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Business of the House

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 28 April 2016

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 2 May—The House will not be sitting. It is the May Day bank holiday.

Tuesday 3 May—I remind the House that we will be sitting Monday hours, not Tuesday hours. We will be debating a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Housing and Planning Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Wednesday 4 May—Opposition day debate (un-allotted half day). There will be a half-day debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by debate on a motion relating to education funding in London. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 5 May—General debate on the contribution of faith organisations to the voluntary sector in local communities. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 6 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 May will include:

Monday 9 May—Debate on a motion on Government Departments outside London. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by consideration of Lords amendments.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on Monday 9 will be:

Monday 9 May—Debate on an e-petition relating to the Government’s EU referendum leaflet.

Ed Balls! Do we actually have a Government at all? They are all over the place. We all thought that the referendum was a simple question of “EU—in or out?” but this week it got much more complicated, as we learned it was also about “ECHR—in or out?” The Home Secretary is an “in, out”, but the Lord Chancellor is an “out, in”. The Chancellor is an “in, in”, along with the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, but the Leader of the House is an “out, out”. As for me, I am out for in, but that is more of a gay pro-EU kind of thing.

The Health Secretary says he is in his last big job in politics—hurrah!—and I hear that with an impending reshuffle several Ministers have been scouring the jobs market. I have even heard rumours of new government postings to overseas territories being planned. Boris is off to St Helena to cultivate his Napoleon complex and Whitto to the Falklands, and for the Health Secretary there is Inaccessible Island, in the south Atlantic, which is probably where the junior doctors want to send him anyway.

As for the Leader of the House—this is very exciting news—I gather that he is 33:1 to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer and 80:1 to be the next Tory leader, but I have a much better idea. On this day in 1789, as I am sure Members know, Fletcher Christian mutinied on the Bounty. Christian ended up on Pitcairn Island, which is 9,000 miles from here. I can just imagine the Leader of the House as the governor of Pitcairn, dressed in his white linen shorts, his solar topee and his white socks and sandals, lording it over all 56 inhabitants. If he wants, I can put in a word with the Prime Minister for him—because I see that the Prime Minister is trying to advance my career.

Can we have a debate on irresponsible politics? I suspect the Leader of the House might never have heard of Arfon Jones, but he tweeted:

“I think we should have a protest where thousands of us send emails containing the words bomb+terrorist+Iran. That should keep GCHQ quiet.”

Now Arfon might be a stupid crank, but he is also the Plaid Cymru candidate for North Wales police and crime commissioner.

Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the deeply worrying breakdown of the e-borders system on 14 and 15 June last year? We need to know, first: have there been other breakdowns? Were full warnings index checks implemented and, above all, why did the Home Secretary cover this up for so long? The Leader of the House says that we should leave the EU so we can control our borders, but surely the lesson we should learn is that the greatest threat to our borders is, frankly, Tory incompetence.

The Leader of the House says that we should consider Lords amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill on Tuesday. As I walked into Parliament this morning, the police were moving on two homeless people who have been sleeping on the doorstep of this parliamentary palace for the last week. Under the Tories, rough sleeping has doubled and funding for those sleeping rough has halved. We believe that this Bill will make the housing crisis in London even worse. So will this Government ensure, for heaven’s sake, that for every single social housing unit sold off, at least another is built in its place?

On 29 November 2012, the Prime Minister said of the Leveson inquiry that there would be

“a second part to investigate wrongdoing in the press and the police”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 446.]

I listened to the Home Secretary very carefully yesterday. She made an excellent statement, but she also said:

“We have always said that a decision on Leveson 2 will be made when all the investigations have been completed.”—[Official Report, 27 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 1441.]

Well, that is not right. Up until now, the Government position and the Prime Minister’s position has always been that Leveson 2 will start—not might start—as soon as the police and prosecuting authorities have finished their work.

Surely, one of the many lessons we must learn from Hillsborough is that when the relationship between the police and the press gets too close, it corrupts them both. After all, some have argued that the law of libel means there is no need for a strong independent press regulator, but the 96 people whose reputation was dragged through the mud by the police, The Sun and The Spectator could not sue for libel, could they? So surely we need Leveson 2 now more than ever.

As Passover ends on Saturday, let me say again as clearly as I possibly can that anti-Semitism is wrong—full stop, end of story. I am sick and tired of people trying to explain it away—and, yes, I am talking to you, Ken Livingstone. Of course the illegal settlements are wrong and the Palestinians deserve a better deal. Of course, too, rocket attacks on Jewish kibbutzim are wrong, and Hamas and Hezbollah must acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. I was taught to judge people not according to the colour of their skin, their race, their religion, their gender or their sexuality, but according to the strength of their character.

Frankly, it is no better when a senior politician looks at the President of the United States and sees only the colour of his skin and his “part-Kenyan ancestry” or when the Tory candidate for the Mayor of London runs a deliberately racially charged campaign against his Labour opponent. It is profoundly irresponsible, and it offends the fundamental decency of the British people. I hope I speak for all Members when I say that racism and racial prejudice are simply not welcome in our political system or our political parties.

