Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 14th - 18th July

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As Parliament will begin its Summer Recess on Tuesday 22nd July, this will be the last This Week in Parliament until Parliament returns in September.

Our final week was an incredibly busy one as the controversial Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill was given its First, Second and Third Readings all on the same day on Tuesday.


Defence Questions
Although I wasn't successful in being called for a question, I made a number of interventions in the latest question time for the Ministry of Defence, raising the issue of Turkey in the North Atlantic Alliance and the opportunity to send a message of support to the country at the upcoming summit in Wales. 


Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Turkey is a critical ally within NATO. It is also struggling to manage the large numbers of refugees who have come over its borders both from Syria and Iraq. Can we be very clear in sending out a message to other nations also at the Newport summit that we will not stand by and see Turkey attacked before coming to its support?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): Turkey is a full member of the NATO alliance and benefits from the Article 5 guarantee that the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), referred to a few moments ago, so Turkey can be assured that the alliance will stand behind it both militarily and, perhaps of more immediate importance, in providing assistance to it with the huge humanitarian challenge it is facing from this influx of refugees.

Vernon Coaker (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence): It would be churlish not to start by wishing everyone well in the forthcoming reshuffle—[Interruption.] I knew that comments would be made; I do not mind.

Given the importance of the question, I am absolutely amazed that the Minister of State for Defence is answering and not the Secretary of State. How does today’s announcement by the Prime Minister relate to decisions taken in the previous strategic defence and security review in 2010 and to preparations for next year’s review? Where has the money been taken from? The Prime Minister has cut hundreds of special forces personnel, but he now says that the special forces are being given additional capability. He said that he had saved money by scrapping Sentinel, but now says that that money might be used to keep it. Is it not the case that today’s announcement has as much to do with PR for an ailing Government as it does an SDSR for the country’s future?

Andrew Murrison (Minister of State for Defence): Today’s announcement comes from proper financial prudence and the proper management of a budget, something which the previous Labour Administration so signally failed to do. If I may say so, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deserves a great deal of credit for bringing our defence budget back into balance, which is why the Prime Minister is able to announce £1.1 billion of investment. It is a pity that the Labour Party does not welcome that a little more fully.

Vernon Coaker (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence): It is the same old song, but this Government’s record does not stand up to scrutiny, which is what we are discussing today. Four years on from the previous SDSR, the Government have given a little with one hand, having spent four years taking far more away with the other. The Secretary of State has gone from denying there was an under-spend to saying that it was earmarked for future equipment costs and to saying that it was for contingency. He now announces that it will be spent on things that were cut in the first place. Will he finally admit that he does not have a grip on where the Department is going or what it is doing about the SDSR and that he is just making it up as he goes along?

James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative): Article 5 of the NATO treaty currently specifies that if there is armed aggression against any member, there will be a collective military response, but of course most of the Russian activity in the eastern Ukraine has not been armed; it has been deniable, special forces and asymmetric. If there were similar Russian activities against the three Baltic states, would that constitute an Article 5 moment, and, if not, does Article 5 need redefining, or perhaps even adjusting or changing, at the summit?

Andrew Murrison (Minister of State for Defence): Article 5 stands. It is very clear, and any potential aggressor needs to fully understand the implications of it. My hon. Friend mentions Ukraine and, of course, we have been clear that the solution to Ukraine is primarily not military, but economic and commercial, and has to do with energy security, and that is where we are putting our efforts.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140714/debtext/140714-0001.htm#14071411000015


 
 

TUESDAY

Health Questions
Problems over waiting times and the emergence of "Postcode Lotteries" in terms of treatments, specifically for Hip replacements dominated teh exchanges between teh government and shadow Secretary of State. I asked a question on Suicide prevention and the need for more investment in mental health services.

Andy Burnham (Shadow Secretary of State for Health): I shall begin by congratulating the Health Secretary on surviving the massacre of the moderates. This was no real surprise for those of us on the Opposition Benches, however, because we know that his real views on the NHS are anything but moderate. On his watch, there has been more privatisation and now there is an accelerating postcode lottery. Today, the Royal College of Surgeons has revealed that some people waiting for hip replacements are being denied treatment that is available elsewhere because of arbitrary pain thresholds that are so harsh in places that people must be in severe debilitating pain before they can be treated. This is in direct contravention of National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. Will the Secretary of State today condemn the fact that people are being denied treatment in that way, and act immediately to end the practice?

Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health): Of course it is absolutely right that people should follow NICE guidance, including all clinical commissioning groups, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks at what has happened over the past four years, he will see that we are treating more people, not fewer, with 6,000 more people getting their knees replaced and 9,000 more getting their hips replaced every year. That is possible only because we have 7,000 more doctors in the NHS because we took the difficult decision to get rid of the primary care trusts. Will he now accept that he was wrong to oppose those reforms and wrong to put politics before patients?

Andy Burnham (Shadow Secretary of State for Health): The Secretary of State says that CCGs should be following NICE guidance, but they are not. Seven out of 10 are not following that guidance, and people who are waiting for operations today will be left in pain because he is not acting. The truth is that the reorganisation has resulted in a postcode lottery writ large, and it is worse than we thought, because there is now a proposal in one area to end the provision of hearing aids on the national health service. That is totally unacceptable. Action on Hearing Loss warns that that would set a dangerous national precedent, leaving millions unable to live their lives. So, no ifs, no buts—will he condemn that proposal now and guarantee that patients will not be forced to pay for hearing aids on his watch?

Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) : I make it absolutely clear that everyone should follow NICE guidance. As the right hon. Gentleman has talked about the reorganisation, will he please accept that we are now doing 850,000 more operations on the NHS every single year? That means that more people are getting help with their hearing, their hips and their knees, and with all the other things that they need. He bitterly opposed that reorganisation, but he must now realise that he was wrong to oppose it then and he is wrong to oppose it now.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The all-party group on suicide prevention has been looking at the money going into suicide prevention as a result of the Government’s suicide prevention plan. It is acknowledged by most local authorities that there is more money for mental health, but suicide has been rolled into mental health and there is a distinct lack of support for those who are suicidal but do not have a diagnosable mental health problem. What does the Minister intend to do about that?

Norman Lamb: The hon. Lady raises an important point, which she and I have discussed before: the fact that very many people who end up taking up their own lives have had no contact at all with statutory services. I would be happy to discuss further with her what additional steps we can take to ensure that those people get the support they need as well.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140715/debtext/140715-0001.htm#14071546000039
 

 
Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill
 
Easily the most controversial piece of legislation to come through Parliament this year. The bill which allows for limited interception of communications by the security services is being "fast tracked" through Parliament, spending only one day in the House of Commons.

Theresa May (Home Secretary): In my statement to the House last Thursday, I made clear the urgent need for narrow and limited legislation on communications data and interception. There is no greater duty for a Government than the protection and security of their citizens when we face the very real and serious prospect that the police, law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence agencies will lose vital capabilities which they need in order to do their jobs. Communications data—the “who, where, when and how” of a communication, but not its content—and interception, which provides the legal power to acquire the content of a communication, are crucial to fighting crime, protecting children, and combating terrorism.

Communications data can be used to piece together the activities of suspects, victims and vulnerable people. They can prove or disprove alibis. They can identify links between potential criminals. They can tie suspects and victims to a crime scene, and they can help to find a vulnerable person who is at risk of imminent harm. Interception—which can take place only in limited circumstances, and with a warrant authorised by a Secretary of State—can prove vital to the investigation of the activities of suspected terrorists and serious criminals. Without those capabilities, we run the risk that murderers will not be caught, terrorist plots will go undetected, drug traffickers will go unchallenged, child abusers will not be stopped, and slave drivers will continue their appalling trade in human beings.

As I made absolutely clear last week, the Bill merely preserves the status quo. It does not extend or create any powers, rights to access or obligations on communications companies that go beyond those that already exist. It does not address the same problems or replicate the content of the draft Communications Data Bill, published in 2012. The use of modern technology and changes in how people communicate have caused a decline in our ability to obtain the communications data that we need. I continue to believe that the measures contained in the draft Communications Data Bill are necessary to bridge that gap, but that is emphatically not what we are considering today. Parliament will need to return to those issues following the general election. 

The review to be undertaken by David Anderson, to which I have just referred, will consider the issue and I hope it will inform the debate.

I want to express my thanks to both sides of the House for the support they have given to the Bill. I would like to emphasise once again the need to get this Bill enacted before the recess. If we delay, we face the appalling prospect that police operations will go dark, trails will go cold and terrorist plots will go undetected. If that happens, innocent lives may be lost. We cannot allow that, so I urge the House to work together within this time frame to ensure that the police, the law enforcement agencies and the security and intelligence agencies have the capabilities that they need to protect the public and keep us safe. That is what the Bill is designed to do and I commend it to the House.

Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary ): The Home Secretary will recognise that Parliament has been put in a difficult position by this week’s emergency legislation. It has been left until the final full week of Parliament before the recess and must be published and debated in both Houses in a week, and it relates to laws and technologies that are complex and controversial. They reflect the serious challenge of how to sustain both liberty and security, and privacy and safety in a democracy. This is therefore not the way in which such legislation should be done. Let me be clear that its last-minute nature undermines trust not only in the Government’s intentions, but also in the vital work of the police and agencies.

I have no doubt that the legislation is needed, however, and that we cannot delay it until the autumn. After the European Court of Justice judgment in April, legislation is needed to ensure that the police and intelligence agencies do not suddenly lose vital capabilities over the course of the next few months and that our legislation is compliant with EU law. So Parliament does need to act this week so that existing investigations and capabilities are not jeopardised over the next few months, but this is a short-term sticking plaster. As we support the legislation today, we must also be clear that we cannot just go on with business as usual, when the powers and safeguards that keep us free and safe are rarely discussed and only debated behind closed doors. I want to set out today why this parliamentary debate needs to be the start of a much wider debate about liberty and security in an internet age, why we can only pursue this short-term legislation if it is the beginning and not the end of the debate, and therefore why this legislation is needed in the short term, but also why safeguards are needed, too.

Yes, we need to pass this Bill today, because the powers that it retains are too important to the protection of public safety to lose carelessly one summer. But we also need a proper debate about the balance of privacy and safety, and how we maintain both liberty and security in an internet age, because both are essential to our democracy. Today must be the start, and not the end, of that debate.


http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140715/debtext/140715-0002.htm#14071547000001
 
 
Adjournment debate on Police Responsibilities in Suicide Attempts
 
Topping off what was a long day at work, at 10pm, after the Data retention Bill had finished its progress through the Commons I led a short debate on the issue of Police responsibilities after an individual has attempted suicide. The debate touches on a number of complicated and sensitive issues that the government needs to address.

With the government reshuffle earlier in the day, the debate was also one of the very first engagements in the new policing ministers diary, a point I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. 

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Let me take this opportunity to welcome the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to his new role and congratulate him on his promotion. If ever there was a Minister who will understand the issues I want to raise, it will be this Minister, who in his previous role as a fire-fighter will have come across the very issues that I hope he is eager to support me in addressing.

Let me set the background for the Minister. For the past few months, in my role as chair of the all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention, I have been leading an inquiry into how suicide prevention strategies have changed since the passing of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, two years ago. Unfortunately, one of the many aspects of that Bill was the change to suicide prevention strategies in England. At the time, the all-party group recommended that local suicide prevention strategies be placed at the heart of the national suicide prevention plan. When led by committed local champions and given sufficient resources, local suicide prevention plans are seen as by far the most effective way of preventing suicide.

The new national suicide strategy, however, included no statutory requirement for local suicide prevention plans. The Samaritans reported that the lack of a statutory requirement created a “major barrier” to the survival of local prevention plans. The report from the all-party group is due this autumn, but from our conversations with the directors of Public Health England, health care professionals, experts in suicide prevention from the devolved Administrations and representatives from the police, it has already become clear that the lack of clarity about responsibility for suicide intervention, post-intervention and prevention is creating problems that must be resolved.

Three weeks ago I attended one day of the five-day course by the hostage negotiation trainers at the Hendon police college. The course is intensive and difficult, and I was impressed by the calibre of officers attending from around the country. There is thankfully not a great call for hostage negotiations, but officers are frequently called out to deal with people contemplating suicide who need to be talked down from a roof, a bridge or the top of a car park. The frustration of those officers is great when, having spent hours talking someone down and taking them to A and E, they are told that there is no help because the person does not have an identifiable mental illness, but is depressed or anxious, or has a personality disorder or a learning disability.

This is not the first time I have raised the issue. On 26 June, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on “the responsibility gap faced by British Transport and Home Office police when they find an individual in emotional and mental crisis attempting suicide". Police officers are estimated to spend 40% of their time dealing with mental health problems, including suicide. In their research, Murphy et al acknowledged that 80% of police time is devoted to social services issues rather than to crime prevention.

