We got there in the end.
Mr Speaker, you informed the House on Wednesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and apologise for my slightly unfocused beginning; I was lost in admiration for the work that my hon. Friend Natascha Engel has done as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and rather wondering whether, and hoping that, she would consider standing again.
Following the brief announcement yesterday of the Government’s legislative programme, the Deputy Prime Minister said in a letter to his party activists that it showed that
“Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight”.
At last, we have an acknowledgement from them—that they are in the political lightweight division. After all, this is a party that was beaten at the polls last week by a man dressed as a penguin.
The Deputy Prime Minister added in desperation that the Queen’s Speech
“has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”— and he was right. It had nothing to say on the economy; nothing to say on getting people back to work; nothing to help hard-pressed families. All that Liberal Democrats want to do is sit around and debate House of Lords reform. The Leader of the House has announced six days of debate on the Government's packed legislative programme. Will he find time for a debate about how the Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight?
“We don’t know what we’re doing” after 2011, and
“we’ve run out of ideas”.
Will the Leader of the House coax the right hon. Gentleman out of whatever cupboard they have put him in and get him to the Chamber so that we can congratulate him on being correct?
Before the Queen’s Speech the Conservative Chair of the Public Administration Committee said that the Government lacked a compelling vision. Today it is clear: the problem is not that they lack a compelling vision, but that they lack any vision at all. The Leader of the House was unable to find time for a debate on the Committee’s report before the Queen’s Speech. Will he now finally do so?
While his economic plan is failing, the part-time Chancellor is focused on his other job of managing the Conservatives’ election strategy. As Thursday’s local elections showed, that is going very well. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the new Chipping Norton set of Labour councillors elected in the Prime Minister’s constituency last Thursday? They join more than 800 other new Labour councillors elected up and down the country.
After last week’s polls, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to listen. Why does he not meet his new Labour councillors, who will be able to tell this out-of-touch Prime Minister what the electorate are really saying? He will not even have to ban photographs of that meeting. On that very point, we learned this week that the Prime Minister arranged to meet Rebekah Brooks at a point-to-point meeting so long as they were not seen together. Meanwhile, the Culture Secretary hides behind a tree so that members of the press do not spot him meeting James Murdoch. That sums up the Government—wrong choices, wrong priorities.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that prior to appearances before the Leveson inquiry, Ministers still have to account for their actions to the House and that the ministerial code still covers them? Following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the Institute of Directors said that the Government were beginning to lose the confidence of UK plc, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers complained that there was no industrial strategy, and the British Chambers of Commerce wanted more support for jobs and growth. Even today’s edition of The Daily T elegraph asks, “Why was there no plan for growth?”
Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement on the Government’s elusive plan for growth? Slashing employment rights is no substitute for a growth strategy. The Government’s disastrous economic policy has led to massive unemployment, growing inequality and a double-dip recession. The out-of-touch Chancellor thinks that the solution is a huge tax cut for millionaires. A Cabinet Minister says that the Government have no ideas, while a senior Back Bencher says that they have no vision. It is little wonder that, abandoning the No. 10 rose garden, the Prime Minister and his deputy went this week to a factory to relaunch the Government. It was a factory where big blue tractors pulled small yellow trailers. What an apt metaphor for this Government.
Mr Speaker, before I address the issues raised by the hon. Lady, I should say that you will have seen today’s announcement of the death of Lord Glenamara, who, as Ted Short, was Leader of the House from 1974 to 1976—my first two years in the House. He has left his name as the author of Short money, an important constitutional reform that enables Opposition parties better to hold the Government to account. As Leader of the House, he gave the shortest answers at business questions; whatever was asked for, the answer was “not next week”. The answers today may still be the same, but they are at least couched in more user-friendly terms when people ask for a debate.
The local elections did not produce a famous set of results for the governing parties, but if we add together the votes for the two coalition parties, we find that we comprehensively beat the Labour party. The Labour party was, of course, beaten by a monkey in Hartlepool and it did not even put up a candidate in more than 110 wards—the penguin did not even have a chance to beat the Labour party because the Labour party did not stand.
I move on to the Queen’s Speech. The hon. Lady complains that there is not much in it; if that is right, I hope that we will have no complaints from her on a Thursday that the Government have not allowed adequate time to debate the legislative programme. If she looks at that programme, she will see that we are addressing a whole range of issues that her party simply ducked when it was in government—energy, electricity market reform, public sector pensions, House of Lords reform, adult care and executive pay. Her side ducked all those policies, but we are now dealing with them.
