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The business for next week will be as follows.
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business, and may I also take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend Natascha Engel on her unopposed re-election as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee? She is doing such a good job that no one even thought she should be replaced. We could not say the same about many Government Ministers.
I would also like to wish the England football team good luck in their first World cup game on Saturday. We are all convinced that they are going to have a great tournament and we will all be watching their every move, as usual, from behind the sofa.
I note from the Leader of the House’s comments that the Foreign Secretary is due to give us a statement on his conference on sexual violence, which is very welcome, on Monday, but we all watched in horror as militant extremists overran swathes of north-western and central Iraq yesterday, and they are now reported to be within 50 miles of Baghdad. Over half a million people have had to flee, and the country has been forced to declare a state of emergency. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to keep the House fully informed as this deeply worrying situation develops?
In future business there is an eerie silence on the recall Bill, and the Deputy Prime Minister managed, in true Lib Dem fashion, to disagree with his own draft Bill only last week. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Government’s latest version of the recall Bill will actually be published?
A report from the National Audit Office has revealed that the Government’s armed forces restructure is in chaos. The plans are already six years behind schedule, and instead of making savings of nearly £11 billion, it looks like these changes are going to cost the public purse more. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee has rightly described the additional cost as scandalous. The changes risk exposing a dangerous capability gap in the nation’s defences, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Defence Secretary so he can explain these failings in his Department?
As the passport agency descended into chaos, the Government first tried denial, then played the blame game, and now have been forced into a series of emergency measures. The head of the agency denied that there was a backlog only on Monday; the Home Secretary was boasting that it was meeting its service targets on Tuesday; by Wednesday the Prime Minister was forced to admit that it has been trying to clear the backlog for weeks; and overnight we found out that Ministers were not even aware that vital security checks have been scaled back to speed up the process. Even if the Home Secretary was unaware, the Leader of the House acknowledged the problem last week and promised a written ministerial statement. Seven days later, we have not had one, and my colleague Mr Hanson has had no substantive reply to his named day questions on this subject. Will the Leader of the House explain why we have had to drag the Home Secretary kicking and screaming to the Chamber today to account for this fiasco? Is the non-appearance of the promised statement a further sign of the Home Secretary’s incompetence, or has she fallen out with the Leader of the House too?
After yet another weekly session where the Prime Minister focused on the rhetoric and ignored the reality, I have decided that we need a regular “mind the gap” watch to highlight the Government’s failure to live up to their PR hype. This week alone we have had the news that the housing benefits bill is set to soar by yet another £1 billion despite the Government promising to make work pay and provide enough affordable homes, food bank use is up by 54% last year alone despite the Government saying they would face up to the cost of living crisis, and, despite matching our promise to end child poverty by 2020, this week a report from their own Child Poverty Commission said that was not remotely “realistic”.
The Government’s Whitehall farce continues to run and run. The Conservatives are blaming their multiple failures on the civil service, their special advisers, the last Labour Government, and now they are even trying to blame Oxfam. The Prime Minister wanted to reshuffle his deck, but has now realised that he has got a pack of jokers. The Liberal Democrat headquarters managed to tweet:
“we didn’t go into govt because it was the right thing to do, we went into govt because it was the right thing to do”.
[Hon. Members: “Where are they?”] There is not a single Liberal Democrat Member here; they are all at a lesson on how to tweet properly. Only the Liberal Democrats could change their minds halfway through a tweet. After their disastrous election results, the Deputy Prime Minister has finally had some good news this week. They have finally topped a ballot—but it was only the ballot for private Members’ Bills. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has declared that the Liberal Democrats could be the biggest party in 2025, and William Hill has pulled its sponsorship from the Liberal Democrats’ closest rivals, the Monster Raving Loony party. This clearly demonstrates that there is only one joke party left in British politics.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement. I echo her congratulations to Natascha Engel, whose re-election is a testament to her chairmanship of the Backbench Business Committee and to the work of the Committee as a whole. It has brought forward some important debates and given Back Benchers a greatly enhanced voice. Surveys in recent years have shown that the public now believe that the House debates issues of relevance to them on a more regular and timely basis.
