The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I remind the House that on Tuesday
Today is the birthday of a towering figure in British public life who has served the country for decades and is a pillar of the constitution, so may I wish the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee a very happy birthday? May I also pay warm tribute to Victoria Wood? I do not know what your favourite line was, Mr Speaker, but mine was her definition of middle age, which is when you walk past a Dr Scholl’s shop and think, “Ooh, those look comfy.” Perhaps it was her sitting at the piano belting out,
“Let’s do it,
Let’s do it...
Beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly”,
which sounds like a good time had by all at last week’s Tory party away day.
I had expected that the Leader of the House would have had some kind of musical accompaniment when he arrived today. After all, when he bounced up on the stage at the leave rally in Stoke on Tuesday, the theme tune from a Hollywood western was being pumped out. I must confess that I thought it was “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, which is a bit unfair on the Leader of the House, but it turns out that it was “The Magnificent Seven”. I presume that Nigel Farage thinks of himself as Vin, played by Steve McQueen, and that the Leader of the House sees himself as Chris Adams, played by Yul Brynner—he has the head for it. I can just imagine the two of them—the only ones alive at the end—sitting on their horses on
“We lost. We always lose.”
I hope that that will be the case.
Incidentally, did you hear the sound of silence that evening, Mr Speaker? It was the great silence that descends on the leave campaign when it is asked what Brexit would look like. The Lord Chancellor spluttered on Wednesday about the great free trade area that apparently runs from Iceland to Turkey. His solution is that we be like Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine and Albania—Albania! The Lord Chancellor seems to think we can have free trade with the EU without free movement. Let me point out that in the 500 years since the former Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, published “Utopia”, no one has ever actually found it.
As we have heard, the Procedure Committee has published its report on private Members’ Bills. Its Chair is quite right when he says that the system is completely bust and that the Government are in the last-chance saloon. I note that the Deputy Leader of the House seems hesitant about reform, while the Leader of the House seems a bit more inclined towards it, so will the Leader of the House guarantee that the House will get a proper chance to debate changes to the Standing Orders? I do not mean just some insubstantial debate, but a proper one that can lead to change.
The Leader just announced that we shall be considering Lords amendments to the Trade Union Bill on Wednesday. The Trade Union Political Funds and Political Party Funding Committee, a cross-party Lords Committee, has made some important suggestions and I urge the Government to act on them. Otherwise, fair-minded people might conclude that that Government are engaged in a nasty, partisan attempt to hobble anyone who disagrees with them.
Will the Leader of the House clarify the Government’s position on genocide and the Yazidi Christians? The deliberate massacre of thousands upon thousands solely because of their religion and their ethnic origin is an evident barbarity. Fiona Bruce put her case admirably yesterday and carried the Division unanimously, with 278 votes, but surely the Government should act upon it. Mysteriously, the Government sat on their hands last night, and they have a habit of ignoring such unanimous motions. Will the Leader of the House pledge that just this once the Government will take the voice of the House of Commons seriously and act?
Do the Government have any plans at all to reform the House of Lords? The bizarre Lib Dem hereditary by-election on Tuesday brought back Viscount Thurso, a man who is clearly a master of the parliamentary hokey-cokey. He was a hereditary Member of the House of Lords and then an elected Member of this House. Then he was thrown out, and he will now be an elected hereditary peer for life. We have now had 29 hereditary peerage by-elections. My favourite was last September’s, when the ninth Duke of Wellington won, meaning that there are four times as many dukes in Parliament today under Elizabeth II as there were 450 years ago under Elizabeth I. Wellington defeated, among others, the seventh Earl of Limerick, who might well have written:
“There was a hereditary peer.
Whose attitude was very queer.
He stood for election.
And ended up sitting in here.”
I am particularly disappointed in the Leader of the House because this Saturday is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and, apart from a production of Richard II in the Members’ Dining Room on Saturday evening, this House will barely acknowledge it—or, for that matter, St George’s day. That is profoundly unpatriotic and the Leader of the House should hang his head in shame.
