The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 7 December—Remaining stages of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 8 December—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the European Union Referendum Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to cross-border co-operation to tackle serious and organised crime: the Prüm agreement.
Wednesday 9 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on mental health, followed by a debate on the effect of the autumn statement measures on women. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 10 December—Debate on a motion on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, followed by a general debate on international human rights day. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 December—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 14 December will include:
Monday 14 December—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve European documents relating to migration, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 10 December will be:
Thursday 10 December—General debate on the protection of ancient woodland and trees.
You sat in that chair yesterday, Mr Speaker, from 11.30 am to 10.54 pm, as I am sure you are aware. By my accounting, that is 11 hours and 24 minutes, or 684 minutes without a break. That is quite a test of endurance, and some of us are wondering whether, like Davros in “Doctor Who” you have secretly had some kind of feeding and filtration system fitted into the chair or some hidden tubes. Or perhaps it is down to drugs. Now that the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan, the owners of Viagra and Botox, have come together, perhaps they have invented a new drug, with which you have been impregnated, Mr Speaker, which means that you can keep a stiff upper lip all day.
Over the last few days, a great deal of abuse has been hurled at Members for their views on whether or not we should support extending airstrikes to Syria. Some Members have been called murderers, others peaceniks and terrorist sympathisers. I hope the Leader of the House would agree that, although all MPs expect a certain degree of hurly-burly in political life, it is a fundamental principle that all Members are sent not as delegates but as representatives with the full power to exercise their judgment and their conscience to speak and vote without fear or favour, and that no MP should ever be intimidated.
I think we would all agree that, sadly, some of the abuse has been beyond the pale. Several Members have had their offices barricaded. One Member had her house surrounded, while many have had photos of dead babies pushed through their front door at home. Today I gather that some Members have received photos of severed heads. MPs have broad shoulders—of course we do—but may I ask the Leader to review the arrangements regarding the security of Members’ homes and offices? This is not just about Members; it is about their families and, indeed, their staff, as several Members have pointed out. In particular, will he look at whether the responsibility for funding these matters should now be taken away from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and restored to the House authorities?
I express the thanks, I hope, of the whole House for the way the police and staff of the Serjeant at Arms dealt with the legitimate demonstrations in Parliament Square yesterday evening. It is important for people to be able to demonstrate, but MPs and the public should be able to go about their business. Most importantly of all, I am sure we all wish the men and women of our armed forces a successful and safe return.
Yesterday we lost Cabinet Office questions, so will the Leader clarify what has happened to them? Will they be next Wednesday, as I presume, and will International Development questions then be shunted on to the week after and so forth? When will the deadlines for these various questions now be?
I have asked the Leader of the House twice about the recess dates for next year, and he has done 50 shades of grayling about it. On Tuesday morning, he told the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association that it was all to do with getting Government legislation through before Easter. May I remind him that the House does not meet for the convenience of the Government? The Government are accountable to the House, and it would be good to know the recess dates as soon as possible, not least so that Committees can make the dates of their sittings available to the public.
The Leader of the House has just said that we shall be considering Lords amendments to the European Referendum Bill next Tuesday. How much time will he be providing for that debate? The most important of the amendments involves the decision to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. The Government regularly say that this is the most important decision that the country will face in a generation, so why on earth do they want to exclude from the vote the very generation who will be most affected by it? After all, at 16, people can have consensual sex, move out of the family home, rent accommodation, refuse consent to medical treatment, join the armed forces, drive a moped and drink alcohol. Even the three Crown dependencies already allow votes at 16.
Why on earth not just give in now and allow 16 and 17-year-olds the vote, so that returning officers can get on with signing them up as soon as possible? Apart from anything else, the only way the Government will get the Bill on to the statute book this year is by caving in now. Their lordships voted in favour of the amendment by 293 to 211, and I bet they will vote the same way all over again. I predicted the tax credits U-turn several Thursdays ago, I predicted the junior doctors U-turn, and I hereby predict the votes at 16 U-turn.
Will the Prime Minister update us on his so-called renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU? As I understand it, he wants everything to be signed off at the December meeting of the European Council. The Council meets on 17 and 18 December, but the House rises on 17 December, so how on earth does the Leader of the House expect us to be able to question the Prime Minister on the outcome of the meeting? This is meant to be one of the most important renegotiations of our membership that we will have seen.
Some of us think that the Prime Minister is playing Russian roulette with our economic and political destiny. Hounded by his Eurosceptic Pavlovian dogs on the Back Benches, he keeps on doing the wrong thing. Last year the Government opted out of the Prüm convention on the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, particularly in relation to combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. We are now the only EU country to be excluded from the convention. Labour said that that was a ludicrous decision last year, but now the Home Office has finally woken up and said that there is a
“clear and compelling case for signing up to the Prüm agreements.”
