The business for next week is as follows:
I also expect there to be a statement on the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
Last night I was in Colchester, where Nick Alexander, the 36-year-old man who was killed while he was at work selling rock merchandise in the Bataclan concert hall, went to school and where he ran a popular club night. I know that all our hearts go out to his family and friends, as they do to so many in Paris, in Baghdad and in Beirut. Of course we remember the valour of the emergency services and of the members of the public who have become unintended heroes at these moments, but should we not also pay tribute to the journalists, who have often had to stare the brutal truth of murderous radicalism in the eye and bring it to our attention? As Emile Zola said:
“It is not I who am strong; it is reason, it is truth.”
I am sure that the whole House will also want to send its heartfelt sympathy to the families of the two people killed in the explosion at the Celsa steel factory in Cardiff yesterday.
May I ask the Leader of the House why he has still not given us any dates for next year’s recesses? It would be particularly useful for all hon. Members to be able to start making plans for next year, and I can see no reason why we should be halfway through November before the Leader of the House provides us with that information.
The Leader of the House has provided us with a single day for all the remaining stages of the Immigration Bill, on
Will the Leader of the House also allow time for a three-day debate on the autumn statement? I have asked this question before, and he will probably say no, but I am going to try again. Parliamentary scrutiny of Government spending is particularly shoddy. It is extremely cursory at the best of times. Billions of pounds are pushed through on the nod and amendments are allowed only if they are tabled by a Minister. The Government are now preparing the most aggressive assault on public services in this country since the second world war, yet the Leader of the House seems to think that a mere two-hour question-and-answer session will provide plenty of scrutiny for some of the most far-reaching measures our constituents will face during this Parliament.
The Government have already tried to be too clever by half, by pushing the tax credits cuts through in secondary legislation, so we will be going over the Chancellor’s plans with a fine-toothed comb, not least because we have listened to the Prime Minister very closely this week and he keeps saying that the counter-terrorism budget will be protected. We are delighted by that, but even the Prime Minister has been lobbying the Thames Valley police force against local cuts to front-line services, and Robert Quick, the former head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan police, has said that planned cuts to the wider police budget
“will make Britain more vulnerable to terrorism.”
It is the first duty of Government to protect the people, so surely that single sentence should make the Government think twice.
In South Wales alone, we have lost 284 full-time police officers, and further cuts will lead to another 300 being lost. I am sure that every Member in the House could produce similar figures for their own local police force. At a time when the Secretary of State for Wales has pointed to the dangers of radicalisation there, and when Cardiff and Swansea regularly host major sporting events, would it not be a real dereliction of duty yet again to cut police budgets by more than the 5% that police forces have already agreed?
We also want to look at the Government’s travel costs when we are looking at expenditure, in the light of the news today that they are planning to go ahead with “call me Dave airways”. I mention that because when the Leader of the House was shadow Transport Secretary, he told the BBC, responding to the idea that a special jet should be set aside for the Prime Minister, then Mr Blair, that this was
“the wrong moment to be splashing out taxpayers’ money on funding the government to travel in style”.
What on earth has changed? Is it just that the Leader of the House has changed his job, and now that he has a ministerial car he has got used to it and wants everybody else to travel in style? Is it that, suddenly, there is lots more cash to be splashed around in government? Or is it that he has become something of a Liberal Democrat? We all know what the Lib Dems did in the last Government: they voted things through in Parliament and then went back to their constituencies and campaigned against them. That is exactly what he seems to do now. We never thought that he was a Liberal Democrat, but perhaps there always was one inside him.
May we also have a debate on Foreign Office funding for bilateral groups? The Franco-British Council was formed 43 years ago, but this August the Minister for Europe wrote to its secretary-general, Ann Kenrick, telling her that its grant will be cut from £100,000 a year by more than 80%. The council’s most recent seminar was organised by a Muslim school teacher, Samia Essabaa, who was in the Stade de France with pupils last Friday. It hopes that its next seminar will be on “Tackling Islamic radicalisation”. Surely this kind of work is worth the £100,000 a year that the council has been receiving and is not due for a cut—it is certainly worth more than a special jet for the Prime Minister.
