The business for next week is as follows:
The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
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 business statement, but it was yet again so devoid of actual Government business that he may as well have let me or the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee do it. In the past four weeks, more than 60% of our time has been taken up by non-Government business, because this is a zombie coalition staggering around with no discernible purpose. Is that all we can expect for the next 15 months?
This Government have not just given up on legislating; they have given up on listening to Parliament, too. My calculations show that, on top of the three votes this Government have lost on their own business, they have ignored dozens of votes on Back-Bench business because they did not like the outcome. Last month, the House voted by 125 to two to set up a commission to study the effects of social security cuts on poverty; nothing has been done since. In 2012, we voted to stop the badger cull; the plans to roll out the cull are still in place. In 2013, the House voted to make sex and relationship education in our schools compulsory; that has not been done. Will the Leader of the House tell us what he thinks the purpose of Parliament is, if the Government just pick and choose which votes they are going to act on?
The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that he plans to stage a debate and vote on repealing the ban on fox hunting, but it is not in the current business. Will the
Leader of the House tell me how that debate will be structured, when it will actually happen and whether he will now rule out the option of using a statutory instrument to make the ban unenforceable, which is being actively canvassed by the pro-fox-hunting lobby?
This week, the Education Secretary sacked the chair of Ofsted, despite praising her “great knowledge and insight”. I am sure it is no coincidence that the man tipped to replace her has donated more than £100,000 to the Conservative party. A pattern seems to be emerging: the new chair of Natural England—a Tory donor; the new chair of the Care Quality Commission—a former Tory chief executive; the new chair of Monitor—a Tory ex-Minister; and, of course, the new head of the Prime Minister’s appointments board is also a former Tory staff member. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General about the strange correlation revealed between favours to the Tory party and quango jobs? While he is at it, will he now commit to publishing the full list of Tory donors who have been wined and dined anonymously at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official residence?
When the Education Secretary is not at loggerheads with his own Minister for Schools, or doing the lines you gave him yesterday, Mr Speaker, he is apparently fighting with “The Blob”. I must admit that it took me a while to work out that he was not setting up a jogging club for Cabinet Ministers so that they could all join the Prime Minister in trotting around St James’s park. I wonder whether the Education Secretary has taken to naming other Cabinet Ministers after cult films. After the Chief Secretary to the Treasury commented that he would let the Tories lower the top rate of tax to 40p over his dead body, his cult film would be “Night of the Living Dead”. The Home Secretary’s would naturally be “Aliens”, and the Work and Pensions Secretary’s would be “Nosferatu the Vampire”. I have found a perfect one for the Liberal Democrats—Ray Steckler’s 1964 monster classic, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies”.
I understand that the Deputy Prime Minister is looking for a new communications director, after the current post holder decided to leave after three months. She may have had a wealth of experience in dealing with high-profile clients across the globe, but everybody eventually realises that there are just certain things they cannot polish. I understand that the Liberal Democrat HR team has had to redraft the job description for the re-appointment. It now reads: “Must have extensive experience in crisis management.”
This week has shown that the Tory party has let the modernising mask slip. It capitulated in the face of its Back Benchers on the Immigration Bill. There was not a single woman on the Front Bench during Prime Minister’s questions. [Interruption.] It has clearly got a rota in use today, and we will see how long that lasts. Even the Prime Minister’s personal endorsements could not save two pro-European MPs from being deselected by their local Conservative associations. The Tory Tea party is baying for blood, and the Prime Minister is too weak to face it down. As Labour starts the journey to an historic reform that will open up our structures, the contrast could not be clearer between a Labour leader with the confidence to deliver real change in his party and a Prime Minister who is on the run from his own Back Benchers.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, but her principal comment was that no Government business is being brought forward. I have looked again at the business that I have just announced, and three of the five days in the Chamber involve Government business: consideration of Lords amendments to the Children and Families Bill, the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill—a further Bill introduced just yesterday—and debates on the police grant and local government finance reports. I cannot see what she is complaining about.
Frankly, to reiterate what the shadow Leader of the House and other hon. Members are perhaps ignoring, the time allocation for debates to the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee is a proper use of the time of this House; it is not simply that this House debates only Government legislation and that that is all that matters, which would be absurd. If we listened to the shadow Leader of the House, all those days would be taken away and allocated to Government business. That is not what this House has decided to do. When my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary was Leader of the House earlier in this Parliament, he brought in a measure, with the agreement of the House, to allocate substantial time to the Backbench Business Committee, and rightly so.
I have not announced a debate or a vote on fox hunting. What the Prime Minister said yesterday was absolutely right, but we have not been able to schedule such a debate at this stage.
The hon. Lady asked about the position of Baroness Morgan as the chair of Ofsted, which is not really a business matter as such. I find what she said slightly astonishing. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education appointed Baroness Morgan as the chair of Ofsted. Her term of office is expiring. I do not understand what the question is about. It is perfectly within the rights of Ministers, when a vacancy emerges, to refresh or change the leadership of public bodies.