I also echo the shadow Leader of the House’s good wishes to the England team. It will be a late night on Saturday, but at least it will be followed by Sunday morning. I am looking forward to the England team scoring many goals and kissing the badge, as they say. I am told that the Leader of the Opposition is being invited to do that with the trade unions in Nottingham at the moment. It seems a strange idea, but it tells us something about where the trade unions think the interests of the Labour party lie, in contrast to the coalition, which knows that it serves in the national interest.
The hon. Lady asked about a statement on Monday. I have announced that the Foreign Secretary will be in the House on that day to make a statement, and we will of course take opportunities to update the House on the very concerning situation in Iraq. The threat presented by the so-called Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant is alarming for the whole international community. The Iraqi authorities in the federal Government and in the Kurdistan regional Government need to co-ordinate and work together to put forward a political response and a security response to the situation. We are aware of large numbers of Iraqis being displaced from Mosul and the surrounding areas. The Department for International Development is monitoring that situation closely, and rapidly assessing the humanitarian need that will arise from it. I will ask my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and in DFID to ensure that the House can be updated whenever possible.
The hon. Lady mentioned the recall Bill. We announced the Bill in the Queen’s Speech and will introduce it in due course. We are making good progress with it. We have already introduced five Bills in this Session—three in the other place and two here—and we will introduce further Bills in due course.
The hon. Lady also asked about defence spending. I have announced a debate on defence spending, which will take place next Thursday following the recommendations of the Backbench Business Committee. It will give my colleagues an opportunity to remind
Members—including Opposition Members—that we inherited a defence budget with a £38 billion black hole. We have taken action to balance the books; Army 2020 is an integral part of that. An excellent job has been done—not least by the Defence Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff—to redesign the Army so that it can meet future demands while remaining affordable. We are committed to investing £1.8 billion in the reserves, and we are now seeing the benefit of that: the trained strength of the reserve forces is rising for the first time in 18 years.
The hon. Lady asked about the situation in the Passport Office. I made it clear in response to questions last week that my colleagues would update the House on that matter this week, and they have done so in response to questions and to an Adjournment debate secured by Mr Robinson. The Home Secretary has also given the House a full, authoritative response on the issue and outlined a number of measures that will make a substantial difference in the weeks ahead.
The hon. Lady asked about issues that she suggested were not being covered in the Government’s reply, and she included food prices. I heard one of my DEFRA colleagues reminding the House that food prices in the year to March rose by only 0.5%, and in the past two months food prices appear to have been falling, so it is important to bear in mind that on some issues relating to the cost of living people are in a better place than they might otherwise have been. That is particularly the case when they are in work, and as we saw just yesterday more than 2 million new private sector jobs have been created since the general election. If there is a gap, it is between the Labour party and reality on what is happening in our economy. Our long-term economic plan is delivering on reducing the deficit and on growth, which is 3% up on a year ago. We have 2 million more private sector jobs and 400,000 more businesses. We are delivering our long-term economic plan in the national interest while the Leader of the Opposition is off to serve the union interest.
I echo the call for a debate on the situation in Iraq, although it is noticeable that Her Majesty’s official Opposition did not ask for such a debate, having not provided a debate on foreign affairs during consideration of the Queen’s Speech. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a general debate on foreign affairs, to cover not only Iraq but the crisis in Syria and the situation in Ukraine?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and he is absolutely right: I was very surprised and disappointed that the Opposition did not choose to debate matters relating to foreign affairs and defence. Of course, the Backbench Business Committee will enable defence issues to be raised next week, but this was the second year in a row that the Opposition did not choose to debate foreign affairs. Given the circumstances in which they made that decision—the events in Ukraine and Syria, and now Iraq—it would have been helpful had they chosen to have such a debate. Anybody who examines the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords will see that it had a full, substantial debate on foreign affairs. I believe that Members in the
other place were astonished that there was no debate on foreign affairs in this House, but of course, these were matters for the Opposition.
