Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:32 am on 17th March 2011.

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

The business for the week commencing 21 March will be:

Monday 21 March—Remaining stages of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords], followed by a motion relating to Members’ salaries.

Tuesday 22 March—Remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.

Wednesday 23 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 24 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

The provisional business for the week commencing 28 March will include:

Monday 28 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 29 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 30 March—Remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Day 1).

Thursday 31 March—Remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Day 2).

Friday 1 April—Private Members’ Bills.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his reply.

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in expressing our deep sorrow at the continuing suffering of the Japanese people as they seek to deal with the many disasters that have befallen them? Did he hear this morning’s report of protestors being fired on and killed in Bahrain, and will he join me in condemning that?

On Monday’s motion on the Senior Salaries Review Body report, will the Leader of the House indicate when he proposes to give effect to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority taking responsibility for MPs’ pay?

The humanitarian emergency response review is due to report shortly. May we have an oral statement from the International Development Secretary?

Two months ago I raised with the right hon. Gentleman the suggestion of extending topical questions to all Departments that do not currently have them. He said that he had a lot of sympathy with my proposal. Can he tell us when he plans to implement it?

It has been a very bad week for the Government’s NHS reforms, with revolting Lib Dems, 21 of whom failed to vote with the Government yesterday, angry doctors and Ministers reduced to pleading that their Bill has been misunderstood, a sure sign that they have lost the argument. Mind you, it takes a special kind of political genius to turn those whom they say they want to help—general practitioners—against them, so I have to hand it to the Secretary of State for Health. The more he talks about his Bill, the more he destroys public confidence in it.

Will the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government come to the House to explain why he decided to attend the recent meeting of the Young Britons’ Foundation, an organisation whose president has described the NHS as a 60-year mistake and whose chief executive has called for it to be scrapped? Was the Secretary of State there to pick up tips on how to destroy local government from people who want to destroy the NHS?

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on figures from his own Department that show that the housing benefit changes will leave 450,000 disabled people an average of £13 a week worse off? People are worried about having to leave their homes, which might have been specially adapted to their needs. What a waste of money. Can the Leader of the House reassure them that that will not happen?

Last week I raised Westminster city council’s odious new byelaw banning the distribution of free food to the homeless. Now we discover that the council has an accomplice: the Home Secretary. Will she make a statement during the report stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to explain why clause 149 will give local councils the power to seize and retain property in connection with any contravention of that byelaw? It means that, as well as fining people up to £500 for giving out free food, Westminster city council will be given the power to seize, if it so wishes, the soup, the urns, the vans, the ladles, the bread, the tea bags and anything else that is distributed.

The byelaw will apply to an exclusion zone that includes Westminster cathedral. Will the Leader of the House clarify for us and for the Archbishop of Westminster whether, if there is a service of holy communion in the open air outside the cathedral, under the byelaw and the Bill, priests would face a fine and communion wine cups and wafers could be seized by zealous officials of Westminster city council? What on earth would St Patrick, whom we celebrate today, make of all that? It is quite clear that Westminster city council’s Tory members have completely taken leave of their senses, but why on earth are the Government helping them in this madness by a shabby piece of legislative complicity?

Finally, while we are on the subject of nasty Conservatives, I am afraid that I must tell the House that yet another private Member’s Bill trying to cut the minimum wage has made an appearance. This time it is the Training Wage Bill, which is due to be debated tomorrow. I was delighted that after my criticism of the previous Bill it mysteriously vanished from the Order Paper. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning this Bill so that we can perhaps make it disappear as well?

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

I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about Japan and Bahrain. In the debate that is to follow shortly, he might find that the Foreign Secretary will say much more about Bahrain and touch on the humanitarian issues in Japan and what is happening to UK citizens there. I certainly endorse what he said about the need for Bahrain to move towards democracy and not deal violently with those who are protesting peacefully.

On IPSA and the debate on Monday, the Government support the independent determination of MPs’ pay, as I said in my written statement of 20 January. I fully intend that that debate should not lead to Members routinely voting on their salaries, so I can confirm that I will commence the relevant parts of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 shortly to allow for fully independent determination of MPs’ salaries in future.

