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HOUSE OF COMMONS
MADE BEFORE THE
BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE
TUESDAY 16 OCTOBER 2012
ALISON McGOVERN, CAROLINE LUCAS, HENRY SMITH and MIKE WEATHERLEY
STEPHEN WILLIAMS and FABIAN HAMILTON
SIR EDWARD GARNIER
PRITI PATEL, HENRY SMITH and STEWART JACKSON
Representations heard in Public
Questions 1 - 39
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Backbench Business Committee
on Tuesday 16 October 2012
Natascha Engel (Chair)
Mr David Amess
Mr David Anderson
Mr Marcus Jones
Alison McGovern, Caroline Lucas, Henry Smith and Mike Weatherley made representations.
Q1 Chair: There is a very high likelihood of a Division almost immediately, so we thought we would let you into the room so that you can all sit down. We have a very high volume of applications today. To allocate, we have six hours in the Chamber on 25 October and on 1 November. Those are provisional allocations. We also have some time in Westminster Hall. Therefore, if you could be clear about what you are applying for-about whether you have a votable motion or not-that would be helpful to us.
Alison McGovern: To be clear at the beginning, Chair, we are looking for a debate involving the whole House on a votable motion. We have a fairly significant number of MPs who have demonstrated an interest in the issue. I would like to make three quick points about the badger cull. It is clearly a controversial issue; it is one on which I believe Parliament should take a view; and it is important nationally to our country. First, on the controversial nature of the issue, there has been a lot of recent media coverage-[Interruption.] I was just getting into my stride.
Chair: Hold your breath. We will break for 10 minutes and be back as quickly as we can.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Alison McGovern: I was saying that I have three points to make, but I hope that colleagues will also chip in, not least because we have a relatively extensive list of Members of Parliament who have indicated an interest in the debate, and the list is growing. My first point is that this is clearly controversial. There has been significant media coverage about the cull, and parliamentary debate has not necessarily reflected that to date. It is vital that Parliament is seen to be taking on board what is clearly quite a controversial, important issue in our national life.
Secondly, leading on from that, we think that Parliament needs to take a view on this matter. I mentioned that we have a votable motion and that Parliament needs to consider the issue fully and take a view on it. This is demonstrably a cross-party issue. It is one that has come up through the Back Benches, and Members from all parties have demonstrated an interest, not least because the science relating to bovine TB is moving on all the time. There are reasons to think that vaccination might be available sooner than was once thought, so, as the science moves on, it is important for Parliament to take a view.
Q2 Chair: That will be very important to bring out in a debate. What we are looking for is cross-party support, which is important, the amount of time that you are looking for, and, most crucially, why this is so urgent. What is the urgency of this debate?
Alison McGovern: The urgency is because the cull could start at any time, as there is a deadline relating to when the closed season would begin; hence the build-up in media coverage. It is urgent that Parliament discusses the subject and takes a view.
Q3 Chair: What is the earliest time that the cull could start?
Alison McGovern: Now. It is extremely imminent. It has to start before the closed season commences. The advice that we have had is that it could start imminently.
Caroline Lucas: The urgency cannot be over-estimated. We are being told that it literally could start any time this week. Even if the debate is after it has started, at least we could hopefully have some influence on stopping it. It really is massively urgent. When you look at the coalition of different groups that have got together over this, it is not just a cross-party issue, but a cross-organisation issue involving the RSPB, the RSPCA and a huge number of other organisations, which, together, represent millions of people in the UK. We know that 90% of public opinion is against this particular practice. Given that there are alternatives, and given that even some in the farming community would agree that culling is not the most scientifically robust way forward, it is important to have the debate.
Q4 Jane Ellison: Obviously the case is demonstrably made from the level of public interest in it. We are interested in allocating time, particularly Chamber time, for subjects on which there is a debate. Although, as I understand it, you as a group of cross-party MPs have made it clear that you essentially want a debate on stopping the cull, do you have any sense of what the level of interest on both sides of the debate would be, so that it could be a thorough debate that would air the issues and expose the science on both sides, rather than relying on any other arguments? Do you think that it will be a balanced debate within the Chamber?