Too right, but this kind of hokey-cokey seriously undermines our national security, which surely depends on our being an active member of the European Union. By sharing information with our close European allies and partners, we can prevent dangerous crimes and bring criminals swiftly to justice.
The Prime Minister’s weakness in failing to stand up to his Back Benchers has reduced our security, but only now, after Paris, are the Government finally recognising that fact. How much time will we be given for the debate on cross-border co-operation, which will also take place on Tuesday?
As you will have seen, Mr Speaker, Tyson Fury won the world heavyweight boxing title last weekend, and has now been nominated for the title of BBC sports personality of the year. I hope that he does not win. You may also have seen his comments.
“There are only three things”,
he has said,
“that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia.”
Leaving aside the bizarre, rather heterodox theology, that equates homosexuality with paedophilia. As I hope the Leader of the House agrees, that is profoundly offensive, and it is the kind of language that leads more young people to commit suicide. I gather that Mr Fury has subsequently said that some of his best friends are gay, so may I suggest that we invite him to Parliament some time in the near future? I am quite happy to go head to head with him.
I very much agree with the comments of the shadow Leader of the House on the events of this week. I also pay tribute to him for his brave stance yesterday. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the issue of the security of Members of Parliament and the need to protect them against criminal activity. We are all subject to legitimate public scrutiny, but it will never be acceptable for Members’ personal safety to be put in jeopardy or for them to be the victims of activities that a court would judge illegal.
In the House, Mr Speaker, we never discuss the security arrangements for Members, but suffice it to say that you and I would both agree that it is and will continue to be a priority for the House of Commons Commission and the House authorities to do everything we possibly can to protect the right of Members to express their views in a free and unfettered way, and to protect them when they do so. I also echo the hon. Gentleman’s words of thanks to the police, and not just the police who were on duty yesterday but all of those who provide protection to Members of this House, whether in this place or in their constituencies.
Following yesterday’s debate, in which Members on both sides said that they would expect regular updates on the situation in Syria, I should like to inform the House that the Government intend to provide a proper update statement before the Christmas recess. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our good wishes to the British air crew involved in action overnight.
Members might like to note that the first measure covered by our English votes for English laws procedures passed through this House uneventfully on Tuesday evening. I should like to offer my thanks to the Clerk and to all the Officers of the House who have been involved in making the preparations for the new systems.
I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House and all hon. Members will want to join me in sending our congratulations to the Prime Minister on the 10th anniversary this weekend of his election as Conservative party leader. Leading your party for a decade is a considerable achievement. It is one that others might perhaps aspire to achieve, but at the moment they look unlikely to do so.
It is also the anniversary this week of the stand that Rosa Parks took on a bus in the United States to secure race equality in that society. I am sure we all agree that the changes to our societies since then, and the ongoing work to stamp out race discrimination, are not only necessary but something we should all be proud of and committed to.
The hon. Gentleman asked me what was going to happen to the Question Time sessions. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that I addressed that issue in my business statement on Tuesday, when I indicated that questions would simply move back a week. The Prime Minister’ questions session—the sift for that session has already taken place—will simply take place next Wednesday; the same will be the case for Cabinet Office questions.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the European Union Referendum Bill debate. There will be a proper debate on the issue of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. It will be a separate issue, and the House will vote on it. If this House, as the elected House, again expresses its will that 16 and 17-year-olds should not at this moment be given the vote, it is my sincere hope that that view will be accepted in the other place.
The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the EU Council, and used the words, “as I understand it”. I am afraid he cannot simply go by what he reads in the papers. There are a lot of rumours and counter-rumours around at the moment, but when the Prime Minister is ready to make a statement, he will make it to the House and explain what is happening.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the House deciding on various matters. The House decided a year, or a year and a half ago not to opt back into a number of measures. The Government are bringing forward a proposal on Tuesday to debate the Prüm directive and the House will be able to decide on that matter. It is absolutely right and proper that that should be the case.
On the question of Tyson Fury, homophobia is not acceptable in sport. We should work hard to encourage more people in sport to be open and accepting of gay people in sport. It is right and proper that that change happens. I agree with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman expressed, and as a Formula 1 fan, my vote is for Lewis Hamilton.
On Small Business Saturday, I will be announcing the winners of Cannock Chase’s local shop and market stall competition. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing good luck to all the nominees? May we have a debate in Government time on the contribution of independent shops and market traders to our local economies?
