The business for the week commencing 1 November will be as follows:
Monday 1 November—Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 1). In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement on the European Council.
Tuesday 2 November—Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 2).
Wednesday 3 November—General debate on the report of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Thursday 4 November—General debate on the strategic defence and security review.
The provisional business for the week commencing 8 November will include:
Monday 8 November—Remaining stages of the Finance (No.2) Bill.
Tuesday 9 November—Opposition Day [5th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. The subject is to be announced.
Wednesday 10 November—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to economic policy co-ordination.
Thursday 11 November—General debate on policy on growth. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 12 November—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Further to last week’s exchange about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and his letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the Government have published in draft a series of statutory instruments for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The one for Scotland is 205 pages long, and runs to 97 clauses and nine schedules, but Members will have no opportunity to debate or decide on the statutory instruments before the Report stage of the Bill begins next Monday.
The Government have just tabled 28 pages of amendments for Monday, some of which refer to the orders we have not yet had the chance to discuss, so, for the third time, may I ask the Leader of the House to explain to the House how this treatment of Members squares with what the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is in charge of the Bill, said would happen? He gave us an assurance that
“on matters to do with elections this House should get to pronounce before the Bill goes to the other place…we will seek to achieve that.”—[Official Report, 18 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 653.]
The Leader of the House has not achieved that, and the questions are: why and what will he do about it?
I turn to another matter on which there is considerable concern on both sides of the House. May we have a debate on the confusion surrounding the proposed changes to housing benefit? Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not explain why it is fair that someone who has been looking for a job for 12 months, but has not been able to find one, despite their best efforts, will have their housing benefit cut by 10%. Nor could he offer any advice to families who will be affected by this change and by the housing benefit cap. Instead, he simply said that the Government are not for turning.
Meanwhile, also yesterday, the Work and Pensions Secretary was said to be listening to MPs’ concerns. Well, there are plenty of concerns on the Government Benches and in City Hall. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has called the plan for a cap harsh. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) said that the proposals have ignored some of the huge logistical problems, and the Mayor of London has described them as draconian. Then, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—the third of yesterday’s men, and the person who is actually responsible for housing—told listeners of the “World at One” that they did not need to worry because
“these new reforms don’t come in until 2013”.
In fact, the housing benefit cap will come into operation next April.
We have a Prime Minister who cannot justify the policy, a Communities and Local Government Secretary who does not understand the policy, and a Work and Pensions Secretary signalling that he might change the policy. In truth, the word “shambles” does not do justice to this mess, but it does make a compelling case for a debate, so may we have one?
As the Leader of the House has just announced, the Backbench Business Committee has chosen a debate on economic growth for 11 November. Will he persuade the Prime Minister to take part, so that he can try to explain how the loss of nearly 500,000 public sector jobs will help the economy to grow; how depriving universities of most of their funding for undergraduate teaching will enable the economy to compete; and how the absence of any central Government support for the new local enterprise partnerships will help them to make use of the regional growth fund? Is it any wonder that Richard Lambert of the CBI said this week:
“The Local Enterprise Partnerships have got off to a ropey start. So far, it has been a bit of a shambles”.
All in all, it has been a shambolic week for the Government.
Mercifully—and finally—there is one bright spot. Tomorrow, the House will for the second time extend a very warm welcome to the UK Youth Parliament, which will be debating in this Chamber. We have offered an annual invitation up until the next general election, but does the Leader of the House agree that the House should now make this a permanent fixture in the parliamentary calendar, so that every year henceforth we can celebrate the contribution that young parliamentarians make to the life of this country?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. On the first issue, the undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has been honoured. On the territorial orders, the statutory instruments updating the rules for elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales were tabled on 25 October. The orders were necessary to update the rules for elections, and they will be debated in the forthcoming weeks. The amendments to which the right hon. Gentleman refers were tabled as we said they would be, and they are required to deal with any consequential changes needed to reflect the new orders in time for debate. Everything we have done on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill has been to ensure that the House of Commons has the opportunity to debate the referendum rules, and that is what the Bill is about. We tabled the combination amendment a week before it was due to be debated in Committee and we laid the territorial orders in time to ensure that relevant amendments to the combination provisions could be covered on Report.
On housing benefit, we are trying to do what the right hon. Gentleman’s former Cabinet colleague, James Purnell. was also trying to do. This is what he said:
“The next issue to consider is housing benefit…so that people on benefits do not end up getting subsidies for rents that those who work could never afford.”—[Official Report, 10 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 546.]
