I should like to start by informing the House that the state opening of the next Session of Parliament will take place on Wednesday 18 May. I am also pleased to announce the calendar for this House for the remainder of the year. The House will rise for the early May bank holiday on Thursday 28 April and return on Tuesday 3 May. For the Whitsun recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Thursday 26 May and return on Monday 6 June. Members will wish to know that, additionally, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 15 June and return on Monday 27 June. The House will rise for the summer recess at the conclusion of business on Thursday 21 July and return on Monday 5 September. The conference recess will commence at the close of business on Thursday 15 September, with the House returning on Monday 10 October. The House will rise on Tuesday 8 November and return on Monday 14 November. Finally, for the Christmas recess, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Tuesday 20 December and return on Monday 9 January 2017. As usual, all dates are subject to the progress of business, as they have been for the past few weeks.
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 14 March—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 15 March—Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the Terrorism Act 2000.
Wednesday 16 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement.
Thursday 17 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 18 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 March will include:
Monday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 22 March—Continuation and conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 23 March—Remaining stages of the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. I might just take the liberty of offering my thanks on behalf of the House to all those who have been involved in the extended period of the Committee stage of that Bill.
Thursday 24 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 17 March and 21 March will be:
Thursday 17 March—General debate on cabin air safety and aerotoxic syndrome.
Monday 21 March—Debate on an e-petition relating to contract negotiations with the British Medical Association.
I am absolutely delighted that the Leader of the House has confirmed the recess dates that I announced three weeks ago—I am glad that he is catching up. The decision to hold the Queen’s Speech on 18 May is a profound mistake. Whatever the Government’s intentions, they will be misconstrued. We have already seen that the Brexit campaign is now so desperate that it is even trying to recruit members of the royal family to its cause. I say, “Lay off the Queen and think again.” After all, there is plenty that we could be getting on with.
The Government’s permanently delayed decision on Heathrow is hurting business. Their long-delayed childhood obesity strategy is hurting children. They promised to change the law to make it easier to put up mobile phone masts in the countryside four years ago. The Prime Minister even mentioned it again yesterday—great! We have been calling for it for years, but why do they not just publish the electronic communications code tomorrow?
Incidentally, have the Government learned anything from yesterday—how to count perhaps? The way in which Ministers handled the Enterprise Bill really was a classic case of how not to do it. They were so scared of the bishops that they let the Bill go all the way through the Lords without mentioning Sunday trading, the provisions on which they inserted upstairs in Committee. At one point in Committee, the Ministers forgot to vote, but a generous Chair allowed them a second chance. Then, at the very last instance, they tabled a manuscript amendment to their own amendment. Some people have said that they are being too clever by half, but, to be honest—to coin a phrase—I think they are just a little dim.
I gather that there were many blandishments to rebels yesterday. Arms were twisted and the Chief Whip explained the facts of life to recalcitrant Members. Apparently, the Chancellor even tried being charming, but that was so terrifying that one rebel Member’s hair turned completely grey and she may never regain the power of speech. Still, after all that, the Government lost. Can you hear that sound, Mr Speaker? It is the sound of the slow ebbing out down the beach of the authority of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I offer this advice for free: this House never likes sharp practice, so stop trying to pull a fast one and just do things the proper way.
Incidentally, is it not time that we abandoned English votes for English laws? Last night, we had the hilarious sight of Ministers staring at you, Mr Speaker, in blank amazement when you suspended the House. When the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked the Chairman of Ways and Means, who should know the answer, if he could explain what was going on, Mr Deputy Speaker made it absolutely clear that he had not the foggiest idea what was happening. Looking at the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, it seemed as though there was a desert of vast eternity between her ears. Nobody understands the system. It wastes time and it has not made a difference to a single decision so far. It is not Bills that need certifying; it is the Leader of the House for introducing this muddle. It is time to abandon it.
Incidentally, I note that the Leader of the House is giving a Brexit speech today—we are all agog. Did he have to get approval for his speech from the Prime Minister, or from the actual leader of the out campaign, the Justice Secretary? Can the Leader of the House guarantee that his special advisers were not involved in briefing the papers on this speech and will not be in attendance when he makes it? The Cabinet Secretary has explicitly instructed that special advisers may not do so during office hours. Is the Leader of the House therefore being forced to make the speech under cover of darkness? He and I do have one thing in common, however. On Tuesday night, the Labour party auctioned off the opportunity to swim with sharks with me—this is instead of attending a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party—and I fear that he may be swimming with the fishes after 23 June.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has written to Mike Ashley, the chief executive and majority shareholder of Sports Direct, to demand that he gives evidence on his company’s decidedly shady practices, but he has refused. This is a truly hideous company. In one warehouse, 80% of staff are on zero-hours contracts. Every member of staff is subjected to a 15-minute search at the end of the day, unpaid. The effective hourly rate is way below the minimum wage, so he should of course be appearing before the Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the House can deal with recalcitrant executives? If necessary, the Select Committee can order Mr Ashley to appear. If that fails, it can ask the House to force to him to attend and, if necessary, to be arraigned before the Bar of the House. He may be the 22nd-richest man in Britain, but he is running a modern-day sweatshop and the House will get to the truth.
