Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 6 December will include:
Monday 6 December—Opposition Day [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “The Unfair Distribution and Impact of Cuts to Local Government Funding”.
Tuesday 7 December—Second Reading of the European Union Bill.
Wednesday 8 December—Estimates Day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on police funding for 2011-12 and the Department for International Development’s assistance to Zimbabwe. Further details for the second of these debates will be given in the Official Report.
[The information is as follows: Department for International Development’s assistance to Zimbabwe (8th Report from the International Development Committee of Session 2009-10, HC 252); Government Response—Cmd 7899.]
At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Thursday 9 December—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill, followed by a motion to approve resolution on increasing the higher amount which is to be applied under the Higher Education Act 2004, and a motion relating to the draft Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations.
The provisional business for the week commencing 13 December will include:
Monday 13 December—Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.
Tuesday 14 December—Consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Terrorist-Asset Freezing Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords Amendments.
Wednesday 15 December—Second Reading of a Bill.
Thursday 16 December—Motion relating to park homes, followed by a general debate to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 16 December will be:
Thursday 16 December—A debate on drugs policy.
I thank the Leader of the House for his answer. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the programme motion on the European Union Bill published today plans to give the House only four days for Committee consideration and remaining stages? It is a major constitutional Bill, and the time proposed is wholly inadequate, especially when compared with other recent European Bills. I am sure that many Government Members share our view, so will the Leader think again?
On the plan almost to treble tuition fees, we have just had it confirmed that the vote will be next week, so when will we see the text of the proposals? Of course, the question that everybody wants to ask is, how will Liberal Democrat MPs vote?
That brings me to the Deputy Prime Minister, who has continued to hawk his guilty conscience around the television studios. I must tell you, Mr Speaker, that I have not checked overnight to see whether he has given an interview to Kazakhstan state television, but last week he suggested that, after carefully considering all the arguments and weighing up the pros and cons of the proposals, the outcome might well be that Liberal Democrat MPs decide, in a show of resolute unity, to abstain—in other words, to sit on the fence, the traditional resting place throughout the ages of Liberal Democrats faced with a difficult decision.
What a stroke of genius! Why did the Deputy Prime Minister not make a statement to confirm that earlier in the week when he had the chance? Think of the plaudits he would have won from students throughout the country for making a pledge of principled abstention; think of the difficulties he would have avoided; think of the money that would have been saved on all those plane fares to Kazakhstan and back—because the Deputy Prime Minister had to be hustled out of the country to be protected from being asked over and over again, “How are you going to vote?” It is going to be a very expensive betrayal all round.
When the Leader of the House gets on the phone to Astana, will he also ask the Deputy Prime Minister to explain why back in the summer he told the House that an £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was completely unaffordable, whereas now we are told that a loan of several billion pounds to the Irish banks is affordable? May we have a statement clearing up that minor contradiction?
Last week, the Prime Minister, during his doomed attempt to defend the cuts in school sport partnerships, told us to trust the judgment of head teachers. So, what about the judgment of 60 head teachers from throughout England who, in a letter, describe the decision to scrap the scheme with no consultation as “ignorant”, “destructive”, “contradictory”, “self-defeating” and “unjustified”? I think we could say that they are pretty unhappy, so does the Leader of the House have any news for us about an apology from the Prime Minister for having disgracefully attacked the partnerships and called them a failure? When will the Prime Minister make a statement about the U-turn on which he is clearly now working, much to the discomfort of his hapless Education Secretary?
When the Prime Minister comes to the House, will he explain another U-turn that he has made? Before the election, he said that any Minister who came to him with proposals for cuts in front-line services would be “sent packing”. Yet, that is exactly what we now see, with cuts in front-line policing from the Home Secretary, cuts in school sport from the Education Secretary and cuts to local services from the Communities and Local Government Secretary. When can we expect the Prime Minister to live up to his word, or is it just the promises that he casually made that have been sent on their way?
