Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 44



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Representations made before the

Backbench Business Committee

on Tuesday 1 July 2014

Members present:

Natascha Engel (Chair)

Mr David Amess

Bob Blackman

Oliver Colvile

John Hemming

Pete Wishart also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 152J (7)

Q1 Chair: I am sorry about the delay in starting; it was because of the vote. This is the first time the Committee has been in session since before prorogation, so we have an awful lot of representations, as you can see from how full the room is. I am going to try to be strict and make sure that we can bash through them as quickly as possible, so please just say what it is you are asking for and whether the debate is for the Chamber or Westminster Hall.

Also, be aware that we only have 17 July available before recess. That is the only day we have, and that is not a definite day. After that, we have the two Thursdays in September. We have one slot in Westminster Hall on 17 July and a couple of 90-minute slots on the Tuesday mornings in Westminster Hall as well, just so that you are aware that there is incredibly limited time. We are at the beginning of the time that the Government are giving to us, so we have a lot of available opportunities ahead of us, but be aware that, in terms of before recess, it is very tight.

I am going to ask Jim Shannon to go first, because he is in the middle of a Westminster Hall debate.

Jim Shannon made representations.

Jim Shannon: Madam Chair, thank you very much for the chance to request a debate. The debate would be during transplant week, which, as Members will be aware is from 7 July to 14 July, and would be on organ donation. Ever mindful of what you have just said in relation to the time scale, Westminster Hall would be agreeable, if that is acceptable, on a Tuesday morning, if that is the available slot.

We need a debate to look strongly at the organ donation 2020 strategy and to test public opinion, because sometimes we have to test radical ideas about organ donation and the best way to make more people sign up to it. Some 7,000 are waiting for an organ transplant, with three people dying every week waiting for a donated organ. Although some 96% of the population support the principle of donation, only 30% register-therefore the need for the debate. Adhering to your strict guidelines, I leave that with the Committee.

Q2 Chair: Fantastic, thank you. Does anyone have any questions for Jim? I think that is relatively straightforward.

John Hemming: I congratulate you, Jim, on agreeing with all sides about an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on a Tuesday, which means you have a chance of having a debate.

Robert Halfon, Mr Jim Cunningham, Mr Stewart Jackson, Jim Shannon and Steve Rotheram made representations.

Q3 Chair: This is a Chamber motion for a 90-minute debate on hospital car parking charges.

Robert Halfon: Good afternoon, Chair; many congratulations on your re-election. I am here with colleagues from all parties-a number of Conservative colleagues, and colleagues from the Labour party and the Democratic Unionist party. Frank Field, who is leading this debate with me, gives his apologies for his absence.

We are asking for a debate in the Chamber on the problem of hospital car parking charges, which have been excessive. Some hospitals charge up to £500 a week. I have tabled 1,000 freedom of information requests to 400 hospitals across the country. We are asking the Government to look at the issue, because they said that charges should be fair and proportionate. As you can see, we have support for the debate from 108 MPs from all parties. I know that the Backbench Business Committee is interested in the number of speakers; we have a list of speakers, plus the panel here, so we will have a minimum of 20 speakers. That is on page 6 of the note I gave out. I urge the Committee to grant us this debate and I pass over to my colleagues from the Labour party, the DUP and the Conservative party.

Mr Cunningham: I know that time is short and you have a lot to get through. In general, I endorse what has been said. We are all aware of hospital charges up and down the country and it is time something was done about it. I have raised it on a number of occasions and I totally support my colleague.

Steve Rotheram: There is nothing to really add to that. Obviously, it affects those on lower incomes disproportionately. In areas like mine, people are really struggling to decide whether to go and visit a loved one in hospital.

Jim Shannon: I feel there is something immoral in charging someone who has to visit their loved one. There is the trauma involved in going to see someone who is ill and then the cost factor as well. This issue needs addressing.

Mr Jackson: I would just say that there is a big social media campaign for this. One strength of the Backbench Business Committee is that it responds to public concerns. I do not think there has been a proper debate on this and it would improve Parliament’s reputation if we had a proper, cross-party debate and put this issue to Ministers.

Robert Halfon: There is not enough room at the table, but I should add that my colleagues Stephen Metcalfe and Henry Smith are a part of this as well.

