The business for the week commencing
The business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 10 and
We are always grateful to the Doorkeepers for looking after us. May I take the opportunity to wish Bill Perkiss, who has served as a Doorkeeper for 26 years, a long and very happy and retirement? It is well deserved.
The House has spent this week dismantling the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Members in all parts of the House have lined up to condemn the Bill as a sop to vested interests and a sinister gag on free speech. On Tuesday, the Government caved in to pressure and agreed to an unspecified concession on clause 26. May I ask the Leader of the House whether that will include amendments to schedule 3? Does he not realise that the rest of part 2 is riddled with problems as well?
Given that the Leader of the House has just announced that the Bill will return for its Report stage on the first day following the recess, will he tell us how on earth we are expected to judge any amendments that the Government may table? When does he intend to publish any new amendments, and whom will he consult? Does he not agree that, in order to give the House time to consider the changes to clause 26 and to allow the views of charities, campaigners and his own regulator on the problems with the rest of part 2 to be heard, he should delay Report stage?
Some of the more generous critics of this mess of a Bill on the Government’s own Benches have suggested that the sinister gag on charities and campaigners might just be an innocent drafting mistake. I usually appreciate optimism, but I think that is taking it a bit too far. The reality is that Mr Davis was spot on when he said that part 2 would “chill free speech”, and was right to vote against it along with nine of his Conservative colleagues. What a pity that the Deputy Prime Minister, who I am told cooked up the Bill at a “high-level meeting” with the Prime Minister, was mysteriously absent from the vote. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether that was because the Deputy Prime Minister could not be bothered to turn up and vote, or because he was ashamed of his own authoritarian Bill?
We must be clear. The Bill is a crude and cynical attempt by the Government to shut up their many critics in the run-up to the next general election. However, they have been found out. Is it not time that they listened to the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Allen, and went back to the drawing board?
This week, the Liberal Democrats have been left to do the Tories’ dirty work on the gagging Bill. In fact, they have become the Bill’s most fulsome defenders. Such has been their enthusiasm for this gag on free speech that I am prompted to suggest that they invest in a dictionary, so that they can look up the meaning of the words “liberal” and “democrat”.
I never cease to be amazed by the sheer effrontery of the Liberal Democrats. This week the Minister for Schools, Mr Laws, unveiled an election promise to repeal secret courts legislation. He hoped no one would remember that it had only got on to the statute book, a few months earlier, with Liberal Democrat support! Who do they think they are kidding? In that dictionary, they might also want to look under C for consistency, and then move down the page and check out the meaning of “cynical”. It is no wonder that Sarah Teather used an interview with one of the weekend papers to announce that she was in despair over her own party.
This week, the Education Secretary underlined just how callous the Government are when he asserted that those who turn to food banks have only themselves to blame. The Transport Secretary promptly agreed with him, and the Prime Minister refused to disassociate himself from the remarks during Prime Minister’s Question Time. How out of touch can this Government be? It is a scandal that since they came to power, one third of a million more people have had to use food banks, and all this Government can do is berate them for it.
The Chancellor used the phrase “living standards” 12 times in a speech that he gave earlier in the week. He can say it all he likes, but it will not make up for the fact that it is his squeeze on living standards that means that people cannot feed themselves and their families by the end of the month. Prices have risen faster than wages in all but one of the 39 months that this Government have been in power, and all they have done is give tax cuts to millionaires and defend the privileged few. So will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on how we can build a recovery for all in an economy that works for working people?
As we all leave and head off to our party conferences, I would like to congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on his unprecedented outburst of realism on his radio phone-in show this morning. He announced that it was
“unlikely that at the next general election we are going to get an outright majority”.
I think he just might be right about that one.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House and join her in wishing Bill Perkiss a very happy retirement. We very much appreciate the way in which the Doorkeepers look after the Members of this House and wish him well.
The hon. Lady asked only two questions. One was in relation to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. We have no intention of delaying Report stage. It was perfectly evident in the course of this week that the Opposition’s approach to the Bill was to talk on early groups of amendments at inordinate and absurd length in order to try to prevent scrutiny of later groups. [Interruption.] Well, we will make sure that the Bill is scrutinised properly.
