With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
Monday 30 November—General debate on the UK’s role in the middle east. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee. I pay tribute to its members for picking something that will be of interest to the whole House at this moment.
Tuesday 1 December—Remaining stages of the Immigration Bill, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to Northern Ireland, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill.
Wednesday 2 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 3 December—Second Reading of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords].
Friday 4 December—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 7 December will include:
Monday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 8 December—Consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by debate on a motion relating to European measures.
Wednesday 9 December—Opposition day (13th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 10 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 December—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 and 7 December will be:
Thursday 3 December—General debate on fisheries policy.
Monday 7 December—Debate on an e-petition relating to the use of neonicotinoids on crops.
I warmly commend the Prime Minister for the way he has treated the House in relation to Syria. He has been commendable thus far, but these are very weighty matters, so it would be absolutely wrong for the Government to try to bounce the House into a decision. The Leader of the House has announced next week’s business, but, to be honest, I thought I heard the Prime Minister say earlier that he wanted a debate and vote as soon as possible and before he visits the Foreign Affairs Committee. I can only presume that that means next week.
I just hope that the Leader of the House will take on board the fact that the House needs proper notice of debates and votes of that kind, and that it would be inappropriate to hide that from the House. Given that 103 Members spoke in this statement, 103 Members may want to speak in a debate. We therefore need proper time so that Members do not just make two-minute speeches at the end of the day on a matter that really concerns our constituents.
I also hope that the Government will table a motion in plenty of time for Members to be able to consider it and decide whether they want to table amendments to it, rather than their having to table manuscript amendments on the day.
Mr Speaker, just like you, I came into work this morning with a sword. I am delighted to announce that, last night, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who is still in his seat, the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), Chris Symonds, one of our Doorkeepers, and myself, the Commons wrested the mighty Wilkinson sword off their lordships in a charity swimming championship for the Northern Ireland charity, Hope for Youth.
Speaking of double-edged swords, last week I asked the Leader whether he could tell us the dates of the recesses for next year, and he got all pompous about it and said, “Oh no, it is far more important for the Government to get their business through than for anybody to be able to go on holiday.” I shall ask a completely and utterly different question today, which is instead of telling us when we will not be sitting, can he tell us when we will be sitting, and then we will work out the recess dates from that? It cannot be very difficult, surely.
The Chancellor said something yesterday that I thought was very interesting:
“The improvement in the nation’s finances is due to two things.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 1359, c. 602.]
I completely agree: smoke and mirrors. That is what it is down to. I first predicted that the Government would do a U-turn on working tax credits on 15 October, and the Leader of the House yet again went all pompous and Grayling on us and started moaning about a great constitutional crisis that was stalking the land. Now that the Chancellor has accepted my advice, will the Leader of the House clarify two things? First, what is the status of the Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which were voted down in the House of Lords and are still hanging around in the air? Does the Leader of the House intend to bring them back in a different form? Secondly, according to the Resolution Foundation, low-income families on universal credit will still be worse off by £1,300 in 2020, and according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the last half hour, the spending review will leave 2.6 million families £1,600 worse off next year. So it is not really a reverse, is it? It is time that the Government owned up.
May we have a debate about the sale of UK national assets? Since this Chancellor came to office he has sold off the student loan book, the Royal Mail and the future of our nuclear power industry, and he announced yesterday that he will sell off the Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, air traffic control and the Green Investment Bank. I have a little book here that I will give to the Leader of the House. I will not throw it across the Chamber; he can come up to my study later. It is a copy of Shakespeare’s play “Richard II”. I am sure hon. Members will remember that wonderful speech:
“This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise”,
but do they remember that it ends:
“Is now leas’d out... like to a tenement or pelting farm”?
That is what the Tories have done. Shakespeare predicted 400 years ago that they would sell off all our national assets.
May we have a debate on the Chancellor’s boast on page 76 of the Blue Book—I am sure that you have seen this, Mr Speaker, because it pertains to you—that
“the government has taken a series of steps to reduce the cost of politics”?
