The business for the week commencing 8 November will be:
Monday 8 November—Remaining stages of the Finance (No.2) Bill.
Tuesday 9 November—Opposition day [5th allotted day]. There will be a full day’s debate on the impact of proposed changes to housing benefits. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 10 November—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents 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.
The provisional business for the week commencing 15 November will include:
Monday 15 November—Second Reading of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 16 November—Consideration in Committee of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (Day 1).
Wednesday 17 November—Opposition day [6th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve the Draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2010 and the Draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2010.
Thursday 18 November—A debate on immigration. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 19 November—Private Members’ Bills.
Colleagues will also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement on 23 March 2011.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 and 18 November will be:
Thursday 11 November—Impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department of Health.
Thursday 18 November—Debate on the 2010 UN climate change conference, Cancun, for up to two hours, followed by a debate on houses in multiple occupation.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.
This week, Mr Speaker, you have granted two urgent questions because the Government did not see fit to come and tell the House what they were doing. The first concerned the fact that the Justice Secretary appears keener to put convicted prisoners on to the electoral register than he is the 3.5 million missing voters. The second was because the Prime Minister thought that the French President, the media, civil servants and just about everybody else should be told first about two very significant treaties affecting our nation’s security, whereas the House of Commons got to hear about them only as a reluctant afterthought. Does the Leader of the House think that this is a satisfactory way in which to treat Members? Because I do not.
Turning now to broken pledges, will the Leader of the House assure us that enough time will be provided on the Floor of the House to debate the huge increase in tuition fees now facing students and the huge cut in funding for university teaching—a cut described in The Guardian today as “insane”? The House will require a lot of time. First, it will require time so that the Prime Minister can come to the House and apologise for breaking his firm pledge to keep education maintenance allowances, which, as every Member knows, have played a really important part in helping students from low-income backgrounds to get to higher education. Secondly, it will require time so that Ministers can be clear about what will actually happen to funding for undergraduate teaching of non-STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects.
The Minister for Universities and Science, the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), told the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that band C and D institutions
“would essentially lose their teaching grant support”.
The House will wonder how places such as the School of Oriental and African Studies, Goldsmiths college, Leeds Trinity and All Saints college, the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music will manage when every single pound of their public funding for undergraduate teaching disappears. Yesterday, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), said in Westminster Hall that
“We will continue to support the arts through the subsidy for teaching in universities."—[Official Report, 3 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 315WH.]
Which of those statements is actually correct? It looks to me like another shambles.
Thirdly, we will need time so that Liberal Democrats—whether they are currently Ministers or thinking about resigning as Ministers—can explain to thousands and thousands of angry and disillusioned students what exactly they were thinking of when they made their solemn pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. It could not have been clearer. Was it just a ploy to win votes? Was it a mistake? Or was it that the Liberal Democrats had no idea what they were doing? Whichever it was, I do not think that they will be getting those votes again.
Has the Leader of the House read the powerful speech made on Monday in the other place by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton about the proposal to take away the mobility component of disability living allowance from people who are in residential care? She cited the case of a couple, both disabled, who say that if that goes ahead they will no longer be able to visit the doctor, the dentist, the bank, the church, the library or shops, let alone their friends and relatives. Why is that the case? It is because they will lose respectively 45% and 69% of their allowances. Lady Campbell said that the plan
“makes neither moral nor financial sense.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 November 2010; Vol. 721, c. 1468.]
I agree. May we have a debate on why the Government seem so determined to take away those disabled people’s mobility, whether it is their use of taxis, electric scooters or electric wheelchairs so that they can actually get about? May we also have a statement on whether that harsh proposal was considered by the Government’s own office for disability issues before it was announced in the comprehensive spending review?
Finally, can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a statement following the G20 summit next week? Will photographs of the occasion by the Prime Minister’s personal photographer and newest civil servant be placed in the Library of the House ?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions.
On Tuesday, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), made it quite clear that the Government had made no decision on prisoner voting rights. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in its 16th report of the Session, published in 2007, the Joint Committee on Human Rights criticised the then Government on the issue, stating that the time taken to produce the second consultation paper was “disproportionate”, and that the Government’s failure to enfranchise “at least part” of the prisoner community was “unlawful”. That was three years ago, and during those three years the Government did absolutely nothing. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said about that yesterday. It is another example of the coalition Government clearing up a mess that we inherited from the outgoing Labour Government.
