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Business of the House

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

The business for the week commencing 7 March will be:

Monday 7 March—Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (Day 1).

Tuesday 8 March—Remaining stages of the European Union Bill.

Wednesday 9 March—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Thursday 10 March—There will be a general debate on the future of the coastguard service, followed by a debate on a motion relating to UN women. Both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

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

Monday 14 March—Consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (Day 2).

Tuesday 15 March—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Scotland Bill (Day 3).

Wednesday 16 March—Opposition Day [13th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve a document relating to section 6 of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008.

Thursday 17 March—General debate on north Africa and the middle east.

Friday 18 March—Private Members’ Bills.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. Given that the Government must have known that they wished to make a statement today, can he explain why a motion was not tabled yesterday to protect the time for today’s Opposition day debate, so as to allow the statement to be made at the normal moment?

I welcome the Back-Bench debate—I asked the right hon. Gentleman for one before the recess—on the momentous changes that we are seeing in the wider middle east and the hopes that we all have for the people of Libya at this difficult time. We look forward to the participation of the Foreign Secretary and the Development Secretary. We acknowledge the efforts now being made to help those affected in Libya, but can we have a commitment that there will be an oral statement following the inquiry that is under way into what went wrong at the beginning with the rescue of British citizens from Libya? There is a great deal to learn.

When the Deputy Prime Minister was asked whether he was in charge while the Prime Minister was away in the middle east last week, he replied:

“Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that.”

Although we would love to forget that too, perhaps that explains why British oil workers in the desert were also forgotten about, until one of them managed to phone the “Today” programme last Wednesday morning to describe their plight. What is the point in the Deputy Prime Minister being in charge if he does not know it, and if neither he nor the Prime Minister could manage the simple task of convening a timely meeting of Cobra given that British citizens were at risk?

Will the statement also cover the Prime Minister’s strange excuse on Monday that if the UK had sent in planes earlier, the scheduled airlines might have stopped flying? In case he did not notice, they stopped flying anyway. While the Turks, the French, the Germans and the Belgians—and Belgium does not even have a Government—managed to fly their citizens out, the UK Government’s aircraft was still stuck on the runway at Gatwick in a no-fly zone all of its own. Will the statement also deal with why the Prime Minister decided yesterday to confirm that facilitation payments were made to help the evacuation? I make no criticism of those payments if that is what it took to get our people out, but I am surprised that the Prime Minister should say this publicly, because all he has done is advertise to others that in future they can demand money of us.

There is a pattern when it comes to handling crises: a Security Minister who did not tell the Prime Minister for six whole hours that a bomb had been found on a plane at East Midlands airport; a Defence Secretary who sacks RAF personnel days after the daring rescue in the Libyan desert; a Deputy Prime Minister who does not even know what his job is; and a Prime Minister who was caught napping and who could not bring himself to repeat to the House the apology that he made to the press about this mess. There is one word that sums this up: incompetence.

Can we have a statement on what has happened on compensation for the relatives of British citizens killed or injured in terrorist attacks abroad? As the Leader of the House knows, the Labour Government put that on to the statute book and the coalition promised to implement it, but as the months pass, people are asking: when will the Government keep their word?

Can we have urgent clarification from the Health Secretary that family doctors will not be able to make profits from GP commissioning, and that GP practices will not be partially floated on the stock exchange? The latest poll shows that 89% of doctors think that competition will lead to services being fragmented, while two thirds fear that competition between providers will reduce the quality of patient care. Government Members should be very worried as more is revealed about what the Health Secretary has in store for the NHS. They will know the feeling—whispered conversations in the corridors: “Why are we doing this?”, “Doesn’t sound right to me. It’s pretty unpopular”—only this time it is not trees; it is people needing medical care.

Finally, has the Leader of the House seen the Minimum Wage (Amendment) Bill being proposed by five of his Conservative colleagues, which is down for debate this Friday? Its purpose is to allow the protection of the national minimum wage to be removed in certain parts of the country. Remembering that under the last Conservative Government there was no law to prevent jobs from being advertised at £1.50 an hour, we are reminded by this Bill what the Conservatives really stand for. They will not repeat the bankers’ bonus tax on people getting millions, but some of their Members seem determined to cut the wages of people who earn £5.93 an hour. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning this outrageous proposal?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions, and congratulate him on his new appointment as Labour’s new regional champion for the east midlands. Perhaps he can deploy the eloquence that he has just displayed in the House to persuade Nottingham city council to do what every other local authority has done—namely, to open up its finances to public scrutiny. I hope that he will be a champion for openness and taxpayers, and not for secrecy and waste.

