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Business of the House

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 28 January 2016

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 1 February—Second Reading of the Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords], followed by debate on a motion on the future of the Financial Conduct Authority. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 2 February—Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill [Lords], followed by motion relating to the House of Commons Commission.

Wednesday 3 February—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on tax avoidance and multinational companies, followed by a debate on public finances in Scotland. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 4 February—Statement on the publication of the fourth report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, The collapse of Kids Company: lessons for charity trustees, professional firms, the Charity Commission, and Whitehall, HC 433, followed by debate on a motion on parliamentary sovereignty and EU renegotiations, followed by general debate on the conflict in Yemen. The statement and subjects for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 5 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 8 February will include:

Monday 8 February—Motions relating to the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2016 and the State Pension (Amendment) Regulations 2016, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 4 February and Thursday 11 February will be:

Thursday 4 February—Debate on the role of men in preventing violence against women.

Thursday 11 February—Debate on a motion on Equitable Life.

I know you have already referred to this, Mr Speaker, but I would like to pay enormous thanks to Robin Fell, the Principal Doorkeeper, who is leaving tomorrow. He first arrived here in October 1969 and I believe he has been the Principal Doorkeeper since 2011. He and his mutton chops were the stars of the television programme last year. Far more importantly, Robin not only provides the snuff for hon. Members, but does so out of his own pocket—he does not keep it in his pocket, but pays for it himself. I gather he has a large supply, which might be handed over to his successor. We wish him and his wife Deidre well in his retirement.

Let me start by apologising. A couple of colleagues have said that I have been a little too cruel to the Leader of the House over the last few weeks so I thought I would try something completely different this week, and merely ask him some very straightforward questions. I warn him, however, that I want answers to them and not some little lecture about something completely and utterly irrelevant that he dreamt up last week or was written by his special adviser. I want straightforward answers to straightforward questions. To help him, we have produced a little aide-memoire in case he forgets any of the questions.

Here is question No. 1. There are claims that the IRA operative who planned the 1993 Shankill Road bombing was an informant who passed on details that could have allowed the security forces to prevent the atrocity in which 10 people were killed and more than 50 wounded. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gives a statement on Monday on the investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland?

Number two concerns the Government saying they want to stop councils making ethical pensions and procurement decisions. They want to amend the Local Government Pension Scheme (Management and Investment of Funds Regulations) 2009 and publish a revised Cabinet Office procurement policy note. I believe that this constitutes a major curtailment of local authorities’ power to act. Can the Leader of the House guarantee that the changes will be subjected to proper scrutiny? That means a debate and vote on the Floor of the House on any changes in the pensions regulations, and a separate debate and vote on the procurement policy note.

Number three: more floods are predicted for the weekend, and the time limit for applying to the European Union solidarity fund for vital additional resources for communities that were hit by the recent floods is running out. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes a statement before the deadline is reached—that is, before next Wednesday?

Number four: for two years the European Scrutiny Committee has been calling for debates on the Floor of the House about European Union Document No. 16930/13 on free movement, and about the port authorities regulations, which the Government pulled from the Committee a couple of weeks ago. How can the Leader of the House possibly complain about legislation being foisted on us by Europe when he will not allow debates on EU regulation? Will he give us a date for debates on both those subjects?

Number five: why did the Chancellor announce the sweetheart deal with Google on Twitter rather than in the House? If he was so proud of it, why did he not come to the House to defend it on Monday? Even Rupert Murdoch—of whom I am no fan—has said that

“posh boys in Downing Street”

have been too easily awed. Will the Public Accounts Committee, which is to publish a report on the matter, be sent the full details of how Google’s tax bill was arrived at, or has the Chancellor already thrown away the fag packet?

Number six: the Government have said that they want to change the Human Rights Act by the summer. We oppose that, but when will the Government publish the draft Bill of Rights? Will it be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, and will it be published before, during or after the EU referendum campaign? Will the Leader of the House guarantee that it will not be published when the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament are dissolved for elections?

