The business for next week will be:
The subjects for both debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. We have all been watching with concern as events in Egypt unfold. There are many British nationals in the country, so will the Leader of the House ensure that Members are regularly updated on this fast-moving situation?
The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill returns to this place on Monday, as the right hon. Gentleman has announced. Mr Tyrie and I asked him last week whether he would provide extra time to ensure consideration of all the necessary amendments stemming from the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. I thus thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding by granting an extra half day, which will allow some extra time for this important Bill? Will he confirm that he will protect the additional time he has allocated so that we do not lose it to Government statements and find ourselves back where we started?
This Government have a woeful record on telling the media what is happening before they tell this House—in breach of the ministerial code. Yesterday, we reached a new low with the Defence Secretary’s spectacular failure to provide Members with crucial documents relating to his statement on Army reserves. You, Mr Speaker, have rightly admonished the Defence Secretary in the strongest possible terms, and today’s Order Paper says that there will be a clarification statement, but by the time I rose to speak, we had still not received it. Surely the Defence Secretary should now have the guts to come back and subject himself to the scrutiny of Members, who will finally have adequate information in front of them.
I pointed out a few weeks ago that the Education Secretary is at the bottom of the Government’s correspondence class, with a damning report from the Procedure Committee showing that eight out of 10 of his responses to MPs are answered late. This week, we have discovered why: he has been so busy composing an edict on the content of his departmental letters that he is not doing the day job. Apparently, he has demanded prose worthy of Jane Austen, George Orwell and, rather oddly, Matthew Parris. Does the Leader of the House agree that if the Education Secretary spent less time telling everyone else how to do their jobs and more time doing his, we would not have a shortage of a quarter of a million primary school places? Does he also agree that this is further proof that with this Government it is all about spin and never about substance?
The Back-Bench Bill to be presented by James Wharton is becoming a classic parliamentary farce. I hear that in order to keep Members here for the big day, the Prime Minister has been forced to invite his mutinous colleagues round for a barbecue tonight. While millionaire donors get kitchen suppers at No. 10, the poor Back Benchers are shoved out into the garden.
If it is a pyjama party, perhaps Rebekah Brooks should be there.
I am told that the Prime Minister will be flipping the “posh burgers”, while the Cabinet will be dishing them out. That may sound like a rare treat, but there will be trouble if members of the Cabinet do their burgers the same as they do their policy: reconstituted, undercooked and over-garnished. I certainly would not relish them.
I note that the Tory Taliban continue to fire on all cylinders. Tomorrow they will debate the introduction of a Margaret Thatcher day, and next Friday they will debate the abolition of any protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Their alternative Queen’s Speech is so off the wall that I cannot help wondering what they will come up with next. A Bill to disfranchise all but the landed gentry, perhaps? The repeal of the Factory Acts? A Bill to confirm that the earth is indeed flat?
It is not just the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers who are out of touch. On Tuesday, Tory welfare Minister Lord Freud denied that there was any link between the rise of food banks and the Government’s benefit chaos. Since the Government’s benefit changes, there has been a sevenfold increase in visits to food banks in Wirral. They were visited by 9,000 people this year, and in most cases the reason was the benefit changes. This is a Government who have given a tax cut to their millionaire donors while plunging a third of a million more children into poverty. May we have a debate on what they can possibly mean by their increasingly ludicrous phrase “We’re all in this together”?
This week, in an attempt to seem like a man of the people, the Prime Minister told a group of Kazakh students that he aspired to be the most high-profile member of an élite club at an élite school: Harry Potter. That outraged Potter fans everywhere, and inspired The Daily Telegraph to organise a poll which concluded that he was actually more like Draco Malfoy. The Defence Secretary cannot make a statement to the House, the Education Secretary cannot answer questions, and the Chancellor cannot organise a burger stunt. Is not the reality that the Prime Minister is presiding over a Cabinet of muggles?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement. Let me begin by saying that I think all that Members continue to be very disturbed by the turn of events in Cairo, and in Egypt generally. As we know, this is a very fast-moving and fluid situation. The Foreign Office has increased our consular presence in Egypt. I join my colleagues in advising British citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the country, apart from the Red Sea resorts, and to monitor, as necessary, the travel advice that is available on the Foreign Office website.
