Business of the House

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 26th March 2013.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 7:45 pm, 26th March 2013

Given the time I have left, I shall have to set out some rules at the beginning of my speech. One will be that I will not take any interventions and the other will be that I will have to do my delivery in the style of Mr Amess if I am to refer to all the contributions made this evening.

I congratulate those Members who are still in the Chamber on their dedication and commitment to today’s penultimate debate and I hope that they will not be punished by not being able to get home again if the weather is inclement. I also understand that some Members, for obvious reasons, have had to depart early and I shall still try to refer to their speeches. I am particularly grateful for the attendance of the hon. Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on their birthdays.

Jason McCartney rightly laid into the doom-mongers with some relish. Times are tough, but he set out some of the success stories in his constituency, particularly on apprenticeships, where there has been dramatic growth. I am pleased to say that in the past couple of weeks I have hired my own first apprentice in my office and he is already making a very positive contribution.

Valerie Vaz referred to the case of a constituent, Mrs Brenda Pressdee, and I commend the hon. Lady for her assiduous research on that case. I am sure that the relevant Ministers will have heard her request for a meeting on the matter and that they will want to respond positively. She also referred to a national issue, marine conservation zones. She expressed concerns about the cost of a further consultation and I am sure that the Government will want to manage those costs effectively.

John Glen underlined one of the strengths of such debates and this Parliament, which is our ability to raise issues of an international nature. He wanted to generate publicity about the trial of former President Nasheed and I can confirm for his benefit—although I am sure that he is aware of it—that our Government have been consistent in saying that the international community will not find it tenable if the former president is excluded from the elections in the Maldives.

Yasmin Qureshi mentioned the Srebrenica genocide, which all Members will remember. It was the biggest war crime in Europe since the second world war. The Government recognise that genocide through events such as Holocaust memorial day and we are working with the Srebrenica genocide memorial and educational project to see other ways in which we can mark that anniversary.

My hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert referred to the controversy surrounding an incinerator or energy recovery facility. I can confirm that I am aware of the controversies surrounding such plants, because there is a proposal for one in Beddington in my constituency. He stressed the importance of ensuring that it provides decent value for money, which is the last issue he wants to pursue, because all the planning processes have been completed.

Mr Thomas talked about his desire to see work proceed on rebuilding Marlborough and Vaughan primary schools. He will be pleased to hear that there is no delay. He asked me to ensure that Ministers chase up the Education Funding Agency, and I am happy to pass that on so that he gets a prompt response. He also referred to problems relating to London Welsh, and I am sure that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have listened carefully to what he said. He highlighted some inconsistencies in the penalties issued by the Rugby Football Union, but I do not think that is something I can pursue as Deputy Leader of the House. I am sure that is something he will want to do, and he has put that on the record.

We then heard a contribution from my hon. Friend Priti Patel, who stated that Essex is the county of entrepreneurs—I am sure that is also true of many other counties—and made a couple of specific points about Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customers and a constituent, Mr Wright. I am sure that HMRC has public relations people who follow these debates closely and that they will want to pick up on that point and, I hope, respond positively to her concerns. She also referred to some unhappiness about the way in which the Valuation Office Agency works and the need for more flexibility on business rates, particularly how high levels of business rates affect strong and emerging businesses in her constituency.

George Galloway talked about the If campaign, which I am sure many Members on both sides of the House will want to support. That gives me an opportunity to underline the fact that the Government are delivering on the commitment to devoting 0.7% of gross national income on aid, which I think we should all be proud of. It was started by the previous Government and finished by this one. He also expressed concern about the difference in the way children from families with parents who are in work and those from families with parents who are not in work are dealt with in respect of free school meals. I am sure that is something the Department for Education, which has responsibility for free school meals, might want to respond to.

My hon. Friend Mr Jackson raised a variety of issues—another Member referred to it as a “kaleidoscope of issues”—and it would be difficult to respond to them all. He referred to the plight of Christians, particularly in countries such as Pakistan; the importance of recognising the need to support Tourette’s sufferers, through the Department for Education, and in schools and in health care; and the importance of fortifying foods with folic acid, and the charity in his constituency, Shine, which works on that issue. I have noted his concerns about equal marriage, but I am pleased that the Government are pursuing it. He talked about the important role the voluntary sector is playing in relation to the Peterborough cathedral appeal. He also mentioned the Sue Ryder hospice and the generosity of his city. I am sure that his city and its people are very generous and that we all want to recognise that.