Henry Smith: I endorse everything that Alison and Caroline have said so far. Clearly, this is a policy that could start immediately and is being seriously considered as a way of tackling bovine TB, so the concern that there may not be a balanced debate is one that the Committee need not be too worried about. There is quite a strong opinion from some in the agriculture community that the cull is necessary, so I am sure that we would find many Members of the House who would argue for a cull and many Members, as is demonstrated here, would argue against. We have all seen in our e-mail inboxes and our post bags the level of feeling against a cull, but I do not think that we should be under the illusion that there is not a strong lobby who are in favour of a cull, so I think we would have quite a vibrant debate. That is what we need and what Parliament needs to demonstrate.
Q5 John Hemming: I shall declare an interest, having opposed a cull in the past. I wonder whether, if you look at where we are going in the debate, there is a need for people to volunteer to assist with the vaccination process; that should come as part of the debate. The big question for the debate, however, is whether the urgency is key or the length of the debate is key. We have a lot of people coming to us for a debate. You need to have a motion for the House, because there is no effect without one. Would a three-hour debate next week do, if this is urgent?
Alison McGovern: A large number of people have indicated that they would like to speak. I know how frustrated fellow Members get when their time for speaking is curtailed. I can only reflect that as much time as possible would be beneficial.
Q6 John Hemming: As much time as possible, yes, but if you could either have six hours in two weeks’ time or three hours next Thursday, would you settle for three hours?
Henry Smith: It is slightly half a dozen of one and six of the other. While we would like to have a longer debate, three hours would be a great start given the urgency, if it is three hours next week or six hours in two weeks’ time.
Mike Weatherley: If I may add to that, it is important that we have an early resolution on this. It is a cross-party issue. I am a Conservative from a city seat. It is not just a rural issue. There is a conflict with the Welsh Assembly as well, so we need to have a parliamentary resolution on this. I would take the three hours rather the six, so that we can have the resolution as quickly as possible.
Chair: As you know, this is simply because we are so restricted in the time that we are allocated and because of the number of people who come to us. David Amess wanted to ask a question.
Q7 Mr Amess: My question has been answered. Will you be satisfied with three hours in the Chamber?
Caroline Lucas: We could live with it. If you can ensure that there are not any statements that day, that would help.
Chair: I think that was very clear, and the application was very clear. Thank you very much for that.
For everyone else who is here, after we have heard all the representations from everybody who wants to have a debate, we go into private session, and then we schedule; we decide which debate goes where. We will make an announcement within the next couple of hours on what we have decided to schedule and when. It will not be long, but we need to listen to everyone else. Thank you for coming.
Stephen Williams made representations.
Q8 Chair: Can we have Stephen Williams?
Stephen Williams: Thank you very much for inviting us to make a submission. It is the first time that I have seen you in action, and it is quite an interesting procedure. As you know, Chair, I originally put in this application in the last parliamentary Session, but there were not enough slots. I would not want you to think that I have been utterly opportunist and decided, on the back of yesterday’s news, that now is the time to discuss giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote. The application before you is exactly the same as the one I made in the last parliamentary Session.
You will know, Chair, that I have long had an interest in this issue, given that you were one of the co-sponsors of my Bill in the last Parliament, seven years ago. It was the only time that the House of Commons voted on votes for 16-year-olds. We lost by just eight votes in the Chamber on that occasion, 29 November 2005. It is definitely time that we had another divisible motion in the Chamber, so that the House of Commons can express a view on whether the franchise should be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK in all elections and referendums. In light of what was announced yesterday, there is no doubt that the subject is of great interest to the public and parliamentarians.
The subject is controversial. I have some co-sponsors from other parties, and Fabian was kind enough to come along today. The proposal is supported by a large number of Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs, and nationalist MPs. I have to say to coalition colleagues around the table that it is difficult to find a Conservative MP who supports votes at 16. Indeed, the Votes at 16 coalition, which is a consortium of youth charities, has been unable to find a Conservative MP willing to put their name to it, but perhaps after the Prime Minister’s decision yesterday, more Conservative MPs will come out in favour of, rather than against, votes at 16. There is no doubt, Chair, that we could have a lively debate on the issue in the Chamber, if that is what you are looking for. It is clearly an issue that needs to be voted on in the main Chamber, rather than being subject to an academic discussion in Westminster Hall.
Q9 Chair: May I ask why it needs to be voted on, rather than there being a discussion on it in Westminster Hall?