Like the Foreign Secretary and, I think, all Members on both sides of the House, I hope for restraint and calm and an end to the violence—especially given the very disturbing accounts of sexual violence—but I also believe that this provides us with a salutary lesson about the nature of democracy. What is necessary in a democracy is for people to resolve their conflicts peacefully, and to do so by means of democratic processes. I think we all agree that while that should not include military intervention, which we deplore, we expect those who are elected to govern in a constitutional framework that respects the rights of minorities and enables all people who live in a democracy to feel that they are fully represented. To answer the hon. Lady’s question directly, I know that the Foreign Secretary and other colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take every step to ensure that the House is kept fully informed.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcoming the additional time for the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. Never let it be said that we are not a listening set of business managers. I do not think that my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie is here, but I am grateful for his representations. We are moving towards the end of term before the summer recess. As the House knows, inevitably, a range of issues will require to be announced before the recess, but we will take steps to ensure that the time that is available for that debate is protected, so that it happens as planned.
The hon. Lady asked about yesterday’s statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Mr Speaker, you will have received a letter from him apologising for the Ministry of Defence’s failure to deliver documents relating to the statement. As the hon. Lady rightly said, the House will see a written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend. I have the text of the written ministerial statement—
I understand that the hon. Lady does not have the text. I will not read it all out now as it would take too long, but I will gladly share it with Members and it will be available in the Vote Office shortly.
I will read the text out if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to. Rightly, we said that we would clarify the answers given, and that is what the text does: it clarifies the issues relating to Kilmarnock, the Vale of Glamorgan and the Scottish and Northern Irish Yeomanry headquarters. Therefore, that will be available for Members. I regret that we did not share the documents in advance, provide the documents referred to on time, or give the House all the information necessary to respond to the statement. We owe Mr Murphy and other colleagues an apology for that, and on behalf of the Government I give that apology. We will endeavour to ensure that it does not happen again.
The hon. Lady asked about responses to parliamentary questions. As she knows, I am proud of the fact that, during my time as Secretary of State, the Department of Health, a busy Department that is asked many questions, responded to questions on time in 99% or sometimes 100% of cases, a record that it has maintained following my departure. I know that the Secretary of State for Education and the permanent secretary at the Department are acutely aware of the need to raise their performance. I share with the Secretary of State the desire to ensure that, in doing so, good prose is used. My personal preference is for colleagues, when composing answers, to pay more attention to Sir Ernest Gowers than to Jane Austen, but that is just a matter of taste.
Barbeques in Downing street is not really a matter for business questions, but the hon. Lady does not seem to realise that we are united while Labour is run by Unite. That is the difference. We would love to see her at the barbeque. Perhaps she would like to come. If she does so, we can use the opportunity to see what her position is on a referendum on the future of this country in Europe. We are determined to give the people of this country that choice and to secure the best interests of this country through a negotiation of its relationship with the rest of Europe. Looking at the business before the summer recess, I hope that there will be a further opportunity for a debate in Opposition time. She might like to use that to go beyond the debate that the Opposition had on lobbying and to consider third party influence in the political system. We will bring forward a Bill relating to that issue, but the Labour party, before it deals with any motes in anyone else’s eye, must take the beam out of its own eye, which is that it is run by the trade unions. It is a party where third-party influence is rife. It is a party where 81% of its funding comes from the trade unions, and that does not just buy influence; it apparently buys the opportunity to select Labour party parliamentary candidates. That is an outrage. The legislation we introduce will not change that situation, but it is in the gift of the Labour party to do it, and the fact that it has not and that the Leader of the Opposition does not do it is a demonstration of how weak he is in his own party, as he would be in any other situation.
May we have a debate on transparency in local government in the modern digital age, to raise in particular the concerns that council senior officers and monitoring officers, notably those in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and others, have sought deliberately to undermine recent guidance by the Secretary of State to encourage more widely available filming and broadcasting of council meetings by local residents and journalists?
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says, and I will certainly raise it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government who, he will know, feel very strongly about the importance of such openness and transparency. Previous issues in relation to the desire of some councils—only a very few, we hope—to try to control the media in their area is in part what has led to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill that is currently in another place, but my hon. Friend raises a further important point.
Further to what my hon. Friend Ms Eagle said about food banks, the Trussell Trust estimates that almost 350,000 people are using them, and that figure has tripled since 2012. As the Department for Work and Pensions does not record or measure these referrals, how can the Government be sure there is no link between food bank usage and welfare cuts? May we have an urgent debate on this issue?
I cannot give the hon. Lady a debate on this subject, but she will have heard the answer given repeatedly at this Dispatch Box both by me at business questions and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The use of food banks increased tenfold under the last Government. One of the critical changes that have taken place is that before the election the Trussell Trust had been looking for food bank access to be advertised in jobcentres, but whereas that was not given by the last Government, it has been given under this Government. There is therefore greater access to food banks, which is important for people who are in need.
Last week it was my pleasure to open the East Midlands airport academy, which is working with young unemployed people to give them the skills and confidence they need to take their place in the workplace. Despite youth unemployment being down 15% last year in my constituency, we must do much more. May we have a statement on what steps the Government are taking to help reduce the scourge of youth unemployment?