Finally, talking of sending people packing, and following Lord Young’s unhappy experience, I note that last week the Prime Minister was forced to denounce Mr Howard Flight, even before the ermine had touched his shoulders. May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on the criteria he uses for appointing, first, advisers and, secondly, peers? Given the rate at which they are saying things that are unacceptable, he does not seem to be exercising very good judgment.
May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on that performance, which was far more impressive than the Leader of the Opposition’s yesterday? Given the impeccable Labour pedigree of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), may I say that he is the only Opposition Member who can say with pride that he is a son not of Gordon, but of Tony?
Turning to the questions that the right hon. Gentleman poses, I have to say that four days on the Floor of the House is a generous allocation of time for the Bill to which he refers, so long as the House uses it intelligently and does not resort to the sort of tactics that we saw during previous constitutional Bills, parts of which were taken on the Floor of the House.
Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s second question on higher education, I have to say that he is in no position at all to talk about unity. Yesterday, in an article in the Evening Standard, the Leader of the Opposition reiterated his long-term policy aim, saying that he wanted a “fairer graduate tax system.” Here is what the shadow Chancellor thinks about that:
“We had the argument about the graduate tax. I just cannot understand why going back there is anything other than a kind of sop to the left.”
And the former Transport Secretary said of the same policy:
“The trouble is, it can’t be done”.
On the specific question that the right hon. Member for Leeds Central poses, we expect to table the motion for the higher cap in the next day or two, and in good time for the debate. The statutory instrument relating to raising the lower cap has already been laid and is on page 1928 of the Order Paper.
We have debated the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters on several occasions, and when we introduce the legislation the House will have an opportunity to debate the loan to Ireland.
There was an apology on school sports, and it came from the shadow Education Secretary about the policy that he bequeathed us. In the debate on Tuesday, he said:
“I am not arguing that it is perfect. Of course it could probably be made more efficient”.—[Official Report, 30 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 709.]
That is exactly what the Government are doing. We are delivering school sports differently from the previous Government, not pursuing their centralised PE and sport strategy. We will redeploy resources and people to put a new emphasis on competitive sport.
Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other Opposition Member will have any credibility whatsoever until they tell the House and the country how they would have delivered the cuts they had pencilled in before the election. They have totally failed to fill in the blanks ever since.
Finally, on peers, I am sure that my noble Friend-to-be, Lord Flight, will make a useful contribution in the other place. Given time, I could do some research and find out what contributions have been made by Members appointed to the other place by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) of comparable value to those of Howard Flight.
Order. Given the level of interest and the pressure on time, I appeal to colleagues to ask single, short questions and to the Leader of the House to offer his characteristically succinct replies.
I always used to think that my right hon. Friend was a progressive, but I am beginning to have my doubts. Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to the Procedure Committee for their work on electronic petitions. He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda.
Following on from the point of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) on e-petitions, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister is cancelling his No. 10 Downing street e-petitions site? If so, will he take heed of the right hon. Gentleman’s advice and speed up the process of holding that debate in the House?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the No. 10 e-petitions site has been taken down, but we envisage carrying forward the ability to petition on the Directgov site.
May we have a debate in Government time on equality of opportunity in public expenditure? This week, the Welsh Assembly announced that no Welsh student would pay increased tuition fees. Why is that policy and facility not open to my constituents’ children, given that English taxpayers are largely financing such Welsh largesse?
I understand the aggravation expressed by my hon. Friend’s constituents, but the situation he describes is a logical outcome of the policy of devolution, and of giving the Assembly of Wales and the Parliament in Scotland autonomy over issues that were previously reserved to this House.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Backbench Business Committee is conducting an experiment with the pre-Christmas recess Adjournment debate on 21 December? It is doing so in response to the frustration expressed by many Back Benchers, who would like a substantive response to the many issues that they raise in such debates. Will he join me in encouraging hon. Members to apply to the Table Office for the new 10-minute departmental slots by the deadline of 3 pm on Monday 13 December? That will enable the Committee to create departmental groupings so that hon. Members, not least the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), will receive a ministerial response to the many and varied issues they raise.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her public service announcement. She is right to draw attention to the different regime, which is on the Order Paper, proposed for the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate. That will pose an intellectual challenge to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who manages to raise about 30 subjects in a five-minute speech, because he will have to choose one of them. As always, I welcome the way in which the Backbench Business Committee is using the space it has to develop new ways of tackling issues and to provide the House with fresh opportunities to debate matters. I am sure that hon. Members will respond to her invitation to put in for subjects.