My final question relates to yesterday’s session of Prime Minister’s Question Time. The first building on this site was built by King Cnut, a Danish migrant. Westminster Hall was built by William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror: the clue is in the name. The Royal Family has blood from Aragon, Holland, Hanover and Greece. The Rhondda was built with the sweat of Irish and Italian migrants. Our Speaker is descended from Romanian Jews, and the Lord Speaker’s family hails from Portugal. The families of the Business Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) are from Pakistan. The father of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) represented France in the European Parliament. The Corbyns were Norman French, the Graylings were probably French Huguenots, and God knows where the Bryants came from. So will the Leader of the House confirm that we are all a bunch of migrants?

Let me begin by echoing your words, Mr Speaker, and those of the shadow Leader of the House about Robin Fell, who has served the House with great distinction for many years. For those of us who have been here for a few years, it will be very strange not having him around any more, but it is a tribute to the way in which he has served the House that his retirement is being greeted with such dismay and such warmth simultaneously. I am sure that we all send him our best wishes for the years ahead, and we hope that he will come back and visit us sometimes.

Let me also touch briefly on the issue of Members’ security. Most Members will by now have received the details of the security package from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Obviously we cannot discuss it in detail, but I think it is a good package, and I hope that Members feel reassured by it. May I ask any Members who still have concerns to talk to me, to the shadow Leader or to you, Mr Speaker, so that we can address them?

There have been a number of items in the news this week about the restoration and renewal Committee. Members may have seen the press coverage. It is inevitable that there will be some chat about it at a time when we are discussing with Members of both Houses the point that we have reached and the options that may be available to us, but I emphasise that no decisions have been made, and that the Joint Committee will not report until the spring.

The shadow Leader asked me a number of questions. It is noticeable whenever he asks me questions that he never uses the Opposition days that I provide to debate the subjects that he has raised. I therefore hope that he will forgive me if I do not take his approach entirely seriously. I have announced another Opposition day for next week, but, again, the Opposition have not chosen to debate the matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised today. However, the Northern Ireland Secretary will respond when she is ready to do so; on the local government changes, the Secretary of State will be here on Monday week; the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be here next week; the announcement by HMRC, which is an independent body when it comes to these matters, was certainly made free of Government involvement; and the Human Rights Act details will be published when the Government are ready.

The truth is that what we have not heard this week, yet again, is the things that the Labour party is doing: no request for a debate on the fact that this week the party called for shared sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, and no request for a debate on Labour’s plans to turn our border controls into a floodgate. What we have now is the reasonable people in the hon. Gentleman’s party being threatened with deselection, and Neil Kinnock says his leader—the man he works for—is not up to the job and is unelectable. The man in front of us, the shadow Leader of the House, is the man who knifed Tony Blair. He will not even now risk his Front-Bench position to stand up for what he believes in. He asked me about the word “bunch”. I am very happy to use that word today: he and his colleagues are a bunch of spineless individuals who have not even got the courage to stand up for what they believe in.

One and a half million Armenians were murdered in 1915. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the holocaust memorial covers the Armenians?

As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a long debate about the terminology attaching to the tragedy that took place a century ago. What I think we should say today is that, while we are commemorating with great sadness and a determination always to remember what happened in the terrible years of the Nazi regime in Germany, we should also remember on Holocaust Memorial Day that many other tragedies on an epic scale have taken place in other parts of the world, and we should not forget the people who suffered in those and lost their lives in them.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week, and may I also add tributes from the Scottish National party to Robin Fell, who has been such a distinguished senior Doorkeeper? I think this is what we should do in commemoration of Robin Fell, even though he is still very much with us: the new chief Doorkeeper should inherit the whiskers, which are the finest whiskers in—[Interruption.] On seeing them standing beside each other, I think we might review that: perhaps you should not consider that request, Mr Speaker. But all the best to Robin Fell.

May I start by cautioning the Leader of the House in his role as the putative leader of the Out campaign, because he is going to be up against some powerful and remarkable forces? In this referendum it is not going to be just “project fear” he will be up agin; it is also going to be “project fud”. To reassure my hon. Friends, may I say that “fud” means “fear, uncertainty and doubt”, and thankfully not the common vernacular Scottish meaning that probably more of them are familiar with? I say to the Leader of the House that we will not be taking part in this fear campaign. We have gone through and experienced that in the Scottish referendum campaign. We will have a positive campaign. The SNP campaign to stay in Europe will be fud-free.

