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 19 and
I thank the Leader of the House for that explanation of the packed legislative programme that he has brought to the House of Commons for the start of the new year. I notice that he has not announced the date for the Queen’s Speech, despite the fact that Paul Waugh of PoliticsHome announced it on his blog last week. We wait to hear some time in the future whether he was accurate.
We learned this week that the Committee stage of the Local Government Finance Bill is being taken on the Floor of the House—virtually the only Government business to be taken on the Floor in the next couple of weeks. The House of Commons Library has confirmed that over the past 30 years, only five local government Bills have been treated in this way: the 1984 and 1985 Bills that abolished the Greater London council; the 1987 Bill on block grants and rate limitation; the 1991 Bill on rate capping; and the 1999 Labour Bill that finally restored democratic government to London. Will the Leader of the House explain what in this local government Bill requires it to have its entire Committee stage on the Floor of the House? The Government are obviously struggling to fill the Commons calendar, so in the spirit of new year bonhomie, and wanting to help the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask him whether he could make time for a debate on the Government’s mishandling of their legislative programme?
On fat cat salaries, the Prime Minister, in his new year tour of the TV studios, announced that shareholder votes on executive pay would now be binding. However, in November he announced that his idea to address exorbitant boardroom pay was to appoint more women to boards, and in October he told us that the solution was boards asking themselves, “Is this the right thing to do?” Over the past year we have had plenty of press releases from No. 10, but FTSE 100 bosses have put their own salaries up by a staggering 49%, while average earnings have gone up by just 1.4%. To prevent the Prime Minister from touring the TV studios once a month with the latest wheeze, will the Leader of the House explain to him that if he is serious about dealing with fat cat salaries we need action, not more press releases? When will we get it?
Perhaps the Leader of the House could also have a word with the Chancellor and inquire when we can expect a response from the Treasury to Will Hutton’s report on fair pay in the public sector. In June 2010 the Chancellor announced—in yet another press release—that this was an “important review” and that it would pay a “crucial role” in developing Government policy. Will the Leader of the House enlighten us as to what has happened since the report was published 10 months ago?
Given the defeat that the Government suffered last night on their shocking plans to deny benefit to cancer sufferers, will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the tiny band of Liberal Democrats who joined Labour and the “Cross Benchers” in standing up for decency and fairness? Rather than using parliamentary time in this place to reverse the three votes that the Government lost last night, may we instead have a debate on fairness, to remind the Liberal Democrats why they claim they came into politics in the first place?
The Leader of the House will understand the concern over the safety of PIP implants. The Secretary of State for Health announced yesterday a “rapid review” of the safety of people seeking cosmetic interventions. Can the Leader of the House confirm when the review will conclude, and will he assure us that the Health Secretary will make a statement to the House when it does?
The House is growing weary of rapid reviews being announced by press release. Last November, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr Harper promised that the Government would publish by the “end of the month” proposals to clamp down on the access that lobbyists have to the Government. Since then we have had Mr Collins of Bell Pottinger boasting of the access to those at the top of Government that he can arrange for his clients, and now Mr O’Shaughnessy, one of the Prime Minister’s top aides, has signed up to another lobbying firm. What we have not had is the promised consultation. The last time the Leader of the House was asked about this, at the beginning of December, he told the House that the Government would publish proposals “in a few weeks”. Given that the consultation is now long overdue, will the Cabinet Office Minister return to the House to explain what has gone wrong? And while he is at it, will he also explain the Government’s policy on freedom of information?
Before Christmas the Information Commissioner launched his first ever probe into a Government Department, because the Education Secretary and his advisers were communicating using the Education Secretary’s wife’s e-mail account. Given that the Secretary of State announced this week—not to the House—a new policy on information technology lessons in schools, perhaps the Leader of the House could arrange for his colleague to have some IT lessons himself, so that if he wants to communicate secretly with his advisers he can set up his own e-mail account, and will not need to use his wife’s.
Finally, Mr Speaker, may I wish you and all Members a happy new year? Will the Leader of the House join me in urging all Ministers to adopt a new year’s resolution to make announcements to this House first? After all, the ministerial code requires them to do so.
I begin by echoing the hon. Lady’s good wishes to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House, for a happy new year. She began in a traditional way by asking about the Queen’s Speech. I am delighted that she is looking forward to the next one, which will be packed with legislative reform from the coalition Government, and I hope that she will warmly welcome it when it arrives. She will have to contain herself for a little longer, however. The date of the Queen’s Speech will be announced in due course in the usual way. In the meantime, I have given hon. Members some certainty about the House’s sittings: I have announced them up to October this year. By contrast, my predecessor gave the House two weeks’ notice of the Easter recess in March 2010. The House now has a degree of certainty about when we shall meet, and hon. Members can plan their work-life balance accordingly.
