It is a pleasure to follow an urgent question responded to by the Minister responsible.
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 22 February—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill. I also expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement, following the European Council meeting.
Tuesday 23 February—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Education and Adoption Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 24 February—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 February—General debate on European affairs.
Friday 26 February—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 29 February will include:
Monday 29 February—Estimates (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on the science budget, followed by a debate on end-of-life care. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: First Report from the Science and Technology Committee, The Science Budget, HC 340, and the Government response, HC 729; and Fifth Report from the Health Committee, Session 2014-15, HC 805, and the Government response, Cm 9143; First Report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Follow-up to PHSO Report: Dying without dignity, HC 432; Sixth Report from the Public Administration Committee, Session 2014-15, Investigating clinical incidents in the NHS, HC 886.]
Tuesday 1 March—Estimates (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the 2015 spending review, followed by a debate on the reform of the police funding formula. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: First Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, The FCO and the 2015 Spending Review, HC 467, and the Government response, HC 816; and Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Reform of the Police Funding Formula, HC 476.]
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 February will be:
Thursday 25 February—Debate on the seventh report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on litter and fly-tipping in England.
Let me pay tribute to Harry Harpham. I know others have done so, but there are few miners left in this House and my constituents in the Rhondda would want to mark his passing with a warm comradely salute. And talking of miners, I would like to wish my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) an 84th happy birthday. He has still got the oomph of a 48-year-old.
I hope that the announcement made by the Leader of the House got you all excited, Mr Speaker, and that you were all atingle. I am genuinely excited, because if you read between the lines you will have spotted that Monday 22 February is going to be a very special day indeed. It is not just that the Prime Minister is making a statement on the EU Council. Far more importantly, 22 February 2016 will be the day the Government abandon collective responsibility on the EU. Cabinet Ministers will be hurtling down the corridors of power to get to television studios to be the first to go live on air to declare themselves an out-er. Forget the relief of Mafeking; forget the liberation of Paris; forget “Free Willy”; and even forget “Free Nelson Mandela”, because the 22 February 2016 will be known hereafter as the National Liberation of Grayling Day. Buy your bunting now, Mr Speaker.
Talking of the 22 February, the Leader of the House has also announced, finally, the mystery Second Reading Bill, which will be a Northern Ireland Bill. Will he ensure that the Committee and Report stages of that Bill are all taken on the Floor of the House, so that all Northern Ireland Members can take part in the debate?
Can the Leader of the House tell us the date of the State Opening of Parliament? We have fixed-term Parliaments now, so can he tell us whether it will even be in May? If it is to be in May, there are four possible Wednesdays. The 4 May is the day before local elections, so that is out. The 25 May is just before the bank holiday and would fall in purdah for the EU referendum, so will it be the 11 or the 18 May? Come on! Or are the Government intending to keep this Session going indefinitely, way beyond the European referendum, into the autumn and into next year? If so, will he give us some more dates for private Members’ Bills as we have no more Fridays allocated?
We have been saying for a while that the Trade Union Bill is partisan, petty-minded and vindictive, but now we know that the Government think so, too. After all, the Minister for Skills, who is the Minister in charge, has written to the Leader of the House, saying that large chunks of the Bill need redrafting—would you believe it?—because they are simply not “rational”—his word. He is seeking clearance on possible concessions to ease handling in the House of Lords.
Apparently, one concession under consideration relates to check-off—obviously, I do not mean the playwright—whereby most trade union members have their union subscriptions deducted from their pay and sent to their union by their employer. The Government want to ban check-off, but the leaked letter makes it absolutely clear that it would be illegal to do so in Scotland and Wales due to devolution, but how on earth can it be right for the Government to ban check-off at all? The Government’s own website makes it absolutely clear that this arrangement is entirely voluntary. This is what it says:
“There is no legal requirement for your employer to do this”.
For petty, partisan advantage a Conservative Government are intending to outlaw a perfectly sensible private contract between employer and employee. How does that fit with Edmund Burke and Adam Smith?
