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The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
May I start by warmly congratulating the Secretary of State for Scotland on joining the ranks of out gay MPs yesterday? His announcement was made with considerable charm, I thought. He said he hoped that he would not be treated any differently because of his sexuality. May I assure him that being gay does not necessarily make you any better as a politician? [Laughter.] Oh, I did not think that was very funny.
It seems particularly appropriate that we should be having a debate this afternoon on space, especially following the death of David Bowie, the ultimate Starman.
I asked for a debate on the English language last week. May we have a debate on the use of the word “menial”? The Prime Minister used it yesterday with quite a sneer on his face, but is that not where he gets it wrong? Those are the people who really graft in our society and he does not demean them by using such language; he demeans himself. There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.
May we have a debate on a series of mysterious disappearances that have happened over the past week? It is a bit like Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” First, there was the mystery of the missing Health Secretary. They sought him here, they sought him there, but oh no, even when the first strike by doctors for decades was happening, he was nowhere to be found, not even in a television studio, which he normally loves. Surely he should be here, explaining how he has completely lost the respect and trust of the whole medical profession.
Then there was the disappearance of the Government’s consultation on the future of the BBC. I know the Tories all hate the BBC, but the closing date for the consultation was 99 days ago today and it is still nowhere to be seen. The charter runs out in less than a year, so when will the Government publish the consultation and the new draft charter?
It is not just consultations that have disappeared, though. On Tuesday afternoon a whole Committee disappeared—European Committee A, which was meant to meet at 2.30 pm in Committee Room 10 to consider the Ports Authority regulations, something I am sure all hon. Members think is very important. Members of the public turned up from far and wide in their droves to hear what the Minister had to say, but the Government had pulled the meeting. Why? This is an important matter that affects 47 UK ports. Port workers are very concerned about it. The European Scrutiny Committee has said that it remains
“deeply concerned that the Government continues to refuse to have a floor debate on this issue”.
How can the Leader of the House portray himself as a serious Eurosceptic when he will not even allow the House to debate EU measures?
That is not the only debate to disappear. Do you remember, Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House’s promise of a debate on abolishing student grants, which he made here on
“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.”—[Hansard, 10 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1154.]
We took the Leader of the House at his word. Early-day motion 829 is on the Order Paper praying against the statutory instrument.
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (S.I., 2015, No. 1951), dated
Therefore, according to the Leader of the House’s own promise to this House, we should be having a debate in this Chamber. But that is not what is happening, is it? Instead, he has arranged for the only debate to be held not in this House, but in a Committee at 11.30 this morning. Because it is in a Committee, even if every single member of that Committee voted against the motion, it would still pass into law. That is not democracy; that is government by diktat.
Let me be absolutely clear that this should not be introduced by secondary legislation. This is a major change that will deprive around half a million of England’s poorest students of maintenance grants, forcing them to graduate with debt—[Interruption.] The Deputy Leader of the House is talking a whole load of guff. If she does not know the rules of this House, she should go and get another job. Those students will be forced to graduate with debts of up to £53,000 for a three-year course, rather than £40,500 at present. Therefore, as a man of his word, will the Leader of the House now ensure that there is a proper debate and vote in this House before
That brings me to the curious case of the missing ministerial backbone. I thought that Ministers were men of integrity and principle, and that when they believed in something, they would fight for it. Last week I suggested that it was time the Leader of the House came out as an outer. There is a vacancy, because the outers want a leader. Surely the time has come—“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” Come on down, Leader of the House, the new leader of the Out campaign. Mr Speaker, you heard it here first.
I am delighted that the Leader of the House has started to take my advice. He has even written a piece for The Daily Telegraph about it. I was hoping for a proper, full-throated, Eurosceptic, intellectual argument from him. But oh no; it is the most mealy-mouthed, myth-peddling, facing-both-ways piece of pedestrian journalism that has ever come from his pen. What is the phrase from the Bible? It is,
“because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
I know that the Leader of the House was born on
But this really is not a game. It is not about the leadership prospects of one or other Tory Minister; it is about our constituents’ jobs and our standing as a nation. It is the most important decision that this country will make in this generation. The Leader of the House says that it would be disastrous for us to stay in the EU. I say that it would be disastrous for us to leave. It would abandon our historic destiny at the heart of Europe, it would leave our economy on the sidelines of the largest market in the world, and it would undermine the battle against environmental degradation, international crime and terrorism. You leave; I’m staying.
First, may I endorse the shadow Leader of the House’s words about the Scottish Secretary? As a colleague of his, I am very proud of the statement he made yesterday. I also send the good wishes of this House to the people of Indonesia, after this morning’s dreadful terrorist attack. I also wish you, Mr Speaker, a happy birthday for next week.
I also wish to thank you, Mr Speaker, and all the Clerks for the work you all did to ensure that the first England and Welsh Grand Committee, held under the new Standing Orders, passed smoothly on Tuesday. In our manifesto we committed to introducing English votes for English laws, and we have now delivered that. Those of us on the Government side of the House thought—I suspect that you did, too, Mr Speaker—that it was a tad ironic that the longest contribution we heard in that debate was from Pete Wishart. His claim that he was being excluded from the debate seemed a little on the hollow side.
I remind hon. Members that the Joint Committee considering the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster is currently consulting Members and staff who work in the Palace, with a closing date of
Let me now turn to the shadow Leader of the House. Today we have heard another seven-minute rhetorical flourish from the hon. Gentleman, with his usual wit and repartee. But what on earth does he think he is doing? He represents Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. Last week, on the day that Kim Jong-un announced that he had developed a hydrogen bomb, the hon. Gentleman was joined at the shadow Cabinet table by a shadow Defence Secretary who believes that we should unilaterally disarm our nuclear defences. He sits alongside a shadow Chancellor who attended an event with the organisation, CAGE, which has claimed that Jihadi John was a “kind and beautiful young man”.
