The business for next week is as follows:
After that, we will break for the Christmas recess. The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
Next week there will be a statement on the outcome of the climate talks in Paris, a statement on local government finance, and—as I promised during business questions a couple of weeks ago—a statement updating the House on the situation in Syria.
Happy Chanukkah, Mr Speaker.
Tuesday of this week saw the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Race Relations Act 1965. It was by no means perfect, but that was the first time a Government—and it was, of course, a Labour Government—had attempted to tackle racism in this country. The Bill was passed by a majority of only 261 votes to 249, because all the Conservatives voted against it.
I remember very clearly that, when I was a curate in High Wycombe, one of our churchwardens, the wonderful Ellie Hector, used to talk to me about how shocked she and her family had been by the racism they experienced when they arrived in this country from St Vincent in the 1950s—and it was not just the “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs” signs. She said, “We had been taught at Sunday school in St Vincent, by English Sunday school teachers, that we were all created equal, but in England, even in church, people used to move to another pew just because they had found themselves sitting next to someone who was black.” Well, thank God Labour legislation helped to change things in this country.
Talking of which, I am delighted that the House is to debate international human rights day this afternoon. It commemorates another Labour Government achievement, the European convention on human rights, to which this country was a signatory in the 1940s, and which we followed up with the Human Rights Act 1998. We will fight to defend that, because we are proud of our Labour legacy.
The Tories, however, seem intent on abolishing every vestige of the Grayling legacy. I predicted that the new Justice Secretary would get rid of the ludicrous courts charges, and lo, it hath come to pass. The prisoners’ book ban, the Saudi execution centres, the “secure college” —all scrapped. So terribly sad! Now the Information Commissioner has described the view of the Leader of the House on freedom of information as a return to “the dark ages”. I know that I am in danger of becoming the love child of Russell Grant and Mystic Meg, but I hereby predict yet another U-turn. Would it not be better if the Leader of the House did his own U-turn this time, rather than allowing the Justice Secretary to do it for him?
The petition requesting the banning of Donald Trump from entry to the United Kingdom now has more than 400,000 signatures, which means that we will end up having a debate about it in the House. Indeed, there are so many signatures that the website has actually crashed. I am sure that every single one of us in the House would want to say to that man, “You are a nasty, mendacious bigot, and your racist views are dangerous.” The obvious answer in the United States is simply “Vote Hillary”—I should inform the Hansard reporters that that is spelt with two Ls—but just in case Mr Trump gets on to a plane bound for the United Kingdom, I have a solution. I think that the Home Secretary should steam down to Heathrow, or whichever airport it may be. I think that she should position herself on the tarmac, dressed in one of her Gloria Gaynor outfits, and tell him “Just turn around now, ’cause you’re not welcome any more.”
The Leader of the House announced that the Committee stage of the Armed Forces Bill would be debated on Wednesday. May I urge the Government to consider new clause 6, which would require the Government to institute a review of compensation for former members of the armed forces who suffer from mesothelioma? It is surely a scandal that members of our armed forces are given only a small proportion of the support that is available to civilians with exactly the same condition. Mesothelioma is a hideous disease, and most sufferers die within a few months of contracting it. Surely we, as a country, can do better than this.
We would think that in Advent the Government would want to do everything to ensure that everybody has a stable home—not a home in a stable—but on the very last day of the Committee stage of the Housing and Planning Bill the Government have tabled a niggardly little amendment that is aimed at forcing people out of their council home after just two or five years. Is that really the Tory Christmas message? Do they not understand that home is where the heart is? So can the Leader guarantee that at the final stages of the Bill we will have two days for Report, legislative consent and Third Reading?
May we also have a debate on the sanctions regime affecting benefit claimants? If a claimant arrives even a minute late for an appointment or an interview, he or she will be sanctioned, often as much as three months’ benefits. But this week the Work and Pensions Secretary turned up fully 15 minutes late for an interview himself, and the latest figures suggest that his great universal credit scheme, which was meant to have been rolled out to 7 million people by now, has reached only 141,000. At this rate he will not be a few minutes late; he will be six generations late, as it is going to take 150 years to get there. Surely he should practise what he preaches: should he not be sanctioned and have three months’ salary docked from his ministerial pay?
