The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I not only thank the Leader of the House for his statement and congratulate the new Serjeant at Arms on his appointment, but pay tribute to the former Leader of the House, Tony Newton, who has sadly died.
Four weeks ago, the Chancellor made one of his rare appearances at the Dispatch Box to present his Budget, and it has gone down so brilliantly that the Leader of the House is going to find it even more difficult to coax the Chancellor out of hiding and back to the Dispatch Box any time soon. It takes a unique combination of political skills, which only this Chancellor possesses, to unite pie and pasty makers, Church and charity leaders, philanthropists, university vice-chancellors and caravan owners. The Chancellor’s magic touch has now extended to his own Back Benches, because last night nearly 10% of the Conservative parliamentary party voted against their own Government on the Budget.
It is not just the Budget that this Chancellor has bungled. He has made the wrong choices on the economy and the Government have no strategy for growth. While ordinary families are being hammered by soaring fuel, food and housing costs, this part-time Chancellor has chosen to give a huge tax cut to the richest 1%.
One of the first acts of the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on coming to office was to give a speech on philanthropy. In it, he announced that the Government would be
“reviewing what it can do to encourage philanthropy across the board”.
You have to say, Mr Speaker, that they have come up with a very novel way of doing it. The Culture Secretary briefed that the Budget process was such a shambles that the Chancellor did not bother speaking to him about the charities tax, and presumably he did not know about the churches tax either. Will the Culture Secretary come to this House and make a statement on that debacle?
Following on from the shambolic Budget, yesterday the Government forced through a tax cut for the richest 1%. Last November, Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said:
“It would be utterly incomprehensible for millions of people who work hard...if suddenly the priority is to give 300,000 people at the very, very top a tax break”.
If it was utterly incomprehensible then, why have Liberal Democrats voted for it now? Will the Leader of the House coax the Deputy Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box to explain his damascene conversion to the interests of the top 1%?
Do the Liberal Democrats seriously think they can get away with agreeing a policy round the Cabinet table, denouncing it in the media, and then voting for it in the House? It is not just on the Budget that they have tried that trick. As the Prime Minister pointed out while on his most recent world tour, the Liberal Democrat leader secretly signed off the policy on internet surveillance in Government and then, when details appeared in the papers, he publically denounced it. A pattern is emerging. Judging by his track record, the Deputy Prime Minster will now ensure that Liberal Democrats vote for the measure while he blames the Tories for it.
Perhaps the Liberal Democrat leader could explain this leaflet, which the party has just put out in Cornwall. It states “Stop the Tories Taxing Our Pasties!” Just five Liberal Democrat MPs voted for Labour’s amendment, and analysis of last night’s result reveals that it was Liberal Democrat votes what won the pasty tax for the Government. May we have a statement on this desperate effort to hoodwink the public? People are not fooled by the Liberal Democrats’ dubious political posturing. The pasty tax, the caravan tax and the churches tax were all voted through the House last night because of Liberal Democrat support.
The part-time Chancellor’s shambolic handling of the Budget is matched by the Home Secretary’s increasingly chaotic attempts to deport Abu Qatada. On the interpretation of time limits, I have to ask, why did no one in the Home Office think to phone up the European Court to check when it thought that the deadline was at an end?
This parliamentary Session is finally staggering to a close, ending a spectacularly mismanaged legislative programme with a spectacularly mismanaged Budget, and we have already started to have leaks about the content of the next Queen’s Speech. The entire Budget was leaked, but the content of the Queen’s Speech should not be briefed to the media before Her Majesty has delivered it.
In his statement, the Leader of the House referred to all the time he has allowed for consideration of Lords amendments next week, but will he take this opportunity to deny rumours that the House will rise much earlier than he is planning?
In an interview this week, the chair of the Conservative party tried to explain away what she herself described as the Government’s “incoherence” with two words “Liberal Democrats”. Can the Leader of the House tell us what on earth she could have meant?
I begin by thanking the hon. Lady for her kind words about Tony Newton, whose funeral I attended last week, where I listened to some generous tributes from John Major and John MacGregor. It was a very well attended and moving funeral.
Let me move on to the hon. Lady’s questions. Most of them related to the Budget; I gently point out to her that we are debating the Budget for the whole of this week and that this time is for questions about next week’s business. All the issues she raised have been the subject of a debate this week or will be the subject of a debate later today. Let me also gently remind the hon. Lady about Budget rebellions. Three weeks ago, an amendment was tabled to the Budget opposing the cut to the 50p tax rate. In other words, it was an amendment that would have implemented the Labour party’s policy. When there was a vote, only two Labour Members voted for it: the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn). They were the only two Members who supported the official Labour party policy. Everyone else, including the hon. Lady, rebelled, so I will take no lectures from her on rebellions on Budget measures.
