The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 29 February—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the European Union referendum, followed by Opposition day (un-allotted half day). There will be a half-day debate on the UK steel industry on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 1 March—Estimates (1st 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.
[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.]
Wednesday 2 March—Estimates (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on the science budget, followed by a debate on end of life care. At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates, followed by proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill. Further details will be given in the Official Report, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
[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.]
Thursday 3 March—Debate on a motion on gangs and serious youth violence, followed by general debate on Welsh affairs. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 7 March will include:
Monday 7 March—Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill.
Tuesday 8 March—Remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill [Lords] (day 1), followed by a debate on a motion on International Women’s Day. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 9 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill [Lords] (day 2), followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 10 March—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 March—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 March and 7 March will be:
Thursday 3 March—Debate on the offshore oil and gas industry.
Monday 7 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to the income threshold for non EU citizens settling in the UK.
Mr Speaker, as I am sure you are away—[Laughter.] It hasn’t started very well, has it? As I am sure you are aware, today is St Æthelbert’s day. I hope you are not confusing him with the other St Æthelbert, who was king of East Anglia, or any of the other Anglo-Saxon saints, like St Athwulf, St Bertha, St Congar or, of course, Sexwulf, who was the bishop of Mercia who founded Peterborough Abbey. Today’s St Æthelbert was king of Kent and died in 616. It is particularly relevant that we commemorate Æthelbert today, as he was the first king to establish laws in these lands banning blood feuds. I suspect that the out campaign and the Conservative party have need of him.
After all, when George Galloway turned up at an out campaign the other day, half the room left; Nigel Farage thinks that Gove, Cummings and Johnson are too clever by half and has sacked all his deputies; the Prime Minister is furious with the Justice Secretary for saying that his deal on the European Union is not legally binding; the Johnsons are engaged in a full-blown family bust-up; and the Mayor of London seems to be feuding with himself. Only this month, he wrote that leaving would mean
“diverting energy from the real problems of this country”,
but now he wants to do precisely that. He is not so much veering around like a shopping trolley as off his trolley, if you ask me.
The Prime Minister and the Mayor maintain that they are still friends. As St Æthelbert might have said, greater love hath no man for himself than this, that a man lay down his friend for a chance of getting his job.
Talking of mothers’ advice, my mother told me three things. First, if it is free, take two. Secondly, never take home a man who is wearing a hat until you have seen him without the hat. I can see that the Leader of the House agrees with that one. Thirdly, and more importantly, never trust a man who is wearing slip-on shoes. I merely point out that the Prime Minister was wearing slip-on shoes yesterday.
Now we know that the referendum period will run from 15 April until 23 June—[Interruption.] Do keep calm. Would it not make sense for the Queen’s speech to be delayed until after the referendum in late June or early July? The House did not sit in the immediate run-up to the referendums in 1975 and 2014 because they coincided with normal recess dates. Should we not do the same in relation to this referendum in June: rise on 16 June and return on 27 June?
I know what you are thinking, Mr Speaker. The Government’s business is so threadbare, how on earth can we keep the Session going until July? I have a suggestion for the Government. They could simply hand the rest of the business over to us. We could, first, abolish the bedroom tax; secondly, save our steel; thirdly, repeal the gerrymandering of parliamentary boundaries; and, fourthly, force Google to pay its fair share of tax, just as the French Socialist Government did. They are charging Google £1.3 billion in tax, as opposed to this shabby little Tory Government, who are letting Google get away with just a tenth of that: £130 million.
I welcome the nearly St David’s day debate on Welsh affairs. It will give Members a chance to welcome the 750 new jobs that have just been announced by Aston Martin, thanks to the work of the Labour Government in the National Assembly; to point out that cancer survival rates have improved faster in Wales than anywhere else in the UK; and, most importantly, to congratulate Subzero, whose new ice cream parlour in the Rhondda has served 10,000 customers in just 11 days, proving that all those blasted migrants who came to the valleys from Italy in the 19th century did us a big favour by giving us frothy coffee and the best ice cream in the country. Is it not time you made sure that we had Subzero here in Westminster, Mr Speaker?
I welcome the International Women’s Day debate on 8 March, when I hope we will be able to raise important questions, such as the horrifying statistic that violent crime, including domestic violence, has risen by 23% in south Wales in recent years. However, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Dame Janet Smith review into sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile? Something was terribly wrong at the BBC for a long time. Staff knew what was going on but were terrified to say anything. Auntie lost her way, children were abused and the victims were badly let down. We must, surely, make sure that that never happens again.
Finally, private Acts of Parliament have been published on archival paper rather than vellum since 1956, and now the House of Lords has recommended that public Acts follow suit to save money. As you will recall, Mr Speaker, our Administration Committee published a report in which it agreed with the Lords, and the Leader of the House agreed with that report at the Members Estimate Committee that you chaired on 2 November. During the recess, for some bizarre reason, the Minister for the Cabinet Office stuck his oar in, and said that he was going to pay to keep on using vellum. That is a parliamentary decision, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Government or the Cabinet Office. Will the Leader of the House please tell the Cabinet Office to butt out, and will he allow a vote on the matter so that all Members can make their views known?
