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Business of the House

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week, and preferably the recess dates for next year as well?

The business for next week will be nothing at all, because I hope that everybody will be enjoying a good festive break. The business for the House in the week commencing 4 January 2016 is as follows:

Monday 4 January—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 5 January—Remaining stages of the Housing and Planning Bill (day 1). I remind colleagues that this day will have a Monday timetable and will start at 2.30 pm, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also expects to make a statement to the House.

Wednesday 6 January—Opposition day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 January—Debate on a motion relating to the effect of the equalisation of the state pension age on women, followed by a debate on a motion relating to children in care. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 8 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 January will include:

Monday 11 January—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on Thursday 7 January and Monday 11 January will be :

Thursday 7 January—General debate on the armed forces covenant annual report.

Monday 11 January—Debate on an e-petition relating to the NHS bursary.

Colleagues will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Easter recess at the close of business on Thursday 24 March 2016 and will return on Monday 11 April 2016.

My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has a particularly festive air today in aid of charity—I commend her for her work in support of charity. In this festive week, I take this opportunity, Mr Speaker, to wish you, her, the shadow team and all Members of the House a very happy Christmas. I wish those from north of the border a very happy Hogmanay as well.

I am sure the House will join me in recognising the important work that goes on to support the House throughout the year. I thank all the staff working throughout the Palace of Westminster and wish them a restful Christmas and a happy new year. There are always staff on duty in part of the Palace, and I particularly want to wish those who have to work over the Christmas period a pleasant break when they have one, and to express our gratitude to them for the work they do over the festive period.

Despite the caterwauling yesterday from the Leader of the House—he seemed to suggest that I would make lame, laboured jokes about “Star Wars” today, as the Prime Minister did yesterday—I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that I have a complete UK exemption from “Star Wars” related humour. I have some perfectly good lame, laboured jokes of my own without resorting to that.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the panto season is upon us—[Hon. Members: “Oh no it isn’t!”] Oh yes it is. “Cinderella” is on at the Park & Dare in Treorchy. Apparently, auditions were last month, so unfortunately the Rhondda will have to do without my Prince Charming this year. However, I see that the Epsom Playhouse in the constituency of the Leader of the House has “Beauty and the Beast” on at the moment. There is a rumour going around that the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House will appear in that production on select nights. The only question is which parts they will play. I am pretty certain that the Deputy Leader of the House will be playing Mrs Potts—she would obviously be Mrs Coffey Potts. That is the worst laboured joke today. [Interruption.] It may not be actually.

As for the Leader of the House, he is no beast, but I hear that there was a mystery bidder earlier this week at the sale of Mrs Thatcher’s frocks. There is a rumour that he will be seen waltzing across the stage in that black printed chiffon number as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” this week.

May we have a debate on food waste? Last year, 1.2 million sausages were sent to landfill in Rhondda Cynon Taff alone, which is why it is great that the local council is signing everybody up to proper food recycling. New figures show that, last year, the House wasted 45,000 meals—they were just tipped in the bin. With 33 Trussell Trust food banks within the M25 and an estimated 70,000 children in London going to bed hungry each night, is it not time for the Leader of the House to institute a new scheme to donate unused food from this Palace to local London food banks?

The Leader of the House announced that the Prime Minister will make a statement on the first day back in the new year. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the statement is on the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU and how that is going? I ask because I gather that his EU counterparts are now so heartily sick of his endless whining that he is finally going to be allowed to speak tonight for a couple of minutes during dinner—while the waiters are clearing away the plates, somewhere between the boeuf en croute and the tarte tatin. He is becoming rather like one of those really irritating relatives who pops round for tea every now and again, casually asks if he can doss down on the sofa for a couple of days, drinks all your whisky while telling you where you’ve gone wrong in life and then, when you finally summon up the courage to ask him to leave, says, “Do you mind if I redecorate the bathroom?”

I ask because there seems something utterly illogical about the whole renegotiation process. The Prime Minister seems to think that EU citizens in Poland and Romania sit around trying to work out which is the most generous benefit system in Europe before they decide where to go to live and work. Is that really what Conservative Members think people do? Do they think that this is the kind of conversation they have? “Hey Bogdan, which do you think is better, the UK’s employment and support allowance or Denmark’s flexicurity?” “Well, Pavel, I’m not so sure, but I certainly prefer the Scandinavian model to the Rhine capitalism system of contributory benefits.” Honestly, all of this is a complete nonsense!

And he’s Cleverly enough to know it. Every single one of us knows it. EU citizens come here because we speak English, because there are jobs and because this is a great country. The Government are trying to undermine every single element of that, but even the Work and Pensions Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary have told the Prime Minister his proposal will make absolutely no difference to net migration figures. He is barking up the wrong tree.

So why do we not just get on with the referendum now? It is a simple question: in or out? Remain or leave. As Sir John Major said, flirting with an exit would be dangerous for this country. It is one thing to choose to leave—honourable, but in my mind foolish—but it would be quite another to end up leaving by accident. That would be incompetent and dishonourable.

I am absolutely delighted that the Leader of the House has given us the dates for the Easter recess, but could he extend a little bit to the Whitsun recess? I will give him the date of Whitsun: 15 May. Why can he not give us the recess dates for the whole of next year?

As Boxing day approaches, can I just ask for an assurance from the Leader of the House that the draft Hunting Act 2004 (Exempt Hunting) (Amendment) Order 2015, which was withdrawn earlier this year, is not back on the horizon? It is rumoured to be so in the press. Surely, if the Government want to bring back hunting they should be open and honest about it and not try to sneak it back in through the back door. Let us have primary legislation, not secondary legislation.