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House made it very clear on Tuesday that we will table an amendment on Report. We will publish it on or before
We are very clear, however, that in relation to schedule 3 and other parts of the Bill we will change the activities that will be controlled as part of controlled expenditure. We will bring down the limit, and rightly so. We will disaggregate that constituency limit, so as to make the regulation of non-party campaigning expenditure more comparable to the regulation of party expenditure and to make it apply at the constituency level as well. If I can publish the amendment earlier and consult with others, I will certainly set out to do so.
While I am on the Bill and Report stage in our first week back, as I announced, I continue to await a reply from the Leader of the Opposition to a letter that I sent two months ago asking him whether he wished to use the Bill as a vehicle for giving effect to his proposals to give members of trade unions a deliberate choice about their participation in political funds. Not only have I had no reply, but it is perfectly evident from watching the Leader of the Opposition’s rather lamentable performance in Bournemouth that the trade unions are not going to let him implement the changes to the political fund and its operation that he announced earlier in the summer. They will not let him do it. He and the Labour party have one route to make sure those changes happen and to entrench them; it is to use the Bill on Report, and it is not too late for them to table amendments on Report that would have that effect. I call on them to do so.
The shadow Leader of the House made some remarks about the recovery. Let me make it clear that it is this Government who inherited the most appalling deficit—the biggest annual deficit of any developed country. Let us remember that that recession was a reduction in gross domestic product of 7.2%. The idea that we could recover from such a deep recession and resolve such appalling debt problems—not only Government debt, but consumer debt—without implications for people’s living standards over the short term is nonsense. We are minimising those implications and, as a Government committed to fairness, ensuring that in the process those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, not least through our changes to the personal tax allowance, which mean that people in work and on low earnings have seen their tax burden reduced, with 2.7 million people taken out of income tax altogether. The Labour party never includes that in the figures it uses.
The most important thing is for people to have security through employment. We now have the lowest number of workless households we have seen and 1.4 million more private sector jobs. That is the basis upon which people will feel the benefits of this recovery in the years ahead.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that a serious incident occurred on the Dartford crossing last Friday and led to its being closed for seven hours, which brought home how dependent the whole economy of the south-east is on that one piece of infrastructure. As we are considering bringing forward proposals for a new crossing in the lower Thames, may we have a debate so that we can discuss the optimum solution for the whole economy of the south-east?
I am indeed aware of the incident. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, I remember when a further Dartford crossing was being contemplated back in 1985-86, and at the time it was considered that the dangers of a bridge being closed because of high winds were mitigated by the fact that there were tunnels. We hoped never to encounter a situation in which both the tunnels and the bridge were closed, but we have, so to that extent this is an important issue. I cannot at this point promise a debate, but I will encourage my colleagues at the Department for Transport to see what possibilities there are for involving the House in further discussions about those prospects.
A year ago many Remploy factories were closed and the Government promised extra help for those disabled workers. Sadly, many of them are still unemployed. May we have a statement on why that promised help has failed so many?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Esther McVey, has reported to the House on a number of occasions about this. He will know that the Remploy board considered all bids for the business. It has identified a preferred bidder for viable automotive factories but has not concluded that other bids were viable. Around two thirds of former Remploy workers who are accessing the support available to them are now either in work or undertaking activities aimed at getting them closer to work. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions will continue to keep the House fully informed.
May we have a debate on the best way to achieve a living wage? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the best way to do that is either by reintroducing the 10p tax rate on earnings up to £12,500 or by taking those earning the minimum wage out of tax altogether?
My hon. Friend is right. We want to give people not only security, but good prospects and rising living standards. That is what we are aiming for and what turning the corner in the economy, which we are doing, is all about. We want to sustain the recovery, which means sticking to the policies that the Government have set out, but included in that, as he rightly says, is ensuring that those on low wages do not have to pay tax. That is where we have made such a success. Someone working 35 hours a week on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax take halved, which is very important.
Later today the House will debate the critical subject of child protection for the second time in 12 months, but I am led to understand that for the second time in 12 months the Minister responsible for child protection will not be responding to the debate, and neither will any Minister from the lead Department responsible for that important area. Will the Leader of the House look into the matter to see whether the Department for Education has abandoned its responsibilities to children? If not, will he clarify for the House how we can hold the Minister responsible to account for this most important of issues?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She knows that Ministers take child protection extremely seriously, which is why, not least, the Home Secretary has supported the development of work to combat child exploitation and crimes against children. Ministers will respond to and participate in the debate this afternoon. Ministers take these issues extremely seriously, as does the House.