That is not true, is it? It is not true at all. The cost and the number of special advisers, who are purely party political appointees, have risen dramatically since 2010. In 2009 there were 74, costing £5.9 million, and in 2014 there were 103, costing £8.4 million. The Prime Minister promised, before he became Prime Minister, that no Minister of his would have more than one special adviser, but the Leader of the House has two, the Chief Whip has two and the Chancellor alone has at least 10. We do not know the total number of special advisers now, because the Government will not publish a list, but in 2014 it was 29 more Spads at a cost of £2.5 million more a year. On top of that the Prime Minister has appointed Members of the House of Lords faster than any other Prime Minister in history—240 in all, costing an extra £2.9 million a year.
The annual Tory party invoice to the taxpayer has gone up by £5.4 million. But yesterday the Chancellor said that he will cut the money provided to Opposition parties—to all Opposition parties—by 19%. I would gently remind the Leader of the House that what goes around comes around. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this is not actually up to the Chancellor; it is up to this House? Will he confirm that every previous change to Short money was made on the basis of cross-party consultation? Was there any discussion with the Opposition parties? Was there any discussion with the Finance Committee of this House or with the Members Estimate Committee? Did the Leader of the House know about this proposal when he sat at the last meeting of the Members Estimate Committee?
When Labour was in government we were never afraid of proper scrutiny, so we introduced Short money, and we increased it in 1997. That meant that the Tory party received—it claimed—£45.7 million from the taxpayer between 1997 and 2010. Will the Tory party now be taking a 19% cut in the cost of special advisers? If not, will not voters be right to conclude that this is a naked attempt to hobble the Opposition and rig the system? It is a purely partisan measure being introduced because the Government just hate scrutiny.
Finally, two weeks ago, the Leader of the House urged all Members to do the online fire safety training. I have done it. Has he done it yet?
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for his kind words about the Prime Minister. We should all be grateful to my right hon. Friend for the length of time he spent in the House this morning for what I thought was a very measured and sensible event. This is a serious matter that should cross party divides. It is for all of us to consider what is in the interests of our nation. I thought the tone of this morning’s discussion was excellent.
The hon. Gentleman asked about future business and the potential for a debate on a motion. I am sure that everyone would agree that it is right and proper for the Prime Minister to go away and digest the comments from the House this morning before deciding what further action to take, and to give the Foreign Affairs Committee time to consider the response that has been given. We will come back to the House shortly, and the Prime Minister will undoubtedly make clear his intentions in the very near future.
I paid tribute a couple of weeks ago to the musical skills of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I hope that he will forgive me if I say that he is clearly not alone in this place in showing such skills. I pay tribute to the members of the Parliament Choir for their polished and professional concert at Cadogan Hall last night. It is not often that this place is talked of in terms of harmony and melody, but last night that was clearly the case.
Following a request from the shadow Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago, I always try to mark important anniversaries on a Thursday morning, and this week I have two that, after yesterday, will probably have great resonance for him. It is exactly 30 years since Neil Kinnock began his purge of militant infiltrators from the Labour party. By extraordinary coincidence, 80 years ago this month the Chinese Communist party picked its new leader—yes, Mr Speaker, Chairman Mao, the man who became one of the most brutal dictators of modern times. After yesterday, I wonder which of those two anniversaries the shadow Leader of the House will be celebrating the most.
