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HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
BACKBENCH BUSINESS COMMITTEE
TUESDAY 31 JANUARY 2012
MR BOB AINSWORTH, MR JOHN BARON and MR ELFYN LLWYD
MRS LOUISE ELLMAN, BILL ESTERSON, STEPHEN MOSLEY and STEVE ROTHERAM
THOMAS DOCHERTY, GEORGE EUSTICE, CHRIS HEATON-HARRIS and ANDREA LEADSOM
STEVE MCCABE and GRAHAME M. MORRIS
NICKY MORGAN and MR CHARLES WALKER
Representations heard in Public
Questions 1 - 41
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Backbench Business Committee
on Tuesday 31 January 2012
Natascha Engel (Chair)
Mr Peter Bone
Mr Philip Hollobone
Mr Bob Ainsworth, Mr John Baron and Mr Elfyn Llwyd made representations.
Q1 Chair: John Baron, would you like to take the hot seat? I have had a phone call from Jack Straw to say that he also supports this bid, but is unable to be here.
Mr Baron: Thank you. Conscious of time, I will crack on. First, I thank the Committee for listening to our application. We have all seen that Iran has been in the headlines, and the purpose of the debate is to test the will and view of Parliament as to the present approach by the Government, which seems to have consensus across the House. I am not suggesting for one moment that the debate will be popular with the Government, but I think that perhaps, in a small way, that is in its favour.
The International Atomic Energy Agency report clearly showed in my view that there was no smoking gun, yet the sabre rattling and the sanctions are being ramped up to the point where the threat of force is very much on the table. We have seen what has happened in the strait of Hormuz. Many would believe that there is state-sponsored terrorism taking place in Iran.
Q2 Chair: John, before you go on, can you read out the text of your proposed motion? You are asking for a three-hour debate. Is that in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall?
Mr Baron: No, in the Chamber, please.
Q3 Chair: Could you read out your motion for us?
Mr Baron: Yes, the text reads, "This House believes that the use of force against Iran would be wholly counter-productive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons and calls on the Government to rule out the use of force against Iran and reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts."
Q4 Chair: Thank you. That is very clear. I shall bring in some of the others, but before I do so, I want to point out that we have definitely available to us only a half-day after an Opposition day on Tuesday 7 February. We have provisionally been given the Monday when we come back from the recess-20 February. That is all day in the Chamber. However, that is all we have. We are negotiating with the Government to see whether we can get more time, but that is all that we have available for now.
Mr Ainsworth: I just want to say that I agree with very little that John Baron says; I am not of his political persuasion, and I do not agree with his motion in its entirety. However, I do agree with him that this issue should be aired on the Floor of the House of Commons. It is enormously important. I think that the debate would be well worth the time were you to allocate it.
Chair: That is really helpful. It already means that we will have a debate, rather than everyone agreeing around one issue. Thank you for that.
Q5 Mr Hollobone: We apply various tests when considering what we can timetable for debate, because the basic problem is that we do not have enough time to give to all the very interesting topics that Back Benchers bring forward, but your application ticks a number of very important boxes. One is topicality. This is clearly a hugely topical issue. The second thing is cross-party support. You have demonstrated that both with the names on the application and with colleagues here today. The third thing is debatability. As Bob Ainsworth said, there will be a lot of people against this and a lot of people for it. That would make for a good debate in the Chamber. Fourthly, you have a motion on which, whatever people’s view, they will have a view. Very few people will abstain on something like this. To my mind, you have ticked those four boxes extremely well.
Mr Baron: Am I allowed to come back with a couple of observations? There is one other thing that perhaps the Committee can consider. With the IAEA now in Iran, the timing for the Tuesday debate, although I would prefer something longer than a half-day, would be perfect, because this issue is not going to go off the media screens. They are going to be coming out of their inspection probably at the beginning of next week. This issue could be very topical indeed, and even more so.
May I add a final point? There is a general concern. Although there is consensus that military intervention would be disastrous for the region, the motion goes to the nub of the issue and tests the will of Parliament and the view of Parliament as to whether we are acquiescing, as a Parliament, in what I consider to be a very misguided policy.
