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Business of the House

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 4 February 2016

There is not much jazz in this, unless there is an MP4 concert coming up, but that is not something I know about. The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 8 February—Motions relating to the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2016 and the State Pension (Amendment) Regulations 2016—that certainly doesn’t have any jazz in it—followed by debate on a motion on the future of the routes of the Great Western Railway. The subject for that debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 9 February—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a half-day debate on the European referendum on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, followed by a half-day debate on housing on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. That will be followed by a motion to approve a money resolution on the House of Commons (Administration) Bill.

Wednesday 10 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by a motion relating to the Procedure Committee report on the notification of arrest of Members.

Thursday 11 February—Debate on a motion relating to Equitable Life, followed by debate on a motion on the conservation of sea bass and the effect of related EU measures on the UK fishing industry. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 12 February—The House will not be sitting.

We have yet to finalise the full business for the week commencing 22 February, but provisional business will include:

Monday 22 February—Second Reading of a Bill—[Interruption.]

Hon. Members will just have to wait—anticipation for next week.

I also inform the House that the business for Westminster Hall for 11 February will be:

Thursday 11 February—General debate on the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan.

It has been quite a week, hasn’t it! I thought I was hearing things yesterday morning when listening to the “Today” programme, when they said that a “Belgian loon” had given the Prime Minister his backing, I thought, “Is that gross BBC bias? Inappropriate stigmatising language?” Perhaps they were talking about a Walloon? No, it was Mr Sander Loones, the vice-chair of the New Flemish Alliance. So now we know—the Loones back the Prime Minister.

As far as I can see, the only people Leave.EU hates more than the EU are Vote Leave. And Grassroots Out, of course. Oh, and then there is Better Off Out, which I thought was a gay organisation but apparently is not, and is a completely different organisation from Get Britain Out, which also is not a gay organisation. “Splitters!” we might all shout. Leave.EU believes that Vote Leave does not really want to leave the EU. Vote Leave believes, however, that Leave.EU is a bunch of right-wing homophobes—it is not far wrong. Leave.EU thinks that Vote Leave are a bunch of hippy-dippy, let-it-all-hang-out libertarian lunatics. And everyone hates Iain, apparently. Will the Leader of the House tell us which group he is going to join? Will it be Grassroots Out, Vote Leave or Leave.EU, or will he just sign up to the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front and the Popular Front of Judea all at the same time?

I note that the Leader of the House just announced the Second Reading of “a Bill” for 22 February. That is not an announcement—it is a non-announcement. What Bill will this be, or does the Leader of the House even know? Has the Chief Whip not told him yet? He could whisper in his little ear and tell us all later. For all we know, following what the Minister for Europe said earlier this week, it could be the putting children up chimneys Bill. Frankly, I would not put it past this lot. Now that the new Justice Secretary has consigned yet another preposterous policy that came from the pen of the former Justice Secretary, will the mystery Bill be the Chris Grayling abolition Bill?

Incidentally, Mr Speaker, I can let you in on a secret, as long as you do not tell anybody else. Apparently, members of the Cabinet refer to the Leader of the House as the Dark Lord, although at this rate I think he is going to be the Invisible Lord. Will the hon. Member for Mordor ensure that the Work and Pensions Secretary comes to the House next week to make a statement on the despicable appointment of Doug Gurr, the head of Amazon China, as a non-executive director of the Department for Work and Pensions? Is this some kind of cruel joke or deliberate insult to benefit claimants and people in receipt of pensions?

For years, Amazon has used anti-competitive practices to crush competitors. It has used deliberate and calculated means of avoiding paying its fair share of tax in this country and it has systematically refused to co-operate in tackling VAT fraud. If it was a benefit claimant, people would be accusing it of fraud. The figures are shocking. It took £5.3 billion of sales from British internet shoppers but, according to Companies House, paid just £11.9 million in UK tax. That is a tax rate of 0.002%—not 0.2% or 2%, but 0.002%. Those are best mates rates. Is it not always the same with the Tory Government? There is one rule for the rich and powerful, and quite another for the rest.

When the Work and Pensions Secretary comes to the House, will he explain this to us all? Under his rules, if we take two twins born in 1953—let us call them, for the sake of argument, Jack and Jill—Jack gets £155 in state pension, while Jill gets £131 just because she is a woman. And that is not all. Less than one in four women born in the 1950s will qualify for the full flat-rate state pension. That is a disgrace! It is unfair, unjust and immoral.

