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Business of the House

Volume 522: debated on Thursday 27 January 2011

The business of the House for next week is as follows:

Monday 31 January—Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Tuesday 1 February—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the European Union Bill (Day 5).

Wednesday 2 February—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the performance of the Business, Innovation and Skills Department followed by a debate on the future of the Public Forest Estate in England. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to the Court of Auditors’ 2009 report.

Thursday 3 February—Motion relating to consumer credit regulation and debt management, followed by a general debate on reform of legal aid. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 4 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 7 February will include:

Monday 7 February—Opposition Day [un-allotted day] [half day] [first part]. There will be a half-day debate on a Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru motion.

Tuesday 8 February—Second Reading of the Education Bill.

Wednesday 9 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 10 February—Motion relating to voting by prisoners. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 11 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 10 February will be:

Thursday 10 February—A debate on onshore wind energy.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement. Will he clarify what the rest of the business will be on 7 February, apart from the half-day Opposition debate he has just mentioned?

Last Friday, the then Member for Belfast West wrote to you, Mr Speaker, seeking to resign as a Member of Parliament, but as we know, such a letter has no effect, as the only way for a Member to resign is to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. On Monday, the Treasury told the BBC that no such application had been received, and yet yesterday we were informed by the Prime Minister that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had appointed Mr Adams as Baron of the Manor of Northstead.

The Chancellor’s power effectively to disqualify a Member must be exercised correctly. It does not seem that in this case that long-standing precedent was followed, so can the Chancellor come to the House and tell us when he received a letter from Mr Adams applying for the Chiltern Hundreds or, if he received no such application, explain on what basis he appointed Mr Adams to the post previously mentioned, given that “Erskine May” states that those offices are

“given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to any Member who applies for them”?

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is time we changed these ancient ways of enabling Members to step down and moved to a simple system whereby a Member can write to you, Mr Speaker, to resign?

Last week, the Leader of the House said in answer to a question that

“this Government did something that the previous Government refused to do—we set up the Backbench Business Committee”—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 1025.]

I gently point out to him, in the interests of accuracy, that the decision to set up that Committee was in fact taken by the House on 4 March 2010, when we were in government and Members agreed to a motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman).

Can we have a debate on the Government’s handling of the economy? Only a few weeks ago, the Chancellor assured us that the recovery was on track. On Tuesday, we discovered that growth has in fact stalled. The Chancellor blamed the snow. It is not the wrong kind of snow; it is the wrong kind of policies. That is why the outgoing director general of the CBI, Sir Richard Lambert, this week warned that the Government have no strategy for growth and criticised Ministers for being

“careless of the damage they might do to business and to job creation”

Yesterday, George Soros said that the cuts could not be implemented without pushing the economy into a recession. Is it any wonder, therefore, that families up and down the country, who are worried about their jobs, rising prices and falling incomes, are beginning to ask themselves whether this lot know what they are doing?

Can we have a debate on the shambolic way in which the counter-terrorism review has been conducted? Last Thursday, the Immigration Minister promised that the draft emergency legislation on detention would be placed in the Library of the House. It has still not appeared. Will the Leader of the House tell his colleagues that when they promise to put something in the Library, Members expect it to be available soon? It is now all too obvious that that legislation is not ready.

In opposition, the Lib Dems criticised the Labour Government’s approach to dealing with terrorism and made another of those firm pledges—a firm pledge to scrap control orders. In the past few weeks there has been a lot of bravado briefing by the Deputy Prime Minister, promising that the orders would go, yet what was announced yesterday? Control orders by another name—with curfews replaced by “overnight residence requirements”. Liberty is very unhappy this morning, saying that control orders have been “retained and rebranded”. Why has that happened? Because the Government have rightly recognised that there is a threat to the public from which we need to be protected, and the responsibility that comes from being in government has finally dawned even on the Deputy Prime Minister.

Following the release of the extraordinary photographs showing the dismantling of the £4 billion fleet of Nimrod long-range reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft, which will then apparently be sliced up in an industrial shredder, can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the letter that the six former defence chiefs have sent today, describing the decision to destroy the aircraft as “perverse” and warning that it will create

“a massive gap in British security”

Finally, can we have a debate on the machinery of government? Because it is pretty clear, from what has been going on this week, that this Government are not actually very good at governing.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his points. The business for the week after next is always provisional and changes are made, so at this stage I cannot announce the business for the second half of that Monday, but it is unlikely to be Government legislation.

