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Business of the House

Volume 601: debated on Thursday 5 November 2015

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 9 November—Remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.

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

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the short November recess at the end of business on Tuesday 10 November and will return on Monday 16 November.

The business for the week commencing Monday 16 November will include:

Monday 16 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Tuesday 17 November—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords] (day 2).

Wednesday 18 November—Opposition day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 19 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee

Friday 20 November—Private Members’ Bills.

I remind hon. Members that Parliament week, which this year runs from 16 to 22 November, is a programme of events that seeks to connect people across the UK with parliamentary democracy. Organisations from across the UK are taking part and running talks, debates, walks and exhibitions in support of Parliament week. I know that Members on both sides of the House will wish to support activities in their constituencies as well as the institution as a whole.

On Sunday, we shall all stand with our heads bowed in memory of the fallen. I shall be in Ferndale, where the cenotaph had one name added just three years ago, that of former miner Private John Murray of 16th Battalion the Welsh Regiment, who enlisted in 1914 aged 17 and was killed in action along with 4,000 or so other Welshmen at Mametz Wood at the Somme two years later. We owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude, as we do to today’s serving personnel and veterans.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government’s plans to cut working tax credits will leave a level 1 private in the British Army, with two children, earning £18,000 a year, even including the increase in personal allowance and the free childcare, £2,000 a year worse off? Is it not a disgrace that the Government are letting down 28,000 of our soldiers like this? The Prime Minister yesterday and last week pointedly refused to guarantee that nobody will lose out when the Chancellor revises his plans on working tax credits on 25 November, so may I repeat my request for a three-day debate on the autumn statement so that we on the Opposition Benches and those on the Government Benches who are unhappy with the Chancellor’s proposals can properly scrutinise his plans?

This is national trustees week, so may we have a debate to celebrate the enormous contribution that so many people throughout the country make to the 10,000 or so local and national charitable trusts? I know that many right hon. and hon. Members do their bit for charities as well. The Leader of the House is an ex officio trustee of the National Portrait Gallery and we look forward to his portrait appearing there soon. Apparently, there was massive public demand. Five Members ran the London marathon this year, and I gather that the shadow Home Secretary is running next year. I have run three times, for Mind, for prostate cancer research and for the Army benevolent fund. The last time I ran, just as were getting to the final moments outside Buckingham Palace, I was rather depressed to be overtaken by two men dressed as custard tarts. It is probably not the first time an MP has chased a tart down the Mall.

That brings me to Movember, when we raise awareness of men’s health issues, including prostate and testicular cancer. I have mentioned this to the hon. Member concerned: has the Leader of the House noticed that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) has sprouted a nasty—sorry, natty; no, actually it is pretty nasty —moustache and is beginning to look like an extra in a 1970s Mexican porn movie? That is according to the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly). I personally have never—well, maybe I have.

Earlier this week driving instructors in Pontypridd were informed that the local driving test centre is being closed by the Government, though so far not a single Government Department has managed to answer a question on this. Can the Leader of the House assure us that at least some driving test centres are going to stay open? I am beginning to worry that Ministers do not know the difference between an elegant three-point turn, a hasty U-turn and an illegal hand-brake turn. After all, on the issue of Channel 4 the Culture Secretary said categorically on 26 August:

“The ownership of Channel 4 is not currently under debate”,

but yesterday the Prime Minister made it clear that he is considering selling it off. Does he not realise that the only way Channel 4 would be worth selling is if it were stripped of its entire public service remit, and that would be a profound mistake?

That brings me to fracking in our national parks. Last week the draft Onshore Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations were considered in Committee, and eagle eyes have been trained on the Order Paper to see when they might appear for a vote of the whole House. These measures, I believe, will harm our world heritage sites and national parks, such as the north moors and the south downs, and will endanger drinking water protection zones and important wildlife sites, so will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a proper debate in the House? Will he tell us where the measure has disappeared to? Will he explain why the Department yesterday announced publicly a consultation on the very subject that is theoretically mid-passage through this House but did so without even bothering to tell this House?

On secondary legislation, have the Government learned nothing? They are pushing through enormous welfare changes via the Universal Credit (Work Allowance) Amendment Regulations, which will slash the work allowance from £9,000 to £5,000 and will provide a real disincentive to work for more than 12 hours a week. These regulations will not even get a 90-minute debate unless the Leader of the House allows it, so will he do so now, following on from early-day motion 620 tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and others?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Universal Credit (Work Allowance) Amendment Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1649), dated 7 September 2015, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10 September, be annulled.]

I know that the Government are tempted to emulate Guy Fawkes by blowing up the House of Lords, but can he clarify that these measures are not in a money Bill and could not be in a Finance Bill, and that therefore their lordships are perfectly entitled to vote on them, even if we are not allowed to?

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), have been campaigning to end the scandal of gay conversion therapies. As the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) said in the debate he secured on the subject in Westminster Hall earlier this week:

“Being gay is not a disease, it is not an illness...Not a single medical body supports the concept of a ‘gay cure’.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 300WH.]

Will the Government please now move to end conversion and aversion therapies?

Incidentally, I urge the Leader of the House personally to backtrack—whether a hand-brake turn, a U-turn or whatever kind of turn, but turn he must—on something he said last week. Speaking about the Freedom of Information Act, he said:

“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.”—[Official Report, 29 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 522.]

I gather from one Conservative central office friend of mine—I have a few—that when in opposition CCHQ virtually drowned Whitehall in FOI requests, and when some nugget was found the name on the press release was always that of the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I do not know what the word for that is, Mr Speaker. The truth is that countless public interest stories have come to light only because of FOI. It is an essential part of a free press today. It is not FOI that the Government do not like, but legitimate opposition.

