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The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Given what we have just heard from the Minister for Immigration, will the Leader of the House please consider bringing forward the Home Secretary's statement to Monday, as has been suggested on both sides of the House.
The Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill really cannot come soon enough, because it has not been a very good week for the Government's NHS reforms, has it? On Monday, the Prime Minister was completely unable to explain why spending billions of pounds on turning everything upside down will actually help patients, especially when, as John Humphrys helpfully pointed out, we have seen big improvements over the past 13 years. On Tuesday, the Health Committee called the changes "disruptive", stating that they were creating "widespread uncertainty" and had taken the NHS by surprise. Could that be because the Prime Minister assured people before the election, when he was going around the country making promises as opposed to breaking them, that there would be no top-down reorganisation?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not answer a very simple question from the Leader of the Opposition. Three times he was asked to confirm that waiting times for NHS patients would not rise as a result of what he is doing, and three times he failed to do so. This is very strange. If all the upheaval really is about a better deal for patients, why can the Prime Minister not make that simple promise? Is not the truth that he just knows he cannot do so, because the Health Secretary took his colleagues by surprise with his plans, and the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, Mr Letwin, has to be brought in because No. 10 got the jitters. It is the same old story: the Tories in charge of the NHS spells trouble. Is that why the Education Secretary yesterday told people from the Dispatch Box to vote Liberal Democrat?
Moving on to another broken promise-namely, that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden-may we have a debate on the plan to take the mobility component of disability living allowance away from people living in care homes? When the Prime Minister was asked about this last week, he said that
"there should be a similar approach for people who are in hospital and for people who are in residential care homes."-[ Hansard, 12 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 282.]
That reply shows exactly why the Prime Minister does not get it. The right comparison for people in care homes is not with those who are in hospital, who do not plan to live there, but with those living in their own homes, and they will continue to get help with their mobility. The Government will have to change their mind on that issue, just as they had to on school sport and are in the process of doing on prisoners voting. It is wrong, it is unfair and it hits those whose shoulders cannot be described as the broadest, and, when those people find out that their current support, which enables them to go to the shops, to church, or to see friends and family, is being taken by the Prime Minister, there will be outrage.
Talking of which, may we also have a debate on the plans to sell off the nation's much loved woodlands and forests? The last time the Tories were in office, that is exactly what they did, and they are at it again-only this time with Liberal Democrat support. Now, that is very strange, too, because visitors to the Scottish Lib Dem website can find a page opposing the sale of forests. There is a photo on it of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, looking very stern and holding a placard that says "Save our Forests".
In case Members are somewhat puzzled, it seems that the Chief Secretary is passionately opposed to selling off forests in Scotland but wholly in favour of the sale of forests in England. If there is one thing that is even worse than breaking one's promise, it is saying one thing in one place and the exact opposite in another-but as all of us know, the Lib Dems are world-class at that. I know that the Leader of the House will agree to my request for a debate, because he supports the procedure whereby petitions with more than 100,000 signatures trigger a debate in Parliament. So if I tell him that the petition opposing the sale of our forests has 160,000 names on it, and it does, can he tell us on what date that debate will take place?
Topical questions have been very effective in helping to hold Ministers to account. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should extend them to those Departments that still do not have them?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points that he makes. He asks for a debate on the Health and Social Care Bill, and he is getting one, as I have just announced, so all the issues that he has just raised can be dealt with then. We made a commitment, which his party did not, to spend more on the NHS, and we are reforming it to put more resources into front-line services. Against that background, the prospects for those on waiting lists or those concerned about waiting times are better under this Administration than they would have been had his party been elected.
The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on disability living allowance, and I recognise the concerns about that. He can have a debate about DLA: again, I announced that there would be a debate on an Opposition motion the week after next, so he can choose to debate DLA. I recognise the concern, but I hope he accepts that there are complicated issues. There are contractual obligations on certain care homes to make provision for some elements of mobility; some local authorities have requirements as part of their contracts with care homes to make provision for mobility; and people in residential homes are by and large sponsored by social services, but some are sponsored by the NHS, so different conditions apply. On the broader issue, we are consulting to see how the specific provisions on DLA will be introduced, and primary legislation will be necessary to make any changes to its mobility component.
Under the previous regime the Forestry Commission sold many thousands of acres without any requirements at all, but if the current proposals go through there will be specific requirements on those who acquire assets from the national forest to continue to make provision for access and other concerns-requirements that do not apply at the moment. So making transfers from the Forestry Commission to other owners will not have the adverse consequences that the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
We had an exchange on petitions that achieve a certain number of signatures, which my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House answered. If the trigger is reached and a petition hits the 100,000 mark, it becomes eligible for a debate, and its future is then decided by Natascha Engel, who is in her place.
I have a lot of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's point about a topical slot for those Departments with 30-minute Question Times: the Department for International Development and, I think, those for Scotland and Wales.
