The business for next week will be as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
It may assist the House if I confirm that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer today announced that he proposes to deliver his Budget statement on
For the convenience of the House, that will give Members on both sides an opportunity to look at the motions and decide whether they wish to table amendments. Although the motions appear on the Order Paper, they do so in draft form, and I will take account of amendments and suggestions that are made, in an attempt—hon. Members may query whether I will succeed, given my track record—to arrive at a consensus on the number of motions.
I thank the Leader of the House both for what he said about the motions on House of Lords reform and for giving us the future business. I note, however, that he did not tell us when the Prime Minister will present to the House the petition of 1.8 million signatures that he has received protesting against road user charging.
Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs revealed that the British taxpayer will pay £305 million in fines to Brussels because the Rural Payments Agency failed to pay farmers in time under the single payment scheme for a second consecutive year. In a written statement today, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs failed to mention that fact, so may we have a debate on the incompetence displayed by both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Rural Payments Agency?
That was not the only example of ministerial incompetence yesterday. The Department of Trade and Industry announced that the science research budget would be cut by £68 million because of a departmental overspend, so may we have a general debate on ministerial incompetence?
May we have a statement on the Government's policy on public consultation? Last week, Mr. Justice Sullivan ruled that the Government's consultation on nuclear power was "misleading", "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair"—yet more Government incompetence. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said:
"I have to accept that we got it wrong."
The Prime Minister, however, said:
"This won't affect the policy at all".
I understand that the Leader of the House thinks that the Prime Minister is
"a master of ambiguity", but I would describe the Prime Minister's response as unambiguous. It is, dare I say, unambiguously arrogant, so will the Leader of the House make a statement on public consultations by the Government?
The Prime Minister says that he wants the five-year mandatory sentence for carrying guns to apply to 17-year-olds. The Leader of the House used to be Home Secretary, so he knows that the Government can do that very easily, as the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows them to amend firearms legislation by parliamentary order. Yet when the Appeal Court ruled that the five-year jail terms could not apply to anyone under 21 the Home Secretary failed to close the loophole. That ruling was made in March, almost a year ago, so may we have a debate on the gross incompetence displayed on an almost daily basis by the Home Office?
One thing at which the Government are competent, as everyone knows, is spinning and the Chancellor is spinning that he will end the spin. May we have a debate on political appointments in the civil service? The Chancellor claims that he wants to end the culture of spin, but he has just appointed yet another special adviser. The ministerial code says that Cabinet Ministers may each appoint up to two special advisers, but the Chancellor does not have two special advisers; he has 12, at a cost to the taxpayer of more than £1.1 million. The House deserves a debate on the Chancellor's taxpayer-funded spin doctors; otherwise people will rightly ask what he has to hide.
Let me just run through those items in turn. First, on road pricing, I am discussing—the matter is being examined by the Procedure Committee, too—ways in which the House of Commons might follow the ground-breaking example of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to ensure that we, as well as Downing street, are up-to-date in encouraging petitions. It is a long-standing practice for people to deliver petitions to Downing street as well as to Parliament. Indeed, I used to do so myself in another capacity about 40 years ago.
The right hon. Lady would be well advised to read the response that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent to all those 1.6 million petitioners, informing them that there are now 6 million more cars on the road and that it costs £30 million per mile to build a new motorway. If the Conservatives are serious about getting into government, they will have to deal with that issue as well. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, who is a far greater master of ambiguity than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, told the Oxford Mail—probably in the hope that no one else would notice; Oxford is rather keen on measures to control motor cars—
"We should also look at road charging. There isn't an endless pot of money".
I am glad to see Mr. Redwood nodding in approbation of what I have just said. He knows very well that the Conservative leader is currently making pledges on which he cannot possibly deliver. Indeed, Grant Thornton, a distinguished firm of chartered accountants, says that the total bill for pledges currently being made by the Conservatives amounts to £8.3 billion a year and would require an income tax increase of 4p in the pound.
We have doubled the science budget in the last 10 years. The previous budget was lamentable. The issue of the Rural Payments Agency is not a good story—the right hon. Lady and everyone else knows that, and we do not pretend that it is a good story—but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is dealing with it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry dealt with the question of nuclear power during Question Time.
As for the Chancellor's special advisers, I think that they and his council of economic advisers are brilliant value for money. Let us consider what has been achieved in the last 10 years; we have enjoyed the longest-ever sustained period of economic growth and Britain has risen from the lowest place among the G7 countries to very near the top.