On DFID, the right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development made a full statement to the House on 1 March about the humanitarian work and the Department’s aid reviews, and since then the House has been kept informed about what we are doing in Christchurch, Japan and Libya. The humanitarian emergency response review, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is an independent review and, therefore, slightly different from the reviews that were the subject of the statement at the beginning of the month, but of course I will pass his views to my right hon. Friend about that very important report, which is being undertaken by Lord Ashdown.

On health, we had an extensive debate yesterday, but I was slightly disappointed at the relatively few Opposition Members in attendance, indicating a slight lack of interest in this very important subject. During the debate, we made clear our commitment to the NHS: we are spending more on it than the outgoing Labour Government planned to spend; we want to address the decline in NHS productivity that the Public Accounts Committee referred to earlier this year; and we want to drive up outcomes.

On housing benefit, the right hon. Gentleman will know that local authorities will have at their disposal substantial discretionary funds to avoid exactly the sort of situation to which he refers—people being displaced from their homes because of any shortfall in housing benefit as we introduce the changes. I very much hope that those discretionary funds, which have been increased, will be adequate to avoid the problems that he outlines.

On Westminster city council, I do think the right hon. Gentleman’s imagination slightly ran away with him, given what he said about the byelaws. I understand that the council has invited him to see what it is doing and how it is approaching the rough sleeping initiative, and I hope that he will accept that invitation. I hope also that that will give the council an opportunity to allay some of the concerns that he has raised. I pay tribute to the work of the nuns at Westminster cathedral, who run The Passage, a very sympathetic approach to helping those who are homeless, and I very much hope that Westminster city council can work with the volunteers and work as a team to address the problems of homelessness, which I think he and I would both like to see resolved.

Now—

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

Topical questions, yes.

On topical questions, it is indeed my intention to make progress. A number of Departments answer questions for only 30 minutes, and at the moment there are no opportunities to answer or, indeed, to ask topical questions. I am having discussions with ministerial colleagues to see whether we can change that. The most urgent one relates to DFID, where there has been a direct approach from the shadow Secretary of State, and I hope to make an announcement relatively soon, once I have completed the necessary consultations with my ministerial colleagues.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss Conservative, South West Norfolk

My constituents were delighted to hear in the autumn comprehensive spending review that the final stretch of the A11 was to be dualled. This will have a magnificent impact on economic growth in the county and on local businesses, yet we are still to hear exactly when that major work will take place. Will the Leader of the House ask the Transport Minister to make a statement to the House about when that will happen?

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I would like to thank Ms Truss for the stirling work she does in representing our constituency. I wonder how she feels that all the positive things that could come out of the completion of the dualling of the A11, which she has so valiantly championed, will be...

Submitted by JOHN SNOW Continue reading

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am afraid that when I was Secretary of State for Transport for two years I omitted to do as much as I should have about the A11, but it is now among the 14 schemes that the Highways Agency expects to be able to start before 2015, subject to the completion of statutory processes. I understand that the agency is now working on the detailed delivery of that particular scheme, and I will ask the Transport Minister to write to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Before the general election, there was cross-party support for a consultation on improving voting opportunities for service personnel serving overseas. That was also recommended by the Electoral Commission in its report on the administration of the 2010 general election. With only 500 of the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan exercising their right to vote last May, should not the Government have progressed the matter with much greater urgency? Can we have a statement on the postal voting arrangements for the forthcoming alternative vote referendum in respect of service personnel serving overseas?

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

The hon. Lady is quite right. There was considerable concern in the previous Parliament at the problems that confronted a number of those in the armed services who wished to exercise their right to vote, and there was disappointment expressed, certainly by Opposition Members in that Parliament, at the failure to make progress. I will raise with the Electoral Commission the issue that she has mentioned. I am anxious, as I am sure is every hon. Member, that everyone should take part in the AV referendum on 5 May.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

In the past, we have had themed days for the Budget debate. Can the Leader of the House tell us on what day we will be able to debate the claim by the Opposition that a cut in VAT on fuel could be paid for by the bank levy, given that Labour has pledged that money 10 times over?