And Northern Ireland. I take that point seriously, so I shall have discussions through the usual channels to see whether we can make some progress.
The women's day debate is important. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Wright Committee's recommendations, he will see that the issue falls to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire and her Backbench Business Committee. He is perfectly entitled to go along at 4 pm or whenever it is to make a pitch for a debate on women's day. It will certainly have my support.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Ordinarily, as the House knows, I seek to accommodate everybody at business questions, but that might not prove possible today, with heavy pressure on time and very well subscribed Backbench Business Committee-led debates, so I emphasise that there is a premium on single, short supplementary questions without preamble, and on the Leader of the House's characteristically brief replies.
Following the Leader of the House's written statement this morning, might I respectfully suggest to him that, just for once on MPs' pay and conditions, he tries to be wise before the event? Regaining the trust of the general public after the calamitous expenses scandal requires that this House abides in full by the independent reviews, come rain or shine.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It will be for the House to decide whether to go ahead with the 1% pay increase that has come about through the machinery that was set up in 2008. The coalition Government have made their position on public sector pay very clear: we think that there should be a two-year pay freeze; that unless one earns less than £21,000 a freeze is a freeze; and that for those who earn under £21,000 the increase should amount to £250. Members earn substantially more than £21,000, and I believe that the House will want to reflect very carefully before it takes a 1% pay increase against the background of the restraint that many other people, earning much less than we do, have to face over the next two years. So I hope the House will come to a collective view when the motion is laid and agree that it is right for Members to exercise restraint for the time being.
I do not believe there is that conflict of interest. The people who will benefit from the private sector's greater involvement in the NHS are the patients, because they will have access to services at a competitive price, and we will get better value for money from the NHS. The hon. Gentleman will know that under the previous Administration intermediate treatment centres were parachuted into the NHS without its being able to compete on a level playing field, so I strongly rebut his allegation.
May we have a statement on the 50 written ministerial statements made so far in 2011? During that time, I believe there have been only two oral statements, fewer in fact than the number of urgent questions you have afforded, Mr Speaker. In that statement, will the Leader of the House endorse my suggestion at the recent Procedure Committee inquiry that MPs should be able to force timely further scrutiny of written ministerial statements either here on in Westminster Hall?
This Administration are making roughly 50% more ministerial statements than the preceding Administration. Indeed, we were criticised for bringing forward a ministerial statement yesterday, so it is difficult to strike the right balance. The hon. Gentleman refers to work by the Procedure Committee, which is looking at ministerial statements. This Administration are always anxious to come to the House to make statements, but we have to take into account the business that follows, as Mr Speaker has just mentioned, and get the right balance between time for statements and time for debates about Opposition motions, Back-Bench motions or other legislative proposals.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the Treasury on the future of the business mileage car fuel allowance, which has remained unchanged for many years despite the massive increase in fuel prices? It results in many people who are remunerated only on the statutory scale being out of pocket for just doing their job.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Without promising a debate, I can say to him that I will raise the matter with my ministerial colleagues who have this responsibility, ask them if they are satisfied that we have the balance right, and then write to him.
There will be an opportunity to cross-examine my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on
On written ministerial statements, will the Leader of the House take note of the fact that today the European Scrutiny Committee has issued its report on the referendum issues under the European Union Bill? The ministerial statement issued today by the Minister for Europe covers ground relating to these issues in the Bill, and it would have been far better to have made an oral statement and not to set a pattern for future ministerial statements that are bound to lead to a whole series of urgent questions as and when these matters are raised.
My hon. Friend may have seen on the Order Paper that the Government have allocated an extra day to debate the Bill, in which he is taking a very close interest. He may have an opportunity during its passage to raise the specific issues that he mentions. On his request for more oral statements, I repeat that the Government have to balance the need for the House to know what Ministers are up to with the need for the House to make progress on the business that has been set out for the day.
I well remember the exchange that I had with the hon. Gentleman last week, when I think I apologised for any discourtesy. I will make urgent inquiries today and ensure that he is put in the picture. I am sorry if he has not heard anything between last week and today.
Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the Public Accounts Committee report when it is published, particularly following the evidence given yesterday by Sir Nicholas Macpherson that under the previous Government spending across a range of Departments was out of control? That would give the House the opportunity to hear how the Government are going to fix the problem and give the Opposition an opportunity to apologise for the mess they made.
I am sure that many hon. Members share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. Yesterday the PAC was told:
"There was a point in the last decade when the Ministry of Defence lost control of public spending...We put Defence on special measures."
I think that that loss of control explains why we are facing such a huge financial deficit. I welcome the publication of the PAC's report on this important matter, and I hope that it will be possible to find time to debate it.