The shadow Leader of the House made a point about his victory and success in wresting the Wilkinson sword from the Lords, and I congratulate him on that. I saw his Twitter feed showing him coming into the House this morning carrying a 3-foot-long sword. Given his track record in knifing Tony Blair, I wonder whether this marks the start of another leadership assassination. If so, after yesterday, I suspect the hon. Gentleman would be a hero among his colleagues.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about special advisers. I remind him that the cost of politics is falling. We have cut advertising and support for ministerial offices. The hon. Gentleman made a point about Short money. In fact, Short money has risen in total by 50% since 2010. After the changes set out yesterday, it returns to the level it was set at in 2010. If the Opposition are that desperate for money, they should just go and get more from their union paymasters.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the debate on the autumn statement. He used the joke about smoke and mirrors. I was rather disappointed because we heard that joke yesterday from the hon. Member for Cardiff North—
Cardiff West then. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) made that joke yesterday. What the shadow Leader of the House did not say is that he wants a two-day debate on the autumn statement next week, although after yesterday I think the Opposition have probably heard quite enough about the package.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the tax credits changes. Of course, the statutory instrument will not be moved, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out yesterday, because we are not pursuing those proposals.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the position of working families in 2020. The introduction of the national living wage means that by 2020 someone on today’s minimum wage will be earning nearly £5,000 a year more than they do today.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the sale of assets. I simply say that, as we look to build a new nuclear industry in this country, I look back to the occasion when the previous Government sold a British nuclear power station firm, Westinghouse, overseas, at a time when we were just thinking about building new nuclear power stations. I will take no lessons on the sale of assets from a party that takes steps without strategy and without thought. One of the reasons we have a challenge in energy generation today is that, for 13 years, Labour did nothing about it.
The hon. Gentleman asked about recess dates, and he will keep coming back to this. I simply say to him again that the prime concern for this Government is to get our business through the House. We will seek to deliver appropriate recess time when we can, but right now I am more concerned about putting through the manifesto on which we were rightly elected last May.
The most egregious unreformed procedures in this House relate to private Members’ Bills. The conduct of this place in the execution of those Bills is simply appalling. May I urge the Leader of the House to join the Procedure Committee in trying to find a way forward? If I am Holmes in this matter, our hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is now my Moriarty.
Our hon. Friend has been referred to as many things, but never, I think, as Moriarty. I understand the point my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) makes, and as Chair of the Procedure Committee he is better placed than anyone to address concerns about the private Members’ Bill process. As he knows, I am always happy to appear in front of his Committee and to discuss these matters, and I have no doubt that, as usual, he and his Committee will come out with wise words about how they should be handled in future.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I apologise to him for having neither Chairman Mao nor Shakespeare to offer him this afternoon.
Regarding the debate on Syria, Scottish National party Members remain concerned that nothing has been timetabled. We need to see firm proposals on when the matter will be brought to the House, particularly because, as the Speaker said, 103 Members spoke during the statement today. We have to have sufficient time so that Back Benchers are not awarded just two or three minutes to speak but are allocated time properly to raise the serious concerns they may have about the proposed military action. Will the Leader of the House at least say today that his intention is that we will have a minimum of two days to debate any Syrian action before a vote is taken?
I know there was a lot of talk about smoke and mirrors, or mirrors and smoke, in yesterday’s autumn spending review announcement, and although we welcome very much the grinding U-turn performed on tax credits, we remain very concerned about what is proposed further down the line. As we have heard, the IFS has already started to voice concern about what will happen when universal credit and all the other reforms at the sharp end of housing benefit have been put in place. We know that the roll out of universal credit has been less than a success—I think the word “shambles” could be associated with it—so may we have a debate on where we are with universal credit and how it will impact on the plans for tax credits? It would be useful to have a statement from the Government on that, too.
Something dramatic happened in the House of Lords last week—little dramatic happens there, but for some reason it did in the good old House of cronies. The Lords said that the Scotland Bill should be delayed until the critical fiscal framework was agreed. As the last Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland put it, passing a Scotland Bill without a sufficient fiscal framework is like purchasing a car without looking at the engine. How are the Government responding to those calls and what efforts are they making to get that engine in place?
Another dramatic news story today is the immigration figures, with net immigration reaching a record high of 336,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. SNP Members question the Government’s ability to get immigration down to the tens of thousands, which was their objective. We live in an interconnected, globalised world, so it was almost impossible from the outset. The Government are therefore likely to raise their rhetoric on immigration; we just hope that they do not conflate it with their responsibility and duty in relation to Syrian refugees—particularly if we are going to get down to the whole business of further bombing in Syria, which will increase those obligations. A commitment and a statement that the Conservatives—particularly their more bellicose Back Benchers—will not conflate the issues of the immigration figures and the treatment of Syrian refugees would be welcome.