I think Small Business Saturday is a fantastic innovation, and I wish all the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency well for the awards this weekend. If I may, I will pay tribute to Home Instead Senior Care, which was the winner of the Epsom and Ewell business award last week. I have also been asked by the Deputy Leader and by my Parliamentary Private Secretary to make reference to Fishers Home Hardware in Suffolk and Boulangerie Joie de Vie in Finchley and Golders Green and to wish them well. While we are on the subject of fishers, perhaps we might send our good wishes to the fishermen and fisherwomen of this country.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I also congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your Herculean effort yesterday? It is not for nothing that you have gained the title of “Golden Bladder” for the way you chaired yesterday’s proceedings, and I think the whole House is very grateful for the very kind and well-managed way you structured yesterday’s debate. But please, Leader of the House, let us never have another debate like this ever again in the House. Such was the demand to speak in yesterday’s debate that about 50 Members never got the opportunity to contribute, and many of those who did were confined to just a few minutes at the end of the day.
We live in a new type of representative democracy where MPs are lobbied and communicated with by means that were never anticipated, certainly when I was a new Member of Parliament. Constituents expect to see their MPs in this House expressing their opinions, particularly on massively important issues of state such as yesterday’s, and I am disappointed that the Leader of the House could not commit to the request from all around the House and the country to have a proper structured debate that would have allowed everybody who needed to contribute to the debate to get in. Let us hope we never have that again. I hope the Leader of the House will agree that if we have further debates as important as this, he will find the necessary adequate time so every Member gets an opportunity to contribute on behalf of their constituents, who have the legitimate right to hear from their MPs.
One of the consequences of shoehorning that two-day debate into one day is the impact on departmental questions; the Leader of the House was right. I listened very carefully to what is going to happen on this. What that means for us on the SNP Benches is that we will not now have Scotland Office questions until next year. It will be two months since the last Scotland Office questions. We have a live Scotland Bill now; we have huge questions to be asked.
There is also the question of the impact of military action on Scotland; 97% of Scottish Members of Parliament did not vote for military action last night and 72% of Scots oppose military action. We hear all this stuff about the family of nations and the pooling and sharing, but Scotland has rejected this military action. I know that matters not a jot to this Government—it is of no consequence to them—but it is massively important for us, and we will not have an opportunity to ask our Department about issues such as this until next year.
The ink was barely dry on the voting Clerks’ ledgers when the jets were in the air last night with their deadly cargo. Can the Leader of the House say more about what he will do to keep the House updated? We particularly want to hear about what is going to happen to the refugees, because all this is going to do is increase the demand for this country to deal with refugees; if we are bombing that nation, it is a natural consequence that there will be more refugees in the coming year. So we want to hear more about the Government’s plans on that.
This week has been characterised by finding targets, friendly fire and civil war, but that is enough about the Labour party. Every Government need an effective Opposition, and especially a callous, Conservative Government such as this one. If the Labour party cannot get its act together and cannot agree on matters as important as going to war or Trident, will it get out of the way and let the Scottish National party in there, because somebody needs to hold this Government to account for what they are doing?
I am afraid, as is often the case, the hon. Gentleman and I do not agree. Yesterday, we heard some very impassioned and powerful speeches—some speeches that will be memorable in the history of this place. They were made on all sides of the House and by Members on both sides of the argument. I think the debate we had yesterday showed this House at its best. We heard from 104 Members after what had been, over a period of a week and a bit, about 20 hours of debate, discussion and questions in this House. I think yesterday this House got it right. I also think it got the decision right, although I accept we do not agree on that. We heard impassioned speeches from the hon. Gentleman’s Benches, the official Opposition Benches and from our Benches. I think that is what people expect in their democracy.
The hon. Gentleman asked about holding the Government to account. As I said earlier, it is very important that we provide regular updates to this House. There will be a statement before the Christmas recess to update the House. It is right and proper that that is the case.
I have thought long and hard about the issue of Scotland questions. The hon. Gentleman asked how the Government will be held to account over the decisions taken yesterday. The answer is that there will be a statement in this House on precisely those issues, so that United Kingdom Members can ask questions about a decision taken across the United Kingdom.
I have also thought carefully about the structure of question time sittings. It would have been possible to swap them around. In my judgment, the question time sitting that might have been delayed until after Christmas was that of the Department for International Development. However, given the hon. Gentleman’s comments about refugees, I think it is right and proper that this House has the opportunity to question the Secretary of State for International Development on the work we are now doing on Syria, as part of a holistic strategy, to make sure that we provide proper support for refugees and prepare for what we hope will be a period of reconstruction and redevelopment in that country as soon as we can possibly achieve a lasting peace.
