Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:32 am on 24th June 2010.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:32 am, 24th June 2010

Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The business for the week commencing 28 June will include:

Monday 28 June-Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 29 June-Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a full day's debate on local government financing. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 30 June-General debate on the progress and prospects in energy efficiency.

Thursday 1 July-General debate on global poverty.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 July will include:

Monday 5 July-Motion relating to the clear line of sight project, followed by the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Tuesday 6 July-Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 7 July-Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 8 July-General debate on defendant anonymity.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business.

It is important that today, we take the opportunity to acknowledge that the Leader of the House has been working extremely hard this week to fine-tune his leak-prevention strategy. I certainly detected his guiding hand in the reports of the unprecedented move by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask journalists to sign a written legal agreement that they would only take photographs of him and not ask any questions, just in case he let the cat out of the bag about anything in the Budget. That was a magnificent move, not least because it vindicated the work that the Opposition have been putting in week after week, making helpful and constructive suggestions about how to get the Leader of the House's leak prevention strategy up to scratch. Sadly for the Chancellor, the media refused to co-operate and, frankly, things have been going downhill ever since.

The Secretary of State for Education announced his plans for free schools to the papers and came to the House only because the Opposition tabled an urgent question. The Secretary of State for Health announced to the media the biggest shake-up of the NHS operating framework at 9.25 on Monday morning, but a written ministerial statement did not appear until 12.40. As for the Budget, most of it, including detailed figures, was in the Sunday papers-my hon. Friend Chris Bryant made a point of order about that this week.

Obviously, an investigation of what went wrong will be in order, but Labour Members are quietly confident that the Leader of the House and Deputy Leader of the House can become the Government's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. They might like to have as their prime suspect the ventriloquist's dummy, the Chief Secretary, who tells us very little when he comes to the House, but may be rather more garrulous with journalists as the Liberal Democrat mouthpiece for Conservative policies. Perhaps the Leader of the House could put in the Library the advice that is being given to the Cabinet about making announcements to the House before making them to journalists.

Why is there no oral statement today from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on changes to the state pension age, which mean that men in their 50s will lose on average £8,000 of state pension?

Last week, the Leader of the House stated that he had set out in response to a written question how the Government would inform Parliament of the numerous reviews and commissions that are taking place. It is not clear from his reply where the review took place that led on Monday to the Prime Minister's saying, in response to an intervention from me, that the Sheffield Forgemasters loan was a piece of "financial engineering". Those remarks have caused huge concern among industrialists in Sheffield and south Yorkshire. The implications of the Prime Minister's words are that he is backing Japanese and Korean industrialists against UK manufacturing. I urge the Leader of the House to provide more information about the reviews' terms of reference.

May we have a general debate on today's findings by the Institute for Fiscal Studies? The IFS shows that, under Labour's plans, the poorest 10% would have been virtually untouched, but under the Chancellor's Budget, their incomes are cut by more than 2.5%. Even the Government's appointed public sector pay commissioner has said that there is no logic to the brutish cuts that the Chancellor proposes. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister himself to lead the debate on the IFS findings so that he can explain to the House why he said yesterday that it was a fair Budget?

I thank the Leader of the House for granting the general debate on defendant anonymity. That is very welcome.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her last comment. I congratulate Natascha Engel on her success in the election for the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is wrong about the written ministerial statement on the NHS operating framework. It was issued on time, just after half-past nine, and the document, which was the subject of the point of order, was deposited in the Library at 9.34 am. All the normal procedures were followed in respect of that document.

It is indeed the case that more urgent questions are being granted. I listened to your important speech to the Hansard Society, Mr Speaker, when you said:

"I have also deliberately rescued the urgent question, a device which compels a Minister to come to the House to face a question on a matter which has suddenly arisen".

The previous Government also experienced that change of approach. We welcome it and are happy to come to the House to answer urgent questions when they are granted.

On Sheffield, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills dealt with that point extensively in his speech in the Budget debate yesterday, and I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister is meeting Sheffield Forgemasters tomorrow in his constituency.

