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Business of the House

Volume 522: debated on Thursday 3 February 2011

The business for the week commencing 7 February will be:

Monday 7 February—Opposition day (un-allotted day) [half-day] [first part]. There will be a half-day debate on Government policy on the cost of fuel. This debate will arise on a Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru motion, followed by motions relating to the 10th report from the Standards and Privileges Committee on the registration of income from employment and the eighth report of session 2008-09 from the Standards and Privileges Committee on all-party groups.

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.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 February will include:

Monday 14 February—Second Reading of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 17 February will be a debate on a Transport Committee report: Priorities for investment in the railways.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. On his submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority review, which has been published this morning in a written statement, may I welcome what it says about the need for fundamental reform? That view is forcefully shared right across the House, and we all hope that IPSA will listen.

On counter-terrorism, the shadow Home Secretary has offered cross-party talks to draft emergency legislation, but it is still not in the Library. The Government said in their review last week that using a statutory instrument would be very difficult in the event of a major incident. May we have an update?

Last night, we saw just how unpopular the plan is to sell off our woodlands and forests, with several Members on the Government Benches voting against the Government. Lib Dems will have noticed that they do not have a single Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I pity them, having to reply to all those e-mails to explain why they voted for a policy that they must, in their hearts, loathe. At least their president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), had the courage to speak out and vote with us on that. May we have a detailed statement from the Environment Secretary on the extraordinary claim she made this week, which was repeated by the Prime Minister yesterday, that the reason for the sale is an apparent conflict of interest between the Forestry Commission’s roles as a regulator and as a seller of timber? As a former Environment Secretary, may I tell the Leader of the House that, in my three years in the job, not a single person raised this matter with me? The House is entitled to know what the Secretary of State has discovered in just nine months that none of her predecessors worried about in the 90 years since the Forestry Commission was founded. This is a bad policy looking for an excuse.

I must hand it to the Government, however, and give them credit where it is due. Given that the proposal might not even save any money, it takes a special kind of genius to unite just about everyone else against it. The truth is that people do not agree with it and they do not want it; even No. 10 is now briefing that it does not think it has been very well presented. So not for the first time I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are going to have to change their mind.

Talking of which, there has been much comment this week about the Prime Minister having to come to the rescue of the Health and Social Care Bill because it, too, has been poorly presented. Will the Prime Minister come to the House to explain whether he blames himself for that, given the revelation this week that he is having trouble persuading his own brother-in-law, an NHS cardiologist, that the upheaval is a good idea? His brother-in-law is apparently worried that hospitals will be disadvantaged. If the Prime Minister cannot even reassure his own family about the proposals—and the Health Secretary certainly cannot persuade the House—is it any wonder that the public are not buying them? Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have enough time in Committee properly to consider the Bill, because, to judge from the Second Reading debate, there are still far more questions than there are answers?

May we have a debate on one of the greatest achievements of the previous Labour Government: Sure Start? [Interruption.] It is interesting to hear Conservative Members jeering Sure Start. Before the election, the Prime Minister went up and down the country—we have certainly heard that one before—saying that he was strongly committed to it. He promised that he would back it. He even had the nerve to criticise my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) for trying to frighten people about this; and his right-hand man, who is now the Education Secretary, said:

“On Sure Start, we won’t cut funding”.

It could not have been clearer. Except that we now learn that the budget is going to be cut. A survey by the Daycare Trust and 4Children shows that 250 Sure Start centres are expected to close in the next 12 months, and six of them are going to be chopped by the Tories’ own flagship borough, Hammersmith and Fulham. It is no wonder that parents are worried sick. Another week, another betrayal. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why anyone should now trust any promise made by the Prime Minister before 6 May?

Finally, I have not only been reading the Leader of the House’s submission to IPSA; I have also been reading his blog. Musing on hard times, he wrote:

“I predict that The Times list of the most popular girls’ names in the year may include a new one—Austerity.”

May I predict in return that, when it comes to boys’ names this year, Dave, George and Nick are not going to be very popular? If the right hon. Gentleman is looking for alternatives, may I suggest Complacency, Incompetency and, as for the Deputy Prime Minister, that is a really easy one: Duplicity? What is in a name? A lot!

