The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 13 June—Remaining stages of the Welfare Reform Bill (Day 1).
Tuesday 14 June—Consideration in Committee of the Armed Forces Bill.
Wednesday 15 June—Remaining stages of the Welfare Reform Bill (Day 2).
Thursday 16 June—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill.
Friday 17 June—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 June will include:
Monday 20 June—Second Reading of the Pensions Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 21 June—Remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.
Wednesday 22 June—Opposition day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 23 June—Business nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 16 and 23 June 2011 will be:
Thursday 16 June—A debate on student visas.
Thursday 23 June—A debate on the private finance initiative.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. Given his reputation as a reformer, I was surprised, and I am sure that view is shared by the Procedure Committee, by the Government’s rather dismissive response to its report on ministerial statements. Never mind, because the Backbench Business Committee can come to the rescue by giving the House the chance to vote on the proposals, so will the Leader of the House join me in encouraging the Committee to find time for that to happen?
I come now to the forthcoming business and, in particular, next week’s remaining stages of the Welfare Reform Bill. On 24 March, I asked the Leader of the House for an assurance that the regulations would appear in good time. He said in reply that
“we will seek to publish the appropriate regulations well in advance so that the House has an opportunity to reflect on them.”—[Official Report, 24 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 1100.]
We are now two working days away from Report and we still have no policy and no regulations on how the costs of child care are going to be covered within the universal credit. What does the Leader of the House intend to do about this?
Following Lord Freud’s comments this week that spare bedrooms for people in social housing are a luxury, can we have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary so that he can confirm that a widow who has lived in the same two-bedroom house all her life now faces having her housing benefit cut, and may therefore be forced to move? If that is the case, where will she be expected to move to? The National Housing Federation says that while 180,000 social tenants in England are “under-occupying” two-bedroom homes, only 68,000 one-bedroom social homes become available for letting each year.
Following Tuesday’s written statement on the crisis at Southern Cross, it was reported yesterday that 3,000 jobs are to go there. May we have an oral statement so that the large number of elderly people who depend on these homes for their care can be reassured that they will be looked after come what may?
When will we have an oral statement on the changes to the Health and Social Care Bill that the Prime Minister saw fit to announce this week at Ealing hospital, rather than to the House? Can the Leader of the House give us a very simple assurance? Can he tell us that the Bill will be sent back to Committee in this House, so that we can consider the proposals in detail? It would be unacceptable to do anything else.
Given the extensive briefing from No. 10 this week on sentencing policy, when will the Justice Secretary come to the House to confirm that he has now been overruled by the Prime Minister and that his plans for a 50% reduction in sentence length for all those who plead guilty early, including to sexual offences and violent crime, have been scrapped? When he does come here, can he try to explain why the Prime Minister thought this was a good idea in the first place?
Now that the Public Accounts Committee has confirmed that the Government have made a complete mess of university funding, in particular with their gross underestimation of what universities would charge, when are we going to have a statement from the Minister for Universities and Science about what he proposes to do ? When he gives his statement, perhaps he could explain why the long-promised White Paper has now taken longer to gestate than a donkey, which takes 365 days, on average, and almost as long as a camel, which takes 400 days? It is no wonder that the academics of Oxford have no confidence in the Minister.
Talking of shy and overdue White Papers, back in February the Prime Minister proclaimed:
“We will soon publish a White Paper setting out our approach to public service reform...that will signal the decisive end of the old-fashioned, top-down…model.”
Bold words those, “soon” and “decisive”. What has happened? Nothing. First, this was put off until May and now we hear that it has been delayed until July because of another coalition split. One Lib Dem official has very helpfully said:
“Nick does not want there to be any sense that the public sector can’t be a provider of good quality public services”.
I think we can all feel another pause coming on.
Finally, Baroness Thatcher famously possessed no reverse gear, but this Prime Minister has a car stuffed full of them and a pause gear as well, as we have seen on school sport, forests, the NHS and now sentencing. But it does make us wonder what exactly goes on inside No. 10 when the Prime Minister approves all these policies in the first place only to reverse in the opposite direction, scattering his Cabinet colleagues along the way, when his pollsters tell them just how unpopular they are. So after yet another week of chaos from this coalition, is it any wonder that the Archbishop of Canterbury is now on his knees in despair?