With the new year coming up, may I suggest the Leader of the House makes a single resolution? Will he please repeat after me? “I will always…” Come on. “I will always…” Oh dear. “I will always guarantee that all major announcements of Government policy are made to this House first and not leaked to the press. And if that guarantee is breached, I will resign immediately.” I thought the Prime Minister treated the House, and you Mr Speaker, with utter contempt last week when, after you said in this House that any announcement on the decision, the process of the decision, or even the process of the non-decision regarding Heathrow, Gatwick and airport capacity should be made in this House, the Prime Minister, that very afternoon, went out and made statements on the television. That was a gross discourtesy to this House and the Leader of the House knows it perfectly well. He should have excoriated the Prime Minister for that and he should do so every time he tries to do it again.

There are 36 written ministerial statements on the Order Paper today, conveniently on the very last day so as to avoid scrutiny. One of them is on a particularly serious matter, the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, where the deaths of 1,000 people with disabilities and mental health problems were not properly investigated. The written statement will be made available only late in the day today, long after hon. Members will be able to quiz the Government about it. Again, that is a gross discourtesy to this House.

It is Christmas time—well, Advent—but Christmas is not as snug as it might seem in the adverts or carols. Jerusalem does not lie still. Not the hopes but the fears of all the years are met in her tonight and every night. Age UK points out that more than 1 million old people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member over Christmas. Many people will overeat, but thousands of families will have to choose between heating and eating. The real Christmas story is about an unfair tax, a brutal dictator slaughtering innocents, a young unmarried woman giving birth in a stable and a family harshly forced into exile. All these things have been repeated in Syria in the last week alone, yet Christians dare to believe that in that story lies hope for the world. So I wish you, Mr Speaker, a merry, harmonious and hope-filled Christmas, and through you, to the Clerks, the Doorkeepers, the police, the catering staff, the cleaners and all who work with, in and for Parliament, and to our armed forces, our security services and all those who keep a watchful eye while we are merry, I say, in the words of your favourite Dickensian character, Tiny Tim, God bless us one and all.

I didn’t think he was going to finish!

I would like to update the House on progress made around the provision of security for Members. You know, Mr Speaker, that this has been a matter of considerable concern to Members in recent weeks, and I have been working along with the Chairman of Ways and Means to identify a way forward for Members. I am pleased to inform the House that the security measures available to all Members are to be standardised in a security package. The package will address MPs’ personal security offsite, including at constituency offices and homes, and will include consideration of staff safety.

This has been raised as a concern by many Members, and it is important for us to recognise those concerns.

Many colleagues will already have adequate security arrangements, but the standardised package will provide a consistent approach and accelerate the procurement of security items. The Chairman of Ways and Means, as Chair of the Consultative Panel on Parliamentary Security, will write to colleagues today, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will be in touch with Members in the new year with details of how to access the package. I hope this will serve to allay Members’ concerns and create a system that is fair, appropriate and flexible.

This has been an eventful year. The Conservatives won the general election. Labour lost the general election. The Liberal Democrats shrank in number and I think have put on invisibility cloaks since then. There has been a slight change in the numbers on the Scottish National Benches. Then, of course, we all came back to Westminster, and you will remember, Mr Speaker, those happy early-morning sprints, as the Labour left and the SNP rushed for the best seats. But of course they do not need to do that any more, because the Labour left has moved from those seats to the Front Bench and the leadership of the Labour party. We will see in the new year whether the shadow Leader of the House, who has a proud record on these things, decides to do anything about it.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about food waste. Some 1.4 million sausages were sent to landfill in his constituency alone, so if he is talking about food waste and the need to provide extra resources for food banks, I suggest he considers starting slightly closer to home. I think the produce of Welsh farmers is first rate. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to send it to food banks at all, so perhaps he should start closer to home.

I said that the Prime Minister would be here to make a statement, and he will of course address EU issues, but it is also important that Members get to question him about, for example, progress on the Syrian peace talks, which he will be able to update people on after Christmas as well. Of course, he will answer questions about Europe, but he will also be available to address other issues, if necessary.

The shadow Leader of the House talked about jobs. At the end of the year, one of the things the Conservative party can be proudest of is the unemployment figures we saw yesterday. When I was employment Minister, more than 1.5 million people were claiming unemployment benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. That number has almost halved in the past four years. More and more people are in work and finding opportunities in this country. The legacy of unemployment we inherited from Labour has been well and truly turned around, and when it comes to Europe, I will take no lessons from the man who, a decade ago, expressed deep distress that Britain was not joining the euro.

The hon. Gentleman talked about leave dates, and I am glad to be able to announce the recess dates. Further recess dates will, of course, be subject to the progress of business, because we as a party believe that it is more important to ensure that the essential business on the basis of which we were elected last May gets through Parliament and can be enacted to make a difference to this country.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned hunting. Let me say yet again—we get this every week—that he must stop believing everything he reads in the papers. When and if this Government have a new measure, we will announce it. He talks about written ministerial statements. I have stood in this Chamber over the last few weeks and received numerous requests for updates before Christmas. I thus make no apology for the fact that today we are providing the House with plenty of updates before Christmas.

Lastly, the hon. Gentleman made a serious point about lonely people this Christmas, which was also made by one of my hon. Friends last week. I hope everyone in this country will think, “Do I have a lonely person next door who I can invite round for a drink over Christmas and bring a bit of light into what would otherwise be a lonely life?” I hope everyone in this country has a very happy and joyful family Christmas.

In the absence of the Christmas Adjournment debate, which would have allowed colleagues to raise urgent matters, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on c2c timetable changes, which have unfortunately transformed what used to be the happy line back into the misery line once again?