On Parliament’s work programme, I hope that the hon. Lady is not going to denigrate the work that the House is doing. This week we had two statements on Tuesday, on the referendum in Scotland and on High Speed 2. We had a statement yesterday on breast implants, as well as two Opposition day debates; I hope that she is not going to say that those were not worth having. Later today we shall have two important debates arranged by the Backbench Business Committee. As I have said before, this place is not a legislative factory. We are not going to make the mistake that the previous Government made of introducing too much ill-considered legislation.
The hon. Lady asked why we were having the Committee stage of the Local Government Finance Bill on the Floor of the House. I have in front of me a list of 18 non-constitutional Bills that went to a Committee of the whole House between 1997 and 2010, so let us not have any nonsense about this being unprecedented.
Let me give just one example of what the previous Government did. The Digital Economy Act 2010—50 clauses and three schedules—was rushed through the House during wash-up, without consensus, on the Floor of the House. Here we have a 10-clause Bill with three schedules and we are allowing three days for Committee. I hope the House will support what we are doing, as more than 600 experts on local government will be at hand here and able to take part in the Bill’s proceedings.
On executive pay, let me remind the Opposition that they did nothing about it for 13 years. By contrast, we consulted and we will set out in our response the action we will take to tackle irresponsible directors—something Labour did not do—and we are going to require greater transparency for directors’ pay and salary. We shall give shareholders a greater say through binding votes, and allow them to block unjustified pay-offs for failure. An announcement will be made in due course by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. I will, of course, pursue the matter of fair pay and the Government’s response with the Chancellor, and find out the date of the response for which the hon. Lady asked.
There will, of course, be an opportunity for the Government to consider in this House yesterday’s votes on the Welfare Reform Bill in the other place. I make the simple point that if we do not reverse those amendments we will need to make savings from other areas. Of course the Government will look carefully at what has happened in the other place. It is worth making the point that the amendments that were carried would not have affected the position of those in the support group—the most vulnerable—whose entitlement to benefit would remain unaffected. Nor would the Government’s proposals have affected those on means-tested benefits. It is a question of getting the balance right on the extent to which applicants draw on their own resources or on the resources of taxpayers. Let me remind the hon. Lady of what the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech of
“in these times, with less money, spending more on one thing means finding the money from somewhere else. When someone wins, someone else loses.”
She might like to remember that when we come to debate those amendments.
On yesterday’s statements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, he announced three reviews in connection with what went wrong with the breast implants, and I know he will want to keep the House informed as those reviews make progress.
I am surprised that the hon. Lady raised the issue of lobbying. For 13 years the Labour Government did nothing about lobbying, yet she now criticises us for taking time to come up with the paper on our proposals. The consultation document will be published shortly, and there was no breach of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments rules by Mr James O’Shaughnessy.
Finally, I have announced an Opposition day on Monday, and I wonder whether the Opposition are going to compound the confusion they caused with their last one. On Tuesday their leader talked about responsibility regarding the deficit, but just hours later the Opposition voted against our modest measures for sorting out the mess in local government finance. On the very next day they tabled two motions that, far from reducing the deficit, would have increased it. They opposed every cut and promised to spend an extra £87 billion that we do not have, and they were in denial about the mess they created when they were in government. I wonder whether the time has not now come for another relaunch by the Opposition.
Order. A large number of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, and I am keen to accommodate them. I remind the House, however, that two important debates are to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so it is imperative to have brief questions and characteristically brief answers from the Leader of the House. I am sure that a Member who has served for 28 years will set us a good example: I call Mr David Amess.
I understand my hon. Friend’s constituent’s concern about what happened. As my hon. Friend will understand, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on a particular case. I imagine that, as with all decisions of a court, this man will have an opportunity to appeal against what happened. As I understand it, the confiscation orders are simply designed to put anyone who has profited from an illegal catch back into the position in which he or she would otherwise have been; they are not intended to be a punishment. I hope my hon. Friend will understand the constraints on Ministers when it comes to commenting on individual cases.
Would it not be more appropriate for Ministers to give serious consideration to the amendments that were carried yesterday in the House of Lords? Perhaps we could have a statement before the normal parliamentary procedure becomes involved. Does the Leader of the House not agree that to take action against cancer, bone and stroke patients is totally unacceptable? Indeed, it is sick. I heard the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, Chris Grayling on the radio today trying to justify what has occurred, but I hope that the Cabinet will give further consideration to the matter. What has been agreed to by the House of Lords should be agreed to by the Government.
