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Business of the House

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 24 March 2011

The business for next week will be:

Monday 28 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 29 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 30 March—Remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Day 1).

Thursday 31 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Day 2).

Friday 1 April—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 April will include:

Monday 4 April—Opposition Day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Tuesday 5 April—General debate on Britain’s contribution to humanitarian relief in Libya, followed by a general debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment. The latter debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 31 March 2011 will be:

Thursday 31 March 2011—A debate on high-speed rail.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. The House will welcome today’s statement on Libya and will look forward to being further updated.

The Welfare Reform Bill will involve a large number of regulations being presented to the House. Will the Leader of the House assure Members that they will appear in good time to allow for full parliamentary scrutiny?

The Government gave a clear undertaking that they would talk to the Opposition about their draft legislation to increase—in a terrorist emergency—the number of days for which someone can be held from 14 to 28. To date, the shadow Home Secretary has not been consulted, despite a number of requests to the Home Secretary. Will the Leader of the House encourage his colleague to respond?

On section 44 stop-and-search powers, the Home Secretary has got herself into a difficulty and has had to introduce, by way of a remedial order, the new provisions on stop and search that were due to be included in the Protection of Freedoms Bill. She has done that by means of a written statement, thereby denying the House the chance to debate and scrutinise the change before it was made. May we have an explanation of why that happened?

Given that just about everything that we heard in yesterday's Budget statement had already been leaked to the media in advance, could the Leader of the House look at a different system for next year? Perhaps the Chancellor could get up, simply say, “I refer the House to the briefing I gave the newspapers a few days ago,” add anything new and sit down. Then we could move straight on to the Leader of the Opposition and the debate. It might help some Members to stay awake.

Will the Business Secretary make a statement on the failure of the Government’s much trumpeted one in, one out policy on new regulations? For the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—the Department meant to be leading on the policy—it has been a case of 46 regulations in since May, and no regulations out. In fact, the majority of Departments have introduced more regulations than they have removed.

It seems that the policy is being observed only by the Liberal Democrats, although in their case they are applying it not to regulations, but to their principles. One principle out—opposition to trebling tuition fees; one new principle in—helping to undermine the NHS. We also read with interest that the Liberal Democrats are planning to issue a pocket-sized card listing every one of their many achievements in government. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement on that? After all, it would not take very long.

May we have a statement from the Health Secretary explaining why the latest polling results from Ipsos MORI on public satisfaction with the NHS have still not been published, six months after they were submitted to the Department of Health? It is reported that they show that more members of the public than ever believe that the NHS is doing a good job—not exactly the message that Ministers have been seeking to convey. This is a very curious case of Ministers trying to bury good news.

Also on the health service, we read with great interest this week that the Deputy Prime Minister has told his MPs that he will be “taking the lead” in reining in his own Government’s plans for the national health service. He is said to be determined to make changes to the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently in Committee, and a senior party source said that he had decided to “front up” the issue with the Health Secretary.

This is quite extraordinary, and presents a bit of a parliamentary challenge for the Leader of the House. Now, the right hon. Gentleman is a reformer, so I wonder whether he would be prepared to break new ground by organising a joint statement at the Dispatch Box from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, so that they can slug it out under the full glare of parliamentary accountability. Or perhaps we could make use of the Procedure Committee’s welcome recommendation—published in the last hour—that we allow the use of iPhones and iPads in the Chamber in place of paper, and the two members of the Cabinet can have an online argument instead. It could probably work, as long as Vodafone kept us all connected.

Finally, on Westminster council’s infamous ban on feeding the homeless, I am sure that the Leader of the House was as pleased as I was to read last week that a Home Office spokesman had said:

“The Home Secretary has no plans to ban soup runs.”

I am delighted that the coalition—if I may describe it as such—between the right hon. Gentleman and me has forced the Government finally to make their position clear. Will he simply confirm for us today that when Westminster’s draft byelaw is put to the Department for approval, it will be treated with the contempt that it deserves and sent packing?

That was a marvellous smokescreen for the rather disappointing performance by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. The shadow Leader of the House might want to recalibrate his performance in order to avoid this unhappy contrast.