On Syria, we in the Labour Party stand ready to listen, because everyone wants an end to the civil war, the defeat of ISIL, the end of the Assad regime and the safe return of the refugees. The Prime Minister said that he will respond to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the next few days. When does the Leader of the House expect this to be? Will he ensure that the House has time to digest that reply before any motion is put to it? May I also urge him to make provision for a two-day debate when it comes to any formal Government proposal? When the House was summoned back on the
On Friday, Mr Speaker, as you know, the UK national Youth Parliament sat in this Chamber under your chairmanship. Last year’s Youth Parliament chose mental health as its campaign for the year, on the back of which the Youth Select Committee, helped by the House of Commons staff, published its report this week entitled “Young People’s Mental Health”. It is an excellent report, which argues that mental health is as important as physical health and says that more than half of all mental ill health starts before the age of 14. It also refers to the stigma of mental ill health as the greatest battle of all. Today is international men’s day, and it is a sad fact that suicide is still the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49 in England and Wales. Young gay men are six times more likely than their straight counterparts to take their own lives. Is it not incumbent on all of us to tackle the root causes of mental ill health, to protect the vulnerable and to end the stigma which is all too often attached to it?
I start by echoing the shadow Leader of the House’s words about the events in Paris and the tragic death of Nick Alexander. We should also extend our good wishes to those who have been wounded and traumatised, both British nationals and French. We wish a speedy recovery to all those who are still in hospital in Paris.
As a former journalist and somebody who has worked alongside some of the most heroic journalists of the past generation, I echo the shadow Leader of the House’s words about journalists, too. They go into some of the most dangerous situations in the world, and some pay with their lives. We always owe them a debt of gratitude for the information they provide and the light they shine on some of the most barbaric practices in the world.
Although we do not, and indeed should not, talk about the security of this House, I would like to say to Members that, in the wake of the Paris attacks, our security officials, the House of Commons Commission and all those involved in running this place are well aware of the challenges that we face, and always seek to take appropriate measures. I hope that hon. Members, and the staff who work here, are always reassured that those officials are doing everything they can on their behalf. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the armed police and to all the security staff who provide protection for this heart of our democracy.
I echo the words and condolences of the shadow Leader of the House following the tragic explosion in Cardiff. Our good wishes and sincere sympathies go out to the families of those involved.
The shadow Leader of the House has always been keen to focus on anniversaries. Will he, and the Scottish National party, join me in celebrating the 21st anniversary of another great Conservative social reform? He has talked about it recently, as has Pete Wishart. It is the 21st birthday of the national lottery, which has provided important support in the constituencies of the shadow Leader of the House, SNP Members and others. It makes a real difference to local communities, and I praise all of those who, over those 21 years, have been involved in developing the national lottery and supporting local projects, and securing lottery funding for important local causes.
On the recess dates, all I can say to the shadow Leader of the House is that, of course, we will provide those dates as soon as possible, but he will understand that it is incumbent on any Government—indeed on all Members of this House—to put securing the important business of this nation ahead of time off in our constituencies and on holidays. We will ensure that we can deliver the changes that this country needs, and then we will seek to deliver the dates of the recesses as soon as we practically can.
On the report on immigration removal centres, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the attention of the Home Secretary ahead of the Immigration Bill.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a three-day debate on the autumn statement. Let me remind him that he has an Opposition day coming up, and I have just announced further time for the Backbench Business Committee. There is no shortage of time available for opposition parties and for Members of this House to secure debates on topics of concern. We have given more time control to Members of this House outside the Government than any previous Government. It is of course open to the hon. Gentleman to debate any subject that he wishes.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the challenges of the spending review. He really should remember why we have to take those decisions. We are still sorting out the problems that we inherited from the years of Labour Government under Gordon Brown. The Opposition always conveniently forget that. We on the Government Benches might treat them more seriously if they had a sign at all of having an economic policy of their own. Frankly, I am completely confused about where they stand now. Is it the party leadership that controls economic policy, or is it the shadow Chancellor or those on the Back Benches? The messages that we get are so mixed that none of us has any idea at all.
The shadow Leader of the House talked about extra money for security, and I am grateful to members of the Labour party for giving their support to the additional funding that we have said we will provide for our security services. That is enormously important. He will have to wait for the details of the spending review. As regards policing, I simply remind him that we have had to make some difficult decisions about police funding over the past few years. Police forces up and down the country have responded admirably to that, and have delivered quality policing at a lower price. Crime has fallen, and is continuing to fall.