Q6 Mr Bone: Mr Baron picked up on this point: I am concerned about its being a three-hour debate-you refer to a three-hour debate. It doesn’t quite work like that for us. Tuesday 7 February is an Opposition half-day. If the Government then decide to put on a statement and there is an urgent question, you could find your debate really being squeezed. I would think that, just as in the Afghan debate, many Members would want to speak in this debate, so I wonder whether you would be better off pitching for a full day-admittedly, we do not have a full day confirmed at the moment-rather than risk finishing up with a two-hour debate.
Chair: Before we hear the answer to that, let’s bring in John Hemming and then Jane Ellison.
Q7 John Hemming: It is the same issue really. The full day floating around is the day after the half-term. The question is, if the choice was two hours or one hour on the 7th or a full day on the 20th, which would you pick? Obviously, the issue is getting more and more urgent, and the timing is key, but what are your views on that?
Mr Baron: It is a difficult one. Obviously, I have other supporting sponsors for the debate and they will have a view. My instinct is that time is of the essence, but I am in the hands of the Committee. I think that the issue should be debated and we should have a vote on it. I feel strongly about that. I accept that those of us who think like this may lose the vote, but I think that it is important to test the will of Parliament. My instinct is that with developments unfolding as quickly as they are, the sooner, the better. The motion is quite clear. People can form an opinion, whether they agree or disagree; there is no middle ground in the motion. My hope is that even in a shortened debate, a lot of Members could contribute and those who could not could still come to a conclusion.
Q8 Jane Ellison: I am picking up similar points. My instinct is that a lot of people will want to make a contribution. Some of them will be thoughtful contributions where people want to develop an idea for longer than what sometimes turns out to be four or five minutes by the end of an oversubscribed, truncated debate. To pick up John Hemming’s question, you have very short notice of a half-day on the 7th, which you have indicated you are interested in. In the event that the Committee has it confirmed next week that we have the day after the recess-a full day-what would the answer be? Thinking back to the Afghanistan debate and other significant debates of this nature, seeing it reduced to one and a half hours and bearing in mind that that would include Front-Bench time, you may be talking about a small number of contributions. It would be useful for us, for when we meet later, to know how you feel about that full day on the first day back.
Mr Baron: Obviously, I would like as long as possible for the debate. My concern about leaving it until after the recess is that it could become an academic debate if some sort of military intervention has taken place. Having said that, I will be more than happy to accept even the half-day on the 7th or a full-day debate when we get back. May I put that back to the Committee? What I do think we need to do is to test the will of Parliament on this issue. That is the key point.
Q9 Chair: I will bring in Elfyn Llwyd.
Mr Llwyd: I am perhaps more in sympathy with the wording of the motion than Bob, but I agree with him that we do need to air this subject; it is extremely important. As other members of the Committee have said, many people will want to speak in the debate, which underlines how urgent and how important it is. But as John is the moving, driving force, if he is content to say either/or, I would tend towards the longer period than the shorter one because there is nothing worse with a huge subject like this than trying to address it in two and a half minutes.
Chair: That has really helped us. Thank you very much for coming, and we will let you know this afternoon.
Mrs Louise Ellman, Bill Esterson, Stephen Mosley and Steve Rotheram made representations.
Q10 Chair: Could we have Stephen Mosley please? Welcome back.
Stephen Mosley: First, may I thank the Committee for the advice that you gave me last week. As suggested, I have completed the pro forma. I have sent it to the Committee, and I have found out from other MPs whether there is much support for the debate. There is actually a huge amount of support from across the political divide for a debate on this subject. I gave you a list of Members who had replied as of yesterday, but just this morning I have also heard from Graham Evans, John Pugh, Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle, Angela Eagle, Karl McCartney and Stephen Twigg.
There is a huge amount of interest in this topic across the north-west of England. I have been told by Granada Television that they regard issues around Hillsborough as a No. 1 topic in the north-west this year-bigger than the Olympics, bigger than any other topic. There is a huge amount of interest. I have just seen a huge amount of support from other Members of Parliament. I initially thought that because this is on the death of one particular young boy, it would be quite a small topic-probably suitable for an Adjournment debate-but the campaign that Anne Williams has run over the past 22-23 years has got so many people involved.
I know that Steve knows Anne very well; Bill knows the family very well. So a large number of MPs would like to take part in this. I feel that if I were to apply for a normal Adjournment debate, it would not do the topic justice or give Members enough time to be able to take part, so I am asking for at least an hour and a half. I am very flexible on the timing. As you are probably all aware, the Hillsborough independent panel is meeting in May, and Mrs Williams is not going to put in a formal request for an inquest until after then. We can be flexible, and if you are able to give us a debate in February or March, it would be very welcome.
