Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:01 pm on 9th February 2012.

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

The business for the week commencing 20 February will be:

Monday 20 February—Motion relating to Iran. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 21 February—If necessary consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a European document relating to the remuneration of European Union staff.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 22 FebruaryOpposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion including on the publication of the NHS risk register.

Thursday 23 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2012, the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2012, and the draft Pensions Act 2008 (Abolition of Protected Rights) (Consequential Amendments) (No. 2) (Amendment) Order 2012.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 February will include:

Monday 27 February—Estimates day (4th allotted day). Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Funding for the Olympics and Paralympics: Oral evidence taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on 14 and 21 December 2010, HC689 i and ii, 17 May 2011, HC689-iii, 15 November 2011, HC689-iv, and 24 January 2012, HC689-v ; Forensic Science Service: 7th Report from the Science and Technology Committee of session 2010-12, HC 855; Government Response – The Forensic Science Service, Cm 8215 ]

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that they will have the opportunity to pay individual tributes to Her Majesty the Queen on 7 March during the debate on the Humble Address, marking the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 23 February will be:

Thursday 23 February—Debate on cycling.

For the convenience of the House, I would like to provide additional information on the parliamentary calendar. The House will return from the conference recess on Monday 15 October. In addition to the dates already announced, the House will rise at the close of play on Tuesday 13 November and return on Monday 19 November. The House will rise at the close of play on Thursday 20 December and return on Monday 7 January 2013.

As previously announced, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday 21 March. As is usual, the Budget debate will continue for a further three days. I will bring forward a motion to allow the continuation of the Budget debate on Friday 23 March. This will also facilitate the Backbench Business Committee’s usual pre-recess Adjournment debate prior to the Easter recess on Tuesday 27 March.

The House will also want to be aware that the private Members’ Bills Fridays for the next Session will be: 6 July, 13 July, 7 September, 14 September, 19 October, 26 October, 2 November, 9 November, 30 November, 18 January 2013, 25 January, 1 February and 1 March. All these dates are contained in a revised version of the calendar, now available for Members and staff from the Vote Office.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and for announcing yet another packed week.

The Government’s legislative incompetence has reached new heights with the announcement the Leader of the House has just made of a Friday sitting for the Budget. Did Government business managers forget to schedule the time they needed to debate the Budget, or did the Chancellor not bother to inform them when he announced the date? They certainly know how to manage the legislative factory, although I note that once again, the House is rising on a Tuesday so the Prime Minister can dodge his Question Time.

Yesterday, the Government were defeated in the Lords on day one of the Report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill. In yesterday’s Financial Times a Conservative Back Bencher was quoted as saying:

“No Tory MP knows what the point of these reforms is”.

Let me reassure Conservative Members: they are not alone. No one—with the possible exception of the Health Secretary—understands the point of these reforms. However, what doctors, nurses, the royal colleges, patients’ groups—in fact, just about anyone working in or using the health service—do understand is that this disastrous Bill is damaging our NHS. As the massive increase in the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment shows, it is patients who are suffering.

The Health Secretary may have presided over the biggest legislative shambles and policy disaster in recent history, but apparently the Prime Minister still has confidence in him. I do not imagine he feels particularly reassured, given that one No. 10 insider is quoted in The Times as saying that the Health Secretary

“should be taken out and shot”.

That was followed by a story in The Daily Telegraph with a headline saying that No. 10 does not want to shoot the Health Secretary. Given that the Prime Minister cannot even get his story straight on whether or not he wants to shoot his Ministers, is it any wonder that they have made such a mess of running the NHS? Will the Government recognise reality and finally drop the Health and Social Care Bill?

Ever willing to help the Government out, the Deputy Prime Minister briefed this week that he thought about vetoing the Health and Social Care Bill, but decided against it “for the sake of coalition unity”. So there we have it: the Liberal Democrats in government—power before principle.