On BSkyB, this was a market-sensitive announcement taken by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. We could have made an announcement after business questions, but that would have done injury to the Democratic Unionist party and, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons explained, we want to respect the rights of minority parties. The statement is therefore being made at 3 o’clock, which is not an unusual time for statements to be made during the week.

On the question of Libya, our first priority was to get British nationals out. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that HMS Cumberland and the Hercules aircraft took out not only British nationals but nationals of other countries, after we had been told by Opposition Members that we were lagging behind other countries in evacuating our personnel. Significant numbers of other nationals were still left behind, and they were taken out by British ships and planes. We want to step up the international pressure on the regime and deal with the worsening humanitarian situation, as well as planning for every eventuality. I reject the right hon. Gentleman’s accusations about the performance of either the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister, both of whom answered questions at the Dispatch Box, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Of course we will want to keep the House informed, and the Government felt it right—as I think the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged—that we should debate north Africa and the middle east in Government time.

I will make inquiries into the question of compensation for terrorist attacks, and I will update the right hon. Gentleman on where we are on that.

On the NHS reforms, I do not know whether he listened to the “Today” programme and heard the Secretary of State for Health rebut the allegation that GPs would be able to transfer into their own pockets any surpluses that they might make on the commissioning side. He will also be aware that the building blocks for our health reforms were in place under his Administration. They included GP-based commissioning, foundation trusts and patient choice, and we are developing many of the reforms that were already under way.

Finally, on the Minimum Wage (Amendment) Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the Government will be opposing it.

May we have a debate on the mislabelling of food? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a recent survey by local government regulation inspectors discovered that a fifth of all food on sale labelled as “local” was no such thing at all? Does he not agree that such dishonesty in food labelling is not only misleading consumers but undermining the viability of many genuine local food producers?

My right hon. Friend raises a key point. Many British consumers want to support British farmers, but they can do so only if the food in the supermarkets and other shops is correctly labelled. I will raise his concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ask her to write to him outlining the steps that we are taking to provide for honest labelling of British products.

Does the Leader of the House think that, at a time of major international crisis, it is appropriate for Ministers to indulge in petty political point scoring rather than focusing on their faltering response to events in Libya?

I am not sure to what the hon. Lady is referring. If there has been any petty party political point scoring about Libya, I think it came from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) a few moments ago.

UK manufacturing is vital to the rebalancing of our economy, and that is important to my constituents and the wider west midlands in particular. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on Government strategies to support manufacturing?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s support for manufacturing. Earlier this week, he might have seen some important information about increased manufacturing output and investment, which I know he will welcome. Later this month we shall have the Budget, which we shall debate for a number of days afterwards. That will provide an opportunity for us to discuss further the steps that the Government are taking to promote a recovery in manufacturing.

May we have an early debate on the relationship between democracy and the media? Is the Leader of the House not worried that the ambition of the Murdoch empire to expand its monopoly and run down the BBC is on course and doing very well? Is that good for democracy?

The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity later to ask questions about the Secretary of State’s decision, but I reject his accusation that democracy is in any way undermined by the decision taken today.

I concur with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) when he said that many MPs cherish the three minutes of prayer and reflection at the start of each parliamentary day. Given that MPs come from many different Christian denominations, different religions and, indeed, none, is it time to reconsider the House practice whereby the only way to reserve a seat in the Chamber makes it mandatory to attend Church of England prayers?

That is primarily a matter for the House rather than the Government, and you, Mr Speaker, will have heard the hon. Lady’s request. One can also put in a pink card in certain circumstances and reserve a seat if one serves on a Committee, so there are other ways of reserving a place in the Chamber.

Given that hospital waiting lists are increasing as a result of the abolition of a maximum waiting time target for hospitals, may we have an urgent debate so that the Secretary of State for Health can apologise to the sick people who now have to wait longer for treatment?

A debate on the Health Bill will take place in due course on Report, but the Conservative party and this coalition Government are committed to investing more in the NHS than the outgoing Labour Government invested, so there is no reason at all why waiting lists should be higher under this Government than they would have been if the hon. Gentleman’s party had been returned.

On the subject of Prayers, since we have a coalition Government, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will remember that Mr Gladstone said that Prayers were by far the most important business that the House ever conducted.