The whole House will be glad to hear of the East Midlands airport academy, and I am sure my hon. Friend is proud of the contribution it is making and of his constituency for the job creation that is helping to reduce youth unemployment, as he described. Fortunately, we are not remotely complacent. We have seen a reduction in youth unemployment in the latest data, which are for the last quarter, and since last year, but we continue to take further action. We have put £1 billion into the Youth Contract, more apprenticeships, more work experience places, and more incentives in relation to wages to encourage employers to take on young people, and over the last year youth unemployment fell faster in this country than it did in the United States, Germany, Canada, France or Italy.
In my constituency of Wansbeck, we have always had a healthy horse population, as they have been well looked after by careful owners, but recently we have seen an explosion in irresponsible horse ownership, with horses being tethered next to almost every available blade of grass. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on this problem, because if it is not effectively and efficiently tackled by local authorities we will see loss of life and serious injuries to residents in Wansbeck and other parts of the country?
I am sure the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is a most unsatisfactory situation, which might apply in other constituencies. I do not know whether he has had an opportunity to raise it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but if he has not I will certainly draw it to their attention and ask them to respond. I know in my own constituency and elsewhere that there can be difficulties with people bringing horses on to land and then sometimes simply abandoning them, and the responsibilities of the landowners in those circumstances can be very onerous.
Accessing Government services using 0845 numbers can cost as much as 41p per minute via mobile phones. May we have a statement on what progress the Government have made on transferring this access to local-rate 0345 numbers to ensure that the Government do not directly profit from the delivery of their own services?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are aiming, as far as is possible, through the digital by default strategy, to give members of the public access to direct online channels of communication, so that they do not have to rely on telephony so much. Some departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have made considerable progress in moving away from 0845 numbers; I am told that 95% of its personal tax callers now use an 03 or equivalent number. I know from my experience at the Department of Health that part of the principle behind the shift from NHS Direct to the 111 telephone system, which is in principle the right thing to do, is moving away from an 0845 number to a simple, easy to remember and free 111 telephone system.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 337, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members, on the 125th anniversary of the Bow match women’s strike.
[That this House welcomes the first Match Women’s Festival being held in London on
May we have a debate that would allow hon. Members to tell the true story of what happened to those brave women, neglected by historians for many years, and how they changed the course of history by standing up for their rights at work?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I had not had, but now have, an opportunity to see early-day motion 337. I will take an opportunity, as I know many hon. Members will, to read it and perhaps to read about it. I very much welcome what she has had to say; she rightly raises important issues that we need to commemorate and always reflect upon in current circumstances.
May we have a debate on the anomalous situation of precipitous demolitions ahead of planning applications being considered? High Trees in Eastfield road, Peterborough, a striking Victorian house, previously occupied by the Family Care charity, faces the threat of demolition as a result of a speculative application for 90 student bedsits by a mystery developer. Will the Leader of the House persuade his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to look again at this issue, so that we can avoid precipitous demolitions ahead of planning application consideration and, thus, protect our heritage and built environment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I can imagine how he and his constituents might be alarmed by an experience of that kind. I will, of course, raise it with my colleagues at DCLG and encourage them to respond to him regarding what powers are available and how they are appropriately used. He might note that our DCLG colleagues will be here answering questions on Monday, which might give him an opportunity to raise the matter then.
I was a director in Conservative central office 20 years ago, when the Conservative party made it absolutely clear that donations to the party would not secure influence—they would not come with strings attached. In those two decades the Labour party appears to have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. It continues to be a party dominated by its paymasters; 81% of the resources that the Labour party depends on comes from trade unions. In quarter four last year, one trade union, Unite, gave Labour £832,990 and that did not come without strings—it came with many strings attached.
Tourism in Cleethorpes has been badly hit in recent months following the closure of the main rail route out of the resort as a result of a landslip. The incident has highlighted the economic fragility of many seaside resorts, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on such matters?
I know that my hon. Friend has been assiduous in pursuing the issue and, in response to questions that he has asked before, I have raised it with my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport. I cannot promise a further immediate debate on rail matters—of course, some rail issues were open for discussion yesterday—but I will of course raise the issue with my hon. Friends once again on his behalf.