The Health and Social Care Bill has become the latest Government Bill to run into trouble in the Lords. Over the period of the Labour Government, when we lost about a third of whipped Divisions in the Lords, the proportion of Labour peers reached a maximum of

30%. Representation on the Government Front Bench in the Lords is already at 39%. Will the Leader of the House therefore rule out stuffing the House of Lords any further with Government peers?

The Deputy Prime Minister also said this week that he was asking Liberal Democrats “day in day out” to vote for things they

“wouldn’t do in a month of Sundays” if there were a majority Liberal Democrat Government. It might have escaped his notice, but we have not been voting for legislation “day in, day out” due to the Government’s shambolic mishandling of parliamentary business in this House. The few votes we have had were clearly too much for the children’s Minister, who fled London rather than going into the Division Lobby with the Conservatives to vote for the Welfare Reform Bill. Does the Leader of the House agree with his own Back Benchers who said that the children's Minister should have the courage to vote for the Government’s business, or the guts to resign?

Labour called for the RBS chief executive not to take his bonus; it happened. Labour called for the board of Network Rail not to take their bonuses; it happened. On Tuesday, Labour initiated a debate on bankers’ bonuses and not a single Cabinet Minister could be bothered to speak for the Government. The Chancellor, speaking to the Federation of Small Businesses, even seemed to think it was anti-business to be talking about executive pay at all. Had he deigned to come to this House on Tuesday, he would have realised it is actually about fairness.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that as a result of quantitative easing, every bank in the country has benefited from taxpayer funding, and does he agree that it is not fair for the bosses of all banks that have benefited from taxpayer support to earn in one day many times more than most people in this country earn in a lifetime? Every time I have raised this matter, the right hon. Gentleman has ducked the question. Given that Barclays is due to announce its bonus round, will the Leader of the House now send an unequivocal message to banking bosses about what the Government consider fair?

I want to pay tribute to two remarkable women. Her Majesty the Queen has reigned for 60 years, and her commitment to the nation and the Commonwealth has rightly earned respect across the country and around the world. Florence Green, who died this week at the age of 110, was the last known surviving service member from world war one. Mrs Green was one of 100,000 women to serve this country in the great war. Will the Leader of the House now agree to schedule the traditional debate to mark international women’s day, so that we can pay tribute to the service of those remarkable women and many others who enhance our public life in this country?

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

The Government are anxious that we should have the normal pre-Easter recess Adjournment debate, which is normally scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, and that is why we are scheduling an additional day’s debate on the Friday after the Budget; if we did not do so, there would be a risk that that popular occasion would be squeezed out of the calendar.

The Prime Minister relishes Prime Minister’s questions—probably more than the Leader of the Opposition does. If the hon. Lady had been listening to what I said, she would have heard me announce that the House would be rising on a Thursday in December, not on a Tuesday. As for the upper House, the Labour party has more peers than any other party and if there was representation on the basis of votes at the previous general election, Labour would clearly not be entitled to that number of peers.

There are three principles in the Health and Social Care Bill: more control for patients; more power for professionals; and less bureaucracy. Those are three principles that the previous Labour Government were embarked on following when they were in power; they were establishing foundation trusts, they were promoting choice and they were promoting practice-based commissioning in the mid-2000s. We take forward that agenda. In addition, I say to the hon. Lady that it is called the “Health and Social Care Bill”—everyone agrees that social care must be linked more closely to the NHS, and the Bill promotes better financial and professional integration. As for the independent sector, I just remind her of what her manifesto said:

“We will support an active role for the independent sector working alongside the NHS in the provision of care”.

We are actually precluding the sort of arrangements that Labour promoted, whereby independent treatment centres were parachuted into the NHS with no powers for the NHS to compete.

On the point about the education Minister, the shadow Leader of the House was a Minister and she knows perfectly well that Ministers are occasionally away on ministerial business. That was the issue for my hon. Friend. If the shadow Leader of the House looks at the voting register, she will find that a large number of her colleagues did not take part in that particular vote.

On taxing the banks, the shadow Leader of the House will know that our annual levy on the banks brings in more each year than Labour’s one-off tax—that deals with that issue.