As I said to Ms Eagle, the Government will give serious consideration to the votes that took place in the other place yesterday. We have asked Professor Harrington to work with Macmillan to ensure that the work-related assessments are appropriate, although it should be borne in mind that the worst cancer cases would be in support groups and would therefore not be affected. Government amendments tabled to the Bill yesterday would have protected those whose condition subsequently deteriorated. Of course we will consider the matter seriously, but as I have said, if we do not make savings by means of that part of the Bill, we may have to seek compensatory savings elsewhere.
Although it is good that there is less legislation pouring through the House of Commons, we still do not have enough time to debate issues on great occasions. For instance, before the Prime Minister went off to the last European summit, all that we had was a little debate in Westminster
Hall—which, admittedly, served its purpose in a way. Can the Leader of the House confirm that before the next European summit there will be a proper debate on the Floor of the House, as happens in other Parliaments, so that the Prime Minister can gauge opinion in the Chamber about his negotiating tactics?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but he will know that as a result of the recommendations of the Wright Committee, the time that the Government had in which to arrange such debates has been transferred to the Backbench Business Committee, as has responsibility for finding time for them, and the other debates for which the Government used to find time. It is to that Committee that my hon. Friend and others should apply, because it now has the time that the Government used to have.
Is the Leader of the House aware of a growing tendency for Departments to give insubstantial answers to parliamentary questions in order to conform with the time scale? For instance, between
The hon. Lady is right: the House is entitled to prompt and informative answers from Ministers in response to written questions. I do not know whether she had an opportunity to raise the issue during the Transport questions session that has just ended, but, as Leader of the House, I do take steps to ensure that my colleagues answer questions promptly. I believe I am right in saying that we publish statistics each year on the performance of Departments, and I am always prepared to take up specific cases on behalf of Members.
The Leader of the House has just announced that the first draft orders resulting from the Public Bodies Act 2011 will be considered next week. You will recall, Mr Speaker, the exchange that we had on a point of order relating to this matter before the House rose for the Christmas recess. Is the Leader of the House now able to confirm that the Select Committees concerned will be given notice before the orders are laid on the Floor of the House, and that a full 60 days will be allowed for consideration of each order by each Select Committee? Will he also make good the promise of a draft water Bill before prorogation?
I will pass on the last question, because I am not conscious of having personally given such a commitment. As for the serious issues raised by my hon. Friend in connection with the Public Bodies Act, I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House—who, I believe, will be handling the debate next Thursday—will be able to respond to them, and to inform her of the progress that we are making in moving to a new regime for consideration of the draft orders that follow from the legislation.
The Leader of the House may not want the Chamber to be seen as a “legislative factory”, but nor should it be seen as just a political wii game in which many points are scored but nothing substantial is achieved. Once the session of keepy-uppy in which the Chamber is currently engaged has ended, will it be able to give commensurate consideration to the important issues in the Welfare Reform Bill that are being subjected to serious deliberation and amendment in the other place?
I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that the coalition Government have sought to be more generous than the last Government in allocating time for their programme to be dealt with on the Floor of the House. We have allowed two, and in one case three, days for the Report stages of important Bills, and we intend to maintain our good record of giving the House adequate time in which to consider legislation. That commitment also extends to important amendments that have been passed in another place.
I personally welcome the fact that, unlike their predecessor, the present Government are providing the House with adequate time in which to scrutinise legislation properly. More is not necessarily better.
No doubt my right hon. Friend, as an early riser, listens to “Farming Today”, and will therefore know that a significant number of Europe-wide farm animal welfare issues are the responsibility of Ministers in the House of Commons. Will he find Government time for a general debate on those issues in the Chamber, so that they too can be considered properly?
At the beginning of this month the Government’s new web application system for the blue badge came on line. Ministers said that it would save money and lead to easier renewals, but it has been riddled with technical problems. Applications have been delayed or sent to the wrong place, which has caused chaos and backlogs, and councils have been unable to deal with the problem because the system is under the auspices of an IT contractor for which the Department for Transport is responsible. May we have a urgent statement from the Government on what they are doing to sort out this mess—which has been caused by their own mismanagement—so that those who need blue badges can secure them as soon as possible?
The hon. Lady may have had an opportunity to raise precisely that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport during Transport questions earlier. [Interruption.] As she was unable to do so, however, I will raise it with my right hon. Friend, and will ensure that I obtain a response. It is in everyone’s interest for those who are entitled to blue badges to be able to gain access to them without too much hassle.