When the Bill was in this House, the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) quite wisely tabled a perfectly sensible amendment to allow check-off to continue. Why does the Leader of the House not stand up today and tell us that that is one of the Government’s concessions?
Also speaking of the Trade Union Bill, Lord Adebowale, a Cross Bencher, said:
“If ever there was evidence that the intention of the Bill is not entirely honourable, it is in the refusal to allow electronic workplace ballots”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 January 2016; Vol. 768, c. 63.]
Would it not be utterly hypocritical to campaign for the Tory candidate for Mayor of London, who was elected by Tory Members in an e-ballot, while refusing to allow trade unions to e-ballot their own members?
Will the Government finally back down on their preposterous 50% minimum threshold proposal for strike action? How many MPs would be sitting in this House if we had to get 50% of the electorate? Can the Leader of the House confirm that not a single Conservative MP achieved that? He got just 43%, so by his own logic he should not be here, but, frankly, by his own attendance record at the moment, he is not here anyway.
Going back to that letter that was sent to the Leader of the House, what really fascinates me is that it was leaked not to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, or Daily Mail but to the Socialist Worker. What is going on? Is there something the Leader of the House wants to tell us?
Talking of two-facedness, can we have a debate on pork barrel politics? After all, the Government were so terrified of losing their local government allocation yesterday that they bought off their own Members with a special slush fund of £300 million. How on earth did they decide how that money was to be allocated? Did Tory Ministers just sit down with their address books and shout out the postcodes of their friends and relatives and people who went to the black and white ball, while the Local Government Minister notched up £24 million for Surrey, £19 million for hard-up Hampshire, £16 million for Hertfordshire and £9 million each for Buckinghamshire and for the Prime Minister’s backyard in Oxfordshire? Why on earth are the five poorest councils in the land, with the toughest circumstances and with multiple levels of deprivation, getting not a single penny of extra money, while the richest are being showered with £5.3 million? It is thoroughly disreputable—it is Robin Hood in reverse.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly incapable of keeping his remarks to five minutes.
May I start by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Harry Harpham? It is always a tragedy when any Member of this House passes away, particularly after such a short time in this House. I am sure I express the sentiments of all hon. Members in sending good wishes to his family.
I, too, extend birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). I suspect he will not join me, although I hope that the shadow Leader of the House, as a great champion of equalities issues, will in celebrating the 41st anniversary of the first woman party leader in this country—a woman who became one of our greatest Prime Ministers, a great leader of this country. I am sure he would want to celebrate her achievement in demonstrating that the Conservative party is the one that creates opportunity for all.
As we heard yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, there is no doubt about the winner of this week’s quote of the week award:
“Oh dear oh dear omg oh dear oh dear need to go rest in a darkened room”.
The surprising thing is that that tweet from the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) was not about her party leader’s stunning success in launching his local election campaign 2016 in Nottingham, a city which this year has no local elections. Of course her comments came in the wake of her party being briefed on progress in its defence review. The party was told that Trident would soon be as obsolete as Spitfire because of a new generation of demon underwater drones that no defence specialist has ever heard of. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, indeed. This is the madness that has now engulfed the Labour party. And the hon. Gentleman still thinks he has any credibility sitting in the shadow Cabinet.
I am pleased to have been able to confirm that the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill will receive its Second Reading on 22 February. I place on record my thanks and congratulations to all those who have been involved in the negotiations leading to the publication of the Bill. I am also grateful for the constructive discussions that have taken place between the Government and Opposition parties about the Bill.
The only rather surprising thing is that when the shadow Leader of the House started jumping up and down last week about the Second Reading on 22 February, no one on his side had apparently bothered to tell him that all those discussions were happening. But we know that the hon. Gentleman is not much in the loop with his party these days anyway. At these sessions he asks for debate after debate, but when I give him and his colleagues an Opposition day and they pick their subject, it is virtually never on the subjects he says are important. He has asked for various things this morning. I have given him a new Opposition day, but I bet his party still does not listen to him.
