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The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I apologise for the state of my voice, Mr Speaker. I gather that when people heard about that yesterday, several hon. Members rushed to the Table Office to table an early-day motion calling for a national day of celebration.
Order. One by-product of the hon. Gentleman’s losing his voice is that we can be sure he will not exceed his allotted time of five minutes today. It will be a five brilliant minutes, but I am sure it will not be more.
Brevity is, of course, something you are yourself used to, Mr Speaker.
What a week it has been! As we debated psychoactive substances in this House, the American Republican campaign seemed to be on psychoactive substances. Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump must be the ultimate case of Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Two Tory MPs have confessed to taking poppers in the
Chamber. I do not mean that they actually took the poppers in the Chamber—I do not know whether they did—but they made their confessions in the Chamber. We also learned that the Leader of the House is going to be out-outed by the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is not only an outer as far as the EU is concerned, but so determined to be out that he wants to be out of the two Out campaigns. Talk about two bald men fighting over a comb. As P. G. Wodehouse wrote in “The Small Bachelor”,
“if men were dominoes, he would be the double-blank.”
To be serious, Mr Speaker, may we have a debate about the operation of English votes for English laws? EVEL seems to be descending into farce. Last Thursday, a Committee considered the order abolishing student maintenance grants. You certified the order as an England-only one, yet two Scottish MPs and one Welsh MP were selected to sit on the Committee, in which they voted. That was fair enough, but on Tuesday, when the Labour party ensured that there was a vote of the whole House, two English MPs—Andrew Rosindell and my hon. Friend Jim McMahon—were excluded from the lists.
I have several complaints. First, last week the Leader of the House said of this measure:
“If it is prayed against, it will not pass without a vote of the whole House”.—[Hansard, 14 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 1002.]
Either he meant that a vote would happen automatically, in which case he does not know the rules of the House and, frankly, he should go and get himself another job, or he meant that he would make sure that the measure was put to a vote of the whole House, in which case we have been sorely disappointed because he did no such thing and, frankly, he should go and get himself another job. Which is it? Does he not know where the Table Office is—it is just out there—or did he never intend to table a motion?
What is particularly bizarre is that because the Government used the negative process and failed to table their own motion, as they had promised, it was virtually impossible for the measure to be defeated. Even if English MPs had wanted the order to be annulled, the whole House could have overruled them because the annulment required a double majority under
When are we going to have a debate on the Strathclyde report? They have had one in the House of Lords, but we have not had one here. We have seen a dramatic increase in the use of statutory instruments since this Government came to power. They are now churning out 3,043 a year, compared with 1,891 a year under Labour. That is a 60% increase. And they are on more important matters: fracking in national parks, slashing working tax credits and cutting support for poorer students. Surely it is wrong to limit the powers of the Lords in relation to statutory instruments, when 3,000 such measures are being pushed through the Commons on unamendable motions every year.
The latest of these instruments is the Recall of MPs Act 2015 (Recall Petition) Regulations 2016—a very catchy title. This is no minor piece of legislation, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker. It is 174 pages long—nearly three times longer than the original Act. Yet the Government are allowing only a 90-minute debate in Committee on Tuesday. I think that we should have a proper right of recall. That is what I voted for in the last Parliament, rather than the damp squib the Government introduced. Surely such an important measure should be considered by the whole House, line by line.
Next Wednesday is Holocaust Memorial Day. This afternoon, we will have a debate on the memorial day and remember the millions of Jews who were exterminated, the trade unionists, the Roma, the gay men, the so-called asocials, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and, of course, the people with disabilities who were killed under the T4 forced euthanasia programme, which saw 9,722 men and women gassed at the Brandenburg centre in 1940 alone.
But genocide is still happening today. Daesh slaughters Yazidi women and children in Syria and Iraq. In Darfur, the Sudanese Government have been engaged in genocide for more than a decade. I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that we must always take sides, because looking the other way helps the oppressor, encourages the tormentor and perpetuates the crime.
That brings me to Russia. Sir Robert Owen has delivered his judgment on the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The Home Secretary will make a statement in few minutes and my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham will respond. I fully understand why the Government want to engage with Russia—she is a key player in Iran and Syria—but the one thing we know for certain about the murderous, kleptomaniac regime in Russia is that it walks all over the weak. Putin has no respect for those who let him do what he wants.
May I start with the English votes for English laws vote? I thank everyone among the House’s officials who has been involved in introducing the new system. Barring the minor glitch on Tuesday, it has been done very effectively and I am grateful to all those who have been involved in making it happen. The glitch was clearly a minor human error. I, for one, do not think that it is right to start blaming those who set up the new system for that minor human error; I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House would make that suggestion. I am grateful to all in the House who have been involved in making the new system work.