Q4 Oliver Colvile: I should make the Committee aware that I signed the piece of paper as well so very much support this. I would be interested to know what you seek to get out of it. Are you seeking to get some clarification or to get the Government to actually explain where they are on this policy?

Robert Halfon: My own view is that hospital car parking charges should be scrapped, but all I have asked for in the motion, and what the 108 MPs have signed, is for a vote on the "Government considering ways in which hospital car parking fees can be reduced." I realise this is a very complex issue. If I get the debate, I will make the argument to scrap the charges and show how one can pay for it. I accept that it is a complex issue and wanted to get a lot of colleagues to support it.

Q5 Bob Blackman: I am very sympathetic to the motion. My main concern is that you have 19 people wishing to speak and you asked for 90 minutes. Our normal guidance is 15 people for a three-hour debate. How could you possibly have 19 people speaking, plus a Government and Opposition response, in 90 minutes? Are you really asking for 90 minutes or do you want a three-hour debate?

Robert Halfon: I realise that many colleagues have equally important issues to raise. I didn’t want to be greedy. Of course, I would be delighted with three hours. When I previously came to the Committee, you wanted me to show you clear expressions of intention, not just of numbers-the 108 people who support the motion-but genuine intentions to speak, and I wanted to show the level of support. If, by a miracle, you can give us longer than the 90 minutes we asked for, that would be all well and good.

Q6 Pete Wishart: In your draft motion you might want to mention that this is just for England and Wales, and that Scotland has a sympathetic and progressive Government who have already abolished car parking charges at hospitals. I know you mentioned that in the preamble.

Robert Halfon: Because I am hoping that you will vote for the debate, I won’t make any comment on that.

Q7 John Hemming: I should declare that I have signed the associated early-day motion. Obviously, there is a motion here; therefore you cannot have it in Westminster Hall. July is touch and go as to whether we have any time. What about September or October? Do you have a preference?

Robert Halfon: Obviously we want to try to get this on the agenda as soon as possible. If it is not possible in July, I would rather wait, if my panel agreed with me, until September to get it into the Chamber.

Q8 John Hemming: It is September or October; that’s the thing.

Robert Halfon: I would wait until we were given the date to have it in the proper-

Q9 John Hemming: It has got to be in the Chamber if you want a motion. The answer to whether you would have it in Westminster Hall is no, because you need a motion. Do you have any preference between September and October?

Robert Halfon: We would prefer it to be earlier.

Q10 John Hemming: September in other words.

Robert Halfon: Yes. If it can’t be in July or September, we would accept October.

John Hemming: In September we think we might not get some time.

Chair: That’s great, really good, Robert. Your representation came in at about five minutes, so extra points for that.

Chloe Smith, Mr Brooks Newmark, and Ian Swales made representations.

Chloe Smith: I have two colleagues with me, if that is okay: Ian Swales and Brooks Newmark.

Thank you for the time to put this idea across. The topic we would like to propose for a general debate is that of youth employment. It is usually phrased as youth unemployment but we would like to be positive and describe it as youth employment. We have cross-party support. Pamela Nash, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth employment, sends her apologies as she is not able to be here now but would like to take part in the debate. You have the other names that total 10.

We had put down that we would like this debate to be in the Chamber but obviously on reflection of what you have been saying this afternoon we would like to be as flexible as possible. We suggest that it is perhaps more appropriate for a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on a Tuesday morning. If possible, we seek to debate this subject before the summer recess. There is a particular reason for that. We wish to do something a little bit different and ask Members to put forward best practice that they hear of in their constituencies. Lots of Members and colleagues have jobs fairs and projects, assorted great schemes that are getting young people into work.

We would like this debate to be a practical opportunity to get across and share some of those examples, perhaps even to the extent that colleagues could go away and do something during the summer recess in their constituencies.

Q11 Chair: Excellent. Did your colleagues want to add anything?

Mr Newmark: I founded the million jobs campaign. We are trying to come up with ideas and proactively encourage businesses in all our constituencies. I want an opportunity to encourage all colleagues that every time they go and meet a business in their constituency, they say, "What are you doing to hire a young person?" It is about providing that platform.

Ian Swales: I add my support to the debate. I have high youth unemployment in my area but it is falling rapidly, and there is a lot of good practice out there. It is also a key policy area for the different parties. Both the experience of the previous Government and this one plus what the Opposition say they want to put forward are all quite dramatic announcements. It is an opportunity to cover practice and policy issues.