Let me start by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s words about events this Sunday. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to the veterans of past wars, and indeed to our current armed forces. My constituency has a cemetery commemorating a number of Commonwealth soldiers who came to Europe to fight the war and lost their lives. They are often forgotten as we commemorate those from this country who gave their lives. I would therefore also like to pay tribute to all those from around the world who came to Europe to fight a war in the defence of freedom and who lost their lives. In doing that, it is also particularly appropriate to remember those Indian soldiers who lost their lives, because next week we will be receiving in this building the Prime Minister of India, which is the world’s largest democracy and a friend of the United Kingdom. We look forward to welcoming him and hearing his speech. Although the House will be in recess, I very much hope that hon. Members from this House and peers from the other place will be able to listen to his words.

A couple of weeks ago the shadow Leader of the House said that this House should always be good at celebrating anniversaries, so I am sure that he will want to join me in celebrating in the coming days the 20th anniversary of the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I am proud to be a member of a party that has steered through some of the great social reforms in the history of this country. We have delivered electoral reform, great social and public health reforms, and we were the first party to deliver a disability discrimination reform—[Interruption.]

I am proud to mark that anniversary, and I am sad that the hon. Gentleman feels unable to join me in celebrating a moment when this House did the right thing. Of course, he does not even like remembering that we were the party that elected the first woman Prime Minister.

The hon. Gentleman asked about working tax credits. I will simply reiterate what the Prime Minister said yesterday, which is that he will have to wait until the autumn statement. We will of course provide the House with an opportunity to question the Chancellor about the autumn statement in the usual way, just as his party did over 13 years in government. He mentioned our armed forces. Let me just remind him that this Government have strengthened the military covenant and done more than any previous Government to celebrate and look after our veterans, and we will continue to do that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about driving test centres—he also mentioned Channel 4, so he has clearly not quite got over being moved from his Culture, Media and Sport brief—and I must say that, having seen the Labour party’s complete inability this summer to do an emergency stop in its leadership contest before driving into a wall, I do not think that Labour Members should be arguing that they know all about driving test centres.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of fracking. We have a statutory instrument passing through this House in the normal way and it will be voted on in the normal way. Yesterday the Department launched a technical consultation. We in Government do not simply stop talking to people when a matter is being considered by the House. We are talking to external stakeholders, and these matters will be brought before this House in the normal way. He said, extraordinarily, that this House would not be able to vote on universal credit SIs. Of course it will be able to vote. This House votes on every measure that comes through it, and this will be no different. It will come to the Floor of the House in due course. Every single statutory instrument that comes before Parliament is voted on by this House and this will be no exception.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned national trustees week, and I echo him in that. He is right to mention the very good work done by volunteers up and down the country. Indeed, this afternoon I will attend a meeting of the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery. I pay tribute to those who serve that great institution and those who serve other great institutions, as well as local trustees of local charities; they do a great job of work for us.

Finally, I wish everybody who is going out tonight, on 5 November, a great bonfire night. I have to say that this place can be slightly cruel sometimes. I think it was very unfair of one of our colleagues to suggest a few days ago that the hon. Gentleman will be spending 5 November out at a bonfire of the vanities.

May we have a debate on helping people to save on their use of energy, on boosting tourism, and on cutting the number of accidents on our roads? Is the Leader of the House aware that all those things could be achieved if we started to use British summer time in winter? Is it not about time that in winter we stopped plunging this country into darkness and misery by mid-afternoon?

This issue has been brought before the House on a number of occasions. I suspect that there may be a slight difference between my right hon. Friend and those on the Scottish National party Benches. It is an argument that is often made and an issue that will, I think, return to this House on a regular basis. It should be a subject of continual debate to make sure that we get it right.

I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

I associate my party with the remarks about Remembrance Day on Sunday. All my colleagues will be at services right across their constituencies in Scotland. I also reinforce the Leader of the House’s remarks about the contribution from overseas soldiers. On Sunday, I laid a wreath at the Polish war graves in Perth. This demonstrates that people fleeing Nazi persecution came to this country only to go back again in order that Europe be made free. It is a very important day that my colleagues will be sharing in.

On this inauspicious day for parliamentarians, I hope there will be a bonfire reserved for the Tories’ callous welfare reform plans, stoked up with the plans to curtail trade union rights, while the proposals for tax credits are shredded and continue to go up in smoke.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House, without any great expectation, whether he could reserve more time for the Scotland Bill, which will be before the House on Monday, and of course he has not obliged me or my hon. Friends. It therefore looks as though we are going to have some five hours to discuss and debate over 100 amendments to the Scotland Bill—amendments that are critical for the resolution of the Scottish devolution settlement. This is so frustrating, because we had four days in Committee on the Scotland Bill where no amendments were accepted by the Government and they offered no amendments of their own. We were told in response to those four almost-wasted days that this is now a listening stage. Is this where we have got to in Parliament—that a Committee of the whole House is just a listening stage? Surely we would better off just going round to see the Secretary of State or writing to him about the things that were not picked up. Surely we must have real time to have real debates about real legislation. If a Committee stage of this House is just a listening stage, we are going to have to rethink how we bring business through this House.