I shall come back to that issue in a few moments, but I of course share most of the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has just raised. Let me deal with other issues first.

I start by wishing you, Mr Speaker, and the shadow Leader of the House a very happy Ed Balls day. I never thought they would come to miss him as much as they apparently do.

I was asked about the European convention on human rights. The hon. Gentleman spoke about in-out policies and out-in policies, but what he did not talk about was all-over-the-place policies, which is the Labour party’s position on this issue. Labour Members do not want prisoners to have the vote, but they do not want to change our human rights laws. They should be smart enough to realise that those two positions are completely incompatible.

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of the Health Secretary’s comment about his last big job in government. What we would remind the hon. Gentleman of is the fact that he does not see his job as his last big job in government, as the Prime Minister wisely reminded us yesterday. The hon. Gentleman spoke of odds on jobs for the future, but I suspect that the odds on his becoming Speaker of this House are longer than the odds on my becoming manager of Liverpool football club.

On the subject of Liverpool football club and the hon. Gentleman’s comments on Hillsborough, I would like to say a couple of things. First, when we were in opposition, I served as a shadow Minister for Liverpool, and I have enormous regard for that city, its people and their resilience. I would like to pay a personal tribute to all the Hillsborough families and all the people in Liverpool who supported them through their long years of struggle. They achieved justice this week.

I also wish to pay a personal tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I thought that what he said in the House yesterday was incredibly moving. It was a fine moment in our parliamentary history, and the right hon. Gentleman deserves enormous credit for what he has done.

The shadow Leader of the House talked about Leveson 2. Let me simply remind him of the Government’s position, which is that we will not move forward until the cases are complete. That is the right thing to do, and we will continue to stick to our position. The hon. Gentleman also made a point about Arfon Jones. Yes, I do know who he is, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the views he has expressed are objectionable. It is my sincere hope that he is not elected as police and crime commissioner in that part of north Wales.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the e-borders programme was supposed to arrive and be put into effect when Labour was in power, but that did not happen, because Labour failed to deliver it. When Labour Members talk to us about what we have done in government, they should bear in mind that they were in power for 13 years, and that they started by dismantling the exit checks at our borders and then completely failed to provide an alternative.

The hon. Gentleman talked about homelessness. Let me just remind him of his party’s record in government. In 13 years, the Labour Government built fewer council houses than we built during the first Parliament in which we were in office.

Let me now return to the question of anti-Semitism, and pay a personal tribute to the hon. Gentleman. When it comes to this issue, his has been a voice of reason, sanity and common sense in the Labour party, and he deserves credit for that. However, I wish that all his colleagues saw things in the same way. What he said about Ken Livingstone was absolutely right. Ken Livingstone’s comments yesterday, suggesting that the matters that were at the heart of yesterday’s controversy were not anti-Semitic, were disgraceful. I do not understand —as, indeed, many Labour Members do not understand—how Ken Livingstone can still be a member of the Labour party today. He should be suspended from the party for the things that he said. I also think, however, that there has been some naivety on the Labour Benches this morning.

The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) said on the “Today” programme that she regarded these events as “trial by Twitter”, and likened what had happened to the tweeting of a picture of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on a zip wire. It is clear that she does not fully understand the gravity of the situation. We heard wise words from the shadow Leader of the House, and I respect him for them, although I profoundly disagree with what he said about my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. He made a powerful point, and, in this regard, he is a beacon of sense in his party; but where is the sense on the rest of the Labour Benches in respect of what is a deeply, deeply serious matter?

A number of my constituents have been victims of what appears to be a financial scam, and Humberside police have referred them to Action Fraud. The contact that they have had with Action Fraud is minimal, and they are very dissatisfied. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the work of Action Fraud?

My hon. Friend has made an important point, and I pay tribute to him for raising this issue in the House. We are, of course, aware that a range of different scams are taking place throughout our society, and that the victims are often vulnerable people. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be here next week, and I hope that my hon. Friend will take advantage of the opportunity to ensure that the issue is on his radar as well.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

Let us forget about Ed Balls day. Today is International Workers Memorial day, when we remember all those who have been killed in the workplace. The slogan for this day is “Remember the dead—fight for the living”. I think that those words are very apt, given that we are currently considering the Trade Union Bill.

Will the Government not simply do the right thing, and accept the unaccompanied child refugees who are currently languishing in a variety of refugee camps in southern Europe? When even the bleeding hearts on the Daily Mail are calling for the Government to accept these wretched children, surely the time has come for even this, the most callous of Governments, to reconsider their position and do the right thing. They will have their chance, for it seems that on 9 May, the Lords amendment will return to the House of Commons. Will the Government look on it positively, and, for the sake of the country and all its people—even the right-wing press—will they do the right thing by these children?