I do not remember that, although my hon. Friend may do. It is important to put our proceedings in context by a short period of reflection and prayer before we commence the parliamentary day, during which we are sometimes less than courteous to each other.

Will the Leader of the House please have a word with the millionaire Transport Secretary about his decision earlier this week on the extension of the electrification of the Great Western line to Swansea? There is still a great deal of controversy about the business case on which that decision was ostensibly predicated, so we would be grateful to know more about that business case by having an early debate on the extension of the line through to Swansea, which is so needed for the west Wales economy.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a very welcome statement on Tuesday announcing the electrification of the Great Western railway to Bristol, Cardiff and, indeed, the south Wales valleys, and at the same time he announced new rolling stock. He made it absolutely clear that even if electrification were carried through to Swansea, it would not affect the time already saved in travelling from London and the hon. Gentleman will already get a 20-minute saving anyway. I therefore very much hope that he will be slightly more enthusiastic about the Government’s announcement and about the reduction of the time it will take him to get home on a Thursday evening.

May we have a statement in which a Minister can condemn the outrageous targeting of vulnerable elderly people in Keighley and Ilkley by the Bradford Labour mayor-elect, who last Thursday increased the cost of meals on wheels for my elderly constituents by 88%?

I hope that any local authority or mayor who has to balance the books will look very hard at the options available before pursuing the sort of decision that my hon. Friend has outlined. He will have heard during Monday’s questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the steps taken by many local authorities to protect front-line services by pooling chief executives, pooling services and joint procurement. I very much hope that, even at this late stage, some of those options might be looked at in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

We are now in March, yet we have had no clarity about how the enhanced discretionary learner support award that is replacing the educational maintenance allowance will operate. That is totally unfair on young people in years 11 and 12, while also being unfair on the schools and colleges that are trying to provide information, advice and guidance to allow young people to plan their futures. Can we have an urgent statement next week on the replacement of EMA so that we can find out how these young people are going to be supported?

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point: those who are continuing their education will want to know how they will be supported. We are committed to ensuring that young people from low-income households can enter learning. We are considering the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who is advising us on access to education for the poorest young people. The Department for Education plans to allocate the new funds in early spring.

In view of a report this morning that many vocational training courses are not fit for purpose, and media reports that nearly half a million teenagers are involved in academic courses that will not help them secure a job, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate about how we can equip our young people with the skills and the technology necessary to compete in the global economy in the 21st century?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He may have seen our response, in a written ministerial statement out today, to the Wolf review of vocational education, and we will immediately accept four recommendations of that key report. I would welcome a debate, and he might like to approach the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on vocational education or apply for a debate in Westminster Hall.

On 7 February, the Department for Education refused to put up a Minister on the “Today” programme to discuss capital expenditure on free schools. On the same day, I submitted a written question to the Department for Education asking how much it would allocate to capital expenditure on free schools. The reply I received on 10 February stated:

“I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible.”

Is the Department for Education trying to hide something? When will we get clarity on this important issue and whether it will have an impact on the Building Schools for the Future programme? May we have an urgent statement on the matter?

The hon. Lady is entitled to an answer to her written parliamentary question, and I will pursue that today with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to see whether she can get a response to her question early next week.

This week I learned that Ashiana, a charitable voluntary organisation in my constituency, is having its grant completely withdrawn. Harrow Carers’ grant is also being slashed by 30%, and every other voluntary organisation is being decimated by the Labour-run council. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has gone on record suggesting that he will take reserve powers to force councils to release money to voluntary organisations. May we have an urgent statement on what powers he is taking to protect such voluntary organisations from Labour-run councils?

I understand the concerns of voluntary organisations in my hon. Friend’s constituency about the decisions taken. At Monday’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local government outlined a number of local authorities that had coped with the settlement without reducing grants to voluntary organisations. Indeed, I think he mentioned one that had increased its grants to voluntary organisations, so it can be done. I will raise with him the reserved powers to which my hon. Friend refers, and find out in what circumstances he might be invited to use them.

On the ongoing discussions about the Government’s proposals on disability living allowance, may I invite the Leader of the House to consider the view expressed by the statutory body funded by the Department for Work and Pensions:

“We consider that the proposal to remove the mobility component from people in residential care should not go ahead. This measure will substantially reduce the independence of disabled people who are being cared for in residential accommodation, which goes against the stated aim of the reform of DLA to support disabled people to lead independent and active lives”.