Stephen Williams: Obviously, the Government have a big programme of constitutional reform. This is one of the obvious measures-it was certainly in my party’s manifesto-that is missing from the Government’s programme of constitutional reform simply because it could not be agreed for the coalition agreement. The Government will not bring forward a Bill. No one selected thus far in the two private Members’ ballots held in this Parliament has chosen to take it up. If I had been selected or, indeed, if I had a ten-minute rule Bill, I would have put it forward. But so far no one has. It is now clearly something that the UK Parliament has to take a view on because of what is happening in Scotland, and this is one way of getting an expression of opinion. I suspect that, across the Chamber, there are more than 326 Members of Parliament in favour, and the only way to find that out is by testing us.
Q10 Chair: Do you have anything to add, Fabian?
Fabian Hamilton: Only that I am fully in support of this. As we look around the country and visit schools as Members of Parliament, we see some school students who understand the political process and our constitution but also, sadly, a huge amount of ignorance. If we had votes at 16, that would stimulate our schools into studying constitutional and political issues far more closely.
Q11 Mr Marcus Jones: Notwithstanding the fact that it probably would be an extremely lively and very interesting debate, as long as I have been on this Committee-and I attended the Committee on occasion before I was elected to it-every debate, to my knowledge, has had cross-party support. You have identified that you do not have any support from the Conservative party at the moment.
Stephen Williams: There is one.
Q12 Mr Marcus Jones: There is one supporter from the Conservative Benches. How could you widen that out, so that we can justify granting you the debate?
Stephen Williams: To answer that question, I guess we would need more Conservative MPs to declare that they are in favour. You will know about your internal decisions. Not many Conservative MPs sign EDMs. There may be Ministers and PPSs who are supportive, who cannot say so at the moment. I strongly suspect, particularly among your intake, that there are Conservative MPs who would favour going in this direction, but at the moment we simply do not know who they are.
Q13 Chair: What we are interested in is whether people are interested in having a debate. It is not about whether they are in favour of or against votes at 16. We would welcome Conservative colleagues coming along and saying that they would like the debate to take place because they would like to vote against votes at 16.
Stephen Williams: I am sure there are plenty of Conservative MPs, and indeed one or two Lib Dems, who would. There is not complete uniformity of opinion in my party or, as I know from last time round, the Labour party. The parties are not necessarily in complete agreement on this, and I am sure that there will be Conservative MPs who will wish to speak against. Ironically, the Conservative MP who spoke against my motion in the last Parliament was Mark Harper, who was the Constitutional Affairs Minister until recently.
Q14 Mr Amess: Stephen, I am a bit surprised to hear you say that it is seven years-unless I misunderstood what you said-since it was discussed.
Stephen Williams: Voted on.
Q15 Mr Amess: We all know the way this place works, but it certainly has been discussed a number of times, and the issue of Scotland is going to go on and on. I am a bit puzzled; given that we have a number of colleagues asking for debates and we have only these two or three slots, I do not understand the urgency.
Stephen Williams: I am not necessarily saying that it is urgent. Indeed, I am a co-signatory to the badgers motion about which you have just heard. To slightly undermine my own case, I would say that if you have to allocate a slot urgently, that case is clearly more pressing than this one. However, at some point in this parliamentary Session, well before the Scottish referendum franchise is decided by the Scottish Parliament-I guess it is going to do something over the next six months, now that it has the power-I think we as a UK Parliament ought to take a view on what could happen here, because we will need time to adjust our franchise, perhaps for the 2014 local elections that will take place around the country, and definitely for our own election prospects in 2015.
Q16 John Hemming: Same sort of question: would you prefer three hours earlier or six hours later?
Stephen Williams: I think there would be a lot of interest in six hours later. To be honest, I suspect everyone would settle for either. I am not saying that it is absolutely essential that you give us this debate now. December or January would be perfectly acceptable, but I do think it is an issue that we need to decide on.
Fabian Hamilton: It has extra pertinence because of the referendum.
Q17 Jane Ellison: Two questions: Marcus is right that we generally have pushed people to assemble cross-party support for the idea of a debate. That is a crucial distinction. Some of the most successful bids that come to this Committee have been from people who want a debate, but have different perspectives on it. They have no intention of voting in the same way, but they believe it is an important issue to discuss. This is our slight challenge to you: perhaps come back with more cross-party support, and particularly with the major party’s support, for the idea of a debate. Just so you understand where we are coming from, you do not have to have someone saying, "We all agree." You just need to have a line-up of people saying, "We think this is a good subject to debate. It needs to be discussed and resolved." That might help.