I must say that if I was the shadow Leader of the House I would not have picked today to bring up the issue of the European Union referendum. You may not know this, Mr Speaker, but all Labour MPs have apparently been asked to take to the streets on Saturday to campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. You may not be surprised to learn that one or two Conservative Members may be on the streets to campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, but what about the Leader of the Opposition? He is going on a CND anti-nuclear march, even though his deputy said yesterday that he would vote to keep Trident. You really could not make it up.
Another two weeks have passed, and the shadow Leader of the House is still in his place and still a paid-up member of the Corbyn fan club. I knew his party leader was a disciple of Marx, but I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman was—a disciple not of Karl Marx, but of Groucho Marx, who famously said:
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them...well, I have others.”
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Queen’s Speech and the flow of business. I can assure him that this House will continue to consider the Government’s extremely important agenda, which is making and will continue to make a real difference to this country. In 10 days’ time, we will have another Second Reading debate, on the important reforms in the Policing and Crime Bill, and we will shortly bring forward the Investigatory Powers Bill. He need have no fears: this Government have a strong and continuing agenda for this country, which we will continue to pursue.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Aston Martin. May I say how delighted I am about Aston Martin’s decision for Wales? It is good news for the people of Wales and good news for the United Kingdom. It is a tribute to the way in which this country is being run and to the favourable economic climate that exists under this Government, which is why big and small businesses are investing in this country.
I echo what the hon. Gentleman said about the report on the BBC and what has been said this morning. What took place is clearly absolutely shocking. Lessons need to be learned not just in the BBC, but in institutions across this country. It is inexplicable to our generation how these things could have been allowed to happen over all those years, but we must not think such things could not happen today and we must make sure they never happen today. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be in the Chamber next Thursday, and I have no doubt that he will want to discuss the issue then.
The question of vellum is a matter for the House of Lords. The House of Lords will reach a decision, and that decision will be final.
There is exciting news for beer drinkers around the country. For the princely sum of £6, people can now drink their favourite pint out of their own Jeremy Corbyn pint glass. I think there will be a stampede. I do not know whether the shadow Leader of the House has one yet, but I am sure he will rush to the Labour website to buy one.
Surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman did not ask for a debate on public spending and the economy. That may be because he agrees with the former shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), who has said that the Labour party’s current approach to public spending is to place all its faith in what he called a “magic money tree”, by promising to reverse every cut and to spend, spend, spend. I think we should wish the previous shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, a happy birthday today. I never imagined that the Labour party would miss him so much.
Perhaps the Scottish nationalists can be excluded from this, but may I ask the shadow Leader of the House to join me in congratulating Wales on its victory over Scotland in the Six Nations during the recess? I did, however, still hear the tones of “Delilah” coming from the crowd, as usual, at that match. Welsh rugby fans obviously pay no more attention to what he says than anyone in this House does.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said that the Government would publish a lot more documents relating to the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what those documents are likely to be and when they will be published? Will he guarantee that the documents will be subject to independent audit and scrutiny by this House?
This House will of course have plenty of opportunity, including in its Committees and indeed in the debate today, to discuss what has already been published and what will be published. Anything that is published by the Government will of course have to go through appropriate checking by the civil service and will be subject to all the rules set out in the European Union Referendum Act 2015.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.
I think it would be appropriate to congratulate Adele on her four Brit awards yesterday evening and Coldplay on becoming the British act with the most Brit awards. The deputy Leader of the House and I enjoyed the ceremony last night, I think it would be fair to say.
We are being a bit short-changed today. We have heard a business statement from the “out” side of the Cabinet, but there is no business statement from the “in” side of the Cabinet. The Leader of the House, who is the leader of the no campaign too, has the opportunity to spread his pernicious “no” agenda for the next hour or hour and a half. When will we get to hear the business statement from the “in” side of the Cabinet, because this week marked the end of collective Cabinet responsibility, particularly for the next few months?
The nasty civil war in the Tory party is starting to get serious. It looks like the poor old Justice Secretary will be first for the boot. I do not know whether the Leader of the House will rush to his defence and man the barricades to try to save him. Even friendships that go right back to the playing fields of Eton look like the remnants of a Bullingdon night out. For my colleagues on these Benches, it is popcorn time as we observe not just a civil war in the Tory party, but the ongoing civil war within the Labour party.
I am going to do something very radical on Tuesday. It is not to declare a unilateral declaration of independence for Scotland or announce MP4’s Eurovision participation—I am going to do something much more radical. In the debate on the estimates, I am going to attempt to debate the estimates. Apparently, that has never been done. I say “attempt” because I have had conversations with the Clerks and it is more than likely that I will be ruled out of order for attempting to debate the estimates on estimates day, because the one thing we are not to debate on estimates day is the estimates. Where in the world, other than in this absurd House, could that possibly be the case?
I just want to remind the House what the estimates are. They are the consolidated spending of the Departments of this nation, but we have no opportunity to debate them. The Leader of the House will remember very clearly that during the debate on English votes for English laws, he made it very clear to us that all issues of Barnett consequentials were to be bound up in the debates about the estimates, yet we have no opportunity to debate them. It will be right and proper of you, Mr Speaker, to rule me out of order if I attempt to debate the estimates—that is the natural consequence—but we have to end the absurd notion that we cannot even start to debate departmental spending in this House.