The hon. Gentleman works for a man who sacked Mr McFadden for having the effrontery to criticise terrorists. Over the past week, we have seen several more junior members of his Front Bench have the courage to stand up to a situation that most people in this House regard as utterly distasteful and wrong. They gave up their places on the Front Bench while the hon. Gentleman and more senior people clung on to their jobs. So it is all very well his coming here on a Thursday morning and cracking a few jokes, but I have a simple question for him: given the disgraceful turn of events in the Labour party, what on earth is he still doing here?
May I call on the Leader of the House to hold an urgent debate in Government time on the recommendations that have been made today by the Women and Equalities Committee in our first report on trans rights and the real problems that trans people face in Britain today? The Government need to take swift action on these problems, and a debate on the Floor of the House would demonstrate the commitment of the whole House to resolving them.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work she is doing. I am proud to be a part of a Government who are leading the way in addressing equalities issues, and she reflects the best of this House in also doing so. Of course, the Government will consider very carefully the report that she has brought forward this morning. I commend her and the Committee for this work. I have no doubt that she may also look to the Backbench Business Committee to ensure that there is an opportunity for the House to debate her report.
I, too, thank the leader of the Eurosceptics and putative leader of the “Britain out” campaign for announcing the business for next week.
It is like the proverbial bus, Mr Speaker—you wait decades for a nasty, brutal, inter-party civil war to come along, and two come at once. I listened very carefully to the Leader of the House’s mild-mannered right hon. Friend Damian Green lambasting him today for his Euroscepticism. This is serious for us in Scotland. It is quite likely that our nation may be pulled out of Europe against its will. We need to hear a statement from the Leader of the House to say that he will respect the views of Scotland on this issue. Meantime, it is popcorn time here for me and my hon. Friends as we watch both the UK parties not only knock lumps out of each other but knock lumps out of themselves.
Earlier this week, I felt pretty much like an international observer as the first meeting of the English Parliament got right down to business. It was quite a remarkable event—the first time a quasi-English Parliament has met since the 18th century. We had to make sure it was done properly, and what did the Government do? They put signs in the Lobbies saying “England and Wales”. We looked in vain for the “No dogs and no Scots” signs, but thankfully they were not there. Suspending the House’s business while you, Mr Speaker, had to go and seek out the Clerks to see if something needed to be re-certified is no way for one of the great Parliaments of the world to conduct its business. [Hon. Members: “Once great.”] Indeed, a once-great Parliament, as my hon. Friends say. It was a sad day for any notion or idea of a unitary Parliament of the United Kingdom being a place where all Members are equal. I am sure that the Scottish people were observing these events where their Members of Parliament, who they had so recently elected, became second-class and diminished in this nation. There is real anger in Scotland; a Union-saving exercise this is not.
There was a written statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland—who I, too, congratulate on the dignified way in which he announced his sexuality this week—that ruled out a post-study work scheme for Scotland. Now, let us forget about the fact that a post-study work scheme is wanted by all the higher education institutions in Scotland, all the business organisations, all the employer organisations and even the Scottish Conservatives; the Scottish Affairs Committee, which I chair, is currently undertaking an inquiry, with a report, on post-study work schemes. That report is made practically irrelevant because of that written statement. What do we have to do in Select Committees now? Should we seek a statement from the relevant Department before we undertake such inquiries? That written statement was a gross discourtesy and showed gross disrespect to a Select Committee of this House, so I am interested to hear the Leader of House’s view on these things.
This has been a week when the real Opposition—the new Opposition—have established themselves in this House. It was us who led the opposition to EVEL, as the Leader of the House noted, it was us who had the debate on trade and the economy and it will be us leading the two important debates today, including the one on space. You are absolutely right, Mr Speaker, and I was devastated at the news of the death of David Bowie this week. I saw him several times. We have lost an absolute musical icon in this country. One of the things that thrilled me—and, I am sure, thrilled my hon. Friends on the Benches behind me—was an endorsement from Sulu from “Star Trek” for our space debate today. That shows that when Labour and the Conservatives are ripping themselves apart, it is the Scottish National party that is boldly going where no party has gone before.
The hon. Gentleman’s party was of course previously led by one of this House’s foremost Trekkies, so there is probably a juxtaposition there.
I have to say, as I always do on these occasions, that I have the greatest regard for the hon. Gentleman, but he does talk an awful lot of nonsense at times. The first thing to say is that my right hon. Friend Damian Green and I have been friends for more than 25 years and we will carry on being friends. The difference between those of us on the Conservative Benches and those on the Labour Benches is that when we have a debate, we do it with good grace. When Labour Members do it, it is because they hate each other—and they really do hate each other, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the real Opposition, and it still baffles me how those who purport to be sensible figures in the shambles that is the Labour party today can hold their heads high and still sit on the Opposition Front Bench representing a leadership that I regard as being utterly beyond the pale and something we should keep completely away from ever having the chance to run this country.
Let me return to the hon. Gentleman’s propensity to exaggerate just a little bit. I have to say that his comments about the debate on Tuesday did not really ring true. The idea that he is excluded from the debate—a debate in which, if I remember rightly, he spoke for the best part of half an hour, to the great enjoyment of my hon. Friends, who enjoyed his rhetorical flourishes enormously —is, I am afraid, stretching the point just a little bit. I remind him that every poll that has been conducted in Scotland says that the Scottish people support a fair devolution settlement for Scotland and for England, and that is what we are delivering.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Scottish Secretary. I would also like to extend the thanks of myself and my colleagues to the Scottish First Minister and other leading figures in his party, who also made some very gracious statements about the Scottish Secretary yesterday. We all very much appreciated that.
On the post-study work scheme, it is right and proper that we have a managed immigration system. People can come to this country to do a graduate-level job, but it is also right and proper that we have appropriate safeguards in place. That is what our electors expect, it is what we will deliver and have delivered in government, and it is what electors across the United Kingdom—of which, happily, we are all still part—all want us to do.