This week there was a historic vote in the Scottish Parliament when Trident renewal was voted against by a majority of 96 to 17. The SNP combined with most of Scottish Labour to vote down Trident, which will defile our beautiful country by being placed there. They now join the 57 out of 59 Scottish Members of Parliament who are resolutely opposed to spending billions of pounds on this obscene weapon of mass destruction. How will the Leader of the House respond to this very clear call from Scotland and from Scottish parliamentarians? Will we see support from the Labour party when it comes to debating this in order that it gets through? We know that the Blairites have a difficulty and an issue with Trident renewal, but surely the voice of Scotland must be listened to in this respect.

This week, we had our first certified EVEL—English votes for English laws—Bill and it is been an absolute disaster thus far. We have heard of all sorts of panic in the Clerks Office and no one has a clue how this weird legislative hokey cokey will be played out as the Bill progresses through this House. Meanwhile, there is a dispute about the clauses that may be vetoed and uncertainty about whether or not they apply to Scotland. Mr Speaker, you said that this was an experiment. If it is shown at a very early stage that this experiment has become the dog’s breakfast we expected it to be, will the Leader of the House withdraw his EVEL plans and reinstate every Member in this House to the same status and class?

Lastly, at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions the exchange between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition did not conclude until 12.16 pm, leaving less than half the available time for Back Benchers to ask questions of the Prime Minister. If PMQs are going to be so slow, will the Leader of the House agree to look at how they are conducted? As a starter for 10, perhaps we could limit the time available to the Leader of the Opposition to 10 minutes. He would still have a third of the available time and he could ask as many questions as he wants on behalf of whoever he wants, and then Back Benchers would have the opportunity to put their questions to the Prime Minister. If the Leader of the House agrees to that, the prospects of Back Benchers will be lit up as much as any firework display this evening.

Before I respond the hon. Gentleman, I will respond to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the issue of gay conversion therapy, which I forgot to address earlier. It might be slightly unusual to pay tribute to one’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, but my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has done a really good job in raising this issue. He is establishing himself as one of this House’s foremost champions—possibly its foremost champion—of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and I commend him for that. The concept of gay conversion therapy is an insult to the LGBT community. It has no place in our society and I am very pleased that the head of the national health service has said that he also believes it has no place in the NHS.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned the time reserved for the Scotland Bill, which was debated extensively on Second Reading and will be debated again on the Floor of the House next week. It will give him and his colleagues in Scotland a substantial additional range of devolved powers. I cannot understand why they are so keen to continue debating the Bill rather than to get it through and start using the powers. Surely this is about giving extra power and responsibility. If I were in the hon. Gentleman’s position, I would want to get my teeth into that power and responsibility and get on with the job. I cannot understand why the Scottish National party wants to delay the Bill further rather than to turn it into law.

On Trident, I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, because he is right to identify the fact that the Labour party is all over place. I am at a loss to understand the situation whereby shadow Defence Ministers are saying that our independent nuclear deterrent is good for this country and necessary for our future defence strategy, and yet their party leader says he wants to get rid of it. I well understand the confusion of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire and I am sure that confusion is reflected in the Labour party in Scotland. I have to disappoint him, however, and say that it is the settled view of the Government—and, I think, of the majority of the United Kingdom Parliament —that, at a time when the world is a potentially dangerous and unstable place, the worst thing we could possibly do is get rid of our independent nuclear deterrent.

The hon. Gentleman’s faux outrage on EVEL made a return today. The truth, however, is that, privately—and, indeed, when he is away from this House—he has said on more than one occasion that he sees no reason why the English should not have an English votes for English laws-type system. That is what we have now got. I think the hon. Gentleman is uncomfortable with the decisions you have taken, Mr Speaker, over the certification of the EVEL measures. My view is that in this House your word is final. Whether we like it or not, we have to take your judgments on matters such as EVEL as the defining word on how they are to be handled. The hon. Gentleman may not like the certification, but the certification is the certification, and that is how it is going to be in future.

On Prime Minister’s questions, again I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, but Government Members cannot be responsible for the Leader of the Opposition and the amount of time he takes to ask his questions. As far as I can see, the Prime Minister is being as succinct in his responses as he has ever been. The reality is that is for Mr Speaker to decide whether the sitting is running too long, and he certainly does that.

Ahead of next Saturday’s world diabetes day, will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on what more can be done to help educate those with diabetes on how to manage their condition? Will he join me in congratulating Diabetes UK on its “Taking Control” campaign, which is already doing fantastic work in this area?

The whole question of diabetes has become much more of an issue in this country in recent years. There is greater awareness of it and of its implications for the health of individuals. The work done by organisations such as Diabetes UK, but also the teams of local volunteers—those who have experienced it themselves and those who suffer from the condition—is invaluable.

I commend my hon. Friend for raising the issue in the House. It is quite regularly brought up in Adjournment debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall debates, and I encourage her to think about such debates as a future opportunity for ensuring that the issue stays at the forefront of the considerations of Ministers and of society as a whole.

Many people across the north-east will be disappointed by the report of the quality contract scheme board on the future of local bus services in the region. The report puts at risk a key devolution commitment, made less than a fortnight ago, to give the north-east bus franchising powers once again. Will the Leader of the House clear up the confusion by arranging for a statement to be made, and will he offer some reassurance that our devolution deal is worth the paper that it is written on?

Devolution deals are very much worth the paper that they are written on. It is our intention to move powers away from Whitehall. On the buses front, that matter is subject to debate, discussion and planning in the Department for Transport. Clearly, when we are ready to make further announcements, we will do so.

Page 49 of the Conservative party manifesto for 2015 says:

“We have improved the operation of Parliament, strengthening its ability to hold the Government to account, with reforms such as the election of Select Committee chairs”.