It has not been a great week for the hon. Gentleman. He managed to turn an important debate about domestic violence into one about whether Welsh rugby fans should sing the Tom Jones song “Delilah” at the start of matches. He ended up in a spat with the songwriter, who said that the hon. Gentleman did not even know what the song was about. He may love the sound of his own voice, but right now it is not unusual to find that no one is listening to him.
The roads around Glossop in my constituency have been gridlocked this week owing to the closure of Long Lane in Charlesworth. It is a short country road used as a shortcut. The congestion was so bad that a child who was taken ill on her way to school had to wait 20 minutes for an ambulance to get through. A road is proposed in our road building programme, but may we have an urgent debate about when and which is the quickest way we can get this overdue bypass built? The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) talks about out-ers; my constituents would like to get out of Glossop to get to work.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has been an assiduous campaigner on these issues. I know that the Department is considering road improvements in his area and has plans in development. I also know that he has an Adjournment debate planned for the week after next, when I know he will put his points across to the Minister with his customary effectiveness.
May I too thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the week after next? We on the Scottish National party Benches also express our condolences to the family of Harry Harpham. Obviously, we also wish the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) a happy 84th birthday. We might have had a bit of a difference with him initially about sharing the Front Bench, but we could not have a finer Member of Parliament to share it with.
We may be approaching Valentine’s day, but there is not much love coming from the Leader of the House. This morning, we saw the report on English votes for English laws from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee—and what a report it was. I hope we will start to see the death knell of the absurdity that is EVEL. It is over-complicated and ad hoc, it lacks transparency, and it is incompatible with Barnett. Those are not the words of the Scottish National party, although I would be proud of every one of them; they are the words of a Select Committee of this House with a Conservative Chair and a Conservative majority. Can we not just conclude that this dog’s breakfast is not fit for purpose? It commands no support beyond the ranks of the Conservative party, and it is deeply divisive. Let us go back to equality—equality of membership of this House—and not have division by nationality or geographic location of constituency. We have tried that. It has failed. Let us now move on.
One striking anomaly in this mess is that we still have to contend with Barnett consequentials. We all remember what the Leader of the House said: this is nothing to do with legislation, and there is no such thing as Barnett consequentials—a bit like the Easter bunny, I suppose. That is what he said: Barnett consequentials would be found in the consolidated spending Departments’ estimates process, but there is no difference in the way we are debating estimates—it is business as usual. Will he tell us, then, how we are supposed to examine the Barnett consequentials when the Speaker is invited to disregard it in English-only certification, and we cannot find it in anything to do with the estimates? Will he tell us where we can have these debates, and if necessary Divisions, on Barnett consequentials, because we cannot do that at all just now?
Everybody is working extremely hard to get a deal on the fiscal framework, and the Leader of the House will know of and appreciate their efforts. I hope the Scottish Affairs Committee report will help to find a solution to these difficult and fragile conversations. However, there does seem to be a real distance to go in achieving a coming together of minds on the “no detriment” principle. Will the Leader of the House tell us what happens if no agreement is reached? What would happen to the Scotland Bill if the two Governments reached no agreement on the fiscal framework? Can he categorically rule out this Government imposing a deal and a solution on the Scottish Parliament?
Last week, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—I am glad he is in his place—asked the Leader of the House when we could expect the Trident maingate decision, and we got the usual response from the Leader of the House that it would be sometime. I really hope that he—I hope he will rule this out—is not using the chaos and crisis in the Labour party on this issue to play games on something so important. I hope he will bring this critical decision to the House, regardless of the mess the Labour party is in, so that the House can properly debate it and vote on it.
The hon. Gentleman was right to echo the birthday wishes to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). We do look back nostalgically to last summer —to those mornings when the Scottish nationalists and the more Union-focused members of the Labour party rushed for the same seats. They then reached a peace agreement and an accommodation, and it seems as though happiness has reigned on those Benches ever since.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked about English votes. I have to say that the English votes process has bedded down pretty well in this House. I do not accept what he says about the changes we have put in place: they were set out in detail in the Conservative manifesto, and they are the right thing to do. At the moment, it is still the case that the hon. Gentleman’s responsibilities are very different from mine. I have a duty to represent my constituents on issues such as education and health; in his constituency, it is a Member of the Scottish Parliament who deals with those issues. It is therefore only right and proper that we have a settlement that reflects the reality of devolution and gives the English a fair say in what happens as well.