We know the Government are determined to sneak as many changes in through the back door using secondary legislation as possible. That is why we want an oral statement before Christmas on Lord Strathclyde’s report on the powers of the House of Lords, but the latest piece of skulduggery is the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which will scrap maintenance grants for the poorest students. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns that this means that students from the poorest backgrounds will leave university with substantially higher debts than their better-off peers. Surely that is wrong. Because of the way the Government are doing this, there is no guarantee we would even have a debate on this drastic measure, so will the Leader agree to early-day motion 829 and grant us a debate as soon as possible?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1951), dated
We also want an oral statement on airport capacity. To be honest, we would prefer a decision, as would the whole of British business, but as the Government are still in a holding pattern some 30,000 feet above Richmond Park, we will make do with a statement. Will the Leader of the House guarantee, however, that there is not going to be some press conference in which the non-decision is announced, and that the announcement will be made in this House first?
I was ordained deacon 29 years ago on Monday, so I hope you, Mr Speaker, will allow me to revert to type for a brief moment. I hereby publish the banns of marriage between Luke James Sullivan, of this parish, the Opposition Chief Whip’s political adviser, and Jemma Louise Stocks of the parish of Ashington, at St Maurice’s church in Ellingham in Northumberland this Saturday. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other, you are to declare it. Speak now or forever hold your peace. We wish them well.
At least we know that if unfortunate circumstances arise in the Rhondda the hon. Gentleman can return to his old career in the Church.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his award by ITV Wales as MP of the year? I give him my warm congratulations—and I am sure the award will be very well received on his own party’s Benches. May I also say to Members on both sides that I hope everyone is aware of the call for evidence from the restoration and renewal Committee? It has been circulated to all Members, and a number of informal discussions and drop-in sessions will of course be held while the Joint Committee does its work. I know that the shadow Leader is doing that work with Members on the Opposition Benches, and I am doing so with Members on the Government Benches. The call for evidence is designed to invite responses from any Member who has an interest in these matters, and I encourage everyone to take part.
On the comments made by Donald Trump, let me make two things clear. First, I believe the Muslim community in this country is a valuable part of our community and that it is made up of decent, hard-working, law-abiding citizens who have nothing to do with a tiny extremist sect within the Islamic world that is threatening deeply unpleasant things not only to the people of this country but to Muslims in the middle east as well. I utterly reject any suggestion that our Muslim community is to blame for the terrorist threat the world faces. But I also say in relation to Donald Trump that I believe it is better to deal with this in a democratic debate, and for us to reject those views absolutely and to make it clear to everyone that such views have no place in a modern society.
On mesothelioma, I will take a look at the issue the hon. Gentleman raises; I have every sympathy with the view that it is a dreadful disease and I will take a look at that point.
On the Housing and Planning Bill, I am not sure that he was listening to my statement, because I announced the first of two days of debate for its Report stage and Third Reading. He will therefore have plenty of time to debate these matters.
The hon. Gentleman talked about being late for Department for Work and Pensions matters, but I noted last week that the Leader of the Opposition was late for the wind-ups in the Syria debate—perhaps the most important debate of this autumn session. After the shadow Foreign Secretary had started his speech it was a good five minutes before the Leader of the Opposition shuffled in, so I do not think I would talk about lateness if I was on the hon. Gentleman’s side of the House.
On student finance regulations, the hon. Gentleman is well aware that if he wants a debate on a regulation in this House all he has to do is pray against it. I am not aware of any recent precedent where a prayer made by the Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Cabinet colleagues has not led to a debate in this House. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that that is a simple process.
On airports, I am sure that when a decision has been taken—it has not been at this moment in time—I will discuss with my colleagues how we can bring the right information to this House.
I have a couple of other points to make. I echo the words to the happy couple; we wish them well for this weekend.
