The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. The recent military conflict in Gaza has horrified many Members of the House. There is widespread relief that there is now a ceasefire, but it feels like the possibility of a lasting settlement is slipping away as facts on the ground make any agreement harder to reach. We welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House earlier this week. As the Leader of the House will know, the Palestinian leadership are applying for full observer status at the UN. The Opposition support that application. Before the vote at the UN, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the matter in Government time?
On the Justice and Security Bill, we had suggested to the Government a sensible way forward that would have given judges greater discretion and accepted the recommendations from the Joint Committee on Human Rights while at the same time ensuring that intelligence sources were protected. We regret that the Government did not seek to work on a cross-party basis. Yesterday, on three separate occasions, they were defeated in the other place when our Liberal Democrat colleagues joined Labour and Cross-Bench peers to improve the Bill. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the roving Minister, Mr Clarke, to make an urgent statement on how the Government will now proceed?
In business questions before the recess, I asked the Leader of the House about the forthcoming report by Lord Leveson. I said the House should have an opportunity to debate the report fully, and the Government should set out in advance the process for consideration of the inquiry’s recommendations. May I therefore thank the Leader of the House for announcing a general debate in Government time on the Leveson recommendations, which we now understand will be published next Thursday?
Does the Leader of the House agree that throughout this process we must remember to listen to the voices of the victims and their families, and also remember that this inquiry was the result of the gross intrusion they suffered at times of maximum distress? Will the Leader of the House therefore assure me that his Cabinet colleagues, particularly the Education Secretary, will not seek to undermine Lord Leveson or his report?
Will the Leader of the House ask the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement on the elections for police and crime commissioners, as his appearance at this week’s Deputy Prime Minister’s questions left none of us any the wiser? The House has heard from the Home Secretary, but if the Leader of the House is successful in coaxing the Deputy Prime Minister to the Dispatch Box we could ask the great strategist why he was so keen to hold these elections in November. So successful was this strategy for getting out the Liberal Democrat vote that the Liberal Democrats managed to win exactly none of the elections they chose to contest last Thursday.
It appears that the Liberal Democrats used the PCC elections to test out their brand new election strategy. In north Wales, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats endorsed one Winston Roddick, saying that
“as an independent candidate, he is free from party political pressure”.
He was elected, but it was subsequently uncovered that Mr Roddick was, in fact, a member of the Liberal Democrats masquerading as an independent. May we have an urgent debate on this new Liberal Democrat election strategy to hoodwink people into voting for them?
Has the Leader of the House had a chance to look at the winners of The Spectator parliamentarian awards? Will he join me in congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister on his award—for apology of the year? I predict he will be up for it again next year. May I also congratulate the Government Chief Whip, who won the award for resurrection of the year? My only disappointment is that I did not win tipster of the year for predicting that in this House.
Does the Leader of the House think we should nominate Mr Roddick, the not-so-independent police and crime commissioner, for politician of the year, as he is the only Liberal Democrat to have found an election-winning strategy? The Education Secretary should be given a special award for News International politician of the year now that Louise Mensch is no longer a Member of the House. Will the Leader of the House suggest which Cabinet Minister we could nominate for omnishambles of the year, because Labour Members think any number of them would be worthy winners?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response, particularly on the arrangements for a debate, provisionally set for
The hon. Lady asked about the situation in the middle east. The Foreign Secretary made a statement on that, and there were further questions at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. I have no doubt that the Foreign Secretary will want to keep the House fully informed. The Prime Minister said yesterday what we made clear last year at the United Nations General Assembly: that it would not be helpful for the question of observer status for the Palestinian people to be brought to a vote. None the less, if that question is brought to a vote, the Foreign Secretary will, of course, want to tell the House about our judgment on it.
The shadow Leader of the House asked about the progress of the Justice and Security Bill in another place. I and my colleagues will make it clear during the passage of the Bill in another place how we propose to respond to the progress of the Bill. We will look carefully at the votes and think carefully about them, but there is an important principle, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio and others have made clear: that in cases before civil courts the judge should have access to all the evidence. That is also a principle of justice that it is important to seek to maintain.