We got a deal on the fiscal framework this week and I think that everybody is absolutely delighted. I congratulate the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on stopping the Treasury trying to diddle Scotland out of £7 billion. However, I want to ask what happens next, because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in front of the Scottish Affairs Committee that the fiscal framework would come back to this House for further scrutiny.
I can see that the hon. Gentleman is agreeing. I do not mind scrutiny of the fiscal framework—it is right and proper that this House looks at it—but will the Leader of the House today rule out this House having a veto on the fiscal framework that was agreed between the UK and Scottish Governments?
Lastly, I do not know whether the Leader of the House is on speaking terms with his no longer good friend the Prime Minister, but, if he is, will he tell him to please stay away from Scotland for the next few months? We value our European membership in Scotland, so will the Prime Minister please stay away? In the meantime, there is a warm invitation to the Leader of the House, the Justice Secretary and the Mayor of London to come to Scotland any time.
That is very generous of the hon. Gentleman. I am coming to Scotland in about 10 days’ time and I look forward to whipping up support for the Conservative campaign, which has a really good chance of consigning the Labour party to third place in the Scottish elections. That would give us enormous pleasure and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might give him enormous pleasure as well.
This may surprise the hon. Gentleman, but he and I have the same view on Europe: I want him to succeed in the Eurovision song contest. Whether it is this year or next year, I want to see MP4 go all the way. There is even a new scoring system that might give the British entry a better chance. So I say to him, if at first you don’t succeed, keep on, keep on. We are all with him all the way.
I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman on the European referendum, but he will not find any nastiness because we are all friends and we all get on with each other. [Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but the difference is that they all hate each other. They are split down the middle, fighting like ferrets in a sack. That is the Labour party today. We are going to have a grown-up, sensible debate. The country will decide and then we will work together to implement what the country has decided. In the meantime, Labour Members will run around like headless chickens, trying to work out what on earth they should do about the mess they are in.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is a member of the Liaison Committee, which has estimates days at its disposal and can decide what subjects should be debated and considered. I fear he may have lost the argument in that Committee, or perhaps he did not raise it in the first place. The Government delegate to the Liaison Committee the decision on what to debate on those two days, and if it does not choose to debate a particular area, that is a matter for the Committee. The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunities during the year to raise and discuss issues related to public spending in the Budget debate and following the autumn statement, and I am sure he will do so.
We are all delighted that agreement has been reached on the fiscal framework. The Scotland Bill continues to progress through the other place, and if there are any amendments it will return to this place. We all want to get it into statute so that we are clearly seen to have fulfilled the promises we made at the time of the referendum in implementing all elements of the Smith commission report. I am sure that the Prime Minister will spend time in Scotland campaigning for a Conservative victory in the Scottish elections in May.
Since 2010 it has been a criminal offence to shine a laser at an aircraft, yet over the past five and a half years there have been nearly 9,000 incidents of lasers being shone on to military and civilian—albeit it mostly civilian—aircraft. May we have a debate on what more the Government can do to protect civilian and military aircraft, so as to protect pilots and passengers and ensure that the skies above this country are safe to fly in?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it is a matter of great concern, particularly with the recent incident of a plane having had to turn back after a laser attack. None of us would wish there to be danger of a serious aviation disaster as a result of that completely inappropriate behaviour. The Transport Secretary will be in the House on Thursday week. I will ensure that he is aware of concerns that have been raised, and my hon. Friend might also like to raise them with him.
Lord Adonis made most interesting comments on the radio yesterday afternoon, suggesting that the Government should prioritise a number of early and less expensive investments in our railway infrastructure. I have proposed detailed schemes for—among others—the west coast main line, east coast main line, and the Birmingham to London line. I put those suggestions in a formal submission to the House of Lords, which has been referred to in this House. Others will no doubt have their own proposals, so will the Leader of the House make time for an early, full debate on railway investment?
I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman and Lord Adonis have been saying, and one thing that has characterised this Government’s approach, as well as that of the rail industry since privatisation, is the opening of new stations and the re-opening of lines. A second route has recently been opened from London to Oxford—a sign of a flourishing industry that we want to grow and develop with large projects and small. As I said, the Transport Secretary will be in the House in 10 days’ time, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman could make his point to him. We believe in the future of our railways, and they are an essential part of the transport system of this country.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the renegotiation package for the EU referendum is based on an international agreement and lacks the enforcement mechanisms of EU and domestic law? Is it correct that any such agreement must conform to EU law and, to the extent that it does not, that EU law will prevail?
That matter will be subject to lively debate this afternoon in the House and over the coming weeks. The view of the Attorney General, the Government’s senior law officer, is that the agreement reached in Brussels last week is legally binding on all members of the European Union.
The Leader of the House will be aware—I have written to him about this—that earlier this week an important debate on knife and gang crime was bumped by Government business, urgent questions and a statement. We have rescheduled that debate for Thursday 3 March. On 8 March we have International Women’s Day, and a debate sponsored by the Backbench Businesses Committee. Will the Leader of the House allow us protected time so that such an eventuality does not occur again, particularly since that debate has been scheduled specifically because 8 March is International Women’s Day?