On the estimates debate, I have always regarded the hon. Gentleman as an influential Member of this House. However, the topics for the estimates debate are picked by the Liaison Committee. As a Committee Chair himself, he is a member of the Liaison Committee, so he is in a most effective position to secure the debates on estimates that he wants. Knowing how influential he can be, I cannot understand what went wrong. Why did he not get the debates he wanted? He needs to go back to his colleagues on the Committee and try to do better next time.
On the fiscal framework, the hon. Gentleman asked what happens if it does not work. Well, I am afraid that I am not going to accept the concept of failure. We will reach an agreement. It is in his party’s interest to do the right thing for Scotland and in our party’s interest to do the right thing for Scotland, and I am sure that we will.
On Trident, we will bring forward the motion for debate in due course. In the meantime, I think we are all enjoying the spectacle of the utter chaos on the Labour Benches. Surely not even those Front Benchers who are doggedly determined to hold on to their jobs could avoid the reality that they are now a total shambles.
While the world focuses on the crisis in Syria, it is all too easy to overlook the unfolding crisis in Africa. The drought in Ethiopia is putting at risk over 10 million people who are in desperate need of food aid. The Government have responded, but much more needs to be done. Can the House consider this matter as a matter of urgency? Given that we are in recess next week, will my right hon. Friend bring it to the attention of the Secretary of State for International Development to see what urgent relief can be brought to those people?
I think we would all regard the current situation in Ethiopia as enormously distressing. I can assure my hon. Friend that discussions about this have already taken place within Government. The Government are already providing more than £100 million of aid to address this challenge, and we will continue to work with international agencies to do everything we can to alleviate what is potentially a dreadful humanitarian crisis.
Will the Leader of the House make time to debate the Government’s manifesto commitment to install smart meters in every household by 2020? This important move will help to end the pre-pay rip-off if the customers affected are prioritised in the smart meter roll-out.
This is a focus of the Government, as are broader changes to try to ensure that consumers get a better deal. We will make more information about this available in the months ahead. I shall make sure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed to the relevant Minister. She may also want to bring the matter to the Floor of the House through the Backbench Business Committee or an Adjournment debate.
We are going absolutely over the top with the European debate at the moment. The only place that can make a decision to stop this is the House of Commons. May we have a debate in Government time so that all Members across the House can have a say on the EU referendum before it takes on a life of its own and we start to get more and more innuendos on the front pages of the press? Will the Government please make two to three days available so that Members can say what they really want?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the role he has taken up in the Council of Europe on behalf of this country. This issue is enormously important. Of course, as I said earlier, we will be making time available for a debate. He is right that the debate that takes place both in this House and in this country needs to be a measured one that is based on facts and information. With all the talk about “project fear” and innuendo, we have to table information and make arguments in a measured way so that the public can make an informed decision before they vote in the summer, or whenever it is.
The Backbench Business Committee was aware that there was a possibility of getting some time on Tuesday 23 February, and we have a number of debates that we would possibly like to table for then. However, it is now only two sitting days away and we have not yet had an undertaking that there will be guaranteed time for such debates. We have an application for a debate on the serious issue of gangs and serious youth violence, but we would be reticent to table it unless we were guaranteed that it would get a good airing. We also have two debates that are time-sensitive for which we would like notification on tabling: one on Welsh affairs, which we would like to have as close as possible to St David’s day on 1 March; and one on International Women’s Day, which we would like to have as close as possible to 8 March. May I have some undertakings from the Leader of the House on this?