Q12 John Hemming: Tuesdays in Westminster Hall have the issue that different Departments answer at different times. Obviously, one possible Department for this would be DWP. Do you think the Treasury could answer this one as well?

Chloe Smith: Alternatively, BIS would be the obvious one.

Q13 John Hemming: Or BIS. So if we can find DWP, BIS or Treasury. Yes?

Chloe Smith: Yes. And any others.

John Hemming: The more there are, the greater the flexibility. I think they alternate from week to week.

Mr Newmark: From the Treasury standpoint, obviously they did the abolition of NI for young people earlier this year. The other two Departments are fairly obvious.

Q14 Chair: We have just heard from the Clerk that they are all on 15 July, so the choice is yours.

Chloe Smith: What is in the alternative grouping? Can we rack our brains for the alternative grouping?

Chair: That is taken.

That is fine. Unless anyone else as any questions? We will make a decision, in principle, this afternoon-certainly for those 90-minute slots in Westminster Hall. We will let you know as soon as we possibly can.

Mrs Anne Main, Stephen Pound, Mr Dominic Raab and Mr John Redwood made representations.

Q15 Chair: So this is a three-hour debate in Westminster Hall on stamp duty and the UK housing market.

Mrs Main: That is correct. Thank you, Madam Chair, for allowing us to present this afternoon. It is very timely for us to have a debate on stamp duty and the UK housing market. It is a broad title, because people have different views about what should constitute stamp duty and about the UK housing market.

The topic has not been debated in its current form since 2003 outside the legislative context. It was briefly debated in 2006 when the threshold was raised from £120,000 to £125,000, but in constituencies such as mine and those of many other colleagues around the south-east, it has now become a highly punitive tax. It is catching a huge number of young people who are trying to get on the housing ladder. This debate would be timely. Some of you may have seen the article on the front page of last night’s edition of the Evening Standard, which said that the potential mansion tax would also have an impact on stamp duty take.

I will let some other colleagues come in with their views, but it is shown that stamp duty has become a huge drag on the housing market. It has risen 7.1 times faster than inflation; 6.5 times faster than average earnings; and 4.6 times faster than house prices since 1995-96. Given that we are trying to get young people into the housing market with the Help to Buy scheme, I would like to debate the impact that this tax is having on people’s access to the housing market and to moving.

Stephen Pound: It is incredibly important to accept the fact that housing is absolutely one of the key issues. We need an opportunity to ventilate this particular subject and to examine its various aspects.

We are in a state of great fluidity in terms of housing policy at the moment, particularly in terms of the fiscal aspects. It is essential that this House considers this matter coolly, calmly and, within the confines of the time available, in some depth.

All parties are making their policy decisions at the moment. This is a good opportunity for us to trot this around the course and to have good look at the various options and the policies. I make no apologies whatsoever for saying that this impacts massively on London and the south-east. There is a disproportionate effect on London and the south-east, and that is one aspect that we need to consider.

Mr Redwood: I would agree that this is timely and has a number of important issues that need to be exposed to parliamentary debate. It is, after all, at the centre of the Bank of England’s current minor worries about the British economy; the one thing they are worried about is house price increases and the shortage of supply in the housing market. We have never had a proper debate on that in the House. It is vital to housing policy, because we now see shortages emerging, with prices rising too quickly.

Stamp duty is very much part of the argument. Is stamp duty putting people off from selling the second home they may own? Is it putting them off downsizing into a property more suited to their needs, because they do not want to pay the tax? Is it part of the story as to why there is now a shortage of supply in second-hand homes, which is partly driving prices upwards? I think there are a lot of important social issues and an important economic issue to consider.

Mr Raab: Briefly, I want to add how timely and topical it is. Going into the next election, if not into the conference season, at least two of the three main parties have concrete pledges on property taxes. There is a lot of discussion on the Conservative side about stamp duty. I would stress the topicality and timeliness of this debate.

Q16 Chair: Given the timeliness and topicality that you have all mentioned, how urgent is this, given the time constraints?

Mrs Main: We heard the constraints you have, and we were saying that September would be fine. The object would be eventually to have a main Chamber debate on this, but, like the badger debate, a debate in Westminster Hall would show the strength of interest in it and tease out some of the arguments, with the potential to have a second debate.