Finally, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his continued commitment and affection for the work of MP4, the parliamentary rock band. May I extend to him an invitation to join us in the Strangers Bar on Tuesday, for our annual get-together and gig? He will be welcome, and if he wants to make a musical contribution, that will be welcome, too.
I will be delighted to pop into the Strangers Bar next Tuesday. I think the House is going after 7 o’clock anyway. I do not know when the hon. Gentleman plans to start, but I will be delighted to come and hear him in full flow.
I have set out the business for the next two weeks. Clearly, if we are to have a debate on Syria in the next two weeks, I will need to return to the House to make a supplementary business statement. I will do that when the Government have reached a view and when people have had the chance to consider the comments made by Members in all parts of the House today. I am not indicating the time and the timing, but if that debate should intrude in the next couple of weeks’ business—it should take place within the couple of weeks—obviously, I will come back and make a further statement to the House.
Regarding tax credits and universal credit, I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that the move from the national minimum wage to the national living wage will, for Scots as well, deliver by 2020 an increase in income of almost £5,000. That, I believe, will make a fundamental difference to people on low incomes and is something we should all welcome. It will transform the lives of many people on the lowest incomes.
On the delay to the Scotland Bill, I simply say that just because someone asks for something or proposes it, that does not mean it will actually happen. The Government have made a commitment to delivering the Scotland Bill as quickly as possible. I am delighted that Lord Smith has now accepted that the Smith commission report is being implemented in full by the Scotland Bill. I wait with interest to see what powers the Scottish National party actually uses, because up to now it has talked a lot about powers but shown little sign of using them.
On immigration and Syrian refugees, we have set out clearly our international obligations to help Syrian refugees. We are taking 20,000 into this country, but crucially we are doing what other nations are not, in our view, doing to anything like the degree that is necessary, and that is providing support on the ground to the several million refugees who are in camps close to Syria. Their need is acute and they have not been able to make their way to Europe, so as we head into the winter months there is a real need to provide support on the ground and to help them. They are in deep difficulty, and we are doing more than almost anybody else to look after them.
Finally, I was deeply disappointed to see that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) missed out on The Herald prize for the best Scot at Westminster. I am sure I am not alone among Conservative MPs in saying that, had we had a vote, we would have put our tick in his box.
Order. I am keen to accommodate interest, but we had a very heavy exchange before this statement—rightly so—and more than 20 hon. Members wish to contribute in the debate on airports. These exchanges must therefore conclude no later than 2 pm. I hope that colleagues will tailor their contributions accordingly.
The Rugeley skyline is dominated by Rugeley B power station, which provides enough electricity for about half a million homes. After the announcement last week that coal-fired power stations will be phased out by 2025, may we have a debate in Government time to discuss the conversion of coal-fired stations to biomass?
This is an important subject. We have taken the view that, to meet our environmental commitments and for reasons of cost and practicality, we should make greater use of gas and renewables. It is undoubtedly part of the Government’s strategy and will be part of local planning strategies to reuse existing sites for electricity generation, where that is possible. I shall certainly make sure that the Energy Secretary is aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns, so she can address them the next time she speaks in the House.
Even before yesterday’s announcements, Dudley Council was losing half its funding, forcing councillors there to make terrible decisions about front-line services such as our museum and libraries—places I have been visiting since I was a child. We all know that savings have to be made, but is it fair that Dudley is losing £61 per person, whereas Windsor is losing only £18 per person? May we have a debate, with a Communities and Local Government Minister responding, so he can tell the people of Dudley why that is fair?