May I commend the shadow Leader of the House for a much better performance at the Dispatch Box than the leader of his party yesterday? On the Procedure Committee’s report on statements, the Government have, as he said, responded. I will not be going personally to the salon to bid for a debate but I would welcome a debate on statements. We have made more statements to the House than the previous Government—about 30% more on average—we have been very open with ministerial statements and we have responded with enthusiasm to urgent questions.
I will share with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised about the regulations. I anticipated that the bulk of them would have been tabled, but if some have not been I shall take that up with my right hon. Friend straight away.
On the point about housing benefit and the changes, I have announced two days’ debate on welfare reform in which there may be an opportunity to debate those, but there are transitional funds available to help people in situations such as the right hon. Gentleman described who might otherwise be caught by the proposed cap.
On Southern Cross, we have been working very closely with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to ensure that arrangements are in place in the event of any need. The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 gives local authorities all the powers they need to intervene if necessary. Whatever the outcome, no one will find themselves homeless or without care.
On the Health and Social Care Bill, it makes sense to await the outcome of the Field review and the Government’s response to it before we take a decision about whether the Bill should be recommitted. However, I say to the shadow Leader of the House that we spent more time in Public Bill Committee on that Bill than on any Bill since 2002. Whatever the outcome—whether recommittal or Report—I am determined that the House will have adequate time to debate the Bill’s remaining stages.
On higher education, I have seen the report of the Public Administration Committee and we plan to have the same numbers going to universities in 2012-13 as the numbers we inherited from the outgoing Government.
Let me address another issue that the shadow Leader of the House raised—that of the archbishop. I have not seen the full text of what the archbishop said but I hope that he has found time to balance any criticism of the coalition with commendation for some of the things we have done, such as the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid to ensure that the poorest people in the world do not bear the burden of solving our problems. I hope that the archbishop also finds time to commend our actions on the pupil premium, on giving more resources to the NHS and on taking lower-income people out of tax. He said that the coalition was rushing through things that nobody had voted for, but one could turn the coin over and say that in a Parliament in which no one party has a majority, there is much less likelihood of that happening.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the Procedure Committee’s report on the use of hand-held devices in Parliament is a matter that should be debated sooner rather than later? Does he also agree that such a debate should not depend on the vagaries of the amount of time available to the Backbench Business Committee and that if necessary, the Government should provide time to enable the House to reach an early decision?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s anxiety and that the gun has been jumped on the use of hand-held devices in the Chamber in advance of any decision, in that certain Members have already made use of that facility. Having implemented the Wright Committee’s recommendations and having allocated to the Backbench Business Committee time that would otherwise have been available to the Government, I am very reluctant to then find more time for Select Committee reports out of the finite time left to the Government, which we want to spend giving adequate time for Reports, Second Readings and other Government legislation.
The Select Committee on Communities and Local Government has concluded that the Government’s localism plans are “incoherent” and that their most serious flaw is the accountability gaps. Sir Gus O’Donnell and Sir Bob Kerslake were supposed to be looking into that issue. Given the importance of this issue to local government, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate and may we have an update on those important accountability issues?
I understand the Select Committee report and, of course, the Government will respond in due course. The Government are committed to what we call “double devolution”—enfranchising not only local government, but people beneath local government—and that is at the heart of the debate between us and those who take a different view. I cannot promise time to consider the report, but no doubt the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee will have heard the hon. Lady’s question.
The Government’s decision to establish the Backbench Business Committee was more than justified by this week’s vibrant sitting in which we heard many excellent bids for time. I understand the timetabling pressure on the Government, but while we received bids for 28 hours of Chamber time, we know of only one day that we can allocate. May I simply request on behalf of the Committee that we know about further time that we can allocate so that we can facilitate the many excellent bids that we receive?
I understand my hon. Friend’s anxiety, and I remind the House that this Government established the Backbench Business Committee. We are committed to allocating 35 days in a normal Session, which is roughly one day a week. We will adhere to that commitment, and given that this Session will be slightly longer than normal, we will extend those 35 days by an appropriate proportion. I understand that no such day is allocated for the next two weeks, but we will of course catch up between now and the end of the Session.
May we have an urgent statement on the situation faced in my constituency by an 84-year-old widow with a limited income and hardly any savings? She looks after her 60-year-old disabled son, as she has done all his life, but because community care services are being provided on a limited scale, Walsall council has asked my constituent to pay £4,789 this year, starting with an instalment of some £400. That is quite disgraceful. Why are the most vulnerable in our society, such as the constituent whom I have cited—I have heard about other cases in the past few days—being targeted by this Tory Government and Tory councils?