So far as welfare is concerned, the right hon. Lady will know that on Monday the Budget debate will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He will deal robustly with the points that she has made. She will also know that, for the first time, the Red Book contains a whole section on the impact of tax and welfare changes on households, from page 63 all the way to page 69. I am sure that she will have read the conclusion about child poverty on page 69, which says:

"Steps have been taken to protect low income families with children from the impact of these changes, by freezing the rate of Child Benefit to partly fund above indexation increases to the Child Tax Credit. This ensures that the overall impact of all modelled Budget changes on child poverty...is statistically insignificant."

Let me say to the right hon. Lady that of course I take seriously the question of leaks, as I have said before. The House should be the first place to hear of any major changes in Government policy, and we also take seriously the suggestion of any leaks in advance of statements. However, on her general point, the House would take the Opposition more seriously, first, if they exhibited just some remorse for the mess that they left this country in, and secondly, if they indicated how they would fill the £50 billion gap in the public finances that they left us to inherit.

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Several hon. Members:

rose -

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I would like to be able to accommodate everybody, but a single, short supplementary question and a characteristically brief reply from the Front Bench are the order of the day.

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Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

Now that we realise how much the previous Government misled the public about transport infrastructure investment, promising money that simply did not exist, can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on enabling greater private sector investment in our transport infrastructure, including helping to boost projects such as the regeneration of Crewe railway station in my constituency?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Along with many other hon. Friends, I had occasion to visit Crewe railway station some two years ago, in order to secure his election to the House. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Chancellor refer in his Budget statement to a generous regional investment fund to take forward transport and other infrastructure projects that will lead to jobs. My hon. Friend will also know that we favour much longer railway franchises, which will enable the train operating companies to take a longer-term view and therefore afford major investment projects such as that in Crewe railway station.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government informed me that he would not be calling in a planning decision for a mega-Tesco in my constituency. Although gains in jobs will be welcome in the local economy, just down the road in Stretford town centre, there is a shopping centre in deep financial difficulties as a result of the Tory council's failure to invest and support it. Can we have a debate on how this Government intend to support and regenerate local town centres, which is something that I know is of concern across the House?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I will of course draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the failure to call in a particular planning decision, but I have to say to the hon. Lady that one of the thrusts of the coalition Government's policies is to devolve decision making down to local communities-to local councillors who are answerable to local people for the decisions that they take on planning and others matters.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the written statement this morning on pre-charge detention? Although I understand that the instrument will be debatable in the House, we are talking about a highly controversial issue. In future when they have such highly controversial issues, can he encourage his right hon. Friends to come and speak to the House, and not follow the new Labour practice of releasing things as written statements on a one-line Whip Thursday.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As he knows, today's statement is about an interim arrangement while the review of detention takes place, and it carries forward for six months the 28-day detention proposal. As he generously said, the order that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just laid will be debatable and votable on in both Houses, so I hope that there will be adequate opportunity for his views on this important issue to be heard.

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Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee

I thank the Leader of the House for his congratulations and I look forward to working with him closely. He has always been a vocal supporter of a strong Backbench Business Committee. As such, will he ensure that the Chair of that Committee has full membership of the Liaison Committee?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's words. I had always envisaged that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee would indeed be a Member of the Liaison Committee and take part in its important work, not least in its twice yearly interrogation of the Prime Minister.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

Would the Leader of the House look favourably on requests for a general debate on the Floor of the House on science and its role in ensuring that we have an expanding and improving economy, particularly so that the Government can express their views on genetically modified technology and the role it can play in British agriculture?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that proposal. As he will know, in future, decisions as to whether or not a general debate is held will fall to Natascha Engel and her colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee, which we hope to get up and running as soon as we can. I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said did not fall on deaf ears.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the answering of written questions with respect to a named day? Last Monday, I was expecting an answer from the Treasury to a named day written question about the distributional impact of a 1% rise in VAT. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted the Red Book, is he not astonished that I am yet to receive an answer to that question?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am genuinely sorry if there has been any discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and I will draw to the attention of my ministerial colleagues at the Treasury the need to get him an urgent reply.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