The hon. Lady raised some points about taxation. She did not mention the 2 million people we are taking out of tax or the 24 million taxpayers who will benefit from the changes we have made. As she knows, the better-off will pay five times more in extra tax than they will get from the reduction in the rate from 50p to 45p.
On the subject of Qatada, we have just had a whole hour of exchanges on Qatada and I hope that the hon. Lady’s colleagues have raised all the questions on that subject that could possibly be raised.
On the legislative Session, I gently remind the hon. Lady that, unlike during the previous Session under the previous Government, we have not rushed through Bills with guillotine after guillotine. We have consistently allowed two days on Report for several Bills, many programme motions have been supported by the Labour party—all credit to Labour for coming to a sensible accommodation—and we have had adequate discussion. I remember the hon. Lady saying that we would not get all the Bills through, but we are getting them all through, with adequate time.
On the hon. Lady’s final question, I have announced that the House will be sitting the week after next and I have announced the business for the Monday. She will understand that at this stage in the parliamentary Session, with four Bills still in play between the two Houses, it is impossible to forecast exactly when the House will prorogue. I anticipate that it will be some time the week after next.
Can the Leader of the House say when the parliamentary business committee will be established so that all the issues with programming motions can go? That would offer the opportunity of taking control of business away from the Executive and back to Parliament.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Backbench Business Committee has been established and elections will take place at the beginning of the next Session. He will know of the commitment in the coalition agreement to introduce a committee to deal with Government business by the third year, which ends in about a year’s time and so, as my hon. Friend will understand, we have 12 months to honour that commitment. I plan to honour it.
On Tuesday, the Backbench Business Committee met for the last time this Session—[Hon. Members: “Aah!] I see the grief on the Chief Whip’s face. As the Leader of the House announced, Thursday is the last debate this Session from the Backbench Business Committee in Westminster Hall, where we will be launching our end-of-term report with a mini-statement, in which I hope all Members will participate. Will the Leader of the House ensure that all political parties elect new members to the Backbench Business Committee as a matter of urgency when we return to Parliament on
I take this opportunity to compliment the hon. Lady on her chairmanship of the Backbench Business Committee during its first two years. As she has just said, it has met for the last time. I have no idea whether she is going to stand again as Chair and the last thing she would want would be any endorsement from business managers of her candidacy, but I hope that if she stands, the House will take on board her record of leadership over the past two years.
Speaking for the two coalition parties, I can say that we plan to proceed as quickly as possible at the beginning of the next Session with the election of our members of the Backbench Business Committee, and I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House will ensure that her party does the same. The Government want to see the Committee up and running as soon as possible and we will do all we can to facilitate it. I commend the hon. Lady on her public service announcement about the launch of her report in Westminster Hall next week and I very much hope to be in my place for that.
The people of Hay-on-Wye in my constituency are twinned with the people of Timbuktu in Mali, where they carry on many good projects involving health, education and agriculture. They are now concerned about the well-being of their friends in that trouble-torn country. Will the Leader of the House either make time available for a debate or ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House and make an oral statement so that we can ascertain what is happening in that country and to our embassy there?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, particularly because of the links between his constituency and Timbuktu. We had an opportunity on Tuesday in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions for those concerns to be ventilated, but I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to my hon. Friend and give him up-to-date information, particularly about any impact on British citizens in that country.
The whole House will be aware of the courage and commitment to democracy of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Is the Leader of the House able to make a statement about her visit to the UK? Perhaps he might agree with me that an invitation to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall would be a fitting tribute to her and a very great honour to us all.
I am grateful for the right hon. Lady’s comments. As she knows, the Prime Minister extended to Aung San Suu Kyi an invitation to visit this country and I have seen reports, which I welcome if they are true, that she plans to spend some time in Oxford where she used to live. I suspect that the question of an address in Westminster Hall is above my pay grade, but I will ensure that it goes to the relevant authorities for serious consideration in view of her record on human rights.
It is more than 20 years since the landmark Medical Research Council study that showed that the fortification of foodstuffs with folic acid taken prior to conception would reduce neural tube defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Many countries have pursued that policy, but there is an impasse in our country between the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health. May we have a debate in Government time to ensure that we properly debate this matter and follow the lead of other countries to reduce the incidence of these dreadful medical conditions?