On the Adjournment debate, I see in his place the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, and I would simply say to my hon. Friend that what has happened is quite clearly the will of the House. I understand the situation this time round, but it is the clear will of the House that we should return for at least part of the last sitting day to the traditional format. A number of Members have made representations to me about it, and I hope that we will return to it next time round. It is, of course, a loss that we will not hear the characteristically eloquent contribution from my hon. Friend. He made his point about c2c very well, and I am pretty sure that, with him on the case, if the happy line has turned into the misery line, it will soon be back to being the happy line again.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next year’s business, and I would like to wish you and your staff, Mr Speaker, all the best for a peaceful and merry Christmas. I extend my good wishes to the Deputy Leader of the House, who I hope has a very enjoyable time. I know that my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party would like to wish all members of staff a merry and peaceful Christmas. We all signed early-day motion 895.

[That this House respects the unrivalled professionalism, skill and commitment of all support staff employed on the House of Commons estate; acknowledges that all hon. Members receive invaluable help from the entire workforce, from doorkeepers and police officers to the library team and postal service, from catering staff to staff of the Department of Chamber and Committee Services; thanks them in particular for the generous support and warmth shown to newly-elected hon. Members in 2015; and wishes each of them a restful and peaceful Christmas and the best of everything in 2016.]

We wanted to congratulate the staff on all the work they have done to make sure that new Members here are accommodated and looked after. A merry Christmas once again to all the staff.

I am quite surprised to see so many of my hon. Friends in their places here today, because last night it was the SNP’s Christmas party. There were fine renditions of “500 Miles” and “Loch Lomond”, so I am indeed impressed to see so many of SNP colleagues at business questions today. In Perth concert hall, “Beauty and the Beast” is our annual pantomime. Looking at the Labour Benches, however, I thought “Sleeping Beauty” might have been more appropriate for them. I always like a good pantomime horse, so what about a pantomime stalking-horse from Labour colleagues as they go forward into next year?

There is growing concern in Scotland about what is happening in the debate over Europe, with UK opinion polls now showing a majority of people throughout the United Kingdom favouring a Brexit and leaving the European Union. Yet we see the Prime Minister flirting with our exit, as John Major has said, trying to renegotiate our membership terms with European leaders who could not care less. He is appearing there like Chewbacca without the fur, trying to renegotiate our membership of the European Union to European leaders who could not care less and want to see the back of him.

All recent opinion polls show that the Scottish people remain determined to stay within Europe, yet there is a real growing fear that our nation might be taken out of Europe against our will. That is totally unacceptable to us, and it would be the first time ever that a nation in Europe had been taken out of Europe against its will. During the referendum, we were told that a no vote would secure our place in Europe, and that if we dared to vote yes, it would see us dragged out. So I offer the Leader of the House a solution. I am asking for a debate on a quadruple lock. If we are indeed a family of nations within the United Kingdom, one nation of this Union cannot determine the membership rights of every other nation within the UK. We have an opportunity to resolve this to make sure that no nation is taken out of Europe against its will. I ask the Leader of House to agree to that debate next year.

Yesterday’s events on fracking were simply appalling. There is an apt and appropriate Scots word for it— “sleekit”. It was a sleekit debate—there was no debate at all but a vote on fracking to desecrate the national parks of this country with the frackers. Thank goodness we have the necessary powers to ensure that our country will not be desecrated by the Tories’ fracker friends—and that is a very difficult thing to say after a good night out, Mr Speaker.

We are going into the new year and there is still no agreement about the fiscal framework, the engine that will allow the fiscal arrangements in the Scotland Bill to operate and progress properly. We need that agreement, and we need to know how the Government are approaching the matter. I assume that the Leader of the House will not consent to any sort of debate about it, but will he ensure that Treasury Ministers agree to appear before the Scottish Affairs Committee as we look into the whole issue of the fiscal framework? All that he needs to do is go to the Treasury and ensure that the necessary Ministers appear, so that we can put our points to them.

This has been some year, Mr Speaker. The real news of the year has been the emergence of my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, which won 56 of the 59 seats in Scotland. We now have just one Conservative Member of Parliament, who barely won his seat. Let me say to you, Mr Speaker, that what you will have here is a determined, united opposition—the real opposition to the Tories. The Tories will get away with nothing for as long as SNP Members are sitting here providing that real opposition. We can no longer rely on this disunited, dispirited, forlorn Labour party; it is the Members on these Benches who will provide the opposition.

The hon. Gentleman is in his characteristically flamboyant form. Whether that is because he had an abstemious night or because he has been tasting quite a lot of single malts I do not know, but I wish him and all his colleagues a very happy festive period, and I hope that they will have a relaxing and enjoyable time.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that our nation will not be taken out of Europe against its will. His nation and my nation are the same thing. Let me remind him that if he had had his way—and he did not, because the Scottish people voted to remain part of the United Kingdom—the Scottish Government would now be at the doors of Westminster with a begging bowl, because the collapse in the oil price would have shot their financial plans to pieces. I think that the Scottish people made an eminently sensible decision, and one that has proved remarkably prescient. Let me say again that our nation will decide our future in the European Union.

The hon. Gentleman said that fracking would desecrate some of our finest areas. That is nonsense. Fracking is a technology that has existed in the oil and gas industry for years. It has been used in oil exploration in the south-east of England, in some very attractive parts of the country, and people did not notice it for decades. I do not believe—and nor is it the Government’s intention—that taking advantage of shale gas, which is an important resource for the future, will in any way desecrate the finest areas in the country.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether a Treasury Minister would appear before the Scottish Affairs Committee. Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland will take place during the first week after the Christmas recess, and he will be able to ask questions then. However, as the Chair of the Committee, he will know that if a Minister is asked to appear before a Select Committee, it would be almost unprecedented for the Minister to say no, so I suggest that he simply extend the invitation.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Scottish politics. It is true that the Scottish National party had a very good year, but it is also true that the Conservative party came within a whisker of being the second party at Westminster in Scotland. Our goal is to be the second party of Scotland at Holyrood next year, and I wish all my Conservative colleagues well for the campaigns that they will be fighting in the coming months.