Secondly, when does the UK Youth Parliament sit? When does that happen?
Fabian Hamilton: The summer recess.
Q18 Jane Ellison: Or is it November?
Stephen Williams: Ironically, they are the only people who have voted on it in our Chamber recently.
Q19 Jane Ellison: It is a useful date to bear in mind from a scheduling point of view.
Stephen Williams: Chair, a partial answer to Jane’s question is this: if you looked at the people who responded to the statement yesterday on Scotland, or at DPMQs this morning, you will have seen that there are plenty of people who oppose extending the franchise to 16. It is probably a misunderstanding on my part; I thought we had to demonstrate that people wanted to have a debate in favour of something, in the same way that all the people in favour of the badgers debate were people who wanted to stop the cull. Only one speaker was in favour of the cull, so I think we fall into the same category. There is no doubt at all that there will be people from each of the main parties who will speak vociferously against extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. It will certainly be a lively debate, but what we do not know, Chair, is where the balance of opinion in Parliament lies at the moment.
Chair: That is brilliant. Thank you very much.
Nadine Dorries made representations.
Q20 Chair: Can we have Nadine Dorries?
Nadine Dorries: Thank you, Chair. This application is probably slightly opportunistic. My decision to apply was taken only in the past few days. I am not applying for a debate within the time frames that you have allocated, and I shall explain why.
I am applying for a debate on the reduction of the upper limit at which abortion takes place from 24 to 20 weeks. I have brought this debate to the House a number of times over the past seven years. The last time there was a vote was, in fact, May 2008. Each time this has happened, we have had to amend legislation. The problem with amending legislation is, as I am sure the Leader of the House will confirm, that the issue of abortion tends to hijack the legislation that is going through the House at the time. Time after time, Members on all sides of the House complain that the Government’s legislation is being used to discuss abortion. In fact, last time, almost every other speech was wasted on making such points. I can understand that, because getting legislation through the House is very important.
As for the recent issue of Ministers declaring their preference for what the upper limit should be, when they were questioned by journalists, they gave the same answer every time: "This is not a Government issue. It is a Back-Bench issue, and it is for Back Benchers to bring this issue forward." We therefore have a juxtaposition of Back Benchers not wanting legislation to be hijacked, and the Government not wanting to bring legislation forward, and expecting Back Benchers to do it. It appears to me that Back-Back business is an ideal forum within which the debate can take place. As it has been four years since 22 May 2008, when there was last a debate and a vote, I would be looking for a divisible motion.
There are probably people who would say, "Perhaps you should wait until viability is proven before you reapply for another debate." The fact is that we could never prove viability; that will never happen, for a very simple reason. As we know, babies who are saved in the NHS below 24 weeks are poorly babies. Babies who are aborted are by and large healthy babies and, until we start aborting babies at 20 weeks and then trying to save them, we will never know the viability of the healthy 20-week gestational baby. Therefore, the debate I am applying for to reduce the limit is based not on viability, but other issues.
Q21 Chair: Do you have a title for the debate?
Nadine Dorries: "A debate on the reduction of the upper limits at which abortion takes place".
Q22 Chair: And you definitely want a vote on that.
Nadine Dorries: I definitely want a vote. This is a very emotive issue, and those who were here in the last Parliament will know how emotive it can get. I am looking for a debate to take place probably in May or June next year, because that will give both the pro-life and pro-choice Members of Parliament time to muster their troops, prepare their arguments and prepare their debate. I am neither; I am actually right in the middle.
You are aware, Chair, of the interest in this. Every time there has been a debate, the House has been absolutely packed, but it is one of those issues that Members do not like to put their names to until the day because of the adverse media and, frankly, the public attention that the issue attracts, which sometimes can be quite unpleasant. Both pro-life and pro-choice Members will support the debate, although I have yet to present it to both. I am applying for it to be had later in the year.
Q23 John Hemming: One of the difficulties with this particular issue is how you structure the vote, given that people have different views on different potential outcomes. It strikes me that it might be better to have a Westminster Hall debate, to allow people to air their views, rather than to try to narrow it down on one resolution.