I reject the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that we have targeted the most vulnerable. On the contrary, we have allocated an extra £2 billion for social care through the NHS and local government that is aimed precisely at the sorts of cases to which he refers.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), it is inevitable that the Backbench Business Committee cannot satisfy everyone’s concerns about time. However, members of the Procedure Committee are worried that whereas the time that was available to debate its reports used to come out of Government time, it now comes out of Back-Bench time. What proposals do the Government have to introduce a House business committee that will allow all these things to be balanced in an accountable manner?
The Wright Committee proposed that we should have a House business committee. Although that proposition was rejected by the outgoing Labour Government, we have accepted it and said that within the first three years of the Government, we will move towards a House business committee that will merge the responsibilities of the Backbench Business Committee and of the Leader of the House for deciding the future conduct of business.
May we have an early debate on the Government’s disastrous decision today regarding the feed-in tariff regime for solar energy? More than 80% of those who responded to the consultation disagreed with today’s outcome. The Solar Trade Association says that today’s announcement “effectively kills” the solar industry, and companies such as Kingspan and Sharp in my part of the world of north Wales will be shattered by this decision to end solar manufacturing.
The Government are committed to providing more energy through alternative sources such as solar energy, and we have taken several steps to increase the supply. I cannot promise a debate in Government time, but I think that we will next have Energy and Climate Change questions on 7 July. Alternatively, the right hon. Gentleman could bid for an Adjournment debate on this important subject.
Throughout Business, Innovation and Skills questions, we heard of a strong and determined interest in manufacturing and engineering. May the House have a proper debate about the importance of that sector to highlight the necessity of encouraging young people to think about it as one in which they can have an exciting and rewarding career so that we can march forward for growth?
I agree with my hon. Friend. There will be 250,000 more apprenticeships and I hope that many will end up in the manufacturing industry. We want to rebalance the economy, and a resurgent industrial sector will enable us to have a much more resilient model of long-term growth. I welcome some of the encouraging signs in manufacturing that we have seen over the past 12 months.
There is little doubt that Scotland could survive as an independent country, but the critical question is whether it would be a more prosperous and fairer country. May we have an urgent debate in the House on the positive contribution of the Union to Scotland and the Scottish people and the positive contribution of Scotland and the Scottish people to the Union?
The answer is yes, because the Scotland Bill will be returning to the Floor of the House within the next two weeks, when the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make a speech. We will reassert our commitment to a United Kingdom and to Scotland remaining an integral part of it.
My hon. Friend will welcome the announcement on Wednesday that 100,000 acres of publicly owned Government land will be made available for housing, providing not only much needed housing, but 25,000 jobs in the building sector. We are very anxious to increase the supply of housing and I hope that the initiative we announced yesterday will do exactly that.
Civitas produced a report last month indicating that, because of carbon floor pricing policy, more than 600,000 chemical workers’ jobs could be lost in the UK. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers recently published a report that surveyed 1,000 companies, only 12% of which indicated that they thought the Government’s programme to rebalance the economy was working. May we have a debate in the House on how the Government are rebalancing the economy?
We have just had Business, Innovation and Skills questions, when those exact issues could have been raised with the Secretary of State. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place at the time and sought to raise them, but if he was he will have heard about the Government’s initiatives to help the manufacturing sector of the economy and drive up employment, and I am sure that reference was made to initiatives such as the regional growth fund.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent campaign being run by the Evening Standard to promote reading across London. It is somewhat ironic that large numbers of Labour-led local authorities are closing libraries across London. May we have a debate on how to combat this cultural vandalism inflicted by members of the Labour party?
I hope that when local authorities take the necessary decisions to balance the books they will not take easy decisions and close libraries without exploring all the alternatives. My hon. Friend will know that there is a provision in the legislation whereby the Secretary of State has a role in the closing of libraries, so he might like to keep that at the back of his mind.
May I return to the Health and Social Care Bill? Given the real confusion and uncertainty surrounding the future of the NHS, it is absolutely essential that we have a debate in the House following the Field review and before we go to recommital of the Bill. The founding principles of the NHS are now at risk and the legal duty to secure the provision of health care will be abolished unless the House looks at that in detail.
The founding principles of the NHS are not at risk, and I refer the hon. Lady to the speech that the Prime Minister made earlier this week. I am determined that there should be adequate time to debate the Health and Social Care Bill. As I said, it makes sense to await the outcome of the Field review and see what amendments to the Bill the Government propose to table before deciding whether it should be recommitted or dealt with on Report. I am determined that the House should have adequate time to consider the Bill’s important remaining stages.