Q11 Mr Hollobone: This is of course a hugely important issue, and I am sure the Committee has a huge amount of sympathy for you. Because it is in response to an e-petition, it is a subject that really needs to be debated. The Backbench Business Committee is not the only organisation that can award parliamentary time. I note that you have applied for a one and a half-hour debate, and one and a half-hour debates are available in Westminster Hall as the gift of the Speaker. Given that a very large number of you want to support this debate, if you were all to apply to the Speaker for a one and a half-hour Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, you would have a reasonable chance of success. The only reason why I say that is that you have already heard today how very little time this Committee has to award to Back Benchers, and another route is available to you if we find ourselves too constrained. It is important that the issue is debated, but other routes are also available to you to get it debated.
Chair: I wrote to the Speaker after our meeting last week to say that you had come and what advice we had given you. He has written back to say that while he cannot promise what gets pulled out of a hat, he will be aware that your submission has been made.
Bill Esterson: I take the point that there are ways of getting an hour and a half debate in Westminster Hall, and that there are probably more ways and more time available elsewhere. I appreciate your comment about how important this is, and that will be much appreciated by the public. The reason why I think the debate should be in the main Chamber-it is probably also worthy of debate about whether it is more than an hour and a half-is that there is an argument for having a vote on calling for a new inquest to be opened, and it is important that that option is there. The reason is that the public who are supporting this-it goes a lot further than the north-west of England; it is supported by people who are interested in football right across the country and many other people who have recognised the long-term injustice to not just this family-want a message from Parliament. It is not asking the Government for anything, but a message from Parliament saying that a new inquest should be held is an important one to send.
Q12 Chair: I will bring in Steve very briefly, and then I will ask Jane and Peter to come in.
Steve Rotheram: I will be brief, Chair-two quick points. The first is that obviously what happened last time will have raised expectations outside: 112,000 signed the e-petition, and they expect Parliament to take the issue very seriously. While I have seen and understand some of the recommendations from the Backbench Business Committee about the changes in line for e-petitions and what will happen to that process, I believe that this is one of the very current issues that would fit into a divisible vote in the main Chamber.
Q13 Jane Ellison: You do not have a draft motion at the moment, do you?
Stephen Mosley: The draft motion that I put down was "That this House has considered the matter of the e-petition concerning the death of Kevin Williams at Hillsborough."
Q14 Jane Ellison: But that is a general debate at the moment.
Bill Esterson: My preference would be a very simple motion, "That this House calls for a new inquest to be opened".
Jane Ellison: The point has been made by Philip Hollobone, but we want to stress that, as a Committee, in looking really sympathetically to try to find the time, and understanding the importance of the issue, we are really constrained. Suggesting that Westminster Hall might be appropriate-although obviously if there is a motion that you want to divide on, it takes that out of the picture-is not in any way meant to be any disrespect to the people advocating this petition or anything else; it is just us trying to juggle the limited resource of time we have been given. We will have to look at it, but obviously a long, excellent and really well attended debate was had before, and that might be something that we also have to weigh in the balance. We understand what you are saying, but we are really constrained.
Q15 Mr Bone: Stephen, is this person your constituent?
Stephen Mosley: Yes, she is a constituent who lives in Chester.
Q16 Mr Bone: To be brutally frank, I do not think the Committee is going to award you a general debate in the Chamber, because of the pressures we have from other divisible motions. If you put forward a divisible motion, a substantive motion, obviously we would consider it, but it seems to me that this has all the hallmarks of a three-hour Westminster Hall debate. You could air all the issues that you wanted, and have a ministerial response, without dividing the House.
Mrs Ellman: I should like to reinforce the importance of this. When we had the debate on Hillsborough before, it was in the main Chamber. The fact that so many people came, and many more watched it and followed it up, really brought home to people the relevance of Parliament. We would like to see something done in the same way to give it the same force.
Mr Bone: There is another approach. You could get a general debate for a day in the House through those awful things called the usual channels. There are two general debates listed in Government time in the next couple of weeks. They could have been given over to us, but they have not, so we do not have the power to do it. But clearly, pressure through the Whips Office, from Government and Opposition Whips, is another route by which you could get a debate.