On international women’s day, that debate is one of the fixed events now allocated to the Backbench Business Committee, but I can say in response to the hon. Lady’s question that we will seek to allocate to that Committee a day so that it can hold the traditional debate on international women’s day roughly on the date when it occurs in March.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson Conservative, Reading East

May we have a debate on the purpose of confirmatory hearings by Select Committees, particularly those into public appointments? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very unwise for Ministers to disregard the autonomy and authority of Select Committees, particularly the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills?

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

I am aware of the report by the BIS Committee and what it said about the proposed appointment at the Office for Fair Access. The Government will want to reflect on that Committee’s recommendations before they come to a conclusion on any appointment.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am sorry to say that a student present at a lecture given yesterday by a holocaust survivor has complained about the conduct during that lecture of Mr Burley. Is it not about time that the Government sorted this whole affair out by publishing the outcome of the inquiry and organising a debate on the investigation that the Prime Minister announced into the hon. Gentleman’s involvement—[Interruption.]

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I attempted to phone personally, but the answerphone was on and so I asked my office to call. Is it not about time that this whole affair was sorted out, so that we can get to the bottom of the hon. Gentleman’s involvement in a party at which people chanted “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler” and toasted the Third Reich?

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

I have to say that that is not a matter for the Government—it is a matter for the party—and it would not be appropriate for me to respond to that question at this Dispatch Box.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

When my right hon. Friend had his conversations in January with the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, was he conducting them wearing his hat as Leader of the House of Commons—in other words, on behalf of Parliament—or as a member of the Government? May we have an early debate on the issue of the separation of powers and how that fits in with the operation of IPSA?

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

I cannot promise a debate along the lines that my hon. Friend has requested. However, as Leader of the House, I have regular discussions with the chief executive and the chairman of IPSA, as it would be appropriate for me to do, given the responsibilities that I hold.

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

We have just heard mention, both from the Leader of the House and his shadow, of the fact that international women’s day falls on 8 March and St David’s day falls on 1 March. The Backbench Business Committee received bids for both of those debates on Tuesday. The Leader of the House touches on a sore point, because it is impossible for the Committee to allocate those debates without the Government allocating us time to do so. Will he commit to meet our successor Committee in the new Session to divide up those set-piece debates on events that fall on specific days every year? Alternatively—this is much more preferable—will he allocate a set day every week in the Chamber that is specifically reserved for Back-Bench time?

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

We will, of course, seek to accommodate this year the specific events to which the hon. Lady has referred: the St David’s day and international women’s day debates. On her second point, I am sympathetic to the idea of pre-allocating to the Backbench Business Committee a certain number of days each year and then allocating it a day in order to honour a commitment in respect of international women’s day, the pre-EU Council debates, St David’s day and other such events. I would be happy to have that particular dialogue. On the concept of a fixed day each week, the Wright Committee looked at that but did not actually recommend it. That Committee said that that there would be a risk of rigidity if we went down that road, so at the moment I say no to a fixed day but I am happy to try to accommodate her in the way that she indicated.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

In 1975, five journalists died in Balibo in East Timor. In 2007, an Australian coroner’s court found that they had been deliberately killed by Indonesian troops and that this constituted a war crime. Five years on, with two British citizens having been killed in a war crime, is it not time that we had a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what our Government are going to do about it?

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

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his concern. I will draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and, of course, see whether it would be appropriate for the Government to make a statement in the light of that tragedy.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

The Leader of the House will be aware of today’s report from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support ServiceCAFCASS—highlighting a dramatic increase in the number of children being taken into care due to parental neglect. One of the most effective programmes in assisting dysfunctional and problem families is early intervention, yet these programmes are suffering across the country because of the Government’s savage cuts to local authority funding. So may we have a debate on this issue, in the hope that the Government will think again, if on the grounds not of compassion towards our children but of reducing the astronomical costs to the nation of keeping our children in care?