I am told that considerable work is being done to look at the interaction between police services and the NHS, particularly in sensitive areas relating to mental health. What is clear from the evidence that I have heard is that there is new money and new engagement in mental health; that is happening. Sadly, however, one person giving evidence to the inquiry said, “If I call a meeting to discuss mental health, the room is full. If it’s suicide, nobody wants to know. It’s too difficult.”

I can say that the police increasingly have difficulty finding beds for people who need help and support. Although I cannot comment on the specific situation in Hampshire, the inquiry will reveal whether a suicide prevention action plan is in place and whether there is active engagement with the police in relation to that plan. I hope that that will be of assistance to the hon. Gentleman in assessing his local problems and issues.

The role of the police in dealing with mental health issues, mental health crises and suicide is growing. The figures from British Transport police on mental health incidents and suicide are shocking. I appreciate that the Minister will tell me that he has no responsibility for British Transport police, but they have been able to give me the most illuminating breakdown that shows the depth of the problem that we face. For every sexual offence dealt with on the railways, there are 15 mental health incidents, four of which are related to suicide. For every offence of robbery, there are 39 mental health incidents, 10 of which will relate to suicide. For every non-sexual assault, there are two mental health incidents. Last year, there were more calls to British Transport police relating to mental health incidents than there were reports of robbery and assault combined. In fact, British Transport police currently prevent more people from taking their own life every year than there are robberies every year. Those statistics show the size of the problem that we have drifted into.

The British Transport police are not alone in dealing with mental health issues. The Metropolitan police are reporting large increases in the number of people in mental health crisis committing offences deliberately for the purpose of getting into prison, because they believe that they will be safer in a cell than on the streets. At least in prison, they will have access to mental health support. Police say that they are told by local authorities that they are using section 136 powers too regularly, but they do not have any viable alternative to the place of safety that a police cell represents.

The British Journal of Psychiatry reports that in the north-east of England, a total of 205 cases of suicide were identified, 41 of which had a documented contact with the police within three months prior to the suicide while an additional seven cases had impending court appearances. In almost a quarter of suicide cases, the person had been in direct contact with the criminal justice system within the previous three months. Figures taken from the national confidential inquiry into suicides showed that in 24% of suicide cases, the person had been in contact with mental health services within 12 months of their death, compared with 70% who had been in contact with the police.

In my previous Westminster Hall debate on the subject, the former Policing Minister told me: “It is obvious that the police have, and will continue to have, a key role in dealing with mental health issues as they arise." That is undoubtedly the case, but is it right for the police always to be the point of engagement for those who are at risk of suicide? Those with mental health issues are three times more likely to be the victim of crime, and half of those with some form of mental ill health experienced a crime in the last year alone. The former policing Minister told me that the police “are not and cannot replace health professionals. Both types of professionals should be left to do the job that they are best at doing and trained to do”. Unintentionally, the Minister described what is wrong with the current situation. The police are increasingly replacing mental health professionals.

I am worried by the fact that when a police officer comes into contact with an individual whom they suspect is experiencing a mental health crisis, if that person goes on to take their own life, the officer will be investigated. They are often requested by social services to call on someone who is seen to be at risk, but it is the police officer and not someone from social services who is subject to an internal investigation. Police officers feel particularly aggrieved that they, who have no specialist training in identifying mental ill health, are expected to be accountable should someone with a mental health problem ultimately take their own life.

In my Westminster Hall debate, the former policing Minister spoke positively of the benefits of joint working. Many directors of public health and other suicide prevention professionals have said that the only really successful approach to the issue is multi-agency working. They see police and health professionals working together in a well-defined manner. Will the Minister tell the House what progress the Government are making on such an approach? In particular, what efforts are being made to log incidents of suspected and attempted suicide and to provide that information, in agreement with the coroner, as timely, current examples of the problems and risks faced locally, rather than prevention services having to wait three years for the national statistics to be released?

The Minister will be aware of MARACs—multi-agency risk assessment conferences—in relation to domestic violence. They have been piloted in some Metropolitan Police areas to highlight the suicide risk of individuals and to provide a supportive package. I was told a wonderful story from a MARAC involving a lady with dementia who had been burgled some 30 years earlier and was ringing the police several times a day to report a burglary. The initial response was that she should be given an antisocial behaviour order, but the MARAC pointed out that that was not the best way of dealing with her and a support package was put in place. Police time was saved and an elderly lady was saved huge distress. Will the Minister examine how MARACs are working and whether they can be rolled out as an exemplar across the UK?