Again, I am sorry if there has been any discourtesy to the hon. Lady. My understanding is that the Secretary of State has throughout acted on professional advice on all the issues relating to the advertising campaign. If there is an overdue parliamentary question, of course it will be pursued with vigour.
This Government continue to put Parliament first, with the election of Select Committee Chairmen, the Backbench Business Committee, free votes in Committee and the relaxation of programme motions. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on whether that could be extended slightly so that the Back-Bench business debate on votes for prisoners could be a free vote?
I welcome what my hon. Friend says about the progress being made by the coalition Government in strengthening Parliament and giving back some of the powers that it lost to the Executive. The forthcoming debate on parliamentary reform, which he chose, will be an opportunity to debate that issue. Of course, we are having a debate on votes for prisoners only because this Government did something that the previous Government refused to do-we set up the Backbench Business Committee and gave it the power to do this. The advice that Members from the coalition parties are given on how to dispose themselves when something comes to a vote is beyond my pay grade, but I am sure that the Chief Whip will be watching this on television as we speak.
I understand the concern of small businesses that find it difficult to manage if they are not quite sure how a relatively small number of staff might take their leave. There would be an opportunity to debate this in an Adjournment debate or to raise it at Business, Innovation and Skills questions. In any event, I will pass on my hon. Friend's concern to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and ask what measures are in place to ensure that undue burdens are not placed on small businesses.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the differential impact of Government cuts on police spending? Merseyside acquires 80% of its funding for its local police service from the Government, whereas Surrey gets only 50%, which means that Government cuts hit Merseyside much harder than Surrey. How can that be fair?
I believe I am right in saying that proportionate to its population Merseyside has more officers than almost any other part of the country. There will be an opportunity to debate this, because some time next month the House will have to debate and approve the police grant and the revenue support grant. That will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to raise the matter at greater length.
Huge problems are created for our police, health service and local communities by binge drinking fuelled by pocket money-priced alcohol in supermarkets. Given that there was huge disappointment on both sides of the House about the written statement on minimum pricing, will the Leader of the House agree to an oral statement so that we can share our disappointment with Ministers and persuade them to go further?
I understand my hon. Friend's concern. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is going through the House at the moment, and I ask rhetorically whether it contains measures relating to alcohol which it would be relevant to discuss when it comes back to the House. In the meantime, I will pass on his request for an oral statement and encourage him to find some other opportunity to have a debate on this very serious matter.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that last week, further to a point raised by Duncan Hames, I asked the Leader of the House about the failure of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to notify the House about H1N1 outbreaks, but I am yet to receive a response. I am sure that it is on his desk, so could he send it over to me as soon as possible?
I do recall our exchange last week, and my office did indeed contact DEFRA. I understand that DEFRA Ministers have responded to two of the hon. Gentleman's questions on the issue this week. I am also informed that because the strain of H1N1 that was detected was of a low pathogenicity, it was not a notifiable disease, so there was no written statement. However, DEFRA Ministers are writing to him, and I hope he will receive the letter today or tomorrow.
Although I welcome the announcement by Siemens this morning about potential jobs in Hull, it comes against the backdrop of huge job losses in the public and private sectors in Hull and the Humber. I also note the announcement this week that the employment rate in my constituency is 7.1%, against a national average of 3.6%. May we therefore have a debate on the regional nature and the gender nature of the job losses that we are seeing across the country?
There will be an opportunity if the hon. Lady's Front-Bench colleagues choose to debate the general issue of unemployment on the Opposition day that I announced a few minutes ago. We have, I hope, assisted the situation by abolishing the tax on jobs proposed by her party, which would not have assisted employment in Hull. We have doubled the enterprise allowance and have taken other measures to promote employment. She will have seen that there has been a rise in job vacancies and a fall in the number of people applying for jobseeker's allowance. I hope that we will have an opportunity to debate the Government's economic policy; we will in the Budget debate, if not before then in Back-Bench time or on an Opposition motion.
After a six-year campaign and a year-long public inquiry, the nightmare prospect of a container port on the edge of the New Forest was blocked. May we have a statement soon from a Defence Minister on the proposal to sell the freehold of land near Marchwood military port on Southampton Water, because my constituents are concerned that if Associated British Ports was the buyer of the freehold, that nightmare prospect of a container port would be revived?
I well remember my hon. Friend's vigorous campaign in earlier Parliaments on precisely this issue. As he said, it was announced in the strategic defence and security review that the Ministry of Defence intended to sell Marchwood sea mounting centre. Since then, no formal dialogue or negotiations have been entered into with any interested parties, including ABP. Work is at an early stage and the Government will engage relevant stakeholders, including, I am sure, my hon. Friend and the local residents whom he represents.
There will be an opportunity to discuss that issue in consideration of the Health and Social Care Bill. I am not sure that the practice is wholly unprecedented. I remember smart procurement in the MOD, which moved away from an adversarial process towards one of a more joint nature. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, during proceedings on the Health and Social Care Bill, to consider the responsibilities of GPs under the proposed GP commissioning and to raise the concern he has just touched on.
