The business for the week commencing 18 July is as follows:
Monday 18 July—Motions relating to national policy statements, followed by a motion to approve the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England.
Tuesday 19 July—General debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, as nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.
Colleagues will wish to be aware that, subject to the approval of the House, the House will meet at 11.30 am on that day.
The business for the week commencing 5 September will include:
Monday 5 September—Remaining stages of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill.
Tuesday 6 September—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill (Day 1).
Wednesday 7 September—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill (Day 2), followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to victims of crime.
Thursday 8 September—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by the remaining stages of the London Olympic Games and Paralympics Games (Amendment) Bill.
Friday 9 September—Private Members’ Bills.
I should like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 8 and 15 September 2011 will be as follows:
Thursday 8 September—A debate on future flood and water management legislation.
Thursday 15 September—A debate on scientific advice and evidence in emergencies.
As these are the last business questions before the summer recess, may I, as usual, thank the staff of the House for all their hard work? I hope that they have a good break before we return in September.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. It is good to see him back at the Dispatch Box in his day job, after covering for the Prime Minister, who twice this week has sent someone else to the House when he should have been here himself. Last Friday, he was quite happy to be questioned by journalists on phone hacking, but he did not give Members that privilege until yesterday. So do we not now need the Procedure Committee’s recommendations on ministerial statements to be agreed as soon as possible? Will the Government find time for that?
The House knows that it took the Prime Minister a little while to get it on News International, but some others still do not get it. To argue that the story published about the son of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) was acquired by legitimate means is to miss the point completely: it is never legitimate to publish medical information about a four-month-old just because of who his father is.
This has, however, been a good week for Parliament, as the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday: asking questions, scrutinising, revealing the truth and working with the Government to hold News International to account. Can the Leader of the House confirm this morning that the inquiry will now be established immediately? We need clarity about the setting-up date, to protect all the potential evidence.
Given that it has been reported in the last few minutes that Rebekah Brooks has now agreed to appear before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport but that a summons to appear is to be served on James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch, can the Leader of the House confirm that such orders apply regardless of nationality and that a further refusal to appear might be reported to the House as a breach of privilege?
Can the Leader of the House tell us how many written ministerial statements the Government expect to publish next Monday and Tuesday, given that we have had 16 yesterday and 30 today?
The Health and Social Care Bill is three times longer than the 1946 Act that set up the NHS and has now been considered in Committee twice; but second time round, only 64 of the Bill’s 299 clauses were looked at again. The Criminal Justice Bill 2003, which the Prime Minister remembers well, had three days’ consideration on Report; but given that this lengthy Bill has had to go back to Committee a second time, will the Leader of the House find time for four days’ consideration on Report, instead of the inadequate two days that have been offered?
Last week, the Leader of the House was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) about Ministers who have refused to meet Members. I am now aware of at least eight cases in which that has happened. I am surprised, Mr Speaker, because it is surely the duty of every Minister to meet parliamentary colleagues if they ask. May I thank the Leader of the House and, indeed, the Deputy Leader of the House for their willingness to help to sort this out? We will pass them the details.
When will we have a debate on the higher education White Paper? The Minister for Universities and Skills promised that fees of £9,000 would be charged only in “exceptional circumstances”. However, we have learned this week that the truth is very different: 80 universities will charge £9,000 for some courses, and the average fee will be £8,393.
May we have a debate on the north-south divide? The Yorkshire Post reports that, although 109,000 more people are in work in London compared with a year ago, there are 20,000 fewer in Yorkshire and 15,000 fewer in the north-east. Yesterday, we saw the fastest rise in the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants for more than two years. In light of that, why is it the Government’s policy that the Mayor of London has been given the London Development Agency’s assets free of charge, whereas every other council must pay for its regional development agency’s assets? Why is there one rule for London and another for the rest of the country?
Finally, as these are the last business questions before the summer recess, may I thank the Leader of the House for his unfailing courtesy in answering Members’ questions and in responding to the occasional provocation on my part? May I wish him, the Deputy Leader of the House, you, Mr Speaker, Members on both sides of the House and, most importantly, the staff, who support us so ably and work so hard, a very pleasant summer break? Who knows, perhaps the Leader of the House will find some time to start blogging again?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I used to put some light-hearted items on my website, until he started to use them against me at business questions. At that point, I am afraid, the practice had to stop.