On the substantive issue the right hon. Gentleman raises about Gerry Adams, as the right hon. Gentleman said, Gerry Adams wrote on 20 January making it absolutely clear that he wanted to relinquish his seat and stand in the Irish general election. As Gerry Adams should have known, a Member of Parliament may not resign; there are no means by which a Member may vacate his or her seat during the lifetime of a Parliament, other than by death, disqualification or expulsion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, therefore, in line with long-standing precedent granted Mr Adams the office of profit under the Crown of steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, so we delivered Mr Gerry Adams to the required destination, although he may have used a vehicle and a route that was not of his choosing.

Yesterday, Mr Speaker, you informed the House that, owing to that appointment, Gerry Adams was thereby disqualified from membership of the House by virtue of section 1 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. You also stated:

“The Chancellor of the Exchequer has exercised his responsibilities”;


“He has done so in an entirely orderly way.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 405.]

During the subsequent exchanges, Members raised the hypothetical possibility of a future Chancellor appointing a Member without a firm application for a relevant post from that Member. I find it inconceivable that such a situation would occur; it is a matter of constitutional principle that a Chancellor does not act without an unambiguous request from a Member to relinquish his or her seat. In this case, that request was a letter of resignation. In addition, there is a protection in the form of provision in the 1975 Act for a Member not to accept any office that would lead to his or her disqualification. I have to say in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s final point on the matter that this law on resignation from the House has served us well for 260 years—and the Government have no plans to change it.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s next point, I am amazed that he raises the issue of the Backbench Business Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), and I consistently raised the previous Government’s failure to enact the establishment of such a Committee, but my predecessor as Leader of the House refused to bring forward the relevant motions, so it was indeed this Government who established the Backbench Business Committee. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman ventures into that territory.

On the economy, if only the right hon. Gentleman’s party had bequeathed to the coalition what we bequeathed to Labour in 1997, we would not face the problems that we face today. We bequeathed a golden inheritance: fast growth, falling unemployment and decreasing inflation. Let us compare that with what Labour left behind: a trillion pounds of debt for the first time ever, the largest deficit in the G20 and in our peacetime history, and the deepest and longest recession in the G20. He quoted Richard Lambert, who also said that

“the tax and spending policies of the last Government created a substantial structural deficit…That’s what made substantial spending cuts inevitable, irrespective of who won the last election.”

He went on to say that

“public finances in the UK are in a mess, to a degree that threatens our long-term economic stability.”

On counter-terrorism, the Home Secretary made a statement yesterday, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and answered some of the questions that he has raised. The Government will subject draft emergency legislation on 28-day pre-charge detention to pre-legislative scrutiny. That is currently being drafted and will be deposited in the Library of the House shortly. I was here when my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration made the statement last week. He did not give a specific time when the draft legislation would go into the Library. We will set out the suggested approach for the scrutiny when the draft Bill has been completed, although that is, of course, a matter for the House.

The decision to cancel the Nimrod project was not taken lightly by Ministers and service chiefs. It is a consequence of the £38 billion deficit in the defence budget that we inherited from the outgoing Government. The project was nine years late and involved a cost increase of 300%. None of the nine aircraft was operational, only one was fully constructed and that one had not passed its flight tests. The cancellation will save £2 billion over 10 years. Since the Nimrod MR2 was taken out of service by the previous Government in March last year, the impact has been mitigated by the use of other military assets, including Type 22 frigates, Merlin anti-submarine helicopters and Hercules C-130 aircraft, and by working with allies and partners where appropriate.

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I should like to accommodate them all. Single, short questions and the characteristically pithy replies of the Leader of the House will be essential if I am to have a reasonable chance of doing so.

My constituents in Oxford West and Abingdon value their library services greatly, not just for lending, but for the role that they play in their communities. I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails about the proposals to close the Summertown, Botley and Kennington libraries in my constituency. The recent Westminster Hall debate showed that there is interest in this subject from both sides of the House. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate not only on the cultural and community value of libraries, but on how we can continue to support them in the difficult economic climate bequeathed to us by the previous Government’s irresponsible fiscal policies?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There was a debate in Westminster Hall on library services on 25 January, and she might like to look at that. I spent three years at Oxford and I am afraid that I did not spend nearly as much time in the libraries as I should have.

Public libraries are a hugely valued service, which allows free access to information and services. It is important that her local authority has a strategy for any reorganisation of its library service, which takes into account the needs of local people and the views of the local Member of Parliament. As she may know, the Secretary of State has residual powers. She may wish to contact him if necessary.