I am surprised there was no statement on the Government’s intention on refugee children given that there has been some sort of announcement this morning. We need to secure a real debate about this so that we can ascertain from the Government a figure for how many children they intend to accept and ask why, once again, it seems that the Government are turning their back on children who are in Europe. This is not the “bunch of migrants” or the swarms, or whatever the Prime Minister’s term will be next week; this is children in need of help, so let us have a full debate to see what we can do to assist them.

The row about Google’s tax arrangements just is not going away and maybe a debate about that might help to clear some matters up. I am sure the Leader of the House will welcome the European Commission’s words this morning, following an approach from the SNP, that it is now prepared to investigate Google’s tax settlement to see whether it meets European standards. Hopefully we might get some transparency on this issue.

We will soon be coming to the time in the parliamentary calendar when we debate the estimates process. I want a reassurance from the Leader of the House that it will not be done in the usual haphazard and casual way, as in previous years. You will know, Mr Speaker, that you are invited to ignore the minor consequential issues when certifying Bills as English only, and the Leader of the House repeatedly told us during the votes on English votes for English laws that all issues to do with Barnett consequentials are to be considered in the consolidated departmental spending in the estimates process. The Procedure Committee has already announced that it will be conducting an inquiry into the estimates process following the introduction of EVEL. Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be no debates on the estimates until that inquiry has been concluded and we have had an opportunity to examine all the departmental spending of the spending Departments?

Lastly, I am not going to ask for a debate, and I do not want a further statement—I just want this Government to do the right thing on the appeal on the bedroom tax. I want them to accept the High Court’s decision and to do the right thing by vulnerable families, disabled children and women who are in need of shelter. I want them to accept the ruling from the High Court this week.

First, the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Europe, and I suspect that there will be many lively debates in which the SNP will be involved over the coming months. I think the biggest difference between us is that the SNP appears to believe that our relationship with the European Union can remain unchanged. I have been clear in my view that I think it would be absolutely wrong for this country to have an unchanged relationship with the European Union. That is why the renegotiation process is so important and why the referendum is so important. I think it betrays the people of this United Kingdom when people argue for no change to that relationship. That is the position of Scottish National party Members, and I profoundly disagree with them.

On the issue of refugee children, we have said that we will work with United Nations agencies to identify the nature of the problem and look to take children who find themselves in a position of being unaccompanied in refugee camps. We have also made it very clear that our support is going to those in the refugee camps. We believe that that is the right thing to do, and it is actually bringing more people to this country than are being relocated through the European scheme. We think it is better to help the very large numbers of people who are stranded in those camps, because they are the most vulnerable, and not the ones who have had the money and the ability to get to continental Europe.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of Google taxes. I can understand his frustration, but he is pointing in the wrong direction. The reason that we have an issue is that the Labour party was in power for 13 years and it did nothing to collect taxes from multinational companies. We are seeking to pick up the pieces of its failure. On that, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and I would agree.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the estimates process. This is being looked at by the Procedure Committee. To date, under this Government, the coalition Government and previous Governments, we have followed all the processes that are customary. If he believes that the process should change, the Procedure Committee is producing a report and he will undoubtedly have an input into that and will be able to bring his ideas to the House. Of course, time is also made available for his party if it chooses to table debates on this matter.

On the question of the court case, the Department for Work and Pensions will certainly talk to the House more about its intentions in due course.

May we have a statement from the Department for Transport on the possibility of establishing a register of taxi drivers? Currently, when they go before the committee of a council and are asked whether they have had previous convictions or been refused a licence, they can say yes or no but there is no method for the council to check up on their answers. May we have a statement on this, please?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me a bit of warning about this question. She has identified a very real problem. When somebody wishes to deceive, it is perhaps wishful thinking to ask them to give a truthful answer. However, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is properly briefed about the concerns she has raised before he appears before the House again on Monday week. I also ask her to raise this serious matter with him again at that time.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for giving me advance notice of the Back-Bench business debates. However, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the conclusion of business on a Monday might be later than anticipated by the Government. May I ask him once again that, when we schedule a debate that we anticipate will last for three hours, it will be given protected time just in case the Government business takes longer than anticipated? Will he also confirm that we will be allocated some time on 11 February, the last day before the February recess?