May we have a debate on the NHS? In my constituency, our hospital has been decimated and all but closed over the past decade. A new hospital has now been announced by a new Government, with the beds provided by GP commissioning. It is important that the House explore that issue and the ring-fencing of the NHS budget compared with the cuts proposed by the previous Government.
One way of stopping the complaints about announcements appearing in the press beforehand-this is a helpful suggestion-would be for the Leader of the House to announce the Government media grid at the same time as he announces the future business of the House on Thursdays. Just what is it on the Government media grid on Monday that means that the Home Secretary is refusing to grace us with her presence until next Wednesday?
[That this House expresses concern that NHS employees often cover a significant amount of the costs involved in travelling to carry out their daily duties, due to huge local variations in the expenses regime inherited from the previous Government; notes that employees in mental health services are particularly vulnerable due to a high level of travel in their profession; further notes that rising fuel costs have increased the burden on all staff who regularly travel; and urges the Government to review the current rates of reimbursement and to support the exemplary service NHS staff provide nationally.]
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate specifically on fuel costs for NHS workers? Last week, I visited the Derwent centre in Harlow, where medical workers told me of the huge fuel costs that they pay. Sometimes they receive as little as 12p per mile for work travel. Is there something that the Government can do to alleviate their situation?
I understand my hon. Friend's concern on behalf of those who are inadequately remunerated for their motoring costs. The NHS terms and conditions handbook contains provisions for the reimbursement of the cost of using a car for business purposes. If the staff in his constituency are not on national terms and conditions, the arrangements would have to be reviewed locally. I will bring his point to the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health.
May we have a debate on Tunisia, where a revolution is taking place that may be as hopeful as that of Polish Solidarity 30 years ago, or as disastrous as the one in Iran? I hope that the Leader of the House will not just refer me to Foreign Office questions, because we need time for more considered debate in this House. Foreign affairs are being squeezed gently out of the House of Commons review and debate remit. It is a bit of a problem if we are to become a House that discusses only what happens in the UK.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Foreign Secretary made a statement on Tunisia earlier this week, so it is not the case that the Government do not take that matter seriously. I understand that the vast majority of British nationals have now left Tunisia in line with the advice. The Foreign Secretary has called for a rapid return to law and order in that country. We welcome the efforts of the Tunisian authorities to hold elections as soon as possible, and we hope that those elections are free and fair. I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view that this House does not place adequate importance on foreign affairs, but it is of course open to the Backbench Business Committee, and indeed to him, to make a bid for specific subjects that it is thought deserve greater attention.
As I understand it, the debate is on parliamentary reform-it does not come much broader than that. I share my hon. Friend's concern about what is happening down the other end. When I came into this House some time ago, all the rough trade was down here, and down the other end there were non-partisan, short, focused debates in a revising Chamber. The rough trade now seems to have gone down the other end. The other place runs the risk of losing the moral high tone if its Members continue to proceed as they are.
I follow the call of Mr Foster for a debate on the minimum price of alcohol that was set by the Government this week. It was roundly condemned by health professionals as doing absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, the Liberals and Conservatives gang up with the Labour party in the Scottish Parliament to block the setting of meaningful minimum prices for Scotland. Why is there that discrepancy? Is it the case that Liberals and Conservatives are interested in minimum pricing only if it makes no difference to health and crime?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing the bid that has just been made. It is open to him to go to the Backbench Business Committee to ask for a specific debate on the minimum price of alcohol. He can then draw the comparisons between what happens in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and debate the proposals. In the light of the interest in this subject, the Backbench Business Committee might well find it a popular one.
I have attended debates in Westminster Hall and listened to my colleagues holding forth. I had planned to ask the Deputy Leader of the House, who is the world's greatest expert on parliamentary reform, to respond to the debate, but I will see if I can come along to listen to part of the proceedings.
The balance between security and liberty was incorrectly struck, so we need to reduce pre-charge detention powers from 28 to 14 days-so said the Minister for Immigration. He also said that the security threat is such that we need emergency powers in reserve for pre-charge detention at 28 days. That is a contradiction. Will the Leader of the House commit to put the request to the Home Secretary, made by Members on both sides of the House, that she make the statement on Monday before the emergency powers lapse, so that we can test the theory?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration made it clear that the powers would lapse on Monday, which was a clear statement of Government policy. He also said that we would put in the Library draft emergency legislation that would reach the statute book only if the House so approved. It seems to me that there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory about that at all. It is a sensible and balanced response to the twin imperatives to which Mr Watson referred.
I thank the Leader of the House and colleagues for their exemplary succinctness, which enabled us to get through everyone in a timely fashion.