Turning to the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised with me, I think that what he said about the Prime Minister was unworthy. The Prime Minister was at the Dispatch Box for one hour and 56 minutes yesterday. He answered 78 questions from hon. Members, in addition to the questions that he answered during Prime Minister’s questions. He has made more statements to the House than his predecessor did. The accusation that he has in any way shirked his duties in the House is an unworthy one that simply cannot be sustained. I contrast my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s performance yesterday with the cry of pain that we heard from the former Prime Minister from the Back Benches.
I would welcome a debate on the Procedure Committee’s report on ministerial statements. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee to find time for such a debate.
We want to go ahead with the inquiry as soon as possible. We have made a commitment to consult the devolved Administrations and, indeed, others on the terms of reference and we will want to consult the judge on the panel’s composition, but we want to get on with it as soon as we can. In the meantime, it is a criminal offence to destroy evidence when criminal proceedings are under way. Once a tribunal has been established, additional penalties apply if evidence is destroyed.
We hope to make perhaps fewer written ministerial statements than the right hon. Gentleman’s Administration did just before the summer recess; but of course, we want to keep the House informed and let hon. Members know of planned commitments before the House goes into recess.
On the Health and Social Care Bill’s consideration on Report, we have been very generous compared with the previous Administration in having two days’ consideration on Report for the remaining stages of important legislation. We have done that twice in the past month, and it was a very rare event indeed under the right hon. Gentleman’s Administration to get two days’ consideration on Report.
Last week, I did indeed answer a question from the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar). I asked for details of incidents in which Ministers had refused to see Members. To my knowledge, I have not received that evidence; if the shadow Leader of the House has it, of course I will pursue it and encourage my hon. Friends to see Members who want meetings.
On higher education, if one looks below the surface, and includes the fee waivers, one realises that the average cost of courses in 2012-13 comes down to £8,161. It will come down even further once we award 20,000 places to institutions charging less than £7,500, as we announced in the White Paper. That figure includes the extra support that students will receive, amounting to an average £368 of benefits in the form of bursaries.
Turning to the powers of Select Committees to summon witnesses, a Select Committee can make a report to the House if it is believed that a contempt has been committed. It is then for you, Mr Speaker, to decide whether that should have precedence; the issue is then referred to the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, which can take the matter further. A range of sanctions is available to the House for contempt. One includes you, Mr Speaker, admonishing somebody who appears at the Bar of the House—a responsibility that I know you would discharge with aplomb. There is a range of other penalties, including fines and imprisonment, but that has not been used for some time.
Finally, I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for what he said about business questions. In return, I hope that he has a very good recess. Of course, it is not the case that when the House goes into recess, Members stop working; the recess enables us to focus with even greater concentration on our responsibilities in our constituencies.
The Government have encouraged the Procedure Committee to take on the remit of the now defunct Modernisation Committee in addition to its own work load, and there are three Procedure Committee reports awaiting a decision of this House, with a fourth report on the way. If the Leader of the House is not prepared to allocate Government time to determining those matters, will he give more time to the Backbench Business Committee, and allocate that time in a less erratic way, so that we can make some progress?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work that he is doing on the Procedure Committee; as he says, it is now in effect the work of two Committees—the Procedure Committee and the now defunct Modernisation Committee. We remain committed to allocating 35 days in a normal Session, plus injury time in this Session, to the Backbench Business Committee. Those days may not be allocated evenly throughout the Session, because the volume of Government legislation, and the commitment to it, means that at this time in the Session, we are doing a lot of heavy lifting, but I hope that at the beginning of a Session, and perhaps towards the end, we will be able to make up any ground that has been lost. We are committed to the 35 days, plus extra days because this Session is longer than usual.
Following on from the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), the Leader of the House is aware that since the Whitsun pre-recess Adjournment debate two months ago, the Backbench Business Committee has been given precisely one day to allocate to debate on the Floor of the House holding the Government to account. We cannot debate matters such as ministerial statements and handheld devices, or all the business coming out of the Procedure Committee, unless the Government allocate us the time for those debates. I have repeatedly asked the Leader of the House to consider allocating a regular, weekly slot, in which Back Benchers can hold the Government to account on the Floor of the House. Has he considered that, and if he has, what are the arguments against it?
I welcome the work that the hon. Lady does on her Committee. We have, of course, allocated a day next week to the Backbench Business Committee for the pre-recess Adjournment debate. Of the 35 days to which we are committed, we have so far provided 32, which I think is a good record, considering that there are many months of the Session still to go. She asked about a regular, weekly slot. She was a member of Wright Committee, which looked at the matter. It recognised the idea of a standard day every week, but also that leaving the matter to negotiations would avoid the rigidities of a set-day approach. The Committee’s alternative was a set number of days per Session, provided for in Standing Orders. That is the approach that we have taken. However, I take the point that the hon. Lady makes, and at the end of the Backbench Business Committee’s first year, I think we can review how it has worked and come to some conclusions on how we allocate time in future.