I am very tempted to have a debate on police and crime commissioners, not least because it would allow us an opportunity to set out clearly how, under this coalition Government, crime across the country is falling. Police and crime commissioners will be democratically elected and democratically accountable to enable us not only to sustain that reduction in crime, but to translate the priorities of the people directly into the priorities of policing in their areas. I do not understand why Labour Members now want a debate about this. The Labour party did not seem to be able to work out whether it wanted to debate it, deny it, support it, oppose it, say it was the wrong thing to do and then stand candidates for it. A debate would give us the opportunity to debate the position not of the current Deputy Prime Minister, but of the former Deputy Prime Minister.
I was interested in what the hon. Lady said about Mr Winston Roddick as the police and crime commissioner elected in North Wales. As it happened, my wife met him in Menai Bridge during the fair. He came up to her and asked, “Do you know anything about the police and crime commissioner elections?” She said, “As it happens, I do.” Curiously—I have checked with her— Mr Winston Roddick did not disclose any party affiliation whatever. So there we have it.
I share with the House our admiration for many of those who were the recipients of awards from The Spectator last night, but especially so for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, who is an inspiration to all of us.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to debate a motion next week setting up a Committee of MPs who could educate the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority about the work of the House? Did my right hon. Friend hear the admission by that gentleman on this morning’s “Today” programme that although he understood a lot about what MPs do in their constituencies, he was totally ignorant about what they did in the House, other than, as he put it, attend a zoo for one hour every Wednesday? In the light of that amazing demonstration of his ignorance, if he is to continue in his post is it not essential that he gets educated properly?
My hon. Friend will know from the statement that I made about forthcoming business that my expectation is that in the week after next we will be able to debate the appointment of Members to the board of IPSA—not the chair of the board of IPSA, whose tenure continues. In my conversations with Ian Kennedy he has made it clear to me that one of the things that he regards as most important is that there is a better understanding of the work of Members of Parliament. I will further encourage him in that process.
Could we find time for a debate on policing in London, specifically the proposal announced by the Met for a major programme of closures and downgrading of police stations across the city? May we have an opportunity during that debate to discuss the fact that police stations are already closing in advance of that consultation, including Marylebone and St John’s Wood in the London borough of Westminster? It is not acceptable for our constituents to face the loss and downgrading of police stations with no opportunity for anyone in Parliament to discuss that matter
It is not that there is no opportunity for such discussion. I recall that during the previous Business questions Kate Hoey raised issues relating to fire and rescue service stations across London and was subsequently able to secure a debate on that subject. It is primarily a matter for the Mayor of London as the commissioner of policing in London and for the London Assembly, but we here and those representing London here should have an opportunity to secure a debate.
My parliamentary neighbour and hon. Friend Laura Sandys is attending a conference this morning and so is unable to be here, but I share her concern about what happened yesterday when a ship carrying live animals sailed from the port of Ramsgate in her constituency in appalling weather. The ship should never have been allowed to sail at all. It went halfway across the channel, turned back and had to unload the animals, which were then transported a long way across the country in absolute misery. This is absolutely intolerable, and it is done in the name of free trade. It is not a matter for an Adjournment debate. Will the Leader of the
House arrange for the relevant Minister to come to the House and make a statement to explain what we propose to do to stop this in future?
I was not aware of those circumstances, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making me and the House aware of them. I will of course raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and invite him not only to respond to my hon. Friend but to consider what form of statement it might be appropriate to make.
I hope that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Paula Dunn on her appointment as the Paralympics head coach of UK Athletics. She is the first woman ever to have held that role. In relation to supporting what she and other coaches might do, we had questions earlier today on the legacy of the Olympics for women in sport and the legacy of the Paralympics for disabled people, but no clear answers from Ministers, so may we have a debate in Government time on exactly what is happening and going to happen as regards the action needed to address those important legacy issues?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue. I think that Members of the House will share with her a sense of the real potential that the Olympics and the Paralympics gave for a legacy that is vital not only in respect of development in sport but of social change and understanding of the position of disabled people in society. It is almost difficult to talk about people being disabled when the thing that came most to the fore when watching the Paralympics was that we all have very different abilities. The Paralympics seemed largely to consist of people whose abilities were far in excess of mine and those of us who think of ourselves as not disabled. In truth, we all have very different abilities, and that very much came to the forefront; I thought it was very persuasive. The House is considering Olympic legacy issues through the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. I will talk to my colleagues about how we might find an opportunity to discuss and debate those issues, but it might also be considered by the Backbench Business Committee.
