Next week’s business will be as follows.
The provisional business for the week commencing
Let me also inform the House that, in accordance with the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, a minute’s silence will be held throughout the parliamentary estate at midday tomorrow for Members and staff who wish to pay their respects following the dreadful events in Tunisia.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
I commiserate with the England women’s football team, who lost their World cup semi-final in the cruellest fashion last night after an heroic campaign. Does the Leader of the House agree that they did the country proud and that they have proved the worth of women’s sport, which should finally be getting more resources and coverage? I also congratulate all hon. and right hon. Members who have been elected to Select Committees. They do an important job in the House scrutinising the actions of the Government and I look forward to them commencing this crucial work soon.
Next week the House will hear the Chancellor’s second Budget in four months as he attempts to clear up the mess he inherited—from himself. After failing to deliver his promise to eliminate the deficit in the last Parliament, he now plans extreme spending cuts that will hit the poorest third of families hardest. According to experts, his planned cuts to social security will lead to a sharp rise in child poverty, so the Work and Pensions Secretary has decided to help him out by announcing that child poverty will no longer be defined by this Government as having too little money, and to avoid any potential for further embarrassment the Child Poverty Act 2010 is to be repealed just as the cuts bite. So may we have a debate in Government time on what on earth the Prime Minister might have meant when he led Tory MPs into the Lobby to support the Child Poverty Act before the 2010 election?
This week the TransPennine Express revealed that, as well mobile phones, umbrellas, and even a bag of haggis, a 6-foot inflatable dinosaur was left on one of its trains. When it comes to the TransPennine Express, it seems the inflatable dinosaur is not the only thing that is full of hot air. In their manifesto the Tories promised to rebalance the economy and build what they called a “northern powerhouse”. The Chancellor and the Transport Secretary then donned the highest of high-vis jackets and hard hats as they did a national photo-op tour of every project they claimed would benefit from their largesse. For good measure the Chancellor then posted a scaremongering tweet claiming Labour would cancel them. But just two months on, his northern powerhouse has become a northern power cut. He has pulled the plug himself, scrapping £2 billion of improvements on rail routes to the north that he had been posing in front of just weeks before. They have also paused the midland main line upgrade and their pledge to electrify the TransPennine route, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of pounds in the process. In fact, the only line that is now being electrified as far as I can see is the one that runs past the Prime Minister’s house. Can the Leader of the House tell us why the Government cynically waited until after the election to reveal that their plans had been derailed, and may we have a debate on the fiasco of this Government’s northern powerhouse project, which seems to be experiencing a Tory power cut?
Yesterday saw the publication of the Davies commission’s report on airport expansion. The Prime Minister responded with his usual decisiveness; he dithered. He set up the airports commission to report back after the general election to hold his last Government together; now he is apparently allowing Tory MPs a free vote to keep this one together. After spending £20 million on this independent, expert advice, can the Leader of the House explain why even after the report’s publication the Prime Minister still cannot decide? Is it because before 2010 he told a public meeting in Richmond, “No ifs, no buts, no third runway at Heathrow”?
If to govern is to choose, it is pretty clear that this Prime Minister is not governing: on airport expansion, we have a Prime Minister who is more concerned to put his party interest above the economic interests of the country; when it comes to negotiating in Europe, we see a Prime Minister pushed about by his Eurosceptic Back Benchers rather than acting in the best interests of his country; and when it comes to devolution and the important issue of English votes for English laws, this Prime Minister thinks only about how to manufacture a much larger majority for himself than the 12 he managed at the recent general election.
Finally, I can update the House on one of the Prime Minister’s other key interests—something I gather he has not declared to the House. Before the 2010 election, in a moment of green enthusiasm, the Prime Minister bought a plot of land on the proposed site of the third runway and planted a tree on it. I can update the House that, just like his promise to lead the greenest Government ever, it has now withered and died.
I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House about Select Committees: they are enormously important in holding government to account and in the effectiveness of this House. As I said last week, I have congratulated all those who were successfully elected to lead those Committees, and I congratulate all those who have subsequently been elected to serve on them. We will complete the process of forming them in the next few days and I imagine that most if not all will meet before the summer recess to plan their programme of scrutiny for the autumn.