On Tuesday, we had the Second Reading of the Enterprise Bill. The Bill has already been through all its stages in the House of Lords. As it started in the Lords, the Public Bill Committee in the Commons cannot take any public evidence. Yet in a case of startling hubris, the Business Secretary announced that the Government intend to add a whole new section to the Bill to liberalise Sunday trading. This was not in the Conservative manifesto. It was not even mentioned in the Lords. Who are the Government frightened of—the bishops or the voters?

Lent starts on Wednesday, so may I suggest a new Lenten discipline for the Leader of the House and the Government? Tell the House first. Today is Time to Talk day, when we talk about mental health. Will the Leader ensure that the NHS England mental health taskforce report, which has been constantly delayed and was originally promised for before Christmas, is not published during the recess, but when the House is sitting next week? Leaks from the report suggest a £1.2 billion gap in mental health provision. Warm words about mental health and parliamentary sovereignty are all very well, but we will judge the Government by their actions, not their words.

I want to end with a few words about personnel in the office of the Leader of the House. I understand that he has decided to do without the services of his head of office, Mike Winter. I cannot say how retrograde a step I believe this is. Mike is a man of complete and utter civil service professionalism. He served Labour and Conservative Leaders of the House with complete impartiality and dedication, working closely with Members of all political parties, putting in extremely long hours and leading his team admirably. He frequently put me right. His total focus has been on serving the House, which I gently suggest to the Leader of the House should be his focus too. I wish Mike well.

Mr Speaker, your request about the length of the shadow Leader of the House’s contribution lasted just one week.

The shadow Leader of the House made several requests for statements. I simply remind him, as I do each week, that I provide him with extensive opportunities to debate matters in the House, but we have established in recent weeks that each week he stands and asks for debates, and almost never do they get tabled when the Opposition are given time for them. He and his party table debates on fewer than one in six of the subjects he asks for debates on. Either he is not seriously interested in them, or his own party is not listening to him.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about tax paid. I simply remind him that our steps to recover tax from companies such as Google are necessary because, during its 13 years in power, Labour did nothing about it. I sit and listen to the hypocrisy of the Opposition—they ask why we are doing this now and they talk about mates rates—but they did nothing about it in government. He also talked about pensions, which they did nothing about in government either. We are introducing a new single-tier pension that will deliver fairness for people in our society and ensure that everybody has a decent retirement. In the 13 years Labour was in power, when did it ever do anything about that?

The shadow Leader of the House talked about the changes in the Enterprise Bill. I simply remind him that we are the elected House, and we will debate a matter related to devolution, which is something that Labour is supposed to support but which it clearly does not any more.

Once again, we heard nothing of this week’s events in the Labour party and its latest madcap idea. As if using nuclear submarines as troop carriers was not enough, the shadow Chancellor now wants to get rid of borders. Yes, no borders at all! We would have terrorists crossing borders, organised crime spreading its nets and more and more migration against the wishes of the people of this country. The Labour party has been seized by a madcap ideology, and the shadow Leader of the House is still sitting there and supporting it. I do not understand why.

Will the Treasury take a closer look at the proposed changes to the disbursement of landfill tax revenues through the landfill communities fund before they become effective in April? Currently, 10% of the funds for every project are raised by a third party—usually the applicant—but the proposal is to transfer that 10% to the landfill operator. The concern is that many small operators might withdraw from the scheme, meaning that fewer projects can be considered. I am sure that this is an unintended consequence.

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I can assure her that the Department for Communities and Local Government is in discussions with industry representatives and is trying to do what it needs to do in the right way. It has to take some decisions, but it is fully aware of her concerns as it looks to reach a decision.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. Mr Speaker, I am sure that you and the rest of the House would like to know that today is World Cancer Day. Almost every household in the country is touched by cancer, so this is a great opportunity to pay tribute to all the wonderful staff who work in the hospitals across the whole of the United Kingdom and treat people with this still appalling condition.

