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Business of the House

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 18 November 2010

The business for the week commencing 22 November will include:

Monday 22 November—Remaining stages of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill.

Tuesday 23 November—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Wednesday 24 November—Consideration in Committee of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (day 2), followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2010.

Thursday 25 November—Remaining stages of the Local Government Bill [Lords].

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 November will include:

Monday 29 November—Opposition Day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 30 November—A debate on banking reform followed by a general debate on regulation of independent financial advisers. The subject for both debates was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. That will be followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) (Amendment) Order 2010.

Wednesday 1 December— Remaining stages of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

Thursday 2 December—A debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The subject for debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 December—Private Members’ Bills.

Colleagues will also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his statement on the autumn forecast on Monday 29 November 2010.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

There were two statements on day one of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill Committee. The first was not time critical and the second was self-inflicted because of a leak—yet another failure to tell Parliament first. Members were somewhat puzzled by the argument used by the Leader of the House on Tuesday in refusing extra time, given that the Government granted extra time for the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. If extra time was good enough for that constitutional bill, why is it not good enough for the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill?

Following the point of order made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), can the Leader of the House explain why, notwithstanding the resolution of the House of 19 March 1997, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), did not tell the House until the very end of Tuesday’s debate, rather than at the beginning, of his intention to write to the devolved Administrations to ask them whether they would like a new power on combining polls?

Yesterday, we had an urgent question from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on the Republic of Ireland’s finances, in reply to which the Minister obviously could not say a great deal. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Government will make an oral statement in the event that a bail-out that involves the United Kingdom is agreed?

On private Members’ Bills, Mr Speaker, you have had on a number of occasions recently to remind Members about sticking to the subject. Last Friday it seems that one Member treated the House to a poetry reading while allegedly debating the Sustainable Livestock Bill. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we deal with private Members’ Bills and the Standing Orders relating to their consideration, because it is pretty frustrating when filibustering gets in the way of proper debate and votes?

Last week, I asked the right hon. Gentleman for a pledge that there would be no vote on lifting the cap on tuition fees before the White Paper on higher education is published. He said that he would get back to me. Has he any news? Meanwhile, we learn that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) is so worried about having a vote on the Lib Dems’ broken pledge that he sent a rather frantic private e-mail to the Deputy Prime Minister, thoughtfully copying it to The Guardian in the process, in which he said:

“We really need to get it out of the way ASAP.?? The sooner this is over the better!!!”

I would say just this to the right hon. Member for Yeovil and his colleagues: I do not think that it will get any better, because a betrayal is still a betrayal, regardless of when it happens.

The Prime Minister was asked yesterday about yet another broken promise: namely the pledge to increase the number of midwives by 3,000, which he made in The Sun in January of this year. We are told that that promise was not included in the coalition agreement because of a change in the birth rate predictions. May we have a statement on what new predictions were published—presumably by the Office for National Statistics—between the pledge in January and the signing of the coalition agreement on 12 May?

The House will have noted that notwithstanding the Leader of the House’s sterling defence in the past two weeks of the Prime Minister’s decision to put his personal photographer on the civil service payroll, the Prime Minister has now decided that perhaps after all that was not a very good idea. May we have statement on how much it cost first to recruit and then to sack Mr Parsons, and will the Conservative party refund the cost of his salary for the time when he was a very temporary civil servant?

Finally, Mr Speaker, may I ask the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House whether they are happy? I inquire only because it seems that the Government are planning to publish a happiness index. Apparently, we will be asked questions such as, “How satisfied are you with your life on a scale of nought to 10?” As Sir Humphrey might have said, that is a brave thing for Ministers to do, but I feel honour bound to point out that happiness can go down as well as up.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. On injury time, I gently remind him that when we debated the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—an important constitutional Bill that was taken on the Floor of the House—there was no question of injury time being allowed by the previous Government, of whom he was a member. Before Second Reading, we had a statement, but there was no injury time; on Committee day one, we had two statements, but no injury time; on Committee day two, we had one statement, but no injury time; and in carry-over, there was one statement on each day of Committee days five and six, but no injury time. I am therefore not sure why a new principle has suddenly been discovered now that the Labour party is in opposition.

