The business for next week will be as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
[The details are as follows: Universal Credit implementation: monitoring DWP’s performance in 2012-13, 5th Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, HC 1209, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as a 2nd Special Report, HC 426, Session 2014-15; and Implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy in England in 2014-20, 7th report from the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, HC 745, Session 2013-14, and the Government response published as 7th Special Report, HC 1008, 2013-14.]
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the written statement today from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, informing the House of the publication on
I thank the Leader of the House for that announcement.
Later today, we will debate the commemoration of the centenary of the first world war. We must never forget the monumental sacrifice of those who gave their lives, including Thomas Neely, a Victoria Cross recipient from Seacombe in my constituency, who died less than 50 days before the armistice.
Andy Coulson’s conviction this week has raised serious questions about the Prime Minister’s judgment. He and his staff were warned that some brave journalists were writing openly about Coulson’s behaviour, but he carried on anyway and brought a criminal into the heart of No. 10. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister was not just ignorant about Andy Coulson, but wilfully negligent? Does he support calls for uniformity of vetting for senior Downing street advisers? Will he ask the Prime Minister to return to the House to make a statement, including telling us if he was advised by any senior civil servants in No. 10 against employing Andy Coulson?
Next week, we will be discussing the Finance Bill. The Leader of the House told me last week that everything is going very well, so will he explain why the Chancellor’s plan to cut the deficit is already running four years late and why he is borrowing £190 billion more than he planned? While he is at it, will he tell us why the Chancellor boasts about unemployment rates, while a report this week shows that new job creation has slumped and 60% of those on benefits are actually in work? Is not the truth that this is the slowest recovery for 100 years and that the vast majority of people are just not feeling the benefit?
The crisis at the Department for Work and Pensions just gets worse and the lives of some of the most vulnerable in our society just get harder. On Friday, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee condemned the personal independence payment as a “fiasco”. On Monday, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions sounded increasingly deluded as he defended his calamitous universal credit programme. Yesterday, it was revealed that universal credit could cost the public purse another £750 million because the DWP has not worked out how to integrate it with free school meals.
The Work and Pensions Secretary told the House:
“Universal credit is on track to roll out against the timetable set out last year.”—[Hansard, 23 June 2014; Vol. 583, c. 9.]
However, at the current rate of progress, will it not take a staggering 1,052 years before this programme is complete?
Universal credit is in chaos. The Secretary of State has lost control of his Department. Given that the Leader of the House is such an expert on “pausing” costly and calamitous reforms, does he accept that the Government should now pause universal credit?
This Government are completely out of touch and completely unable to deliver on any of their promises. When they came to office, the vast majority of people could see a doctor within 48 hours; now one in four cannot do so within a week. They promised a bigger
It is no wonder that two parliamentary private secretaries resigned from the Government this week to spend more time with their marginal constituencies—and the Government are in such disarray that their Departments did not even notice that they had gone. The Government have a Tourism Minister who declared from Brazil that people without passports should holiday at home, they have a Health Minister who thinks it “exciting” that the Government have lost control of the national health service, and they have a Prime Minister who claimed that he had done nothing wrong, but apologised so profusely that he very nearly wrecked the high-profile criminal trial of his mates at News International.
This week, I received an invitation to the Commons versus Lords shooting competition. I hope that the Commons team does not include any Ministers, because if it does, they will end up shooting themselves in the foot—or they might even end up shooting each other.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister sent the England football team a recorded good luck message, and just over a week later, the team crashed out of the World cup. With the European Council upon us and the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker looking increasingly inevitable, may I suggest one last desperate tactic that the Prime Minister could use to stop him? Forget about the Luxembourg compromise; the Prime Minister should send him a good luck message.
When it comes to negotiating in Europe, the Prime Minister should learn a lot from the World cup. Do not let expectations get the better of you; do not underestimate the power of smaller countries; and biting—or, indeed, backbiting—is never a good idea.