On high rates of tax, the fact is that for 13 years Labour’s top rate was not 50% or 45%; it was 40%. Labour left us with a legacy of a 50% tax rate that raised no money at all and a letter saying that there was no money left. As a result of the Budget, those earning above £150,000 will pay £1,300 a year more, which means that there will be less pressure on those who are not in the top tax bracket, who will obviously pay less. The question to which we have not had the answer is whether, if Labour Members know that that rate raises very little, they are pledged to reinstate it.
Turning to the question of Ministers, of course Ministers remain subject to the ministerial code, and of course they are accountable to Parliament for the actions that they take.
On growth, if the hon. Lady looks at the Queen’s Speech she will see that it contains some good Bills for businesses. There is an enterprise Bill giving employers more confidence to hire new staff and grow, there are repeals to save businesses time and money, there is a £3 billion green investment bank to stimulate the green economy, and there is an energy Bill delivering long-term, affordable electricity. Also, we have just had the Budget, and the Finance Bill is going through the House at the moment. That is the main vehicle for economic policy rather than the Queen’s Speech. The Budget included cuts to corporation tax, more funding for the Business Finance Partnership, the scrapping of health and safety legislation, investment in technology, and more investment in infrastructure—all in addition to the measures that we announced in the autumn statement last year. Of course there is more administrative action that we can take and will take. We have set our course and we must stick to it. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting higher growth in the UK this year than in Germany, France and the eurozone. I very much hope that we will have the hon. Lady’s support for the measures in the Queen’s Speech, which promote growth in this country.
Southeastern has just opened a consultation on its December rail timetable, which presents the Department for Transport with an opportunity to give commuters in Orpington the fast services during peak hours for which they have been crying out for a long time. May we please have a debate on the urgency of providing Orpington with a service that is commensurate with the town’s importance and its sizeable commuter base?
My hon. Friend speaks for the large number of commuters in his constituency who need a fast train service into the centre of the capital. As a former Transport Secretary, I understand the importance of what he has said. My understanding is that the Department for Transport has to sign off any revised timetable, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that it meets the aspirations of my hon. Friend’s constituents. I will certainly pass on his concern to her so that she can be aware of it before any such validation takes place.
May I thank my hon. Friend Ms Eagle for drawing my attention to the colour of the tractors and the trailers in Basildon? I now have a mental picture of the wheels coming off.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government intend to make time available for a debate on the report by the Joint Committee that considered the beleaguered draft Bill on the so-called reform of the House of Lords? Given the comprehensive trashing of the draft Bill not only by those who are opposed to reform but by anyone who has any constitutional understanding whatsoever, it would be quite useful if we could have a debate to expose its weaknesses.
Listening to that question, one would not have believed that the right hon. Gentleman stood for election on three manifestos committed to House of Lords reform. The Joint Committee reported a few days ago. The Government want to reflect on the recommendations in its report in order to see whether we need to amend the draft Bill that was published last year. There will then be a House of Lords reform Bill, and so there will be a debate on that. I anticipate that the Bill will be introduced before the summer recess.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the regional growth fund? Yesterday I got a letter from the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend Mr Prisk, saying that the National Audit Office is going to find that the money from the regional growth fund has been very positive for jobs and growth. There is a further £1 billion available for growing businesses that is due to expire this month. A statement from the Minister would be very valuable in publicising that opportunity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that £1 billion is available. We are a month away from the deadline for bidding under round 3. I am sure that all hon. Members with prospects in their constituency for the regional growth fund will encourage businesses to put bids forward. On her bid for a debate on this matter, there will be such an opportunity on Wednesday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will update the House on the steps that we have taken to promote growth and employment in regions of the country that need further help.
Does the Leader of the House share my view that the recent trial and conviction of nine men for child abuse in Rochdale should lead us immediately to have a thorough debate in the House on what on earth was going on? I have a long-held interest in this matter. Indeed, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on it back in January 2009. It surprises me that the Secretary of State for Education has not indicated that he will be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this terrible case of child abuse, but has leaked his reaction to it to the press. He should be here at the Dispatch Box, leading a debate on the matter.