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

The Government have sought to protect the early intervention grant for precisely the reasons cited by the hon. Lady. It is indeed the case that, following the tragedy of Peter Connelly, more local authorities are taking children into care. Whether they remain in care is, of course, a matter for the courts, but we want to learn the lessons from what has happened, take advantage of the report that has been published today and see whether we can improve the quality of life of those children who are at risk.

Photo of Karen Lumley Karen Lumley Conservative, Redditch

I am extremely concerned about recent developments in the Republic of the Maldives, following the forced resignation of the former President Mohamed Nasheed, who is a close friend of mine. I have also heard worrying reports of escalating violence. As we speak, Mohamed Nasheed is awaiting arrest at his parents’ home. Will the Leader of the House urgently make time for a debate on the political situation in the Maldives and on the pressing need for judicial reform?

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

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We are to have a debate on Somalia and, depending on the flexibility of whoever is in the Chair, it may be appropriate for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to touch on the Maldives. It is a young democracy where the President has just resigned. The high commissioner is in the capital at the moment to seek to establish what is going on. We call on the new Government to demonstrate their respect for the rights of all political parties and their members, and to ensure that the constitution is upheld. The latest reports indicate no reports of unrest directly affecting tourists. If appropriate later on today, my right hon. Friend will seek to bring the House up to date.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

The Leader of the House will know that Mary Portas conducted an important review of our town centres. Is it not about time that the Government helped them, in this time of recession? In particular, may we have a debate on the role of Tesco, which is ravaging our town and city centres throughout the country? It is a dangerous monopoly and it is about time that it was curbed.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will know that the House debated the Mary Portas report in Back-Bench time a few weeks ago. The Government are grateful to Mary Portas for her report. We will publish our response in the spring and we will take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about the risks of too much power being vested in a number of supermarkets.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The Mayor of London will end his first term in office with 1,000 extra police officers, 1 million extra patrols on the streets and crime down by 7.6%. After three years of council tax freezes, following eight years of a Labour Mayor increasing the council tax by 152%, the welcome news is that London’s council tax will be reduced for the first time in London’s history. May we therefore have a debate on the effectiveness of local and regional government?

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

No one would welcome such a debate more than me, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend one in the immediate future. He makes a point. The Mayor intends for the Met to have 32,510 fully warranted police officers by the end of his first term, which is significantly more than he inherited. I pay tribute to what the Mayor of London has done in his first term.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

May we have a debate on the contribution that apprentices make to their local communities? Eight young apprentices from MBDA in my constituency are about to compete against seven other teams in the Brathay challenge. They will raise money for a local charity, raise awareness of apprenticeships and take part in an outdoor challenge. This is just one of the many commendable activities in which they take part each year, and I am sure that the Leader of the House would like to join me in wishing them good luck in the challenge.

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

Indeed, I do wish them good luck. I also wish good luck to the more than 400,000 apprentices starting their apprenticeships this year. That is a record number and a significant contribution to tackling the problems of youth unemployment that we inherited from the outgoing Government.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Given that the forthcoming parliamentary timetable is unlikely to be overburdened with new Government Bills, may we have a debate on the merits of repealing existing legislation?

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

I advise my hon. Friend not to believe everything he reads in the press about a light legislative programme in the second Session, but there might be an opportunity, subject to what is in the Queen’s Speech, to make progress with the repeals of certain measures that are surplus to requirement. That is part of our deregulatory initiative, which we are anxious to pursue.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member)

As you know, Mr Speaker, Swansea is the cultural capital of Wales. [ Interruption. ] In 2014, the world will celebrate the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas—a great literary icon and a great British and Welsh brand—in Swansea. Will the Leader of the House find time to debate a programme of events throughout 2014 to support inward investment and tourism, related to the centenary celebrations for Dylan Thomas, in the United Kingdom, Wales and Swansea?

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

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr Speaker, during the St David’s day debate, for which I hope the Backbench Business Committee will find time. I noted some dissent from behind the hon. Gentleman when he claimed that Swansea is the cultural capital of Wales. He may have difficulty with some of his parliamentary colleagues.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

As a Swansea boy, I have to agree with Geraint Davies, rather than with my Government’s Front-Bench representative on this occasion, which is most unusual for me.