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s request on Back-Bench business, and I am looking into the matter. The situation can vary according to Government business and also according to what decisions you take, Mr Speaker, about urgent questions. I do not want to take an instant decision on this, but I will look at what happens over a period of time. I will look at the question of overrunning debates being curtailed, and we will see whether any change needs to be considered. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give him an instant response on that one, but I am listening carefully to what he has said. However, I do have to answer quickly his question about the last day before the February recess. It will obviously depend on the availability of Government business, but I hope that he does not feel short-changed for time. I am also aware of the pressure from Members around the House for a traditional Adjournment-style debate just before recesses. I hope to inform him shortly on that.

May we have a statement on what the Government plan to do to change the system that allows a convicted double murderer to walk free with a new identity? Families of the victims must be left wondering what on earth is happening to our system of justice. It cannot be right that my constituents may face the prospect of a double killer moving in next door without their knowledge.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point, and I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is aware of his concerns. My view has always been that victims and their families must come first.

On a different note, I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking an unexpected lead in the battle of the black puddings, rather, I suspect, to the distress of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil). Bury black puddings were featured last night on “Bake-Off” in a scallop and black pudding manapé. I suspect that in the race for the best black pudding, Bury has a slight nose ahead.

The new and excellent gifted SNP Members often talk about the great help and kindness that the staff of the House have shown since their election, Mr Speaker. Tonight, you are holding a reception for the retirement of Robin Fell, who has served the House for 46 years and knew a predecessor of mine, Donald Stewart of Stornoway. I am sure that we all wish Mr Fell a happy retirement, but we also want it to be a healthy retirement. With that in mind, and given that Mr Fell has holidayed in Stornoway with his wife, where I shared a glass of lemonade with him, I wonder whether the Leader of the House agrees that an appropriate gift for his retirement would be a Stornoway black pudding, the health details of which are listed in early-day motion 936, in my name.

[That this House welcomes the recognition of black pudding, Marag Dhubh in Gaelic, as a superfood; notes that its calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein-rich nature make the black pudding an excellent addition to a healthy, balanced diet; expresses pleasure at the economic benefits to Stornoway butchers of its EU Protected Geographical Indication, one of the many great benefits of EU membership; and encourages everyone to discover the great taste of Scottish food.]

I can see this battle running and running, Mr Speaker, but on this occasion when we are marking the retirement of a distinguished servant of the House, putting him in the invidious position of having to judge between Bury and Stornoway black puddings would be an unfair way of sending him on his way to what we believe will be a happy retirement.

This week the Welsh Assembly Public Accounts Committee issued a damning report on the extreme loss of revenue as a result of a land sale by the Welsh Labour Government on a property once owned by the Welsh Development Agency. This follows an equally damning report by the Wales Audit Office last year of the Welsh Labour Government. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the sale of public assets by public authorities in the UK?

This has been a shocking chain of events. I know just how strongly my hon. Friend and others feel about the criticism that has rightly been levelled at the Welsh Government. The First Minister has had to apologise for what has happened. This situation should never have arisen, and lessons need to be learned. My hon. Friend makes his point well and he might well consider bringing it to the Floor of the House through the different channels available so that he can make his well-made points to Ministers.

Bedfordshire police have just 169 police officers per 100,000 population, well below West Midlands, which has 256 officers per 100,000 and a similar level of burglary, and even further below Manchester, which has 274 officers and a similar level of knife crime. The police funding formula is broken and needs urgent revision, but the Home Office appears to be getting cold feet about introducing a new formula. May we have an urgent debate on this serious matter so that the people of Bedfordshire can look forward to relief from the desperate underfunding of their police force?