I accept that this House took big and challenging decisions yesterday. We as an Administration will now seek to make sure that this House is informed properly and appropriately and that it has the chance to question properly and appropriately. Given the passions expressed from the SNP Benches yesterday, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand my view that it is a greater priority to have a statement on what is happening in Syria and International Development questions before Christmas. He has plenty of opportunities to ask questions about Scotland matters and he will carry on doing so, including the moment we come back in the new year.
The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right to condemn the vile behaviour of a minority in respect of colleagues, including himself, acting according to their conscience. However, his argument was not advanced by his reference to Conservative Eurosceptics as dogs, however Pavlovian.
Many of our constituents’ most anguished pleas to us relate to the cancellation, very often at short notice, of hospital procedures and operations. That seems to me to be on the increase. May we have a debate in Government time on the provision of step-down care in our national health service and, in particular, the disappearance in many parts of the country of our excellent community hospitals?
Of course, the state of our local health service is a continuing matter of concern for our constituents and for all of us as individual constituency Members. As individuals, we will always be champions of those local facilities. Although emergencies happen and are sometimes unavoidable, I say to the health service that I have always believed that, unless there are unforeseen circumstances, cancelling operations should be done only in extremis, because of the disruption it causes to individuals. My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for community hospitals in his own county and I am certain he will continue to take advantage of the opportunities this House provides for him to make sure that he is a champion for the health service in Wiltshire.
The Backbench Business Committee would like early confirmation, if possible, that we will be allocated the last day before the Christmas recess on Thursday 17 December. We have been given notice that that is likely, but it has not yet been confirmed. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is a member of the Committee and has pointed out that, on occasion, the time allocated for Back-Bench business has been severely squeezed by statements and urgent questions. On Monday two weeks ago, we were given three hours of protected time, which was a very welcome departure. I think that is what the hon. Gentleman was referring to: the allocation of three hours of protected time for a particular debate. I say to the Leader of the House that we would like to see more of that, if at all possible.
I am happy to look at that suggestion. I think it was discussed in the last Parliament and that the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor felt that it was not necessary, but I am happy to discuss with him whether we need to protect the business. In some respects, the allocation of time is a mixed responsibility—it depends on how many urgent questions there are—but I accept his point. Perhaps we can have a conversation about it.
May we have a debate on a review of section 60AA of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 on the wearing of masks and face coverings on demonstrations? Surely, on public demonstrations on public land, the police should not have to apply for a special order to remove them. If people really have the courage of their convictions —whether they be members of the National Front, Occupy or the Stop the War coalition—statutory legislation should allow for the removal of all masks and face coverings on public demonstrations.
I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says and the Home Office should certainly give that careful consideration. These coverings are used to intimidate and in our society there is room for legitimate process and not for intimidation. We should look very carefully at whether anything that allows protesters to intimidate rather than protest should be permitted.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the bizarre decision by the Chancellor to axe the £1 billion funding for the first two carbon capture and storage projects in the UK. He might also be aware that Teesside’s ambition is to create the first industrial CCS project, with the potential to create thousands of jobs in an area that the Leader of the House will know has been devastated by job losses in the steel, mining and construction industries as well as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. May we have a debate to discuss the implications of the Chancellor’s decision, described by the industry as disastrous?
We had to take some difficult decisions in the spending review. We have not ruled out carbon capture for the future, but we have to take practical decisions based on value for money for the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is our duty in government and it is the duty of all Governments in office. We will continue to look carefully at carbon capture technology and I hope that a time will come when it is a sound and viable approach, but none the less the Government have taken a difficult decision. I simply remind him that in the northern half of the country the economy has been growing faster than in the southern half. The best way of securing jobs for the future in his constituency and the surrounding area is to continue that growth and get investment in there.
On Remembrance Sunday, an organisation projected on to the House of Commons a swastika with the message “Modi not welcome”. We know it happened, because the organisation put out a statement saying that it had done that. We have photographic evidence and witness statements from those who saw and took photos of those responsible. We know that the message was completely wrong, Mr Speaker, because you made Narendra Modi most welcome on his historic visit to Parliament. May we have a statement on what measures we will take not only to combat this incident but future more serious incidents?
For any organisation to link the swastika to Prime Minister Modi in a demonstration in this country is unreservedly unacceptable. We have close relations with India and I would condemn any such action. I am also aware of the incident to which my hon. Friend refers. It is not yet clear that that was an actual incident as opposed to a creative use of computer technology to create the sense that it took place. If he has information that suggests that it did, I think that you, Mr Speaker, and I would be very glad to see it.