A seven-year-old boy in my constituency called Zac has a very rare cancer called neuroblastoma. As a result of help from the former Labour Health Minister Ann Keen and my local primary care trust, treatment became available in Germany and was paid for by the NHS. Recently Zac needed another life-saving operation. It was decided that the operation should be carried out by the NHS in this country, but unfortunately it was cancelled twice. In desperation, Zac’s mother took him to Germany, where he had the operation yesterday. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health next week, telling us what went wrong in this country and whether the parents’ costs will be reimbursed?
I am sure the whole House hopes that Zac makes a good recovery from the operation that took place yesterday, and I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. As my hon. Friend knows, we have made more resources available to the NHS year on year, and responsibility for funding the costs of transport from this country to Germany would normally lie with the local primary care trust. However, I will try to establish whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can play a role in ensuring that the parents can maintain suitable contact with their son.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House a question about his own remit. When Labour was in power and I was chairing the European Scrutiny Committee, he seemed to support the idea of reinstating permanent membership of the General Committees that debate EU issues sent to them by the European Scrutiny Committee. I have asked him several times—and Mr Cash has supported my request through the Committee—for the matter to be brought before the House. He has had plenty of time to arrange it, and there is plenty of room in the timetable. When will permanent membership be reinstated, so that people can learn properly about European business in General Committees?
Given the increasing number of schools offering A-levels, there is an increasing anomaly with VAT, in that schools do not pay it but sixth-form colleges do. The Treasury has rejected requests from the Sixth Form Colleges Forum and others to rectify that. With VAT standing at 20%, may we have a debate to explore ways to equalise the situation and be fairer to sixth-form colleges?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. There will be an opportunity on Monday to raise this issue with the Secretary of State for Education. For now, I think the appropriate answer to my hon. Friend is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the process of drawing up his Budget, the date of which has been announced, and I will take her request as a bid for him to consider that matter as part of his broader Budget considerations.
May I remind the Leader of the House that in this year of the jubilee and the Olympics there are diverse regions in our country, and many people in Yorkshire and Humber and the north-east and north-west get the feeling that everything is happening either in London and the south-east or in Scotland? Is it not about time that we looked at the Cinderella regions that get less investment, less focus and, now, less leadership?
Many parts of the country are benefiting from the construction work on the Olympic stadium in London; the benefits go far wider than just the south-east. I also hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have introduced measures to help the regions, such as the regional economic growth fund and concessions on national insurance to certain parts of the country, as well as measures to help those parts of the country that are worst hit by unemployment. I do not agree that the leadership in our country is entirely confined to London and the south-east as there are many parts of the country with first-class leadership, and it is up to Members of Parliament who represent the regions to do what the hon. Gentleman has done: stand up in this House and fight for the areas they represent.
Last year, all in South Staffordshire celebrated the fantastic news that Jaguar Land Rover was going to build a new engine plant in my constituency, in one of the Government’s new enterprise zones. May we have a debate on how we might promote more manufacturing in the west midlands, so we can build on that success?
I am delighted to hear of the good news in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he reminds the House that the 24 new enterprise zones will come on stream in April. They will bring a range of benefits, including access to capital allowances, business rate relief and new superfast broadband. That is a part of our strategy of rebalancing the economy by encouraging manufacturing and thereby getting a more sustainable foundation for the growth in employment that we all want.
At a recent meeting of the Sustainable Business Forum, it became clear that UK Trade & Investment had no strategy for green economic development under the local enterprise partnerships. Indeed, UKTI was not even aware that eight of the partnerships have been designated specifically for green economic development, and its website is still showing Vestas as one of the key British flagship companies in green economic development. May we have a debate in Government time about the Government’s strategy for green economic growth in this country?
The Government are indeed committed to green economic growth, and a number of the measures taken by the Department of Energy and Climate Change have been designed precisely to ensure that. I will take up the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises about UKTI to see if anything needs to be done there, and I shall draw his point to the attention of my ministerial colleagues at both DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
May we have an urgent debate on the number of roads that are not brought up to adoptable standard by developers? This is a nationwide problem. There are roads in my constituency that have been awaiting adoption for 10 years, and Taylor Wimpey is refusing to engage with the local authority. We must debate this issue, especially if we are going to increase housing development in this country.