I am glad that the European Scrutiny Committee, with all-party support, forced the Government to cancel the European Standing Committee on the ports regulation, which may yet continue to damage 350,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. This is a vital national interest. Does the Leader of the House recognise that the issue must be debated on the Floor of the House and voted on? Furthermore, does he accept that, because of the European Union arrangements, the Government are effectively in a position where they can only wring their hands or accept either a majority vote or a seedy compromise, and that this is a perfect example of why so many people in this country want to leave the European Union?
Raising an issue in business questions can be effective and I hope that my hon. Friend will take comfort from the fact that his raising this issue last week has led to the changes he suggested. The Chief Whip and I have been talking about how to address what are issues for many hon. Members. We will, of course, revert to them shortly and I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done in raising this and other issues.
My constituents have been suffering all week from cancelled trains because of a landslide on our local rail line. Can we have a statement from the Transport Secretary, because the knock-on effect is complete chaos on all lines? People have received no information from Southeastern about when the service is likely to be reinstated and they are suffering trying to get to and from work. Businesses are also suffering, so we really need someone to get a grip of the situation.
I absolutely understand the problems that such events cause the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and, indeed, others. Other parts of the network have also suffered in recent weeks because of extreme weather. I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Transport Secretary this morning. The Transport Secretary will be here in 10 days’ time, but the issue is clearly urgent so I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are passed on immediately.
My accent states my interest, although I believe a declaration is not necessarily required. Will my right hon. Friend persuade the Government to have a debate on the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth, particularly the old Commonwealth? I have just returned from visiting New Zealand. It is definitely there and I am very conscious that, in our drive to reduce immigration, the UK is losing out on highly educated English-speaking people, generally graduates, who have very much to offer this nation in health, education, agriculture, banking, research, the armed forces and—dare I say it?—even rugby. There are kith and kin issues with such nations. They have stood with us—and they continue to stand with us today—in major and less major wars. We need to recognise that.
My hon. Friend has family roots in and originates from New Zealand, so he has a particular understanding of the issue. Of course, we try to maintain a sensible balance in our immigration system. It is necessary, right and proper to have controls. At the same time, we have routes for experienced people to come to this country and work. Many from Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the Commonwealth have done so over many years. I am sure that Home Office Ministers will have heard my hon. Friend’s comments and that they will do their best to take as pragmatic an approach as they can, but he will understand that there have to be limitations—our electors expect it.
Given that the abolition of student grants will hit 500,000 university students from the poorest backgrounds, can the Leader of the House explain why it will not be debated on the Floor of the House? People in my constituency certainly did not vote for those on the Government Benches, and their democracy is under assault.
The statutory instrument will follow the usual route. If it is prayed against, it will not pass without a vote of the whole House, and it will be debated again in this House, which is more than just this Chamber. The Labour party, as I have just announced, has a number of Opposition days coming up. If this is a significant enough issue, I suggest to the hon. Lady that she encourage her Front-Bench colleagues to bring it to the Floor of the House.
The Minsk agreement is supposed to settle the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Part of the agreement says that all illegally held persons should be released or exchanged. Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate and join me in calling for the release of Nadiya Savchenko, who is a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament and of the Council of Europe?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that due consideration will be given to it by those involved in the detention, and I am sure that my Foreign Office colleagues are aware of and are pursuing the issue. Clearly, we want a peaceful situation between Russia and Ukraine and for all areas of dispute to be resolved quickly.
Last October, the Government hosted a steel summit at which the UK steel industry laid out the urgent actions it needed them to take to protect it in extremely challenging times. Can we have an update from Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers on how fast the Government are acting? Although there has been some movement on energy costs, many areas still need Government action and the situation is critical.
Obviously, this is an ongoing concern for Members, and not just those with steel concerns in their constituencies. I will certainly ask for an update from my colleagues in the Business Department. They are not due back in this House soon, so I will ask them if they will write to the hon. Lady with an update. There was due to be a Westminster Hall debate on steel this afternoon, but I believe that the Member who secured it has withdrawn it, which is a shame. I have no doubt there will be other opportunities to debate the issue shortly.
In the light of my right hon. Friend’s important article in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph, will he organise an early debate in Government time on the issue of ever closer union and on how to ensure legally that the European Court of Justice and EU majority voting rules cannot prevent this sovereign Parliament from being able to exercise its sovereignty in future?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is one of the things that the Prime Minister has put at the heart of his renegotiation. When he returns from the Council in February, or whenever the negotiation reaches a conclusion, he will undoubtedly include it in the package he will put forward. The people of this country can then judge whether the package is sufficient for their future to be in the European Union or to leave it. I suspect that there will be a lively debate.
There are many reports in the media today that a mini-beast has spoken on the subject of Brexit. Has the Leader of the House considered making time available for his own mini-personal statement to update the House on the views of his constituents who work in the EU, whose children aspire to study or work in the EU, who have homes in the EU, who want to retire to EU countries or who are EU citizens about the impact of Brexit on their ambitions and opportunities?
The only mini-thing I am aware of in the Chamber at the moment is the Liberal Democrat cohort, which has been reduced from 56 to eight in the past few months.
Following my right hon. Friend’s important contribution to the EU debate today, may we have a wider debate in the House on the merits of leaving or of remaining in the European Union? In such a debate, we would be able to see that the only arguments of those who want to remain in are scaremongering arguments. We would also be able to see that those most enthusiastic about our membership of the EU are exactly the same people who were most enthusiastic for this country to join the euro. They include the shadow Leader of the House, who, despite loving the sound of his own voice, seems to be very reticent about his past enthusiasm for joining the euro.
Oh, it is.
