly the dog meat debate, given that the Westminster dog of the year competition takes place today. That is a sign of the concern in this House about the welfare of dogs, and most people in this country do not support the dog meat trade at all.

Communications received by Members this week seem to suggest that some members of the public have been misled about the true nature of proposed new clause 7 to the Finance Bill, on which we voted on Monday, and the true position of this House in relation to the European Union and VAT. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House that makes clear the true position, and what does he plan to do to counter the occasional misrepresentation of the business of this House?

Members have raised that concern with me over the past couple of days, particularly the fact that the Public Whip website gives no clarification of the nature of a Division. I have listened to colleagues and I intend to write to the website, asking it to provide a degree of explanation for Divisions on such issues.

The debate was about principle, not substance, and it is not possible, under the current treaty arrangements, for this House to decide to cut VAT to zero. That decision has to be taken in Brussels, but there is strong interest in securing change. The campaign that has grown off the back of that vote is utterly unacceptable. It is completely unacceptable for third party groups to misrepresent the vote as being a vote against a zero rate for tampons. I think that most Members support the principle of a zero rate for a product that is clearly not a luxury. The Financial Secretary gave a commitment in the debate that he would raise the issue in Brussels; indeed, we have done so. It is not acceptable for third party pressure groups to misrepresent the votes in this House. They give the impression that they are simply left-wing groups attacking the Conservative party and that they are not making legitimate points.

The Leader of the House will be aware that in response to my proposed new clause 7 the Financial Secretary promised to negotiate at European level to achieve a zero rate of VAT on women’s sanitary products. However, he did not commit to a timetable and he did not say that the issue would be placed alongside the Prime Minister’s other core demands in the forthcoming EU renegotiations. Will the Leader of the House give Government time for a ministerial statement confirming that women’s rights are not a second-class issue on this Government’s European agenda?

Women’s rights are never going to be a second-class issue for this Government. The Labour party was in power for 13 years and did not secure any change on this front that would have brought the rate down to zero. [Interruption.] That is all very well, but since Monday’s debate the Vice-President of the Commission has said the Commission is willing to consider the issue, so we are already taking a step in the right direction after that debate. If a Minister gives a commitment to this House, they will follow it through.

Devolution is obviously something we all aspire to, and my county and the districts of Somerset certainly want to embrace it. One of the problems, however, is the lack of understanding of what we can and cannot do with devolution and of the way in which we can embrace it to make sure that the money follows it from the centre. It is fantastic and we want to do it. May we have time to debate the issue so that a clear message goes out to districts, counties and unitaries on how they can get involved in maximising their return for their taxpayers?

That is a really important part of what the Government are seeking to do. There will be no one-size-fits-all approach. There will be different settlements in different parts of the country, depending on the circumstances, including the geography and the local economy. The Chancellor and other Treasury Ministers will be here on Tuesday for Treasury Questions, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make his point to them. There is a great opportunity for counties such as Somerset to be involved in devolution deals that give them greater control over matters that affect their area. I hope that everyone in Somerset and in other parts of the country will engage in the process, which gives a real opportunity to local authorities and local communities.

Given the difficult financial circumstances that the NHS finds itself in, is it not time for a debate on a national tariff for in vitro fertilisation, given that clinical commissioning groups are paying fees as varied as £2,500 and £6,500 a cycle?

My view is that we have a choice within the NHS: we can either devolve responsibilities to local practitioners or keep every decision at the centre. The moment we say that we do not like differences between areas because different local CCGs take different decisions, all the decisions will start to be centralised again. I have always believed, certainly in my own constituency, that local decisions should be taken by local doctors. That is what happens as a result of the reforms that we made and I would be very reluctant to reverse it.

Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on the future of the House of Lords in the near future, purely and simply because of events this week? I have worked on a proposal that was welcomed by Members from all parts of the House in a Westminster Hall debate.

I have no doubt that we will have such a debate in the near future. I encourage my hon. Friend to talk to Lord Strathclyde as he does his review, the scope of which will be set out shortly. I suggest that he take any ideas he has for change to the noble Lord, who will certainly want to hear the views of people in this House.

We have another business statement and the approach of another parliamentary recess, and there is no indication whatsoever that the Government intend to seek a mandate for military intervention in Syria. Is it not patently obvious that there is no consensus and no appetite across the Chamber for another ill-thought-through military adventure? Instead, may we have a statement on the diplomatic, political and financial initiatives that might contribute to bringing peace and stability to that benighted country?