Let me finish by talking about the justice system. I am very proud of what this Government have done on the rehabilitation of offenders. My right hon. and learned
Friend Mr Clarke started the work and I continued it, as the Lord Chancellor is doing. Today, if someone goes to jail for less than 12 months, they receive 12 months’ support after they have left. Under the Labour party, people were released with £46 in their pocket and left to walk the streets without necessarily having anywhere to go, and with no support and no guidance—no nothing. I will therefore take no lessons from the shadow Leader of the House about legacies in the justice system—I am very proud of mine. He talks about the ludicrous criminal courts charge, but I just remind him that he voted for it.
I am delighted to join in the congratulations to Luke and Jemma. We hope they have a wonderful day at the weekend and a great life thereafter.
Happy Hanukkah, Mr Speaker. The Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee has been called away on urgent constituency business and he asked me to explain what has happened with the business for next Thursday. The Committee advertised the normal pre-recess Adjournment debate, but by the close of business on Monday only five Members had requested to speak in it, so on Tuesday the Committee took the decision to allocate the debating time to two items that have more than 30 Members wishing to speak on them. I trust that Members will understand the rationale for the decision making.
I now come to the issue I want to raise. This week, Harrow council has announced that it is going to slash public health funding by 60% over the next three years. That short-sighted decision will mean that programmes on smoking cessation, tackling obesity, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and other aspects of public health will go awry. Clearly, other councils may be deciding to take a similar approach. I warned when this money was allocated to councils of a risk if it was not properly ring-fenced. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on the important issues of public health, because in the long term addressing this will cost the NHS millions?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for explaining the reasons for the debate structure next Thursday. I was slightly disappointed that we are not having a standard Adjournment debate, as I know one or two other Members are. We should take this opportunity to send a message across the House to say that to ensure that this debate does happen in its usual form before future recesses, Members need to put in a request to make sure that there is demand; otherwise we end up with the kind of debate that he described.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about public health. It is often a false economy to economise on public health, but as a senior member of the Backbench Business Committee he is very well placed to secure such a debate on a topic that he rightly says is very important.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
More than 400,000 people have now signed a petition to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK, following his appalling and outrageous comments about banning people of the Muslim faith from entering the United
States. In Scotland, we have already stopped him being one of our GlobalScots and stripped him of his honorary degree from Robert Gordon university in Aberdeen. I hope that the Leader of the House will find some leadership and convey the strong sense and feeling that exists in the whole country. Why not bring this e-Petition to the Floor of the House in Government time so that all the issues can be properly debated? Such is the sense of outrage throughout this country that the public expects us to do that.
I note from the business statement that we have two days for the Housing and Planning Bill. We could not have two days for a debate on Syria, yet we have two days for what is considered to be English-only business in the House. I do not know how the two issues can be conflated. Surely we should have two days to discuss Syria. I am glad that the Leader of the House has announced that there will be a statement on Syria before the House rises for Christmas. I hope that the Prime Minister will make it, because we must hear from him about the efficacy of United Kingdom action thus far. A number of us have great concerns about what is happening in Syria. I am talking about not just the difference that our four or six planes make on the ground, but the targets that are being selected. I have questions about how 12 countries, which have been bombing Syria and having difficulty in identifying targets, could neglect a big oilfield in the desert until the UK got involved. We need to hear from the Prime Minister about action thus far.
The Leader of the House likes his anniversaries, so I am pretty surprised that he did not mention the fact that the Prime Minister has led the Conservative party for 10 years—and what a legacy thus far. The “Scandal of Hunger” report from the all-party group on hunger speaks of “armies” of people going hungry in the UK, with the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee talking about children going for days without a meal. Is there not something wrong in the reign of Dave when we can spend obscene amounts of money on weapons of mass destruction, and find money at the drop of a hat for ill-conceived military action, yet leave children to go hungry in every constituency in the United Kingdom?
We are also surprised that there was no mention of the Strathclyde report on the House of Lords, because that was supposed to be here before Christmas. I am sure that the whole House is interested to hear how this Government intend to deal with these recalcitrant be-ermined tribunes of the People, though I think it is a bit of a foregone conclusion that they fully intend to cook the ermine goose. Given that the Lords like to dress up like some ill designed Santa Claus, is this not the time of the year that we think of the peer?
