Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 619: debated on Thursday 12 January 2017

The business for the next week is as follows:

Monday 16 January—Second Reading of the National Citizen Service Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 17 January—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Impact of leaving the EU on the rural economy”, followed by a debate entitled “Impact of Department for Work and Pensions policies on low income households”. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party.

Wednesday 18 January—General debate on exiting the EU and security, law enforcement and criminal justice.

Thursday 19 January—Debate on a motion relating to Kashmir, followed by a general debate on Holocaust Memorial Day 2017. Both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 20 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 January will include:

Monday 23 January—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.

Tuesday 24 January—Consideration of Lords amendments followed by a motion relating to the charter for budget responsibility.

Wednesday 25 January—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 26 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 27 January— Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 19 January will be:

Thursday 19 January—General debate on decommissioning of in vitro fertilisation and other NHS fertility services.

I thank the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business, although I am concerned that it appears we are not going to rise for the summer recess. We still do not have a date. I warn everyone to be prepared to work through the summer. I wish Members and staff a very happy new year. We are going to need all the wisdom and strength we can get for the task ahead.

Following on from your remarks, Mr Speaker, hon. Members have raised with me the issue of extending the time for Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions. Never before has the reasonable voice of Britain been so needed in international affairs. Questions could just be extended by an hour. We have excellent diplomats with institutional memory who can make a big difference in the world.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to two reports from the Procedure Committee that may have got lost in the Christmas revelry? The press release for the report published on 18 October had the headline: “Procedure Committee rails ‘against handouts and talked out’ Private Member’s Bill”. Sadly, there was a further incident on Friday 16 December, in relation to a private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), when one speech took one hour and 17 minutes. The vote, with 133 Ayes to 2 Noes, showed the will of the House to be clearly in favour of the Bill. It cannot be right, therefore, that Members who wanted to speak in favour of the Bill could not do so.

One of the report’s recommendations is that you, Mr Speaker, invoke Standing Order 47, which would put a time limit on the consideration of private Members’ Bills. Since I have been in the House, this Standing Order has been used in every single debate apart from on Fridays. In a letter to the Clerk of the House, the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), indicates that this change may need a resolution of the House. A further report of the Procedure Committee, on 14 December 2016, recommended the use of Welsh at Westminster in the Welsh Grand Committee. This was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones), who indicated to me that it is cheaper to do that here. The Official Reporters say there would be no problem with that. Rather than eat into Back-Bench time, could those two resolutions be taken together in Government time?

We need clarification on the waiting time target. Is it for urgent or non-urgent cases? Earlier this week on a radio programme, the Secretary of State for Health said that Simons Stevens is running the NHS. May we have confirmation that it is the Secretary of State who is running the NHS? We had the bizarre scene of the Secretary of State running down the road. I thought he was doing his 30 minutes’ activity as required by the Health Department, but he then jumped into his car. Having served on the Health Committee for five years, I know about the chaos of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In an unprecedented move, the passage of the Bill was paused by the then Prime Minister. The shadow Secretary of State for Health has written to the Secretary of State for Health with 25 questions. Will the Leader of the House provide those answers within the target time?

Returning to Brexit, a report before Christmas from the other place, “Brexit: financial services”, confirmed that London was ranked as the leading financial services sector in the world and called for a transition period to protect jobs. Page 3, paragraph 2, in the summary of a report by the Environmental Audit Committee, states:

“The Prime Minister has indicated that the UK is likely to leave the single European market and the Customs Union.”

I had not understood that to be settled Government policy. That is why we need these proper debates. The EAC calls for a new environmental protection Act while negotiations are ongoing and a list of zombie legislation—legislation transposed into British law but not updated. It is possible that the confusion has arisen because the Departments have proliferated like amoebae. It cannot be right that, according to figures from the House of Commons Library in December 2016, the Department for Exiting the European Union has only 300 staff, while the Department for International Trade has 2,709 staff. DExEU is getting £94 million a year, while £26 million is going to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DIT, but DIT has taken staff from the FCO. We need clarity.

We, Her Majesty’s Opposition, have a proposal. In view of the judgment about to be handed down by the Supreme Court on the triggering of article 50 at the end of March, the Leader of the House should consider a review of what each Department does, because the British public will never forgive this Government if they see people dying on trolleys while vanity Departments are set up to keep hon. Members inside the tent rather than outside it. The task before us is enormous, but we need to remember the reasons we joined the EU and why there was a vote to leave. That way, all views can be respected and we can negotiate from a position that protects jobs, workers’ rights, the environment and our security. We need to do what is best for the UK, not base our approach on the rhetoric of the campaign and a clueless Government.

I join the hon. Lady in wishing you, Mr Speaker, and House of Commons staff a happy new year.