May we have a debate on cuts to the police? The Metropolitan police is making clerical staff redundant and filling those posts with warranted officers. That flies in the face of the Government’s policy of making police more visible to the public; I assume that the Met will adopt a policy of moving desks closer to windows to fulfil that requirement. May we have a debate on that, as it is seriously depleting the number of officers available in our communities?
I think the hon. Gentleman is a couple of weeks late. If he listened to the autumn statement, he will have heard that we are not cutting police budgets. It is a matter for the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to decide how to spend their budgets most effectively in the interests of the citizens of London and I will not seek to tell them how to do so. We have not cut their budgets; we have actually protected them.
There was an incredibly well-attended debate in Westminster Hall this week about temporary post office closures and my own village post office in Honley has been closed temporarily, supposedly, for up to six weeks now. May we have a statement on these temporary closures, which many communities fear might end up being long term? They are much-needed assets in rural and deprived communities.
I can understand the concern, because there have certainly been occasions when temporary closures have led to permanent closures. I can well understand the anxiety. I suggest to my hon. Friend that when Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are before the House on Tuesday week, he might want to raise that question with them. We all want to protect local services in our constituencies, even though on some occasions change, sadly, is unavoidable.
Later today, I will host the inaugural meeting of the all-party group for Alevis, Alevism being a philosophy, a religion and a social and cultural identity. Sadly, neither Alevis nor their religion are recognised in Turkey, their country of origin. May we have a debate in Government time on the positive contribution that more than 300,000 Alevis living in this country make to this country as well as about the situation under which they live in Turkey?
One of the fundamentals that characterises our society is the desire to defend the interests of religious minorities. We are a liberal democracy that believes in freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of worship. I commend the right hon. Lady for the work that she is doing, and I am sure she will seek to use one of the occasions available to her in this House to provide a greater platform for the work she is doing with that all-party group and for the communities she is seeking to represent.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been campaigning to save the hedgehog, whose numbers have declined by more than a third over the past 10 years. Whereas hedgehogs are not a fully protected species, badgers, whose numbers have risen significantly, are. May we have a debate or a statement on protected species so that we can explore the need to have greater flexibility in this?
I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing. He is only too well aware, as I am, of the decline in hedgehog numbers in this country. It is only if our society works together to try to rectify that situation will we provide an opportunity for those numbers to be restored. A variety of different challenges face us, and I wish to pay tribute to The Times for launching a campaign in defence of our hedgehogs, encouraging all of us to make holes in our garden fences to create a superhighway for hedgehogs. Although I do have such a hole in my garden fence, sadly, I do not have any hedgehogs in my garden at the moment—I hope they will arrive.
While we are on the subject of protected species, I should point out to the House that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who is sadly not in his place at this time, was for a considerable period, as he has often pointed out to the House, president of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Colleagues may wish to reflect upon the appropriateness of the right hon. Gentleman holding that particular post.
In the past week, we have had much discussion about a tax on sugar products and the Government’s intentions in that area. Many of us feel that there should also be a tax on fatty foods. Will the Leader of the House consider, and agree to a debate in this House on the issue of, ensuring that any such tax is used directly for the health service?
Of course we did have a debate last Monday on the issue of the sugar tax, following a petition. That is an example of how we are using the petitions system to debate matters of public concern. I must say that I have some doubts about an approach such as the hon. Gentleman outlines. As people say, all things are good in moderation but not in excess. We are much better off explaining to people what is good for them and what is not, and then allowing them to take their own decisions—otherwise, we just become a nanny state.
May we have a debate on fixed-term recalls? When people are convicted of serious offences and are released from prison before their term is up, most of the public would expect that if they then reoffend or break their licence conditions, they are returned to prison to serve the rest of their sentence in full. Currently, however, these people go back to prison for only 28 days. Last year, that applied to 546 offenders who had committed offences including murder, manslaughter, attempted homicide, wounding and assault. May we have a debate on this so that we can actually make sure these people go back to prison for the remainder of their sentence, rather than for a derisory 28 days?
As my hon. Friend knows, as Justice Secretary I legislated to provide additional powers to manage those who are on remand, and I am very much of his view that we need to be willing to respond effectively and strongly when such situations arise. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will of course be in this House on Tuesday, and I am sure my hon. Friend will take advantage of that opportunity to make the point very firmly to him, too.