If we are to criticise the working practices of Sports Direct, however, surely we should put our own house in order. Since 2010, the cost of agency staff working in the House’s catering and hospitality department has quadrupled. Agency staff now represent one in 12 members of staff, which means that the House will be paying substantially more than those employees will be getting, and they will receive no share of the tips. Should we not bring such staff in house and ensure that everyone gets a fair share of the tips?
Finally, may I say happy birthday to my father for tomorrow?
I am delighted to send many happy returns to the hon. Gentleman’s father. I also want to take a moment to celebrate another important occasion that is a matter of great interest on the Opposition Benches. Tomorrow is the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson and it is worth this House marking that. Many people have made the case for having a statue of him in this place. There is a lot to be said for that, so I hope that the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art will give it due consideration. It is particularly apposite to celebrate his life at the moment because, 41 years ago, he was the first person to give us a referendum on our membership of the European Union.
I hope to be part of a winning side as well. The other thing about Harold Wilson is that he is a former Labour Prime Minister whom the Opposition are still happy to talk about, which is a bit of a rarity in today’s world.
The shadow Leader of the House went on about the Queen’s Speech, but I do not understand what he is talking about. One moment he talks about a zombie Parliament with nothing to do, but now he complains that we are having a Queen’s Speech in May containing an important set of measures that will help to reform this country. The Opposition talk about a zombie Parliament, but last Monday we had the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill, which is an important set of measures that will make a difference to policing in this country. Government Members were here debating it, but where were the Labour Members? They barely turned up and the business finished early. We do not have a zombie Parliament; we have a zombie Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the authority of the Prime Minister seeping away, but I have to say that coming from the Labour party today, with the authority of its leader seeping away, that is frankly unbelievable. We sit at Prime Minister’s questions each week and look at the faces of Opposition Members as their leader asks questions. The shadow Leader of the House’s face is a picture; we know what he thinks about his leader. The Opposition are profoundly depressed and miserable, to the extent that today we have the first speech in the next Labour leadership contest.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the speech I am going to be giving today, but what he missed was that I have already given it, so he clearly was not paying that much attention.
Surprisingly enough, I am not after his support.
As for the EVEL vote and the procedure that the shadow Leader of the House talked about, the Conservatives stood on a manifesto of giving the English a share in the devolution settlement. We took that through the House and it is now in operation. If it is now the Labour party’s policy to say to English voters, “We will take away from you your bit of the devolution settlement,” I look forward to having that debate on the doorsteps and at the ballot box.
On the subject of Mike Ashley and the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of course it should always be the case that if a Committee of the House seeks to bring somebody who is a citizen of this country before it, it should be free to do so. That should happen, unequivocally.
On employees in this House, I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that he is a member of the House of Commons Commission. We discuss how we spend money on this House, but I do not remember him bringing that issue to the Commission. I am sure that he will do so and we will be able to consider it.
Finally, this weekend is the denouement of the rugby six nations between Wales and England at Twickenham. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be there cheering on his side, and I will be cheering on the English, but I would say, “May the best team win.” One thing we can be sure about is that he will not be joining in the singing of “Delilah” this weekend, but he has written that, even as a republican, he looks forward
“to a good old blast of ‘God Save the Queen’”,
so I am sure that he will be joining in with the anthem on Saturday.
Next week, I will be going back to Redbrook Hayes Community Primary School in Brereton, which has recently been rated good following a couple of years of hard work and commitment from the headteacher, Chris Gaffiney, and all his team. May we have a debate in Government time about the progress that is being made to improve school standards?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I should wish her a happy birthday for Saturday as well. We have made enormous progress under this Government and the coalition Government on improving educational standards in our schools. That is essential to the future success of our nation. I pay tribute not only to the headteacher she mentions, but to all those in her constituency who are helping to make a difference for the young people of Cannock Chase.
I, too, thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. Let us see whether we can get through this business quickly so that he can resume his core business of slagging off his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The big issue of the day is whether Her Majesty the Queen is a Brexiteer or not. I have an elegant solution for how we can try to discover that: we could perhaps dispatch the Prime Minister to the palace to ask her indirectly—one purr for in, two purrs for out. That would solve the issue, Mr Speaker.
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He said what he said, but for the benefit of the House, and particularly for the benefit of new Members, may I underline that we do not discuss the views of the monarch in this Chamber? There have occasionally been debates on matters appertaining to the royal family, which I have happily granted, but we do not discuss that matter. I think it better if we just leave it there. Mr Wishart, please continue.
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. We will leave it entirely to Government figures to do that.