Let me use the words of the bard to couch my message to those “strange bedfellows” Boris and Nigel on the EU. This is not “a foregone conclusion” and I do not want to “lay it on with a trowel”, but if we leave the EU, we will be “in a pickle” and all their talk of freedom will be “cold comfort” to those who lose their jobs when companies leave the UK, “bag and baggage”. I say this “more in sorrow than in anger”, but their “pomp and circumstance” offers “a fool’s paradise”, because “that way madness lies”. “More fool you”. Nobody wants the UK to leave the EU more than President Putin of Russia, so it is Brexit, “pursued by a bear”.
Shakespearean words from the Bottom of the Labour party.
The Prime Minister will be in the Chamber shortly to speak on behalf of the Government on this occasion of the Queen’s 90th birthday, but what I wish to say today is that as the Lord President of the Council—the person who presides over the Privy Council—and previously the Lord Chancellor, I have had extensive dealings with Her Majesty over the past few years and she is a fantastic lady. She is an example to us all. She has done amazing service for our country, and I am sure I will be joined by the whole House in wishing her a very happy birthday.
May I also echo the happy birthday wishes to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and wish everybody a happy St George’s day this weekend? It would also be appropriate for me to wish all the very best to the eight Members across this House who are running the London marathon this weekend. It is a feat of endurance, to say the least. They are raising good money for charity and we should be proud of all of them, on both sides of the House.
Let me deal with the specific points that the hon. Gentleman raised. On private Members’ Bills, the report is thoughtful, as I said earlier, and welcome. It gives us a lot of food for thought and we will respond in due course. I want to read it carefully and decide how best to respond. I have already indicated to my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall that I am very sympathetic to many of its proposals, particularly if we can do things such as cleaning up the Order Paper so that we do not raise false expectations for the public. I will respond properly in due course, as the shadow Leader of the House would expect.
On the Trade Union Bill, it is worth reminding the House that it does two things. The first is protecting workers who find their lives disrupted when strikes are organised by a minority of transport workers. It is right and proper that we should not allow our citizens’ lives to be disrupted by inappropriate strike action. It is also about choice when making contributions to political parties. The people who donate to the Conservative party choose to do so, but many of those who donate to Labour do not, which is wrong and something that should change.
On the point about genocide, everyone in the House would recognise that the events in northern Iraq have been horrendous. We have seen scenes of brutality that are inexplicable and indefensible, and which should be unreservedly condemned. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will consider carefully what was said yesterday and take account of the views of the House.
On Lords reform, as I said last week to the former First Minister of Scotland, we have to defend endangered minorities, including the Liberal Democrats, but I remind the shadow Leader of the House that it was the Labour party that put in place this system of elected peers back in the late 1990s, when it reformed the House of Lords. Labour was in government—with a majority of about 250, if I recall rightly—and it was Labour that put in place the reformed system.
On Europe, I will never take seriously the views of a man who, a few years ago, was expressing such dismay at Britain not joining the euro. I will never take his views seriously, having listened to what he said then.
The shadow Leader of the House gave an interview a few days ago in which he accused me of telling the same joke five weeks in a row. I can only say that when I kept asking why he was still on the Labour Front Bench, I was not joking. He represents a party that wants nothing to do with Britain’s largest provider of apprenticeships; a so-called democratic party that apparently supports direct action to bring down the Government; a party that wants to dismantle our nation’s defences; a party led by a man who believes we have not had enough immigration into this country already; and a party that, despite his own wise words, for which I pay tribute to him, is clearly riddled with anti-Semitism. The people of principle in his party now sit on its Back Benches; the fact that he is still on the Front Bench speaks volumes.