We have heard the earlier comments from the Leader of the House and the Foreign Secretary yesterday, who used the cliché that yesterday was great for democracy as people saw it in action. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said, however, only 104 MPs were taken and half as many again had put their name forward. I was one of the frustrated Back Benchers who sat there getting up and down all day. My constituents expect me to be able to put my views on the record in this House, and they are also disappointed when I do not get to do that. They could also make the decision as to whether the Prime Minister’s comments about “terrorist sympathisers” were a slur on my voting record. Will the Leader of the House therefore reconsider the future arrangements for such important debates?
I do not think that anybody was in any doubt about the views of the hon. Gentleman or those of his colleagues. Many Members of the Scottish National party made their points very articulately yesterday, even though I did not agree with them. Over the past few days, there have been many, many opportunities to question the Prime Minister and raise these matters in debate. My view is that this House handled the matter in the right way, and that it took the right decision, although I appreciate that he and I will not agree on that.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the reservoir of bovine TB has the potential to devastate dairy herds in my constituency. Given the worldwide shortage of the vaccine and the Welsh Government’s withdrawal of their vaccine programme against badgers, could we have a debate in Government time on the impact of that wildlife reservoir?
That is a very real issue for the agricultural communities in this country. I read those reports with concern as well. It is absolutely right and proper that we take measures to protect our farming industry, as it is crucial to this country. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will be in the House shortly before the Christmas recess and will be able to address matters in greater detail then.
Yesterday, this House voted for a military response against ISIS extremists in Syria. Will the Government find time to debate the possibility of a sanction-based response against the vile, barbaric Saudi regime, which has, for too long, promoted and exported a similar extremist creed?
I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about that matter, but what I say to him is that this country has had a long partnership with Saudi Arabia under Governments of both persuasions. We have both worked collaboratively with the Saudis, and also worked with them to try to improve their society. I think we have the right balance.
May I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for your Olympic gold-winning performance yesterday? When I was Deputy Speaker, I once had to sit in the Chair for six hours, and half way through I had to put out a call of emergency to the Chairman of Ways and Means to replace me for a couple of minutes. How you did it, I will never know, and I pay tribute to you.
Tourism is vital to the Ribble Valley. It is great that London attracts more visitors than any other city on Earth, but we want to get those visitors out of London and into places such as the Ribble Valley. I understand that Visit England is to be subsumed into Visit Britain, which means that there will not be a special voice for England alone. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own voices. May we have a statement from a Minister as soon as possible so that we can absolutely ensure that England will have a distinct voice for tourism?
My hon. Friend represents one of the most beautiful parts of England. I know it well, as my family came from close to there, and I used to spend many weekends walking in the Ribble Valley as a child. I will ensure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage. We know that she is a very active supporter of the tourist industry in both England and the whole of the United Kingdom. She will not be taking decisions lightly, and will certainly not want to take decisions that adversely affect his constituency and discourage people from visiting it.
May we have a debate on the practices of big businesses? Marks & Spencer, for example, continues to charge a significant premium on products such as flowers in hospital shops and has failed to follow the requests to remove guilt lanes packed with unhealthy snacks by its tills. Now, it has refused to meet me to discuss its appalling treatment of British workers who staff its major UK depot and are kept on insecure contracts. It is exploiting loopholes in EU law to pay new staff less than others who are doing the same work. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is unacceptable for a brand that trades on its British ideals to treat its staff and customers in such an irresponsible manner?
Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in this Chamber on the protection, status and promotion of the Welsh language? Every Department here has a statutory duty to comply with Welsh language legislation. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a statutory duty to enshrine the Public Bodies Act 2011 to ensure that there is sufficient finance. Britain must not lose this beautiful culture, or treasure, that is “yr iaith Gymraeg”, and we need a debate to ensure that that does not happen.
I know that every Department takes this issue very seriously—in my time in two Departments, we were always careful to provide proper information to Welsh language speakers in Wales. I absolutely agree that to protect the diversity and culture of the UK as a whole we must protect the Welsh language, as well as the culture and traditional languages in areas now represented by the SNP. We have a duty to protect the diversity of the entire UK.
May I, too, pay tribute to your Herculean efforts yesterday, Mr Speaker? I honestly do not know how you got through it.
I took part in Prime Minister’s questions last week, I questioned him after the statement last Thursday and I took part in the Back-Bench business debate on Monday, and each time I raised the issue of protecting the ancient minorities in Syria and that part of the world. History shows that our plan must include protection for minorities with a history of fleeing military invasions, but that is the big hole in the Government’s plans. I do not wish to go over the arguments again, but will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on how we can protect the many religious, linguistic and other minorities in that part of the world?