Yesterday, the Government were defeated and it was the SNP wot won it—[Interruption.] I am afraid that we cannot take exclusive credit for that incredible victory—there were others, of course, and we did have some friends in the Conservative party—but we SNP Members really enjoyed the wailing and gnashing of Conservative teeth. There was something almost delicious about the way in which the Tories lashed out at the SNP. This Government, having imposed English votes for English laws, criticised our temerity for getting up and supporting Scottish workers. Do the Government believe for a minute that normal rules stand when it comes to issues such as this?
The Government have imposed these ridiculous EVEL rules without the agreement or support of any other party in the House. What about those rules, Mr Speaker? No one had a Scooby what was going on yesterday. I asked the Deputy Speaker and he did not know. I do not blame him, Mr Speaker; you would need an advanced degree in madness and impenetrable inconsequentials even to start to understand what is going on with the dog’s breakfast that is EVEL. The time has come to abandon EVEL and to decide that it does not work. If anything was to happen to the Leader of the House—some accidental consequence of his support for the leave Europe campaign—this will be his legacy. What a legacy to leave the House divided on an issue such as EVEL.
I support the calls that were made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson). We should have a debate on the treatment of asylum seekers in this country and especially the evidence that has been uncovered thus far about their treatment. Perhaps we could have a proper look at the use of private services in dealing with asylum seekers.
We are also grateful to the Leader of the House for announcing the recess dates and that there will, after all, be a Queen’s Speech before the European referendum, but once again the recess dates do not cover the Scottish National party conference. We are the third largest party in the House. The recess covers the Liberal conference, but may I have a guarantee from the Leader of the House that 14 October will be a non-sitting day so that the members of the third party in the House can also get to their conference?
Once again, all the time that we are having off in the summer does not include the Scottish school holidays. My hon. Friends will not be able to spend the same amount of time with their families as hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom. We need to get that fixed for next year, get the SNP conference covered, and for goodness sake try to cover the holidays of every nation of the United Kingdom.
First, Mr Speaker, may I thank you for what you said about the Queen and the royal family? That was absolutely appropriate. The one thing it is always appropriate to say in this House is how much we value our monarch and appreciate the magnificent job that she does for our nation.
With regard to events yesterday, the hon. Gentleman said, “It was the SNP wot won it.” He knows that I have a high regard for him, but yesterday was one of those occasions when it was clear how far away from political principle the SNP can find itself. SNP Members cannot talk about the importance—as they always have and did during the EVEL debate—of standing aside from matters that are England only, but then dive in when it is opportunistic for them to do so. That is a party of opportunism, I am afraid, not a party of principle.
I listened again to the hon. Gentleman’s words about EVEL. As he knows, I was in Scotland last week, supporting our fine team campaigning in the Scottish elections. One of our Scottish members said to me, “That Mr Wishart is very hysterical, isn’t he?” I had to reassure him and say, “Look, he is actually a nice guy behind the scenes.” However, when I hear comments such as those that he made this morning, I understand why some of the people of Scotland get the wrong idea about him.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes seriously the issue of asylum seekers. We will always do our best to ensure that people are treated humanely.
I clearly owe the hon. Gentleman an apology. I thought that ensuring that he had the opportunity to be here on the first day of the SNP conference was a help to him, rather than a hindrance, because I have never had the sense that he was desperate to get there first. I thought that, as he did this year, he would enjoy being here on the first day of conference. Clearly we will have to look next year at whether we move his conference dates or do things otherwise.
Finally, I have some bad news for the hon. Gentleman. He has competition next year on the Eurovision front. As he may know, Members on the Government Benches are also recording some fine music. My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) looks like being tough competition for him and the rest of MP4 when it comes to next year’s Eurovision—may the best man or woman win.
It will not have escaped the notice of the Leader of the House that depending on how the business pans out today, particularly how long the Northern Ireland business takes, there is at least a reasonable likelihood that the important debate at the end of the day on the way in which our Acts of Parliament are recorded may be squeezed down to a very short time, or even squeezed out completely. Given the Government’s support for the motion, which is supported also by 48 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and historically by you, Mr Speaker, will the Leader of the House find Government time for a substantive debate on the matter, so that we can let the House of Lords know what we think about it?
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about the matter. The debate has been tabled on a Backbench day. It is appropriate for it to be a matter for the House, not debated in Government time which would otherwise be made available for legislation. As the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is here today, I am sure that if my hon. Friend is not able to hold his debate today, an early opportunity will be found to bring the matter before the House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the announcement of the future business. With the date of state opening being announced as 18 May, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is a Standing Order of the House that the Backbench Business Committee be awarded 27 days of Chamber time in a parliamentary Session? We are still some way short of that and we are expecting a glut of Backbench business in the five and a half weeks that remain after Easter and before the state opening. I add one personal rider: if we do get Mr Mike Ashley into this place, may we at the same time question him about the terrible running of Newcastle United football club? I do not want to diminish the importance of the employment practices of Sports Direct, but based on the management of Newcastle United, I am afraid I do not expect a very big party in a brewery any time soon.