Q17 Chair: There are a couple of issues. Because the e-petition has 100,000 signatures, we will definitely take that into consideration, but we are pushed for time and we have an entire list of issues that have been brought to us. We have half a day on 7 February and a provisional whole day on 20 February. That is all we have available at the moment. We will take your bid very seriously, but the highest likelihood of getting your debate scheduled anywhere is through the Speaker’s Office. We will work as hard as we can to make sure that it happens, either through the Backbench Business Committee or through the Speaker’s Office, but we will try our hardest.
Stephen Mosley: Thank you.
Q18 Jane Ellison: I have one last question. Although an individual constituent is involved in this case, you are all saying that it is a wider issue. Would the debate encompass all the other issues that affect other families? In that sense, it would be broadened out. Obviously, a large number of people feel strongly about the issue. Do you think there might be a succession of e-petitions reaching 100,000 in a succession of individual, tragic cases? What is your sense of that?
Stephen Mosley: The key issue in this case is that in the initial inquest in 1991, the coroner set a cut-off point at 3.15. He basically said that all the victims of Hillsborough were dead by 3.15, so he did not look at anything that happened after 3.15. In Kevin’s case, in particular, there is very strong evidence- it is evidence that all of us absolutely agree with and support-that he was still alive at 3.37. There is even evidence to show that he was still alive at five to 4. In this particular case, because all the evidence is available, his mother is willing to push it to the Attorney-General and ask for a new inquest. It is strong enough to show that the initial Hillsborough inquest was wrong.
Chair: Thank you very much for that. Thank you for coming back again. We will let you know this afternoon what decision we have come to.
Thomas Docherty, George Eustice, Chris Heaton-Harris and Andrea Leadsom made representations.
Q19 Chair: Can we have Andrea Leadsom, Tom Docherty, Chris Heaton-Harris and George Eustice, please? Has the Committee received this bid?
Andrea Leadsom: I have some more print-outs. Does anybody need one?
Chair: I think we all have it. Thank you.
Andrea Leadsom: We want to propose a debate for six hours in the main Chamber on the subject of UK regional policy and European Union structural funds, with a motion as follows: "That this House notes that the UK is contributing approximately £29.5 billion to the EU Structural and Cohesion funds over the 2007-2013 EU Budgetary period; Further recognises that the UK will receive approximately £8.7 billion over the same period, making a net contribution of £20.8 billion; Further recognises that significant sums are recycled between or within the richer states of the EU; And calls on the Government to consider the future of EU Structural Funds during the forthcoming negotiations over the EU budget".
The key point is that at the moment, following a report from and meetings of the all-party group, there has been a huge amount of interest across parties from Members who are concerned that although there are 37 EU-defined regions in the UK, only two of them are net beneficiaries of EU structural and cohesion funds. All the others are net donors. While it is up for debate whether we wish to make a net £20 billion contribution to poorer EU states, even if we continue to do that, the UK will have contributed roughly £4 billion over that seven-year period to other wealthy states-the recycling effect of one wealthy area to another wealthy area.
We are proposing that at this critical period for negotiating the next EU budgetary period, we should be looking very carefully at the prospects for repatriating regional policy. Adding specifically to that, a group of Labour MPs wrote to The Guardian yesterday-we have a couple of copies on iPads here-calling exactly for the repatriation of EU regional policy. It would be in the interests of not just Britain, but all EU member states.
Q20 Chair: Thank you. Really, we are looking for much more topicality and cross-party support. The motion is definitely a votable one in the Chamber, and you have asked for six hours.
In terms of topicality, we have only, as you heard, half a day, which is more than likely to be squeezed by an Opposition day debate and perhaps a statement and an urgent question on 7 February. Provisionally, we have been allocated 20 February, which is the Monday when we return after the recess. In terms of topicality, how urgent is the debate?
Andrea Leadsom: The key point is that the EU budget negotiations are starting as we speak. The preliminary discussions are already happening, and negotiations will start in earnest in June. So it is not urgent as in "within the next two weeks", but we certainly would like to have the debate within the next couple of months.
Q21 Mr Hollobone: We have 12 bids from Back Benchers for votable motions in the Chamber and we have one and a half days. We are not clear that much more time will be allocated after we come back from the recess. That is your competition. We have heard this morning a punchy motion on Iran, for example, which every Member will have a view on. I do not want to be rude, but this is a bit of a namby-pamby motion, isn’t it? You are not actually urging the Government to do something. You could push the Government to do something more.