My hon. Friend makes his point with his customarily articulate and strong views. He is right about the debate that lies ahead. There will undoubtedly be extensive discussions in the House and around the country as, over the coming months, both politicians and, more importantly, the public as a whole decide where the future of this country lies.
When can we debate what the Daily Mirror has described as the “gravy train” of 25 former Ministers in the previous Government who are enjoying lucrative jobs in areas that they once regulated, and of the five former Select Committee Chairs who have jobs in firms on which they once adjudicated? Is that gravy train not bringing this House into disrepute, because of the feeling that people are hawking their insider knowledge to the highest bidder? Last week, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was happy with the situation and that all is fine. Previous holders of his office have led in making reforms in the House. When will he, as Leader of the House, start to lead?
In response to the issues raised in the Daily Mirror article, there is of course one simple two-word answer: Tony Blair. As I said to the hon. Gentleman last week, there are plenty of opportunities for him to raise his concerns with the relevant Committees of this House. I suggested last week that he should do so. I am sure that he will make his point and seek the changes to the rules for which he is asking.
Drum Hill in my constituency has served scouting and other uniformed organisations and community groups for 90 years. A 45-year-old wooden building, which is collapsing, is to be demolished, which will leave the organisations with the problem of raising funds to replace it. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a debate in which we can explore how such big society organisations that serve the wider community are able to access funding to replace much-loved facilities?
I pay tribute to the volunteers in my hon. Friend’s constituency, who are clearly doing a fantastic job of working with and providing opportunities for young people. Every one of us as constituency MPs has a story to tell about voluntary sector groups, whether the scouts or other groups, doing fantastic work to help our young people. One thing that I hope the Backbench Business Committee will do with the time available to it is hold one or two annual debates, such as one to celebrate our voluntary sector. I think that would be in tune with the wishes of this House and it would provide precisely the opportunity that my hon. Friend has just asked for.
With more job losses announced in Aberdeen this week, the UK Government need to take action to ensure that a drive for increased productivity in the North sea does not come at the expense of health and safety on the rigs. When can we hear a ministerial statement on this matter?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The North sea oil industry remains very important to the United Kingdom. It is, of course, under great pressure because of the fall in the oil price. We do not wish to see safety standards in the North sea compromised as a result. We will debate the Energy Bill next week, which contains measures that we believe will bring costs down for the energy industry. All of us should work together to do everything we can to help that industry through what is clearly a difficult time.
I pay tribute to Sir Albert McQuarrie, a great parliamentarian who died yesterday.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the impact of the c2c timetable changes on Southend commuters? There are health and safety issues such as overcrowding, lack of seats and the slow delivery of passengers to Fenchurch Street. I shall be joining passengers in a non-violent demonstration tonight at Fenchurch Street at 5.30.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his continuing work on behalf of his constituents. The questions that we have had about Eltham and his line to Southend show that there is work to be done by our train companies in ensuring that they deliver the best possible service. The Secretary of State for Transport will be here in 10 days’ time to take questions. I am sure that my hon. Friend will take advantage of that opportunity to raise this issue again. As I said to Clive Efford, I will make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of the concerns he has raised today.
As a Greater Manchester constituency MP, I am really concerned that Greater Manchester fire and rescue service has been treated disproportionately once again, when compared with other fire and rescue services across the country. The £16 million of cuts equates to the removal of 16 fire engines from action on the streets of Greater Manchester. These are the very engines and community heroes who responded to the recent floods in our city region. Will the Minister grant Government time to debate the cuts that are being imposed on Greater Manchester fire and rescue service following the comprehensive spending review?
Of course, it is our hope and belief that as we unify many of the aspects of the workings of our emergency services, including the sharing of political leadership through police and crime commissioners, that will provide an opportunity to deliver savings while ensuring that we protect front-line services. That is the approach that we are taking. My right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Office will work to try to ensure that that happens. There is no option but to take tough decisions to address our financial challenges. We are doing so in a way that we believe will make efficiencies without affecting services.
May we have a debate on the activities of Network Rail in landscape-sensitive areas, such as the area of outstanding natural beauty in which the Goring gap sits? Nobody wants to hold up electrification, but sensitivity in such areas over the installations that are used to carry the electrification wires would be very much appreciated.
I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. Indeed, I walked through the Goring gap recently and saw the work that is taking place on the line. The electrification of the Great Western main line is great news for people in his constituency and, indeed, in south Wales, so it will be of benefit to the constituents of the shadow Leader of the House. It is long overdue. When Labour was in power, only 10 miles of railway were electrified. We are now doing the job properly. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right that Network Rail needs to be careful and thoughtful in areas of outstanding natural beauty to ensure that this essential work does not damage the landscape.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend Angela Rayner, in the wake of recent floods there have been calls for flooding to be made a statutory responsibility of fire authorities. The answer from the Government seems to be that if there is an emergency such as flooding and the fire brigade are called, it will attend—which, of course, it will. However, fire brigades attended fires for many years before it was considered a good idea to make it a statutory responsibility for them to do so. Is the Department for Communities and Local Government likely to make a statement to determine whether it is examining that issue, because at some point in future flooding ought to be a statutory responsibility of the fire service?
I have high regard for the hon. Gentleman and his work in this House, but I am afraid that we simply disagree on this issue. The idea that we need to pass a law to tell the emergency services to respond to emergencies would be a waste of Parliament’s time, utterly unnecessary, and frankly insulting to a group of professionals who work hard on our behalf, day in, day out, and week in, week out.
A record 10.2 million passengers passed through Birmingham international airport in 2015. With all the attention currently on Heathrow, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the positive economic contribution of the UK’s regional airports, and how the Government could further support them?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Birmingham airport is an essential part of the midlands economy. It has been particularly encouraging to see the development of routes between Birmingham and far-off parts of the world where there are strong business links, such as the Indian subcontinent and the middle east. That has been helped by the work of local Members of Parliament, who have argued in support of the economic development of the area. My colleagues in the Department for Transport regard this issue as immensely important, and they will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has said. I know they will continue to work alongside him and other midlands MPs in an attempt to continue the successful development of that airport.