I applaud my hon. Friend’s concern on this subject and his campaign and zeal for progress. I cannot promise a debate, but it sounds like an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment of the House. In the meantime, however, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to bring my hon. Friend up to date with the progress he is making on resolving the conflict of interest to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I should like to join in the tribute to Tony Newton. He fought for what he believed, right up to the week of his death, and I would like to give my commiserations to his family.
What is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s present travel advice to people thinking of going to the Formula 1 race in Bahrain, given that Amnesty International this week published a report saying that nothing much has changed in Bahrain over the past year? This morning, the BBC’s sports reporter made it quite clear that there is a lot of unrest in Bahrain and that there is a man on hunger strike at the moment—on the 70th day of that hunger strike. What is the Government’s advice to people thinking of going to the Formula 1 race?
My understanding is that the Foreign Office has given no specific advice that people should not travel to Bahrain. The Formula 1 event is a matter for the Bahraini authorities and the FIA organisers. Although we are concerned by some of the violent exchanges still occurring in Bahrain and we call on all sides to exercise restraint and follow the rule of law, at this stage the Foreign Office is not giving any specific advice to potential visitors that they should cancel their visit.
I had a wonderfully positive Easter recess in which I opened a new dye works—the first to open in the UK for 20 years —presented a cheque for £45,000 of Olympic legacy cash from the national lottery to a local rugby club and also met an engineering works that is expanding so fast that it needs new premises. With all that positivity around, may I suggest that my right hon. Friend should suggest to the Chancellor that we slap a tax on doom-mongers and mitherers?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor might be looking for new ways of broadening the tax base but whether that one would be easy to implement I very much doubt. My hon. Friend makes a good point. When the House is not sitting, MPs are not on holiday. His hyperactive work during the Easter recess shows just how hard MPs on both sides of the House work during the recesses.
In light of the Commons vote on Tuesday to remove from scope the majority of social welfare law, which will have a major effect on the viability of many advice agencies, will the Leader of the House tell us when the long-awaited advice review will be published so that we might at least have some attempt at a strategic approach instead of just allowing advice deserts to flourish?
What I will undertake to do, now that the Bill has gone back to another place, is see that when the other place considers the amendments we made an answer is given by the Minister responsible to the hon. Lady’s question about the date of the help she has just mentioned. As she knows, some concessions were made on Tuesday in view of the concern that she and others had expressed and it is now a matter for the other place to see whether they accept our amendments.
That would be an interesting debate. The Government believe in local democracy, in devolving decisions about parking charges to local authorities and in local electors holding people to account if they take unpopular decisions on parking. My hon. Friend will have seen the Mary Portas review and some of the proposals in that to make it easier for people to park in towns or cities such as his, and I can only suggest that he pursue his campaign in Brighton, because I think the key to a change in policy is held there rather than here.
May we have a debate on employment rights at the Olympics? The Musicians Union has learned that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games is expecting musicians to play for nothing at the summer events. Those who put on the events will be paid, as will those who provide the equipment and the security. I am sure that the Olympic bureaucrats will be handsomely paid, but uniquely musicians will be expected to play for nothing. Does the Leader of the House believe this is totally unacceptable and that musicians should always be offered a fee for their services?
I understand the strong feelings and I commend the hon. Gentleman on his own performance as a musician. I will raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I do not know whether there will be an opportunity to raise the matter in the rather narrow debate on Monday week on the Olympics and Sunday trading. Depending on the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman and the breadth of tolerance of whoever happens to be in the Chair, there might be an opportunity to raise it then, but I shall certainly forewarn my right hon. Friend of the concern the hon. Gentleman has just expressed.
Returning power to people and communities is a vital coalition reform. Cornwall council wants to make the most of the new opportunities to be the first rural region to have the same powers as our important cities, so that we can improve the quality of life of people in Cornwall. Will my right hon. Friend seek to have the Ministers responsible make a statement to enable that?
The short answer is yes, of course. We are anxious to devolve power to local communities, including communities in Cornwall, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will want to consider very carefully the case that my hon. Friend makes for ensuring that the people of Cornwall can have the best possible deal and achieve the economic growth that the area needs so much.
Three months ago a dossier about war crimes committed by the defence attaché at Sri Lanka’s high commission in London, Major General Prasanna De Silva, was sent to the Foreign Office. However, the Foreign Secretary has reportedly refused to strip him of diplomatic immunity so that he can be questioned about these terrible accusations. I hope we can have a debate about the case and about the abuse of diplomatic immunity, because if the attaché is allowed to leave without being questioned, that will undermine Britain’s proud reputation for not tolerating war criminals. If we are soft on Sri Lanka, other shady regimes will surely also begin to regard us as a refuge for people who commit atrocities.