I think I will take the last observation as a joke, but in any other context the use of the word “duplicity” would not be appropriate. I am sure, however, that good humour is what was intended by the shadow Leader of the House.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman’s punchline did not work.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about IPSA. I am absolutely clear in my own mind that we must adhere to the principle of the independent setting of our allowances; we cannot go back to the bad old days. I am equally clear that we must stick with the principle of transparency. On the other hand, IPSA must recognise that the allowances are meant to support us in the job we were sent here to do: fighting for our constituents, holding the Government to account, and scrutinising legislation. In many respects, the current administration and structure of allowances get in the way of our doing that job. I therefore very much hope that IPSA is able to respond to the representations I have made, and to those which I hope other colleagues will also make, and that it will come up with a revised system that enables us to get on with the job we were sent here to do.

On control orders, I welcome the opportunity of cross-party talks, and I will certainly pursue with the Home Secretary the issue the right hon. Gentleman raised.

We had an extensive debate on forests yesterday, and a lot of the exchanges today were also focused on the forests, so I cannot promise time for an extra debate. I welcome yesterday’s debate however, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs dismissed many of the myths surrounding our proposals, explained that this was an opportunity to improve the levels of public benefit from our woodlands, and drew attention to the fact that the previous Government sold off 25,000 acres of woodland with a bare minimum of protection. There will be no further debate on that subject for the time being therefore, but we are, of course, consulting and listening, as both the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday.

On the health reforms, we are simply carrying out the policy of the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). This is what he said to the Liaison Committee a few years ago:

“We have been asking in people from the private sector to review what we can do to give them a better chance to compete for contracts…so the independent sector increases its role, will continue to increase its role and, in a wider and broader range of areas, will have a bigger role in the years to come.”

He went on to say:

“The test at the end of the day is not private versus public, it is value for money, and it is not dogmatic to support one against the other.”

I therefore hope the Opposition will support what we are doing: driving forward the agenda set out by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

On Sure Start, there are sufficient resources in the programme to maintain the existing structure of Sure Start children’s centres, so I reject the accusation that was made.

The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) asked for more time for the Health and Social Care Bill. The Opposition did not vote against the programme motion setting out the time available for the Bill, so it is astonishing that he should raise that subject now.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s final point, perhaps Prudence would have been a more appropriate name.

Order. A great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but there is a ministerial statement to follow and then two heavily subscribed debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, time for which it is my responsibility to protect. There is therefore a premium today on single, short supplementary questions and the Leader of the House’s characteristically pithy replies. Even allowing for that, I am afraid that many Members will be disappointed today.

May we please have a statement on the future of the maternity department at Fairfield hospital in Bury, following yesterday’s decision by NHS officials to confirm the closure decision that was made by the last Government?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the decision taken on 2 February by the NHS North West board on the reconfiguration of maternity services in the north-west, which followed a period of consultation. I will, of course, draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

The Leader of the House will be aware of today’s very important Westminster Hall debate on parliamentary reform, led by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). Will he join me in encouraging as many newly elected Members in particular to take part in the debate to offer their ideas for making this place work better, and will he show his ongoing support for parliamentary reform by attending in person?

Also, the Government have set a grown-up precedent in allowing a free vote on next week’s Backbench Business Committee motion on prisoner voting rights. Will the Leader of the House now ensure that votes on all Backbench Business Committee motions will be unwhipped, to ensure that any outcome this House comes to can truly be said to represent the will of the House?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I do hope to attend the debate on parliamentary reform later today in Westminster Hall, a debate to which my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be replying. He shares my commitment to and appetite for more parliamentary reform.

On the hon. Lady’s second point, I welcome the opportunity that this Government have given the Backbench Business Committee not just to propose subjects but to table motions. If a motion is tabled that causes difficulties for the Government, the Government may have to take a view, as we did with the debate on contaminated blood, so, with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip sitting a few feet away from me, it would be rash to make any commitment about unwhipped votes.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on representation on local enterprise partnerships? My constituency has no representation on the Leeds city region LEP, so we are having to rely on a Bradford-based, Bradford-centric, soon-to-be-imposed shadow mayor.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I would be more than happy to raise the structure of the LEP in his constituency with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, to see whether we can get a broader base of representation.

May we have an urgent debate on the devastating impact of the Government’s policies on bus services, in the light of today’s report showing that Devon would be among the worst affected parts of the country, losing services in Exeter and the rural areas, thereby reversing the great progress made under the Labour Government on improving bus services?