What message does the Leader of the House believe he is sending to young people watching our proceedings today, when a Government elected with a majority of just 12 on a minority share of the vote, and with no manifesto commitment, in a Committee that most of our constituents will never have heard of, abolish student grants, which will hit the poorest students the hardest?
I say simply that this matter will be voted on by this House, and the House may choose to vote against it. It will be before the House and be divisible on the Floor of this House, and if Members want to vote on it, they can do so.
The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Ian Mearns, is unfortunately indisposed; we send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery. On behalf of him and the Committee, may I invite Members to apply for the opportunity to secure a Backbench Business Committee debate, as the Leader of the House has just set out? We currently do not have a huge amount of requests for debates. Through your good offices, Mr Speaker, may I ask Members to complete the forms thoroughly, and to follow the guidelines so that the process is speeded up?
One current concern is that the transport unions are threatening three further strikes on the London underground, which will bring misery to commuters across London. May we have an urgent statement on what is to be done to prevent that action from inconveniencing commuters and disrupting the business of London?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he and his colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee are doing, and I echo his call to Members. We are making a lot of time available to that Committee; there are sections of time during the parliamentary week, and over the next couple of weeks a day and a half or even two days are available for debates such as that on the rail sector which has just been raised. I hope that Members who are raising issues to be debated, as my hon. Friend has just done, will look on the Backbench Business Committee as a vehicle to bring those matters to the attention of Ministers and before the House in order to address them.
In my written question No. 20725 I asked the Chancellor
“what discussions his Department had with financial institutions prior to the introduction of new rules for Tier 1 Entrepreneur visas in January 2013.”
The subsequent response said simply that the Government have met financial institutions many times since 2013, which is completely inadequate. Can the Leader of the House assist me in getting a more substantial written response?
If that had been raised as a point of order, you would offer advice to be persistent, Mr Speaker, and to keep asking questions that are more specifically targeted on individual groups, people, institutions or meetings. The City Minister, or those Ministers involved in migration matters, have regular meetings with representative groups and will discuss such issues on a regular basis. The hon. Lady should not think that such matters are not discussed, because they are.
A recent report on UK consumer spending found that 2015 was the second strongest year since 2008. Such figures are encouraging and are reflected in my constituency. May we have a debate on the steps that need to be taken to ensure that this positive trend continues?
My hon. Friend’s question speaks for itself as a sign of continued economic progress. It is encouraging that we are seeing that economic progress in the midlands and in the north, where the economy has been growing faster than the economy in the south. There is a lot of work still to do. We have a lot of ground still to cover, but we are making good progress. The country is moving in the right direction. All I can say is thank goodness that it is we who are steering the country at a difficult time, rather than the Labour party with a set of economic policies that would be disastrous.
Despite the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ stating, in response to my question on
This is a matter of concern and I understand the issues. Wildlife crimes in this country are not just those that take place within the United Kingdom. We all wish to see the smuggling of rare species, bush meat and products from endangered species stamped out. I will follow up the hon. Gentleman’s question. If he has not received a response, I will seek to ensure he receives one quickly after today’s debate.
I absolutely understand the concerns my hon. Friend raises. The fishing industry is enormously important to his constituency, as it is to the constituency of the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, Melanie Onn. It is a long-standing and important part of the economy in their part of the world. There have been many calls over the years for more responsibility for the fishing sector to be taken at a local level. The Prime Minister has set the principle of subsidiarity at the heart of his renegotiation. Whatever the outcome of the renegotiation and the referendum, I think we can all agree that decisions should not be taken at a level above that which is necessary.
Yesterday, I and colleagues from the Energy and Climate Change Committee met the Vice-President of the EU Commission, Maroš Šefcovic, and I asked him about the European Union’s position on Chinese market economy status. He said that that debate had to happen and that the decision would be taken in autumn. Energy-intensive industries such as steel, chemical processing and manufacturing are really relying on that decision. Why is it still the case, and may we have a statement on why it is still the case that the Government, irrespective of whether we will be a member of the EU or not, are backing Chinese market economy status without any clarification or qualification?
It is clear that China is one of the largest economies in the world. It is a country with which we have historical links. It is right and proper that we engage with China economically. China has also, as we saw at the recent Paris summit, now recognised the imperative of addressing environmental issues. Thanks to the work of several international figures, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the outcome of the summit has started the world on a path going in the right direction.
MidKent College in my constituency is doing a phenomenal amount of work to encourage and promote apprenticeships. It informs me that its greatest challenge is to ensure that young people and their parents see apprenticeships as a good and viable alternative to university. May we have an urgent statement on the Floor of the House on what the Government are doing to assist colleges such as MidKent to promote apprenticeships as an equally valuable career option?
Apprenticeships are one of the Government’s great success stories. Since 2010, we have seen 2.5 million young people start apprenticeships. That is clearly a step in the right direction. My experience, and I suspect my hon. Friend’s experience, is that I am starting to see young people in my constituency recognise the potential of apprenticeships. There is still a lot of work to do, however. We all have a duty as constituency Members to promote apprenticeships in our constituencies. Some colleagues have held apprenticeship fairs in their constituencies. The point he makes today is one we should continue to deal with and debate on the Floor on the House.
First, may I thank the Leader of the House for his excellent timing of the Easter recess—or, rather, the lambing recess—which he could not have timed any better? I also draw his attention to another constituency matter—early-day motion 936, in my name and that of many colleagues, on the goodness of Stornoway black pudding and its recognition as a superfood.