As an MP representing an area with a smaller force, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. The big city forces face some enormous challenges so it is not surprising that they have more resources than the smaller forces to deal with issues such as terrorist threats. I take his point, and I will make sure that the Home Secretary is aware of his concerns. It may be an issue that he will find is shared by other hon. Members, and he may want to use the slots that we have made available to Back Benchers to bring these matters to Ministers.

My constituency faces many bank closures, with the HSBC branches in Builth Wells and Rhayader, the Barclays in Llanwrtyd Wells and the NatWest in Crickhowell all vanishing from our high streets. We now have market towns with no banking facilities whatsoever. May we have a debate on what more we can do to save our high street banks so that businesses and local people have provision for their banking needs long into the future?

Several colleagues have raised their concerns about this problem as the banks’ commitment to retain at least one branch in individual areas seems to be running a little ragged. MPs should promote and talk up the work of post offices to provide an alternative to banking services in rural areas, but my hon. Friend makes an important point that we should continue to raise in the House. As several hon. Members have raised the matter, the Backbench Business Committee might want to add it to its list for debate.

I made a point of order about business questions earlier in the week, as you will remember, Mr Speaker. I was not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the tone and humour of proceedings; I was really talking about the amount of time taken by Front Benchers. I put that on the record, as well as the fact that anyone who is interested in public health believes that black pudding and any processed meat is really bad for people’s health.

May we have a debate about the hidden treasure that is locked in Icelandic bank accounts? Hundreds of millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is still held there, being leeched into the coffers of Grant Thornton, the liquidator. May we have a debate on the scandal of what has happened to taxpayers’ money?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on making his point so succinctly. That sounds like an ideal topic for an Adjournment debate.

Tuesday marked Indian Republic Day, and not a week goes by without a Government Minister visiting India, or an Indian Minister visiting the UK. May we have a debate in Government time about Britain’s relationship with India and the tremendous contribution that the Indian diaspora makes to this country?

We were proud to host the Indian Prime Minister in the House a few months ago as part of the successful visit to the United Kingdom by him and other members of the Indian Government. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to preserve the relationship, and the Government are committed to deepening our historical ties and friendship with India.

Last autumn, in a consensus resolution, the United Nations Human Rights Council set out the importance of involving judges, defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators from Commonwealth and other foreign countries in the necessary process of prosecuting human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. President Sirisena has since ruled out international involvement, yet such involvement would be an important confidence-building measure for all Sri Lankans, including the Tamil community. Given that, as well as the recent Foreign Office delegation to Sri Lanka, will the Leader of the House ask a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement in the Chamber so that we can hear what action our Government propose to take to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government fulfil their obligations under the UNHRC resolution?

We all want a long-term solution to the dreadful events that have taken place in Sri Lanka. It is enormously important that there is a settlement that provides a stable and lasting solution for both communities. I will ensure that Foreign Office Ministers are aware of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises and ask them to update the House at an appropriate early opportunity.

From tomorrow, for 10 days, Network Rail will close the A390 in the village of St Blazey, which I am proud to say is the place where I was born, so that it can carry out scheduled maintenance on a level crossing. Local businesses will face significant disruption and a loss of revenue, and local traffic will have to take a 23-mile detour. The community received notice of the closure only on 18 December, so businesses have had insufficient time to make arrangements to mitigate its impact. Network Rail’s behaviour has been unacceptable. Will a Transport Minister make a statement to confirm Network Rail’s responsibilities to consult local communities before closing roads, during which we could consider whether compensation should be paid for the loss of business?

My hon. Friend has been pushing hard on this issue and I understand his concern. It is clearly not acceptable for Network Rail to provide inadequate notice of, and not to make adequate arrangements for, such a closure. However, I know from my constituency experience that if level crossings become antiquated and fail, the disruption can be equally bad. My hon. Friend makes his point succinctly, and while the work clearly needs to done, it should be managed properly, and Network Rail should give due notice when it does the right thing by local people.

Will the Leader of the House arrange to help the Prime Minister and Ministers with responsibility for pensions with a briefing on EU directives and the equalisation of the state pension age? The Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), who covers pensions, have insisted that their policy of equalising the state pension age was necessary to meet the UK’s obligations under EU law, but that is not true. A 1997 directive laid down only the principle of equal treatment; the determination of state pension age is the sovereign right of member states. Some EU states maintain a difference, while others are not equalising until 2044, and long transitional arrangements are allowed. Will the Leader of the House convey that information to his colleagues, who do not seem to understand the situation?