I have given the Leader of the House notice of my question, which is to do with my constituent, Katie Lock. Katie applied to work at the Olympics and got all the way through the training for the company, but her application was turned down by the Home Office. The Home Office has been singularly unhelpful at all stages in finding out why this young girl’s application was turned down. May we have time to discuss this, because I am sure that she cannot be the only person to whom this has happened?
The House will remember the triumph of the Olympics. The only slight blemish was the security company G4S, which got into serious trouble and could not deliver the security that we expected. We were saved by our great troops, who stepped into the breach. Is the Leader of the House aware that G4S is now trying to ameliorate its financial position as regards the Olympics by failing to pay its supply chain and sub-contractors? Is not that a disgrace given that many of those sub-contractors performed absolutely to their contracts?
Does the Leader of the House agree that we could debate the priorities of the Environment Agency’s maintenance programme, particularly in Somerset, where there has been catastrophic flooding over the summer and throughout this autumn, including yesterday and today? Water is lying in the fields for weeks, and that increases its toxicity so that it eventually kills off the fish, birds and other wildlife when it is released into the rivers; it is unable to be drained away or pumped from those hundreds of acres of agricultural land. Is it not time to rebalance these priorities and look at the value of wildlife over food and farming?
It is important to recognise that the Government have put in place partnership funding arrangements with local authorities that are contributing to substantial enabling schemes to deter flooding. We expect to exceed our objective of 145,000 households being better protected by March 2015. In addition, I will talk to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs because it is important not only that we have adequate flood protection, but that the means by which we provide it are environmentally sensitive. In the wake of the flooding in my constituency in 2001, we were able to recreate some floodplains, which was an environmentally responsible way to provide flood protection.
Given the Government’s 20% cut to policing, which has necessitated a cut in the number of front-line police officers of 15,000 nationally and 100 in Croydon, may I echo the request of my hon. Friend Ms Buck for an urgent debate on policing in London so that voters have the unequivocal facts before they go to the polls next week?
I encourage the hon. Lady to look in the Official Report at the questions that the Home Secretary answered last Monday, because I do not recognise her figures on the number of front-line police officers. Indeed, the proportion of officers on the front line is increasing, as is their effectiveness, as we can see from the further reduction in crime across the country that was reported recently. The first thing we should do is express our appreciation of the effectiveness with which police forces across the country are addressing the necessity of managing within reduced budgets. We should support police and crime commissioners in taking that forward and in responding to local priorities.
A large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As usual, I am anxious to accommodate as many of them as possible. The House will be conscious of the fact that there is an important Government statement and three pieces of business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee to follow. That information serves to underline the imperative of short questions and answers. We will be led in our mission by Mr Robert Halfon.
Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 686 on compensation for Zimbabwean farmers who had their land stolen by Mugabe?
[That this House calls on the World Bank and the Zimbabwe government to respect the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) court ruling in April 2009 that granted compensation of EUR22.5 million to Zimbabwean and European farmers, including Timolene Tibbett, who were illegally and often brutally thrown off their land during the Mugabe land reform in 2000 and 2001; believes that settlement of this claim will demonstrate a commitment to international law from the coalition Zimbabwe government and build confidence with international investors that arbitration ruling for investments, no matter how small or large, will be respected to created jobs and opportunities in Zimbabwe; and cautions the World Bank against adopting the incoherent position of progressing with a debt write-off programme with the Zimbabwe government whilst not ensuring the Zimbabwe government honours the legal commitments arrived at via proceedings of the ICSID, which is a World Bank court.]
May we have a debate on Zimbabwe to ensure that we get justice and compensation for farmers, including my constituent, Timolene Tibbett?
I am sure that, like me, the House will have seen my hon. Friend’s early-day motion. I hope that we can find an opportunity for such a debate. To accelerate the process, it might be advisable for him and others to seek time to discuss the issue on the Adjournment.
Given the Government’s promise to review the way in which the work capability test is carried out, may we have a statement on their progress, because to many Members it seems that nothing is improving?
Many of us have experienced flooding, to varying degrees, in our constituencies. I know that my hon. Friend’s constituency has experienced serious flooding in the past and is at risk now. It is important that we keep the House fully informed—my hon. Friend will make sure that we do—about the steps that the Government can take, through both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Communities and Local Government in supporting local authorities. I know that I do not need to encourage those Departments to keep the House and Members fully informed.