I point the hon. Lady to the figures on the political activity that has been signalled by those who are appointed to public appointments. In 2012-13, 3.3% of those people declared Conservative political activity, 3% declared Labour activity, 1% declared Liberal Democrat activity and 1.7% declared other political activity. [Interruption.] Yes, properly declared. I refer the hon. Lady to the figures for the last Parliament. Under the last Government, the figures repeatedly show that there were four times as many declarations of Labour political activity as Conservative political activity. The bias took place under the last Government, not under this Government.
The hon. Lady told us something about films. I am not sure what that was all about. To relate it to the business, I am sure that she will have noted that whatever films she wants people to see, whether as analogies for Cabinet Ministers or anybody else, they will have enhanced opportunities under the Deregulation Bill to see them in local venues and film clubs. That is a jolly good thing.
I note that the shadow Leader of the House did not request a debate on the maintenance of essential services in the face of unjustified and unnecessary strike action by trade union leaders. We did not hear about that from the hon. Lady, nor did we hear about it from the Leader of the Opposition when he came to the Dispatch Box yesterday, yet millions of people in London are being unnecessarily inconvenienced and are having great difficulty in getting about and doing their normal business. There is no need for such a strike. She should have come to the Dispatch Box and agreed that there was no need for such a strike.
Equally, the shadow Leader of the House did not request a further debate on the relationship between trade unions’ political funds and political parties. Why is that? It is because that matter has been put off until 2020. So much for the efforts of the Leader of Opposition in that regard.
The shadow Leader of the House did not mention the desirability of a debate on recent economic measures, either. I think that we should take every possible opportunity to debate the Government’s long-term economic plan. Almost daily, there is further evidence of the success of that plan, whether it is exports going up, news on manufacturing confidence or the increased number of jobs. The news today about Bombardier is clearly very welcome. We are cutting the deficit, cutting income tax and freezing fuel duty. We are seeing more jobs in the economy. We are capping welfare, reducing immigration and promoting better schools and skills for the future. All those things will give the people of this country the peace of mind and security that they need for the future.
Finally, I am delighted that the shadow Leader of the House raised the issue of women in politics and, in particular, in this House. Speaking not as Leader of the House for a moment, but as a Conservative, I am proud that it is my party that had the first sitting woman Member of Parliament; that it is my party that gave votes to all women 85 years ago; that Emmeline Pankhurst was a Conservative activist; and that it was the Conservative party that gave this country its first woman Prime Minister.
As Sri Lanka comes before the United Nations in connection with alleged human rights abuses at the end of the civil war, does the Leader of the House share my concern about the increasing persecution of the Christian Church in Sri Lanka, which has a long, proud history, and particularly the persecution of the nonconformist Church there?
My hon. Friend will recall the steps that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary took during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to raise issues relating to human rights in Sri Lanka with the Government there. That gave unprecedented exposure to those issues, which was important. I know that many Members of the House are concerned about the position of Christians in many countries across the world, and I will again raise that issue with my hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as I know how concerned they are, and ask them to respond to my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard.
When will the House have the opportunity to debate and vote on changes to e-petitions, and will that debate also include a proposal for establishing a new petitions committee?
I cannot promise a debate at the moment, although I hope one may come forward soon. As I have already made clear to the House, the e-petition system run by the Government has been a great success and is linked to the Backbench Business Committee and the timetabling of debates. In the business I just announced we saw how an e-petition rapidly hit the 100,000 mark on the subject of extra charging for holidays during the school holidays, and that will be debated in Westminster Hall. There is, however, much wider scope and an opportunity for the House to consider and respond to petitions and allocate time for debate if the current e-petition system can be owned by both the Government and Parliament working together. I hope we can secure consensus on that soon, and give the House an opportunity to give its stamp of approval to that.
Unite’s members at the Faslane naval base in my constituency have voted for strike action over the Babcock offer of a 1% pay increase. According to Unite, Babcock claims that the Ministry of Defence says that it must stick to public sector pay restrictions, but that does not seem to apply at other dockyards. May we have a statement on that from the Defence Secretary?
I will, of course, ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to respond to my hon. Friend on that issue. He will know that the MOD is in negotiations with Babcock over the maritime support delivery framework contract, but that does not imply direct involvement in the pay offer, and its relationship with its staff is a matter for Babcock. I hope my hon. Friend agrees that a threat of industrial action is never an appropriate response to such matters, and everybody should be committed to the safe, secure and effective running of Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 1041, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members, and concerns the persecution by the branch of Asda in Longsight in my constituency?