The hon. Lady mentioned the duration of Foreign Office questions. I accept that there is a great deal of demand from Members across the House to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his team, but in fairness I think she will acknowledge that there have also been several opportunities to question Foreign Office Ministers when they have volunteered oral statements, responded to urgent questions, spoken at Backbench Business Committee debates here, as is happening again later today and next week, on Kashmir, and in Westminster Hall. It has always been the case, since I have been in the House, that the allocation of time for questions between different Departments has been a matter for discussion within the usual channels. If the Opposition want to put forward ideas, obviously the Government will look at them, but in fairness one has to say that if time were added to Foreign Office questions, it would have to be subtracted from some other House business, and that needs to be weighed in the balance too.

On the Procedure Committee, the very last thing I would accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) of is ranting. Whether I have agreed with him or not on particular issues, he has always expressed his views in a civilised manner, and the Government will respond to the Committee’s report in the way we do to other Select Committee reports.

The hon. Lady made various points about exiting the EU. On article 50 and the changes within Whitehall, we must not underestimate the reality that the decision the electorate took in the referendum represented a profound and far-reaching change to the policies pursued by successive Governments and to the character of the UK’s international relationships, which for half a century have been built very much around our membership—whether aspiring to it or operating within it—of the EU. It seems perfectly reasonable that, in those circumstances, there should be a reconfiguration of resources and Departments in Whitehall to deal with the complex task of handling the negotiations that lie before us. It is not just the Department for Exiting the European Union that is involved. Many Departments throughout the Government are also involved, at ministerial and official level. On the question of the single market and the customs union, let me repeat what the Prime Minister has often said: one of the core objectives of our negotiation will be to achieve the best possible freedom for British companies to continue to operate within, and trade with, the single European market.

The hon. Lady’s request for an early reply to the questions asked by her hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) will obviously have been noted by the Ministers concerned, and I will ensure that it is properly reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. As for waiting time targets, the Secretary of State made very clear during yesterday’s debate that we continued to be committed to the four-hour target, and that we took pride in it.

It is worth noting that despite the pressures being experienced this winter, NHS staff, through their immense professionalism and hard work, have been treating record numbers of patients at A&E departments in hospitals throughout the United Kingdom. It is also the case, however, that NHS England’s director of acute care has estimated that about 30% of the people who currently present themselves at A&E departments really ought to be seen elsewhere in the NHS, or might even benefit from self-treatment at home. It seems sensible for us to think actively—in terms of national policy but also, critically, in terms of local NHS organisations—about how we can provide alternative sources of advice and routes to treatment for people who do not actually need specific A&E services.

The Government must be applauded for making it a manifesto promise to leave the environment in a better state than the one in which we found it. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the environment, on the potential opportunities presented to us to become world leaders on the issue, and on the technologies related to it—for example, the tidal lagoon technology that is mentioned in the press this morning? If we are to deliver more for less, increasing productivity and resilience in line with our industrial strategy, the environment must become a cornerstone of our social and economic thinking.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot offer an early debate in Government time, although she may find that this is a subject in which the Backbench Business Committee takes an interest; alternatively, there may be an opportunity for a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall. However, I think that the Government will want to pay close attention to the report that has been published today by our former colleague Charles Hendry. I hope the House will welcome the news that last year was the first year on record in which more electricity in this country was generated from renewables than from coal: that was a good step forward.

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

I wish you, Mr Speaker, all hon. Members, and all the staff who serve us so well a happy new year. It is a new year in which there is now a maximum of 10 weeks before the Government trigger article 50, as is their intention, but we still do not have a Scooby about what type of article 50 and Brexit plan they have in mind for us. The only Government who have attempted to come up with any Brexit solution are the Scottish Government, who are endeavouring to stay in line with the views of the people of Scotland. Will the Leader of the House tell us what type of debates we shall have on the triggering of article 50, and will he confirm that, regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, the House will have a vote and a say on what will be the biggest single decision that the country will undertake?

After yesterday’s extraordinary press conference in the United States and what might or might not have happened in that Russian hotel room—I do not want to focus on that—may we have a debate on fake news in this country? I remember the days before fake news was cool, when we were told weapons of mass destruction could reach the United Kingdom within 45 minutes. We are also told by some news organisations that this Government are competent and know what they are going to be doing in terms of Brexit. So may we have a debate about fake news in this country?

Can the Leader of the House tell us what exactly is going on with English votes for English laws, because it seems that nobody wants it anymore? We had another English Legislative Grand Committee on Monday. The bells went on, the House was adjourned, the bells went on again, the House was back in session—the mace went down, the mace went up—and not one word was said. This is now beginning to embarrass this House; this is now beginning to make this House look extremely foolish. When will this bizarre and unnecessary practice end?

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, if the EVEL rules are operating in an uncontroversial and consensual manner, that is something the entire House ought to welcome. If that means the Scottish National party is accommodating itself to the need for English Members to have the final say on laws relating to England which in Scotland relate to policies devolved to the Scottish Parliament, that is a good thing.

The hon. Gentleman asked about article 50. The Prime Minister has said that the Government will publish a document setting out our negotiating objectives before we come to trigger article 50 later this year. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister also intends to make a speech on this subject in the next few weeks. Clearly the character of any parliamentary proceedings on article 50 will depend to some extent on the Supreme Court judgment.