There will be no debate about military intervention in Syria unless we have an intention to intervene militarily in Syria. The reason we have another business statement without a reference to such a debate is that no decision has been taken to intervene militarily in Syria. Of course, should such an event occur, we will come to the House and it will be discussed fully. We have debated the diplomatic actions in and around Syria extensively in recent weeks. The Prime Minister comes before the House each week and the Foreign Secretary comes before it regularly. There will be plenty of opportunities to continue to debate how to address what is an impossibly difficult situation to which all of us desperately wish to see a resolution, but it is difficult to see a path to that resolution, given how complex the situation is.

I feel sure that the Leader of the House is a “Downton Abbey” fan and that he will have been as alarmed as I was by Lord Grantham’s haematemesis two weeks ago. Fortunately, Lord Grantham is recovering well. However, the British Society of Gastroenterology points out that survival from upper gastrointestinal bleeding in this country lags behind those countries with which we can reasonably be compared. May we have a debate on how we can configure endoscopy services in this country to bring us up among the best in Europe, rather than among the worst?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point in his customary light-hearted yet serious way. I did not see that particular scene in “Downton Abbey”, but the descriptions of it were eye-catching to say the least. His comments today are important and I will ensure that they are communicated to my colleagues in the Department of Health. I know that they will listen carefully to somebody with his expertise in the medical arena.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly led on the issue of FIFA, which he described as a “sink of corruption”, but football is still the beautiful game. Will the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, join me in paying tribute and wishing a happy birthday to a former Darlington player, Arthur Wharton, who was the first black professional footballer in the world? We are very proud of him and he is an adopted son of Darlington. Will the Leader of the House join me, the Football Association, FIFA, UEFA, the Professional Footballers Association and the Football League in wishing him a happy birthday?

I happily join the hon. Lady in doing that. From a personal perspective, the beautiful game is slightly tarnished after the penalty shoot-out at Old Trafford last night. I pay tribute to her constituent and to all the black players who were pathfinders in the game and opened it up to a generation of young people. I would like to see more black coaches in football in this country. That should be a priority for the game. I congratulate her constituent on all that he did to contribute to the sport.

My hard-working constituents who use Kingston and Surbiton stations are forced to pay for zone-6 tickets, although logic and fairness dictate that those stations should be in zone 5. Twenty-three stations in London are in zone 5, yet they are further away from their London terminus. I know there are other re-zoning campaigns in London, but ours is certainly the most compelling and I invite the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on the zoning of stations in London.

My hon. Friend’s campaign may be the most compelling in London, but the campaign to get Epsom station into zone 6 is outside London, and I judge that to be equally important. My hon. Friend and I have regularly drawn anomalies in the zoning structure to the attention of Transport for London and the Department for Transport, and I hope we can make progress with that. Our constituents hope to see such progress, and I commend my hon. Friend’s important work. I know that people in Kingston are looking forward to him succeeding in due course.

This week saw cross-party support for a series of proposals to open up the family courts, which successive Governments have promised to reform. Will the Leader of the House permit a debate on how we can break open the cartels that surround the family court system?

Having been Justice Secretary I am aware of and sympathetic to that issue. My only caveat is that we must be careful. Deeply distressing stories are heard in the family courts, and we must not open them up in a way that exposes family heartache to the tabloid media—I have always been cautious about that. Equally, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is no real reason for the closed environment that exists around family courts. That is a matter of concern to the Justice Secretary, and there is cross-party interest in what he is doing. He will be in the House on Tuesday, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise that important point.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I am running a campaign to save the hedgehog. Will he urge all right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that safety measures are in place for Guy Fawkes night next Thursday?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the hedgehog and there has been a distressing fall in our hedgehog population over the past decades. When I was a child we could find a hedgehog in almost every garden, and people would feed them outside their backdoor. That does not happen now to anything like the degree that it used to, and I say to all hon. Members—and anyone listening to this debate—that bonfire night is a real danger for hedgehogs. If people drive round the country they will see large piles of wood that have been set up for bonfires next week. It is all too easy and common for hedgehogs to find refuge in those bonfires, and I ask anyone who has set up a bonfire to double check before they light it and ensure that no hedgehog is nesting inside. We cannot afford to lose any more.