When I was growing up in Scotland, a little announcement was sometimes made during previews of the television programmes that people would see on their analogue sets: “not for viewers in Scotland”. It occurred to me that we could resurrect that announcement and apply it to Prime Minister’s Question Time, because most of the last two sessions have dealt exclusively with the academisation of English schools: not for viewers in Scotland, and not for viewers in most other parts of the United Kingdom. The Leader of the Opposition can raise whatever issues he wants—it is up to him to do that—but perhaps the time has now come to review Prime Minister’s questions to see whether we could make them more inclusive for everyone throughout the United Kingdom, particularly as we now seem to have two Labour parties as well. Perhaps the Leader of the House will support that call.

May we have a debate on the Government’s commitments on defence spending in the Clyde shipyards? I remember only too well some of the things that were said during the independence referendum. I particularly remember a leaflet that went round—it was common currency—that had been designed by the Labour and Tory alliance. The suggestion was that “separation kills shipyards”. It was actually quite a neat little slogan, implying that it would be all boom within the Union and doom and gloom if we secured independence. Of course we now recognise that for the nonsense it was. It is not independence that is killing the shipyards; it is this Union that is killing them slowly and painfully by diminishing the orders and delaying the start of the works. The Scottish people feel duped by all the commitments that were made during the independence referendum, so may we have a full debate so that the Government can explain fully what is going on? We need to ensure that the work is started on time and that all their promises are honoured.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House, has full access to the Prime Minister’s diary, so perhaps he can explain why there will be no prime ministerial visit to Scotland in advance of the Scottish election. In fact, the Prime Minister is probably the last person Ruth Davidson wants to see if she has any ambition, given the likelihood of the Conservatives beating Labour into third place. We would love to see him, however, because every time he appears, the Scottish National party gains an extra two percentage points. Will the Leader of the House encourage his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to come to Scotland? He could even come himself. The more Tories there are in Scotland in advance of the election, the better it will be for the Scottish National party.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great regard for him as a parliamentary colleague, but sometimes his rhetoric lets him down. He describes us as the “most callous of Governments”, but we are providing the second largest amount of aid to all the refugee camps around Syria and doing as much as any nation in the world bar the United States to help the people affected. We are taking 20,000 people not from other European countries but from the refugee camps where they are most vulnerable. He talked about unaccompanied children, but we are taking unaccompanied children not from other EU countries where they are safe and under the control of the Governments of those countries but from the camps where they are vulnerable. Surely that is the sensible, wise, thoughtful and considerate thing to do. We are not saying, “No, we will provide no assistance.” We are providing assistance to those who have not been able to make it to Europe, and that is a policy that we resolutely stand by.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Prime Minister’s questions dealing with education. I would simply remind him that that is a consequence of devolution. This is a United Kingdom Parliament, but it is true that in his constituency, education is a matter not for him but for the Member of the Scottish Parliament. This is one of the differences that we have debated over recent months. The reality is that this is a consequence of the devolutionary settlement that he has championed from the start.

The hon. Gentleman talked about defence spending in the Clyde shipyards. He is absolutely right to suggest that if Scotland were independent now, it would not be getting big orders from the Ministry of Defence. He wants a debate and a chance to vote on these matters; he will soon have an opportunity to vote on whether to remove from Scotland one of the biggest defence facilities in the United Kingdom, on getting rid of the jobs there, and on removing from Scotland what is an important part of its economy as well as an important part of our nation’s defences. When he can explain his position on that in the context of the welfare of Scotland, I will take him seriously on these issues.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the Scottish election, and about the Conservatives in Scotland. I have been to Scotland since the start of the election campaign and I am delighted to see that the Conservatives are moving up in the polls, although I am sure that there is no connection between the two. All of us on this side of the House believe that we have the best leader in Scotland. We believe that she will play a crucial part in Scotland’s affairs over the coming years as people come to realise that the SNP Government in Edinburgh might make a lot of noise but are actually incapable of getting the job done.

On 12 May, the Prime Minister is hosting an anti-corruption summit in London. That has never happened before, and it will have a far-reaching impact. May we have a debate on the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and on our progress towards creating fully open public registers of beneficial ownership information?

That subject is due to be debated in Westminster Hall shortly, but my hon. Friend is right about the role that the Government have played over the past six years—first in coalition, and then on our own. We have delivered more change and progress on such issues than any previous Government, and that is something of which we should be proud.

I thank the Leader of the House for the announcement of the business. With this afternoon’s business, which was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, the day and half-day next week, and the half-day in the following week, we are inching ever closer to the 27 days to which the Backbench Business Committee and Back Benchers are entitled within the parliamentary Session. I thank the Leader of the House for that.

As has been mentioned, today is International Workers Memorial Day, which is commemorated by the TUC and trades councils all around the country, including at a memorial service at noon in Saltwell Park in my constituency of Gateshead. This day, on which we say, “Remember the dead; fight for the living,” is for those who died in industrial accidents or from diseases contracted due to workplace conditions. Will the Leader of the House consider recognising International Workers Memorial Day in the parliamentary calendar in future?