The Backbench Business Committee now meets on a Tuesday at 1 o’clock. As a result, far more Back Benchers come to the Committee with ideas about what debates we should schedule. Another result is that more Back Benchers are asking us why we continue to have to schedule debates on a Thursday. Of the 13 and a half days of debates that we have held in the Chamber, one has been on a Monday, two and a half have been on Tuesdays—two of which were end-of-term debates—and 10 have been on Thursdays. Will the Leader of the House please consider giving us days in different parts of the parliamentary week? Will he also say when he will come up with an answer on how many additional days the Backbench Business Committee will be given to allocate to Members as a result of the extension of the parliamentary timetable?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for all the work that she is doing with her Committee, and I note her public service announcement about the new time for that Committee’s meeting. About one in three of the days that we have allocated have not been Thursdays. We should not devalue Thursdays—they are important days. However, I understand her request and I hope shortly to be able to make some progress and to shift the centre of gravity a little away from Thursdays. On her final point, we will be having discussions, not only on the allocation of Backbench business time, but on Opposition days and private Members’ days, to reflect the likely extended length of the Session, subject to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill going through.

I have in my hand a piece of paper, which is the written statement on the future of the public forest estate in England. Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment, and that felt by all of us who are committed to saving the public forests, that there was not an oral statement? Will he explain why there is not to be a debate in Government time on the future of that valuable public asset?

I understand my hon. Friend’s strong feelings on the matter. The Public Bodies Bill is currently in another place, and I hope it will reach this House once the Lords have sorted themselves out. There will be an opportunity then for him to speak on that specific issue, but as I have just announced, there will also be an Opposition day debate on it next Wednesday. I hope that he has read the written ministerial statement and seen that we are ensuring that public benefit is written into the change. The Government have no plans for a widespread disposal of assets in order to raise money. We want community trusts and local organisations to take ownership of some of our valuable woods.

Instead of farcical exchanges about stewards and barons in relation to resigning from the House, would it not be better, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) has suggested, and as I did yesterday, if a simple letter of resignation were sufficient? Why should we keep a procedure simply because it has been in existence for the number of years that the Leader of the House mentioned?

For the last 13 years we had a Modernisation Committee and, to my knowledge, not once did it consider the procedure for resignation, so it clearly did not think that it was a priority. The procedure has worked perfectly well for 260 years, and given all the pressures on the House’s time, I wonder whether we should really give priority to this matter.

In Crewe and Nantwich, many families lost significant fees and deposits that they had paid to their children’s nurseries, and had major disruption to their child care arrangements, when the company running them went bust recently. May we have a debate to discuss how parents can be better protected in such circumstances rather than being left exposed both financially and in their home environment by finding themselves in a long queue of creditors?

I am very sorry to hear of the plight of those who have paid up front for child care or nursery places and then found that the provider has gone into liquidation. I shall raise the matter with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who have responsibility for the Insolvency Service, and I would point my hon. Friend’s constituents to the local authority’s family information service, which may be able to help find alternative places for those who have been affected.

May we have a debate on the prerogative powers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Given that the Leader of the House informed us earlier that there is provision in legislation to refuse appointment to an office of profit under the Crown, will he confirm that since Gerry Adams—or Baron Adams, as he is better known now—has now been disqualified, it follows that he has indeed accepted Crown office?

The right hon. Gentleman is venturing into territory that is occupied by you, Mr Speaker, and you made the announcement yesterday evening. Under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, there is provision to refuse office. No refusal was received, so it was deemed to have been accepted.

The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday afternoon, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe debated and voted on a report containing scathing criticism of the UK for not granting thousands of prisoners their apparent right to vote, and recommending tougher sanctions against the UK Government in respect of the implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. In view of that, will he explain what action the Government are taking to ensure that decisions concerning our judicial system will be made in Britain by British law-makers?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I announced a few moments ago, there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the issue shortly in Backbench Business Committee time, and the relevant motion is now on the Order Paper. I have seen the report to which she refers, and it actually sets the UK apart from the other states mentioned. It calls on us to implement the judgment of the ECHR on prisoner voting, and notes that the Government have announced that they will do so. We are bound by that judgment and take our legal obligations seriously, but as I have said, we will listen very carefully to the debate in a fortnight’s time.