As the shadow Leader of the House said, we are rightly having a debate today to commemorate the events of the great war, and I am glad that we are able to do so just two days before the centenary of the events that precipitated that calamity. I hope that, during today’s debate, we shall hear from Members who represent constituencies throughout the country whose constituents are planning a wide range of commemorations over the next four years. For my part, I remember talking to my grandfather about the second battle of Ypres. He was at Hill 60, where Lieutenant Harold Woolley was the first member of the Territorial Army to earn a Victoria Cross. I think that all of us, through our families, have recollections of those who were there—including those who were injured or, indeed, lost—and today’s debate will give us an important opportunity to commemorate that sacrifice.
I am afraid I must tell the shadow Leader of the House that, although the jacket has got brighter, the jokes have got a bit duller. It is a shame. They are better than my jokes, though.
No, please don’t. As we move to summer, it is a great step forward.
In earlier sessions of business questions, the shadow Leader of the House had a thing going. It was called “mind the gap”, and it sort of disappeared. [Interruption.] Or was it there? If so, I missed it. I was wondering whether it would put in an appearance. It seemed to me that it was probably better to mind the gap than to throw someone in front of the train, which appears to be the latest suggestion. I am not quite sure who is in charge of Labour party policy, and I am not sure that it really matters that much, but Jon Cruddas seems to be suggesting that one else needs to be thrown in front of the train, because the Leader of the Opposition is already standing in front of the train and will be the subject of the train crash when it comes. I think that is a rather sad reflection on what the hon. Lady’s colleagues feel about the position of the Leader of the Opposition.
I listened to Prime Minister’s questions yesterday; I think the Leader of the Opposition asked exactly the same question and got absolutely the right answer. If we look back at the evidence that was taken and the conclusions reached by Lord Justice Leveson, we see that he made it very clear that the Prime Minister received those assurances and acted on the basis of them at the time. If he had known then what we know now, it would have been very different. He has made it clear that he gave Andy Coulson a second chance and he regrets that he did, because it was, as it turned out, a misjudgement.
The hon. Lady asked about security clearance. Well, these are matters for the civil service, and the Leveson report is very clear, as was the evidence given by Gus O’Donnell, that it was a matter determined by civil servants, and rightly so, in relation to identifying where there is any risk.
The hon. Lady asked about the economy, which is good—I am glad she did. We are reducing the deficit we inherited from the Opposition. Their recession—Labour’s recession—cost every household in this country £3,000. We are cutting the deficit. It is down by a third already, and it will be down by a half by the end of the financial year. Two million private sector jobs have been created—[Interruption.] I am afraid that any amount of wriggling will not get out of the simple fact that jobs have been created in this country on an unprecedented basis, not least because small businesses are being created on an unprecedented scale—400,000 more small businesses and five new private sector jobs for every job lost in the public sector—as we are taking the necessary steps to reduce the waste and inefficiency that we found in the public sector under the last Government. That includes in the Department for Work and Pensions.
It was Labour who presided over the tax credit disasters, and Members all across the House in previous Parliaments will remember how many of their constituents found that the tax credit system was simply not working for them. Fraud and error were costing the welfare system £30 billion and there was no control on the welfare budget, and now, we have capped the welfare budget and Labour is in no position to criticise that. It will try on Monday and it will fail, because it cannot criticise the programme of welfare reform that is delivering on capping the costs of welfare while focusing resources on those who are most in need. That is what failed under the last Government. Costs were out of control and those often in the greatest need were not getting the greatest help.
At the Department of Health, I was only too aware of that waste, for example. In this Parliament, we will have taken £1.5 billion a year—in total in this Parliament, I think that the figure is about £5 billion—out of the administration cost of the NHS. It is because we have cut the number of administrators by 19,000 that we can increase, as we have, the number of doctors, nurses and other health professionals by 16,000, including over 1,000 more GPs than three years ago. The number of GPs per 100,000 in the population is now higher than it was at the time of the last election.