On the subject of International Workers Memorial Day, may I first say that this country is a better place than it was in the past? Representing an area where there have been large industrial accidents in the past, the hon. Gentleman is right not only to recognise the progress that has been made, but to remember those who died before progress was made. None of us would wish to go back to those days. Even though we often debate the complexity of health and safety regulations, I put it on the record that it is not in the interests of anyone in this country, from business owners to workers to those who are not involved at all, to have an environment in which people are at risk in the workplace. When industrial accidents occur, as tragically happened at Didcot power station recently, we all bitterly regret it. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the work that they will do to mark this occasion. Let us never go back to the days when such things were commonplace in this country.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who now dominates the parliamentary calendar, controlling far more of it than the Government, will find an opportunity to recognise this important day and to ensure that Members have the same opportunity in coming years.

Macey, a nine-year-old little girl from my constituency, is not very well at the moment; in fact, I think she was taken into hospital again last night. To make her completely better, she is going to have to go to the United States and the NHS is providing for that. There was a problem, however, because she could not get a passport. She and her mother do not have passports, and it would have taken up to six weeks to get them. Thanks to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) and the personal intervention of the Home Secretary, the passports will now be sorted out tomorrow. Macey asked whether I could thank the House, and the Home Secretary in particular, for that. Perhaps we could have a general debate some time in the future about how the Government can, at times, work together for common sense.

I think my hon. Friend’s words say it all. We wish Macey all the very best in her treatment and a full recovery. The image of this place is often one of political debate and confrontation, but there are decent people on both sides of the House, one of whom is my hon. Friend, working on the behalf of their constituencies and trying to solve problems such as this, where all of us want the right thing to be done.

The Leader of the House will know that Calvin Thomas is retiring today after 26 years’ great service to the House, including 16 years as a Doorkeeper, working in the Special Gallery since 2009. I know Calvin well, in part because we have sometimes been confused due our similar, if different, names. Calvin has been consistently friendly, helpful and charming in carrying out his duties as a valued member of our staff, so may I ask that the Leader of the House conveys the whole House’s thanks to Calvin and wishes him a most happy and well-deserved retirement on our behalf?

The hon. Gentleman has said it eloquently on all our behalves, so I simply echo his words and not only wish Calvin a happy retirement, but express our thanks to the Doorkeepers, who are great servants of the House, treating us all with great courtesy and good humour and performing enormously valuable work for us. We value what they do enormously.

As my right hon. Friend may know, the UK Sepsis Trust has been working for some time with the Health Secretary to establish a public awareness campaign on Sepsis. Sepsis currently claims about 44,000 lives in the UK every year and the symptoms of the disease are still not well recognised. May we have a debate about what could be done to introduce a sepsis-specific public awareness campaign for both children and adults? I believe that such a campaign would have the potential to save the lives of thousands of people every year.

May I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend on the work she is doing in this important area? I am aware that the Health Secretary is taking this issue enormously seriously and has had meetings with those campaigning for the kind of public awareness work that she is talking about, and I am certain he will wish to take that forward. This is a very serious matter and it behoves us, as representatives of our constituents and as members of the Government, to try to look for ways to deal with challenges such as this.

May I ask the Leader of the House to condemn the Labour police and crime commissioner candidate for north Wales, David Taylor, for appallingly callous Twitter comments that can be interpreted by right-thinking people only as mocking Hillsborough families?

There are growing concerns that Government links with Tata and the Warwick Manufacturing Group will result in the sacrifice of heavy-end primary steel production at Port Talbot. Will the Leader of the House press the Business Secretary to make a statement to assure Port Talbot workers that this Government prioritise their future in deeds as well as words, and that all proposals for a UK steel solution will be assessed based on the evidence and with the interests of UK citizens first and foremost?

I can simply assure the hon. Lady that the Government take this matter enormously seriously, and the Business Secretary will be here again next week. The Government have taken an interest in this from the Prime Minister downwards—he has taken a personal interest in what happens at Port Talbot. None of us wants to see Port Talbot disappear; we want to see it continue to make steel. It is in all of our interests that that happens and we will work as hard as we can to make sure it does.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the conduct of the EU referendum campaign thus far? When canvassing in my constituency, I have found that local residents, regardless of their political views, are angered by the intervention of the outgoing President in our domestic affairs. They are also furious about £9 million being spent by the Government on leaflets and they think the Treasury booklet making forecasts for 2030 is crazy, given that, just like weather forecasters, these people cannot even get their projections right for the next day.

My hon. Friend is a vigorous campaigner on these matters and feels passionately about them. As I announced earlier, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on this on 9 May, when he will have the opportunity to express himself as succinctly as he wishes about the booklet that went through people’s doors. The interesting question is whether the factors that he has described will and are having an impact on the polling relating to the campaign.