When can we debate the office of police and crime commissioners, which is causing disruption, waste and unhappiness throughout the country? The concept of having two people in charge, one of whom has almost unlimited Henry VIII powers while the existing chief constables have their powers diminished and threatened, is a matter of great concern and a threat to the independence of our police.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issues relating to the police and crime commissioner in his part of the world with me and with the Prime Minister, and he will have heard the reply. I would say two things. First, democracy matters and, in this context, the accountability that comes with election is important in itself. I know that it is enabling people across the country to feel that to a greater extent than in the past their priorities can be directly reflected in the priority setting of police services for their area. Secondly, if he has specific issues about his constituency my hon. Friends from the Home Office will be available for questions on
The Leader of the House will be aware of the Prime Minister’s written statement yesterday that the Department for Education has ceased to have responsibility for youth policy—ironically, at a time when the commission considering youth work, which I chair, has been inundated with evidence from academies and other schools about the importance of the links between classrooms and youth work. Given the disproportionate impact of local authority funding cuts on youth work, may we have a debate—I do not believe we have had such a debate in this place for some years—soon after the recess on the future of youth services in this country? We could then consider the progress on the Government’s Positive for Youth policy in the light of yesterday’s announcement.
I cannot immediately offer a debate and I know that my hon. Friend will understand that the ability to relate issues to do with young people across government and to give them a renewed focus was at the heart of the Prime Minister’s changes, as announced yesterday. I am glad that this week we had the announcement of a major extension of funding for youth sport, which will, I hope, form part of the Olympic and Paralympic legacy. That is very important. I shall raise the issues he mentions with my colleagues and as the opportunity for such a debate will probably not arise immediately in Government time, he might consider asking for such a thing in the context of priorities through the Backbench Business Committee.
May we have a debate on the demands for a public inquiry into the allegations that the Metropolitan police sought to undermine the Macpherson inquiry? There are revelations today that a report has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission that a senior officer sought to gather information on someone who was about to give evidence to the inquiry and did so with the intention of undermining that individual. If that proves to be true, it seriously calls into question the way that senior officers across the country approached the Macpherson inquiry and further undermines the process of the police investigating the police. Only an independent inquiry with the right to summon people and to have them give evidence under oath will satisfy the public that the matter is truly being looked into.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Home Secretary made it very clear in the House that she has confidence that a number of inquiries that are being undertaken into the issues surrounding Stephen Lawrence’s murder continue to be independent, but that she has not taken off the table any further steps that might be needed to ensure that there is the rigour and independence required. She continues to keep the issue under review.
Back in 2008, Bradford & Bingley was expropriated by the Labour Government in a horrid and flawed decision taken by the then Prime Minister and Chancellor. Nearly 1 million shareholders and bondholders still do not know how and why their company was confiscated. Surely the Leader of the House agrees that it is time the Government and the Financial Conduct Authority made it abundantly clear what decisions were taken in the run-up to the confiscation. Will he arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement laying out exactly what decisions were taken, so we can find out once and for all why Bradford & Bingley was treated so unfairly compared with other banks in a similar situation?
On behalf of my hon. Friend and other Members who share his views, I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend will be aware that our right hon. Friend will not himself have direct access to the papers of the previous Administration, but I will ask him what steps, not least in the context of the continuing inquiry into banking standards, it is appropriate to take to find out more about the circumstances.
Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate as soon as possible on how we restore and achieve a renaissance of the great towns and cities, such as Huddersfield, Leeds and Manchester, in the north and midlands of our country? Does he believe that if there were a £50 billion pot to invest in those cities—a wonderful opportunity—the city leaders would spend it on fast rail to Manchester instead?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge not only what has already been achieved in some of our great cities, but the importance of the city deals. To take the example of Manchester, the city deal reached there is visionary and far reaching, and if the earn-back scheme does what it is intended to do, it will provide enormous investment in the infrastructure of the city. Other cities across the country—I think Huddersfield is one of them—are bidding for a city deal. This is their opportunity to come forward with a vision for their city—it should be not top-down, but led locally—and the Government are looking to give support to those city deals.
Supporters of Coventry City football club, including myself, are dismayed that the club’s owners are applying to the Football League to move the club to Northampton for the next three years. The board of the Football League has to sanction the move, which I strongly urge it to oppose. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to make an urgent statement on this important matter?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that I can imagine is of significant concern to his constituents and others in the area. Although it is not an immediate responsibility of the Government, this is something that I know my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport dealing with the governance of football take seriously and I shall of course raise it with them. I know that they will respond to my hon. Friend, so that he can keep his constituents informed of what the circumstances are and what the Government’s view may be.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Ms Eagle for giving me some leeway to raise this issue.
I have now seen a copy of the written ministerial statement, which the Library received at 10.43, although it is actually a draft, so perhaps we should not be too confident about it. The WMS contains no details of the number of personnel who will lose their job or have to move, or what the requirements are for each of the bases; it does not provide any moving dates; it does not say which constituencies personnel are going to; it does not state if they are moving locally; it does not give the base locations in any of the cities; and it does not explain how Kilmarnock ended up, in handwriting, on the list. May we have a proper statement from the Ministry of Defence at the earliest opportunity—perhaps even on Monday?