There is another reason for not having injury time for debate on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill: there is adequate time to debate the Bill without injury time. It is a five-clause Bill with a majority of, I believe, more than 300 on Second Reading. Any sympathy I had for the right hon. Gentleman’s request dissipated when I followed the proceedings on Tuesday evening and saw—frankly—that the Opposition did not make the best use of the time available. Members who were not that familiar with the proceedings were asked to speak at short notice and at great length.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about something else that happened that day. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is in charge of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, made an announcement to the House, which is entirely what the Government ought to do. He communicated to the House from the Dispatch Box a decision of the Government. We would have been criticised had we done it by written ministerial statement, and I find it astonishing that, when we actually come to the Dispatch Box and make an announcement, we are criticised for it.

On Ireland, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a statement was made yesterday by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. This country has close economic ties with Ireland and we want Ireland to prosper. What we do will be in Britain’s national interest and we have an interest in a stable and prosperous Ireland, so we stand ready to help if requested.

On private Members’ Bills, I am sure that if anyone had filibustered, you, Mr Speaker, or the person in the Chair, would have rightly brought that person to order. On the serious issue about private Members’ Bills, however, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into the sittings of the House, subsumed into which will be the question about Fridays and whether the House should sit on them, and if not, what should happen to the business discussed on Fridays. It would be wholly within the Committee’s remit to take on board the serious issue that he raised about how we process private Members’ Bills.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science has written to the right hon. Gentleman— I have the letter, dated 17 November, in front of me—responding to the issues he asked me about, and I am sorry if the letter has not reached him yet.

On midwives, the House will have heard yesterday’s exchange. We made it clear in a recent meeting with the Royal College of Midwives that the Government will continue to train midwives at current rates, and we are considering ways of helping to improve midwife recruitment and retention, given the increased number and complexity of births in recent years. The planned number of trainees next year will be higher than the number this year.

On the photographer, I would say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that the last Government spent £500 million on communications. We are cutting that by two thirds, and the Downing street budget will fall by £6 million over the next four years—from £23 million to £17 million.

On happiness, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I are visibly, demonstrably happy, and we were made even happier by Tuesday’s announcement of the royal wedding.

Will the Leader of the House kindly answer the question put by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), and assure the House that there will certainly be a full oral statement, but preferably a debate, on any bail-out to the Irish, because the British people want to be assured that, at a time of painful cuts here, good money is not being thrown after bad, in driving the Irish further into the sclerotic arms of the euro, which caused the problems in the first place?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to keep the House informed of any changes in the position between this country and Ireland.

Today, Age UK published a report showing that the Government’s changes to housing benefit will mean a reduction of £12 a week for at least 80,000 pensioners. We know that the loss of £12 a week to a Cabinet of millionaires means nothing, but to my constituents it can mean the difference between eating and heating. May we have a debate in Government time, therefore, with a substantive motion, on the Government’s failure to meet their much-vaunted promise to protect the most vulnerable in a time of severe economic hardship, in the hope that perhaps they will begin to reconsider some of these vicious policies?

I announced that there would be an Opposition day—subject to be announced—and it is perfectly open to the hon. Lady’s right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to choose housing benefit as a subject. The policy we are introducing on housing benefit resembles very closely the commitment in the Labour party manifesto and the commitment supported by James Purnell. The hon. Lady might have heard the exchange on the “Today” programme, when the Minister for Housing and Local Government referred to the discretionary fund available to those who, for whatever reason, cannot move and are in hardship. That sum is now £140 million, compared with the £10 million it was initially, and my right hon. Friend has indicated that he is prepared to top that up. I hope that the hon. Lady will not cause alarm unnecessarily.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that it would appear that this year’s annual fisheries debate, which takes place in December, precedes the Council of Fisheries Ministers and has been handed by the Executive into the bailiwick of the Backbench Business Committee? I have no objections to that Committee, but I think, as do many of the 80 or so members of the all-party fisheries group, that this debate should, as is traditional, be held in Government time. Will the Leader of the House do something about that please?