[That this House welcomes the recognition of black pudding, Marag Dhubh in Gaelic, as a superfood; notes that its calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein-rich nature make the black pudding an excellent addition to a healthy, balanced diet; expresses pleasure at the economic benefits to Stornoway butchers of its EU Protected Geographical Indication, one of the many great benefits of EU membership; and encourages everyone to discover the great taste of Scottish food.]
Black pudding is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium; it is protein rich; and it has a low glycaemic index—very healthy indeed. Will the Leader of the House keep himself in good health and google “Stornoway black pudding” so that he can again time recesses perfectly?
The most unusual email I have had since taking over this job was from the hon. Gentleman, who asked me, “Could you tell me when the Easter recess will be, because I need to work out when to put the ram out with the ewes?” We should have a taste contest between him and my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall to see whose constituency can deliver the tastiest black pudding. Perhaps you should be the judge, Mr Speaker. Next week, they should bring in some fare from their own constituencies and you could be the arbiter, although I suspect that a draw might be diplomatic.
Mr MacNeil and the unusual have always been very much more than nodding acquaintances.
I recommend the black pudding from Rossendale.
May we have a statement on the use of smart technology for reporting potholes? Tomorrow, national pothole day, is a great day for people to download the “Tell Jake” app, developed with streetrepairs.co.uk, which has seen the number of potholes in my constituency reported and sorted double and the response times for repairing them slashed. It is a really good bit of technology that the Department for Communities and Local Government should encourage local authorities to embrace.
I think I see the emergence of an all-party black pudding group.
Particularly at this time of the year, with all the rain we have had, potholes are an issue for constituencies across the country, so my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure Members with an excess of potholes in their constituencies will take note of his comments and offer guidance to constituents affected, but of course we hope they will be repaired as quickly as possible.
At the last general election, the Conservative party promised to protect social security for disabled people, and, in addition to the cuts proposed in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, just before Christmas—just two years after they introduced it—the Government announced a consultation on the personal independence payment process that will, in effect, reduce disabled people’s eligibility. Will they explain why they have reneged on their promise, and when may we have a debate in Government time on this important issue?
The whole point about the PIP system was that its predecessor, the disability living allowance, was not being used for the purposes intended. DLA and PIP were designed to provide extra financial resource for people with disabilities, to help them cover the extra costs incurred in their daily lives, but DLA had become a sickness benefit and was being used by people who self-referred and had temporary illnesses rather than disabilities. The system was designed to pay benefits to people who needed them for their disabilities, not to those who did not have genuine disabilities but had health problems. That is what the new system was designed to achieve, and it is perfectly reasonable to review it two years in, to make sure it is delivering that objective.
Yesterday saw the launch in the terrace pavilion of Open Doors’ 2016 “World Watch” report on the persecution of Christians, which regrettably is growing and has reached the stage where Christians are now the most persecuted group. Will the Leader of the House welcome the work of Open Doors and ask for an update from our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on how we might implement its proposal that the UK use its position as a major aid donor as leverage in ensuring plurality and proper respect for faiths in aid-recipient countries?
I am happy to do both, and I think we should say very clearly as a Parliament and as a nation that the persecution of Christians around the world is to be abhorred. This is a world that should respect the freedom of individuals to follow their religion. No one should be persecuted for their religion. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that around the world, some Christian minorities are being persecuted for their religion. It is for this country as a beacon of liberal democracy to stand up for them—we should do that and we will.
The Leader of the House may be aware that yesterday the House allowed my ten-minute rule Bill on the English national anthem to pass to Second Reading. Downing Street has briefed that it is open to allowing time for this to be properly pursued. It would be a great shame—there is a huge amount of interest in the subject—if when the Bill next comes before us, it is simply batted away without a debate or a vote. What steps can the right hon. Gentleman take to enable the voice of England to be heard and to decide on whether to have a different national anthem?
Yesterday’s debate was certainly interesting, but I am not sure that there was complete unity among his Front-Bench colleagues on the subject. I believe “Jerusalem” to be a magnificent part of our musical heritage, but I have to say that as it was being broadcast on a loop yesterday morning around Westminster and as I heard it for the 20th time, I was beginning to think it might be appropriate on selective occasions. I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he is doing on an issue that will be discussed further. It is a matter that he could bring to the attention of the Backbench Business Committee and have it debated on the Floor of the House if it agreed to that.
I am sure that the whole House will support the proposal to erect in Trafalgar Square a reconstruction of the Temple of Bel arch from Palmyra in April and May this year—and perhaps for longer. That proposal coincides with the Queen’s Speech, with which my right hon. Friend will be involved. To increase the symbolism of our defiance against Daesh, will he include in the Queen’s Speech the ratification and bringing into UK law of The Hague convention, which has complete cross-party support? This could be concluded swiftly here and in the other place, and it would be an important symbol for this country.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point. We have all looked with dismay at the gratuitous destruction of parts of our collective heritage in the middle east at the hands of a group of people who are nothing short of barbarians. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, it would not be appropriate for me to give advance billing of the Queen’s Speech, but I know that this is a matter of concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the whole Government. I welcome what is happening in Trafalgar Square. We need to work collectively across the world to try to protect the architectural and archaeological treasures that should be a part not simply of our heritage but that of future generations.
My constituent Mark Middlehurst is in a critical condition in hospital in Perth, Western Australia, after suffering a severe brain injury as a result of an accident. Unfortunately, Mark did not have travel insurance, and his family need to raise over £50,000 so that he can make the journey back to the UK, accompanied by a full medical team. Will the Leader of the House ask the UK high commissioner to Australia to make urgent representations on this matter, and ask the Foreign Secretary to publish a written statement next week with the response?
Let me first extend my best wishes to Mark and his family and to the hon. Gentleman for the work he is doing. It is always distressing to us as constituency Members when we come across tragic cases such as this one. After business questions has finished, I will ask my office to make contact with the Foreign Office and to follow up the hon. Gentleman’s points. Clearly, it is unfortunate when people travel without insurance, and we would all advise our constituents not to do so. I am sure, however, that the diplomatic service will wish to do everything it can to help the family.
