The business for next week will be:
Monday 20 June—Second Reading of the Pensions Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 21 June—A motion relating to the partial recommittal of the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by 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—A motion relating to review of congenital cardiac services for children followed by a motion relating to wild animals in circuses. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the week commencing 27 June will include:
Monday 27 June—A debate on House of Lords reform.
Tuesday 28 June—Opposition Day [19th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply.
The whole House will have welcomed this week’s successful meeting of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, which showed why the last Government were right to prioritise the vaccination of children from a rising aid budget and why this Government are right to continue to show leadership to save children’s lives.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the current Session will end in March next year, with a Queen’s Speech before the end of that month so that it is all done before the Easter recess and pre-election purdah?
On the Health and Social Care Bill recommittal motion, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be debatable and tell us for how long? The House must have the opportunity to discuss how the Bill will be scrutinised because the Health Secretary has said that only the relevant parts of the Bill will be recommitted. That is completely unacceptable, and it will make life only more difficult for the Government in the other place where, as we know, they already have problems with time. In the case of the last two Bills to be recommitted, the whole of the Bill was sent back. When are we going to see the draft amendments? How many clauses are going to be changed? What about the knock-on effects on other clauses? The reason why the Bill is in chaos is that the Government really messed it up first time round. That is why trust is in very short supply, making it essential that, this time round, the House and all those who care about the health service have the time and scope they need to look again at the Bill in detail.
As well as reconsidering the Health and Social Care Bill, can we also have a debate on why the Prime Minister got this so catastrophically wrong in the first place, with staff being sacked and then re-hired at great expense? As we saw yesterday—and it was really rather embarrassing—the Prime Minister does not do his homework and he does not even know what is in his own legislation. While no one wants to take responsibility for the mess, everyone is trying to claim credit for the changes. The Lib Dems think they have saved the NHS from the Tories, which has irritated those on the Conservative Benches, while the Prime Minister thinks he has saved the NHS from his Health Secretary, who is no doubt pretty cross, too. However, the people who really count, the public, think what we have known for a very long time—that you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS.
Following the comments of the First Sea Lord this week about the effects of the Libya campaign on the Royal Navy and bearing in mind that we could have saved both time and money if we still had our Ark Royal and its Harriers, when are we going to have a statement from the Defence Secretary about looking again at the strategic defence and security review? The review has proved incapable of surviving contact with real events, and it has left this country in the extraordinary position of being an island nation that cannot put an aircraft carrier to sea.
Having heard the Government’s pathetic excuses for refusing to bring in a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, during the course of which the House was told, wrongly, that this was because of a non-existent legal case, has the Leader of the House had any indication from Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers that they plan to make a statement dumping the policy before next Thursday’s debate? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman join my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), the hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Colchester (Bob Russell), me and many other Members in voting to do the right thing?
Finally, can we have a debate on weekly rubbish collections? Although it was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who answered Tuesday’s urgent question, we really want to hear from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as we all know that this was his pet project and his great cause, so he must be very disappointed. Brimful of nostalgia for the clink of glasses of warm beer, the thwack of willow on leather and the clang of weekly bin collections, he had proclaimed that having the rubbish taken away every seven days was
“a basic right for every Englishman and woman”—
Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty, please note. Jumping heroically on a passing bin-wagon, the Communities Secretary pledged to bring back weekly collections. In fact, he has been defeated by his own Conservative councillors who, after all, have introduced more alternate weekly collections than anyone else—Conservatives like Andrew Nunn, an environment cabinet member in Suffolk, who said bluntly:
“Eric Pickles should spend less time reading the newspapers. He’s got it wrong.”
I agree, but with one exception. After all the policies that the Government have had to throw away in the last few weeks, there is one address that desperately needs to keep a weekly collection of rubbish—No. 10 Downing street, where there is even enough room for a bin lorry to do a U-turn.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that response. The House will note that his performances at business questions are attracting the attention of powerful friends. Last Friday, he was praised by the Daily Mail, which announced:
“Hilary Benn for Labour leader. The campaign starts here”.