We all agree that the police play an important role in dealing with mental health issues, but post-attempted suicide support should not be a police responsibility. British Transport and Home Office police recognise that their primary responsibility is to those whose life is at risk, but that responsibility is not placed on other statutory agencies, which are able to walk away when the police cannot. It is imperative that health, voluntary sector and local government agencies, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford, work together to establish a joined-up strategy, with a primary responsibility to those whose life is at risk, that both prevents suicide and deals appropriately with those who have survived a suicide attempt, ensuring in the best way possible that they do not go on to make a further attempt.

Police officers are there to deal with crises, risk to life and crime. Sadly, too much of the Minister’s budget and officer time is taken up filling gaps that health, local government and appropriate funding of the voluntary sector should be filling. I look forward to hearing how the Minister plans to free police time and responsibility for those attempting or contemplating suicide once the immediate crisis has been resolved


http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140715/debtext/140715-0005.htm#14071577000002
 
 

WEDNESDAY

Prime Minister's Questions

In the last PMQs of the Summer both leaders clashed on the reshuffle, with Ed Miliband specifically asking why the Education Secretary, Michael Gove was moved. Debate then moved to the Economy with Miliband criticising the government's continuing record on youth unemployment and the lack of any growth in real earnings.


Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): We have always said that we will support the Government when they do the right thing, so can I join thousands of parents across the country in congratulating the Prime Minister on getting rid of the Education Secretary? Why did he demote him?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Before answering the question, I hope that the whole House can come together in this way. My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire has served in this House of Commons for over 40 years and will be retiring at the next election, so when it came to replacing an extraordinary politician and someone who has given so much to this country as the Chief Whip, I wanted to find the very best candidate, and I am proud to have done so in the former Education Secretary.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The right hon. Gentleman obviously has a very short memory, because this is what he used to say about the former Education Secretary: “I want to trust”—the Education Secretary—“to get on with that job for many years rather than saying…‘I’m now going to shove you over somewhere else.’” So why did he do it? Is it the shortage of primary school places, the unqualified teachers, or the failure of his free schools?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what the former Education Secretary achieved: a record number of academies, new free schools, standards rising across the country and reforms that will endure. Is it not extraordinary that on the day of a record increase in the numbers in work in our country, the right hon. Gentleman will do anything not to talk about economic recovery, the deficit falling, the economy growing or the numbers in work rising? I am not surprised that he does not want to talk about people in work; his own job looks a bit shaky.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I am bound to say that if it has all been such a great success, I still do not know why he has sacked the Education Secretary. Let us talk about the figures today. We have welcomed the fall in unemployment, but his real problem is that this recovery does not benefit most working people, who are working harder for longer for less. There are 7 million people in working families who are paid so little that they are in poverty. Does he think that the economy is working for them?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Let me bring the House up to date on the unemployment figures released this morning. We see employment up by 254,000 this quarter, women’s employment up, youth employment up and the unemployment count falling by 121,000. We have reached an important milestone, which is that there are more people in work in our country than ever before in our history. We can now say that since this Government came to office there are 1.8 million more people in work. That is a record of which we can be proud.

On an issue that the Labour Leader has raised week after week, long-term youth unemployment is now lower than when this Government came to office. Of course, it is disappointing that pay is not rising faster, but let me remind him of what the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said: “We’ve had a great big recession. We had the biggest recession we’ve had in 100 years; it will be astonishing if household incomes haven’t fallen and earnings haven’t fallen.” That is what has happened, and we know who is responsible for the great economic recession because, extraordinarily, they are still in their jobs.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The right hon. Gentleman is in his fifth year as Prime Minister and all he can do is try to blame someone else. He just does not get it. This week, we saw shocking figures about another group suffering from the cost of living crisis: millions of young people whose earnings are falling faster than everyone else’s. One in four are living with their parents because they cannot afford to buy a house or even rent one. Does he honestly think that they are feeling the benefit of the recovery?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Of course we want living standards to recover faster and there are two things we need to do to make that happen. First, we need to get more people into work, and we are getting people into work. Secondly, we need to cut spending so that we can cut taxes, which is exactly what we are doing. Yesterday, Labour made the important announcement that it is now its policy to put up taxes on middle-income people. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can now get to his feet and tell us which taxes on which people.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I ask the questions and the right hon. Gentleman fails to answer them. The reality is that he has the worst record on living standards of any Prime Minister in history. There is one group—[Interruption.] Government Members are shouting “weak”. I will tell them what is weak: saying a month ago from that Dispatch Box that he is happy with his team and then sacking part of his team.
One group is feeling the benefit of the recovery. Will the Prime Minister confirm that while average pay is down £1,600 a year since the last election, last year the top 1% took home an extra £15 billion after his millionaires’ tax cut?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I have to say that I am happy with my team and, looking at the shadow Chancellor, I am pretty happy with the right hon. Gentleman’s team too. Let me explain one of the things that was not noticed that happened yesterday. The deputy leader of the Labour party said on the radio, and I want to quote her very precisely:
“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.”