The wasteful destruction of the Nimrod fleet leaves a hole in national security and in the communities around RAF Kinloss, where it should be based. The Secretary of State for Defence assured me personally that the review of military bases would be concluded within weeks of all military recommendations being made at the end of February. We now learn, however, that it has been put back to the summer. That will cause untold economic uncertainty and damage to defence-dependent communities such as Moray, so may we have a full statement and a debate in Government time on the delay and on what concrete financial support the UK Government will provide immediately?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s deep concern. There will be Defence questions on Monday, at which he might have an opportunity to raise the matter. As he knows, we have concluded that RAF Kinloss and two other bases are not required by the RAF. The review to which he refers is now under way and will assess the overall needs of our armed forces, the long-term future that the bases may have and what alternative military requirements they could meet. I understand the urgency of an early decision, and I will pass that on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

The mess in Parliament square is now the subject of part 3 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, but as that Bill cannot possibly become law before Easter, will my right hon. Friend consider asking for it to be split? Having taken advice from the Clerks, I understand that it is in order to split the Bill in Committee, so that part 3 could make its own way through both Chambers in that time.

I will put that proposition to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, whose Bill it is. My hon. Friend will know that Westminster city council is taking action, which I am sure he welcomes, to remove the tents that are out there. I understand that notices have been served, and I hope that follow-up action will be taken by the courts, and if necessary by the police.

The Leader of the House is fully aware of the deep angst on both sides of the House about yesterday’s shambles over the resignation of the former Member for Belfast West. Will he ask the Northern Ireland Office to confirm what role, if any, it played in persuading the Chancellor to take the unprecedented steps that we saw yesterday?

I reject the assertion that what happened yesterday was unprecedented. There are precedents for Members who write in to resign without specifically asking for Crown office to then be appointed, so what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor did was perfectly correct in delivering the hon. Member’s wish to resign, and he followed precedent.

In the coalition agreement, there is reference to giving Select Committees, the obvious example being the Treasury Committee, the power to approve senior appointments. There is also reference to constitutional change—in other words change to the House of Lords. Given both those points, has not the time now come for the appointment of members of the Supreme Court to have parliamentary approval? Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on that important issue?

I understand my hon. Friend’s interest in the matter, but I believe that that would run the risk of politicising judicial appointments. He may have seen the Government’s response to the report of, I believe, the Liaison Committee. We are perfectly prepared to broaden the range of appointments that require pre-appointment approval by Select Committees, but my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor stated before the Lords Constitution Committee on 19 January that he was against such an approach in the case of the Supreme Court because of the risk of politicising judicial appointments.

This morning, the Yorkshire regional flood defence committee was told that the budget for capital works for flood protection would be reduced by 27%, as a result of which no new flood protection schemes will go ahead in Yorkshire for the foreseeable future. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor said that flood protection money would be protected, so may we have an urgent debate to discuss a supplementary estimate to ensure that sufficient funding is made available in Yorkshire and elsewhere?

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise his concerns this time next week, at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions. The Government have had to make some difficult decisions on public expenditure because of the situation that we inherited.

Since October, the people of Terrington St John have been forced to use a mobile surgery while a fully kitted-out GP surgery lies empty nearby. Will the Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Secretary of State for Health about how he will address the issue, which is creating distress, inconvenience and cost for local residents?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, which I will share with the Secretary of State for Health. I understand that Norfolk primary care trust has reopened negotiations with the two GPs who own the now disused St John surgery building, with the clear aim of reaching a settlement which would allow the new GP practice to move in.

Whatever happened to the oral statement on the wholesale privatisation of forests? Sure we could have expected an oral statement on that matter today. Will the Leader of the House answer the questions? Is it going to be a free-for-all? Will the sleazy bankers be able to buy up large chunks? Shall we have a Fred-the-Shed Goodwin memorial park? Will the supermarkets be allowed to buy: Tesco—“Buy two forests, get one free”?

The short answer is no, no and no. It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman has not read the consultative document. It is not a statement of Government policy. Under the previous regime, the Forestry Commission disposed of some 25,000 acres without the sort of precautions that we are including in the Public Bodies Bill.

The Leader of the House is to be congratulated on introducing the motions to implement the Wright Committee reforms, such as setting up the Backbench Business Committee, which is widely agreed to be a success under the leadership of the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel). Given that success, will the right hon. Gentleman say what progress he is making on another Wright reform—creating a House business committee, so that transparency and democracy can be brought to scheduling Government business?

The House business committee was another commitment to which the previous Government refused to commit themselves. We are committed to it, and it will be introduced within three years of this Parliament. We want the current regime to run for about a year, when we will review it and then have serious discussions about how we move to stage 2 —the House business committee, which will merge my responsibilities with those of the Backbench Business Committee, so that one Committee will deal with the future business of the House.