The right hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to raise that subject in Wednesday’s debate on the revenue support grant for local government. Some 80% of bus services outside London are commercially run, and so do not depend on direct funding from councils. There has been no cut in the financial support that we provide for those services, and we have protected the statutory concessionary travel schemes.

May we have a debate on record-keeping at the UK Border Agency? Hon. Members will be aware that we recently debated the successor to control orders, but we are also routinely told that it is not possible to provide information on how many individuals are using articles 3 and 8 of the European convention on human rights to avoid deportation when they should be removed from this country. Will the Leader of the House have a word with our colleagues in the Home Office to investigate this unsatisfactory situation?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I wonder whether he would be able to get the information about the numbers that he quite rightly seeks by tabling parliamentary questions, but in any event I shall raise the matter with the Home Secretary.

In yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate, which I secured, on the future of children’s centres, it became increasingly clear that many local authorities are unable to afford to maintain the current network of Sure Start children’s centres. Given that concern and the recent reports from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) on early intervention, will the Leader of the House think again about providing Government time for a debate on this issue which is incredibly important for the future not just of our children, but of the country?

The Government are committed to the policy to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. There will be an opportunity to pursue the matter further on Monday, when Education Ministers will be before the House, and I will tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education that the hon. Gentleman may be in his place to do just that.

On the subject of names, I wonder how many boys born this year would welcome their parents calling them Hilary.

May we have a debate in Government time on the worrying practice that the new Labour Government did nothing about, namely the finger-printing of our children in schools without parental permission? I am delighted that the Government have made plans to deal with that practice, but may we have a debate in Government time to talk about whether it should happen at all?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I will raise the matter with the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Education, whichever is the most appropriate, to clarify exactly what the coalition Government’s response is to the procedure to which he has referred.

Recent events in Egypt have demonstrated the importance of the BBC World Service and its interpretation of events. The cuts in the service that were announced recently mean that Voice of America will be the only real international broadcaster left. Will the Leader of the House allocate time for a serious debate on the future of the BBC World Service and how it can return to being the world’s international broadcaster?

I am not sure that the assertion that the Americans have a monopoly on the broadcasting of what is going on Egypt is correct.

The Foreign Secretary made an extensive statement on the World Service last week, which was followed by a series of questions and answers. I cannot promise a debate on the subject, but the next session of Foreign Office questions will provide another opportunity for it to be raised.

Following the right hon. Gentleman’s exchange with the Chairwoman of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), may I point out that I have voted for the Government more times than the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer added together?

If the Government must whip, would it not be useful for the details to be on the Order Paper so that we know which votes are whipped and which are not?

Let me put my hon. Friend’s observation into context by saying that I suspect he has also voted against the Government more often than the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister.

I am sure that my hon. Friend receives the same communication that I receive, indicating just how keen the Chief Whip might be on his attendance in relation to particular issues. I am not sure that it would be sensible to put the information on the Order Paper.

Replying to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the Prime Minister said that the previous Government had planned to phase out Remploy workers. That does not appear to be accurate. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the record is corrected?

I understand that a programme has been introduced by Remploy. It is now in the third year of a five-year modernisation plan agreed with the last Government, which involved the merging or closing of 29 factories and the setting of challenging targets for a huge increase in the number of disabled people helped into work. We are totally committed to supporting disabled people in employment. We confirmed as part of the spending review that the five-year £555 million operational budget and status of Remploy would remain unchanged—and we did that at a time of financial constraint.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House why the windows of some Government buildings in Parliament square are still boarded up following the students’ demonstration? The Ministry of Justice managed to fix the windows of the Supreme Court next day, but it seems that the Treasury cannot do the same for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

I am sure that funds are available for that purpose somewhere in the Treasury.

The 41 damaged window panels were removed from the site on 22 January. Replacement work will begin on 12 February and will be completed by the end of the month. Orders were placed by the contractor following clarification and agreement on costs with the loss adjuster.

According to the police, Wind street in Swansea has the second highest level of recorded crime in Britain. May I ask the Leader of the House whether he is free on Saturday night to take a stroll down Wind street with me and to witness at first hand the outstanding work of the police in apprehending criminals? They made 48 arrests in December. Observing their work would help to inform the right hon. Gentleman in advance of the forthcoming debate on the police grant, as it demonstrates that cutting police numbers will endanger the safety of the public.