A couple of points were raised about the restoration and renewal project. Regardless of what we as a Parliament choose to do, that work would have to be carried out anyway. This is a grade I listed building and a world heritage site, and the work we are talking about has to happen regardless. The committee will report soon, probably in spring, and it will hold sessions in public, probably after the consultation period, which—I remind hon. Members—finishes next week. I encourage everyone to take part.
I echo the comments about Holocaust Memorial Day, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for marking it. It has always been an important point in the parliamentary calendar, and I am grateful to the Committee for continuing the tradition.
I have announced two more Opposition days. The shadow Leader of the House has asked for debates on a variety of subjects. He will clearly have a lot of different bids for Opposition day debating time, so let me try to help him, particularly with things that he may not have time for. He did not ask me for a debate on his party’s extraordinary new defence policy of sending our nuclear submarines out to sea with no missiles. Despite his comments on Daesh, he did not ask for a statement on Syria, so that his party leader can set out his plans for negotiations with the brutal murderers in that part of the world. He did not ask for a debate on his party’s new policy of reopening discussions on the future of the Falkland Islands with Argentina, or for a debate on trade union law so that his party can argue for a return to the days of flying pickets and secondary strikes, putting companies out of business and workers out of jobs. If he wants additional time to debate those issues, I am sure we can look carefully at that.
I am certainly willing to provide extra time for debate on the backbone—or lack of it—of members of the shadow Cabinet, who are not brave enough to put their own jobs on the line when it comes to standing up to a Leader of the Opposition whose policies pose a real threat to this country.
The shadow Leader of the House has left the Church of England because he believes that its policies are unacceptable, but he will not do the same for the shadow Cabinet, even though its policies are clearly unacceptable. He and his colleagues have abandoned the red flag. By scrapping our defences and doing deals with our adversaries, today they are about keeping the white flag flying here, and the hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to be still sitting on that Front Bench.
The House may wish to know that following the non-violent demonstration at Fenchurch Street station regarding c2c timetable changes, the service is now even worse. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on matters affecting the Showmen’s Guild? I have the honour to chair the all-party group on fairs and showgrounds, and I would like the House to consider issues relating to that, such as admissions and the distinction between Travellers and traveller-showmen.
My hon. Friend is one of Parliament’s great characters, so I am not in the least surprised to discover that he fulfils that position in the all-party group. He is right: there is a world of difference between those who travel this country bringing fairgrounds and entertainment to our communities, and a great time for young people, and those who occupy public land illegally and leave behind a vast amount of mess to be cleared up at huge public expense. We should always be proud to make that distinction in this House. My hon. Friend does a great job with his work, and he is right to say that that distinction is enormously important.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
Another week, another EVEL shambles—this week the now infamous iPad malfunction. How could they possibly do that to Andrew Rosindell, the most English of all English Members in the House? A man who sits proudly in his Union Jack underpants and whose ringtone is, “There’ll Always Be an England”, has been treated as mere and meagre Scot and subject to the second-class status that we have in this House. “Reinstate the hon. Member for Romford” is the call from the SNP Benches. Seriously, the confusion around EVEL continues, and the point made by my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie deserves a better response than we got from the Deputy Leader of the House—perhaps the Leader of the House can help us with that.
The Leader of the House has always characterised the double majority and the Scottish veto—or the English veto, as we call it—as something that would give consent to a particular instrument. This week we had a measure that withheld consent but that was subject to the EVEL mechanism and the double majority vote on which we were obviously subject to a English veto. What is the response of the Leader of the House to that? When we start to distinguish Members according to geography and nationality, that will always be reinterpreted and extended. By the end of this Parliament, we will have a real divide in this House. That may be the Leader of the House’s legacy as he goes off to fight one of his Euro-battles to get the country out of Europe.
Are the Government prepared to respect the House of Lords vote on the Trade Union Bill? I am not a great supporter of the House of Lords, but I note what it did this week. More important to me is whether the Leader of the House will respect the recommendation of the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution Committee that Scotland be excluded from the scope of the Bill. We do not want the Bill to destroy the very good trade union relations that we enjoy in Scotland. This is a deeply ideological Tory Bill and the Government are trying impose it on a country that does not do Tory. Can we leave it at the border and not have this Tory Trade Union Bill in Scotland?
Growing numbers of people are concerned about the situation in Yemen. Our role in equipping and advising the Saudi air force in its bombing campaign was rightly raised by my right hon. Friend Angus Robertson. We have sold £10 billion worth of aircraft to the Saudi air force, yet the Arms Export Controls Committee has lain dormant since the general election. Will the Leader of the House now pledge to get the Committee up and running as quickly as possible, so there is at least some form of scrutiny and oversight of arms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia?
