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Surely not all the rest, but the business is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I am certainly up for that one!
Happy new year, Mr Speaker, and if you are a Russian, happy Christmas. Also, many congratulations to Sir Henry Bellingham and to our wonderful Chief Whip who proves, of course, there’s nothing quite like a dame! Warm congratulations, too, go to our new Serjeant at Arms elect, Kamal El-Hajji—we look forward to working with him. In the words of Stephen Sondheim, “I’m still here!” [Interruption.] Division? No.
I am delighted that Nadhim Zahawiyesterday joined my call for a proper parliamentary commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, although I thought he rather marred the effect by referring to Shakespeare as “our greatest living bard”, which I notice Hansard hascorrected for him. May I suggest that we have a St George’s day Shakespeare debate, which would give us a chance to consider the Government’s own rather special use of the English language? After all, yesterday the Leader of the Opposition about the £190 million flood defence project on the River Aire in Leeds that was cancelled in 2011. The Prime Minister stated quite categorically:
“No flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010”.—[Hansard, 6 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 277.]
But that is not quite the case, is it, Mr Speaker? In fact, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman had to dig him out of that hole by resorting to the most extraordinary bout of circumlocution yesterday afternoon, claiming that
“Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion was that the scheme had been cancelled”, whereas in fact:
“There was a proposal made, it wasn’t adopted.”
In Shakespeare’s English, that does mean it was cancelled, does it not? The truth is that families do not want spin; they want proper protection from flooding.
That was not all. When my hon. Friend Kevin Brennanasked the Prime Minister about the number of special advisers, the Prime Minister said:
“There are fewer special advisers under this Government than there were under the last Government.”—[Hansard, 6 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 283.]
He obviously meant us all to believe that he had cut the number of special advisers since he came to power. Oh no, he can’t have meant that, can he, Mr Speaker, because under the last Prime Minister there were 71 special advisers, and now there are 97. I know the Secretary of State for Education cannot do her times tables, but even she must be able to work out that that is a net increase of 26. The Prime Minister’s words yesterday can be true only if when he said “the last Government”, he did not mean the Labour Government but the Government he led last year. It is as if he has not existed for five years. I have heard of people being airbrushed out of history by their opponents, but this is the first time I have ever heard of a Prime Minister airbrushing himself out of his own history books.
I note that yet again the Leader of the House has given us only the dates for the Easter recess and not for the prorogation for the state opening of Parliament or, for that matter, for the Whitsun recess. Is that because he does not yet know when he will table the motion for the date of the EU referendum? Will he now come clean and tell us how he is going to vote? It is not a matter of conscience for him any more; he will even be able to keep his two special advisers, his ministerial car and his salary. He can tell us—in or out? It’s an out, isn’t it? He is an outer. Come on, come out!
May I suggest that after every recess, the first day back should be devoted to no business other than statements from Ministers and urgent questions? That might stop the Government piling up bad news announcements for the very last day before the recess. This December was the worst ever, with 36 all in one day. In one day, we learned that immigration officers had given up hunting for 10,000 missing asylum seekers, that HMRC had lost out on £16 billion of tax, and that there would be a massive expansion of fracking for shale gas. During the recess, we learned that the Government had abandoned the Financial Conduct Authority review of the culture of banking, and that half the Cabinet had gone to pay tribute to Rupert Murdoch, bearing gifts of a licence fee cut, an end to Leveson, and an inheritance tax cut for millionaires. Is it not time that they learned that Rupert isn’t the Messiah but a very naughty boy?
On Tuesday, we shall debate the remaining stages of the Housing and Planning Bill, and for the first time in our history, some Members will be barred from voting in a Division in the Chamber. Was it not preposterous that we started to debate the Bill at 8.50 pm last Tuesday, and that over the recess the Government tabled 65 pages of amendments to a Bill that is only 145 pages long? Moreover, there was not a single amendment on resilience and sustainable drainage.
Will the Leader of the House clarify a few aspects of the operation of English votes for English laws next Tuesday? Because of the programme motion that the Government have tabled, we shall have to proceed on the basis of manuscript motions from the Government and manuscript amendments, if there are any. That is right, is it not? Surely it is wrong for us to proceed on the basis of manuscript business when we are dealing with such important measures and when EVEL is operating for the first time. Would it not be far better to devote the whole of Tuesday to the Report stage, and to keep the remaining stages for another day?
Could there be a clearer symbol of how incompetent Conservative Ministers are than the events of Monday afternoon, when two of them visited flood victims in Pooley? Not only did they arrive late, but they turned up at the wrong end of a bridge that had been washed away a whole month ago. A farmer had to be dispatched on a quad bike to fetch the two MPs—which involved a 30-minute ride—while their bewildered entourage of civil servants, bag carriers and party hacks had to trundle along in a minibus. I suppose one could have just about understood the confusion had it not been for the fact that the two Ministers concerned were the Secretary of State for Transport, who really should know when a bridge has disappeared, and the local MP, who had visited the bridge once before when it had already disappeared! I gather that there was some signalling from the villagers on the other side of the river, although it is not entirely clear what they were trying to suggest. As Mr Leeroy Fowler put it,
“You couldn’t make it up.”