After that intoxicating but unlikely endorsement, I looked up the odds on the right hon. Gentleman becoming the next Labour leader. I was disappointed to see him some way behind the pack at 33:1, but if I were a betting man, I would say it was worth a pony on the shadow Leader of the House.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the conference on Monday. He will have noted the extra £800 million that the Government have invested in vaccination, and he will have heard the Secretary of State’s statement on Wednesday about our overall policy on aid.
The right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the press. The end of the Session will depend on the progress that we make with legislation. I remind him that the then Government were not telling us 10 months before March last year—in 2009—when that Session would end. According to my recollection, we did not know when it would end until March, when the Government hit the buffers.
The motion to recommit the Health and Social Care Bill would normally have been taken forthwith under the Standing Orders. We propose to make time available for the Bill to be debated, and to recommit the parts that were amended by the Government in their recent statement.
I mean the parts that we propose to amend. The recommittal motion will be tabled in good time for the House to debate it on Tuesday.
As for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the Bill, I hope that he read what Lord Darzi said about our policy. He said:
“I certainly don’t see it as a U-turn. I see it as a continuum of reform that the health service has witnessed for the last decade under Labour and it’s moving on into the next decade very much based on the changes in the demand on the health service.”
I hope that that view will be reiterated by Opposition spokesmen as the Bill proceeds through its remaining stages.
The Prime Minister dealt with the First Sea Lord’s comments yesterday when he referred to the statement by the Chief of the Defence Staff that we had the resources to continue the exercise in Libya for as long as it took. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his party in government deferred the conducting of a strategic defence and security review for a long time. We have conducted one, and we have no plans to revisit it.
I announced that there would be a debate on circus animals next Thursday, in Government time, and the Government will make their position clear during that debate. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that is yet another issue on which his party in government failed to take any action, leaving us to sort it out.
I was slightly surprised when the right hon. Gentleman raised the subject of bin collection. I remember his rather humiliating U-turn on waste only two years ago when, as Environment Secretary, he had to back down on his own proposals. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are backing local authorities that want to increase the frequency and improve the quality of their bin collections, and we have abandoned Labour’s guidance to the Audit Commission which penalised local authorities that carried out weekly collections.
When can we expect a statement and a debate on sentencing? According to new assault guidelines, an assault on a police officer which involves a punch to the stomach that winds a police officer, when the criminal attempts to evade arrest and has previous convictions for public order offences, can now be punished with only a fine. That kind of soft, lily-livered approach to sentencing is driving my constituents mad, and it is time that the Government got a grip on the issue once and for all.
Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent statement enabling the Business Secretary to explain to the House why the Government are refusing to sign a United Nations convention that protects the rights of domestic workers? On the day of the announcement to that effect, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was supporting an inquiry into modern-day slavery. It is about time that the Government got their act together.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement by the Secretary of State for Transport explaining this morning’s decision to award the contract for Thameslink trains to Siemens, which will manufacture them in Germany, rather than to Bombardier, which would have manufactured them in Derby? I think that the whole House would like to understand how we reached the position of having to export those jobs to Germany.
I believe I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport issued a written ministerial statement today on two subjects, one of which was the award of that contract. Next Thursday, when my right hon. Friend responds to oral questions at the Dispatch Box, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to press him, or more likely her—the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers)—on the reasons for a particular decision to award the contract to a particular company.
Earlier today, during questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the future of Supporters Direct was raised. Since its creation 11 years ago, that organisation has been at the forefront of community involvement in football clubs, but its future is very much in doubt following the decision to rescind funding from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund. I believe that, whether one is a supporter of co-operatives, a supporter of the big society or just a football supporter, the excellent work done by Supporters Direct cannot be lost.
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) has applied for a Westminster Hall debate on the subject. I do not know whether the Leader of the House is a football-supporting man, but I wonder if he will support my hon. Friend’s request.
He is. He has supported Queen’s Park Rangers for a very long time, and welcomes its recent promotion.
I understand that during the exchange at Question Time, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson) was very supportive indeed of the hon. Gentleman’s proposition. I hope that it will be pursued further in Westminster Hall, and I will ask my hon. Friend whether he can add to what he said earlier.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, which I am sure is shared by many Members on both sides of the House. I think it regrettable that two teachers’ unions have decided to take industrial action at a time when the Government are still negotiating with them about the future of pensions. That will be bad news for the children, and bad news for parents who go out to work.