Nadine Dorries: No, actually the House has a mechanism in place that is used just for abortion votes. Whenever there is a motion on abortion, although the debate would be to reduce from 24 weeks, the vote starts at a level and works up, as it has done in the past. It surprised me in 2008. I spoke to Robert Rogers, the Clerk of the House, and that is the case for votes on abortion. The debate would be to reduce from 24 weeks, and I will be making the case for 20, but other Members may come along to the debate and decide to make the case for other gestational weeks. The voting would start as it usually does and rack up on a table.
Q24 Chair: There is a really big difference-obviously you know this-between having a piece of legislation and having a Back-Bench debate. It would just be a debate in the same way that it would be in Westminster Hall; it would have absolutely no consequence. It would not in itself affect the abortion limit, which was why John was asking that question.
Nadine Dorries: The very important thing that it would do is send a clear indication of whether Parliament was or was not reflecting the wishes of the public, which is the concern that I have particularly. If legislation came along afterwards that was to be amended, it would be a much smoother process than it has been in the past. In the past, amending legislation has been about going to basics on abortion, persuading the House, and putting the arguments forward. I would look for the Back-Bench debate to set out the stall and air the arguments. Should legislation be amended in the future, that would be a much tighter process, because the House would be aware of the House’s feeling on this issue.
Q25 Bob Blackman: You have partly answered my question. Obviously any motion under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee is subject to amendment. You may propose a motion that seeks to lower the time limit from 24 to 20 weeks, but that would not prevent other people putting forward amendments for other time limits, if they chose to do so. Have you considered what the effect of a vote in the House would be, and what that would trigger?
Nadine Dorries: There is always the danger, from my perspective of wanting to reduce the limit, of people coming forward to reform the other way. That has happened every time that the subject has been debated over the seven years that I have been here. That is good, however, because the people who want to reform abortion and make it easier, or raise the upper limit, can come forward and put their arguments. I and others put ours, and a true debate happens. I cannot apply for a debate because I want to have only my point of view aired and want the vote to go my way; the point of the debate is that everybody can air their views. There are people at completely different ends of the spectrum. There are people in this House who want to reform the upper limit and even increase it, and this would be an opportunity for that debate.
Q26 John Hemming: To clarify your view on my question, if you were offered a debate in Westminster Hall, would you turn it down?
Nadine Dorries: I have already applied for a debate through the process of application for Westminster Hall, so I hope that I will be called to have a debate in Westminster Hall for 90 minutes at some point anyway. Through being here, I want a longer debate, so that more Members can come forward, because it is always a packed house. It is a debate that is always over-subscribed, with too many people wanting to speak. A six-hour debate, which allows everyone on both sides of the argument to make their case, would be preferable. As I say, I realise your time constraints now, and I am looking for something next May or June.
Q27 Ian Mearns: Nadine, I know that you said earlier that many Members do not want to break cover, as it were, until much closer to the time, or until there is the eventuality of such a debate. Do you know how many other Members support you in this venture to get a debate, and have you got cross-party support?
Nadine Dorries: Speaking absolutely candidly, cross-party support is an issue. Again, this is a unique issue, because almost all those on the Labour Benches are pro-choice; those on the Conservative Benches are divided; and those on the Liberal Democrat Benches are 98% pro-choice-I think there was one Liberal Democrat who was not pro-choice in the previous Parliament. It is a very difficult issue, given those cabals of opinion. That is why I am going to discuss with both the pro-choice and the pro-life groups the idea that this would be the right format for a debate in Parliament.
Q28 Ian Mearns: Do you think that, well before any potential day, you could have that?
Nadine Dorries: Of course. I would not expect you to have the debate with no signatures of support.
Q29 Chair: Considering that you have put in for a Westminster Hall debate and that this is quite far off, and we live hand to mouth, the best thing would be to come back to us after you have had the Westminster Hall debate. You could even talk to us if you are having problems with getting a Westminster Hall debate. See what the interest and the cross-party support is there, then come back to us in the new year, once you have got that under your belt. By that point you will also get more people from different political parties. As we said about votes at 16, we want a demonstration that people are interested in the debate; they do not all have to be on the same side.
Nadine Dorries: That is fine. I will continue to apply for a Westminster Hall debate, but once I have it, I will come back and request a six-hour debate some time in the future, if the Committee were amenable.
Chair: Thank you.