Unlike the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Gentleman dropped a “Star Wars” joke into his speech. I must say to him that, although I have yet to see its members in action, MP4 strikes me as being a class above that famous band in the bar in the movie. However, I was a little disappointed that the shadow Leader of the House did not want to tell any “Star Wars” jokes, because during the last few days a number of people have described him to me—very unfairly, in my view—as the Jar Jar Binks of the Labour party.

Season’s greetings to everyone.

International Women’s Day will be on 8 March 2016, and the theme will be “make it happen”. Will the Leader of the House offer us a chance to focus on opportunities to secure more female representation in the House of Commons—and, of course, all the other Parliaments around the world—on that day, and perhaps allow a debate on the subject shortly beforehand, or even on the day itself?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and getting a much better gender balance in this House has been, should be, and will continue to be a priority. I am delighted to see a really good intake of new women Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. The House is a better place for it, and long may that continue.

On the question of International Women’s Day, there was of course a debate on International Men’s Day and I think it would be entirely appropriate if there was one on International Women’s Day. The man who will help in taking the decision on that is of course sitting opposite, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), and will be noting this. The most interesting debate might be one between my hon. Friends the Members for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) and for Shipley (Philip Davies)—a combined debate, perhaps.

On behalf of the Backbench Business Committee and its staff, may I wish everyone in the House a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2016?

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advance notice that we are to be allocated some time on Monday 11 January following consideration of the remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill. Will that be protected time, as was the case a number of Mondays ago for a Backbench Business Committee debate? We were given three hours’ protected time then, and that would be useful again just in case consideration of the remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill overruns.

May I also apologise to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess)? The Backbench Business Committee made a decision about the allocation of time for today in good faith, based on the information provided to us at the time. I have to say to the Leader of the House that I have not been inundated with complaints from other Members about the decision we have made. I was aware of the concern of the hon. Gentleman and my colleague from Leicester, Valerie Vaz, but there are two important debates this afternoon that have a lot of support and it was on that basis that the Backbench Business Committee took this decision.

I am aware of the issue of protected time for the Backbench Business Committee and I will give consideration to it, but judging by the speed at which the Armed Forces Bill has made progress so far, there is, I think, consensus on both sides of the House about it, so the likelihood is that on that day the Backbench Business Committee will end up with more time, rather than less, for its debates. I will continue to review the issue, however.

May I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work he is doing? The Backbench Business Committee works well. It has provided an interesting range of topics for debate. It is not for Government to interfere, but my one request to it would be that there have always been a number of points in the calendar for debating how we deal with veterans and the armed forces, and I hope the Committee will always look to maintain that as part of its calendar.

Order. I do not wish to be pedantic, but I would just add that I think the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee had the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) in mind; it is in fact her little brother who represents Leicester East.

The directors general of both the Royal Armouries Museum and the National Army Museum have warned that significant damage will be done to their collections of firearms, leading to the near destruction of thousands of historic guns, if the proposed changes to the EU firearms directive go ahead. May we have a statement from the Government on what they are doing to stop this happening?

We will have questions to the Foreign Secretary shortly after our return in January, but it is important, whether in this place or in Brussels, that new legislation is thought through carefully and any possible unintended consequences are planned for in advance, and dealt with and addressed. My hon. Friend has identified an issue. We understand the policy and, of course, we want dangerous firearms to be removed from Europe, but that should not be at the expense of museums. I am sure the Foreign Secretary will take careful note of what he says.

Order. I call Valerie Vaz. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is not seeking to catch my eye at this time. My mistake; I apologise. She is firmly rooted in her seat.

On 6 December, my constituent, Kabba Kamara, was tragically stabbed to death while on a night out with friends and family in central London. He was a valued member of the community, the father of a three-year-old boy and a carer of his elderly grandmother. He was warm, intelligent and kind. A few weeks ago, I told the House about two other constituents who had lost their lives to youth violence and I asked the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on the matter. He dodged the question and gave no answer. Today, I ask him this again. Will he honour Kabba Kamara by allowing us time to debate serious youth violence?

Let us be clear that any knife crime is tragic. As Secretary of State for Justice, I legislated in the last Parliament—together with the former Member for Enfield North, Nick de Bois—significantly to increase and extend the penalties for carrying a knife and to create a presumption of a mandatory jail sentence for anyone caught carrying a knife for a second time, for which, to my mind, there is little excuse. I will give careful consideration to what time can be made available for such a debate, but a lot of the time that is provided in the House is now in the hands of the Backbench Business Committee, and I encourage the hon. Lady also to talk to the Committee about this.

Given that the Lord Chancellor has announced that he is undertaking a sentencing review, does the Leader of the House think it would be sensible to find time for a general debate on sentencing, so that the Lord Chancellor can get a sense of the wishes of the House before he introduces any legislation?

There is certainly a logic in Members having a chance to express their views as the Lord Chancellor prepares his review, and I will talk to him about how that might best be made possible.

Yesterday, the National Audit Office published its report on the future of acute hospitals, which showed that 181 of the 240 acute hospital trusts have been in deficit since six months into this financial year. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor unveiled extra money for NHS England, but we now know that this is likely to be swallowed up by those deficits. Given that sleight of hand by the Chancellor, will the Leader of the House ensure that either the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Health comes to the House to explain how the Government are going to ensure that our hospitals do not close?