On the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the media, clearly what is said in the United States is a matter for the people of the United States. While all of us from time to time have reasons to complain about the character or accuracy of various news reports or articles in the press, that is a fact of life in a free society, and I would always want to err on the side of saying that there should be many and discordant voices without the state interfering in what is said by either broadcast or written media. That is the better way to proceed, and the sort of attempts we sometimes have to intimidate individual journalists, as we saw shamefully in the closing weeks of the referendum campaign in Scotland in 2014, when individual journalists were singled out for attack, is not something in which any Member of the House should take pride.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently raised the prospect of the European Court of Justice requiring everyone who uses a vehicle to have insurance, including, for example, householders who mow their lawns on ride-on mowers. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we can prevent this absurd requirement from being brought into UK legislation?

As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, this issue derives from the Vnuk judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport are actively involved in the negotiations about the response to this, and I encourage my hon. Friend to make his representations in particular to Transport Ministers, who will be in the frontline of trying to make sure that that judgment is implemented in a way that causes as few difficulties as possible for the users of those vehicles.

On behalf of the Backbench Business Committee I should like to wish you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House a very happy new year.

I thank the Leader of the House for advertising the wares of the Committee when he advises right hon. and hon. Members of their opportunity to apply to us for debates. May I also remind Members to look at the calendar and think ahead? Time-sensitive debates can be very important. For example, we have a debate next week on Holocaust Memorial Day, in the week before the memorial day itself. If anyone would like a debate on a particular time-sensitive subject, will they please make an application to the Committee in good time?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his new year wishes and his kind remarks. It is good news that there is now greater awareness across the House of the role of the Backbench Business Committee, and if that can lead to more timely debates and debates on subjects in which electors are interested but which might not be the subject of legislation, that can only be a good thing.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has secured election to the Women and Equalities Committee—although he was the only candidate, so his election was not very burdensome. But he should not worry; he will never be overlooked. We will get to him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did take my place on that Committee, so there is obviously something going on here.

Air pollution, standing traffic and unpredictable journey times cause stress and have an impact on productivity, on jobs and on the good health of UK plc as well as on us humans. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on critical infrastructure that can benefit business and communities? An example is the Chickenhall link road, which will be a game-changer for the Solent area and for Southampton airport. We should look at business and communities in a holistic way.

I think pretty well every Member of the House would agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes. That is why the Chancellor’s inclusion in his autumn statement of £23 billion of expenditure on infrastructure, including transport infrastructure and broadband, is so important.

When may we have a debate on early-day motion 852?

[That this House congratulates the Welsh Government on the introduction of presumed consent for organ donation in Wales; notes that 39 lives have been saved in the past year; is concerned that the UK has one of the lowest rates of organ donation consent in Europe; notes the UK target to increase organ donation consent rates to 80 per cent by 2020; and further notes the model successes of presumed consent in Wales which could be replicated across the UK to increase numbers of organs available for donation.]

The motion draws attention to the huge success of the presumed consent to organ transplant in Wales. May I also urge the Government to support the private Member’s Bill that will be presented on Monday that calls for the advantages of presumed consent to be spread to the rest of the United Kingdom? We now know that this is a practical law that is popular with the public and saves many lives.

I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but the private Member’s Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers will provide an opportunity for further debate on the subject. There might also be opportunities for a debate through the Backbench Business Committee or in Westminster Hall.

In considering its budgets for next year, Labour-led North East Lincolnshire Council is considering the closure of Cleethorpes library, a much-loved local facility. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the value of libraries to local communities?

My hon. Friend might like to seek an Adjournment debate on the issue of Cleethorpes library. I am sure that he and his constituents will be urging the council to look seriously at its priorities and at how to ensure that library services can continue to be provided to the people of Cleethorpes. The provision of library services is clearly the objective that must be sustained.

I hope the Leader of the House agrees that future generations of British people will be very unforgiving if this generation of politicians allows a catastrophic failure to damage or destroy this House in any way, in the knowledge that we did nothing about it now. Will he update the House on when he intends to timetable a debate on the Joint Committee’s recommendations for refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster?

The hon. Gentleman served on the Joint Committee that made that recommendation. I hope that we can bring this to a debate and get a decision as soon as possible.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for highlighting the fact that my nomination for membership of the Women and Equalities Committee was so popular that nobody wanted to oppose me.

May we have a debate on the outrageous plans of Jockey Club Racecourses to close Kempton Park racecourse? If Jockey Club Racecourses is not about the protection of racecourses and the heritage of British racing, Lord knows what on earth it is about. If the closure had been proposed by Arena Racing Company, members of the Jockey Club would have been the first to complain, particularly given that Kempton Park is a profitable racecourse. May we have a debate to find out what this House can do to stop these outrageous plans, which will be a hammer blow to national hunt racing in this country and will concrete over a huge swathe of the area’s greenbelt, too?