Four new elements in the periodic table were discovered this week, and scientists are looking for names for them. Apparently, these elements are dangerous and short-lived, rather like the policies of the Leader of the House when he was at the Ministry of Justice—so may I suggest that one of them should be named “Graylingium”?
A happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone in the House. Welcome to day four of the Labour reshuffle. I imagine that this has been a rather frustrating week for the shadow Leader of the House. As Oscar Wilde so famously said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But never mind: I believe that the hon. Gentleman will be making a return to the newspapers on Monday. It is his birthday, and I expect that he will appear in the Court Circular. I wish him a very happy birthday for next week.
Mr Speaker, may I echo your comments yesterday about the new Serjeant at Arms? I worked with him—he was my head of security when I was Secretary of State for Justice—and he is a fine man and a consummate professional. When I discovered that he was in the frame for this job, I was delighted. It is an excellent appointment, and he will serve the House admirably. I am very grateful to all who were involved in the recruitment process for the work that they did and the choice that they made, and I commend this new appointment to the House.
May I also ask colleagues from Northern Ireland to convey my congratulations to the new Northern Irish First Minister, who took up her position during the Christmas period? She takes up a difficult and challenging role, and I think it is in the interests of everyone in the House to wish her well for it. We all want stability to continue in Northern Ireland, and for it to continue to succeed in future.
The shadow Leader of the House referred to the European Union. The Labour party has a leader who has changed his mind twice in the last few months. Labour Members claim to support a reformed European Union, but will not say what they want to reform. They did not even want a referendum. The Prime Minister has done the right thing this week, and I will take no lessons from Labour Members. When will they ever do the right thing for their people? I would just remind him of what it means in the Labour party when people say something. In the Conservative party a free vote means we can vote according to our own conscience; in the Labour party a free vote means they can vote according to the Leader’s conscience.
On the flooding issue, I am proud of the response this country has made to a devastating situation in so many parts of the country. Our emergency services, voluntary services, local communities and our armed forces have come together to deal with a dreadful situation effectively and well. The Government have committed to provide financial support to all the communities affected in a way that goes far beyond what has taken place in the past. I am distressed about what has happened in this country but proud of the way the country has responded, and I am happy to say to the Opposition party that I think we have done a better job than has been done in the past. We will learn the lessons for the future, but it is imperative that we do the right thing when troubles like this strike.
On the question of the announcements made before Christmas, I just remind the hon. Gentleman that I have stood at this Dispatch Box week after week listening to the Opposition asking, “When can we have an update? Can we have an announcement before Christmas? Can we have the publication of a report before Christmas?” However, when before Christmas we actually produced a whole range of announcements, publications and reports and confirmations of Government policy, they complain about it; it is an absolute nonsense. We will do the right thing by this country; they will no doubt carry on complaining about it. That is their prerogative in opposition, but frankly I am taking no lessons from them.
As for the Housing and Planning Bill, let me first remind the hon. Gentleman that we are having a two-day debate on it, something that is often called for in this House. The Chief Whip and I believed it was necessary to make sure that the House had two days to debate a substantial Bill with changes being made to it. I just remind the hon. Gentleman that at 1 o’clock on Wednesday morning while we on this side of the House were debating those measures, most of the Opposition Members had gone home to bed, so I will take no lessons from him when they say we should be offering more time for debate, given that we were debating and they were asleep.
The hon. Gentleman brought up the question of Shakespeare. Listening to the hon. Gentleman on Thursdays, I am reminded of the great quote from “King Lear”:
“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.”
Mr Speaker, this week of all weeks we should express our thanks to the Labour party. Having come back to work after the Christmas period, you and I perhaps think, in the words of the song, “I wish it could be Christmas every day.” On the Conservative Benches, looking at the Labour reshuffle, frankly it is.
Successful local businesses in Eagle Tower, a prominent office building in my constituency, have recently been informed that they will have to vacate so that floors can be converted under so-called permitted development rights. May we have a debate to consider whether the planning system affords adequate protection to high-quality occupied business space, which is vital for generating jobs in places like Cheltenham?
I understand the concerns my hon. Friend raises. The change we have brought forward has been to ensure that redundant office buildings, which exist in many parts of the country, can be quickly used for residential purposes given the nature of the housing challenge we face in this country. We all agree that we need to step up house building and make more housing available. However, I take note of what my hon. Friend says. He will shortly have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I do think this is a policy we need in order to make sure that there are no empty commercial buildings while people are struggling to get on the housing ladder.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I too take this opportunity to properly wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker, and extend that to all the staff who work so diligently on our behalf throughout the course of the year? On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I congratulate Kamal El-Hajji, who has the notoriety of being the first BME Serjeant at Arms this House has ever had? We wish all the best to Kamal in his duties and responsibilities in the future.