[That this House expresses its disgust with and condemnation of the employment practices of Asda, in particular with regard to its treatment of a staff member at its branch in Longsight, Manchester; notes that this staff member was suspended for nearly two years on bogus allegations and has now, after this protracted and biased process, been unfairly dismissed; suspects that racism is involved in the persecution of this constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton; asserts that Asda has breached its own policies and procedures, confidentiality and data protection; further asserts that Asda has made false statements, has been involved in collusion over statements, has breached the ACAS code of practice, has made its decision with no valid evidence in support and has taken hearsay as being fact; and condemns these nasty bullies who believe they can get away with anything simply because they are immensely wealthy.]
A constituent of mine who was employed by Asda was suspended on bogus charges. After nearly two years he has now been dismissed, with Asda breaking every single employment rule it would be possible to break, as well as taking into account the fact that my constituent is a member of an ethnic minority. May I add to you,
Mr Speaker, that when I raised this matter with Asda, it wrote to me saying that it would report me to you for raising it? I therefore report myself to you for standing up for a constituent against these wealthy and powerful bullies.
The politest thing I can say is that Asda is not thereby demonstrating a very firm grasp of the parliamentary procedures that we operate in this place.
I have seen the right hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion. I know he would not expect me to comment on the circumstances of his constituent in this case, but it is perfectly proper for him to raise the issue. Even if these are not matters for which we in Government or Parliament directly are responsible, it is our responsibility, and his, to represent our constituents. I hope that those concerned will respond, including responding positively to him.
Everyone has been deeply moved by the sight of what is happening in Somerset and the south-west of England, with people being displaced from their homes, possibly for some considerable time. Also, we must note the generosity of both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Westminster. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices and those of the Second Church Commissioner to work with the Church of England and local churches to consider whether it would be appropriate to set up a relief fund so that members of the public and Members of this House who wish to contribute may do so? The model I would suggest is that used by the Archbishop of York when we had a similar flood event, though not quite on the same scale, in Yorkshire and the Humber region in the 2000s.
My hon. Friend rightly refers to the distress that communities are experiencing. We have to understand that it is not only potentially very serious for them, but it can be of long standing. It is not just about the response to these flooding events: recovery can take a great deal of time and require a lot of support. Clearly, we in Government will do everything we possibly can, but there is, as she rightly says, evidence of how people in this country want to help those in distress. Back in 2007 the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Lichfield put together through the Church Urban Fund a significant relief effort for those who had been affected. I am sure we could use the good offices of our right hon. Friend Sir Tony Baldry with others to see whether the Bishops of, for example, Bath and Wells, Exeter and Truro might think of doing something of a similar character.
I am sorry to prolong the response, Mr Speaker, but may I reiterate what I said last week? We in this House value very much what my hon. Friend Miss McIntosh does as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and on behalf of her constituents. Speaking entirely personally, may I say in that regard that I very much regret the decision that was taken by Thirsk and Malton constituency association last week?
May we have a debate in Government time in the run-up to the Budget on air passenger duty and the effects this is having on regional airports and, more important, on the economies of the regions of the UK?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that in the run-up to the Budget these are properly matters for the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, I know, in the run-up to the Budget is always willing to listen to hon. Members’ representations on the Budget. This is a debate that we have had in the House, but it may well be something that we debate again.
May we have a debate on the quality and availability of information to Members of this House before they are asked to make serious decisions? I refer to two things, particularly the concealment of the Major Projects Authority reports on HS2, and the fact that the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills have now appointed Golder Associates, who will produce a report for this House immediately after the close of the consultation on the environmental statement, which is 50,000 pages long. I gather that to date, with still almost a month to run, there are 10,000 responses that have to be analysed. The assessors will have to boil those down and present them to the House, which will give Members only 14 days, possibly, to look at them before the Second Reading of the HS2 hybrid Bill in this place. Will the Leader of the House look at how we can possibly ask Members to make important decisions and vote on Second Readings that are irrevocable when they do not have all the information on the risks involved and the whole project?
My right hon. Friend will know that the Standing Orders Committee in this House and in the House of Lords looked at the timing on consultation. The result of that was that the time for receipt of responses to the consultation was moved to, from memory,
Order. May I remind the House that there is a very important statement on flooding to follow and thereafter two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, the first of which is exceptionally heavily subscribed? There is, therefore, a premium upon brevity, which I am sure will now be exemplified by Mr Sheridan.
May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motion 1046?