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

There will be discussions through the usual channels on which Ministers will be answering on which day, but I am confident that during the four-day debate that I have just announced there will be an opportunity for Opposition Members to shed some light on the rather plaintive comment made over the weekend by the Leader of the Opposition that, when it comes to the economy,

“I can make no commitment to do anything differently”.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

Two of my constituents are ex-soldiers in receipt of very small pensions of £60 and £124 a week. They have been told that they do not qualify for jobseeker’s allowance. Can we have an urgent debate to see whether the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions could use a discretion to exclude such small pensions so that these ex-soldiers who have served their country can qualify for benefits?

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

As the hon. Lady knows, there are two accesses to JSA, one contribution-based and the other means-tested, and it sounds as though her constituents have fallen short on the one that is means-tested. I will certainly raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether there is any possibility of a disregard in the circumstances she has outlined.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

It is British tourism week, and the Tourism Alliance has produced an encouraging report showing good progress for Government tourist initiatives. That said, tourist chiefs in Cleethorpes and northern Lincolnshire tell me that additional support is needed to assist specific tourism business start-ups. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the wider aspects of the benefits to the country of the tourism industry?

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

As someone who produced a thesis on the future of the British tourism industry in 1972, this is a subject in which I still have some interest. My hon. Friend may find that there is an opportunity during the Budget debate to raise the issue of support for the tourism industry. I will certainly bring his comments to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington

Would it be possible to have an oral statement from the relevant Health Minister about Government support to improve the health and lives of people with learning disabilities and, in particular, whether the Department will continue to support for a further two years a study on the health care needs of people with learning disabilities? The study is currently hosted by the North East of England Public Health Observatory.

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

The hon. Gentleman may know that last week we announced a review of those who have special educational needs, and there may be an opportunity for him to take part in that. It is an important subject, and I hope that he might apply for an Adjournment debate so that we can explore the issues at greater length and see what more can be done to help the people to whom he refers.

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

Could the Leader of the House please confirm that the Committee stage of the Bill that will be required to ratify the proposed change to the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which the House debated last night, will be taken on the Floor of the House? If he is not able to do that today, could we have a statement on the matter in the future?

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

I will consider how we handle such a Bill when the opportunity presents itself.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

Can we have a debate on the treatment of Bradley Manning, the young US soldier who is held in solitary confinement in the

United States accused of passing on information to WikiLeaks? His mother is Welsh, and she attended a school in Wales for a time. There is considerable interest in his case. I would say his treatment is similar to that meted out to people at Guantanamo Bay.

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

I understand the right hon. Lady’s concern, which I think is widely shared. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but it sounds like an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall in the next few weeks.

Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Conservative, Stroud

With localism in mind, could we have a debate about the future of local government finance, particularly the future of the business rate, in which my own council is very interested?

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

There may be legislation in a future Session that addresses the issue of the business rate. As my hon. Friend knows, there are no such provisions in the Localism Bill that is before the House. The coalition Government propose to reform the arrangements for business rates, so there may be legislation in a future Session.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

On 9 February, the Prime Minister told this House that Liverpool passport office, which has 400 employees, was being considered for closure. He said that the Minister for Immigration was choosing between Newport and Liverpool. I do not believe that a proper consultation has been carried out. Yesterday, I received a letter from the Minister for Immigration which said that the Prime Minister’s information was wrong. I have yet to receive a reply to my letter to the Prime Minister. Can we have a statement so that we know what is going on?

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

The hon. Lady is certainly entitled to know what is going on. I would like to make some inquiries about the exchange of correspondence to which she referred, and will ensure that an accurate representation of what has taken place is communicated to her very soon.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

The decision by officials at the Ministry of Defence to purchase and destroy the complete first print run of Toby Harnden’s book, “Dead Men Risen”, cost the UK taxpayer more than £150,000. The second edition that was printed today contains just 50 word changes. Given that the Ministry of Defence is seeking to address a budget deficit of £38 billion and in light of the book’s contents, will the Leader of the House allow for a debate on MOD procurement and spending decisions?