May we have an urgent debate or statement on the devastating report that was published this morning by the chief inspector of the borders and immigration service? It revealed that in Liverpool there are 100,000 letters from Members of Parliament and the public that have not been opened. When may we have a debate on that important issue?
The UK Border Agency chief executive will have written to the right hon. Gentleman as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to address some of the issues raised by the report and make clear that UKBA has accepted all the chief inspector’s recommendations. The chief inspector was clear that UKBA is now tackling those problems—and has been since April 2012—although I would not diminish the scale of the legacy problems it inherited and some of the difficulties and errors that have occurred. My colleagues in the Home Office are determined to ensure that UKBA not only deals with those legacy issues, but that it continues to improve the service it provides, and they will report on that to the House.
My hon. Friend will be aware, not least from the statement I have just made, of the many pressing issues that the House has to consider. There are opportunities through the Backbench Business Committee for Members to pursue those issues, which may—and often have—extend to international affairs.
May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent statement or debate on the privatisation of Greater Manchester ambulance service? As he may know, the contract to run part of this important service was recently awarded to Arriva—yes, that is the bus and train company—despite the NHS bid winning on quality and service. Arriva was given the contract on cost alone. Patients and carers across Greater Manchester are rightly worried that the quality of their service will suffer as a result, and that they have been consigned to a poorer quality service than the rest of the north-west region.
I am sure the House will wish to welcome the hon. Lady to her place. Decisions on contracts of that kind are made locally within the national health service, not centrally by the Secretary of State, but I will ask my ministerial friends in the Department of Health to write to her with details on that case. My recollection is that the tender is often for patient transport services, rather than emergency responses, and one should be careful to distinguish between those two things. There are examples elsewhere in the country of where patient transport services are not administered by the local ambulance service trust but a good service is maintained none the less.
My constituent, Vaughan Williams, served on the arctic convoys during the second world war—a journey that Winston Churchill described as the worst in the entire world. Foreign Office rules prevent Mr Williams from receiving the medal he was awarded by the Russian Government, who recognised that he had risked his life to fight Nazism. May we have a debate on the bravery of those who served on the arctic convoys, and on the inappropriateness of rules that prevent full recognition of such bravery?
My hon. Friend may seek to secure such a debate on the Adjournment of the House or through the Backbench Business Committee, and judging from the response in the House he may be supported in that. I recall—as no doubt he does—that at Prime Minister’s questions a couple of weeks ago the Prime Minister made it clear that he will look personally at the question of a service medal relating to the arctic convoys.
Is the Leader of the House aware of intense media speculation in recent days that the UK Government will not get any EU funding for carbon capture and storage in the current round because they have failed to provide funding guarantees? So far, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has refused to deny those rumours, which are causing great uncertainty and sending mixed messages on the UK Government’s commitment to carbon capture and storage. May we therefore have a statement from the Department at the earliest opportunity?
My colleagues at the Department have made it clear that, among other commitments, they will make an annual energy statement at some point this year. I will raise that issue with them, but they are aware of it—the Government’s commitment to carbon capture and storage has been made very clear on a number of occasions.
Last week, I visited a school in Tamworth, where a 16-year-old history student asked, “Who is Napoleon?” They had also not heard of the Duke of Wellington. May we therefore have a debate on extending rigour in education, particularly in the teaching of history—history student numbers fell by 1.2% in 2011—so that future generations of history students know our history and chronology, and that the Duke of Wellington was a soldier and statesman, and not a public house?
The Duke of Wellington in Bourn in my constituency is well known for that purpose. My hon. Friend makes a good, important point well. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State Education is among those at the vanguard of believing that an understanding of history, and of the narratives that form an essential part of it, is an essential part of our understanding of who we are and where we come from, and what kind of people we are and what we can achieve. From that point of view, I am sure the Secretary of State shares my hon. Friend’s view—as will Members on both sides of the House—that we must ensure we achieve such understanding of the history of this country in schools.
May we have a debate on the situation that arose in north Wales, where a Liberal Democrat pretended to be an independent? There is evidence that that has happened in still higher-status positions than police and crime commissioner—in the Deputy Prime Minister, we have a Tory pretending to be a Liberal Democrat.