The Leader of the House will have heard encouraging remarks from the fisheries Minister—in the previous item of business. He will have noted the wide interest across the House in the issue of common fisheries policy reform, and particularly the interest in the plight of the under-10-metre fleet and the crucial issue of the 12-mile sovereign territory limit. Will the Leader of the House agree to put aside substantial time for a proper debate on the issue, in time for the House to influence negotiations on reform of the CFP?
That, in a sense, follows on from the two earlier questions about the responsibilities of the Backbench Business Committee. Previous debates on issues such as fisheries, defence and the EU were provided for by the Government, in Government time. The recommendation of the Wright Committee was that all those days, which would include days for debates such as the one to which my hon. Friend refers, should be put in a pot and allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. That is exactly what we have done, so responsibility for finding time for the debate to which he refers falls to the Backbench Business Committee, using, in the rest of the Session, one of its 35 days plus.
I was in the unfortunate situation, on Tuesday in my housing market renewal Westminster Hall debate, of having before me a Minister who was not able adequately to answer the debate. He was clearly out of his depth and referred to very serious issues experienced by my constituents as sob stories. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) asked the Minister to withdraw his comments, and he did not. Realising that he had made a mistake, the Minister got his civil servants to doctor the record, which, two days later, has still not been corrected—all while the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who should have been answering the debate, was tweeting about a round-table discussion in his Department just five minutes down the road. To ensure that those mistakes do not happen again, will the Leader of the House ensure that the relevant Minister answers the very real concerns of our constituents that we articulate and debate?
I understand that the debate was replied to by a Minister from that Department who has responsibilities for housing, and I am sure that he discharged his responsibilities adequately. The hon. Lady mentioned doctoring the record; it is not, so far as I am aware, possible to doctor the record. The Hansard Reporters report faithfully that which is said.
There will be an opportunity to ask Ministers in the Home Office questions about the number of experiments. I simply add that the experiments are often necessary. If medicines that have life-saving properties are to be brought on to the market, they need to be adequately tested to ensure that they are safe. We must get the right balance and use animals only where there is no alternative.
Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to see the latest National Audit Office report on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and in particular has he read that 91% of all Members asked now believe that they are subsidising their job? Could he raise that with IPSA and explore why that is?
I have read the report, and the hon. Gentleman will know that IPSA gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee earlier this week. The House has resolved to set up a committee to look at the legislation under which IPSA was established, and I am sure that that committee will be happy to take evidence from the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that IPSA will also take on board his comments. I think it quite wrong that Members should have to dig into their own pockets to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents and the House.
The save the pub group was delighted when the coalition Government agreed to stick to the plan put in place for pub company reform by the previous Government, based on the excellent Select Committee recommendations. The deadline is now up, and it is clear that pub companies have not done what was asked of them, so may we have a debate on that important matter, and a statutory code with a genuine free-of-tie option?
I commend my hon. Friend for his activity on the issue; in the previous Parliament, he initiated a number of debates on it. I am sure that all Members of the House have, in their constituency, pub landlords who have faced difficulties negotiating with their pubcos. I will draw to the attention of relevant Ministers in both the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the fact that the period has now expired, and ask them to consider whether legislation is now necessary to rebalance the terms of trade between tenants and landlords.
I was fortunate enough to accompany Sergeant James Main and the Respect team to see at first hand the work they are doing in Scunthorpe to reduce antisocial behaviour by young people. May we have a debate in the House on the very good work the police have done in recent years to reduce youth crime?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman applied for a debate on the pre-recess Adjournment, which would have provided an opportunity for such a debate. Otherwise, there will be an opportunity at Home Office questions in September to highlight the excellent work being done to reduce antisocial behaviour in his constituency.
May we have a debate on transparency in Government? If we are serious about reforming public services, my constituents require data at a deep level, for example on GPs’ clinical performance, if they are truly to be able to make choices about local public services.
My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister wrote to all Ministers earlier this month committing us to publish key data on the NHS, schools, criminal courts and transport. This represents the most ambitious open data agenda of any Government anywhere in the world and will help to drive up standards in exactly the way my hon. Friend describes.