As my hon. Friend will understand, this site is ultimately a matter for the Jockey Club, on the one hand—the Jockey Club has a royal charter that obliges it to act for the long-term good of British racing—and the local planning authorities, on the other, but I completely understand his point. I understand not only the importance of Kempton Park to the horseracing industry but the importance of horseracing both as a source of great pleasure to millions of British people but as an industry for this country. Whatever decisions are ultimately taken about Kempton Park, I hope that we will continue to ensure that the horseracing industry thrives, generates jobs and continues to bring great enjoyment and pleasure to so many people.

I will endeavour to behave on this occasion, Mr Speaker. Well over a year ago I told the House that there is not a single NHS dentist available in my constituency and that the incidence of child tooth decay is five times the national average. Indeed, I understand that my constituency is one of the worst in the country, if not the worst, for dentist provision. I further raised the issue in a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), on 7 November 2016, and I have heard absolutely nothing, despite his promises. Can the Leader of the House advise the House on why the Government do not appear to care about the teeth of people in the Dewsbury constituency?

The hon. Lady says that she had a meeting a few weeks ago, before Christmas, with the Minister concerned, but I will ask the Department of Health to follow up in writing on the outcome of the meeting.

As we all know, our country is about to go into its most important negotiations in decades, with consequences for generations to come, yet the three big issues—these issues divide within parties, not just across the House—of the single market, free movement and the customs union have still not been debated in this place. Some think that that verges on being disgraceful. Will the Leader of the House please now assure the House that we will debate those issues, and not only for the obvious reasons but in order to bring together everybody in this country, however they voted in the referendum—as the Prime Minister quite properly said in her new year’s message that she seeks to do—so that we get the very best deal for everybody and for as long as we possibly can?

There will of course be further debates, both general debates on exiting the European Union and others on that matter, as we approach the decision on article 50 and, I am very confident, in the months that follow that. My hon. Friend might also like to know, although this will not satisfy her demand for a debate, that in the next fortnight we will have both Home Office questions, which would cover the free movement issue, and questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on 26 January.

May we have a debate on what constitutes a crisis in accident and emergency in the national health service? The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary refuse to accept that there is a crisis, but the Welsh Tories say that there is a crisis in A&E in Wales, and the Health Secretary says that the English figures are better than those for Wales but fails to point out that, on the basis of what was released this morning, the Scottish figures are 5% better than those in England. May we have that debate on the definition of what represents “a crisis” before the Government fiddle the figures in their response to patients suffering?

We have had both a statement and a lengthy exchange of questions to and answers from the Health Secretary on Monday, and then we had a full day’s debate in the Labour party’s time yesterday on this subject, when all these issues were thoroughly aired. I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought not to be too complacent about the situation in Scotland, given that the latest figures I have seen show that NHS Scotland was meeting only one of eight key targets and that one in 12 hospital bed days in Scotland were being lost because of delayed discharges.

In wishing happy new year to the Leader of the House, may I say that I hope 2017 is as good for the United Kingdom as 2016 was? In relation to business next week or perhaps the week after—or perhaps even the week after that—will he guarantee that when the Supreme Court makes its decision a Minister will come to the House to give a statement? Will he also agree that no prior comment will be made to the media before this House is informed of what the Government are thinking?

We do not yet know the timing of the Supreme Court decision, which makes it slightly difficult for me to give the firm assurance that my hon. Friend wants. Let there be no doubt: the Government will want to come—and I suspect, Mr Speaker, that you will insist that the Government come—to Parliament at the earliest opportunity to explain their response to the judgment.

First, may I wish you a happy Kiss a Ginger Day, Mr Speaker? [Laughter.] I am sure you can look it up!

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) rightly raised a serious question about the Committee report, which was produced 18 weeks ago, on the future of the Palace of Westminster. It is now becoming irresponsible that we have not yet had a debate, because a fire in one of the 98 risers in this building would spread very rapidly; if asbestos in any part of this building were discovered it could lead to the closing of this building immediately and indefinitely; and any problem with the 1880s sewerage at the bottom of the building could also close it immediately. Will the Leader of the House therefore make sure that we get on with this immediately, because we are running unnecessary costs and unnecessary risks?

The hon. Gentleman summarises the points that were made at much greater length in the Committee’s report about the very real challenges in managing risks that there are with the Palace of Westminster building. As I said to the hon. Member for North Antrim, I would hope that we can have a debate as soon as possible.

This Kiss a Ginger activity is probably perfectly lawful but I have no plans to partake of it myself. It strikes me as a very rum business altogether; as colleagues can probably tell, I have not the slightest idea about what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) was prating, so the matter had to be Googled for me.

Yesterday, the European Commission took the retrograde decision to restore GSP plus—generalised system of preferences plus—trade status to Sri Lanka. The Commission withdrew that status in 2010 because of concerns about human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan Government. Despite that Government not yet complying with United Nations Human Rights Council resolution 31, and a damning report from the UN Committee Against Torture, the decision has been made. It has still to go through the European Parliament, but may we have a debate in this House to consider the European Commission’s bad decision, which I know is a matter of concern to Members from both sides of the House?