We have to take a decision, as a Committee, as to whether this is a sort of general debate, in which everyone will reach some kind of fluffy consensus, or whether there will be some cutting-edge debate that will really excite Members and the public outside. We have the difficult task of squeezing a dozen really exciting issues into, at the moment, one and a half days. Perhaps you could give the Committee something rather more in terms of an exciting motion than what you have before us at the moment.
Chris Heaton-Harris: With the greatest respect to Mr Hollobone, the best Back-Bench debate so far was on the Hillsborough motion, where there was no Division. But there was a very passionate debate on the whole issue around Hillsborough; in fact, we have just heard about some more ramifications that flowed from that debate.
Every Member will have a view on how European money is being spent through the European structural funds within their individual constituencies or not, or whether they are just constantly paying for it. Just because there is not going to be a great deal of upset for Government Whips does not make this a very bad motion.
Mr Hollobone: The point about the Hillsborough debate was that it was backed by a very powerful e-petition, with more than 100,000 names. It was absolutely appropriate, in the view of this Committee, that that very important debate be held on the Floor of the House. We do grant time for general debates. I am saying that we have a dozen votable motions on substantial issues before us. That is the context in which you have to see yourselves.
Q22 Jane Ellison: I agree with Mr Heaton-Harris that there have been some excellent motions and debates, not necessarily with a vote at the end. I am more interested that there is a bit of an imbalance in the number of supporting Members, although Mr Docherty is here. Could you talk a bit more in terms of ensuring a good debate back and forth across the House? You have given us quite a wide window in which time could be available. I agree with Mr Hollobone regarding the next two slots that there are subjects perhaps more urgent and topical in current affairs. We are interested in the back and forth across the Chamber.
Thomas Docherty: The Guardian letter that we published yesterday was signed by people with a range of views from the parliamentary Labour party: from Dennis Skinner to Jack Straw; from Bob Ainsworth to Jeremy Corbyn. What is fascinating is that this subject does not break into a traditional right versus left debate.
On Mr Hollobone’s point, it is £20 billion of UK taxpayers’ money. I take your point that it is not as exciting or nerve-racking for the Government Whips as some topics might be, but I would suggest that, when we are contributing £20 billion over the lifetime of the budget, it is an issue.
It is interesting to see that many of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party will take different views on it. I am sure there are colleagues in the Conservative party who would take a differing view; I could not possibly speak for the Liberal Democrats about how they will vote. It is not a straight left-right, Labour versus Tory issue. It is about whether we think it is right that we are giving £4 billion to Italy, Spain and Greece at a time when, for example, for every £3.55 the west midlands puts into structural funds it gets only £1 back.
Q23 Chair: This could run and run. We have an idea of what the debate is, and we have an idea of what it is you are bidding for. I do not want to get into the substance of it. I have John Hemming, Philip Hollobone would like to come back, Andrea would like to say another word and George Eustice would like to say something. Are you putting in a bid for something? Oh, do you want your glasses back? If we could keep it brief, I will go: Andrea, George, John and Philip Hollobone.
Andrea Leadsom: I just wanted to add that I have had separate conversations with the DUP and Scottish Nationalists, who have said that their big concern with structural funds is the match funding, where the UK Government say no to the match funding, so they fail to get the bid. They have a completely different angle, but they are very engaged with the discussion.
George Eustice: Briefly on a few points: will we get a proper debate? I met a Lib Dem colleague on the way here who said, "Careful what you wish for; we get a lot of this money in Cornwall." You will find a lot of MPs around the country saying that they benefit from European funding and they do not think the UK Government would spend it. You would have a proper debate there. I also think it is very pertinent because of the problem with unemployment at the moment. This is about regional policy-how we get growth in our regions again. There will be issues, such as the regional growth fund, which also come within the sphere in the course of debate. Finally, with the motion, this is calling on the Government to take the idea to the negotiating table. There are other countries that would benefit from it as well, and might buy into it. It would be a first if this country were to repatriate a policy from the EU.
John Hemming: Much as I accept it is an important issue, it is clearly something that could fit into a general debate. I would happily agree with the wording, as would a large number of Members, because the Government should consider the issue. It is a question of what they do after that. This is probably a good candidate for a general debate.
Q24 Mr Hollobone: This is a really important issue. Why are you asking the Government only to consider the future of the issue? On Iran, John Baron is saying to rule out the use of force against Iran.