There are growing concerns across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland about sharia law and the use of sharia councils. There can never be two legal systems in the United Kingdom: the law created and processed by this House is the only law of the land. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on this most important legal matter?
Let us be absolutely clear about this. We have one law of the land which applies to every single citizen of this country—to every single person who is in this country—regardless of race, colour or creed. That is beyond question, and, in my view, it can never be different. Systems that offer arbitration services within, for example, religious groups are ultimately not legally binding. Ultimately, the only places in our country that deliver legally binding rulings are our courts, and people in this country can always have recourse to the courts in the event of matters of challenge in their lives.
I know that this matter is of concern to the Home Secretary. She will be here next week, and I encourage the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue with her, as, indeed, will I.
Figures published today reveal that there has been a 30% increase in the number of acid attacks over the last two years. These brutal attacks leave their victims with a life sentence, which is often longer than the sentences that the perpetrators receive. May we have a debate on ways of tackling acid attacks, including better regulation of the most corrosive substances?
I had a brief discussion about this very matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice a while ago. I know that it is a matter of great concern to Home Office Ministers, who have been considering and discussing it in recent days. It is clearly a matter of great concern, because the lasting impact of an acid attack on an individual can be profoundly life-changing. We must always condemn such attacks, and always try to stop them. I will ensure that my hon. Friend’s concerns are raised after this session.
Last Monday saw the deadline pass for responses to the consultation on the Greater Manchester spatial framework, which sets out housing land supply for the next 20 years. It is bad enough that very few councillors in Greater Manchester knew that the consultation was taking place, but it is atrocious that the public did not know either. May we have a debate in Government time on the accountability of combined authorities, to the electorate in particular, but also to the members of the constituent councils?
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I will pass his concerns to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which will undoubtedly be anxious to ensure that the new systems work effectively. Of course, councils and councillors have a duty to communicate what is going on to their members and their constituents. When that does not happen it is not always the fault of the people at the centre; nevertheless, there is that duty to try to ensure that the message gets out.
I was pleased to hear during Women and Equalities questions that the Minister welcomed the publication today of the trans inquiry report. My right hon. Friend Mrs Miller asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the report in the Chamber. I must defer to the expertise of the Clerks, but as far as I know there has not previously been a debate about the trans community on the Floor of the House. In the light of my right hon. Friend’s report, will the Leader of the House host such a debate?
I think that that would be a very sensible thing to do. The deputy Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, is present, and will undoubtedly have noted my hon. Friend’s question. In order for such a debate to take place, a formal request must be made to the Committee, but I think that both the time that it is able to provide and the time that is available in Westminster Hall present ideal opportunities for discussion of the report, and of an issue that I suspect has not previously been debated on the Floor of the House, although it is a very real and genuine issue.
The Leader of the House will be well aware of the fate of six British sailors in Chennai, including my constituent Billy Irving, of Connel, near Oban. Having been detained for nearly two years, they were each sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment in an Indian jail. The case, and the sentence, has shocked and caused great upset to the men and their families. Will a Foreign Office Minister make an urgent statement to the House as soon as possible about what the Foreign Office plans to do to help these men?
I know the hon. Gentleman has been a vigorous campaigner on behalf of these gentlemen and their families. After this session of questions has finished, I will pass that message to the Foreign Office and ask it to respond to him. Of course, such situations are much more challenging to address once a court has ruled, because we have to respect the justice systems of other countries, but I absolutely understand the concerns. It may be that these gentlemen choose to appeal, and if they do so I would expect the usual consular support to be made available.
It has been reported that President Obama will be visiting this country in May, no doubt at the start of his farewell tour. More disturbingly, it has also been reported that he will be invited by the Prime Minister to comment on the merits of Britain staying in the European Union as part of an increasingly desperate attempt to shore up the increasingly threadbare proposals for us to stay in the EU. Will the Leader of the House, as the representative of this House, write to the United States ambassador, not only to welcome President Obama to this country, but to make it clear to the ambassador that the President should not be commenting on very important domestic issues, important to the people of this country?
I think I can reassure my hon. Friend in that I suspect such a letter is not needed, because I have no doubt that the American ambassador closely follows the proceedings in this Chamber and that the comments of my hon. Friend will be reported to him. I am sure that message will filter back to the Americans.
May we have a debate on the rather bizarre decision reached by the fisheries Minister, George Eustice, at the European fisheries and open opportunities meeting, whereby gillnet fishing is to be allowed to continue of the endangered bass species, whereas domestic anglers are told they are to have a zero-take bag? It seems to me and many domestic anglers an absolutely unfair decision that stops their recreational fishing while hugely increasing the take of an endangered species by fishermen, including in the fisheries Minister’s constituency.
The hon. Lady is not the first Member to raise this concern. I am not aware of the detail that has prompted the decision, but I can understand why hon. Members think it is somewhat strange. I will ask my hon. Friend to write to her after this meeting to explain the reason for that decision and what, if anything, happens next.
Can the Leader confirm that, sadly, the Government have a new year’s resolution to further deregulate Sunday trading in the forthcoming Enterprise Bill? Why do the Government not publish the results of their Sunday trading consultation, which may have got lost in the Christmas decorations bag, and realise that this is a new year’s resolution that makes no business sense and no family sense, and should be broken as soon as possible?
I know my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this issue, and I would simply assure him that if any proposals are brought forward, the House will be properly informed and all appropriate information will be provided to the House.
After the Legislative Grand Committee on Tuesday, there were some rather forlorn-looking Clerks in the Division Lobbies packing away iPads that had not been used, having been specially set up to record English votes for English laws. Given that these tablet devices have been paid for and exist, why not put them to use to record all Divisions in the House as the first step towards a 21st-century system of electronic voting?