The hon. Gentleman knows that many of the matters he raises would not have formed part of the original circulation of documents. I have made very clear our regret that the information that should have been available when the Secretary of State sat down at the end of his statement was not available at that time. The information, in so far as it was incorrect at the time it was given to him, is being corrected in the written ministerial statement, but as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, there are further questions to which he wishes to have answers. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence take note of those questions and respond to him as soon as they can.
Will the Leader of the House raise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer the inequitable and unjust situation whereby a banker who wishes to sell a derivative or hedging product, such as interest rate swap agreements, has to be registered, authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, but the directors of many thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, who are classified under the FCA’s test as sophisticated enough to take responsibility for signing such an agreement, are not registered, authorised and regulated by the FCA and therefore are ineligible for the FCA’s redress scheme?
This is a matter of notable interest and possibly no little complexity. It is not immediately obvious to me, which may be the result of my own stupidity, that it represents a business question, but the ingenuity of the Leader of the House is legendary and I shall leave it to his interpretation.
I think that what my hon. Friend is looking for is a response from Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and I will try to secure that. She may find that it is none the less in order to raise some of the issues that she describes in the context of the discussion on the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, as they are clearly relevant to that. I am pleased to say that we have now allocated a day and a half to enable such issues to be raised.
I am sorry to have to come back to the debacle that was yesterday’s defence statement, but we still do not have clarity. I find it astonishing that a Secretary of State, whether that is the Secretary of State for Defence or for Education—there is a similar problem there—can come to the House and give a statement with incorrect or inadequate information for Members in all parts of the House to peruse. I ask respectfully why the Leader of the House, having seen the statement this morning, even though it appears to be only a partial statement, did not make it available prior to today’s business questions. Surely that would at least have shown some willingness on the part of the Government to try to keep Members informed on this very complex matter.
I will continue to ensure that we make the information that is provided to the House available as quickly as we can. As I say, I had the language of the written ministerial statement shortly before I stood up, but I did not have it in a form that I could distribute to Members and I was not confident that it was in the Vote Office at that point.
That is why I was not confident that it was there. I am very clear that we did not meet the standard that we were looking to meet yesterday. We are determined to ensure that we make this information available, and make it available when the House has a need for it.
May we have a debate on the need for a change of culture in the BBC? I would have hoped that scandals over recent years and even in recent weeks would allow the BBC to be more transparent and open with its viewers and the licence fee payers. I recently tabled a freedom of information request to ask how many journalists and staff travelled with the British Lions to follow them in Australia, and the BBC refused to answer it because it falls outside the Freedom of Information Act. Is this not a bad example of how the BBC works?
Many Members in the House will have sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. Many Members will also remember the long struggle that took place to secure access to the BBC for the National Audit Office. When one sees, for example, the report that the NAO published recently in relation to severance agreements at the BBC, that entirely justifies the openness that resulted from its access. I am sure Members will be looking to the Public Accounts Committee’s hearings with the chairman of the BBC Trust and looking to the BBC Trust which, as regulator of the BBC, must take responsibility now for ensuring that the cultural changes that are required in the BBC are seen through.
As far as I am aware, that should not have happened and it was an excessive use of resources for that purpose. I am sure my hon. Friends at the Department of Health and in particular its permanent secretary will want to examine precisely why that happened. [Interruption.] I think it happened after I was Health Secretary. Rather than rehearse or receive training, civil servants and others who give evidence to Select Committees would be well advised simply to think through what their responsibilities are and how they discharge them. That is the most important thing they can do and the proper preparation they should undertake.
Aldi, Morrisons and Tesco want to build big stores in my constituency; some people are against and some are in favour. Yorkshire Water, meanwhile, wants to rip up the listed Victorian reservoir spillway at Butterley in Marsden, and nearly everybody is against that. May we have a debate on how communities can be involved, how the process can be a lot more transparent and how local views can be heard on such major planning issues?
My hon. Friend raises important issues with which the House has become familiar, not least through his robust advocacy of the heritage represented by the Butterley spillway. I reiterate that my colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government will be available to answer questions on Monday, which my hon. Friend might find helpful. In addition, the Government are focused on securing local decision making, not least through neighbourhood plans, which, if used to their fullest extent by local communities, give some of the protection that he rightly is looking for.
I have just benefited from a period of paternity leave following the birth of my first child, Ruby Erin—8 lb 7 oz and both mother and daughter are doing well, since you ask, Mr Speaker—as a result of a right that was extended by the previous Labour Government. Could time be made available to discuss the extension of employment rights to parents, including those who find themselves in the impossibly sad situation of losing a child immediately after birth?