May we have a debate on the unfair charging practices of the major banks, particularly now that Barclays has recorded profits of £7 billion? My constituent Mr. Aranda, a small business man who is gravely ill with stomach cancer, is being charged £80 a month for four medical certificates to release the monthly premiums of the insurance that he has paid for years against his loans. It is bad enough that his GP—his local NHS GP—is making those charges.
I note what my hon. Friend has said and will bear her request in mind. There is widespread concern, not so much about the banks' profits—we would all be lamenting if big British companies were making losses—as about the way in which they treat their consumers, both in overcharging and in making it difficult for them to move their accounts.
May we have a debate on youth-on-youth crime? In the last fortnight we have seen its tragic consequences in Peckham, Clapham and Streatham, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. What is not reported so much is that last year in London 14,000 11 to 16-year-olds were recorded as having been mugged, including 271 children aged 10 or under. We know that only one in five real muggings ever makes it into the police figures. May we debate the serious problem that faces the country—the fact that our current generation of teenagers simply cannot walk the streets feeling safe?
I should be delighted to arrange a debate on the matter. In fact most crime, particularly street crime, is youth-on-youth: it was ever thus. The difference between now and the time when my children were growing up on the streets of London is that the streets are very much safer than they were and the number of police officers available—including those in Lambeth and Southwark—is much greater, as not just the Mayor but the Metropolitan Police Commissioner will tell everyone.
Will the Leader of the House encourage his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the outcome of the Security Council's deliberations on Iran's compliance with resolution 1737? Does he still think that it is inconceivable that there will be military action against Iran?
Given that the Mayor of London has already leaked the headline figures of the revised Olympic budget, when will the Government publish the detailed revised budget for the 2012 games? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be a full parliamentary debate on it? Does he agree that the predicted huge cost increases should not fall on the shoulders of hard-pressed London council tax payers?
Finally, may we have a debate entitled "False economies in the national health service", so that we can explore, among other things, why my local NHS trust, Epsom and St. Helier, has decided to remove one in every three light bulbs across the hospitals in the trust?
On foreign national prisoners, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues continually update the situation. I accept that six weeks from the date mentioned elapsed yesterday, but my right hon. Friend has given a great deal of information to the House and will continue to do so.
On Iran, yes, of course I will encourage my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement—it may have to be a written ministerial statement, rather than an oral one—in respect of any conclusions by the Security Council following resolution 1737. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke this morning in his interview on the "Today" programme about the issue of military action and Iran.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the 2012 Olympics and the budget. I happen to know a great deal about that, as I chair the Cabinet Committee dealing with the Olympics. We are examining very carefully and very rigorously all the possible costs that can arise, and in due course an announcement will be made. As the Liberal Democrats supported the Olympic bid as much as anybody else, this should not be a subject for cheap shots—[Hon. Members: "Expensive shots."] The sedentary remarks make my point. The preparations for the games are more advanced and more under control than those for any previous games of which I am aware.
The hon. Gentleman's last point was about false economies. There are many topics that the House should deal with, but a policy on the changing of light bulbs is a matter that should be dealt with at a local level, not in the House.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on gun crime? The media will soon move on from the subject of gun crime until the next particularly frightening occurrence, but for my constituents in Hackney, gun crime and the youth culture from which it flows are an ever-current problem. In a full debate we could discuss not just issues of educational failure and support for families and communities, but the practical problem of offering people proper witness protection. With gun crimes, it is not usually a secret who has committed the crime. The difficulty is finding people brave enough to go to court and give evidence.
I welcome the forthright position that my hon. Friend has taken on the matter. We will consider whether we can provide an opportunity for a debate. I accept entirely what she says about witness intimidation. I can tell her that convictions for witness intimidation have increased by more than 30 per cent. in the past five years, but I accept that it is still a major problem and that that is no comfort to those who are the subject of the most terrible intimidation in circumstances of which, sadly, she is all too well aware.
The Prime Minister is to leave office fairly soon, in effect driven out by his colleagues. Given that, may we have a very early debate on a motion to censure the Prime Minister in respect of his conduct of the war in Iraq? Most of us think that the war was illegal, unwise, unnecessary and profoundly dangerous, and it was justified by an assertion of facts which have proved to be inaccurate. It is surely right, therefore, that the House should have the opportunity to criticise the Prime Minister personally for the evil that he has done.
Order. We are talking about a Member of this House, and I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should withdraw the term "evil".
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has got the wrong party. It is the Conservative party that drives out its leaders; we have never done so. I know that he disagreed with the war in Iraq, and he has been entirely consistent about that. It was not illegal or unlawful, although we can argue about its merits. As for securing a resolution against the Prime Minister, it is open to the official Opposition at any stage to table a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister or a motion to reduce his salary. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to pursue that course, I suggest that he has a conversation with his friends in the shadow Cabinet.