My right hon. Friend said that the Executive has handed this responsibility to the Backbench Business Committee, but it was the House of Commons that handed it to the Committee. We have implemented the Wright Committee’s recommendations in full. Paragraph 145 of the Wright Committee report makes it clear that the debate to which he referred is one of those that has now been transferred to the Backbench Business Committee. It is up to that Committee to schedule all debates in the 35 days we have transferred to it. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, will have heard my right hon. Friend’s plea, and it is now up to her and her Committee to see whether, out of the days we are allocating to it, the fisheries debate qualifies for consideration.

Following on from that point, I note that the usual debate ahead of the European Council is now said also to fall within the remit of the Backbench Business Committee. May I gently suggest that that means a complete and utter abdication of the responsibility to discuss matters European on the Floor of the House at the initiation of the Government, and not Back-Bench Members?

I hate to disagree with the hon. Lady, whom I congratulate on winning The Spectator award last night at a very moving ceremony. It was richly deserved. I say to her gently that paragraph 145 on “Set piece debates” in “Rebuilding the House”—the report by the Wright Committee—mentions

“two days for pre-European Council debates”.

It makes it clear that those debates transfer to the Backbench Business Committee. This is not the Government imposing something on the House; it is the House taking away from the Government responsibility for fixing its own agenda. I support that, and I hope that she does too.

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate in Government time on concessionary bus fares? The reorganised system—with the removing of grants and the transfer to county councils—has become exceptionally bureaucratic and means that shire and district councils lose out disproportionately. The all-party group on rural services is raising this matter with Ministers, and I am sure that many other colleagues would wish to participate in such a debate.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. She will know that we are implementing the policy initiated by the outgoing Government of transferring responsibility from the lower tier to the top tier. The Department for Communities and Local Government recently consulted on how that transfer will be taken into account in authorities’ funding allocations from 2011-12. The formula grant is allocated on the basis that the level provided overall is sufficient to enable local authorities to deliver effective local services, and we will shortly publish the details on the outcome of the formula grant consultation and on how the overall funding pot will be distributed among authorities.

In view of the discussions about the future of our national forestry taking place in the other place as part of the Public Bodies Bill, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been asked to produce a list of Forestry Commission land by constituency. She has so far failed to provide that list. Hon. Members have a right to know which land in their constituencies will be affected by this fire sale. Can the Leader of the House produce such a list for Members, and can we have an urgent debate on the future of this precious national forestry heritage?

I am not sure whether it is the Forestry Commission or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who has the data on which forests are in whose constituencies. However, it is important that this information is put into the public domain, and I will pursue with my right hon. Friend the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised and ensure that Parliament has access to the information to which it is entitled.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the situation in Cornwall yesterday and today. Obviously the emergency services, the Environment Agency and the local authority are working hard to address the issues, and there will undoubtedly be lessons to be learned, as there are from all such incidents. I hope that the Leader of the House will have the opportunity to reflect on the difficulties, which may involve, for example, early-warning systems, or the cost of clean-up and reopening transport corridors.

I understand the concern that my hon. Friend has raised on behalf of his constituents. He may know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is visiting the affected area today. Many of my hon. Friends are in their constituencies doing what they can to help. My right hon. Friend plans to make a written statement to the House tomorrow, following her visit to Cornwall today, and will keep the House updated. The Government will do all that we can to help the businesses, families and communities that have been affected by the flooding, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday.

May we have a debate on the ever-increasing cost of energy for consumers? Energy Action Scotland has just announced that 5.5 million homes in the UK are now living in fuel poverty. Centrica has just announced a 7% increase, despite a higher rise in profits than was expected. A debate would give us the opportunity to say that we really are all in this together and that there should be no exemptions.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He will know that we plan to introduce a green deal, which will help households to keep down their energy costs, albeit without having to fund that themselves. There will be an opportunity on 16 December to raise the matter at Energy questions, or he might like to apply for an Adjournment debate to express his concerns more fully.

Given the decision to jeopardise the future of the nuclear deterrent by putting off the main gate contract decisions until the other side of the general election, may we have a debate in Government time, and with a vote, so that hon. Members from the Conservative and Labour parties can register publicly their support for the next generation of the Trident deterrent, in what might be called a coalition for Trident replacement?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but I have to say that the Government did provide time for a debate on the strategic defence and security review, which took place at the end of last month, and we have no plans to revisit the issue in the near future.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should have a debate on bowling greens? There are many crown green bowlers in my constituency—and, I think, across the country, particularly in the north of England—who are concerned at the rate at which their greens, when attached to pubs, are being sold off for building purposes, never to return. Can we have a debate on how we encourage pubs to retain what are important community facilities?

