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The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
After a week in which the Government have made it clear that while they will act to make it easier for people at work to be sacked, they will not act on bankers' bonuses-as we have just heard-thereby breaking a pledge on the very first page of the coalition agreement, may we have a debate on "all in it togetherness" so that the House can discuss just how let down by this Government the British people feel?
On Monday, the Leader of the Opposition proposed that last year's bonus tax, which raised more money than the Government's levy, be applied again. On Tuesday, the Chancellor, in what was a truly dismal performance at the Dispatch Box-it was all waffle and wind-had nothing to say about what will actually be done to tackle unacceptable bonuses. Therefore, as the Chancellor is not up to the job, and as the Deputy Prime Minister is not much better-his contribution this week was to ask banks to be
"sensitive to the public mood"- may we have a statement from the Prime Minister? After all, it was he who made an unequivocal pledge that if bankers
"decide to pay themselves big bonuses...they should know" that a Conservative Government will step in. He also promised that in banks where the taxpayer has a large stake, no cash bonus would be more than £2,000. Yet yesterday we learned that the boss of Lloyds-which has a 41% taxpayer stake-is in line for a bonus not of £2,000 but of £2 million. What is going to be done about this? What is the Prime Minister waiting for? When is he going to act?
Surely it cannot be that the Prime Minister is afraid about the use of nuclear weapons. I do not mean to start the year on a downbeat note but, as we know, just before Christmas the Business Secretary, who has now left the Chamber, revealed that being in the coalition was like fighting a war:
"They know I have nuclear weapons, but I don't have any conventional weapons. If they push me too far then I can walk out of the Government and bring the Government down."
Of course we on the Opposition Benches wish the Business Secretary every success in this endeavour, but it does not say much for the unity of the coalition.
On which subject, the Business Secretary also had this to say-same interview, same bogus constituents-about broken promises:
"They"- he is referring to his Cabinet colleagues-
"made a pledge not to do anything about universal child benefit. Cameron had personally pledged not to do it, so they had to bite this bullet...they haven't yet done winter fuel payments, but that's coming, I think."
May we have a statement to confirm whether the Business Secretary was right in inadvertently telling pensioners that a reduction in their winter fuel payments is coming?
As we know, the main consequence of the Business Secretary's comments on the other war he has been engaged in-the one with Rupert Murdoch-was that his responsibilities for media and broadcasting policy were instantly taken away from him. Yet as we have just heard, getting on for a month later there has still been no detailed statement clarifying exactly what areas of policy and which staff have been moved. One result, as you heard earlier this week, Mr Speaker, is that the Table Office is unsure where questions should be directed. This is clearly unsatisfactory and unacceptable, so will the Leader tell us when we can expect a statement on who is responsible for what?
The latest broken pledge is on VAT. It went up to 20% last week, even though before the election the Prime Minister could not have been clearer when he told the British people:
"Our plans don't involve an increase in VAT."
May we therefore have a debate on why-first it was education maintenance allowance, then it was child benefit, then it was top-down reorganisation of the NHS, then it was tuition fees, then it was cuts to front-line services, and now it is VAT-the Government have broken one promise after another? Is it any wonder that public confidence in the Government is draining away, because they cannot keep their word, their members are at war with each other, and they cannot find the bottle to deal with the banks?
Finally, as it is the new year, on a consensual note, will the Leader of the House tell the House whether the Government plan to make a submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority consultation?
May I begin by reciprocating the right hon. Gentleman's very good wishes for the new year, and join him in extending those to you, Mr Speaker, and the whole of the House?
We will take no lectures from the Opposition about the banks, because the regime that is currently operating is the one we inherited from them. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who signed the contract with RBS, obliging it to pay market-based bonuses this year. We regard that framework as wholly unsatisfactory and so we are changing it. We have introduced the most stringent code of practice for any financial centre in the world; we have replaced Labour's one-off tax on bonuses with a permanent levy on the banks; and, as he will have heard from the Chancellor on Tuesday, we are looking for a fresh settlement with the banks on bonuses, on lending and on transparency. With us nothing is off the table; with the Opposition there is nothing on the table. The shadow Chancellor gave a dismal performance on Tuesday, failing to mention the initiative announced on Monday by his leader: the wish for a permanent tax on the bonuses. That did not feature, in any way, in the shadow Chancellor's response. Is this evidence of a further rift between the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition?