Young people are being killed on our streets, and tragically there have been two youth deaths in my constituency in as many months. That is not isolated. A boy was stabbed to death in Aberdeen; there were shootings in Hackney and Salford, and even machine-gun fire in Willesden. That has to stop, but with the Government continuing to cut front-line services, young people are turning to crime and violence in bigger and bigger numbers. Is it time for an urgent debate to consider how all parties can work together to stop the rise of youth violence?

Knife crime and knife murders are a blight on our society, and I endorse the comments made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) about the tragic events in Aberdeen yesterday. Fortunately, such things are rare in this country, but that makes them even more shocking when they do happen. I send my heartfelt condolences and good wishes to the family involved, and to all those in the school for whom this experience will have been deeply traumatic.

On the streets of London, any death through knife crime is one too many. We have taken measures to toughen the law on carrying knives, and it is important to support organisations that try to move young people away from crime and carrying a knife—organisations such as the Jimmy Mizen foundation that Barry and Margaret Mizen set up in the wake of their son’s death do a fantastic job.

The number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time has continued to fall for a number of years, which is a great step forward. Our challenge with crime in this country is that of people going round and round the system and reoffending, but it is good news that fewer young people are entering the justice system for the first time—long may that continue.

British farmers who successfully apply for environmental improvement grants are being told that unless they put up billboards indicating that the money came from the EU they could lose part or all of the grant. The United Kingdom is a net contributor to the EU, so is this not akin to me taking my money from my bank to do home improvements and putting up a billboard saying, “Thank you, Barclays”? May we have a statement from an agriculture Minister to say that we will resist the desecration of the British countryside by EU propaganda?

This country’s countryside is among the most beautiful anywhere in the world and I sympathise with my hon. Friend for not wanting to see additional signage clutter detracting from its natural beauty. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions are next Thursday, so he will have the opportunity to put his point to a Minister directly. We should keep our countryside pure and natural.

Will the Government make a statement or have a debate in Government time on employees’ pensions in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission? The Leader of the House will know that the commission made a decision to close the final salary scheme in December 2014, but only started consultation with trade unions in June this year. Does he agree that commission staff are working harder than ever owing to the centenary commemorations, and that cutting their pensions while the director general gets a 50% pay rise is completely and utterly inappropriate?

I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making. A whole range of organisations have had to take difficult decisions about final salary pensions, given the very welcome—but challenging for pension fund trustees—increase in life expectancy. I will make sure that the concerns he raises are passed on to my ministerial colleagues.

Following the comments made by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and your excellent article earlier this week, Mr Speaker, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate and a vote on whether the House should continue to have a conference recess, or whether the political parties should pull their finger out, sort themselves out and organise their conferences at weekends, like the Scottish National party do, to enable this House to continue to sit? By having such a debate and a vote, we would be able to work out which MPs believe they should be doing their job in this House and holding the Government to account.

There is growing interest in this area in this House, particularly given the fact that there are perhaps slightly fewer Liberal Democrats than there used to be for their conference week. This matter has been raised with me through the usual channels. Of course, conference bookings by the principal parties take place some years in advance. I do not rule out change in the future, but this is something that needs to be dealt with quite carefully.

I am pleased to hear that there will be a debate on policing. I am, however, somewhat concerned at the lack of reality in the responses given by the Leader of the House to questions on policing. In Enfield, we have lost 150-plus of the uniformed presence on our streets and have seen a 22% increase in violent crime in the past year. I think there is a connection between those two facts. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, when the Government come to this House to present their debate on policing, they face the facts as we face them in our communities and constituencies?

I can only reiterate what I said earlier. The most recent figures in the British crime survey, which indicates people’s experience of crime, show that notwithstanding some of the difficult challenges police forces have had to face up to, crime around the country is continuing to fall. I still believe there is scope for police officers and police forces to deliver new ways of working that bring down costs without affecting the front-line support they provide to our communities.

Labour-run Kirklees council has written off £850,000 in section 106 cash allocated to improve local infrastructure by house builders and developers. Can we have a debate on how such appalling situations are seeing our local communities lose confidence in the planning process?

I am aware of the issue my hon. Friend’s local authority has faced, and it raises questions about credit control and bringing in money when it is due. Local authorities have the power to set timelines, and even to get money in advance, for the section 106 payments they receive. Obviously, this is a matter of concern, and it might be that processes need to change, so I suggest that he raises it directly with the Department for Communities and Local Government, perhaps through an Adjournment debate or at the next time Question Time.