The reason that health service finances are under pressure is that the health service is doing more today than it has ever done before. It is treating more patients, employing more people and providing more treatment options. It is right and proper that we as a Government should continue to try to do everything we can, which is why we have provided more money for the national health service and will continue to do so. The Health Secretary will be here to answer questions on the day we return, and the hon. Lady will have the opportunity to raise her concerns again then. We take these issues very seriously, but it is because the NHS is doing more that it is facing pressures.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in the new year to discuss the cherished relationship between the United Kingdom and the other 15 realms of which Her Majesty the Queen is Head of State? Does he share my concern that the Government of Barbados are intending to declare the country a republic without even giving the people of Barbados the right to have a referendum and make their own choice?

My hon. Friend makes his point with customary eloquence. I would always hope and expect that constitutional change in a Commonwealth country would involve giving its people the opportunity to express a view. I commend my hon. Friend on the work that he does on Commonwealth matters. We derive enormous strength from our ties with the Commonwealth, which provide a real opportunity not only for cultural exchange but for economic development and working together.

May we have a debate on the UK Border Agency in the new year? This affects one of my constituents in particular, community councillor Michael Affonso. He has lived in the UK for 31 years and is married to a British national, but he is still struggling to achieve permanent residency and the Home Office seems reluctant to engage with his case. Also, Mr Speaker, from west Wales, may I wish you and everyone else nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda?

We will see whether the Speaker can respond in kind. I don’t think I would be able to! The hon. Gentleman is clearly pursuing his constituency case assiduously. It is difficult for me in this position to comment on the specifics, but I will make sure that his concerns are passed on to the Home Secretary.

Earlier this week, the European Commission imposed on fishermen in the south-west a draconian and premature ban on the catching of sea bass. May we have either a policy statement, as used to happen when a fisheries Minister came back from Europe, or a debate in the new year to examine the implications of the Fisheries Council decision on the UK fishing industry? For years we used to have debates after the event and we used to have a statement from the fisheries Minister in the Chamber so that he could be questioned. Could we please have that?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will discuss this with the fisheries Minister and make sure that her concerns are raised. We have a difficult balance to find; we have a duty to try to ensure that we protect fish stocks, but I do understand the implications of change for communities such as hers. I will make sure that the fisheries Minister gets in touch with her and address her concerns as soon as possible.

The Leader of the House might know that not only is Christmas known for over-indulgence in many ways, but it is also a time when many of our constituents get out to have a wonderful walk over the holiday, often on Boxing day. He will know that many Members believe that children learn best outside the classroom, so may we have an early debate when we get back on the value of out-of-school learning? Will he and other Members join those Members of Parliament who have raised £5,000 in their constituencies to make sure that 10 schools get out into the countryside? If that involves a partnership with the John Clare Trust, we would be happy to help.

I would be delighted to find out a bit more about what the hon. Gentleman is doing. I absolutely agree with him about the need to get all of us, our families and our constituents out exercising and taking advantage of some of our beautiful countryside over the coming weeks. That is a necessity after a good Christmas dinner, and he makes an important point. What is also important is something I sought to change in the last Parliament: the unnecessary health and safety rules that put schools off taking young people out on visits. Those need to be eased, so that there is a balance between appropriate safeguards and common sense.

First, may I extend my best wishes to everybody for Christmas, particularly the team behind the Select Committee on Education? With Christmas in mind, can we spare a thought for the turkey as it is prepared for the oven and completely stuffed? Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on the consequences of leaving the European Union after a referendum?

That was an interesting segue. Many turkeys will be gracing our tables at Christmas time, possibly with pigs in blankets, except in the Rhondda, where the sausages are all thrown away. The consequences of leaving the European Union will be debated and discussed in the coming months, strong views will be articulated on both sides and then the people of this country will decide.

The Leader of the House will be aware that one of our most eminent conservationists, Chris Patten, talked earlier this week of the 75% decline in butterfly species, saying that it was a final warning to the UK. May we have a debate on the decline in species in this country and the need to take urgent action to meet our Aichi targets?

I ought to declare a particular interest in this subject, as not only is the grayling a species of fish, but it is a species of brown butterfly. Like the hon. Gentleman, I would not wish butterflies to disappear from our country, and I share the concerns that he has raised. It is important that in this country we have a balanced policy that ensures that we protect our countryside and protect habitats, as well as providing space for agriculture. The points he makes are well made and I will make sure that they are communicated to the relevant Secretary of State, whom I am sure shares the views that he and I both do.

As co-chair of the all-party group on mountaineering, which we think is the apex of all-party groups, I welcome the sports strategy presented by the Government today, which goes beyond traditional sport to put further focus on outdoor recreations, such as walking, cycling and mountain sports. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a further debate to highlight the benefits of outdoor recreation, in terms of physical health, mental wellbeing and benefits to the rural economy?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Government’s sports strategy sets an appropriate path for the future. Engaging younger children in sport is very important. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for the work that she has done in assembling the sports strategy. I also wish her all the very best for the next few weeks. As we all know, she is expecting her first child in the new year. We wish her a successful birth and a happy time with her newly born child.

I extend my good wishes and hope that you, Mr Speaker, all the Deputy Speakers, everyone who works in the House and all MPs have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

During the Smith commission process, the Scottish Government argued in favour of devolving employment law, including trade union legislation. That was blocked by both the Government and the Labour party. Given that one of the two has had an epiphany and now wishes for the Scottish Parliament to have power over trade union legislation, may we have a debate on further devolution beyond the Scotland Bill?