No one is keener on bowling greens than I am, and I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. Listening to his question, I would have thought that if a pub wanted to convert a bowling green into a development, that would require planning consent from the local authority, which should be a precaution against the trend that he has outlined. However, may I suggest that he apply for a debate on bowling greens in Westminster Hall, so that all who share his enthusiasm for the sport can join him in expressing their concern?

May I repeat the request for a debate on Ireland? My grandfather served in the Dail for Fianna Fail, and if he could see it now, he would be turning in his grave. Surely the message from this House to those politicians must be that we will not vote for a penny to bail out their euro, whereas the message to the Irish people must be that we will give whatever support is necessary to support an orderly return to sterling.

I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh). The Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to keep the House informed in the light of the discussions that are taking place in Dublin about the support that may be needed, but which, as I understand it, has not so far been requested by the Irish Government. This country has an interest in a stable and prosperous Ireland and, as I have said, we stand ready to do what we can to secure that objective.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on in-service support for those members of our armed forces who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? Last week I had a visit from the father of Lance Corporal Darren Gregory, who was cited in the case of two actions in Basra in June 2007 for

“conspicuous gallantry, ferocious determination and inspiring leadership”

of the highest order. His actions were utterly decisive, and he single-handedly inspired the defence to beat off two heavy attacks by a superior force; and yet this person, in 2 Royal Welsh, was let down when he most needed support. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate, so that we can ensure that we have that support in place for our courageous armed forces?

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and the House will have every sympathy. We will be introducing the armed forces Bill quite soon, which may be an opportunity for him to share his concern. However, I would just say that we have doubled the operational allowances paid to our armed forces and announced changes to rest and recuperation. We have announced improvements in the area of mental health, but if we can do better, we should.

Since the launch of the “Make it Marham” campaign last week, we have collected more than 10,000 signatures in Norfolk to ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the Tornado base continues at RAF Marham, where it is most economically efficient. Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the strength of feeling in Norfolk and East Anglia in support of the base, and will he consider a debate on the issue?

My hon. Friend expresses the concern of her constituents very well. She asks for a debate on the issue, but I should point out that she was successful in securing a debate on 4 November, and I wonder whether we could have too much of a good thing. I congratulate her on the case that she has made. The decisions to which she has referred mean that Kinloss and two other bases will not be required by the RAF, but no decisions have been made on which bases they should be or on any future use for them. It will take some time to work out the implications for our basing policy, but of course we take on board the strong case that she has made on behalf of her constituents.

Can we please have a debate about the potential impact of proposed changes to the benefits system on the job security of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs employees? I put that question to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Tuesday. At best, he completely misunderstood the question; at worst, he completely evaded it. Such a debate would allow me to offer some guidance to my constituents, many of whom express concern that as many as 700 jobs could be lost in Dundee because of the changes—unless, of course, the Leader of House can provide me with an answer on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.

Of course I understand the concern of those who work for HMRC about the future of their jobs. I would gently point out that even if the hon. Gentleman’s Government had been returned, there would have been reductions in public sector employment. I will pursue the specific issue that he raised with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, and if the answer that he gave on Tuesday was not full—which I am sure it was—I will ask him to amplify it in a letter.

May we have a statement following the important talks taking place in New York today between the UN Secretary-General and the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities? Will the Leader of the House join me in expressing his support for a just and lasting settlement that will reunite the island of Cyprus, which for so many years has been blighted by occupation and division?

This is an issue of great concern to my hon. Friend’s constituents in Southgate, and he has raised it on several occasions. There was a debate on 16 November, which was replied to by my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. The Government support a just and lasting settlement. That was an important manifesto commitment and a priority recognised in the coalition’s programme for government. Only a united island, within the European Union, will provide the long-term peace and security that all Cypriots deserve.

Under pressure, the Prime Minister has got rid of his vanity snapper, but we still need that debate on cronyism and appointments to the civil service. Did the Leader of the House see the letter to The Times on Monday from Sir Robin Mountfield, the former permanent secrecy to the Cabinet Office, in which he said:

“These provisions were intended to meet genuine and exceptional management needs, not to accommodate political and personal friends or associates”?