Oil refineries and large chemical plants have been investing in combined heat and power units, but they face the loss of certain financial exemptions, without which an oil refinery may face a loss of £7 million a year if it continues with the CHP units. If it discontinued using them, tens if not hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 will be generated, with obvious environmental disadvantages. Will the Leader of the House arrange time for an urgent statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change to show that it is aware of the unintended consequences of the change in the levy system and that it will make representations to the Treasury to make an adjustment in the Budget accordingly?

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to an issue of which the Government are already aware. He might know that the Treasury has announced previously that it will introduce a relief from the carbon price floor for combined heat and power plants. We will bring forward the details in due course, and the Treasury and DECC are working closely together on the issue.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), DUP Westminster Leader

May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on the high and escalating price of fuel in Northern Ireland and the Treasury’s contribution to it? According to a National Consumer Council report published this week, the price is now the highest of any region in the EU. That will have a massive effect on the economy and on household bills. Can the Leader of the House offer any hope to the hard-pressed families and businesses of Northern Ireland?

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

I think we had an Opposition day debate relatively recently on the high cost of energy. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the particular problems referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and ask them to write to him.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

Tomorrow is my constituent Gary McKinnon’s birthday, but he will not be celebrating, because this is the 10th year that he has faced extradition to the United States, which, given his mental state, is tantamount to facing execution. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a statement when the Home Secretary finally makes her decision?

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

I commend my hon. Friend for the way in which he has championed the cause of his constituent. He will know that the Home Secretary has commissioned some reports and advice on medical issues. She will need time to reflect on those. I understand that the court has directed that the Home Secretary provide Mr McKinnon’s representatives with the experts’ report by 24 February and that he will then have a further 28 days to respond. The court has also directed that a hearing should take place in July, but I will pass on what my hon. Friend has just said to the Home Secretary.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee, Chair, Science and Technology Committee

I do not know whether you have seen the front page of the business section of today’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Speaker, but it refers to Vauxhall and General Motors in Europe. Against that background, you will be able to understand the anger expressed by my constituents following the Prime Minister’s response to me yesterday on public procurement. Given that police authorities are buying foreign cars and that Governments are buying products from all over the world—the leader of the Scottish Government is buying steel from China—may we have an urgent debate about public procurement and the Government’s role in leadership on it?

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

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not a matter for the Government which cars are procured by police authorities, which are independent bodies. Also, he will have seen the encouraging manufacturing output information that was published today. However, I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office the broader procurement issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised and see what further steps we can take within the confines of the fair trading laws the hon. Gentleman will be familiar with.

Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South

Last week, I attended a public meeting at which more than 100 of my constituents were protesting about the 15-year licence extension to a landfill in the constituency, which will take no waste from Warrington after 2013 but a great deal of waste from surrounding cities. May we have a debate on regional landfill strategy? Cities such as Liverpool and Manchester should be encouraged to look after their own waste and not send it to my constituency.

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

For reasons that my hon. Friend will understand, I cannot comment on the specific instance to which he refers, but he will know that under the Localism Act 2011 local authorities have a duty to co-operate with one another to co-ordinate the effective handling of waste to meet their communities’ needs. I hope that the provisions of that Act will give him some comfort.

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

May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Andrew Miller, particularly those about public procurement affecting local charities such as Erskine in my community, which looks after and provides jobs for disabled ex-service personnel? Unfortunately, in these austere times it is having to lay off ex-service personnel. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at public procurement through all Government Departments to explore whether there is any way they can help that organisation?

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

The hon. Gentleman might also want to raise this issue with the Scottish Parliament, but he may have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office indicate on Wednesday that he wants more small and medium-sized enterprises and organisations such as the one to which the hon. Gentleman referred to be able to bid for public procurement. Of course I will share with my right hon. Friend the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised and see whether we can try to help the organisation threatened with a loss of jobs in his constituency.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I am sure you are aware, Mr Speaker, that it is nearly 20 years since British soldiers were deployed Bosnia, yet the political situation there, where we put so much effort and resources and where we lost so many men, is getting worse and worse. Could we possibly have a debate about what is happening in a part of the world into which we put so much effort two decades ago?