It also says in very bold print: “We will reform Parliament”. Will the Leader of the House provide at least a written statement next week on all the reforms he proposes for Parliament?

I will certainly consider my hon. Friend’s request, but I would say to him that I tend to want to wait for Committees—such as the Procedure Committee, which I know is considering a number of different options at the moment—to bring forward proposals, so that anything we do in Parliament is driven not by the Government, but by Parliament itself. A number of Committees are looking at making recommendations about the way Parliament works, and I look forward with interest to seeing what they suggest.

The Leader of the House can be assured that the Backbench Business Committee has enough on the stocks to fill the time allocated to us on 16 and 19 November. However, I am afraid I have to say again to him that the communication lines between his office and our Clerk are not brilliant. I was first informed that we had been allocated Monday 16 November by my Chief Whip on Monday of last week. I really wish we could get that line of communication to work better so that the Backbench Business Committee is the first to be made aware of the time allocated to it.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the unveiling of a permanent memorial to Corporal Steven Thomas Dunn and Rifleman Mark Turner at Saltwell park in Gateshead. We also had the opening of the north-east field of remembrance there last Saturday to mark this Remembrance week. The Royal British Legion has the aim that, for the commemoration of the end of the first world war in 2018, the north-east field of remembrance will have a poppy or cross for every member of service personnel from the north-east of England killed in the first world war, with a target of over 120,000 poppies and crosses. Will the Leader of the House spare the time for a statement about the support that the Government are giving to the Royal British Legion in such endeavours all over the country?

I pay tribute not just to those involved in what is clearly an important symbol of remembrance in the north-east, but to all those around the country—in churches, local authorities, voluntary sector groups, the Royal British Legion and, indeed, other forces charities—who will play a supporting role in ensuring that the commemorations we will all be part of can take place. This is a really important moment in our national calendar, and I pay great tribute to all those involved in making it a reality.

With regard to the time available for the Backbench Business Committee, in a sense I make no apology for having tried to squeeze out a bit more time for the hon. Gentleman: he now has a day and a half in that week, rather than just a day. However, I take note of the points he has made.

At this time of remembrance, may we have a debate about the right to wear medals? One of my constituents who serves with Her Majesty’s forces is the proud recipient of the NATO Africa medal. He has been told by the Foreign Office that it is a keepsake and he is not allowed to wear it. It seems extraordinary that at this time we can wear our poppies with pride, but people such as my constituent who have won the NATO Africa medal for their services against piracy are not allowed to wear it.

I do not approve of anyone who has served this country being denied the opportunity to wear a medal. I will ensure that my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence are aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns.

Today, 5 November, I would like to raise the question of fire safety—that is appropriate given the history of these buildings and fire, but it is a total coincidence. I have written to the Leader of the House to raise the disappointing number of parliamentary colleagues and our staff who have completed their online fire safety training, which is available on the intranet and takes less than 10 minutes. For the safety of ourselves, our staff and, more importantly, the visitors and guests who come to this place, I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he can do to encourage more colleagues to do their own training and to encourage their staff to do the same.

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work in this area. When I took on this role and became involved in the restoration and renewal project, I took the cellar tour, as a number of colleagues will have done. I was slightly disappointed because, although the building burned down in the 1830s, I had an image of great medieval cellars having survived, where once Guy Fawkes and his team had hung out. As he will know, that is not the case. It was all rebuilt and we now have something that is not tall enough for me to stand up in. The fact is that this is an old and enormously complex building where fire safety is and should be a priority for us all. I commend him for his suggestion and encourage people on all sides of the House to take his wise advice today.

May I join the shadow Leader of the House in calling for a debate on freedom of information? I take rather the same line as him on that issue. In such a debate, perhaps we could highlight the land deal done by the Labour-controlled West Yorkshire fire authority, in which it has given up two existing sites in return for one new site, which most people think is costing it in the region of £50,000 to £100,000. It refuses to release the valuations for the three sites, which would allow taxpayers to know whether their money is being used in an appropriate fashion. I urge the Leader of the House to hold a debate on freedom of information so that we can try to get to the bottom of whether my local taxpayers are being ripped off by the Labour-controlled West Yorkshire fire authority.

I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no changes to freedom of information without a debate in this House. I am sure that he will take part in that debate when it happens.

My constituents are extremely worried about the National Grid’s ability to keep the electricity supply going through the winter. Will the Leader of the House bring forward a statement on what the Government are doing to assure the electricity supply and bring forward his own plans to assure us that the lights will be kept on in this place throughout the winter?

That is clearly an important issue. We have been dealing with a lack of investment in energy generation in this country over the past decade. The Government take that enormously seriously and monitor the situation closely. We are trying to find the right balance between ensuring that we have sufficient generating capacity in this country and fulfilling our obligations under the climate change agreements we have reached. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will undoubtedly be available to the House throughout the winter and provide regular updates.

As we heard earlier, last week the Delegated Legislation Committee voted through the fracking provisions. Although there are protections for UNESCO world heritage sites, such as that in my constituency of Bath, the spa water that feeds into the spas sits outside the protected zone. My constituents are genuinely concerned about that. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate is desperately needed on that issue?

That matter will clearly come before the House, and provisions for fracking include tight rules on the level at which it can take place. Through the Health and Safety Executive, we have probably the finest regulators of safety in the energy industry and workplace anywhere in the world. My hon. Friend should be confident that they will ensure that any fracking that takes place will be done with the utmost technological care.