Overall, I noted that the shadow Leader of the House now no longer has some of the questions that she had last week, because we have presented this week two more of the Bills that were announced in the Queen’s Speech, so eight out of the 11 Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech are under way. She asked when we would have the first Second Reading. We are going to have the first Second Reading of one of those Bills taking place—on modern slavery—and I am looking forward to us proceeding successfully with the legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech.
I remind the House, notwithstanding the number of colleagues interested in catching my eye now, that there is a statement on health to follow and that the debate on the commemoration of the first world war is substantially subscribed. I am keen to try to accommodate everybody now, but if I am to have any chance of doing so, brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike is essential.
Youth unemployment in my constituency in May 2010 stood at the scandalously high figure of 430. Last month, it was reduced to 200, showing that the coalition Government had reduced youth unemployment by half. We cannot be complacent and there is still more to be done, but can we have a debate in Government time on the measures that are being taken to improve apprenticeships to provide new opportunities for work and to encourage young people to understand that opportunities are out there, rather than a life on benefits, as was delivered by the last Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; what he says about his constituency is welcome and a good example of what is happening across the country, with the youth claimant count down by 129,000 in a year—the largest reduction in a year since 1997. The number of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training is at its lowest in five years. The 1.7 million apprenticeships in this Parliament thus far are one of the central things that have made a big and positive difference, as has the Youth Contract and work experience more generally.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 163, which stands in my name and those of other hon. Members?
[That this House expresses its utmost disgust with and condemnation of Global Vision College, Manchester, otherwise known as OLC and Manchester School of Economics, which has stolen £2,500 in fees from a constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, refuses to return it, has failed to answer successive letters from the right hon. Member, and is guilty of the crime of larceny; calls on the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Home Secretary and Greater Manchester Police to investigate these swindlers; and warns everyone in Manchester and more widely to have nothing to do with this disreputable organisation.]
It refers to the swindle carried out by a so-called college in Manchester that keeps changing its name and location in an effort to evade responsibility. It has stolen £2,500 in advance fees from a constituent of mine, which had been sent of behalf of relatives who were then not able to take up their places. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask those responsible, who are named in my motion, to look into the issue and respond to me, and will he consider a debate on the matter, which is quite a wide problem across the country?
I will, of course, ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and at the Home Office, in so far as that is also relevant, to respond to the right hon. Gentleman on the issue raised in his early-day motion. He will have noted the steps that the Government have taken to close down some 400 bogus colleges, and I am sure that he noted the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration earlier this week about the further steps being taken to ensure the integrity of our higher education system.
In the light of the outstanding research referred to in the report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority on mitochondrial transfer, and Professor Robert Winston’s concerns at the Government’s intention to introduce those techniques before they are known to be safe—as highlighted in early-day motion 122 that stands in my name and is garnering significant support—will the Leader of the House do all he can to ensure that Members who are profoundly concerned about the safety of three-parent techniques, whether or not they oppose them in principle, will be given the option to express that view when the matter comes before the House?
[That this House notes the comments of Professor Robert Winston reported in the Independent on Sunday on
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. As she knows, mitochondrial donation techniques can give women who carry severe mitochondrial disease the opportunity to have children without passing on devastating genetic disorders. We consulted on the draft regulations that would be required to allow such treatment between February and May. We are considering the responses and will announce our plans as soon as possible. My hon. Friend will understand that such regulations would be subject to debates in both Houses of Parliament and require approval.
My constituent, David McIntyre, served his country for more than 11 years as a soldier in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan. As a result of events in his service, he has post-traumatic stress, depression and been assessed as being at risk of suicide. Despite his mental state, he faces extradition to the United States next week to answer charges, which he denies, relating to a commercial matter. Earlier this week, I wrote to the Home Secretary requesting an urgent meeting to discuss this matter, but to date I have received no reply. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to respond to my request for a meeting?