I encourage my hon. Friend to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for that debate. I am sure he will acknowledge that the British Government have always been in the front rank of those pressing not only for an end to human rights abuses under the previous Sri Lankan Government, but subsequently for reconciliation and peace-building in Sri Lanka. That was symbolised by the visit by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, to Jaffna and the north of Sri Lanka during the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference a year or so ago. The British Government’s support for reconciliation and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka is real and continuing.

Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to all those who contribute to and work in food banks—such as The Gate in Alloa and Broke Not Broken in Kinross in my constituency—throughout the country, particularly over the Christmas period when demand was so high? May we please have a debate in Government time about the worrying and increasing rise in the use of food banks, which all evidence suggests is a direct result of the Government’s attitude to and policies in respect of social security?

I agree that we should pay tribute to those who organise and work in food banks. Only since 2010 have Department for Work and Pensions offices been formally encouraged to refer to food banks people in a family crisis and in urgent need; previously, that was forbidden. People use food banks for complex reasons. First, if the hon. Lady looks at the figures she will see that the number of people receiving the key benefits who are subject to a sanction in any one month is very small, and there is not a neat relationship between that and the use of food banks. Secondly, I wish she would acknowledge that the Government’s decision to establish and then increase the national living wage has led to the biggest pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in this country on record.

Order. May I gently point out to the House that a further 33 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye? Colleagues know that my normal practice is to facilitate everyone who wishes to take part in the business question, and I am keen to sustain that record, but they should be aware that the debate on Yemen is heavily subscribed and some priority has also to be attached to that. In short, we need short questions and short answers if I am not to leave colleagues disappointed.

May we have a debate on Government support for UK businesses to export? There has been a welcome increase in UK export finance facilities, but we lag behind other competitors on further support to get companies into markets and support for them when they are already there.

It is particularly important that we encourage more small and medium-sized businesses to take part in exports—they often do so through supply chains, rather than exporting directly. I shall flag up my hon. Friend’s focus on the subject to the Secretary of State for International Trade, although I suspect the Backbench Business Committee is the best way forward for him.

Greater Manchester police are losing control of Rochdale town centre. Not enough priority is being given to policing begging, street drinking, antisocial behaviour and shoplifting. Surely that warrants a debate in Parliament.

Those are clearly matters primarily for the area commander, the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner in the hon. Gentleman’s area, but he might be lucky in securing a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate to make his points in more detail.

In Labour’s la-la land, nuclear energy has no part to play in the UK’s nuclear energy mix. In fact, the Labour leader said:

“I say no nuclear power, decommission the stations we’ve got”.

May we have a debate sometime soon to establish which is the party of nuclear energy, as nuclear energy creates wealth, jobs and prosperity in Weaver Vale and elsewhere in the north-west of England?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that nuclear energy plays a critical role in ensuring that we have the right energy mix in the future. We have a key area for the nuclear sector in the north-west. Places such as Sellafield and Springfields provide high-quality, well-paid jobs in areas where they are much needed.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the cost of telephone calls to UK Government Departments, particularly in relation to yesterday’s revelation that the Home Office spousal visa helpline is £1.37 a minute over and above network charges? Is it not time that this telephone tax is ended by this Government?

I am not aware of the details, but I will ask the relevant Home Office Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Next week, I will be speaking at an event about energy switching, or should I say lack of energy switching because the majority of consumers do not switch their energy supplier and get a poor deal. May we have a debate about what can be done to engage consumers, such as those in Cannock Chase, in this market?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Record numbers of people have been switching suppliers, but she is right to say that most people stick with the one that they happen to have. It is something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking at very closely indeed to see what more can be done.

Women face intimidation on a daily basis as they enter the Mattock Lane Marie Stopes pregnancy clinic from protesters who weaponise rosary beads and use gruesome images of foetuses. The police say that existing public order legislation is insufficient to keep the pavement a safe space. Can we have a statement from the Government on establishing buffer zones so that women can be protected in their hour of need, as the group Sister Supporter advocates?

Any situation that involves balancing the right of people to assemble and demonstrate peacefully and the right of other people to go about their lawful business will, inevitably, require local police judgment of some sort. There are questions to the Home Secretary on Monday 23 January, which will give the hon. Lady the opportunity to put that point directly to Ministers.

I am saddened to have to inform the House that my constituent, Rolf Noskwith, passed away last week. Not only was Mr Noskwith a distinguished businessman and generous community benefactor, but he worked alongside Alan Turing as a cryptographer at Bletchley Park. His death reminds us that we are rapidly losing the last of this heroic generation. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in expressing our condolences to his widow and family. Will my right hon. Friend investigate the possibility of establishing a permanent memorial here in Parliament to commemorate the pioneering work of the men and women of Bletchley, whose vital contribution undoubtedly shortened the war by at least two years?