After Business questions last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), and others, raised a point of order. Many of us were expecting a Government statement on delays to the publication of the Chilcot inquiry, so that Members could express the views of our constituents. Given the allegations that delays are being caused by Whitehall Departments, will the Government make a statement or hold a debate in Government time, so that Members across the House can deliver a view on this serious matter?

I can only reiterate what I have said: the Government want the Chilcot report to be published at the earliest possible opportunity and we regret the delays that are taking place. This inquiry is outwith the control of Government—there is no benefit to us in the report’s being delayed, and we want it to be published as soon as possible. The Prime Minister has offered Sir John additional resource to try to bring forward the publication date, but the content and the publication of that report are a matter for Sir John. We will continue to inform the House, as we did when we published correspondence between the Prime Minister and Sir John last week.

May we have a debate on the education funding formula in England? West Sussex local education authority is the second lowest funded, despite containing considerable pockets of deprivation, principally in my constituency.

There is a debate on education funding in Westminster Hall this afternoon, and I encourage my hon. Friend to take part. Funding is an issue around the country, and we endeavour to get it right and ensure that our education system is funded properly. We have sought to protect our schools budget, notwithstanding the tough financial challenges we face.

As a Unison activist before I came to the House, I warned against the privatisation of NHS patient transport services in Greater Manchester. This week it has emerged that the private provider, Arriva Transport Solutions, has systematically overstated its performance figures, and wrongly claimed huge amounts of incentive payments from the public purse. Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on that scandal, so that Ministers can confirm to the House whether there will be a police investigation?

As the hon. Lady will know, I take allegations of corporate fraud against the Government enormously seriously. When I was Justice Secretary I referred two of our major providers to the Serious Fraud Office, and I secured from them compensation of many tens of millions of pounds for events that were well recorded at the time. I will ensure that the Health Secretary is aware of her concerns. He will be taking questions in the House on Tuesday week, and I will try to ensure that he is able to answer her question if she puts it to him directly.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the opening of the new studio at Mercury theatre in Colchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that great theatre and the arts are not just the preserve of London, and will he allow time for a debate on the important role that community and regional theatres play in bringing arts to our communities, cities and towns?

I pay tribute to those who run regional and community theatres. Many of our constituencies have theatres that attract local performers as well as those from around the country, and they are to be celebrated. I am sure that my hon. Friend will take advantage of his many opportunities—such as the Adjournment debate system or the Backbench Business Committee—to ensure that such theatres stay in the public eye.

This week is living wage week. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Cardiff University in my constituency, which has won the 2015 living wage champion award for Wales—the only UK university to receive such recognition? Will he advise his colleague, the Chancellor, that his so-called national living wage is not a living wage?

I am afraid I do not really buy that, although I will commend Cardiff University. The Labour party was in power for 13 years and it did not seek to introduce a living wage. For the first time, we have brought forward proposals that will lead to a dramatic increase in the living wage to more than £9 an hour by the time of the next general election—another great Conservative social reform.

On Sunday, I will be attending a very solemn Remembrance Day service on the Hoe in my constituency. Unfortunately, this year we do not seem to have had a debate on, or an opportunity to pay tribute to, those who fought in the world wars. My grandfather served in Jutland, which we will have ample opportunity to commemorate next year. May we have a debate to make sure that next year we pay tribute to those servicemen and servicewomen who gave their lives to defend our freedoms?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Traditionally, the House set aside five days for debates on different aspects of defence, armed forces and our veterans. That time has now been allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. He makes a strong case and I encourage him to make it to the Chairman of that Committee, because it should be a part of our calendar.

May we have a debate or a statement on local government funding for the arts and museums? As a result of Government cuts, local authorities are finding it very difficult to fund the arts and museums.

There is no doubt that it is tougher than it has been for those in the public sector to run services, because we have had to eliminate the largest deficit in our peacetime history. Up and down the country, local authorities are adapting to those changing circumstances and are still delivering high quality services. I feel confident that that will be true in the hon. Gentlemen’s constituency.

The Aarhus convention establishes a number of rights for the public with regard to the environment. Will the Leader of the House think about having a debate in Government time on how it is being implemented in the UK parliamentary process to ensure fair and effective public participation in the preparation of infrastructure projects? We could perhaps at the same time examine why the Government have yet again called for a postponement of the hearing of a complaint relating to HS2 in front of the Aarhus convention compliance committee in Geneva. Perhaps we could ensure that the hearing takes place before the High Speed Two (London – West Midlands) Bill has completed its passage in this House.

As ever, my right hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for her constituency. I am not certain about the current state of play with regard to that complaint, but I will ask the Secretary of State to write to her in response to the issues she has raised today.

Last weekend, the Metropolitan police had to apologise following the disproportionate and heavy-handed policing of the “Sikh Lives Matter” demonstration. During the demonstration, one of my constituents was beaten to the ground. His turban was removed and hair was ripped from his beard. He suffered concussion from the excessive force used by the police. Like the others present on the demonstration, he was released without charge. Given the recent urgent question on the policing of the China demonstration, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to commission a review of the policing of demonstrations and to make a statement to the House, so we can get the balance right between security and protecting the freedom of our citizens, while ensuring the liberty and the freedom to protest?

It is obviously a difficult challenge for the police to deal with demonstrations. I, and the Home Secretary, would always counsel them to try to be as measured and careful as possible in dealing with them. But I would say that their job is made more difficult when we have people in our society who encourage race hatred.

Order. Individual Members can undertake their own exegesis of the words of the Leader of the House. That is a matter for them. It would be unfair, however, to delay the delivery of the question from the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen).