After pressing NHS England further, on
My hon. Friend will—[Interruption.] Perhaps Thomas Docherty wants to reply to the questions. I have no doubt he does, but it is my responsibility, and it is Ministers’ responsibility to ensure the accuracy of their responses to Members. My hon. Friend may be aware that the Public Administration Committee is examining the issue of the accountability of public bodies and their responses to Members’ questions. Notwithstanding all that, it is important for NHS England to ensure that it provides my hon. Friend with accurate information. I will ensure, with the Department of Health, that that is the case.
I thank the Leader of the House for the statement about the Modern Slavery Bill. He is aware that there is substantial support on both sides of the House for the measure. Will he therefore guesstimate for us when it will complete its process here before going to the other place, even if this House tweaks it, hopefully, in a couple of important respects?
I do know how much support the Bill has and I appreciate its importance. I am grateful for the work that the right hon. Gentleman and others did during pre-legislative scrutiny to enable the Bill to come forward in the positive fashion that it has. It would probably be unwise of me to engage in speculation about the timing of the passage of legislation. It may even be regarded as presumptuous, as the House needs to consider the Bill and we need to make decisions about the timing of consideration beyond the Committee stage.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the renewal of rail franchises? The Southend to Fenchurch Street line used to be known as the misery line. It is now known as the happy line thanks to c2c, which should have its franchise renewed. That is in stark contrast with Abellio Greater Anglia, whose service is absolutely lousy and whose trains are clapped out, as its managing director will find out in two weeks when he travels on one with me.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. Many years ago, when it was probably a bit more of a misery, I used to travel daily into Fenchurch Street on that line and so was familiar with it. Happily it is better, as he described. He will know that the competition for the Essex Thameside franchise is ongoing and an announcement about the award of the franchise is expected shortly. A new directly awarded franchise has been negotiated by the Government with the incumbent, Abellio Greater Anglia, for 27 months between the end of the current franchise in July and the start of the next competed franchise in October 2016. As is the case with many other franchises, worthwhile and significant benefits to passengers arise from new franchises. The competition for the next franchise will begin in spring next year, and a consultation will be carried out to inform the specification for that.
The latter part of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks is uncalled for and inaccurate. He knows that. Members on both sides of the House will have been shocked by what they saw and the Financial Conduct Authority has taken important action on the matter. I am not in a position to say any more than what the FCA has said so far, but I will ask my hon. Friends at the Treasury, in consultation with the FCA, whether they are in a position to offer a written statement to the House.
Last week I attended the “working together” conference organised by National Grid, EmployAbility and Round Oak school in my constituency. The aim of the conference was to share best practice in recruitment and employment practices, and to promote the widespread benefits of employing those with additional learning needs and disabilities. May we have a debate about the importance of ensuring that those with special needs are supported in their search for work?
I am delighted that my hon. Friend was able to attend that conference. It reflects the fact that many of our leading employers across the country, large and small, are recognising the opportunities to support those with learning needs and disabilities in work. In July last year the Prime Minister launched the “disability confident” campaign, which has reached over 1,100 local and national employers throughout the country, increasing the confidence of employers in employing disabled people. I am very familiar with this in my own constituency over the years, through the work of the Papworth Trust. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I know that the point my hon. Friend made will be much shared among Members and he may find opportunities, not least with other Members, to seek a debate of that kind at some point in the future.