The shadow Leader of the House talked about today’s announcement on Government transport. If we look at what was proposed back in the years of a Labour Government, we will find that they were going to spend £100 million on two brand-new aircraft. Even then, that would have been a travesty and a complete waste of public money. We are spending a small fraction of that, upgrading an existing aircraft to save money for the taxpayer. That is the difference between our two parties. They spend, spend, spend and we deliver value for the taxpayer.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he will look at Foreign Office funding for bilateral groups, and I am sure that he will respond on that in due course. On Syria, he has promised to respond fully to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he will do so in the next few days. It is a sign of how seriously he takes this matter that he is making a personal response to the Syrian situation. Of course, once that response is there and it has been considered by the House, we can decide how to take matters forward, but the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for that response.
As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth will be the centre of attention for the Mayflower celebrations in 2020. I remind him that this was when the British went to found the American colonies. I recently met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. May we have a debate on those important celebrations and how they can boost tourism to the UK, and in particular to Plymouth and the south-west?
My hon. Friend continues to be an admirable champion not only for the city of Plymouth, but for its heritage. He has done more than any representative of that city in recent years to promote it as an historic centre and I commend him on that. We have Culture, Media and Sport questions next week and I am sure he will use the opportunity to raise this again. I send all my good wishes to those in Plymouth who are preparing for this important anniversary, and I wish my hon. Friend well for his continued support for the heritage of the constituency and the city he represents.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I associate myself with the remarks made and the condolences offered following the events in Paris last week and the events in Cardiff. I associate the Scottish National party with the comments about the staff of the House who work so hard to ensure that we continue to be safe and who do so in such a friendly, pleasant and accommodating way. Everyone in the House should recognise those attributes of the people who keep us safe every day.
I noticed a few ripples of excitement and anticipation ahead of the Scottish National party’s debates next week. The Trident debate offers an opportunity for all parties in the House to clarify their position in advance of the critical decision that is going to be taken about Trident main gate. We know the Conservative position. The Conservatives love their nukes and they are quite happy to spend £167 billion on obscene weapons of mass destruction—a cold war weapon that cannot even start to defend us from the range of threats that we face. We know the Scottish National party position and our historic opposition to that, and we will suggest a number of ways in which £167 billion might be more usefully spent on social projects. Who knows, we might even find out what the Labour party thinks about Trident, although I am not holding out any great expectation of that. If I am right, I think Labour is both for and against, uncertain and unsure about Trident. When it comes to the vote next week, I think Labour Members might be for, against, maybe for and maybe for abstention. That roughly categorises the Labour position on Trident and we look forward to hearing from Labour Members next week.
When are we going to have the debate on Syria that is due? Yesterday, when I closed my eyes, I could swear that I heard the voice and the words of Tony Blair coming from the Prime Minister, without a care about UN resolutions—the position that the former Prime Minister took—and not caring less about public opinion. We saw how that worked out for the former Prime Minister. If we are going down the Blairite route towards further military action without UN authorisation, may we have some sort of statement and clarity from the Government?
I am pleased that we have a debate on Thursday next week on the Airports Commission. It might be an opportune time to bring up the little issue of the Prime Minister’s plans for his own personal air travel—Air Force One, brought to you in association with Bullingdon airways and etonJet. It is an incredible vanity project when, the day before, the Chancellor will be standing at the Dispatch Box with his latest round of misery for those who are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our communities.
I know that the Leader of the House likes his anniversaries, as does the shadow Leader of the House. Yes, we welcome the 21 years of the national lottery. It is just a pity that the Government are cutting the Big Lottery Fund by some 40%, as was announced this week.
Here is another anniversary for them: it is one year since Nicola Sturgeon took over the helm of the Scottish National party, and what a year it has been. We have 56 out of the 59 MPs from Scotland. We are still north of 50% in opinion polls on the Holyrood elections next year, and we have personal satisfaction ratings in Scotland way beyond anything that has been seen by either of the main parties down here. So I am pretty certain the Leader of the House would like to pay tribute to the success of the First Minister and all that she has achieved in the past year.