This morning, the Daily Mail intriguingly asked, “Who will speak for England?” I have no ambition in that department, but I was thinking that the Leader of the House is perhaps the ideal candidate. He is “Dr EVEL of Lore”, the man who liberated English legislation from the oppression of we pernicious hordes of Scots MPs and he is also one of the leading Eurosceptics in the Cabinet. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

We have an opportunity to debate this matter because we have a European debate next week, courtesy of the Democratic Unionist party—I am grateful to DUP Members for bringing it to our attention again. Perhaps we will have another opportunity to discuss the joint letters from the First Ministers of the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments from across the UK. Perhaps it will not be so contentiously dismissed as it was yesterday by the Prime Minister when it was raised here. A little bit more respect for the First Ministers of the various Assemblies and Parliaments would be in order this time round.

We have only one week in which to secure a deal on the fiscal framework—the critical financial arrangement that underpins the Scotland Bill—yet the two Governments could not be further apart. We had only an hour or so to debate it yesterday, unfortunately, as a result of the extended statement, and there will be no further opportunity to look at this before agreement is to be reached next Friday. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury said something intriguing yesterday in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee. He said that if agreement on the fiscal framework is reached, it would have to come back to this House for a possible debate, and he hinted at a possible vote. I do not know what the Leader of the House knows about what the Chief Secretary was saying yesterday, but it raises some intriguing questions. If it does come back to this House and the House then rejects the fiscal framework, what on earth happens to Scotland? I want to hear the Leader of the House respond on this matter.

I know that urgent questions are a matter for you, Mr Speaker, and that you decide whether or not they happen. Could we have a little debate or even just a conversation about urgent questions on sitting Fridays? There were two last Friday, and that presents immense difficulty for Scottish Members—in fact, for Members of any constituencies other than those in London—because we cannot get to the House on a Friday morning. We have to make some critical decisions on whether to stay for the urgent questions or go back to serve our constituents on a Friday—the one working day when we have such an opportunity—given that we have to spend a day travelling back and forwards to this place. May we have a conversation about that, Mr Speaker?

May we have a debate on tax arrangements across the United Kingdom? Apparently, Labour wants to tax workers on below-average earnings in Scotland, but also to reduce taxes for the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not know whether this is Labour’s Better Together tax or the Tory austerity tax, but I would like to have some clarity about Labour’s plans for the whole UK.

Lastly, I come to an issue on which we might all be able to agree—MP4 for Eurovision! The time has come. I know that you are a fan, Mr Speaker, as is the Leader of the House. This is a political contest, as we know, and we have had all these young starlet acts trying to achieve a win, but now is the time for grizzled old politicians to get in there and do their bit for the United Kingdom. I am sure I will secure the support of the whole House for MP4 for Eurovision.

I think that is a great idea. The hon. Gentleman and I do not always share exactly the same views on European matters, but I can tell him that I will happily champion the cause of MP4 in Eurovision. I just hope that there is a change when it comes to those difficult votes, because countries in eastern Europe unfortunately tend to award the UK entrants “nul points”. Let us hope that MP4 will turn things round. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the support of the whole House in doing so—

Oh no. I am sorry to say that the shadow Leader of the House will not be supporting MP4 for Eurovision. I think that is a shame and a betrayal of the principles of the House, but never mind.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asks whether I am going to speak for England. I have to say that I speak for the United Kingdom, and I think all of us here should speak for the United Kingdom. He called me Dr Evel—I have been called Dr Evil and the Dark Lord today, so we are mixing our books somewhat—but on the EU vote, we were very clear, as was the hon. Gentleman’s former First Minister, that there should be a sensible gap between the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections and a referendum. The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that there will be a gap of at least six weeks, which is the gap requested by the hon. Gentleman’s former party leader. He will therefore forgive me if I treat his comments today with a degree of scepticism. We are simply doing what the Scottish nationalists asked for.

The hon. Gentleman is more pessimistic than I am about the fiscal framework. I am sure that the constructive dialogue between the Government at Westminster and the Government in Edinburgh will ensure that there is no problem with it, and that we will reach agreement. We all want to see a Scotland Act, rather than a Scotland Bill, in time for the Scottish elections, and we will continue to work to that end.

Urgent questions on Fridays are, of course, a matter for you, Mr Speaker, but I am sure that the Scottish National party will want to participate in Friday debates just as actively as any other party in the House.