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

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. The Ministry of Defence rather reluctantly bought the entire first print run of the book because at a late stage the text was found to contain information that would damage national security and put at risk the lives of members of the armed forces. Faced with the stark choice between compromising that security and making the payment to the publisher for amendments, regrettably the MOD had little option but to pay the money. I will share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend with Ministers at the MOD.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Yesterday, the Minister for Immigration chose to go to the stock exchange, rather than the House, to announce changes to the immigration rules. At midnight last night, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published its report on student visas. I appreciate that the Leader of the House will not have had a chance to read it since its publication. However, is it not important to debate immigration changes in the House in Government time, rather than announcements being made in places such as the stock exchange or in written statements?

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

It is certainly the case that all important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance to the House when it is sitting. That does not mean that Ministers are not free to make speeches outside the House, as appropriate. I have not read the report to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I have heard details of it in the media. The Government will respond in due course to the report, which has just been published. We believe that the system is in need of reform and we want to reduce net inward migration from outside the EU from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. The Select Committee will receive a considered response in due course.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

It has been a bad week for the shadow Chancellor. First, he was wrong about being able to obtain an EU derogation for VAT on fuel. Then he did not seem to know whether we were planning to cut—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. Business questions are an occasion for requests for statements and debates in the following week, and not for prefacing questions with lengthy descriptions of things that have happened to another party. That is not an orderly way to proceed. I hope I do not have to say that again. We will move on to someone else.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Recently in business questions, the Leader of the House was unhappy with the idea of confirmation hearings for Ministers. On reflection, I was clearly not being radical enough. Can we have a statement next week on whether we can reintroduce the procedure whereby if someone is appointed to be a Minister, they must resign their parliamentary seat and fight a by-election?

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

My hon. Friend is correct that that was the procedure until some time around 1920. I detect no particular appetite from those on either Front Bench to revert to that procedure. On reflection, I am not convinced that it would serve any useful purpose.

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

Notwithstanding the public sensitivities surrounding Members’ salaries, may I ask the Leader of the House in his dealings with IPSA to remind it gently that public opinion should not be the only criterion when deciding Members’ salaries, but that external comparators should also be used?

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

I hope that when it comes to IPSA taking over responsibility for Members’ salaries, the hon. Gentleman will make representations. It is important that IPSA remembers that its task is to ensure that MPs have the resources that they need to do their job and to discharge their responsibilities. I am sure that we all await with interest the outcome of the review, which I think is due next week.

Photo of Jessica Lee Jessica Lee Conservative, Erewash

Following the Cabinet’s recent visit to Rolls-Royce in Derby, which is near my constituency of Erewash, and the Prime Minister’s announcement on enterprise zones, will my right hon. Friend consider making time available in this House for a debate on the important issues of wealth creation and support for businesses in the regions, perhaps with particular emphasis on the east midlands?

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

My Cabinet colleagues and I enjoyed our visit to Derby last week, including the presentations from Rolls-Royce and from other entrepreneurs in the area. Enterprise zones are currently being considered. Having been a Minister in the 1980s, I think that enterprise zones were a particular success, for example in transforming the London docklands development area. I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity in the four-day debate on the Budget to develop her views on how we might help the east midlands and the enterprises to which she referred.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Minister (Wales)

During yesterday’s debate on the NHS, the Secretary of State for Health implied that the Health and Social Care Bill will not extend competition law into the NHS to a greater extent. That contradicts the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr Burns, who told the Public Bill Committee that competition law will affect the NHS to a much greater extent. Can we have an urgent statement on how competition law will bite on the NHS under the Bill?

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

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health made it crystal clear in yesterday’s debate that under the Bill before the House, there is no change in EU competition law.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Conservative, Staffordshire Moorlands

The Leader of the House has referred to how thinly occupied the Opposition Benches were during yesterday’s debate on the NHS. Will he tell the House what pressure he can put on the Opposition to hold another debate on this important topic, so that we can discuss thoroughly the idea—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. Again, that is not an appropriate matter for business questions. I appreciate that new Members are getting to grips with these things, and generally extremely well, but I am afraid that that question is not orderly and we will have to leave it there.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the sale of murderous knives on numerous internet sites? According to a presentation at Harlow college by my local police community support officers, Phyllis Chipchase and Karen Rogers, 100 people suffered from knife crime in Harlow last year. Will he take urgent action to ensure that the big society becomes the safe society?