May we have a statement on the citizenship status of suspected war criminals who now reside in the UK? I have been seeking information from the Home Office on the number of people who were actively involved in the Trawniki concentration camp in Poland. In March, I received a written response from the Minister for Immigration, who said he would undertake to take away citizenship from people who were engaged in these activities, but since then I have heard nothing and no more information has emerged.
It should be absolutely clear that the UK will not be a safe haven for those fleeing from international justice. I do not have the details of the case to which my hon. Friend refers, but I will refer it to the Home Secretary. The UK Border Agency refers appropriate cases to the Metropolitan police for investigation and the decision on whether to prosecute lies with them. Cases will be referred where there has been an admission or allegation of an offence where the UK has jurisdiction to prosecute.
I doubt that I am the only Member whose constituents have been targeted in a new internet scam whereby they are cold-called at home, told that their computer has a virus and asked for their internet protocol address over the phone. Clearly the IP address would be used to access their computers remotely for less than honest reasons. Will the Leader of the House invite the Minister responsible to the House so that we can debate how the Government can contribute to protecting people’s home computers and privacy?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for using the air time available to him to warn people of that risk. There will be an opportunity next Thursday during Culture, Media and Sport questions to raise it further. In the meantime, I will see whether the appropriate authorities can take further action to alert people to this dangerous scam.
May we please have a debate on the BBC’s news and Parliament channels? The BBC Trust is currently conducting one of its regular reviews on those two important channels and a debate would allow Members to contribute to the consultation process that is part of the review.
I understand the anxiety about the coverage of the BBC’s news and Parliament channels. It is a matter for the BBC, and the Government should not become directly involved. I would welcome such a debate and hope that my hon. Friend will make an appropriate bid. The period of the current charter runs until the end of 2016 and there will be a full review as that time draws near, although no date or remit have been set.
I am one of 15 Members who wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), who is responsible for consumer affairs, with a request for a meeting to discuss high-cost lending, which was declined following five months waiting for a response. Will the Leader of the House investigate the Minister’s work load and establish whether a meeting would be possible?
I caught the end of BIS questions and heard the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) press the Minister for a further meeting on that issue. I will also press for a further meeting on the issue and report the bid of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) to my hon. Friend the Minister, but I assure her that he, like every Minister in the Government, is very busy on governmental business all the time.
My constituent Marie Heath has been left devastated by the brutal murder of her son Lee in Frankfurt in April. Will the Leader of the House give her an assurance that the Government will fully support her family during this most difficult time and, importantly, press the German authorities to bring her son’s murderers to justice?
I extend my condolences to Marie Heath on the recent tragic death of her son Lee. The consular service of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should of course continue to provide all assistance necessary to Mrs Heath and her family and maintain contact with her, as it did when she went to Germany following the attack. I understand that it has also arranged for the family to receive assistance from Victim Support’s national homicide service. I will also ensure that the FCO is aware of my hon. Friend’s interest in the case.
In Business, Innovation and Skills questions earlier today the House heard that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning plans to produce an equality impact assessment of the proposed increases in charges for English for speakers of other languages courses before the House rises for the summer recess. If that shows, as my experience in my constituency does, that the changes in ESOL fees will bear unfairly on women—seven in every 10 students affected in Slough are women—will the Leader of the House ensure that we have time before the House rises to change the policy on behalf of those women?
The hon. Lady is making an assumption that the document to which she refers will indeed confirm her suspicions. I think it makes sense to await the outcome of the impact review, but I will share her concern with the Minister and ensure that there is an opportunity to take what she says on board if it turns out that there is an adverse impact.
The fog of war is one thing, but the fog of confusion at the Ministry of Defence is quite another. There are reports that soldiers in 16 Air Assault Brigade face a pay cut of about £2,000 a year. On Tuesday, the brigade, which recently returned from Helmand province, had a welcome home parade in Colchester, and yesterday at St Edmundsbury cathedral there was a service of thanksgiving, remembrance and hope. Does the Leader of the House agree that a wage cut of £2,000 is not the reward they should receive, and if he cannot arrange for a Minister to come to the House to clarify what is going on, will he at least arrange for a Minister to clarify in the armed forces debate precisely what the position is?