Many people would find it an unappealing prospect to spend an evening in the hot shopping environment of Hamley’s, heaving with excitable children and their stressed parents in the Christmas rush. It is certainly no place for Arctic animals, but, shockingly, Hamley’s has advertised in-store displays of live reindeer and penguins. May we have a debate on how animal welfare should be for life, and not forgotten at Christmas?
Having spent some time in Hamley’s shopping for things for children, I understand the pressure on those who go through that ordeal. I will raise with the appropriate Minister the issue of animal welfare that the hon. Lady touched on to see whether there has been a breach of regulations.
May we have an urgent statement on the meeting that took place this week between the Defence Minister and President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka? We understand that it was supposed to be a private meeting, but throughout the meeting, of course, the Defence Minister remained the Defence Minister. Bearing in mind that we are pressing for an inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka, may we have a statement on that meeting?
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I understand that it was a private meeting. I cannot guarantee a statement, but on 14 December there will be an opportunity to ask questions to Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Will my right hon. Friend make time available for a statement or debate on the decision of the Legal Services Commission to withdraw legal aid from the foetal anticonvulsant syndrome group, a group of parents who have campaigned for the past 10 years for justice for their children, who have disabilities caused by drugs taken by the mothers during pregnancy? Some £4 million of legal aid had been agreed with the Legal Services Commission, but on the eve of the trial it withdrew the funding. The litigants now have until 20 December to get it reinstated. I think that that decision should be reviewed in this House.
I understand the concern that my hon. Friend shares with the House. I will raise the issue with the Lord Chancellor to see whether there is any action that he can take to help.
In the past 36 hours, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has been contacting members of the Lobby in this place, offering to identify Members whom it believes have submitted newsworthy claims. Will the Leader of the House seek an urgent meeting with Sir Ian Kennedy, not to listen to more of his bogus denials, but to warn him that this House will not be bullied by such unacceptable and disgraceful behaviour?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I read with interest today the newspaper article that he wrote. The information that appeared in The Times yesterday was the result of a freedom of information request to IPSA from that newspaper, and it withheld the names of the hon. Members whose claims were rejected. There will be a debate on IPSA shortly and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman, if he catches your eye, Mr Speaker, receives a response to the specific point that he has raised. I quite agree that there can be no question of any Member of this House being bullied.
My local Communication Workers Union branch and I appreciate the importance and necessity of the modernisation of Royal Mail. However, according to the most recent quality of postal services report, my constituency has the second-worst postal service in England and Wales. May we have a debate on the quality of postal services so that people such as my constituents do not have to suffer what is sometimes billed as “progress”?
I admire the way in which my hon. Friend has campaigned for a higher quality of postal service in his constituency. Modernisation must not be held up as an excuse for poor service. However, I will raise this issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), who has responsibility for postal affairs. Our legislative proposals that are going through Parliament are designed to drive up the quality of postal services.
The Leader of the House will recall that a week ago I pressed him about the non-appearance of the localism Bill, which one of his right hon. colleagues announced would be published imminently. The Leader of the House was more cautious and said only that it would be published shortly. He has not said anything further about it today, but there was a mysterious reference in his statement to the Second Reading of “a Bill” on 15 December. Will he tell the House whether that mysterious Bill is the localism Bill? Is his coyness connected to the shambolic preparation of that Bill in the Department for Communities and Local Government?