I am sure that the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the offences that have been revealed and about the need to take action to ensure that vulnerable girls are not subjected to the abuse to which those ones were subjected. I hope that it will be possible in today’s debate on home affairs and justice for hon. Members to intervene on the issues that he has mentioned. He will have seen the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on the steps that he has taken to ensure that those in care homes are not subjected to the abuse to which those girls were subjected.
The hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend should be here. The subjects for the Queen’s Speech debate are chosen by the Opposition, not by the Government, so I resist his accusation that we have not found time for a debate on this matter.
There is recognition from leaders of the Pakistani community that there is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an issue that the Government take seriously, as he will have seen from the statement by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the next time my right hon. Friend appears for questions, he will have an opportunity to update the House on the steps that are being taken.
May we have a debate at the start of this Session on the future of business statements? As is demonstrated by serious contributions such as that of Mr Sheerman, Members have an appetite for something more than the tiresome trivia that have become a habit at these events. At the least, could we reform the business statement to make it an opportunity to put the deliberations of the Backbench Business Committee centrestage in the House?
When, in due course, we establish a committee that deals with Government business as well as having a Backbench Business Committee, it will be a good opportunity to look at business statements, because if the regime for fixing the business of the House changes, we may need to change the way in which the business statement is made. I defend my hon. Friends from any accusation of the trivial use of business questions. I find them helpful to find out what concerns there are, certainly on the Government Benches, and on many occasions they influence the structure of debates.
Would it be possible, although I appreciate that it might not be next week, to have a debate about the way in which the arrangements for transferring child-related benefits from one parent to another are failing? They are failing fathers in particular. A number of constituents are coming to me to say that there are such delays with child benefit and other child-related tax benefits, and that they are finding themselves in severe financial hardship. The system is allowing bureaucracy to win over child welfare. It is time for us to have a debate on this matter, so that I do not have to go to a Minister every time it happens.
The hon. Lady raises a serious issue. Where there is no agreement between the mother and father about who is the recipient of child benefit, it falls to the Department to resolve the matter. In the absence of agreement, the receipt of benefit often stays where it is. That is often not with the parent who cares for the children. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see whether there are proposals to cut through the bureaucracy in coming to a fair decision, and to ensure that the parent who has the child gets the benefit that should go with them.
May we have a debate on the economic impact of prolonged roadworks? We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the roadworks on the M1 between junctions 6 and 14, which are having a major impact on businesses in Milton Keynes. Although I appreciate that the programme has been speeded up under this Government, can we please bring it to an early conclusion?
I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Speaking from memory, these contracts are let on lane rental terms, which means if they overrun, the contractor is out of pocket because he is paying rent for the lanes that are out of use. I take seriously the issue that my hon. Friend raises and I will share it with the Secretary of State for Transport and ask her to write to him.
I encourage the Leader of the House, as a former Transport Secretary, to seek the support of his successor for a debate on airport capacity in the south-east. I ask that in the context of speculation about the future of RAF Northolt, which is adjacent to my constituency and whose flight paths go across it. There has been much speculation about a substantial increase in business jet usage of RAF Northolt, about which many of my constituents are understandably concerned, so they would want to participate in the broader debate on that issue.
If the hon. Gentleman is ingenious, he may be able to raise the issue when we deal with the remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill, when there will be a two-hour debate. Subject to what the occupant of the Chair decides, it may be possible to raise the issue of Northolt during that debate; I will certainly forewarn the Minister replying to it that she is likely to get this matter coming in to land.
Vidal Sassoon, who passed away yesterday, revolutionised hair styling. This son of immigrants rose from a humble upbringing to become one of the best-known brands in the world. Emelia at Studio 21, Zak and Gennaro at Jagged Edge and Sugar at Sugaz in my own constituency are, in their own way, emulating that ambition. May we have a debate on behalf of the National Hairdressers Federation, which is based in Bedford, and in memory of Vidal Sassoon to talk about the positive role that hairdressers and barbers play in promoting entrepreneurship, supporting apprenticeships and making all of us, even given some challenges, look and feel a little bit better?
The whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to that noble profession of hairdressing. I am afraid I do not require very much time in the hairdresser’s chair to have my hair dealt with. There may be an opportunity in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to debate hairdressing, the role it can play in raising the nation’s morale and, of course, the contribution many hairdressers make to style—making even Members of the House look more attractive than they would otherwise.