The hon. Lady referred to this Government’s economic record and the fact that we will have a Conservative—not a coalition—Budget next week. I am always baffled by the Opposition’s approach to economic matters, but I would rather have our record on the economy than theirs. When they left office in 2010 unemployment was higher than when they took office in 1997; indeed I think that every single time the Labour party has been in power it has left office with unemployment higher than when it started. What it left in 2010 was an almighty mess, with an annual deficit comparable to that of Greece. We have brought the deficit back and restored stability to our economy, which is the fastest-growing in the western world, so I will take no lessons from the Opposition about economic management.
The hon. Lady referred to child poverty, which concerns all Members, but she will understand the limitations of a measure that means that, if we increased the old age pension, child poverty would increase. That cannot be a sensible statistical quirk. What matters in terms of child poverty and alleviating the challenge that deprived families face is education, helping them with their life chances and helping them to progress into work and advance in their career. It is not about raw numbers, which can create an entirely misleading situation. That is why my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is absolutely right to take the approach he has.
The hon. Lady mentions dinosaurs on trains, but we do not have to go as far as the Pennines to find them, as the Labour leadership hustings take place throughout the country. What we have heard this week from the Labour party, at Prime Minister’s questions and in debates, is a party that has not moved on from the 1980s, so when Labour Members talk about dinosaurs they need to take a look in the mirror. That is why we are in government and they are not.
The hon. Lady talked about confusion in airports policy, but she may not have noticed the exchange that took place at a Labour mayoral hustings yesterday, when Sadiq Khan, who as far as I am aware has consistently supported a runway at Heathrow, suddenly announced that he no longer does; he now opposes it. I wonder why.
Finally, on the subject of what took place in Canada last night, we are all immensely proud, while disappointed by the result. Our women footballers did a tremendous job in Canada. They set an example to sportsmen and women, and I hope the hon. Lady is right about it encouraging more girls to take part in football and in sport generally. We are proud of them. Today, in this House, the Lionesses are still very much the pride of England.
May I press my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to consider two-day debates on major issues that come before the House? There is a good example today, where the Defence Secretary is going to bring to the House the possibility of reversing the vote on Syria from the previous Parliament. I have no doubt that the Executive will want to hear, in a big debate, the views from across the House before proceeding. Is it not a good example of one of the subjects—but only one—that would benefit from the House having two days to discuss big issues?
My right hon. Friend and I have spoken about that before, and I understand his point and the importance of ensuring that the House has the opportunity to debate big issues. We have a number of immensely important issues before us: the Budget next week and the debates on the Scotland and European referendum Bills. But as we get through the early stages of this Parliament and the parliamentary programme spreads out, I am very happy to continue to talk to him about it.
May I, too, thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business? I shall start with a bit of consensus, as I sense a forlorn expression in the House at the fact that the English women’s football team did not make it through to the final. I think I speak for all Members when I say it was a fantastic performance, which will encourage women into sport.
Monday is the last day for debating amendments to the Scotland Bill. Amendments accepted thus far: absolutely nil, zilch, zero—despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament, through its all-party devolution Committee, said the Bill had to be improved and the spirit of the Smith Commission met; that the House of Commons Library has huge reservations; and that 56 out of 59 Scottish MPs were elected to secure and achieve such an outcome.
This week, 98% of Scottish MPs voted to improve the Scotland Bill, but those improvements were voted down by English Members of Parliament. We are about to have a statement on English votes for English laws, but this seems to be about English votes for Scottish laws. The Leader of the House has to make sure that the Secretary of State comes to the House on Monday in a much more accommodating mood and that he listens to the voice of Scotland on these matters. I am not in the business of saving the Union, but Tory commentators in Scotland are saying that unless this matter is addressed, it will be as though we are being forced out. We have to have a better attitude from the Government on the way they deal with Scotland, and that has to start on Monday.