May we have an early debate on crime prevention, so that police forces around the country can learn from the excellent hands off project, created by Bedfordshire police, in which owners’ property is marked by their DNA? That has been used successfully and enthusiastically in schools, and has great potential to cut crime.
That sounds like an intriguing, if slightly alarming, mechanism. I had heard of highlighter pens, but not of DNA marking. Members and police services might be interested in that. My hon. Friend will no doubt agree that that illustrates the importance of innovation and new technology as essential parts of the process of fighting crime. I hope police and crime commissioners will demonstrate not only their responsiveness to public views, but their ability to embrace innovation.
Halton is the 27th most deprived borough in England and Wales, and has high unemployment. I was therefore shocked to receive a letter last week from the permanent secretary at the Department for Education informing me that it was shutting its Runcorn site, with the loss of 220 jobs. The letter states that a report would be available on the website, but it was not. Only through the good work of the permanent secretary’s office did I manage eventually to find the report, but it left more questions unanswered than answered. May I ask the Leader of the House for his help? Does he agree the Department should brief MPs in detail on the reasons for decisions of that magnitude, so that we can ask questions? Will he use his influence and ask his colleagues in the Department to ensure that the meeting I have requested happens sooner rather than later?
I will of course ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Education whether they can meet the hon. Gentleman as he has requested. I do not know the circumstances, but I judge from what he says that the Department’s intention, through the permanent secretary, was to inform him of the decision. I will check how that was achieved to ensure that he and Members get notification of announcements affecting their constituencies in future.
The House will have been shocked, as my hon. Friend no doubt was, by the report. The House, through the Backbench Business Committee, was able to debate child sexual exploitation last week. The issue has been debated, but we must press forward, and my colleagues are doing so with the tackling child sexual exploitation action plan and other measures. The interim report made a number of recommendations that we must pursue. We must also look at the recommendations from phase 2 next year, but be ready now to take all the action we can, as illustrated by my hon. Friends’ response to last week’s debate.
The Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, during a statement earlier this week, called for a full debate in Government time on the situation in the middle east. The response of the Leader of the House today was as incoherent on the issue as the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary were in trying to justify not supporting Palestinian statehood. This is a serious situation with a fragile ceasefire, the threat of a ground attack and 160 dead. May we have a debate as soon as possible?
We will of course consider that. I had a conversation with my right hon. Friend Sir Peter Tapsell and he was clear in encouraging us to consider having a debate on the middle east. I have not been able to find time now, but it is open to hon. Members to seek such a debate using the time available to the Backbench Business Committee. Likewise, it is open to the Opposition, which has time for a debate next week should they wish to use it for that purpose. I think what I said was simply a reflection of what has been said many times by the Government and was repeated by the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday: what we want to do is secure the best possible progress in negotiations and use the ceasefire to make progress quickly. His response illustrated that urgency and the Government’s view that precipitating a vote at the United Nations was not necessarily the best way of making progress.
May we have a debate in Government time on community first responders, in particular on maintaining and improving training capacity? They do such a lot to ensure that people in rural areas are looked after when ambulance response times are often so slow.
I share completely my hon. Friend’s support for and appreciation of community first responders. Ambulance service trusts across the country have achieved the most consistent performance to date in responding to category A calls. However, while they meet the overall targets well, we know that response time is variable and particularly difficult in rural areas. Those of us who represent more rural areas appreciate how community first responders can make an important, additional contribution.
Can we have a debate on the ever-increasing price of gas and electricity, and the obscene profits posted by the organisations who provide those utilities? Mr John Bisset, who is a community activist in my constituency, said that when he goes to the post office each week many elderly people approach him and say that they are unsure of the Government’s position, following the Prime Minister’s recent statements. I hope that such a debate will allow us to clarify that position.
I imagine that the hon. Gentleman will therefore have been appreciative and attentive when the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change gave evidence to the Select Committee. He made it clear that—as the Prime Minister and Ministers have said at the Dispatch Box, and as I repeated at previous business questions—we will ensure that people have access to the best possible tariffs. That is exactly what the Secretary of State has now made clear we will do, and further announcements will be made shortly.
We were all inspired by the success of our sporting heroes this summer. The challenge now is to get ordinary people involved in local sports, so can we have a debate about grass-roots community sport and the vital work of our county sports partnerships? Will the right hon. Gentleman also commend West Yorkshire Sport in my area for putting on the first Olympic legacy “Be Inspired, Get Involved” community sports fair next Wednesday at Lawnswood school?