That is what she said—[Interruption.] They should? There we are. That is their policy. The squeezed middle will be squeezed more. Now the right hon. Gentleman needs to tell us which people will pay which taxes, because on this side of the House we have cut council tax, we have cut petrol duty, we have cut the jobs tax and we have increased the married couple’s allowance. Labour would put a tax on your job, on your mortgage, on your home and on your pension, so will he tell us where the middle-income taxes are coming from?

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): This is totally desperate stuff because the Prime Minister has nothing to say about the cost of living crisis. That is the reality, and his reshuffle had nothing to do with the country and everything to do with his party. After four years of this Government, we have a recovery that people cannot feel, a cost of living crisis that people cannot deny, and a Prime Minister whom people cannot believe.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): The right hon. Gentleman talks about five years under this Government. We have record numbers in work, the economy growing, record numbers of businesses, record numbers of women in work, our health service is improving, and everyone can see the contrast: in this party, the leader reshuffles the Cabinet; in his party, the Shadow Cabinet desperately wants to reshuffle the leader.


http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140716/debtext/140716-0001.htm#14071650000005
 
Business Questions

With Andrew Lansley losing his position in the reshuffel earlier in the week, this week's business questions was led by the new Leader of the House of Commons, William Hague, the former Foreign Secretary. 

Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): May I associate myself with the wish of the Leader of the House that our staff and all the staff of the House have a restful holiday?

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, who this week left his post as Leader of the House after two years in the job. May I say how much I have enjoyed working with him, especially in our joint duties as members of the House of Commons Commission, and may I wish him all the best for the future, although the Leader of the House has made an intriguing comment about what that might be?

Once again, I take the opportunity to welcome the First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Member for Richmond to his new responsibilities. I thank him for next week’s business and the provisional business for our first weeks back in September.

This morning, we discovered that the Liberal Democrats had made their most shameless U-turn since their last one: this time it is the bedroom tax. We told them it would create misery and save no money, but their votes got it on to the statute book, and their votes defended it time and again. Given that there is now no majority in this House for the continuation of this pointless and cruel tax, will the Leader of the House make time for an emergency debate before the summer recess so that we can consign it to the dustbin of history?

Less than a month ago, the Prime Minister was leading the charge against Jean-Claude Juncker because nobody knew who he was. Now he has appointed an EU commissioner who has such presence that when he tried to resign from the Government, the Prime Minister did not even notice. Only last month, Lord Hill was telling Conservative Home that he did not want the role because “I quite like it at home here in the British Isles.” When asked if he would accept the job as EU Commissioner, he said, “No! No! No!” We know the trouble that was caused when that phrase was last heard in here.

This week’s super-spun but chaotic reshuffle was supposed to unite the Tory party, but the modernisers are furious, the right is furious, and the Eurosceptics never stop being furious. The Prime Minister says his new Cabinet is a team that represents Britain, but it is 95% white, 77% male and nearly 50% privately educated. That is not a Britain that most people recognise. The Prime Minister appointed an Equalities Minister who voted against gay marriage and sacked his own Minister for modernisation. It is no wonder that the Deputy Prime Minister just said on the radio that “the head bangers have now won” in the Conservative Party.