May we have a debate on the Government’s use of Orwellian language? We have had doublespeak and newspeak, and now we have Mayspeak in the Home Secretary’s renaming as the “Freedom Bill” a measure to keep people under surveillance, and renaming curfews “overnight residence requirements”. Is it true that she is to rename electronic prisoner tags “involuntary pagers”? Frankly, we need some sort of cross-party conversation, otherwise known as a debate, about it.

The hon. Gentleman reiterates an exchange that took place yesterday when his colleagues raised those points, which the Home Secretary dealt with very adequately. She has rebalanced the competing demands of liberty and security in an intelligent way. There will be an opportunity to debate the Bill to which she referred when it is introduced. The provisions may not be in the Freedom Bill.

The people of East Anglia and hon. Members of all parties were delighted when the Government decided in the spending review to dual the remainder of the A11. This morning, there was a serious accident on the A11. Can the Leader of the House therefore find time for a debate on when the improvements will begin?

I am only sorry that my hon. Friend was not in his place an hour ago, when we had Transport questions. He might have been able to catch Mr Speaker’s eye and ask the Secretary of State that question. [Hon. Members: “He was here.”] I regret his failure to do so. I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the concerns about road safety on the A11 and ask him to write to my hon. Friend.

We have already heard that defence chiefs have said that scrapping the RAF’s Nimrods leaves a massive gap in British security. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), but will he arrange an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the scrapping of planes that are vital to our national security and the consequences for our ability to defend our country?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns. The decision was announced in the strategic defence and security review in October. We then had a debate in Government time on precisely the issue that she has raised. The House has therefore had an opportunity to discuss our decision on Nimrod and other assets. Around £2 billion will be saved in the next 10 years by not bringing Nimrod into service. Against the background of the challenging circumstances that the Government face, we had to make difficult decisions about the defence budget.

Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) raised the question of school funding in Worcestershire. Although, like her, I welcome the impact of the pupil premium on our county, I am concerned that research from the campaign group F40 shows Worcestershire still languishing near the bottom of the league tables for per-pupil funding. Will the Leader of the House tell me what opportunities the Government can provide to debate the need for further reform of the national funding formula?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There will be a debate on the Education Bill, which could be an opportunity to raise the matter. I have also announced that we will debate the police grant and revenue support grant settlements, which may provide another opportunity. However, I agree that the system of school funding is unfair and needs reform. We are currently considering the school funding formula to develop a clear, transparent and fairer national funding formula based on pupils’ needs.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement on what is to replace the education maintenance allowance? Last week, the Education Secretary made several commitments about transport costs and funding for looked-after children, students with learning difficulties and young carers. I understand that Library research, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) commissioned, suggests that fulfilling all those promises could cost as much as £420 million—three quarters of the current budget and a great deal more than the discretionary fund so far proposed. The Education Secretary is raising expectations and causing great confusion. Will the Leader of the House arrange for him to come and explain himself?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will come and explain himself on Monday week, when he answers questions. We have just had a debate on the EMA, so it would not be realistic to expect the Government to find another opportunity, and I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issue that he has just mentioned on Second Reading of the Education Bill.

In the light of the incredible assertion by the shadow Secretary of State for Education that the Government’s focus on young people getting a good GCSE in English, maths, a science, a humanity and a foreign language is elitist, will my right hon. Friend assure me that the debate on the Education Bill will give us the chance to discuss the incredible lack of faith in our young people?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which I hope that he will be able to make at greater length and with even greater force when we debate the Education Bill, if he is successful in catching your eye, Mr Speaker.

The Leader of the House will recognise the good work that the staff of Remploy do throughout the United Kingdom. Will the Government give time for a debate about what they can do to help relations between staff and management, which are obviously in a bad way, and to find out why the staff have now been waiting nearly a year for last year’s pay rise?

I understand the important issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. I do not know whether he is able to go to the Backbench Business Committee next Tuesday and submit a bid for a debate on that important matter, or apply for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall.

In the light of the shadow Chancellor’s assertions that we should have a splurge of new borrowing and spending, may we have a debate on interest rates? Low interest rates keep my constituents in their homes and help small business keep ticking over. It is important for the House to explore whether interest rates would be raised by the Opposition’s policies.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Our success in tackling the deficit means that the interest rate regime will be lower than it otherwise would be. If we listened to Opposition Members’ policies, there would be a real risk of interest rates increasing, and home ownership, investment—and, therefore, jobs—becoming more difficult. I would welcome such a debate.