Many hundreds of thousands of people are now missing from electoral registers around the country. Yesterday, we had the initial findings of the Office for National Statistics on what size constituencies should be by population. We now have something that might drive people to register: the European Union referendum. Will the Leader of the House take back to the Cabinet the question of whether the Boundary Commission’s work should be put on hold to see whether the hundreds of thousands of people who have not registered can register in time for the referendum? Boundaries could then be drawn up on the basis of the real electorate, rather than the electorate back in December.
I will take away the hon. Gentleman’s point about International Women’s Day, which I absolutely understand is time-sensitive to that day, and I will continue to bear in mind what he asks for regarding protected time. At the moment, however, it does not feel as if there is a long pipeline of delayed debates. What happened this week was unfortunate, but it was better that the debate was moved rather than severely curtailed.
On constituency boundaries, the Boundary Commission process takes place over two years. There will be plenty of time for the Boundary Commission to adapt and for individual Members to make representations for changes if they do not believe that a recommendation is correct. [Interruption.] I hear the shadow Leader of the House chuntering from his place as usual. I just hope, from his point of view, that his constituents in the Rhondda like him as much as his colleagues on the Back Benches do when it comes to determining whether he gets a new seat following the boundary changes.
I was perturbed to hear today that BBC Radio 5 Live could be moved to online content only. While this would relieve the nation from the embarrassment of colleagues in this House playing—to give it a more tasteful title—kiss, marry or avoid on “Pienaar’s Politics”, it could deprive the nation of an outstanding sports and news radio broadcaster. May we therefore hold a debate in this place to address the need for the BBC to continue to be funded, as befits the nation’s broadcaster?
The subject of the BBC charter renewal is a very live one. I suspect that many of us have had emails about it. The Government’s view is that we want to preserve the BBC as a high quality public service broadcaster. It will, of course, be a matter for the BBC to decide how best to deploy its resources. We have to ensure, given that it is a levy on households of all different backgrounds and circumstances up and down the country, that the BBC operates cost-effectively and keeps the licence fee as low as possible.
I notice that the Leader of the House failed to respond to the shadow Leader’s very sensible suggestion that the recess and the Queen’s Speech be scheduled to take account of the EU referendum. Will the Leader of the House give a proper response, especially given that the outcome of the referendum itself could have a major impact on the legislative programme?
The point I made in my remarks was that the Government have a full programme and will continue to have a full programme. It is really important that we do not allow the EU referendum to divert us from the very important task of governing the country. We will continue to deliver the right solutions for the country, and we will continue to bring forward the right legislation for the country. We will, of course, consider how best to ensure that hon. Members have the right opportunities to participate in the referendum, but we need to ensure that the governing of the country is not diverted by what is happening.
My constituents, Mr and Mrs Vaughan, have been waiting four years for an assessment of their continuing healthcare costs for a deceased relative, despite an assurance that the clinical commissioning group had made attempts, with extra resources, to clear a backlog. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the delays to retrospective continuing healthcare costs assessments, because it is causing enormous distress to my constituents and, I am sure, to many others?
My hon. Friend speaks with his customary effectiveness on behalf of his constituents. This issue affects a number of Members and constituents up and down the country. I will make sure the Health Secretary is aware of the concerns he has raised and ask the Department of Health to respond to him.
What is the view of the Leader of the House on the legal status of the Prime Minister’s European agreement? Does he agree with his successor as Justice Secretary or does he agree with the Attorney General, whose view he mentioned earlier? The Leader of the House was the only Lord Chancellor not to be a lawyer. He therefore has an advantage in terms of plain speaking, so who does he agree with: the Justice Secretary or the Attorney General?
Fortunately, I am not a lawyer, so I am not going to give the right hon. Gentleman legal advice. I would say what I said earlier—that the view of the Attorney General on behalf of the Government is that it has legal force, but I am sure that this is going to be a matter of lively debate in the weeks ahead.
The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that, over a short time span, two separate debates took place in Westminster Hall on serious allegations of collusion between banks and valuers in order deliberately to undervalue and then seize assets. Numerous other cases have now come to light, and more than 10 MPs of different parties have written to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills to ask him to investigate. A particular situation, which involved Barclays bank and Lambert Smith Hampton, has led to my constituent Bryan Evans losing everything he has worked for over many years, including, recently, his house. Is it not time for a debate on the Floor of the House on these matters so that we can decide whether the Government need to act to ensure that the law is upheld?
My hon. Friend is working hard and effectively on behalf of his constituents. He will understand that I cannot comment on the detail of the allegations. I know that the Solicitor General addressed a Westminster Hall debate on this specific case and on the role of the Serious Fraud Office earlier this month. Of course, the SFO, in conjunction with others, has considered these allegations from the outset, and my hon. Friend is well aware of the conclusions that have been reached. If he takes the view that the SFO’s remit should be broader to take matters such as this one further, I would encourage him to bring the matter to the attention of Treasury Ministers when they are before the House next week and perhaps look to bringing back to the Floor of this House a debate on the broader remit of the SFO and the ability of that organisation and others to investigate such matters.