I join my hon. Friend in expressing condolences to Mr Noskwith’s family and friends and to salute the vital and secret work that he and so many other men and women did at Bletchley Park during the second world war. They really are the unsung heroes of that period. My hon. Friend may wish to write formally to the House of Commons Commission about a memorial. She will be reassured to know that the Bletchley Park Trust has reconfigured the museum at Bletchley Park so that it is much more of a memorial than it has sometimes been in the past to the heroic work of those men and women.

I understand that my private Member’s Bill is mentioned regularly in the House in business questions and that the Leader of the House’s response is that he is waiting for me to come forward with some costs. We are talking about a private Member’s Bill, which means that there is only me. The Leader of the House has an array of civil servants who are willing and able to provide those figures for him. However, if he wants to let me know in detail what exactly he wants, he can write to me, and I will be happy to provide it—I will try on my own—for him and his civil servants. He must accept that this is the will of this House and that Members, from every part of this country and from right across this House, gave up their Friday surgeries to be in the Chamber when the Bill was debated. Will he stop trying to prevent the passage of this Bill and let me know when he will put it into Committee and come forward with a money resolution?

The hon. Lady is sincere, as always, in speaking up for her private Member’s Bill, but it is also the case that the Bill was published, I think, only two or three days before it was introduced, and there was no memorandum of costs associated with it. Frankly, it is also the case—[Interruption.] She is sincere in her championship. The Bill is not exactly a disinterested initiative, but a deliberate effort to try to ensure that we have very unequal-sized constituencies. As I have said before, the Government are continuing to consider the financial implications of her Bill.

May we please have a debate on immigration policy? That would give the Government the opportunity to explain what progress they are making on meeting the immigration target. Of course, it would give Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition an opportunity to explain what their policy is.

Yes; my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to pursue Home Office Ministers on Monday 23 January. I fear that, even during a whole day’s debate, getting a reliable policy out of the Leader of the Opposition might be beyond us.

First, I wish the Leader of the House a happy new year and welcome the Hendry report on tidal energy.

May we have a debate in Government time on transmission lines? Low-carbon 21st-century energy comes from wind, civil nuclear and tidal power situated in coastal areas, which are sensitive. However, National Grid proposes only one system: pylons, which are 1950s technology. We want 21st-century technology for 21st-century low-carbon energy. May we have a debate on National Grid and its role in disregarding the will of many communities?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that I know matters to a lot of people living in rural areas in particular, and coastal areas too. I would encourage him to seek a Westminster Hall debate. There are also questions next week to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which might give him an additional peg on which to hang those arguments.

On Saturday, I took part in the Corby park run, which is brilliantly organised week in, week out by Paul Humphreys and his brilliant team. They are also fundraising for a new defibrillator in West Glebe Park. May we have a debate next week to recognise the enormous community contribution that park runs make across the country, and also to say a huge thank you to all those who give up their free time to organise them?

I cannot offer a debate in Government time. My hon. Friend is right to salute the importance of the park run movement as an entirely voluntary body that has energised, in more than one sense, thousands of people around the country to get more active and fitter in the way that every doctor would recommend. Also, as he says of Corby, it has helped to raise significant sums of money for charities.

Teachers at Whitehaven Academy in west Cumbria have been striking over the crumbling buildings and meagre resources. In 2010, the Government scrapped the Building Schools for the Future programme, under which Whitehaven Academy was to get significant funding. Netherhall and Millom schools are also waiting for funding. Will the Secretary of State for Education make a statement to the House about exactly how the Government are going to sort out this mess so that Cumbrian children can have the education they deserve?

I will ask the Education Secretary or one of her team to write to the hon. Lady about that particular issue. I am sure that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that the national funding formula for schools will ensure a fairer distribution of available resources than has been the case in the past.

Order. In order to try to accommodate everybody, might I suggest that we now move to single-sentence questions and, of course, pithy replies?

Mr Speaker, may I use your good offices to remind colleagues that we debate Holocaust Memorial Day next week? The book of commitment is open from Monday for two weeks, thanks to your good offices, Mr Speaker, in the corridor between the Members’ Staircase and the Members’ Cloakroom.

I also ask that we have a statement following Sunday’s conference on the middle east in Paris. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions went on far longer this week because the Government did not give a statement or respond to an urgent question on the subject. It would be far better to have a statement in Government time on the outcome of that conference.

It will be for Foreign Office Ministers to hear my hon. Friend’s comments and to decide whether they can offer a statement. I am sure that, as in previous years, many hon. Members from all parties will want to sign the Holocaust remembrance book.

Can we have a further debate on the crisis in social care? Today, Nottingham University hospitals have more than 200 patients who are medically safe to be discharged, but cannot be. Is it any wonder that Nottingham University hospital is on black alert yet again and that Nottinghamshire County Council is calling on the Government to take some action? When are the Government going to wake up to this crisis?

While it is undoubtedly true that there are pressures on the national health service and on social care at this time, the Government have acted through the better care fund and the social care precept and, most recently, by bringing forward £900 million of additional spending to give local authorities additional resources. It is also the case that there is a lot of local variation. More than half of the delayed discharges in our hospitals relate to just 24 local authorities, so it is also a case of disseminating best practice and embedding that everywhere in the country.