[That this House expresses serious concern at the anti-trade union behaviour of INEOS at its petrochemical plant in Grangemouth where it has dismissed Mark Lyon, the UK Vice-President of Unite The Union for carrying out his responsibilities as the elected convener of Unite The Union at the Grangemouth complex; notes that INEOS refuses to accept the Unite shops stewards elected by the workforce to represent them and is acting against the International Labour Organization (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 1998, particularly ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise 1948, and ILO Convention 98 on The Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, 1949; further notes that INEOS is acting in contravention of the rights set out by the UK Government on the gov.uk website sections on Trade union membership: your employment rights and the role of your trade union rep; is concerned that INEOS is in line to receive £9 million in grants from the Scottish Government and has applied for loan guarantee fund support from the UK Government of £150 million; calls on the Government to make it clear to INEOS that actions in breach of ILO conventions and in contradiction of UK law on the rights of employees to be represented by a trade union and to take part in trade union activities is not acceptable in the UK in the 21st century; and further calls for the reinstatement of Mark Lyon and a negotiated settlement of points of difference between INEOS and trades unionists in its employment.]
Despite the best efforts of the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the local community and the work force of INEOS at Grangemouth, senior management at the plant are behaving like industrial thugs, sacking yet again the Unite convener Mark Lyon on trumped-up charges. As we have given this company £150 million of taxpayers’ money, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to this House to explain why this kind of behaviour from senior management is being tolerated?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the early-day motion, which, as it happens, I have read. I do not think it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to come to the Dispatch Box on this matter, but, given the events surrounding the threat to the plant at Grangemouth, I hope that we see positive engagement between the company and the trade union.
The Government still have a significant stake in Royal Mail, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how the privatised Royal Mail is doing when it comes to securing new customers and not losing the contracts it has? The experience of Polestar, a printing company in my constituency is that, far from doing all it can do to keep customers, middle-ranking officials are hellbent on handing Royal Mail business to competitors.
If my hon. Friend has specific issues relating to the business he should, in addition to raising them with me, raise them with the chief executive of the company itself. It is important to recognise that we have created a whole new opportunity for Royal Mail to improve its services through access to private investment. I think that that will be transformative for Royal Mail. The fact that its share price has risen relative to its issue price is, I think, a reflection of the market sentiment that this is a business with an increasingly prosperous future.
I enjoyed the interesting commentary from the Leader of the House on women’s history, but perhaps he would like to deal in the here and now and provide Government time for a debate on the position of women in the economy: the growing gender pay gap, the rising cost of child care and women’s long-term unemployment. Perhaps we could deal with those issues rather than have a history lesson.
I would be very happy if we were to have such a debate. It would give us an opportunity to highlight the fact that there are more women in jobs than ever before; we are giving parents access to good and affordable child care; we are creating, as I know from my previous responsibilities at the Department of Health, more than 1,000 extra health visitor posts to support women in the initial months after they have given birth; we are increasing the number of midwives to ensure that women have the right care they need during childbirth; and in this Parliament we are making the most positive and comprehensive reform of pensions, including pension entitlements, particularly in respect of the state pension, that give women access to the security of the single-tier pension, which is very important for their peace of mind in older age.
Greater devolution is being passed to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. This has resulted in places like Carlisle looking on enviously at the devolved powers and responsibilities granted to them. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the future of local government in England, so that places like Carlisle can have the opportunity to see greater powers and responsibilities devolved to them?
I agree with my hon. Friend that this is an important matter. He will have noted the debate on local government finance reports on Wednesday next week, which provides the opportunity for Members to raise issues relating to local government. We can put the matter in a positive context not only through what has been achieved under the Localism Act 2011, but, more recently, through the ability of local authorities to retain business rate revenue and generate growth in their areas, and to benefit from that through the new homes bonus and growth bonuses. The devolution of the generation of growth and resources in local government in England mirrors what is happening in the national Governments of Scotland and Wales.
In passing, may I say how good it is to see a bit more diversity on the Government Front Bench? It is just a shame that three of the four Members on the Front Bench not required to be there have silent roles—perhaps it is time the Leader of the House put in a word for their promotion so that they can speak.
I am a great champion of university technical colleges—there is one in my constituency—but is it not time we had a debate about the hurdles they face as a result of the age of recruitment being 14 and the sudden speed at which they are being opened? It is time a Minister came to the House to talk in detail about this matter and to answer questions on the roll-out of this policy.
I cannot promise a debate immediately. In defence of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, I point out that one is here for the statement to follow, which I hope we will reach shortly, and the others, as Whips, are frequently on the Bench—and rightly so—in order to discharge their responsibilities.
In response to the hon. Lady’s question, I will ask the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond to her directly. I know she is interested in these issues.
My hon. Friend is right. The continuing generation of new businesses in rural areas—made possible not least by our planning reforms—has been important for the rural economy. It is important, too, that we continue to deliver access to fast broadband in rural areas, which I know is important to rural businesses, as it gives them the opportunity to run an international business from what would otherwise be thought a distant location.