May I ask for a debate about the facilities in this House? Curwen school from my constituency will be visiting tomorrow, and I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that it deserves a quality experience. I understand that the House agreed that we would have a visitor centre back in 2004, and it has yet to be completed. We have all been living with the consequences of that build since I have been in this House. I wonder whether there might be a finish date.
I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise finish date. I can only say, to be frank, that what has happened in respect of the visitor centre has been quite lamentable. It was due to be finished in September, and it is a matter of great concern to you, Mr. Speaker, I know, as well to the House of Commons Commission. [ Interruption. ] I am told that that is a different building—this is a reception centre. Meanwhile, there are various plans for a visitor reception centre. Some of them were going to be too expensive and went way outside the House. I have been discussing informally with our hon. Friend Mr. Doran, who chairs the Administration Committee, whether better, quicker and much less expensive arrangements can be made either within the curtilage of the House or using buildings that are already there on the edge of our properties.
As I have this morning received a written assurance from the Prime Minister that the climate change Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, which I am sure the whole House will welcome, will the Leader of the House tell us when he expects the Bill to be published and the House to have a first chance to debate it?
I am afraid that I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman offhand, but I shall certainly ensure that he and the House are told.
"South Staffordshire Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves. I am disgusted. Sir Patrick has said that he will stand next time as an independent, and if he does, I would help him canvass for him" against the selected Conservative candidate
"without hesitation and regardless of what 'you will never be given a job' threats will be thrown at me by the whips."
May I associate myself with the comments that my right hon. Friend just made? The point that I wanted to raise—the Whips are now looking at me, as you may notice, Mr. Speaker—is that, as he will be aware, a minority of unscrupulous employers use the exemptions allowed by agency workers legislation to utilise east European migrant workers to undermine pay and conditions, particularly in my patch, in South Elmsall and South Kirkby. That is leading to disruption of community relations and the growth of extremist parties. Will he indicate what the Government's position is in relation to the agency workers directive in Europe and, more particularly, will he ensure that enough time is made available for the moderate and reasonable proposals contained in the Temporary Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill, a private Member's Bill that is to be debated next
As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill is coming up a week on Friday. We are giving consideration to the position that we take. We understand what he says about the way in which some agency workers are exploited, and there is a difficult balance between exploitation and not having the whole labour market seize up.
Returning to the matter of the Department of Trade and Industry's £68 million cut in the research councils budget, may we have a debate specifically on that issue, albeit that I might have to declare an interest as an academic? Earlier this morning, the Minister for Industry and the Regions said that this was simply a matter of clawing back underspend, but the universities understand that it is in fact a £68 million cut across the entire spending review period, and thus an important blow to their finances.
There are plenty of opportunities to debate this matter, but I hope that although the hon. Gentleman belongs to another party, he will acknowledge that one of the finest aspects of this Government's record in the past 10 years is the fact that we have doubled the budget devoted to science. Any downward adjustment in the budget is obviously to be regretted, but this is a very small adjustment against the totality —[ Interruption. ] It is. Even by Liberal Democrat standards of confetti money, there has been a significant increase. We have put almost £10 billion into the science budget for the current three-year spending period. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is doing his best to ensure that this necessary adjustment does not impact adversely on universities.
I wonder whether we could have an early debate on the ship-to-ship transfer of crude oil in the firth of Forth, now that new concerns have been reported that SPT, the marine services company involved in the bid, has admitted a previous spillage of 35,000 gallons of oil in 1995 off the gulf of Mexico. Let us just imagine the sheer devastation that a repeat of that event would cause along the coastline of my beautiful constituency.
I understand the great concern of my hon. Friend. As she knows, there are opportunities to raise these matters on Adjournment debates or in Westminster Hall, and I shall do my best to facilitate that.
I wonder whether we can have a statement on apprenticeships in the UK. Far from the picture of eager learners acquiring key competencies at the knee of experienced craftsmen, many apprenticeships have become virtual affairs with little or no workplace element. Indeed, in north-west England, half of apprenticeships have no employer engagement. Such fictional training was highlighted on the wireless programme "File on Four" a few days ago. Will the Leader of the House conjure up a statement so that our apprentices can receive something more than Mickey Mouse training?
I am afraid that Mickey Mouse training is what was practised by the previous Administration, whose record on training was absolutely terrible. I am very happy to have a debate about what we have done for apprenticeships, because we have done a huge amount for them, including, I think, 70,000 more apprentices in manufacturing. I am not suggesting that the situation is perfect, but if the hon. Gentleman has a constituency problem, there are plenty of opportunities to raise it, to ensure that the standards for all apprentice training are up to the best.