Mr Speaker, there is perhaps good news for those people of principle on the Labour Back Benches. You might not have seen the advert that appeared yesterday for the position of media spokesperson in the Leader of the Opposition’s office, but regarding the duration of the post, it said:
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the status of foreign politicians visiting this country? I am not referring to Barack Obama. The Maldivian high commissioner has told me that members of the Maldivian Democratic party who are visiting this country face very serious criminal charges at home. I simply do not understand what they are doing here.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will make sure that his concerns are drawn to the attention of the Home Office and the Foreign Office. When we admit people to this country, it is obviously right and proper that we understand the context of their arrival, who they are and what they are doing.
I also thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and join him in acknowledging the Queen’s 90th birthday. I know we spend the opening parts of business questions looking for significant events from history, but there can be nothing more significant. I know we are having the formal debate later, but may I wish her now a very happy birthday and recognise her lifetime of duty and service?
It is good to see the Leader of the House back as a solo act following his laugh-a-minute duo with Nigel Farage—not so much “The Two Ronnies” as “The Two Groanies”. I am pretty certain that following the referendum, when the day of reckoning comes, it will be good night from him. The debate around the EU referendum has been utterly appalling. For most people in Scotland, it seems like two bald Tories fighting over a comb. As we go forward, can we drop “Project Fear” and the UKIP-ification of the leave agenda, and instead have a rational, sensible debate so that we can do justice to something that is critical to this nation?
I welcome our newest parliamentarian, the noble Lord, Viscount Thurso, who won a stunning victory when he secured all three votes among the massed ranks of the Liberal aristocracy. Labour Members drone on about the House of Lords, but may I gently ask them what they are doing about their Labour peers? Labour has the second biggest group down there, and there are Labour aristocrats, too—do not let us forget that. The minute Labour joins us in trying to address this, we will start to make progress. Viscount Thurso is practically politically indestructible. Booted out of that place and booted out of this place, he is still here, as an unelected parliamentarian. Is there no way to get rid of these people? I now appeal to the Tories: join us in ridding this place of these aristocrats, Church of England bishops, donors, cronies and unelected Liberals. Let us get rid of the whole embarrassing circus and bring democracy to this country. Let us deal with this place, and let us hope the Labour party can join us, too.
Lastly, can we have a little debate about political ambition in this country? Two weeks from today, the Scottish people go to the polls to elect a new Scottish Parliament, and there is a fight to the death among the UK parties not to win, but to see who can be the best-placed loser, such is their ambition in that election and such is their acknowledgement of the impressive record of the SNP Government. They have more or less flung in the towel when it comes to trying to win and are battling it out over who can be the Opposition. I appeal to the Blairites, the Corbynites and the Tories to perhaps come to Scotland, add a little fortification to their colleagues up there, and do something to encourage them to at least take this contest seriously.
May I start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Queen? Notwithstanding the fact that we have very different views about the future of the United Kingdom, one view we definitely share is about the importance of the devotion to her duty that Her Majesty has shown over 90 years. All of us celebrate today’s happy occasion.
The hon. Gentleman talked about me sharing a platform earlier in the week. It is worth saying that I also shared a platform on Monday night in Stoke-on-Trent with somebody whom the Labour party would regard as a dangerous right-wing extremist: the hon. Member—Labour Member—for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who stood alongside me and made an impassioned speech.
On the election in the House of Lords, I think that we have to be kind. We have two Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Chamber, who are sitting in rather diminished numbers, and we should not be unduly unkind to them about the election in the House of Lords. The reality is that the House of Lords is overwhelmingly made up of people who have either made a significant contribution to the public life of this country, or developed great expertise in their fields. I am afraid that I am a defender of the House of Lords—I think it adds something to our democratic process—even though I know the hon. Gentleman does not agree—[Interruption.] Clearly the shadow Leader of the House does not agree either.
On Scotland, may I say that we have clear political ambition there? My view is that Ruth Davidson would be the best First Minister for Scotland. If the SNP is successful in May, it will be interesting to see how it adapts to having the powers that it will have to wield and the decisions it will have to take, including tax decisions. So far the SNP has studiously avoided taking tough decisions in Scotland. It has demanded more powers, which it seldom uses, and tried to convince us that somehow it can rise above the practicalities of government, but being in government means having to do tough things. If the party is successful in May, we will see whether it is really up to governing; I suspect we may find it wanting.