The hon. Gentleman had more acclaim from his Back Benchers than the Leader of the Opposition had yesterday from his Back Benchers. On Trident, I do not understand either where Labour stands. It is utterly confusing. Indeed, we had the extraordinary position on yesterday’s “Daily Politics” show where John Mann, when asked if he had confidence in his party leader, said, “I have confidence in Hilary Benn.” That speaks volumes. I am not surprised: I am completely confused about what Labour stands for. The shadow Defence Secretary, Maria Eagle, is saying that she supports Trident, but Labour appointed somebody who opposes Trident to co-chair its defence review with her. I therefore understand the hon. Gentleman’s confusion. Perhaps next week we will discover a little more about what Labour’s policy is.
I gently chide the hon. Gentleman about the contradictions in the debate subjects he has chosen for next week. For half the day, he will argue that we should pull a really vital national resource out of Scotland, costing thousands of jobs and leaving an important part of Scotland a wasteland, yet for the other half he will complain about our making necessary reductions in HMRC and worrying about that costing jobs in Scotland. I do not quite understand how he squares those two things. I think that our defence industry plays a really important part not only in the Scottish economy but in defending our nation. The SNP’s position is utterly contradictory.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Syria. I simply say that he is going to have to wait for the Prime Minister’s response. The Prime Minister has said that he will respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. This is the first time he has made a personal response of this kind, and the House needs to wait to see that. We will address the issues once the House has had a chance to digest the report.
The hon. Gentleman made mention of the plane. The difference between us—not just between us and Labour but between us and the SNP—is that when we make a change of this kind it is designed to save money. This will reduce Government travel costs, and that is surely the right thing to do. The Scotsman reported last year that when Nicola Sturgeon was in charge of transport she never travelled by rail but always by chauffeur-driven car. I travelled to work this morning by train, and it was late, which was frustrating. I get the train each day, and perhaps the First Minister should have done the same.
The hon. Gentleman talks about Nicola Sturgeon’s first anniversary and the achievements of the SNP over the past 12 months. We all recognise the successes it has had, but I think he slightly underplays his own contribution. It is a team effort, so he should give himself a bit of a pat on the back and not just Nicola Sturgeon.
St Francis special school in Fareham was broken into three times over the half term and vandalised again last weekend, causing over £15,000 of damage and forcing it to close. Will my right hon. Friend join me in appealing to people with more information to come forward to Fareham police—they will be treated anonymously—and in applauding the resilience of the headmaster, Steve Hollinghurst, and the many local residents who raised over £9,000 to help the school open this week?
This was a shocking incident. It is always absolutely dreadful when a community facility or a school is a target of crime, and it is inexcusable. Yet it is also a sign of the strength not only of the community that my hon. Friend represents but, when these things happen around the country, of other communities elsewhere, that when something like this happens people rally round and help fix the problem. We condemn unreservedly those who carry out such callous acts, but at the same time it is a tribute to the strength of community in this country that people respond in the way they do. I pay tribute to her also for her part in that.
Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Hull being granted UK city of culture status for 2017. The science museum receives £20 million-worth of taxpayers’ money, but it has told Hull that it is not possible to move the Gypsy Moth airplane that Hull’s Amy Johnson flew to Australia in 1930—the first woman to do so—to Hull for the Amy Johnson festival in 2016, leading into the 2017 celebrations. May we have a debate on the obligations on national arts organisations and museums to work with Hull leading up to city of culture 2017, and to ensure that Hull’s history is actually displayed in Hull?
First, let me congratulate the city of Hull on its achievements. I had some sight of the city of culture year in Liverpool a few years ago, and thought that city did a fantastic job. I also saw the impetus that it can create within a city. I am sure that if Hull goes through the same process of preparation—and excitement, frankly—about the city of culture year, it will be a great boost to the city.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be here next week. The hon. Lady will want to raise the issue again, so I will make sure that he is made aware of her comments today. She is absolutely right to say that I would hope and expect our great national museums and other institutions to play their part in supporting our regions as well as being centres of national excellence.
Tomorrow, the Lancet commission on liver disease will produce a report highlighting the enormous impact and financial cost of that disease in this country. May we have a debate or a statement from a Minister from the Department of Health on what the Government propose to do to deal with this critical problem?