The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), made it clear that had his party been re-elected, there could have been no guarantee that police numbers would not fall.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous invitation, but I am otherwise engaged on Saturday night.

Will my right hon. Friend consider allocating time for a debate on the role of the voluntary sector? My constituency contains the excellent Erewash council for voluntary service and other voluntary organisations, and a Derbyshire voluntary, community and independent sector volunteering passport scheme has been introduced. Such a debate would provide an excellent opportunity to discuss successful schemes throughout the United Kingdom and the sharing of best practice.

I agree with my hon. Friend. I was pleased to hear about the excellent work being done in her constituency, which is an example of the big society in action. I encourage her either to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall or, with other Members, to approach the Backbench Business Committee to establish whether time can be found for a debate on this important and serious issue.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Prime Minister’s pet project, the so-called big society? Phil Redmond, the chair of National Museums Liverpool and a television producer who has been lauded by the Prime Minister, said today that he

“went along with it all because I thought it would be a good way of getting things going, but it’s been impossible to get any traction because of the cuts”.

Is it not about time that we debated the big society on the Floor of the House?

As I indicated in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), I should welcome a debate on the big society on the Floor of the House. I am aware of the pressures on many voluntary organisations. That is why we set up a £100 million fund to help smaller charities through this difficult time, and to enable them to continue and develop their sound work.

Given the importance of the Health and Social Care Bill, may we have an opportunity to discuss public health, which performs an important function in helping our health services?

The Health and Social Care Bill contains a fairly large section on public health, because it transfers responsibility for that sector from primary care trusts to local authorities. There should be opportunities for discussion of important health issues in Committee, and my hon. Friend will certainly be able to discuss them on Report.

The Leader of the House has expressed his enthusiasm for further parliamentary reform, and he will be attending this afternoon’s debate on the subject in Westminster Hall. Will he bear in mind the fact that the change in our sitting hours which was introduced in 2002 proved pretty disastrous and pretty un-family friendly for those who wanted to take their children on the school run in London? The question is not as simple as some make it out to be.

The hon. Gentleman is right: the question of the sitting hours is not a simple one. As he may know, the Procedure Committee is about to conduct an inquiry, and I am sure that it would be pleased to hear his representations. I understand that it proposes to present the House with some options at the end of its report so that Members can decide if and how they want to change the sitting hours.

Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on the establishment of academies aimed specifically at children suffering from autism and Asperger’s syndrome?

That is an important subject which the House ought to debate. My hon. Friend could apply for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall, or he could approach the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. The House might then be able to give the issue the time that it deserves.

This is an old vintage, Mr Speaker. The Information Commissioner has forced the Foreign Office to give me the stock list of the ministerial wine cellar. A debate on the future of the wine cellar might identify some Government savings. There is a Château Latour 1962 in there, valued at £3,600. Can the Leader of the House tell me which Minister deserves to drink it?

I have made some inquiries. The House will be pleased to hear that consumption of wine has fallen by 30% since the coalition Government took over.

Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement on iEngage, the secretariat of the newly formed all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia? iEngage has a track record of being aggressively anti-Semitic and homophobic, and has extensive links with terrorism in Tunisia and the middle east. In its capacity as the secretariat, it now has access to the parliamentary estate. Will the Leader of the House raise the issue with the Serjeant at Arms as soon as possible?

The Serjeant at Arms will have heard what my hon. Friend has said. As he knows, I announced a few moments ago that there would be debate on all-party parliamentary groups on Monday evening, and it will provide an appropriate forum for him to develop his case.

British Midland International recently announced the withdrawal of its service between Glasgow and Heathrow. That will result in hundreds of job losses, and will also have an impact on the local economy and the travelling public. May we have a debate on the future of domestic airlines? It appears that the major British companies are opting for the more profitable transatlantic flights and abandoning the domestic routes.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which I am sure is shared by his constituents. I cannot promise a debate, but I will raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Will the Leader of the House ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to make a statement on the Office for Budgetary Responsibility and the OECD’s assessment of the structural deficit at the last election, so that the deficit denial of the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), can be exposed for what it is?