There is one more thing on which we can agree today. The hon. Gentleman talked about Labour’s tax rise proposals. I do not think that they are good for Scotland either, and I think that that is why the Labour party is struggling in Scotland. Saying to people, “Vote for us and we will increase your taxes” has never, in my experience, been a good platform for an election.

Let me give the Leader of the House an opportunity to be a white knight for the people of Lancashire. The county council has embarked on a consultation about the withdrawal of subsidies from bus services. The consultation will close at the end of March, but in the meantime the council has already told bus operators that it will withdraw the subsidies, and some services will cease on 21 February. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to make a statement about this sham consultation, and about what can be done to help some of the most elderly and vulnerable people, living in villages, who will be isolated if the bus cuts go ahead?

My hon. Friend has made his point in his customary forthright manner, and he is right. It is not acceptable for a county council—a Labour-controlled county council—to announce a proposal, to consult on that proposal, and then to start to take action before it has even seen the responses to the consultation; but that, of course, is what Labour is really like when it holds power.

When can we debate the Government’s planned cut in funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is welcomed only by those sadists who think it fun and amusing to torment defenceless wild animals? Will the Government cancel the threatened cut, or will they proceed with it and reinforce their reputation as the nasty party which does not care about animals’ suffering?

I know that a number of Members have expressed concern about the issue. The Home Secretary will be in the House on Monday week, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise it with her then.

Last Saturday I sent the Fisheries Minister an image of a chart showing a French-registered fishing vessel inside the United Kingdom’s six-mile limit. Looe Harbour Commissioners would like to know what investigations the Minister has carried out. As today is my birthday, will the Leader of the House give me a present by asking the Fisheries Minister to come here and make a statement? Perhaps he could also tell us how he will deal with the imbalance in the haddock quota, whereby UK fishermen receive about 10% of the total allowable catch while French fishermen receive about 80%.

Let me begin by wishing my hon. Friend a very happy birthday, probably on behalf of all of us. She is still a very powerful advocate for the fishing industry and the communities that she represents. The Fisheries Minister is, of course, a neighbour of hers, but I will ensure that he is made aware of the point that she has raised. It is a matter of great concern to our fishing communities that such matters are dealt with properly and the rules are followed. We should certainly take action when they are not.

I welcome the announcement that DONG Energy is to proceed with Hornsea Project One. May we have a statement on how the project can be used to assist the development of the South Humber bank, and how the Government will use their new procurement guidelines to ensure that UK steel is used in that development?

We are anxious to ensure that UK steel is used in UK projects. As the hon. Gentleman will know, many of the big infrastructure projects are using it, and we will continue to work to ensure that that happens. We want the sector to be developed on Humberside; it is already a very important part of the local economy. There will be questions on this very subject next Thursday, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raise it with the relevant Minister then.

It is one thing for the Leader of the House to poke fun at the Leader of the Opposition over his strange ideas about the Trident successor, as he did today. It is quite another thing for No. 10 to adopt this policy on the question of delaying a vote which everyone, including the Ministry of Defence, industry and both sides of the nuclear debate in Parliament, expected to take place in the next few weeks. Can the Leader of the House look the House in the eye and tell us that those at No. 10 are not playing party politics with the nuclear deterrent? If they are, it is beneath contempt.

My right hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for our nuclear deterrent—a view that I support wholeheartedly—and he has been effective in highlighting the flaws in the Opposition’s policies. He will know that it is the Government’s intention to debate this matter in the House in due course. I cannot give him an announcement today on when that will happen, but I will ensure that my colleagues are aware of the concerns that he has raised.

Last year, Dublin’s Special Criminal Court convicted Thomas “Slab” Murphy of tax evasion. On Tuesday evening on the BBC, he was exposed as a former chief of staff of the Provisional IRA and a godfather of serious and organised crime. Putting the Accutrace S10 marker in British fuels was supposed to stop the laundering of British fuels across the whole of the United Kingdom, but this man’s crime syndicate continues to launder these fuels. When is the Treasury going to get a grip on HMRC and get a new marker into British fuels that actually works? This week, 59,000 litres of fuel were wrongly seized by HMRC because the roadside test for Accutrace is a dud. Will the Leader of the House urge the Treasury to get this criminal activity stopped?