I pay tribute to all those involved in producing the report, which the Department of Health intends to take seriously and to study carefully. Given that there is widespread concern across the House about the issue, perhaps my hon. Friend could secure a debate either through the Backbench Business Committee or in Westminster Hall, in order to get a Health Minister to debate the issues closely.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the business statement. There will be a Backbench Business Committee debate on the Airports Commission next Thursday. I also thank him for giving notice of the business on
I thank the Leader of the House for reminding us of the 21st anniversary of the national lottery. My constituency of Gateshead has benefited greatly from the national lottery, through funding for the arts and other areas. It has given £100 million to projects such as the Sage Gateshead, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Gateshead millennium bridge, which have transformed the riverscape on the Gateshead side of the Tyne river.
I disagree with the Leader of the House about one thing, though. With or without Trident, I do not think that the area around Faslane could ever be described as being a wasteland. It is beautiful countryside.
There was never any doubt about the beauty of the countryside in western Scotland or, indeed, in Scotland as a whole. It is a fantastic part of this country where we would all wish to spend time. However, if such an important facility were lost to western Scotland, the impact on the local economy of emptying the site, which is an important part of that local economy, and letting it go to waste would be a tragedy. That is why I disagree with the Scottish nationalists about the economic impact on Scotland, quite apart from the defence impact on the nation as a whole. I am afraid that is one area where we will not be with the SNP.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the national lottery. We should also pay tribute to Sir John Major, whose idea it was and who made it a reality. Twenty-one years later, I think that is an achievement to be celebrated.
May we please have a debate about the northern powerhouse? A ComRes survey reported this week that 44% of people in the north of England had never heard of it and that a further 20% had heard of it but knew nothing about it, so a debate would provide an opportunity at least to increase awareness.
That is a very good idea. Perhaps we could suggest it to the Backbench Business Committee. The national lottery is a great Conservative achievement from 21 years ago, and perhaps we could use a debate to celebrate a great Conservative achievement today. Finally we have a Government who are really determined to drive up economic activity in the north, compared with the last Labour Government, under whom the proportion of manufacturing industry in our economy fell by half and the north bore a disproportionate brunt of it.
Conservative coalition, has reportedly just spent £500,000 on getting rid of its chief executive. May we have, as a matter of urgency, a debate in Government time on golden parachutes in the public sector?
Every local council is accountable to its local electors for the decisions it takes. None of us would ever wish to see local authorities spending money unnecessarily, but, of course, I have no idea about the nature of the contract and the circumstances behind that pay-off, so it would be wrong of me to comment on it.
On Monday, my hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale said that he would like the Procedure Committee to make recommendations to enable this House to choose its own representatives to international organisations. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will not stand in the way of such a process? My hon. Friend asked that question on Monday, but did not receive a reply.
I have great respect for the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Walker, and I would not dare to try to tell him what or what not to study. I have no doubt at all that if he chooses to look at this issue, he will do so. It is certainly not for me to intervene to tell him what he should or should not do.
May I, too, put on the record my condolences to the victims of the explosion at the Celsa steelworks yesterday, in the neighbouring constituency to mine in Cardiff?
On China, may we have a debate about continuing Chinese abuses of human rights, particularly the case of Gui Haiming, who has disappeared along with three other employees of publishers Sage Communications in Hong Kong, which publishes books critical of the Chinese communist elite? Should not we in this country be doing more to raise such issues of human rights abuses by the Chinese regime, particularly when we are looking to develop our relationship with that country?
One of the things we were able to do during the recent visit was to raise concerns about human rights with the Chinese leadership. It remains the Government’s view that we are more likely to be able to influence change by engagement than by disengagement with China. The Foreign Secretary will be in the Chamber for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt use that opportunity to raise the issue again. The Government will always raise concerns about human rights with other nations where it is necessary and appropriate to do so.
Some time ago, Harrow council decided to outsource the designation of disabled parking badges. The result has been that an increasing number of aged, infirm and extremely vulnerable individuals have had their applications for renewing their blue badges rejected with no recourse to an appeal. May we have a debate in Government time on the implementation of disabled parking so that we can explore its operation right across this country? There is nothing more infuriating than to see someone who is clearly not disabled park in a disabled bay, while at the same time disabled people cannot park and access shops or other facilities.