On average, 7,500 people are on the waiting list for transplants and each year 1,000 people die because an organ is not available. May we have a debate on why we cannot co-ordinate transplant week with the transplant games? That would allow us to raise the profile of the Donate Life campaign and then, we hope, three people a week would not die waiting for an organ to become available.
I very much share the hon. Lady’s sense of the priority and importance of this issue. I was the sponsor in this House of transplant week some years ago, because more transplants take place in my constituency than anywhere else in the United Kingdom; it contains Papworth hospital, a leading heart and lung transplant centre, and Addenbrooke’s hospital, which deals with livers, kidneys, and pancreatic and other organs. If I may, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health, who work with the charities concerned, about the timings of these important charitable events and what possibilities there might be, as we do want to make further progress. The number of people on the organ donation register has increased by 50%, which is having a big impact on the availability of organs, but we need to do more. I hope we will be able to co-ordinate things in the way she describes.
May we have a debate on why Labour councils, particularly Telford & Wrekin council, are deliberately misinterpreting and miscommunicating the Government’s national planning guidelines? Do the Government still prefer development, be it residential or retail, to be on brownfield rather than greenfield sites?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is very much about a presumption in favour of brownfield over greenfield development; that is what the Government are looking towards. The other important thing is that this Government expect planning to be locally led. I am sure my hon. Friend will bring to bear on his council, in the way he describes, local people’s views on what they want in their local plan. Under the Localism Act 2011, that should be pre-eminent in the local plan.
On Monday, the Secretary of State for Education announced that, in future, schools will teach British values. Although he appears to have been panicked by the crisis in his Department into announcing something with which he used to disagree, it is a very good idea. The problem is that it is easier said than done and harder to do well than badly, and if it is done badly it would probably be better not to do it at all. Can we have a debate in this House, before the Department publishes its proposals, on how exactly British values can be taught successfully and effectively in our schools?
Indeed, I heard the Secretary of State say that. If I recall correctly—I will ensure that I am correct about this—I think he said that while he was looking for schools to promote British values, it was not some immediate response, but something he had been considering. I think it was the subject of a pre-existing consultation in any case. We will of course ensure that we keep the House informed about the progress of that consultation and our response to it.
Tackling domestic violence has rightly risen up the political agenda. Football United Against Domestic Violence is a new campaign by Women’s Aid working with national footballing bodies, sports, media, football clubs, the police, players and fans to send a clear message that domestic violence is always unacceptable. Following Tuesday’s successful parliamentary launch supported by the Premier League, BT Sport, the Football Association, Charlie Webster, Jahmene Douglas and a large number of cross-party MPs, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should hold a debate on this important subject?
My hon. Friend is quite right: domestic violence and abuse ruin lives. They are completely unacceptable, which is why tackling this crime has been one of the Government’s top priorities since coming to office, and that includes backing the important work of Women’s Aid. He knows that there is not compelling evidence that suggests a causal link between sporting events and domestic violence and abuse. However, an event of the importance of the World cup presents an opportunity for us to target different audiences with our message concerning domestic abuse; he is quite right about that. It will build on the work of Women’s Aid, and the Home Office has launched a campaign for that purpose. Whether we are talking about physical violence, threats or coercive behaviour, they all count as abuse and it is part of our work to stop it.
It is a statutory responsibility of electoral registration officers and local authorities to do door-to-door canvassing of non-responders to voter registration. In Hansard today, there is a list of 22 local authorities that break the law, some of which have broken the law for four years on the trot and no action has been taken. Will the Leader of the House have a debate in Parliament on this important issue that affects our democracy?