That is the thrust of our reforms to housing benefit. People who receive housing benefits should have the same choice on housing as people who are not in receipt of housing benefits. That is what is behind the reforms that we are proposing.
On the specific issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises, the housing benefit bill has almost doubled in 10 years, and is now some £20 billion. The caps to which he refers save some £55 million in the first year. That needs to be put in perspective. Of the 700,000 families in London who receive housing benefit, only 2.5% will potentially be affected by the cap.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister refer on the “Today” programme to £140 million of discretionary payments, available to those in receipt of housing benefit, at the hands of local authorities who need help to cope with the transition to a new regime. Against the background of the need to save public expenditure, the proposals we have introduced—some of which do not come into effect until 2013—are justified.
The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on housing benefit. There is a debate in Westminster Hall on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department for Work and Pensions. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions is holding an inquiry into housing benefit, and Lord Freud will give evidence next Tuesday. I have announced an Opposition day the week after next, and it is perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman to choose housing benefit as a subject in that debate. Indeed, it may come up in the main debate today.
The Office for Budget Responsibility says that unemployment will fall next year and every year after that. Employment is forecast to increase by about 1.4 million over the next five years.
I welcome the arrival of the members of the Youth Parliament in this Chamber tomorrow, and you will welcome them formally, Mr Speaker. I have no objection at all to the Youth Parliament becoming an annual event, but that will require the approval of the House of Commons.
The Leader of the House may be aware that two large businesses in my constituency are closing or making people redundant. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills some time ago, and he promised he would try to fit in a visit to my constituency. Could the Leader of the House give me any advice on how I can impress upon the Secretary of State the urgency of such a visit?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the loss of jobs in her constituency. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will shortly make a statement. If she stays in her place, she may have an opportunity to put her question directly to him.
On 20 October, the Prime Minister, responding to my question, said that
“house building was lower in every year of the last Government than it was under the previous Conservative Government.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 946.]
That is simply not true. After checking with the Library, I wrote to the Prime Minister on 21 October, providing detailed statistical evidence to demonstrate the error, inviting him to put the record straight. The Leader of the House will be aware that the ministerial code of conduct, the most recent version of which was issued in May this year by the Prime Minister, says that
“it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.
I regret to tell the House that the Prime Minister has failed to correct the error to date and, indeed, despite a reminder, has not even responded to my letter. Will the Leader of the House draw the Prime Minister’s attention to this matter and remind him of his obligation to abide by the terms of his own code of conduct?
I will pass the right hon. Gentleman’s comments to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am sure he will get a response to his letter, but I have to say that the last Government’s housing record was appalling. House building is at its lowest peacetime level since 1924; waiting lists for social housing have almost doubled; and the average number of affordable housing units built or purchased slumped by more than a third under Labour, compared with under the last Conservative Government.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for advance notice of Monday’s ministerial statement on the European Council. Although such ministerial statements are welcome, they have a disruptive effect on the agenda for the day’s business, so could we be given greater notice of such statements, including in the “Future Business” section of the Order Paper? That would help to give Members a little bit more time to prepare to participate in the debates.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. When we know statements are happening, we are giving advance notice of them more frequently than has been the case in the past. Inevitably, statements will do some injury to the remaining business of the day, but wherever possible we have given advance notice of ministerial statements to the House, as we have today.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s statement that he supports the annual sitting of the UK Youth Parliament in this Chamber as a permanent fixture, but will he have a look at ensuring that whatever subject the UK Youth Parliament decides at its annual sitting to prioritise for its campaigns finds some traction in this Parliament as well? I am thinking of the issue of votes at 16 last year, which was never debated in this Chamber. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at finding time to debate in this Chamber whatever the Youth Parliament chooses as its campaign priority tomorrow?
With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, the solution lies, as she knows, in her own hands, as she is the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, which can find time for such topical debates. I very much enjoyed attending her salon on Monday—an interesting new procedure, opening up the House’s agenda to all hon. Members. I also welcome her presence tomorrow, when she will conclude the debate and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will represent the Government. I am sure that the event will be an astounding success.
Today, as on every other day, thousands of severely disabled people and their carers will suffer the unenviable choice of deciding whether to go out in the hope that there will be sufficient toilet facilities to ensure that they can keep their dignity or to stay at home—a choice that they should not face. May we have a debate to discuss how we can do more to ensure that those who want to go out can go out, however disabled they are?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware of the changing places programme, which has been successful in getting more toilet facilities for severely disabled people built in town centres, including, recently, in Crewe. I suggest that my hon. Friend seek an Adjournment debate so that this campaign can receive wider traction.