I think this is going to be a fantastic year. It is going to be a particularly good year for the SNP anyway. We start the new year pretty much as we ended the old year, with divisions in both the Conservative and Labour parties. For the Conservatives, of course, it is over Europe, as usual. I know that the Leader of the House is looking forward to campaigning for his cherished Brexit. At least he will have that option, whereas Scotland as a nation might be taken out of the European Union against our will. That is going to be a massive issue for us. And the Labour party is divided on just about everything else. As it descends into a civil war of the total, intractable, take-no-prisoners variety, I think it is about time to send in some sort of international peace envoy, because somebody needs to rescue them from themselves.
This week’s business has been dominated by the flooding, which has impacted on virtually every constituency in this nation. Much of my constituency, which has the biggest river system in the United Kingdom, remains under water. There has been massive disappointment throughout the country at the tone of the debate on this, however; I think the nation expected better. Given the tragedy that we have observed over the course of the past few weeks, the House has not risen to the occasion. All the debates have been of a partisan, point-scoring variety, but there will be many more debates on the subject and I appeal to Members to debate it properly, consensually and constructively—in the way that we have heard from the Scottish National party when we have addressed the issue in this House. I really hope that we can achieve that.
I was listening to the Chancellor this morning. What has happened to him? Has he had a miserable Christmas and new year? After all the cheeriness of the autumn statement, there is nothing but doom and gloom today. Perhaps it is just a bit of uncharacteristic honesty as he makes a proper assessment of the fortunes of the United Kingdom as we face international pressures. It is just as well, then, that the SNP is offering an economic debate next week. I do not know whether it will be a happy Chancellor or a gloomy Chancellor who turns up to it, but we should find out what is ailing him and offer him some proper economic medicine.
Immediately after business questions, we will be debating the appalling and unfair changes to the state pension age imposed on women born after April 1951, and the Women Against State Pension Inequality—WASPI—campaign. I am delighted that the youngest Member, the baby of the House, my hon. Friend Mhairi Black, will be leading that debate. Many of our constituents have been caught up in this pernicious trap, and they are hoping to hear something positive when the Minister responds today. Let us hope that the Government will do the right thing for all those women caught in that appalling pensions trap.
This is going to be a massive year, and if the Government think they can just put their feet up and observe the chaos in the Labour party, they will have to think again. They will have a united Opposition, here on the Scottish National party Benches. We will ensure that the Government are properly held to account. If Labour is not up to the job, we most definitely will be.
First, let me wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a happy new year. I hope they all had an enjoyable Hogmanay—I am sure they did—and it is good to see the hon. Gentleman back in the House. I have to tell him that we are going to disagree on many things this year, as we always do, but I agree with him on his final point. There has been an utter shambles in the Labour party. In fact, there is one thing that has not been a shambles, and I should have congratulated the Government Chief Whip—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]—I mean the Opposition Chief Whip on her well-deserved honour. Dame Rosie Winterton has been an excellent servant of this House, in opposition and in government, and this honour has been welcomed on both sides of the House. I offer her my sincere congratulations.
The shadow Leader of the House can never resist talking in this place. More than anyone else, he likes the sound of his own voice. He cannot stop talking. If he will just be patient, I was about to say that I am also delighted by the honour that has been awarded to my hon. Friend Sir Henry Bellingham. That, too, is well deserved. He is a long-standing and distinguished Member of the House. Both he and the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central very much deserve their recognition in the new year’s honours list, and I apologise for not saying so earlier.
The spokesman for the Scottish nationalists and I clearly agree that there has been an utter shambles in the Labour party. We are now on day four, and it still has not finished making appointments. I notice that the shadow Leader of the House’s Parliamentary Private Secretary seems to have disappeared, so perhaps he is in the process of being moved around—
Ah, I beg his pardon. He is not sitting in his usual place. But you couldn’t make up the idea of a reshuffle that lasts for four days. It is a sign of how utterly incompetent the Opposition are. That said, Pete Wishart is back on some of his usual themes this week. I just remind him that the United Kingdom will vote on our future in the European Union, and Scotland voted to be a part of the United Kingdom. I know he has never quite adjusted to or accepted that reality, but none the less the reality is that Scotland chose to be part of the United Kingdom and we will vote as one United Kingdom.
On the economy, the Chancellor is prudently talking about some of the challenges we face internationally. I remind the hon. Gentleman that unemployment—the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in this country—has almost halved since 2010; the number of children growing up in workless households has fallen by more than half a million; and the level of employment in this country has mushroomed under this Government. He should look across the House and at what the Government have done over the past five years and say, “These are people who have delivered for this country and will carry on delivering for this country.”