That is a crucial intervention. May we have a debate as soon as possible?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the consultation has just ended on the reform of DLA, and the Government propose gradually to replace DLA from 2013 with a personal independence payment. Work is continuing on the exact structure of that payment, but our intention is to maintain mobility for those who genuinely need it, and to ensure that people do not miss out on the change from one regime to another.

Micro-businesses, which employ up to five people and have a turnover of less than £250,000, constitute the largest number of business units in the UK, but often their owners are not motivated to increase the size of their business. If each micro-business in my constituency took on just one extra employee, however, there would be nobody looking for work in the constituency. Will the Leader of the House make time to consider the role of such businesses in the economy and in stimulating growth?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I will take as a bid for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to take on board as he prepares his Budget.

May we have a debate on the future of the Forensic Science Service? I recently the visited the northern firearms unit in Manchester to see the work of one of my constituents and his colleague. Significant concerns exist that the impartiality, quality and round-the-clock coverage provided by that unit will be lost under the Government’s hasty closure plans.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern. As we run down the service to which he refers and look to alternative providers to replace it, I will raise his concerns with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and ask her to write to him on the matter.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation in Parliament square? Does he expect the measures taken by the Government to be sufficient to make the square a clear, free space for all people by the middle of April?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. He may have seen that a case ended, I think, on Monday, and the judge has reserved judgment on action being taken by Westminster city council. I welcome what the council is doing to remove individuals on obstruction grounds. On his specific question, we are talking to the police, the council and the Greater London authority to ensure that the square is in a fit and proper state for the royal wedding.

I very much welcome, as I am sure the whole House does, the fact we now have a timetable for the Scotland Bill for the coming weeks. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that no fewer than 12 new clauses have already been tabled, with, I suspect, many more to come. Will the Leader of the House see whether it is possible to get an extra day in this Session so that all new clauses are adequately debated?

The Government are anxious to ensure that there is adequate time to debate important constitutional Bills. We have allocated, I think, three days for Committee and one day for Report and Third Reading, starting next week. I would like to see how we get on. At the moment, our view is that we have allowed adequate time to debate the important measures in the Bill, as well as new clauses. However, we will keep the matter under review.

The Leader of the Opposition and his shadow Chancellor were both part of the Treasury team that decided to sell off the nation’s gold. That decision, back then, in that economic time, has cost the country to date about £9 billion, the equivalent of 18p off a litre of fuel for an entire year. Given that, and given that the shadow Chancellor has called for a reversal of the VAT increase, may we have an early debate on fuel taxation?

There will be an opportunity later this month to debate matters relating to taxation when we consider the Budget. My hon. Friend’s point reinforces the case never to allow the Labour party to have the keys to the economy again.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on being an attentive reader of The House magazine and the argument from a right hon. Member for a foreign affairs debate, now granted on 17 March, three months to the day after the self-immolation of the young man in Tunisia that sparked the crisis. Better later than never. Will the Leader of the House assure the House that we might have another international affairs debate before the year is out?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, our response was partly because of the question that he put some time ago, asking for a debate in Government time on the middle east. The Government have reserved the right to have debates on general subjects, notwithstanding the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has access to much of the time. We have used that freedom, as we had a debate on the strategic defence review back in October, and I would not rule out using it again if the need arose.

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 1518 about the terrible murder in Pakistan of Shahbaz Bhatti.

[That this House condemns the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Minister for Minorities, who was the only Christian in the cabinet; notes that this comes only days after the government of Pakistan's retention of a minorities representative in the new cabinet and the Ministry for Minorities Affairs as an independent ministry; recognises the significant advances made in the interests of minority rights and interfaith dialogue by the Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti through this ministry; expresses concern at the ongoing misuse of the provisions of section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, known as the blasphemy laws, and the threats posed to all who challenge this legislation; and urges the government of Pakistan to reconsider reviewing the blasphemy laws as a matter of urgency.]

As this is the mother of Parliaments, may we take the matter one step further? May we consider having, somewhere in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster, a memorial on which, by resolution of the House, we could put the names of those parliamentarians and politicians who are murdered simply for seeking to uphold democratic principles and democratic values elsewhere in the world?

My hon. Friend refers to a callous murder of a democratically elected Government Minister, and the Foreign Secretary made a statement condemning the action of the extremists involved. I am interested in my hon. Friend’s proposal, which, in the first instance, he might like to put to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Essentially, however, the matter would be one for the House rather than the Government.