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

We want the big society to be the safe society. On 2 February, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced £18 million of funding over two years to tackle knife, gun and gang crime, and to prevent youth crime. The Government’s position is clear on what should happen when someone carries a knife. Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Labour, Streatham

I, like others, was delighted for Prince William and Kate Middleton when the news of their engagement was announced. I look forward to celebrating their wedding with many of my constituents at street parties on the big day. However, this day of national celebration should not be exploited by fly-by-night companies looking to make a fast buck from the wedding, such as Eleven Events, which is planning to transform Clapham common in my constituency into a mass campsite for thousands of people to mark the occasion. The company is of questionable origin, having been in existence for only a year, and has no track record on such events. Can we have a statement from the appropriate Minister to tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that communities such as mine are protected from unscrupulous outfits trying to cash in on the royal wedding?

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. As a former councillor in Lambeth who represented a bit of Clapham common, I have a residual and nostalgic interest in that part of south London. It sounds to me as if responsibility has been devolved to the local authority—either Lambeth council or the neighbouring Wandsworth council. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether there is any locus for him to resolve the dilemma.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

Many churches in west Worcestershire have fundraising thermometers to monitor how much progress they are making on their fundraising. In light of next week’s Budget debate, could we discuss installing similar thermometers on either side of the House so that we can keep track of the spending commitments, and in particular of how many times the one-off bankers’ bonus levy can be spent?

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

I understand my hon. Friend’s interest. I do not know whether Westminster city council would allow the installation of a giant thermometer outside New Palace Yard on which was calibrated the growing number of commitments made by the Opposition, but in principle I agree entirely.

Photo of Dave Watts Dave Watts Labour, St Helens North

Given that the Government have already damaged the economy in the north-west by doing away with the regional development agency and cutting regeneration funding by two thirds, may we have a debate on their latest proposals to sell off the assets of the RDA and return them to the Treasury?

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

I dispute the premise on which the hon. Gentleman bases his question. The OECD report published yesterday states:

“The government is pursuing a necessary and wide ranging programme of fiscal consolidation and structural reforms aimed at achieving stronger growth and a rebalancing of the economy over time.”

That is a somewhat different position from the one that he suggested. If there are surplus assets that can be returned to the Treasury, I am sure they would be gratefully received.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

In my constituency, antisocial behaviour is an ongoing problem. I welcome the Government’s consultation, but will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate so that we can discuss that serious issue and demonstrate that we, unlike the previous Government, are serious about tackling antisocial behaviour?

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

I announced in the forthcoming business two days of Report stage on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and my hon. Friend may have an opportunity either to table amendments or to take part in the debates so that he can ventilate his concern and urge the Government to do even better.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

I have a letter from the Comptroller and Auditor General, in which he states:

“It is not acceptable practice for those commissioning a service subsequently to be remunerated as contractors for that service…and it is not appropriate for one group of providers to have exclusive power to determine the value of that portion of the contract for which they will become the contracted party.”

In the light of that advice, will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a statement from the Health Secretary about probity and procurement in a health service with GP contractors?

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

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is not casting any aspersions on the integrity of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but I will share with my right hon. Friend the concern that he has just mentioned and seek to reassure him that there are no irregularities at all in the arrangements for GP commissioning.

Photo of Graham Evans Graham Evans Conservative, Weaver Vale

Members of Sandymoor parish council recently presented me with a petition signed by hundreds of parents in my constituency about a lack of secondary school choice in that new-build area. The root cause of the problem is the Labour council giving planning permission for many thousands of new homes without thinking to provide essential amenities such as schools. May we have a debate about planning policy and the importance of avoiding such problems in future developments?

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

My hon. Friend will know that it is not unusual for local authorities to use their section 106 planning powers to require a developer to make provision for a new primary or secondary school to cope with rising population. He will also know that we have passed legislation introducing free schools and reducing the planning barriers that confront them, to respond to parents’ wishes when they want a new school to be established in their area to provide high-quality education.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The Leader of the House will have seen the dire unemployment figures this morning, particularly to do with the young unemployed. That is a mounting problem in our society and bodes very ill for the future. May we have an early statement and/or debate on that important matter? Members of all parties are deeply worried about the growing problem of youth unemployment.