On 7 July, the Secretary of State for Education told me that
“Stoke-on-Trent, as a local authority that has reached financial close, will see all the schools under Building Schools for the Future rebuilt or refurbished.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 490.]
Given the points of order in the House last Monday, and the media speculation that Building Schools for the Future might be affected by the pupil premium, will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the funding for BSF, so that people in constituencies all across the country, including Stoke-on-Trent, can have some certainty about the multi-million pound programme for schools investment on which they are now negotiating?
The pupil premium is not being funded out of the schools programme. It is being funded from elsewhere in the Department’s budget and from savings in other parts of Whitehall. There is £15 billion- worth of investment going into new schools’ capital. On the specific issue of Stoke, I will ask the Secretary of State for Education to write to the hon. Lady.
My right hon. Friend might be aware of the recent announcement by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts on establishing the big society finance fund, which will stimulate new ways in which social enterprises can raise capital to support their initiatives in local communities. With local councils up and down the country now facing cuts in much-needed and much-valued local services, will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on how we can increase capital and funding for social enterprises?
I agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of social enterprises having access to funding in order to take forward their initiatives. He will know, for example, of a new initiative on the prisoner discharge programme, which I hope will yield results. I entirely support his attempts to have a debate, either in Westminster Hall or through the Backbench Business Committee or in an Adjournment debate. The big society very much encourages the sort of social enterprises to which he refers.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 910?
[That this House expresses deep concern about the failure of Adactus Housing Association of Manchester to reply to repeated correspondence, dating back to early July 2010, from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton with regard to a constituency case; and reminds Adactus that those seeking to defend social housing at this present crucial time are handicapped if social housing associations fail in their duty of accountability.]
It refers to the failure, after four months, of the Adactus housing association in Manchester to reply to me about the concerns of a constituent of mine. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to clarify what remedy is available to tenants of social housing, so that they can get the accountability to which they have a right?
I apologise for any discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the housing association. He is entitled to a reply on behalf of his constituent, and I will raise this matter with the Secretary of State. I think I am right in saying that there is an ombudsman who can deal with complaints from social housing tenants.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on publishing a very useful card showing the dates of the sitting days of this Parliament, as well as the recess dates, for many months ahead? I congratulate him on this tremendous innovation. It gives me great satisfaction that this has been introduced not by some manic young moderniser but by a true Conservative who was educated at Eton and Oxford.
As we are approaching Halloween, may I please ask the Leader of the House to send out a plea on behalf of women such as Sally Joseph, one of my constituents and a member of the Women’s Food and Farming Union, about the use of Chinese lanterns? These lanterns are marketed as being eco-friendly and biodegradable, but they contain wire frames and bamboo, which can be dangerous to livestock if they land on farmland. Can we please urgently ask our constituents not to use them?
I support the hon. Lady’s request for a debate or a statement on Chinese lanterns, which I know from farmers in my own constituency can do real damage to livestock. I also understand that alternative components can be used in these lanterns and I will raise with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the question of whether they could be promoted as an alternative to the ones that cause the damage.
From this Saturday, 30 October, to the following Saturday, 6 November, it will be British pub week. This will be a great opportunity to celebrate the British pub, and I urge all hon. Members to join the all-party save the pub group and to visit a pub in their constituency. I include you in that invitation, Mr. Speaker. From memory, I think I still owe you a pint. May I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate on the future of the pub, and a statement from the Government on when they are going to establish a cross-departmental strategy on the future of this important cultural and social institution?
I commend my hon. Friend for his campaign for the British pub, which has been sustained over many years. I remember attending a meeting, which I think he had convened, during the last Parliament, at which there was an enormous number of Cabinet Ministers, demonstrating the importance of this subject. I am sure that Members need no encouragement to go to their local pub and celebrate British pub week in a traditional way. I will certainly pass on to appropriate colleagues his suggestion for a cross-departmental working party to ensure that this important British institution can flourish.
May we have an urgent statement on the decision to increase the interest rate on loans from the Public Works Loan Board by 1%? This will cost public bodies such as local authorities an extra £1.3 billion over the next four years and has the potential to do a huge amount of damage to financial planning, capital investment and jobs. May we have a statement from a Treasury Minister on that specific matter?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but we must also consider the other side of the balance sheet—the revenue that comes in. We are shortly to debate the comprehensive spending review. I do not know whether he was planning to intervene, but I imagine that it would be appropriate to raise that matter in the debate and to press the Minister for an answer.