The overall package that was announced yesterday provides a range of different support to local government. The hon. Gentleman will make a comparison between the area that he represents and areas that Government Members represent. After years of Labour government, the support provided to areas in typically Conservative parts of the country was minimal, whereas the support provided to Labour areas was very generous. If we are taking decisions that impact upon Labour areas, it is purely because the grant levels to Conservative areas are very low.
On Tuesday the national confidential enquiry into patient outcome and death—NCEPOD—reported on sepsis. It reported that patients are at risk of death or long-term complications, often because of critical delays in identifying and treating the condition. Cases of sepsis have increased by 8% over the past three years and cause 44,000 deaths in the UK annually. It is now the leading cause of avoidable death in the UK. As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on sepsis, may I ask the Leader of the House to consider a debate in Government time on sepsis, so that we can discuss this matter with the Minister and find out how we can improve the recognition and treatment of sepsis and how we can better measure its long-term burden on our health services?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work she is doing. This condition affects a large number of people and can have a dramatic effect on them and their families. It is precisely the kind of subject that I would encourage her to bring to the Backbench Business Committee. It will affect constituents of Members across the House, and it is for this purpose that that time is allocated.
We are not against cutting the cost of politics, but when Short money is cut and that impacts on smaller parties in this House, whose Members come here and make an effort to contribute, whereas nothing is done to cut the allowances of Members from Northern Ireland who do not bother to turn up and do not make a contribution to this House, it leaves us questioning why the Government have done this.
Clearly, over the coming days we will have discussions with all the parties affected by the change, including with the right hon. Gentleman’s party. As he is well aware, the politics of Northern Ireland are complicated and our prime desire is to ensure that we continue to see Northern Ireland peaceful, developing and prosperous.
May we have a statement on the Syrian refugee relocation programme so that we can establish the facts of which local authorities are taking refugees in? Unfortunately, local authorities such as Derby City Council are playing party politics with people’s lives, leading to misinformation on what is actually happening?
Let us be clear. As a nation we collectively have a duty to do what we can for Syrian refugees. I do not know the exact circumstances in Derby, but it would never be excusable for anyone in this country to mix party politics with the humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees.
Yesterday, while the Chancellor was still on his feet, the Government sneaked out an announcement that they intend to renege yet again on their commitment to carbon capture and storage by withdrawing the billion-pound funding that they promised in their manifesto just a few months ago. That is a disgraceful act of betrayal. It sends an appalling signal to companies seeking to invest in our energy sector, and it makes a mockery of the UK’s commitment to decarbonisation just days before global talks on climate change. When will the Secretary of State come to the House and make a statement to explain to my constituents in Peterhead why they have been led up the garden path again?
We had to take some difficult decisions in yesterday’s spending review. On renewables, we have made huge progress since 2010. In the second quarter of this year more than 25% of our energy was generated from renewable sources. That is a powerful indicator of the way in which we have put money into renewables, which are playing a bigger role in our society.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education to come to the Dispatch Box next week and give a statement about the quality of history education in our country? I want to make certain that every youngster in the Ribble Valley has the opportunity to look at the ideology of great historical figures—for example, Chairman Mao—and compare the thoughts in the little red book, of which we are now grateful to have a copy, to what actually happened during his rule, which was repression, torture, a cultural wasteland and the death of 45 million people in the famine?
Order. That question was far too long. Questions from now on must be shorter; otherwise there will be a delay in getting on to the debate, of the substantial number of contributors to which I have already informed the House.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend was making. I notice that the shadow Leader of the House has brought the Blue Book with him, rather than a red book. His usual chirpiness from the Labour Benches rather disappeared yesterday when the red book appeared. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Nobody should treat lightly the works of brutal dictators.
I start with an apology to you, Mr Speaker, as I tried to raise a point of order during the Chancellor’s statement after he had answered me. That was clearly incorrect and I apologise.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement telling us how he is going to make sure that he has managed to answer questions accurately? Hansard shows that yesterday I asked if the Scottish revenue block grant would be cut in real terms, and the Chancellor’s answer was:
“The block grant is going up”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1406.],
but his own Blue Book shows clearly that there will be a real-terms cut of 5%. What does the Leader of the House intend to do? Will he advise us whether the Chancellor is incompetent?