I suspect that many other Members have also encountered precisely that problem, where residents living in recently developed estates find that the roads are still in the ownership of the developer, that they are not up to a standard that the local authority will take over, and that the developer will not bring them up to the appropriate standard. I will contact my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to see if there are any steps that the Government need to take to ensure private developers honour their obligations, often under section 106, so that the residents on such estates have roads of a quality to which they are entitled.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs initially promised to publish in 2010 a report on the humaneness and effective use of snaring and then, in response to a written parliamentary question, said she would release the report by the end of last year. We have still not had the report, however, which is preventing debate on this issue not only in this place, but in the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament. While the Government are in an enabling mood in respect of Scotland, please will the Leader of the House press for the report to be published?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. There will be an opportunity next Thursday to ask the Secretary of State about that report. I will make sure that Ministers in that Department are aware of the hon. Lady’s concern and let them know that there is a strong likelihood that they will be asked about that issue in a week’s time.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but I have to be frank with him: the Government do not have plans to introduce legislation to reform the law on abortion. The issue was debated at some length in the previous Parliament. However, if he wants a debate on it, he may like to approach the Backbench Business Committee, because I appreciate that strong views are held on both sides of the argument.
I suspect that if the first thing that the coalition Government had done was have a debate on fox hunting, the hon. Gentleman would have questioned our priorities. The Government have a legislative programme which is before the House, and we believe that is the appropriate priority for the House. There are three and a half years to go in this Parliament, and in due course that section of the coalition agreement will be honoured.
At Health questions this week, I asked about reports that advertisements for personal injury lawyers had started appearing in hospital accident and emergency departments. The Minister who answered rightly said that it was not appropriate for such material to appear in NHS hospitals. However, the Compensation Act 2006, introduced by the previous Labour Government, states that hospitals are authorised to deal with companies under agreement, so may we have an urgent debate about the unwelcome consequences of that Act, which I believe has added to the compensation culture in this country?
I am disturbed to hear that such advertisements are going up in hospitals in our country. As my hon. Friend says, unauthorised marketing by claims management companies is already prohibited without the approval of the management of the facility or the building, and that ban has forced a number of claims companies to modify how they advertise their services. To answer my hon. Friend’s specific question, a Command Paper on post-legislative scrutiny of the Act he mentions has been laid in Parliament today, and there is a related written ministerial statement, which he may like to look at.
Another dire statistic revealed this week that there are 210,000 households in the north-east in which no one is working. That, coupled with the highest unemployment, fuel poverty and child poverty rates in the country, does not bode well for the people of the north-east. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to discuss the future for the people of the north-east and the north-east economy?
Of course the Government are concerned about the high level of unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and the north-east in general. To put this in context, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects that between 2011 and 2017 total employment will increase by about 1 million, with a 1.7 million rise in private sector employment offsetting a total reduction in general government employment of about 710,000. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have introduced the Work programme, the UK’s biggest ever single employment support programme. We are also introducing universal credit, which will improve the incentives to get back into work, and there is extra funding on apprenticeships and other such activities. I hope that will help reduce unemployment in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Could we have a debate on value for money and effectiveness in local policing, so that other police forces can learn from the example of Bedfordshire police, which has just cut crime by 67%? We could learn about the police station exclusion policy of inspectors such as Frank Donnelly, who has made sure that officers are out catching criminals and not inside police stations.
I commend the work of Inspector Frank Donnelly, who has shown that, within the challenging financial settlement that police authorities have had to live with, it is possible to reduce crime by getting officers out of the station and on to the streets. I was delighted to hear of the reduction in crime in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I hope the example of Frank Donnelly will be copied elsewhere.
The business that the Leader of the House announced was pretty threadbare, and although I agree with him that we do not necessarily want to be a legislation factory, I have a solution for him. There are 101 private Members’ Bills waiting for time and only two days when they could possibly be debated before Prorogation, when they all lapse. Some of them are on really important things such as adoption, firearms, daylight saving, metal theft, the registration of lobbyists—that would solve the problem there. Why does the Leader of the House therefore not give up some of the days he is using on footling business and allocate them to private Members’ Bills, which lots of Members on the Government Back Benches would love? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
That is a very populist demand which I know finds a lot of support on the Back Benches. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that there are two Houses of Parliament and legislation has to pass through both. There is no point in stacking up more and more Bills in this House if the other House has not got the time to process them. He will know that the Welfare Reform Bill, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the Health and Social Care Bill and the Scotland Bill are all awaiting consideration in another place, and they have to complete their passage through the House before the end of the Session. There is no merit at all in adding to the queue in the way the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
Can the Leader of the House find time for a statement that could give an answer to the North Lincolnshire question? The question relates, of course, to the Scottish referendum and why a Scot working in North Lincolnshire for a few years will be denied a vote on the future of his country, whereas someone from North Lincolnshire working for a few years in Scotland will have the opportunity of a vote.