This week E.ON signed up to support my constituent Jackie Woodcock’s Dying to Work campaign, an initiative that would change the law to stop employers from extending the criteria for dismissal on the grounds of capability to terminally ill workers. May we have a debate on what more can be done to encourage businesses to sign up to this much needed law change?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I know she has raised before. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be in the House in 10 days’ time. I will alert him to the fact that she has raised the issue today and she might want to bring it up with him, as it is a matter for that Department.
It was, but the Secretary of State for Health was here and he did take questions, and I have no doubt that he will be back in the House to address the issue in due course. It is simply my hope that a resolution can be reached. He and his colleagues in the Department of Health have put in extensive efforts and have held something like 75 meetings with junior doctors’ representatives. None of us wants to see a strike, particularly not one that involves emergency services. I would call on all doctors not to take industrial action next week and I hope a resolution can be reached quickly.
Just weeks after the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour club stepped down, saying that a large proportion of both the OULC and the student left in Oxford
“have some kind of problem with Jews”,
I am sure my right hon. Friend will be incredulous to hear that students who attended the National Union of Students conference in Brighton yesterday debated boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day and then went on to elect as its president someone who described the University of Birmingham as
“something of a Zionist outpost” in British higher education. May we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to set out measures that the Government will take to counter the rise in anti-Semitism that is being fomented on university campuses?
That is simply unacceptable in our society. The views expressed yesterday are not acceptable. The shadow Leader of the House was absolutely right when he talked about anti-Semitism in his own party. All of us from all political parties should work to stamp it out across our society, as it is simply unacceptable.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate in which we can hear the views of those who have decided to support our membership of the EU, such as President Obama, and indeed the views of those who have recently decided to support the campaign to come out, such as Marie Le Pen from the Front National, the far-right party in France? We could also use it as an opportunity to hear the views of the members of the Scottish National party, who, as far as I can tell, want Scotland, but not the United Kingdom, to stay in the European Union.
The right hon. Gentleman and I will have the opportunity to debate these matters in my constituency shortly, and I am grateful to him for taking part in that debate. It is of course a lively discussion across our society, and one on which, no doubt, the people will reach their decision on
Local parish councils are invaluable for bringing together communities, and for representing communities at that very local level. May we have a debate on the rare but concerning occasions when one person sits on multiple parish councils as well as on district or borough councils, thereby reducing broad and effective participation on those local parish councils?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I am aware of the situation in her constituency. I pay tribute to her for the work that she is doing in Eastleigh. She is right to say that those who enter public life should take their responsibilities seriously, commit to the organisation of which they are part, and be active in the community according to their responsibilities, particularly on a parish council where it is very much the smallest local matters—they are often essential matters to small communities—that are the focus of its work.
I thank the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for their birthday wishes. I am in the fortunate position of sharing a birthday with Her Majesty every year. I am afraid to say, though, that we are getting to the state of play where the candles are costing more than the cake. May I just point out to the Leader of the House that, on occasion, Members from across the House ask him for a debate in Government time, and he almost always refers them to the Backbench Business Committee, but some of those requests come from Members who are not Back Benchers, and that makes it rather difficult for us to deal with those requests. Will he bear that in mind for future business? On a personal note, I represent the constituency of Gateshead, and I live in the heart of the community of Gateshead where there is a very orthodox and learned Haredi Jewish community, which I am very proud to represent.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to make that point, and I support him in making it. On the allocation of time, the challenge for the Government is that we have now allocated to the Opposition and to the Backbench Business Committee around half the time in a particular week, but it is about ensuring that the Government can also pursue their business. Opposition Front Benchers will typically have a substantial block of time each year, and the Backbench Business Committee has time each year for Back Benchers, so we do attempt to achieve the right balance according to the Standing Orders agreed by this House.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a statement about the efficiency and speed with which visas are granted to business people from African countries? We are trying to expand exports in that area and often find that its business people are delayed for weeks in coming here, when often their own embassies in this country issue visas to business people from the UK within a matter of days.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have heard my hon. Friend’s words. There are exciting economic developments happening across the Commonwealth and it is really important that we are able to maximise those opportunities to trade, to do business and to invest. I will certainly ensure that she is aware of the concerns that he has raised.