Responsibility for contingency planning rests with individual employers, and at this stage the Government have no plans to change the legislation, but I will bring my hon. Friend’s concern to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education, and will see whether there is any further action that he can take.
In his Mansion House speech last night, as well as pre-empting the final report of the Independent Commission on Banking, the Chancellor announced the sale of Northern Rock to the highest bidder. I do not know whether that will be considered in the statement that will follow business questions, but, if not, may I urge the Leader of the House to arrange a debate, or indeed a statement, on the issue? That would enable the House to be told why, in this instance, the Government have chosen not to implement the pledge in the coalition agreement
“to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.”
Let me respond to the direct question posed by the hon. Gentleman by saying that whether a question about Northern Rock would be in order in the statement that is to follow would be a matter for you, Mr Speaker. I see that you are reflecting on it as we speak.
It has always been the Government’s policy to return Northern Rock to the private sector, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced yesterday evening.
The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games appears to believe that the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 prevents other people from even mentioning next year as a date. It says that the term “2012” is now widely used in the United Kingdom as a reference to the games. My constituent Julie Benson, founder of the Great Exhibition Company, is being threatened by that. She said that her exhibition next year
“will promote the best of Great Britain to the rest of the world —it’s not about a sporting event in London.'”
Can the Leader of the House reassure me—and Julie Benson, and printers of diaries and calendars everywhere—that the Act does not confer on LOCOG exclusive rights to any number or date, and that Members will not have to rely on the privileges of their membership of the House to talk about the date next year?
Or, indeed, next year.
I endorse my hon. Friend’s general proposition: that there is no monopoly on 2012, and we are at liberty to refer to it. However, I would hesitate before engaging in what appears to be a legal dispute between two companies, as I believe that would be better sorted out by the courts than by Ministers.
May we have a debate on the fiduciary responsibility of members of boards of directors? Both UK and United States law makes it clear that directors are bound to
“exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence”
in ensuring companies act lawfully, yet this clearly has not happened in relation to News Corporation, the owner of the News of the World, where criminality has gone on extensively. That now leaves people such as José Maria Aznar, Andrew Knight, Kenneth Cowley, Rod Eddington, Thomas Perkins and Stanley Shuman in real legal peril.
May we have a debate on the ownership and effectiveness of local and regional newspapers—including mine, The Enfield Advertiser and the Enfield Independent—since many editors throughout the country feel they are unable to scrutinise local public bodies? While it is not our role to run newspapers, I believe that, given the pressures on the industry, we should debate the implications of this serious matter.
I would welcome a debate in Westminster Hall, or initiated by the Backbench Business Committee, on the health of local newspapers, in which we all have an interest. My hon. Friend’s question did not make it clear why they were impeded from reporting on certain matters, but if he writes to me, I will see what I can do, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary.
May we have an early debate on nannies? I think the Leader of the House is now beyond the nanny-using stage of his life, but for many of us he is a kind of generous nanny within the House. However, as I speak, in Geneva, British representatives, instructed by the Prime Minister, are seeking to vote against a vital International Labour Organisation convention to protect domestic workers, and we are the only democracy so to do. This is not a matter for Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions; it goes to the heart of this Government and, as with the EU trafficking directive, their contempt for international conventions to protect the most weak and vulnerable in our nation.
We did, of course, sign up to the EU trafficking convention. I think the right hon. Gentleman’s question is the same as that asked a few moments ago by his party colleague, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), in answer to which I undertook to raise the concerns with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, who has responsibility for these matters, and then to communicate that answer to the hon. Gentleman. I will send that response to the right hon. Gentleman as well.
Will my right hon. Friend support me in getting Ministers to answer questions on the dreadful treatment of my constituent, Julie Roberts? She has worked for Royal Mail for 21 years in the villages of Seisdon and Trysull. She recently had her mail van stolen. She immediately jumped on to its bonnet and held on for a mile while the thief tried to make a getaway. She was able to get the van stopped, and regain control of the vehicle. How does Royal Mail treat this lady? It suspends her, and she is under threat of losing her job. People in South Staffordshire want her back in work and Royal Mail to show some common sense and common decency.