The Treasury has confirmed that 3.4 million people with an annual income of less than £7,225 each paid an average of £113 in national insurance contributions in 2011-12. Perversely, because class 1 NICs are collected weekly, someone on a fixed 20-hour contract on the national minimum wage does not pay NICs, whereas someone on a zero-hours contract with varying hours but earning the same annually does. May we have a debate on weekly calculated NICs and how we can make the system fairer for working people?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, after the Budget we conventionally introduce the Finance Bill, which affords an opportunity to debate these issues. He could also have raised the matter in the recent debate on the National Insurance Contributions Bill—I do not know whether he did. However, he should not have neglected to say that these are precisely the low earners who have benefited most from the Government’s increase in the personal allowance, which has taken 3 million out of income tax altogether.
I have asked the Leader of the House over and over again—more than 10 times—for a debate on the Francis report. It was debated this morning on the “Today” programme. The Nuffield report, which has just come out, contains a forward by Francis saying it is time that the regulator’s system-based culture was changed. I have a list of all the occasions this month when business has collapsed in the House, yet the Leader of the House keeps saying there is no time to debate the report. Will he please ensure that the House has a chance to discuss it properly?
I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s frustration, and I hope we can debate the Francis report soon. It is a year today since it was published, and since then much has been done, including the introduction of accountability under the new inspection regime and the new chief inspectors of hospitals, social care and primary care. A tremendous effort has been made to instil a culture of openness and candour in the NHS, to focus on safety and to create an understanding that quality of outcome is the overriding priority. I agree with what Robert Francis said in the Nuffield report foreword:
“The vast majority of front-line staff, who are consistently hard-working, conscientious and compassionate, have to understand that criticism of poor and unacceptable practice is not aimed at them but is part of a struggle to support everything they”— and indeed we—
“stand for” in the NHS. My hon. Friend raises a valid point about business. I hope that all we are doing and all that needs to be done will be the subject of a debate ere long.
Will the Leader of the House listen to the demands for a debate on women’s employment? Doe he agree that we need more women in highly paid, powerful, entrepreneurial jobs? Is it not through crowdfunding, social impact investment and social entrepreneurialism that many women secure those important jobs? May we have an early debate—before the Budget—so that we can improve the tax treatment of people who invest in social enterprises?
I would welcome a debate on employment, and, indeed, on social enterprises. I cannot promise such a debate immediately, but I know that the House would appreciate it.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that, according to the latest data, the number of unemployed women has fallen by 61,000 to 1 million, or 6.7%. The number of women in employment rose by 104,000, or 0.3 percentage points, in the last quarter. More than half a million more women have become employed since the general election.
A constituent of mine runs a rural business which depends on internet access to Government agricultural schemes, and next week is the busiest week of his year. However, he has been without internet access for nearly six weeks, since
I can tell my hon. Friend that, on more than one occasion in my constituency, flagging down an Openreach engineer’s van is exactly what my constituents have done.
I know that my hon. Friend will raise this issue with BT herself, but, exceptionally, I shall refer our exchange to BT and ask it to respond directly to her. Under the programme for extending superfast broadband access, contracts are now rolling out across the country, and we are trying to make that happen as quickly as possible. However, we need to ensure that we achieve not just notional access to superfast broadband, but reliable, good-quality access. I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the sad and tragic case of Colin Worton, who, as a soldier serving in
Northern Ireland in 1983, was wrongly arrested and charged with a sectarian murder? He was subsequently released without conviction, but owing to the reputational damage that has followed him since, he has been unable to work. Would it be appropriate for us to have a debate about the case, and to see what recompense can be given to that former serving soldier?
May we have a debate on the impact and application of the excellent “assets of community value” scheme, a very welcome measure that was introduced in the Localism Act 2011? It is clear that some councils—including, I am afraid, Leeds city council—are deliberately turning down applications on the basis that they do not believe that the community could have a bid. Surely that is against the spirit of this important legislation.
It is important for the new right that has been given to communities to be exercised positively. The Government are funding a support programme to help communities to make use of the right to bid for assets of community value, which includes expert advice on grant funding for the development of business plans. As my hon. Friend knows, this is a matter for local councils, but he has rightly raised it on behalf of his constituents because he wants assets of community value to be recognised, and I hope that his local council will listen to what he has to say about assets of community value in his constituency.
The Leader of the House will know the importance of energy-intensive industries to our manufacturing base. Will he therefore arrange for an urgent debate to examine the causes of the delay in the Government obtaining agreement from the European Commission to get compensation for industries for the indirect costs of the carbon floor price, and in particular to examine the concern that the Government are going to cave in over the backdating of that compensation?
I understand the importance of the energy-intensive industries to our manufacturing base, and my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change have been focusing on that issue, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Rather than elaborating further, however, I will ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend Mr Davey to respond to him.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Act is now on the statute book and it gives public commissioners a good sense of how they should secure wider social, economic and environmental value when buying services. We hope to publish a one-year-on review of the Act shortly, and we are keen for commissioners to think intelligently about how their money can be used to deliver that value as far as possible. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but the publication of the review might stimulate a response, including opportunities for debate in the House.