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. It is important that diplomatic immunity is not abused. There was an opportunity on Tuesday to raise this with the Foreign Secretary. I am not sure that it will be possible to raise it again before Prorogation, but I will ask the Foreign Secretary to drop her a line explaining what action he is taking in response to her concern about the continuing diplomatic immunity of the individual to whom she referred.
May we have a debate on the European Commission? Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to end the rumours that the replacement for Baroness Ashton, whose term of office ends in 2014, will not be a Liberal Democrat, but that the next UK Commissioner to the EU Commission will be a Conservative?
That is way above my pay grade. We have two years in which to come to a decision on this very important matter concerning the UK representative on the Commission. I hope that between now and 2014 my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask questions of the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions, where he may get a more authoritative response as to the procedure and consultation process before a replacement for Baroness Ashton is announced.
I understand that the Prime Minister is being uncharacteristically coy about whether he has ever stayed in a static caravan. I hope the Leader of the House will be less coy in answering. Will he ensure that an impact assessment is published on the effect of the caravan tax on sub-regional economies, such as that of Humberside?
We had a fairly extensive debate on the subject yesterday. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was able to catch the eye of the Deputy Speaker. It is open to him to table a parliamentary question in order to get the answer to the question that he asked—what is the impact on a particular region of the imposition of the tax?
The Prime Minister was in Orpington on Tuesday, making him, I believe, the first serving Prime Minister to visit the constituency in more than 40 years, since the days of Edward Heath. May we have a debate on the historic neglect of the outer London boroughs that this mayoralty and this Government inherited and which this mayoralty and this Government are working so tirelessly to reverse?
My hon. Friend has, of course, an interest in the outcome of the elections. It is certainly the case that Boris Johnson has given consideration to the outer London boroughs that was denied to them by the previous incumbent. I very much hope that on election day those who share my hon. Friend’s concern that the outer London boroughs should not be neglected at City Hall will turn out in force and vote for Mayor Johnson.
The Leader of the House will be aware that today is the designated international day of remembrance for victims of the holocaust. Some years ago I was asked to be a guardian of the memory of Jacob Billauer, about whom I have been able to find out very little, other than the fact that he was a Polish Member of Parliament—a Member of Parliament like us. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is appropriate that our House should spend a moment to remember the victims of the holocaust and to record the name of Jacob Billauer in
Hansard so that it can be remembered in history in this place as well?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us about this day of remembrance for victims of the holocaust and for reminding us of Jacob Billauer and all the other victims. He will know that this House had a debate on Holocaust memorial day on
During Transport questions the Secretary of State confirmed that the Department has no idea of the cost of increasing the motorway speed limit and its impact on road casualties. Given that the Opposition have already come out in favour of a policy that will cost millions and cost lives, may we have a debate in the House on the financial implications and the cost in human life of an increase in the speed limit?
This is a matter which I, as a former Secretary of State for Transport, have looked at and have some interest in. Again, it strikes me that that would be an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall, where we could give it the consideration that it deserves. If such a debate were to take place, I would do my best to ensure that the statistics that my hon. Friend has asked for—the cost in extra consumption and, if it is indeed the case, the cost in accidents and lives—are available so that that can help to inform the debate before a final decision is taken as to whether the speed limit should be raised on motorways.
May we have an urgent debate on staffing levels in Government Departments, particularly Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Communities and Local Government? My constituent, Mrs Dhillon, received a late penalty notice for her husband, who died in 2008, for 2011. That is mainly a result of the fact that many systems are automated. I have also contacted DCLG about business rate rebates and have not had a reply yet. Could the Leader of the House look into this?
Two thirds of people in Halesowen and Rowley Regis have gross earnings of less than £26,000, and most do not believe it to be fair that some families can receive much more than this from benefits. May we have a debate in Government time on what further work the Government need to do to make sure that people are always better off in work?
The motivation behind the introduction of the universal credit, which I hope is supported by Members on both sides of the House, is to ensure that it always pays to work. My hon. Friend will know that the relevant legislation has gone through, along with a benefits cap and a serious approach to benefit fraud. The current system costs the taxpayer £1.5 billion a year. We hope to make progress on that and introduce new measures to tackle fraud, tougher rules and a benefit ban of three years for people who offend repeatedly. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 is an Act of historic importance. We have taken bold action both to make work pay and to protect the vulnerable.