The Leader of the House knows that regular statements are made about the situation in Libya, but it is some time since we have had a substantive debate with an opportunity to put the motion to a vote. Given the duration of the conflict and the issues that are of concern, will he discuss with Government colleagues the possibility of having another debate on the situation in Libya and the long-term prospects?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made regular statements on Libya, and indeed on Afghanistan and Iraq, and on one or two occasions we have, exceptionally, provided time for a debate. There will be an opportunity next Tuesday in Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions to press Ministers about the latest situation in Libya, and no doubt the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, will have heard the suggestion for a debate.
May we have a debate on the Laffer curve and petrol taxes, because figures from the AA show that the Treasury received £637 million less in revenue from petrol taxes than in the equivalent period three years ago? Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Treasury to ensure that we do not raise petrol taxes next January?
As someone with an economics degree, I am always happy to debate the Laffer curve. The fair fuel stabiliser means that fuel duty will rise by inflation only when oil prices are high. As he knows, the measures we have already taken mean that pump prices are about 6p a litre lower than they would have been had we simply carried forward the previous Government’s plans. We are also encouraging retailers wherever possible to pass on savings to consumers as quickly as possible.
Will the Leader of the House update the House on whether there has been any change in the policy on meetings of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, and will he undertake to discuss with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland an early meeting of the Committee after the summer recess?
Network Rail has given an abysmal performance, missing eight out of 10 of its own targets. Surely it is time we had a debate on that, given the impact it has on First Capital Connect, other train lines and commuters in my constituency.
I hope that my hon. Friend will apply for an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall, or indeed on the Floor of the House. Network Rail needs to be made much more accountable than it is at the moment, and its corporate governance structure is obscure to say the least. If we get that right, we will be better able to hold it to account on the specific issues she mentions.
In a Westminster Hall debate on 28 June, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, speaking about his new fixed-term social housing tenancies, said:
“I am being clear, in all our language and in the tenancy standards that we will put in place, that two years is to be considered as an exceptional circumstance, and that at least five years would be the norm.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 212WH.]
Because some of us are a little cynical about Government pledges on “exceptional circumstances” following our experiences with higher education fees, I pressed the Minister on this point and was assured that there would be provision in the regulations to be issued by the Government. The Leader of the House will not be at all surprised at my horror when I saw the draft regulations appear less than two weeks later with no such provision and, even more so, when I saw a copy of a letter sent by the Minister to the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who had secured the debate, stating that he had no intention of giving effect to this pledge. Will the Leader of the House confirm that it is completely out of order for a Minister to give a pledge in a parliamentary debate and then break it within a matter of weeks without coming to the House to explain himself, and will he ensure that the Minister answers for this issue in the House before it rises for the summer recess?
I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point seriously. He and I have a mutual interest in housing matters and I know how important security of tenure is to tenants. He will understand that I would like to make some inquiries about the exchange that has taken place, as I do not keep myself as up to date on housing matters as I used to, but I will convey his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Minister and see whether we can get a reply to him addressing those concerns before the House rises.
Sixteen-year old Hayley Bates from Biddulph was killed in a road traffic accident last year. Her parents have recently discovered that a Facebook page has been created called “Hayley Smash Nissan”, displaying shocking and disgusting images relating to Hayley and the accident. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this important issue so that we can determine what we can do to protect other families from this shocking crime?
This is a horrifying case and our sympathies go out to the family and friends. I know that it can cause great distress if these incidents are mishandled. I will raise the points my hon. Friend has just made with the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to her.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 2070, which stands in my name and those of several other hon. Members?
[That this House notes that previous Prime Ministers, including Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, were meticulous in replying personally to letters from hon. and right hon. Members; and further notes the present Prime Minister does not.]
May we have a debate so that the Prime Minister can come to the House and explain whether he feels that he is more important than his predecessors, or is just too lazy?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. I think I am right in saying that there have been occasions when, having written to a Prime Minister, I have received a reply from someone else, which I do not think is wholly unusual. However, in view of the length of time that the right hon. Gentleman has been in the House and the fact that he is a Privy Counsellor, I will raise the matter with the Prime Minister and see whether any changes are necessary in his correspondence office.
Select Committees will have a vital role in getting to the truth behind the allegations of phone hacking and other corrupt practices, but in modern times this place has not used criminal sanctions against witnesses who lie to Select Committees. In the light of the inquiries announced this week and the public interest, would it be possible to have an urgent debate when the House returns in September on why this is?
If a Select Committee feels that there has been a contempt, the procedure is that it makes a report to the House and then the Speaker decides whether to give it priority, and if he does it is put on the Order Paper and referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee. If that Committee finds that there has been a contempt, it has at its disposal a wide range of penalties, including fines.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; you are very cheeky.
