The business for next week will be:
Monday 16 May—Motion to approve the 15th report 2010-2012 of the Standards and Privileges Committee (HC 1023), followed by general debate on the middle east, north Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tuesday 17 May—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Localism Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Localism Bill (Day 1).
Wednesday 18 May—Remaining stages of the Localism Bill (Day 2).
Thursday 19 May—Motion relating to the BBC World Service, followed by motion relating to rural broadband and mobile coverage. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the week commencing 23 May will include:
Monday 23 May—Opposition Day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Tuesday 24 May—General debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, as nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Subject to the approval of the House, colleagues will wish to be aware that the House will meet at 11.30 am on this day.
Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that subject to the progress of business the House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Tuesday 24 May 2011 and return on Tuesday 7 June 2011.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. May I begin by expressing our deep sadness at the untimely loss of our dear friend and colleague, David Cairns? He was a lovely man, he was a principled man, he was a fine Minister, and he will be missed by all of us greatly.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when we will have a statement on the shortfall in funding at the Ministry of Defence following the strategic defence and security review? The Defence Secretary told the Defence Committee that he would make a statement after the elections, and Members from all parts of the House are anxious to hear the outcome. When will the Armed Forces Bill return to the House so that the Government can honour their commitment, as we have been urging them to do, to enshrine the military covenant in law?
May we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary to explain what she plans to do following the humiliating defeat of her proposals for police commissioners in the other place yesterday?
May we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s broken election pledge to make Britain the most family friendly country in Europe? This week, the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank founded by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said that the coalition has failed to support marriage, unfairly penalised middle-class parents, and done “almost nothing” to address the breakdown of families.
What about the greenest government ever pledge? This week, a leaked letter revealed that the Business Secretary is arguing for a lower carbon reduction target than that recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. May we have a statement on whether the Prime Minister is going to accept or reject that target?
On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister said about his own Government’s NHS reforms:
“I am not going to ask Liberal Democrat MPs…to proceed with legislation on something as precious and cherished as the NHS unless I personally am satisfied that what these changes do is an evolutionary change in the NHS and not a disruptive revolution.”
So now we know that the Deputy Prime Minister, who originally backed the Bill, actually thinks it is disruptive, when will we see the significant and substantial changes that the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised the House?
Will the Leader of the House explain why we have still not seen the higher education White Paper, when a bit of it was announced on the “Today” programme on Tuesday rather than in Parliament? The Universities Minister got himself into a terrible mess with his idea of well-off students paying for off-quota places at university. I suppose that with internships having been sold off at a Tory fundraiser, one could see that as the logical next step for social class mobility. Downing street, however, was not amused, and said so. It stated:
“We are not quite sure what he was trying to say but it wasn’t very helpful.”
So while the Minister was forced to come to the House to deny the rumour that he himself had started, the House waits in vain for a coherent policy.
May we have a statement on free schools, now that nearly nine out of 10 applications have been turned down? A disappointed Downing street source—they have been very busy dumping on Ministers this week—admitted that free schools had not been a success and said:
“I guess you’d give Michael a six out of 10”.
It is not just Cabinet Ministers who have been done over. What does the Leader of the House make of the Downing street source who, talking about the Prime Minister’s dismal performances at Prime Minister’s questions, said:
“It’s just not working. We’re not winning enough. The Flashman image is very damaging and we need to address it before it becomes an accepted stereotype”?
As the House saw yesterday, it is far too late for that already.
Finally, may we have a debate on the state of the coalition? It has been a shambolic week for a dysfunctional Cabinet, with the Prime Minister and his deputy now openly arguing with each other just 12 months after they took their coalition vows. Perhaps that was why, smarting from electoral defeat, the Business Secretary finally gave vent to his feelings over the weekend when he described the Prime Minister’s party as
“ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal.”
We could have told him that, but has it really taken him a whole 12 months to notice it? If so, does not that degree of naivety prove that he is, after all, part of the greenest Government ever?
May I begin by endorsing what the right hon. Gentleman said about David Cairns? He was a decent, able man, and it is a tragedy that he has been taken from his friends and from the House at such a young age.