It is indeed the case that debt now stands at more than £1 trillion, its highest ever level. The deficit is the largest in the G20 and in our peacetime history, and we have experienced the deepest and longest recession in the G20. The coalition Government would welcome a debate on the economy, and the opportunity to draw attention to our disastrous inheritance from the last Government.

May we have a statement on the future of the 1,500 people employed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs at Queens dock in Liverpool? I understand that a decision has been reached to close the building in which they work, contrary to the information I was given in a written answer only two weeks ago.

Treasury questions will take place on Tuesday, but I say to the hon. Lady that, along with other colleagues, a lot of us lost our local HMRC offices in the previous Parliament under a programme of closures that her party introduced. However, I will of course raise the specific issue with Treasury Ministers.

In the spirit of sober government, may we have a debate on the UK’s competitiveness, because although the manufacturing figures are to be celebrated and praised, Pfizer’s decision to pull out of east Kent highlights the legacy of years of business being overtaxed, overregulated and discouraged?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the encouraging manufacturing figures published earlier this week. The Opposition have been oddly silent on yesterday’s construction figures, which showed the country returning to growth after the Labour party’s recession. We have not heard a peep from the shadow Chancellor on this morning’s good news that the UK’s service sector hit an eight-month high in the same month.

May we have a debate on issues that Liberal Democrats vote for in this House and then oppose in their constituencies? I suggest that we have a fortnight’s debate to make sure that we can get all the issues in.

The hon. Gentleman is treading on dangerous territory, because I recall a campaign on post offices in the previous Parliament when a large number of Labour Members said that they would oppose post office closures, but then voted against the motion that we put before the House.

I have recently received a number of representations from constituents about empty property rates. Will the Leader of the House consider having an urgent debate on the matter?

There may be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise that issue on Wednesday when the House debates local government finance. I understand the concern of those who are leaving their property empty not because they want to but because they cannot find any tenants. I will raise that matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether the draft counter-terrorism Bill is ready? If it is not ready, why have a succession of Ministers, including the Home Secretary, told us that it will be in the Library very soon?

No date was given when the relevant Minister made the statement to the House, which I believe was a fortnight ago. The shadow Leader of the House told us that cross-party talks might take place on this issue so, given that background, it might be sensible not to publish a Bill straight away.

Given that the number of managers in the national health service increased five times faster than the number of nurses, does my right hon. Friend think it would be a good idea to have a debate on best management practice in government?

My hon. Friend rightly makes a point that was also made in last week’s debate on the Health and Social Care Bill. I hope that it will be re-emphasised in Committee. It is indeed our policy to reduce the overheads of running the NHS and put the resources saved into front-line care.

May we have a debate in Government time on the tax gap and the contribution that reducing that gap could make to tackling the deficit? Estimates of the gap vary from £20 billion to £100 billion, and we need to clarify the situation. I note that the Government have invested an additional £900 million to gain £7 billion in additional tax. Given that tax offices have closed, would it not be sensible to have a debate so that we can clarify whether we should be investing in this system, rather than reducing it?

As the hon. Gentleman said himself, we are investing in the system. We have put an extra £900 million into tax collection, precisely to reduce the gap. He will have an opportunity on Tuesday to cross-question the Chancellor on this matter.

I read with interest the Leader of the House’s submission to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority today, including his specific point about family-friendly hours. May I recommend, or ask him to consider, a change that would neither cost the taxpayer any money, nor have anything to do with IPSA, which is to bring forward the time of Thursday sitting from 10.30 am to 9 am, so that colleagues in this House who do not live in the home counties can get home to their families in the north and west of England, Wales, Scotland and Shropshire before midnight?

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. There are consequences for the House and for Committees if we move the sitting time forward to 9 o’clock. I say to him what I said to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), which is that the Procedure Committee will hold an inquiry into sitting hours. It awaits, with mounting anticipation, the representations from my hon. Friend.

Such is the enormous concern among those on both sides of the House about the Government’s plans to close many of our coastguard stations that yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate was completely oversubscribed and many hon. Members did not get the opportunity to speak. Given that, can the Leader of the House schedule a longer debate on these plans, which are greatly concerning many of our seaside communities. The plans were described to me by a shipping expert in the following terms:

“I honestly believe this is complete madness and will result in disaster”.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which I know is shared. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but perhaps he and other Members who are affected by the proposals could go to the salon of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee to put in a bid for a debate, either in the House or in Westminster Hall.