Will the Leader of the House share his current understanding of when proposed legislation in respect of the Stormont House agreement will be introduced, and will the Government consider referring the draft Bill for legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses, given that it will deal with the sensitive issue of legacy, on which there has not been due consultation with victims—for a variety of reasons and excuses—and seeing as Parliament has been asked to legislate in lieu of the Assembly?

I will certainly discuss that with the Secretary of State. Of course, we have been involved in detailed discussions with all the parties in Northern Ireland, and those discussions continue. I hope the measure will be ready shortly, and clearly we will bring it to the House as soon as we can, but I will make the Secretary of State aware of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

I was delighted to hear about the visit by Narendra Modi on 12 to 14 November, and I am pleased there will be an opportunity for Parliament to receive him properly. The visit takes place between the November recess and the Hindu new year. Will the Leader of the House join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains a happy, peaceful, prosperous and healthy new year, and can we have a statement on the Floor of the House about the trade deals and educational and other arrangements that will be made during that great visit?

I absolutely echo my hon. Friend’s happy new year wishes. I hope that everyone in those communities has an enjoyable, relaxing and successful set of new year festivals. I wish them all well. No doubt, you and I, Mr Speaker, will wish to keep the House fully informed about the arrangements for the visit, which we are looking forward to enormously. India is one of our longest-standing allies and the world’s biggest democracy. This is a great occasion for our country.

To digress slightly, last night my hon. Friend and I were guests at an awards ceremony for the London Tigers, a sports club that does amazing work across London with young people from all different communities. It is appropriate for us to place on the record our appreciation to that club.

First, may I associate myself with the call from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) for a debate on the lack of provision for families in which someone has autism?

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that the recent news of greater diversity in the boardroom, especially with respect to women, is welcome but that we need to go much further. May we have an early debate on diversity? Should this House not be an exemplar? Has he looked at the photographs in the corridor behind the Speaker’s Chair of the 64 people who run the House? They are all white and there are very few women.

I absolutely agree about the need for and desirability of diversity. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman said about the photographs, however, I think we have made great progress over the years. There is a world of difference between what the House looked like in 2001, when I was first elected, and what it looks like today. Clearly, however, we need to gee along the recruitment processes a bit, and he will be aware that the Prime Minister this week set out plans to have name- blind applications in the public sector. I think that is right, and other employers are doing the same. I want the House to reflect society in all its workings.

The plan for a station at Edginswell, the first new station in Torbay for decades, is progressing well, with a large amount of funding already secured. Can we have a statement on when the next tranche of new station funding will be available so that we can bid for it and complete the project?

Unfortunately, we have just had Transport questions, so my hon. Friend will have to wait a little before the Secretary of State is back again. I am sure, however, that his comments will be noted. If we look around the country now, 20 years after the privatisation of our railways, we see new railway lines opening—this week saw the start of a new service from Oxford to London on the Chiltern line, which would never have happened in the days of British Rail—and new stations opening, yet we have a Leader of the Opposition and a Labour party that think we would be better off renationalising the whole thing. They have no idea what consequences that would have for our railways; it would be disastrous. As things are now, we are seeing innovations of the kind that my hon. Friend set out—and long may that continue.

Last week, the Prime Minister said that he did not want anyone reliant on food banks, yet this week, the Work and Pensions Secretary told the Select Committee that he planned to station job advisers in food banks. Is it right for extreme food poverty to become an accepted element of DWP national planning? May we have a debate on this proposal and on the plight of the starving poor?

The hon. Lady has got this plain wrong. I remind her that the use of food banks in this country is much lower than in Germany, for example, and it is simply not true that food bank usage can be linked to Government policy. Surely if we have people who are in need of food banks, we should be helping them into work to lift themselves out of poverty. Making sure that jobcentre advisers are aware of what is going on in food banks seems to me sensible, as we try to help those people do better with their lives.

It was an honour recently for me to present certificates to some of the 1,500-odd graduates of the National Citizen Service scheme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real Government success story, and will he allow time for a debate on how to roll this out to more people, year on year?

I think this has been a huge success story. The Prime Minister has brought many things to government, but this is one of those that will have the most lasting impact in this country. It is growing, developing and proving to be a great success. It is changing the lives of young people in different parts of the country, bringing together young people from different backgrounds in a way that can only be positive for the future. Long may it continue and grow.