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

Of course, Members on both sides of the House share the concern about youth unemployment, which went up by some 40% during the period of the last Labour Government. There will be opportunities to debate unemployment during the four-day debate on the Budget. I hope the hon. Gentleman will take some comfort from the fact that 430,000 new private sector jobs have been created in the past year, and that more than 70,000 were created in the last three months of 2010, more than counterbalancing the 45,000 jobs lost in the public sector.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The Leader of the House has just announced the days for debate on the Budget. Has he had any indication of the day on which the former Prime Minister, Mr Brown, has put in to speak?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I must say that there is a growing discourtesy about some of these inquiries, against which I counsel very strongly. There are certain conventions in this place, and a basic courtesy from one Member to another is expected and must apply. I have no idea whether the hon. Gentleman mentioned to the right hon. Member in question his intention to refer to him—if he did not he certainly should have done—but in any case, it is not a proper matter for a business question.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Last week, our national elite female swimming squad were asked to do a naked underwater photo-shoot, which was apparently linked to funding for the team’s Olympic dream as sponsored by the national lottery and British Gas. I understand that the national lottery requires our elite athletes to do such public relations and photo-shoots as a condition of their funding. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on how we are funding the Olympic ambitions of our elite athletes? Does he agree that it would be inappropriate if conditions and requirements for that sort of PR, which seems exploitative, started to be attached to funding?

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

I will certainly raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. There is total investment of £264 million in Olympic sports for the London four-year cycle, and funding for swimming has increased significantly in the past two Olympic cycles. It now receives the third-highest amount of public investment of the Olympic sports. I understand the concern that she has expressed, and I will share it with my right hon. Friend.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

May we have a statement next week on Southern Cross Healthcare? It is a company in financial crisis that has more than 750 care homes, about 31,000 residents and many worried employees. In a reply to me on 2 December, the Minister of State, Department of Health, Paul Burstow, stated:

“Any discussions regarding continuing provision for residents of care homes should take place between care providers and CASSRs.”—[Hansard, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 1014W.]

CASSRs are councils with adult social services responsibilities. Will the Leader of the House get some urgency into the Department of Health and get it to take a grip of what is clearly a major national problem, and may we have a statement next week on the outcome?

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

I understand the concern on behalf of Southern Cross residents in the light of the financial problems that confront that company. Southern Cross is having discussions with Government officials about the plans that it has in place to address its financial difficulties and, crucially, to ensure that services are maintained. Ministers will continue to keep in close touch with the situation and will work with local authorities, the Care Quality Commission and others to ensure that there is an effective response that delivers protection to everyone affected. I will ask the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Paul Burstow, to write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Labour, Edinburgh South

My 77-year-old constituent Mr Muir received a letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs stating that it was

“sending HMRC agents to your house to seize your possessions for sale at auction in order to pay your debt.”

That was for a £549 rebate that Mr Muir had received in HMRC’s error, which had already been repaid some months before. Such complaints about HMRC by my constituents are becoming regular. May we have an urgent debate or statement on the resources available to it to do its job effectively?

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

I very much regret the sequence of events that the hon. Gentleman refers to, and I understand the distress that it has caused. There will be questions to Treasury Ministers on Tuesday, and he may like to raise the matter again then.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Labour, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Unemployment is at a 17-year high and running at 14% in Middlesbrough. Growth is sluggish according to the OECD, and public sector cuts are yet to come. May I echo the words of my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman in asking for a debate on the Floor of the House about unemployment and its consequences for communities such as mine in the north-east?

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

As I have said before, there will be four days of debate on the Budget, and a Budget for growth has at its heart dealing with the unemployment problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers. There will be ample opportunities to discuss unemployment next week and the week after, but to put it in context, employment has also risen.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Labour, Scunthorpe

As has been mentioned, young people’s unemployment is at a 30-year high, and the number not in education, employment or training continues to rise exponentially. We still do not know what the discretionary learner support to replace the education maintenance allowance will look like. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to come and make a statement to the House about what the Government’s policy for young people is?