The Secretary of State for Defence will want to keep the House informed of the latest position on the Ministry of Defence budget. On the Armed Forces Bill, as I think I have said before, we want the House to have the military covenant before Third Reading. Work is continuing on finalising the covenant and it will be placed before the House relatively soon, and shortly after that we will have Third Reading.
As far as the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is concerned, we are of course disappointed by the defeat in the House of Lords, because the election of police and crime commissioners is part of the coalition agreement and was part of the Bill that was passed from this House to the other place. It is regrettable that the other place has decided to take the steps that it has. The Bill will, of course, return to this Chamber, and I hope that when it does we will have the support of the shadow Policing Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who made it very clear in 2008 that
“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical.”
I hope that Labour Front Benchers will therefore join us in seeking to overturn the amendment made in the Lords.
The shadow Leader of the House asked for a whole series of debates on a range of subjects. I have just announced that there will be an Opposition day on Monday week, so he can choose to debate any of the subjects that he mentioned.
On the fourth carbon budget, the right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything he reads in the press. We are committed to announcing before the end of next month the target for 2023 to 2027, and I anticipate that we will make a statement quite soon and that the draft statutory instrument will be laid before the House in good time for it to be debated.
We debated the NHS on Monday in Opposition time, when a rather weak attack from them was easily seen off by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
The higher education White Paper was dealt with in an urgent question by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science. It will be published before the summer recess.
The shadow Leader of the House then asked about the coalition. I note that yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
“We will stand together, but not so closely that we stand in each other’s shadow.”
It is manifestly obvious to anyone that the Deputy Leader of the House and I could never stand in each other’s shadow. As ever, the shadow Leader of the House painted a rather dismal picture of the Government, but one must ask this question: if we are doing so badly, why is he not doing better?
Perhaps on the next Opposition day, we can hear from some of the right hon. Gentleman’s colleagues. The hon. Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) said that Labour’s disastrous adventures in Scotland last week were the result of 30 years of “arrogance and complacency” and that “Labour deserved to lose.” Last night, in a spectacular own goal, the shadow Culture Secretary was forced to rewrite a speech that admitted that Labour was seen as a
“party which overspent without delivering sufficient value for money”,
before warning that on the current strategy, the Labour party would lose the next general election.
All that confirms that while there are some lively debates between the two parties in the coalition, they are nothing compared with the civil war in the Labour party.
Order. As usual, a great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is another statement to follow, and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so there is a premium on economy, both in questions and indeed in answers.
I commend my hon. Friend on the initiative that he is taking to use freedom of information requests to find out more about the resources that are being allocated in that direction. At a time of financial restraint, I would expect all employers to ensure that such facilities are put to their proper use. However, at the end of the day, it is up to the employer on the one hand, and the trade union on the other, to agree to an amount of time and then to see that that is not exceeded.
The last time I had the honour to be in the Chamber to listen to the late Member for Inverclyde, he made a passionate defence of the rights of gays and lesbians in Uganda. We hear that tomorrow, the Ugandan legislature might discuss a further oppressive piece of legislation on the rights of gays in Uganda. May we have an urgent statement from the Government on what they are doing to follow his words urging them to make representations to the Ugandans about ceasing the hateful rhetoric that they deploy against gay people, and to ensure that we stand up for their human rights, as he would have done?
I commend and agree with what the hon. Lady says, and I pay tribute to the campaign that David Cairns championed. I agree that what is happening in Uganda is an important subject. It might be appropriate for her to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister can indicate that the Government share her concern, and outline the action that we might take with the appropriate representatives of the Ugandan Government.
My hon. Friend is right that Network Rail’s corporate governance structure is supremely difficult to follow. We have a commitment to make it properly accountable to its customers, and at the moment we are examining the structures and incentives of the industry to see how best to enable that. I hope that that helps her, but in the meantime I can only suggest that she redoubles her correspondence with Network Rail to see whether there is an appropriate solution to the position at Downham Market.