In my early-day motion 914, I note Lord Mandelson’s recent conversion to becoming a strong supporter of the big society.
[That this House welcomes Lord Mandelson's recent conversion to being a supporter of the Big Society, widely reported in the national press; further welcomes his comments that the Government's welfare and education reforms are ‘moving in the right direction'; is glad that Lord Mandelson has wholly rejected his earlier position of April 2010, when he said that the Big Society was ‘neither practical nor realistic'; congratulates him on his statement of October 2010 that ‘we will have to find more of our solutions from within the communities that make our society'; and therefore calls on the Government to thank Lord Mandelson for his support, and to welcome him into the Big Society tent.]
Does the Leader of the House not agree that it is now more urgent than ever to have a debate on the big society so that we can welcome more Opposition Members to the big society big tent?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and I have early-day motion 914 here in front of me. It is probably the only EDM with Lord Mandelson in its title. We welcome converts to the big society, and I welcome what my hon. Friend has been doing in that regard. If he can persuade more former Members of the House to subscribe to the big society, no one would be happier than me.
May I press the Leader of the House again on the urgent need for a debate on the Government’s plans for housing benefit? The Government simply do not appear to appreciate the misery, the poverty and the homelessness that the cuts will cause, not only to those who are seeking work but, because housing benefit is also an in-work benefit, to hard-working, low-income families and pensioners.
Next Thursday, there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department for Work and Pensions. That would be an entirely appropriate forum for the hon. Lady to share her concerns about the impact of the changes, and to get an adequate response from the Minister who will reply to the debate.
On Friday, I met John Bottomley, managing director of JKB Shopfitting in Nelson. Like a number of other manufacturing firms in Pendle, the firm is currently doing so well that it has outgrown its premises. Sadly, however, the local council and the chamber of commerce tell me that there are no grants available to help the firm to relocate within the borough; nor were there any such grants under the previous Government. As I know of several other firms in the area that are constrained by their old premises, may we have an urgent debate on what more the Government could do to help Pendle businesses to expand?
My hon. Friend will have heard me announce a debate on the subject of growth, as the choice of the Backbench Business Committee, in the next fortnight, which will provide him with an opportunity to discuss this matter. The Government want to ensure that the financial sector can supply affordable credit to businesses such as the one he describes, and we would like to see more diverse sources of finance for small and medium-sized enterprises, including, where appropriate, access to equity finance.
I am sure that it was inadvertent, as we all know. He said that Labour MEPs had voted in favour of an increase in the EU budget, but that is not the case. They voted against the increase. When the Prime Minister makes his statement to the House on Monday, perhaps he could correct the inadvertent mistake that he made.
I refer the hon. Gentleman and the House to amendment 12 of the vote of 20 October, which clearly states the need to take into account the fiscal restraint being shown by member states, and calls for a freeze in the annual budget at 2010 levels. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted in favour; Labour voted against.
May we have a debate on the possibility of a freeze on new employment law for 2011 and the inclusion of that idea in the Government’s forthcoming growth White Paper, which would enable British business to focus solely on job creation, wealth and growth in 2011?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He will know of our policy of what we call “one in, one out”. In other words, if a new regulation is introduced, an existing one must go. I hope that that and other initiatives will reduce the amount of bureaucracy and red tape that small and medium-sized enterprises have to cope with.
Given the importance of woods and forests to biodiversity, tackling climate change and our quality of life, will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the Government’s shocking plans to sell off to private developers part of the Forestry Commission estate which includes some of our most ancient woodlands?
The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to raise that with appropriate Ministers on 4 November. I should point out, however, that the Forestry Commission has been buying and selling woodland for some time. I do not think that the concept of more of it being in the private sector is entirely new.
The Leader of the House is aware of my concern about the cases of two of my constituents, Noreen Akhtar—whom I call the secret prisoner—and Andrew France, who have been bullied and threatened in an attempt to stop them talking to me. Having discussed the matter with colleagues, I find that the problem is more widespread than I initially thought. Would the Leader of the House consider arranging a statement or a debate on the issue, so that we can canvass and discover how widespread such instances are?
I think that my hon. Friend is seeking to draw me into areas related to privilege which are very much above my pay grade, but you, Mr Speaker, will have heard what he has suggested. I have written to him in the last day or so, suggesting other ways in which he might pursue his concerns.