Chair: I do not think they are advocating the use of force in any budget consultations. Ian, did you want to come in?
Ian Mearns: I can understand somebody could put in a motion saying we should not contribute to the European structural funds, unless it went to the Czech Republic, for instance-based on our allies at the European Commission at the weekend. I agree with Philip though; I think we could get more meat and mileage out of this if it were beefed up substantially.
Q25 Chair: As we said, we have such limited time available that unless this is pressing, because a meeting is coming up specifically that the debate needs to be scheduled around, it is something for the future. We only have that half-day on 7 February and, provisionally, 20 February. Today we will be scheduling that half-day on 7 February, so we will let you know this afternoon whether that has gone in, but this is certainly something we can work on over the coming weeks.
Andrea Leadsom: Just to be clear; if you say no, and it sounds as though you are doing to the imminent slots, do we need to come back to bid beyond that, or do we leave it that you will come back to us when you find a slot?
Q26 Chair: I don’t know. We will let you know this afternoon but we may have to look at tightening the motion up-that sort of thing. In the session we will discuss what to schedule on 7 February, and that is the only thing we will really be discussing. Beyond that, we will come back to you, but that does not stop you from coming again and again. That is the point. Peter, did you want to say something on that?
Mr Bone: If you come back, you are more likely to get the debate than if you let it rest. I know there was some discussion but we were trying to be helpful and increase your chances of being successful, by what we said.
Chair: Thank you for coming. Now we have Grahame Morris, then Charles Walker.
Steve McCabe and Grahame M. Morris made representations.
Q27 Chair: Thank you for coming, Grahame, and welcome, Steve McCabe, or "Tony Lloyd", according to your name plate-[Laughter.]
Steve McCabe: I always knew we should have brought in ID cards.
Q28 Chair: You have heard us say again and again that we only have a half-day’s slot to schedule on 7 February, so bear that in mind when you are making your bid.
Grahame M. Morris: Okay. I am making a bid-thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so-for a general debate on a very topical issue, the professional clinical and public opinion on the Government’s reforms to the NHS. As Committee members will be aware, a detailed debate is happening in the other place and the focus of press and public attention in the country seems to be on the Lords.
I point out that the bid is supported on a cross-party basis. We have Labour MPs, Lib Dems, Conservatives, Welsh nationalists, and Ulster Unionists who have signed the bid, and we feel that we should air this subject. It is very topical. I had a quick look on the BBC News site before the Committee started, and there are three stories about organisations expressing an opinion on the Government’s health reforms-the British Medical Association, a big report in the Nursing Times with the Royal College of Nursing, and in the Health Service Journal. It would be an opportunity for Members, whatever their political perspective or opinions on the reforms, to participate in a Back-Bench debate and put those opinions on record.
I think a general debate would be suitable, without the need for a vote, because it would be an opportunity to air the subject. These are huge changes that are affecting the NHS, the biggest in its entire 63-year history. It would be opportune, following the listening exercise and given that the Bill is currently in the Lords, to clarify the position. Some organisations have changed their view.
Q29 Chair: Before we go on, there are a couple of things. First, do you have a motion or is it just a general debate?
Grahame M. Morris: A general debate.
Q30 Chair: And it is three hours. The only other thing is that the support is very Labour-heavy. Do you have support from other parties as well?
Grahame M. Morris: Daniel Poulter is a Conservative MP. I had hoped to garner more support but I rather left it until the last minute, because I have been involved in a Statutory Instrument Committee this morning. The Health Committee would normally meet on a Tuesday morning but it is meeting this afternoon, and I would assume that many Conservative Members of the Health Committee would want the opportunity to put their views on record.
Chair: Thank you very much for that. Philip Hollobone and then Peter Bone.
Q31 Mr Hollobone: Grahame, I know this is a hugely important issue, and every Member of Parliament will have a view on the NHS. Frankly, however, I would have thought you have no chance, first, because of the list of subjects that are before us on votable motions; secondly, because of the lack of parliamentary time we have to give out; and finally, because of the length of time the Health and Social Care Bill has spent not only in one Committee but effectively in two, and because of the length of time it has been debated on the Floor of the House in legislative time and on Opposition days. The health service has been given a lot of parliamentary time. Given that we are given so little time to allocate by the Government, frankly I do not think you have got a hope.
Chair: Could I bring Steve McCabe in on that?