On the Welfare Reform Bill, of course we will seek to publish the appropriate regulations well in advance so that the House has an opportunity to reflect on them. I will pass on the right hon. Gentleman’s request for more consultation between the shadow Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. On the Protection of Freedoms Bill and the written ministerial statement, the Bill is now before the House and I hope that there will be adequate opportunity for the House to cross-examine Ministers.

As for leaks, the right hon. Gentleman will know that there has always been a good deal of speculation before Budgets—and I have to say that he does not have much of a leg to stand on in this regard. He was a special adviser in 1997, and most of the Labour Government’s first Budget was systematically leaked to the Financial Times before the Chancellor had even got to his feet. Some years later, a BBC reporter interviewing the Treasury spin doctor Charlie Whelan asked him directly whether he had been responsible for the leak. Whelan replied:

“I might well have been. I can’t remember, to be honest. Probably was me. It could be Ed Balls, it could be me.”

So I hope that we will hear no more from Labour about Budget leaks.

If there is one person who is known to be able to stay awake during Budgets, it is my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who delivered six excellent Budgets when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the issue of regulations and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be taking part in a debate later today about regulations, and will therefore have an ample opportunity to deal with the one in, one out policy.

Labour has had more than one policy on tuition fees over the past few years, and it would do well to reflect on that before starting to make that its currency. As for joint appearances at the Dispatch Box, I wonder how the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the then Chancellor Gordon Brown would have got on if they had both appeared at the Dispatch Box, as members of the same party, to hammer out an agreed policy.

On health and social care, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman should believe absolutely everything he reads in the press.

On Westminster city council, the right hon. Gentleman might know that the consultation ends on 25 March. The portfolio holder on the council has made it clear that he wants a non-legislative solution. He plans to have discussions with those running the soup runs, and two soup run providers have already agreed to provide their services in a more settled environment. I welcome that. The right hon. Gentleman might also look at some of the comments from those helping rough sleepers about the desirability of focusing the soup runs within an established building, rather than their acting as a magnet that attracts rough sleepers from all over the capital. I very much hope that he and I are at one on rough sleepers, and that we can support Westminster city council and the enlightened approach that it is now taking.

Order. Many colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a statement by the Foreign Secretary to follow, and a heavily subscribed continuation to the Budget debate. If I am to accommodate this level of interest, brevity will be of the essence.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Department of Health’s drugs procurement process in relation to companies such as Pfizer, to ensure that corporate social responsibility comes into the process?

I applaud my hon. Friend’s campaign on behalf of those in her constituency who are threatened by the decision taken by Pfizer. I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to her request for more corporate social responsibility. It might also be appropriate for her to intervene during the Budget debate, as that is a direct matter for businesses in this country.

I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement, as well as for his written ministerial statement yesterday on extra time for private Members’ Bills, Opposition days and time allocated to Back Benchers. Will he tell the House exactly how many extra days will be allocated to Back Benchers? Will he also tell us how many of those debates will be in the Chamber? He has just announced that the pre-recess Adjournment debate—a Back-Bench debate—has been reduced from the normal six hours to three, to give the House the chance to have an important debate on Libya and humanitarian aid. I acknowledge how important it will be to have that debate, just before we break up for the recess, but will he explain why he cannot simply add an extra day on to the parliamentary calendar in order to give the pre-recess Adjournment debate and that important debate on Libya and humanitarian aid a whole day each? It is in the Government’s gift to do that. I am sure that this would never have crossed the mind of the Leader of the House, but perhaps that will not happen because the extra day would be a Wednesday, and the Prime Minister would therefore be forced to come to the Dispatch Box to answer questions.

Let me rebut instantly the hon. Lady’s final suggestion. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister looks forward to every Wednesday with relish. On her question about the extra days, we have tabled a motion to extend the number of days for private Members’ Bills. We do not need to lay a comparable motion to deal with the days for the Backbench Business Committee. Since the Committee was established last July we have allocated roughly one day a week to it, and I propose to continue to do that. We do not need to table a motion in order to do so, however.

