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Business of the House

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 19 May 2016

Mr Speaker, you will notice a degree of commonality in the business for next week:

Monday 23 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on defending public services.

Tuesday 24 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Europe, human rights and keeping people safe at home and abroad.

Wednesday 25 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on education, skills and training.

Thursday 26 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on economy and work.

Friday 27 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 June will include:

Monday 6 June—Remaining stages of a Bill. It will be one of the two main carry-over Bills, and we will confirm which one early next week.

I should also inform the House that the statement on Syria, which we unfortunately had to move at the last moment, just before Prorogation, will take place alongside the foreign affairs debate next Tuesday.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 June will be:

Monday 6 June—Debate on an e-petition relating to restricting the use of fireworks.

Mr Speaker, if only the rules allowed me to take some interventions.

I am sure the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of those on EgyptAir flight 804, which has disappeared over the Mediterranean. People will want to know what has happened, so I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to tell us and to ensure that the House is updated on any developments, not least because, as I understand it, there is at least one Briton on the flight.

I am delighted that the Leader of the House made a sort of apology for not giving us the statement on Syria which he went out of his way to promise the last time we were here. I note that he says that it will be alongside the foreign affairs debate, but will it be separate?

The Leader of the House has nodded, so we can move on.

Can we also have a statement—another statement—from the Foreign Secretary explaining why he wanted to have General Sir Richard Shirreff court-martialled? Leaving aside the Foreign Secretary’s incompetence for not realising that Shirreff reported to NATO and not to him, surely the general should have been congratulated, not threatened, for stating that slashing troop numbers was a “hell of a gamble”.

I love a bit of dressing up just as much as any other defrocked vicar—almost as much as you, in fact, Mr Speaker—but I did think that yesterday was a case of all fur coat and knickerbockers. There were so many ironies. Her Majesty announced that the Government will legislate for driverless cars and space ports—and arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. She announced that the Government intend to tackle poverty—to a room full of barons and countesses dressed in ermine and tiaras. Even the door handles on the royal coach were decorated with 24 diamonds and 130 sapphires.

The Government also announced that they will put the National Citizen Service, which operates just six weeks a year, on a statutory footing, while the nation’s youth service, which works all year round, has been slashed, losing more than 2,000 youth workers, closing 350 youth centres and cutting 41,000 youth service places between 2012 and 2014 alone. Why not put the youth service on a statutory footing too?

That really is what is so truly awful about yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. It was pretending to be a one nation speech; it was all dressed up as such. It was a candy-floss speech if ever there was one—all air and sugar, whipped up with just a hint of pink in an attempt to make us all believe that compassionate conservatism is still alive. But the truth is that the Chancellor puts a stake through the heart of compassionate conservatism every time he stands at the Dispatch Box.

Yes, let us reform the Prison Service, but we should not dare to pretend that the horrendous state of our prisons—with the rate of suicide, murder and other non-natural deaths at a record high; with daily acts of violence; and with drugs freely available throughout our prisons—has nothing to do with this Government’s assault on the Prison Service budget and the loss of 7,000 prison officers since 2010, largely on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch. Yes, let us improve adoption, but we should not pretend that social services budgets in the poorest local authorities in the land are not now so stretched that children are being put at further risk every single day of the week.

The Government can say until they are blue in the face that they want to tackle some of the deepest social problems in society, but when they have pared public services to the bone, inflicted the toughest cuts on the poorest communities and systematically undermined the very concept of public service, all their blandishments are nothing but a sugar coating for a cyanide pill.

I do not know what time you got up yesterday morning, Mr Speaker, so I am not sure whether you were up early enough to catch the Leader of the House on the “Today” programme, when he tried to defend the former Mayor of London. I particularly loved the assertion, repeated four times, that Boris is a historian and he was making a historian’s comment, as though that somehow meant that he could get away with saying anything he wanted. Where on earth do I start? The former Mayor has a habit of making up so-called historical facts. My favourite was his assertion that King Edward II enjoyed a reign of dissolution with his catamite, Piers Gaveston, at Edward’s recently discovered 14th century palace. I do not doubt that Gaveston liked a bit of royal rumpy-pumpy, but since he was beheaded fully 12 years before the palace was built, it is pretty unlikely that he did so there. My only explanation for that so-called fact from the former Mayor of London is that he was a member of the Piers Gaveston society at Oxford with the Prime Minister, where they got used to porkies.