There is no shambles anywhere in the administration of this coalition Government. However, I have to say that the gestation period for the localism Bill has been a little longer than anticipated. Last week, I said that it would appear shortly, and it will appear very shortly. I hope that it will be before the House well before Christmas.
This week’s Office for Budget Responsibility report states that
“if left unaddressed, upward pressure on spending from the ageing of the population might well eliminate the primary budget surplus”.
May we have a debate on that matter? May we also consider the innovative schemes run by local councils up and down the country to address it?
I applaud any lateral thinking by local authorities throughout the country to deal with demographic pressures. One of the reasons we decided to increase in real terms the budget of the NHS was precisely to deal with the issue that my hon. Friend has touched on—the ageing of the population. Related to that is the extra £2 billion announced in October for adult services and social services. I hope that those, too, will have some impact in dealing with the demands for services as a result of the ageing of the population. When we get the localism Bill, my hon. Friend may have an opportunity to develop his argument at greater length.
I wonder whether Members could get greater notice of statements in the House. I have had the experience of being informed by journalists about statements the night before. If journalists can be informed, surely Members can be given greater notice.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Whenever possible, we try to give notice of a statement on the Order Paper, so that when Members come in, they can see that the Government are planning to make a statement. That is not always possible, but I wholly agree that the House should be informed at least at the same time as the press of any statements that the Government plan to make.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that
“arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”
I am concerned about the impact of Government plans on students in year 12 who are currently in receipt of the education maintenance allowance. It looks as though they may not be eligible for EMA support next year. If so, it would cause unintended hardship, which I suspect the Government do not want. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made to clarify that issue?
I agree that it is important that students should be able to continue their education, and I understand the issue that the hon. Gentleman has just raised about EMA. Rather than arrange for a statement, I will certainly pursue with the appropriate Minister the question of what certainty and assurances can be given to those who need another year, after this year’s EMA runs out, to continue their courses.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 587, which is about creating a Royal Society of Apprentices and is signed by MPs from all parties?
[That this House welcomes the Government's plans to restore apprenticeships to their former glory; considers that such a change in policy must be supported by a change in culture; believes that this Parliament should create a new golden age of vocational training, where apprenticeships are seen as prestigious and of equal value to a university degree; further believes that a Royal Society of Apprentices, similar to the Law Society or the British Medical Association, should be established to replicate the vibrant social life of universities for students in vocational training; further believes that there should be an annual apprentices day in every local authority, which would build on the already successful Vocational Qualifications Day and act as a formal graduation ceremony for vocational students; and calls on the Government to add its voice in support of these efforts in the coming months and years.]
Yesterday I met representatives of the main apprenticeship organisations around the country, and the relevant Minister has also given his backing to the idea. May we have a debate on how we might put it into practice?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. It strikes me that he might apply for one of the slots in the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate, recently advertised by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel). He would then have an opportunity to develop his case at greater length and get a confident and, I hope, positive response from the appropriate Minister.
The Leader of the House will have seen the reports of concern at the highest levels of the US Government about the state of affairs in Russia—kleptocracy, mafia and state functionaries linked to crime. May we have an early debate on the rule of law in Russia, with particular reference to the lawyer of the British citizen Bill Browder, Sergei Magnitsky, who was put to death almost exactly one year ago? We really have to raise our voices more loudly about the awful things happening in Russia, whatever our geopolitical needs for a strategic partnership with Mr Putin.
There will be an opportunity at Foreign Office questions on 14 December to raise that specific issue. I cannot promise a debate, but in connection with what has been coming out through WikiLeaks, the Government deplore any unauthorised disclosure of information, particularly if, as the Americans have alleged, it may lead to the risk of loss of life.
When can we expect a debate and vote on the bailing out of the Irish Republic?
The assistance to the Republic of Ireland requires primary legislation; it requires a Bill. There will be an opportunity to speak and vote on that, and I anticipate that it may come forward in the relatively near future.