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the floods, and I pay tribute to everyone in Scotland, too. I know that south-west Scotland, in particular, was badly affected. The emergency services, the local authorities and all those involved in south-west Scotland did an excellent job. I commend the Members of Parliament in the areas affected for the work they have done. It was a distressing period for this country and I hope that those communities can get themselves back together shortly. I shall look forward across the course of this year, as ever, to our usual amicable debate. We will not agree on most things, but I always enjoy seeing him in this place and I look forward to a year of repartee.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in October the Administration Committee, on which I serve, nodded through an altogether unwelcome recommendation from the House of Lords that we should abandon the centuries-old tradition in this place of recording Acts of Parliament on vellum. By abolishing that tradition we are also putting out of work a number of workers in Milton Keynes, who are the last remaining experts in this matter. You will recall that in answering a point of order, you made it clear that
“for the recommendation…to be implemented, the matter would have to be brought to the Floor of the House, as it was in 1999.”—[Hansard, 26 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 39.]
You made it plain that this could not proceed unless the matter were debated here in the House of Commons on a substantive motion. Will the Leader of the House therefore tell me whether the Government have any plans to make time available for such a debate? Will he confirm that if they do not and there is no such debate on the matter on the Floor of the House of Commons, the recommendation cannot go ahead?
That is a matter for discussion by the relevant Committees, and it is on their agenda. As of today, I have had no request to make time available for a debate about it. This is of course a difficult decision; there is a balance to be found between maintaining traditions of this House and this country, and making sure that what we do is cost-effective. It is a matter for lively debate and I am not aware that any final decision has been reached.
May we have a debate, perhaps in Government time or as Back-Bench business, on flooding—[Hon. Members: “There was one yesterday!”]—with a particular focus on the resilience of major critical infrastructure assets? A quarter of all bridges, 10% of all emergency stations and 6% of hospitals are in areas susceptible to flooding. The last flood resilience review did not report to Parliament, because of national security issues. Can the Leader of the House ensure that the next flood resilience review, which is about to be carried out, does report to this place and is dealt with by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and that we treat the issue as the national security threat that it actually is?
One thing we are going to have to do is learn lessons from the flooding, and issues have arisen. For example, mobile phone networks have come down in areas of the country because key parts of them have been affected by the floods. These things are already being looked at carefully in the Cabinet Office and in government. We had the debate yesterday and there will be further opportunities to discuss this issue in future, but I assure the hon. Lady that work is taking place to make sure that lessons arising from the most recent floods are learned and that we do everything we can to protect our critical national infrastructure—she is right.
May we have a debate on the effect of air pollution on health and the action needed to deal with it? About 7 million people worldwide are dying each year because of the effects of air pollution, and locally we face terrible consequences arising from standing traffic, including in my constituency.
I know that my hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner since her election on trying to secure local improvements, and that she has campaigned on the issue of the Chickenhall Lane link road in her constituency and will carrying on doing so. Many of these decisions are now taken locally, in discussions with county councils about what projects should be prioritised for the future, but we will continue to look for ways of investing nationally and providing financial support for local and regional authorities to ensure that we provide the improvements to infrastructure that we need to keep the traffic flowing and to ease the kind of air pollution pressures that come from long traffic jams.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for advance notice of the two days of Backbench Business Committee debates to be held on 14 and
I commend the hon. Gentleman and his Committee for the work that they do. I also echo what he says. For the Backbench Business Committee system to work well, we do need colleagues from all parts of the House to come forward with topics for debate. In recent weeks, we have seen requests for the traditional annual debates on veterans, policing and so on. It is very much my hope that those traditions will continue, so I encourage Members to go through the appropriate channel of the Backbench Business Committee, where I suspect there will be a receptive ear.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the European Commission is attempting for the third time to impose damaging and wasteful regulations on the UK’s ports? Employers and workers’ representatives agree that those measures will damage investment and jobs. The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, has called for the measures to be debated on the Floor of the House, not in Committee. Will he look urgently at that matter and ensure that it is properly scrutinised by the whole House?
I am aware of the issue. In the past couple of days I have had a number of discussions with colleagues who represent ports and who have particular concerns about the matter. The Chief Whip and I are considering those representations. I can assure my hon. Friend that that matter is on our agenda. We must ensure that we get it right. The Prime Minister is absolutely right when he talks about the need for deregulation and subsidiarity in Europe. It is not entirely clear to me why we should have European regulation of our ports anyway, and it certainly has to be the right regulation if it has to happen at all.