I cannot promise an immediate debate but I will if I may talk to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, who is responsible for Cities and Constitution and has oversight of such issues. In the first instance though, I will ask the Electoral Commission to respond because it has a responsibility to ensure the integrity of elections, which includes the work of the electoral registration officers and whether or not they meet their responsibilities.
This morning, the Court of Appeal overturned the Government’s application for a terrorism trial to be held in blanket secrecy. It still allows the state to hand-pick journalists to report on the case subject to undefined conditions. The House has had no explanation of why that is necessary, given existing powers such as public interest immunity powers, and the state is relying on vague common law powers which have not been set and defined by elected Members of this House. Given that principles of open justice and democracy are at stake, can we have a statement or a debate on the matter in the near future?
It is probably best if I confine myself to what the Attorney-General said this morning, which is that the principle of open justice is key to the British legal system and that trials will always be held in public unless there are very strong reasons for doing otherwise. The measures applied for by the Crown Prosecution Service in this case were, it is believed, justified in order for the trial to proceed and for the defendants to hear the evidence against them, while protecting national security. The issues were considered today by the court; it is not for the Government to decide such things. As the Attorney-General rightly said this morning, we can look to the courts to ensure that the interests of justice will be maintained.
May we have a debate on ovarian cancer and particularly the need for the BRCA test to be available? It is available in Scotland, but despite the guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence saying that women in the rest of the UK should qualify, it is not available to them. There is an urgent need for a debate to address that inequality for women.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. I cannot promise a debate, but it is an issue about which she and colleagues might wish to approach the Backbench Business Committee, as debates on important health issues have been among the more successful of those it has been able to promote. I will speak to colleagues about responding directly to the hon. Lady on the issues she raises about the guidance.
Of the 16 families who have contacted me about passport delays, the most tragic case is that of Kiran and Bina Salvi, who went to India in March for the birth of their surrogate twins. They were told that it would take six weeks to obtain their passports, and they have now been told that it will now be at least 16 weeks. They are at risk of losing their jobs, running out of money, stuck in a hot hotel room and terrified that their precious babies will get malaria. May we have a proper statement on this issue so that we can help Kiran and Bina bring their babies home?
The hon. Lady has given us some of the details, but if she wants to give me any additional details I will ask my hon. Friends at the Home Office to respond. She will have heard what the Home Secretary had to stay about the availability of emergency travel documents and access to urgent consideration for passport applications without charge. I hope that one of those options might be helpful in the case the hon. Lady mentions.
May we have an early debate on the role of community hospitals, particularly in rural areas? I understand that the new head of NHS England has said that they have a future role to play, so this is a good opportunity to debate the issue on the Floor of the House.
I recall that in the latter stages of the previous Session, there was a debate on community hospitals and I am pleased to see that Simon Stevens, the new chief executive of NHS England, has taken the matter up. When we took office, it was very important to us to have a greater focus on delivering care close to people’s homes, to improve people’s ability to step out of the high-cost acute hospitals so that they could concentrate on their job, and to give a focus to local commissioners. Often, it is the new local clinical commissioning groups that best understand how community hospitals can serve the purposes of the people they look after.
May we have a debate on compensation for losses caused by the passport fiasco? In my office over the past few weeks, we have been trying to help people left in a desperate situation by the chaos, and it will not have escaped the country’s notice that the word “sorry” did not once pass the Home Secretary’s lips. She did not address the issue of compensation, either. Is it not only fair for people who apply for passports in good faith and in good time and who suffer losses—for example, by having to cancel their holidays—to be compensated? May we have a debate on that?
I think that the Home Secretary fully responded to the questions raised just before business questions. I am sure that in future we will be able to look after our constituents much better, in the way that she described, by being able to raise urgent cases. In my experience as a constituency Member of Parliament, when we have had to raise cases we have been able to get through on the MPs’ helpline and resolve them rapidly.