Sir Edward Garnier made representations.
Q30 Chair: I call Edward Garnier.
Sir Edward Garnier: This is a late application, and not in writing. It arises from the potential closure of the children’s cardiac unit in the Glenfield hospital in Leicester. It is part of the Government’s proposals to reallocate the location of children’s heart units throughout England.
My application differs from those that have gone before in this respect. First, I would be looking for a three-hour debate in Westminster Hall, not a divisible debate in the main Chamber. Secondly, the request for the debate arises out of an e-petition. Over the weekend, the number reached 100,000 petitioners. That persuaded me and my colleagues in Leicestershire, all of whom agree that such a debate should take place and are concerned about the fate of the Glenfield children’s cardiac unit.
The only reason I have come here is that I think I am now the only Back-Bench Conservative MP in Leicestershire. Alan Duncan and Andrew Robathan are Ministers, David Tredinnick is Chairman of a Select Committee, Stephen Dorrell is Chairman of the Health Committee, and Nicky Morgan is now a Government Whip. I have just been ejected on to the Back Benches-a happy place to be-which allows me the joy of coming to see you and your colleagues. I cannot think of a better thing to do at a quarter to 4 on whatever day it is.
The other point to bear in mind is that there are 10 MPs for Leicestershire, three of whom are Labour Members who sit for the city of Leicester. Liz Kendal is the shadow health spokesman for the Labour party and cannot make this application. Keith Vaz is Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and he cannot make this application. Jon Ashworth is an Opposition Whip and feels inhibited about making an application. It falls on me, and I am happy to make it.
There is a degree of urgency. I am not asking to take up the time of the main Chamber. I am urging you to let me have three hours on Monday, if that is the first available slot. The new Secretary of State has, I gather, the issue on his desk. He and his Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Anna Soubry, are considering the matter with their professional and medical advisers. It strikes me that next Monday would be an opportune moment to influence the Government’s mind.
I am not suggesting that the Government will definitely come up with a decision one way or the other, but this is important for Leicestershire and Leicestershire’s e-petitioners. Bear in mind that you are an east midlands MP yourself, and the Glenfield treats children not only from Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, but from across the east midlands and abroad. Funnily enough, it also treats children from Birmingham, which is one of the competing hospital sites, and from Southampton, another famous cardiac unit for children.
I think I can fit the slot. This is a matter of huge regional interest. It is certainly a matter of interest in Leicestershire and Rutland, but it is also a matter of proven public policy interest that the Government should respond and explain themselves. Why should Glenfield close when Birmingham stays open? Why should Southampton be-
Q31 Chair: I know that this is the result of an e-petition, but we had quite a lot of interest in the pre-recess Adjournment debate just before the summer, which was dominated by this very issue as it related not just to Leicestershire, but across the country. Would you consider widening this out?
Sir Edward Garnier: Of course. I am interested in the best possible provision of national health service children’s cardiac treatment. Clearly, from a local perspective, I want the Glenfield cardiac unit to survive, because that will enable children to survive, but this is a matter of interest to John Hemming, as a Birmingham Member of Parliament. It is of interest to Hampshire, Oxford, Leeds and possibly even Newcastle MPs.
Ian Mearns: And Gateshead.
Sir Edward Garnier: I would be delighted to be able to divide up the three hours into regional slots, informally, so that each corner-
Chair: It is getting very complicated now.
Sir Edward Garnier: I can sympathise. That way, each corner of England could have its say, even if only for 20 minutes each.
Q32 Jane Ellison: You illustrated quite a challenge, in terms of the number of people who are Front Benchers.
Sir Edward Garnier: We are a very powerful and talented county.
Q33 Jane Ellison: When a regional issue comes up, we as a Committee need to ponder it from time to time. How does that constrain the debate, if you are given time? How many of the people-you just ran through their responsibilities-could participate in a debate, assuming that the kicking off point is what you are bidding for, which is Leicester?
Sir Edward Garnier: Interestingly, although the other MPs from Leicester and Leicestershire felt constrained about appearing in front of your Committee-I cannot believe they were frightened, but they felt constrained from making this application by virtue of the offices they hold-those who are not Government Ministers could of course apply to the Speaker to contribute to the debate. I assume that Liz Kendall would answer for the official Opposition in response to the Minister for Health. If Stephen Dorrell was available and felt that he had something to add-I am sure he does-as Chair of the Select Committee, he would be a hugely useful contributor to the debate. Apart from Nicky Morgan, Alan Duncan and Andrew Robathan, the other Members of Parliament I mentioned, who are not Front Benchers but could not take part in this interchange, would, if they were available, be able to take part in the debate in Westminster Hall, as would Keith Vaz and Jon Ashworth.