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

My hon. Friend raises an important issue with which he is probably more familiar than almost anyone else in the Chamber. I can only suggest that he should apply to you, Mr Speaker, for a debate in Westminster Hall or for an Adjournment debate so we can have time to focus on Bosnia, the investment we made there and the role we have to play in tackling the outstanding problems that remain.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

Is it possible to have a debate on the excessive inventiveness of the Prime Minister? I am thinking in particular of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions in which he referred to the national health service on two occasions and got his facts completely wrong.

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

I would deny that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ever got any fact wrong. I heard the point of order raised by Alun Michael at the close of play yesterday and I am sure we will want to respond regarding the issue he raised.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

I hope that Mrs Bone does not mind that I have been called before my hon. Friend Mr Bone.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2695?

[That this House believes that public procurement should be used to boost the number of British apprentices; notes that the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) new Apprenticeship and Skills Requirements Contract Schedule, published in July 2011, has successfully encouraged contractors to hire more than 2,000 apprentices in the Department's supply chain, on a voluntary basis and that a similar scheme has been successful in Essex County Council; estimates that if this were rolled out across the wider public sector it would instantly create 120,000 new apprenticeships at little or no cost to the taxpayer; further estimates that if the normal ratio of these apprenticeship places went to young people, youth unemployment would be cut by seven per cent.; and therefore urges every Government department to bring in similar contracts to those of the DWP and to give thousands more young Britons a fighting chance of a job, a qualification and a decent wage.]

May we have a debate on apprenticeships and public procurement? Since 2011, the DWP has successfully been encouraging suppliers to hire more than 2,000 apprentices. That is different from Labour’s proposal, as it is cost-neutral to the Treasury and is voluntary for the firms involved. If that were copied across the public sector, it could create 120,000 extra apprenticeships. Will the Leader of the House look at this proposal?

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

I commend the example of the organisation my hon. Friend has mentioned, which is using the supply chain to employ more apprenticeships. I understand that many public sector bodies are already doing this as a matter of good practice, but we believe that even more can be done through a non-legislative approach to promote skills through public procurement. In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, I shall see whether the Government can give added momentum to the initiative to which he has referred.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Labour, Sefton Central

The public do not regard a Westminster Hall debate as sufficient recognition of the level of interest shown when an e-petition reaches the 100,000 signature mark. That is especially true in the case of Kevin Williams, who died at Hillsborough. Will the Leader of the House make sure that sufficient time is given to such debates in this Chamber and not push the responsibility on to the Backbench Business Committee, which has many other pressing issues for which to find time?

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

I gently make the point that there would not be a Backbench Business Committee allocating any time at all had this Government not set it up. I am not sure I agree with the premise on which the hon. Gentleman’s question was based, namely that a debate in Westminster Hall is not sufficient recognition of an issue. Some of the best debates I have attended in this Session have been in Westminster Hall, including a very moving debate on Holocaust memorial day last month. I think we need to dispel the myth that because something is debated in Westminster Hall it is not important. We should do all we can to raise the public perception of debates in Westminster Hall rather than denigrate them.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The whole House will thank the Leader of the House for provisionally publishing the dates of recess and for private Members’ Bills, which is a welcome move. If Ms Eagle does not like those dates and wants to be here on Wednesdays, she can lead the Opposition through the Division Lobby and vote against it. Indeed, I might well be with her on that occasion. Would it not be much easier and help the Backbench Business Committee out enormously if the 35 days in the next Session for Back-Bench business were allocated in the calendar? They would not have to be on the same day each week and they could even be provisional, but it would help us enormously if they were allocated.