Another aspect of what my hon. Friend is talking about is that when we go into car parks, we very often see vast numbers of empty disabled spaces, while, as we all know, constituents who need blue badges are struggling to get them. This is really an area in which local authorities should apply common sense. There is no point in having large numbers of empty disabled spaces without people who could use them being able to access them. He is absolutely right, and he may wish to bring this issue before the House in the form of an Adjournment debate. I hope that simply raising it today will send a message to local authorities that we want them to be smart about this issue.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced an extra £2 billion of funding for special forces. We only have 450 in our special forces. Apparently, the money is to be used to buy equipment—protection equipment, vehicles, including helicopters, and night fighting equipment. May we have a debate on whether this is new money or money diverted from the wider defence budget, and on whether or not it is time—given that the Prime Minister now has his own private army, by the sound of it—to widen and make more open parliamentary oversight of special forces?
I must say that I think the Prime Minister’s “private army” is a pretty disparaging way to describe some of the most heroic people in our armed forces. We are providing the money necessary to enable an elite and brave group of people to defend this country against the appalling activities we have seen in France in recent days. I am proud that this is a Government who do the right thing in such areas. The hon. Lady will have plenty of time to question the Chancellor about his spending plans next week, but we will always do the right thing to try to protect our citizens.
Employees at Fairline in my constituency are understandably very worried by last week’s announcement of job losses. Unfortunately, Fairline will not engage with me, the employees or the unions. May we have a debate on the responsibilities and obligations on companies such as Fairline to engage with employees and the communities affected, and to do what they can to ensure we can get the right support to the right people at the right time?
I always think that employers make a big mistake when they act as my hon. Friend suggests they have in his constituency. The fact that he has raised this issue today will be noticed outside. It does reputational damage to the companies concerned. I would encourage any employer to do the right thing by their employees and the communities in which they operate, even when they have to take difficult decisions. If they do not, they will pay the price in the end.
Age Sector Platform and the pensioners’ parliament in Northern Ireland have passed various resolutions over the past few years, asking for the warm home discount scheme to be extended to Northern Ireland. So far, that has not happened. It would be an important measure in mitigating fuel poverty. Is it possible to have a debate on that proposal, which would impact on a large number of older people throughout Northern Ireland?
Coincidentally, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is sitting next to me in the Chamber and will have heard the hon. Lady’s comments. I am sure she will take them away and digest them.
May we have a debate on the national health service? I am proud to support a Government that are investing an additional £10 billion in the service in this Parliament, that are giving mental health parity with physical health and that introduced the cancer drugs fund. A debate would help us to expose the reality of Labour’s rhetoric. Of course, in Wales, where it is in control, it is cutting the NHS.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The health service faces enormous challenges, such as the ageing population and keeping up with new solutions to health problems. That is why it is right and proper that we have committed to provide the £8 billion that Simon Stevens asked for over the course of this Parliament to help him deliver his plans for change in the health service and why it is right that we have committed to deliver more mental health funding. My hon. Friend is right that the contrast between health services in England and in Wales—one run by the Conservatives and one by Labour—is there for all to see. I hope that everyone in this country learns that lesson.
The Leader of the House may be aware that the Trussell Trust, which runs 425 food banks in this country, put out its mid-year statistics yesterday for April to September 2015. North Enfield food bank gave 2,465 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis in Enfield, 990 of which were given to children. May we have an early debate in this House on the Government policies that are widening the gap significantly between rich and poor, and driving so many children into abject poverty?
First, let me pay tribute to all the volunteers who work in food banks around the country. Food banks are not unique to the United Kingdom and are used more extensively in countries such as Germany. They do good work in helping people to overcome crises in their lives. However, I say to the right hon. Lady that it is simply not the case that the gap between rich and poor is widening. Inequality is falling, unemployment is falling sharply and the number of children growing up in workless households has fallen sharply. This country is moving in the right direction, not the wrong one.
We do not need a debate on what is the ugliest building in Britain because it is the bus station in the centre of Preston. It would therefore be helpful to have a debate on why Labour-controlled Lancashire County Council has spent £23 million restoring that concrete monstrosity, while proposing to shut libraries and museums in my Rossendale constituency.
I have visited the bus station in Preston and I know exactly what my hon. Friend means, although I suspect that such a competition would attract entries from around the House. When a local authority gets it wrong, as he suggests the Labour council in Lancashire has done, it will pay a price electorally. Our colleagues in Lancashire will highlight the failings of that authority and explain why it needs to change.
The Leader of the House clearly has a stimulating existence if he spends time visiting bus stations. Perhaps we should hear more about these matters.