Many Members across the House will agree that Sepp Blatter’s recent comments were wholly unacceptable and a distraction from the real issues. If we are committed to tackling racism in football, we need to focus on the terraces, where there is a real issue, not on the back-rooms of Fleet street. Given this country’s proud history of tackling racism, may we have a debate on the state of football so that we in this House can send out the clearest message that racism and corruption in football is unacceptable and that by pushing the issue aside, FIFA risks tarnishing itself and ultimately the sport?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I completely agree with him: racism is unacceptable in all areas of society. I thought the remarks were probably inappropriate not least because in this country the Football Association has been proactive in tackling racism in football through a whole sport inclusion and anti-discrimination plan, “Football is for Everyone”, and the FA’s inclusion advisory body, chaired by Heather Rabbatts, is further promoting equality in the national game. It was therefore inappropriate to use that language in relation to questions properly being asked about the way in which FIFA was managing its processes. It was not appropriate. I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the chance to raise the matter.
Even though the north-east of England is the only region outside London that makes a positive contribution to our GDP, it has among the lowest median incomes and the highest jobseeker’s allowance rates in the country. May we please have a debate to consider the special measures that can be taken to address the gross inequity and inequality that afflicts the north-east of England and other regions?
I hope—I do not know—that the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to address those issues in the course of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. He will, of course, have an opportunity to do so today in the debate on the economy and living standards that the Opposition have initiated with their amendment. He is quite right: it is disappointing that the north-east is the only region of the United Kingdom where unemployment went up in the latest figures; everywhere else, it went down. One thing we need to keep looking at is how we can continue to rebalance the economy, as is successfully happening in many other places. We want to try to improve manufacturing. We have seen manufacturing growing in the latest data at 4.4% a year, which is faster than for a long time. As a manufacturing economy, the north-east should be participating more fully in that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I said, the Foreign Secretary will update the House on Monday, following what appears to have been an extremely successful global summit, not simply because we brought so many countries together for the purpose of ending sexual violence in conflict, but because of the vigour of the NGO community coming together in the same way. The message being sent out is that people need to understand the sheer scale and enormity of sexual violence in conflicts and that so very few people have been held responsible. That must not be true in future. It must be that the people responsible for such things will genuinely be held to account for the crimes they commit.
In March, I asked the Leader of the House when the Government would deliver the will of the House and the country by banning wild animals in circuses. He teased me rather in his response by saying that he could not pre-empt the Queen’s Speech. We have now had the Queen’s Speech and the measure is not in it. When will the Government bring forward legislation?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the Government’s intention to make progress on this, but unfortunately, as I said last week, it has not been possible to find time in the short Session ahead of us.
Is the Leader of the House prepared to arrange for a statement next week on the procedures to replace the current Clerk of the House, when we could find out more on how much the use of head-hunters will cost, who will decide who the head-hunters are, who will monitor the progress of the head-hunters and who will take the final decision on the replacement Clerk?
My right hon. Friend will understand that the procedures for the appointment of the new Clerk are a matter for the House of Commons Commission. Although I am a member of the Commission, my hon. Friend John Thurso answers on its behalf to the House. I know that my right hon. Friend will find an opportunity in due course to ask those questions. We will face a daunting task indeed in filling the silver-buckled shoes of the present Clerk, who is not here now. I hope to announce soon an opportunity for Members to pay tribute to the Clerk before the summer recess.
Long-term youth unemployment since May 2010 in my constituency is up by 18.5% and long-term female unemployment is up by 76%—from 125 to 220 women—and in the north-east average earnings are down by £49 a week. Could we have a debate about how the Government’s long-term economic plan is clearly failing my constituents?
As I told Andy McDonald, who asked about the north-east a moment ago, the latest data show a reduction in unemployment everywhere else in the UK. [Interruption.] I am saying that it is important that we understand why the north-east is not conforming to an extremely positive trend right across the rest of the country. The latest data show that unemployment as defined by the International Labour Organisation is down by 347,000 on the year; that the claimant count is down by more than 400,000; that the number of private sector jobs has gone up by nearly 800,000 in a year; and that, since the election, the number of unemployed young people is down by 91,000 and that of long-term unemployed by 108,000.