It is tough being a Newcastle supporter at the moment. I wish the hon. Gentleman and his team well for the rest of the season. There is time to escape the relegation zone and no doubt he will be cheering from the stands. I have no doubt that he will seek more time for Backbench business over the next few weeks. I am aware of what the Standing Orders say. I am not sure that we are quite in agreement on the numbers, but we will have a proper discussion about that. I hope he will note that in response to his request, we made protected time available for the debate on Tuesday. Where it is important to do so, we will look at doing that in the future.
On Saturday I joined Dartmoor search and rescue team and learned that 70% of calls to the service come from within the boundaries of Plymouth, many in Home Park, owing to elderly people getting lost. May we have a debate on how we might support those excellent volunteers, who get no money from central Government?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have suggested before at one of these sessions that the Backbench Business Committee might consider holding a full day debate, when one is available, on volunteering. A large number of Members would like to pay tribute to the good work done in their constituency. That would provide an opportunity for my hon. Friend to do what he has just described. I cannot resist drawing attention to the news story this week that a council in East Anglia has appointed the first hedgehog tsar. It is clear already that my hon. Friend’s campaign is making a difference.
Last week I was visited by retailers from Dewsbury town centre. They are facing unaffordable business rates in the coming year, due to the end of the business rates retail relief. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss whether the Government have plans to subsidise these retailers, many of whom would have to close their businesses as a result of the rises?
Of course, we are all concerned about the future of the high street. This is a matter that can certainly be brought up during the debate on the Budget next week. I do not yet know whether the Chancellor has any plans in that area, but the hon. Lady will want to make the case for her constituency in the four days of debate that follow the Budget, when this is very much one of the matters on the agenda.
Today we are starting the consultation on the final designs for the barrage across the Parrett, which is the outcome of the terrible flooding in 2011. I know that the project has been supported across the House and I am very grateful for that. May we have time in this place to discuss it? It is massively important because 12% of my district council area was under water in 2011. The history and the lessons we are learning in the south and the north of the UK need to be reiterated. Is there time for a debate in the House?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has been a more than effective advocate for his constituency and for the parts of Somerset affected by flooding. Our hearts went out to all the communities affected last year. I know that, since then, lessons have been learned and significant steps have been taken, as he has just described, to address the issue for the future. There will of course be an opportunity next Thursday to question the Environment Secretary, which I am sure he will do, but we all need to work to make sure that the terrible events of last year cannot happen again.
When can we discuss early-day motion 1182?
[That this House believes that politicisation of the institution of monarchy threatens that institution’s future; recalls that the present monarch remained politically neutral for 62 years until an intervention on the Scottish Referendum debate that The Guardian reported was crafted and choreographed by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s Private Secretary; notes that a recent speech by the Prince of Wales was widely interpreted as a plea for the UK to remain in the EU; emphasises that the prime role of the Head of State is to intervene when a Prime Minister acts in her or his own interests to the detriment of the interests of state; and further believes that the Government and the Civil Service should cease employing members of the Royal Family for political purposes.]
The early-day motion does not trespass into the forbidden area—that the views of the monarch cannot be discussed in this place, and only in this place, although they can be discussed everywhere else—but it does raise the conduct of a well-documented conspiracy between Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Christopher Geidt at the time when the Scottish referendum appeared to be in trouble from the Government’s point of view, and it is alleged that those two gentlemen conspired to put the Queen’s opinion into the public domain.
Is not it important that we discuss those who give advice to the royal family, because its main function is to act in situations where a Prime Minister is acting in her or his own interests against the interests of the country? The politicisation of the monarchy would mean that it could not act in those situations, and any exposure of the royal family’s views threatens the furtherance and continuation of the institution.
There are rather large numbers of conspiracy theories in this world. If we spent all our time in this House discussing them, we would not get round to the serious business that faces the nation, so I fear we will not actually be debating that particular issue.
May I say to my right hon. Friend how pleased I am that the House will be sitting on 26 May, because that will be the seventh anniversary of the Prime Minister’s famous speech on fixing broken politics, in which he called for more Back-Bench power, more free votes and less whipping? May we have a debate on that occasion to see how much progress has been made on implementing those principles?
This day week is St Patrick’s day. Yesterday I tabled an early-day motion requesting that the Government bring forward legislative proposals—this is not a devolved matter—to make St Patrick’s day a public holiday in Northern Ireland. Will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate about this important issue?
Of course, this is a subject the hon. Lady feels strongly about. We always have to be careful about granting too many extra bank holidays because of the economic impact on the areas affected, but I am sure she will bring forward an Adjournment debate and bring a Minister to the House so that she can make the point she has raised this morning.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the practice of big businesses trying to prevent Members of Parliament from doing their democratic duty and raising constituents’ concerns in this place? Outrageously, National Express Group plc has written to Lord Feldman, the chairman of the Conservative party, complaining that I have been raising in this place my constituents’ anxiety over c2c timetable changes.