The second point made by the shadow Leader of the House related to the secret taping of Liberal Democrat Members, and I think that Members on both sides of the House should be concerned about the tactics that were used. I think that journalists posing as constituents, raising fictitious cases with MPs and taping them without their knowledge all risks prejudicing the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituent at his advice bureau. [Interruption.] This does not seem to me to be responsible journalism -[ Interruption .]
On the substance of the stories, what was reported and what the shadow Leader of the House just mentioned were absolutely nothing compared with what Labour politicians have been saying about their colleagues behind their backs over the past 10 years. Indeed, just before Christmas it was reported that a Labour insider had said:
Whatever my colleagues said to The Daily Telegraph, at least there were no death threats.
We are committed to making winter fuel payments. On the machinery of government, I believe that the shadow Leader of the House was in the Chamber to hear the Business Secretary answer that specific question. The answer is that the details of the change will be set out to Parliament in the usual way and in full.
"ultimately we made no hard commitment on VAT. That was partly the traditional caution of governments, wanting to keep options open."
"The advantage of VAT is it brings in a lot of money. It would have allowed you to have done you know a lot to take down the deficit".
So it ill behoves Labour Members to criticise us for what we have done on VAT.
May we have a statement on the Government's plans, contained in the coalition agreement, to allow petitions with more than 100,000 names to be debated in this House?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House that the coalition agreement contains that commitment to introduce e-petitions, with those that reach a certain level-100,000 names-becoming eligible for a debate in the House. That is an important step in building a bigger and stronger bridge between this House and those we represent. I have already had some informal discussions with the Procedure Committee about this and I will have further discussions, both with that Committee and with the Backbench Business Committee. I think that this would be a very appropriate subject for the House to debate, if it wished to do so.
May we have a debate in Government time on the Government's proposals to close coastguard stations across the United Kingdom? This approach goes against the grain of localism. This centralisation has the potential to put lives at risk and to do away with local expertise, so may we have an urgent debate on it?
I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, which I know is shared by others and which was raised at Prime Minister's questions yesterday. I shall draw his concern to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, who has responsibility for this matter. It might be an appropriate subject on which the hon. Gentleman can seek an Adjournment debate.
This Government have put Parliament first much more than any previous Administration. Select Committees are elected, the Chairmen of Select Committees are elected, we have the Backbench Business Committee and Conservative Members have free votes in Committee. The one thing that is still causing some concern is programme motions, which would be resolved by having the House business committee. What progress is there towards that?
We made a commitment that the previous Government refused to make, namely to introduce a House business committee within three years of this Parliament. I want to evaluate the work of the Backbench Business Committee at the end of its first year and then to take forward the discussions on how we might roll that into a House business committee that would embrace both the Backbench Business Committee and the Government business managers.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport on readiness for future spells of severe cold weather, snow and ice? We had the report from David Quarmby, published on
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will know that the Secretary of State made a statement just before we rose for the Christmas recess. The country is, I think, in a much more resilient position this winter than in the past couple of years, but we are not complacent. The Secretary of State, in a written statement on
The Government say that they wish to help disabled people back into work. May we have a debate to contrast the rhetoric with the reality? It is quite clear to me that those who are responsible for the disability living allowance and for Motability and those who conduct tribunals-such as the judge in one such case in Colchester-can show a lack of compassion, understanding and common sense. I have a constituent who will lose his job next week. Mr Robert Oxley is a married man with four children who lost the use of both legs in a motorcycle accident but is no longer deemed to be a suitable person to have a Motablity car. He will thus lose his job, and the burden on the financial purse-you know this, Mr Speaker, because I have given you the details-will be greater than the cost of keeping him in work. May we have a debate to discuss such cases?
I will certainly be happy to raise with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the specific instance that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I think we are still operating the regime that we inherited- I do not think the changes have yet been made. When we propose changes to the DLA, that will require primary legislation and will lead to an opportunity for debate in this House.
This morning, the Secretary of State for Justice announced the first prison closure programme since the second world war. He briefed the press before he made his written ministerial statement and that briefing took place only 24 hours after Justice oral questions. That follows the Ministry of Justice's failure to make a statement on the prison riots. These are important matters. Will the Leader of the House encourage his colleagues in that Department not to be quite so evasive?
My right hon. and learned Friend was at this Dispatch Box on Tuesday, answering questions on behalf of his Department. He issued a written statement, to which the hon. Lady referred, on closing three prisons, one of which is a 13th century castle, and set out the reasons why. I very much regret that that written ministerial statement may have leaked to one particular paper. My right hon. and learned Friend set out the reasons why the closures were the right thing to do, referred to the increased capacity that is coming on stream and confirmed that there is the capacity, even with these closures, to cope with those likely to be sentenced by the courts.
Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate about the continued plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka? It is not only about the oppression they have experienced; they now have to take into the account the floods that have hit the country.
I very much welcome the work that my hon. Friend does in this respect. We have encouraged the Sri Lankans to ensure that the lessons learned and reconciliation commission produces recommendations that address all the past allegations to which my hon. Friend refers and encourages all communities in Sri Lanka to live peacefully together.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or debate on today's announcement about charging those who use the Child Support Agency? Members across the House will have had experience of constituents who have been affected by that shocking agency, which has targeted those in regular work, done little about those who evade their responsibilities and been shockingly inefficient in its handling of cases. To charge for that service would be a stealth tax and would add insult to injury.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman recognises that the written ministerial statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Maria Miller, put out this morning takes forward work started by the previous Government to move work away from the failed CSA and to promote conciliation. The Green Paper is a consultative document, and at the end of her written ministerial statement, my hon. Friend states:
"I welcome your contribution to this important piece of reform to the Child Maintenance system."
I encourage all those who have opinions on what the Government suggest to take the opportunity to respond to the consultation document.
May we have an urgent debate on the state of Britain's roads? After the parlous weather we have had for the past three years, the potholes and the state of road surfaces in heavily utilised areas such as mine around St Albans are an absolute disgrace because of the historical underinvestment.
Some roads will be Highways Agency roads but others will be the responsibility of the county council. There is a debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall on the consequences of the comprehensive spending review on local government; my hon. Friend might have an opportunity to take part in that debate and raise her concerns with the relevant Minister.
Yesterday morning, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued a press release notifying us for the first time that the H1N1 influenza virus had been found in poultry in the United Kingdom, but no announcement has been made to the House through either written or oral statement, and nor has the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs been notified of this very serious matter. Will the Leader of the House make urgent inquiries to find out why the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not respect the House?
May we have a statement on civil unrest in Tunisia and Algeria? The Maghreb now counts as our near abroad and there are worrying signs that al-Qaeda and its spin-offs and fellow travellers are profiting from the current dire situation, which has clear implications for the United Kingdom.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I cannot promise him an immediate debate but there will be an opportunity on
Does the Leader of the House agree that we ought to have a debate on the misuse of council tax payers' money by council leaders such as Mike Whitby in Birmingham? He forced Birmingham taxpayers to pay a bill of more than £3,500 for his accommodation, meals and a rather large drinks bill during a five-day binge at the Tory party conference in 2008. Should we not have an urgent debate on that misuse of public money?
I have to say that that is a game that more than one party can play. I hope the hon. Gentleman will support what we are doing to promote transparency in local government expenditure and to oblige local government to report all details of expenditure. We believe that that transparency will reduce any abuse by any party of local government expenditure.
Given that Air Southwest, which is now owned by Eastern Airways, has this week decided to close the vital air link between Plymouth Newquay and London Gatwick, with no consultation with the local community, may we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on the coalition's strategy on regional airports? Is it not right that Eastern Airways should discuss the decision with the local community, because the link is a hugely strategic one?
Very large machinery of Government changes were announced before Christmas, but this morning the Business Secretary could not tell the House which areas of policy he was responsible for. It is not unreasonable to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on those changes, not least because the Select Committee on which I sit does not know what work to scrutinise and for which areas it is responsible.
Is it possible for the House to debate the lamentable value for money of commuter rail services provided by Southeastern? Its fares have just risen by a higher rate than any other operator in the country to the outrage of my constituents in Orpington and doubtless those of many other MPs in the franchise region.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern on behalf of his constituents. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Transport on
May we have a debate on the overall impact of Government policy on disabled people and their families? Some constituents came to see me last Friday, very concerned about a range of policies on employment, benefits, social care and local authority services. Will the Leader of the House consider which of his Front-Bench colleagues could respond on behalf of the whole Government to reflect the cumulative impact of the changes on disabled people and on those who care for and love them?
I understand the hon. Lady's concern. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Maria Miller, has overall responsibility for disability, but we have put an extra £2 billion into social care between now and 2014-15 and it strikes me that the subject that the hon. Lady raises is suitable for a Back-Bench debate. The next time the Backbench Business Committee holds one of its Monday sessions, she might like to go along with colleagues and put in a bid for such a debate, which I think would be broadly welcomed on both sides of the House.