The shadow Leader of the House was right to raise the issue of the ministerial code. May we have an urgent statement on who made the decision to change the code, the reasons for doing so and why international obligations were removed from it, when it was settled custom and practice for this country?

Given that the ultimate owner of the ministerial code is the Prime Minister and he is here before the House for questions every week, there will be plenty of opportunity to ask him that if the hon. Lady wishes to do so.

On page 29 of today’s Order Paper there is a motion about the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Unusually, it goes on to page 30, because it is signed by 58 right hon. and hon. Members from all the major political parties. It commends the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who has spent years there. He was elected as chairman of the European Conservative group. Will the Leader of the House not only welcome this motion, but put it on next week’s Order Paper? As there is no House business committee, we rely on the Government to bring forward this excellent motion. Will he welcome it and bring it forward?

I have certainly spotted the degree of support for this particular motion, and I am aware of the desire to debate it. There is quite a lot of time allocated through the Backbench Business Committee for debates in this House. I know my hon. Friend is going to return to the issue of the House business committee shortly, but there is a very simple avenue available if he wants to get a motion such as this one debated. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, which is that avenue, is sitting over there on the Opposition Benches.

The Leader of the House may be aware of the case of 26-year-old Tara Hudson, a trans woman who has been sentenced to serve her prison sentence in a men’s prison. The good news is that I have heard today that she is being moved to a women’s prison. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow a statement to be made to clarify the procedures for the sentencing of trans prisoners?

I am aware of the case. These are often very difficult issues, and they are typically dealt with by the Prison Service or the judiciary. Detailed decisions thus tend to be outwith the remit of Ministers. I know that my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice will always want decisions of this kind to be taken carefully and sensitively. Those colleagues will face the House for questions next Tuesday, and I am sure that they will listen to the hon. Lady’s concerns then.

May we please have a debate on how to tackle cybercrime? I have received complaints from constituents in the past, and there is another report in today’s Bury Times about one of my constituents having received one of the very convincing and genuine-looking emails that purport to come from one of our high street banks and ask for personal details. Such e-mails could very easily mislead people and cause them to be defrauded.

This is indeed a matter of concern. A number of worrying cases have been highlighted in recent weeks and months, in which people have lost large chunks of their life savings to some pretty complex and sophisticated scams. The message that we in the House should send to everyone is “Be more than ultra-careful about how you respond to emails, and be more than ultra-careful about how you respond to apparent requests to transfer money to different accounts.” The House should return to this matter regularly, and should send the public—the people whom we represent—the message that there are criminal groups out there who are trying to rip them off all the time.

I ask my hon. Friends to keep bringing the issue up, because it is very important to do so.

I hear the usual sedentary chuntering from the shadow Leader of the House. This is a really serious issue. On television earlier this week, I saw a woman who had been swindled out of £35,000 by a gang who had persuaded her to go to her bank and transfer the money to a different account. It is not a laughing matter.

In a free society, freedom of information is essential. Public bodies are public and should always be publicly accountable, and the powerful must always be held to account. Does the Leader of the House therefore understand the concern that is being expressed in Birmingham, and by the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail, about the current threat to freedom of information, and will he agree to arrange an urgent debate on what is a threat to a cornerstone of our democracy?

The irony is that the person who said that he regretted the Freedom of Information Act 2000 most was the former Member of Parliament Jack Straw, who introduced it. He said that he looked back on it as one of the things that he had got wrong. This Government are committed to the Act, but we want to ensure that it works well and fairly, and cannot be abused or misused. It is, on occasion, misused by those who use it as, effectively, a research tool to generate stories for the media, and that is not acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how Governments make decisions, and this Government do not intend to change that.

I know from my own family’s experience just how devastating pancreatic cancer can be. As November is pancreatic cancer awareness month, may we have a debate about awareness, and about what the Government are doing to help those who are suffering from this dreadful disease?

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Of course, all forms of cancer—and pancreatic cancer in particular—are deeply distressing for those who suffer from them, and for their families. It is encouraging that we seem to be taking some significant steps in terms of treatment and research on various treatments for the future. I am pleased that, notwithstanding the financial pressures that we face, we have maintained our science budgets, which—along with substantial private sector funding for research—open up a better future for sufferers, and I hope that that work continues.

Since the opening of today’s sitting, welcome news has emerged from China that it is to end its one-child policy. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the workings of their two-child policy, with particular reference to the “rape clause”?