I suspect that the North Lincolnshire question could be posed for almost any part of the country. My hon. Friend will know that the provisional decision is to use the franchise for the Scottish Parliament as the basis for any referendum, but there will be adequate opportunities in the debate that was launched on Tuesday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to discuss the broader issues surrounding the referendum. It would make sense for the House to reflect at some point on the announcement made on Tuesday, and that may provide an opportunity for my hon. Friend to pose his question; and—who knows?—he may get an answer to it at the end of that debate.
There was an opportunity to ask Health Ministers questions on Tuesday, but I will draw my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary’s attention to the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed about the 111 scheme’s impact on services and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.
Over 80% of people in employment in my constituency are employed in the private sector, many of them in small businesses. Those businesses should be given the support they need to enable them to grow and to create more jobs, so that we can get more people working in the private sector. Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that matter and the support the Government could give?
My hon. Friend is right—we do look to the small and medium-sized enterprises to be part of the dynamo for growth and reducing unemployment. She will know that we have doubled small business rate relief for two and a half years. Originally, we announced a doubling of that relief for one year, and that was extended in the 2011 Budget, and again in the autumn statement for a further six months from October 2012. There are also other initiatives, such as cutting red tape and the loan guarantee scheme. I hope that all those will be of assistance to SMEs. We all have a role to play in drawing to the attention of SMEs in our constituencies the various schemes the Government have made available to assist them.
The Leader of the House mentioned rebalancing the economy. Data from the US suggest that its manufacturing sector is expanding strongly and unemployment is at a three-year low. By way of contrast, British manufacturing has suffered the sharpest fall in activity since 2009, unemployment here is at an 18-year high, and yesterday’s trade figures showed that exports to countries outside the EU have declined. Given that next month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, can we have a debate on a tale of two economies, so that this House can debate with Dickensian eloquence why the US seems to be pulling out of the mess but Britain seems to be going ever further into it?
I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the decline in the manufacturing industry did not begin in 2009; there had already been a fairly substantial reduction in employment in manufacturing. One of the things we are seeking to do is to rebalance the economy, and the intervention a few moments ago from my hon. Friend Gavin Williamson showed the success we are having in promoting, for example, car manufacturing. Also, other sectors of the economy have been doing better, such as pharmaceuticals. However, the hon. Gentleman is right: we want to emphasise growth. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be drawing up his Budget, and I hope it will be possible to take further measures to address what the hon. Gentleman calls the tale of two countries. However, the US has not been without its problems: I think I am right in saying that growth in the last quarter in this country was higher than in the US.
Can we have a debate on the Government’s energy policy in light of the Which? report stating that more than 4 million consumers were dissatisfied with their energy company, and in light of the Centre for Policy Studies report arguing that the introduction of the carbon floor price in 2013 will damage efforts to decarbonise the UK’s electricity supply?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. Some of the issues he raises are a matter for Ofgem, with which the Government are working, for example, to have greater transparency on tariffs and to make it easier for consumers to switch from one to another. We have taken some steps already—we plan more—to give Ofgem more teeth in its transactions with electricity suppliers. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome yesterday’s and today’s announcements by two major companies of tariff reductions, and that that will take some of the pressure off the consumers he referred to.
Given that the Prime Minister guaranteed that rail fares would not increase by more than 1% above inflation, and that many are in fact increasing by up to 11%, can we have a statement or debate on the Government’s failure to control rail prices—and on the Prime Minister’s ability not to keep his promises?
I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman was yesterday, but I think we had a debate on rail fares. We have already had half a day’s debate, and I remind him that in 2009, under the regime of the previous Government, rail fares were allowed to go up by 11%.
The Mary Portas review, which has been endorsed by the Government and the Opposition, highlighted the burden that parking charges place on our high streets. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on why Enfield’s Labour council has persisted with massive increases in parking charges, including the introduction of Sunday charges, against the wishes of shopkeepers and churchgoers and despite vociferous opposition from theEnfield Independent and The Enfield Advertiser?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s role as a champion of businesses in his constituency, particularly of the retail sector. He will know that I announced a debate next week on the Mary Portas review, chosen by the Backbench Business Committee. I hope that will be an opportunity for him to intervene at slightly greater length than he was able to today.
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. That is primarily a matter for the trust that runs the hospital she referred to. Often, the income from car parking helps to sustain a higher level of service than would otherwise be the case. However, the Government have devolved this matter to local trusts, and I am sure she will want to pursue the issue with the chief executive of her local trust.