Order. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that if the Leader of the House was doing his business on the “Today” programme between 6 and 7 am, I was almost certainly in the swimming pool at the time. Talking of beheading, the hon. Gentleman is in some danger of beheading himself, because he has already had five minutes. I think he is in his last sentence.

I am certainly in my last paragraph, Mr Speaker.

Finally, I gather that the Leader of the House is off to the United States of America next week. He is such a close friend and ally of Mr Trump that I am sure Trump tower is preparing the ticker-tape reception for him now. They have a habit in the United States of America of playing appropriate music when important politicians and international statesmen, such as the Leader of the House, appear on stage. The President always gets “Hail to the Chief”. I have had a word with the American ambassador, and I gather that they have got Yakety Sax from “The Benny Hill Show” ready for the Leader of the House.

First of all, on a very serious point, all our good wishes and sympathies go to the families of the passengers on the EgyptAir plane, who must be beside themselves with worry about what has happened. It is a deeply worrying situation. Clearly, if it turns out to be something more than an accident, we will want to discuss the matter in the House, but it is important that we await the outcome of the initial investigations and the search for the plane. All our hearts go out to everyone involved.

On the Syria statement, I reiterate that it will be a separate statement, but we have put it alongside the foreign affairs debate to ensure that those who are most concerned about the issue are likely to be present.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is such an old misery. Yesterday was Britain at its finest: strong institutions, great tradition—things that make this great city one of the finest, if not the finest, in the world—a monarch we should be proud of and a programme for government that fulfils the commitments we made to the electorate at last year’s election which, I remind Labour Members, they lost and we won. We set out 21 new Government Bills. The programme for government completes most of the manifesto on which we won the election. It helps us to achieve our financial targets to balance our nation’s books and complete the sorting out of the mess that we inherited from Labour. It includes measures on children in care and on prisons. It helps to boost our digital economy. It helps to strengthen our ability to combat terrorism.

The hon. Gentleman talks about compassionate conservatism. Let me remind him of three things. First, in the past 12 months we have introduced the national living wage. Secondly, in the past 12 months claimant count unemployment has been at its lowest level since the 1970s. Thirdly, there has been a fall of more than 750,000 in the number of workless households—a change that will make a transformational difference to many of our most deprived communities. Those achievements were made under a Conservative Government, sorting out the mess that we inherited.

The hon. Gentleman started by talking about taking interventions, and here I have some sympathy with him. He did better this morning than the leader of the Labour party did yesterday. I noticed that the shadow Leader of the House yesterday spent 41 minutes trying to look at the shoes of Conservative Members rather than looking at the leader of his party making such an awful speech.

I am not sure whether the shadow Leader of the House raised any other questions. I was grappling with trying to understand what on earth he was going on about in the middle of his contribution. Let me be clear that we are at the start of a Session in which we will deliver before the House measures that will make a transformational difference to this country; measures that will make a difference to our most deprived communities; and measures that will make this country more secure economically and more secure against the national threats that we face.

In the week that the YMCA has named its latest building the Chris Bryant centre—after the famous Chris Bryant, not this one—we should pause for a moment to praise the shadow Leader of the House. He is a great champion of equalities in this place, and he and I share the ambition of wanting more women to be elected to office. I am delighted to see that his constituency has done its bit by electing a woman to represent it in Cardiff, and who knows whether we will see a further step in that direction in this House in 2020. While we are on the subject of the shadow Leader of the House, may I congratulate him on stepping in to save the local calendar competition in Rhondda following the defeat of its founder, Leighton Andrews, in the Welsh elections? Who knows, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have his very own calendar girl for the month of May 2020 in the Rhondda—Leanne Wood.

The controversial HS2 project has again been in the media, with talk of further cost overruns and potential cuts to the scope of the project. The announcement of the finalised route for phase 2 will not be made until at least this September—a year late—exacerbating the blight on my constituents. May we have a statement to update the House on the progress of HS2 so that we can know exactly how big the white elephant has grown?

I do understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. His constituency is one of those that faces challenges from HS2, but also in my view benefits from it in the way it will open up parts of our economy, improve infrastructure and make a difference to jobs and business prospects. I understand the concerns he has raised. We have a debate on transport today, but I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Transport is aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend has raised.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We, too, pass on our best wishes to all those caught up in the Egyptian airline event. Let us hope that there can be some sort of positive resolution to it all.