The Leader of the House will be aware of some disquiet among Welsh farming unions and the Welsh Government about the UK Government’s position on CAP reform. Will he ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement on progress on developing a negotiating position that takes account of the devolved Governments’ views?

I will give my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advance notice that, next Thursday, she is likely to get a question from the hon. Gentleman on those issues. I will see that she is well briefed.

May we have a statement from the Defence Secretary on the possibility of preserving a proportion of the withdrawn Harrier jump jets on the basis that, over 10 years, some form of conflict might arise unexpectedly, in which the versatility of those valuable aircraft would be needed?

There will be an opportunity on Monday to raise that matter with the Secretary of State for Defence. I understand that following the strategic defence and security review, the Harrier aircraft were retired from service on 15 December, and that at the moment, there are no plans to retain them as a reserve or emergency capability. The decision to retire the fleet was agreed collectively by the service chiefs. As I said, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity on Monday to share his concerns with my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a statement on the replacement for the financial inclusion fund, which funds independent advice agencies to give debt advice, and which we have learned will close at the end of March? That means that the local citizens advice bureau in my borough of Trafford will be forced to reduce the number of cases that it can handle by 500. Please can we urgently be told what Ministers intend to do to ensure that good-quality debt advice can be continued?

The hon. Lady is quite right that the Government have decided that the fund to which she refers will be wound up. We are in the process of developing a free, national finance advice service, and I should like to write to her, or to ask the Minister responsible to do so, with further details of that service.

Given the remarks of George Soros yesterday and today on the failure of the economic governance arrangements, will the Leader of the House be good enough to arrange a debate on the reasons for our low growth? They are connected with the failure of the EU and the failure to repatriate powers. Repealing EU social and employment legislation would enable our own small and medium-sized businesses to grow.

I say to my hon. Friend that I honestly think I have provided enough time for the House to debate matters related to the EU. I see that a high proportion of the time that we have made available has been occupied by him—[Laughter.] I mean no discourtesy. The answer is that I will not provide at this stage additional time to debate the matter he raises.

Liverpool city council workers have today been told the terrible news that 1,600 people are to made redundant as a result of the Government’s 22% cut in its funding—that is the hardest hit to any core city. The council has been praised by the Government for the action it has taken to cut the pay of senior managers and reduce administrative costs, but it has so far been unable to secure the Government’s agreement to spread the cuts over the spending period to protect front-line jobs. Instead, harsh, front-loaded cuts are being imposed. May we please have an emergency debate on the impact that the Government’s front-loaded spending cuts are having on employment and local economies?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, and when we debate the local government revenue support grant, she will have an opportunity to raise it. However, the plans of the previous Chancellor were for cuts only £2 billion lower than the coalition cuts next year, so the sort of challenges faced by her local authority would have arisen whoever had won the last election.

On Tuesday this week, the Office for National Statistics released a devastating economic figure—the revision of our national debt to £2.3 trillion, which at 155% of gross domestic product is higher than that of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain and equal to that of Lebanon and Jamaica. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is the true economic legacy of the Labour party, and may we have a debate on it?

I would welcome such a debate. My hon. Friend may have seen in The Independent today that the public have no confidence in the Labour party to run our economy. The previous Government’s efforts to forecast growth over the past 13 years—they were out by, on average, £13 billion—are the reason why we now have independent forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility. We lost confidence in their forecasts.

May we have a debate on the Business Secretary’s plans to make it easier to sack people and more difficult to retain the services of employment tribunals, which were announced this morning? That will profoundly affect a very high proportion of employees, particularly in constituencies such as mine, where a number of people are already on very insecure terms of work.

There will be a debate on BIS next Wednesday. However, the current regime actually deters potential employers from taking people on, because of the circumstances that surround their potential dismissal. I honestly believe it right to try to recalibrate the balance of power between employer and employee, in order to encourage employment and remove one of the barriers to it.

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on the progress made on rebalancing the economy? Some excellent manufacturing output data were published recently—they showed strong growth over the last two quarters—and such a debate would give the House an opportunity to reflect on them.

There have indeed been some very encouraging manufacturing figures, to which my hon. Friend refers, and some buoyant export orders, which I also welcome. Coupled with our proposals to cut corporation tax and cancel the increase to employers’ national insurance contributions, and other steps to promote growth and prosperity, the background that he outlines gives us reasons for optimism.