The hon. Gentleman never loses his abilities as a natural performer. I gently remind him that Lord Strathclyde said that he hoped to complete his work before Christmas. I hope that that continues to be the case. It is my intention to update the House as soon as I can.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the remarks of Donald Trump. I can reiterate only that I wholeheartedly disapprove of what he said—frankly, it was nonsense—and I am aware of the petition that is growing in size. Of course it is not for me to decide how to handle a petition; we now have a Petitions Committee. It is right and proper that it is the House that decides what matters should be brought for debate through the mechanism of the Petitions Committee. Doubtless, he will make his representations to the members of that Committee.
I have a slight sense that the hon. Gentleman is trying to reopen the debate on Syria. Let me remind him that the House debated the matter for eleven and a half hours, as part of 20 hours of debate and questions over a nine-day period. The debate showed the House at its best. We heard some really fantastic, thoughtful and well-articulated speeches that set out both sides of the argument. We heard some insightful comments from the Scottish National party. We had a magnificent speech from the shadow Foreign Secretary and some really thoughtful speeches from those on the Conservative Benches. The House voted and decided overwhelmingly to extend the action from Iraq to Syria, and we will update the House when it is appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman will also recognise the need to update the House on two other important areas: the humanitarian work and the peace process, which will hopefully deliver a lasting political solution to Syria. We will keep the House updated on all those factors, and we will have a full update before the Christmas recess begins.
The hon. Gentleman talked about food banks and hunger. I simply remind him that, under this Government, unemployment has fallen sharply. Crucially, the number of children growing up in workless households has fallen by hundreds of thousands. That will make a transformational difference to many of the most deprived communities in this country.
The hon. Gentleman said that I should perhaps have drawn attention to the Prime Minister’s 10th anniversary as leader of the Conservative party, but he was in the Chamber during questions last week and he must remember that I did it then.
In the light of the foolish and mean-spirited decision to end the tradition of the Christmas Adjournment debate, which allows between 15 and 20 Members to raise matters of a general nature, will the Leader of the House consider in future setting Government time aside for the debate and view it as a Christmas present to the House?
One of the disappointments about the Backbench Business Committee’s decision is that the House will not have the opportunity to hear my hon. Friend’s customary magnificent, insightful and thoughtful speech in the Adjournment debate before the start of the recess—a tradition that neither I nor the House would wish to lose. It is very much my hope that the Backbench Business Committee, swamped with requests for a debate ahead of the next recess, will be able to continue this important tradition of the House in future.
House or the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise that they will report back to the House either verbally or in written form on the outcome of those three working groups.
As my right hon. Friend knows, for some while now I have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of prescription errors made by community pharmacies. Before the election, the all-party group on pharmacy was told that the Government would publish proposed legislation by the end of the year, but I now understand that that is unlikely before the spring. May we have a statement from the Department of Health on this very frustrating delay?
I know how assiduously my hon. Friend has pursued this matter, as he has a number of other important issues. I am aware that the Department of Health is moving ahead as rapidly as possible and intends to introduce changes at an early date. The Health Secretary will be back in this House on the day that we return in January and I advise my hon. Friend to take advantage of that opportunity to ensure that that momentum continues apace.
In my constituency, the award-winning company SMD risks losing an order for Russia worth £80 million because it cannot get an export licence under Government trade sanctions. Without that order, there will be large job losses. This week, the company’s redundancy consultation group delivered a letter to Downing Street seeking intervention from the Prime Minister as there is a distinct possibility that the problem could be overcome with Government support. Will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister to give the letter serious and urgent attention?
Of course this is an important issue. We always want to ensure that we take advantage of international business opportunities where possible. I will ensure that the Prime Minister is aware of the hon. Lady’s concern and, of course, the Minister who is coincidently sitting alongside me is aware of the situation and is up for having a discussion with the hon. Lady about it.
Loneliness remains the biggest killer of elderly people and Christmas is a reminder of that. May we have a debate at some point about a strategy to tackle loneliness among older people? Will the Leader of the House also take this opportunity to pay tribute to Community Christmas, the excellent charity doing everything it can this Christmas at events such as that at the Forge in Scunthorpe to ensure that older people will not be on their own this Christmas?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I commend Community Christmas for the work he describes, and charities around the country will be doing such work this Christmas. I would send a message to everyone in this country with a lone neighbour who might spend part of this Christmas alone: it is not a big hassle to invite them round for a drink sometime over the Christmas period. I hope that everybody will think of doing that.