My profuse apologies to the hon. Gentleman; I should have been listening to what he was saying.
I think the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Gentleman and wishing his daughter Ruby and her mother the very best in the future.
We take very seriously the availability of paternity leave and, indeed, flexible leave, which is why we included additional relevant provisions in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. There are issues concerning bereavement and sadly we have not legislated for additional rights in that regard, but there is a responsibility on employers to consider and look sympathetically at requests for leave in circumstances of family stress, and I hope that they will do so.
Order. May I just point out to the House that there are still about 20 colleagues seeking to contribute? I would like to accommodate them all, as I almost invariably do, but there is a statement to follow and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so there is intense pressure on time necessitating exemplary parliamentary brevity, which will now be shown by Mr Peter Bone.
May we have an urgent statement from the Leader of the House about tomorrow’s business? There will be a very important debate and I praise the Government’s Chief Whip for using his power to ensure that Conservative Members will be present, but I understand that the other parties are trying to persuade their Members not to attend. What advice does the Leader of the House have so that Members can come here tomorrow and vote for Margaret Thatcher day?
I say to all Members, and Opposition Members in particular, that they should not come here because their Whips tell them to or absent themselves because their Whips advise them not to be here. On the contrary, the reason they should be here is to explain to their constituents whether they are in favour or not of giving the people of this country a say over our relationship with Europe.
I regret to have to again ask for a debate on the plight of the young Tamil children who, at the end of the conflict a number of years ago, disappeared. They have never been found and their parents and relatives have never been told what happened to them, even though we fear that we know what happened to them. May we please have an urgent debate on that matter?
My hon. Friend’s concern is entirely understandable. Ministers at the Foreign Office continue to take a close interest in Sri Lanka and to make representations to its Government on the human rights abuses of the past and, in so far as is needed, improvements in human rights now. I will ask them to respond to him with what they know about the possibility of resolving those unhappy issues.
Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ask the Home Secretary whether we may have a debate or, at the least, an oral statement on gun controls and firearms licensing? That is a hotly debated topic and there are issues of public safety. Ministers have indicated that they are consulting on changing the guidance. It might be opportune to have such a debate at an early opportunity.
I will talk to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Office. I cannot promise an immediate debate or a statement, but I will see what they can do to respond to the hon. Gentleman. As I said earlier, they will be available for questions on
Last week, a man died when he was hit by a train close to Rugby station. That was one of an increasing number of such incidents. There have been 238 in the past year, leading to distress for families, psychologically scarred train drivers and disruption for travellers. Network Rail is about to install new fencing along the west coast main line and is working with the Samaritans on suicide prevention. May we have a debate to consider what further steps may be taken on this important matter?
Members will know that fatalities at level crossings and on railway lines are intensely distressing. My hon. Friend may like to know that the number of trespass fatalities in 2012-13 fell below the average level of the past 10 years. Through its community safety campaigns, Network Rail is educating young people about the dangers of the railways, particularly for trespassers, and it is working with the Samaritans on initiatives to reduce the incidence of railway suicide. I will ask Ministers at the Department for Transport whether they can add to my response.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House and issue a clarification on the apparent proposal to introduce £3,000 visa bonds for visitors to this country from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That proposal has caused much dismay in Leicester and threatens to put a strain on our economic ties with those nations.
There is unprecedented interest in the 100th Tour de France, which is currently taking place. I am sure that all Members would salute Mark Cavendish’s fifth stage victory. There is huge excitement in Yorkshire about the 101st Tour de France, which will start in Leeds and go around Yorkshire, through Sheffield and on to Cambridge and London. May we have a statement from the Government, who are working hard to make sure that it is a success, to ensure that we make the most of this thrilling opportunity next year?
Yes, there is great excitement, not least in my own constituency, which, as my hon. Friend says, the Tour de France will reach after the grand départ in Yorkshire. The Cabinet was briefed about it some months ago, and I thought it was an interesting and exciting proposal. I am pleased that the Government are backing it. I cannot promise a statement, but I urge my hon. Friend to be here when Ministers from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport answer questions on
Earlier, in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, I raised the lessons of the Smethwick fire for Chinese lanterns and waste storage. During that fire, the West Midlands fire service and its firefighters performed magnificently, but the service was stretched to breaking point. Indeed, I am informed that during the first night only one West Midlands fire engine was left to cover the rest of the west midlands. May we have a debate to give a Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government the opportunity to reconsider the severe cuts to the West Midlands fire service and the other metropolitan authorities?
I am sure the House will share the hon. Gentleman’s recognition of the strain that that dreadful fire put on the local fire services and the magnificent way in which they responded to it. I will raise the issue that he mentions, but rather than wait for a debate, it might be better for him to be in his place on Monday when DCLG Ministers are here, so that he can raise the issue with them. I hope they will be able to give him some reassurance.