I do not think we need feel inhibited about Ministers being absent. There will be plenty of Conservative and Labour MPs; this is a cross-party issue. We have worked together to do our best for the Glenfield hospital. Of course I would welcome John Hemming and his Birmingham colleagues, David and Ian and their north-eastern colleagues, and Hampshire colleagues from all parties and from none coming to contribute to this debate. It is hugely important and I urge you to accede to my request.
Q34 Jane Ellison: Thank you for that answer. It is worth us putting on the record that in formulating the way we worked over the past couple of years as a Committee, we have tried to leave some wriggle room, as it were, for when particular local issues affect people who are Front Benchers. We have had a number of examples where there is a particular constituency issue and it is unreasonable to exclude somebody, whatever post they hold, from participating in the debate. We want that to be very clearly on the record. Where people have a local constituency interest, you are right that we do not generally accept bids from Front Benchers, but we do encourage people to understand that, from a Back-Bench business point of view, we understand that they might want to participate. There is nothing in our rules of engagement that would preclude that, because clearly constituency issues trump everything in that sense.
Sir Edward Garnier: I wish I could say that the Prime Minister had it at the front of his mind on 4 September when he fired me that he was making it open to me to make this application, but it is a piece of serendipity.
Chair: He had such foresight.
Q35 Bob Blackman: Clearly, Leicestershire is the place to be if you want to be in government. The Back Benches’ gain is the Government’s loss in your case. Can we just clarify the timing? The e-petition has reached the 100,000 mark. What is the time frame for the decision making around the future of the hospital?
Sir Edward Garnier: We do not know-that is the trouble. The previous Secretary of State has now left the room. The new Secretary of State may take a different view. This is a critical time, when a new Secretary of State is fresh in his post. I will not suggest that they are more malleable, but they are perhaps more open to new ideas. I am a modern Conservative, full of new ideas, and Mr Hunt would be very interested to listen to what we have to say on Monday, if you gave us three hours.
Q36 Bob Blackman: So you would be ready to go on Monday?
Sir Edward Garnier: I am ready to go now; I will go this afternoon if you like.
Chair: Such talent. Thank you very much for that.
Priti Patel made representations.
Q37 Chair: We do not have your form; I am really sorry. Could you just run through it?
Priti Patel: Yes, absolutely. I am effectively bringing forward a request to the Committee to give Back-Bench time to debate a motion that would call on the Government to undertake an economic study-an impact study-into the air passenger duty regime. I think that many colleagues, in particular over the summer, will have been lobbied about this issue; there is the "fair tax on flying" petition, with more than 200,000 people lobbying on it.
There are a couple of points to make. One point is about the time frame for this, which is in advance of the autumn statement, in December. Effectively we want to get the debate going and look at the economics of air passenger duty from a family point of view, in terms of the cost of APD to a family of four travelling abroad, and also from the point of view of British businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, which are central to our economy. They are looking to enter new markets overseas and obviously there are costs associated with that. There is also the cost of the loss of inbound tourism and inward investment to our economy because of the prohibitive cost of APD.
Q38 Chair: We all have postbags full of this issue, so we are quite aware of the details. What would be really good would be to know whether you want a votable motion or a Westminster Hall debate.
Priti Patel: I am very happy to have a Westminster Hall debate on this. I have plenty of cross-party support as well, which probably will not surprise you. I think that this is really about airing the issue. The point about having an economic or impact analysis of the tax is that we should at least have the debate in advance of the Budget next year, with the opportunity to make the economic case to the Chancellor for considering it in advance of the Budget.
Q39 Jane Ellison: You touched on cross-party support. We are all well aware that this is a big issue; you have made that case very well. We would be looking, I think, for you to demonstrate the cross-party support. Obviously you have not had much time, and we do not have your form. Does the form have that?
Priti Patel: It does.
Jane Ellison: That is brilliant.
Chair: We will find it. That is fantastic. Thank you for being so succinct.