In view of the appalling news today that NHS discharge delays have hit record levels and that the NHS has missed various targets, including its key cancer target, may we have an urgent debate or an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the Government’s failure to manage the NHS properly and their totally inadequate response in the comprehensive spending review?
I reject what the hon. Gentleman says. The NHS is doing a very good job in challenging circumstances, facing rising demand and increased treatment opportunities. We continue to increase the money available to the national health service to deliver those treatments to patients. It is interesting that although we have made that commitment, we have heard no such commitment from Labour, and in Wales, where Labour is in control of the national health service, we see things going backwards.
It is about time we had a debate on the unsuitability of the opaque and arcane hybrid Bill process in this House, of which HS2 is currently the subject. I have been contacted by many of my constituents who, in good faith and for the first time, are petitioning against the new proposals put forward by the Government in additional provision 4. Instead of those petitions being heard, 75% of those petitioning on the Chilterns have had their locus standi challenged by HS2 and must defend their right to give evidence to the HS2 Committee or lose their right to petition. They will just not be heard. This shows that the hybrid Bill process is complicated, inequitable and frustrating, not only for Parliament and the Members who have been sitting on the Committee for 18 months, but for the very people whose lives are impacted by this horrible project. Can we not, in 2015, find a less cruel and more easily understandable process?
I know that my right hon. Friend has been an assiduous representative of her constituency over what I know has been a difficult issue for her and her constituents locally, and I commend her for the work she has done and is doing. She makes an important point about the complexity of the hybrid process. The Procedure Committee or the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee—I see my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin, who chairs the latter, returning to the Chamber—might look at this. It is an interesting point about the use of hybrid Bills and how they work, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham may like to talk to our hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex about examining that in his Committee.
It is very useful that when a celebrated denizen of the House is referred to, he is just about still in the Chamber.
Many Members will have seen a report in The Guardian today about the exploitative work practices in Sports Direct, which include paying less than the national minimum wage and daily body searches of employees, down to the outside of their underwear. May we have a debate, please, in Government time on exploitative work practices and on the failure of national minimum wage enforcement?
First, it is illegal to pay less than the minimum wage, so where there is prima facie evidence of that it should be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be here on Tuesday for questions and the hon. Lady might like to raise the matter with him.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on raising, during his visit to Iceland at the end of October, the unacceptability of that country carrying out commercial whaling. May we have a debate to put further pressure on those fortunately few countries that still carry on that outdated and cruel practice?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Those of us who believe in conservation deplore whaling where it takes place. Whales are magnificent creatures. It would be a tragedy if any species of whale were to become extinct. I do not support the hunting of whales and the Prime Minister was right to raise the issue in Iceland. This area of conservation, like many others, should be brought before the House regularly. I hope my hon. Friend will use the various avenues available—perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee—to make sure that this and other conservation issues are continually on the agenda of this House.
The Leader of the House will recall that on
I always seek to follow up issues raised with Departments. If we have not had a response, I will make sure I chase up again today and get a proper response for the hon. Gentleman.
Last week Barbara Keeley led a very well-supported debate in Westminster Hall on the disproportionate effect of changes to the pension age on women born in the 1950s. My podcast on the subject has now been viewed more than 130,000 times, so it appears that this affects a great many more constituents than was envisaged—I urge them to write to their own MP, rather than to me. Given that yesterday the former Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, said that the Government had not been properly briefed and got the decision wrong, will my right hon. Friend urge our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House to explain the processes behind this and explore what transitional measures might now be taken?
This issue has been raised in recent months by Members on both sides of the House, including at business questions. I commend my hon. Friend for the popularity of his podcast; he clearly has a wide influence in these matters. I will ensure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State, who I am sure will wish to address them when he is next in the Chamber. These are difficult decisions, of course. As life expectancy in this country rises, which is a good thing, that brings particular pressures on the public purse and challenges that we and previous Governments have had to face.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. We are short of time, so we need short questions and short answers, please.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that it is made clear in this afternoon’s debate on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership that: first, TTIP does not present a threat to public services and, if it does, the Government will block it; and secondly, the Government will push for an investor-state dispute settlement to guarantee that Governments will not be sued as a result of policy changes and, if it does not include that, the Government will block it?