Following the Prime Minister’s intervention in the school sport funding debacle, we have heard that he has asked the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), the Cabinet Office Minister, to review the reorganisation of the health service proposals made by the Secretary of State for Health. Those proposals will cost £3 billion, and wide concern has been expressed about them. May we have an urgent debate in Government time, so that it can be explained why the Prime Minister needs to review the Secretary of State’s proposals for NHS reorganisation?
The Government will introduce in due course a health reform Bill, which will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to develop his case and for the Secretary of State for Health to explain why our proposals for the NHS will deliver a higher quality of service than we are getting at the moment.
Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?
The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Has the Leader of the House seen the letter in The Times this morning from well over 100 senior academics about the savage cuts to higher education? Does he not agree that Members on both sides of the House care about the future of higher education? May we have a real debate about the future of higher education and whether the savage cuts are really necessary?
We had a real debate last Tuesday, when the Opposition chose it as a subject; I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not saying that that was not a real debate. We will have a further debate next Thursday on tuition fees, and there will be an opportunity later to debate when we need to change the legislation to raise the cap on the interest rate. I honestly believe that there have been adequate opportunities, and there will be even more, to debate the future of higher education.
Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said:
“Support Support The Occupations!....To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.”
Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?
I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.
Can we have a proper debate shortly on the impact of the cold weather on domestic energy consumption? The Leader of the House will know that yesterday there was a 25% spike in domestic gas consumption. This is particularly worrying as Ofgem has opened an investigation into potential profiteering by the main energy utility firms. I hope that he agrees that this would be a very bad time for those energy companies to be raising bills further.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who raises a genuine issue about those challenged by winter fuel payments. We have permanently increased the cold weather payment to £25 for seven consecutive days, and the winter fuel payment will continue to be paid at the higher rate of £250 for households with someone aged up to 79. This includes a temporary increase of £50 and £100. Winter fuel payments will remain exactly as budgeted for by the previous Government. On the specific question of exploitation, I will pass his concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to see whether there is any action that he can take.
Will the Leader of the House expand on his earlier answer about WikiLeaks and arrange for an updated Government statement on this organisation? There could be serious implications for our armed forces and others, and they need to know that we are doing all we can to protect them.
As I said earlier, the Government deplore these unauthorised leaks of information, which have the potential to destabilise relationships between countries and lead to a risk to life. We deplore what has been put in the public domain, and it is not our policy to comment on unauthorised disclosure of information.
Further to the question by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), we have a Business Secretary who develops a policy on tuition fees, tells the country that it is the best policy possible, and then comes to this House and tells us that he has a strong inclination not to vote for his own policy. What are the constitutional implications of this departure?
The Cabinet has a united policy on this issue, which is more than the shadow Cabinet does.
Labour Members welcome the Prime Minister’s rethink about scrapping school sport partnerships. While we try to refrain from saying “We told you so”, can the Leader of the House ensure that the Government make a statement on this issue before the Christmas recess to end the uncertainty for schools in my constituency and across the country about their budgets and their ability to continue with sports provision?
We will make a statement in due course about the allocation of resources to local authorities. As I said earlier, we will be delivering school sports in a different way from the previous Government, and we will announce how we will spend the money we have allocated for school sport in due course.
May we have a debate on where Ministers make statements, to whom, and at what time? We were promised a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister on the progress relating to immigration centres, Yarl’s Wood in particular, and that statement should have been made this week. Today, we are told by the press that he is going to make the statement via a video link from Kazakhstan to a charitable organisation. Is not that disrespectful to the House?
The coalition agreement is quite clear that we want to phase out the detention of children for immigration purposes in centres such as Yarl’s Wood. At the moment, we are looking at alternatives—namely, looking after families with children in the community rather than in detention. When those alternatives have been developed, the House will be informed in due course.
Given that the coalition has said that because of the Post Office subsidy and the plans for privatisation there will be no further post office closures, can we please have a debate about why a post office in Welwyn Park road in my constituency is going to close imminently?