Members on both sides of the House have been contacted by their constituents about the growing despair among businesses that use the Clydesdale bank. A directive from the National Bank of Australia is compelling the Clydesdale to put pressure on businesses by calling in loans and withdrawing overdraft facilities. That is resulting in businesses having to close and in the loss of jobs. Will the Leader of the House make Government time available so that this matter can be debated? Those banks are conducting business in a wholly unacceptable manner.
I have visited the Clydesdale bank in Cambridge in years past. It is part of the process of getting challenge and competition into the banking system and, in that context, I hope that banks will show greater customer responsiveness. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point and I will of course ask my hon. Friends at the Treasury to look into this and respond to him, and to see what action could be taken by the Financial Conduct Authority.
GCSE results in Tamworth have improved materially, and that is an important step in providing the skilled and confident local work force of the future. However, teacher knowledge and teaching provision for pupils with dyslexia and dyspraxia can be uneven, locally and across the country. May we have a debate on that important topic, and particularly on the provision of dyslexia and dyspraxia teaching in primary schools, to ensure that all kids get the best start in life?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we think about our motivation to deliver better schools and better skills for our young people, we should think about it not in the aggregate but in relation to delivering the best possible schooling and the highest possible standards for each child. That is our objective. Many children have special educational needs, and we want to ensure that those needs are recognised and responded to. This is part of what the Children and Families Bill is about, and there might or might not be an opportunity to raise that specific point on consideration of amendments on Monday. It is, of course, relevant. Also, my hon. Friends from the Department for Education will be here answering questions on Monday, so my hon. Friend might like to raise the issue then.
May we have an urgent debate on the appeal process for employment and support allowance? It is an expensive process, and it is a nightmare to negotiate for users of the system. A dispute over the work capability assessment must first be reconsidered by the Department for Work and Pensions, which can take a month, during which ESA is suspended. Claimants are left with no support and have to claim jobseeker’s allowance. Some have been refused JSA, however, because they are not fit for work. After the DWP has gone through its assessment process, the claimant can go to a tribunal, and 40% of those claims are successful. Would it not be appropriate—
Order. I think we have got the gist of the matter, which has been eloquently conveyed to the House. The hon. Lady might want an Adjournment debate on the matter; it would be good material.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. We have indeed got the gist of what she was saying, and it is important to us. It is the reason why we have taken action to ensure that the work capability assessment is fit for purpose. Our measures include: requiring Atos to retrain its staff; much closer monitoring; and bringing in new providers to carry out assessments. We have also announced that we will seek additional provision to conduct WCAs. I hope that we will continue on the programme, which has been an important and successful one, to ensure that those in receipt of benefits are subject to a proper assessment to see whether they are fit for work or eligible for ESA.
May we have a debate on the Government’s proposals to introduce a charge on plastic carrier bags? No such opportunity is planned before the introduction of the charge as the necessary powers are available through existing legislation? This is a matter of concern to many, including small businesses, which are anxious not to have additional burdens imposed on them, and the plastics recycling sector, which is concerned that incentives to use biodegradable material will lead to contamination of the waste stream.
My hon. Friend raises points that he and others have been at pains to ensure are part of the discussion taking place in a consultation. We are in the process of ensuring that we get the regulations right. I have had an opportunity to see how this measure works in Wales and I think it is a good thing to do. It will make a difference by reducing plastic waste dramatically, but we need to make sure that the regulations work effectively.
Early-day motion 1035 describes an extraordinary rip-off, which, according to the European Commission, will cost British taxpayers £17.6 billion.
[That this House believes that the UK has been ripped off by Électricité de France (EDF) which has agreed to sell future electricity in France at £38 per Mwh while pressuring the Government to pay £92.50 per Mwh for Hinkley Point electricity, double the present price, index-linked and guaranteed against EDF loss for 35 years; and further believes this massive subsidy will inflate electricity bills for four decades.]
Why did the Government make an agreement with EDF to pay a price for electricity that is double the current going rate and three times what EDF will charge in future in France, and then guarantee and index link that price for 35 years? These details have never been discussed in this House—should they not be?
On the contrary, I have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, when making statements to this House, explaining carefully the structure of the support that is to be given and the contract for difference that is going to be provided. Contrary to the point the hon. Gentleman makes, we should be emphasising the necessity, at this stage, of ensuring that we have the security of knowing that we have relatively carbon-free production from a secure source that is able to balance our requirements for energy in the future.
Many hon. Members will have heard from constituents who have overpaid for the congestion charge, or even when filing their own tax return, because of misleading websites or search returns. May we have a debate on making the internet a more consumer-friendly place, so that our constituents can find the genuine websites of Government, charities and trademark owners, not scammers, chancers and rip-off merchants?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We do take customer confidence in online services, especially those relating to Government services most widely, very seriously. The Minister for Civil Society has commissioned a cross-government exercise to gather information about the operation of third party websites offering services associated with official Government services, so that we can have a full understanding of the scale and nature of the problem. That will inform Ministers’ discussions on the best way to address the issues caused by the misleading activity of some third party websites.