May I associate myself with the comments of right hon. and hon. Members about the tragic accident at Celsa in Cardiff yesterday? Last week, two teenagers received custodial sentences from a Cardiff youth court following an incident with a BB gun, despite the sale of such imitation weapons to under-18s being illegal. May we have a debate on the current law governing the possession and sale of imitation weapons, because it is clearly not working?
This is a serious issue because, as the hon. Lady knows, weapons that have been deactivated can be reactivated, and a weapon that has been sold as unusable can become usable. I am sure that the Home Secretary is taking that broader issue seriously, and I will ensure that the specific point raised is drawn to her attention. In the meantime, I hope that the police will seek to take action against the person who sold that weapon.
Let me take advantage of that question to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary who has worked tirelessly in recent weeks to try to find a solution to a complex and difficult problem. The Bill before the House on Monday is an outcome of those talks, and it has the support of all parties in Northern Ireland. I understand that a legislative consent motion for it passed through the Assembly yesterday, and I hope that Members across the House, and in the other place, will come together next week to enact the Bill speedily. When politics in Northern Ireland reaches a resolution and agreement, it is beholden on us all to ensure that we put that agreement in place as quickly as we can.
Last Thursday, Boulby Potash announced that it would make 700 of its 1,000 miners redundant by 2018, including 350 redundancies with immediate effect. That comes off the back of announcements by Caparo, SSI, Johnson Matthey, and other redundancies that amass to about 5,000 private and public sector jobs that, in the past two months, have either gone or will soon go. To deal properly with that situation, may we have a debate or statement on the Government’s review of carbon capture and storage programmes? Teesside is an excellent candidate for CCS, and we could create a new renaissance in industrial activity in the area and attract private investment directly to the Tees valley.
Any large-scale job loss in this country—indeed, any job loss—is unwelcome, and the Government will work with all those in Teesside and other areas who have been affected by recent developments. We will do everything possible to ease the immediate impact of those job losses, and to secure appropriate investment to replace jobs that are lost. That will always be our priority. The Prime Minister said yesterday that CCS is being considered by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We have just had questions to DECC, and if the hon. Gentleman did not have the opportunity to raise that issue with the Secretary of State, I will ensure that she is made aware of his concerns. She will no doubt bring forward further information about her plans in due course.
May we have an urgent debate or statement on the junior doctors dispute, given that 98% of junior doctors who voted have voted overwhelmingly for a full strike? The turnout was 76%, which is satisfactory by anyone’s standards. Is the Health Secretary’s position tenable, given that he has clearly lost the confidence of our junior doctors?
Will consideration be given to a debate on abated military pensions for those who left the armed forces before 1975? Many constituents have contacted me about that issue, and it affects more than 40,000 veterans across the UK.
May I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friends about the industrial accident in Cardiff? On the Friday before last, my private Member’s Bill—the Off-patent Drugs Bill—was talked out by a Minister at the Dispatch Box, despite having support from expert opinion, public opinion, and across the House. Early this week a Minister from the Department of Health said that the Government share the ambitions of my Bill, so will the Leader of the House find Government time to debate the important issue of off-patent drugs, and also to consider the way that private Member’s Bills are handled?
This issue has been debated and the Government’s position was that legislation was not necessary. We share some of the hon. Gentleman’s aspirations. Health Ministers will continue to look at the issues he raised in that debate. He will no doubt find other opportunities to pursue them, if he feels they are not being addressed.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ Welsh language customer service unit is currently located in Porthmadog, a town in Gwynedd where the majority of the population is Welsh speaking. It is therefore a very convenient place for the Welsh-speaking staff and the majority of people who are likely to use HMRC services through the medium of Welsh. The service is to be moved from Porthmadog to Cardiff, which is four hours away on a good day in a car. May we have a debate on the impact of the proposed HMRC changes on Welsh-speaking jobs and services, and jobs as a whole, throughout Wales?
By happy coincidence, there is such a debate next Tuesday, as part of the Scottish National party Opposition day. The Government are well aware of the sensitivities in ensuring that we provide services for Welsh speakers. There is a need to ensure that HMRC operates in as an efficient way as possible. The hon. Lady would want us to deliver value for money for the taxpayers she represents but, as the restructuring takes place, HMRC will ensure it can continue to provide an appropriate Welsh language service for those in Wales who need it.