Before the end of the Session, may we revisit the changes to the feed-in tariff regime, given the astonishing figures produced today by the Government which show that solar panel installation has fallen by more than 90% since the Government’s changes were made, damaging industries such as Kingspan in my constituency, installers and ultimately consumers, and not making this Government the greenest Government in history, as they claim?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. I would be misleading him if I said I could find time for a debate, but after Prorogation and when we have a debate on the Queen’s Speech, depending on what is in it, he might be able to draw to the attention of Ministers the concern that he has just expressed.
Over the Easter recess I spent a morning at our local job club, run by Staffordshire Moorlands community voluntary services. They are having enormous success in getting some of the hardest to place people back into work, including on the Work programme. Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the role of the voluntary sector in the Government’s Work programme and in finding work for difficult to place people?
I commend my hon. Friend on her activity during the Easter recess, and I commend the work that voluntary organisations are doing in delivering the Work programme, which has been calibrated to encourage them to help find work for people for whom it has historically been difficult to find work. I commend the work that is taking place in her constituency. The Work programme is the biggest back-to-work programme that the country has ever seen. It has already helped 300,000 people. We hope it will help more than 3 million people. I cannot promise a debate in the very near future, but there may be opportunities to develop this dialogue in the new Session.
May I remind the Leader of the House that one of the consequences—it may be an unintended consequence—of Government changes to benefits for families is that many children from the poorest families will lose their free school meals? That is a very important and terrible challenge for the House. Will he make sure that we have an early opportunity to debate this dramatic change?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which has been in the news today. He will know that we are moving from an array of different benefits to a universal credit—a move that I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome—under which everyone will be better off in work. There is a particular issue, to which he has just referred, as we migrate from where we are to universal credit, about what happens to entitlement to free school meals. He may have heard the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Sarah Teather, speaking about this. We are determined to protect vulnerable children—those children on low incomes. We recognise that free school meals are an important ingredient for them and we are in consultation to ensure that, as we move to the new regime, we continue to protect those in most need.
In March, Conservative-led Pendle council purchased Brierfield Mills, a landmark grade II listed building, thanks to a £1.5 million grant from the Homes and Communities Agency. Under the previous Government, the building had been bought by Islamic Help, which controversially planned to turn it into a 5,000-place Islamic girls school. Thankfully, now, the site will remain in economic or commercial use. May we have a debate about what the Government are doing to support the economy in the north of England and such economic regeneration?
I was interested to hear of the project referred to by my hon. Friend, and we are anxious to promote regeneration in his constituency. The regional growth fund is on schedule. The first two rounds allocated £1.4 billion, but a new bidding round has opened recently and an additional £1 billion is now available. I hope that projects in his constituency will consider applying for this so that we can regenerate, provide employment and create wealth.
As a former charities Minister, I am disappointed that we have not heard much from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Mr Hurd about the Government’s position on philanthropy, so may we have a statement from him because it would give him a chance to stop the traducing of the Chancellor’s reputation on philanthropy, because he has been described as being anti-philanthropy despite being the man who has brought us the Budget that just keeps on giving?
The coalition Government are in favour of philanthropy and we have taken a number of steps to promote it. We have made changes to the inheritance tax regime, we have proposals for small donations so that tax can be claimed back, and we are streamlining the mechanism by which charities reclaim tax.
On the specific measure to which the hon. Gentleman refers, he will know that we are having discussions with the charitable sector to seek to protect it from any damaging changes in the proposals that have been announced, which come into effect in a year’s time. There is a serious issue as to whether those on high incomes, who have philanthropic objectives, should be able to exempt themselves from income tax by making substantial donations. In America, which has a good culture, there is a cap on relief, so there is nothing inherently anti-philanthropic in ensuring that those who have high incomes make some contribution to the overheads of the country through income tax.
In Crewe, a local action group led by Glenn Perris has campaigned successfully, with my support, against the imposition of a council Traveller site, assisted by the new Government policy of working with the private sector to meet any unmet Traveller need. Can we find time for a debate on this important common-sense policy and congratulate Mr Perris and his team on their sterling work?
I endorse what my hon. Friend says about what is happening in his constituency. He will know that on
Despite the dismal weather of the past week, large parts of England face drought conditions. Meanwhile, in Glasgow we know that it is summer only because the rain warms up. Does the Leader of the House see any value in discussing in a debate on the Floor of the House the costs and practicalities of a nationwide water distribution network so that we in Scotland could perhaps share some of our excess water wealth with our more parched southern compatriots?