We all want to see this kind of criminal activity stopped, because it damages legitimate businesses and it damages the economy of Northern Ireland. I will ensure that the point he has raised is brought to the Treasury’s attention, because it is clearly something that it would not want to see continuing either.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on pharmacy services? Having visited a local pharmacist in Prittlewell this week, I was horrified to find that as a result of overall reductions in the budget of £174 million, there is every likelihood that the wonderful range of services that our pharmacists offer will be diluted.

This concern was raised last week, and the Minister responsible, the Minister for Community and Social Care, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), happened to be on the Front Bench at the time. I was able to provide an assurance to the House that he would treat this matter with great care. He is aware of the concerns that hon. Members have raised and he will be back in the House next week. This is something we have to get right, because pharmacies play an important role in local communities, and the Minister is well aware of that.

The Leader of the House might not be aware that, before I entered the Parliament, I had a proper job outside this place—

No, in the 18th century, with you! One of my employers was ICI—Imperial Chemical Industries—which has now become Syngenta. Is the Leader of the House aware that Syngenta is one of the three largest chemical companies in the world, and that it now looks as though it could be taken over by ChemChina, a Chinese Government-based organisation? This will put thousands of UK jobs in danger and could eradicate them from the market. May we have an urgent debate to discuss this? Just like steel, the chemical industry is a big employer at the heart of our economy.

I am not aware of the details of the proposals, but as ever the hon. Gentleman certainly makes a powerful case. I am sure that his comments will be listened to by the Business Secretary, but may I suggest that he seek to secure an Adjournment debate in order to bring Ministers to the House to discuss the matter?

In this country, 320,000 people are both deaf and blind, yet local councils are only required to provide a register of those who are blind only. Would it not make more sense for local authorities to have a register to collect information on those who are both blind and deaf in order to better co-ordinate care for all those who suffer in this way? May we have a debate on this matter?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the important work he does in this area and on the support he provides for those who suffer from both those disabilities. The relevant Minister will be in the Chamber next week and my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to make that point then, but I will also ensure that his concern is raised with the Department before then.

The Leader of the House may be aware that the House of Representatives in Australia has deemed this week that bairns in arms are no longer visitors in the Chamber and can be brought in to be breastfed or bottle-fed by their parliamentarian parents. Would he support such a change in this Parliament?

There are a few people who believe that such a change is necessary, but of course it would be a matter for the relevant Committees and for the whole House to discuss. We have to make sure we have a family-friendly Palace of Westminster and House, but we must also be careful to maintain some of the traditions of the House as well.

May we have a debate to celebrate the work done in this country by organisations such as the Arts Council and the Royal Ballet, which bring in so much tourism, and by the wonderful organisations in my constituency that add to the different tourism offer we have in the area? That has been recognised by the Chancellor in his autumn statement.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am glad that the Chancellor did recognise that in the autumn statement. It is very important that we maintain the strong arts bodies in this country. They make a valuable contribution to our culture, as well as attracting business from overseas. She makes an important point, and may I take advantage of this opportunity to wish her a happy birthday, too?

Last Saturday, the extremist group Britain First came to Dewsbury town centre, carrying crucifixes and proclaiming the Prophet Mohammed a paedophile. There was understandable concern among our community, with many businesses closing for fear of violence. A huge police operation took place, which clearly cost a lot of money. I pay tribute to the wonderful people of my constituency and the police, who carried themselves in an exemplary manner. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should now have an urgent debate on where the balance lies between freedom of expression and incitement of racial hatred?

I very much agree with the hon. Lady on that; we benefit from being a multicultural, multi-ethnic society. The different communities in the United Kingdom bring great strength to it. Those who would seek to divide us should be unreservedly condemned. I pay tribute to her constituents and to those police officers, who often put themselves at risk in dealing with incidents of this kind. There can never be an excuse for the incitement of racial hatred. We have strong laws in this country, and it is of course for the police and the prosecuting authorities to decide when and how to use them, but I am sure she would find universal support in this House for what she says. Racial hatred is something to be abhorred and to be prevented at all cost.

The Government are rightly taking steps to counter the threat of violent extremism and to promote community cohesion, and I am sure everyone in this House supports that. The Leader of the House will, however, be aware of the recent Westminster Hall debate on the registration of out-of-school settings, which highlighted considerable concern about that issue. Does he agree that it is essential that there is widespread consultation on any other proposals in the Government’s counter-extremism agenda before a counter-extremism Bill is brought before this House?