We heard all sorts of rumours yesterday about a possible maingate vote on Trident, which I am very disappointed to see is not in the Business statement. We are now in a situation where all of us could make a decision about maingate. All the major parties have now got their positions, which are apparent for everybody to see. The Conservatives—Dr Lewis is nodding—want to spend billions of pounds of our money on useless obsolete weapons of mass destruction. The SNP is implacably opposed to that spending. The Labour party, of course, has the yellow submarine option, which is maybe for and maybe against, while at the same time sending submarines out without any weaponry whatever. So we are all in a position to make a decision. Will the Leader of the House now get on with this, so we can have a proper decision and see how the parties respond?
I wish all our friends in the Scottish National party a very enjoyable Burns night next week. I do not know whether they will be piping in the haggis in quite the traditional way after our discussions last week—they should perhaps be piping in the black pudding from Stornoway; whether my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall would agree with that is a different question—but I wish them all a very enjoyable evening of celebration next week.
On the English votes for English laws vote earlier this week, yes there was a mistake. However, I do not believe we should condemn human error in a project that has gone pretty smoothly. I do not think anybody would wish to exclude my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell from anything, nor would he allow himself to be excluded. As Pete Wishart says, he is the ultimate English nationalist. He is also a United Kingdom nationalist as well. That, I think, is the point the hon. Gentleman misses about the Trade Union Bill. He talks about imposing something on the country. We are all part of one country. That is what the Scottish people decided in the referendum. I know it is difficult for the SNP to accept that, but the reality is that this is a United Kingdom Bill. I appreciate that SNP Members may disagree with it, but it will be voted on by the United Kingdom Parliament and I expect that it will be passed by the United Kingdom Parliament.
On Yemen, in Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister made it very clear, in response to the leader of the SNP at Westminster, Angus Robertson, exactly what the position is in Saudi Arabia and exactly what our role—indeed, non-role—is in the conflict taking place in Yemen. We all want to see a solution: a proper Government who can represent all the people of Yemen. The hon. Gentleman talks about the Arms Export Controls Committee. It can, of course, meet whenever it chooses. It is a partnership of a number of Select Committees. It is not for the Government to instruct Select Committees to meet.
The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight, as I did earlier, the chaos of the Labour party’s policy on Trident. I do not know where it stands now. Does it want to build submarines but send them to sea empty? That is probably the case. At least the SNP has a clear position. The fact is that the Labour party is all over the place on this issue. When we bring it to the House, I suspect our parties will have an interesting time exposing the Labour party’s fraudulent position.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I must advise the House that no fewer than 47 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am always keen to accommodate colleagues, but there are two ministerial statements to follow and two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, a premium on brevity. What is required from each Member is a single, short supplementary question without preamble and a characteristically pithy reply from the Leader of the House.
Derby City Council has granted planning permission on vital green wedge land in Oakwood—land that prevents the city from being an urban sprawl—in spite of substantial local opposition. The site contains very old and diverse woodland, but will become totally surrounded, preventing wildlife from entering and leaving. May we have a debate on providing corridors for wildlife in planning applications on green spaces to ensure safe havens for wildlife and to allow that wildlife to travel to and from established habitats?
I understand the concern, which was raised recently by my hon. Friend Oliver Colvile with regard to his own campaign, and I know that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has considered it carefully. We always wish for local authorities to provide a balance between the necessary development to provide housing for the people of this country and wildlife protection.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for advance notice of the Back-Bench business debates on
That latter point is important because we want the Committee to have a good range of debates to consider. As I said last week, I will give careful consideration to the hon. Gentleman’s point about time.
Will the Leader of the House be good enough to give us a debate on how we can get back our country? On the immigration question, the voters absolutely have to understand how the Dublin regulation is being bulldozed, with the connivance of the Commission, through Angela Merkel’s own policy, and how human rights laws are being extended to allow people in Calais to come over here. These matters go right to the heart of the referendum. Can we have our country back please?
First, as my hon. Friend knows, the broader issue will be extensively debated in both the House and the country over the coming months. On the more immediate issues, it is important, in the interim, that, when the EU takes decisions about what happens right now, it does not forget the interests of the UK simply because we are not in the Schengen area.
May we have a debate on the lack of accountability of transport bodies, at regional and national levels, when they do not work together? We recently suffered hours of gridlock because of an accident on the motorway and a football match at the Etihad stadium—events likely to happen on the same day from time to time. The agencies involved find it impossible to work together or come up with any solutions.