May we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? This is not an attack on IPSA, but I have established from responses to parliamentary questions that this year IPSA has already had 13 meetings with Ministers, eight of them in June and July, as well as seven meetings with Treasury officials. On
“I do not intend to provide further details of these meetings as to do so may inhibit free and frank discussions in the future.”—[Hansard, 6 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 556W.]
Mr Speaker, you chaired a meeting last week at which it was let slip that the Leader of the House had that very day had a meeting with the chair of IPSA. Would the Leader of the House care to put on record what that discussion was about?
I do not think I let it slip; I made it very clear that I had had that meeting, simply because it was the first time that I had met the board of IPSA. I did that on the same day and I made it clear to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that I had met the board, not least because, in the context of the discussion that we had in the Speaker’s Committee, I did not want it to be thought that the points I had made to the board had not been made. I wanted to make it clear that I had made those points, which related to the board’s consultation on pay and pensions.
We heard on Tuesday an announcement from the Secretary of State for Health of additional funding for some hospitals—mainly in the south, I might add. Other hospitals did not get any extra funding, however, even though hospitals such as Whiston, which serves my constituency, has seen a 25% increase in emergency attendances. There are similar pressures at Warrington and Halton hospital, which also serves my constituency. May we have a debate on this matter? The Secretary of State did not explain himself on Tuesday, and it would be interesting to find out why those hospitals did not get funding while others did.
The hon. Gentleman will know that NHS England, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, which are respectively responsible for the commissioning and regulation of provider trusts, jointly took a view on the allocation to individual trusts of the additional funding to meet winter pressures. I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask him to inform him of the criteria that were applied when those trusts were selected.
Whole-life sentences are quite rare in this country, and they are reserved for the most dangerous prisoners. May we have a debate on the ability of prisoners on whole-life tariffs to challenge their sentences, following a recent ruling by European judges that whole-life sentences contravened prisoners’ human rights?
My hon. Friend will know that the Government do not agree with the view that human rights are contravened in that way. There are proper measures in place to review whole-life tariffs, but I will of course raise his point with the Lord Chancellor in the first instance. I will invite the Lord Chancellor to respond to my hon. Friend about how we will approach that judgment.
I agree with the Leader of the House that the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden, but is he aware that young people in my constituency and up and down the country are unemployed and desperate for a job and the chance of a good way of life? They face intense competition from other young people in Europe who come here because they think there is a better chance of finding a job here. We have to have a debate on what are we are going to do for the 1 million unemployed young people who need a chance to have a good life.
I am glad that we agree that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden. Indeed, in this financial year, the top 1% by earnings will contribute nearly 30% of income tax. Equally, we probably agree that we want to see young people in employment. It is vital for them and for our economy that those young people should have education, training and employment and that they do not fail to acquire the habit of employment. The fact that the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at its lowest for a decade is helpful, as is the fact that more than 1 million apprenticeships and 100,000 work experience placements have been created since the election. We are not in the least complacent about this, however. About 900,000 young people are unemployed, and we want to reduce that figure.
As my right hon. Friend may be aware, my constituency of Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has close links with Gibraltar. Indeed, yesterday was national Gibraltar day. I am delighted to support the campaign to give that gallant royal naval port, which has played such a significant role in the defence of Britain over the past 300 years, the George Cross—similar to the award to Malta in 1942—to demonstrate the House’s support for Gibraltar during these difficult times with the Spanish Government. May we please have a debate on that?
My hon. Friend will recall what the Prime Minister had to say by way of expressing to the people of Gibraltar our very strong message of support, and the House will be pleased that a distinguished group of parliamentarians were with Gibraltar on its national day to express our support as a House. I am aware of the recent launch of a campaign for Gibraltar to be awarded the George Cross. As he knows, all reasonable cases for gallantry awards are given careful consideration.
The Government plan to close the North Liverpool community justice centre, despite its success in bringing down crime. A short consultation was held over the summer. May we have a statement on that?
The hon. Lady might be interested to know that on the Tuesday that we return after the conference recess, the Ministry of Justice will be responding to questions. I shall draw the Department’s attention to the point that she has made—it might be able to respond in the meantime—but that might otherwise be an opportunity for her to raise that important constituency issue.