The Prime Minister made an oral statement in the House on Monday, during which he said that the treaty to which the right hon. Gentleman referred would be signed the following day and
“laid before Parliament in the usual way.”—[Official Report, 1 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 615.]
There is no secrecy about that. The Prime Minister’s statement was followed by a written ministerial statement on Tuesday morning. The Command Papers and explanatory memorandums will accompany each treaty when it is presented to Parliament for scrutiny in the usual manner in the next few days.
On tuition fees, the right hon. Gentleman—and his colleague, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), yesterday—gave no indication at all of the Labour party’s reaction to Lord Browne’s report, which Labour itself commissioned. We are determined to have a fair system: a system that is free at the point of access, that enables more students from low-income backgrounds to participate, that offers generous student support and that is progressive by expecting only those who have completed their learning and are earning more to pay more.
On disability living allowance, the right hon. Gentleman raised the serious issue of whether one should align those in residential care funded by the NHS who lose the mobility component with those who are funded by social services who do not. There is an issue of equity between two people in identical circumstances living in the same home who at the moment receive differential treatment, and of course there should be adequate opportunity to debate it.
Finally, on the issue of photographs, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the statement by my noble Friend the Minister without Portfolio. The previous Prime Minister spent £40,000 a year on an image consultant and Labour spent over half a million pounds on photographs and videos in its last three years in office alone, so I honestly do not think it is fitting for the right hon. Gentleman to criticise this Government for misuse of the media.
My right hon. Friend will know that Horn lane in Acton is one of the most polluted roads in London, largely, it seems, because a group of industrial units still operate there. Local residents have now set up a campaign to try to deal with the problem, but they have discovered that it is virtually impossible to get anything done because they must prove that an individual unit is responsible. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a debate would help in identifying some new measures that might assist in tackling the problem?
As my hon. Friend may know, I lived in Horn lane when I was the Member of Parliament for Ealing, Acton, and I apologise to her for not resolving this problem during my 23 years representing that constituency. She raises an important issue that might be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate, at which one of my colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government would be able to respond.
The Leader of the House will have seen this week’s reports arguing that alcohol is by far the most damaging drug in our society. Will he make time for a long and serious debate on alcohol in which we can look at the links between alcohol and high levels of teenage pregnancy and domestic violence, the incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome, levels of addiction, the impact on the economy and every other aspect of the alcohol problem, and in which we can also examine the possibility of unit pricing for alcohol across the whole country and of raising the legal age for alcohol consumption and purchase?
The hon. Gentleman raises a series of serious subjects which of course the House should debate. We will be bringing forward tough action to deal with problem drinking, such as stopping supermarkets selling alcohol below cost price. We are going to introduce a much tougher licensing regime. We are also going to review alcohol taxation and pricing. Related to that, we will publish a drugs strategy in the coming months, and we will set out a radical new approach to public health in a White Paper, which will also focus on drinking issues.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House can find time for a debate on local enterprise partnerships. Quangos are being culled and that is resulting in Essex being twinned with Kent and East Sussex, which are not local. In fact, Holland is almost as close to Colchester as Brighton. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it makes sense for Colchester and north Essex to be allied with Suffolk and Norfolk, rather than Brighton?
Decisions about who is to be part of a local enterprise partnership should, essentially, be taken at local level, not by Whitehall. The thrust of our policy in abolishing regional development agencies is to let local people, local businesses and local authorities decide on the best formula for taking forward LEPs. The hon. Gentleman should therefore contact his local authorities and pursue the case with them, because it is they who will be deciding the framework for the future LEP.
Despite what the Leader of the House said, would it not be useful to have a statement next week on the fact that the Government now have not only an official photographer but a film maker? Is it true that Mr Parsons, the photographer, intends to display photographs of the Prime Minister all around Portcullis House so that the younger generation, particularly school parties, can pay tribute to the dear leader, North Korean-style?
Will my right hon. Friend consider the difficulties that many of us find with the process of consultation? Will he review this with his colleagues and see whether it might be possible to have a debate in order to find a better way for consultations to take place, in which people really feel that they have had their day in court and that their views have been listened to?
I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. We will be producing a localism Bill, the thrust of which will be to push decision making down to the local level and to engage people more effectively in decisions that affect their own community. He will know that a code of practice on consultation has been put out by the Cabinet Office and, in the light of his question, I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office the issue of whether this consultation paper might be revisited.
Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on the accuracy of Government statements, particularly the use of the phrase, “We are all in this together”? On 14 May, Downing street proclaimed that ministerial pay would be cut by 5%, but I have been told by the Treasury that that has not happened. Were a civil servant to be overpaid by £3,500 his boss would make him pay it back. Will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister that he has to pay it back?
Speaking from experience, I am pretty certain that my own pay is 5% less than my predecessor received for performing exactly the same duties. I will, of course, make some inquiries and confirm that the Government’s policy to reduce ministerial pay by 5% has indeed been effected.
I appreciate the comments that the Leader of the House made a few minutes ago about prisoners’ voting rights. Notwithstanding that, may I tell him that my constituents have been quick off the mark in letting me know their total opposition to any prospect of prisoners voting? It may be helpful to the Government to have an early debate, so that all Members are given an opportunity to express their views before the Government produce details. Could we please have such an early debate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Any change of the law would, of course, require a debate in the House of Commons. Ministers are considering how to implement the judgment—which the previous Government failed to do. When the Government have made a decision, the House will be the first to know.
Is the Leader of the House aware that Members who are unsuccessful in securing Adjournment debates can make representations to the Backbench Business Committee for debates in Westminster Hall of anything up to three hours? Will he therefore join me in encouraging Back Benchers to make representations to the Committee on Monday at 4 pm—and every following Monday at 4 pm? We have put in a regular slot, so that Members can make representations and bids for time, both in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that, and I would encourage hon. Members who have an issue that they think ought to be ventilated, either here or in Westminster Hall, to attend her salon on a Monday at 4 pm. May I also remind the House that the Backbench Business Committee has assumed responsibility for what were the set-piece debates in the previous Parliament? Debates such as the day on Welsh affairs and the one for international women’s day will take place under the new regime only if Members go to her Committee and effectively make the case for their repetition.
May I visit the Leader of the House’s salon to request, on behalf of all colleagues who have been affected by recent ward closures, an early debate on the approach of primary care trusts and hospital trusts across the country to closing wards by stealth? That is causing great concern and would justify an early debate.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. There will be a debate in Westminster Hall next Thursday on the impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department of Health. That might be a good opportunity for her to raise her concerns.
May we have an early debate ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to China on the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace prize winner? In a shameful conspiracy of silence, there is no reference to him on either the No. 10 or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. When Andrei Sakharov won the same prize there was no greater champion of him than Mrs Thatcher. I am all for good trade with China, but it is shameful that neither of our two top spokespersons on foreign affairs has mentioned that great and noble man’s name. Will the Prime Minister do it next week in China?
Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on his visit to Israel and the occupied territories when he returns next week? Many of us are beginning to doubt whether we will live to see a two-state solution and it would be good to hear the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of what is happening in Israel and Palestine.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this serious issue. If my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is not able to make a statement, there are Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next Tuesday, which would be an appropriate time for my hon. Friend to press him on that matter.
We have just had questions to the relevant Department and I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), will launch a public consultation next week on the governance arrangements of the nine English national park authorities and the Broads authority, thereby delivering one of the commitments in the coalition agreement and in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs draft structural reform plan.
May we have an early debate on Public Bill Committee evidence sessions? This is an issue about which I also intend to write to you, Mr Speaker. I am a member of a Public Bill Committee that has had three evidence sessions, none of which the Minister has attended to hear the evidence, to contribute to the debate or to listen to Members’ contributions. Whatever has happened in the past on this matter, is it not important that Ministers attend evidence sessions in Bill Committees?
I shall make inquiries about that. I assume that the Minister in question is a member of the Committee and that there will therefore be adequate opportunities to press him in person on his performance during the Committee. I suggest that that is the appropriate forum in which to raise this matter.
The Government’s policy to introduce a supermarket adjudicator enjoys wide support in the country and has all-party support in the House. However, those who are enthusiastic about it cannot believe that the Government have no plans to introduce legislation to enforce the code of practice before the end of this very extended Session. What can the Leader of the House do to ensure that this matter is brought forward as quickly as possible?