Liver disease in young people is a rapidly growing problem. May we please have a debate on public health and the advertising and sponsorship of alcohol? We need to reduce alcohol misuse among young people.
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. He will know that the Government have proposals to minimise the damage done by alcohol through proposals for minimum prices and more expensive duties on the drinks that do the most damage. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, but I hope there will be an opportunity, perhaps when the Backbench Business Committee gets up and running, to have a debate on the serious issue of liver disease.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on British manufacturing? In North Staffordshire, the success or otherwise of JCB has a great impact on the economy in Staffordshire Moorlands because of the number of people employed by JCB and the number of local businesses that supply JCB. It was great news to learn of last year’s record results—the best in the business’s 66-year history.
My hon. Friend raises a good issue, and I am delighted to read of JCB’s results, with turnover at a higher level and more than double the sales of 2009. That helps to provide jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency, while many other smaller firms also benefit from what is happening. What she says shows that some of the steps we have taken to promote growth and bring down unemployment are taking root. I hope that many others will follow in the steps of JCB.
The city can be proud of the hon. Lady for using prime time in the House of Commons to promote the city she represents. As I said in response to an earlier question, it may be possible during the debate on the Queen’s Speech to find time for a speech in which, in more than the 140 words that she has just used, she may be able to pay tribute to the great city she represents, to encourage investment in it, tourism to it and further promote its prosperity.
Regional growth and enterprise zone policies are helping companies such as the Motor Industry Research Association and Jaguar Land Rover to create thousands of manufacturing jobs in the midlands, and, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Engineering Employers Federation, extending “above the line” research and development tax credits will have a similar effect. Given that 22% of the work force in my constituency are engaged in manufacturing, that is obviously excellent news. May we have a debate on midlands manufacturing and the progress that it is making? That would help us to establish what more can be done to embed the present renaissance.
My hon. Friend may be able to speak in next Thursday’s debate. However, he has reminded the House of the success of the motor manufacturing industry in this country, with Jaguar Land Rover and some of the Japanese companies investing, succeeding and exporting. That is exactly the sort of rebalancing of the economy that the Government seek to promote, and I was delighted to hear of the success in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I recently met my constituent Stephen Fletcher, who is a victim of thalidomide. He is concerned about the Government’s intentions in respect of maintaining financial support for thalidomide victims. Could the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health to offer reassurance to Stephen, and to many others like him who are concerned about their futures?
Many of our constituencies contain thalidomide survivors, and I know that they are worried about what will happen after the three-year pilot fund of some £20 million runs out in March next year. The current pilot will be evaluated, and discussions are being held with the Thalidomide Trust’s national advisory council. When the discussions have ended and we have the results of the evaluation of the pilot, it will be possible for a statement to be made about the way forward. We do take seriously the problems of thalidomide survivors, who need reassurance that help will be available when the fund runs out.
May we have a debate on standards in our schools? I know from my work as a local school governor that there are many extremely dedicated teachers in my constituency, but I was concerned to learn from a mother recently that the marking policy in her children’s school is for teachers not to correct more than three spelling mistakes for fear of harming the children’s self-esteem. I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that that policy puts many young people at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs that require correct spelling. I think that it may be a hangover from national guidance in the past, and that the present Government would not be keen for it to continue.
That sounds to me like political correctness taken to excess. I am sure that it is in children’s interests for any spelling mistakes to be put right at an early stage, when they are at school, rather than possibly counting against them at a later stage. I hope that many of the steps that we have taken to promote the authority of head teachers to make schools more responsive to the needs of parents will encourage the adoption of the approach suggested by my hon. Friend, and that teachers will put mistakes right at an early stage rather than, out of misguided kindness, allowing them to fester and, perhaps, prove more damaging subsequently.
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included a commitment to a draft Bill on adult social care, which is a hugely complex and important subject. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have debates on it during the new Session to ensure that the momentum of this important policy is not lost?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, this was one of the issues that the last Government did not address. My hon. Friend may have heard Lord Warner, on this morning’s “Today” programme, basically saying that the Labour party had fought the last election on a false prospectus, holding out the prospect of a national social service but being totally unable to fund it.