I absolutely accept the point my hon. Friend is making. It is very much the intention of those in the Department for Education who are working on this to listen carefully to representations from hon. Members to try to get this right. We all share a common objective in these matters. What we do not want is inappropriate, unnecessary regulation placed on small groups that do small amounts of work each week to the benefit of local communities.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), I learned from my constituents this week that the snaring of wild animals is still not illegal. It is, of course, cruel and sadistic, so do the Government have any plans to introduce legislation to ban snaring and to protect our wild animals?

I am aware that this matter is subject to campaigning at the moment, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give careful consideration to it. I am not aware of any current plans, but given the concerns raised in this House, it is certainly something we need to give some consideration to.

Many in this country believe that unitary authorities are a better way of running local government. Equally, there are parts of the country where the two-tier approach works extremely well. What we are seeking to do through the changes we are pushing through to the relationship between central and local government is give greater freedom to local authorities to decide what is right for their area and to give them the opportunity to put forward reforms that will involve both change and greater devolution. If my hon. Friend feels that is right for his area, I encourage him to get into discussions with the relevant Department about it.

Can we have a statement from the Government on when they will review the 1955 treaty on tax treatment that operates between the UK and Malawi, as the treaty operates to the considerable disadvantage of one of the poorest countries in the world?

I am not aware of the specific detail of that treaty, but I will ask the Foreign Office to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a proper response to the concerns that he has raised.

I am pleased to say that employment levels in Crawley are at a record high, with the jobless claimant count now at 1.5%. Of course there is always more that can be done and, one month today, I am holding an apprenticeship fair in Crawley civic hall. May we have a debate on the importance of further encouraging apprenticeships to help promote economic growth?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he is doing locally on this matter. One of the most important parts of achieving our collective goal of 3 million apprenticeships in this Parliament is the work done by individual Members to encourage local employers to provide apprenticeship places. I commend him and other Members around the country for the work that they are doing in this regard. Apprenticeships are a central part of our future economic success.

Yesterday, we heard from the Prime Minister that in-work benefits for EU migrants are a pull factor, but we cannot judge that to be the case as the information has repeatedly been withheld after freedom of information requests. Given that the Leader of the House is such a fan of FOI, will he request Ministers to put that information before this House alongside a statement?

We will be debating the renegotiation and the package that we have been offered, and statements will be made by the Prime Minister in this House once the renegotiation is complete. I have no doubt that all the information required by Members will be there when those debates take place.

Carlisle and Cumbria are starting to experience recruitment issues, and, in time, there could well be a skills shortage. In many respects, that is partly an indication of success, but that success will be further exacerbated by the potential large investment into Cumbria, which will raise issues about attracting the right people with the right skills into the county. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on those issues, and on what central Government can do to assist in creating the opportunities from which Cumbria can benefit?

The challenges to which my hon. Friend refers are a symbol of the success of this Government in generating real economic improvement in parts of the country that have, all too often, been left behind. In many respects, I am pleased to hear of the pressures that he describes, but clearly we have to react to them and help businesses in Cumbria to secure the skills it needs. That is why this Government’s programme to build apprenticeship numbers and other measures that we will take to improve our skills base are so important. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue.

November 2015 is the latest month for which we have A&E figures. The Royal Free recorded 1,592 patients not seen within four hours, and the North Middlesex a shocking 3,306 patients. Both hospitals are now supposed to serve the people of Enfield North, as the Government have closed the A&E at Chase Farm hospital. May we have an early debate on the Government’s mismanagement of the NHS, as the people in Enfield and across the country are being badly let down when they arrive at A&E in need of treatment?

The right hon. Lady will have an opportunity to raise her concerns on Tuesday when the Secretary of State for Health is in the Chamber. I simply say that, under this Government, the NHS is receiving more money than ever before and is treating more patients than ever before.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been campaigning to save the hedgehog for several weeks now. On Monday, we have the hedgehog summit with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. Next week, I plan to launch a petition to make the hedgehog a protected species—I very much hope that everyone in this House will participate in it. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, if we get more than 100,000 signatures, we will be considered for having a further debate on this very important issue?