The Leader of the House has been to my constituency, so he knows how beautiful it is, but Labour-led Stroud district council, having failed to get a local plan, has left it vulnerable to unscrupulous developers. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to emphasise the fact that local plans are required and that it is the responsibility of no one other than the councils to have one?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have had the pleasure of visiting Stroud and it is a most beautiful place and a wonderful part of the country. It is very important that local people have an opportunity, through local plans, to ensure that development takes place in a way that is consistent with their views on the quality of life in their area. The local plan process is vital in that regard. Many authorities are getting on with it: I think that 76% of all councils have at least a published plan. Further amendments to the national planning policy guidance mean that publishing a local plan in itself enables one to have influence on the individual planning decisions being made, so it is important.
Like many Members, I am very concerned about the number of constituents having severe difficulties with
Atos Healthcare. One particularly distressing case involved my constituent Mr Vickers from Hyde, who has multiple support needs and has not had his application for a personal independence payment processed, even though he applied in October 2013. May we therefore have a debate about the Government’s performance in delivering the assessments, so that we can try to minimise the delay and distress being caused?
It was necessary for us to move from the previous system of the disability living allowance to the personal independence payment, which is a much better system. In the past, people sometimes stayed on allowances for years without any assessment. It is important to have a proper assessment. As we make progress—we are doing so steadily—we need to make sure not only that we do it properly, but that we get to the point where decisions can be made quickly.
Could the Leader of the House or the Backbench Business Committee give the House an opportunity to hold a general debate on the concept of recall, so that the House collectively can work out what we are seeking to achieve? Some are arguing that oversight of the behaviour of Members of Parliament should be performed entirely externally, but any external body would, by definition, have to be statutory, and any statutory body would be subject to judicial oversight, which would mean the intervention of the courts and the potential for judicial review and applications in due course to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It could, therefore, take a considerably long time for an MP who was under a cloud to go through that judicial process before their constituents had any opportunity to recall him or her.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said in that past, I do not think we can contemplate a body other than the House itself reaching right into this Chamber to determine the circumstances in which a Member could continue their membership of this House. I think it is the House itself that should have such regulatory responsibility, not least for reasons of privilege.
As far as a debate is concerned, the recall Bill will give exactly such an opportunity. It is also important that we hear from the Standards Committee, which is conducting a review of how to further strengthen this House’s standards process.
Echoing the comments of my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds, may I ask for a full debate on the chaos that is Atos assessing employment and support allowance? There is a backlog of 712,000 cases at the moment. We know that Atos is not fit for purpose and will be replaced, but can we ensure that we get things right next time and have a full debate to discuss that?
Of course, I have to remind the hon. Lady that the contract was awarded to Atos by Labour in the first place. As she says, we are exiting the contract early, and of course there will be a substantial financial settlement to the Department for Work and Pensions as a result. We will continue to monitor the performance of Atos until its exit early next year and we will find a new provider to deliver the best possible service for claimants.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate on the future of the beef industry in Britain, which is currently experiencing a catastrophic collapse in prices as a result of imports, in which we can focus particularly on the country of origin, whether it be Ireland or other European countries?
Back in the early spring, I wrote to the Home Secretary about the issue of putting the mother’s name on the marriage certificate and I had a negative reply. Since then, there has been a growing campaign, with many thousands of people signing a petition, yet there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech about this issue. Will the Leader of the House now ask his colleagues at the Home Office to look at it again and see whether a measure on it can be included in this Government’s legislative programme?
I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that we have announced a full programme for this Session in the Queen’s Speech and that there will be very limited opportunities for additional legislation beyond that which has been announced. I believe that the petition she refers to has received a Government response, but whether it has or has not I will ask Ministers to look further at the points she raises and respond to her.