May I simply remind the hon. Lady that there were extensive negotiations and discussions around the Smith commission? Lord Smith himself has said that we fulfilled the terms of the Smith commission. To be honest, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Administration would do well to concentrate on using the powers that we are giving them rather than asking for more. So far, there is little evidence that, when we give them powers, they make use of them.

May we have a debate in Government time on the airport commission’s report, particularly in the light of the shambolic performance last week with the non-decision and the manner of its non-announcement to this House, to discuss the unanimous conclusions of the five commissioners that Heathrow was the right site for a new runway? Can the terms of that debate be set widely enough to include consideration of the extraordinary proposition from Gatwick that it can put five times as many passengers up the Brighton main line, particularly in the light of Southern Rail’s performance in the past week?

Let me repeat a tweet from my constituent Jonathan Freeman, managing director of a Prince of Wales charity, who was travelling to work. He wrote:

“Really @SouthernRailUK?!Again?!Are you on some sort of sponsored screw up?”

We realise how desperate the situation is, when he says:

“CrispinBluntMP-you are our only hope!”

The situation was clearly deeply wretched. I think we are in danger of getting into the detail of the policy. As reference was made earlier to the fact that there was no statement on the day in question—on the Thursday—I should just say that it was a very regrettable state of affairs. The Secretary of State did deliver a statement on the Monday, and there can be no doubt that a Minister was going to have to appear at that Dispatch Box either to deliver a statement or to respond to an urgent question, as the Leader of the House knows. In future, rather than delivering the statement belatedly when it was going to have to be delivered, it should be delivered on time, as courtesy to the House of Commons requires.

Mr Speaker, you know that I always endeavour to ensure that announcements are made to the House. No public statements have been made by the Government about the Strathclyde review, which has now been published, and which is the subject of a statement in the Lords. There will also be a statement on it in this House, which I will deliver shortly. However, I must make the point that the Government have to deal with market sensitive information. None the less, I have noted the comments.

The phrase, “Our only hope is Crispin Blunt” is one that I have never heard before in this House. How often it is heard in future I await with interest to see. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the Brighton main line. At a time when there is discussion about reopening the line from the south coast to London via Uckfield, the truth is that the Brighton main line is already heavily congested, and those who have constituencies in and around the area will need to be persuaded about that aspiration substantially to increase the number of passengers on it.

To pick up on the previous question, the service that has been provided by Southern trains with Network Rail to hundreds of thousands of commuters in my constituency in London and the south-east has been an appalling joke—an absolute joke. Southern has admitted that it does not even have enough drivers or enough decent trains, which are basic requirements to provide a service. Will the Leader of the House get the Transport Secretary here to give a statement or at least to write to both the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and me explaining what he is going to do to get those companies to sort their act out? They have broken promise after promise. Enough is enough.

I understand the pressures on the line that passes through the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Those are affected by the massive investment taking place at London Bridge, which will create a much better infrastructure for the future, as well as the completion of the Thameslink service on what is now the integrated franchise. I take note of the comments of the hon. Gentleman and of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) and I will make sure that the Transport Secretary is aware of them. However, in defence of at least part of the Southern service, at present on the line via Epsom the service seems to be working reasonably well.

My constituents value the right to compensation for certain flight delays of more than three hours. Unfortunately, there is one airline in particular that does not seem to abide by this—Etihad Airways, which has denied my constituent, Mr Hill, compensation for an extremely long delay caused by a connecting flight. Both flights were on Etihad Airways. May we have a debate about airlines fulfilling their obligations under European regulation EC261?

That is a legal requirement and any airline that fails to fulfil its duty under the law is subject to legal action. Although it would not be appropriate for us in this House to offer legal advice in such a situation, there are channels, such as the small claims court, available to somebody who wishes to pursue a legal claim against any organisation.

BT’s handling of broadband infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, and businesses in my constituency constantly complain about the service they receive. Even my constituency office has a problem. We still have no broadband and no phone connection nine weeks after moving into a brand-new building. Given BT’s constant failure to deliver in a timely fashion the broadband infrastructure this country so badly needs, may we have a debate on whether it is time to consider separating the infrastructure element and retail element of that badly failing inefficient company?

The hon. Lady makes her point eloquently. If she wants to raise the specific concern with the Department and ask it to put pressure on BT about that, and if she writes to me with the details, I will make sure that that receives attention. I also will make sure that the points she makes are passed on to the Business Department.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

In previous years there has always been a statement or a debate in the House on the police grant. I note on today’s Order Paper that there will be a written statement. Given that we have good news to talk about on the police grant, and that the Mayor of London announced today that the police funding will now ensure at least one police constable and one police community support officer for every ward across London, surely we should have a debate so that we can highlight the proposal from the Opposition to reduce the police grant by 10%?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a sign of the way in which we have turned the economy of this country around that we have been able to take the kind of decisions that were taken in the spending review to protect police budgets. Although a written statement today sets out what is happening on that, the matter will return to the House in the new year for approval, and my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to make the important points he makes and to put the Opposition to shame over their record.

I join the festive compliments, Mr Speaker, by wishing you Nollaig Shona duit, a Cheann Comhairle!

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for us to have a debate in Government time on Saudi Arabia—roles, relationships and rights, given that the Government seem to be giving ever more status and influence to that state, and given that serious questions are being raised about whether the UK is in breach of the arms trade treaty? Many of us are concerned that this is a wolf that is increasingly being dressed up in sheepdog’s clothing.