Of course, full details will become available. I am aware of the issue and will ensure that the fact that the hon. Lady has continued to raise this concern is communicated to my colleagues.

I welcome the Government’s announcement that anti-Muslim hate crime will be recorded as a separate category for the first time by police in England and Wales, bringing Islamophobia into line with anti-Semitic attacks targeting Jews, which have been recorded separately now for some time. May we therefore have a debate on hate crime in all of its forms, and what more we can do to eradicate this from our society?

Hate crime in any form is unacceptable. I am very much aware that although we have seen a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in recent months, there are regular attacks on mosques and Muslims in this country. I therefore think the steps this Government are taking are absolutely right. We should not tolerate hate crime against any of our communities. It should be dealt with by the full force of the law whenever it occurs, and the hon. Lady does an important service to this House in reminding us of our obligations in that regard.

May we have a debate on defence procurement and buying British? Why are the three new Royal Navy ships and the 500-plus armoured vehicles for the Army not being built with British steel?

On those occasions when there is a specialist metal requirement, we have to source the specialist metal from wherever it is made. However, 97% of the steel that is being put into Crossrail comes from British sources. It is disappointing that the Scottish Government have not done the same for their contracts in Scotland. The steel that is going into our aircraft carriers is also British steel, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman this question about defence procurement and British jobs: if he is so concerned about the use of British steel and jobs in Britain, why does his party now support a policy that would involve scrapping the plans for four new Trident submarines to be built in Barrow-in-Furness?

When can we debate the convention that serving Prime Ministers are not invited to give evidence to Select Committees? There is compelling evidence now that three Prime Ministers were unwittingly but directly involved in an enterprise that cost the taxpayers many millions of pounds. Is it not important, too, that we understand why three Prime Ministers were infatuated by the delusional fraudsters of Kids Company?

There are two points to make here. First, I think everyone on both sides of the House is deeply distressed to see what has become of Kids Company. That is not good news for any of us. The second point is to remember that, notwithstanding what has gone wrong in that charity, some people who volunteered for it did some very important work and believed in what they were doing, and I do not think we should decry that work. I also say to the hon. Gentleman that we have a Liaison Committee made up of some of the most senior people in this House and that Committee meets the Prime Minister and questions him each month. It is in my view precisely the vehicle the hon. Gentleman is looking for.

Three years ago Hull’s caravan manufacturers had to fight off the caravan tax which would have blighted their industry. Now we have the Government buying steel from the Chinese and the Swedish. I wonder if it is about time we had a debate in this House about an industrial policy for our country, and not every other country in the world.

Let me tell the hon. Lady about an industrial policy. An industrial policy which leads to a dramatic drop in UK steel output and a near-halving of the proportion of our economy that is taken up by manufacturing is the industrial policy we had under the last Labour Government. Under this Government we have been working to restore manufacturing and research and development, and steel production is at the same level or slightly higher than when we took office. Labour is the Opposition so its Members can of course ask questions without remembering their own record in government, but just on occasion they should look in the mirror and say, “What did we do in government?”, because actually when it comes to manufacturing in this country they made a right royal mess up.

Concern about the illegal wildlife trade is growing and the Duke of Cambridge spoke out about this issue only last week. Responsibility in the Government lies within three Departments: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. May we have an early debate to look at how we can better co-ordinate a UK Government response to end this vile trade?

I wholeheartedly agree. To see the return of elephant poaching in southern Africa is something I find deeply distressing, and the threat now facing the rhino is profoundly distressing. I commend Prince Harry and Prince William for the work they have done in this area over the years, and I commend everyone in this House who works to highlight this very real challenge. I want future generations in this country to be able to enjoy these great creatures, to see them in the wild, and not to have to look back in history books for the times they walked the earth.

I will make sure the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State. Perhaps he would like to raise this issue at DEFRA questions next Thursday, because that Department has the biggest role in this. It is important we do everything we can to stem what is a vile trade.

Dupuytren’s contracture is a debilitating disease of the hands caused by manual labour. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council made recommendations to the Department for Work and Pensions way back last year on why the Department should make it a prescribed occupational disease, yet no official announcement has been made. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the reasons for the delay, which is having an impact on many disabled people in the UK?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I do not know the answer to his question, but we will have DWP Ministers here on Monday and I will make sure that they are briefed in advance on this question, so if he chooses to raise it again then, they will be well prepared to give him a proper response.