Now that the country has been pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy, may we have a debate on the bank bail-outs? Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency are asking me why, at the pivotal moment when we bailed out the banks, we did not get them to agree to lend to small and medium-sized businesses.
This specific issue was addressed in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's statement on Tuesday. He made it clear that in the discussions we are having with the banks there have to be verifiable increases in bank lending over and above what they would otherwise have lent. The Opposition failed to secure that assurance when they were in government, but we are determined to secure it because it is vital in promoting growth and prosperity.
May we have a debate on schools funding, particularly the application of the much-trumpeted pupil premium, given that figures published by today's Financial Times show that in the south-west of England nearly 90% of pupils will see their school's funding cut? That is completely contrary to the promises made by Ministers.
I reject the assertion that any promises made by Ministers have been broken, but I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's assertions to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary and invite him to rebut them in a letter as quickly as possible.
May we have a debate in Government time on black holes? My constituents were extremely alarmed to hear in the media during the recess about almost £20 billion of unfunded tax cuts promised by the Leader of the Opposition.
I would welcome such a debate. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has looked at The Times or The Guardian today, but apparently at a meeting of the shadow Cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition at last recognised that they had been in deficit denial and they decided to abandon such a policy. I hope that we can have a debate on the black hole and welcome the fact that the Labour party, which was responsible for the black hole, now recognises that. Labour will have no credibility at all until it comes up with some proposals for dealing with it.
Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on the future of the financial inclusion fund and the wider issue of funding for citizens advice bureaux? The citizens advice bureau in the city of Wolverhampton does a fantastic job, and I am sure bureaux do so in the constituencies of right hon. and hon. Members across the House. Does he accept that it is perverse to be cutting funds to citizens advice bureaux for advice on debt relief and financial management at the same time as the Government are making wider cuts in benefits that are driving more people to seek the advice for which they are cutting the funding?
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not have an opportunity to put that question during BIS questions, when it would have been appropriately dealt with. I pay tribute to the work of the CABs, as all hon. Members do, and I hope that, as local authorities make difficult decisions, they will try to do their best to preserve the funding of CABs, to which people look at a time of recession and real problems of hardship. A £100 million fund is available to help certain charities, and I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has thought of applying to that.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the proposed closure of those homes. The responsibility, of course, rests with Kent county council. I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend at the appropriate Department, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend might seek an Adjournment debate so that the issue may be given more attention.
May we have a statement on the Government's final position on control orders? I understand that that went to Cabinet on Tuesday. It was then reported by the BBC and newspapers. Indeed, they have got the name of the order that will replace the control order; it will be called the surveillance order. The Home Affairs Committee is currently investigating those important issues, and it would be helpful if the Home Secretary came to the House and gave a statement. There is business next week on the Home Office side. Perhaps she could make the statement next week.
These are important and controversial issues, and I welcome the work that the right hon. Gentleman's Select Committee has been doing on them. The review of security powers is ongoing; it has not been completed. The Home Secretary will make a statement to the House once it is completed, and I expect that statement to be made in the week commencing
In the light of Lord Adonis's comments supporting the principle that all schools should be able to become academies, may we have a debate on the progress of the Government's academies programme, as that would, among other things, give Opposition Front Benchers the chance to join the growing coalition in favour of school reform?
"Neither I nor Tony Blair believed that academies should be restricted to areas with failing schools. We wanted all schools to be eligible for academy status, and we were enthusiastic about the idea of entirely new schools being established on the academy model, as in Michael Gove's Free Schools policy."
So there is a growing consensus, and I hope that it might include Opposition Front Benchers at some point.
I note that the Leader of the House and I have similar tastes in ties and shirts, and I hope that he is equally agreeable to my request. This morning, The Times has reported that France is suggesting that Britain ought to help to save the euro-a thesis that I do not accept. It has also been suggested that the continuation of the euro would be beneficial for Britain-another thesis that I do not accept. I am sure that I speak for many other Members. May we have a debate on those important matters in the near future?
They are important matters, and any responsibility for the choice of tie rests with my wife rather than me-a very tasteful lady.
On the substantive question, an important meeting is taking place as we speak with the French Prime Minister. My understanding is that, at 1 o'clock, there will be a joint press conference, where I have no doubt that the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised will be put and an answer given.
That is an excellent idea. The Government have no plan to do so, but it might be a suitable subject for a Backbench debate. Many encouraging export orders have been made over the Christmas recess-some from China and many in the aerospace arena-and Sainsbury's made a commitment on Monday to create another 20,000 jobs, but I agree that we must do all that we can to promote export-led growth. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the newly appointed Minister for Trade will attack that task with vigour.