I think the Government said that there would be no planned post office closures along the lines that we had under the previous Government, when whole swathes of post offices were closed as part of a policy that that Government developed. We are not going to do that, but of course we cannot stop individual post offices closing if the sub-postmaster wants to withdraw and no one else can be found to take over.
In the light of some of the exposures on WikiLeaks, may we have a debate on the 22 days when the coalition was formed? May I make the helpful suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that perhaps we should set aside the Standing Orders of the House and have Mervyn King lead the debate on behalf of the Government? In that way, we could at least hold to account someone who played a major role in forming the coalition Government.
The hon. Gentleman said that that would be a helpful suggestion, but I am not sure that I agree with him.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the constitution and procedures of this House—probably better aware than anyone here—so surely he must have some concerns about the slightly ridiculous situation created by the possibility of a Minister coming to the Dispatch Box in the tuition fees debate to try to persuade the rest of the House to vote for a Government policy when he is not persuaded to vote for it himself.
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that I have already dealt with. The coalition agreement is absolutely clear that on this particular issue Liberal Democrats are entitled to abstain.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the provision of speech and language therapy in schools? Dylan Scothern is a six-year-old autistic boy, the son of Rachel Scothern, a constituent of mine. Because he is six years of age, he has had speech and language therapy taken away from him on the basis that he is too old. That is clearly ridiculous. Whatever the situation, an autistic boy needs speech and language therapy. The decision to provide it only for children up to the age of five is nonsense, and Dylan deserves better than that.
Of course he does. I am not aware that there has been any change of policy by the coalition Government on this issue. I think that we are carrying forward the policy that we inherited, with which the hon. Gentleman may be familiar.
Does the Leader of the House agree with the Speaker, who strongly deprecates the practice of late transfer of oral questions by Government Departments at late notice? If so, what action does he intend to take on this matter?
The answer to the question, “Do I agree with the Speaker?”, is always yes. I should like to make some inquiries about the particular transfer to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If a question is transferred for good reason from one Department to another, then the Department to which it is transferred should reply promptly. If that has not happened, of course I will chase it up.
BBC online news has reported the execution of Shahla Jahed in Iran after nine years’ imprisonment. Amnesty International said that there were flaws in the trial. May we have an urgent debate on women and human rights to discuss this case, and particularly that of Sakineh Ashtiani, who still remains under threat?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I read today in the paper that tragic story of the execution and the circumstances in which it took place. There are real issues about human rights in Iran—the two cases to which she referred and many others. We have made constant representations to the Iranian embassy here and we are taking action through our European partners. I will of course raise her concern with my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to see whether there is any further action we can take.
May we have a debate in Government time about the disgraceful practice of banks, particularly in relation to internet bank accounts, whereby they set up headline promises of high interest rates that are subsequently changed so that it is virtually impossible to find out what rate of interest one is now obtaining? Should not banks be required to display on their internet sites, when the statement comes up, what level of interest is being paid on the account so that people know when they should be moving to other interest-earning accounts?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She is right. Many consumers have found that the high rate of interest they thought they were earning on their account has come to an end without their being notified. We had a debate on the banks, I think, on Monday. However, I will raise with Treasury Ministers whether we have any plans to increase transparency about the interest earned on current accounts.
Further to the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), I am delighted to hear that he agrees with the Speaker that the practice of late transfer of questions is despicable, and that they should be answered promptly. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has decided to transfer questions on the impact of the abolition of school sport partnerships on participation in sport that were tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland and were chosen in the ballot for answer this Monday. Furthermore, neither of us has received an answer from the Department for Education on this matter, or indeed a date when we can expect an answer. Will the Leader of the House therefore commit to coming back to the House with detailed explanations as to what he has done in talking to his colleagues about ending such practices?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House was in the Chamber when the original point of order was raised. At his initiative, inquiries are now being undertaken to find out what has gone wrong, and we will report back to the House in the usual way.
Order. I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their co-operation, as a result of which 35 Back-Bench Members were able, in a pretty constrained time scale, to pose questions to the Leader of the House.