Will the Health Secretary come to the House and give a statement on the opportunity to expand on his health tourism consultation to include an examination of the cost to the taxpayer of visitors securing repeat prescriptions that are then posted back to their home country for friends or relatives? I believe that is becoming more prevalent.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I cannot promise an immediate statement, not least because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has published a consultation this week and will no doubt wish to take account of the responses before announcing further measures. I hope that my hon. Friend and anybody else who has evidence of abuse of our NHS will bring it forward, because it is right that we respond to such abuse and take measures against it.
I declare an interest as a patron of Gate-Safe, an unpaid position that I took up following the tragic death of two children, including one of my constituents, Karolina Golabek. There have been numerous other accidental deaths and serious injuries caused by automatic electronic gates. May we have a debate on the need to review their design and installation, and on the need for regular maintenance by properly trained and authorised manufacturers of manual and automatic gates, to prevent future such deaths?
Many Members listening to what the hon. Lady says will be interested to learn more. If I may, I will contact my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the first instance to see how they might respond to the issue that she rightly raises.
Following the Chancellor’s announcement in last week’s comprehensive spending review that the Government will use the LIBOR fines to fund charities such as Combat Stress, and yesterday’s announcement that the Ministry of Defence will make greater use of reservists in defending our country, may we have a debate on mental health, especially for reservists but also for regulars?
I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I hope that the mental health services that we provide through the NHS and in support of the armed services are not only comprehensive and effective but continually improving. We are continually seeking to improve them. My hon. Friend will recall that my hon. Friend Dr Murrison, who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, produced the “Fighting Fit” report. In implementing it, we have put in place a number of measures that will deliver additional support to any service personnel or veterans who have mental health problems. I hope we will follow through on that as fully as we can.
We expected the publication of the Foreign Office’s business and human rights strategy towards the end of last year. It has still not been published, but rumour has it that it will be before the summer recess. Will the Leader of the
House ensure that it is not slipped out at the last moment, and that the House has a proper opportunity to debate it and question the Foreign Secretary on its contents?
I am not aware of a planned publication date, but I will inquire with my hon. Friends about what opportunities there may be to ask questions about it subsequently.
Shortly before the last election, the Leader of the House went with me to Rowley Regis hospital, which at the time had just lost its last two in-patient wards. While he was Secretary of State for Health, the hospital opened a new in-patient reablement unit, and it has just announced that another ward will reopen in autumn. As we celebrate the NHS’s 65th birthday, may we have a debate on the steps taken by the Government to ensure that local health services are driven by doctors in partnership with local patients?
I cannot promise an immediate debate, but it is timely to recognise the work done in the NHS. I remember visiting Rowley Regis hospital—if I recall correctly it is part of the Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which was at the forefront of clinicians taking greater ownership of the services they provide. Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the NHS, and universal access to comprehensive health care for all at the point of need is one of this country’s greatest assets, of which we are rightly proud.
I want personally to say to the one and a third million people who work in the NHS that we thank them and value what they do. I know, not least from personal experience on many occasions, that they want to achieve the best care for patients. That is why I put clinical leadership, with accountability for quality and excellence in outcomes and care for patients, at the heart of our NHS reforms. To be true to its mission, we need an NHS that is envied for its excellence, not just its availability. That is why the shift from a top-down target culture that covers up failure to one that is open and accountable in its outcomes will be a validation of the NHS, not a condemnation.
On Tuesday, the Select Committee on Home Affairs heard evidence from the police and crime commissioner for Gwent. At that meeting, my hon. Friend Chris Ruane asked a number of extremely perceptive questions. I was therefore surprised to read a tweet after the meeting by the Gwent PCC, who said that my hon. Friend was there as a “plant” for Gwent MPs. Such a remark is a huge discourtesy to Gwent MPs, to my superb hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd, and to a Select Committee of this House. May we have a debate on this?
If I may, I will just say that I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know as a matter of simple fact that Members of this House do not go to Select Committees as a plant for anybody else; they ask questions on their own account and on behalf of the House. We should respect them for that, as should witnesses to the Committees.
Today, the Select Committee on Education will publish its report on school governors and governance. It is a timely report, as Education Ministers are also thinking about that subject. May the House have the opportunity to consider school governance, not least to salute what is done by our governors, and also to update their role?
I hope that an opportunity will arise for such a debate although I cannot immediately promise that. I share with my hon. Friend the sense that giving greater freedoms and responsibility to schools to govern themselves through academy status and free schools depends not only on the professional leadership of the school, but on the support it receives from the governing body. Members of those governing bodies are to be congratulated on the support they give.