More evidence has been reported this week of the growing crisis in the private care homes sector. Private care homes are desperately seeking more funding from local authorities, but they have had their funding cut by central Government. May we have a serious debate on the future of all aspects of long-term care, including funding, growing privatisation, which has caused a lot of the problem, and the risk to the elderly people in those care homes?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the funding problems for private care homes. He will know that we have asked Andrew Dilnot to chair a commission that is shortly to report on the long-term structure of funding for residential and nursing home care. I anticipate that once that report is in the public domain, the House will want to debate it. The hon. Gentleman may have heard on the radio this morning that certain parts of the country have seen a 4% increase in spending on adult services, and we put an extra £2 billion into social care in the public expenditure announcement.
On Monday, all Warwickshire MPs met the Coventry and Warwickshire local enterprise partnership. I was extremely impressed with the work that the LEP is doing to engage with local businesses to promote growth and job creation. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on the work of local enterprise partnerships and how we can best support them?
I was pleased to hear of the initiative of the MPs for Coventry and Warwickshire. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the written ministerial statement issued today on local enterprise partnerships—he may have already seen it—that announces a new £5 million start-up fund for LEPs. That would be a valuable topic for the House to discuss in Westminster Hall.
Although we always have our constituency duties during recesses, why on earth are we breaking up for two weeks? This House did not meet for three weeks over Easter. How many places up and down the country break up for two weeks for what is described as Whitsun?
Speaking for myself—and, I am sure, for a large number of other hon. Members—I will be actively engaged in my constituency over the Whitsun recess, which I certainly do not regard as a two-week holiday. Also, speaking from memory, I think that this year the House will be sitting for longer than the previous year. If we look overall throughout the year, it is certainly not the case that since the general election we are sitting for fewer days than before.
May we have a debate on power line technology devices that are used across the land to connect computers in homes? The 2006 regulations that govern the use of such devices set no maximum interference levels. However, as their usage is becoming more prevalent, organisations such as the Civil Aviation Authority are becoming concerned. Can the Government address this issue?
Can the Leader of the House—if he is paying attention—tell us when the Scotland Bill is likely to return for its remaining stages? When it comes back, will he also ensure enough time to debate and secure the extra economic powers that the Scottish people voted for with the overwhelming re-election of a Scottish National party majority Government last week?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard that I have not announced further debate on the Scotland Bill between now and the Whitsun recess. I anticipate that we will be addressing it thereafter. It is the coalition Government’s intention that there should always be adequate time on Report to debate important issues. I hope to make enough time available for proper consideration of the Scotland Bill, including the issue that he has just touched on.
More than 300,000 people have signed the petition to save the Leeds children’s heart unit, yet right hon. and hon. Members have not had the chance to debate the review of services that started under the previous Government. Will the Government please make time available in the timetable for all Members to express their views on this important issue?
The next opportunity, at Health questions, will be on 7 June—the issue was also raised at business questions last week by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), albeit in a slightly different context. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman, together with others who feel strongly on the matter, have approached the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it would allocate time for a debate on this important subject, which I know has generated a lot of concern in many parts of England.
Sense, science and experience prove that the killing of badgers does not reduce bovine TB. When can we debate the Government’s indifference to animal suffering and their determination to prostrate themselves before their trigger-happy farming friends, so that they can walk all over them in a mass, futile slaughter of these beautiful, defenceless creatures?
I represent a rural constituency where people’s view of badgers is slightly different from the one that the hon. Gentleman enunciated. Also, we have just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, at which I understand the issue of badgers was raised.
Today is national nurses day. I am particularly pleased to support the campaign as my mother gave over 40 years’ service to the NHS as a children’s nurse. Will my right hon. Friend consider making parliamentary time available for a debate on the welcome recent increase in the numbers of nurses, health visitors and midwives in the NHS, along with the valuable role that nursing staff play in the NHS in my local community hospital at Ilkeston and, of course, across the country?
I commend my hon. Friend—and her mother—for her commitment to the national health service. Today is indeed international nurses day, which is held on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. My hon. Friend reminds the House that there are now 200 more nurses, midwives and health visitors working in the NHS since the general election. Opposition Members may say that they trained them, but they also have to be paid for. We have provided extra resources for the NHS that Labour would not have provided. Today is an opportunity to raise the profile of nurses and encourage more people to think of nursing as a career, as well as to pay tribute to the compassion, commitment and leadership that nurses show day in, day out.