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Those who are continuing with their education in September will want to know what regime is replacing EMA, which we believe had a lot of deadweight attached to it. We will shortly announce a replacement scheme for EMA that will enable low-income families to continue accessing further education. It will be aimed at eligible individuals aged between 16 and 19.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

If a thermometer is to be erected outside the House, could it measure rising youth unemployment in this country? May we have a debate on that, shortly before a debate on the nationalist proposal for Scotland to have a separate time zone, which was recently before the House? I understand that Scotland’s time would be roughly an hour and a quarter different from London’s, so at noon in London it would be 13.14—Bannockburn time—in Scotland, thereby allowing the result of the Barnsley by-election to be announced in Scotland before the polls closed.

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

I gather that that proposition received extensive attention during the debate on the Scotland Bill a few days ago. It was a very good joke the first time round, but it has diminishing returns. There are limits to the extent to which one can take devolution.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

If there is to be no statement on the publication this week of the Hutton report—the Will Hutton report—which rejected a pay cut in the public sector alone and called for much greater transparency on pay in both the public and private sectors, may we have a debate on top pay in both, so that we can see what can be done about the arms race that has been going on in recent years?

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

The Government are grateful to Will Hutton for his recently published report, and we will respond in due course. There will be an opportunity in the Budget debate to discuss differentials between low, medium and top pay, and approaches to reducing them.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The decision to build new nuclear power stations was greatly influenced by the belief that there would be a shortfall in generating capacity within a decade. That shortfall will now not take place because of the extended life of many of our power stations. Would it not be right to extend debate on the Government’s very welcome decision to look at the safety of nuclear power stations to their very high cost and their impractical, unrealistic timetables?

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

The hon. Gentleman raises a crucial point. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has asked Dr Weightman to conduct a review in the light of the problems in Japan. The details of his report will be established shortly, but the review will be conducted in close co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international regulators to establish carefully what lessons can be learned. The reports will be put in the public domain and may well form the basis for a debate in due course.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I am sure the Leader of the House has seen the newspaper reports this week that the leader and deputy leader of

Edinburgh city council were caught lying to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee on the issue of the Gathering. Will the Government make a statement next week on probity in local government, so that such disgraceful behaviour does not happen again?

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

I am not sure whether this would be in order, but the remaining stages of the Scotland Bill are before the House next Tuesday; with some ingenuity, the hon. Gentleman may be able to work the issue to which he refers into that debate.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

BBC Radio Sheffield provides a much-valued service for the people of South Yorkshire, especially in times of crises, such as when the area flooded in 2007. May we have a debate on the future of BBC local radio in the context of the threat to the future of the service from the BBC Trust?

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

There will be an opportunity on 28 March to raise that matter with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is in the Chamber and will have heard the hon. Lady’s question. A bid for a debate on local radio might be well supported by all Members, and the Committee might provide an opportunity for such a debate in future either here or in Westminster Hall.

Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

As you know, Mr Speaker, the Backbench Business Committee is given comparatively little time to allocate debates in the Chamber, and all Chamber time is liable to be withdrawn or eaten into by the Government at very short notice. Westminster Hall, on the other hand, has a regular, protected three-hour Thursday slot for Back Benchers, and it is just as effective at holding the Government to account as the Chamber. However, the more we look down our noses at Westminster Hall, the more difficult it will be to use the second Chamber as a way of holding the Government to account. Will the Leader of the House encourage Members to respond to the Procedure Committee’s sitting hours inquiry, including on the role of Westminster Hall, so that we can make full use of our second Chamber and not just see it as second best?

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

The hon. Lady said at the beginning of her question that her Backbench Business Committee did not get enough days in the Chamber, but it gets 35 more days than it got in the previous Parliament, so at least we are moving in the right direction.

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady on the importance of Westminster Hall. My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be there this afternoon for an important debate on privilege—I hope to look in on that. As she says, debates in Westminster Hall are not interrupted by statements or proceedings in the Chamber, and they take place at predictable times and for three hours. It is important that Westminster Hall is not seen as the poor relation of the Chamber. It is a partner and has a crucial role to play in our proceedings, and I would encourage all hon. Members, where appropriate, to take part.