The right hon. Gentleman has put his concerns on the record, and they will have been heard by the Minister sitting next to me, my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry. He is of course welcome to stay for the debate. He is right that there has been a huge amount of inappropriate scaremongering about TTIP; it is being used by left-wing pressure groups as a vehicle to make an anti-Government campaign more widespread. It is about time those groups acted more responsibly and stopped telling people things that are simply not true.
My constituents in Brownsover saw their GP surgery close on
No area can afford to do without GP services for any length of time, particularly in winter. My hon. Friend has made an important point that I suspect will be noticed by those in the health service—they tend to be when they are raised in the House—but the Secretary of State for Health will be here on the first day after the Christmas recess, so I suggest that my hon. Friend raises the matter then if things have not moved forward.
If there was to be a debate on that deeply bigoted man Trump, would it not be useful to make two points: first, in this country we have legislation against inciting racial hatred, which is a very effective law that I certainly hope will remain; and secondly, and most importantly in many respects, we have effective gun control, which I do not think would do any harm in the United States?
It is unusual for me to find myself in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman, but I am absolutely with him on that. My only concern is that I do not think we should give those remarks the oxygen of publicity, because that helps rather than hinders. The remarks were unacceptable and, in my view, unrelated to the real world. We have a Muslim community in this country who deplore what is happening internationally and play a really important role in our society and economy, and we should value them for what they do.
Christmas is coming, and so is a statement on airport expansion in London, apparently. I heard the Secretary of State for Transport say today that he has not yet made a decision, but Radio 4 has been spreading a wicked rumour that he is about to fudge that decision. Will the Leader of the House please remind the Secretary of State, before he makes the decision, that too much fudge is bad for you?
I am sure that the Secretary of State has noted my hon. Friend’s comments. What I can tell him is that no decision has yet been taken—there is plenty of speculation about it in the media—on how to respond to the Airports Commission’s report. Of course, if such a decision is taken, it will be right and proper to have a statement to this House.
I had the opportunity to meet members of the Heathrow workforce in Committee Room 11 yesterday afternoon. They told us that implementing the Davies commission’s recommendation would benefit not just them but the British economy. I read this morning that the Prime Minister is going to announce today that the decision is going to be delayed for six months. Are the Government more concerned about the outcome of the mayoral election than the benefit to the British economy?
I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is just going to have to wait for a decision to be taken. Despite what has been said in the media, I say to the House again that no decision has been taken on how to respond to that report. When it is, we will respond to the House appropriately.
It is now one year since the report by the nuisance calls and texts taskforce, led by Which?, was issued. May we please have a statement on what progress has been made in implementing its recommendations and what remains to be done?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will make sure that his concerns are passed on to the relevant Minister and I will seek to get a letter to him, to update him on what is happening.
Last week during the Syria debate I asked both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary an important question regarding collision warning systems and whether the RAF planes flying over Iraq and Syria were equipped with the latest technology. I got no answer. Therefore, may we have a statement or, indeed, a debate on that very important issue, because our air people deserve the best kit possible so that they can fight in our interest?
To reiterate, I committed two weeks ago to having an updated statement on Syria before Christmas. There will be such a statement next week and the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise that specific question again.
Councillor Gloria Opara on Medway Council, who was born in Nigeria, has raised with me the threat that Boko Haram poses to people in Nigeria. May we have an urgent statement on what the Government, along with the international community, are doing to address the terrorist threat in Nigeria and what we are doing to assist the 10.5 million children not in education who are susceptible to radicalisation in that country?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we have been actively engaged in discussions with the Nigerian Government about how we can help them in the struggle against Boko Haram, a deeply unpleasant group that has committed some serious atrocities. In particular, it has committed some appalling atrocities against the Christian community in Nigeria. We should do everything we can to help the Nigerian Government resist what is a very unpleasant movement.