Julie sounds like a courageous lady who was doing her best to defend Royal Mail property, and I will certainly draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the attention of the Royal Mail chairman, and make sure this lady is recognised, if appropriate, rather than penalised.
It used to be the case that after the G8 summit the Prime Minister would make an oral statement to the House, which would allow us to question him on what he had done on the nation’s behalf, but we appear not to be having such a statement this year. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we reinstate this practice in future years, and not just for the G8 summit coming up shortly in the year that cannot be mentioned, but for other events such as the G20 summit, so we can properly hold the Government to account on what they do on our behalf in the international arena?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made more statements from the Dispatch Box than his predecessor and has reported after most major conferences, and he is more than happy to hold himself to account. I will make some inquiries, including about the particular point the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but my right hon. Friend is certainly more than prepared to come to the House and answer questions after major international conferences.
I think my hon. Friend might be referring to a wholly misleading article that appeared in The Sun this morning. A resolution referring to our contribution to the IMF is before the House, and it will go upstairs to a Committee. The move to increase the IMF’s resources was first agreed by the G20 in April 2009, which was before any eurozone support, and I am sure the proposition will receive the attention it deserves from the House.
Further to today’s written statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs saying that the Government will extend buying standards for food and catering across Whitehall, may we have a debate on such regulation? We need a national framework that applies to all public sector bodies, and it is wrong for hospitals to be excluded, particularly when we have made so much progress in the fish campaign.
Community groups play a vital role in helping to regenerate town centres and in attracting people to them by holding events such as the Barnaby festival, which will take place this weekend, and to which all Members are welcome. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on the important role community groups play in the regeneration of town centres, and will he join me in wishing the Barnaby festival every success this weekend?
I am sorry that I cannot attend the Barnaby festival, but I am sure my hon. Friend will be present. This is an example of the big society in action. It is an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate its history, and to promote Barnaby. I hope that the Barnaby festival will create opportunities for further regeneration and renewal, and I wish it every success this weekend.
Saturday marks the 196th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on what plans are in place to mark the day when Britain, led by a future Conservative Prime Minister, defeated the French and ended their domination of Europe—and is there any likelihood of history repeating itself?
One of my ancestors, Admiral Sir George Young, was a contemporary of Nelson, so I have a particular interest in my hon. Friend’s question. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, in order to find out whether there are any proposals to commemorate this important anniversary.
Will the Leader of the House consider finding time for a debate on the proposed sale of Northern Rock? I understand that the Treasury has this morning told reporters that retention of the Northern Rock Foundation, which does important big society work in the north-east of England, will not be a condition of the sale, which is a great concern to many of my constituents, and to people across the north-east of England.
Later this afternoon, a plaque is being unveiled at the excellent Brentham club in Ealing to commemorate Fred Perry, who started his tennis career there. Does the Leader of the House agree that we want more of our young tennis players to get into the top rankings and that it might be helpful to spend some time in a debate working out how we can help to achieve that?
I have happy memories of the Brentham club, which used to be in my Ealing constituency, and I am delighted to hear of the event commemorating Fred Perry. I also have happy memories of the Ealing lawn tennis club, which I hope is also surviving. I would welcome a debate on sport and how we might do more to encourage young people, not only in tennis, but in other activities. I very much hope that 2012—I hope I may mention that date without getting into serious trouble—will provide an opportunity to raise the profile of sport and encourage more young people to get involved.
May we have a debate on the decision that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) took this week to increase the Humber bridge toll to £3 per car per crossing, which is now the most expensive in Britain? The decision was taken without waiting for the Treasury’s review on bridge tolls. Such a debate would allow us to discuss what this will mean for the regeneration of the Humber bridge area.
May we have a debate about unemployment and jobs growth? Yesterday’s jobs figures showed a substantial increase in private sector jobs growth in the last quarter, which is of vital importance to my constituency, as it needs to get more, sustainable private sector jobs.
My hon. Friend reminds the House of the very encouraging set of figures we saw yesterday, which showed that there were an extra 500,000 jobs in the private sector, more than counterbalancing any decline in the number of public sector jobs. Particularly good news was the decline in youth unemployment—that is now at a lower level than we inherited from the outgoing Government.