We have heard from the shadow Leader of the House this morning that a British Airways computer system designed to stop the movement of terrorists crashed for 48 hours last year. Furthermore, I have learned that the British Airways outsourcing programme threatens 800 skilled workers who are working to protect our country. May we therefore have a debate to discuss the role of outsourcing in this event and to stop BA threatening our national security in a bid to save money?

The Government take our national security enormously seriously. While the failure the hon. Lady talks about took place, border control checks remained in place—as they always do and will. People’s passports are checked when they arrive in this country. The e-borders system is mostly about trying to ensure that we check people when they leave the country, which has never happened previously and is very important; we had hoped it would happen many years ago but, for various reasons, it never came to pass under the previous Government.

May we have a debate in Government time on the implications for the United Kingdom of the five Presidents’ report on economic and monetary union? As my right hon. Friend will be aware, under the guise of single market legislation the proposals are to take control over insolvency law, company law and property rights. Do the Government not have a duty to tell those in financial services and the City about the consequences of remaining in the European Union?

The five Presidents’ report, a major document published by the European Union, sets out the vision of those who lead its institutions for the next 10 years. It has provoked—and will continue to provoke—a lively debate about the future direction of this country and of the European Union as a whole. If my right hon. Friend feels that the matter should be debated in the House, I should say that I suspect that the Backbench Business Committee still has time available for a debate in the next couple of weeks. I suspect that this subject might attract fairly widespread participation.

Last week, during business questions, I raised an issue that is very serious in my constituency: the 20% increase in the use of food banks over the past year. That increase is precisely due to benefit delays and, even more criminally, benefit sanctions. I mentioned my constituent Paul who has been sanctioned for three whole years. The Leader of the House told me that that could happen only if three reasonable job offers had been turned down.

I want to return to this issue today to ask another question. First of all, let me point out that Paul is on £36 a week. His three-year sanction was due to his filling out his job logbook incorrectly, turning up 10 minutes late after having problems getting a bus, and expressing dissatisfaction after waiting for an hour at the jobcentre. He has therefore been living on £36 a week for three whole years. Will the Leader of the House consider, as a matter of urgency, a debate on the issue of sanctions, as an increasing number of people are having to depend on the charity of others?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes back and looks very closely at the circumstances of the case. I personally introduced the three-year sanction for people who, on three separate occasions, turn down a reasonable job offer—in other words, people who refuse to work. It remains my view to this day that if people who can work refuse to work and refuse to work again and again, they should not be entitled to carry on receiving support from the benefit system.

Last week came the really welcome news that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education had safeguarded the qualifications and teaching of community languages. I will list those languages for the benefit of the House: Gujarati, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Japanese, Arabic, modern Greek, modern and biblical Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese and Turkish. That means that we have safeguarded the qualifications and the teaching of those vital languages in the modern world so that everyone can communicate. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State was not able to regale the House with the good news at questions this week. Something such as this should not be left to wither on the vine. Surely we should have a statement on that position, so that we can ensure that everyone understands that, from 2018, those languages are safeguarded in our education system.

Of course that is enormously important. Although we have the benefit in this country of having the nearest thing that there is to an international language in the English language, it is right and proper that, as a cosmopolitan society, we champion languages that not only preserve the culture of the different communities that live here, but open up enormous opportunities for Britain around the world. My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I have no doubt that he will look to the different channels available to him to ensure that these matters are debated and explored more in this House.

Last week, I spoke in the national living wage debate to highlight the potential injustice of the decision to deny the living wage to those under 25. A young person could start work at the age of 18 and be in a role for seven years before being paid the same as their older and potentially less experienced colleagues. Can we have a debate in Government time to give Members the opportunity to persuade the Government to right that wrong and extend the living wage to the under-25s?

It has been the policy of this Government, and indeed of the previous Government, to differentiate in respect of minimum and living wages when it comes to younger workers and older workers precisely because when a young worker enters the workplace the employer is making an investment decision as well as a recruitment decision. The employer takes responsibility for training and developing that young person.

We did not want to see—indeed the hon. Lady’s party previously did not want this—a situation in which it was unattractive to hire a young worker, and we stand by that principle to this day. Of course many young people who start on the national living wage will move up the pay scale either through success in their own workplace or by moving to a different job. I still think it is important to do everything that we can to incentivise employers to take on young people.

As we are talking about the dodgy behaviour of police and crime commissioner candidates, may I say to the Leader of the House that a number of folk standing for election next week are ex-coppers trading on their record as police officers? Does he agree that the Government should bring forward proposals to ensure that ex-police officers standing to be PCCs make their police service record available for public scrutiny?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am aware of allegations about the Labour PCC candidate in Humberside. If the stories alleged about that candidate are true, he is unfit for public office, and it is a matter of public interest that the truth should be known before election day.