Fortunately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be back here on Tuesday. The hon. Gentleman will be able to put that question to him and raise with him the issues that he has just raised with me.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the Prime Minister to make the ton today with the number of Back-Bench questions he answered. Syria is such an important issue and we need to debate it fully, so when the Leader of the House comes to the House with a change in the business programme, may I suggest that we debate Syria with no limit on when the closure comes, so that if necessary we can speak through the night before voting? Then everyone can get in.
I note carefully the comments of my hon. Friend. We are all going to be digesting the Prime Minister’s statement, the submission to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and the concerns expressed in the House today, and on Monday we have a full day’s debate. I encourage Members to use that debate as an opportunity to raise further concerns that they have about this. I know that the Prime Minister will read it carefully. He wants to take note of the views of people in all parts of the House. He believes in what he said today, but he wants to take the House with him.
Buried in the comprehensive spending review documents yesterday was the announcement that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will continue to contract out its debt collection, fraud and error compliance and tax credits system to private providers, calling it an astonishingly successful implementation of that contract. This is the same private sector contractor Concentrix that has sent threatening letters to many of our constituents who are tax credit recipients even though its many mistakes have caused serious financial hardship. Will the Government set aside time for debate on whether tax credit debt collection has been successful? Will the Leader of the House make representations for this failed provider, Concentrix, to be ruled out of future tenders?
I will make sure that the Treasury Ministers are aware of the concerns that the hon. Lady has raised. They are back here next Tuesday. I do not want to see any legitimate claimant of tax credits accused of doing something wrong. At the same time, people have a duty to watch over their affairs and ensure that if they are paid too much money, they notify the relevant authorities. Both need to be got right.
My constituent, Mr Crewe, suffered a serious loss of funds from his bank, Barclays, possibly through theft, and I do not believe that the bank has taken this matter seriously enough. May we have a debate on the way in which banks, which are custodians of their customers’ funds, treat such matters?
I obviously cannot comment on the individual circumstance, but in today’s world where innocent customers can be the victims of electronic fraud or even sometimes fraud within institutions, I would always expect banks to put their customers first in dealing with such an issue, and to ensure that they are dealt with properly and decently and not left disadvantaged as a result. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point.
Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment at recent irresponsible newspaper headlines and misleading reports that will have done nothing constructive to make anyone safer, but will have put our Muslim communities at further risk of Islamophobic abuse? May we have a statement on the importance of responsible use of language—for instance, using the term Daesh rather than Islamic State within and outside this House?
Let us be clear on this. The current threat that we face in this country has nothing whatever to do with the vast, vast majority of Muslims in this country and elsewhere in the world. It is being propagated by a tiny minority. That tiny minority must be dealt with where necessary with full force and effectiveness, but we in this House need to send out a message to the Muslim community as a whole in this country that they are valued people in our country and that we absolutely accept that they have nothing to do with what is going on.
Saturday 5 December is Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to use small retailers and businesses, of which the Isle of Wight has many. Will the Leader of the House assist us in getting a debate on the subject and on other initiatives that promote independent local companies?
Small Business Saturday is a very worthwhile event, and I urge Members of all parties to support their local businesses in the coming days. If I may, I will give a plug to the Epsom and Ewell business awards, which I launched five years ago and which have their finals tonight. I look forward to presenting the awards at the end of today’s business.
We have a debate on Small Business Saturday in the House in the next few days, and I hope that all Members will join in the events that are taking place to support people who work immensely hard and deliver essential services for our society.
At the national steel summit in Rotherham, the Business Secretary promised that the three working groups that he had set up would report back before Christmas on the actions to be taken on steel. May we have a statement so that the Business Secretary can report to the House on the progress that is being made?