In a sense, the hon. Gentleman is making the case for our side yesterday. How on earth could we have protected the Yazidi community, for example, from what might otherwise have been genocide other than by sending in air support for the Kurds, who were seeking to defend the area and rescue people from Mount Sinjar? We have talked extensively about the need to protect Syrian citizens, and we will make a statement before Christmas to update the House, but I do not understand how we can help and rescue these people, particularly the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, without military support, to which his party is opposed.
Many Members were disappointed that, owing to how private Members’ Bills are handled, we were not able to vote on the Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education (State-funded Secondary Schools) Bill. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of individual Bills, it would be useful to have a full debate in the House on reform of the private Members’ Bills system.
First and foremost, this is a matter for the Procedure Committee, and I would not dare to intrude on the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who is the Chairman of the Committee, and his colleagues. May I suggest, therefore, that my hon. Friend speaks to the Chairman, who has raised this issue with me and is considering it.
I welcome the Government’s intention to make quarterly reports on Syria, but will the Leader of the House confirm that they will be oral statements from the Foreign Secretary? Will they focus, in particular, on progress that the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are making in their diplomatic initiatives and willingness to tackle extremism? In addition, the Prime Minister said yesterday he was happy to reconsider the issue of orphans. Has he had time to consider that matter, and has the Leader of the House had a request from him to come to the House to tell us what his deliberations have led to?
We have indicated our intention to provide quarterly reports, but I would like us to do more than that, which is why I told the House this morning that I thought it appropriate to have a further statement before Christmas giving an update on matters raised yesterday, including the military action and humanitarian issues. There will also be International Development questions before Christmas. I absolutely intend there to be opportunities to put these questions to the Government.
As colleagues will know, there was unfortunately an extremely tragic incident in my constituency recently. The matter is now sub judice. I know the Government take the issue of online grooming extremely seriously—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has led on it—but may we have a further debate on how social media are used as a vehicle for sexual grooming and what further measures we can take to protect vulnerable young teenagers from sexual predators?
I think we are all aware of the horrible crime that took place in my hon. Friend’s constituency and would all want to send our good wishes and condolences to the family of the victim. He is right that the case is sub judice, which means we cannot discuss the details, but suffice it to say that Ministers will have noted what happened and will want to learn lessons. The Justice Secretary, who is ultimately responsible for criminal justice legislation, will be in the House on Tuesday and will, I am sure, listen carefully to any ideas my hon. Friend wants to put to him.
I first raised with the Leader of the House on 17 September the issue of the national wind college which was going to be based in the Humber. In the comprehensive spending review statement last week, five colleges were announced, but not one for the Humber area specialising in wind energy. May we have a debate in Government time on the commitment to renewable energy, particularly offshore wind energy, and why, if the Government are serious about the northern powerhouse, Hull and the Humber seem to have been missed out yet again?
I am not sure that there is any intention in Government to miss out Hull and the Humber. It is of course the heart of the wind turbine industry in the United Kingdom, and a very successful part of the local economy. I will obviously pass the hon. Lady’s concerns to the Treasury. Having visited more than one of the local centres of education in the Hull and Humber area in the past few years, I think it is already well served by some excellent professionals who are very good at delivering skills to young people.
On both sides of the House there was disappointment that some Members were not able to speak in the very important debate yesterday, and disappointment also at the very restricted time limit that had to be imposed. I hear what the Scottish National party says about it and what the Labour party says about it. They had an option yesterday to vote against the business motion and for extended time, and we could have removed the moment of interruption, which would have solved the problem. The only problem with removing the moment of interruption, Mr Speaker, might have been your bladder. Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week to the effect that when we consider major issues that the whole country is concerned about, we do not put a time limit on those debates?
Of course, we thought long and hard about that. We believed that the time set aside—10 and a half hours yesterday as part of about 20 hours of debate and questions over nine days—seven business days in the House— was the right balance. It was open to any Member, to the Labour party, to the Scottish National party and to Back Benchers to table an amendment to the business motion if they disagreed with us. Nobody chose to do so.
Last week I drew the attention of the Leader of the House to the Business Secretary’s commitment to report on the three working groups that he set up at the steel summit and the actions that they are going to take urgently to support the steel industry in this country. The Leader of the House helpfully said that he would take that up with his right hon. Friend. We are running out of time. I have heard nothing. I hope we still have the opportunity for the Business Secretary to come to the House and report on progress.
My office did indeed pass on that request. The Business Secretary will be here on Tuesday week in any case, and I will ask him to make sure that he is able to address the points and provide an update before we break for Christmas on what I know is a very serious matter for the hon. Gentleman, his constituents and the whole region.