The Leader of the House will know that there was insufficient time last week to consider my amendments on Sunday trading. Given that the current law is absurd and prevents land-based companies from competing with the internet, protects the interests of Tesco Express more than any other company in the country and lumps garden centres in, many of which are small businesses and should not be prevented from opening for longer hours when they are often one-man bands, can he find time for us to have a proper debate about these absurdities so the House can consider whether further amendments need to be made?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will recall the answer I gave at previous business questions about the Government’s position, which is that we feel we are currently striking the right balance in the law on Sunday trading. I know that the debate on consideration of the Consumer Rights Bill was abbreviated—it was short—but there was an opportunity for points to be made in the course of it. Of course, if my hon. Friend wishes to bring forward any proposals, he can seek an Adjournment debate to raise issues in the House.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the letters to on-the-runs have aroused great anxiety in Northern Ireland and that efforts should be made to ensure that those letters cannot be allowed to let people evade justice, as appears to have been the case for one person. Without wishing to prejudge the outcome of the statement on
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not want to prejudice that statement and I do not think I can comment on his question at this stage. I think it is sufficient for now that the statement will be on
May we have an early debate on childhood obesity? Experts today have advised parents to cut fruit juice out of their children’s diets, after a generation of them have been told that fruit juice is healthy. This is somewhat confusing, and perhaps we should be focusing more on exercise for youngsters born with an iPhone between their hands, and stress that watching tennis at Wimbledon is fun, but getting out there and playing it is even more fun.
I second that proposition.
The House will recall that we have rightly had many opportunities to debate childhood obesity. My understanding is that the advice was that fruit juice intake should be moderated, rather than excluded from children’s diets. It is important to moderate the intake of all foods in a child’s diet to make sure it is balanced. We are looking for a proper balance between calories in and calories out, and the more we exercise, the easier it is to strike that balance. On a positive note, the latest data have shown a reduction in childhood obesity among pre-school children, and that needs to be sustained. It is only one positive step in what needs to be a long journey to reduce childhood obesity.
Trade union officials at the Cumbernauld office of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs were told yesterday that the regional post-room where 40 people are employed has been earmarked for closure in March 2015, but the decision has yet to be taken. However, they were also told that 170 new jobs are to be created there. Can we have an early debate on this issue so that the Government can clarify for the House the plans for both job losses and job creation in Cumbernauld?
I cannot promise a debate at the moment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, not least from the answer the Prime Minister gave to a question yesterday, the HMRC is rightly trying to ensure that it is as efficient as possible in collecting tax and cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance. In the process, sometimes, changes inevitably have to be made to the structure of the business it undertakes. However, I will ask Treasury Ministers to respond to the hon. Gentleman, in so far as there is any particular information relating to Cumbernauld.
Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate or a statement on civil partnerships, which currently can be dissolved in only a certain number of courts? Only barristers are allowed to make representations, and for a constituent of mine, going to London adds costs. We should be looking for equality of treatment and allow such cases to be dealt with at county courts.
To be as helpful as I can, I will, if I may, ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to reply to my hon. Friend on this issue. However, other Members may also be interested in it, so I will check with him whether there is a way he can inform them about the issue she raises.
“making an extremely worrying statement about the type of government he plans to lead if he allows Coulson anywhere near Downing Street”.
Given these widespread concerns expressed at the time, may we have a statement on the vetting processes used at the time and now, so that we make sure that vetting is of the highest status that can possibly be achieved?
The hon. Gentleman is getting a bit confused. The vetting process is a security vetting process, which is quite distinct from the choice that the Prime Minister rightly makes about who he employs as his advisers, including in special adviser positions. Those are not the same process and should not be regarded as such. However, as the Prime Minister explained yesterday and as is reflected in the evidence to Leveson, a process of inquiry was of course undertaken when Andy Coulson was first appointed director of communications to the Conservative party. At that time and subsequently, questions were asked and assurances were received, which unfortunately led to—as we completely understand—the Prime Minister giving Mr Coulson a second chance, but it proved to be misplaced.
In addition to the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday, can we at some point have a debate on Europe that would enable those of us who are inherently pro-European to make the point to our colleagues in Europe that, if members of the Council of Ministers are unable to make provision for and find a position for countries such as the UK that do not wish to have the euro and are never going to be part of the eurozone—if we cannot be found an honoured place in Europe, and are unable to protect the inherent national interests of the City of London—inevitably, they are starting to push this country nearer and nearer to the exit door?