My colleagues have simply pointed out the obligation to pursue a strategy of equality. It is absolutely logical to have the same retirement age for men and women in a nation that believes in equality.

When he held his previous role, the Leader of the House was supportive of my project to regenerate unused Ministry of Justice land beside Gloucester railway station. The project was approved in principle 10 months ago, with all the details subsequently agreed, except for the acceptance by the main board of the Courts and Tribunals Service of an independent valuation of the site. Will my right hon. Friend urge Justice Ministers to remind the board that the site has been empty and unused for more than eight years and that the Government’s policy is to use such assets for regeneration projects as soon as possible?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed his concern about this matter extensively. I will ensure that I give the Ministry of Justice a nudge on the project, which I know he feels is crucial to the development of Gloucester.

May I add my voice to that of other hon. Members who have called for a debate on the UK’s membership of the European Union? Of course, such a debate would give the Leader of the House an opportunity to explain why he clearly has no confidence whatsoever in the ability of his boss, the Prime Minister, to negotiate a better deal for the UK.

I have no doubt that we will be debating our relationship with the European Union extensively. I look forward to holding that debate with a group of people who believe that there should be no change in that relationship, which, to my mind, would let this country down in the worst possible way.

May we debate early-day motion 1019 about the new delay involving Hinkley Point C?

[That this House believes that the new delay on the plan for Hinkley Point C proves that the unaffordable, technologically-failed project is doomed; recognises that immediate cancellation would avoid the massive waste of multi-billions in cost over-runs and years of delays suffered by all other EPR projects; and urges new investments in the proven green technologies of renewable power sources.]

Such a debate would allow us to discuss why the Chancellor of the Exchequer cancelled at short notice a meeting that had been arranged in London last week with the head of Tata Steel to discuss redundancies and the future of the industry. Why is it that the Chancellor can go off to Beijing to gift the Chinese our nuclear power station jobs in perpetuity, yet show indifference to the fate of British steel jobs?

None of us is indifferent to the fate of British steel jobs. Ministers have spent a huge amount of time in recent months trying to find ways to ease the pressures on that industry, which faces a global crisis. This is an enormous challenge for all of us, but we will do everything that we can, within the powers that we have available, to ease those pressures.

Answers to written questions show that in almost every Government Department, disabled members of staff are twice as likely as others to report bullying and harassment, and are consistently likely to believe that they are not fairly treated. Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office to make a statement explaining why the Government have allowed disability discrimination to take hold in the civil service, and what they are going to do about it?

Let us be clear that disability discrimination, in whatever form, is not acceptable—I agree with the hon. Lady on that point. I will ensure that the Minister for the Cabinet Office reads her comments and the parliamentary questions. I would not condone in any way, shape or form discrimination against, or the bullying of, disabled people.

I reiterate the request from the shadow Leader of the House for an urgent statement on the UK’s application to the EU solidarity fund following the catastrophic flooding in the north of England and in Scotland in December 2015. Given that we are rapidly approaching the deadline from the date of the first damage caused by the disaster, are we in danger of running out of time?

We took the view early on that the best thing to do was to provide financial support as quickly as possible to those areas affected, and we have done that. The hon. Lady will be able to question the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs next week, but the priority for us has been to get money and support into the areas affected and we have been doing that for weeks.

I was hugely impressed to hear about the work of the Ambitious College in London, which caters for young people with autism between the ages of 16 and 25. In my constituency, Hinderton School has had four outstanding reports from Ofsted on its educational provision up to the age of 11, but it is a sad fact that three out of four young people with autism do not access any kind of education after school age. May we have a debate, please, on widening opportunities in education for young people with autism?

That is a good point and some very good work is being done. I am not aware of the college that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but it clearly plays an important role. We want to see people, when they leave school, have the opportunity to move into work or move into apprenticeships—that should be a priority for us as well. The Minister for Skills will be here on Tuesday and I will make sure that he is aware of the concerns that have been raised.