In its recent report, Public Health England stated that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, pose no identifiable risk to bystanders and should not be treated in the same way as tobacco products, yet in many public and work places, including here in the Palace of Westminster, users of e-cigarettes, who are in almost every case people who have given up using tobacco, are obliged to vape in the same space as smokers, where they are exposed to all the harm caused by tobacco smoke. The country looks to Parliament to set a lead, so may we have a debate on the policy regarding the use of e-cigarettes across the parliamentary estate?
This is a matter that has been considered by the Administration Committee. A decision was taken, rightly or wrongly, to put in place the current policy as my hon. Friend describes it. I suggest that he writes to our hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), who chairs that Committee, to make those points. This is a matter for individual employers to decide. It is a matter of some debate and controversy, but I have no doubt that if he writes to the Chair of that Committee, his views will be carefully considered.
The Leader of the House has stressed the importance of International Development questions a couple of times this morning, so will he give further consideration to the point I put to him in the Procedure Committee? I suggested that every now and then we move International Development questions, and other departmental questions, from the slot immediately before Prime Minister’s questions so that they have a little longer and can take place in a slightly more considered atmosphere—perhaps the convivial atmosphere of a Thursday morning—instead of being drowned out immediately before Prime Minister’s questions, as often happens.
The hon. Gentleman might not have heard me earlier, but in the 15 minutes of questions to the Leader of the House earlier this morning I asked whether it was really necessary to have that separate Question Time, and whether those questions could be merged with business questions to allow that slot to be used to extend the time available for other questions. [Interruption.] I have a lot of sympathy with what he suggests.
May we have a short debate on the whole issue of the rota for oral questions? That would give Members an opportunity to suggest changes, such as the one we have just heard and the possibility of separating the questions to the Church Commissioners, the Public Accounts Commission and the Electoral Commission. Currently Members are unable to question more than one of those bodies at the same time, and there might be other bodies that we ought to be questioning in that way.
Those are important points that I am happy to consider carefully, because we need to use the time available in the best possible way. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) kindly said from a sedentary position that he wants to hear from me every day, but I suspect it might not be me he wants to hear from every day.
Earlier this week the Welsh Labour Government’s groundbreaking law on presumed consent for organ donation came into effect. Given that more than 10,000 people across the UK are waiting for an organ transplant, may we please have a debate in Government time on presumed consent so that England can follow Wales’s lead?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and one that is well worth consideration. It sounds to me like something that the Backbench Business Committee could bring to the House. That debate would give the Government an indication of the balance of opinion in the House. We would want to understand the views of Members, and perhaps that is the best way of doing it.
Ladybridge football club in my constituency has recently been awarded a £56,000 grant by the Premier League and Football Association’s facilities fund to install new floodlighting. I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate the club on the award. May we have a debate on the importance of sports funding, including the Football Foundation, and on what more the Government can do to support sports in our schools?
That is one reason we have sought to ensure that funding for sport is available and protected in our spending plans. I pay tribute to the Football Foundation and to individual premier league clubs for the work they are doing. I will take the liberty, as a Manchester United supporter, of praising the work of the Manchester United Foundation, and indeed the many other premier league club foundations which do great work to promote grassroots sport, often among those who might otherwise be disengaged from society. My hon. Friend makes an important point. I wish the club in his constituency well. I also wish the rather larger club in his constituency well in sorting out its current problems.
On Saturday I shall be visiting some of the excellent small businesses in my constituency, including Red Star Brewery in Formby, Roxiie’s Treasures in Crosby and Maghull Tyre & Exhaust in Maghull. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating those responsible for the success of Small Business Saturday over the past few years, including the Federation of Small Businesses, the small business Saturday team and, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who was instrumental, with others, in bringing the concept to this country? May we have the debate that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) requested at the start of business questions so that we can discuss the importance of supporting small businesses all year round, not just on one day of the year?
The Government are always working to support and encourage small businesses, whether by changing procurement rules or, where possible, by removing red tape, but I also think that the work done by Members on both sides of the House, and not just on Small Business Saturday but across the year, to help and support businesses in their constituencies is absolutely right. The hon. Gentleman will know, as indeed we all do, that the job of running a small business is pretty tough: it is often a seven-day-a-week job, and often with 12 or 18-hour days. It is immensely valuable to our society that we have people who are willing to commit that level of effort to run small businesses in our communities. They hold our communities together. We will celebrate them this Saturday. I commend all Members for the work they will be doing, this weekend and throughout the year, to support small businesses in their constituencies.