On the question of extending the sitting days to include next Wednesday, the House values the certainty of having a calendar published well in advance, and there are precedents for the pre-recess Adjournment debate taking half a day rather than a whole day. We have tried to reconcile the need for certainty with the need for the House to be updated on the difficult position on Libya and to contribute to that debate, as well as respecting the demands of the pre-recess Adjournment debate. I hope that we have struck a fair balance between those three demands. I can tell the hon. Lady that I propose to table a business motion so that the protected time of three hours for the pre-recess Adjournment debate will not suffer any injury as a result of any statements or other events on that day. I hope that when I table that motion, she will smile at it.

May we have a debate in Government time on the future of the euro and the economic governance arrangements in the European Union? Those of us who fought long and hard, and successfully, to keep Britain out of the euro would like ministerial reassurance that we are not going to be dragged into any of the financial or governmental consequences of its current problems, and that we will get something back for Britain when those countries need our consent to change.

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concerns, but I cannot promise an imminent debate on that subject. Following the important meeting of the European Council that begins today, however, there might well be a statement early next week, which would give him an opportunity to share his concerns with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Today, 30,000 14 to 15-year-olds from 815 schools in every part of the country are working with the BBC to make the news, and 30,000 other young people have taken part in news-related projects during the year. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we can support the BBC in that work and recognise the incredible importance of the work in developing civic awareness and an understanding of the news among young people?

I applaud the BBC’s initiative; I saw one of the programmes before I came into the Chamber. I cannot promise a debate, but there is an unallocated Opposition day on Monday week. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) will have heard the hon. Lady’s bid; perhaps part of that day could involve a debate on that important subject.

The House holds the principle of one person, one vote to be absolutely sacrosanct. Will the Government find time between now and the referendum on 5 May to hold a debate in the Chamber on the referendum question?

My hon. Friend asks a very good question. We have not had a recent debate on the alternative vote, although we debated the matter when the legislation was going through. There is some confusion on AV. One person, when asked what the AV referendum was all about, thought that it was about whether Aston Villa would come top of the league this year. I hope that between now and 5 May there will be a good public debate on this matter. Again, the Opposition have not yet chosen their subject for Monday week. However, we know that there is some difference of opinion on AV within the Labour party, and for that reason it might not choose the subject for discussion on that day.

Will the Government make time for a debate on the proposed changes to the DNA database, following evidence to the Protection of Freedoms Public Bill Committee by the chief constable of the West Midlands, who said that 1,000 criminals would go free as a result of this Government’s changes?

The Protection of Freedoms Bill is before Parliament at the moment; it is in a Public Bill Committee. Within that Bill are the clauses on DNA to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister who is taking the Bill through the House would like to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s assertion, with which the Government disagree.

Any large corporations that enjoy public contracts also enjoy favourable payment terms. However, many of the small and medium-sized enterprises that support the same contracts do not benefit from equally favourable terms. Will my right hon. Friend require a statement from the Cabinet Office to ensure that current and future contracts are reviewed to help our SME businesses?

I am sure that the Government want to be an enlightened party to contracts and wish to discharge their obligations and pay their bills on time. I will certainly convey my hon. Friend’s suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and make it clear that in his opinion—I think it is a widely shared view—the Government should not make SMEs wait for payment due to them from the public sector.

Parliamentary questions are an essential mechanism by which the House is able to hold Ministers to account. There are, however, some gaps in the system. One of those is a member of the Cabinet, Baroness Warsi, who last year claimed that the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority at the general election because of electoral fraud, predominantly within the Asian community. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement at which the Baroness could either justify that statement or profoundly apologise for it?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot find time for such a debate, because the right hon. Lady would not be able to appear in this Chamber. However, I am sure she will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said and will want to respond to it in the appropriate way.