I suspect that National Express may need new political advisers, because the one thing we can be absolutely certain of is that writing a letter of complaint about my hon. Friend is likely to make him more rather than less zealous in pursuing issues on behalf of his constituents.
At 7 am the Competition and Markets Authority produced a report on its energy market investigation. I welcome that report, which focuses on prepayment meters—the issue is also dealt with under the hashtag PrePayRipOff. I have had an Adjournment debate, I have written to the Prime Minister and I have written to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and the responses have been inadequate. Will the Leader of the House make available Government time so that the House can have an urgently needed proper discussion, to explore the CMA’s recommendation, which the Secretary of State said she will implement?
In the first half of 2015, six cyclists were fatally injured in London following collisions with heavy goods vehicles. Could the Leader of the House find time in the parliamentary calendar for a debate on the costs and benefits of restricting HGVs from city centres at rush-hour times?
This is a deeply important matter. There have been far too many tragedies in recent times, some involving deaths and others serious injuries. The issue has been widely raised as a matter of concern, including by The Times, a member of whose staff was, tragically, seriously injured in an accident with an HGV. We want to take all possible steps to improve the situation, and the Mayor of London in particular has taken a lead in trying to improve things. We will continue to look for ways to improve the situation and to discuss different ideas about how we can do so.
This week the Premier League made a very good announcement that all clubs will cap the cost of away tickets at £30, which will be a great relief to many football fans. However, a more pressing concern for fans, particularly Boro fans who will watch Boro play Charlton this Sunday, is the changing of fixture dates. That game was originally meant to be played on Saturday and fans were given only 17 days’ notice of the change. They had already made travel arrangements and booked hotels for Saturday, so a lot of them will now not be able to attend. May we have a debate about the effect on football fans of the dominance of TV contracts over fixtures?
TV coverage has enabled a much broader audience to watch matches and there are still substantial crowds at grounds around the country, but I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I do not support the idea of last-minute changes that disrupt people’s plans, and I hope the football authorities will listen to what he says. I wish him and his team well for the last few weeks of the season. The interesting question is whether his team and that of the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) will play each other next season, and if so, in which division.
May we have a debate on the Rural Payments Agency? Does the Leader of the House share my concern that some small Shropshire farmers who were due to be paid under the basic payment scheme in December 2015 have still not been paid, which is causing real hardship?
My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and I understand how strongly he feels about it. Of course, small farmers in particular depend on these payments. It is not acceptable for them to be left in the position where their cash flows are unnecessarily and inappropriately stretched through Government failure. The Rural Payments Agency has made a range of payments—from less than £500 to more than £150,000—covering the full range of small, medium and large-sized farm businesses across all geographic regions and all sectors of the industry. The latest news is that some 80% of small farm businesses and 83% of medium farm businesses have received their payments, but the Secretary of State is well aware of the need to complete the job. We do not want farmers to be put under undue pressure. It is not acceptable for them to be left financially high and dry.
As chairman of the all-party kidney group, may I say welcome to World Kidney Day? Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease accounts for one in four kidney dialysis patients and kidney transplants. I know that the Leader of the House is allergic to anything to do with Brussels, but a Brussels declaration calls for a debate on the need for a national co-ordinated approach to polycystic disease, clear funding of research, patient-centred care pathways, and information about, as well as access to, nephrologists, who are knowledgeable about polycystic kidney disease. May we have a debate on this urgent and important matter?
I absolutely understand the need to provide high-quality services for patients affected. That is one reason why we continue to push up the budgets for the national health service. The important thing is to take the right decisions in the right ways for patients in this country, and that is what this Government are doing through the investment in healthcare.
May we have a debate urgently on English votes for English laws? The farce yesterday, when we learned that the SNP stands for “Scottish, no principles” rather than anything else its Members claim, made it abundantly clear that we do not actually have English votes for English laws. May we have a debate, so that we can get this straightened out once and for all and deliver what the English public think is meant by English votes for English laws? In the meantime, may we have a policy whereby every time the SNP vote on an issue that is devolved to them in Holyrood but affects only England, we transfer those powers back from Holyrood to this Parliament, so that if SNP Members want to vote on these issues in Westminster, we deliver the decision for them?
My hon. Friend, as ever, has innovative ideas about how to deal with the situation. He is absolutely right to talk about principles and the SNP. We stood for election on a manifesto that stated that we would provide the English with the ability to say no to a measure being imposed on them by Members of Parliament from other parts of the United Kingdom. The SNP has argued all along that we should get rid of that reform, which we stood on and implemented, and yesterday we learned why. Not only does the SNP want to interfere in matters such as those that were discussed yesterday, but it clearly also wants to team up with the Labour party and impose on England solutions that the English do not want.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), I have been approached by small businesses in my area regarding the Chancellor’s decision to end the business rate relief scheme for small businesses from April 2016. From next month, around 1,000 small shops in the borough of Rochdale will face extra bills of up to £1,500 a year. To many of those small shops, £1,500 is the difference between survival and going bust. May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on that important subject?