We then heard a contribution from Fiona O'Donnell on the Cockenzie power station. She said that today might feel like groundhog dog. She will no doubt know that the groundhog is being sued at the moment. In fact, they are seeking the death penalty for the groundhog in America because he has failed to predict the beginning of spring accurately. She focused on the need for investment. Clearly, the decision on whether to invest in a new combined cycle gas turbine at Cockenzie is very much a commercial matter for ScottishPower, but I am sure that the Government would welcome that investment and the jobs and energy that would be created if and when the development goes ahead.

Richard Graham said that the UK has thrived on immigration but not on foreign criminals, and I certainly agree with that sentiment. He made a concrete suggestion—I am sure that the Ministry of Justice will want to respond to it—about an amendment to the UK Borders Act 2007 that he thinks could address the issue of the deportation of foreign nationals who have served a prison sentence. I am sure that he will secure a response as a result of his speech.

Barbara Keeley, whose birthday I mentioned earlier, talked about sport and fitness for women and girls. She is right to raise that issue, and I commend her for doing so. We need more women and girls in sport, and the well-being that can be derived from that is considerable. She asked for responses to some specific questions, and I will follow those up. Fiona Bruce talked about her local bypass and its importance in bringing industrial regeneration, particularly around Radnor Park business park in Congleton, and the possibility of investment in the aerospace industry.

We then heard from Thomas Docherty. I am sorry to hear about Dunfermline Athletic football club. I am sure that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and Her Majesty’s Treasury will want to look on that situation favourably and assist as much as they can. He also talked about Royal Navy personnel in Scotland. I can confirm that there will be a rise in the number of Navy personnel in Fife supporting the Queen Elizabeth-class build, peaking at about 750 personnel. I hope that he welcomes that.

Mr Amess raised a very large number of issues, which are all noted. I am sure that the 20 Departments he mentioned will want to respond promptly.

Jim Shannon discussed Ulster Scots culture. I am pleased that he did, because one always learns something in these debates, and that was something new. I think he claimed that no fewer than 12 US Presidents had Ulster Scots heritage, and I am sure that that is entirely accurate.

My hon. Friend Mr Williams spoke about interest rate swaps, which I am sure that many Members are concerned about. He made a specific request about tailored business loans that I will follow up. Bob Blackman raised the issue of knife crime, which the Government are clearly committed to addressing. He made a specific proposal on a two-strikes policy that the MOJ may want to follow up.

The speech by my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell was again a bit like groundhog day as regards Essex county council. He raised the expenses scandal, which he likes to mention in this place and I know he will pursue again and again.

We then heard about Mid Staffs, and I am pleased that we had had a detailed statement on that earlier. I have much sympathy with the concerns expressed about the future of the specialist accident and emergency services. That issue affects my local hospital, St Helier hospital, which is at risk in the same way.

Mark Pawsey talked about electronic cigarettes. He will be pleased to know that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has conducted research into this that will feed into the Government’s position on the European Commission’s proposals, to which he referred. My hon. Friend John Hemming pursued, as he does—I am sure that he will do so relentlessly—the issue of secret courts in relation to family justice.

Justin Tomlinson spoke about the apprentice scheme in his constituency. I commend him for that and hope that the young people he is working with will go on to make very successful business people in future. Iain Stewart referred to concerns about his local A and E department.

I am afraid that I am running out of time and will not be able to complete my speech, but I commend the contribution of my right hon. Friend Simon Hughes and that of my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt, who managed to talk seriously about hen welfare, but managed to make many references to eggs.

I conclude by wishing a happy Easter to you, Mr Speaker, and the staff of the House, including the Serjeant at Arms and his officers, Hansard, and José and Fedel in the gift shop. It is not eggs that I will be sharing this evening with staff in the Office of the Leader of the House, but liquid refreshment—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 15(5)(a) and Order this day).