Stephen Pound: Unless you wish to recommend a recall of Parliament-which we would not object to, but which may be a tad disproportionate-I think the debate should be held at the earliest opportunity. But as Mr Raab has said, this is the time when people are thinking about it and the time when we need to have some parliamentary input.

Q17 Chair: If we were to allocate 17 July, would that be a problem for you?

Mrs Main: Is that a Tuesday?

Q18 Chair: That is a Thursday.

Mrs Main: It would be a problem for me.

Q19 Chair: In Westminster Hall we tend only to have Thursdays.

Mrs Main: Thursdays are fine, but not that Thursday.

Chair: Okay. That is handy to know.

Q20 Oliver Colvile: Most importantly, I am told that that is the first day of the Lord’s test.

Mrs Main: Well, I may have to let colleagues run with this, but I would like to attend the debate, since I put down the motion. I have to say that some Members on the Front Benches on both sides have said that they would like to have that debate, but they could not add their names to it. It is something that affects a lot of people.

Chair: That is very handy to know. If you cannot make that, we will look at something else.

Mrs Main: Any other Thursday.

Stephen Pound: Any other one, up until May 2015.

Chair: Yes, that is fine.

Mrs Main: Even if we miss the conference season, we would rather have the debate than not. But before the Chancellor’s statement might be quite handy.

Chair: Okay. We will try to find something before the conference season anyway.

Mr John Denham and Mike Thornton made representations.

Mr Denham: Chairman, thank you. I am hoping that Robert Buckland will materialise instantaneously, but I know that he is engaged in a Westminster Hall debate, so apologies if he does not make it. The application for a debate about the Hazaras has been supported by members of the all-party Hazara group.

This is not one of those international issues that has well rehearsed lines that everyone knows about; it is fair to say that few members of the group knew much about the Hazaras at all until we were approached by constituents who raised the issue. That is why we think it so appropriate that there should be a Back-Bench debate. The Hazaras are an ethnic group, mainly Shi’a Muslim, primarily from Afghanistan but with a significant community in Quetta in Pakistan. In Quetta in particular, they have now suffered 10 years of constant terrorism at the hands of an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, who, while having admitted responsibility for the deaths of more than 3,000 people, have acted with almost total impunity from the Pakistan Government.

The Hazaras also suffered terribly under the Taliban in Afghanistan, and while they have enjoyed a relatively good period during the past 10 years, they are fearful about what will happen once the foreign troops leave.

The situation in Quetta is appalling. I have talked about the people who have been killed. No students from the community now attend university because of the murder of people on buses. By far the majority of Pakistani boat people going to Australia are from the Hazara community and the economy has been wrecked.

The reason why we want the debate now is threefold. First, the killings are continuing every week. Secondly, whenever there has been an upsurge of Shi’a-Sunni tension, things have got worse in Quetta, and we fear that that will happen now. Thirdly, the influence of the international community before the final withdrawal from Afghanistan will be critical. I genuinely believe that a debate here on this issue has a genuine protective value for the community.

Because of the importance of the issue, we will take whatever debate we can have. Clearly, the iconic nature of the Chamber would increase its international impact, but we do think it is important to debate the issue as soon as possible.

Mike Thornton: To many, the Hazaras are an unknown people. People tend to think, "Well, it is another Muslim group that is fighting with other people," but they are not. They are a peaceful people. They believe in educating their sons and their daughters. They do not believe in violence as a solution to their problems-that they do not take to arms and do not kill others is one of the reasons why they are suffering. They look different from other people in the region-they have slightly oriental features-which again marks them out. So they have been subject to lots of discrimination over many years-in fact, they felt safest under the British empire. The difficulty they have is that they are seen as different. They are persecuted and killed, and their families are killed appallingly, and it is getting worse and worse. This issue needs to be made public as often as we can. When this happens to other groups and this House makes known what is actually going on, things change. We need to make things change.

Q21 Chair: May I just ask, given the nature and urgency of the debate, do you want something before the recess, or is it something that could be debated in September?

Mr Denham: I think July or September, probably, but certainly we would like to have it before we go into the conference recess.

Q22 Chair: I know it sounds ridiculous, but given that the 17th is the only day we have, would that be a day that you are available to debate it?