Following yesterday’s deliberations on Sunday trading, may I congratulate the Government on the precedent they have set in the publication of the family test alongside new legislation, even though it was published too late, coming as it did just a few hours before Report? It helpfully conceded the negative impact of the proposals on the family. Will the Leader of the House confirm that for all primary and secondary legislation, a family test will be published at the beginning, rather than at the end, of proceedings? In addition, will he inform us of what will happen if legislation does not pass the family test?
The purpose of impact assessments and things such as the family test is to enable the House to take an informed decision. Such tests are less a bar over which a measure needs to jump than a package of measures on which the House can form its decisions. The Government’s intention remains to keep the House as fully informed as possible so that it can take those decisions.
Last month I raised the case of Islam al-Beheiry, who was convicted in Egypt of contempt of religion under article 98 of the penal code and sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour. Only a few weeks ago, a teacher and four Christian schoolboys aged only 16 were sentenced to five years in an adult prison for making an obnoxious mock Daesh video. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on the steps that the Government are taking to stem the worrying rise in blasphemy and contempt of religion charges in Egypt, and on the efforts that are being made to call for clemency for the four Christian schoolboys, their teacher and Islam al-Beheiry?
As always, the hon. Gentleman is an important champion for members of the Christian faith, and I commend him for that. I do not know about the specific details of the case that he has raised, but I will make sure that the Government give him a proper response and that the relevant Minister is aware of the concerns that he has raised.
Following astronaut Tim Peake’s inspirational call to pupils in Brecon and Radnorshire’s excellent high schools of Builth Wells, Gwernyfed, Brecon and Crickhowell last weekend, may we have a debate on promoting the sciences as an option to pupils, so that Britain can capitalise on pupils’ Peake-ing interest in science, and so that we can continue to lead the world in scientific research and development for generations to come?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We celebrated the moment when Tim Peake went into space, but I think we should also celebrate the contribution that he has made since. We have had regular interactions with the international space station. He has talked about the work that he is doing, and he has talked to young people to inspire them about the potential of science. Long may that continue, and long may there be role models such as him to encourage people to create an exciting, innovative scientific future.
Contact the Elderly is a small national charity in Scotland, which aims to alleviate the loneliness felt by many older people who live alone by organising monthly afternoon tea get-togethers. I will be joining one on Sunday in Kippen in my constituency. Such community support initiatives are excellent and inspiring. May we have a debate to discuss the range of such initiatives across the country, so that we can all learn from them?
As I said earlier, I very much support the idea of having such a debate, and there is a real opportunity to do so. In the past, we tended to have fixed times in the calendar to debate things such as veterans issues. Such debates are now in the gift of the Backbench Business Committee, which has a real opportunity to provide time for a debate to mark volunteering across the United Kingdom.
On the Backbench Business Committee, I forgot to say earlier that I hope it will give due consideration to providing at least part of the time available on the Thursday before the recess for a traditional pre-recess Adjournment debate.
I join the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) in welcoming the Premier League’s announcement on capping the price of football tickets for away matches next season. Is the Leader of the House aware that my team, Huddersfield Town, will offer a season ticket for just £179 next season, or £7.80 a game, which is great value in the championship? Will he allow time for a debate on the cost of football tickets, which is so important for fans across the country?
I absolutely applaud what Huddersfield Town are doing. The point about clubs such as Huddersfield Town is that they play such an important community role as well. I know Huddersfield Town are very involved in charitable activities across the town. I pay tribute to everyone at the club for ensuring that they play such a role in the community and for doing what they can to give fans the opportunity to go to see the team play on an affordable basis—and may it succeed on the pitch as a result.
May I wish my daughter Siobhan a happy birthday next Tuesday? On the matter of Wales against England, I hope that the better team—not the “best” team—wins, and let it be Wales.
On EVEL, I have had an idea while sitting in the Chamber. Could we not use the Annunciator to have subtitles while we go through the EVEL procedure, which we did last night, so that Mr Deputy Speaker would not have the impossible task of explaining what in EVEL’s name is going on?
I think that the process is fine. We will review it after 12 months. If the hon. Gentleman has ideas about how to improve it, I will be very happy to listen to him. What I will not do is reverse the gesture we have made to the English of saying, “You have a part of the devolution package as well.” I do not think a position under which the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish can have devolution while the English are left out is remotely acceptable. We have no intention of going back on it.