May we have a debate on the importance of the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in school? Porthcawl Primary School has a team called the Porthcawl Power Formula 1 team, made up of five girls and one boy who have designed and constructed a Formula 1 racing car using their skills in STEM subjects. They got second place in south Wales and are going forward to the UK-wide competition in Coventry. Does not such creative work make possible the creation of the scientists, mathematicians and technicians of the future that this country so desperately needs?
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and what a great project. I congratulate the young people involved, who will no doubt go on to great things and to make some great innovations in the future, as well as competing in the near future. I absolutely agree on STEM subjects, which are of paramount importance to us. I am proud of the work that the Government have done to encourage the teaching of STEM subjects and that is something that we all, on both sides of the House, should encourage for the future.
On Tuesday, I will be co-hosting an event with my hon. Friend Andrea Jenkyns, along with Brian May from Queen, to promote the Amazing Grace hedgehog challenge. This, along with my petition to save the hedgehog, will go a long way to raise the profile of the plight of Mr and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. May I urge you, Mr Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and other Members to join us at 10 o’clock in the Attlee suite on Tuesday?
You might be able to, Mr Speaker, but unfortunately I will be in Cabinet at the time. I send all my best wishes for the event. The work that my hon. Friend has done is tremendous and I see that the petition is now past 30,000 signatures. My one slight concern is that he might remind Brian May that occasionally badgers kill hedgehogs.
The Government have recently opened a consultation on aims to reform the civil service compensation scheme. The proposed changes would see the average compensation payment for voluntary redundancy drop by more than £16,000 and for compulsory redundancy by nearly £7,000. It will affect every single civil servant and is yet to be subjected to an equality impact assessment. Will the Leader of the House encourage Ministers from the Treasury and Cabinet Office to conduct these assessments and allow time for a debate on these worrying reforms?
The situation we inherited in 2010 with civil servants’ severance agreements was a million miles away from what would be the norm in the private sector. What we inherited from Labour was enormous pay-offs, and sometimes people taking enormous pay-offs and coming back as consultants soon afterwards. We have tried to put in place a system that is realistic for the taxpayer and that is consistent with what would happen in the private sector. I think that that is right for the job we do in stewarding the money of the taxpayers of this country.
My hon. Friend tempts me, but it is my view that this country should and will work with whoever becomes President of the United States. They are our closest and longest-standing allies and are a beacon of liberty in the world. I am absolutely certain that we will work with them regardless of who is their President, and that they will work with us regardless of whether we are inside or outside the European Union.
The civil servants at the Cabinet Office took a very unusual decision last year when they publicly published their advice saying that Ministers should not give a grant to Kids Company, run by Ms Batmanghelidjh, the poster girl of the big society. Ministers defied that advice, gave £3 million to Kids Company and the charity collapsed three days later. As that money has been lost, presumably irretrievably, should not this matter be reported to the adviser on Ministers’ interests, who is responsible for dealing with such egregious breaches of ministerial conduct?
The matter has been investigated in detail by the appropriate Select Committee, and any Member of this House and any member of the public is free to lodge any complaint they wish to lodge.
May we please have a full day’s debate in Government time on the Treasury’s analysis of the effect of the UK leaving the European Union? That will give all Members the opportunity to explore the various forecasts made in that document—the opportunity, for example, to explore the likely accuracy of a prediction as to how well the UK economy will be doing in 15 years’ time.