My hon. Friend knows that there will be two days next week to debate the Armed Forces Bill, when there may be an opportunity to raise the matter. I heard his point of order earlier this week at a relatively late hour, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has made it clear that all service personnel who have a current qualification to parachute and are in a post where we might ask them to use that skill on behalf of this country must continue to receive specialist parachute pay in recognition of that. I recognise that this is a sensitive and emotive subject, and I hope that what I have said is of some help.
I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the Leader of the House will want to join me in congratulating Swansea City on their recent promotion to the premier league, but in addition will the Leader of the House provide time for an urgent debate on the further electrification of the railway line out of Paddington from Cardiff to Swansea in the light of the increased traffic due to that promotion, plus the extra convergence funding that might be available to subsidise the cost, and in the light of the Prime Minister’s statement in April in Swansea, when he said that the Government would look at the further extension of electrification to Swansea?
As a former supporter of Reading football club, I was less than pleased at the outcome of that match. The hon. Gentleman has raised the question of electrification several times, but we would not save any time if we made the change that he outlines. It has been raised several times at Transport questions, and despite the heroic work of his local football club I would be misleading him if I said that it would generate enough traffic to alter substantially the arithmetic on which that decision was based.
Following information from whistleblowers, I recently raised the case of The Manchester college and its highly questionable activities in relation to the delivery of taxpayer-funded training contracts at prisons such as Reading. May we therefore have a debate on the illegal and inefficient spending of taxpayers’ money, in which I would be able, for example, to call for a thorough audit of all the taxpayer money that has gone to The Manchester college?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern if there has been any misuse of taxpayers’ funds. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the appropriate Minister and ask him to write to my hon. Friend, reassuring him either that there has been no misuse or that appropriate action is being taken to ensure that any misuse is put right.
Scottish Power this week announced that it will increase its energy prices by 19%, and other energy companies are likely to follow suit. May we have an urgent statement from the Government outlining what discussions they have had with energy companies and what measures they will take to ensure that we support families, who already have very tight budgets?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern at the recent announcement of fuel price increases, and we are committed to doing all we can to ensure that vulnerable older people can keep their homes warm in the winter. We have protected the winter fuel payments and permanently increased cold weather payments from £8.50 to £25 per week. We have also announced the triple guarantee for more generous state pension provision, so that vulnerable people do not have to choose between food and heating their homes, but I will share his concern with my right hon. Friends.
The Safe and Sustainable review that is out to consultation implies that Oxford’s child heart surgery unit will close. Clinicians in Oxford and Southampton, however, have developed a partnership proposal that offers the quality assurance that the Government seek while retaining the accessibility that patients and clinicians fear losing. As Safe and Sustainable, an inherited review, runs the risk of being seen as an imposed reorganisation from above, that proposal seems exactly the kind of innovative local solution that we want to encourage. May we therefore have a debate on child heart surgery partnerships between trusts in order to assist those making a decision on the Safe and Sustainable recommendations and to encourage such solutions in other parts of the country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that the consultation is under way and concludes at the end of the month. I have an interest, because Southampton general hospital serves a number of my constituents, and I was interested to hear her float the idea of a partnership between the relevant hospitals in Oxford and Southampton. The future of cardiac paediatric surgery has been a matter of some debate since the problems in Bristol, and we inherited a review, which my hon. Friend knows about, to try to get a better and safer balance of services, but I will certainly see that the committee that looks at the review when it is completed takes on board her suggestion of a partnership between the two hospitals.
May we debate the almost certain link between the tragic deaths of six of our gallant soldiers in the past two weeks and the escape eight weeks ago of 500 members of the Taliban, probably because of the incompetence or, possibly, collaboration of their jailers? Should we not examine whether the Government’s over-optimistic trust in the Afghan police and army is having lethal consequences for our soldiers?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. He will know that the Government make regular statements on the position in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and we will continue to do so. When we make those statements, he will have an opportunity to share his concern about the prisoners who escaped and their possible impact on the soldiers who have lost their lives. I cannot promise a debate about the issue, but perhaps Foreign Office questions would be a good opportunity for him to press Ministers on it.
May we have a debate about economic growth and confidence? I was surprised to see, in assessing macro-economic policy, the views of a very small, left-wing bunch of economists being given so much weight, when I know that credible economists back the Government.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful and supportive point, and he makes it in the week when the IMF said:
“Aided by the implementation of a wide-ranging policy program, the post-crisis repair of the UK economy is underway.”