May I welcome the late conversion of the former Labour Government to not leaking to the press before making announcements in this House? May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on the importance of maintaining specialist mental health facilities, which would allow me to raise the question of the loss of the intensive care unit at Woodhaven hospital in the New Forest and the threat to the Crowlin House rehabilitation centre there?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that this is an important issue for New Forest Members. He might like to put in for an Adjournment debate on this important issue or raise it with Ministers at the next Health questions.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

A few weeks ago, we were told that a statement on Building Schools for the Future would be made so that everybody would know which schools would be able to go ahead. The people living in Shirebrook and Tibshelf in the Bolsover constituency are still waiting for an answer. Several schools were built when the Labour Government were in power; when are we going to have a statement?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

As the hon. Gentleman will know from the Budget statement, the comprehensive spending review is now under way and the outcome will be known on 20 October. At that point, the Department will be in a position to see how best to spend its capital programme.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

My right hon. Friend will know that the news flow from Afghanistan has not been very good recently. In addition to the further tragic loss of life, there has been the news about General McChrystal, the resignation of key Ministers within President Karzai's Government and the early retirement of the UK special envoy to Afghanistan. Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to encourage the Government to bring forward perhaps a ministerial statement outlining the latest situation, particularly given the talk from within the international security assistance force-ISAF-comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that the Prime Minister made a statement on Afghanistan a few days ago and that the Government are committed to regular updates to the House on Afghanistan from where there has indeed been some more tragic news today. He will also know that Foreign and Commonwealth questions takes place on 6 July, but I do bear in mind his request, which I know is widely shared, for a more general debate on what is happening in Afghanistan.

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Photo of Phil Woolas Phil Woolas Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

The House would not want to be left with the suspicion that the Deputy Prime Minister says one thing to one group and quite another thing to another group. Will the Leader of the House ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will report to the House on his meeting, due to take place tomorrow, with Sheffield Forgemasters? This is an issue not just for Sheffield-important though it is there-but for the whole of the nuclear industry, and particularly for our plans in the north-west of England.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Deputy Prime Minister answers questions to the House like any other Minister- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise the matter with him. Alternatively, he can table a written question to the Deputy Prime Minister on the issue he has raised.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

All the English Members of the House thoroughly enjoyed England's qualification yesterday, and it was wonderful to see the cross of St George flying. However, it is still frustrating to hear England singing the wrong anthem-the anthem of the United Kingdom. Following the historic decision to use "Jerusalem" at the Commonwealth games, may we have a debate in the House about properly establishing an English national anthem for when England, as opposed to the United Kingdom, compete?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am sure that England's victory yesterday was celebrated not just in England but in Scotland and Wales. The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In future, whether or not something is debated in the House will be a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. In the meantime, he might like to try his luck in Westminster Hall.

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T

Not likely!

Submitted by Tim Hollis

Photo of Dave Watts Dave Watts Labour, St Helens North

Further to the question put by my right hon. Friend Ms Winterton, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the impact of VAT increases on low-paid families, bearing in mind that the Chancellor's and the Prime Minister's claims that the Budget is fair are contradicted in the Institute for Fiscal Studies report?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

We are in the middle of a four-day debate on the Budget, and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity later today and on Monday to raise precisely the issue he has just touched on and to get a convincing reply from one of my right hon. Friends.