The Prime Minister hinted yesterday that he was going to revisit the reduction of the number of Members of Parliament. It will be interesting to see which of the new Tory turkeys votes for an extended Christmas. Besides that, perhaps we should start by thinking about the other place down the corridor. The plans for an additional 80 to 100 peers would make it an extraordinarily bloated and absurd place. Surely we could start by cutting the number of peers. Could the other place bring forward a measure to ensure that this House has a say in the appointment of peers to the House of Lords? Surely this House should have a say in who goes into the Lords.
The Defence Secretary has been going round the TV and radio studios this morning. Mr Mitchell was right to suggest that there can be no move towards military action without a full debate and vote in this House. Can the Leader of the House assure me that will indeed be the case and that, if necessary—and with your permission, Mr Speaker—the House will be recalled if that decision needs to be taken during the recess?
You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker. One of the most compelling arguments against Scottish independence is that we would lose the hon. Gentleman from this House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about military action. The Prime Minister has done more than any of his predecessors to ensure that both Houses of Parliament are consulted on issues of that kind, and I see no reason why that would change in the future. These are serious matters on which Members of Parliament expect to be consulted and to express a view.
On the question of boundaries and the House of Lords, I would simply remind the hon. Gentleman that appointments to the House of Lords are made by the elected Prime Minister and independently vetted by an appointments panel. Ministers trying to get measures through the House of Lords quickly discover the level of expertise that is to be found in that Chamber. Peers bring in experience from all walks of life, and they scrutinise Bills and proposals with an intensity that is unrivalled.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about the Scotland Bill. We hear this point time and again from Scottish National party Members. They seem to want more and more, but they never actually implement or use the powers that they have. The Government are implementing the recommendations of the Smith commission. We are fulfilling the obligations that we made—[Interruption.] SNP Members might disagree, but independent assessments say we are implementing the Smith commission report, as we promised the people of Scotland we would. The hon. Gentleman talks about English MPs voting on the Scotland Bill, but I remind him that Scottish MPs will be able to vote on the proposals that I am going to make a statement on later this morning. This is a United Kingdom Parliament, and major constitutional changes will always be voted on by the Members of the United Kingdom Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Conservative commentators in Scotland. I can assure him that, in the run-up to the elections next year, the Conservative party in Scotland will be making a case not only for sound right-wing policies—in contrast to what is being done by the present Scottish Administration—but for the Union.
I wish to associate myself with the arguments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield
(Mr Mitchell). Clearly, four minutes is insufficient to address properly the most serious issues of the day. For example, although today’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on child protection found pockets of excellence, it also reported worrying failures. It took three months to interview a man whose nine-year-old grandson accused him of rape. On another occasion, police and social workers agreed, without medical evidence, that the cause of vaginal bleeding in a four-year-old was eczema, despite allegations of sexual abuse against a family member. Overall, HMIC’s findings are that too often responses to child abuse offences across eight forces have been inadequate and have underestimated the risks. Please may we have an urgent debate on this matter, because victims of child abuse have already been let down far too often by those who are charged with protecting them?
I pay the warmest of tributes to my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this important area. She represents a city that has experienced some of the worst examples of child sex abuse. She and I have talked to some of those involved. The way in which she has dealt with this as a constituency MP has been absolutely exemplary. This is a matter that this House can, must and will come back to on a regular basis as we go through the process of investigating, while understanding and ensuring that such things can never happen again. There will be regular opportunities to raise the matter in the House, the next of which is when the Home Secretary appears before it in a few days’ time. My hon. Friend and others must continue to raise this dreadful issue, because it must be cleared up and dealt with so that it never happens again.
Recent events in Tunisia have illustrated once again the tragic effects of terrorism and created many more victims. We in Northern Ireland are acutely aware of the impact that that has on families and communities for decades afterwards. May we have a debate on what further help we can give to victims of terrorism and to communities, because we need to ensure that the help and support goes to those who really need it?
It is my hope that this afternoon’s debate will provide an opportunity for Members from all parts of the House to address the international terrorist threat that we face. I will talk to my hon. Friends in the relevant Departments to see whether we can ensure that we return to the matter regularly. Northern Ireland has extensive and distressing experience of the consequences of terrorism. We all need to come together as a nation to support the families and victims of the most recent attacks in a way that helps them to recover from the ordeal.