Yes, I very much appreciate that. In my experience, sports partnerships have made tremendous strides in enabling competitive sport to prosper in schools around the country and have not limited but encouraged wider participation in sport among young people. That is why, as Secretary of State for Health, I provided additional financial support to organisers of sports partnerships. I share my hon. Friend’s view. We have discussed this point previously at business questions, and I hope that initiatives will emerge that enable us to debate the sporting legacy and the future of sport in this country, given the tremendous opportunity we have following the Olympics and Paralympics.
The Deputy Prime Minister today rejected my request in a parliamentary question that we ensure that independents standing for election declare any political party membership at the time of their nomination. Given what my hon. Friend Ms Eagle said about Winston Roddick in my area of north Wales and given the sympathy I sense the Leader of the House has with this issue, may we have an early debate on transparency of independents at local, national and regional elections?
Those issues are governed by statute, and an opportunity to discuss them might arise in a debate on electoral registration and administration in due course.
Harrogate high school is receiving funding for a complete rebuild from the priority school building programme. May we have a debate on capital investment in schools, particularly considering that the current scheme is achieving better value for taxpayers than previous schemes and that capital is being used to provide the extra school places we need?
I would be delighted if that opportunity were to arise, particularly given that secondary schools are now being built for £6 million less, on average, than under the Building Schools for the Future programme. I have seen evidence of that in my own constituency, where a new school is being built, as a free school, employing composite laminated timbers prefabricated in Yorkshire and Humberside.
The right hon. Gentleman might like to talk to his own Front-Bench team about whether they wish to discuss the matter, as Opposition time is available next Wednesday. He might like to press that case on them. I would be happy to debate the matter, however, because it would enable us to discuss not only our support for a living wage but the efficiency and value for money delivered by Conservative local authorities relative to Labour ones.
My hon. Friend will recall that Ministers responded not only at the time but at questions subsequently. The Army will continue to implement the changes announced on
When will the Leader of the House schedule a debate about the misery that falling real wages are causing to the living standards of millions of people across our country? Is he aware that this morning the Office for National Statistics published data showing that wages rose by only 1.3%, on average, across the UK and by only 0.9% in Scotland, but that the inflation rate has been, on average, 3.1%? Is that not another example of the Government’s complete economic incompetence?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to persuade his hon. Friends to have a debate on the economy next week, we will be happy to have that. We could explain how inflation has fallen, how unemployment is rising, how we have cut the deficit by a quarter, how we have spending under control and how we have low interest rates as a consequence of the confidence that people across the world have in the Government’s fiscal consolidation. I know that he and the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) are interested in the level of the minimum wage and living wage. That and other issues, including equal marriage, will be debated by the Youth Parliament in the Chamber tomorrow. They might like to watch.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the House considers the order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998—a significant piece of constitutional legislation, giving the Scottish Parliament the power to conduct a referendum that has the ability to affect the entire constitutional position of the United Kingdom—it will do so on the Floor of the House and for a whole day?
In July, the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me that there was to be an announcement about the new agreement between the insurance industry and the Government on flooding insurance. Some 500 of my constituents wrote to the new Secretary of State recently but have not had a response. With the inclement weather, flooding is obviously becoming more of an issue. Can the Leader of the House tell us when that statement is to be expected?
I recall the Secretary of State making it clear at questions recently that continuing progress was being made in those discussions, but that there were complex discussions to be had with the Association of British Insurers and others. I will of course discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that under the current circumstances people will be reassured if such a statement can be made, but clearly it is dependent on the outcome of negotiations.
In recent weeks it has become clear that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s work on the BBC “Newsnight” investigation into allegations of child abuse in north Wales was highly inaccurate and lacked even the most basic journalistic rigour. On
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. Many colleagues will share his view about this. I can reassure him that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has provided no public funding to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Broadcasters are independent of Government, so whether they work with the bureau or any other organisation is a matter for them, but it is also incumbent on them to ensure that they maintain the tradition of strong investigative journalism—which we all appreciate and which is an essential part of public service and commercial broadcasting—in a way that maintains high standards. That is the balance—I think we will be debating this a lot in coming weeks—of achieving freedom and having a mechanism of scrutiny and accountability, which a free press and free broadcasters enable us to have, while maintaining high standards.