The UK is facing a critical shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. The average age of a lorry driver in this country is now 53 years old, with only 2% of qualified drivers under the age of 25 and 60% over 45. The overall shortage is already estimated at more than 50,000 job vacancies, which could have an immense impact on our economic growth. May we have a debate on how we can get more people into the logistics industry, perhaps through an HGV apprenticeship scheme?

It would be timely to have a debate on apprenticeships in the HGV sector, and on apprenticeships more broadly because they are a priority for the Government. I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for either an Adjournment debate or a Backbench Business debate. It is also a matter to which the Government will be returning.

The Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, will have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) ask the Prime Minister at last week’s Question Time to support Save the Children’s campaign to bring 3,000 unaccompanied minors to the UK. The Prime Minister said he would not because he was worried that some of those children had family. Now that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that none of them has identifiable family, has the Prime Minister informed the Leader of the House of his intention to come to the House to explain that he is now willing to take those 3,000 children, as requested by Save the Children?

Of course the programme is being co-ordinated by the Home Office, and the Home Secretary will be here on Monday week taking questions. We are working closely with the UNHCR to bring to this country some of those vulnerable refugees to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers. The Home Secretary will be able to answer detailed questions about the state of those discussions when she is before the House in 10 days’ time.

As we await a ministerial decision on increasing runway capacity in the south-east, may we have a debate on night flights? While a certain Boris from Uxbridge sleeps soundly in his bed at night, Anissia from Edenbridge, who sleeps in my bed, wakes me up regularly to complain about the flights. As we debate Gatwick and Heathrow, please may we consider carefully the effect of night flights on the communities underneath the flight paths?

I understand the concern. This issue is now subject to discussion in relation to the Airports Commission report. I have no doubt that the report, and the future of runway capacity in this country, will shortly be a matter for debate in the House when the Government respond to its recommendations, and I know that night flights will be part of that debate.

The Government recently issued a call for evidence on their review of the secondary ticketing market. As co-chair of the all-party group on ticket abuse, I pressed the Government on how they were publicising this call. I received a written answer from the Minister for Skills assuring me that all main stakeholders had been alerted, but I know from conversations I have had with major industry bodies and trade publications that in many cases I have been the first person to bring the matter to their attention. Will the Leader of the House urge all Ministers to make sure that when calls for evidence are launched, they are publicised fully and properly? If they do not, any recommendations arising from them will be the poorer as a consequence.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Minister will be here next week, and I encourage her to make that point directly to him.

On 31 December, the Equitable Life payments scheme will close to new claimants. We have not yet had a chance to debate the scheme in this Parliament, although Members, on a cross-party basis, met victims of that scandal in the House on Tuesday, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is attending the annual general meeting of the Equitable members action group today. May we have a debate on the scheme soon, in particular to make the case that once the number of claimants has been crystalised, on 31 December, we must ensure that any surplus funds are paid out to identified claimants, rather than returned, for example to the Treasury?

The Treasury has sought to broaden its support to Equitable members as much as possible, and it has operated in line with the recommendations of the ombudsman. I know that this remains a matter of concern to Members on both sides of the House. We have allocated a significant amount of time to the Backbench Business Committee, and my hon. Friend may wish to raise this issue in one of those debates.

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to update the House on the progress made by the three groups set up after the UK steel summit at Rotherham to find ways of supporting the UK steel sector in this time of crisis—a crisis reflected in my constituency with the recent announcement by Tata Steel of the imminent closure of the Dalzell works and Clydebridge?

I can assure the hon. Lady that this remains a matter of concern to Ministers. The responsible Minister will be in the House next Tuesday, and I encourage her to put this point directly at that time. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of her concerns and are properly equipped to give her the latest update.

I have been contacted by a constituent concerned that the abolition some years ago of the 15-year “long stop” rule for claims against independent financial advisers leaves open time-unlimited opportunities to pursue such claims. This situation applies to no other profession. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate this important issue of fairness and the Financial Conduct Authority’s approach to it?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Complaints should be brought in a timely fashion, although it is difficult to strike the right balance. It is important that complaints be made in a timely fashion and that people are not left hanging on forever at risk of a case being brought against them, but occasionally the full facts only emerge after some time, so we cannot have too tight a deadline either. I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of my colleagues in the Treasury, and I will ask them to respond to him.

Today in Cardiff, there is a steel summit with the National Assembly’s Business Minister. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement and a debate in Government time on what discussions the UK Government have had with the Welsh Government regarding the urgent crisis in the steel industry?

Those discussions are happening, and we are very focused on this issue. Many aspects of the support provided in such situations are devolved; none the less it is a matter for the UK Government to provide leadership on the steel industry, and that is what we are seeking to do. As I said, BIS Ministers will be in the House next Tuesday, and I will make sure they are ready to provide an update to hon. Members with constituency concerns.

Successive Governments encouraged people to buy diesel cars because they were low on carbon dioxide, but now it turns out they are high on nitric oxide. May we have a debate in the Chamber on how to reduce emissions from diesel fuel additives in cars? Millions of people cannot suddenly buy petrol cars instead.

The issue of diesel is absolutely shocking. For those of us who defend and believe in free enterprise, our case is not helped by extraordinary corporate malpractice of the kind we have seen at Volkswagen and in the diesel sector. I hope that those issues can be resolved as quickly as possible; and clearly if individuals lose out financially as a result, they should be compensated. The automotive industry has a duty to be open and honest, and when something like this happens, it damages confidence in corporations and their products, and it makes the life of the public much more difficult. It should never have happened. It is shocking.