I have to congratulate my hon. Friend on his diligence on this matter; the hedgehog has a much better chance of survival with him around than might otherwise have been the case. If he secures 100,000 signatures on his petition, I am almost certain that the Petitions Committee will feel obliged to have a debate on it. Given how strongly he has pushed the issue in the House, I am sure that his request will also have universal support across the House.

My constituent David Chamber has raised with me his not uncommon problem: he is a graduate unable to find graduate work. The Prime Minister has said that he does not want foreign graduates doing what he describes as “menial” labour. May we have an urgent debate on what help we can give our UK graduates to get graduate jobs, on which the student loan repayment system depends?

When I was employment Minister in 2010, and we had inherited unemployment levels almost twice as high as they are now, conversations with young people entering the job market were challenging. Today, the situation is very different—unemployment has come down by almost half and job opportunities for young people in this country are better than they have been for a very long time. Under Labour, things went badly wrong; this Government have sorted them out.

My constituent Cordelia Law was left with a legal bill of nearly £3,000 after being threatened with a libel action by a developer whose planning application she commented on to her local council. May we have a debate on our libel laws? I would not endorse every comment that Cordelia Law made, but that type of reaction from developers could deter many other people from commenting on planning applications in which they have an interest.

Obviously, I cannot comment on the specific detail of that case, because I do not know enough about it, but it is always right and proper for those putting in planning applications to treat local communities with respect. If people feel that they have been let down by local authority processes, they can and do go to the ombudsman to seek a determination of maladministration. It sounds as if my hon. Friend is doing a fine job of representing his constituent anyway.

Civil society organisations have legitimate concerns about restrictions on their ability to challenge school admission arrangements. May we have a statement about the proposed ban on objections from these organisations so that we can better understand who will and will not be affected?

These things are, of course, predominantly for governing bodies and local authorities to decide, but the hon. Gentleman is free to raise this issue as an Adjournment debate and bring a Minister to the House to respond to his concern.

People in the villages of Lincolnshire are desperate to get to Cleethorpes, where they will find excellent shopping and the finest fish and chips in the land. Unfortunately, however, the Cleethorpes economy could be set back owing to cuts in rural bus services. May we have a debate about the funding of rural bus services, which clearly needs a rethink?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. That is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which will come before the House on Monday. I encourage him to bring his point to the attention of the Ministers with the most direct responsibility for addressing these issues.

Yesterday, the Bank of Scotland announced that it will close its Mount Florida branch in my constituency, which serves thousands of people in that community, King’s Park, Battlefield and slightly further afield. The bank has announced the closure without having done any community consultation at all; a lot of older people in particular will have to travel quite far to get to their local branch. May we have a debate on how the big banks are able to do such things without proper consultation with the community and to the detriment of local people?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, that issue has been raised by a number of hon. Members in the past few weeks. If the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee were here, I would be saying that there is clearly a demand across the House for a debate on this subject, and I encourage the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) to make such a request. I should also say that the Post Office now offers many alternative banking services. I hope local communities will take advantage of the Post Office, to make sure that it can offer those services in their local communities.

The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee has been called away on urgent business, so he has asked me to say that the Committee has scheduled every debate that has been requested. We are very much open for business as far as debates after the recess are concerned. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, debating time in this Chamber and Westminster Hall is extremely precious, so I encourage Members to put applications in.

The Community Security Trust reported this week that the number of anti-Semitic incidents has fallen by a welcome 21%. However, before we all get complacent, that is the third highest level on record, and it follows the highest level ever recorded. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary responding to that report to make clear what action the Government will take to make sure that anti-Semitic incidents are not only treated seriously, but combated across this country?

I absolutely echo that point. I commend the work of the Community Security Trust. This is every bit as much of an issue as the events in Dewsbury last week, which were mentioned earlier. Anti-Semitic racist incitement in our society is utterly unacceptable, and so is incitement of race hatred against any group in our society. All of us in this House should stand against it when we discover it and see it. It is unacceptable and should never be tolerated.

Does the Leader of the House detect any difference between his view of the European convention on human rights—when he was Lord Chancellor, he said:

“We have a treaty right to withdraw…We would exercise that right. There is always a first time for everything”—

and that of the current Lord Chancellor, who said this week that the Government were

“not planning to derogate absolutely from any”

of the ECHR rights? Should we now expect any repeal of the Human Rights Act in this Parliament, or has that vanished with the rest of Leader of the House’s programme when he was at the Ministry of Justice?