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

I can move some way in the direction that my hon. Friend advocates. As I said in response to Ms Eagle, there are a number of set-piece debates that would normally take place on or around a certain day and I am very happy to have a dialogue to see whether we can make that time available. However, it would inject undue rigidity into the parliamentary timetable if we were to allocate in advance days for the Backbench Business Committee. Given the various events that occur during a Session and the unpredictability of many of them, it would impose undue rigidity on the business of the House if we had to pre-allocate all the Back-Bench business days right at the beginning of the Session.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Labour, Walsall South

May we have a debate on the definition of Government savings? The National Audit Office has said that the Cabinet Office cannot say whether the £2.6 billion comes from the reduction of public bodies or wider efficiency savings. If we cannot have a debate, will the Leader of the House kindly ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office to lay before the House a full impact assessment regarding the savings made for those public bodies that are going to be abolished or transferred under the Public Bodies Act 2011?

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

I understand that my right hon. Friend has already done so in the context of the Act, but I will draw the hon. Lady’s remarks to his attention. If he has not done what I think he has done, I am sure he will do it in future.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

As Sir Philip Mawer has resigned his post and said that he believes he should have been the person who inquired into the Adam Werritty affair, should we not look at this again to make sure we have a thorough investigation into that affair because of the real possibility that the former Secretary of State for Defence was conducting his own private foreign policy that could lead us into a war with Iran?

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

I have seen the evidence that Sir Philip Mawer gave before the Select Committee on Public Administration, and I have seen the exchange with the hon. Gentleman. It would make sense to await the Committee’s report before coming to a view on this issue, but he will know that the Cabinet Secretary produced his report, which led to the resignation of my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence, and we regard the matter as now closed.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth

I am glad that the Leader of the House noted what I said in my point of order last night, because that was not an isolated incident. Increasingly, at Prime Minister’s questions we see the Prime Minister red in the face and spraying inaccurate figures about Wales around the Chamber while he attempts not to answer sensible questions. In addition to the St David’s day debate—a tradition on which I hope the Leader of the House will deliver—may we have a debate in Government time on the NHS in Wales and England so that we can make the comparison between the Government in Wales, who are attempting to improve the service and who have the support of the people, and the Government here, who do not have a mandate and seek to bring in changes that will undermine both care and efficiency?

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

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order, and even on his own figures it seemed that the NHS in Wales was not doing as well as the NHS in England. I would welcome such a debate, which would give us an opportunity to contrast the extra resources we have provided to the NHS in England and the reduced waiting times since the election with the relatively poorer performance of the Administration in Wales.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Health Secretary leads for the Government in the Opposition day debate on the NHS risk register when we return? Does he agree that the handling of the Health and Social Care Bill has been an utter shambles from start to finish? Every day we see blue-on-blue briefing against the poor, downtrodden Health Secretary. Would it not better for all concerned if the Government just dropped the Bill?

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

In response to what the hon. Member for Wallasey said from the Opposition Front Bench, I explained why we need to make progress with the Bill. As for the hon. Gentleman’s question about the debate when we come back, the Government will put up an appropriate spokesman on any motion that the Opposition table. I refer him to what the Prime Minister said yesterday about the position of the Health Secretary being more secure than that of the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I know that as a serious parliamentarian the Leader of the House greatly values the independence of Select Committees, but there is clearly something fishy going on with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. Will he investigate to establish whether the Prime Minister and/or the Chancellor of the Exchequer were involved in the consideration by the Select Committee of the appointment of Mr Ebdon?

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

I have looked very quickly at the report of the BIS Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is implying that somehow members of the Committee have been nobbled by people who are not members of it, I strenuously deny any such assertion.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Further to the issues regarding the Welsh NHS raised by my hon. Friend Mr David and my right hon. Friend Alun Michael, may we have a debate in Government time about cross-border provision between Wales and England? It is often overlooked now that we have devolved the Welsh side and have England-only Bills on the English side. It is a serious issue. There have been serious cuts to the budget in Wales and we need a debate on their impact on my constituents and others. It would also educate the Prime Minister so that he gets his facts right in future.

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

The Prime Minister always gets his facts right, as I have just asserted. It may be appropriate in the debate on St David’s day to raise specific issues about cross-border trade and the NHS. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.