Is the Leader of the House aware that if the clinical commissioning group and the Government have their way, Huddersfield, a large university town, is likely to be one of the only such large towns to have no A&E facility within five miles? Does he agree that we need an early debate on what is going on with these CCGs? Why are we seeing all this pressure on the health service when the Prime Minister said during the general election that he would preserve A&E in the towns and cities of this country?
This issue has, of course, affected my own constituency, where it has led to a lively debate for a while. We have entrusted local doctors with decision making about the configuration of services. In my own area, it was certainly the view of local doctors that prevailed over plans for reconfiguration 18 months ago. It is really down to the hon. Gentleman’s local GPs and those who control commissioning in the area to decide on the configuration of services. My advice, having been through this myself, is to make sure that he discusses the issue with them and brings their views forward. That is what made the big difference in my area.
You may like to know, Mr Speaker, that my petition to save the hedgehog has now reached over 19,000 signatures since it was launched two weeks ago. I am fully aware that that is about 80,000 short of meeting the requirement for a parliamentary debate, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that because it has more than 10,000 signatures the Government must write to me to clarify what they might actually do?
I congratulate my hon. Friend, as always, on his assiduousness on this issue. I can confirm that he will receive a proper response from the Government. I have a sneaking suspicion that he may make his way to that 100,000 point in order to secure a debate in this House. This week, of course, we have had a cautionary tale, linking some of the themes that sometimes appear in business questions. We talk about superfoods, and we talk about black puddings from Stornoway and Bury. We learned this week that if we feed meat to hedgehogs, it can have a rather adverse effect on them, as we saw in the tragic case of the hedgehog that has become so fat on eating meat that it cannot even roll itself up.
My constituent Lance Bombardier James Simpson sadly lost both legs in Afghanistan, but he has since inspired people by becoming the first double amputee to do an obstacle challenge. He and other brave injured servicemen, however, have found that the NHS cannot cope with their artificial limbs. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on how the NHS can solve the problem and come up with a better plan to help our brave servicemen and women?
I was not aware of this. Those who have served this country and lost limbs in its service are people whom we should admire without reserve. Some of the achievements of those injured servicemen after their return from the front line have been simply awe-inspiring. I was not aware of the problem that the hon. Gentleman has raised today. The Secretary of State for Defence will be here on Monday, but I shall also ensure that the Department of Health is made aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and responds to him.
I hope that the whole House will join me in congratulating the Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), on his wise decision—much publicised this week—to name Crossrail the Elizabeth line in order to commemorate the Queen’s 90th birthday. My patriotic constituents in the village of Worthington would also like to commemorate that event, but they have been hit by the county council with a £400 bill for road closure. May we have a statement from the Government on the issuing of guidance to county councils proposing that they waive such charges, as was done during the Jubilee celebrations?
I, too, was delighted by the decision to name Crossrail the Elizabeth line, which is a fitting tribute to a magnificent monarch as she approaches her 90th birthday. We should all celebrate all that she has done for this country. I hope that local authorities will be wise and sensible, and will encourage communities to come together to take part in the celebrations that will take place this summer. Let me add that I think this has been a week in which my hon. Friend the Mayor of London has shown great wisdom.
On 19 February, at North Middlesex hospital, more than 100 patients were told over the tannoy, “Please go home unless you have a life-threatening illness.” Of course, they would have to self-diagnose to be able to make that decision. Some patients had been waiting on trolleys for more than five hours with no cubicle space and no ward beds to go to, while dozens were in a waiting room facing a wait of more than eight hours to be seen.
This is a crisis in A & E provision, certainly for Enfield and Haringey and, I think, more widely, and it was entirely predictable, particularly given that the Government closed the A & E department at Chase Farm hospital in 2013. Many of my constituents sat waiting that night, and they are outraged at this situation. May we have an early debate, in Government time, about the A & E crisis that is affecting Enfield and Haringey and other areas?
I do not know about that particular circumstance, but pressures on A & E obviously ebb and flow depending on local circumstances, especially at this time of year, and that this is one reason why we continue to put additional funding into the national health service. I seem to recall that, some while back, the former Health Secretary argued that putting more money into the NHS was not the right thing to do.
I am sure Members agree that we do not discuss Europe enough in this place. May I make the helpful suggestion that we alter the business of the House in order to hold a weekly European Union Question Time? According to my prejudice, the Leader of the House himself would answer the questions. I would then have an opportunity to ask, for instance, “Should the British people, in their wisdom, leave the European Union, would it be this Government who decided such matters as VAT rates on sanitary towels?”
It is certainly true that VAT on sanitary towels is currently imposed by the European Union, and I suspect that it would not be imposed by the House of Commons. As for the subject of debates on Europe, the one debate that I am unfortunately unable to have, although I would love to have it, is with the shadow Leader of the House, because he bitterly regretted that we did not join the euro. I would love to be able to debate whether he got that one right or wrong.
If the Leader of the House casts his mind back to business questions on 28 January, he may recall that on that occasion he failed to answer a request from the shadow Leader of the House for details of how he would arrange for parliamentary scrutiny of the changes that the Cabinet Office was intending to introduce to local government pension rules and procurement guidelines for public institutions. He may also know that the Minister for the Cabinet Office decided to announce the second of those changes last week, not in the House but in Israel, during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Given that there is now real uncertainty about what those changes mean, and the apparent conflict between what the Minister for the Cabinet Office considers to be the target of the guidelines and official Foreign Office advice warning of the risks to business of becoming financially involved with illegal actions by Israel in the occupied territories, we are still waiting to hear how all this can be scrutinised. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Minister for the Cabinet Office finally to come to the House, make a statement and answer questions?