We often have debates on this issue. My right hon. Friend is right, both in relation to the statement next week and subsequent debates, that it will be immensely important for us to set out clearly that we must have a reformed relationship with the European Union, one where we can be clear that this country’s interests can be protected. As one who also supports our membership of the European Union, I would say that our national interests have to be protected—the Prime Minister and this coalition Government have done that on issues such as banking union, the EU budget and the fiscal pact, where the Prime Minister exercised our veto. However, we can also promote our interests through membership of the European Union. That is equally part of this debate, and we can promote those interests by completing the single market, promoting competition, deregulation in Europe and ensuring that the EU budget is used effectively to support growth across the EU.
On top of the unfair treatment Hull receives in council funding and other funding that has been cut, this week the Chancellor forgot to mention that Hull is at the end of the HS3 route he was proposing and now we hear that the Deputy Prime Minister is talking about a golden triangle between Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. In the light of the snubs the Government keep giving Hull, may we have a debate on this? We are doing our very best, getting the city of culture and Siemens into the city, but those are victories that are home-grown, not enabled by the Government.
That is uncharacteristically churlish on the part of the hon. Lady; the Government have been part of that, for example, being part of the negotiation with Siemens. The Chancellor talked at the beginning of this week about the vision for the future and greater east-west connectedness and, as she acknowledged, what he was talking about included Hull as part of that potential connectedness.
Following on from the question from my hon. Friend Mr Evans, may we have a debate on the consistency of official advice on nutrition—and indeed on whether we need advice on nutrition at all—given the confusion that will inevitably be caused in the minds of the public following today’s advice that we should not be drinking fruit juice and instead should be drinking water? We have always been told that drinking fruit juice and was part of our “five a day”, but now we are told that we should be drinking water. May we have an early debate about whether we need such nanny state advice?
My hon. Friend will have heard what I said in my reply a moment ago, but the recommendations published today are in draft form. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is inviting comments on the scientific aspects of its report, and it will consider those and finalise the report later this year or early next year. I hope that my hon. Friend and other Members will have an opportunity at some point during that process to express their views about how we can best achieve that good advice to parents about the diet they provide to their children.
Other countries do not allow their football academies to take in foreign youngsters under the age of 18. Our home nations do allow that, partly because they want to feed those players into the Premier League, but that means that a lot of our players get dismissed at 16 and 17. The foreign countries are still in the World cup, but we are not. May we have a debate about the future of youth football in this country and the investment the Football Association is putting into our academy structures?
The hon. Gentleman may be in his place next Thursday when Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will be here and this may be an interesting point for him to raise with them. If he will forgive me, I will not venture too far into this area. I know that the Backbench Business Committee is considering whether to schedule a debate on non-league football. There is widespread interest in the House in football governance and football matters more generally, and perhaps this is something that may be considered on a Back-Bench basis as a priority for debate.
My constituents in Shrewton have recently drawn my attention to a tweet from the Highways Agency that showed that there were no problems with the A303 following the summer solstice at Stonehenge last weekend. When they checked the camera online themselves, the footage was unavailable. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement soon from the relevant Minister, so that my constituents can clarify whether the Highways Agency is deliberately switching off that important camera, which is a source of data that are highly relevant to decisions in Government?
This is not a criticism of the Leader of the House, but can he give us a date or clarify when the Government will honour their promise to introduce legislation to regulate the Football League? We still have an ongoing saga in Coventry, and the latest one is over Birmingham’s ownership. Is it not about time that this issue was cleared up?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he was not making a criticism of me. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the matter, and he heard what I said about questions next Thursday. None the less, my recollection is that Ministers said not that they would bring forward legislation, but that if football governance, the Football Association and other authorities did not take the necessary steps to reform governance in football, they would consider introducing legislation. They did not make a commitment to do so.
Professor Elliott’s final report on food safety and security, which was set up following the horsemeat scandal, is expected soon. It will have great implications for shorter food supply chains, traceability and labelling. Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate in Government time on these issues once the report has been adopted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?