The Chancellor has talked about the need for a cultural change in banking regulation, given the failed system that was set up and led by the previous Administration. What plans does the Leader of the House have to allow a full debate on these issues, given that a White Paper has been published?
That debate will be initiated in a few moments’ time by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who will make a statement. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) is right to say that we need to reform the financial services regime, which manifestly failed, if the City is to continue to be a centre of wealth, enterprise and encouraging employment. I hope that he will remain in his place for a few minutes longer, so that he can get a more authoritative reply from the Financial Secretary.
As this is carers week, may we have a debate on the support for carers? I understand that the chief executive of Carers UK has welcomed the fact that the carer’s allowance will remain non-means-tested outside the universal credit. In that debate, we could discuss the extensive additional support that the Government are putting into respite care for carers.
My hon. Friend rightly reminds us that this is carers week. Tomorrow, I will be at the Princess Royal Trust for Carers’ Andover branch, praising those carers, who save this country a huge sum. My hon. Friend is also right to say that we have found additional resources for respite care for parents of disabled children and also for others via the NHS. We have also ring-fenced the carer’s allowance, so that it is not subsumed within universal credit.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on harsh practice by the Royal Bank of Scotland? Louisa Allen is the latest of my constituents to be treated very toughly by RBS, which is risking an unnecessary court case and threatening her with bankruptcy even though she has the funds to pay for a reasonable settlement. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the chairman of RBS to see what can be done?
I will certainly convey what my hon. Friend has just said to the chairman of RBS. My hon. Friend will know that under Project Merlin a clear commitment was given to increase bank lending. Although the banks are on target to hit the overall figure of some £190 billion, they are falling a bit behind on the small and medium-sized enterprises side of things. We made it clear that we reserve the right to return to the issue and take further measures should that be necessary. Not only will I pursue the matter with RBS, but the Financial Secretary has heard the question.
Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on energy policy and the performance of the regulator? Like my constituents, I am fed up to the back teeth of a situation where the retail price of gas increases when the wholesale price does, but never comes down when the wholesale price drops. We clearly need urgent action on this because it is combating our work on our inflation targets.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern that retail prices go up faster than they come down. Hon. Members will have an opportunity to question Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change on 7 July, so this question can be raised then. I know that this is concerning many hon. Members as we read about fuel prices increasing. We have introduced a number of measures to help, including the green deal, which is going through the House.
The community of Ollerton has for a number of years been seeking to redevelop its former miners’ welfare building. The project is being held up by the siting of a communications mast, which is the property of a company called Cornerstone, a subsidiary of Vodafone. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to discuss the power of communications companies to hold communities to ransom over projects such as this?
I would be misleading my hon. Friend if I said that I could find time for such a debate, but it does sound to be a worthwhile subject for an Adjournment debate. I am sure that other Members of Parliament have similar concerns to those that he has outlined. I will draw his concerns to the attention of the Minister with responsibility for planning and Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
May we have a debate on the progress being made by the Government on the essential rebalancing of, and restoring of health to, our economy? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Ministers have time in that debate to address the warnings issued last night by the Governor of the Bank of England that changing the mix of tight fiscal and loose monetary policy would “make little sense”?
I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said and, indeed, what the Governor of the Bank of England said last night, which makes it all the more extraordinary that we heard a speech this morning demanding yet further tax cuts that are wholly underfunded.
Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate on the Independent Commission on Banking report and the specific proposal for more competition in the retail banking sector, so that healthy competition can be a powerful defender of the interest of consumers?
As I said to one of my colleagues a few moments ago, there will be an opportunity after the Financial Secretary has made a statement for questions about our proposals to maintain the City of London as a thriving centre of enterprise that concentrates on serving its customers. There will be an opportunity to question the Financial Secretary on the ICB’s proposals.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on trade union reform laws, in order to give this House a chance to discuss the appalling way in which unions such as the Public and Commercial Services Union are threatening this country with strike action? That is happening even though that union had a turnout of only just over 32% in its ballot.
Indeed, under 20% of that union’s members actually voted for industrial action. So far, we have had a good record on days lost through industrial action—the level has been one of the lowest. As of now, we have no plans to reform trade union legislation, but if we see a wave of irresponsible strikes, we would want to re-examine this again very carefully.