I am very much aware of the requests for the last two debates. We are discussing that and will seek to find the best way of making sure it can happen. As for the business on Tuesday week, there should be plenty of time available. We have consideration of two sets of Lords amendments, but I am confident that there would be time for a debate to take place on that day. Looking back at the experience of the past few weeks, it has tended to work okay, but I continue to keep the matter under review.
Today, the report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill was published, and the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report on the Bill earlier this week. There is a lot of public interest in the matter. Will the Leader of the House ensure that sufficient parliamentary time is allotted to consideration of what the Prime Minister has described as the “most important” Bill of this Parliament, so that the matter can be properly explored and debated?
I express the Government’s thanks to all who have been involved in scrutinising the draft Bill. My hon. Friend is right to say that the House must have appropriate time to scrutinise and debate the legislation. It will come before the House shortly, and we want to make sure that people have the opportunity to deal fully with the issues that it contains.
The Prime Minister makes great play of the fact that as part of his European negotiations, he will strengthen the role of national Parliaments. Is the Leader of the House not therefore a little bit embarrassed about the fact that the debate on European affairs will be after the Prime Minister has negotiated, and that the Government have not given Parliament a proper day’s debate to consider what the Prime Minister should negotiate on?
I do not think that anyone in the House has been short of opportunities in recent months to make their views on the matter known. We have had extended statements and extended opportunities for questions. As the Prime Minister has conducted the negotiations, I do not think that he has been under any illusion about the different views that exist in this House.
I know that the Leader of the House will not tell us today the date of the forthcoming debate and vote on the Trident Successor submarines, but will he at least tell the House whether the Government have made up their mind to hold that debate soon, or whether they are determined to spin things out until the Labour party conference in October?
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, he will bring forward the matter for debate at an appropriate moment. In the meantime, perhaps we can have a debate on where the mysterious underwater drones that will render Trident redundant will come from.
Mr Islam al-Beheiry is an Egyptian television presenter and researcher who hosted a religious talk show. In June 2015, he was convicted of contempt of religion under article 98 of the penal code and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. On 2 February 2016, a court upheld his sentence. The TV show that he hosted was a way to debate Islamic interpretations, and that comes under freedom of religion or belief. Egypt has signed the international covenant on civil and political rights, so by upholding al-Beheiry’s sentence the country has violated its legal obligations to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the diplomatic steps that the Government have taken to call for the release of Islam al-Beheiry?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the Foreign Secretary’s attention. The Foreign Secretary will be before the House on Tuesday week, when the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put that question to him.
Few things upset my constituents more than the potential impact of new housing development on their doctors’ surgeries, schools and local infrastructure. The Minister for Housing and Planning emphasised during proceedings on the Housing and Planning Bill the importance of local councils giving due consideration to impacts on infrastructure. Will the Leader of the House secure a written statement from the Housing and Planning Minister to give local councils proper guidance on how to apply that principle?
That is an important point. We need more housing in this country, but it is essential that the resources are made available through development schemes and smart local planning to establish the appropriate infrastructure. I will make sure that Ministers are aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised.
In the ’70s and ’80s, at least eight young boys in my constituency were sexually abused in homes in north Wales. Lady Macur’s report has been on Ministers’ desks for at least the last two months. We understand that some of it may be redacted. If the report is truly independent, why are the Government sitting on it?
I do not know the reasons for the timing of the report, which I was instrumental in setting up when I was Justice Secretary. I pay tribute to Lady Justice Macur, who is a distinguished judge and who will have done the job as effectively as possible. I will make sure that the right hon. Lady’s concern is passed to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary. Clearly, we want to do right by the victims.
Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to know that, at 10.15 this morning, my petition to save the hedgehog went live. It can be found at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/121264. May I ask my right hon. Friend to urge fellow Members of the House to help gather signatures to ensure that we have a further debate on saving the hedgehog?
I am sure everyone in the House today will commend my hon. Friend for his determination to pursue the cause of ensuring the protection of a noble species. I congratulate him on what he is doing. The hedgehog is an integral part of our country’s wildlife. [Interruption.] Despite what the shadow Leader of the House says, it is a very noble species and a very important part of our national heritage. I commend my hon. Friend for the work he is doing. I have no doubt whatever that when he comes forward with a successful petition, as I am sure he will, the Petitions Committee will make time available for such a debate.