Last week, in reply to my question regarding post-study work visas, the Leader of the House stated:

“This is an area that was not in the Smith commission report.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 1566.]

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. Page 20 of the report, which I have here, states that,

“the Scottish and UK governments should work together to explore the possibility of introducing formal schemes to allow international higher education students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland and contribute to economic activity for a . . . period of time.”

Will the Leader of the House apologise for his misleading reply and offer to correct the record by offering a commitment that the UK Government will now seriously consider the issue of post-study work visas, as recommended by the cross-party Smith commission?

The only person who should resign is someone who works for the current leader of the Labour party and does not agree with him. Let us be clear. The hon. Gentleman has clearly misunderstood the point that I was making last week. There is not a recommendation in the Smith commission report that this should happen. We have implemented the recommendations of the Smith commission report about what should happen. The two Administrations should carry on talking about this area and a whole variety of areas, and we do and we will, but the Smith commission did not recommend that we implement a change on this and we have not done so.

Public health and the air we breathe was greatly improved as a result of the Clean Air Act 1956, but much of the progress since then has gone backwards. In large parts of England, including in my own constituency, air quality falls dramatically below European safe standards, so may we have a statement from the Environment Secretary about the need for a new clean air Act fit for the 21st century?

That matter is attracting increased concern both in the House and in Government. The Secretary of State will be here next Thursday. I know she takes the issue very seriously and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to ask her at that point what she is doing about it.

May we have an urgent statement from the Home Office regarding tier 4 student visa holders who have applied for leave to remain? As an example, one such student, Paul Hamilton, was arrested on 17 January without notice to him or his lawyer and held until yesterday. This sends shivers down the spine of all those seeking to attract foreign students to study in the UK.

Such students are only ever going to be arrested if they are in the United Kingdom without a visa. We have rules. We may agree or disagree about them, but there is no excuse for anybody to break them.

The Government have announced planned cuts to pharmacy funding, which could result in up to a quarter of community pharmacies in England closing. Pharmacy teams currently provide minor ailments advice to patients—who would otherwise visit over-burdened GPs or A&E departments—alongside many other essential services, including methadone dispensing. May we have a debate in Government time to establish how that would affect our vulnerable patients?

By curious coincidence, the hon. Lady has been able to make her point directly not just to the Leader of the House, but to the Minister responsible, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Community and Social Care, who is sitting next to me on the Bench. The Government’s negotiations on that have just started. There is plenty of time for representations. We need to get the process right and the Minister has heard the point she made.

At business questions last week and at Justice questions on Tuesday I asked, without success, for confirmation of the much flagged U-turn on criminal legal aid contracts. That is vital not only to hundreds of individuals and small solicitors’ firms, which risk losing their livelihoods, but to arrested persons getting competent and timely legal advice. I now see that a written ministerial statement on criminal justice is to be published later this afternoon, presumably to spare the Government embarrassment. This is very important. Can the Leader of the House make the Justice Secretary come and give an oral statement on this subject tomorrow or Monday?

If the Justice Secretary wants to make an oral statement or has a written statement to make, he will do so in good time. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman will just have to wait and see what the Justice Department has to say.

Yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions I raised the matter of the Chancellor failing to close the monumental financial black hole in his books. It is clear that Government austerity policy is not delivering the results it is supposed to deliver. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate, mindful that the Conservatives do not have a mandate from the people of Scotland, for the Government to consider reasoned and sensible alternatives to the current austerity agenda from the SNP Benches?

I do admire the chutzpah of the SNP. If it had won its referendum, if Scotland were going to become independent in six weeks’ time, it would be going through the most monumental financial crisis, the most monumental financial black hole, as oil revenues collapse—the revenues on which the SNP was going to depend for its plans for Scotland. So I will not take any lessons about black holes or lack of financial planning, because the SNP stood for and argued for something that would have been disastrous for Scotland.