When I was elected, I tried to do the right thing and save money by using second-class post. I discovered that of the five small envelopes used, three are, illogically, more expensive if second-class post is used rather than first-class post. One of the differences amounts to £2.24 for a 250 batch. According to my back-of-the-envelope maths, including the printing costs for two types of envelopes based on 2009 usage, a saving of £15,500 a year could be made. The print runs are huge; the set-up costs are minimal. The House of Commons uses 2,000,703 first-class envelopes, costing £1,000,646. If 5% were urgent and 95% were sent second class, the postage savings would amount to more than £250,000 of taxpayers’ money. Will the Business Secretary please promote and encourage the use of second-class envelopes by—

We have got the gist, but I am afraid that the question is too long. We have got the thrust of it, and we are grateful.

I am sure that the envelope on which my hon. Friend did the maths was a second-class one! I will draw her comments to the attention of the House authorities, and I applaud the steps she is taking to save money by using second-class envelopes where appropriate. It seems anomalous if the position is as she described it, so, as I say, I will pass her comments on to the House authorities.

Constituents regularly tell me of the difficulties they face in accessing local bus services—ranging from high fares and a lack of services after 6 o’clock to there being no direct routes to the hospital or to GP surgeries. In response, I have launched a campaign to improve local bus services. May we have a debate on what steps the Government are taking to improve accountability and value for money when it comes to local people having their say over bus services?

I applaud the hon. Lady’s campaign to make bus services more accessible to her constituents, particularly when they need to go to hospital. I announced a few moments ago that we will have the normal pre-Easter recess Adjournment debate, and it strikes me that this would be an appropriate subject for her to raise on that occasion.

Following the Budget announcement yesterday about university technical colleges, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on UTCs—not just because they will transform vocational education for our youngsters but because Lord Baker visited Harlow college, which is leading a bid, with local businesses, to have a UTC there?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words about my right hon. Friend Lord Baker, who listened with interest to yesterday’s statement that there would be not 12 but 24 high-quality, technically oriented UTCs. We are aware—and if we were not, we are now—of Harlow college’s interest in submitting an application. I can tell my hon. Friend that the intention is to select the first round of new technical academies to go forward by the early summer, following a competitive selection process.

May we have a statement on how the Government intend to ensure that the announced increases in tax on the fuel companies will not be passed on directly to hard-pressed motorists? Are we to take it from the statement that any further increases will be referred for scrutiny before they are allowed?

Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern—but I do not know whether he has had time to look at the regulatory impact assessment carried out in 2006, when his party was in government, on increased taxation on North sea producers. It said:

“Oil companies are price-takers, facing a globally-determined market price for their output, and so will absorb all costs. They will be unable to pass any costs on to consumers, and the impact will be distributed proportionately across producers with no adverse effects on competition”.

I hope that gives the hon. Gentleman the reassurance he was seeking.

Will the House have the opportunity to debate the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority review of MPs’ expenses, which will be published tomorrow?

My hon. Friend reminds the House that at one minute past midnight IPSA is due to publish the outcome of its review of the scheme. I understand that it hopes to inform hon. Members of its contents before then. As my hon. Friend will know, there is now a group that liaises between the House and IPSA and has regular meetings to discuss the scheme. I suggest that my hon. Friend, and indeed others, use that channel to communicate their views on the revised scheme, as they already do now.

May we have a debate or a statement from the Transport Secretary on London Midland’s proposals to break the franchise commitment to staff all stations from the first to the last train. I believe that that has serious implications for the safety of passengers using those stations, and I am worried about the ease with which it is prepared to break its commitment. We need a statement or a debate.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, and I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. If it is a term of the contract that these services should be provided, they cannot be unilaterally abrogated.

May we have a debate on the provision of critical care beds, which are of such importance to our NHS generally, and particularly, in my part of the world, to my local hospital in York? I know that it will welcome the recently announced extra 3,700 beds.

The Health and Social Care Bill will shortly return to the Floor of the House after its Committee stage. My hon. Friend is right: the Department of Health announced last month that 3,747 critical care beds were available in January this year—the highest number ever recorded. I am sure that the whole House will rejoice in those figures.

There is some disquiet about the UK Government’s proposed Calman-like process for Wales, which has implications for the way in which the Welsh Government are funded. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Wales to make an oral statement on the Floor of the House so that we can debate this issue?

I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to my right hon. Friend and ensure that she communicates with him before the Easter recess.