It is important that transport bodies are mindful of such events. Occasionally in recent years, major national events have coincided with major engineering works—on the railways, for example. The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I am sure the Transport Secretary will listen. He will be here to take questions next week, when she might wish to make that point again.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Library services remain of enormous importance to people in this country. It is striking how Conservative councils have faced the financial challenges, which all local authorities face, innovatively while still managing to deliver quality services, while Labour councils, all too often, cannot provide the efficiencies we need while protecting those services.
I am happy to consider that. We review the structure of questions from time to time. The hon. Lady might also wish to take the matter to the Backbench Business Committee to secure a debate. We now make a substantial block of time available to the Committee, as we have heard today. It is a good opportunity for Select Committees to seek time for debates about reports.
We have heard today that the Leader of the House wants a debate on the future of Trident, that the spokesman for the Scottish Nationalists wants a debate on the future of Trident, and I know from personal experience that the leader of the Labour party is never afraid to have a debate on the future of Trident, so why have we not been given a date for the maingate debate and decision? Surely the Prime Minister cannot be so occupied with considerations of European negotiations as to delay this issue once more, when it was outrageously delayed for five years as part of a grubby coalition deal in 2010.
As we have heard, my right hon. Friend feels strongly that we should have such debates. He may be right about the Leader of the Opposition, but I am not sure that the rest of those on the Labour Front Bench want to have that debate any time soon. This is a matter under consideration and I hope to be able to indicate in the not too distant future the Government’s plans for future debates about defence matters.
The International Association of Athletics Federations has recently acknowledged the widespread doping in world athletics. This morning, UK Anti-Doping has asked to see Arsène Wenger because of his long-term brave outspokenness on doping in football. What are the Government going to do about this issue, and may we have a debate?
I think we now understand where your footballing sympathies lie, Mr Speaker. Sadly, I fear my team, Manchester United, are unlikely to overtake yours this season, but we can but hope and keep our fingers crossed. We have, of course, just had Culture, Media and Sport questions, and I am sure that the Secretary of State has already thought carefully about the issue and will continue to do so. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are raised. He makes an important point—doping in sport, in whatever sport, is to be roundly condemned and dealt with with the strongest possible force, when appropriate.
I commend my hon. Friend Mr Walker for bringing forward yesterday’s debate and I offer my strong support for the comment that has just been made. On behalf of Members of all parties, I say that it is absolutely inappropriate for international banks to look upon Members as anything other than normal customers. The fact that they pursue a line that is, I believe, often intrusive, inappropriate and unnecessary is something that we should all clearly state we believe to be unacceptable.
We were all delighted in October last year when the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Saudi Arabia led to the release of Karl Andree from a Saudi jail, which the Foreign Secretary attributed to the strength, breadth and depth of UK-Saudi relations. The Prime Minister said at the time:
“We have always acted on…British prisoners overseas, with all countries, not just Saudi Arabia”.
We surely have strength, breadth and depth in our relationship with India, so I ask the Leader of the House for a statement outlining exactly why we could secure the release of Mr Andree from Saudi Arabia, but seemingly not of my constituent, Billy Irving, from five years’ vigorous imprisonment in Tamil Nadu in India.
Let me first commend the hon. Lady for her diligence in pursuing this case. Since she last raised the matter, I have raised it with the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister. After today, I will pursue it further and try to ensure that she receives an early reply to the representations she has been making behalf of her constituent.
The Government have been told by the insurance industry that all businesses are offered flood insurance for their businesses, but we know after devastating floods in Calder Valley over Christmas that that is not the case—and where it is, we know that the premiums and excesses are often extortionate, unaffordable and unfair. May we have a debate on flood insurance for business and on whether the Government will begin negotiations with the insurance industry on behalf of business, as they did with domestic properties and Flood Re?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know that the county he represents as well as his own area has been affected, and we all want to see continued progress being made in the areas affected by flooding to try to get businesses and homeowners back to normal. He knows that Flood Re was set up as a residential system in the first place, but I can assure him that Ministers are currently in discussions with the insurance industry about how to address precisely the concerns he has raised today.
May we have a statement on criminal legal aid to clarify whether the Government still intend to go ahead with their disastrous two-tier contracts for criminal solicitors? I realise that the Leader of the House will not welcome a sixth high-profile U-turn on policies he championed when he was Lord Chancellor, but the current chaos is, in the words of the Law Society this week,
“undermining access to justice for the most vulnerable in society.”
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the Law Society endorsed the package in the first place, two years ago. Let me also remind him that we have had to make tough decisions in a variety of areas of government—including legal aid—from 2010 onwards, because we have had to sort out the right royal financial mess that was left behind by the Labour party.