Mr Denham: As you can see, we have more than 20 Members supporting the debate, so we would certainly mobilise sufficient numbers to have a debate.

Chair: Fantastic.

Q23 Bob Blackman: I appreciate the urgency of the issue. Would you consider a position whereby-you have seen our constraints on time-we truncate the debate to 90 minutes to facilitate other colleagues as well, if we could get you into the Chamber on 17 July? Would that be possible?

Mr Denham: If that were possible, the impact of a Chamber debate is much higher, so we would discipline ourselves to cover the issues in a 90-minute debate.

Chair: That is very helpful. Thank you.

Q24 Oliver Colvile: Would you also be seeking to make sure you had a better understanding of what the Government’s position on this is?

Mr Denham: Yes, we would. Obviously, we have engaged with the Minister. There are particular British interests here, such as our engagement with Pakistan and our involvement in Afghanistan. It is also the case that a significant proportion of the interpreters for the British armed forces come from this community, so we have a range of issues of real engagement. The Government have been very helpful to us, and I think Government Ministers would generally welcome the issue being raised in a more public forum.

Q25 Oliver Colvile: And my guess is that it would also be quite helpful to understand where they stood on asylum and things such as that.

Mr Denham: Yes.

Chair: Thank you very much, and thank you for keeping it so concise. We will let you know as soon as we possibly can.

Fiona Bruce, Mrs Mary Glindon, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Robert Flello made representations.

Q26 Chair: So this is mitochondrial replacement techniques and public safety, and it’s a Chamber debate with 90 minutes.

Fiona Bruce: It is, yes. Thank you very much for seeing us today. I and my colleagues have full cross-party support from 20 Members who not only support this application, but would like to speak. We seek a Chamber debate.

The reason why we want the debate is that in the autumn the House will be asked to vote on regulations approving this issue, yet many MPs and members of the public know little about it. Indeed, what is it? I can see one or two Members looking quizzical now. Let me explain. The technique involves removing some material from one woman’s eggs and replacing it with another’s to create a genetically altered human being.

We would be the first country in the world to approve the technique; it is banned under legislation in some 60 countries. That is why it is such a serious issue, and we believe it is important that there is a debate ahead of any decision, so Members can reflect on the implications. Indeed, those implications have been highlighted by a number of scientific authorities, which have indicated a risk of sterility, impaired learning, premature ageing or slowed metabolism.

There are a number of references that we would like to highlight in a debate. The HFEA itself said, "There are still experiments that need to be completed before clinical treatment should be offered", some of which "are critical." Most importantly, Professor Lord Robert Winston, who is a fertility expert, said, "I don’t believe there has been enough work done to make sure mitochondrial replacement is truly safe", and that "a great deal more research" ought to be undertaken before these techniques are approved. It is the gravity of this issue that leads us to come before you today.

Q27 Chair: You were saying that this is going to come before the House for a vote in the autumn.

Fiona Bruce: At some point, regulations will be laid before the House.

Q28 Chair: So it’s not part of a Bill.

Fiona Bruce: No, it’s regulations.

Q29 Mr Amess: So, Fiona, to understand this, timing is all important. Will there be the opportunity to pray against the regulations as well?

Fiona Bruce: There will be an opportunity to accept or reject the regulations. At the moment, we do not see that there will be an opportunity to modify them. Ideally, what we would like the House to do is draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Health to the fact that these regulations should be delayed. The key purpose of the debate is to ask for a delay in the laying of the regulations until further scientific work has been done.

Q30 Chair: Do you know exactly when in autumn these regulations are going to come before us?

Fiona Bruce: No, we don’t.

Q31 Oliver Colvile: Is this UK inspired or Europe inspired?

Fiona Bruce: This is UK. In fact, the Council of Europe specifically has made a statement against this.

Q32 Chair: When we are talking about autumn, do you know whether this is before September? I am trying to work out whether this is something that absolutely has to happen before recess.

Fiona Bruce: I don’t know the exact date; I don’t believe that has been set down. I believe that this is an issue of such gravity and some complexity that it takes some time to get the mind around it and its implications. For Members to have that time during the summer recess would be very beneficial.

Q33 Chair: Just one last question. If we have no time, would this be something that we could put into Westminster Hall as a general debate on the issue in order to explore it? Or is it something that needs a vote because you are asking for a delay?