May I press the Leader of the House further on the statement made yesterday by the Defence Secretary? Based on what we heard this morning, the draft statement leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, I do not know why Widnes TA barracks is being closed, or the consequences of that. Clearly I am opposed to that, and it is important that the Leader of the House speaks to the Secretary of State about coming to the House to answer further questions.
I think it would be fair for the hon. Gentleman to recognise that in addition to the White Paper yesterday, there was a written ministerial statement—albeit that it came later than it should done—that set out the order of battle, as it were, for reserve forces, which are re-shaping because of their extended role and increased numbers. There is a complex relationship between those things, and the Secretary of State could hardly attempt to explain that in detail in relation to individual locations in his statement yesterday. All Members should accept that that could not have been achieved that day in any case, and the issue needs to be examined afterwards. If Members want further detail on particular locations, they should correspond with Ministers at the Ministry of Defence to hear more about that.
The Prime Minister’s request in February for Professor Bruce Keogh to review the quality of care provided by NHS trusts with above average mortality rates has put 14 hospital trusts, including East Lancashire Hospitals NHS trust, under the spotlight. Following the announcement, I wrote to Sir Bruce to ask him to look specifically at the impact of the downgrading of Burnley General’s accident and emergency department in 2007 under the previous Government. The findings of the review will not be made available until
I must confess that I was not aware of the date on which Bruce Keogh was planning to publish his review of mortality rates at 14 hospitals, but I will of course inquire of my colleagues as to what is planned. Clearly I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the review. I remember visiting Burnley with my hon. Friend and I am very pleased that we were able subsequently to secure additional investment into Burnley to support services. It was transparent to all of us that the previous changes had left many people in Burnley and related districts very unclear as to what services were available to them, or ought to be available to them. I hope that what has been done subsequently has significantly remedied that.
Twenty three-year-old Tafadzwa Sarupinda and 15-year-old Tapiwanashe Sarupinda came to the UK in 2000 with their aunt, who now has British citizenship. The children do not. My predecessor wrote to the Home Secretary two years ago asking for this to be resolved. Tafadzwa says:
“I pray and cry as each year passes. My life is on hold.”
Will the Leader of the House assist me and prevail upon the Home Secretary to try to intervene and resolve this case?
As I hope I am able to do for all MPs, I will endeavour to secure a response to the hon. Gentleman in relation to his continuing problem with his constituent.
This week we have learned that, over the past three years, the BBC has spent £25 million on severance packages for 150 senior executives, a quarter of whom received more than they were entitled to, while in Whitehall a permanent secretary has accepted a severance package of almost half a million pounds, £200,000 of which was in the form of a discretionary payment. My constituents in Kettering are outraged at this public sector largesse. May we have statements from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the abuse of licence fee-payers’ money and from the Cabinet Office about what it will do to stop mandarins getting excessive compensation payments?
If I may, I will not repeat myself; I am sure my hon. Friend will have heard what I said earlier about the BBC and about what the role of the Public Accounts Committee might be. I shall raise the other issue with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Maude, or the Chief Secretary, both of whom are very concerned about the issue.
May we have a debate on the Government’s latest plans to reform civil legal aid? Last Thursday we had an excellent debate in the Chamber on the reforms, but the issue of civil legal aid was largely missed, particularly with regard to judicial review and the Lord Chancellor’s barmy idea not to allow prisoners to access legal advice unless and only if they are opposing a parole decision.
The hon. Gentleman must recognise the requirement to reform legal aid; there are issues of fairness, of quantum and of the resources expended on legal aid, and there is also the need to secure savings. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor rightly has made it clear that those savings had to be achieved, but has listened to the representations made in the consultation. The Law Society was very clear that it was able to accommodate additional choice while understanding that the need for savings had to be met. It was very fair on the part of the Lord Chancellor to respond positively to that.
Please may we have a debate on tomorrow’s 65th birthday of the NHS? As the NHS changes from a target-based culture to a more open culture, and when various historic failures are coming to light, some of the achievements of the NHS, such as the removal of mixed-sex wards, improved cancer and stroke care, and the sheer hard work of those who work in it, are all in danger of being missed. If we were to have a birthday debate, we would be able to take a more rounded and celebratory view.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had the privilege of attending the 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations. At 65, the value that this country derives from having a national health service, with the principles that underpin it, is undiminished. As I said earlier, it is important that people in the NHS know full well that the NHS will carry that respect and valuation into the future only if it continues to put quality and outcomes at its heart. Building on recent announcements on publication of data and greater transparency on outcomes will enable clinicians and the NHS to demonstrate internationally not only that it is the most universally accessible service anywhere in the world, but that it can be among the most excellent, too.