The Leader of the House is held in high regard on both sides of the House and by all parties. As someone who holds the rights of the House in high esteem, does he share my eagerness to see information that has been given to the House corrected by the Secretary of State for Health? In Tuesday’s Health questions, the Secretary of State said that spending on the national health service will increase in real terms even if the social care budget given to local authorities is removed, but the Library and the Nuffield Trust have both stated that that is incorrect. Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to return to the House to correct that misinformation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind words that prefaced his question. I shall raise with the Secretary of State for Health the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, implying that information was incorrectly given to the House, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take appropriate action when he has read this morning’s Hansard.
My 14-year-old constituent, Bethanie Thorn from Silver End, was a healthy teenager until last month when she was left bedridden by an illness. Despite her constant agony and blood tests that reveal cancer markers, the Mid-Essex Hospital Services trust is denying her the MRI scan that her doctor has urgently requested. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to investigate the reason for the appalling delays at the trust and may we have a debate on why the trust has been able to spend £10 million employing 109 managers but cannot arrange this urgent scan for my constituent?
I am sorry to hear of Bethanie’s illness and I understand how important it is for her to have the MRI scan. As my hon. Friend will know, we are increasing in real terms the budget available to the NHS and we are introducing reforms so that more resources go to the front line. I shall raise this specific issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to see whether there is any action he might take.
Yesterday, the tug boat Anglian Prince was again involved in serious work as it towed a ship with engine trouble into Stornoway. Luckily, this time the ship was not full of oil and was not a nuclear submarine. May we have a debate on the possible environmental damage of the cuts and the removal of the maritime insurance policy in north-west Scotland, thereby highlighting the fact that the UK cannot or is unwilling to afford it, whereas an independent Scotland would and could?
Prior to the spending review, it was accepted that Scotland receives approximately 20% more per head than a needs-based analysis would result in, particularly when compared with the English regions. That is due to an anomaly in the Barnett formula, but I understand that the Government do not intend to review the formula. The spending review cuts deeper in England than in Scotland; is it not time for a debate on this subject?
More than six months ago, candidates in all political parties signed a series of pledges, including the sanctuary pledge, in which candidates who are now Members of Parliament pledged to remove children from immigration detention. Why then, six months after the general election, has the coalition not yet carried out that pledge, which also appears in the coalition agreement?
This is another issue that we inherited from the outgoing Labour Government, as they failed to address it. It is addressed in the coalition agreement, as the hon. Gentleman will see, and the coalition Government will take action to deliver that commitment.
Talking of issues that were inherited from the previous Government, we found out this week—six months after the general election—that as a result of the European Court of Human Rights ruling about prisoners having the right to vote, the UK faces a bill in excess of £100 million. May we have a statement on what other hidden and contingent liabilities were left behind by the Labour Government for us to deal with?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know, having listened to statements by Treasury Ministers, that we have had to deal with a large number of commitments by the outgoing Government for which the resources were not made available. On the specific issue, as he knows, Ministers are considering how to implement the judgment and, indeed, how to avoid the fines to which he refers. When the Government have made a decision, the House will be the first to know.
May I press the Leader of the House? My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) mentioned that the Minister for Universities and Science has said that non-STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects will lose their teaching grant. Yet in a Westminster Hall debate that I took part in yesterday, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning said:
“We will continue to support the arts through the subsidy for teaching in universities.” —[Official Report, 3 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 315WH.]
Please may we have an urgent statement on when universities will learn of their funding settlements in order to alleviate the uncertainty that so many universities, teaching staff, students and prospective students are suffering?
Of course I understand the concern that the hon. Lady expresses. She will have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science say yesterday in his statement that there would be a debate quite soon, after which there would be a vote on the order to raise the caps. That would be an appropriate point for the hon. Lady to raise her concerns again.
My right hon. Friend and every MP will be aware of the burdens and, more importantly, the excessive costs of the systems that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has introduced. Do the Government have the confidence to allow the House the time to bring forward and to debate measures that would deal with those excessive costs?
My hon. Friend has a private Member’s Bill on that subject. The Government have no plans to have an earlier debate on IPSA, but he will know that IPSA is about to announce a review, and I hope that that will provide an opportunity for all hon. Members to submit their views. My view is absolutely clear: IPSA is there to sustain Members and to enable them to discharge their duties, and any barriers that get in the way should be removed.
Speaking of salons, is it true that No. 10 has also employed a hair stylist? Perhaps that is what the Government mean by cuts. But seriously, may we have a debate on civil service recruitment? It is not just the Prime Minister’s vanity snapper and film-maker that is at issue; I have had a letter outstanding to the Cabinet Secretary since September on the issue of the Culture Secretary bringing in people from outside the civil service at a time when civil servants are being sacked. We need a serious debate on the matter, and I need an answer to my letter.