What happened on Monday was a good example of why business sometimes needs to change at short notice—but there has obviously been confusion about what is happening to the pre-recess Adjournment debate. What progress have the Government made in discussions about having a House business Committee, which might introduce greater transparency in the process of managing business?

The coalition Government made a commitment that the previous Government did not make—that we would introduce a House business Committee. We remain committed to doing that within three years of the commencement of this Parliament. We propose to review how the Backbench Business Committee has worked after its first year, and then have discussions about the introduction of a House business Committee.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a statement next week on the Government’s child poverty strategy? Under the Child Poverty Act 2010 the Government are required to publish such a strategy by tomorrow, yet in a written answer from the Minister with responsibility for disabled people earlier this week, I was informed that she has not yet even seen fit to appoint the commission that is intended to advise on such a strategy.

The hon. Lady has made a valid point, which has been addressed in a written ministerial statement. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will want to regularise the position as soon as he can, and I will ensure that he informs the House in the near future of how he proposes to do that.

May we have a debate on our country’s gold reserves? As my right hon. Friend will recall, the gold price crashed a decade ago when Britain sold its reserves, an event that became known as the “Brown bottom”. Does he think that this month’s record high will become known as the “Balls-up”?

We are in the middle of a four-day debate on the Budget, during which I am sure it will be appropriate for my hon. Friend to amplify his remarks at greater length.

The House will be shocked to learn that children as young as seven are being issued with firearms licences. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Home Office plans to respond to the report that the Home Affairs Committee published before Christmas?

I am sure that other Members will have heard a feature on the “Today” programme which highlighted the freedom of information responses to which the hon. Gentleman is referring. In fact we have some of the toughest gun controls in the world, and we are having another look at them. The age limits in the firearms law reflect the different levels of risk posed by different guns in different circumstances. If young people do have access to firearms and shotguns, it must be safe and controlled. We are considering the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee, and we expect to respond in May or June.

The very long parliamentary Session offered the tantalising prospect of successful private Members’ legislation, which I hoped would include my Tied Public Houses (Code of Practice) Bill, but my aim has been frustrated by the fact that all the newly available sitting Fridays are dominated by dozens of Bills promoted by one or two Members. Would you, Mr Speaker, or the Leader of the House care to comment on the situation, and on whether it is frustrating the whole point of private Members’ legislation?

I understand my hon. Friend’s frustration. However, the Bills that were successful in the ballot will take priority over those that may follow. I tried to extend the number of days available for private Members’ Bills by tabling a motion yesterday. We cannot make progress with that motion because an amendment to it has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), but the Government intend to make more time available for private Members’ Bills, to reflect the length of the session.

There is huge concern in Scotland over reports that the Scottish National party is to repeat its use of slogans on Scottish election ballot papers. Following the 2007 election fiasco during which nearly 150,000 papers were spoilt, the Gould review found that the use of slogans such as “Alex Salmond for First Minister” were “confusing and potentially misleading” for the electorate, and it was thought that it would be outlawed. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland to clarify the issue and avoid a repeat of what happened in 2007?

I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of Scotland, unless the matter falls within the responsibility of the Scottish Electoral Commission. In either event, whoever is responsible will write to him.

Minerals can be extracted only from where they lie, and many mineral reserves lie in my constituency. My right hon. Friend will be well aware that minerals policy has been specifically excluded from the Localism Bill. Will he find time for a debate on minerals policy, and in particular on the distribution of the aggregates levy? I think it important for communities that suffer the blight of mineral extraction to have a fair share of the levy as a form of compensation.

Many Members whose constituents contain aggregate sources such as gravel pits will share my hon. Friend’s concern, and the Backbench Business Committee may wish to find time for a debate. As my hon. Friend says, the aggregates levy sustainability fund reduces the environmental impact of the extraction of aggregates, but as a result of the October spending review settlement, the Government will have to discontinue the programme of work after the end of the current financial year. I will draw my hon. Friend’s concern to the attention of my colleagues who have responsibility for the matter.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate or statement on an announcement made yesterday indicating that 900 million records of medicines prescribed by family doctors are to be published on line? That has many implications, not least the usefulness of such information to private drug companies and the impact on civil liberties.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, and will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It may be another suitable subject for the pre-Easter recess Adjournment debate on Tuesday week.