When will the Government respond to the five Presidents of the European Union institutions who have recently set out plans to accelerate progress towards controlling economies and tax systems and creating a euro Treasury? Do I take it that the Foreign Secretary and others would wish to rule out the United Kingdom joining this wild ride to political union?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I will ask the Foreign Secretary to reply to him directly. The likely consequence of the eurozone crisis is that we will see greater integration within the eurozone. It is therefore of paramount importance that this country can protect its own national interest, as we are outside the eurozone and have no intention of becoming part of it.
The Leader of the House knows that the challenge that this country faces in raising productivity is an urgent one. We are nearly at the Budget. Is there time next week to raise the fact that being a highly skilled nation is the way to be a more productive nation? Rumours are circulating that further education colleges and adult education are for the axe in the Budget. Can we do anything in this House to stop that disgraceful move?
There will be four days of debate on the Budget to raise such issues. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is the Government’s goal to create 3 million apprenticeships during this Parliament. We have seen over the past five years how well different parts of the public sector have adapted to the straitened financial times, while managing to deliver improved services.
As someone who is looking forward to serving on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, may I seek my right hon. Friend’s assurance that the deliberations and recommendations of the Committee will always receive responses from the Government? In the last Session, none of them did. For example, may we have a guarantee that, were the Committee to consider the role of the House of Lords on Scottish affairs, the Government would respond to the recommendations?
It is always important that the Government respond to reports from any Select Committee and, during this Parliament, I will certainly expect Ministers to ensure that that takes place.
Will my right hon. Friend allow a full and comprehensive debate on the future of Network Rail? In January, UKIP MPs—[Interruption.] Yes, MPs. We raised concerns in Westminster Hall about Network Rail’s corporate governance structure. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Claire Perry, dismissed our ideas, giving assurances that turned out to be rather hollow. May we now hold that Minister to account at the Dispatch Box for her failure?
The hon. Gentleman refers to there being UKIP MPs in January, and I pay tribute to him for stoically keeping a solitary flag flying in this Chamber. When the issue arose a few days ago, the Secretary of State for Transport made an extensive statement and he will return to the House for questions shortly. Although there are no UKIP Opposition days, there are of course opportunities to raise these matters in Westminster Hall, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do so.
The Leader of the House might be aware that, since yesterday, Twickenham residents have been extremely concerned about the Davies report. They are very concerned at the thought of a third runway and 250,000 more flights over their homes. Will he make time for a debate on the report before the Government make their decision?
I know how important the issue is to my hon. Friend and her constituents, and I can assure her that the Government will study the report very carefully before taking a decision. There will be a number of opportunities to question Ministers about it. She will, of course, understand that the Government must do what we believe to be in the interests of the country, but we will seek to be as sensitive as possible in reaching this difficult decision.
In the previous Parliament, the Government said that they wanted to ban wild animals in circuses and to produce a Green Paper on graduated licensing for young drivers, but neither matter was progressed. Has the Leader of the House been contacted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Department for Transport to suggest that either or both measures will be introduced in this Session?
I have not had discussions about those two measures. They are commitments that we intend to fulfil when time permits. We have a packed legislative programme with important changes for this country, but I know that the hon. Gentleman’s comments will have been noted by the Ministers in those Departments.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. As a result of many of the challenges faced in sub-Saharan Africa, a wave of migration across the Mediterranean is putting enormous pressures on southern European states. This is one issue I would expect to be raised in the debate this afternoon and I encourage him to take part.
The Director of Public Prosecutions has made a number of high-profile mistakes during her tenure, including on female genital mutilation and the trial of journalists. Following the decision to overturn her judgment in the Lord Janner case, may we have a statement on whether the Government continue to have full and complete confidence in the DPP?
We have just had questions to the Attorney General and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman raised the matter then. The DPP is an independent figure, and rightly so. There have been some discussions about recent decisions, but it is important that we keep the process of deciding prosecutions independent of the political process to ensure its integrity.