West Berkshire Council is a very well run authority, but it has been forced by a bizarre funding formula to do the very un-Conservative thing of raising taxes and cutting services for people in need. Alongside that, there are the perverse actions of the Valuation Office Agency. At the click of a bureaucrat’s button, it can wipe millions of pounds of business rates on large sites away from a small unitary authority. May we have a debate about the actions of the Valuation Office Agency to try to get some common sense on how small local authorities are funded?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. My hon. Friend may also wish to raise that matter in the Budget debate next week. As I said earlier, it is likely that the issue of business rates will be raised then.
On 2 December, the Prime Minister promised the House that he would make quarterly statements on the involvement of British military forces in Syria. There should therefore have been a statement by 2 March, but there has not been one. May we please have an urgent statement? When are we going to have the first of these vital quarterly updates?
May I add my voice to the calls for a debate on having genuine English votes for English laws? Despite the recent reforms, yesterday proved that the votes of Scottish MPs can still stop my constituents enjoying the same freedoms that their constituents enjoy.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should remember that, when we debated English votes for English laws, the Scottish National party said, “You don’t need this. When there is an England-only measure, we don’t take part anyway.” Yesterday, we discovered that that promise was paper-thin.
On Tuesday, we celebrated International Women’s Day with a superb debate in the Chamber. I pointed out the grave inequality that only fathers’ names, not mothers’ names, appear on marriage certificates. The Prime Minister agrees that mothers’ names should be added, but does not have legislative time to do so. I have a nifty little private Member’s Bill to add mothers’ names to marriage certificates at little cost, which is up for its Second Reading again tomorrow. May I urge the Government to adopt my Bill or to give it the heave-ho into Committee, where they can amend it, or please can we have a debate in Government time?
This week is English Tourism week, so will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the important contribution made by tourism to the UK economy? A record 35.8 million visitors came to the UK last year, but we need to get people outside London and visiting other areas of the country such as Worcestershire, where perhaps they could visit the Fleece Inn, which this week was named pub of the year.
We absolutely want more tourism in Worcestershire, and although hon. Members will spend much of the recess hard at work in their constituencies, I hope there will be a moment for them to pay a visit to Worcestershire and take advantage of the fine hospitality that they will find. I am sure my hon. Friend would be delighted for the whole House to visit.
The Leader of the House will know that I have been calling for support across the House to address the root causes of serious youth violence. We had a Backbench Business Committee debate on that issue last week, and earlier this week the Justice Secretary confirmed that he will report back to the House on progress made by his Department. Will the Leader of the House explain how that will happen, and when we can expect that report?
My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary has these matters under review all the time, and we have already taken tangible steps and made significant changes to the laws on knife crime. The Home Office has been doing significant work to try to break up gangs, and the Justice Secretary comes before the House regularly and will provide regular updates on his work.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many young people who struggle at school do so because they are dyslexic. I have already discussed that with the Secretary of State, who assures me that part of the training module for teachers now contains work to help them to build an understanding of dyslexia. My hon. Friend will no doubt continue to ask questions on that subject, and ensure that we do whatever we can to enhance that work to help those young people.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in welcoming the Government’s two other defeats last night in the other place on the Immigration Bill. Will he encourage the Immigration Minister to confirm in a statement whether the Government will use last night’s vote as motivation to start treating asylum seekers with the respect and dignity that they deserve?
That is a first—I cannot remember the last time that I heard the Scottish National party praise what has happened in the House of Lords. I think that our record of treating asylum seekers bears comparison with any in the world, and I will not hear anybody say otherwise.
My hon. Friend tempts me, but he must bear in mind that the Government’s formal position is to recommend that Britain stays in the European Union. We will, of course, have lively debates in the House and the country about what should happen, and in June the British people will decide.
The Leader of the House will be aware that, three days ago, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, which represents £13 trillion of assets under management, wrote to the Chancellor to press for regulation to ensure mandatory corporate disclosure of climate risks. May we have a debate in Government time on the mandatory reporting of climate risks, so that there is transparency about the financial health of our corporate sector, and so that the confidence of such an enormous body of investment funds can be increased?
The hon. Gentleman is another person for us to wish a happy birthday. This country is at the leading edge of combating climate change, and we have adopted targets that stand comparison with any in the world. However, there is a point at which simply putting additional reporting requirements endlessly on to business leads to us having fewer jobs in the country, rather than more, and that is not something I support.
Last year, £10 million of funding for essential upgrades to Cheltenham Spa railway station was announced. As tens of thousands of people arrive in Cheltenham for the superb jump racing festival, we are reminded how necessary those upgrades are. May we have a debate on the delivery of railway station funding pledges, to establish what more can be done to get work started?
We have just missed Transport questions, which took place earlier this morning, but I am sure my hon. Friend will be able to secure an Adjournment debate to press that issue if he wishes to do so. May I wish him and his constituents well for what is one of the best racing events in the country, although it is perhaps not quite as good as the Epsom Derby.