Back in 1847 when Lord John Russell was Prime Minister, our taxi licensing laws were developed. We now have a problem in the north-west of England, where one local authority is handing out hackney carriage taxi licences like sweeties. The problem is that with a hackney licence a person can operate as a private hire vehicle driver anywhere in the country, so there are now taxis from that local authority operating as far afield as Bristol without appropriate checks and balances. May we have an urgent debate on how we can bring our taxi licensing regime up to date?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I was not aware of the situation that he describes. I will make sure that it is drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport who I am sure, if he was also unaware of it, will want to look at the matter very seriously.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has threatened to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for Stoke Gifford parish council in my constituency to charge for an organised sporting event that attracts several hundred people to quite a small park every weekend. Given that the Government have been a champion of localism and passed the Localism Act 2011 in the previous Parliament, that is a tad hypocritical. May we have a debate on the freedom of local councils to charge organisers who run sporting events in their parks?

I am not aware of the proposal that my hon. Friend refers to, but I understand his concern and I can see why he would raise it as a matter of importance in the House today. I will draw that issue to the attention of the Secretary of State. Clearly, we want to encourage local authorities to support, develop and underpin events that bring communities together. My hon. Friend makes an important point about his own constituency; I will make sure that we get a proper response for him.

This week has seen another dispute between the other place and this Chamber. I am sure that instead of leading to unaccompanied child refugees being brought into the country, it will lead to more cronies being appointed to the House of Lords. The Leader of the House has said previously that there is no appetite for proper reform. Where is the public appetite for even more cronies and donors than the current 800, and where is the manifesto commitment to continue stuffing the other place? May we have a statement on the matter?

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues insult many of the very deserving and effective people who operate in the other place—people who represent the disability lobby, who have serious disabilities themselves; people who represent the arts world, who have long track records in the arts; and people who represent the business world, who have long track records in business. The expertise in the other place brings something significant to our parliamentary system, even though sometimes the two Houses disagree over issues, as we do currently.

Given the delays that a number of my constituents have faced in receiving their basic farm payments this year, may we have a debate on the process for issuing payments to farmers whose land crosses the English-Welsh border or the English-Scottish border so that such delays are not repeated next year? Those farmers always appear to be at the back of the queue.

That remains an issue. I have spoken to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about it. It is true that across the country the vast majority of payments have been made, but I hear the point that my hon. Friend makes. I will ensure that the Secretary of State is aware of his concerns. She will be here next week and will be able to respond to him fully.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the emerging crisis at the yard on the Clyde tasked with building the Type 26 frigate. A late start to the project and uncertainty over the future workflow threatens hundreds of jobs at Govan and Scotstoun. May we therefore have a debate in Government time to allow Members to discuss in depth the future of the Clyde shipbuilding industry and give a voice to those workers who are unsure of their future?

The Clyde shipbuilding industry has a strong future for two reasons—first, because it remains part of the United Kingdom and therefore benefits from United Kingdom defence spending, and secondly, because this Government have committed to the 2% spending level as part of our commitment to NATO. If those things were not happening, the future, of course, would be much more uncertain, but I am convinced that the Clyde shipyards have a strong future. They are an essential part of our defence and we need to ensure that they continue to flourish in the years to come.

May we have a statement on the treatment by the House of public petitions that attract a large number of signatures? As the Leader of the House knows, there will be a debate on 9 May about the petition to stop the Government spending public money on pro-remain propaganda in the EU referendum. As of a few moments ago, 217,072 people had signed the petition, but the debate on it, like others of a similar nature, will be held in Westminster Hall, where no vote can be held. Should it not be possible for the Backbench Business Committee to hold such debates in the main Chamber? Otherwise, petitioners will be disappointed to find that, although their concerns are debated, the House is unable to vote on them.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which relates to not only this subject but others. I would encourage discourse between the two hon. Members who chair the Petitions Committee and the Backbench Business Committee so that they can see how, when a petition reaches a certain number of signatures and clearly commands overwhelming public support, a debate can be brought to the Floor of the House.

For what it is worth, perhaps I can say from the Chair that I think that would be a very, very good thing. I would not dream of taking sides on the issues, but in terms of the link between Parliament and the people, it is very important that it be not just tangible but meaningful, and there is real scope for progress there, so I very much appreciate what the Leader of the House has said.

On the topic of democracy and having votes, the House voted 278 to 0 last week on a motion to ask the Government to bring to the UN Security Council the issue of the genocide against Christians, Yazidis and others. What will the Leader of the House do to bring the Government to account and to ensure they respect the democracy of this place by doing what they have been asked to do and taking these crimes to the UN Security Council so that action is taken?

To reiterate, the Government’s position is one of shock, horror and condemnation regarding what has taken place—that is an unreserved statement. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is taking careful note of the view of the House, as expressed in the debate the hon. Gentleman refers to.

I recently had cause to write to the President of the European Commission to ask what role he saw it playing in our EU referendum. I have had no answer, but given that the Commission spent £560 million directly promoting itself in 2014 and that it interfered in the Irish referendum in 2009, may we have a statement from the Government on whether European Commission interference in this referendum is welcome? As I understand it, the Electoral Commission has no powers whatever to prevent the EU from being an unwelcome active participant in our democratic process.