May we have a debate on nuisance calls? The latest batch of unsolicited automated calls to my constituents are about some kind of boiler replacement scheme. The calls are to constituents who have already applied to the Telephone Preference Service. They are massively inconveniencing, but they are also very distressing for elderly residents who live on their own.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He will recall that we published the nuisance calls action plan on
With the lowest level of house building since the 1920s, may we have a debate on housing supply? The Government are taking many measures to increase housing demand, and all that those measures have led to is price inflation. Is there not an opportunity in the next few weeks to discuss housing supply? The measures in the Queen’s Speech are totally inadequate. We need real action and we need it now.
On the contrary, the Government are taking action and indeed the Queen’s Speech included measures that—as the hon. Gentleman may have seen—will come forward in the infrastructure Bill, which will further support house building in this country. However, 445,000 new houses have been built under this Government. We are recovering from the position we were left in by the last Government, where house building fell off a cliff in the latter part of 2008. A good illustration of that recovery is that last year there were 216,000 new planning permissions.
On Tuesday, the Department for Transport issued a consultation document about the TransPennine Express rail franchise, which contained a proposal to end through-services between Cleethorpes and Manchester. It also included repeated references to the importance of good rail services to economic growth. As the Government have identified northern Lincolnshire and the Humber area as a key economic growth area, will the Leader of the House find time to have a debate on this issue?
I cannot promise a debate immediately but, in order to be as helpful as I can to my hon. Friend, and recognising the importance of the points he raises, I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, our hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, to reply. There is considerable detail in what he might be able to say, and I want him to be able to provide that to my hon. Friend.
When the Government get around the restoring the Passport Office from its present emaciated and failing state to the efficient service it had been for the previous century, may we have a debate on the need to ensure that those areas that suffered the savage cuts two years ago, such as Newport, have the first call on new jobs?
The hon. Gentleman had a chance to ask the Home Secretary a question about that earlier. I fear that his characterisation of the Passport Office is not helpful, not least for his constituents and others. As he will have heard from the Home Secretary, the Passport Office is continuing to provide substantially the service intended. Where problems have occurred, new staff are being deployed, both in call centres and in case handling, and the Home Secretary has just announced other measures that will enable constituents to get the service they are looking for.
La Casa Loco is a very successful Mexican restaurant in Rugby. Two years ago the owner engaged a firm of no win, no fee consultants to reduce the business rates bill, but it was unsuccessful. This year the Government announced the very welcome news that they are reducing the business rates bill by £1,000 for 300,000 shops, pubs and restaurants on our high streets, but in May the owner of the restaurant received a bill for £500—
Order. We have very little time. What I need is short questions and short answers. We might then make some progress.
My hon. Friend is right that the £1 billion package includes that discount, which many businesses will receive automatically. Any business that thinks it might be eligible for the discount but has not received it should contact the council, but there is absolutely no need to employ an agent in order to receive it.
The Leader of the House witnessed this morning not only the unedifying spectacle of a Home Secretary who refuses to apologise to those experiencing problems with the Passport Office, but the large number of Members who were unable to raise their constituents’ concerns because of time pressures. Will he ensure that the Home Secretary continues to account to Parliament on the passport fiasco and that she does so on the Floor of the House?
I heard a Home Secretary who is very well aware of the situation, as she has been for a long time, who is taking the necessary steps and who told the House today of further steps to provide reassurance and support to our constituents. You, Mr Speaker, understandably did not feel that it was possible to allow every question earlier. Therefore, as the Home Secretary said repeatedly, any Member who has particular difficulties, especially if they cannot get through on the MPs helpline, should raise them through my office or with the Minister for Security and Immigration and we will ensure that we respond to them as quickly as possible.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 72 on excessive hospital car parking charges?