Fiona Bruce: Would you like to comment on that, Jacob?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think it needs to be in the Chamber because it does need a formal motion, rather than simply an Adjournment debate. It does open the door to cloning and it is genetically modifying people. The issue is of the highest importance and the Government may be thinking of moving relatively soon. I would have thought it needs to be in the Chamber.

Chair: All right. That is perfectly clear. We will try to find out. I will ask some questions about when exactly we are looking to bring this forward. That is very helpful; thank you.

Katy Clark and Mr Mike Weir made representations.

Q34 Chair: This is about the universal postal service obligation and is a Chamber motion for three hours.

Katy Clark: That is correct. We have put in for a Chamber motion for three hours. You will see there is a substantial number of Members of Parliament from all parties who have indicated that they want to take part in the debate. There is also an associated early-day motion signed by slightly different Members, and I would suspect many of those would also have an interest in this debate.

There is some urgency, given the roll-out of competitors to the universal service provider of postal services throughout the UK. I have a presentation that TNT provided last year of their stated roll-out plan that I will share with the Committee. It indicates that, although by the end of last year they had hoped to have only 4.2% of the market, by the end of this year it would be 14.6%, by the end of 2015 it would be 24.4% and by the end of 2016, 33.8%. Even after that, it would simply be an incredibly small percentage of the geography of the UK that would be covered. That is something that Government need to look at and this House debate very quickly. Therefore, if it is possible to get a Westminster Hall debate before recess that is what we would seek.

It is an issue of tremendous importance to Scotland. There is an issue that has dominated the political debate in Scotland for a number of years, which is going to a referendum in September. Our view is that it would cause difficulty for Scottish Members if this debate were to happen during the two weeks we sit in September. Indeed, some of us believe that the House should not be sitting during that period, given the importance of the issue to the whole of the UK. If it was not possible to get the Westminster Hall debate, in terms of the Members before you today, it would have to be October. We do feel that it is an issue of great importance to all parts of the UK and therefore should in normal circumstances be debated in the Chamber with a motion.

Q35 Chair: Even though you have a large number of people, and they are cross-party, there are few Conservative Members on the list. Would it be possible for you to get some more Conservative names? I can see Nigel Evans, but are there any more?

Katy Clark: There are. I can provide a copy of early-day motion 151, which is associated and contains the names of more Government MPs.

Q36 Chair: The reason why we put this in now is that it is about people who want to take part in the debate rather than those who support a debate happening. Would you be able to bring to us the names of some more Conservative Members over the next week, just so that we have a wider spread?

Katy Clark: I can undertake to attempt to do so. Obviously, I am in the hands of Conservative Members as to whether they would wish to sign the motion. I would indicate to Conservative Members that I believe that many of their constituents would think this an issue of great importance, so I would hope that there might be one or two.

Q37 Chair: It is not even about signing the motion so much as taking part in the debate-either way; they can agree or disagree.

Katy Clark: To try and get a balanced debate.

Chair: That would be really helpful.

Katy Clark: I will attempt to do that.

Chair: Brilliant. Thank you very much.

Gordon Birtwistle, Mr Nigel Evans and Robert Flello made representations.

Q38 Chair: So you have "The provision of suitable education for children with autism" and this is a general debate in the Chamber for three hours.

Gordon Birtwistle: Correct. This matter was brought to my notice a few weeks ago when I was asked to ask a question about a child in my constituency who was being forced out of school by Lancashire county council. I thought that it was an isolated incident, but it is not. I have been approached by other constituents, in particular a Mrs Raven, whose son was passed from pillar to post in the education system and eventually hanged himself in his garage at home. His body was found by his younger brother, who was so traumatised that he is under psychiatric care and is on suicide watch.

I thought that that was the maximum that it could be, but I have now been approached by numerous charities and by other families in Burnley and there is a desperate need for something to be done about autism teaching and how to treat children with autism and children who are different from ordinary children in our schools. The word "statemented" is an appalling statement to make about someone who is not the same as an ordinary child, and it is critical that we prevent any more Michael Ravens as soon as possible and that we have a three-hour debate in the House of Commons in which all Members can contribute. I understand that this is a major, national issue. We can then get some information from the Department for Education to ensure that local education authorities are made to understand the needs of young people who suffer from this terrible disease. It is time that we brought the matter to the notice of the general public.