South Street nursery in my constituency, which has been rated outstanding by Ofsted for the past nine years, could face closure by Rochdale Council because of massive cuts to its budget by this Conservative Government. Should we not have a debate on how this Government are adversely impacting on childcare provision?
The best councils around the country have adapted well to a more challenging financial environment and are continuing to deliver and support high-quality services. I cannot comment on the effectiveness of Rochdale Council; suffice it to say that many other councils have managed to do things differently without that kind of cut. There will be a statement on local government finance between now and the Christmas recess, and the hon. Gentleman will have a chance to raise those concerns with the Secretary of State.
The spouse of a constituent of mine lives, together with their child, in a part of the world that I will not name but that is very affected by extreme terrorism at the moment, yet she has been denied a visitor’s visa to come and visit her husband with her child in this country. May we have an urgent debate on the denial of visas to family members in such situations?
It is always difficult to comment on an individual situation, because I do not know enough about the circumstances. My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituent. I am sure the Home Office will look as carefully as it can at the application, but it has to take difficult decisions sometimes. Without knowledge of the circumstances, it is very difficult for me to say whether this is a matter that has been got right or wrong.
Twenty MPs from six parties in this House wrote to the Chancellor before the comprehensive spending review, seeking further resources for those affected by contaminated blood. We have not had a response to that letter. In the meeting that we had with the public health Minister, Jane Ellison, she promised that a statement about the consultation on the resources available would be made to this House before the recess. Can the Leader of the House assure me that there will be an oral statement to this House before we finish next Thursday?
Several Departments have made commitments to update the House on a variety of matters before the Christmas recess. I simply give an assurance that every Department is working hard to ensure that it fulfils such commitments.
The changes in the HMRC structure are simply because, as more and more of its work is done online and more and more of us deal with our tax affairs electronically, maintaining a network of 170 offices does not make sense. We have decided to rationalise the structure to one with more specialist centres, which will enhance, rather than detract from, what HMRC does.
The decision to remove £1 billion from the carbon capture and storage competition is the latest kick in the teeth for the green and low-carbon technology sectors. I have asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change several questions to which she claims she does not yet know the answers. May we have a debate or a statement from the Secretary of State so that we can tease out why this disastrous decision was made?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has already raised this issue. I am not embarrassed by our record on renewables. During the last quarter—over the summer—more than 25% of our energy generation came from renewables, which is a step change from where we were previously. This Government and their predecessor, the coalition Government, have moved to develop renewable energy in this country, but we do not have unlimited funds and we must use those funds carefully. The Secretary of State has taken the decision not to move away from carbon capture for the long term, but to have a mix of energy generation. The mix that she set out in her statement in this House two weeks ago is the right one. She will be back in the House on
Less than 10% of people in this country any longer make anything, but the vibrancy and health of manufacturing is crucial to the future of our country. Tonight, there will be a celebration of manufacturing on the terrace, hosted by the Engineering Employers Federation. I know that we will be able to talk a bit about this in the TTIP debate, but may we have a debate soon about the importance of manufacturing and how we can support that sector in our country?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of manufacturing. I wish him well with his event this evening. He could certainly bring to the attention of the Backbench Business Committee the need for a general debate on the importance of manufacturing. However, I gently remind him as a Labour Member of Parliament—this is more directed at his Front Benchers than at him—of the popular myth in this country that manufacturing fell sharply as a proportion of our national income under Conservative Governments in the 1980s. In fact, that proportion barely changed at all in the 1980s, but under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown it almost halved.
Last Tuesday, when the Leader of the House announced the arrangements for the Syria debate, he told us that he was not aware of any “specific reason” why the Prime Minister could not be in the Chamber on Thursday to allow us to have a second day of debate. Is the Leader of the House now in a position to tell us where the Prime Minister was last Thursday, and is it standard practice for him to be kept in the dark about his Cabinet colleagues’ commitments?
Surprisingly enough, I do not watch every inch of the Prime Minister’s diary. What I told the House then, and I say again today, is that if a matter is sufficiently important for the Prime Minister to be in the House, he will be in the House. It was important for him to be in the House, and he was here last Wednesday to lead the debate, which lasted for 11 and a half hours. I think that showed this House at its best: it was the right way to do things.