The all-party markets group recently sent out a survey seeking information from hon. Members about street markets in their constituencies. There has been a fantastic response, with 170 hon. and right hon. Members expressing an interest in taking part in a national "MPs and their markets" week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows a very high level of support for street markets in this House, and will he make way for a debate?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on that initiative. I am one of those who responded to her questionnaire, and I will look at opportunities to have the matter raised on the Floor of the House.
The Leader of the House is, I know, a football fan, even though he supports Blackburn Rovers. Recently, the Minister for Sport criticised sky-high season ticket prices in the premiership, which are driving working class people away from football matches. Has the Leader of the House seen the campaign in The Sun and early-day motion 888, which criticises premiership clubs for the price of their season tickets?
[That this House recognises the excellent quality of football in the English Premiership and popularity it commands; wishes the growth and success of the Premiership to continue but in a sustainable way; regrets that season tickets to see top football clubs in England are the most expensive in Europe and cost four times more than in Germany, Holland and World-Cup winning Italy; further regrets that individual tickets are also beyond the reach of many fans; welcomes the comments of the Sports Minister criticising 'sky-high ticket prices'; and urges the Premier League to use at least some of the extra £325 million it has recently obtained in overseas TV rights to reduce ticket prices.]
I wonder whether we can get a Minister here to discuss how we can keep the working class involved in football, instead of being priced out of their game.
I am surprised, Mr. Speaker, that you did not ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that terrible insult to my integrity. I do not know which team he supports—
Order. I know what is troubling the hon. Gentleman, but we will take points of order later.
I applaud The Sun and its campaign on this serious issue. I recently had to pay £45 to watch Blackburn Rovers being beaten at Stamford Bridge. The truth is that some clubs, of which Blackburn Rovers is one, are doing their best to ensure that more people are attracted to watch the game, while others are fleecing the ordinary spectator and pricing them out of the market, and making it increasingly difficult to fit in attendance at games with family timetables by shifting around the times of matches. All those issues should be debated.
In his deliberations about a debate on gun crime, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House time to debate the merits of a gun amnesty? The last amnesty in 2003 resulted in 66,000 weapons and 1 million rounds of ammunition being handed in. Amnesties are not the only answer, but they are effective in taking guns off the streets.
I accept what my hon. Friend says, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Association of Chief Police Officers keep the issue of running gun amnesties under close review.
Surely the House deserves and requires an urgent statement on the financial train wreck that is the London Olympics. My constituents particularly want to hear why their lottery money is being diverted from good causes and grass roots sports in Scotland to pay for regeneration and housing in east London. Surely the House should consider all those issues.
Scotland supported the bid, which will greatly benefit the United Kingdom as a whole. There will be huge opportunities for athletes from Scotland and from the other three nations of the United Kingdom to participate in the Olympics. Our economic record, built by a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer, in ensuring that all parts of the United Kingdom—not least and particularly Scotland—have benefited from the increase in prosperity in the past 10 years is second to none.
Will my right hon. Friend say when the Coroners Bill will be introduced? Is he aware that the inquest on Gareth Myatt opened last week in what is, I think, a directors' box overlooking the pitch at Rushden and Diamonds football ground? It is a fine place, but on the second day the team came out to train, and I could hear more of that than I could of what was going on in the room. Does he agree that we should have a proper, modern coroner service with dedicated premises?
I am not in a position to give a precise date at the moment, but we accept the need for a greatly improved coroner service. As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is under careful scrutiny at the moment.
The House is rightly concerned about the spending of taxpayers' money. An earlier question drew the House's attention to the fact that the European Union has fined the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs £300 million-plus because of its incompetence in handling the single farm payment. Is not it outrageous that UK taxpayers' money should be paid to the European Union? Will not the Leader of the House arrange for a statement in which Members of the House can indicate that the money, far from being paid to the European Union, should be given to the hard-pressed British farmer?
I make no excuses for what happened in respect of the Rural Payments Agency, and neither has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is on the job, trying to secure a solution. The hon. Gentleman's reputation on Europe goes before him, but it is a matter of fact that we have been net contributors ever since we joined the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I worked hard to reduce that as much as possible for the next period. Some people voted no in the referendum in 1975, and some voted yes.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the YouGov poll published earlier this week showing a strong majority among the British electorate for an elected element in the second Chamber. He will know that his decision not to proceed with a ballot to eliminate the various options for reform has cast into considerable doubt the ability to get reform through the House of Commons, showing once again the failures of Parliament to democratise itself. What additional steps can he take to ensure that that does not happen?