I think that is the intention. The House of Lords is already using iPads to record Divisions, and it seems to me entirely logical that we should do the same. The system is now in place for the double majority votes, and it is my hope and expectation that we will move to general recording in the very near future. There is no reason not to do that.
Businesses across York have been seriously impacted by the floods as people have stayed away due to the images of floodwater. York has dried out, cleaned up and is open for trade. May we have a statement from the Business Secretary on the costs of the floods to businesses and further support to be made available for affected businesses, and will he make it clear that the best way to support cities that flooded, such as York, is to visit and take advantage of the fantastic bars, cafés and shops?
May I first extend my good wishes to the hon. Lady and her constituents and commend them for the work they have been doing to mop up after the floods? She is absolutely right: York is a large place and the floods were deeply damaging to parts of the city—but only parts of it. Many businesses were unaffected, and many others have done a sterling job in turning things around quickly and reopening. We should be encouraging people to go into the city to visit, to shop, and to eat and drink, to ensure that its economy flourishes. That is true not only of York but of Carlisle, the centre of Manchester and elsewhere.
Next week, the High Court will hear a judicial review brought by, among others, my constituents Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who wish to enter into a civil partnership but cannot currently do so, in breach of their article 8 and article 14 rights. We are aware of the Leader of the House’s love of the Human Rights Act—perhaps he will apply for Shami Chakrabarti’s job, given that he will be looking for one soon—but this is a matter for Parliament. Will he find Government time to legislate to allow different-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships?
The hon. Gentleman has made this point before, but if this matter is before the courts, it is not appropriate for us to discuss it today. The Government have considered the matter before and they do not currently have proposals to make a change, although Ministers and this House will always keep it under review.
The Energy Secretary has noted her frustration that the five-year low in wholesale energy prices has not been passed on to consumers, but quite frankly, my constituents are less interested in what frustrates the right hon. Lady than in finding out what action she is going to take as Secretary of State. May we have a statement from her to tell us exactly what she intends to do to help hard-pressed businesses and households that are currently paying through the nose?
The most straightforward option is to shop around. There have been price reductions, and they tend to be among the smaller, newer entrants to the market. We have taken significant steps to encourage a broader range of providers to enter the market, and the number has risen from six to the best part of 30 providers. There are now some much better deals around. The way to get a cheaper price is to shop around, and we should do everything we can to encourage people to switch easily and to chase the best option.
May we have a debate on the recent report from the Museums Association, which reveals that nearly one in five regional museums have closed a part or a branch to the public over the past year, with the north of England being particularly affected because of reductions in local authority funding from central Government?
We cannot dictate what local authorities do with their money, but what I can say is that in the spending review we protected the money that goes to cultural institutions precisely because we recognise their importance. We as a Government will continue to do that, but it is for local councils to set their own local priorities.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Welsh Grand Committee meets from time to time. Indeed, I think he appeared in front of it in Wrexham once. He will therefore be aware that any time the Committee meets in Wales, its members may make representations and speak in either English or Welsh. However, when the Committee meets in a Committee Room in this place, its members are permitted to use only English. In view of the fact that there are two official languages in Wales, and that we have a Welsh Grand Committee coming up on
I will not give the hon. Lady a commitment about that, but she makes a serious point and I will take a look at it. Clearly it is important that that happens in Wales, and I was not aware that it was not possible in this building. I will go and take a look at that for her.
Every piece of evidence shows that scrapping student grants will deter students from poorer backgrounds. Regardless of the merits of the proposal, is this not also about democracy? The proposal, which did not appear in the Conservative manifesto, will affect more than 500,000 people, and it is going to be decided in a back room by a small number of people. Is that not a shoddy way to do business? Is it not about time that the Government showed the courage of their convictions and allowed a full debate and a full vote on the proposal on the Floor of this House?
If Labour Members feel so strongly about this matter, they could use the Opposition day next Tuesday to debate it. A statutory instrument of this kind cannot pass into law, against the wishes of Members of this House, until it is voted upon the Floor of this House. Every night, as part of the remaining orders of the day, we address motions, and if people disagree with them they pray against them and they are then divided upon. That can happen, and it will happen if the Opposition choose to make it so. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, for all the stories that have been told by the Opposition in recent years, the number of young people from deprived backgrounds going to our universities has actually being going up, not down.
May we have a debate in Government time on cervical screening for women under the age of 25, too many of whom have died after being refused a smear test? Emma Louise Fisk died at the age of 25 after being refused a smear test approximately 10 times, having been erroneously diagnosed with a urine infection. Many Members across the House will welcome the opportunity to ask Health Ministers whether it is time to offer young women tests on request, as well as to do more to promote take-up of smear tests among women of all ages and ethnicities.
It is always a difficult challenge for the health service to set the framework within which it offers tests. The hon. Lady makes a point that has been raised before. It is tragic when situations such as the one she describes take place. I will of course ensure that the Health Secretary is made aware of the concern that she has raised. None the less, these things must be a matter for the professionals to decide what to do and what not to do, but she makes an important point and I will pass it on.
Today, we have a debate on space technology. In sharp contrast, the Leader of the House may be aware that the Department dealing with child tax credits will take faxes but not emails for MPs’ constituent inquiries, which is hardly 21st-century technology. In a written answer this week, the Treasury advised me that that was because standard emails are not secure, and yet the Department for Work and Pensions responds to emails that contain sensitive information. I am concerned that that implies that MPs’ emails are not secure. Can we have a proper ministerial statement, or a debate, on the security of the IT systems managed by the Government?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The matter of parliamentary emails is under discussion as it is of ongoing concern. The new head of security, who has been in place for a few months, has said that he regards ensuring integrity and security around our IT systems as an important area. I assured him that both the authority of this House and Mr Speaker are indeed concerned to ensure that that is the case.