My constituents Mr and Mrs Peacock are registered with the Telephone Preference Service. However, a company called Real Time Claims continuously harasses them over the phone, and has even cited the Data Protection Act 1998 as a defence for constantly harassing them. To echo the comments made by Mr Nuttall, may I ask for a statement in the House about last year’s report on nuisance calls and texts?
This is clearly a matter of concern to Members on both sides of the House. I would say to both my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall and the hon. Gentleman that I will talk to the relevant Department and get them a response, before the Christmas recess, about what is happening on that front. He has performed an important service by raising the matter in the House today. I encourage him to talk to the data protection regulators about any individual business that is misbehaving. There are mechanisms to deal with that, and they should be used.
It is worth reflecting on the comments of the previous Pensions Minister yesterday, who said:
“we made a bad decision” on the increases in the state pension age. I think that Mr Webb is right and that hundreds of thousands of potential pensioners in this country will be discriminated against. Will the Leader of the House call an urgent debate on this matter, and will the Government reflect on the mistakes that they have made on pension provision in this country?
There are plenty of avenues that would allow the hon. Gentleman to call such a debate, such as the Backbench Business Committee or the Adjournment debate system. We have had to take difficult decisions about the pension age, against the background of an ever-ageing population. The previous Government took similar decisions. It is a reality that people will retire later than they would have done in the past. We will continue to have discussions with Members about the detail, but we cannot escape the reality that we face.
Will the Leader of the House tell me when the next meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee is likely to be? It has not met since the election and it met only once in the year before the election, yet prior to that it met eight times a year on average. I knew that he was keen on Welsh MPs not speaking in English debates, but I had not realised that he had extended that to Welsh debates.
The right hon. Gentleman does talk a lot nonsense sometimes. As he knows, I have never sought to exclude Welsh MPs from speaking in English debates. The essence of the reform is that we do not to exclude Welsh or Scottish MPs from speaking in debates on English matters. Of course, the same does not apply the other way around. The Welsh Grand Committee will have a lesser role in the future because we are in the process of devolving substantial additional powers to Cardiff, but I will look at what is happening with the Committee and write to him.
Yesterday, during the debate on women and the economy, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury responded to a number of queries asking her to validate the figures she was quoting on domestic violence refuges by informing the House that they came from “the online system”. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the roll-out of that new font of all knowledge that the Government seem to be using?
May we have a debate about Disclosure and Barring Service checks, and about how individuals can be better supported while they wait for those checks to be completed? A number of my constituents have lost out on employment as a result of DBS checks not being carried out on time. I believe that this area would benefit from the attention of Ministers.
I have had a similar experience in my constituency. On more than one occasion, I have, as a constituency Member, given the Disclosure and Barring Service a good push to try to get a response for a constituent who was waiting on a job offer. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and I will make sure it is relayed to my colleagues. There is no excuse for putting people in a position where they might lose a job offer because of this process.
This week, I received three letters from No. 10 Downing Street, all hand delivered. Each letter told me that a written question that I had submitted was being transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. By the time I received the letters, I had the answers from the Foreign Office, which demonstrates what an archaic waste of time such letters are. If the Government are serious about cutting the cost of politics, can we have a Government debate on the archaic systems and institutions of this place, and on how we can seriously save money?
Many Departments are now responding to questions electronically. It is a bit harsh of the hon. Gentleman to criticise both the team at No. 10 and the Foreign Office for being extremely quick in responding to his questions. We aim to please.
By capping the number of occupants at five and renting properties rather than buying them, as has happened at Porlock Avenue in Audenshaw in my constituency, Serco, which is contracted by the Home Office, avoids planning and licensing requirements relating to houses in multiple occupation. May we have a debate on asylum dispersal addresses, as this sharp practice risks undermining public confidence and community relations, which none of us wants to see?
We will shortly have Communities and Local Government questions. I would never support inappropriate practices, but it might be the case that not putting large numbers of asylum seekers in the same place and instead allowing them to blend into the community is the right thing to do.