May we have a debate on sentencing for terrorist offenders? Since the horrific events in Tunisia, the Prime Minister has rightly focused on clamping down on terrorism around the world and punishing properly those people who want to avoid our way of life. I asked a written question about the average prison sentence served by people convicted of terrorist offences over the past 10 years and the answer was 23 months. Many of my constituents would be appalled that people convicted of such offences are getting such derisory prison sentences. May we have a debate so that this House can make clear what we think the sentences should be for such offences?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Shortly before the general election, in my previous role as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, I lifted the limit of 10 years on a large number of terrorist offences to ensure that if a court deemed somebody to be highly dangerous, it could impose a life sentence, even for a lesser offence in the terrorism arena. I hope and believe that the courts have all the powers that they need to ensure that dangerous people are put away for a long time, and I hope and expect that judges will use those powers.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register. Although we had a statement recently from the Home Secretary about the situation in Calais, it is getting worse. Drivers are reporting that they are being beaten up in their cabs. Only a couple of days ago, a driver was severely assaulted by four individuals with an iron bar. Drivers are reporting that they are being threatened with guns and knives. I understand that the French police, gendarmerie and other services are responding with a Gallic shrug. That is not good enough. We need a debate in Government time on this incredibly serious issue before somebody is killed.
This is clearly a matter of great importance. The Government are watching the situation closely. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is playing an active role in co-ordinating our response to the problems. The Home Secretary will be before this House next week and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to ask questions then. From the point of view of this country, the issue needs to be resolved quickly to keep the trade flows moving, to protect the welfare of the drivers, and to avoid the migrant situation becoming worse.
Order. I would like to accommodate colleagues, but I express the hope that the next statement will start at or very close to 11.30, so there is a premium on extreme brevity. Questions without preamble would be appreciated.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton and the work that he did, saving hundreds of Jewish children’s lives? Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the role of this country in saving the lives of 10,000 Jewish children prior to world war two?
I gladly do that. Sir Nicholas Winton was a great figure at a difficult time for this country and for Europe. He is one of a small number of people who performed heroic acts in saving the lives of a large number of people. His memory should always be cherished in this country.
I noticed that last year the Minister ran out of time so this question could not be answered. May we have a statement giving information on which recruitment agencies have received the largest amount of money from the Ministry of Defence and its executive agencies and bodies over the past five years?
The next Defence questions are on
We had the good news this week that 4G is to be rolled out across Dartmoor and Exmoor. The bad news is that the second phase of this work by the BT monopoly has gone the way of the dodo in Somerset and Devon. This is happening not just there, but across Great Britain. I support the view of my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell that we need Government time in this place to debate the entire infrastructure and the monopoly that BT is holding over us.
I know that this is a matter of great concern to a number of colleagues. It was debated in Westminster Hall last week. There will be an opportunity to question Ministers in the House next Thursday. It is clearly the expectation of the Government and the country that BT and the other organisations involved will make rapid progress towards ensuring that we have a state of the art 21st century network, without gaps that leave parts of our country behind.
The pupils of Morley primary school in my constituency have to cross the busy A608 twice a day because there is nowhere outside the school where they can be dropped off. The county council denies that there is a problem, but cars and lorries are speeding through the lights. A child will die soon unless something is done. May we have a debate on road safety outside schools?
It is important that local authorities identify and solve such problems before there is an unpleasant accident, rather than afterwards—unfortunately, the latter is often the case, rather than the former. I encourage my hon. Friend to apply for a Westminster
Hall debate or an end-of-day Adjournment debate to raise the matter. Knowing her reputation as an effective constituency MP, I am sure that she is putting immense pressure on her local authority to ensure that the problem is solved.
My constituency has many problems with illegal horse grazing on public and private land. The number of animals being literally dumped is so large that the local authority is having to create temporary paddocks, with obvious disruption for local residents. May we have a debate on how the Government can assist local authorities in dealing with this rising phenomenon?
That problem affects many of our constituencies; I have certainly experienced it in mine, as have a number of colleagues. It has prompted many concerns about animal welfare. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the attention of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I encourage him to bring the matter forward in an Adjournment debate or in questions to ensure that it is on the desks of Ministers and civil servants.