What a few weeks we are going to have. We will have to spend most of our time discussing the anaemic, tortured stuff in the Queen’s Speech, when all Government Members want to do is knock lumps out of each other over the EU referendum. The debate in the Tory party is hardly reaching Churchillian standards of discourse. According to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) on the radio this morning, it is apparently all about insults, personal attacks and tabloid smears.

My hon. Friends are already considering our amendments to the driverless cars Bill. Most of them involve locking this Tory Government into the said vehicle and heading it towards the nearest cliff edge. The Scotland bit in the Queen’s Speech yesterday got 22 words, which is actually quite good given what we usually get when we are included in all this. It may be a one nation Queen’s Speech, but one of those nations certainly is not Scotland.

We still have not secured from this Government a statement on all the now quite explosive evidence in the Conservative party submission to the Electoral Commission about the conflict between national and local spending during the last election campaign. Fourteen police forces are now investigating this alleged electoral fraud, yet we have not heard one peep from the Government. They know what they were up to, because a book has been serialised in The Daily Telegraph called, “Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election”, which says:

“The buses were critical to moving party troops from where they lived to where the swing voters could be found. The central party paid for all the buses and trains, as well as hotels and hostels.”

We must now have an urgent statement from the Government on what they will actually do about this.

Lastly, may we have a debate on world war two? It would allow senior Labour and Conservative Members to indulge their new passion of talking about Hitler. We could hear about all the dodgy histories and spurious examples, and it might take minds off the raging civil wars within the Labour party and within the Conservative party, which we are immensely enjoying.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the EgyptAir plane. We are all waiting with hope, but also with trepidation, to hear what has happened.

I am really not sure that this is the week for Scottish National party Members to talk about stories in the tabloids. I have read the news, and I have to say that there must be something in the water in Scotland. As you will remember, Mr Speaker, I told the House a few months ago that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) had written to me about recess dates because he wanted to put the ram in with the ewes. At that time, I thought he was talking about sheep.

The Queen’s Speech was a powerful package for this country. It will deliver change for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom. It included important measures for our economy and our security. The SNP cannot have it both ways. It cannot, on the one hand, demand and secure far greater powers for the Government in Edinburgh and the nation of Scotland, and then turn around and complain that it has not got a huge range of measures in the Queen’s Speech. We will look at how the SNP uses those powers. Yesterday, its leader in Westminster said yet again that the SNP wanted more powers for Scotland. Perhaps it might like to use the powers it has in the first place.

On the subject of the Scottish Parliament and Administration, I congratulate the First Minister on her re-election. I also congratulate Ruth Davidson, our Scottish leader, on depriving the Scottish National party of its majority in the Scottish Parliament. We will be an effective Unionist opposition to the SNP, and we will hold it to account to use the powers it has been given wisely in the interests of Scotland. If it does not do so, we will then defeat it.

The hon. Gentleman raised election issues. Those are matters for the appropriate authorities: they are not matters for the Government.

May we have a debate on the BBC and its relationship with the European Union, especially in relation to its coverage of the EU? It was revealed in Heat Street magazine this week that the BBC received £2.1 million from the European Union between April 2013 and September 2015. That is on top of at least £141 million in soft loans from the European Investment Bank. On the bank’s website, it says:

“The EIB is the European Union’s bank. We work closely with other EU institutions to implement EU policy.”

That is the only basis on which to get one of those loans. Surely those matters should be declared by the BBC whenever it covers the EU referendum. May we have a debate on that and perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us whether he agrees that the BBC should have to declare that interest during its EU referendum coverage?

My hon. Friend makes his point with his customary effectiveness. I have no doubt that the BBC will be listening carefully to his comments and, if nothing else, the view he has put forward will ensure that it goes even further out of its way to try to make sure that it is impartial in the referendum campaign.

Can the Leader of the House explain the difference—perhaps we could have a statement—between the 1975 referendum, during which Ministers disagreed without bitterness, important arguments were made and personal attacks were not made, and the present campaign, in which Cabinet and other members of the Government and their supporters have such bitterness, strife and rancour between them over the question of remain or leave? It is not very civilised and totally unlike 1975.

Ironically, I wrote a short piece for City A.M. this morning about social reform, alongside my deputy from a different side of the argument. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are still best friends, unlike most people in the Labour party, who appear to be preparing to knife their leader in the back.