As the Member of Parliament whose constituency contains the excellent Hull university, I am concerned to hear press reports that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury wants to scrap the £300 million student opportunities fund. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chief Secretary to make a statement to the House explaining why, after trebling tuition fees, scrapping the education maintenance allowance and making cuts to further education, he now wants to axe the only part of the universities budget that is about assisting students from poorer backgrounds to go to university?
In the midst of that, the hon. Lady might have mentioned that applications to university are at record levels, including specifically from those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In relation to the point she raises, I know that she has heard Ministers at the Dispatch Box say that if there is any announcement to be made, it will be made in due course.
At the moment the Environment Agency is still using a premium telephone number. It is owned by a French company called Teleperformance, which is turning over £2 billion a year. I have villages that are being evacuated at the moment. Can we please have a local number that people can phone without feeling that they are being ripped off?
I am glad to say that my colleagues from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are in their places on the Front Bench and I know that they will continue to raise this issue with the Environment Agency. My hon. Friend will also have heard what the Prime Minister had to say about this. I hope that he is therefore assured that we are taking every step we can to give people access to high quality information in a way that does not impose unacceptable costs on them.
May we have an urgent debate or question on the Government’s approach to local television? In Northern Ireland and England, the new local television services will be allocated channel 8 on Freeview, but in Wales and Scotland, the plan is to allocate them channel 26. These are public service broadcasting entities which should have due prominence under the legislation. Will the Leader of the House ask Ministers to come to the House to tell us what they are doing to ensure that those channels are given more prominent status on Freeview?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to reach back into my past as a member of the Puttnam commission and the Standing Committee on the Communications Act 2003, but my recollection is that the Act gave the responsibility to Ofcom. I will therefore ask my colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to check with Ofcom and respond to him on the points that he raises.
May we have a statement about the Prime Minister’s long-term economic plan as it affects north Northamptonshire, which my right hon. Friend visited recently? Unemployment in Kettering has fallen by 26% in a year, in Wellingborough by 28% and in Corby by more than 36%. Would that allow us to say what a disaster Labour made and how much better the Conservatives would do on their own without the Liberal Democrats?
I wish I could find time for such a debate. There is always pressure on Government business, but such a debate would be very welcome. Apart from anything else, it would give Andy Sawford, who is in his place, an opportunity to welcome the progress of the Government’s long-term economic plan and how it is creating more jobs and opportunities for his constituents. Even the shadow Leader of the House might like to join in, as unemployment has fallen by 20% in Wallasey in the last year.
Tempting though it is to switch my question, I want to ask about a serious matter of business. Papers released to me this week by the Department for Transport in response to a freedom of information request reveal that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Goodwill is secretly briefing Conservatives about plans to increase the speed limit on HGVs from 40 mph to 50 mph. That is surely a matter that should be brought before the House properly as there is a great deal of parliamentary and public concern. Can the Leader of the House arrange for that to happen?
I fear that I was not here throughout Transport questions, so I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had the chance to raise that with Ministers. I have no knowledge of what he says, but I will of course raise it with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department and ask them to respond to him.
As I have pointed out in previous business questions, Leicestershire is one of the lowest funded counties for education in the whole country. Teachers also tell me that schools have been missing out on the pupil premium because of the reluctance of parents to sign their children up for the free school meals to which they are entitled. May we have a statement on what action the Government can take to emphasise to parents how important it is to sign up for free school meals, and may we have a debate on universal credit and how it may allow the identification of families who qualify for the pupil premium without needing to reference the take-up of free school meals?
I recall the important point that my hon. Friend made about the education funding formula and I look forward to further announcements from colleagues soon. On his point about access to the pupil premium because of free school meals, the under-registration rate in 2013 is estimated to have been 11%, down from 14% in 2012. This is an important point. The pupil premium is an important part of the allocation of resources to support disadvantaged pupils. To support a more efficient system the Department has developed an award-winning free school meals eligibility checking system. This system enables local authorities very quickly to determine whether a parent can claim free school meals by linking benefits information from the Department for Work and Pensions with information from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Home Office.
Bishop Wordsworth’s grammar school in my constituency is again facing considerable pressure, redundancies and radical curriculum cuts this year as a consequence of the pressure caused by 16-to-18 underfunding. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on school funding so that we can ensure that outstanding schools, particularly grammar schools, are not severely damaged by this gap that exists at 16 to 18?
As my hon. Friend will have heard me say, I hope our hon. Friends at the Department for Education will be in a position to tell us more about the progress we can make towards a fairer funding formula where the funding for schools is related to the characteristics of the pupils, not historical funding allocations. I cannot give my hon. Friend a timetable for those announcements, but he will have noted that I mentioned previously that there is an opportunity to ask questions of our hon. Friends at the Department for Education at Education questions on Monday.