I will, as my hon. Friend would expect, wait to see what the Elliott review has to say. No doubt my hon. Friends in DEFRA will want to tell the House how the Government propose to respond to it. I cannot promise Government time. As I have often said to the House on the allocation of time in the Chamber, the great majority of Government time has to be devoted to legislation. A significant part of the Government time that was previously available for debate has been handed over to the Backbench Business Committee, so that it can determine where Back Benchers feel the priority lies.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on timely responses to parliamentary questions? Since
It will not be long before I report to the House on the performance as regards parliamentary questions in the previous Session. I hope to do that before the summer recess. That may give Members an opportunity to raise points on the issue, not least here at business questions. On the specific questions that the right hon. Gentleman raised with the Home Office, it sounds like the named day requirement was met with a holding answer. I will ask the Department when it can give him the substantive answer for which he is looking.
I have been a long-time advocate for elected mayors, and I was pleased to hear the Chancellor’s comments on the subject in his speech earlier this week. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how the Government intend to move forward with that proposal, which would make a significant contribution to delivering our long-term economic plan?
My hon. Friend and I share the view that elected mayors can make a significant and positive difference; we have seen that, not least in London. The legislation is in place to enable this to happen; the question is whether the political will and public consent are available to push it forward.
Does the Leader of the House agree that we need a debate on how Andy Coulson got access to highly sensitive material without proper security vetting? That decision was taken by civil servants who did not even bother to consult the Prime Minister. Do the public not have a right to know just how widespread that despicable practice is across Government?
The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right before he makes that sort of accusation. It is not that there was no security clearance, but that developed vetting had not taken place, which is a substantially different process. Security clearance is distinct from developed vetting.
In the first three months of this year, car insurance premiums fell dramatically, according to the AA, due to legal reforms introduced by the Ministry of Justice to curtail organised whiplash fraud. May we have a debate on measures that the Government have introduced to help consumers and taxpayers—measures such as freezing fuel duties, raising the personal tax-free allowance, scrapping green taxes and enabling local authorities, such as mine in North West Leicestershire, to freeze council tax for a fifth consecutive year?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He rightly goes to points that matter a great deal to people. The fall in insurance premiums has been positive, and it is positive that councils across the country have been supported to freeze council tax, which, in many areas, doubled during the life of the previous Government. Relatively low-income households who pay tax have seen £700 come off their tax bill as a consequence of the coalition Government’s commitment to increasing the personal tax allowance. Under Labour plans, fuel duty was due to increase and escalate, but fuel will now be 20p cheaper than it would have been under those plans. There are so many examples of measures that are making a positive difference to people paying their household bills.
May we have emergency legislation on compensation and compound interest? We should make Wonga pay out not £2.6 million compensation for unfair practice but, at its own outrageous interest rates of 5,853%, £203 trillion. Perhaps then it would understand the misery that it causes.
The hon. Gentleman will recall the steps that were taken in the previous Session to put a cap on payday lending. We responded to some of the issues. It is important for the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that this perfectly legitimate business is undertaken in a legitimate fashion. When it is not, it is absolutely right that the enforcement action is tough.
The Leader of the House has announced that there will be a general debate on the Floor of the House on
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but that business for the week after next is not only provisional but highly provisional. I will reflect on what he said and make an announcement about the future business next week.
In September 2013 the Treasury wrote that Equitable Life policyholders would receive some repayments. My constituents are dying, sadly, and are very elderly, and they have not received a penny. Will the Leader of the House ask a Treasury Minister to come to the House and explain this wholly unacceptable delay?
I will ask my right hon. Friends at the Treasury to respond to the hon. Lady on that. I will take an interest and ensure that I see the response. If they need to correspond with Members more generally on the subject, I will ask them to consider that, too.
There appears to be some slow movement in getting passports to the Salvi family, my surrogate family who are trapped in India. They have now been told that they may have to travel 900 miles to Delhi to the high commission for an interview, even though that is not a legal requirement. Please may we have a statement on the action that the Home Secretary is taking to get all the surrogate children home from India?