Will the Leader of the House give a specific answer to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) about the timetabled motion on today’s Order Paper and the timing of the statement on BSkyB? As some Members, including me, will be in Committees at the time, the statement will receive less scrutiny than it would have otherwise. Why did the Leader of the House not table a motion allowing the Opposition day debate to continue beyond 3 pm, which it was in his power to do?

The statement relates to a commercially sensitive announcement made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport this morning.

Has my right hon. Friend read my early-day motion 1515?

That this House expresses grave concerns about the extent of funding from Middle Eastern dictatorships for UK universities, including the donations to the London School of Economics (LSE) by the Libyan regime; notes that an estimated 75 million was given to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies by 12 Middle Eastern rulers, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; further notes that 8 million was given to the University of Cambridge by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, to finance a new research centre for Islamic studies in 2008, and that he gave a further 8 million to Edinburgh University for the same purpose; further notes that 9 million was given to the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at the LSE by the United Arab Emirates Foundation, and that 5.7 million was given to the LSE by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, to establish the Kuwait Programme on Development, Governance and Globalisation in the Gulf States in 2007; and therefore calls on the Government to establish much stricter guidelines around donations to UK universities, and to put a stop immediately to donations from oppressive Middle Eastern dictatorships with a terrible record on human rights.]

My right hon. Friend may also have seen early-day motion 1486, which I tabled.

The motions condemn the extensive financial links between Colonel Gaddafi and at least two British universities, the London School of Economics and Liverpool John Moores, and the links between the progressive left and Gaddafi. Does he not agree that this scandal is akin to that of the aristocrats who appeased and sympathised with fascism in the 1930s, and will he arrange for an urgent statement on, and an independent inquiry into, the funding of British universities by middle eastern despots?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, although I am not sure I would go quite as far as he did in drawing that parallel. Universities, however, are autonomous institutions. As a charity, a university must set its own standards for the acceptance of donations, subject to guidance from the Charity Commission. The LSE has expressed regret at the reputational damage caused by its association with the Gaddafi name, and has announced that the sum received will be used to finance a scholarship fund supporting students from north Africa.

What has happened since last Thursday to cause the order of next Thursday’s two debates to be reversed, so that the traditional debate on international women’s day will be the last item of business rather than the first?

The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, who is responsible for arranging the sequence of debates, will have heard the hon. Lady’s question. I think that it is still open to the Committee, if it so wishes, to reverse the order again between now and next Thursday so that it is as originally proposed.

My constituency contains a large number of road haulage companies, all of which are interested in some form of fuel stabiliser mechanism or, better still from their point of view, an essential users allowance. May I put that interest on the record, notwithstanding the obvious need for fiscal measures to control the economic deficit?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. He will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday at the Dispatch Box. We are examining the position to establish whether we can share the benefit of higher oil prices between the motorist and the Treasury. It is difficult to say any more than that in advance of the Budget statement.

May we have an urgent debate on the welfare benefits system? Ordinary decent people in Dudley and elsewhere will have been shocked to discover this morning that while they are having to work harder, pay more tax, receive poorer services and, in some cases, lose child benefit and tax credits, hundreds of thousands of east European migrants will be able to claim hundreds of pounds a week—millions in total—because the Government are not going to renew safeguards introduced by the previous Government.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has got that absolutely right. There were safeguards, and they expire today under an agreement signed by the previous Government. We are bound by the decisions of the outgoing Government. None the less, we are anxious to ensure that the hospitality of this country is not abused. The Welfare Reform Bill, which is currently going through its stages in the House, contains safeguards to ensure that benefits go only to those who need them.

May I return my right hon. Friend to the question of who is in charge? Obviously, the response to the point made by the Opposition about last week is that the Prime Minister is in charge, but if the Prime Minister had been incapacitated, who would have been in charge? In a written reply that I received from the Deputy Prime Minister, he fudged the issue. It was not clear that he would become acting Prime Minister. May we have a statement next week clarifying who would take over if the Prime Minister were incapacitated?

I am anxious that my hon. Friend should not lose any sleep over this issue. I do not want to give an off-the-cuff answer to his question—I should prefer to reflect on it—but I will say that it is for the Prime Minister to decide what should happen if he could no longer perform his duties.