A response from the Government to a consultation on the use of body image scanners at airports is overdue. Will the Leader of the House urge his colleague the Secretary of State for Transport to publish a response as soon as possible, so that concerns about the appropriate balance between the protection of privacy and dignity on one hand and security on the other can be addressed?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. At its heart is the balance between security and dignity to which she has referred. Transport questions took place earlier today, so the opportunity may not occur again for three or four weeks, but in the meantime I will write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and see whether he can shed some light on when the outcome of the consultation will be known.
May we have a debate on the timetabling of Bills? In the present Parliament, should it not be much more transparent? If the Government and the Opposition, through the usual channels, agree on periods for timetabling, should that not appear on the Order Paper as a matter of public record?
I am sure that the Government and the Opposition agreed on the amount of time to be allotted to the Committee and Report stages of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, but the Opposition have spent more time drifting through the Division Lobbies than diligently debating the detail of the Bill on the Floor of the House, and have then complained—
My hon. Friend has raised an issue that is important to the House as a whole. In the 1997 Parliament, when I was shadow Leader of the House, occupying the position now occupied by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I put my name to timetable motions when we, as an Opposition, were satisfied they provided a sensible way of dealing with a Bill. That got rid of some of the problems identified by my hon. Friend. I hope that, given a new and, I am sure, reforming shadow Leader of the House, we can have sensible discussions about whether we can achieve consensus in relation to at least some Bills, so that we can make the best possible use of the time that is available for the House to deal with important Bills.
The Leader of the House is a tall man, but we should all look up to him even more if he were not to resort to sharp practice to get the Bill through next week. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the Government have tabled 28 pages of amendments for debate on Monday, not a single one of which was called for during earlier debates on the Bill or by any Back Bencher. Many of those amendments refer directly to the Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2010, which will not have been debated by Monday. Does that not constitute gross presumption of what the House may choose to do in the future, and does it not put the cart before the horse?
The hon. Gentleman said that I was a tall man; I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is, at times, a verbose man.
We have provided five days for the Committee stage of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and two days for Report. I consider that to be a generous provision, and much of that time so far has been spent by the hon. Gentleman speaking at length from the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] Moreover, some of the time was not used last week when the House rose early. The House has been given adequate notice of the issues on the Order Paper, and we shall have ample time next Monday and Tuesday to deal with the amendments that have been tabled. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) gives every indication that he is auditioning to become a football commentator, ensuring that we have the benefit of his narrative on every aspect of the proceedings. It is richly enjoyable, but not altogether necessary.
May I ask my mature, non-manic, well-educated right hon. Friend whether we can have a debate on the House of Commons calendar covering business until 2012? Although it is very useful, it seems to have omitted from the shaded areas the additional days that the Government have promised for private Members’ Bills.
My hon. Friend is right. It does appear from the calendar that the House will not be sitting on any Friday after, I believe, June. He should, however, note the small print at the bottom of the calendar, which states:
“Please note that all dates are provisional”.
It is indeed the case that the House will sit on some Fridays beyond June 2011, and the calendar may well be updated at a later date to include extra Fridays. However, they will be within what I might call the “brown envelope” that appears on the calendar. We will not suggest that the House should sit on Fridays in the middle of recesses.
There is now plenty of evidence that children who come from homes in poverty fall behind their peers from the age of 22 months, and a huge body of evidence suggesting that early intervention is incredibly important to vulnerable children and children with special needs. May we have an urgent debate on the issue, given that it is now becoming clear that the pupil premium will not be paid to children under five?
I am not sure that that is entirely the case. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the introduction of the pupil premium, which was designed precisely to target the problem that she has identified: the underachievement of children from poor households. I am sure that the next instalment of questions to the Secretary of State for Education will provide an opportunity for her to raise it, and I will seek to clarify the issue of the extension of the pupil premium to those below the age of five.
In the light of the comment by the Lord Chief Justice that far too many violent and persistent offenders are getting away with a caution, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Justice—as a matter of some urgency—so that we can discover what the Government are doing to address those legitimate concerns, and ensure that those who should be sent to court and to prison are sent to court and to prison rather than getting away with a caution?
As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor is planning to issue a White Paper, or possibly a Green Paper, on sentencing policy. I hope that that will provide a framework for the debate on which my hon. Friend has just launched himself.