Mr Evans: May I add one thing? I also represent a constituency in Lancashire. There are 700,000 people in the United Kingdom living with autism, which means over 1,000 per constituency, and 100,000 of them are children. I think that we all have a duty to ensure that every young person in Britain has access to the best possible education. The story that Gordon has told is quite appalling, and I believe that many Members of Parliament will have instances of when youngsters and parents have been let down by education authorities throughout the country.

Q39 Oliver Colvile: If it is any help to you, I am helping some parents in my constituency who are seeking to set up an autistic free school. If you would be interested in talking to them about it, I would be delighted to help. We can try to get them up to London or you could come down to Plymouth. They are also talking to the Plymouth College of Art, which has recently set up a free school, which I was keen on. Frankly, I think that this is an incredibly important issue that we must get right.

Gordon Birtwistle: I have personally argued with the county council. I have had some appalling, appalling lies told to me by officers of the county council. They opposed a free school in Burnley, so that will not happen in Burnley. Okay, the free school might help a few people. I want to help the thousands and thousands of young people who are in desperate, desperate need. The number of Michael Ravens that happen is on our heads and I believe we should be working to stop that. I think we should make the education department do its duty and I will be calling in the debate for a judicial review of what is happening at Lancashire county council. Maybe other Members may be asking for the same for what is happening in their local authorities.

Q40 Mr Amess: Gordon, a terrible case. Angela Browning, who was a Member of the Commons is now a Member of the Lords. She always used to lead the campaign on this issue. Just to help the Committee a bit, has there been any debate on this issue during this Parliament?

Gordon Birtwistle: I don’t know.

Mr Evans: I don’t think so.

John Hemming: It is obviously a very important issue. Everyone has these sorts of constituency cases. I work with a local group, who are having an award ceremony this weekend in fact. But there are limits on time. If you wanted a debate earlier, you could possibly get a debate earlier for 90 minutes in Westminster Hall. You could always say that you do not want it, but then, it might be September or it might be October. Do you have a view on September or October?

Gordon Birtwistle: My view is that I do not want no more Michael Ravens. I know the family, and this is very serious. You said there was one slot for the main Chamber for three hours, I think you said at the beginning. I would not like to think that we miss that slot, and we come back here in September, and there is another Michael Raven. I would feel really guilty about that. I ask you, as his mother said to me, "I beg you to do something about it." I am a politician, but I am a very weak politician when it comes to emotion.

Q41 Bob Blackman: I have every sympathy with the case and what you are putting forward. At the moment, on your application, there appear to be nine speakers.

Gordon Birtwistle: I have only had a chance to find nine.

Q42 Bob Blackman: I am not being critical. However, our guidance would be that for a three-hour debate that you would need 15, just to give a reasonable flow. Would you accept a reduction in the time from three hours to 90 minutes if that were necessary to get you in, in the time frame you have, rather than stick with your three hours, in which case you would need to go away and get more speakers?

Gordon Birtwistle: I am sure, once this debate is announced, there will many, many hon. and right hon. Members of this place who would want to contribute, but if you are saying that I can have it on the 17th for 90 minutes, I would rather have that than have nothing.

Q43 Chair: I think that given that we’re back now and in the time that you had before it has been a bit difficult to get names, and we cannot make an announcement now anyway because we are scheduling for the 17th, why don’t you spend the next week getting some more names together and bring those forward to the Committee before we make a decision?

Gordon Birtwistle: Fine.

Q44 Chair: I think that would help everyone, because I think you are right; once it is announced, I think people would really want to participate, but just to give us the confidence that you will have enough speakers on the day, given that our time is so limited, then it would be great if you could just get us some more names. Do you want to add anything, Oliver?

Oliver Colvile: If it is appropriate, please put my name on that list as well.

Gordon Birtwistle: At the next vote, I could get 25 names with absolutely no problem at all.

Chair: Do so, and if you bring them to the Clerks then we can add those to the list. We are not making any decisions until next week about what we are scheduling, but we absolutely hear what you are saying, so thank you very much for bringing that to us.

Gordon Birtwistle: Where do I find the Clerk?

Chair: In the Table Office.

Prepared 10th July 2014