The Leader of the House will be delighted to know that the “Rough Guide” has put Hull in the top 10 cities of the world to visit, alongside Vancouver and Amsterdam. [Interruption.] I can see that he is delighted by that given the comments that he is making to the Government
Chief Whip. On that basis, can we please have a statement from the Minister responsible for local growth and the northern powerhouse, James Wharton, in order to discuss how to improve transport links to a global city and the UK city of culture 2017, including electrifying the railway lines and scrapping the tolls on the Humber bridge?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Lady and all the people of Hull on a remarkable achievement. It is always a matter of pride to this country when one of our great cities receives worldwide acclamation. We can all be proud of Hull’s achievement. We should also be proud of Hull’s preparations for the city of culture year. It promises to be a great year for the city. I know that my colleagues in different parts of the Government will do what they can to help ensure that, for the people and the authorities in Hull, it is a moment of great historic importance and great enjoyment.
The Prime Minister has quite rightly made the decision that all Members on the Government Benches can speak with their conscience over the European debate. Given that, can we have a series of debates on the European Union and what it will mean for this country come the referendum, so that people will be aware of what they can and cannot vote for and why they should vote with their conscience, as we will?
I suspect that we will have extensive debates on the matter in this House and around the country over the next few months, and rightly so. It is perhaps the key issue for our generation. The disappointing thing is that, while there appears to be debate in much of the country, there seems to be very little debate coming from the Opposition Benches. Labour Members do not know what they stand for and they are not interested in engaging in debate. They call for a reformed European Union, but they will not say what they are prepared to reform.
First, may I thank the Leader of the House for his kind comments about Arlene Foster’s election as the leader of the Democratic Unionist party and her shortly becoming the First Minister? We look forward to a confident, brighter future in Northern Ireland, taking everybody forward together.
The Leader of the House will be aware, because I know he is interested in the matter, of the High Court decision to grant a buzzard control licence, which took five years to happen. In light of that decision, will he agree to a statement being made in the House to ensure that all future applications for buzzard control licences will be looked upon sympathetically under the criteria that exist?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I will ensure that the Secretary of State responsible takes a look at that and writes to him with a proper response.
As somebody who is interested in international development, Mr Speaker, you will be interested to know that I have just returned from Uganda, where I looked at the terrible situation of the malaria epidemic in the north of the country. May we have a debate on the health systems in Uganda, which are failing people? Mothers and children are dying from malaria, which should not be happening in this day and age. May we have an urgent debate in the House to discuss the situation?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for her work. Malaria is a scourge in many parts of the world and is particularly bad in Uganda at the moment. It is a terrible disease that can cost the lives of young people and blight communities. She makes an important point, and I know that she is looking for a debate on Uganda in the House. Of course, a broader debate on the global impact of malaria will take place in the House in the near future, but she makes a good point that the situation in Uganda merits attention in the House. I hope that the fact that we are as prominent a donor of international aid as any country in the world will enable us to do something to help Uganda, a country with which we have historic ties.
When can we debate whether Parliament is slipping back into its bad old ways that led to the expenses scandal? In recent cases involving Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw, Tim Yeo and Lord Blencathra, bodies in this House took lenient decisions but independent voices outside, including a court and Ofcom, took harsh decisions. The Committee that adjudicated on Lord Blencathra was chaired by Lord Sewel, who now has his own difficulties. If we do not look at the fact that the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is meant to be a watchdog, is in fact a toothless pussycat, and at the uselessness of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which is an expensive ornament, is there not a grave danger that we will slip back and have new scandals in the future?
I think we probably now have the most regulated system of operation of any Parliament in the whole of Europe. Cases can always be made for improving the situation—I am not going to discuss individual Members of this House or the House of Lords—but there are proper processes in the House for making representations on change and improvements, particularly through the Committee on Standards, which has responsibility for deciding on not only individual cases but the overall approach. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will make representations to that Committee.
This Christmas, news headlines were dominated by the floods. Obviously I am concerned about the amount of wildlife that has been lost, including hedgehogs.
Although Plymouth has not faced the type of problems that saw the railway line at Dawlish washed away, over the past two years the walls have been falling into the sea at both Devil’s Point and Devonport in my constituency. May we have a statement from the Government about how local authorities can apply for money to look after their heritage?
I saw over Christmas that my hon. Friend has continued his valuable campaign on protecting the hedgehog, and I have no doubt that we will hear a lot more about that work in the coming months.
I know that last year the impact of the floods was very much about the south-west, and this year it is about challenges further north. It is important that we learn lessons, and we have ensured that we have made compensation available to communities affected by flooding. Of course, there are various mechanisms and funds available to local communities for the protection of historic buildings and sites. I know that there are many of those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I will be happy to ensure that the relevant Minister talks to him about the options that are available.
The Leader of the House will be aware of significant concerns that the UK might be in breach of international law for supplying the Saudis with weapons that are being used in Yemen. Has he any intelligence about when the Arms Export Controls Committee will be re-established? We need that Select Committee to look at these issues and to ensure that the UK is not in breach of international law.
That Committee is effectively a conglomeration of four different Select Committees, which is free to meet whenever it wishes. Its decision to meet or not to meet is not a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the Chairs of those four Committees to come together, to constitute the Committee and to hold meetings. There is no reason why that cannot happen now.