The cumulative effect of the Government’s housing policies on security of tenure, near-market rents and capital expenditure, as well as housing benefit, is the greatest threat to social cohesion for a generation. I would not go as far as the Mayor of London and describe this as Kosovo-style social cleansing for fear of upsetting the Deputy Prime Minister, but may we have a debate—in the Chamber, not in Westminster Hall—on social cleansing and gerrymandering in our inner cities?
It is important to use careful language in the debate about housing benefit, and the use of phrases and words such as “social cleansing” or “Kosovo” in that regard is not appropriate.
I do not think that it is going to happen. The hon. Gentleman will know that, in many parts of the country, private sector rents are set to hit the cap. It follows that, in many parts of the country, when the cap comes down, so will the rents. There are discretionary grants, to which I have referred, to help families in his constituency who have difficulty with the social reform. Despite what he says about Westminster Hall, it is an appropriate forum in which to debate these issues. The Opposition have an Opposition day in a fortnight’s time and they are entitled to debate housing benefits, if that is their priority.
May we have a debate on teaching George Orwell in our schools and particularly his essay “Politics and the English language”, so that pupils might be able to understand the double-speak of a Government who describe what is a real cut in school spending per pupil as a pupil premium?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the comprehensive spending review, he will see that there is a flat-cash settlement in terms of pupils, on top of which there is a pupil premium; that is in addition. He should look at what other Departments have had to do and at the plans that his own party had. Had it won the election, he would have found there were real cuts in that budget.
May I reinforce the calls for a debate on the housing benefit changes? This is a Government proposal and we should have a debate in this Chamber in Government time for the reasons given. What about a couple in their 50s living in a three-bedroom council property, the family home, which their children have now left? In future, because that couple will be deemed to be under-occupying that property, if they lose their job or go into short-time working, the rent will not be covered by housing benefit. They face the prospect of becoming homeless and will not be covered by the homelessness legislation. The proposal is unfair and unacceptable. We need a debate on it in this Chamber in Government time.
As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, our policies are seeking to achieve the objectives of Mr Purnell, a former colleague of his, in ensuring that those who are on housing benefit are confronted with the same choices on housing as those who are not in receipt of that benefit. There will be an opportunity to debate the housing changes. Some of them need primary legislation and some need secondary legislation, so the Government will provide time to debate them as the opportunity presents itself.
One of my constituents, Andy Brown, has been offered the seasonal flu vaccine but only in combination with the swine flu vaccine. The swine flu vaccine is causing Guillain-Barré syndrome. Can the Leader of the House make urgent representations to the Secretary of State for Health to instruct GPs to offer patients the choice of a separate vaccine?
Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the Export Credits Guarantee Department strategy on supporting British exports? I have two companies in my constituency trying to export high-value products to Russia—Emerson and Renwick and Grahame and Brown. German Government grants are undercutting the loan value and it is impossible for us to export in those conditions so we do not have a level playing field. I hope that the Secretary of State can give a statement on the issue.
I am entirely in favour of firms in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency winning export orders and providing jobs in his constituency. I will raise with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the issue of there perhaps being an unlevel playing field and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.
May we have a debate on the disproportionate, negative effect that the Government’s policies are having on the lives of women and children, particularly the most vulnerable women and children? Can the Leader of the House explain how those policies are fair without blaming the previous Labour Government, because after all these are his Government's choices?
May we have an urgent debate on port infrastructure and the link to offshore wind development? This week the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy and Climate Change both announced that the £60 million set-aside for UK ports would go to England only, with the Barnett consequential going to Wales. That is a reserved matter for this Parliament. Surely Welsh and Scottish ports should have a level playing field in applying for that subsidy.
A review of dangerous dogs legislation was initiated in March under the previous Government. The review concluded in June and, despite repeated requests from me and others at Business questions and in writing, the Government, four months later, have still to respond. Will the Leader of the House please urge the Secretary of State to update the House on the review of that legislation before, like John Paul Massey, who tragically died in my constituency last December, another child is savaged by a dangerous dog?
Will the Leader of the House ensure that Ministers give adequate notice of visits to Members’ constituencies? On Tuesday evening, I received an e-mail notifying me of a visit by the roads Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), on Wednesday morning, which gave me inadequate time to be there myself. Sefton council was notified of the visit on Monday morning, two days earlier. Will the Leader of the House investigate why the local authority was given notice 36 hours before I was?
It is important that Ministers notify Members when they are visiting Members’ constituents and give them adequate notice. I will of course raise with my hon. Friend the Minister the incident that the hon. Gentleman has referred to and ask him to write to him.