The Minister for the Cabinet Office will be here on 9 March to take questions. Mr Speaker, you have been generous in granting opportunities to Members of this House to raise concerns in urgent questions, but I cannot remember this subject being raised in that way, so perhaps it is not that urgent.
When I heard from a constituent that she had gone elsewhere in the country to volunteer as part of her Duke of Edinburgh award, I was, as I am sure all hon. Members would be, delighted at her commitment to this award scheme and to volunteering. However, I was less pleased by the fact that she had to pay a rather large sum for her rail ticket and then discovered that by splitting her tickets she could perfectly legally have paid a lot less. May we have a debate on how such fare information can be much more widely publicised and whether rail companies should be obliged to show the cheapest possible way of getting from A to B?
My hon. Friend the rail Minister would be very much in agreement with what my hon. Friend says, and indeed is working to achieve that. All of us who travel by train will sometimes find a bizarre fare structure and bizarre circumstances, such as finding that the first class fare is lower than the second class fare, or that it is cheaper to split the journey in half. It would be much easier and more straightforward if the information available to the public was obvious, straightforward and demonstrated the cheapest way to travel.
Mr Speaker, you will be aware that several times I have called for us to have a debate on serious youth violence and the Leader of the House has advised me to go to the Backbench Business Committee. I was really chuffed when the Committee agreed to have a debate on this, but deeply disappointed that we did not get that time on Tuesday. Many of my colleagues came here to engage in the debate, but were unable to do so. How are we going to ensure that next Thursday the time is protected and we debate this very important issue?
It is, of course, a very important issue. It was unfortunate that on Tuesday, with the extended statement on Monday from the Prime Minister and the volume of additional subjects Members wanted to bring before the House, that that debate ended up being squeezed out. We made sure that there was an early opportunity for the Backbench Business Committee to bring it back to the House, and when we debate it on Thursday, it is much less likely to be under the pressure of time than it was on Tuesday, which was a particularly unusual day in terms of parliamentary time.
This week has seen the welcome news that the Avanti Schools Trust has secured planning permission for the first state-sponsored Hindu “all-through” school. In addition, Hujjat school, which will be the first Muslim school in Harrow, has also secured approval from the Department for Education and has reached the first stage, thereby ensuring that parents in Harrow will have the opportunity of giving a faith-based education to their children if that is what they want. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for us to have a debate on the importance of faith-based education to allow parents to exercise their choice and ensure that they get the education for their children that they wish to have?
I congratulate all in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have succeeded in bringing forward these exciting new plans. It has always been my view that faith-based education has an important place in our society. While it is important that a faith-based school is not a school of one faith, my experience is that the ethos a faith-based school brings delivers a high quality of education, and what is happening locally is very exciting. I am sure he will take advantage of the opportunity to express to the Secretary of State, when she is here shortly for questions, just how important a part of this Government’s policy that work is.
The Government have amended substantially their own Enterprise Bill to include provisions on Sunday trading. Can the Leader of the House explain how Back Benchers who are concerned about the English votes for English laws status of the Government amendments can make representations within the terms of the Standing Orders concerning the effect of new proposals made by the Government?
Can a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement explaining what action the Government are taking to protect holders of the Lloyds bank enhanced capital notes from enforced early redemption? Several constituents have contacted me to say that they have been forced to close these. That has had a great effect on their planned income and they have received very little protection from the Financial Conduct Authority.
I am aware of those concerns, and my hon. Friend is doing his usual effective job on behalf of his constituents. The essence of what he is arguing relates to the remit of the FCA and its ability to do the job he would wish in a matter such as this. Of course, Treasury Ministers are here on Monday and I advise him to bring that matter to them, as they are ultimately responsible for setting the remit of that authority.
The Leader of the House may be aware of the horrible murder of the Cambridge student Giulio Regeni in Egypt. He disappeared six or seven weeks ago and his body was found horribly mutilated a few weeks later. He is much missed by the academic community in Cambridge, and he was carrying out academic duties at the time. I pressed the Foreign Secretary to urge the Egyptian authorities to explain what has gone on. Will there be an opportunity to discuss the situation in Egypt soon?
This was a horrible incident and our hearts go out to Giulio Regeni’s family, his friends and all his colleagues in Cambridge. Although Egypt is a great country, it still faces significant issues and challenges. I will make sure that the Foreign Secretary is reminded of the concerns the hon. Gentleman raises, and I have no doubt that the Government will want to set out an opportunity for discussing matters across the middle east generally, which will give him the opportunity he seeks in the near future.
Tomorrow evening, I will be attending a residents’ meeting in Cleethorpes, accompanied by the Humberside police and crime commissioner, Matthew Grove. He was been particularly effective as a channel for representing his constituents. Ahead of the May PCC elections, may we have a debate on the role of PCCs and how their powers may be extended?