Why has the statement about the responsibilities that are being transferred from BIS not yet been made? Will the Leader of the House arrange for that to be done immediately? The Secretary of State was de-bagged on the last day of term. It has now been nearly a month since that change was announced. Is some sort of wrestling match going on behind the scenes over his residual responsibilities?
Some details need to be finalised. The hon. Gentleman will know that all responsibility for competition and policy issues that relate to the media, broadcasting, digital and telecoms sectors has been transferred to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and that includes full responsibility for Ofcom's activities in those areas. The Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr Vaizey will be the Minister responsible for the digital economy. As I have said before, the details of those changes will be laid before the House in a written ministerial statement very shortly.
Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for an urgent statement on the use of Government press cutting services? From answers to written questions, we know that the last Government spent £12 million in the past five years on press cutting services alone. Does he not agree that that is an obscene waste of money and that the use of press cuttings in Departments should stop immediately?
We should certainly seek to reduce the cost of politics. As my hon. Friend knows, we are reducing the overheads of government. I am sure that we will look critically at the amount of money spent by the last Government on the press cutting service to find out whether worthwhile economies, such as those that he proposes, can be made.
On exactly the same point, will the right hon. Gentleman look very carefully at the waste of money incurred in the inaccurate answering of written questions by Ministers? In column 29W this week, the Minister responsible for shipping so inaccurately answered a question that I posed about marine safety that our friends in Hansard catalogued it under aviation. That is an absurd waste of money, and it will require me to ask further questions, incurring further cost to the public purse.
I very much regret any discourtesy that was extended to the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that it was unintentional. Ministers at the Dispatch Box do their best to give accurate answers. Occasionally, amendments have to be made, and I am afraid that that has been the case with all Administrations.
Now that the Prime Minister has indicated that a decision will be taken by
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important that the review that IPSA has announced takes place. Those who have issues with IPSA should take part in that review and communicate their suggestions for change. It will then be a matter for the House to decide whether IPSA's proposed changes meet the requirements of the resolution that the House adopted unanimously in December. My hope is that IPSA understands the concern in the House about the current regime, reforms itself and makes proposals that meet the anxieties that my hon. Friend and many others have expressed. That would be an ideal solution, and it would be premature at the moment to look at plan B.
May we have a clarifying statement from the Prime Minister on the royal wedding bank holiday? Everyone is looking forward to that joyous occasion, royalists and republicans alike, but the Library has issued a worrying note saying that employers do not have to give the day off and can dock pay or insist that a day is taken off from the summer holiday of their staff. We need clarification from the PM to make it clear to employers: let the people celebrate on
I entirely agree. I do not know what influence the right hon. Gentleman has with Mr Crow, but the latter's level of enthusiasm for the royal wedding is apparently somewhat different from the right hon. Gentleman's. It is not absolutely clear whether, if the RMT went ahead with its proposals, people would be able to get to work if they wanted to. If there is a need for clarity, I am sure that clarity will be produced.
May I echo the call of the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on bank bonuses? My constituents are enraged that Fred Goodwin got £15 million in bonuses, that knighthoods were thrown about like confetti, and that bank bail-outs encouraged excessive bonuses for the fat cats. We need a change in policy from "everyone out for themselves" and "up with the fat cats," to more "all in it together."
I applaud my hon. Friend's sentiments. He was probably in the House when the Chancellor made his statement suggesting a very robust negotiating position with the banks. The Chancellor also indicated during questions and answers that he would want to report back to the House once those negotiations had been completed.
Following on from the previous question, I understand that the Government's ongoing talks with the five biggest banks on bankers' bonuses is ironically called Project Merlin. Is that because Standard Chartered bank has already disappeared from the talks, and Santander is likely to vanish from them, too? Will the Leader of the House pull a rabbit out of the hat and facilitate an urgent debate on bankers' bonuses, and everybody else can then fill in their own puns?
I shall see whether I can produce a sword from a stone. We are talking about negotiations and discussions that should have taken place some time ago, when the taxpayer was helping the banks, but they did not take place then. We are now-belatedly, because of the inaction of the previous Government-trying to make sure that taxpayers get value for money for the investment in the banks. As I said a few moments ago, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement about the talks on Tuesday, and he indicated that he would want to keep the House in the picture when they were concluded.
Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time to discuss the impact of two recent resignations from the NHS in London, namely that of the chief executive officer of NHS North Central London and that of the CEO of my constituency hospital, Chase Farm, this week? Both were actively pursuing the previous Government's policy of introducing unwelcome reconfiguration. The House would then have the opportunity to discuss the impact of those proposals and kick them out.
I read out a few moments ago the words on the piece of paper in front of me that indicates where the responsibility rests. There will be a full written ministerial statement in due course, which I hope will answer the right hon. Gentleman's question.
In view of the fact that the Government's key challenge and objective was to save Britain from the brink of bankruptcy, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that the House can consider the progress made in reducing the structural deficit, following the mess left by the previous Administration?
I would welcome such a debate. At the Budget, there will be an opportunity for several days' debate on the Government's economic policy. I share my hon. Friend's welcome of the fact that we are no longer on the brink of bankruptcy, of the fact that our credit rating has been restored, and of the fact that we are not in the same position as some other countries that have not taken the action that we have taken to reduce the deficit.
Could we have a debate on the eligibility of council employees to stand for public office? In an increasingly unitary local government framework, does it make any sense to continue to disqualify lollipop ladies and classroom assistants from standing for election to their local councils? Should we not encourage public service by making those people eligible to be councillors?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have introduced the Localism Bill. There may be an opportunity, as that Bill goes through the House, to have a debate on eligibility to be a local councillor, to see whether we can remove disqualifications for which there are no apparent reasons.
This week, the outgoing Dutch member of the EU Court of Auditors criticised the watchdog for its "cover-up culture", "Kremlin-style" misinformation, and watering-down of criticism of financial abuse. May we have a statement from Ministers on what is being done to tackle endemic fraud at the EU?
I understand my hon. Friend's concern. Any level of fraud in the EU budget is wholly unacceptable. We recognise that major improvements need to be made to financial arrangements within the EU. We continue to support the work of the European Court of Auditors and to highlight the importance of independent scrutiny of the EU's accounts.
I realise that there is an Opposition day debate next week on the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, but does the Leader of the House not think that it should be held in Government time? Does he not think it extraordinary that such a far-reaching change has not even been the subject of a ministerial statement?
I do not accept the proposition that the debate should be held in Government time. The whole point of having Opposition days is that the Opposition can choose a subject for debate about which they have an issue with what the Government are doing. That is what they have done. The Government will respond to the debate on Wednesday, explaining why we believe that the EMA had a lot of dead-weight associated with it and was not well targeted, and that the regime that we plan to introduce in the autumn will make better use of the funds available.
My hon. Friend refers to a case, initiated by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, that is shortly to go to the High Court. The Government's view is that, under present legislation, what the BPAS wants to do would be illegal; that is why we are resisting the application. The final decision will rest with the courts.
The rising cost of home heating oil is causing significant worry to householders and small businesses across north Yorkshire. May we have a debate on what pressure the Government could bring to bear on oil companies, which appear to have taken advantage of the very poor weather in recent months?
Many Members with rural constituencies will have had representations, as I am sure my hon. Friend has, about the high cost of oil over the Christmas holidays. I believe that the matter is being taken up with the Office of Fair Trading, to see whether there is a case for investigation, but I will ask the relevant Secretary of State to write to my hon. Friend, outlining the action that the Government are taking to make sure that consumers are not ripped off.
May we have a debate on opening up Network Rail to full scrutiny by the National Audit Office? Due to the bizarre legal entity set up by the previous Prime Minister, it stands to report to a small number of members, including train companies, and answers directly neither to Parliament nor to company shareholders.
The governance of Network Rail is an extraordinary constitution, and of course it is right that it should be exposed to full audit. I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport whether we have any proposals to change the governance of Network Rail that may solve the problem, or if we have not, whether we have any other proposals to make sure that its accounts are looked at properly.
Will my right hon. Friend ask the Chancellor to make a statement about the number of representations that he has received calling for an increase in employers' national insurance contributions, and incidentally, will he tell us how many have been made from people in Hull?
As my hon. Friend knows, we took the view that the last thing the country needed at this time was an increase in national insurance employer contributions, and that was the right decision to take. As to whether the shadow Chancellor is at one with the rest of the shadow Cabinet on the subject, I do not know, but I hope that he will welcome any increase in employment in his constituency as a result of the actions that we took.
Order. I am advised that Mark Pritchard came into the Chamber well after the statement by the Leader of the House, and it is for that reason that I did not call him to ask a question. I say to Ian Lucas that we will come to points of order, but not before we have dealt with the application for a debate under