I can indeed confirm that that is the case. However, I am sure there will be different opinions in the House on whether such an intervention would be helpful or unhelpful to either side of the argument.

A former Minister, who spoke from the Dispatch Box less than a year ago, is now employed by industry in China—presumably using his insider knowledge—whose firms are in competition with British firms. Some 70% of former senior civil servants who worked on income tax are now working in the tax avoidance industry. When can we debate the need to euthanise the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which should be a fierce Rottweiler watchdog, but which is nothing but a poodle without teeth or claws, bark or bite, and is totally and utterly useless?

I am not sure if my memory is correct, Mr Speaker —you may correct me otherwise—but if I remember rightly, the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman referred was set up by the party of which he is part. I remind him that it was a senior member of his own party who described himself after leaving office, and while in pursuit of commercial opportunities, as a “taxi for hire”.

I have had the privilege of visiting the Rugby young carers project, which is based at Hill Street youth and community centre in my constituency, under the inspirational leadership of Annette Collier. It is for amazing young people who play a part in the care of family members. I was deeply concerned to learn that Warwickshire’s young carers project faces losing funding that will affect those under eight years old, as that will have an impact in Rugby. May we have a debate about the importance of properly supporting these young people?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the most invisible groups of heroes in our society are our young carers. Until we come across them at first hand, none of us really understands how a child can be left, in effect, as a full-time or semi-full-time carer of a parent. I have a young carers group in my constituency that does enormously valuable work. His local group clearly plays a really important role, and I know that he will do everything he can to make sure that its future is guaranteed because it is important to the communities he represents.

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the discriminatory language that has been used in the Chamber recently. The Education Secretary recently called us—the Opposition—“deaf”, using deafness as a pejorative term, which is unacceptable. Yesterday the Prime Minister used the word “poncey”, which many people take to be homophobic. May we have a statement about our duty under the Equality Act 2010, which includes the language that we use in this Chamber?

I think that people will hear in words what they want to hear. The one thing that nobody could accuse my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of is homophobia. The man who brought to this House and saw through same-sex marriage is not somebody who could ever be described as homophobic.

This morning there has been a very thorough Committee hearing on the UK steel industry, but will the Leader of the House organise a statement next week so that all Members are able to put questions to Ministers on behalf of our steel towns? Despite the commercial sensitivities, it is very important that we and our constituents know exactly what is happening and what progress is being made to secure the future of the industry.

My hon. Friend and Opposition Members who represent steel towns have done a really important job in recent weeks of reminding us of the importance of this industry. I commend him, and them, for that. I am happy to say that I can lay on just such an opportunity, because next week we have Business, Innovation and Skills questions and he will be able to put his point to the Secretary of State then.

Hot off the press this morning is early-day motion 1432.

[That this House notes last week’s by-election in the House of Lords, which saw Viscount Thurso elected to the other place following the sad death of Lord Avebury; further notes the size of the electorate was only three; calls into question the legitimacy of this by-election; believes now is the time for the abolition of the remaining 92 hereditary peers’ right to vote and speak in the House of Lords; and agrees to bring forward the second stage of reform following the House of Lords Reform Act 1999.]

That backs up the Bill I introduced on Tuesday to abolish the right of hereditary peers to vote and to speak in the House of Lords. Given that there are currently the same number of Members on the Government Front Bench as voted in the election of a hereditary peer last week, is it not time that we had a debate on ending this farcical process?

What always slightly puzzles me is that although Labour was in power for 13 years and brought through House of Lords reform, it did not address the issue on which Labour Members are calling for change. I think we all admit that there was something curiously quaint about the Liberal Democrat electorate of three, but of course one has to cut them a bit of slack because there are so few of them these days. My view is that there are pressing issues facing this country, and dealing with the Lib Dem electorate of three is probably not at the top of the list.

May we have a debate on the London licensed taxi trade? Black cab drivers in my constituency offer a lot more to London and their community than Uber does.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, in a free market London taxi drivers do face challenges, but I believe they are the best in the world and bring something of immense value to our city. I do not believe that in anything that any of us does in politics, at this level or at a London level, would we ever wish to jeopardise their future.

Given statements made in the Back-Bench business debate in this House a couple of weeks ago, I presume that last week the Government received for security review the Chilcot report. Will the Leader of the House update us on progress and when we can expect a debate in the House?

The report is now going through what I hope are the final processes before publication. As I have said to this House before, there is no Conservative Member who would not wish to see the report out and published. We were not in power at the time, so the issues do not affect us. We want to see the truth out there and we need to learn lessons about the Chilcot process for the future, in the event of similar inquiries needing to take place. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would like to see it published and out of the way so that people know what is in it.

May we have a debate on making it easier for metropolitan councils to switch to all-out elections or elections by halves so that councils such as Dudley can cut the cost of local politics?

That is an important issue and, of course, local councils have the freedom to do it: it is for them to decide whether they have elections in thirds, halves or individually. My personal view is that it is a real hike for a local council to be doing elections every year and I prefer all-out elections, but it is, of course, a matter for local decision making.