I was disturbed last night when I visited a winter night shelter hosted by churches across Enfield. I spoke to Artur, who told me that if it was not for that night shelter, he would be travelling round on the night buses tonight and on future nights because he is not young or vulnerable enough to get housing. May we have a debate to consider developing a cross-departmental strategy on homelessness which will prevent people such as Artur becoming homeless in the first place, which should not be tolerated in 2016 Britain?
I commend my hon. Friend, who is typical of many people in the House who do unsung and unseen work in the community, visiting shelters, spending nights out with the homeless on the streets and so on in other situations. I commend my hon. Friend on what he is doing and on bringing the issue to the House. The best solution to homelessness is more homes and that is the incentive for what this Government are doing, but I will ensure that the relevant Ministers engage with my hon. Friend to discuss what he has learned and to try to ensure that we do what we can to end the blight of homelessness.
May we have a debate on how we improve support for and the dignity of people who suffer incontinence? Sadly, there is a postcode lottery across the UK as to how long they wait to access support and advice. There is also a problem with how often they can access the products they need to deal with their incontinence. In England alone just short of 200,000 people were admitted to hospital with urinary tract infections. If we tackled this problem, we could give people dignity and respect and save considerable sums of money. May we look at the problem across Government and see how we can begin to tackle it?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Suffering from the conditions that she describes is enormously disruptive to life and enormously distressing. These matters are devolved not only to the different parts of the United Kingdom, but to local clinical commissioning groups, which take the decisions about how to operate policies in their local communities. Where Members have situations in their constituencies which they think are not right, they need to take those up with local clinical commissioning groups and try to get a change of practice in those communities.
My constituents in Kettering are outraged that an illegal immigrant from Sudan who broke into this country by walking through the channel tunnel has this week been awarded asylum and allowed to stay here. This sends an appalling signal to the staff at Eurotunnel and our hard-working border staff both in this country and in France. What is the point of intercepting these people if they are going to be given permission to stay? Also, it sends a green light to illegal immigrants from across the world that they might as well give it a go because if they make it here, they will get asylum. May we have an urgent statement from the Home Office on this matter?
I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses. We have Home Office questions on Monday. Of course, we are subject to international rules about asylum claims and the best way of addressing the pressures is to continue the work we are doing to make sure that the border controls in Calais are secure. We are grateful to the French Government for the way they work collaboratively with us on this. The protective measures at Calais are much stronger than they were a few months ago, but it is a constant battle for our border forces.
I wish a good new year to the Leader of the House. I congratulate him on his bold leadership of the anti-European faction in the Government, but has he considered what all this means for the geography of the House? As I understand it, if Hilary Benn loyally supports his leader by disagreeing with him again, he is going to move from the Front Bench to the Back Bench. In European debates, if the Leader of the House is summing up in future, will he move from the Dispatch Box to the Back Benches? Will he be joined by the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary if they join his rebellion? Call me old-fashioned, but instead of playing musical chairs, could we not go back to the previous practice? When Government Ministers did not agree with the policies of their own Government, they just tendered their resignation.
Perhaps it is north London. Anyway, I look forward to hearing the programme. We are all going to have a lively debate over the next few months, and it is right and proper that we have a debate as a nation, but on the Government Benches we are a united party in government, while on the other side of the House we have an Opposition who are not fit to be an Opposition.
Three quarters of all pension tax relief goes to those who least need it—those paying 40% tax and above. May we have a debate on addressing this unequal situation and proper reform of pension tax relief so that we move to a single-tier relief to benefit millions of ordinary British workers?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently undertaking a review of pension tax relief and the way our pensions system works. My hon. Friend has great expertise in this area, and I urge him to discuss his views with the Chancellor to make sure they are inputted into the review. When it comes to discussing proposals brought forward by the Treasury, there will be extensive debates in this House.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you and the rest of the House were as delighted as me to hear the news that my hon. Friend Mr Campbell has won the Plain English award for speaking in this House. In line with that, may we have a debate in Government time on the use of language in this House so that we can find out what the Prime Minister means when he says he is going to look into something and what Ministers mean when they constantly say they are reviewing something. We could also discuss what is meant when someone asks a question to which they want an answer but gets something completely unrelated to it?
Nobody could accuse Labour Members of a lack of plain speaking this week. Member after Member has lined up to say that their leader is hopeless. The question is whether they are actually going to do anything about it.
May we have a debate on the health benefits of eating black pudding? My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen reports this week that this tasty delicacy is full of protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc so it is not only good for you but is a superfood. A debate will enable us to ensure that its benefits are more widely known. [Interruption.]
I think that my hon. Friend has created a split among those on the shadow Front Bench. There were distinct nods of approval to black pudding from the deputy shadow of the Leader of the House, Melanie Onn, and a shout of “Fat!” from the shadow Leader of the House, so I am not sure they share the same view on this. I remember very fondly walking round Bury market with my hon. Friend looking at the fine black puddings on sale there. Some great products are made in Lancashire and they are tasty to eat, perhaps in moderation.