Steve McCabe: It was interesting to hear Philip Hollobone’s view. What is slightly different, of course, is that constituents are saying to quite a number of MPs that they cannot understand why there has been so little opportunity for Back-Bench Members to make their contribution on such a controversial and major piece of legislation. It is absolutely true that there has been an awful lot of Government time-limited debate on this, but if you analyse the debates that have taken place, the number of contributions from Back-Bench MPs is remarkably limited for such a major piece of legislation. I have not had anything like the same number of constituents contact me to ask about whether there may be an attack on Iran, or to say whether they are happy with the current state of European structural funds, but I can give Mr Hollobone a phenomenal number of contacts that I have had from constituents asking why Back Benchers who are supposed to represent them as constituency MPs are given so little access to comment on this.
Grahame M. Morris: Chairman, this is a national not a regional issue, without detracting from some of the earlier bids.
Q32 Mr Bone: This seems to be a candidate for Westminster Hall for three hours, because it is a general debate, not divisible. We will get some Westminster Hall time eventually, I think. I am just surprised that you have not tagged it to the Health Committee’s report, because if you were debating the actual report, which is an all-party report-I am sure this is not what is happening, but we are conscious about bids that are party political. We have rejected bids because they have been pro-Government or they have been anti-Government. I would have thought a debate on an all-party report in Westminster Hall, where you could bring all the issues up you might want around that-
Grahame M. Morris: I know that some Select Committees do that, and the Energy and Climate Change Committee certainly followed that route. I raised it in the Health Committee, and the Chair was of the view that maybe that was not the appropriate thing for our Committee. Can I just say, however, that I think this is an important issue? It is a debate that is happening in the country. Major organisations are taking a view, whether they are for or against the reforms, and I think it would be appropriate to have the debate in the Commons Chamber rather than in Westminster Hall.
Q33 Mr Bone: I am amazed that a Select Committee Chairman who publishes a report does not want Parliament to discuss it. Is that what was suggested?
Grahame M. Morris: What I am saying is-perhaps you can correct me if I am wrong-I was in Westminster Hall for a debate when the Energy and Climate Change Committee published a report into gas-bearing rocks, and it chose that method to publicise its report. I reported back to the Committee that I thought that was quite a good idea, but it is not in my gift to do it.
Chair: We will have a discussion about that.
Q34 Jane Ellison: I would not ever wish to be so discouraging as to say never. Obviously, we look at all the bids, but I take the points being made by members of the Committee that this is not a subject that has gone without parliamentary time. I know that you respond to that by saying that Back Benchers have not had much of an opportunity, but actually, a recent Opposition half-day debate on the NHS ran out of Opposition speakers and ended with just Government speakers. [Interruption.] I was one of the speakers, so I think that was the case, actually, but I am very happy to correct the record if I turn out to be wrong.
That makes me feel that time is being made available to debate these things but it is not necessarily always utilised.
Chair: The fact is that we have very little time to allocate, and as I said, we will be announcing this afternoon what we are scheduling for 7 February. Beyond that, we do not have anything definite. Our first Westminster Hall time is apparently not until March, so we are really low on time, but we will let you know. Thank you very much for bringing your bid to us.
Nicky Morgan and Mr Charles Walker made representations.
Q35 Chair: Last but not least, I call Charles Walker and Nicky Morgan. I am so sorry to leave you till last.
Mr Walker: I cannot see our names.
Chair: Would you like the Tony Lloyd nameplate?
Mr Walker: Yes, he is a fine man.
Chair: Yes, he is a very fine man.
Mr Walker: We would like a debate on the Government’s mental health policy. I have been in Parliament for seven years, and I can recall one debate in the Chamber on mental health since I have been here. Mental health is a matter of significant importance. The Committee may well have noticed that there have been a number of half-hour Adjournment debates in this year-and-a-half-long Session secured by individual Members of Parliament raising individual concerns about facilities in their constituencies.
I would like to draw the Committee to my most recent half-hour Adjournment debate, to which seven speakers turned up. We had seven contributions from Members of Parliament in that debate, so I think this is a matter of significant importance.
We are not greedy people. If three hours in Westminster Hall is what is on offer, we would go to Westminster Hall, but I would like to bring mental health out of the broom cupboard and put it into the main theatre. Mental health is a subject of significant importance to me. If Westminster Hall is what is available-I know time is limited-I would take it, but I would like to put the subject centre stage, because it is so important to so many of our constituents.