Next week the Football Association is holding an exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall on grassroots football, and Rainham school for girls in my constituency is delighted to have been asked to represent England at the Futsal world cup in Italy this year. May we have an urgent debate on increasing and supporting participation in grassroots football? I should also declare that I am a parliamentary fellow with the Football Association.
I applaud what my hon. Friend is doing and I am sure the whole House looks forward to seeing the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. Members support grassroots football and football at every level and want to see the best possible governance of football, and, as I know from my experience as Leader of the House, they have frequently asked for a debate on football. There has not yet been an opportunity to have one, but Members might collectively wish to talk to the Backbench Business Committee about that.
The Secretary of State for Education is rightly placing demanding expectations on schools, pupils and teachers in efforts to drive up standards with testing, longer school days, and improved discipline. Sadly, constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan and across Wales will not benefit from these expectations and innovations, and after 15 years of Labour rule in Wales there is a worrying divergence in standards and the programme for international student assessment outcomes show an even greater divergence from England in recent years. May we have a debate on education to consider the different approaches that are taken so we can compare and contrast the best practice across each of the nations?
My hon. Friend raises an important point and I wish it were possible. There are so many issues on which it would be helpful to have a debate, not least to be able to look at how the measures being brought forward by our right hon. Friend the Education Secretary and his colleagues are promoting improvements in standards, including making sure that we have the right discipline in schools and the right academic ambition. Progress has clearly been made as shown by the improvements in results and the dramatic reduction in the number of pupils in underperforming schools. There is still some distance to travel in terms of the PISA results, and that is being undertaken by the Government, but the continuing disparity between England and Wales must concern my hon. Friend and his constituents in Wales, and I am sure it would be helpful for this House to address that.
While I was in Green Lanes, Palmers Green yesterday morning, I counted 12 betting shops along that stretch of road, which is saturation level. Following the welcome Department for Culture, Media and Sport review of fixed odds betting terminals, may we have a statement on any necessary additional local planning or licensing powers, such as a cumulative impact test, so that our local communities can regain the power to control their local high streets?
My hon. Friend rightly raises an issue that has been the subject of debate in this House, including quite recently when we were looking at the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill and related issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is sitting beside me, and if I may I will ask him to respond particularly in relation to the powers of local authorities in respect of betting shops in local areas.
Over the past two years, four new multi-million pound primary schools have opened up across Pendle, addressing the huge shortfall in school places that was left by the previous Government who ignored rising birth rates in the area and let immigration soar. May we have a debate on the funding of additional school places as part of this Government’s long-term economic plan?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, which did not build any schools, completely ignored the demographic changes that were already evident in relation to births and the number of youngsters coming through into primary schools. I am delighted that he points to what we are doing. We will be spending £18 billion on school buildings over this Parliament, which is more than double the amount that Labour spent in its first two terms combined.
When I had the pleasure of visiting Silkmore community primary school in Stafford, the inspirational head, Julie Mowbray, said how important the pupil premium and the funding for child care for two-year-olds were in her school, which has a high percentage of children receiving the pupil premium. May we have a debate on the effect of the pupil premium and child care funding for two-year-olds?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has had this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that is being done in his constituency. I cannot promise a debate immediately. He will have heard what I said about opportunities for questions, but it is important, none the less, that we have the opportunity to discuss how the implementation of our commitment to increase places for two-year-olds—this follows the introduction of our scheme for three-year-olds—will enable all young people to have access to the best possible early start in education.
At yesterday’s Welsh Grand Committee, the Opposition completely torpedoed what we thought was an all-party agreement to grant tax-raising powers to the National Assembly for Wales and to make the Welsh Government fiscally accountable. May we have a statement in this Chamber on what was a stunning U-turn by the Opposition so that we can expose Labour as an anti-devolutionary and anti-Welsh party?
I am interested in what happened at the Welsh Grand Committee. In fact, the Deputy Leader of the House and I visited it yesterday morning for the first hour of the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I was astonished to hear the Opposition saying that they were opposed to this major extension of devolution to Wales. We are in a position to give the people of Wales the opportunity, through a referendum, to decide whether they want devolution. The Opposition seem to be against that.
In Harrogate and Knaresborough, we have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the country. I recognise that we are seeing falls in youth unemployment nationally, but the problem still remains worryingly high. Please may we have a debate about preparing young people for work?
I hope we will have further opportunities to debate that matter. The coalition Government can be proud of their achievements, including the 1.5 million apprenticeships during this Parliament, the extension of traineeships, and the commitment that young people should be in education, employment or training and that the skills they acquire should be increasingly appropriate for work in the future. We should take opportunities to discuss those achievements and support them.