Scotland’s other national drink, IRN-BRU, is headquartered and housed in Cumbernauld in my constituency. It provides hundreds of good local jobs, but the company tells me that it is being affected deleteriously by the substantial increase in the price of sugar over time. May we have a debate on the impact of rising commodity prices on British consumers and British industry more widely?

My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House advises me that that company has today announced record profits. I am delighted that it has managed to overcome the rise in commodity prices. I do not know whether with a bit of ingenuity the hon. Gentleman could develop his point at greater length in the debate on the Scotland Bill later today.

In the light of the situations in Tunisia and Egypt and the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Syria, would it be possible for the House to debate foreign policy on north Africa and the middle east?

I understand my hon. Friend’s request. He may have heard the Foreign Secretary speak on precisely those issues on the “Today” programme. We have no plans at the moment for such a debate. Perhaps the Backbench Business Committee could see whether, among all the bids it receives, there is a slot for a debate on foreign affairs in its future programme. The debate on Afghanistan in the autumn was greatly welcomed, and I hope that the Committee can find a slot for a debate on north Africa and the middle east. My hon. Friend might like to go along next Tuesday and make a bid for such a debate.

Even during the recession, the UK film industry has proved to be very successful. Most notably, “The King’s Speech” has 12 Oscar nominations and receipts to date of—I think—$108 million. May we have a debate on whether the Government’s plans for the UK Film Council are the very best way of nurturing this country’s film industry in such a competitive worldwide market?

I will raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport and ask him to write to her, but I commend the work of Colin Firth, Tom Hooper and the others who made “The King’s Speech”, and I wish them all the best in their bid for Oscars in the near future.

Given the urgent need to rebalance the economy, especially in areas such as the west midlands, may we have an urgent debate to discuss what the Government are doing to support and develop manufacturing businesses in the black country?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We have acted to improve the environment for manufacturers both nationally and in the midlands through lower and simpler business taxes, investment in apprenticeships, creating wider access to finance, a Government-wide commitment to boosting exports, the £1.4 billion regional growth fund and other improvements. I hope he will intervene in the debate next Wednesday to develop his arguments further.

Last week, the Leader of the House rather brushed aside my request for a debate on Tunisia, but following on from the question asked by the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), the House must debate more frightening revolutionary changes. A thousand people have been arrested in Egypt and others have been killed. The world is changing fast and we are not debating it in the House. The Government’s decision on the BBC World Service shows the shrinkage of Britain’s influence and status around world. Do not put it off to the Backbench Business Committee or to Foreign Office questions next week. Let us discuss foreign policy seriously in this House of Commons.

The right hon. Gentleman says, “Don’t put it off to the Backbench Business Committee,” but in my view, the House took the right decision when it decided that the Government should no longer have an exclusive monopoly on what subjects were debated. That is why at least 35 days a year are given to the Committee, leaving the Government with responsibility for the legislative programme. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who feel strongly about foreign affairs, to go and make their pitch to the Backbench Business Committee to try to secure time for such a debate.

The previous Labour-run local authority in Reading has left huge debts of several thousands of pounds for each of my constituents. May we therefore have a debate in Government time to look at these irresponsible levels of local government debt?

I am sorry to hear of the legacy bequeathed to my hon. Friend’s constituents. As I announced a few moments ago, there will be a debate on the revenue support grant on Wednesday week, and I hope that that will be an opportunity for him to raise those issues at greater length.

In answer to a written question, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), confirmed that the Government are likely to spend more than £100 million a year on redundancies and cancelling operating contracts made by the regional development agencies. May we have an urgent debate on the impact of scrapping the RDAs in terms of cost to the taxpayer, the impact on growth and the loss of support for functions such as regeneration, which will not be continued by the LEPs?

I believe that the replacement of the RDAs by local economic partnerships will save money and be more effective. I will ask my hon. Friend to write to the hon. Gentleman about the £100 million.

I note that the outrageous filibustering tactics of Labour Lords in the other place have still not been brought under control by the Leader of the Opposition. Will the Leader of the House please let us know when we might have a chance to debate the amendments to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill?

Order. Before the Leader of the House replies, I wish to say that I recognise that there are real tensions between the two Chambers on this matter, but I remind the House—and this may be of particular benefit to new Members—that we must preserve some basic courtesies in the way in which we deal with the other place, as we expect them to do with us.