Yesterday we launched the United Nations decade for reducing road injuries and fatalities. We are also approaching the 30th anniversary of our successful campaign to introduce mandatory seatbelt legislation. The most likely way worldwide for young people to die is on the road in a car crash. When can we have a debate that highlights this important subject?
The hon. Gentleman may have seen the written ministerial statement yesterday, which was aimed at making better use of the police’s resources and focusing on really dangerous driving, as opposed to less dangerous driving. He rightly reminds the House that, I think, 2,222 people were killed on our roads last year. I hope that he will apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on road safety so that we can consider these issues at greater length.
Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate on the fact that from 30 June, properties used as holiday lets will require energy performance certificates under new guidance issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government? The change will increase the cost of regulation for thousands of small businesses across the UK —something that I would have thought Ministers would have opposed.
The Government are committed to reducing the amount of carbon emitted by buildings, and energy performance certificates are an important part of that initiative. Holiday lets are exempt if they are let for more than four months a year. I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but landlords will benefit from reduced energy costs if they bring their properties up to standard, so I hope that they will see the other side of the coin.
Despite my writing to the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), tabling questions and having an Adjournment debate, he has refused to publish the document outlining the proposals to privatise my local trust. May we have a debate on ministerial accountability so that we can raise these important matters?
There is no way that a hospital can be privatised. That simply cannot happen. As the hon. Gentleman knows, he had a debate in Westminster Hall on this issue to which my right hon. Friend the Health Minister responded. I understand that correspondence is now taking place between the two of them. At the heart of the issue is how the hon. Gentleman’s hospital can meet the standards necessary to become a foundation trust and the need to explore the various options, including merger with another trust. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend and he will write to him.
My hon. Friend, who is chairman of the all-party group on Sri Lanka and to whose work I pay tribute, reminds the House of the atrocities on both sides in the recent civil war in Sri Lanka and the publication of the UN report. It would be appropriate for him to apply for an Adjournment debate—perhaps in Westminster Hall—to look at the implications of that report and identify any action that it would be appropriate for Her Majesty’s Government to take.
Yesterday Members debated the Education Bill. However, the debate was incomplete because the admissions code had still not been provided, despite the assurances given by the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) that it would be available in time for Third Reading. May we have a statement to assure the House that in future we will not have debates when large and important parts of background information that are relevant to the Bill have not been provided? May we also have a statement about when we will see the admissions code, which is so important to Members in debating our education policy?
I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and get an answer to his question on when the admissions code will be published. I also say in passing that I think we provided adequate time for discussion of the Education Bill, and I note that, in Committee, the Opposition spokesman said:
“I…thank the Government and Opposition Whips for the orderly way they have organised our business.”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 5 April 2011; c. 993.]
The Government do not in any way want to obstruct discussion of that Bill.
The reason that I pause is that I am not sure whether responsibility for salmon is a devolved matter—[Interruption.] It is devolved; I see a nod from the Opposition Benches. Sadly, therefore, I cannot organise a debate on salmon in Scotland, but my hon. Friend has drawn attention to a more generic point about resources flowing from Westminster to the north. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to debate that when the Scotland Bill returns.
May we have a debate on the coalition agreement? I think that the country has a right to know exactly what state that document is now in. The Health and Social Care Bill is now at a pausing, listening and reflecting stage, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill was severely reformed by the Lords last night and, on Tuesday, we had the debacle of the statement on off-quota higher education places. If the coalition document were brought to the Floor of the House, both Government parties could table amendments to it and we could debate in public exactly what is happening to the agreement and understand it in greater detail.
On the various issues, we had a debate on the national health service on Monday, and I indicated a few moments ago that we would be seeking to reverse the decision of the House of Lords on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The coalition is in good shape; we are getting on with strong, decisive, united government, which is what this country needs.
It might be expecting too much for the Opposition to allocate the next Opposition day for a whole-day debate on the successes of the coalition Government. We have cut the deficit, we have capped immigration and we have frozen the council tax, etc., etc. The Localism Bill will be debated next week, and its Report stage might provide an opportunity to talk about our successes in that field.