That view is endorsed by the European Commission, the CBI and many others, and most people will accept their interpretation of what is happening, rather than that of the outgoing Labour Administration, who got us into this mess.
Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) said about the huge increases in domestic energy prices, may we have an immediate and urgent debate on the subject, in which we could also look at the role of the regulator to ensure that it protects not just vulnerable customers but all consumers of gas and electricity, both on and off the grid?
I cannot promise an immediate debate, but it strikes me as an issue that the Energy and Climate Change Committee might like to look at, as it involves both the regulator and the increase in fuel prices. There will be an opportunity, however, to press Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change at the next question time.
Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate about Government plans for the natural environment? This week the Government published on the subject a crucial White Paper, which will be hugely beneficial in safeguarding and enhancing the natural environment, and I feel that a debate on those welcome proposals would be appropriate.
I hope that my hon. Friend will go to the Backbench Business Committee and bid for such a debate. We launched the White Paper a few days ago—the first White Paper for some 20 years, looking ahead for the next 50 years, proposing measures to safeguard and enhance our natural environment and setting out a programme of action for some of the damage that has been done. I should welcome such a debate if chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.
Does the Leader of the House agree that it is difficult if not impossible to become a full citizen of our country without speaking English? Is he aware that other countries, such as the Netherlands, link the payment of benefits to new entrants to their country to training in and learning of the language? Is it not about time that we put extra effort into the whole concept of citizenship and the necessity to teach people English in order to access it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s first sentence. I was under the impression that there was indeed an English language test as part of the citizenship test before one became a citizen, but if that is not the case I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to write to the hon. Gentleman setting out what the position is.
Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement on the E. coli outbreak in Europe and the UK cucumber industry? Despite British produce being perfectly safe, many farmers in my constituency have seen a fall in sales of between 30% and 50%, and some are already on their way to bankruptcy. Will he ask the Government to redouble their efforts for fair access to the €150 million of EU compensation and to persuade Russia to lift its unfair ban on UK cucumbers?
My hon. Friend said at the beginning of his remarks that there is no evidence of any contamination in the UK food chain from the E. coli disease that has broken out in Germany, and I share his concern about UK cucumber producers, because all the evidence shows that their product is perfectly safe to eat. The Food Standards Agency reminds consumers of the importance of basic food hygiene when preparing food, but I will certainly raise with my right hon. Friends the question that my hon. Friend raises about compensation for those who have lost their livelihood as a result of the outbreak.
The Leader of the House is well aware of my concern about the Government’s secret plans to try to privatise my local hospital trust. I am now informed that the trust has expressed concern that if it has to implement the cuts that the Government want, patient safety will be put at risk. The trust has refused to publish those documents. May we have a debate on the secrecy that now surrounds the NHS?
Legislation put on to the statute book by the hon. Gentleman’s own party when in government makes it absolutely clear that it is impossible to privatise an NHS trust. As we have said in earlier exchanges, there will be an opportunity to debate this issue in the context of the Health and Social Care Bill. He has written to me and to the relevant Health Minister several times. If there are any outstanding issues, I will ask the Minister to write to him yet again.
With continued disquiet across the House regarding the ongoing role of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and following the recent debate instigated by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), would my right hon. Friend care to update us on any meetings or discussions that he has had about that?
As a result of the debate that the House had before the recess, we agreed to set up a Committee of the House to look at some specific issues that the House referred to it. That is the body to which my hon. Friend should address his attention when we set it up, which will be in the near future. In the meantime, we have a liaison committee between the House and IPSA, with six or eight Members on it, and he might like to make contact with them. If he has any issues that need to be addressed urgently, I would be happy to use what influence I have to sort them out.
May we have a statement on the Olympic tickets debacle and, in particular, how it is possible that the Olympic organising committee could devise a system whereby 1 million people did not get any tickets at all in the first ballot, which means that they will have to do what I did this week—register on a French website in order to get some sensible way of trying to purchase them? Should not Ministers be calling in members of the committee, showing them the instruments of torture, and getting them to sort this out?
The fact is that there were many more bids for tickets than there were tickets available, so inevitably there had to be a rationing system. My own view is that the system that the committee introduced was a fair one. A week from today, the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to press Ministers at Culture, Media and Sport questions, and I will give them due warning that he is on the warpath.
Will the Leader of the House consider granting a debate on defence and transport procurement policies to enable British companies to operate on a level playing field, which could also deliver increased export potential as British manufacturers could sell their goods across the world?