I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will make contact with his supporters in the other place and ensure that that House is not brought into further disrepute by the tactics that are being adopted. The Government very much want to make progress with the legislation. That is our intention and I hope that there will be reflection over the weekend. The second Chamber is a revising Chamber, and I know that it would want to think very carefully before it blocked a Bill that had received the support of this House.

Last Thursday evening it was my pleasure to take part in the Gatwick Diamond young start-up talent event, which is a “Dragons’ Den”-style event for young people with entrepreneurial ideas. Can we find time for a debate, perhaps through the Backbench Business Committee, to discuss ways in which we can better help young people with entrepreneurial ideas to get ahead?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I was delighted to hear about what happened. We are putting more resources into apprenticeships and the enterprise allowance scheme. We have made a change this week to the amount of time young people can spend on work experience without losing access to benefits and we are introducing the new Work programme. I hope that we can reduce the large number of young unemployed that we inherited from Labour and encourage them to become entrepreneurs.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Chancellor to make a statement on deficit reduction, which would give the House an opportunity to hear what progress is being made? It would also give the shadow Chancellor an opportunity to clarify his Bloomberg speech and state clearly whether he remains a deficit denier.

It is very important that we establish whether the shadow Chancellor is on the same wavelength as his leader on deficit reduction. On that point, I was interested to see that the former Chancellor under the last regime said that the key to getting growth in the long term is first to get the deficit down. That is not exactly what the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday.

Yet another of the Government’s excellent moves to put Parliament first is to allow Government Back Benchers free votes in Committee. When the BlackBerrys go off now notifying a Division, we are not told how to vote. We are no longer lobby fodder. May we have a statement next week from the Chief Whip so that this policy can be expounded further and he can get the congratulation that he deserves?

I would not wish to raise my hon. Friend’s expectations by suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has any plans to come along. In any case, I do not think that my hon. Friend was ever regarded as lobby fodder.

In 2004, the Lyons report on property strategy, as updated last year by Smith, said that significant savings could be made by transferring up to 15,000 civil servants out of London to the regions. May we have a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office on the Government’s property strategy and their progress on this issue?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. It is indeed our policy to continue to decentralise from London wherever feasible. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office to write to my hon. Friend with details of how we are getting on with our proposals.

The renewable heat incentive scheme has been delayed again. When will we have a decision on this and, more specifically, may we have a statement on the point?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We are committed to a massive expansion in renewable energy and supporting renewable heat is an integral part of that. We expect to be in a position to announce shortly the details of the scheme, including renewable heat incentive tariffs and technologies supported, and for it to be open for business later in the year.

Two NHS trusts in my constituency are considering merging. Their letter notifying me of their actions so far reads like a script from “Yes, Prime Minister”. The “options appraisal” leads on to “a Strategic Outline Case” to be followed by the “Outline Business Case”, which will become “the Full Business Case”, which then may or may not lead to a consultation with the public. All that will entail enormous amounts of bureaucracy and consultants, which will take money that should be spent on patient care. Can my right hon. Friend facilitate a statement on doing away with this bureaucratic nonsense and getting the money spent on the front line?

My hon. Friend will know that there is a Health Bill before the House at the moment. It is the intention of the coalition Government to do away with the bureaucracy that he mentions and put the resources into front-line care. He gives a graphic exposition of where economies can be found.

Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on economic confidence, especially in light of this morning’s ComRes poll, which clearly shows that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are far more trusted on the economy than their shadows?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the poll in today’s edition of The Independent. My own view is that until Opposition Members accept some responsibility for what went wrong, they will have no credibility with the general public.

The hon. Gentleman assures me that he was present at the start of the business statement. I am grateful for that confirmation and I wish to hear him.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker, although disappointed that you did not notice me from the beginning. After a collapse in manufacturing employment over the last 10 years or so, there are optimistic signs, not least in Hull, where Siemens is investing in a major renewable energy plant that may employ 10,000 people or more. Other companies are following. May we have a debate on the infrastructure to support that development? The Humber offers huge economic opportunity for this country and we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to support it.

The regional growth fund is set up precisely to support infrastructure in areas such as Hull, and there will be a debate in Opposition time next Wednesday when my hon. Friend may have the opportunity to raise that point. It is worth reminding the House that the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast an increase in employment of 1.3 million over the lifetime of this Parliament, which puts some of the debate on the economy in a more glowing perspective.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their co-operation, as a result of which, after the exchanges between the Front Benches, 47 Members were able to contribute in 42 minutes. I am very grateful.