Matthew Grove will always have a fond place in the Conservative lexicon as the man who beat John Prescott to that job of PCC for Humberside. That was a matter of huge disappointment to Labour Members—[Interruption.] Clearly, the shadow Deputy Leader of the House is not a fan, but after that victory we will always regard Mr Grove fondly.
My constituency has benefited tremendously from European Union structural funding, and of course that will not be available if we leave the EU. May we have a statement as to the advantages that EU structural funds have brought to the most deprived communities of the UK? Would the Leader of the House be willing to deliver such a statement personally?
Of course we have a debate this afternoon on this area, so the hon. Gentleman may want to take part in it. Those on the Government side of the argument would say that EU structural funds are important, but I am sure that those who disagreed with that view would say that in fact all we are doing is giving money to Brussels in order for those there to give it back to us.
Notwithstanding the debate we have just had on flooding, there is another part to this issue that we hardly discuss at all in this House—coastal erosion. This year, there has been more erosion around the UK coasts, because of the storms coming from America, than there has been for many years. May we either have time in this Chamber to debate this or have a statement on the subject? Figures show that up to 74,000 homes could be at risk over the next 100 years, so we need to make plans now to be able to look to the future and ensure that we are successful in tackling this.
The importance of the issue has been brought home to us by the extraordinary archaeological work done around the historic port of Dunwich, which was once one of England’s largest towns but which has almost completely disappeared. We understand from that work just how much difference coastal erosion can make. My hon. Friend makes an important point and I suggest that he might like to join others whose constituencies are affected, including those who represent areas on the east coast of England, to secure a debate via the Backbench Business Committee.
May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the extraordinary allegations published by London’s The Times last week on the treatment of asylum seekers living in Glasgow by Home Office providers Serco and Orchard and Shipman? There were allegations of, among other things, the spraying of air fresheners towards asylum seekers; physical intimidation; and the placing of asylum seekers in uninhabitable housing. Does the Leader of the House agree that such dehumanising treatment of asylum seekers merits Ministers reporting directly to Parliament?
Hull City Council is meeting at the moment to set its budget. Since 2010, it has had a cut from the Government of £310 per person, which, considering that it is the 10th most deprived area of the country, is one of the steepest cuts. In the same period, Epsom and Ewell, one of the least deprived areas, has gained £13 per head. Hull has none of the options that wealthier areas have to raise its own money, and has not received a penny of the £300 million that the Government have found for other areas. Can we please have a debate on why the poorest areas of this country keep being subject to cuts by this Government?
The hon. Lady needs to remember the huge disparities that still exist in funding per head. Targeting northern towns and cities such as Hull where there are bigger social challenges is important. As a Government, even a Conservative Government with a substantial number of Members representing constituencies in the south with a lower grant per head, we continue to believe that it is important to provide support to those towns and cities.
The Government’s mobile infrastructure project identified 600 potentially new mobile mast sites, yet by December last year, only 15 had been built. May we have a full debate on the failure of the Government’s mobile infrastructure project, which is due to end in March, and on why so many communities that were promised mobile connectivity still lack it?
We are making real progress in spreading both mobile coverage and high-speed broadband coverage. We have a way to go. Of course such things are not always the responsibility of Government. It is the operators, not the Government, who build masts. None the less, I continue to believe that we are doing as well as almost all of our major international competitors in ensuring that we have modern communications.
On 7 November last year, I wrote to the BBC on behalf of a constituent with a set of perfectly reasonable questions about its musical output and its relationship with Universal Music. The response I got was, to say the least, disappointing. Not only did it fail to answer any of the questions, it told me that, if I was unhappy with its response, I should take up the matter with the Information Commissioner. I value the work that the BBC does, but it must be open about how it operates. May we have a debate on creating a transparent culture within the BBC, particularly in its relationship with publishers such as Universal Music?
Let me make two points. First, the hon. Gentleman can raise that issue next week when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is in the House. Secondly, we are embarked on just such a debate at the moment on the renewal of the charter. It is for members of the public across the country and Members of this House to bring forward their thoughts about the future shape of the BBC. [Interruption.] Despite the fact that the shadow Leader of the House is, as usual, chuntering from a sedentary position, I have no doubt that, if the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) wants to bring forward further thoughts and present them to the Secretary of State, they will be taken into account.
It was welcome when the Government agreed to change the rules to allow for fair compensation for military veterans suffering from mesothelioma. However, if they are serious about the armed forces covenant, can we now have a statement on why they have still not closed the loophole whereby a small number of veterans diagnosed before December are not covered and are being caused further distress at this most difficult time in their lives?
The Government’s childhood obesity strategy has been pre-briefed and then delayed not once but five times. The answers that I am getting from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, who cannot even tell me whether he has seen a draft copy of the strategy, have been not worth the paper they are written on. May we have a statement as soon as possible outlining the Government’s intentions to publish the childhood obesity strategy and finally break this wall of silence from Ministers?
Of course it is the Government’s intention to publish the childhood obesity strategy, but we are also working on getting it right. I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that, when we come to publish that document, when it is ready and we are satisfied that it is the right tool for the job, we will bring it to the House.