We are keen on level playing fields. One of the obligations of being a member of the European Union is that there should be no non-tariff barriers to trade. There may be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise his concerns about defence equipment in next week’s debates on the Armed Forces Bill. If he is concerned about any specific contract, I would be happy to take that up with the Ministry of Defence.
In 2004, the King and Government of Malaysia awarded the Pingat Jasa Malaysia medal to soldiers who fought in the Malaysian jungle between 1957 and 1966. That medal was initially refused to veterans by the British Government. It has now been accepted, but veterans are not allowed to wear it in public. According to a written answer from the Ministry of Defence of 26 April, the review was currently with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and it was hoped that a decision would be made after Easter. It is now long after Easter, and we are still waiting. On behalf of people such as Ted Williams, who is national secretary of the National Malaya and Borneo Veterans Association, may we have a statement as soon as possible so that as we approach armed forces week they can wear their medal publicly, with pride, in memory of the 340 troops who died fighting bravely in those jungles?
This is a long-standing campaign that has a lot of support on both sides of the House, and I commend the hon. Lady for raising it. I will raise with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister exactly what she has said. If it is indeed the case that a decision rests with them, I will use what influence I have to try to get a decision before the summer recess.
Further to the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) about British cucumbers being decimated, may we have a debate on why some ill-judged remarks by an EU Minister from Germany are leading to enormous financial implications and bills for our country?
As I made clear earlier, there is no evidence at all of any contamination in the UK food chain that emanates from the problems of the E. coli outbreak in Germany. I say again to my hon. Friend that the public should be reassured that there is no reason at all why cucumbers in this country should not be consumed. If there have been unhelpful remarks from people overseas, of course I will pursue that through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
As a member of the Backbench Business Committee, may I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Members for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) with regard to the work of the Committee, where work is piling up? Members across the House are becoming concerned at the little time so far allocated by the Government to its duties.
May I also ask the Leader of the House about Southern Cross? There is significant concern about Southern Cross, not only because of the current self-induced financial crisis but because of significant shortcomings in levels of care in several homes around the country before the crisis was confirmed.
On the latter point, it would be for the Care Quality Commission to pursue any failings in care and to take that up with the home directly and, if necessary, with the appropriate social services departments.
In response to what the hon. Gentleman said about time pressures, there is enormous pressure on the Government in that we are asked for more time for Report stages and for debates on important issues. Unless he is suggesting that the House should sit into the end of July and August, I am afraid that the Backbench Business Committee and the Government will both have to make difficult decisions on timing.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on NHS funding? Constituents of mine have highlighted to me the importance of mental health services provision, so a debate on the £3 billion of further investment that this Government are putting into the NHS this year would be timely and welcome.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There will be time for a debate on the NHS when the Health and Social Care Bill returns to the Floor of the House. He reminds the House that an extra £3 billion is being invested in the NHS this year—an investment that Labour would have denied it.
A constituent of mine is particularly worried about the Government’s plans for the NHS in England because her daughter has a rare condition that can be treated only in hospital in London. She will therefore be interested to know that the Government are talking about recommitting the Health and Social Care Bill to Committee. However, will there not be a real problem for members of that Committee, who may have to vote for exactly the opposite of what they voted for only a few months ago? Will the Leader of the House make sure that if there is to be a recommittal, the Committee has a new set of Government Back Benchers so that the original members do not have to lose any integrity or credibility?
A nice try! If the Bill is recommitted, there will have to be a fresh Committee of Selection to appoint a new Committee. I have every confidence that Back-Bench Members of my party and of the Liberal Democrat party will use their best judgment on that Committee and continue to work with the Government to drive up standards in the NHS so that we have a world-beating health service in this country.
There will be an opportunity to raise that at DCMS questions next week. I thought that the FA did the right thing in arguing strongly for a postponement of the election, but it was not successful. It is now up to Sepp Blatter to reform FIFA and make it a much more accountable and transparent organisation than it is at the moment.
May I, too, press for a debate on the future of regulation of our care homes? Southern Cross has 750 homes across the country that are in trouble with rental payments, and yesterday we learned that 3,000 staff are being laid off. Many Members across the House will want a debate to ensure that the Government have a grip on the situation.
I understand the concern about this. I hope that before long it will be possible to offer time to the Backbench Business Committee for which it might consider a serious bid from both sides of the House for a debate on care. The Dilnot report will come out early next month. I am sure that the House will want to debate it, because its recommendations are closely linked to the problems in which Southern Cross and other care home providers now find themselves.