During the local election campaign, an 18-year-old candidate in my constituency was subjected to relentless attacks about his age by his Liberal Democrat opponent. One letter sent to residents made negative references to his age no less than three times. As the minimum age for standing for election was reduced to 18 to encourage more young people to get involved in politics, does the Leader of the House agree that his coalition partners should not attack younger people for wanting to serve their community? May we have a debate on how we might further encourage young people to take part in our democracy?
I am very much in favour of young people standing for local government. The Deputy Leader of the House tells me that a 19-year-old in his constituency was recently successful, as was a 21-year-old in my own constituency. The more young people who stand for local authorities and, indeed, for this place, the better.
For nearly four years, I worked with the NHS and saw at close quarters the huge bureaucracy in the connecting for health programme, in the national programme for information technology, in strategic health authorities and in primary care trusts. May we have a debate on the progress that has been made to reduce Labour’s bureaucratic legacy and to increase the numbers of clinicians, which is what our constituents really want?
My hon. Friend reminds me that the number of doctors has increased by 2,478—[Interruption.] They may have been trained, but they had to be paid for by somebody. At the same time, more than 3,500 full-time equivalent managers have been cut. That is in stark contrast with what happened under Labour, when the number of managers increased six times as fast as the number of nurses.
May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the assistance that we are able to give to constituents who are detained abroad? One of my constituents, Mr Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, a respected surgeon at King’s college hospital, is currently being detained in Dubai, having been charged with making a hand gesture at another motorist. I understand that Mr Nunoo-Mensah, who strongly denies the charge, cannot leave the country until after his hearing, which could be weeks or even months away. Meanwhile, he has patients here in the UK who need his expertise. I would be grateful if the Leader of the House would be gracious enough to raise this matter with his colleagues in the Foreign Office, who I would prevail upon to do all they can to ensure that my constituent’s hearing is held as promptly as possible.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about his constituent. If he has not already done so, I will contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see what consular assistance can be made available to this UK citizen in the distressing circumstances in which he finds himself.
For the past two weeks, uncontrolled moorland fires have been burning in my constituency of Belmont and Darwen. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on whether the ban on controlled moorland burning is increasing the prevalence of uncontrolled fires? Specifically on the fires burning in my constituency, will he join me in praising the courage of the firemen from Lancashire and Manchester who have been fighting them day and night?
I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend has just said about the emergency services combating the serious fires in his constituency, and indeed in others. I cannot promise him a debate in Government time, but in the light of what has just happened, this strikes me as an appropriate subject for debate in Westminster Hall or for an Adjournment debate in this Chamber.
Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have an urgent statement on the Government’s intention to scrap the Equality Act 2010. In the recent meeting of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, the Business Secretary said that that was not the Government’s intention, and that a correction would be placed on the Red Tape Challenge website, which is suggesting that the Act will be scrapped. Given that no such correction has been placed on the website, may we have an urgent statement on the Government’s intention in relation to the Equality Act?
On Monday, the Home Secretary set out proposals to cut police bureaucracy that would save up to 2.5 million hours of police time, the equivalent of 1,200 officers. May we have a debate on those proposals, to discuss what else the Government could do to ensure that, despite the difficult decisions on public spending, our constituents do not see a decline in visible policing?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of the speech that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary gave on Monday about the steps we are taking to decrease bureaucracy in the police force. I understand that the measures will release the equivalent of some 1,200 police officers, and she indicated that more was to come. She also made it clear that
“the days of the bureaucrats controlling and managing the police from Whitehall are over”,
and I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that.
The Deputy Prime Minister keeps reminding the House that the flagship pupil premium policy of the Lib Dems is delivering for pupils in the poorer areas of the country, but my understanding from schools in my constituency is that they are gaining no net benefit from the measure. May we have a debate on the effect of the pupil premium on those poorer areas?
That is a very good idea.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has indicated that he would welcome such a debate. We have made provision for constant cash per pupil to be topped up by the pupil premium, so, against the background of the difficult decisions that the Government have had to take, education has had a good deal.
May we please have a debate on the Ministry of Justice’s 2011 compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis, so that the fact that prison works can be highlighted? The report contains proof that those who serve longer sentences are less likely to reoffend than those who serve shorter ones.