The Glasgow tourist board may be in touch with the hon. Gentleman about his rather disparaging remarks about the weather in that great city. There is an issue about drought, however. We have had one drought summit and there will be another in May. There is a drought group in the relevant Department, and we are taking steps to conserve water, and, where feasible, to move water from those areas in surplus to those in shortage. I cannot promise a debate between now and Prorogation, but perhaps in the new Session, depending on what happens to the weather in between, we may have an opportunity to revisit this.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Chancellor has recognised that our climate change proposals have a particular impact on high-energy users, such as steel, and I share my hon. Friend’s delight at the reopening of the plant in his constituency. I do not know if there will be an opportunity as the Finance Bill goes through the House to raise this, but I will share his concern with the Chancellor and inquire about the progress being made in the discussions between the high-energy users and the Treasury, to make sure that the undesirable consequences are mitigated and the industries remain competitive with our European colleagues.
May we have a debate on the lessons of our industrial heritage, and will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the people of Westhoughton, who this weekend will be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the burning of Westhoughton mill by the Luddites, an act committed because of the unemployment and poverty that existed at the time? The commemorations will include the burning of a replica mill.
I hope that the local fire brigade is aware of the rather unique way that the hon. Lady’s constituents have of celebrating these events. I share her commitment to industrial heritage and I hope the ceremony goes well. I will share with the appropriate Minister the concern that she has just expressed.
New academies, such as Harris, South Norwood, Oasis Shirley Park and Quest, serving Croydon Central have significantly driven up standards. May we have a debate on the Government’s academies programme, which built on the ideas of Tony Blair and Lord Adonis, which were so shamefully stymied by the shadow Chancellor, but are doing so much to drive up standards for all of our young people, but particularly those from deprived areas?
I would welcome such a debate on the way that we have driven forward at high speed the policy that we inherited from Lord Adonis. We are clear that academies are helping to increase school standards, and this year’s academy GCSE results improved by nearly twice the level seen across all maintained schools. I hope that we can maintain the momentum and that in the new Session there might be an opportunity for a further debate on our education policies.
Yesterday evening, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Government narrowly staved off a defeat on the imposition of VAT on static caravans. That was made possible, despite the fact that 17 Tory MPs rebelled against their own Government, by Liberal Democrats. May we have a debate on the genuine dislike of Liberal Democrats that is shared across the House and the country?
No. Those of us who have been in government before, particularly under John Major, would regard a majority of, I think, 25 as a healthy one, compared with that of ’92 to ’97. The degree of harmony between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the Government is far greater than it was between the Brownites and the Blairites in the last Labour Government.
Given the increasing number of people in this country who have been diagnosed with wet age-related macular degeneration, will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and advise us why the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence refused to license the use of Avastin when it has been proved to be much cheaper than the use of Lucentis?
The Macular Disease Society is based in my constituency in Andover, and I have very close links with it. The short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that the manufacturer of Avastin, Roche, has not applied to the relevant authority for a licence to treat wet AMD with this particular product. It is up to it to make the application. In the meantime, a licence has been granted to Lucentis, which is slightly more expensive, but I hope as effective.
The spokesman the hon. Lady refers to is my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will try to find out from the Department when we plan to publish our conclusions. It is important that we get it right. She might remember that in the 1990s the House legislated in haste on dangerous dogs and got it wrong. We are anxious not to make the same mistake again.
Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on the role of local government in supporting microfinance start-up companies, which might help my constituents understand why the Labour council in Enfield is disposing of the business innovation centre, which is profitable and provides valuable services but might now end up as a housing estate, which of course stands in sharp contrast to the support and funding received from the Conservative Mayor of London?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I am not sure whether it will be possible for the Mayor of London to intervene in the project in my hon. Friend’s constituency and see whether even at this late stage it might be saved for the purpose he has outlined. I cannot promise an immediate debate on this subject. We are anxious that local government use their powers to promote wealth and employment and create jobs in appropriate locations. I can only suggest that my hon. Friend applies for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall.
A number of Scottish newspapers have revealed a shocking history of domestic violence and child beating by a nationalist MSP, Mr Bill Walker, stretching over 30 years. Mr Walker, like all who commit domestic violence acts, has arrogantly refused to take responsibility for his actions and will not resign his seat. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government will consult the Scottish Parliament on extending any new provisions for the recall of MPs to MSPs so that my constituents can be represented in the Scottish Parliament by a fit and proper person?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. He will know that we have published a draft recall of MPs Bill. In fact, this morning the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Mr Harper, gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which is doing pre-legislative scrutiny. We have said that we will consider extending recall to the devolved legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament, as part of our overall consideration of responses to the inquiry. In the first instance we want to honour our commitment to the recall of MPs, but we have not ruled out extending it to the devolved legislatures at a later stage.