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but Government Members believe that the Human Rights Act should be replaced. Labour do not. The public support us. Labour are wrong, we are right.

Hundreds—probably more than 1,000—British nationals have taken the very brave decision to go and fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, joining the YPG and the foreign fighter forces of the Kurdish peshmerga. Those people include my constituent, Aiden Aslin, a former care worker from Newark. It is now Home Office and police policy to arrest these individuals under counter-terrorism legislation on their return to the UK. Even if, as is most likely, they are not charged, that will remain on their record, and constituents such as mine, who have taken an extremely brave decision—one could argue that it is foolhardy, but it is extremely brave—to fight with our allies, will not be able to, for example, enter the United States for the rest of their lives. What can my right hon. Friend do to raise this issue with the Home Secretary and the relevant authorities so that we adopt an appropriate policy towards these brave citizens of this country?

Of course, this issue has to be treated with great care. I will make sure my hon. Friend’s concerns are raised with the Home Secretary, who will be in the Chamber on Monday week taking questions. I encourage him to raise that point with her, but I will make sure she is aware of the concern he has raised.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to nag his colleagues in the Department for Transport? The very expensive public inquiry into the New Generation Transport trolleybus scheme in Leeds concluded in October 2014, but the report has been gathering dust in the DFT for about six months. Can we finally have a statement on the issue so that we can get an answer? I hope it will be a no, so that we can then progress with a genuinely modern scheme involving light rail and/or tram-train.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I will make sure that it is raised with the Department today and ask it to write to him.

I recently met Noor Mukhtar, Pendle’s Member of the Youth Parliament, at Nelson and Colne College to discuss the UK Youth Parliament’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination campaign. Given recent Government initiatives on the issue, and the fact that the Prime Minister used his new year’s speech to talk about discrimination in Britain today, may we have a debate on this important issue?

Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to avoid discrimination and racist behaviour in our society, and I think the whole House would agree with that. On behalf of the House, could I—particularly a few days after you, Mr Speaker, hosted Members of the Youth Parliament in your state rooms to celebrate the achievements of some of those young people—pay tribute to all those involved in the Youth Parliament, who make a really important contribution to discussions between young people and parliamentarians around this country?

On Monday, I attended the Women Against State Pension Inequality debate in Westminster Hall. It is such a big issue, and the debate was so busy, that I had to sit in seats normally occupied by Tory MPs. The novelty quickly wore off as I had to watch colleagues point their fingers at Members on the Benches opposite. On a serious point, however, the Minister in that debate yet again hid behind the excuse of the deficit, so can we have a real debate about alternative measures we can put in place to end the injustice to women of the inequality of the state pension increase? We should bear it in mind that this Government recently allocated an extra £6 billion to Trident, with a £10 billion contingency—that is £16 billion right away that could be better spent.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I always value the moments when we find ourselves sitting alongside the SNP, as it were, because they are all too rare. We talk about the deficit because it is true: over the past few years this country has had a major crisis in its public finances. We have made good progress in turning that around, but we have a way still to go. It has led to some difficult decisions. The pension issue is about equality. It is about ensuring that men and women have the same state retirement age, and it is also about our retirement age reflecting the good news that we are all living longer.

May we have a debate on the impact of relaxing planning rules? Such a debate would give me the opportunity to raise the plight of Haughton Green in my constituency, where, in recent times, residents have seen a loss of their heritage with the bulldozing of the old rectory and have been deprived of a say over the future use of the Methodist church, and where there is likely to be extensive in-fill development, even though that will require the use of already congested medieval road infrastructure.

The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise these issues with Ministers on Monday. There is a balance to be found in making sure that we protect local environments and the character of local areas but also provide adequate housing for the next generation, because that is also important.

You probably know, Mr Speaker, that children living in low emission zones have a 10% lower lung capacity than children living outside, partly because diesel emissions from cars cause pollution worse than that of many lorries, and Volkswagen has obviously been involved in emissions testing scandals. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on improving the cleanliness of the air in our city centres for the sake of our children’s health, including the possible restriction of diesel vehicles, given that 52,000 people die each year from diesel pollutants?

This matter is now attracting widespread concern. It is obviously important to ensure that we have proper air quality and that we look after public health. Ministers are taking the matter very seriously and investigating it carefully.