Given that 21 Members stuck it out until half-past 2 yesterday morning to take part in an Adjournment debate on the world’s only Welsh language television channel, S4C, only to receive the blandest of brush-offs, surely there should be an opportunity to discuss and vote on the Government’s policy of whittling the channel to death.
Last month I chaired a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on fair fuel for motorists and hauliers on an inquiry into pump prices, where we heard that the number of independent petrol retailers has reduced from 14,000 to 8,600 in the past decade. We were told that automated car washes have been a much-needed source of income for independent petrol retailers, but the Valuation Office Agency calculates that 30,000 people are now employed in the hand car washing industry, and the Petrol Retailers Association calculates that the Treasury could be missing out on £200 million of tax. May we therefore have a debate on the hand car washing industry?
Of course, there will be an opportunity to raise that issue at Treasury questions shortly. The important thing is not to say that we should not have hand car washing in this country, but to make sure that the people and businesses doing the hand car washing are operating properly and appropriately within the tax system and have a legitimate right to do that work, in order to ensure that they perform like any other business.
This week the Department of Justice in the United States filed a civil law suit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency against Volkswagen, because 600,000 of its car engines were illegal as a result of defeat devices. In the light of the fact that 30,000 people a year die in Britain as a result of diesel particulate emissions—much of the contribution towards which is extra emissions from the illegal defeat devices—what legal action are the Government going to take, in line with the Americans, against VW, and may we have an urgent debate on the matter?
Let us be clear: what VW did was unacceptable and shocking and it has done immense damage to that company. It is utterly inappropriate for any major corporation to act in that way. Prosecution decisions in this country are a matter not for Government, but for the relevant authorities. I am sure they will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it would be wrong for politicians to get directly involved in whether prosecution decisions should be taken.
Over the Christmas period, I was contacted by two constituents—one was Muslim and the other Jewish—about problems they had with the out-of-hours coroners service. People of those religions need a death certificate within 24 hours in order to comply with their religious beliefs and to dispose of the body. Could a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and explain how the Government are ensuring that a 24-hour coroners service is available to everyone across the whole of the United Kingdom?
I am well aware of the issues and some of the challenges, particularly those faced by some of the communities who live in north London.
The issue is now subject to review by the Ministry of Justice, and I hope it will suggest ideas to improve the situation.
May we have a debate in Government time on the plight of the 3,000 refugees living in soaking tents and knee-deep in mud in the Grand-Synthe camp near Dunkirk? There are restrictions on the aid allowed in, 90% of people there are suffering from scabies and 80% this week tested as hypothermic. Does the Leader of the House think that is how people should live? Does he not accept that the UK Government must do more?
I have a simple view on this. We are providing more support to refugees in and around Syria than any other country except the United States, and we are taking thousands of refugees into this country to provide a route for the most vulnerable to escape that environment, but I do not believe that people should simply be able to come through France and into the United Kingdom. If someone is a genuine refugee, they are seeking safe haven. France is a safe haven. It is not clear to me why we should throw open the borders and simply allow people to travel through France and arrive in the United Kingdom.
Honeypot Lane forms part of the border between my constituency and that of Barry Gardiner. It is also part of the borough boundary between the London borough of Brent and Harrow. Brent Council has proposed a parking exclusion zone on Honeypot Lane. All of the residents on the Brent side have been fully consulted and have, unsurprisingly, objected to it, because they have no off-street parking at all, but there has been no consultation whatsoever on the Harrow side, other than a tatty notice applied to a lamppost. Could we have a debate in Government time on the implementation of controlled parking zones and the need for public authorities to properly consult people before anything is done?
Clearly, that is a matter of local controversy and perhaps one on which the two Members can work together. On the overall rules, the practicality will have to be dealt with at local level, but my hon. Friend will have the opportunity at the next Communities and Local Government questions to raise the duties on local authorities to make people aware of changes.
“there is no agreement on judicial co-operation”—[Hansard, 5 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 97.]
in the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Saudi Governments, but the Ministry of Justice report to Parliament states:
“The Secretary of State visited Riyadh in September 2014 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Cooperation”.
The Government have refused to publish the memorandum so may we have a statement to explain that stark contradiction, unless the Leader of the House wishes to do so now, given that it was he, as the then Lord Chancellor, who signed it for the UK?
Following the recent local government finance settlement, Lancashire County Council will have £730 million available to spend in 2019-20, compared with £704 million this year. Yet the Labour-run council continues to slash services and waste money. The latest example of that is spending £6.6 million on consultants to help it to identify cuts for it to make. May we have a debate on local government finance so that we can discuss the appalling way in which some of our local councils are run?