I will remind the Business Secretary about that commitment. We all take the future of the steel industry immensely seriously, and yesterday’s statement contained provisions on high energy users and energy costs. We realise that there is a lot to do, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Business Secretary and members of the Business, Innovation and Skills ministerial team take the issue immensely seriously.
Will the Leader of the House kindly explain what opportunities there are to discuss the recognition available to armed forces personnel, including some marines in Taunton Deane, who have served in often highly dangerous counter-piracy operations off the horn of Africa? If that recognition comes in the form of a medal, will those brave men and women be able to wear that medal proudly, which is not the case with all medals?
One or two Members have raised that issue before, and I find it baffling that we even have to discuss it. My view is that if somebody serves our nation and is awarded a medal for doing so, they should be able to wear it. I wish my hon. Friend well in her campaign. She has my support for what she is trying to do, and I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Defence is well aware of what I think is just plain common sense.
May I ask for a statement, or a debate in Government time, on industrial and employee relations in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency? May I impress upon the Leader of the House—I will be brief, Mr Speaker—three recent developments? They are a staff survey confirming that the DVSA has been voted 98th out of 98 in job satisfaction and employee engagement, an email from the chief executive’s office referring to employees as “zombies”, and the current industrial action on contractual changes. Is this any way to treat public sector workers?
What the hon. Gentleman describes is obviously concerning, and I am sure it will be a matter of concern to the Roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones). The ministerial team from the Department for Transport will be in the House the week after next and will undoubtedly be able to address the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I will make sure his concerns are drawn to their attention before that day.
It is with great sadness that I inform the House that earlier this week a constituent of mine, a 97-year-old woman, was the victim of a horrific and cowardly burglary. Will the Leader of the House help me secure a debate about the public services and authorities protecting vulnerable people, so that I can get it on the record that Cardiff Council waste services should not have orange diamonds on bins, which highlight to criminals who in our city is vulnerable?
Any incident such as that is absolutely shocking, and all Government Members would express our dismay that anybody could commit such an appalling crime against such an elderly lady. It defies logic and belief. My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will make sure that it is drawn to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The Leader of the House will recall that on 22 October, I asked whether there would be an air accidents investigation branch report on the Clutha crash in Glasgow. That report was published on 23 October and made seven recommendations. May I ask why no statement has yet been made, one month on from that, and remind the House that the anniversary of the crash is this Sunday, 29 November?
It is clearly a very sad anniversary for the families of all those who lost their lives and for those who were injured and affected. We send our heartfelt sympathies to them before a very difficult weekend.
The report has now been published and left a lot of questions unanswered about the circumstances that led to the crash. I will make sure that the Aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is aware of the hon. Lady’s comments. Transport Ministers will be in the House on Thursday week, so she can make that point to them again.
On Sunday the Jaskomal Foundation, based in Bedford, is holding a drive for people of Asian origin to join the bone marrow donation register. The Anthony Nolan Trust has shown that the likelihood of a match falls from 60% for the overall population to 20% for people of African or Asian origin. May I take the Leader of the House’s best wishes to the Jaskomal Foundation for its efforts, and may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health about how we can improve the ratio?
I am sure my hon. Friend can send the good wishes of all parties for that immensely important work. I would add that when people in this country express any concern about its cosmopolitan nature, one reply that I give them is that some of the strongest elements of community are found in the minority and migrant communities. People in those communities do a really strong and important job for our society, and we should pay tribute to them for their work.
During yesterday’s autumn statement, the shadow Chancellor made some comments that illustrated a rather abject and glaring lack of understanding of defence. May we have a debate in the next week or two on the strategic defence and security review, which was announced earlier in the week, so that all Members can get a better understanding of defence, even the shadow Chancellor?
We had two hours from the Prime Minister on Monday on our defence strategy, which is clear. We are investing in defence equipment and giving our armed forces the tools they need for the future, and we will have some exciting new capabilities. We take our responsibility to defend this nation very seriously. It is just sad that the Scottish National party, with its policy on Trident, appears to want to remove one of the most important of our defences.