Four towns in my constituency—Tregaron, Llandysul, Aberaeron and New Quay—have lost banks from their high streets. May we have a debate specifically on the retreat of the high street banks from rural areas? Many of those areas have inadequate broadband and cannot access internet banking.

Several hon. Members have raised this issue in the last couple of weeks, and I believe that the Backbench Business Committee is considering it for debate. Of course, banks are caught by the fact that more and more of us are banking online and that cashless systems are increasingly available, whether on our phones or through the cards in our wallets. Banks are finding it more and more difficult to sustain banking networks, but we do not want to lose key services in rural areas, so I suggest the hon. Gentleman adds his weight to those asking for a debate to bring a Minister to the House to discuss the matter.

Wingates brass band in my constituency has just celebrated a recording history of 100 years. Great bands need great venues. May we have a debate on securing better regional funding for our local arts venues, such as Bolton’s Victoria hall and Octagon theatre?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I congratulate the band on its centenary. There are some great bands in this country, as we said last week, and we celebrate the work done in local communities, the musical groups and the local bands that add such value to this country. I know that even in these difficult financial times local authorities and grant-giving bodies will do their best to sustain those bands.

May we have a debate on business rates, and specifically the time it takes for the Valuation Office Agency to consider appeals? A brewing business in my constituency has been waiting for 10 months. We need a debate so that Ministers can exert some pressure on the Valuation Office Agency to support small and medium-sized enterprises to get these cases heard in a timely manner.

Clearly, we do not want any barriers to businesses operating successfully in this country. We are a Government who have pursued a deregulation agenda, and where problems arise we will seek to address them. As I have said, next Tuesday is business questions, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of that opportunity to ensure that Ministers in the Department are made well aware of the concerns he is raising.

May we have a debate on the constitutional settlement and the relative powers of this place and the other place, particularly in the light of their lordships’ recent vote on tax credits? That would provide an opportunity for Ministers to explain why, while they are gnashing their teeth about defeats in the House of Lords, they are slashing the number of MPs in this place by the same number of new Lords they are going to appoint in the other place.

If Labour Members are concerned about appointments to the House of Lords, they should have a look in the mirror. Over their years in government, the rate of appointments to the House of Lords was far higher than it has been under this Government. [Interruption.] Yes, far higher. I said last week that I would ensure that a statement was made to this House about the Strathclyde review. Details of the panel were put forward yesterday before they were issued publicly, as I committed to do. I will ensure that after the review is completed, the House will be fully informed.

Speaking as a former local councillor, I am generally supportive of the Government’s devolution agenda, as long as resources follow responsibility. Given the plethora of submissions and the lack of public awareness of the ongoing negotiations and implications of those bids, does the Leader of the House not think there is a role for this place to consider the agreements to ensure that they are consistent, transparent and fair?

There are, of course, many opportunities to question Ministers about the agreements they are reaching. It is not simply a matter of resources following responsibility; it is about making better use of public money. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from his time as a local councillor that there are many pots of public money that tend to do the same thing. Part of the devolution agenda is to make sure that we make better use of the resources available to local communities by giving greater power to local authorities to co-ordinate and deliver high-quality services for the public.

Now that the Leader of the House has prosecuted EVEL on this place, and has created second-class MPs for those of us from Scotland, does he agree that ahead of the debate on the Scotland Bill on Monday, we should have Scottish votes for Scottish laws? Given that the 56 SNP Members will be tabling measured amendments that have the support of the Scottish people, will he make sure that English Tory MPs do not exercise a veto against us?

Well, we do have Scottish votes for Scottish laws: it is called the Scottish Parliament. I keep listening to the outrage from SNP Members, but let me remind them, first, that they will not be excluded in future from any vote in this Chamber that they currently participate in; and, secondly, that when they discuss these matters away from this place, they appear to be rather less outraged than how they come across in this place. That was clear from a quotation that I read out last week.

I am one of 11 million Britons who suffer from hearing loss. Yesterday, there was a parliamentary reception for Action on Hearing Loss, and it was revealed that some health authorities, including North Staffordshire, no longer prescribe hearing aids for people with moderate hearing loss. That can be incredibly isolating for them. One in six people in Britain has a hearing loss, and it is likely to be one in five by 2035, so may we have a debate in Government time about how health authorities and health resources can be used to ensure that people with hearing loss do not suffer unnecessary isolation?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work he does on an issue that transcends party lines. Good work is done by all political parties in raising awareness of the challenges faced by people with hearing loss. Rightly or wrongly, of course, we have taken a decision to devolve responsibility to local areas for commissioning and spending decisions on healthcare matters. I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s advocacy will encourage those parts of the country that might have taken a decision with which he disagrees to change their views. It is a consequence of devolution that there will sometimes be different decisions in different areas, whether we support them or not.

Yesterday, I attended a parliamentary event at which businesses that pay the real living wage showcased their products. From micro-breweries to organic food suppliers, they all talked about the benefits of being a living wage employer—from better staff morale to improved public perception. May we have a debate on how to encourage more employers to sign up to the real living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, and thus achieve the high-pay economy this Government talk so much about?

Clearly, we want to see wage levels rise. That is why we have taken the steps that we have. This matter will be debated constantly in this place. We have seen the introduction of our own national living wage, and we have different economic debates at different times of the year, so the hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunities to raise this issue. I encourage all employers to look hard at the challenges faced by their employees and to look to try to pay the right wage for the environment in which those employees are working. The more we see employers paying a higher rate for jobs—not just a basic rate or just a living wage, as we want to see wages rise above that—the better it will be for this country. That can happen, of course, only if the economy is growing strongly, as it is now.