Every year on the Sunday closest to St George’s day, Enfield scouts and guides organise and take part in a St George’s day parade through Enfield town. I usually accompany them and it is a fantastic day. I pay tribute to the scouts and the guides, particularly to all the volunteer leaders for the good job they do in enabling scouts and guides to happen every week for our young people. I am very concerned that youth services are severely at risk from the cuts that the Government are passing down to local authorities, so may we have a debate in Government time to consider the problem, which is affecting our young people and their families?

May I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Lady for what she said about anti-Semitism in her party? The comments that she and the shadow Leader of the House have made are to their credit.

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Lady about the role played by the scouts and the guides, but what they represent is the best of our voluntary sector. Sometimes we depend too much on Government and the public sector for the best work. That work is happening without any Government involvement, as it has done over the century since the scouts and guides movements were formed, and long may that continue.

The Jewish community has a history with Scotland going back beyond 200 years. I know that Members of this House will want to send a message that we value the Jewish community and the contribution it has made not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom. With that in mind, and given this week’s events, may we have a debate on the valuable contribution that the Jewish community has made to civil society in this country and, equally important, on how we root out anti-Semitism in this country’s political discourse?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, whose sentiments will be shared across most of this House. We have heard some important contributions on the subject today. It might also be appropriate to say that this is not just about anti-Semitism; it is also about Islamophobia and prejudice against other groups in our society. There is no place in our society for racial prejudice. It should not be tolerated and we should unreservedly condemn it whenever we find it.

In the light of the changes to the railways suggested by the Hendy and Shaw reports, may we have a debate on how community groups such as mine in Bury can drive forward local ownership of railway assets that are to be disposed of, so that local people get a say in what happens in their locality?

That is a very important point. We have to be careful about disposing of rail assets, for two reasons, one of which my hon. Friend has just given. The other is that local authorities often have a vision to bring back into use transport corridors for the future, but if they are simply sold off for development, that option is taken away. I am proud that, over the past 15 years, this country has seen the reopening of railway lines and rail corridors. A new service was recently opened from Oxford to London Marylebone and it runs across previously disused lines that have been brought back into operation under Chiltern Railways. My hon. Friend makes an important point, because had it been decided to dispose of some of those facilities, that route would not have been possible. In reopening the line from Oxford to Cambridge, we are already seeing that there are barriers as a result of a previous development. My hon. Friend makes an important point about her own constituency, but it is one that should be learned right across the country.

Last month in business questions I raised the case of my constituent who took the drug sodium valproate, which is an effective treatment for epilepsy but which left her children with birth defects. The Leader of the House recommended that I try to raise the matter at Health questions, but unfortunately I was not successful. Does he have any advice for me on how I can raise the issue of sodium valproate and birth defects?

The Minister for Community and Social Care has just arrived in the Chamber, so he probably heard what the hon. Lady said. I will raise the issue directly with the Department of Health for her at the end of this sitting, and I will ask the appropriate Minister to respond to her. She makes an important point, and we have to be enormously careful about it. There are many drugs that make a big difference to our society, but where unexpected side effects cause the kinds of problems she refers to, it is right and proper that that is looked at enormously carefully.

I am most anxious that the Minister for Community and Social Care should have the opportunity to regain his breath. He is a very welcome arrival. [Interruption.] He has just run the marathon; that might be why he is out of breath.

May we have a debate on the crazy situation I face in Bexhill and Battle? Our local authority is one of only 17 in which parking enforcement is still the responsibility of the police, who have stated that they can no longer do it because—fairly enough—they are required to look after policing matters. The local authority refuses to take it on. The situation is driving our residents and business people absolutely mad. Would it be possible to have a debate on whether the Government should step in and end this madness?

Before I answer my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the Minister for Community and Social Care, who has just arrived, and to all the Members of this House who ran the marathon last weekend and emerged intact, with medals around their necks—

And in the past, but I will celebrate this year, if I may. The hon. Gentleman always wants to jump in and have his say, but I want to commend all those who ran this year for the valuable work that they have done to raise funds for charity and raise awareness of charities. They deserve a collective pat on the back from people in this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) is right. It is an extraordinary position where nobody wants to enforce parking, and I can understand the frustration of local businesses. I urge him simply to redouble the pressure on the local authority. If he has enough people behind him on what he wants to achieve, in the end, the local authority will have to give way.

I join the Leader of the House in congratulating the Minister for Community and Social Care on running the marathon again and congratulating all other participants in the marathon. What the Leader of the House has said is both right and greatly appreciated by colleagues.

We now come to the first of our two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. The precise timings have yet to be determined, but there is a very sharp imbalance in favour of the first debate, as against the second. A lot more people want to take part in this debate, and that will influence the judgment of the Chair as to how long this debate should be allowed to run. In short, there will be an allocation of time for the second debate, but it will, very properly, be a much lesser allocation of time.