Finally, he said that

“the…principle of appointment on merit by fair and open competition…should not be allowed to be eroded, whether at these or…senior levels.”

Does the Leader of the House agree with Sir Robin?

It is not agreement or disagreement that is at the heart of business questions; what is at the heart of business questions is the request for a statement, and we will operate on the basis of that request having been made.

I would just say to the hon. Gentleman that his party made dozens of short-term appointments in government and had more than 700 exceptions to civil service appointment rules signed off. Against that background, the actions of this Government are very modest.

As we approach the festive season of Christmas, an unholy price war has broken out in the supermarkets over the sale of alcohol. Tesco is offering two 70 cl bottles of top brand spirits for just £20, Asda is selling 1 litre bottles of spirits for just £15, and Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are selling Baileys at half price.

The all-party save the pub group warmly welcomes the Government’s intention to introduce a ban on below-cost selling, but will the Leader of the House make a statement on when that will happen, and whether it will cover irresponsible promotions that do nothing to encourage responsible drinking, and damage the pub industry?

I confirm that the Government will shortly introduce relevant legislation to address the issues that my hon. Friend touched on. It will set a framework to enable licensing authorities properly to address the pressures caused by excessive late-night drinking in the 24-hour licensing culture. It is also our policy to ban the sale of alcohol at below cost in supermarkets.

In the light of the dreadful floods in Cornwall, the Prime Minister said yesterday that spending on flood protection would be protected in the comprehensive spending review. I understand that there will be cuts of up to 28% in the flood protection budget. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate in Government time on flood defences, so that the Prime Minister’s statement can be corrected and so that Ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can come to the House to update us on the plans for a local levy for communities that suffer from flooding, such as mine in Hull?

The statistics that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave yesterday were correct. If the hon. Lady was listening to the “Today” programme, she will have heard the chairman of the Environment Agency confirm that those were indeed the figures for the four-year period concerned. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will make a written ministerial statement on the position in Cornwall in due course, and there will be opportunities to question her about the issues that the hon. Lady raised about future funding of flood prevention measures.

Given the high level of concern among my constituents in York Outer and those of hon. Members on both sides of the House, which was highlighted in earlier questions today, does the Leader of the House have any plans for a debate on bank lending and its effect on small and medium-sized businesses?

I announced to the House at the beginning of this exchange that the Backbench Business Committee had selected a debate on banking, so there will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his point. We had a Back-Bench debate last Thursday on growth, when that important issue was raised. Ensuring the flow of credit to viable small and medium-sized enterprises is essential for supporting growth, and is a core priority of the coalition Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister is fond of rushed constitutional change. Will the Leader of the House encourage him to introduce legislation on the power of recall, so that students up and down the land may use it to recall those hon. Members who break their pledge on tuition fees?

There will be legislation on the power of recall, but if the hon. Gentleman reads the coalition document, he will see that it says that the power relates to serious wrongdoing, so it would not cover the issue that he has raised. Even if it did, I suspect that some Labour Members might find themselves equally vulnerable.

My right hon. Friend may not be aware that the villages of Wombourne, Great Wyrley, Huntington, Calf Heath and Coven Heath in my constituency are facing the imposition of Traveller sites on green belt land. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a proper debate on the dreadful planning legislation left by the previous Government?

The Government will shortly introduce a localism Bill, and it may be appropriate for my hon. Friend to raise that matter then. Local authorities will be responsible for determining the right level of Traveller site provision in their area in consultation with local communities.

Picking up my hon. Friend’s point, we will strengthen councils’ powers to take enforcement action against breaches of planning control, and will tackle abuse of the planning system. Many hon. Members will have shared in their constituencies the problems that my hon. Friend mentions.

Crown Currency Exchange was trading while insolvent, despite being registered by the Financial Services Authority. My constituent, Miss Patel, and 8,000 other people have lost a lot of money. May we have an urgent statement on a review of the legislation on companies that are registered and authorised by the FSA so that consumers are still protected?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because I am sure that many colleagues have constituents who have been caught by the collapse of Crown Currency Exchange. I have announced that there will be a debate on independent financial advisers, a subject chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, and it would be wholly appropriate for the subject to be raised then. I will ensure that whichever Minister responds to that debate brings with them the latest information on the position of Crown Currency Exchange.