It is important, as we rightly do the right thing for people with disabilities, for us to try to ensure that they are given the support that they need throughout society. My hon. Friend has made an important point about his constituency. I am sure that his comments will have been heard by his local authority, and that it will be considering whether it should, and how it could, act on them.
Some Members’ votes can now be void. Chamber votes on substantive issues such as women’s pensions have been voided, and votes on serious issues are increasingly avoided, by means of statutory instruments. Which of those does the Leader of the House take most pride in?
The House has followed the Government’s current ways of working for decades. It did so under the last Labour Government, and it did so under the coalition Government. We have made no major changes, barring the very necessary change to provide the fairness in our devolution settlement that the English votes for English laws system represents.
It is with great delight that I update the House on a matter that has been raised in the Chamber many times by my predecessors. Llanishen and Lisvane reservoirs have now been taken over by Welsh Water on a very long-term lease, and I praise both Welsh Water and Celsa for signing the deal. The nub of the question, however, is how we can recognise community groups such as the Reservoir Action Group, which has been campaigning for more than two decades with MPs and councillors. The honours system could, of course, give awards to some of its members, but how can we honour such community groups more broadly? The RAG, for instance, has made a huge contribution to Cardiff and to the reservoirs.
I should like to praise the volunteers in my hon. Friend’s constituency for the work that they have done. Last week I suggested to the Backbench Business Committee that it might wish to hold a day-long debate at some point this year so that Members could praise and reflect the work done by voluntary groups in their constituencies As my hon. Friend says, the honours system can be used to reflect the exceptionally good work done by individuals in all our constituencies, and I am sure that many of us have used the system in that way, appropriately, in the past, but the Prime Minister runs the Points of Light awards on a daily basis, and my hon. Friend might like to consider that option as well.
I am sorry to say that Sheffield remains extremely vulnerable to flooding, as it has few and inadequate flood defences. So far the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has allocated only £23 million of the £43 million that Sheffield needs to protect existing homes, businesses and prime development land, to enable new homes to be built, and to promote job creation and growth. May we have a debate in Government time on DEFRA’s grant in aid programme, so that we can ensure that it recognises the substantial economic benefits of our flood defences?
The hon. Lady has made an important point. In all the areas that have been either directly affected by or threatened by flooding, there is now a real determination among local communities—as well as at Government level—to focus on doing all the sensible things that can be done to prevent flooding. I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She will be back in the House shortly, and the point could be put to her directly then .
Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, which is in my constituency, serves our growing university town. Yesterday the clinical commissioning group announced a 12-week consultation on closing our accident and emergency department and moving it to Halifax. The backdrop to that is a ruinous private finance initiative deal under which we will pay £774 million for a hospital that cost £64 million to build. May we have an urgent debate on this appalling situation?
I well understand my hon. Friend’s concern about A&E services in his constituency. No doubt he will make strong representations locally, to the CCG, general practitioners and local decision-makers, but the appalling structures of PFI are, of course, a legacy that was passed to us by the last Labour Government. We look back and ask, “How on earth did they ever think those deals were a good idea?”
Last week I described the Leader of the House as a Brexit mini-beast, but this week I should like to extend the hand of friendship to him, and invite him to join me on a Southern train. I will buy the lattes. I hope that, at the end of the journey, he will want to make time available for a debate in the House to discuss my proposal that passengers should be entitled to compensation when their trains are delayed by 15 minutes, rather than the 30 minutes that currently apply.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He does not need to invite me on Southern rail; I was on Southern last night—indeed, I am a regular traveller on Southern and on South West Trains. He makes an important point and one of the things I find frustrating is that I personally believe we should be tighter on the statistics around delays to services as well, because they can get away with being a few minutes late and not show up. So the right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and he and I will continue to argue for better services on behalf of our constituents. I am sure his comments will be listened to.
May we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s very sensible proposals this week about the importance of immigrants learning English, which is certainly an issue in Bradford among many Muslim women, to help them integrate into British society? In such a debate, perhaps we could discuss who should pay for these English lessons, because many of my constituents think it should not be the taxpayer who foots the bill; it should be the people themselves. If I decide to go and live in Spain, I would not expect the Spanish Government to teach me Spanish.
My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently, but the key to this is that it is absolutely essential that people who come to live and work in this country speak English, and our communities have ended up more divided than they should be because of the fact that so many people who come here cannot speak English. That really has to change.