May we please have a debate on the Government’s support for British business? For example, whereas the Chancellor clobbered Hull’s home-grown caravan industry by introducing the caravan tax in the omnishambles Budget in 2012 without speaking to the industry, he manages to have multiple meetings with Google, a multinational company, and allows it to set its own tax rate.

All of us in government have meetings with business, charities, external representative groups, trade unions and other groups across our society, so that we can try to do the best for this country in government. That is what all Governments do and it is certainly what this one does.

May I associate myself and my party with the very kind comments on the long service of Robin Fell and wish him all the best for the future, good health and long life? In the aftermath of the Paris atrocities, what can only be described as hostile proposals are coming from Europe on the EU weapons directive that could impact on legal and legitimate firearms certificate holders across the whole United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Leader of the House—I know the matter is close to his heart—will know that the most law-abiding section of the community are those who hold firearms, so will he agree to a statement or a debate in this House?

Although this country has experienced the dreadful consequences of terrorism, and the hon. Gentleman knows and understands the dreadful consequences of terrorism, we have in this country firearms laws that maintain the right balance and are appropriate for the needs of a modern society. The best way that the rest of Europe could deal with the matter would be to adopt the same approach as the United Kingdom has taken.

You will have noted, Mr Speaker, if you can remember back to the beginning of this session, that the Leader of the House spectacularly failed to answer even one of the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but particularly on council procurement policy. The question was not when the Department for Communities and Local Government would be coming back to the House to answer questions, but whether he will give time for us to debate and vote on whether this Government will strip local authorities of the ability to procure ethically.

I indicated that the Secretary of State will be back here in a few days for the Opposition to put that question. They have an Opposition day on Tuesday. If they feel strongly about the issue, they can make that time available to debate it.

May we have a debate on the ongoing injustice in the system of pensions for widows and widowers of serving personnel? In 1971 Private James Lee was killed in service in Northern Ireland by a terrorist bomb. That was before his first daughter was born, yet when Mrs Susan Rimmer, as she now is, married another soldier in 1979 she lost her pension. She has been told now that the only way to get it back is to get divorced. That is absurd and needs to be changed.

We have made changes in that area, but I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s comments and will speak with the Secretary of State for Defence about the matter.

Last Thursday I visited the camp at Calais as part of a cross-party delegation of UK parliamentarians and deputies from the Assemblée Nationale. It was the first such joint delegation to discuss the problems. Will the Leader of the House set out concrete proposals on how we can best improve the channels of communication between our Parliaments on this issue?

The French and UK Governments are in regular contact on this issue. I am absolutely in favour of continued dialogue, which we ought to encourage, because we will have to work very closely with the French on this problem. It is a very distressing and difficult problem, but I remain of the view that our focus should be on providing support to the very vulnerable who cannot find their way to mainland Europe, and who certainly do not have the ability to travel across mainland Europe in search of a place in the United Kingdom. We cannot accept everybody who wants to come here, so we need to focus our efforts on the most vulnerable in the camps in and around Syria.

Twenty-five years after the beginning of the first Gulf war, as many as 33,000 Gulf war veterans could be living with illnesses connected to their service. Does the Leader of the House agree that those veterans deserve our support, in terms of research, rehabilitation and quality of life, and does he agree that we should have a debate in Government time on our obligations to those veterans under the armed forces covenant?

I do not think that anybody in this House would disagree that we need to look after our veterans. The Government have a good record in doing so, but we should also look at areas such as this one when problems become apparent. The Secretary of State is already considering these matters, but I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed on to him today.

Yesterday I used an online search engine to look up “sweetheart tax deals”. I was reminded that Vodafone once paid £1.25 billion in tax, rather than the £6 billion that it should have paid, and it still does not pay corporation tax. Goldman Sachs was let off with £20 million on interest payments, which is against Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs rules. Following the deal with Google, a French MEP has said that the UK is preparing to become a tax haven. Therefore, may we have a debate about tax collection and transparency on this Government’s watch?

I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we are making more changes than any previous Government. We are increasing the taxes paid by multinational companies and we are involved in international discussions and negotiations to change international rules to make that easier. I understand his frustration, but he should bear in mind that we inherited a situation in which many things had been allowed to accumulate over 13 years and we are still picking up the pieces.