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Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

In view of the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that regrettably the civil list is to be frozen yet again, will the Leader of the House please arrange for a statement on the latest position on the Queen's forthcoming diamond jubilee being properly marked in the House and throughout the country?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I understand that the arrangements on the civil list were dealt with by agreement, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that appropriate celebrations are necessary. We have a year or two in which to plan them, and I hope there will be an opportunity to share with the House exactly how that will be handled.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

May I offer my most sincere congratulations to the English football team on reaching the knockout stage of the World cup? Does the Leader of the House not agree that disqualification of the smaller parties in the House from the Backbench Business Committee is in danger of rendering the whole project undemocratic and illegitimate? What is he doing to ensure that all Back Benchers are equal and that all have an opportunity to participate in the business of the House?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The Wright Committee recommended that there should be a business committee of between seven and nine members. The House agreed the establishment of a Backbench Business Committee of eight members a few days ago, and the allocation between the parties was done according to the formula with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar, and the minority parties did not get a place. However, that Committee will be re-elected every year, and I can only suggest that when members are elected for the current year, he opens a dialogue with as many of them as possible to ensure that the voice of minority parties is heard at the Backbench Business Committee, and I am sure that its Chairman has listened to his point.

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Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that following years of under-investment in our magistrates courts, Goole magistrates and county court, along with neighbouring Selby magistrates court, are scheduled for closure. May we have a debate on that important issue?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

As my hon. Friend will know, the Lord Chancellor yesterday announced a consultation on the closure of 157 magistrates and county courts. With public finances under pressure, we need to reduce costs wherever we can. We are committed to supporting local justice, and the Justice Secretary will take all views expressed into account before deciding which courts ought to be closed and when.

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Photo of Tom Harris Tom Harris Labour, Glasgow South

I am not entirely sure about this new democracy malarkey. Although we are not allowed to say it, the Whips did a very good job in previous Parliaments of ensuring that Select Committees had a good balance, geographically and in terms of gender and experience. Under the new system, I am not sure that that will be possible. May we have a debate at some point on whether this new experiment in democracy within the House has worked? I am not sure that the Wright reforms were the right reforms.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we go back to the old system whereby the Whips nominated Members to Select Committees. It is astonishing that in the House of Commons, the cockpit of democracy, an hon. Member should make such a regressive suggestion that we abandon elections and go back to nominations.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

Does the Leader of the House agree that we should in no way wish to curtail demonstrations in Parliament square, but that the present system of almost permanent incumbency is unsatisfactory? The square should be used on a much wider basis by more demonstrators and by people for recreation, including tourists.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I agree with my hon. Friend. With the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall, it is a historic setting, and the presence of a shanty town right in the middle does no credit to the centre of one of the greatest capital cities in the world. As he will know, the Mayor of London is responsible for the green in the middle of the square, and he is in the process of taking action through the courts against those currently occupying it. If he is successful, I hope that the green will be cleared and accessible to more people. Personally, I have no objection to people lobbying and protesting outside the Houses of Parliament, but I think that at the end of the day they should go home.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Equalities Office), Shadow Minister (Justice)

In the newspapers this morning, the Minister for Police has been quoted as saying that

"the last government mistakenly believed that the test of an effective police force was how many officers it employed."

We know that the Budget and spending review will ensure that there are far fewer police on our streets across the nation, but at the recent general election, in Garston and Halewood, my Conservative opponent promised

"more officers on the beat in Liverpool" , as did my Lib Dem opponent. The Deputy Prime Minister, who visited on a number of occasions, also said that the Lib Dems would put more police on the streets. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the new politics that the governing parties appear to be advocating, and on whether it equates to no more than completely ignoring election promises and treating the electorate like dupes?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

There will be Home Office questions on 28 June. Until the hon. Lady tells the House how the Labour party would have filled the £50 billion gap in the public finances, we will listen with suspicion to her points accusing us of making reductions that the Labour party would not have had to make had it won the election.

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Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, Milton Keynes North

May we have a debate on child abduction? We might then discuss the case of my constituent, Ken Spooner, whose two British-born children were abducted by their Zambian mother in 2008. Having spent nearly all his life savings on successfully getting his children made wards of a UK court, and having that registered in Zambia, even now he cannot get them returned to the UK. Can the Government do anything to help?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Many Members of Parliament will have experienced cases in their constituency in which the courts have awarded custody to the UK parent but the children are abducted to another country. Where the other country has signed the relevant Hague convention, it is possible through the courts of that country to get the child repatriated, but it is difficult where the country concerned has not signed up to that agreement. We are pursuing the matter with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which will be in touch with my hon. Friend.