The Secretary of State for International Development will be in the House next Wednesday for questions. That is obviously an important area. As a nation, we have taken the lead in ensuring that we continue to support the existing development goals and those that we will have in future. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt use that opportunity to question her on them.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Barclays bank in Odiham in my constituency is going to be closed. It follows the closure of Barclays in Yateley and NatWest in Hartley Wintney before my time here. It is not unique to those two banks, because Lloyds and HSBC are also closing branches across the country. May we have a debate on bank closures in rural areas, because the last-bank-in-town policy is not fit for purpose and is leading to unnecessary closures?
I am very aware of what is happening, because two branches in my constituency are being closed. Mine is a relatively urban area, so the impact is less than it would be in a rural area, but none the less it has an impact on local businesses and people. I hope that the banks will think about that carefully and ensure that customers in those places have access to services, particularly those who do not use internet banking. My hon. Friend makes an important point. I suggest that he talks with the new Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, because this is an obvious subject for one of the next generation of Thursday afternoon debates.
May we have a statement on the roadworks on the M6, particularly the closure of the slip road at junction 9? Nobody seems to be working on it, or under it. I have written to Highways England, the Secretary of State for Transport and the council. Will the Leader of the House please tell me who is in charge?
It is heartening to know that nobody is working under it.
It is immensely frustrating for motorists when they see nothing happening. I am sure that the Secretary of State and other Ministers will take note of the hon. Lady’s remarks, and I will ensure that they are passed on to them. They will be in the House for questions in about 10 days’ time.
Corfe Mullen, Wimborne and Merley and Bearwood are three important areas in my constituency. Each is protected by the green belt. What they have in common is that the green belt is under threat there and in Purbeck. Will my right hon. Friend make time for an urgent debate on the matter to ensure that our green belt is protected and that Dorset remains a special place to live, work and visit?
Many of us are concerned about ensuring that the green belt is protected. Indeed, during the general election campaign the Prime Minister clearly stressed his commitment to maintaining and supporting the green belt. That is immensely important. We face development pressures and have to make additional provision for housing in this country, but that must not be at the expense of the character of the areas we live in and represent. I suggest that the matter is an obvious candidate for the Backbench Business Committee or a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate, because I suspect that many colleagues would like to speak about it.
On Tuesday, when using English and Welsh MPs to vote down proposed amendments to the Scotland Bill, the Scottish Secretary indicated that there will be a further review of the proposals. When will he make a statement indicating which amendments will be reviewed, the timescales for doing so, and how consensus and common sense can be achieved on this?
I do understand the position of the Scottish nationalists—they wish that we did not have a United Kingdom Parliament, but we do, and on matters of constitutional change, we all vote. When we come to a Wales Bill, Scottish MPs will be able to vote on that. We take these decisions collectively as one United Kingdom, and I hope that never changes.
I very much share the sentiments of my hon. Friend. We are, as a nation, immensely proud of our Queen. I have had the enormous honour, first as
Lord Chancellor and now as Lord President of the Council, of working with the Queen over the past three years. She is a fantastic sovereign. I have no doubt that the country will want to mark the occasion appropriately. However, it should be marked in a way that she wants, and so it will be very much for the palace to indicate how she would like that to happen.
Following privatisation of search and rescue, RAF Valley will be closing down its search and rescue location. That service was fit enough for a prince to train there. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can scrutinise the costs of transfer and future delivery of search and rescue? This is a very important issue that we did not have time to deal with in the previous Parliament.
I am sure that Ministry of Defence Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Change is always difficult, particularly when it affects communities. Defence Ministers will be in the House in 10 days’ time. He is also able to requisition an Adjournment debate to discuss this with Defence Ministers—[Interruption]—or Transport Ministers, and I am sure he will do so.
Last week was the first international day celebrating yoga, and 192 of 193 members of the United Nations joined in with those celebrations. I am pleased to say that the Prime Minister gave a strong message of support. There are clear health benefits to practising yoga, which might be introduced ahead of Prime Minister’s Question Time on a Wednesday. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate or a statement in which we can extol the virtues of practising yoga?
My hon. Friend has already done that very effectively. We wait with interest to see him putting his advocacy into action in the Tea Room afterwards.