My constituent Mr K has received two fixed penalty notices—one for exiting a car park from the wrong exit, and another for parking in a business permit bay—and, as a result, he was told that he had failed the good character requirement for British citizenship. May we have a debate on proportionate decision making in the Home Office?
It is difficult for me to comment on the individual case. Clearly, we want people who apply for citizenship to be of good character. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that if the system has gone badly wrong, somebody should do something about it. The Home Secretary will be in the Chamber for oral questions on Monday week and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman puts that question to Ministers, who I am sure will want to take it up on his behalf.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust on the opening of its new dialysis unit in Kettering? This state-of-the-art, first-class, ultra-modern, world-standard kidney dialysis unit is located in Trafalgar Road, Kettering, near the centre of the town. May we have a statement from the Department of Health listing all the new infrastructure investments in our NHS, which will make a world of difference to the patients who need them?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I am sure that this investment was a little bit helped on its way by the effective way in which he represents the town of Kettering. He highlights the very real new investments that are taking place in the national health service—new treatments, new equipment—all as a result of the extra funding we are putting into the national health service. The party now in opposition did not want to do that, and the Labour party in power in Wales is not doing it.
My constituent Coreen McClusker is a single mother of a nine-year-old girl. She suffers from depression, and she has been diagnosed with dyslexia. She has had no benefits money since July, and she is at risk of eviction, having been sanctioned no fewer than five times. She has not been informed of her rights by the Department for Work and Pensions. Will the Leader of the Heath help me to ensure that she gets a full investigation of this issue by Work and Pensions Ministers?
I know that this is a matter of great importance to the Education Secretary and that she is working on it at the moment. My hon. Friend makes an important point, because ensuring a smooth transition from school or college into work is an essential part of securing this country’s economic future. One thing we are trying to do to strengthen that is to increase the number of apprenticeships and to make it absolutely clear to young people that the apprenticeship route can be a very powerful and successful way into work.
May we have Government time for a debate on the consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on tips and gratuities? The consultation closed at the start of last November, but the Minister for Skills confirmed in a written answer this morning that no Government response is imminent. Just this week, Unite the union has exposed another scandalous practice in which the Melia Hotel International chain appears to take a 15% cut from tips and uses it to top up senior managers’ pay, which it describes as standard industry practice. Will the Leader of the House join me in saying that this is totally unacceptable, and urge his colleagues to move from consultation to action?
I have always taken the view that if someone is given a tip, either they should keep it or it should be pooled with their fellow members of staff. I know that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills takes this issue seriously and I will make sure that the specific concerns raised by the hon. Lady are passed to him.
Marsden football club in my constituency, which was established in 1900, is fighting for survival. Many matches have been postponed because of a flooded pitch and the clubhouse has been raided. That comes at the same time as a record TV deal for the premier league and discussions about ticket pricing in the premier league. May we have a debate on finances in football to ensure that not only fans but community football clubs get a good deal?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Local football clubs are an essential part of local communities. That is certainly the case in his constituency. I will certainly make sure that the point he makes is passed to the Sports Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) and those in the club who are working to raise charitable funds for the air ambulance service. That suggests to me that they are a really engaged group of people who are trying to do the right thing for the local community.
Today, the Ministry of Justice will publish a written statement that may close more than 80 courts in Wales and England, including the Crown, magistrates and family courts in Carmarthen. Surely a statement of that magnitude must be made on the Floor of the House so that Ministers are held to account. May we have an oral statement on this issue following the recess?
This matter has been under consideration for some time. The Secretary of State for Justice has been here on several occasions and the matter has been discussed and debated in this House. It is right and proper that the Government bring forward their conclusions to end the uncertainty.