Last month the Planning Inspectorate decided to impose a travelling showpeople’s site on the village of Tolleshunt Knights in my constituency. The decision was based on the regional spatial strategy and planning circulars issued by the last Government. Can my right hon. Friend tell us why those circulars are still in place, and when they will be scrapped?

As I think my hon. Friend knows, we have announced our intention to withdraw the circulars and replace them with a new light-touch planning policy. We want to move quickly, but there is a proper process to be followed. Our proposed new policy will be published for public consultation shortly.

Given the Prime Minister’s apparent confusion yesterday over the future of the disability living allowance, may I raise the case of my constituent Scott Sheard, who has been refused the mobility component of DLA? He needs the allowance so that he can live at home, but he also needs to make a gradual transition. Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to reconsider Scott’s case, and those of many other people with disabilities who need the mobility component in order to live independently?

The regime that affects the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is the regime that we inherited. We propose to make changes to the DLA, but they require primary legislation, which will have to be approved by the House. We want to move from the current regime, which has not been examined for 20 years and results in conflict and overlap, to a new regime based on personal independence payments. We want to enhance the mobility and independence of people who are entitled to payments at the moment. This is not about saving money, but about introducing a better regime for those with real needs.

May we have a debate on the Government’s commitment to delivering 250,000 more apprenticeships by 2015? That would allow us to discuss the crucial role played by apprenticeships in developing skills in our engineering sector, especially in the rail and motor industries that are so important to our economy, both in Crewe and Nantwich and elsewhere in the country.

I believe that yesterday’s announcement in the Budget of more resources for apprenticeships and work experience was warmly received. In a few moments my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary will be in his place. Today’s debate will provide a good opportunity for the House to discuss the value of apprenticeships to the community, and in particular, their reinforcement of our manufacturing and engineering capability, which has such a high profile in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) drew attention to the possible publication of 900 million medical prescription records online. Given that banks, lenders, insurers, private health care employers, neighbours, foreign agencies and Governments would be able to gain access to those records, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House on how the proposal relates to the Data Protection Act, employment law and other legislation?

I repeat the undertaking that I gave a few moments ago—and on Tuesday the Health Secretary will be answering questions in the House, when the hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to raise the matter in either a direct or a topical question.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the good news announced yesterday about the Government’s council tax freeze initiative? Both Pendle borough council and Lancashire county council have agreed not to increase the tax, but the initiative was not covered in recent debates on the local government finance settlement.

My hon. Friend has drawn a contrast between the doubling of council tax under the Labour Government and the freeze introduced by the current Government. He may also know that we have abandoned plans for a council tax revaluation that would have meant soaring bills for millions of homes.

The Leader of the House turned down my previous request, but will he now find time for a debate on pay structures in banks, following the revelation that last year RBS paid 323 staff more than £1 million each, Barclays paid 231 staff more than £1 million each, and HSBC paid 280 staff more than £1 million each? Does he agree that that requires an urgent debate, given that yesterday’s Budget failed to tackle such excess?

If that requires an urgent debate, which I concede may well be the case, that urgent debate can take place over the next three days. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced an increase in the bank levy. However, it would be perfectly in order for the hon. Gentleman to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, today or on Monday or Tuesday, and to receive a response from one of my Treasury colleagues.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the role of the Electoral Commission? It is no longer offering guidance and advice to election officers, most of whom have a wealth of experience of running elections very well for many years, and has taken to bullying and imposing expensive and excessively bureaucratic top-down diktats ahead of the local elections and referendum that will take place in six weeks’ time.

I will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of the chair of the Electoral Commission. There is the opportunity to cross-examine my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who speaks for the Electoral Commission, on the Floor of the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) could also raise the matter with him informally outside the Chamber.

Many MPs are very unhappy about the lack of clarity and content in departmental written answers. The responses to many questions are fudged, and many are answered as “unknown”. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on this?