The special constabulary is an important part of the policing family, and specials make a significant contribution to the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour in Pendle. National specials weekend takes place on 12 and 13 February, so may we have an urgent debate on the important role that specials play and how we can recognise the contribution they make?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to the House’s attention the fact that national specials weekend is coming up. Specials play a key role in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, and as part of the policing family. We want to do all we can to support them and see this group of volunteers as a good example of the big society.

Many musicians, especially violinists, are having difficulties with and facing inconsistencies from the airlines about carrying their musical instruments on planes. Will the Government make urgent representations to the airlines, which have different policies, to ensure that the expensive instruments do not have to be put in the hold and do not have to be classified as hand luggage?

This issue certainly arose a few years ago when there was a big change in the level of airport security, but I thought that the matter had been resolved and that violinists were able to take their instruments with them. If that is not the case, I will raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether we can overcome the problem.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on antisocial behaviour and bullying of children by children outside the school gate? Evidence on this was provided to me by children at Carterhatch junior school in my constituency, and such a debate would allow us to consider their recommendations for dealing with it.

My hon. Friend will know that I have announced the date of the Second Reading of the Education Bill, which contains clauses that deal directly with discipline at school, giving teachers and heads greater powers to tackle antisocial behaviour. He may therefore have an opportunity on Tuesday to raise the matter with Ministers.

May we have an urgent debate on the future of citizens advice bureaux funding, which has been squeezed by both local and central Government? When I raised the matter with the Treasury, I was told that it was looking to enhance the role of citizens advice bureaux, given rising unemployment and debt. Extra resources will be needed to do that, so may we have a debate on that important point?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, and this subject was raised last week. Following that, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and a copy of the letter was put in the Library. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a look at it, because it sets out our proposals to establish a money advice service, delivering the UK’s first nationally available free financial advice service.

My constituents can enjoy good local tourist attractions such as Halesowen abbey and Dudley zoo. May we have a debate about the importance of promoting areas of the country that are not commonly thought of as being tourist destinations, in order to drive economic growth and job creation?

The Minister with responsibility for tourism, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), will develop a tourism strategy. I might suggest to him that he should visit Halesowen abbey and Dudley zoo as part of the strategy of promoting tourism within the country without damaging outbound tourism.

Will the Leader of the House be bringing forward proposals to limit and reduce the number of Ministers in the Government? I am sure that he is aware that in 1856 there were 58 Ministers in the Government, 15 of whom held Cabinet rank. Today, there are 119 Ministers, 23 of whom hold Cabinet rank. If the Government are so keen to go forward with their unilateral reduction in the number of MPs, surely it is only right that the number of Ministers should be reduced pro rata as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We had an extensive debate on this when the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was going through this House. It is now in another place where there is also extensive debate. If and when we get the Bill back in this House, there might be an opportunity for him to raise the matter, but of course, that would not apply until after the next election and into a new Parliament, whereas the proposals for MPs would apply before the election.

Gatwick airport is located in my constituency, as are many travel companies. Given the recent crises in tourist destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt, in an uncertain world, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office consider making a statement on the sort of co-ordinated advice it can give to travel firms about repatriating tourists?

I think the FCO has a website that is regularly updated, which gives advice to those who are thinking of travelling overseas. It includes FCO advice on the desirability of going to those destinations and the precautions that travellers should take. However, I shall raise with the Foreign Secretary the issue that my hon. Friend has touched on.

The Department for International Development will publish the conclusions of the multilateral and bilateral aid reviews at the end of February. Given that they could change the way in which we spend billions of pounds around the world, will the Leader of the House please ensure that they will be accompanied by an oral statement to the House?

I cannot guarantee that they will be accompanied by an oral statement, but I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development to make sure that the House is kept informed.

I welcome the Government’s moves to reduce the top rate and the small profits rate of corporation tax. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on having a single, flat rate of corporation tax, which would give UK plc a unique competitive advantage in the global economy?

There are Treasury questions on Tuesday, in which my hon. Friend might be able to cross-question Treasury Ministers, but he is right to draw attention to the coalition Government’s proposals to reduce corporation tax to make this the most competitive country in Europe in which to do business.