Late last year, the Government confirmed that this House would be presented with a plan on how the Government will begin their process of exiting the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend outline the potential processes by which this House will be engaged on that plan?

I am sure that there will be opportunities for that plan to be debated here. I am sure, too, that when that is published, the relevant Select Committees will probably want to take a look at it. I do not think my hon. Friend will be disappointed regarding parliamentary scrutiny.

A Government reason for the closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is that it will lessen the use of police cells, yet it turns out that the Home Office does not hold information on how many times police cells are used. Can we have a debate in Government time about the farcical ongoing estate management reviews?

The current state of affairs regarding Dungavel is that the planning application for the new facility that would replace it was refused by Renfrewshire planning committee in November last year. Dungavel will remain open. Its future is dependent on a successful planning application for the new short-term holding facility.

Can we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on his assessment of the credibility of the allegations made in the dossier about President-elect Trump? It is clear that the UK Government have a great deal of knowledge about these things. The dossier was written in the UK, and the UK Government have placed and lifted a D notice on the former MI6 officer who wrote the allegations. We had a warning before Christmas from the head of MI6 about hostile states attempting to subvert western democratic processes. Can we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what action he is taking to prevent us and our NATO allies from being subject to cyber-attacks and propaganda attacks from hostile states?

The Foreign Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister have repeatedly made clear their concerns about the cyber-capacity and cyber-tactics of Russia and other countries with regard to the interests of the United Kingdom. The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot go into details about these matters, but the issues are considered regularly by the National Security Council.

Can we have a statement from the Government about the increased role of the Ministry of Defence police in undertaking duties in civilian areas outside Faslane and Coulport, to establish who took the decision, why it was made, whether these officers are armed and under what chain of command they operate?

I was checking whether Defence questions were coming up next week, and since they are not, I will ask the relevant Defence Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman.

The Leader of the House is in denial. We need a debate, which needs to be led by the Prime Minister, so that we can ask her very pertinent questions about what she is doing about the NHS. For instance, Simon Stevens yesterday said that it was obviously “stretching” the truth to say that the NHS had got more than it had asked for, and we are spending less than other developed countries. Those are the types of issues we need to ask questions about, and that is why the Prime Minister needs to be here. The NHS is in crisis, and the Government are doing nothing about it.

The Government are actually meeting the spending commitment that the NHS wanted to support its plan. Yes, there are pressures—nobody denies that—but since 2010 we have seen significant increases in the number of doctors, nurses, diagnostic tests and A&E attendances and treatments. There is real improvement, and we should pay tribute to the NHS staff who are delivering that.

Can we have a debate about how the Government could take a more proactive role to preserve banking and post office services on our local high streets? In the space of two years, the Bank of Scotland has closed one branch in my constituency, and the Royal Bank of Scotland will have closed three. We have had announcements this week that four post offices are under threat across Scotland, and I am very conscious, given the experience in my constituency, of the burden falling on small convenience store managers and shop owners and of the lack of service to customers and small business.

My understanding is that the Post Office proposes that the Crown post offices that it closes will instead become sub-post offices, or sub-post offices on a franchise basis will continue in those communities. It is the provision of the service that seems to me to be important. It is right that there should be full consultation with local communities about any of these proposed closures, but it is also a reality that more and more of our constituents are using online banking services, and that is bound to have an impact on the economic viability of branch networks.

Can we have an urgent statement from the energy Minister on the forthcoming industrial action in the nuclear industry, which is a direct result of the Government’s betrayal of workers in that industry, despite the amendments that the Opposition put down to the Enterprise Bill and despite the promises that were made at the time of privatisation?

I cannot offer the promise of a statement, but this may be something the hon. Gentleman wishes to seek an Adjournment debate on.

Following on from the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), can the postal services Minister give a statement on the Government’s role in the Post Office and its future? I received a letter this week saying that Morningside post office would be closed and franchised. It is a very profitable and well-used post office, and that closure should be stopped. Can we have a statement about what the Government are going to do about these closures?

There is, as with all such proposals, a process that the Post Office operates for consultation and decision. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to use that opportunity on behalf of his constituents. However, it is also the case that the vast majority, some 97%, of the Post Office’s branches around the country are already operated on the basis that they are sub-post offices—independent businesses with a post office franchise.

Can we have a statement on the unlawful implementation of various provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, including its use regarding internet connection records and bulk personal data sets, following the ruling by the European Court of Justice that general and indiscriminate retention of emails and communications by Governments is illegal—a point made frequently and at length by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) and I during the Act’s progress through the House?

The Government are considering their response to that judgment, but it is certainly the view of those who serve us in the security and intelligence agencies that the ability to collect bulk data is of vital importance in the continuing battle against terrorism.