May we have a debate on the use of children as suicide bombers? I recently had a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. The situation continues to deteriorate, not least for orphaned children who are often kidnapped in places such as Syria. It is estimated that somewhere close to 1,000 children are now in training as suicide bombers. Please may we have a debate on the topic?

The responsible Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), happens to be sitting alongside me, and I know he has taken note of the hon. Gentleman’s comments. It is indeed shocking and it is a sign of a barbaric ideology that has no place in a modern world. That is what we are seeking to resist in the north-west of Iraq and the east of Syria. The sorts of extremist views that can send a child with a bomb attached to their body to blow themselves up in pursuit of a warped and perverse ideology are ones we should all continue to find abhorrent and do everything we possibly can to resist.

May we debate prime ministerial hubris, which is a disease that afflicts all Prime Ministers when the war drums start to beat? The symptoms include strutting like Napoleon and talking in the language of Churchill. It makes Prime Ministers susceptible to the “Give War a Chance” party. It also has an effect on Prime Ministers because writing their own bloody page in history often unhinges the balance of their minds. While the damage of this disease is not permanent to Prime Ministers, it can be lethal to the tens of thousands of soldiers ordered into battle to fight unaffordable, unwinnable wars.

I see the hon. Gentleman is paying tribute to the former Member for Sedgefield, our former Prime Minister. It is an interesting fact that while Conservative Members celebrate the Prime Minister who led us to three general election victories, Labour Members prefer to brush theirs out of history.

It transpired that last winter the South East Coast Ambulance Service trialled a new triage system, which put 25,000 patients in danger and could well have led to the loss of life of up to 25 people. Will the Leader of the House bring Health Ministers before us to answer questions about what they knew and when they knew it, and ensure that this has not occurred in any other ambulance trust in the country?

We share the same ambulance trust, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Secretary of State for Health will be here on Tuesday week, so I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to put that point directly to him. I will make the relevant Ministers aware that this is a matter of concern to Members.

The Government have chosen to exclude community energy from sustainable investment tax relief. This decision will severely undermine the growing co-operative and community energy sector right across the country. Will the Leader of the House agree to allocate Government time on the Floor of the House to debate this perverse decision?

We have made a number of decisions not only to encourage and support the growth of renewable energy so that we can keep the lights on—an issue that was raised earlier—but to meet the financial challenges that we face. However, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. The Energy Secretary will be in the Chamber the week after next, and he will have an opportunity to put it to her directly then.

The Commons European Business Order Paper lists details of legislation and other documents which, although their source is the European Union, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has deemed to be of sufficient legal and political importance to merit a debate in either the House or its Committees. It shows that there is currently a backlog of 24 documents awaiting debate, to only one of which even a provisional date has been allocated, and that no provisional date has been allocated to any of the 12 documents that have been deemed important enough to be debated on the Floor of the House by all Members. Will the Leader of the House tell us who is responsible for this lack of respect for the due process of parliamentary scrutiny?

I am happy to update the House. The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee raised the matter with me recently, and the Government have just written to him setting out plans for a series of further debates. There are enormous pressures on time in the House—as we have heard today, there are many demands for the use of its time for debates on a variety of subjects—but we take this issue very seriously. We have just made additional time available, and we hope to provide further time as the Session progresses.

Can the Leader of the House assure me that when the Government present their proposals to settle the contaminated blood scandal, a statement will be made in the House and Members will have an opportunity to ask questions? Will there also be a debate in Government time? Given that these are Government proposals, we should not have to make an application to the Backbench Business Committee.

We have, of course, made statements on the issue before, and I see no reason why any further statement would be different.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Halifax on the launch of its new Fair Trade Towns campaign? Given that this is a big year for international development, will he consider finding time for a debate on how the parliamentary estate could do more to support fair trade, while also encouraging more towns and cities throughout the country to start their own campaigns?

I commend Halifax for its work. It is great to see local initiatives of this kind, and I hope that others will learn lessons from it. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will want to share her experience of that work as it continues.

Businesses in my constituency have recently expressed concern about the export of plastic waste, such as silage waste, to the far east. I understand that it is a breach of regulation, and it has been detrimental to the recycling industry. May we have a debate to discuss this important matter?

It is a matter that would be very fitting for an Adjournment debate. There are many opportunities to bring Ministers to the House to discuss such matters, and I advise the hon. Gentleman to seek one of those opportunities.

I receive complaints about late, cancelled or overcrowded Southeastern train services nearly every day. Given the importance of a reliable transport system for my constituents and other Londoners, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the merits of further devolution of local metro services from the Department for Transport to Transport for London?

We are investing a record amount in our rail system. The substantial growth in the number of passengers brings its own challenges, but they are challenges of success rather than failure. The one thing that we do not need to do is shake up the industry all over again through a renationalisation of the kind that the Labour party is currently advocating. If Labour Members honestly think that returning to the days of British Rail would be good for our transport system, heaven help us if we ever have a chance to see the country go down that route, because I think it would be disastrous for rail passengers.

Points of order normally come after statements, but I think the hon. Gentleman wants to make a point of order that relates specifically to something that was said during business questions, so I will exercise my discretion on this occasion.

I want to make my point of order before the Leader of the House scurries away. In response to my perfectly reasonable question about the “Sikh Lives Matter” protest, he seemed to make an unrelated remark about the incitement of racial hatred. I wonder if it would be possible for him to clarify whether he was referring to me in relation to such incitement, to my constituent, or to the people who attended the protest, because his response seemed to me—and, I think, to others—completely unrelated to my question.