May we have a debate on the important report on antimicrobial resistance that came out this morning? It was initiated by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, and it is vital. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) have spoken eloquently on the subject, but we need an opportunity to discuss the terrifying prospect of increasing antimicrobial resistance as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point indeed. We spar on political matters, but this issue affects all of us and should be of great concern to our country and to the world as whole. It is a serious issue. Of course, we will have a debate on Monday on public services and that might be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to discuss the matter in the House with the Secretary of State. If not, it is an issue that we should certainly look to return to.

In the past month, there have been 11 serious stabbings involving young people in my borough. There have been 114 incidents of serious youth violence in Lambeth and more than 2,300 across London. This is a crisis situation and it is nationwide. It has been occurring for several months now, yet it did not merit a single mention by the Prime Minister in his remarks in this House yesterday on the forthcoming agenda of this Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on whether the Government will agree to what I and many Members of this House, on both sides, have been calling for—a proper, independent, cross-party commission on this issue—because right now, to many of my constituents, it does not look like this Government care about what is happening on our streets?

First, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the issue. I disagree with him that we have not taken it seriously. We have sought both to tighten the law—I did some of that when I was Justice Secretary—and to engage young people. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included our plans to extend and solidify the National Citizen Service, which we believe will help to engage young people who might otherwise find themselves in the wrong place in our society. I pay tribute to the work done by the voluntary sector; some fantastic projects in London seek to engage young people and take them away from this. We will come back to this issue, and I will make sure the Home Secretary is aware of the request the hon. Gentleman has made. I can assure him that we take it very seriously indeed.

As you know, Mr Speaker, I am the chairman of the all-party group on south west rail. Earlier this month, the Peninsula Rail Task Force published its initial proposals, which are open for public consultation until 27 May. After that, may we have a debate so that south-west Members of Parliament can make sure that the Department for Transport understands exactly what we want in the south-west?

Obviously, I am well aware of the challenge we face with rail in the south-west. We had the difficult experience a couple of years ago of the line being washed away and having an extended period when it was closed. I know that the Department for Transport takes this enormously seriously, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing to make sure it is kept firmly on the desks of Ministers. I remind him that after this morning’s statement there will be an opportunity for him to raise the issue in the debate on transport, and I advise him to do just that.

Last Thursday, after Parliament had been prorogued, the Government published the peer review reports on the deaths of 49 social security claimants who had died between 2012 and 2014—this was after Ministers had denied that they had any records on people whose deaths had been linked to the social security system. Given the gravity of this matter and given that this is the second time data have been released on the deaths of social security claimants while Parliament has been in recess, when will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to this House on what action has been taken to address the recommendations in these reports?

The hon. Lady will have the opportunity to raise this issue next Thursday, when there will be a debate on work and welfare matters in this House. I am sure she will take the opportunity to do that.

I was pleased to see a higher education Bill announced in yesterday’s Gracious Speech. It will enable more universities to be built, increase the participation of those from deprived families, and increase diversity reporting. Can my right hon. Friend update the House as to when the technical consultation on the teaching excellence framework will be announced, particularly for the universities sector? What will be the timescales for the debate, aside from on Wednesday of next week?

I do not know the dates of the technical consultation, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the higher education Bill will be brought before this House very shortly. It will be one of the earliest Bills to be debated in this Session, and I have no doubt that he will want to make his points in that discussion.

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary next week on the plight of the Brain family from Dingwall, who are ably represented in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and who are threatened with deportation? This young family came to Scotland five years ago under the fresh talent initiative. They have contributed massively, of their money and their efforts, to the community. They are self-supporting and contribute to community efforts—I include in that their young, seven-year-old son Lachlan, who has known no other home but Dingwall and whose first language is Scots Gaelic. Does the Leader of the House feel no shame at all that his party’s narrow obsession with immigration statistics could result in a huge injustice being perpetrated against this young family and a huge disservice being committed against the people of Scotland?

First, I do not know the circumstance of the case, but I will draw the right hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of the Home Secretary this morning, after the end of this session. However, it is important to remember that, if people come here for a temporary period, it does not automatically mean that they will have the right to stay here at the end of that period. That is important to remember when we are dealing with these cases.

I wish urgently to raise the case of Gloria Calib, a 38-year-old student from Lahore, who proposes to leave her family to do her viva and complete her PhD at the London School of Theology. Her visa has been turned down despite the backing of a former bishop in this country. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement on visa processes for genuine academic candidates, so that these issues can be resolved? There seems to be a pattern of middle east Christians being put into bad circumstances and not evaluated very well.