In 2007, the High Court rejected a bid from a pupil to be allowed to wear her niqab in class. The staff powerfully argued that they needed to see her face to see whether she was paying attention, engaged in her work or distressed. Subsequent to that ruling, the Department for Education issued guidelines permitting schools and colleges to insist that they be able to see pupils’ faces at all times, and this week Birmingham Metropolitan college did just that. Will my right hon. Friend urge the Department for Education to reissue its guidance so that the public can see that Birmingham Metropolitan college has acted entirely within the rules and applied what most people in this country would regard as a common-sense policy with regard to the visibility of students?
I trust we can have a statement or a debate on the matter as well.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will raise the issue with the Department for Education, although I understand from his question that he supports the position that the Department has taken hitherto. I am sure it will be grateful for that. Indeed, that position is much in keeping with a general principle that head teachers responsible for education within colleges and schools should be able to make such decisions due to the effect on their institutions.
When Fenton magistrates court closed, the building that housed it—the former Fenton town hall—was put up for sale by the Ministry of Justice, yet Fenton town hall was never bought by the Ministry or the Government, who never paid any rent for it, and the Ministry is seeking to profit from the sale of the building. May we have a debate in Government time on buildings such as Fenton town hall being put up for sale when no money was ever paid, in the hope that we achieve the transfer of the building back to the community from which it came?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment in detail on the case that he raises, although I will ask the Ministry of Justice to consider the points he has made. Generally speaking, the legislative steps taken by the Government to empower local people and local communities to identify properties of community value and to be able to intervene to secure them for community purposes have been much welcomed.
Two months ago in the Chamber, I raised the case of Nadejah Williams, a young woman with a rare form of colon cancer who had been refused life-saving CyberKnife treatment by NHS England. Last night, Nadejah was told the good news that NHS England had changed its mind and she can now be treated with Mount Vernon’s CyberKnife system. I thank Andy Lines from the Daily Mirror for doggedly pursuing her case and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Anna Soubry, for intervening personally and making NHS England see sense.
May we have a debate on why six months of trauma and three appeals by Nadejah’s specialists occurred before that young woman was allowed her CyberKnife treatment, thereby ensuring that others do not suffer what can be critical delays to their treatment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure the House will appreciate how she has pursued that case, and share her hope that successful pursuit of that treatment will be of great benefit to Ms Williams. I cannot promise a debate, but it is important for the NHS to be able to pursue innovative treatments. CyberKnife—a brand name—is a form of interventional radiotherapy, and other forms of interventional radiotherapy were agreed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to be effective. From my experience in these matters I know that, along with others, CyberKnife was increasingly being adopted across the NHS, and rightly so.
What is clear is that the coalition Government are pursuing what I regard as a genuinely one-nation policy, and restoring the economic health of this country after the appalling circumstances in which it was left—I referred to that earlier—in a way that gives proper support to those in need and helps people back to work. The Work programme is among the most successful initiatives. As I said, people in work will inevitably find that across the whole economy we are not in a position to pay ourselves more than we earn, or to carry on doing so, as we did for a long time. As a country, however, we are increasingly earning our way, winning in the global race, getting contracts and exports, investing for the future, and putting in place infrastructure and business investment that will enable us to earn our way to rising living standards in the future.
In Harrogate and Knaresborough the number of those claiming jobseeker’s allowance has fallen by almost a third in a year, and as my right hon. Friend reminded the House earlier, 1.4 million private sector jobs have been created by businesses since 2010. May we have a debate to explore further that positive news about job creation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His constituency in the north of England is a place where jobs are being created and businesses are operating successfully, and he and his constituents can take pride in what they are doing. Generally, it is right to say that there are 1.4 million more people employed in the private sector, and a record number of women in employment. Despite the inevitable and necessary fact that we reduced the deficit and constrained public spending, which led to more than 400,000 fewer public sector jobs, more than three private sector jobs have been created since the election for every public sector job lost.
Given widespread support for a sporting legacy from London 2012, may we have a debate on unfair local Government funding to northern cities that means lots of sporting facilities will close, possibly including those at Ennerdale, which is the only standard-size swimming pool for competitions in Hull?
Michelle Inch is a constituent who contacted me two years ago when looking for help to set up a business from home. Two years later she now has permanent premises, and is importing, rebranding and sending products throughout the country. She did that with the help of the Prince’s Trust. May we have a debate on the Prince’s Trust and business support in general, to recognise the excellent support that His Royal Highness and the trust give to businesses?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I think his experience, which he ably sets out, is reproduced in many constituencies across the country. I have often found inspiring the way that the Prince’s Trust has given hope, opportunity and support to young people whom the rest of the system would probably not have thought had potential. They do have potential, however, which is realised through the offices of the Prince’s Trust. The Government want to ensure that we do our bit, and today the Prime Minister will announce a further extension to the new enterprise allowance, which has already supported the establishment of 26,000 new businesses. That is complementary to work of organisations such as the Prince’s Trust, which has done such great work in the past and today.