Tomorrow, I will be visiting my constituent Walter Brown from Dukinfield, who is 90 years of age and has just been awarded the Légion d’honneur by the Government of France in recognition of his role in the liberation of France in 1944 as a Royal Marine Commando. We are supposed to request a debate in this part of our proceedings, so may I simply request a debate on what a privilege it is to represent somebody such as Walter Brown in the House of Commons? May I also request that the whole House puts on the record its thanks and congratulations to him?
I absolutely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says; I have a gentleman in my constituency who is in the same position, and it is a real tribute to the Government of France that they have seen fit to honour in this way a group of people who risked their lives to try to save France from the Nazis and did so successfully. We should always remember them and be grateful to them, and I am very glad the French have recognised that.
You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that on previous occasions I have raised the issue of hundreds of casual labourers congregating outside B&Q in Queensbury, on the border between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I am pleased to say that Harrow Council and Brent Council have introduced a public space protection order, under which anyone who picks up those casual labourers will be liable for a fixed rate penalty of £100. Can we find time to debate the matter in this House, because we find this problem across the country and public space protection orders could be put in place to stop that unauthorised activity?
That is an important issue. The Business Secretary will be here on Tuesday and I will ask him to be prepared to address it then. All too often, the people who are to be found looking for work in these places are operating within a gangmaster culture that is below the radar and not within the legal framework of work in this country, and it is likely that they are being exploited.
Last year, Sir Nicholas Macpherson said that he would not hesitate to call in the police if the Budget were leaked. Should any stories about this year’s Budget appear in the papers this weekend, will the Leader of the House join this most senior of officials in calling for the police to investigate, and will he give time for this House to debate it?
Last Saturday, I joined hundreds of residents at the only municipal golf course in Pendle, Marsden Park, to protest against plans by Pendle Borough Council to close the facility. The Labour and Lib Dem-run council claims that shutting the course would save £50,000 a year and blames cuts in central Government funding. However, in the same month the council voted through that cut, it spent an estimated £300,000 buying the former—now unused—Colne health centre, which needs a further few hundred thousand pounds spending on it. The council has admitted that it has no plans for what to do with it. May we have a debate on the shocking mismanagement by my local council?
As ever, my hon. Friend is a very articulate representative of his constituents and a very appropriate critic of his local Labour council. The truth is that around the country, where difficult decisions are having to be taken by councils, one finds Conservative ones taking a thoughtful approach and finding new ways of delivering services well, while Labour councils are taking dumb decisions such as the one he has just mentioned.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) have mentioned, the Chancellor’s decision on retail rate relief is causing great consternation, with small businesses now having to find an extra £1,500 a year. In the Cheshire West and Chester area alone, some 1,472 businesses will have to find an extra £1.8 million next year. Given the Chancellor’s warnings of impending storm clouds, can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be sufficient time over the next few weeks to debate whether this is really the right time to start clobbering small businesses with more taxes?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that time will be available, because there will be four days for the post-Budget debate. He talks about clobbering businesses. I just remind him that for 13 years businesses suffered at the hands of a Government who did not understand them and regulated in a way that caused them deep problems, halving our manufacturing sector.
Ministers have been very willing to engage on the steel issue, but, in advance of the Budget next week, will there be an opportunity to put the case for a business rates holiday for the industry to the Chancellor on the Floor of the House?
There will be an opportunity to put that to the Chancellor. However, the Business Secretary, who has been working very closely with the steel industry, will be here on Tuesday. I suggest my hon. Friend raises that point with him then. I will make sure his concerns are drawn to the attention of both Departments today.
I apologise for leaving the Chamber earlier on, Mr Speaker. It was somewhat ironic when I came back. I am now the only SNP Member who has actually got a cheer from Conservative Members in the past two days.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement outlining why his title is not a complete misnomer? The Enterprise Bill was farcical from almost start to finish. On Second Reading, the House was asked to vote on amendments that had not been seen. The Government took an assumed view on the SNP position, which we now know was wrong. A late manuscript amendment was tabled but not taken. Then the Government Minister pleaded with the House to vote with him, because he was not going to implement what was in the Bill. As I say, it was a farce from start to finish. May we have a statement outlining when leadership was shown by the Leader of the House and the Government?
I am sorry, but the only farce around here is the approach the SNP has taken to all of this. SNP Members did not vote against the measure in Committee, but then decided to vote against it later. They tell us that that was for reasons of principle, but we know it was for reasons of opportunism.
May we have a debate on openness and transparency in the disbursal of EU funds to local government? My right hon. Friend may know that this week we had a serious outbreak of Stockholm syndrome in the east of England, as eight local authority leaders backed the EU remain campaign in the pages of the Eastern Daily Press. Is it not important that voters know what level of funding, from all forms of the European Union, has induced this self-interested plea to hand more powers and money to Brussels?
In this country, we have well-established principles of transparency in our political system. In the coming months it will be important that people who have a financial link to the European Union, whichever side of the argument they may be on, make that clear as they make their arguments.