I say first to the hon. Gentleman that when one wishes people a happy and peaceful Christmas, one particularly stresses the “peaceful” part when wishing it to people in Northern Ireland. It is very much my hope that 2016 will prove to be a productive and peaceful year for Northern Ireland. With regard to Saudi Arabia, we have long had ties with Saudi Arabia. We always raise matters related to human rights with the Saudi Government when the opportunity arises—I have done so myself—but we also have important treaty relationships with that country. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns, he will have the opportunity in the new year to raise them. The Foreign Secretary will be here shortly after the return in January. Saudi Arabia is a nation with which we have a long-standing partnership.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. On Monday the all-party group for excellence in the built environment, which I chair, held our last evidence session on the quality of design for new housing developments. When we publish our report, which we expect will be in the spring, may we please have a debate in Government time on ensuring that we are not building the slums of the future and that we are protecting those people who are investing in new properties?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I suspect that most of us, as constituency MPs, are contacted from time to time by constituents who have been badly let down when buying a new home. I commend him for the important work he is doing in that area. When his guidance is published, I trust that it will recommend the provision of hedgehog super-highways in all future developments.

I draw the House’s attention to the excellent news that the Home Secretary has agreed to withdraw from legal action and will now lift the ban on the International Sikh Youth Federation, which is a very welcome Christmas present for the Sikh community. Will the Leader of the House urge her to lay before Parliament the necessary order as soon as possible so that it can be voted through speedily by both Houses?

The Leader of the House will be aware of the Government’s consultation on proposals to regulate all after-school training environments used for six hours or more in any one week, which would cover thousands of faith and non-faith groups, such as scouts, summer camps and church youth groups, and require them to register with the Government and to be available for Ofsted inspections. Given that the consultation, which is already short, falls over the busy Christmas period, and therefore offends the Government’s own published good practice and consultation principles, will he use his influence to seek an extension of the 11 January deadline?

My hon. Friend, as always, makes an important point. She has been a great champion for these issues. I will ensure today that my office passes her request on to the office of the Secretary of State for Education.

I have been made aware that an economic impact assessment was published this week by the fisheries organisation in my constituency, indicating that there will be up to 30 job losses as a consequence of the Ministry of Defence unilaterally taking action to close fishing grounds between the mainland and the island of Raasay. May we have a debate on the MOD’s powers, particularly the need for it to conduct an economic impact assessment and recognise the wider community interest as well as the national security interest in the actions it takes?

I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am not aware of the details of the situation. Given that we will not have Defence questions for some time after we return in January, I will ensure that his concerns are passed to the Ministry of Defence today and try to get an earlier response for him.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

May we have a debate on planning law so that we can discuss rejected applications for fast food takeaways in very close proximity to schools not having a right of appeal? That would have assisted local residents of Shirley in my constituency in their opposition to a KFC just yards from the entrance to a primary school.

That is a customary example of the way in which my hon. Friend has campaigned on behalf of his constituents since his election earlier this year, and I commend him for that. He makes an important point. Work is ongoing to try to make our planning system as effective and efficient as possible. Those concerns will undoubtedly be noted, as the Minister for Housing and Planning is sitting beside me on the Front Bench, and I am sure that it will be given due consideration.

While we leave this place to celebrate the holidays, we must spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of children who qualify for free school meals and who, from next week, will not have their main hot meal each day. May we have an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the impact on their lives, their health and their long-term aspirations?

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I am proud that since we took power in 2010 there has been a fall of nearly 700,000 in the number of workless households. Of course, the best way we have available to us to ease poverty and to help children is to get their families working and moving up the income scale, and that is a priority for us.

As you know, Mr Speaker, I was appalled earlier this morning by the announcement by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that we are no longer vaccinating badgers. May we therefore have a very long debate about the performance of DEFRA? Given that it is a charitable and generous time of year, perhaps my right hon. Friend should not be too generous, because I do not think the debate would be very complimentary?

My hon. Friend, who has been a champion of the farming community, knows full well the impact that bovine TB can have on the farming community and that it is spread by badgers. That is one of the reasons the difficult decisions that we have taken in the past two or three years have been necessary. Another consequence of the growth of the badger population is the impact on the hedgehog population, which is partly why my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) has been doing such sterling work in campaigning to try to raise awareness of the plight of the hedgehog.

Next year, Seafarers UK, one of the leading, if not the leading, maritime charities in the United Kingdom will be getting ready to celebrate its centenary in 2017. May I prevail on the good offices of the Leader of the House to ask whether the Cabinet Office and/or the Department for Transport will be able to help this excellent charity prepare for this historic centenary?

I will certainly pass that request on. I think we should celebrate this. We have been a maritime nation for centuries. I would not usually pay tribute to work done by a Labour Government, but I do think that the efforts put into rebuilding the British flag merchant fleet by the former Deputy Prime Minister was a real benefit to this country.

In the third quarter of this year, turnover of small businesses in my constituency had increased by 20% over the previous year—well ahead of the national average. May we have a debate on the importance of small businesses not just to our national economy but to the future of the northern powerhouse?

I thank all the Members—I know my hon. Friend was one of them—who took part in events around small business Saturday. I know his constituency well, and I know what an important role small business plays in the area that he represents. I pay tribute to him for the work he does in championing these efforts and supporting members of his local business community; I have no doubt they will express gratitude to him for doing so.

I have been contacted by Ballantine Castings of Bo’ness, a local foundry in my constituency, to highlight its concerns about the severe hike in the energy costs it is facing—some 17% year on year. Can a statement be made about the progress of discussions with the European Commission in relation to further compensation for heavy industries such as the iron and steel industry?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He knows that this is a matter of ongoing concern for the Government. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will be here on the Thursday after we return. I will make sure that her office is aware of his concern so that if he would like to raise it then, she will be better prepared to answer him.