I am glad to see that the Leader of the House is settling in to his new role. He spent four years travelling the world. He has rubbed shoulders with Angela Merkel; hobnobbed with Angelina; and now he is stuck with Commons Angela. In the words of the former Education Secretary, I do not know whether he would call that demotion, emotion, promotion or locomotion, but I certainly look forward to it. May I also congratulate him on his success in negotiating a huge pay rise for the Leader of the House in a triumph that surely indicates he has a new career opening up when he leaves Parliament at the next election as a trade union negotiator!

I welcome the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath to—I was going to say to his new job as Chief Whip, but he is not in his place. He has not had the most auspicious of starts. Yesterday, he not only lost his first vote, but he managed to get stuck in the toilet in the wrong Lobby, and nearly broke his own whip. We know all about the former Education Secretary’s love of free schools, independent of any central authority, so I wonder whether he is keen to allow the emergence of lots of free Tory MPs, who do not have to submit to his authority. At least the only book that he can ban now is “Erskine May”. When the Prime Minister asked the Chief Whip to take up his new role, he apparently asked him to become the “hand of the king”. Now, I am no “Game of Thrones” expert, but is it not the case that so far the hands of the king have been variously beheaded, knifed and shot with a harpoon—and all by their own side? I note that the last time a Conservative Foreign Secretary became Leader of the House he helped to depose the Prime Minister a few months later. As this is our first business questions together, may I just say, “Welcome to the cause”?

William Hague (Leader of the House of Commons): I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, in particular because hardly any of her questions were about the business of the House, but I entirely understand that.

The hon. Lady joined in the tributes to my predecessor. It was not meant to be intriguing to wish him well. I think that it is taking criminology and conspiracy too far to think that an innocent wishing of him well is to be interpreted in some deep way, but I know that the whole House will join in wishing him well. I also thank her for her welcome. I have a great respect for the hon. Lady and look forward to working and sparring with her. She pointed out that the last Conservative Foreign Secretary to become Leader of the House joined in deposing the Prime Minister. I am unsure whether the Foreign Secretary in question expected or wanted to become Leader of the House, whereas I asked for this duty, which I am delighted to take up. I am a strong believer in the power, vitality, role and relevance of the House, as well as in the policies of Her Majesty’s Government and the support of those policies by all coalition parties. I look forward to advancing both those things.

The hon. Lady will have to be careful with some things, such as criticising the nomination of Lord Hill for European Commissioner. This is quite a big glasshouse in which to throw stones, given what happened the last time a commissioner was appointed. Lord Hill occupies the same position that Baroness Ashton occupied when she was appointed by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. She was appointed after the most chaotic saga: Lord Mandelson was to be the nomination, then was not, then various other former members of the Cabinet were, and then Baroness Ashton appeared at the last moment. This is a dramatically more orderly process with a strong candidate, whom we will support. I will of course be happy to discuss with the Select Committees what the process should be for the House taking evidence from the nominee. I will have the advantage over the hon. Lady of being able to pronounce Llanelli a little better than her, but that comes from having been Secretary of State for Wales in my extensive political career—

Ian Lucas (Wrexham, Labour): Shortly to end!

William Hague (Leader of the House of Commons): Well, it is shortly to end—intentionally—but I assure Opposition Members that I am going to enjoy it a lot before it ends. The hon. Lady joined in welcoming the new Chief Whip and made fun of what he was doing yesterday. Knowledge of who is in the toilets in whatever Lobby is an important piece of information for any Chief Whip. I take it as evidence that he was carrying out his duties very assiduously.

The hon. Lady also commented on the Government reshuffle. The Cabinet will meet tomorrow and eight women will be sitting around the Cabinet table, which is more than ever before. One third of the Conservative members of the Cabinet are now women. The Liberal Democrats intend to catch up in the coming decades. It is an even higher proportion than was achieved under the previous Government and we are proud of that.

The hon. Lady asked about holding an emergency debate on what Liberal Democrats have said today about the spare room subsidy. I do not think we will be able to have an emergency debate on every occasion they change their policy, but—[Laughter.] I am deeply fond of our coalition partners. I helped to negotiate the coalition and despite what I have just said I am enjoying working with my deputy, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington.

No representations have been made within the Government about this. It is an important policy and the Government’s policy remains unchanged. There were 1.7 million households waiting for social housing in April 2013 and 1.5 million spare rooms across the working age social sector in Great Britain, so this is an important reform. I look forward to working with the hon. Lady and hon. Members from all parties across the House.


http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140717/debtext/140717-0001.htm#14071754000004

 
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