I should like to begin by paying my own tribute to Alan Keen, whose death was announced to the House this week. He was a dedicated champion of his constituents. Many of us have happy memories of Alan, especially of the Tea Room football banter that we all shared with him. My thoughts go out to his wife Ann and the family at this very difficult time.
Mr Speaker, this week you let it be known in no uncertain terms that the leaking in advance of statements is a gross discourtesy to the House. On Monday, you warned the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the disclosure of his housing statement in the weekend papers. Less than 48 hours later, not only was the Government’s energy statement leaked, but the fact that there was to be a statement at all was tweeted to the world half an hour before the Secretary of State could be bothered to inform his opposite number or the House. Can we now take it that it is the Government’s intention to replace the Order Paper with the Twitter feed of The Guardian? Does the Leader of the House deplore this behaviour, and will he give me a personal assurance that it will never happen again?
On housing, the Government’s rushed-out PR blitzkrieg on Monday came the day before official figures, which they will have seen, showed a complete collapse of housing starts across Britain from 32,000 to just 454 across the entire country. In my own region of the north-west, not one single housing start was made. Monday’s cynical choreography was clearly designed to bury bad news. May we have a proper debate on the worsening housing crisis now that the full facts of the Government’s failure have been revealed?
Two weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell me that
“the Queen’s Speech will be held in May to coincide with the fixed election dates”.—[Hansard, 10 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 454.]
But last week his counterpart in the other place, Lord Strathclyde, seemed to contradict him by saying that it could be in April. That is despite Government undertakings given by Lord Wallace during the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill that there would be a fixed day in May for the Queen’s Speech. Based on these assurances, Labour peers withdrew an amendment to the Bill which would have set the Queen’s Speech in May after local elections. Will the Leader of the House now clear up the chaos between the Government Front Benchers in the two Houses? Will he confirm that it is not his intention to stage the Queen’s Speech just ahead of election purdah? Surely he has no desire to put Her Majesty in an invidious position by using her in a politically partisan pre-election stunt in her diamond jubilee year?
Every week demonstrates that the Government’s economic policy is hurting but not working. The Office for National Statistics revealed a 3.5% real-terms fall in average incomes, while chief executives and directors enjoyed a 15% increase in median earnings this year alone. Meanwhile youth unemployment passed 1 million, showing the brutal price our young people are paying for the Government’s failed choices on the economy. Long-term youth unemployment has risen 77% since the Government scrapped the future jobs fund. As the economy continues to flatline, instead of Government action all we are hearing from the Prime Minister is his latest list of excuses. Last year it was the snow, this year it has been the royal wedding, civil servants, trade unions and employment rights—and now it is the eurozone. The Prime Minister is like an Eton schoolboy, facing rustication by his headmaster, who will say anything and blame anyone rather than take responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Will the Leader of the House now admit that these policies are not working and urge the Chancellor to announce an economic rethink that puts jobs first in next week’s autumn statement?
In opposition, the Prime Minister said that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen, but after 18 months and the loss of a Cabinet Minister there is still no sign of the promised register of lobbying interests. Today there are disturbing reports that Ministers’ spouses and partners will remain free to lobby the Government for private companies under any new rules. This week, it was also revealed that a serving Conservative peer and ex-Chief Whip has been appointed UK representative for the Cayman Islands in order to oppose any further regulation of offshore tax havens. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government propose to address the increasingly urgent need for tough regulation in this area, and what is the Government’s position on serving Conservative peers lobbying against regulation of tax havens?