We commissioned the Dilnot report, and a White Paper will be published this spring containing proposals on adult care. As my hon. Friend mentioned, there will then be a draft Bill to take the agenda forward. In the meantime, resources have been put into the national health service and adult services to give more support to social services departments, which I recognise are under pressure.
This morning I spoke at the UK and European symposium on addiction disorders, an issue which I know is of great concern to Mr Speaker. May we have a statement about Government policy on addiction, and its impact on families and on wider society? I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have dealt with casework in which addiction has been an issue, and have observed at first hand both its huge human cost and its financial cost, which is estimated to have been £110 billion in the UK last year alone.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. As he will know, we set out our drugs strategy in December 2010, and we are in the process of updating it. We will shortly publish a report on the achievements in the first year of the strategy, and it might be possible to “pin” a debate once the report becomes available. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having spoken at the symposium this morning.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that last week voter turnout in London was 7% above the national average, and I am sure the whole House will wish to congratulate Mayor Boris Johnson on his re-election and Ken Livingstone on his retirement from front-line politics. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on devolving much more power to the Mayor of London so that Londoners can fully see and feel the benefit of having Boris Johnson as our Mayor?
Without wanting to put too much pressure on my coalition colleagues who sit on the Front Bench with me, I do, of course, congratulate Boris on his re-election, which was achieved with the support of my party and many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches who worked tirelessly to get him re-elected. We have recently devolved more powers to the Mayor: powers under the Homes and Communities Agency have been transferred to the Greater London Authority; we have abolished the London Development Agency and transferred its activities to the GLA; and we have enabled the Mayor of London to establish a mayoral development corporation to oversee the long-term development of the Olympic park. I hope my hon. Friend will therefore see that we are in the process of devolving more powers to the Mayor of London.
In Great Yarmouth, the energy industry and the engineering industry that support it are growing exponentially, with companies having made and received investments of hundreds of millions of pounds: Perenco, Seajacks, ODE and Gardline are just a few of the companies that are struggling to keep up with demand. This is a good problem to have, so may we have a debate in Government time to examine and highlight the growth opportunities, particularly given what this Government have done for the energy sector and business in general?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. The green investment bank is coming on-stream, with billions of pounds available for investment, and the energy Bill, with its electricity market reform, will provide an opportunity for fresh investment in electricity generation. I am delighted that firms in my hon. Friend’s constituency are well placed to take advantage of the growth that has been achieved.
The question of whether to have a statue or memorial is a matter not for the Government but for you, Mr Speaker, and the Commission. Spencer Perceval’s family used to live in my old constituency in Ealing, where a church, All Saints church, has been built in his memory and a concert is held to remember him. The mayor of the constituency he represented—Northampton, I think—will lay a wreath in his memory at the weekend. I will pursue, through the Commission, my hon. Friend’s suggestion of having a more fitting memorial to Spencer Perceval.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of the results of Thursday’s elections to Rugby borough council. By focusing on the efficient delivery of local services, the controlling Conservative group increased its proportion of councillors. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate to make the point that local elections should remain exactly that: local?
I am delighted to hear of the good results in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that much of that was due to his tireless work on the doorstep, and I am sorry that I missed those results on the night. He makes a good point: local elections should be local. There is a lot of evidence that where local councillors perform well, that gets recognised in the ballot box and they outperform their party, which may not be doing so well. I am delighted that Rugby will continue to enjoy the benefits of having a Conservative-controlled local authority.
Total UK automotive exports have reached just under £30 billion, which is a record, and they increased by 15% last year alone. Our car trade deficit is now at its lowest since the mid-1970s. May we have a debate on the success of the automotive industry, its role in our national economy and—running through all of that—the Government’s work in promoting exports as a whole?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Again, there may be opportunities in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to develop the theme, but he reminds the House that on
I join the many small food and drink manufacturers in my constituency in welcoming the announcement of a groceries adjudicator in the Queen’s Speech. Bearing in mind that
Longley Farm dairy, in my constituency, exports more than half the products it makes, may we have a debate on the wonderful contribution our small food and drink manufacturers are making to our economy?
I am delighted to hear of the export success of my hon. Friend’s constituency firm. There will be an opportunity when we debate the Bill to which he refers to look more closely at the role of the adjudicator, and there will be opportunities during the remaining days’ consideration of the Queen’s Speech to highlight the efforts of small firms in the food manufacturing industry to help turn the country round and create sustainable jobs.