The UK is an acknowledged world leader in research on and clinical treatment of rare disease. Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on the structure of the UK rare disease plan, which would encourage collaboration across the UK and permit Northern Ireland to participate in the decision-making process?
I am proud that the first such rare disease plan was published when I was Secretary of State for Health. I know that my colleagues in the Department for Health regularly co-ordinate with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations, but I will ask them to what extent that involves working together on the rare disease plan.
My hon. Friend and many others on both sides of the House will have mourned the passing of Sir David Frost. I remember not only his sense of humour but the incisiveness with which he conducted his journalism, which is a model for journalists across the world. He is much missed.
Since the 2010 general election, unemployment has fallen by 69% in my constituency, meaning that it is now less than 2%. Would the Leader of the House consider allowing time for a debate on how we can utilise world-class manufacturing businesses which export, such as Pretty Polly and Aristoc in my constituency and others all over Britain, to support economic growth and make sure that employment levels continue to fall?
My hon. Friend gives an impressive account of her constituency that not least demonstrates that this is not a recovery that is being generated in London and by financial services, but is happening across the country and is more broadly based, especially for manufacturing companies. The figures that she quotes from her constituency are very impressive and I am pleased to hear them.
In April I asked for a statement on the case of Mr Haroon Aswat. Mr Aswat is wanted in the US as a co-conspirator of Abu Hamza, but the UK has been prevented from deporting him by the European Court of Human Rights. This week, the Court announced it will not even hear the Government’s appeal. It is no wonder that so many people think it is now time that we withdrew from the European convention. May we please now have a statement?
My hon. Friend will know that we are disappointed by the panel’s decision not to refer the case to the Grand Chamber. The Home Secretary does not believe that extradition would breach Haroon Aswat’s human rights, and she will now consider what options are available in this case. I am sure the House will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage, but I know that the Home Secretary will keep the House informed.
Many young people in my constituency have been taking up jobs and apprenticeships with local food and drink producers, and this Sunday it is the Totally Locally street market in Slaithwaite, with the Holmfirth food and drink festival at the end of the month. May we have a debate on the importance to local economies of food and drink producers and the benefits of shopping locally?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and I know that many hon. Members have brought local food and drink producers here as part of a constituency presentation day, which amply illustrates that point. We recognise the benefits that marketing of regional and local food can bring to producers and consumers alike, and shoppers increasingly want to know the provenance of the food they buy and how it has been produced.
Three million people have chosen to collect benefits or pensions at the post office through a Post Office card account, but the contract between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Post Office is due to end in 18 months’ time. It is important for those 3 million people and for rural post offices that either POCA or an alternative Post Office product continues after 2015. Time is short, so may we have an urgent debate on the subject?
My hon. Friend asks a good and timely question. He may know that the Department for Work and Pensions contract with Post Office Ltd to provide the Post Office card account expires in March 2015. The DWP, Post Office Ltd and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have begun detailed discussions concerning the future needs of customers beyond that date, to ensure that access to pensions or other welfare benefits is not put at risk. He will also understand that although there is the option to extend the contract for up to two years, the services provided under the contract fall within procurement regulations and would need to be subject to open competition following any period of extension.
We have an unacceptable situation in Rye, where two giants of the supermarket world co-own one site on which they cannot reach an agreement. For 10 years, my constituents have had to wait to see who can develop it. It is still undeveloped, causing blight and irritation to the whole town. May we have a debate on how to persuade these large corporate giants to act perhaps in the best interest of the community?
My hon. Friend makes an important point for her constituency. She might seek to raise the issue on the Adjournment at some point, but having raised it in business questions, she would be right to take the opportunity to say to the companies concerned that while it is their decision, she and her local authority might be best placed to try and broker a solution. I encourage the companies to get together, as she asks, and see whether they can do something that is in the best interest of her community.
My hon. Friend raises a point that is technically a matter for the Speaker, and not a matter for me as Leader of the House. I do not think we need a debate. Unless the Speaker advises me otherwise, I think the rules of the House are clear that a Member must identify themselves to the Tellers in such a way.