This week saw a report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s independent expert giving a green light to the resumption of fracking for shale gas in Lancashire. At the same time, my constituency has a third application before the Infrastructure Planning Commission for the storage of imported gas in excavated salt mines, Claughton moor has a second application for an onshore wind farm and, to cap it all, the National Grid now wants to build bigger and newer pylons to transmit power to newly proposed offshore wind farms. Is there any chance of having a debate on the cumulative impact of this on the people of Lancashire and their environment?
There certainly seems to be a high concentration of energy-related projects in my hon. Friend’s constituency. On fracking, operations remain suspended. We are consulting on the Cuadrilla report and the independent expert’s recent report, but in the meantime no drilling will take place. I understand the other issues that my hon. Friend raises and the cumulative impact they have on his constituency. I cannot promise an early debate, but it sounds like a subject for a potential debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment.
As further evidence that the Government are in a shambles, we have today seen figures showing shocking increases in waiting times for common operations, so may we have an urgent debate on the NHS and waiting times? As an example, during the past six months I have had more complaints from constituents about the NHS than I have had in six years, and of course the Government have been in place for two years. I think that that is indicative of how they are handling the NHS.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The latest figures I have seen show that for in-patients and out-patients average waiting times are around the level they were at two years ago, despite a big increase in throughput and the number of treatments. Waiting times might have gone up for some processes, but for others they have gone down. Fewer patients than ever are waiting a long time for treatment in the NHS, the number of people waiting for over a year has reduced by two thirds and, as I said a moment ago, the average time patients have to wait for treatment is at roughly the same level as it was two years ago. We are determined to maintain the progress we have made and have committed extra resources to the NHS, which the Labour party would not have granted it.
In the first two years of the Conservative-led coalition, council tax has been virtually frozen across England. That is in stark comparison to the previous Labour Government, under whom council tax doubled for my constituents and for people across the country. May we have a debate on council tax and value for council tax payers’ money?
We would welcome such a debate. We had one in February when the House debated the revenue support grant—it is an annual debate—and those points were forcibly made. As in many parts of the country, when people decide how to vote in local elections I am sure that they will remember the Government’s benevolent treatment of council tax payers and the way we sought to protect them from the pressures on household budgets by enabling many local authorities to freeze council tax for two years running.
My recollection is that we have banned the clamping of motor vehicles, which I think is now an offence. I hope that that will reduce to some extent the grievances to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If he has in mind any other changes to the legislation, perhaps he will be good enough to let me or my hon. Friends know and we will certainly look at them. We must get the balance right between, on the one hand, those who own property that they do not want to operate as free car parks and, on the other hand, motorists who are legitimately looking for somewhere to park their cars while they go about their business. I hope that we have the right balance, but if he has any proposals we will of course look at them.
May we please have a statement on buses? The Leader of the House might have noticed the great interest in buses during Transport questions this morning, which was far higher than usual, following the publication on
There is always pressure on Government time and we have to balance the House’s appetite for statements with the business before the House on a particular day, which is why we sometimes make written ministerial statements rather than oral ones. If my hon. Friend looks at the Government’s record, he will find that we have made more statements than our predecessors. Ultimately, it is a question of balance; a statement, which can last an hour, squeezes the subsequent debate, and if it is an Opposition day there are sometimes protests from Opposition Members. We try to get the balance right, but not every Government announcement scores an oral statement in the House.
May we have a debate on the concerns set out in early-day motion 2969, which calls for ethical standards to be maintained during the Olympics?
[That this House is concerned about press reports that UK Olympians will be asked to wear sporting equipment produced by exploited child labour; is further concerned that successful Olympians will be presented with medals produced by multi-national company Rio Tinto who have locked out their entire workforce in Alma, Quebec without any serious consultation; and, therefore calls on the Government and the Olympics governing body to ensure that ethical trading standards will be maintained during a hopefully successful Olympics in the UK.]
Recent press reports suggest that exploited child labour is being used to make the sports equipment used by UK athletes, and now we hear that the company producing the gold medals, Rio Tinto, has locked out its entire work force since December last year. If we are to have a successful Olympics—we all hope that we will—ethical standards must be maintained by all involved.
I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. Of course we should maintain high ethical standards. Like him, I want the Olympic games to be a great success. I will raise with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games the two issues that he has raised about the medals and the possible use of child labour, and ask Lord Coe to write to him.