The year of the monkey started this week and I hear that this brings out a mischievous streak in people. I am not sure if you are aware, Mr Speaker, but you are a rabbit. Some of your traits are being gentle, elegant, alert, quick and kind. The Leader of the House is a tiger, which is known for being over-indulged, but also for its bravery. Well, one has to be brave to go up against someone as diligent, dependable and full of strength and determination as our ox, the shadow Leader of the House. Members may or may not know that the Chancellor is a pig—quite literally, he is a pig! I will leave it there and simply ask the Leader of the House to join me in wishing my Chinese community, whose celebrations I will join this weekend, a happy Chinese new year.
All of us join the hon. Lady in wishing every member of the Chinese community in this country a very happy and successful Chinese new year. I hope that the celebrations over the next few days go well. I have to say that, on balance, I would rather be a tiger than an ox.
Yesterday from the Vote Office I collected the central Government supply estimates, 2015-16 edition, which, despite running to 700 pages, describes itself as a “booklet”. Can the Leader of the House tell me what opportunities I will have, as a Member from Scotland, to debate and amend the specifics in this booklet if I feel that they may have Barnett consequentials through EVEL legislation, and what the deadline is for tabling those amendments?
Every day, we see tragic pictures of people fleeing the horror of Aleppo. We see the anxiety building as they are refused entry into Turkey and there is the fear that they will make their way across the Mediterranean into Europe. May we have a whole day’s debate on the international crisis facing the world that is flooding out of Syria and on how we can take responsibility for that crisis, which has largely been created by the Assad regime and Russia?
We all view what is happening in Aleppo with enormous distress, and we desperately want peace in that country. As the hon. Lady knows, the International Development Secretary addressed that issue in the House at the start of the week, and we will continue to put substantial amounts of aid into Syria and the surrounding areas. She will know that the recent Syria conference in London raised more money in one day than any previous event of its kind, and I assure her that as far as is possible, this country will do everything it can to facilitate peace in Syria, the reconstruction of that country, and the opportunity of those people to return to their homes.
The Leader of the House will recall that many of us were critical of the World Health Organisation for its slowness in getting to grips with the Ebola disaster in west Africa. Another crisis is emerging from Brazil, and the Zika virus is spreading throughout South America and beyond. May we have an urgent debate on that virus and the impact that it will have on the rest of the world, and can we urge the WHO, and the great charities that stepped into the breach on Ebola, to act quickly and act now?
As the hon. Gentleman says, this is a matter of great international concern. The tales of tragedy that are coming from South America, and the impact of the Zika virus on pregnant women and babies, are enormously distressing. The Government will do everything they can to play a role internationally in tackling the crisis, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary will do everything they can to work with the WHO to ensure an appropriate international response.
During last week’s successful debate on the role of men in preventing violence against women, and the urgent question on the Return of Kings, the Minister answered questions on the delay in ratifying the Istanbul convention on women’s rights, and indicated that the Government are keen to do so but need the primary legislation. Is the Leader of the House aware of any plans to bring legislation on that matter before the House before the summer recess? If not, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement on why that is?
The Government will certainly consider that issue. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot make any announcements at this stage about the contents of the upcoming Queen’s Speech, which will put forward a programme of legislation that is designed to address the issues faced by this country, but I will ensure that Ministers are aware of his concern.
The British Retail Consortium’s crime report for 2014-15 found that there were 41 incidents of violence and abuse per 1,000 retail employees, which is up from 32 incidents per 1,000 employees in the previous year. Three million people work in our retail industry, and I do not need to say how important their work is to our local and national economies. May we have an urgent debate about that unacceptable level of violence against our retail workers?
Any violence against a retail worker is unacceptable, as are the levels of violence that the hon. Lady describes. The police have many powers to deal with that and to charge and prosecute people, and I hope they will always view that as an important area in which to take action. The Home Secretary will come before the House on Monday week, so perhaps the hon. Lady will raise the issue with her then.