We learned from the Evening Standard just over an hour ago that the Government intend to devolve local metro train services in London from the Department for Transport to Transport for London, something that was dismissed by the Leader of the House as renationalisation when I pressed him on it last year. In the light of that welcome decision, can we now find time for a debate on the details of the Government’s proposals, and in particular what can be done to compel operators like Southeastern, which will lose their franchises as a result, to improve their services in the interim?
Changes of this kind would be a matter for detailed discussion in this House. I have not seen what is in the Evening Standard so I cannot tell whether it is a rumour or otherwise. What I would say is if this Government are going to bring forward changes that affect Members of this House, we will set out details to them and listen to them.
Weetabix is a delicious and nutritious breakfast cereal the wheat for which is sourced from farms within a 50 mile radius of the Weetabix factory at Burton Latimer in the borough of Kettering. The agriculture Secretary is there this morning to launch the new great British food unit to promote the export of British foodstuffs around the world. Will the Leader of the House make sure that at all his breakfast meetings, and at all the breakfast meetings arranged by the House authorities, Weetabix is made available?
Mr Speaker, I am sure that you and I, as members of the Commission that ultimately looks at catering matters, will give careful consideration to that representation. However, we may have to have a two-course breakfast as my hon. Friend will have heard from both sides of the House the call to have a cooked breakfast with black pudding afterwards.
I hope the Leader of the House is in good health and has been enjoying some of that superfood that is Stornoway black pudding as recommended in my early-day motion 936, and which is easily ordered on the internet.
[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.]
With his health suitably fortified, will the Leader of the House look to have a debate on the suggestion of a new Act of Union in the UK by Peter Hain and other ennobled gentlemen, and maybe the Government and these gentlemen could get behind my ten-minute rule Bill on Scots votes for Scots laws and engage with Scotland’s democratic representatives?
Hopefully the Stornoway superfood will provide an appropriate counterbalance to the glass of the other product that comes from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which I suspect will be drunk in copious quantities next week on Burns’ night. What I would say to him is if the Scottish National party is now calling for a new Act of Union, that is definitely a new departure and one we should perhaps consider very carefully.
May we have a debate on the export value and potential of Bury black pudding, which was raised with me when I visited the Bury Black Pudding Company last week? This will enable me to dispel the suggestion raised by some hon. Members that the black pudding made in their constituencies is in the same league as Bury black pudding. This is clearly a scurrilous suggestion that needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Following the point made by Philip Davies, may we have an urgent debate on cuts to funding for English for speakers of other languages? Walsall Adult Community College has had £380,000 cut from its budget for doing what the Prime Minister asked it to do. The Prime Minister has now allocated £20 million, so please can the college have its money back?
The hon. Lady makes a strong representation on behalf of her local college, and I am sure that the appropriate Minister will take that into account as he looks at how we use this money to the best possible effect.
Last weekend saw the celebrations of Thai Pongal and Lohri, with thousands of British citizens celebrating the winter harvest in the Indian subcontinent. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a great cause for congratulation and that we should have a debate in this House on the variety of different community festivals that are held in this country, given that they are never debated in this Chamber?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does with the different minority groups in his constituency. He raised the issue of groups in Kashmir, a part of the world in which we would all like to see a peace settlement and a lasting solution. In the meantime, he has made an important point about the different community festivals that add richness to this country and provide a fantastic means of spreading community understanding between different parts of our society.
I was disappointed to hear the Prime Minister’s triumphalism on the question of employment yesterday, because unemployment has once again gone up in my constituency, as it has in many others. Of the 75 constituencies in which unemployment has risen the most, just seven are in the south of England. May we please have a debate on the continuing north-south divide, before the northern powerhouse goes the way of the big society and hug a hoodie?
I am sorry; I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. Over the past five and a half years, we have seen a steady fall in unemployment and a steady rise in employment in this country, and the economy of the north is growing faster than the economy of the south. I am proud of this Government’s achievement in turning around the situation: when we came into office, unemployment was forecast to rise to 3 million, but it is now around half that level.
The Government invested £15 million of regional growth fund money to establish the largest enterprise zone in the country in order to further their ambition to make the Humber the energy estuary, which is vital to the economy of my constituency. Progress on this seems to be rather too slow, however. May we have an urgent statement on how we might pursue this matter?
We all want to see continued economic growth in Humberside. The enterprise zone that my hon. Friend talks about is one part of our strategy for continued improvement and a continued fall in unemployment. I will ensure that the Secretary of State is made aware of his concerns and look into how we might possibly help my hon. Friend to achieve what he is trying to achieve.
Last night, I met the mum and dad of Matthew Bass, who had a 15-year career in cabin crew before his sudden death in January 2014. Matthew, aged 34, was found to have died from chronic exposure to organophosphates. It is believed that that was caused by contaminated cabin air. Will a Minister come to the House to make a statement to ensure that air passengers are made aware of the situation and of the steps the Government are taking to ensure that air passengers are safe?