[That this House is disappointed that three-quarters of NHS hospitals in England charge patients and visitors to park on-site; notes that there are discrepancies over what is charged across England, with one hospital in London charging up to £500 per week to park on-site; believes that high charges deter visitors from seeing their loved ones and can hit the most vulnerable at a difficult time; further notes that the cost of abolishing car parking charges in England is estimated to be £200 million which, according to research, could be achieved through prescribing more generic drugs; and therefore asks the Government to consider scrapping hospital car parking fees across England.]
Despite the Government saying that charges should be proportionate, some hospitals are charging up to £500 a week, and the charity Bliss says that parents with sick children are paying an extra £34 a week. May we have an urgent statement on that, and will he make representations to the Department of Health to see what can be done?
My hon. Friend is right that vulnerable people and their families who regularly have to attend hospital are hit hardest by parking charges. That is why it is most important that hospitals use their discretion and the kind of plan the NHS Confederation has for offering concessions to those who have to attend regularly for treatment or to visit patients. As far as raising resources for that is concerned, the money available for the health service is there for the treatment of patients. I have always made it clear that my personal view is that we should, wherever possible, deploy those resources for the direct benefit of patient care, rather than diverting it to subsidise parking.
May we have a debate on how to win friends and influence people in Europe? The Leader of the House could lead it so that we could judge whether he would be any good as an EU commissioner. More importantly, he could explain to us why on earth Conservative MEPs have today joined forces with the AfD party in German, expressly against the wishes of their own party leader.
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s question is in one sense presumptuous. As far as winning friends and influencing people in Europe is concerned, that is exactly what the Prime Minister is doing, and with the support of the party leaders. The position he has taken, which is one of principle, is that under the treaties the European Council has the responsibility to put forward the President of the Commission. That should not be pre-empted by the European Parliament. He has set that out and the other party leaders absolutely support him. It is clear that Heads of Government across Europe support that principle.
I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing the Foreign Secretary’s statement on the summit on sexual violence in conflicts. May we please have a debate on the matter so that we can explore it more and discuss the scale of the problem and what the summit achieved?
I hope that the statement on Monday will be helpful to the House. It may well lead, quite properly, to calls for a further debate. We have to get our minds around the enormity of the problem. It is believed that an estimated 100,000 women were raped during the Guatemalan civil war. Between 20,000 and 50,000 were raped during the war in Bosnia. Over 200,000 were raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Those are frightful statistics. It is really important, as I have said previously, that those responsible are held to account, because very few of them have been. We must be much more confident that we can hold them to account in future.
Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman, may I just establish that he was here at the start of the statement, because I did not see him in his place?
In which case, I hope that he will understand that it would not be appropriate to call him.
May we have a debate on who is to be the next President of the European Commission? Given that all the major parties are united in their opposition to the candidacy of Mr Juncker, this is an opportunity to send him a collective raspberry as well as to highlight the unity on the Conservative Benches against ever-closer union.
As my hon. Friend will understand, there will be regular opportunities to consider these matters, not least because the Prime Minister is assiduous in coming to the House and explaining them, as he did after the G7 summit and as he will have an opportunity to do after the further European Council at the end of the month. I hope that that will give us an opportunity to show that across the House there is a belief that the principle set out in the treaty should be adhered to: namely, that under the treaties it is responsibility of the democratically elected Heads of State and Government in the European Council to put forward who should be the President of the Commission.
May we have a debate on the incursion of solar farms on to valuable green belt and high-grade agricultural land, as there appears to be a growing conflict over our renewable energy commitments and protecting high-grade, food-producing land, which is vital for our food security?
My hon. Friend will recall that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, our right hon. Friend Gregory Barker, set out very clearly how that should be reconciled, not least by stating that the strategy is that solar PV should be appropriately sited, give proper weight to environmental considerations, provide opportunities for local communities to influence decisions affecting them, and provide some form of community benefit. I recall reading his letter. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that it sets out some good guidance for local authorities on making decisions about these applications.