Many Members have made the point that there has been not been enough time for the Backbench Business Committee. The Chairman of the Committee would have made that point today, but unfortunately cannot be here for understandable reasons. There was a solution. The Wright report recommended that Back-Bench business should be scheduled every Wednesday with Thursdays once again becoming a main day for debate on Government legislation and other matters. Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week to say whether that can be done or whether the forces of darkness are preventing it?
There are no forces of darkness in my life. I will reflect on my hon. Friend’s point. It is not the case that the Backbench Business Committee has been offered only Thursdays. I think that the last day it was offered was a Tuesday. The Government have to balance the demands on time for Government Bills with the demands of the Backbench Business Committee. This will all be resolved in three years when we have a House business committee that can take a co-ordinated view. I commend my hon. Friend for his role in never letting us forget that we have a Backbench Business Committee.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. During the recess, The Observer reported a seemingly rolling commitment by the British military mission in Saudi Arabia. May we have an urgent statement from the Government on the exact nature of the role of the BMM in training the Saudi national guard? It would seem slightly duplicitous to support pro-democracy movements in the middle east, while training the jack-boot forces that are quashing protests in the region.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. There will be an opportunity next Tuesday at Foreign Office questions either to table a substantive question such as the one he has asked, or to ask a topical question. I will alert Foreign Office Ministers that such a question might be on the way.
I very much hope that we can have a debate on intellectual property. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the great sporting event that is to take place in this country next year: the Wombourne olympics in south Staffordshire. The event’s organisers are very concerned that the Olympic authorities might prosecute them for using the word “olympics”. I am sure that a debate would clarify the matter.
May we have a debate on the progress of the Department for Work and Pensions in implementing the recommendations of the Harrington review into work capability assessments? My constituent, Barry Haney, who has a brain tumour with multiple side-effects, was judged fit to work after a four-minute assessment. He won his appeal. Surely it would save a lot of heartache, time and public money if the assessments were got right in the first place. Perhaps we could debate that on a cross-party basis in the House.
There will be Work and Pensions questions on Monday. Of course we should try to get these matters right at the initial assessment so that they do not have to go to appeal. The hon. Gentleman reminds the House that there is an opportunity to appeal to an independent body. I will certainly raise the issue with the DWP and ensure that the quality control is such that the need to appeal in such cases is minimised.
An important decision to be made in the next few months is the location of the green investment bank. It is important that the criteria for that decision are transparent and open to scrutiny. May we have a statement on what the criteria will be, and an assurance that the process will be transparent, open and fair, in which case I am sure the bank will end up in Warrington?
I fear that my hon. Friend may have opened a bidding war with his question. All parts of the country will be considered. The location for the green investment bank will be chosen to enable it best to deliver its mission. We will consider a number of criteria, including the ability to fulfil the GIB’s mission, ease of access to the talent pool, and commercial costs. I am sure that Warrington will be considered.
Will the Leader of the House conduct a review and make a statement to the House on the way in which the Government respond to questions from Members? On Tuesday, I asked the Secretary of State for Health about the cost of the listening exercise. He has twice been unable to answer that question and wants to write to me. Some estimates have put the cost at up to £1 billion. If the pause, listening and reflecting had been done at the White Paper stage, none of these costs would have been incurred.
If my right hon. Friend said that he would write to the hon. Lady with an answer, I am sure that that is exactly what he will do. I think that the pause for the listening exercise has been widely welcomed. If it enables us to improve the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill, I am sure that the whole House will welcome that outcome.
Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on awarding a posthumous Victoria cross to Blair Mayne, the legendary member and officer of the Special Air Service, for his courageous and heroic endeavours in the desert campaign of the second world war? He was a native of Newtownards in my constituency. To use an Ulster Scots colloquialism, he was yin o’ oor ain folk. Ards borough council and the Northern Ireland Assembly support the campaign. In the last Parliament, a number of Members signed an early-day motion asking for him to be recognised with the VC. How better to ensure that their war hero is recognised? A debate in this House would allow public opinion to be reflected and enable hon. Members to indicate their support for—
The Government have relied for their evidence base for scrapping education maintenance allowance on a piece of research by the National Foundation for Educational Research. Dr Thomas Spielhofer, who led that research, made it very clear in evidence to the Education Committee yesterday that there is no evidence base in the research to say that EMA is a dead-weight. In view of that, will the Secretary of State for Education come to the House to explain the evidence base on which he makes his decisions?