My hon. Friend knows that the option that I preferred, and the one that he preferred, was unfortunately—although it is a matter for the House—not going to gain support, and there was no point pushing it. Of the nine resolutions on the Order Paper, six will relate to a partly or wholly elected second Chamber. I say to my hon. Friend and those of us who wish to see reform that it is crucial that when people cast their votes they do not make the best the enemy of the good. We will have a motion before the House so that we can vote on the resolutions, notwithstanding that one is inconsistent with the other. That will allow us to get a clear picture at the end of the evening of exactly where the House stands. I hope that all Members recognise their responsibility to ensure that the House comes to a decision, even if the decision is for no change.
My right hon. Friend Mrs. May has asked for a debate about the Rural Payments Agency, and my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton has asked for a statement. Given that the Secretary of State's handling of the crisis has increased the amount of money—taxpayers' money—set aside from £131 million to £305 million, does the House have a way of holding the Government to account, or are we just experiencing the legacy of Jo Moore of burying bad news?
No one could accuse my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of acting in that way. He has been forthcoming in turning up to the House to make oral statements, as he has done in respect of avian flu twice this week. A written ministerial statement on the single payment scheme is on the Order Paper today— [Interruption.] It is not about burying matters; oral statements cannot be made every day of the week. As I have said to many Conservative Members, I am very sorry about the situation. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have farmers in my constituency, and the situation is unacceptable—no one pretends otherwise. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing his best to put it right.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to see early-day motion 859 about Dreams plc, which has cut down a load of trees around its plant in my constituency?
[That this House deplores the actions of Dreams plc in cutting down trees around its site in Woolston, Warrington; condemns the company's cavalier attitude to the concerns of local residents who have raised this issue and its failure to engage in constructive discussions about its plans for re-landscaping the site, together with its dismissive comments about the area; notes that many successful companies in the United Kingdom are both profitable and environmentally responsible; and urges Dreams plc to follow their example.]
Is he aware that, following correspondence, the company has not only insulted the residents of the area, but has sent me what I can only describe as a two-page rant intended to intimidate me out of raising the issue? May we therefore have a debate on the rights and responsibilities of Members of the House, so that we can explain to the company's chief executive that MPs have a duty to raise matters of concern to their constituents and that he ought to take that seriously?
I think that he is taking it very seriously indeed, as he accuses my hon. Friend of acting unfairly and vindictively and pressurising one of the country's leading and fastest-growing retailers. I congratulate her on doing her duty by her constituents, and I hope that Mr. Mike Clare considers the perils of calling the privilege of Members of Parliament into question.
Will the Leader of the House please find time for a debate on the issue of the UK veterans badge, which can now be awarded to ex-servicemen and women who served in the armed forces before 1969? Does he agree that that will be helpful in assessing the impact of what the Government have done to promote the availability of the award? Does he further agree that it is the least that the House can do to ensure that service veterans are aware of their entitlement to that modest recognition of their immense contribution to our country?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who, in a Liberal Democrat roundabout manner, was, I think, trying to thank the Government for introducing the medal. I take his gratitude with some surprise, but I accept it none the less.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson) said about a debate on gun crime. Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the Home Secretary the importation of weapons from eastern Europe and Northern Ireland? That is the real issue. Gangs have been around for a long time. We need to debate how to restrict young people's access to those guns.
I accept that the problem is both the use of guns and their availability. My hon. Friend raises an important point. I hope that we can, one way or another, arrange for a debate on that.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the reply that he gave in response to the question asked by my right hon. Friend Mrs. May about the Chancellor of the Exchequer's special advisers? The ministerial code says that he is supposed to have two; he has in fact got 12, who cost £1.1 million. The council of economic advisers is stuffed full not of senior economics professors, but of special advisers, one of whom recently served as a special adviser to Mr. Byers.
That is not a disqualification. My experience of the advisers and the members of the council of economic advisers in the Treasury is that they are of high quality. I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave earlier, which was that they have contributed their advice to the most successful period of economic activity this country has seen since the war.
I welcome yesterday's announcement of the Government's new deal for carers, which includes extra funding for respite care and a national helpline to provide advice and support to carers, for example. Given that the package also includes a review of the Government's national strategy for carers, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on carers in the forthcoming weeks so that hon. Members on both sides of the House, who take carers' issues seriously, can contribute on the needs of carers in their constituencies, who are one in 10 of the adult population?
I share my hon. Friend's interest in that matter. I am glad that we have been able to find an extra £25 million for carers. She will know that there are opportunities to raise such issues in Westminster Hall and in Adjournment debates in the main Chamber. We will also look at what can be done.
The hon. Gentleman must wait until after the statement.