Extraordinarily, the Prime Minister has made 233 appointments to the unelected House of Lords since he was elected, making a seam-bursting total of 826 Members, yet only yesterday many of us here received an email from the Boundaries Commission informing us of a forthcoming review of the Chamber to reduce the number of Scottish MPs from 59 to 53, which will result in the House of Lords being 40% larger than this House. Will the Leader of the House bring to this Chamber an urgent debate on the rough wooing of our democracy in Scotland, where we will have more Tory Lords than MPs apparently representing our country?
It is important to remember that this is the elected House. This is the House that ultimately has the final say on matters, and it is right and proper that we have a structure of representation here that represents the balance of the population of the country. It is the case that the Boundary Commission has a remit to align the size of constituencies across the country. That matter is not related to the other place. It is about ensuring that there is fairness of representation in this elected House, which is the one that ultimately decides what happens in this country.
My constituent Andy is a freight train driver. He and his colleagues across 11 depots in Yorkshire and the north are under threat of redundancy following the downturn in coal traffic due to the imminent closure of Ferrybridge and Eggborough power stations and the closure of Kellingley pit. May we have a debate in Government time on the secondary impact of these closures, the unemployment that this Government have caused in the supporting industries such as freight, and how we might support those affected to find new and appropriate jobs?
Of course it is always difficult when an individual change within an industry costs jobs or leads to closures, but the hon. Lady has to understand that under this Government rail freight has continued to grow, the rail network has continued to receive new investment, and for those in the rail industry there are perhaps more opportunities today than there have been for a very long time.
Edward Paddon, the son of my constituents Fiona and Scott, was just nine days old when he died, in part as a result of group B streptococcus ascending infection. Instead of looking forward to what would have been Edward’s second birthday in a few months, his parents are campaigning so that others do not have to suffer as they have. May we have an urgent debate about what can be done to ensure consistent and accurate screening for group B strep so as to prevent any more avoidable deaths of newborn babies?
This is an important and sensitive issue on which there are many opportunities to bring forward debates through the Backbench Business Committee or the Adjournment debate system. As I should have mentioned earlier, we now have the largest petition we have yet seen calling for a debate on the Floor of the House relating to meningitis in childhood. I will be discussing it with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee because I hope that that petition is debated on the Floor of the House, rather than in Westminster Hall.
We have made good progress so far but there is still work to do. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be here next Thursday and will be able to update the House on progress. Compared with many other countries, we are doing pretty well, but as long as there are rural communities that do not have access to high-speed broadband and to modern communications, we will continue to have a job to do.
Two weeks ago the Leader of the House was unable to answer whether legislation to ratify the Istanbul convention would be laid before the House, citing the Queen’s Speech. If he and his merry men are successful in pulling us out of the EU, will the Government still have the appetite to ratify that Council of Europe convention which aids the protection of women, or do they plan to rescind membership of that organisation also?
I have no doubt that if the people of this country vote to leave the European Union, we will continue to play a very active role in the international bodies of which we are part and in the international community as a whole. Whatever happens regarding the future of this country, we will always be internationalists and we will always do the right thing by this country on the international stage.
The incompetent Tory-Labour administration—a coalition running Stirling council—will present its budget this evening. That will include savage cuts to social care across the Stirling area. Given the pressures being put on local government finance by the Government’s austerity agenda and the welfare reforms, may we have a debate on this urgent matter?
The overall framework for economic success and for funding in Scotland rests with the SNP. The interesting thing about the fiscal framework this week is that the SNP Government will have to take decisions in the future about getting the right balance between lower taxes and public spending, and they will find that it is a whole lot more difficult than they think.
May we have a debate or a statement on early-day motion 1138?
[That this House notes with serious concern proposals by the Government, published on 6 February 2016 on www.gov.uk, for a new clause to be inserted into all government grant agreements, determination letters, from the new financial year, and no later than 1 May 2016, which states that payments supporting activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action will not be counted as Eligible Expenditure costs; further notes that the Government itself describes this as an anti-lobbying clause; shares the concerns expressed by many third sector and voluntary organisations outlined in a letter to the Prime Minister dated 11 February 2016, among them the impact the clause may have on the ability of voluntary organisation to bring real-world experience of service users and evidence-based expertise into the public policy debate, and that those organisations working on programmes receiving any grant funding may be prohibited from speaking to hon. Members about developments in their local area, suggesting improvements to policy or legislation, responding to the Government’s own consultations, meeting ministers to discuss broader issues and evidence from their programme or even from giving evidence if called by a select committee, and that the clause may therefore have a far broader impact than originally intended; believes the proposals leave the Government vulnerable to accusations of stifling criticism and informed debate about the consequences of its policies; and calls on the Government to urgently reconsider the introduction of this clause.]
It relates to the anti-lobbying clause—the gagging clause—announced by the Cabinet Office just before the recess, with little or no scrutiny or consultation. The clause threatens the ability of organisations and charities in receipt of Government grants to speak out or campaign either for or against Government policy. It should be scrapped immediately.
What the hon. Gentleman has to understand is that while in government we have found on a number of occasions bodies that we are funding using taxpayers’ money to lobby us, which makes no sense at all. The Cabinet Office is trying to deliver a sensible regime, and I am sure that he will be able to debate the provision in the way he wishes when it comes before the House.