The hon. Lady raises an issue that has been brought up in the House on a number of occasions over the years. It has also been debated on occasions, but she might like to consider bringing forward a further debate on it. I will ensure that her concerns about this tragic death are passed on to the Secretary of State for Transport, who will be back in the House next week. She might like to put this point to him as well.
In 2014, the railway line at Dawlish was cut off for six weeks because of severe storms. The Secretary of State for Transport asked the taskforce and his own Department to report in the summer on resilience in the south-west, so that we should never again be cut off. May we have a statement on how that is proceeding?
I am aware of the huge disruption that the damage at Dawlish caused. I hope that my hon. Friend believes that the Government and Network Rail responded as quickly as possible to restore the existing route, and I assure him that work is ongoing to find alternatives and to provide a contingency plan for any such event in the future. The Secretary of State for Transport will be here in the next few days, and my hon. Friend will certainly be able to raise that point with him then, but I will also ensure that his concerns are passed on and that we get that statement soon.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister appeared to back a ban on the Muslim veil in some circumstances but not in others, and seemed to stop short of an outright ban on the facial veil. This has caused some confusion and concern among the Muslim community in my constituency. May we have a statement from the Prime Minister to clarify exactly what the Government’s policy is? Will he clarify that it will not apply in devolved Scotland?
Of course the Prime Minister will be back here next week to take questions, but it is the case that there are places in our society where it is not appropriate to wear a face veil, for example, when somebody is giving evidence in court. That issue has appeared before the courts in recent years. It would be completely wrong to have somebody giving evidence in court while wearing a full face veil. That is just one example of where it is not appropriate in our society and where it is sensible to have a balance.
May we have a debate about the provision of in vitro fertilisation? The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s 2013 guidelines recommend that three full cycles be provided, but many clinical commissioning groups still impose restrictions. Two of my constituents have had to raise £10,000 to fund a second and third cycle. Will the Leader of the House raise with Health Ministers the need to ensure that the NICE guidance is followed?
I am happy to raise that point, but I would say that we have taken a conscious decision that the provision of services should be taken by local doctors, rather than by officials in Whitehall. That was a very conscious policy decision. It does mean that different decisions may be taken in different areas. I think that is the right thing, but I will make sure the hon. Lady’s concerns are raised.
If BT has still not been able to restore phone lines to businesses, that is a matter of serious concern for all of us. I will make sure that that concern is passed on to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning, as both have responsibilities in this area and this needs to be rectified pretty quickly.
The prosecution of kids who post indecent images continues to cause great concern. In Northern Ireland last week, investigations into dozens of youngsters considered for prosecution over indecent images of children have been halted because of the sensitivity of the issue and the need, I believe, for decriminalisation. Children will come forward to get help, and fewer will self-harm and commit suicide, if we look at decriminalising this. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement on this very important issue?
One very much hopes that the prosecuting authorities, both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, apply a degree of common sense. We have rules that are designed to protect young people from inappropriate exploitation and from revenge porn, but I think we would all take the view that if a teenager does something stupid, we would not wish to see them criminalised without good reason.
May we have a statement from a Department for Work and Pensions Minister, because over the Christmas period a number of families in my constituency could not get any benefits or tax credits? The procedure seems to be very slow and delayed. This is a serious issue and we should have either a statement or a debate on it.
Of course tax credits are normally paid directly, through a different route from the benefits system. This will therefore depend entirely on the individual cases, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me with some more detailed examples, I will make sure that I pass his comments on to the Secretary of State so that he gets a response.
My constituent Naheed Kausar Ali was tragically killed during the crushing incident at the Hajj in September. The Saudi authorities committed to an investigation, on which they have yet to report back. May we have a statement on what pressure can be applied and what assistance can be given to the Saudi authorities to ensure that they report back rapidly and publicly, so that lessons are learned and British pilgrims can travel to the Hajj in safety?
This was, of course, a great tragedy, and the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. By coincidence, a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington, has just arrived in the Chamber. Although he is not directly responsible for relations with Saudi Arabia, I will ask him to pass on that concern to his colleague in the Foreign Office so that the issue can be addressed. This was a tragedy for the families involved and they will want to see answers.
Pursuant to the answer given to Mark Pritchard, may we have a debate on local government finance, as that might give Ministers a chance to explain why cautious, prudent, Labour-run Cheshire West and Chester Council, having achieved a £2 million underspend this year, has seen that wiped out by incompetent Ministers applying a formula error that has lost our local council £2.3 million?