This House was united in reaction to the dreadful events in Paris last week and in making clear that they had nothing to do with Muslim communities, such as the one that I represent. Does the Leader of the House therefore share my disgust at the appalling cartoon published in a national newspaper this week, which portrayed Muslim refugees as rats and featured crude racist stereotypes reminiscent of anti-Semitic bigotry that once faced Jewish refugees? Will he provide an opportunity for the House to make it clear that this kind of hatred should have no place in our national conversation?
I did not see the cartoon the hon. Lady mentions, but let me be absolutely clear that the events that took place in Paris were not representative of the Muslim community, either in France or anywhere else in the world. The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslim people are decent, God-fearing, law-abiding people who work hard for their families and do the right thing in their communities. None of us should ever have anything to do with a narrative that suggests otherwise. There is a tiny minority of people who come from Muslim countries who, in my view, besmirch the Muslim faith through an ideology that is among the most unpleasant we have ever experienced in the history of mankind. It should be resisted at all costs.
For nearly two years, my constituent William Irving has been detained in Chennai, where he is undergoing a second trial for piracy despite the charge having previously been dropped. I wrote to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Swire on
I know the hon. Lady is particularly concerned about this case. She has raised it with me before. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister are both here early next week for questions. I will make sure they are aware of her concern that she has not received a response. If they have not been able to respond by then, I hope she will be able to get a response from them then.
There is an epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs in my constituency and it has been brought to my attention that there is a black market in GP prescriptions. If that is happening in Wansbeck, it will be happening across the country in different constituencies. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to discuss this deeply disturbing development?
I was not aware of that problem, but I absolutely take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point. It would be an extremely serious matter, not only for the people addicted in his community, but for the financing of the local health service, and we should not tolerate it for one moment. I will make the Health Secretary aware of his concerns, and if he was to write to him with more detail, I would ask the Health Secretary to look out for the letter and give it proper and immediate attention.
May we have a debate about the rights of football supporters in the UK? It would allow us to pay tribute to Brian Lomax, the founder of Supporters Direct and the modern movement to establish supporters’ trusts at football clubs in the UK, and who sadly passed away at the beginning of the month. He understood that football was more than just a business or entertainment; it is about emotion, loyalty and, most of all, our communities. He will be sorely missed.
I think the hon. Gentleman’s words speak volumes. He is absolutely right to pay tribute to Brian Lomax and to remind us of the importance of football in communities up and down the country—not just the professional game, on which supporters’ trusts are focused, but as a grass-roots sport that brings together people from different parts of our society. I pay tribute to Mr Lomax for the work he did during his life, and I send my condolences to his family on his sad death.
If any of us object to the Leader of the House’s business motion later today, we will lose the right to table amendments in the microwave legislative business next Monday—the same day as an important statement that many hon. Members will want to ask questions on. We are told that this sort of microwave, fast-track procedure is to be used only in emergencies or when there is a compelling exigency. What is the compelling emergency in this situation, other than the overdose of political Febreze to accompany the stepping down of the First Minister and the climb down by Sinn Féin on welfare reform?
Given that the Northern Ireland Secretary is about to make a statement, I had better let her give a detailed answer to that question. Suffice it to say that I want to ensure this measure has the smoothest possible passage through the House. I see that more Northern Ireland MPs have now joined us. A huge effort was made by all parties in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to all those involved in the talks. It was a real marathon. I said earlier that the Secretary of State did a fantastic job. Given the complexities and challenges in Northern Ireland politics, it is beholden on us here to do everything we can to facilitate the agreement reached, and that is what we will seek to do.
I am shocked that we have not yet heard that the Health Secretary will make a statement to the House. The Leader of the House indicated that he would, but it would not be good enough for him to do that tomorrow, hiding it away on a Friday, when many Members will be back in their constituencies. A statement would give him an opportunity to correct his assertion from the Dispatch Box that patients have to wait more than 14 hours to see a consultant at weekends. That has been disproved. The only people who now believe it are the Government. When are we getting this statement?
Given the Government’s concern about the performance of the unelected Lords, will the Leader of the House make a statement outlining what mechanisms are in place to allow an MP such as me to scrutinise the performance of the newly appointed business tsar, Baroness Mone of Mayfair? Does he agree that her voting for the tax credit cuts in the other place sends out the wrong signal to potential entrepreneurs?