As my hon. Friend will know, there is a debate in Westminster Hall on Government communications about the referendum on
May we have a statement or a debate on the availability of life-changing drugs to members of the public? I have constituents who are having great difficulties in getting those drugs because of a lack of funding.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, through the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, we provide access to new drugs. Through the cancer drugs fund, we provide specific funding centrally for new drugs, but it is right and proper that the health service considers the merits of each new drug as it comes on to the market and forms a view as to whether it can make the difference that its originators claim.
Further to the question by my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, the United States would rightly never cede its sovereignty to a supranational body, so may we have a debate on the protocol that international leaders should not involve themselves in commenting on domestic elections?
I suspect that President Obama will have picked up the different sides of the current debate before he arrives. We will all wait with interest to see what he has to say.
Before Christmas, this House debated and agreed a nuclear agreement with Iran. One of the conditions was that human rights, including religious freedom, would be preserved and protected. In January 2016 a revolutionary court in Golestan province in Iran reportedly sentenced 24 Baha’is to a total of 183 years in prison in connection with the peaceful exercise of their faith. Another 80 Baha’is were reportedly detained on
It was the view of the Government that it would be better for us to engage with Iran to try and address the nuclear issue, but by engaging we can also try and influence Iran on human rights matters. Of course there are human rights concerns, and of course the Foreign Office and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would always raise concerns on human rights matters with countries where such concerns existed, but I think the Government are right to say that we are better to engage than stand away from Iran, in the hope that we can influence improvement there.
Further to the question by my hon. Friend Dr Offord, it is ironic that the Holocaust Educational Trust was holding a reception and information session in this place at the same time as the National Union of Students was debating a motion to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day, and that speakers in favour of that were applauded for saying that Holocaust Memorial Day was not inclusive enough. Clearly, there is a great deal of work to be done on education to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism, so may we have a debate in Government time on what action we are going to take to root that out once and for all among all political parties and among all sections of society?
My hon. Friend is right. We are seeing that happen time and again—statements about the Jewish population in this country, statements about Israel, that are unacceptable in a democratic society. Of course, there are legitimate debates to be had about the future of Israel and Palestine and the peace process, but some of the anti-Semitic views that are appearing in our society are simple unacceptable. [Interruption.] Labour Members mention Islamophobia. I have stood at the Dispatch Box time and again and condemned Islamophobia in this country, but that is not a reason for not paying attention to the issue of anti-Semitism, which is becoming more and more of a problem and must be addressed head-on now by all those in public life, including the Labour party.
My constituent Munir Butt arrived in the UK as an eight-year-old child with his parents and siblings 48 years ago, in 1968. He has lived his whole life in the UK: he has been educated here, and he has married and has two grown-up children. When applying for a new job last year, he was asked to produce a passport—something he never had before—and he was then told that he is here illegally. I have written to the Home Secretary about the issue, and I have yet to receive a response. The Home Office approach seems to centre on my constituent’s parents’ marriage certificate from rural Kenya in the late ’50s. All his siblings have passports. My constituent has no income now and cannot apply for benefits because he is believed to be here illegally.
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Lady that I recognise this is an extremely serious matter, but—this is by way of a tip to her and other Members—it is always a good idea, whatever the matter at hand, to get in the request for a debate or a statement early in one’s inquiry. In any case, I feel modestly optimistic that the question mark is on its way.
I clearly cannot give details now about the case concerned, but if the hon. Lady would like to write to me with more details about her constituent, I will make sure they are passed directly to the Home Secretary. I understand the concern she raises, and I am sure this is a matter we would all want to resolve quickly.
May I associate myself, on my behalf and that of my constituents, with the birthday congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen? I was going to ask for a regular debate in the House about manufacturing after the silly remarks on the “Today” programme saying that manufacturing in our country is finished. However, after the unfortunate remarks by the Leader of the House about the Labour party being riddled with anti-Semitism, may I ask, as someone who has fought anti-Semitism in the Labour party and in this country all his life, whether we can have an early debate about that issue? That is so important on a day when the people who want to take us out of Europe have invited Marine Le Pen to come here and speak.