If there is a formula error, the Department will look at it. The hon. Gentleman will undoubtedly have made representations already, as will other Members from the Cheshire West area. I will ensure that the Department responds appropriately to him and to them.
May I start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his election to this House? I am sorry that he was caught up in the glitch on Tuesday, but, as I said earlier, it was a human error and one that I am certain will not be repeated. Again, I congratulate him on his arrival in this House and say to him that he makes an important point about the town and city centres of the north-west. I am pleased to have seen the way in which the centres of Manchester and Liverpool in particular—but not just Manchester and Liverpool—have been transformed in recent years. I take his point, and I will ask the Treasury to respond to him accordingly.
The steel crisis rumbles on. Government policy is very much pro China’s market economy status, irrespective of whether or not this country remains in the European Union. May we have a statement on the Government’s argument for China’s MES, or are we to believe that the Chinese communist red flag flies above No. 10?
The hon. Gentleman knows, as this issue was addressed in this House a couple of days ago, that the steel industry internationally faces enormous challenges. The problems that we are experiencing are not unique to this country; they are a factor of change around the world. We believe strongly that this country benefits economically from having proper and solid economic ties with China, which does not mean that we are not putting serious effort into trying to address the problems that the steel industry faces, but he will understand that it is an international challenge that is not easy to resolve.
Within the past week, the Secretary of State for Scotland has made a departmental statement and then a U-turn counter-statement on post-study work visas while being fully aware that there was an ongoing investigation into this matter by the Scottish Affairs Committee. That has enraged both the Scottish media and the people of Scotland. Will the Leader of the House issue a statement saying that such behaviour undermines the cross-party work of the parliamentary Committee, the evidence submitted from the many who come before the Committee, and subsequent reports that are published? Will he also assure us that this UK Government made an abject error and will not undermine parliamentary democracy in the future?
This is an area that was not in the Smith commission report. It is also one on which we seek to do the right thing and to provide the right balance. We think the system that has been put in place provides that right balance, even though the hon. Gentleman and his party do not agree.
May we have a debate, or even one of those nice little statutory instruments, advising local authorities of the sense of installing a small shelf in disabled toilets so that people who have ileostomies or colostomies can effectively change their bags without having to scrabble on dirty floors?
The hon. Lady makes an important and sensible point. The Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People will be here on Monday week when she can put that point to him. It is something that I will also ensure is passed on to the Department, as she makes an interesting and valuable point.
May we have a debate on the Government’s decision to cut public health in-year budgets by £200 million, given that Simon Stevens’ Five-Year Forward View predicates in year 5 that £5 billion will be freed up from prevention? Is it not short-sighted of this Government to cut the very budgets that will prevent that in the future?
We face different challenges in the health world, but we continue to increase the amount of money that we spend on health in this country, and will continue to do so.
In Prime Minister’s questions on
“I am happy to arrange that meeting.”—[Hansard, 4 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 964.]
Subsequently, Downing Street has transferred that meeting to a junior Minister whom the Trowhills have already met. On
I absolutely accept the hon. Lady’s point. We heard earlier from the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, who controls a large block of the time we have in this House for debates on such subjects, that he is short of topics for the coming weeks. I urge both the hon. Lady and Angela Rayner to put that request to the Backbench Business Committee, as that would bring a Minister to the House to discuss the serious issues that they raise.
This week, the Leader of the House made comments that again insinuated that the SNP over-predicted the price of oil. Before the referendum, the Department of Energy and Climate Change had predicted an upper forecast of $135 a barrel for oil for this year alone. Low oil prices affect workers all over the UK and I have a constituent who at Christmas did not know whether his son would get back on to the rigs. Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement apologising for gloating while people lose their jobs?
What the SNP cannot understand is that it is precisely because we are one United Kingdom that we can provide support to parts of our economy that are affected by such unexpected changes. If Scotland had become independent, a new Scottish Administration would right now be facing a massive financial gap because of the falling oil price. That is why Scotland was and is better off as part of the United Kingdom.
Is the Leader of the House aware that
Mr Speaker will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s comments, which are important. Harold Wilson, although not of my political persuasion, was one of the major figures of 20th century politics. I think that everyone in this House, from all parties, would wish to extend to Harold Wilson’s widow our congratulations on the milestone that she has just celebrated of her 100th birthday.
I can give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that we will see new developments in Scottish votes for Scottish laws this May, when we have elections to the Scottish Parliament, which delivers those Scottish votes for Scottish laws. I am confident that our strong Conservative team in Scotland will be working to make real progress and I am equally confident that the Labour party will have a difficult night in Scotland.