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Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

May we have a debate on compensation payments for Christmas Island victims. Such a debate would allow us to find out exactly why the compensation payments are taking so long and to assure the victims that the payments will still be made. More importantly, it would allow us to choke off the financial gravy train for the legal profession.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I will share his concern with the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. On 6 July, there will be questions to that Department, and he may have an opportunity to raise the issue then.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

May we have a topical debate on the remit and membership of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which is rapidly in danger of becoming a nanny state monster. Most people thought that its job was to assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of drugs, yet not a day goes by without it proposing some ridiculous measure, such as compulsory sex education for five-year-olds, state handouts to food companies to produce healthier food, smoking breath tests for pregnant women or minimum pricing for alcohol. May we have a debate on getting NICE back to doing what it should be doing, rather than a load of garbage that it should not be doing?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

No public body should engage in mission creep and start encroaching on the responsibilities of other organisations such as school governing bodies or, indeed, parents. My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to share his concern with the Secretary of State for Health during Health questions, which I believe will take place next Tuesday.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Shadow Minister (Veterans)

May we have a debate in Government time on the politicisation of the military, given that a story in this morning's Daily Telegraph made clear that a row had taken place between the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister, and given that it was announced last week that the Prime Minister would personally interview candidates for the post of Chief of the Defence Staff? Is there not a danger that any future CDS will be seen as merely a Tory party stooge?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the papers, even in The Daily Telegraph. As for the question of public appointments, I can assure him that the proper procedures will be observed in the appointment of senor public officers.

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Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 282?

[That this House congratulates the millions of people who gain vocational qualifications every year and celebrates their achievement on the third annual Vocational Qualifications Day on 23 June 2010; notes that, while there have been significant improvements in the way vocational qualifications are viewed, more needs to be done to raise the stature and demonstrate the benefits of practical and vocational learning; recognises that vocational qualifications provide the workforce of tomorrow with the practical skills needed to progress in the workplace and help employers improve and grow their businesses, especially in a challenging economic environment; and believes that the many paths to success available should be celebrated.]

It refers to Vocational Qualifications day, which was held yesterday. According to Edge, 4 million vocational qualifications were awarded last year, many of them in Harlow. Will the Leader of the House give thought to allowing an annual skills debate to be held on the same day?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

It so happens that I have read early-day motion 282. As my hon. Friend will know, the coalition agreement contains a clear commitment in this regard, which states:

"We will improve the quality of vocational education, including increasing flexibility for 14-19 year olds and creating new Technical Academies as part of our plans to diversify schools provision."

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Photo of Emma Reynolds Emma Reynolds Labour, Wolverhampton North East

Several schools in my constituency are expecting investment under the Building Schools for the Future programme. I am deeply concerned by the Leader of the House's statement earlier that we would have to wait until October to find out whether that investment would go ahead. May we have a debate on the issue, and will the Government reconsider?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The outcome of the comprehensive spending review will indeed be announced on 20 October, but I understand that a statement on Building Schools for the Future is likely to be made next week.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Further to the comments of my hon. Friend and best mate the Member for Cardiff South-sorry, I mean Glasgow South- [Laughter.] It is a bit further north than the Cardiff constituency.

My hon. Friend Mr Harris obviously agrees with a predecessor of yours, Mr. Speaker. Bernard Weatherill once told me "You can't have civilisation without sewers, and you can't have Parliament without the Whips." May we have a statement, or perhaps a debate, on the cost of democracy and of some things we have lost which are valuable, including the ability of Opposition spokespeople to travel in order to carry out their duties? That has been taken away by our handing over such matters to people who know nothing about politics. Is it possible for the Leader of the House to look into the matter? I am sure that he will want to make certain that the Opposition can do their job properly, as he did when he was in opposition.

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The Government are very anxious for the Opposition to be able to hold us properly to account. Having been an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman myself, I recall that the Short money makes provision for travel for Opposition spokesmen. That is the source to which the hon. Gentleman should look in order to fund his important travels around the country.