We have a debate coming up on funding for rural areas. It is quite noticeable that Conservative councils, with the financial challenges we all face across the country, have risen to those challenges and still deliver high-quality services at a lower price, but Labour councils are struggling even to operate with the money they have.
Driven grouse shoots damage wildlife sites, increase water pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions, increase water bills, result in the illegal killing of hen harriers and shed water off hillsides, which causes millions of pounds of damage in floods—we have seen such floods in recent weeks—so may we have a debate and a vote on whether to abolish driven grouse shoots?
Conservative Members believe that we should support our countryside and our country traditions. Labour Members have absolutely no interest in rural communities or the people who live in them, and every time they are in power they damage those communities.
A good new year to you, Mr Speaker. May I bring to the Leader of the House’s attention the fact that on
I do not know the details of the individual case, but the Home Secretary will be in the House to answer questions on Monday. We have to ensure a fair balance in this country: we provide a refuge for people who are genuinely fleeing persecution, but we cannot have an open door for everyone.
In the past eight days, the Chinese Government have devalued their own currency and intervened quite aggressively in their own manufacturing base, including in steel. May we have a statement on why the Government support giving the Chinese market economy status, given the amount of steel flooding the European Union and the UK market in particular?
Treasury questions are coming up shortly, which will be an opportunity to question the Chancellor about matters in China. It is right and proper that we maintain close ties with China. After all, it is shaping up to be the world’s biggest economy for this century.
May we have a debate on the excellent work done during the past 38 years by the charity Motability in providing disability-compliant vehicles and, critically, on the outcome of assessments for the personal independence payment? In such circumstances, many of my constituents have lost vehicles—only to have them restored at a later date, following an appeal—which causes huge distress and, in my area, a very real sense of isolation.
Motability is of course an important scheme—indeed, the welfare support we provide to people facing disability challenges is very important—but it is right and proper to have gateways in place. One of the reasons why we moved from the disability living allowance to PIP was that a very large number of people receiving DLA and accessing the support provided to people with disabilities had self-referred or self-diagnosed and, in the end, we had no certainty that those people genuinely needed such support.
May we have a statement from the Minister for Housing and Planning on carbon reduction building regulations? It is clear to all but Ministers that it is more cost-effective to integrate solar photovoltaics and solar thermal into buildings at the construction stage. Both the Greater London Authority and the Scottish Government have improved their building regulations in that respect. Is it not time for the rest of the United Kingdom to follow suit?
We have a record in government of encouraging the growth of renewables in this country that is second to none. In the last year, the level of electricity generated by renewables has risen above 25%. Building regulations and standards have improved, developed and changed, but there has to be a degree of flexibility for building firms to decide what products they will actually build.
Following on from the question from Geraint Davies, during the Transport Committee’s inquiry we received evidence from industry experts that manufacturers were cheating the safety regulations in order to get around them. Do we not now need a debate in this House on the regulation of cars and other vehicles on the road in respect of emissions software and cheating devices, because the list of countries across the world that are taking action is getting longer and the UK Government’s silence is getting more deafening?
The hon. Gentleman talks about the UK Government’s silence. It is, of course, not the job of the UK Government to take decisions about prosecutions.
We have looked at these issues very closely and worked with the United States on them. The Transport Secretary takes this matter very seriously. If the hon. Gentleman feels the need to bring this matter to the House further, he should talk to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and try to secure a debate in the near future.
If the EU were to confer market economy status on communist China, it would cause a detrimental threat to UK steel jobs. May we have a statement in the House to update us on the discussions in Europe on this matter and on the Government’s position?
The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise that matter on Tuesday, because the Foreign Secretary will be here to take questions. I encourage him to put that point to the Foreign Secretary.
A debate on the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman is long overdue. We have the nonsensical situation in which it is supposed to be the ombudsman for Parliament and parliamentarians, yet the system can be changed only if the Government decide to bring forward legislation. That must change. Parliamentarians in this House must be able to make decisions on how the ombudsman is structured and on the funding for it, without interference from Government.
The hon. Gentleman is free to bring that matter to the Floor of the House at any time. It may be that going to the Backbench Business Committee is the right way to test the view of the House to see how many people share his opinions. The future of the ombudsman, how it is structured and how it works is a matter of debate, and I do expect it to be discussed and debated in the coming months.
As we know, this House relies on tradition and convention. Following on from the comments of my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond, may we have a statement that allows the Leader of the House to explain his understanding of collective Cabinet responsibility, what has traditionally happened to Cabinet members who disagree with Government policy and how that compares with a weak Prime Minister who will allow his Ministers to actively campaign against his viewpoint?
We have a grown-up approach to politics on the Government Benches. We will have a great national debate and the Prime Minister has set out his position. If we look at the Labour party—I do not blame the Scottish nationalists for this—it decided to have a free vote on Syria, yet the people who spoke and voted against the view of the leader got sacked. That is not my idea of a free approach to Parliament.