On the issue of anti-Semitism and the Labour party, I would encourage Labour Members to have a debate. The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right to have written the article he did, saying that anti-Semitism is not acceptable, but, of course, his words have to be turned into action by the Labour party.
One of my constituents, Ewan Gurr, would be delighted to become unemployed. Why? Well, he is Scotland’s network manager for the Trussell Trust. The latest figures he has published show that over 133,000 people depend on food banks—they would twice fill Murrayfield stadium—and we have seen a 20% increase in my constituency in the last year alone, due to the recent benefit cuts and sanctions. One constituent has just been sanctioned for an appalling three years—three whole years—and is depending on £36 a week. May we have an urgent debate in the House to discuss that Dickensian situation and to make food banks a thing of the past so that Ewan Gurr can move on to new employment?
The hon. Gentleman’s constituent can have been sanctioned for three years only if he has turned down three reasonable job offers and so has basically refused to work. In a society that is compassionate but believes that people should get back to work, that is simply unacceptable. On food banks, there are some fantastic projects around the country linked to churches, where people are doing really good work in our community. It is worth saying that the use of food banks in this country is much lower than in other countries, such as Germany. However, I pay tribute to those who work on behalf of people going through hiccups in their lives, and it is right and proper that we have a strong voluntary sector that does that.
May we have a debate about the time it is taking the Department for Work and Pensions to determine whether to include Dupuytren’s contracture on the list of prescribed diseases covered by industrial injuries disablement benefit? The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council gave the Department its recommendation on
I will happily give a nudge to the new Secretary of State on that subject. I am sure he will not want to miss a promise made. [Interruption.]
Order. Members have got to determine their own priorities in these matters. I say to the House that somebody who wants to contribute to the next series of exchanges, which are rather important, is apparently supposed to be serving on some Statutory Instrument Committee. Well, I know what I would do if I wanted to speak in the debate: the SI Committee can wait till another time, another century.
There is huge excitement in Yorkshire that local hero and world champion Lizzie Armitstead is lining up in the women’s Tour de Yorkshire a week on Saturday. Just as significantly, it will be the most lucrative women’s cycling race in the calendar, and the whole event will be televised. May we have a debate on how we can do more to support women’s sport, to give it parity of coverage and financial reward with men’s sport?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We congratulate Lizzie Armitstead on her extraordinary success in the sport. She is a pride of our nation and of Yorkshire, and I hope she will go on to achieve success at this summer’s Olympics.
Cycling has made an extraordinary impact across society over the past few years. I represent the constituency next door to the Olympic cycling course, which is full of cyclists every weekend, following the same route as Olympic cyclists. The sport has contributed to fitness in, and is bringing money into, this country. We should all be proud of that.
I am not sure what is wrong with the microphones, but I could not hear the right hon. Gentleman as well as I would have wanted. I know he was banging on about cycling and it sounded very interesting, but I wish I could have heard it properly.
My constituents in Neston have to pay more than £13 for a return fare to Southport, but if they leave from just a few miles down the road at Hooton station they pay less than half of that for a far superior service, so may we please have a debate on what can be done to create a more equitable system of rail fares in this country?
In January I asked the Leader of the House why the Government had allowed disability discrimination to take hold in the civil service. Recent analysis by Keele University has found that in all Departments disabled staff were less likely to receive “exceed” performance ratings than their non-disabled colleagues. That means that, on average, disabled workers are 74% more likely to be in the bottom performance management category, which puts their jobs at risk. Will the Leader of the House please now push for a statement to explain why his Government are content to allow disability discrimination to continue?
Whatever the research may say, I simply do not accept that. I have been a Secretary of State in one Department and a lead Minister in another, and my experience of the way in which we work with people with disabilities and of the role they play in our Departments is nothing but positive. We have some fine disabled civil servants who are role models to others with disabilities and who make a real difference to this Government, and I hope they will continue to do so in the years ahead.