I can tell my hon. Friend that we will shortly be introducing a legal services and sentencing Bill, at which point it will be possible to debate this matter at greater length, as well as looking at the relative effectiveness of shorter sentences, about which some criticism has been made.
There is support on both sides of the House for the proposed £600 million Mersey Gateway bridge. It was given planning permission last year, and we were told that a decision on funding would be made by the end of last year. That decision has still not been made, because of issues relating to the funding package. Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement from either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Transport Secretary to explain the delay? The longer this goes on, the more the cost of the bridge rises.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the delay in constructing the bridge. I will share the concerns he has just expressed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman indicating a time scale for the construction of this bridge.
Will the Leader of the House assure me that there will be enough time within the remaining stages of the Localism Bill to discuss the empowerment of local authorities further to protect our green belt land from inappropriate development, which affects my constituency of York Outer?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. We will be debating the Localism Bill next week. Any proposal for development in the green belt is subject to stringent tests, and planning policy guidance note 2 explains the key policy: a presumption against inappropriate development on green belt land. We are committed to maintaining the green belt, and it says so in the coalition agreement.
May we have a debate on car manufacturing in the UK? This year, Ford is celebrating its centenary of manufacturing in the UK and more than 30 years in my constituency, where the engine plant produces more than 1 million engines a year. It is also producing the new eco-engine, and more than one third of all cars that are Ford-manufactured in the UK have an engine that is produced in the UK—in either Bridgend or Dagenham. We have an increased number of engineers, increased manufacturing and an increased number of apprenticeships to celebrate in Bridgend. May we have a debate so that this can be recognised, at a time when we are negative about manufacturing in this country?
Owing to the eloquence of the hon. Lady we have almost had that debate. She will be pleased to hear that manufacturing output increased by some 5% in the first quarter of the year. I entirely endorse every word that she said; manufacturing is important to this country’s future, and I hope that the steps we have taken in the Budget will encourage inward investment and the production of yet more eco-friendly engines at the plant in Bridgend.
My hon. Friend will know that under Project Merlin a specific commitment was given to increase lending to SMEs—I believe the figure was some £90 billion—and we are very anxious that that should be maintained. I am sure that when we have the ICB’s final report there will be an opportunity to discuss this matter at greater length. It is important that SMEs have continued access to bank lending so that they can invest in the future.
May we have an urgent Government statement on the disgraceful situation in which coastguards in Stornoway and Cornwall are being barred from giving evidence to the Select Committee on Transport next week about the impact of the Government’s proposals on coastguards? If the people who know about coastguard services are being barred from giving evidence to the Committee, surely that reduces any suggestion of confidence in this policy.
My understanding is that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) is coming to give evidence to the Transport Committee and that arrangements are being made for informal meetings between the Committee and coastguards outside this House, so I am not sure that it is exactly correct to say that members of the Select Committee have been denied access to coastguards. My understanding is that informal meetings are being arranged.
Martin Penny, the principal of Stratford-upon-Avon college, and his team are passionate about giving young people the tools to gain and maintain jobs in the private sector through apprenticeships. My right hon. Friend may have heard the way in which the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions set out an agenda for tackling youth unemployment this morning. May we have a debate about this serious and important issue?
I would welcome a debate on the important issue of youth unemployment, where we inherited a substantial figure—I believe it was 1.4 million. My hon. Friend may have heard today’s announcement of £60 million to get more vulnerable young people into work, and he will know that we are committed to 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years and radical reforms to transform vocational training. I would welcome such a debate, but I am afraid that I cannot promise the time for it immediately.
Parents in my constituency have come together to work to set up a free school in Sandymoor. This exciting development will bring a much-needed boost to local school choice and it has my full support. May we have a debate on the importance of providing top-quality advice and support to aspiring free school founders, so that we can help to make their efforts just that little bit easier?
I am delighted to hear that parents in my hon. Friend’s constituency are planning to set up a free school and I welcome the support that he is giving them. It is important that those interested in setting up free schools have access to advice and support, which is why the Department for Education has funded the New Schools Network, an independent charitable organisation, to offer support to individuals and groups such as those he mentioned.