May we have a statement on why the Government have overspent by £1 billion on their misapplication of the academies programme, as outlined by the National Audit Office? Its report says:
“DfE was unprepared for the scale of the financial implications” of this rapid expansion. Can such a statement indicate where budget cuts to children’s services, funding cuts to underperforming schools and funding cuts to 16 to 19-year-olds staying on in education have been made, and also provide an explanation to Department for Education staff in the Tees valley who have recently been sacked?
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have read the National Audit Office report to which he referred, which also says that the rapid expansion of academies schools was a significant achievement, which it is. It will have important benefits, through the increased autonomy and accountability that it brings and by delivering improved standards for our children. That is an investment worth making. As for future debates, no doubt there will be an opportunity at questions or for the Liaison Committee to consider whether it wishes to follow up on that report.
May we have a debate on the importance of the post office network, which in my constituency provides such an important public service? My constituents will welcome the fact that it recently won the new Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency contract and that over £1.3 billion is being invested in the network, so that we can finally say that the era of post office closures in this country is over.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. Hon. Members have often asked me about it, and I could quite properly say nothing about it that would be prejudicial to continuing contract negotiations. But now that the contract has been won, I am pleased to say that we can really celebrate the fact that the Post Office has won it. I think Members across the House will appreciate it, and as we made clear in the past, it allows us to ensure that the Post Office can not only secure business from Government, but maintain its offer of business in many communities across the country that were threatened under the last Government.
I will, of course, discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I have had occasion to meet, by way of example, members of the Plymouth Brethren in my constituency, who have raised these issues with me, and I will of course discuss them with my colleagues.
Earlier this year, the all-party group on pharmacy published its report on the shortage of medicines from local pharmacies. The group had a meeting earlier this week with my noble Friend Earl Howe, the Health Minister responsible for pharmacy, to give us an update on the Department of Health’s progress, which was not as fulsome as I would have liked it to be. May we please have a debate on that important issue, so that my constituents can know where they stand on the future supply of the important medicines on which they depend?
My hon. Friend will be aware, because we discussed the subject when I was Secretary of State for Health, that the supply chain for medicines is very complicated, and that it can be a very small number of medicines that are in short supply at any given moment, sometimes for reasons outside anyone’s control. For example, recently there were fires in Italy, which led to the inability to access the right medicines at the right time; but in so far as it can be managed, the Department has been pursuing supply chain initiatives that are intended to enable that to happen. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department of Health. I know they will want to be as helpful as they possibly can be in showing how we can improve reassurance for patients about their access to medicines.
The currency or value of GCSEs has been undermined over the past 15 years or so. Atlantic college, based in my constituency, established the international baccalaureate some 50 years ago, and has maintained the rigour of that qualification. May we have a general debate on qualifications, to expose the failure over the past 15 years and to learn from other organisations how we can maintain rigour in our qualification system?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I think he might say to Atlantic college that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the examination system in this country is increasingly going to imitate the initiative from those decades ago. I know from my constituency that those who have used the IB have thought it a very successful means of reassuring themselves about standards. I hope that the English baccalaureate, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education last September, will enable us to apply some of those principles successfully across the school system. As for a debate, I do not have immediate time available, but I know that the House would appreciate the opportunity to debate the subject as soon as we can.
I attended the Huddersfield Examiner business awards earlier this month, and saw at first hand all the wonderful, enterprising businesses going out there and making it happen, and I proudly wear the “Huddersfield Place to Make It” campaign badge, which celebrates manufacturing in Huddersfield and my Colne Valley constituency. May we have a debate on all the wonderful, enterprising businesses in our constituencies that are going out there creating jobs and creating wealth for our nation, in sharp contrast to the doom-mongering mithering from the Opposition Benches?
Huddersfield has a proud legacy of manufacturing and an inspiring future in it, too. The Government are setting out to ensure that we rebalance our economy. We understand that we are going to have to pay our way in the world in a global race, not least by reinvigorating the manufacturing heritage of this country with new technologies, first-class innovation and very high productivity. I know that Yorkshire and Humberside will be at the forefront of that. The regional growth fund projects have demonstrated how many good projects are coming forward. It will not have escaped my hon. Friend’s notice that, later today, the House will have a debate in Backbench Business Committee time to discuss the reinvigoration of manufacturing in this country.