Tom Blenkinsop was, on my suggestion, given a Christmas present by his brother of a book on yoga, but to date there is no evidence that he has read the first chapter.
Exploration in the North sea is at its lowest level for decades. Will the Chancellor bring forward in next week’s Budget proposals to incentivise exploration for oil and gas to boost production and to protect employment?
As a Government we understand very clearly the importance of the North sea to the economy not only of north-east Scotland but the whole of Scotland. I have no doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is listening carefully to representations from the hon. Gentleman’s party and other people in Scotland, and from the energy industry. We will of course do everything we can to ensure that it has a strong future. I remind him, though, that this is a classic example of why the financial plans of the Scottish National party were so utterly illiterate, because had it secured independence and the oil price had then collapsed, its putative new Government would have been bankrupt. This is why we need to be part of one United Kingdom.
A recent court case ruled that some of these fines are excessive and not legally enforceable, so it is now, first and foremost, for the private companies to get their legal act together. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will take note of what my hon. Friend says, and if the necessary action does not happen, we will have to look at what else needs to be done.
A report this week showed that Bradford schools are missing vital targets to improve education standards across the city, and I know that that is also happening in the constituencies of several other right hon. and hon. Members. Could we therefore have a debate about reinstating the widely successful city challenge?
Inadequate education standards are never acceptable, wherever they may be, and we need to drive to improve things. That is one of the goals of the Education and Adoption Bill, which is before the House at the moment. I ask the hon. Gentleman to work with his colleagues to change their minds about some of the initiatives we have put in place, such as free schools, which are designed to ensure that standards are improved right across the country.
Yesterday, Derbyshire County Council announced that it is planning to make further cuts to community transport, which will have a significant negative impact on a number of my constituents in Erewash, many of whom depend on it as a lifeline to the outside world. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend consider holding an urgent debate to ensure that local authorities are making adequate provision for such vital community services?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. She is already doing an excellent job of representing her constituents as their newly elected MP. There will be an opportunity to raise local government issues in a Westminster Hall debate next Thursday afternoon, so she might consider raising this point then.
Yesterday’s extremely important Adjournment debate was on the effect of corruption on economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, a critical issue that affects the security of this country. It is precisely the sort of issue that deserves two days of debate and I therefore wish to associate myself with the comments of my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. Will the Leader of the House say more about how the Executive can introduce proposals to ensure that this House has a proper opportunity to debate all important issues over a two-day period, if necessary?
I have a lot of sympathy for what my hon. and learned Friend says. This is an important issue and I hope he will address it in today’s debate. He will understand that this House’s workload early in this Parliament is pretty intense and that about half the time available for debate is already allocated to the Backbench Business Committee and the Opposition parties, so there is perhaps less flexibility than we might wish to do what he requires. However, there is nothing to prevent the Backbench Business Committee from seeking to work with us to provide precisely that kind of opportunity.
Everyone does and should have access to the law, so to place a hurdle in front of them before they arrive is not the right thing to do. It is very much my hope that, if a case is vexatious, the judge taking an initial look at it will rule it out and not hear it because it has no grounding.
My constituents get excuses from Southeastern Trains that delays and cancellations are due to the wrong type of ice, the wrong type of leaves, the wrong type of rain and now the wrong type of heat. Given the amount of money that goes to these train operators, could we please have a debate in Government time about the dysfunctional nature of the London commuter train services and why, ironically, London Overground, which is run by the Mayor, seems remarkably free of such surprising obstacles?
I very much echo my hon. Friend’s point. Yes, it has been a hot week, but that is not an excuse for the train service to disintegrate. Both yesterday morning and this morning, the South West Trains service that I use to come in turned from an eight-coach train into a four-coach train, which was absolutely packed. Indeed, yesterday it could not even stop at all the stations on the way. My message to the train companies is to spot the weather forecast coming up and to try to make sure that they can maintain their services even when it is a bit challenging on the weather front.