I think the Leader of the House has been made aware of the fact that I wrote to the Chancellor on 1 November about one of my constituents and that I did not receive a reply until 25 January, some 86 days later, without even an apology for the delay. Given that the Government have committed to getting all Members a reply within 20 working days, will he update the House as to why the Treasury has neither courtesy nor punctuality?

The Government are committed to providing timely replies to hon. Members and I am sorry for the delay. I have seen the letter, which does offer an apology for the delay in responding, and I shall raise the matter again with my colleagues in the Treasury. Of course, there will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to repeat his point on Tuesday, when Treasury Ministers will be here.

The village of Sutton Weaver is divided by two separate postcodes, which has caused numerous problems to my constituents. Despite a very strong campaign by Sutton parish council, Royal Mail has refused to unify the village under a single postcode. May we have a debate on applications for postcode changes and enhancing local democracy?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I shall pass his comments on to my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary. My hon. Friend will be familiar with the code of practice that governs changes to Royal Mail’s postcode address file, known as PAF. Royal Mail will consider making changes only if they will not materially affect the efficiency of its nationwide network of operations.

In his earlier remarks about IPSA, the Leader of the House was right to stress the importance of maintaining independence. Will he similarly ensure that MPs will never again be asked to vote on their own pay and that this matter will remain free from political influence?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. He will have seen my written ministerial statement last month, which I put on the Order Paper, indicating what would happen for this year. Looking further ahead, it is proposed, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, that MPs pay, allowances and pensions will be determined by an independent body.

On the eve of national apprenticeship week, may we have a debate to highlight the Government’s excellent policies in this area, which make it much easier to take on board new employees as apprentices than it was under the previous Government?

My hon. Friend is right—there are 75,000 more apprenticeships and we have protected the science budget. This is, indeed, laying the foundations for future growth.

The Leader of the House did not make any reference to Bills coming back from the House of Lords in his statement. I presume that is because he knows that Report in the House of Lords can take up to eight or nine days and that Third Reading cannot be on the same day as Report, so there is currently no prospect of the Government getting their Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill in time for a referendum on the alternative vote on 5 May unless they make consensual concessions. Will he urge his colleagues to do that?

I think it was a slip of the tongue when he said earlier that the cut in the number of MPs would apply during this Parliament. I know the Government have been threatening guillotines in the House of Lords, but culls in the House of Commons might be a step too far.

The Government are determined to get the Bill through in time to hold the referendum on the proposed date. I very much regret that there have been some very loquacious interventions down the other end which have impeded the progress of the Bill. The point I was making was that in order to have fewer MPs in the next Parliament, we have to pass legislation now, but that we do not have to pass any legislation now to reduce the number of Ministers in the next Parliament.

May we have an urgent debate on the provision of literacy and numeracy training for MPs? Successive shadow Chancellors have certainly struggled with the latter and cannot recognise a structural deficit even when they see it.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is indeed the case that we were running a substantial structural deficit before we hit the financial recession and the problem with the banks. Anyone who denies that there was a structural deficit denies the reality.

After the Prime Minister’s very kind and generous statement to the 1922 committee that all Conservative MPs will either have a seat after the next election or be sent to the House of Lords, may we have an extra debate on the reduction of representation Bill? As a historian, will the Leader of the House say whether there is any example in the history of parliamentary reform that has led to a reduction in representation in this House?

Well, the right hon. Gentleman’s Government reduced the representation of Scottish MPs, so that is a fairly easy one to answer. I have the privilege of attending the 1922 committee—he would be very welcome to cross the Floor and see the light—but I am not aware of such a specific undertaking. If he had any idea of how Conservative associations work, he would know that the notion that anyone could be guaranteed a seat in the next Parliament is very ambitious indeed.

May we have an urgent statement from the Government on the timing of election counts in Scotland? There have been reports this week of election administrators saying they will not start counting until Friday. They tried that on in the general election and in the last Scottish elections, but it is unacceptable—people in Scotland want to know the shape of their Government as soon as possible. As the Secretary of State for Scotland retains responsibility for elections to the Scottish Parliament, may we have a statement as soon as possible so that he can pull the election administrators into line?

I understand that the Advocate-General in another place has made a very clear statement on this, but I shall certainly raise the matter again with him and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

I thank colleagues for their co-operation, as a result of which all 47 Back Benchers who wished to contribute had the chance to do so.