The Leader of the House will doubtless be as alarmed as I am to read reports about the continued widening of the division between the civilian Government and the military in the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary outlining the potential implications for our country of that country’s continued instability?
May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent statement to clarify the Government’s plans for increasing the number of private patients in NHS foundation trust hospitals? On Tuesday, the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr Burns said that
“we are not changing the situation”—[Hansard, 10 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 14.]
but of course the Health and Social Care Bill removes the private patient cap and the Government’s impact assessment assumes the inclusion of
“additional…overseas private patients… and patients who would have otherwise been treated on the NHS”, so how can that statement be true?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Health and Social Care Bill is being considered in another place; we have just had the completion of 15 days in Committee and a number of days have been allocated for Report. I have no doubt that the specific issue he mentions will be raised during the remaining stages of that Bill, and if the Bill comes back, there will be an opportunity for him to raise the matter again in this House. In the meantime, I will draw his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
From this week, credit unions enjoy important new freedoms to help them develop and grow. May we have a debate on financial inclusion, affordable credit and the important role that credit unions play?
My hon. Friend’s suggestion is very timely in view of the reports over the Christmas holidays of the less scrupulous operators in that field, and he reminds the House of the role of credit unions. I cannot promise such a debate, but I know that Members on both sides of the House have expressed an interest in the subject, and the Backbench Business Committee may wish to add it to its list of requests.
Darlington football club is 128 years old and, as the Leader of the House knows, it is the club that gave the world’s first black professional footballer, Arthur Wharton, his big break. Sadly, despite the best efforts of local businesses, The Northern Echo and the local council, the club is in administration and has days, if not hours, before liquidation. When can we have a debate on the support that is available to help historic clubs such as Darlington?
I am sorry to hear of the problems that confront the hon. Lady’s local football club. The statue of the footballer to whom she refers was made by a sculptor in my constituency, which is why I am aware of the case. I do not wish to raise her hopes, but I will draw her concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport to see whether there is any role for the Government to play in enabling the club to continue.
May we have a debate on the likely effectiveness of the ban on sow stalls in the European Union from
This country has always set high standards in animal welfare. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern that some of our competitor countries may not be implementing the new measures as quickly as they should, and I can tell him that we will be taking action to drive compliance by the slower implementers. As he says, the EU has banned sow stalls, but farmers in other member states are not implementing the measures as fast as farmers in this country, and I will draw his concern to the attention of the relevant Minister.
Following the votes in the other place on the Welfare Reform Bill, may we have a debate in this House about the effect that the benefit changes will have on people who received contaminated blood products through treatment in the NHS and the fact that they will lose the very limited benefits that they are entitled to with the changes that the Government are introducing?
The Welfare Reform Bill will of course be returning to this House when it has completed its consideration in another place. Depending on any changes made to that Bill, hon. Members may have an opportunity to raise that matter. The hon. Lady attended a meeting with the relevant Minister, along with myself and others. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Anne Milton to refresh us both on the steps being taken as a result of that meeting, at which we met those who have suffered as a result of contaminated blood and believe that they are getting a raw deal.
Given the difficulties that the Leader of the House has in filling parliamentary time, given that the Backbench Business Committee always arranges interesting, entertaining and well attended debates on topical issues that Members and the country want discussed, and given the large number of requests that he has referred to that Committee today, has he given any consideration to having a Backbench Business week, when all the business of that week can be determined by that Committee?
My hon. Friend puts forward an interesting proposition. What we have tried to do is step up the number of days that we have made available to the Backbench Business Committee; it has a debate later today and one next Tuesday, and I announced another debate for the following week. I am not quite sure that it would make sense to block out a whole week and allocate all of it to the Backbench Business Committee.
Next Thursday, a by-election will be held in Redcar and Cleveland borough council’s Newcomen ward. The Liberal Democrat candidate has made openly Islamophobic statements on his Facebook site, yet he remains the candidate, despite Liberal Democrat “zero tolerance” to such instances of prejudice and discrimination. The Muslim Council of Britain is concerned about this, as are the Coexistence Trust and HOPE not hate. Does the Leader of the House believe there is any place in a mainstream democratic political party, especially one that is in government, for someone, such as Newcomen’s Lib Dem candidate, who holds such clearly expressed Islamophobic views?
I am reluctant to get drawn into a by-election spat. If any criminal offence has been committed, it would be appropriate to refer it to the police. My only comment is that if a Conservative candidate is standing, I hope that everyone will support him or her.