Given this week’s welcome news that £1.5 million is to be made available to introduce ex-military personnel to the teaching profession, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on that innovative proposal so that we can discuss the ways in which it will enhance teaching and discipline in our schools?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the £1.5 million that has been donated to SkillForce to encourage those who are leaving the armed forces to take up a career in education and bring the necessary skills of leadership and discipline to schools. I should welcome such a debate. I cannot arrange one in Government time, but either the Backbench Business Committee or Westminster Hall might provide an opportunity. The troops to teachers programme is designed to bring the skills of service leavers quickly to our schools, and I think that many would benefit from those skills.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the bank levy before the Budget statement? Current projections suggest that it could raise £800 million a year, and the debate would give us an opportunity to establish how the Labour party can squeeze £27 billion-worth of spending promises from that £800 million.

I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to the Budget debate. He makes a good point. The bank levy is a permanent levy that will produce in one year more than the one-off net amount raised in tax by the Labour party, which has been overspent many times and will pay for the reduction in VAT, the cancellation of the increase in petrol duty, and a number of other reforms. I hope that we shall be able to have an open debate on how the Opposition’s mathematics add up.

On Tuesday we heard a welcome statement from the Secretary of State for International Development about his tough value-for-money review of international aid spending. May we have a debate in Government time on the transparency of international aid? Letters in my mailbag certainly suggest that people are still concerned about the fact that international aid money is being used to fund, for example, the limousines of dictators.

The Select Committee on International Development might wish to consider the well-received statement of which my hon. Friend has reminded the House, and, in particular, the arrangements that we are making for transparency. What we have outlined, however, is a more focused and effective regime that will not only provide better value for the taxpayer but enhance confidence by being much more transparent and open about where the money goes, so that people can see that they are receiving value for money for the contributions that are made.

This afternoon I shall meet a group of pig farmers from the great county of Essex. They are concerned about the fact that a combination of higher wheat prices and increased supermarket imports of pigmeat from countries with lower animal welfare standards than ours are forcing British pig farmers out of business. May we have a debate on the British pig industry? The sustainability of high food standards is under threat, along with many rural jobs in our constituencies.

The constituencies of many Members on both sides of the House contain pig farmers—certainly there are many in my constituency of North West Hampshire, and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House was himself a pig breeder. The interests of the pig industry are not lost in the office of the Leader of the House.

I believe that people want to know where their food comes from. This takes us back to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight). It is right for industry to take the lead. The pork industry has set a standard by creating a voluntary code of practice recommending that labels show the origin of pork and pork products, and that is good for British pork producers. However, I will raise my hon. Friend’s concern with the Secretary of State.

My local authority, Croydon council, has published a wealth of information about its spending and services—in sharp contrast to Nottingham city council, which, as the Leader of the House said, has refused to do so, reportedly backed by the shadow Leader of the House. May we have a debate on the right of people throughout the country to know exactly how government spend their hard-earned money?

I repeat my earlier plea to the shadow Leader of the House to persuade Nottingham city council to be more transparent. I understand that it hired a cherry picker and labour to have conkers removed from a chestnut tree owing to a supposed health and safety risk on a school route. I think that people are entitled to know how local authorities spend their money, so that they can reach sensible decisions in the run-up to local elections.

We all know that women are better drivers than men. Is not the recent decision by the European court for injustice to ban gender-based pricing of insurance premiums yet another example of an unaccountable European institution’s striking a blow against good old-fashioned common sense, and may we have an urgent debate about it?

The Government share my hon. Friend’s disappointment at the recent decision. We have made absolutely clear that we think it right to take account of gender in assessing risk and reaching a decision on premiums. We now plan to hold discussions with the Financial Services Authority and the Association of British Insurers to establish how we can minimise the damage done by the decision to British consumers, both men and women.

This has been a very bad week indeed for Labour-run councils, as their excesses and spending habits have been exposed the length and breadth of our country, from Newham council, which has just spent £111 million on new council buildings, to Barnsley council, which has just cut free swimming at the same time as it is spending £1 million on union posts in the council. Please may we have an urgent debate on local government waste, which would be of particular interest before the district council elections in May?

I announced in the business statement that there is to be an Opposition day the week after next, and as the subject for debate has not yet been chosen I hope the Opposition will use that day to debate local government, so that we can hear a little more from my hon. Friend and others about the extravagance in Labour-controlled local authorities.

I am most grateful to the Leader of the House and other colleagues for their succinctness, which has enabled everybody to contribute.