Again, I cannot comment on the individual case because I do not know the circumstance. What I can say is that we do not have Home Office questions for a little while yet, because we had them relatively recently, so the best thing for me to do is to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to the case that my hon. Friend has raised and ask the Home Office to deal with him directly on it.

The Leader of the House has said that the Government’s intention is to make the UK more economically secure. In the light of that, can we have a debate in this House on farm-gate prices, particularly in relation to the regional differentials between farm-gate prices in Northern Ireland and those in Britain, because farmers in Northern Ireland are being placed at a severe financial disadvantage?

Again, I do not know enough about the detail of the case. Perhaps the hon. Lady could write to me, and I will ensure that she gets a proper response, but I do not have detailed knowledge of the farm-gate price situation in Northern Ireland.

On the frontline of the security of this nation are our armed police officers, who are often put in very dangerous circumstances and have to make a decision in a split second. If they are forced to make that decision, they then face months of scrutiny over whether that decision, taken in a split second, was right or wrong. Can we have a debate on the process of analysing those decisions and the scrutiny under which those officers are put?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are in the process of recruiting more than 1,000 new armed officers as an essential part of the strategy that we now have to combat the risk of terrorism in this country. If an incident does take place involving an armed officer, it is important to ensure that, for the protection of that officer as much as anything else, it is properly checked and investigated. We must not get ourselves into a position where people do not want to be armed officers and are not willing to act because they are concerned about the consequences for themselves.

The Department of Health is due to publish soon the NHS health action plan on hearing loss. Does the Leader of the House know whether there is a date for when that might happen, and whether it will be in the form of a written or an oral statement? A number of us will be bidding for Adjournment debate time to discuss the matter. It is a good news story for the 3 million hard of hearing and deaf people in the UK. A lot of great work is being done in the Department and by the NHS, and it would be really good to see the Government leading from the front on this.

I know that the Government are working on that. I do not have an exact date yet, but I am sure that they will want to update the House fully. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that there will be an oral statement, but I suspect that, when it happens, there will be a desire by the Department of Health to inform the House as widely as possible. I am sure that it is the kind of issue that may well end up being debated either in an Adjournment debate or in a Backbench Business Committee debate once the new Chair is elected. Let me pass on my commiserations to the former—and potentially future—Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for the events of the past couple of weeks. Who knows, he might bounce back quickly.

The humanitarian crisis in north-east Syria is becoming worse, with international aid unable to reach the region. Food prices have increased severalfold. A kilo of tomatoes is 800 Syrian pounds and a kilo of sugar is 1,000 Syrian pounds. The average wage is a 10th of what is needed to buy food for a family of five people. Although ISIS, or Daesh, is on the back foot, it still controls the only road access to the region. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on this vital issue?

Order. Before the Leader of the House responds, may I say to the former Chair of the Backbench Business Committee that I was cheering for Newcastle on Sunday, and how magnificent it was to see them beat Tottenham 5-1, therefore ensuring that Arsenal finished above Tottenham on the last day of the season.

Mr Speaker, I think you have just made yourself enormously popular with a large part of north London and enormously unpopular with another part of north London, but I suspect you knew that anyway.

We will have a statement on the situation in Syria on Tuesday. If in the eyes of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) certain issues have not been covered satisfactorily, he will be able to raise them in the foreign affairs debate that follows. There will be an opportunity for him to raise these immensely serious issues. They are often difficult for us to address from here, but I remind him that we are the second largest international donor to the different groups that are trying to provide humanitarian and other support to those who have been affected by the Syrian war.

As football seems to be the theme, I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to congratulate Partick Thistle on its 140th anniversary, as noted in early-day motion 001 of this Session.

[That this House congratulates Partick Thistle Football Club on its 140th anniversary; notes that the teams first recorded match was played at Overnewton Park, Partick, on 19 February 1876, and that since 1909 the club has been based at Firhill Stadium in the Maryhill area of Glasgow; welcomes the economic, social and cultural contribution the club has made to the city throughout its history; further notes, in particular, its commitment to promoting a family-friendly atmosphere at its games and its outreach work to develop new generations of players and fans; commends the team for securing a fourth successive year in the top flight of Scottish football; notes the popularity of the team's distinctive mascot Kingsley, designed by Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley; recognises that 2016 also marks 95 years since the team won the Scottish Cup in 1921, and 45 years since the club's famous League Cup victory in 1971; and is nevertheless confident that the mighty Jags will not keep its supporters waiting too much longer for more silverware.]