Q36 Chair: Are you asking for a general debate on mental health policy?
Mr Walker: A general debate.
Q37 Chair: Do you have cross-party support?
Mr Walker: We have significant cross-party support. We have a number of signatures from the Labour party and the Conservative party. It was e-mailed to the Committee last week on the suggested e-mail address. Have you found it?
Q38 Mr Bone: You have sat here, Charles, and you have listened to what we have said. I am sure the Committee will consider your bid, but generally speaking it is better for presentations to have cross-party people actually sitting there so that we can ask them. To be honest, I do not think you would lose anything by coming back next week. The only half-day we have in the Commons is just coming up, and I really do not think you have much chance. Do you know what I mean? Come back with a different bid.
Mr Walker: Absolutely. I do not want to be argumentative with the Committee. The reason we have not brought reams of people is because I have sat here for 45 minutes looking at you very busy people having to have a conversation with all the people in front of you. Given the weight of half-hour Adjournment debates coming through the Chamber and the fact that in my most recent debate there were people from both sides of the House speaking, I was rather hoping that that would be endorsement enough. I am happy to bring people,
Chair: It is fine. You do not need to, and I am very sorry that you have had to wait for so long. We do not normally have that much coming to the Committee. The problem is our lack of time. We have an enormous stack of things that people have brought to us. We have things on the future of social care and on a number of health issues, so we will look at those. I am going to ask Jane to come in as well, but this is without doubt a very important topic, and it will go on our list. At the moment, however, we have this half-day on 7 February and nothing else, and we have an overwhelming clamour for time, so I am just apologising really.
Q39 Jane Ellison: I have more of a comment than a question. You are after a general debate, and there is clearly cross-party support. I have been present for at least one of the Adjournment debates-I think Nicky’s-and I saw enormous interest. I am very much sold on that bit, but I wonder whether it is worth having a discussion with the usual channels, because some general debates are being scheduled if there is cross-party support for a general debate on an important issue. Some relatively narrow issues are being given substantial amounts of general debating time in the next few weeks. I definitely think that, as well as putting it on our agenda, it is worth having that conversation too, because it is clearly an issue that many people want to discuss. You are not seeking to divide the House on it; you are seeking to give it a proper airing in the Chamber, so it is worth having that parallel conversation as well in the context of the current scheduling.
Chair: As you are talking to them, you may want to mention that they want to give us a bit more time as well.
Nicky Morgan: The debate would cover several different areas. Part of the reason for coming to the Backbench Business Committee is that it is very much something that all MPs-regardless of their position-will come across in their surgeries and in views on Government policy. We have just heard that there is some desire for a debate on the NHS. We need a couple of hours to air the issues, because the interventions and Adjournment debates clearly have not been long enough.
Mr Walker: Listen, I am delighted to come and see you all, and I will be guided by you. It is just nice to get it on your radar. As we were sitting there watching all these worthy bids coming through, I thought, "My word. This is going to be a bit harder than we thought." Many people feel very passionately about this issue, and whereas you may not have blazing rows wherever we have it, you will have a lot of quality contributions.
Chair: It is definitely an important topic.
Q40 Mr Hollobone: We are very nice people on this Committee-
Mr Walker: You are charming.
Mr Hollobone: If we had the days allocated to us, I am sure that we would allocate all these debates to everyone. The problem that we have in this particular Session is that it runs for two years. The Backbench Business Committee is meant to have 35 days per Session per year, but we are not going to get 70 days for this double-year Session, so we are not being given as many days as we ought. Mental health is sadly an issue that will not go away, so if we are not able to timetable something this Session, in the next Session we should-pro rata-have some more days to give you.
Mr Walker: We will happily come back.
Q41 Ian Mearns: It is a shame that you did not come in the autumn to coincide with world mental health day, for example, because I think that topicality is one of the places that it does fall down, but I am certainly very keen that mental health is given a much greater airing in this place. It certainly does not get that. I have an enormous amount of sympathy with your application, because of my personal input in my own locality.
Mr Walker: I thank the Committee for its time. I feel enormously encouraged, and we shall redouble our efforts and return at some stage in the future. A bit of guidance would be nice as to what you would like us to do.
Chair: We will do that. Thank you very much for sitting through 45 minutes. We are very grateful to you.
Mr Walker: I can bring seven people next time. Thank you.