In the previous session of business questions I raised with my right hon. Friend the subject of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality—campaign and the problems with the pension equalisation measures. I am glad to say that the Backbench Business Committee has granted a debate in the first week back. The campaign petition by WASPI has now exceeded 70,000 signatures, while my own podcast has now been listened to over 141,000 times. Will he make sure that the Secretary of State himself comes to respond to that debate, particularly given the comment by the former Minister for Pensions, Steve Webb, that the Government got it wrong?

My hon. Friend is clearly making very effective use of social media in his campaigning, and I commend him for that. I will make sure that his request is passed on to the Secretary of State.

The Manchester Evening News recently ran a piece highlighting premises in Greater Manchester with poor food hygiene ratings, and featured the Red Lion in Denton. Unfortunately for the Manchester Evening News, the Red Lion is under new ownership. The editor has apologised to the proprietors, but they tell me that it got the information from the website. May we have a debate in Government time on how up to date the information on Government websites is, and whether, when information is incorrect, it can be corrected promptly?

Most importantly, before any newspaper publishes a list of people to name and shame them, it is good practice to telephone them first to put it to them. If the newspaper had done that, it would have been able to be corrected. I always want and expect to be as up to date as possible, but tracking every change of management in an organisation that has had a poor report would be impossible. It is good journalistic practice to phone up and ask for a comment and then discover that the change has happened.

The number of off-licences in my constituency has led to a rise in antisocial behaviour and street drinking. May we have a debate on what it means to be a socially responsible business in the 21st century and the cumulative impact of businesses that do not take their social responsibilities seriously?

Of course, local authorities have extensive powers, which are not always used, to deal with problem premises. However, if local planning rules are not working, the whole Department for Communities and Local Government team are now sitting on the Front Bench and I am sure they would be very happy to look at specific issues, to see whether the situation can be improved.

If the Leader of the House is going to get Southern, Network Rail and the Transport Secretary to write to Members on the subject of abysmal train services, may I add my name to the list of people who would like to receive those letters?

Has the Leader of the House had a request from either the Home Office or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to debate the Disclosure and Barring Service? I am not sure whether he is aware that the DBS has 70,000 outstanding cases at present, which is having a huge impact on people’s ability to take up jobs.

This issue has come up in some of my constituency cases in the past. I have not had any such cases recently, but it is always a matter of concern to us. We do not want people not to get jobs because the appropriate certification has not come through. I will make sure that the Home Secretary is aware of the concerns raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Happy Christmas, Mr Speaker. May we have a debate on the access to elected office fund, which supports disabled candidates in elections, given the Government’s decision to cut funding?

Of course, we have regular Electoral Commission questions—we have just had them—so the hon. Lady has an opportunity to raise such issues. We continue to try to provide support where we can for things that require it. In recent years, however, we have had to take some difficult decisions in order to make sure that we have stable public finances.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement in the new year about progress towards the publication of the Chilcot report?

Sadly, that is not a matter for Government; otherwise, it would have been published a long time ago. It is entirely in the hands of Sir John, who has set out a timetable to publish the report next year. The Government, the Conservatives and, frankly, the whole House have been very clear that we want the report to be published as quickly as possible. There is absolutely no benefit or incentive for the Government to delay publication, because we were not in power at the time of the events it covers. It is in all our interests that the report is published quickly, and I hope Sir John will be able to do so as soon as possible in the new year.

We all agree on the importance of the NHS and its staff, yet my constituent Sharmila Chowdhury faces Christmas jobless because, as a radiographer at Ealing hospital, she exposed the malpractice of consultants taking extra financial inducements. May we have a debate on whistleblowers in the NHS? According to the House of Commons Library, there has not been such a debate since 2009, despite the Francis review. Can the Leader of the House not be a Scrooge and at least grant us a debate or, if not, a statement?

What I can offer the hon. Lady is the Health Secretary on the first day back. She makes an important point. It is not our Government’s policy to see whistleblowers penalised. Obviously, I do not know all the details of the case she raises, but if she writes to the Secretary of State or to me, I will make sure he has the information available to him before he comes to the House on the first day back.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Mr Speaker. I have received a letter from a constituent—a Mr J. Marley—who confirms that a Government Minister is to receive a visit from three spirits on Christmas eve. Will the Government make a statement in the new year, having confirmed a new and munificent attitude to life, to address the many iniquitous parts of our current social security system, or are the hopes and aspirations of many merely a humbug?

If anyone received a visit from the three spirits of Christmas these days, the spirit of Christmas past would show them a country in trouble, in debt and with high unemployment, the spirit of Christmas present would show them a country moving forward, with falling unemployment and a falling deficit, and the spirit of Christmas future would show them a high-tech, exciting country, with opportunities for all.

I warmly endorse the Leader of the House’s tributes to the staff of this place. Talking about them, may we have a debate on staffing in Parliament to give the Government an opportunity to explain why, at the same time as they are allowing the number and cost of special advisers to skyrocket unchecked, they are reducing by almost 20% the amount of Short money support given to opposition parties?

This Government spend more right now and will carry on spending more on Short money than on special advisers.

I have been contacted by a constituent, Stephen from Newmilns, who thinks Scottish National party Members are doing a great job of providing a real opposition to the Tory Government and wants us to keep asking tough questions. He would like a statement on how we can afford to fund bombs for Syria and nuclear weapons while people in this country have to use food banks. I would add that we do not want to hear any waffle about their use in Germany. How can we afford such things in this country while people are going to food banks?

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that we are affording military support to people who, last year, rescued Yazidi refugees from Mount Sinjar. We are funding support to try to rescue a civilian population who have been through a trauma unlike any experienced almost anywhere on the planet in the past 50 years. The job or goal of our forces in Syria and Iraq is to restore peace to people wandering around the region desperately looking for a home, because we need them to be able to go back to their own homes.