I have no knowledge of any hair stylist being employed at No. 10, and as the hon. Gentleman can see I would have no need of such a service. On the specific issue, he is entitled to a response to his letter. Any recruitment to No. 10 or, indeed, elsewhere in the public sector has to follow the due procedures.
When can we expect the much awaited localism Bill to begin its passage through Parliament? I am particularly keen to see our planning system reforms introduced quickly. In my constituency and, I believe, those of many other hon. Members, developers are quite keen to exploit what they perceive as the grey area of planning before the Bill is introduced. When will we have settlement on the matter?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. The localism Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 25 May, and it contains a wide range of measures to devolve more powers to councils. In answer to his specific question, the Bill will be introduced to Parliament shortly.
Two weeks ago, the Leader of the House announced a review of House sitting hours. Can he confirm that it will include a review of September sittings? Once it has taken place, will all matters, including September sittings, return to the House for a decision on a free vote? If so, will he provide to Members full information about the financial and other consequences for the long-term maintenance of the House of a shorter recess and less time to carry out maintenance during the summer?
The Procedure Committee is indeed carrying out a review of the sitting hours of the House. It will include whether we should sit in September, as well as the actual hours that we sit during the day. That has always been a House of Commons matter on which Members have had a free vote. There will also be an opportunity for the House authorities to raise the issue of the cost to the House if they do not have a long run during the summer recess to carry out certain capital work—although whether that should be decisive in determining whether the House sits in September is something on which I should like to reflect.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the huge consequences of trebling fees to £9,000 for students, and of the decision to withdraw funding from arts and humanities teaching throughout our universities. He will forgive me, because I have an arts degree, but surely it is right that we debate not just the fee levels, but the implications for widening participation and the decision to withdraw from the arts and humanities. The debate must be about the entire matter, not solely the fee level.
Yesterday we had an extensive debate on the issue when my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science made a statement to the House. There will be another full day’s debate on the whole issue, as I said in response to an earlier question. On the specific issue of arts and humanities, which a number of colleagues have raised, I will of course pass on to the Secretary of State their deep concerns about the funding of those faculties.
Given that the Government’s economic policy seems to be based on sacking up to 1 million public sector workers and replacing them with private sector employees, and that nobody bar the Government believes that that is workable, may we have a debate in which the Government have an opportunity to spell out how they will achieve that miracle?
I remind the hon. Gentleman of what the Office for Budget Responsibility has said on the matter. It expects whole economy employment to rise during every year of its forecast, from 28.89 million people in 2010-11 to 30.23 million in 2015-16. Employment has also risen very sharply in recent months. In the three months to July 2010, total employment rose by 286,000, and while public sector employment, to which he refers, fell by 22,000 in the second quarter, private sector employment rose by 308,000. That puts the issue in perspective.
I wish to return to the education maintenance allowance, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) mentioned. As recently as June, the Minister with responsibility for schools reiterated the coalition Government’s commitment to the EMA, but we now see that that commitment was as hollow as a Liberal Democrat pledge. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the equalities impact assessment of the withdrawal of the EMA?
The hon. Gentleman will know that in the comprehensive spending review announcement, there was a clear statement on the future of the EMA, which will be transferred to a more targeted, local and discretionary system. We had a debate on the CSR last Thursday, when there was an opportunity to raise the EMA and other issues, so I am not sure that I can find time for another debate in the very near future.
When we have the debate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has requested, may we also have a debate on Lib-Dem manifesto commitments, so that Ministers can hear the comments of students in my constituency, who have told me that they have decided either to change courses, based on which careers pay most, or not to go to university at all?
The Leader of the House will know that we are five months on from the shootings in my constituency, so there is no notion whatever of a knee-jerk response to those events. The Association of Chief Police Officers has recommended changes to the gun laws, and Home Office Ministers have promised Members a debate on such changes. When may we have that debate, and may we have it sooner rather than later please?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will know that the Home Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into firearms legislation, and we await the outcome of the inquiry into the tragic incidents in Cumbria earlier this year. Once we have had that, we will honour our commitment to a debate on our gun laws, which are already among the toughest in the world.
Mr Speaker, may I make it clear that the Budget statement is expected on Wednesday 23 March, and that private Members’ Bills will be before the House on Friday 19 November?