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Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion

The Amnesty International report "From Protest to Prison" reveals that up to 5,000 Iranians citizens are now languishing in prison following the disputed presidential election. There have been 150 executions in Iran, and persecution of the gay community, the Baha'i community and, of course, women remains characteristic of the Iranian regime. May we have a debate on the human rights record of the regime and our Government's necessary response to it?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman has raised the important issue of the barbaric treatment of a number of prisoners in Iran. Foreign Office questions will take place on 6 July; alternatively, he may wish to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, where the matter could be dealt with at greater length.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Europe)

May we have a debate on ministerial statements, or at least a statement on statements? The right hon. Gentleman has suggested to us that it is fine for Ministers to use written ministerial statements even to deal with such highly controversial issues as retirement and the closure of magistrates courts in areas throughout the country, including Llwynypia in my constituency. He has just said that there will be a statement on something next week. Would it not have been better to include that in his opening announcement? Would it not be better for him to say that he knows that there will be a statement next week, so that it will be easier for us to scrutinise the Government?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The business statement does not normally include written statements. We can give prior notice of written ministerial statements, and I shall see whether that could be done in the instance that the hon. Gentleman has cited. However, we have not deviated from the policy on written ministerial statements that was adopted by the last Government, of whom he was a distinguished member.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

If the Leader of the House granted a debate on public sector cuts, I could inform him of my plans for alternative cuts. The Foreign Office recently admitted to me that the ministerial wine cellar was worth £860,000 a year, and that it had just spent nearly £18,000 on replenishing it after the election. However, it was less candid about what was held in the collection. Does the Leader of the House think that Ministers should tell me what is in it, and should we sell it so that we are "all in it together"?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I could have said that the Chief Secretary was not the only person who left the cupboard bare, and that the Government hospitality cellar had to be replenished when we came to office; but I will not.

It says here: "The Government hospitality cellar is a carefully managed resource that is integral to the service delivered by Government hospitality for all Government Departments. Expenditure since the election has been part of the normal buying pattern for the cellar, on which between £80,000 and £100,000 is spent per annum."

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

When will the Leader of the House announce measures to make good his party's excellent manifesto commitment based on the Illegally Logged Timber (Prohibition of Sale and Distribution) Bill, which I presented as a ten-minute Bill? The party made that commitment in opposition. Will he also tell us whether the rumour that responsibility for it has been passed from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Department for Energy and Climate Change is correct?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

I would require notice of the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but he has raised an important issue. There is a commitment, and it will be honoured.

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Photo of Mark Lazarowicz Mark Lazarowicz Labour, Edinburgh North and Leith

Given that there is plenty of time for general debates over the next few weeks, may we have an early oral ministerial statement on Equitable Life? Before the election the Government parties made lots of sympathetic noises to Equitable Life policyholders, but they are now increasingly concerned that they are about to be betrayed. May we have an early ministerial statement to reassure them that the promises made not just by the Government but by 380 Members of Parliament across the House are to be kept?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

This side of the House will accept no criticism from Opposition Members about the treatment of Equitable Life policyholders. We can do better than a statement: we will introduce a Bill.

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A pity that George Young was quite so 'short' with Mark Lazarowicz. Mr. Lazarowicz was after all one of few Labour M.P.s...

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Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Yesterday in Parliament the Prime Minister said, in regard to employment, that the Government would

"introduce our work programme, which will be the biggest, boldest scheme in.... history".-[ Hansard, 23 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 288.]

Unemployment in my constituency is almost 12%. The Labour Government's future jobs fund has been a tremendous success, creating nearly 500 jobs, but when will we have a proper debate? When will we have further discussion and much more information about this important subject?

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Photo of George Young George Young The Leader of the House of Commons

The short answer is "on Monday". My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will lead Monday's debate on the Budget, and will focus on that subject.

The future jobs programme was expensive in comparison with other programmes. It found relatively short-term jobs paying relatively low wages. We believe that we can do much better than that.

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