There has been a great deal of debate recently about public sector pensions, but may we have a debate about the state pension, so that we can discuss the actions that the Government are taking to improve the lot of state pensioners and ensure that they never again suffer the indignity of the miserly 75p rise they got from Labour?
We would welcome such a debate. This year, pensioners will see the biggest cash rise they have ever seen, and under our triple lock the state pension will always be increased, year on year, in line with average earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever is the highest. This year’s increase of more than £5 a week contrasts, as my hon. Friend has just reminded us, with the 75p that the Labour Government gave pensioners in 1999.
The west midlands was hit hardest during the downturn and is taking longest to recover, so it beggars belief that £185 million of European regional development fund money—designed to boost the economy, attract investment and create employment—that has been earmarked for the west midlands is lying idle, along with £1.1 billion nationally. Will the Leader of the House get the Minister responsible for this shambles to come to the House of Commons to explain to us why this money is not being spent in the regions where it is needed?
I assume that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. If that is the case, I will draw the matter to his attention and see whether there is a role to play in making sure that any funds that could be used for investment in the west midlands are unlocked.
Two of the greatest challenges facing us are energy costs, both to households and to business, and the need to reduce the impact of climate change. May we have an early debate about the progress being made towards the introduction of the green deal?
I cannot promise an early debate on the introduction of the green deal. I believe that just before Christmas my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made a statement to give us an update on the progress that we were making towards our targets. I imagine that such statements will be repeated at 12 month intervals. My hon. Friend might wish to approach the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it can find time for such a debate, so that we can outline the progress we are making on tackling climate change.
As we rebalance the economy towards business growth and entrepreneurship, may we have a debate on employer-supported child care vouchers, because at the moment the only people who cannot access such support are the self-employed?
The vouchers are of great help; they help nearly 500,000 people balance their commitments to their family with their work. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be considering his Budget and I will pass on my hon. Friend’s suggestion that the scheme should be extended to include the self-employed.
Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to meet young people in my constituency at our local youth forum. Their engagement in and passion about improving our community were excellent to see and showed their great potential to make a difference. Will the Leader of the House give Government time for a debate on how to get more young people involved in politics and make our institutions as relevant to them as possible?
I commend my hon. Friend for what he has done. It is up to every Member of Parliament to engage with young people in their constituencies and to encourage them to take part in the political process in the way he has suggested. I was encouraged, as I know were you, Mr Speaker, and Ms Eagle, by the quality of the debate when the Youth Parliament met here a few weeks ago and by the representatives' commitment to the political process. I hope that some of them will in due course sit on these green Benches.
Order. There is extreme pressure on time, as I mentioned earlier, and the level of interest in the first of the two Backbench Business Committee debates has necessitated the imposition of a very tight time limit. I am happy to take remaining colleagues on the explicit condition that we have single-sentence questions, led by Mr Julian Smith.
Towards the end of last year, I was pleased to be able to help launch the Royal College of Midwives’ “State of Maternity Services” report. There has been an increase in the number of midwives, but there has also an increase in the number of births, so I would therefore be grateful if consideration could be given to holding a debate on the future of maternity services.
That delivery took a little longer than Mr Speaker implied. My hon. Friend is a patron of the Royal College of Midwives and I commend him on his interest. The Government are committed to high-quality perinatal and antenatal care: hundreds more midwives are in service now than in 2010 and a record number are in training. I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured by that basic information.
Many businesses in Pendle have welcomed the reduction in the rate of corporation tax, but many are still struggling with an overtly complex tax system. May we therefore have a debate on tax simplification?
For many years, my constituents in south Essex have suffered intolerable delays at the Dartford crossing. My hon. Friend the roads Minister has an innovative solution; it requires legislation, however, so, will the Leader of the House tell me and my constituents when that legislation will be brought forward?
We have just had Transport questions, when my hon. Friend might have had an opportunity to raise that matter. It would be up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to propose such a piece of legislation and it would have to take its place in what, I have to tell my hon. Friend, is a rather long queue.
Colleagues have quirky ideas about commas and semi-colons; that is immediately apparent.
Harrow clinical commissioning group has been informed by NHS London that it is not economically viable as a unit under the Government’s reforms, and that it must be replaced and join Brent, Harrow, Ealing, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham. May we have a debate on the implementation of the Government’s NHS reforms?
The Government are encouraging group practices to band together to form clinical commissioning groups, but there is no central direction about how they should be configured. In the first instance, I suggest that my hon. Friend contacts NHS North West London and shares his concern to see whether there could be a better configuration of local practices that perhaps covered a slightly smaller area than the one that is envisaged.