The Leader of the House will probably be aware that within very short order, two separate debates in Westminster Hall have raised serious allegations of the deliberate undervaluing and downgrading of assets, forced bankruptcy and seizure of assets, and further allegations of collusion between banks, receivers and intermediaries. For my constituent, Alun Richards, that involved Alder King and Lloyds, but other banks and intermediaries were involved in cases considered by many other MPs. More than 10 cross-party MPs have written to the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee to ask him to investigate the matter urgently, and I have written to the director of the Serious Fraud Office to ask for a meeting. Is it time for a debate on the Floor of the House on that matter, and for the Serious Fraud Office to investigate those serious allegations?
I am not aware of the individual cases that the hon. Gentleman raises, but this is a serious matter and I hope that he will successfully secure an investigation from the Committee, which should respond to substantial and widespread concerns raised by Members. I will ensure that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is aware of the matter.
When can we debate the warning given by a senior Japanese industrialist to the Foreign Secretary that the continuing financial fiasco of Hinkley Point is damaging the reputation of Britain internationally, and threatening further investment? Can we not recognise that the problems at Hinkley Point are terminal, and change to the practical technology of tidal power which is clean, British, free and eternal?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government’s policy is not to put all eggs in one basket. We have probably done more than any previous Government in pursuing renewable energy in this country, be it wind, solar or tidal, but we believe that we need a mix of generation for the future, and that will include nuclear.
I wish to make a similar point to one made by the shadow Leader of the House. Do the Government intend to make a statement or hold a debate in Government time on the contradictory statements they are making on their anti-Trade Union Bill? I am of course referring to the aforementioned letter dated 26 January from the Minister for Skills, which is in stark contrast to the oral answer he provided to me on 2 February, when he said there would be no concessions on facility time and check-off. In the absence of any statement, will the Leader of the House tell us what his answer was to that letter of 26 January? Or is that also the exclusive property of the Socialist Worker newspaper?
If I can show I am related to the Prime Minister, will I get money for my libraries and Sure Start centres in Walsall? The shadow Leader of the House is right to say that we need a debate on good governance, because we need to know whether Ministers took into account relevant considerations and we need to know the reasons for the decisions for that settlement.
May we have a debate about the operation of the child maintenance regulations? I have a constituent with a very difficult case, whose 17-year-old daughter has moved out of the family home into a third party adult property, against the will of the family. They have now received a claim for child maintenance from that third party. This does not seem to be within the spirit of the law, which is surely to ensure that children continue to be supported in the event of family breakdown.
This is an immensely complex area, and most of us who have been in this House for a long time will have had extensive experience of it, and frustrations and difficulties with it. Of course we all seek to bring individual cases to the Department and to the relevant authorities, and we will continue to do so. I am confident that Ministers will do their best to ensure that the regime in place will deal with the challenges and operational difficulties faced in the tragic situations around family breakdown.
On 21 January, I enlisted the help of the Leader of the House to arrange the meeting that the Prime Minister had promised with my constituent Mike and Tina Trowhill in order to discuss the national baby ashes scandal. The Leader of the House said he would come back to me, but I have not heard anything. I also asked the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on 26 January whether she would help me, but I have not heard from her either. Politicians need to keep their promises and I hope I will get that meeting with the Prime Minister, which he promised to my constituents.
The floods in York were devastating for so many because so many could not afford any insurance. They need every bit of help they can get, yet the Government still have not applied for the EU solidarity fund. May we have an urgent statement on why that has not happened and on what progress is being made?
The Government’s approach has been to try get finance to those who need it quickly and not to worry about complicated bidding processes, so that we ensure we provide help immediately to those who need it. If people look at the amounts of money that have been provided to the areas affected, they will see that we have done the right thing.
Last Saturday marked the 126th anniversary of the Llanerch colliery disaster in my constituency, in which 176 men and boys lost their lives in an explosion that devastated the local community. May we have a debate on the sacrifices made by miners, their families and their communities over many generations?
There is no doubt that mining communities played a huge role in this country. They provided the energy that kept this country and its economy going for decades. I am glad that in today’s world we can provide energy sources from a variety of different routes, which means that we do not perhaps have to subject those who did such sterling work in the past to those conditions today.