As the hon. Lady knows from exchanges that we have had here, and from when the Home Secretary and the Minister have been here, intense action is being taken by the Home Office to ensure that it meets the requirements of applicants for passports and travel documents. However, there will be no prejudice to proper rigour in the scrutiny of applications, and of course in some countries that means that people are required to travel to where the appropriate staff are to undertake that scrutiny. I shall ask my colleagues particularly to look at the case raised by the hon. Lady.
Can we have a debate on the responsibility gap faced by British Transport and Home Office police when they find an individual in emotional and mental crisis attempting suicide? They take them to A and E and are told that because the person does not have a mental illness, they will not be admitted. The individual’s life is at great risk and they have committed no crime, yet no one seems to take responsibility for giving them support and assistance during their emotional crisis. Can we look at that gap?
Yes, I shall ask the Department of Health and the Home Office to look at that. My recollection is that considerable work is being done looking carefully at the interaction between policing services and NHS services, particularly in sensitive areas relating to mental health and those suffering any kind of mental health problems—[Interruption.] No, I understand, but from the NHS point of view, with what it is presented with, it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between those who have a mental illness and those who have symptoms. It is fair for the hon. Lady, and for us, to ask the NHS to explain how it responds. Saying, “You don’t have an illness, so you are not our problem” is not the way the NHS often responds. It responds by saying, “You are experiencing symptoms”—which people may well be—“and the question is whether they are treatable.” If they are not treatable, they may be something that requires support more from the local authority than from the NHS.
May we have a statement on the arrogance of this Government, who have a Prime Minister who dispenses with normal staff vetting procedures, a Chancellor who refuses to debate the merits of an audit of manifestos by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, a Health Secretary who deems it acceptable to make announcements on patient safety to the media and has to be dragged to the House, and a Work and Pensions Secretary who is determined to push through his welfare reforms, regardless of the mounting evidence of their chaos and the untold harm to very vulnerable people in society?
On every point that the hon. Lady mentions she is completely wrong. I shall not go through them all, but to suggest that the Prime Minister somehow dispensed with security vetting is completely wrong. The hon. Lady can read the Leveson report, which sets out very clearly that civil servants, not the Prime Minister, were responsible for that decision, so her point was completely unfair. She referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who made a written ministerial statement to the House; that is informing the House.
I agree; it was disgraceful. The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said to other Members about discussing with my colleagues at the Treasury how they might inform the House about the response to that situation. Of course, the case was announced only yesterday by the Financial Conduct Authority, so we will have to see what Ministers’ views are on the action that has been taken.
The Leader of the House should not be celebrating a 0.3% reduction in childhood obesity when one third of kids are leaving our primary schools overweight or obese. Can we have an urgent debate with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the universal credit programme, which has cost millions of pounds but has not yet reached 6,000 people?
I think the hon. Lady will have heard me say that the latest figures on childhood obesity are a small step in the right direction and, after years in which it was increasing, a very welcome one. It is one step on what needs to be a very long journey to reverse probably two decades of increasing childhood obesity. Regarding a debate on universal credit, the hon. Lady will have noted that the Liaison Committee has set down a debate on the implementation of universal credit for estimates day on Monday week.
In my constituency, Park End medical centre, Skelton medical centre and walk-in centre, Guisborough hospital minor injuries unit, and East Cleveland hospital’s minor injuries unit are being closed. After being dragged here on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Health responded to my question by saying that Ministers had already met me about this subject. That is not the case at all. May we have a debate about Health Ministers’ openness and transparency, so that we can discuss how they deal with Members of this House and whether the comments they make are factually correct?
Ministers at the Department of Health make immense efforts to ensure that they respond fully and accurately to Members of this House and keep the House informed. We are about to hear from the Secretary of State for Health on a very important matter. However, I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friends, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s complaint, to discuss with him the constituency issues he raises.