My right hon. Friend may not recall that 1897 was Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. On that occasion the House of Commons presented a Loyal Address. Will the Leader of the House meet me to discuss the possibility of a similar process for the forthcoming diamond jubilee of Her present Majesty?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I gather that he is chairman of the new all-party group on the Queen’s diamond jubilee. I would welcome the opportunity to meet him to discuss how the House might celebrate the diamond jubilee in 2012, a subject on which you, Mr Speaker, and I am sure the House authorities, will also wish to engage.

For the past six months, the coalition has let no opportunity pass to tell us that the British economy is similar to that of the Irish. Now, it cannot tell us fast enough that Britain possesses a series of macro-economic tools that the Irish sadly do not possess. May we have a debate on why the Government have unnecessarily talked down the British economy for the past six months for naked political advantage?

One or two Labour Members tried that argument yesterday during the statement by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I wholly reject the premise on which hon. Gentleman based his question. We have taken firm action to deal with the deficit, which is far lower than that in the Irish Republic, so I reject entirely his comparison.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall try not to test your patience this time. Earlier this week, you launched an important survey of Members’ services in the House. That is important because it will indicate which Members give priority to which service, and which services should be provided in future. Will my right thon. Friend do all he can to encourage every hon. and right hon. Member to participate in that survey so that it provides as complete a result as possible?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was asking either for a statement or for a debate, but just forgot to do so.

I grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is important that hon. Members find time to complete the survey that was sent out a few days ago so that the House can gauge the support for existing services, and get ideas for how to improve them even more. All my work as Leader of the House was immediately put to one side when I received the survey, and I responded within 10 minutes of it arriving.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to an urgent debate on extreme Islamists in the United Kingdom? As action was taken against Gareth Compton for his alleged threat to public disorder, does he agree that action should also be taken against the extreme Islamists who disrupted Remembrance Sunday last week because of their threat to public disorder?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the specific incident that he mentioned is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. I think we all have a role in challenging extremism. We should all stand up for our shared British values and against extremists and their bigoted, racist and false ideology.

The Leader of the House will have seen reports earlier this week that the internet is running out of space. Can we have a debate on that to ask Members how they can do their bit to help? I note that the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) still has a live website,, and a Twitter account for his leadership bid, @TeamEdB. Perhaps he has plans to reactivate those in the near future, but in the meantime will the Leader of the House call on all hon. Members to remove needless clutter from the internet?

We would all endorse that, and I am sure that no one would be happier than the Leader of the Opposition if the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) withdrew those websites.

NHS Yorkshire and the Humber, and North Yorkshire and York primary care trust have given many charities in Yorkshire only 28 days’ notice of decisions to cut their contracts in breach of the voluntary compact that they had agreed with them. Can we have a debate on how the voluntary compact is being applied nationally and locally by public bodies throughout the UK?

I am sorry to hear about the specific incident that my hon. Friend has mentioned. Work is ongoing with Compact Voice to renew the document, and to ensure that it is shortened, sharpened and attuned to our priorities for the big society. The renewed compact will be published shortly, which I hope answers his question.

My right hon. Friend will be saddened and shocked to learn that Darwen’s iconic and historic Jubilee tower, which was erected for Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1897, lost its roof during recent storms. Will he join me in congratulating local businesses that have volunteered to repair the tower, in some cases free of charge? Will he find time for a debate on this example of the big society in action?

I am delighted to hear about what has happened in Darwen. It is a good example of local people coming together to solve problems without necessarily looking to the public purse for a solution. Whether I can find time for a debate I am less certain, but the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, was listening with interest to my hon. Friend’s plea.

Further to yesterday’s urgent question, the governor of the Irish central bank has said today that Ireland will require a substantial loan as part of an EU bail-out. May I ask for an emergency debate next week on this subject, so that the House can express its support for the Irish people alongside its concern at spending more money via the European Union?

As I said earlier, I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to keep the House in the picture regarding any UK involvement in the measures to help Ireland. I cannot make a specific commitment on an emergency debate, but I will pass to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed, which I know is shared by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.