I have now received a response from the BBC to my letter asking it to use the term “Daesh” rather than “so-called Islamic State,” but it is not worth the paper it is written on. It says that using the word “Daesh” would breach its impartiality rules, which is the most bizarre logic I have seen. Given the Prime Minister’s response to me yesterday that he is happy for people to use “Daesh”, could we have an urgent debate on the Floor of the House about the conduct and behaviour of the BBC?
I commend my hon. Friend on the work he has done in this area. I must say that my view of what impartiality means is different from that of the BBC. During the second world war, the BBC was a beacon of fact; it was not expected to be impartial about Britain and Germany. Today, it should be a beacon of fact; it is not expected to be impartial about threats to the security and safety and to the lives and limbs of the people of this nation.
Many local authorities have followed the spirit of the Localism Act 2011 by responding to the need for neighbourhood and local plans, but there are unlikely to be neighbourhood or local plans in my constituency of Eastleigh until November next year. May I call for a debate on the failure of local government correctly to create local plans and properly to protect the plans for their communities?
I have an awful lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, and I hope that she will continue to do an effective job in holding Eastleigh Borough Council’s feet to the fire over this issue. It is absolutely shocking that only about one in five local authorities have updated their local plans since the new guidelines came into effect, and that a majority of councils still do not have a plan. It is not possible for them to provide proper protection for the areas they represent without getting on and delivering the plans that will give local people the control they need.
By the sound of it, my hon. Friend’s Bill will provide the opportunity for just such a debate, in which a number of Members from both sides of the House with views about the future of the BBC can express their views. It will of course be a very live issue during the next couple of years as we move towards the renewal of the charter. I know that those with strong feelings will want to make their views heard, and we will make sure that there are opportunities for them to be heard.
Will the Leader of the House name the independent assessments which he says have confirmed that the Government are implementing the Smith commission?
Prior to the election, my constituents heard that a new enterprise zone would be established in Corby. Given that other areas have had the same pledge, may we have a statement setting out the next steps, because we really need these new jobs and this new investment?
I hear what my hon. Friend says. I will make sure that the relevant Treasury Ministers, who I believe are taking the lead on enterprise zones, respond to him in the light of his comments. I commend him for the work he is doing—he has already proved to be an excellent champion for Corby—and I am sure that he will continue that work and succeed in his objectives.
Before the election, the Government launched a consultation on the decriminalisation of inadvertent single dispensing errors by pharmacists, which can lead to their going to prison. May we have a debate or a statement from the Secretary of State for Health to tell us exactly where all that has got to?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is very important that we in this country do not criminalise people for making honest mistakes. We criminalise when there is wilful negligence, but not when people make errors in the course of busy jobs. Health questions is next week, and I suggest that he raises that matter directly with the Secretary of State when he is in the House.
This year marks the 120th anniversary of the sport of rugby league. May we have a debate on the contribution made by the sport, particularly in the north of England? Will the Leader of the House join me in the 120-mile walk, or in part of it, that is taking place this summer?
My hon. Friend represents the great northern town of Warrington. I once stood there as a candidate, and I visited the local rugby league team to watch it play. I want to take this opportunity to wish the English rugby league team the very best when it takes part in this autumn’s world cup. I also wish all those involved in promoting the anniversary—including those going on the walk in a few weeks’ time—the very best in celebrating a sport that has been and continues to be a really important part of our northern communities.
Does the Leader of the House share my concern that the business of the House is being delayed by Divisions taking an unnecessarily long time? It seems to me that the primary cause is the unequal length of the alphabetical queues in the voting Lobbies. A quick analysis shows that there are 199 Members in the N to Z queue and 236 in the G to M queue. Given that the Leader of the House is a G and the Chief Whip is an H, will they ensure that by the time we come back in September, the queue lengths have been equalised? The quickest and easiest way to do that would be to consign the 25 Members whose surname begins with “Mc” to the outer darkness of the N to Z queue.
The hon. Gentleman really is a most legendary anorak.
I very much value my Scottish colleagues in this Union Parliament, and I would not wish to consign them to any outer darkness.
I have every sympathy with the point that my hon. Friend makes, and when the House of Commons Commission starts meeting I intend to ask officials to look at it. As a G who stands in the queue while the other queues disappear, I have an awful lot of sympathy with him.