May we have a debate on the excellent report by the Defence Committee on decision making in defence policy? In particular, it notes the lack of understanding of military strategy among key decision makers. May we have a debate on military strategy that will allow us to look at issues such as whether forward deployment of personnel represents deterrence or provocation?

We would welcome the possibility of a debate, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee. The forward deployment of UK forces as part of NATO contingents in Estonia and in Poland is all about deterrence and solidarity with a NATO ally. NATO is an organisation that Clem Attlee and Ernie Bevin helped to create. I look forward to the day when we have a Labour leadership that again gives full-hearted support to NATO.

The Government have talked out three out of four SNP private Members’ Bills, their treatment of the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) is completely appalling, and their response to the Procedure Committee’s report is as inadequate as the system itself. They did accept, however, that there should be a change to Standing Orders to require private Members’ Bills to be published slightly earlier than currently. When will they give us time to debate that proposal?

We are looking at a number of proposed changes to Standing Orders, many of which have come from the Procedure Committee and some from other Committees of the House. It will probably be for the convenience of the House if we can find an opportunity to deal with all those as a block rather than considering them piecemeal, so that is the kind of arrangement I am hoping to secure.

I am very sorry to be called so late on Kiss a Ginger Day, Mr Speaker. We only get one day a year, after all—I am wondering whether you might be colour-blind.

May we have a debate on the future of our parks funding? Graves park in my constituency receives EU higher-level stewardship funding because of its high value regarding nature conservation, and the park’s budget has already been under serious pressure because of slashed local authority funding. I would be grateful if we could have a debate on this in Government time.

Questions to Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers next Thursday or questions to Communities and Local Government Ministers next Monday might provide an opportunity to raise that matter. Clearly the future of stewardship funding is one of the matters that the Government are considering in the context of the negotiations overall.

Dozens of my constituents in Blantyre have complained to me about being mis-sold solar panels by Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems under the Government’s green deal programme. By way of an answer to a written parliamentary question, I have learned that that company, which has since gone into liquidation, was sanctioned by the Government in November 2015 for breaches of the green deal code of practice. May we have a statement from the Government on what support they will offer to my constituents who have been left struggling to pay their electricity bills which, in some cases, have tripled?

There is a risk in any system that somebody might seek to abuse it. I suggest that the hon. Lady writes either to me or directly to the Minister responsible for these matters setting out the detail of what has happened to her constituents to try to secure a more detailed response to their concerns.

As a brown-haired Member of the House, I am delighted to be the last Labour Member to be called.

The Leader of the House has already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) about her Bill. She has offered support in relation to whatever problems he has, and he is now saying that it is an issue of time. By anyone’s maths, if the Bill was published only three days before it was supported in this House, that is eight weeks and two days ago. Will he clearly explain what the problem is with bringing this Bill into Committee, or is it that there are problems on his own Back Benches because it had too much support from Conservative Members?

The Leader of the House has been asked twice for an important debate about the Post Office. The Government cannot simply wash their hands of the matter. The general post office in my Dundee constituency has been in the centre of town for almost a century but is set to close, and arguments for a sub-post office are simply not good enough. Furthermore, many pensioners do not go online to do their banking or to check their pensions, so may I ask the Leader of the House, for the third time, for an urgent debate on the very serious matter of closing post offices?

I think that the key concern of pensioners and others in the hon. Gentleman’s Dundee constituency would surely be whether they continue to have access to the post office services that they need. Whether those are provided via a Crown post office or through a franchised sub-post office is a separate issue; it is the quality and accessibility of the service that should surely come first.

May we have a debate in Government time on the future and current performance of UK Border Force at airports? According to the Tourism Industry Council, if the 23 million EU nationals who visit every year are subject to full border checks, staffing would have to increase by 200%—and that is on top of current failures. What are the Government’s plans?

The hon. Gentleman will be able to make that point to the Home Secretary during Home Office questions on 23 January.

The plight of religious minorities such as the Yazidi people, who are subject to terrible conditions under Daesh, including sexual slavery, should be a primary consideration for us all. Will the Government make a statement on what more we will do and on whether we will institute programmes such as that operating in Baden-Württemberg in Germany to support those people at their time of terrible need?

We are providing an enormous amount of support—almost £2.5 billion—to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries. That is helping people in the region, including Yazidi refugees. Our resettlement schemes are also giving as much priority as possible to people who have been victims or who are at risk of sexual abuse, and to women and children who are particularly vulnerable. Clearly we always look actively at other ways in which we can help those people. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has responsibility for the middle east, is sitting alongside me on the Front Bench and he will have heard the points made by the hon. Lady.

There cannot be much that cheapens the honours system more than dishing out gongs to people who have been found by a UN committee to have breached human rights, including those of disabled people. I am talking not of a despotic regime, but of two senior civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House facilitate a debate on how we can reform the honours system?

No. The Government have already made it clear that we regard the report from that particular UN committee as a grotesque misrepresentation of the state of affairs in the United Kingdom. For one thing, it took no account of our very successful record in getting a record number of disabled people into work, or of the support programmes for disabled people who are in work.