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to receive enlightened and informed answers to written questions. It might help if he could be slightly more specific about which answers have caused concern, and if he does so I will raise the matter with the appropriate colleague.

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House outline how business leaders in my constituency and Derbyshire in general can put their ideas to the Chancellor in respect of his announcement yesterday on establishing more enterprise zones?

As my hon. Friend will know, the Cabinet recently met in Derby in her county. We met wealth creators in Derby, and they pressed the case for more investment in the town and the county. Members will have an opportunity in today’s debate on the Budget and subsequent debates to make the case for an enterprise zone in their constituency, and I note that my hon. Friend has made an early bid.

The last Government put in place the victims of overseas terrorism compensation scheme. May we have a debate in Government time to ascertain when British victims of overseas terrorism will begin to receive compensation?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue that has already been raised on a number of occasions. As he knows, the Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review. I hope it will be completed shortly, because I understand the concern that is felt on both sides of House about the delay.

Seven schools in Harrow are currently consulting on becoming academies. They are doing so in the teeth of a campaign of misinformation by Labour-run Harrow council and outright hostility from the teaching unions. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Education on what he is going to do to stop councils giving misinformation to schools that are trying to break free of the dead hand of the local education authority?

I welcome that initiative in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which shows that parents want to use the freedoms given to them under this Government’s legislation. I will draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, so we can see whether further steps need to be taken to make sure that those who want to establish free schools or academies are not intimidated as a result of misinformation.

Further to the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 1640, tabled yesterday, which seeks to save BBC Radio Merseyside.

[That this House believes BBC Radio Merseyside is a loved and valuable institution within Merseyside, providing local news and entertainment to over 300,000 listeners; notes that BBC local radio offers exceptional value for money at a cost of 3.2 pence per listener hour, in comparison with other stations such as BBC Parliament (14.1 pence) and Radio 3 (6.3 pence); further notes that BBC Radio Merseyside is the most listened to BBC local radio station outside London; further notes that for a third of its listeners, 100,000 people, it is the only BBC radio station that they choose to listen to; is highly concerned at proposals that would end daytime programming; and calls on the BBC to protect its proud history of broadcasting on Merseyside with a commitment to fund BBC Radio Merseyside.

There are no fewer than 40 BBC local radio stations throughout the UK, all of which are cherished by their communities and provide excellent value for money at 3.2p per listener hour, but the news that local programming may be scaled back to “drive time” and breakfast time is extremely worrying. Please may we have an urgent debate on the future of BBC local radio programming?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. It strikes me that this would be an appropriate subject for a Backbench Business Committee debate or an intervention during the pre-Easter recess Adjournment debate, but she has just made her case very effectively.

If passed, motion 7 on the Order Paper would have the effect of cancelling all currently scheduled private Members’ sitting days and replacing them with four new days. Instead of getting the additional 13 days we should have because this is a two-year parliamentary Session, we would finish up with only four days. I think that is more cock-up than conspiracy, but may we have a debate on the matter next week?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend has interpreted the motion correctly. The Government want to provide four more days to debate private Members’ Bills. My hon. Friend has blocked that by tabling an amendment which means that, as of today, that extra time will not be given. I very much hope we can resolve the matter. We have a bit of time, because we have announced the dates up to the end of the summer. I hope that between now and then we can find a satisfactory solution, and that my hon. Friend will not stand in the way of what the Government are trying to do, which is to give more time for private Members’ Bills.

People have welcomed the council tax freeze nationally, but may we have a debate on what people in my constituency and elsewhere can do if their council puts through large council tax rises in future?

Help is on the way, because the Localism Bill contains a provision for local people to have a referendum if their local authority proposes high council tax increases.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; I know my place.

Many of my constituents have raised concerns about clinical services in local hospitals, notably Good Hope hospital. May we have a debate on NHS staffing levels, so that we may learn about the progress being made in increasing the number of doctors and nurses and reducing the number of bureaucrats so beloved of the last Government?

Since we took office, the number of managers has fallen by some 3,000, I think, and the number of doctors has increased by some 2,000, so help is on the way.