When will the Government publish their response to the Procedure Committee’s report on private Members’ Bills, and when will we have a debate and a vote on the recommendations in that report?

I am happy to congratulate Partick Thistle on their anniversary. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is looking forward to a successful season next season, and will probably be in the stands on many Saturdays.

We will respond to the Procedure Committee’s report on private Members’ Bills in the appropriate timeframe, which I think is by 12 June.

According to the Samaritans, 4,722 people took their life in England in 2015. While this trend is in a 30-year decline, in recent years it has worryingly been rising again to the highest level since 2004. May we have a debate on the implementation of the Government’s suicide prevention strategy for England and how the Government might assist further the prevention of suicides?

This is, of course, a serious issue. We have seen an upward trend in recent times, particularly among young men. Suicide prevention is a focus for the Government. It is one reason why we are trying to put more resource into providing proper mental health support. Mental health is a crucial area of our health service, and something that we must do as well as we can. The Health Secretary will be here on Monday for the public services debate, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to bring up the subject of mental health then so that it remains very much in the sights of the Department of Health.

I was, shall we say, answering a call of nature, Mr Speaker. Forgive me, but I was not here. I am tempted to rise because I was at St James Park on Sunday for the calamity.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can we find time for a debate about garden waste collection? In the borough of Harrow, the council has decided to charge residents £40 for six months of collections, and the collections are not even being made. I am receiving complaints on a daily basis about this, and it is time that we raised the issue in the House so that hon. Members on both sides can comment on the calamity of some of the rubbish collections across this country.

I can well understand how frustrating it is for my hon. Friend and his constituents, but with his experience as deputy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, he is better placed than almost anyone to introduce such a debate, and I am sure that he will do so.

British soldiers are concerned about the safety of the new Virtus body armour they have been issued with. If they fall to the ground, they cannot get up, and they cannot get their armour on in the dark. This is incredibly dangerous. The Ministry of Defence says that it is working with the supplier to make improvements, but why issue kit in the first place that puts soldiers’ safety in jeopardy? May we have a statement on how MOD systems have failed and, more important, how the procurement systems can be changed to stop this happening again?

The hon. Lady raises an obviously serious matter. As I said earlier, apart from the Syria statement, there will be a debate on defence matters on Tuesday afternoon and she may wish to bring the issue to the attention of Ministers then.

I find myself in the curious position of echoing the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but I assure the House that it is entirely coincidental. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on the BBC White Paper? The urgent question and the statement took place before publication last week and there remains considerable public disquiet about the Government’s ideological motives, as well as the Government’s ability to pack the unitary board with friends and placemen who could have a direct influence on the editorial policy of the BBC.

Let us be clear: the proposed unitary board of the BBC is not responsible for editorial policy; the director-general remains responsible for editorial policy. The influence of the board is after broadcast, not before it, which is the way it has been in the past with the BBC Trust and the way it should continue. The elements of the White Paper that require legislation will be debated in this House and there will be plenty of opportunities to question the Secretary of State before we get anywhere near the formal charter renewal.

My local authority, Cheshire West and Chester Council, with Warrington Borough Council and Cheshire East Council, is locked in talks with the Department for Communities and Local Government about a devolution deal for the area. I welcome devolution in principle, but there seems to be a strange insistence on elected mayors. The area I am talking about is so broad and large, bordered by north Wales on one side and Greater Manchester on the other, that I question the suitability of an elected mayor. May we have a debate on the necessity of elected mayors in areas outside city regions?

The whole point of the devolution package is that we are offering additional powers to local communities, but we need them to come to use with a credible governance structure for managing those additional powers. A variety of deals are being done across the country. Not all are identical and not all involve the same structures for local government; the one thing they have in common is that to go ahead, we have to have confidence that they can deliver what is necessary. I am sure that is no different in Cheshire.

I have a constituent, Elaine, who has an hereditary muscle-wasting paraplegia condition. Despite being on disability living allowance since she was five years old, Elaine, now in her early 20s, did not qualify for a personal independence payment. That in itself is outrageous, but on looking into the wider issue we find that half of all PIP awards are for three years or less, meaning that people with degenerative muscle diseases undergo continual reassessments, which is not only cruel but a waste of money. Can we have a proper debate on the impact of PIP and the medical assessments in the roll-out of the system?

Clearly cases involving such diseases are immensely serious and immensely problematic for those affected, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that in Scotland these are devolved matters, so perhaps this is the wrong forum for such a debate.