May we have a statement on which councils are providing value for money for taxpayers? Harlow’s Conservative council has frozen council tax not just for one or two years, but for the past three years, and has protected discretionary services. Does that not show that Conservative councils cost taxpayers less?
The short answer is yes. Perhaps I should not develop that too much, in view of what I said earlier about my Liberal Democrat friends. Under the last Labour Government, council tax doubled across England. This Government have worked with councils to freeze council tax for two years. I applaud what has happened in Harlow, where the council anticipated that policy by freezing council tax for a third year. Those who have an opportunity to vote next month must cast their votes according to the record to which my hon. Friend has referred.
Cleveland has seen a 1.2% rise in crime this week and has lost 224 police officers since May 2010, and yet the Home Secretary has never visited the north-east region to see the effects of her cuts. Can we have a debate on rising crime in the north-east, which is due to the Government’s cuts to front-line police?
I think that the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in drawing a direct correlation between the volume of crime and the number of police officers; it is a much more subtle equation than he implies. He will know that in many parts of the country, police authorities have coped with the challenging budgets without reducing the front-line effectiveness of the police force. I will see whether Home Office Ministers are able to visit the north-east to see at first hand what is going on. I hope that the police authority will respond to the challenge and maintain front-line effectiveness, as has happened in other parts of the country.
May we have a debate on the political situation in Bangladesh, in particular to highlight the disappearance of a series of Opposition politicians, including Mr Elias Ali, the former Member of Parliament for Bishwanath in Sylhet, whom I met in Sylhet two weeks ago and who, along with his driver, disappeared on Tuesday evening?
The Leader of the House is very familiar with the review of children’s cardiac services. I understand that a decision on the unit at Leicester’s Glenfield hospital will be made on
I am, indeed, familiar with that issue. It is a matter that concerns Members on both sides of the House. It will be possible in the new Session to bid for time through the Backbench Business Committee, in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. I quite agree that this subject would generate considerable interest on both sides of the House. It is an important matter that deserves further consideration.
Earlier this week, Belgrave high school in Tamworth received the welcome news that its application to become an academy has been given the go-ahead by the Department for
Education, affording its students, who suffer some challenging backgrounds, a real opportunity to succeed. I echo warmly the call of my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell for a debate on the opportunities afforded by academies, focusing particularly on the benefit of vertical integration between primary and secondary academies.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting angle in the academy debate by drawing the House’s attention to the links between primary and secondary education. As I said earlier, GCSE records indicate faster improvement among schools that have become academies than in the rest of the school population. I hope that other schools in his constituency will follow the example of the one to which he has referred and go for academy status, with the benefits and freedoms that go with it.
The Government are rightly promoting the development and marketing of electric cars. In parallel, we need energy supplies that are consistent with our CO2 objectives. May we have a debate on energy infrastructure and on how we can develop electricity storage systems, because that would lead to technical developments that we could market abroad?
My hon. Friend is right that if we are to hit our targets, we need to develop more effective methods of storing electricity. I understand that storage demonstration projects have been funded through Ofgem and through DECC’s low carbon investment fund. Announcements will be made in the summer about how the Department proposes to support energy storage innovation, which will include the examples to which he has referred.
May we have a debate on truancy at primary schools? The latest figures show that almost 400,000 primary school pupils are absent for 15% of the school year or more, which is equivalent to a month out of school. I hope that all Members agree that addressing poor patterns of school attendance early would have major benefits not only for the pupils and families involved, but for the whole of society.
I agree with my hon. Friend. He may have seen Charlie Taylor’s report, which was published on Monday, and the accompanying written ministerial statement, which supported the report and stated which measures would be taken forward. I agree that attendance at school is a key factor in driving up levels of achievement. We need to change the culture whereby it is acceptable regularly to take family holidays during the school year. We also need better statistics on truancy, which was another of the recommendations. I would welcome such a debate, but my hon. Friend may have to contain himself until the new Session.
Many of my residential and corporate constituents have raised significant concerns with me about delayed and missing post in the Crawley area. Despite a Freedom of Information Act request by the Crawley Observer, Royal Mail has refused to release performance data for the RH10 and RH11 postcodes that cover my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend raise this matter with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills? Will he also consider the need for a debate on the transparency of Royal Mail on its performance and customer service?
We take very seriously information about the quality of service. My understanding is that Royal Mail publishes such information every quarter. Of course I will raise with Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers the case of the two postal districts to which my hon. Friend has referred to see whether we can get those specific performance statistics. If they are deficient, I hope that Royal Mail will take the appropriate steps and drive up the quality of service to the level to which my hon. Friend’s constituents are entitled.