As I understand it, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms has already served the summons on the lawyers of the two Murdochs, and as I understand it, there is no bar on foreign nationals being summoned. Let me make a suggestion to the Leader of the House. There is a degree of urgency about this. Parliament is going into recess next Tuesday, and the Select Committee is only going to meet on Tuesday. If the Murdochs still refuse to come next Tuesday, an alternative route would be for him to table an emergency motion on Monday to require the Serjeant at Arms to bring the Murdochs either to the Bar of the House or to the Committee. I think that he would have the support of the whole House in doing so.
I think I would like to take some advice before I go down that particular route. The position is that if a witness fails to attend when summoned, the Committee reports the matter to the House and it is then for the House to decide what further action to take. As I said, there has not been a case of that kind for some considerable time. The House can order a witness to attend a Committee; apparently this has not happened since 1920. I would like to take some advice on the rather dramatic course of action that the hon. Gentleman has recommended to me, whatever the consequences might be with regard to News International.
With regard to the terms of reference for the Leveson inquiry, will my right hon. Friend make a note of early-day motion 2088, which is signed by 14 Select Committee Chairmen from all three main parties, the chairmen of the 1922 committee and the parliamentary Labour party, and representatives of the Northern Ireland party and Scottish national party which lead the devolved Assemblies, and has been passed on to No. 10? It proposes that the terms of reference of the Leveson inquiry should
“be extended to the whole media, including sound, visual and social media, and include blagging and other unethical or illegal practices”
and not be confined to phone hacking.
My hon. Friend made this point in yesterday’s exchanges. Of course, the broadcasting media already have their own statutory regulation that does not apply to the press. I know that the Prime Minister will take on board the suggestions that have been made about changing the terms of reference, and we will consider that before final decisions are made.
On Tuesday, I raised under a point of order a concern that the Ministry of Justice has written to all chief probation officers announcing the commencement of the privatisation of probation services. That was done without any statement to the House whatsoever. On Wednesday, there was a written statement to the House that dealt with probation services but also announced the closure of two prisons and the privatisation of a range of other prisons. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that that warranted an oral statement to the House, and ask that a Minister attend for that purpose next week? It is important that we discuss this issue, because it is the most significant change in the criminal justice service over the past decade. If we cannot have a statement to the House, may we have a debate in Government time in early September?
The hon. Gentleman referred to the written ministerial statement. We are committed to delivering reform in our public services, and we want to improve efficiency and effectiveness in outcomes for victims, offenders and the wider community. On the question of whether the matter is dealt with in a written statement or an oral statement, I understand his point, but the Government must also have regard for the business of the House. Wednesday—yesterday—was an Opposition day with a lot of important business, and I am not sure what the reaction would have been if we had had yet another statement, compressing the business even further. We will of course always look at the balance between written and oral statements, but in this particular case I think we were right to do what we did.
Will the Leader of the House follow me in condemning the appalling bombings that took place in Mumbai yesterday, which resulted in 17 deaths? In particular, does he agree that at this very difficult time for India, this House and Britain should stand firm in its support of India?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The whole House will want to send its sympathy to the friends and relatives of those who lost their lives in these terrorist atrocities. The Foreign Office consular team is already in Mumbai providing consular support to any British nationals who may have been caught up in these events. We are working very closely with the Indian authorities, and we are committed to working with the Indian Government and our allies to combat the threat from terrorism in all its forms.
We have only two sitting days left, and it is important that this House is reported to on the progress of the Leveson inquiry in terms of securing evidence. In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) on Monday, News International said that if he would give it the details of his complaint, it would investigate it. For us, that is not good enough. It is the police who should carry out that investigation, or the inquiry. All the information should be made available and secured now. We need a statement before the recess in order to understand what progress is being made on securing that evidence.
When does the Leader of the House envisage our being able to debate the opening up of public services outlined in the White Paper this week? No doubt parish councils and communities across the country, as well as in Great Yarmouth, are excited about the opportunities that this may give them to be more in control of their destiny.
I am delighted that there is an appetite in Great Yarmouth to take forward the agenda that the Minister of State, Cabinet Office outlined on Monday with the White Paper. We want to give everyone the choice of helping to improve and control the services they receive and to end the big Government, top-down way of running public services. I hope that it will be possible to have a debate at some point in future to explain how we plan to take this agenda forward.
May we have a debate on patients’ rights in the national health service? My constituents, Frances and Magdalen McAleavy, have been removed from the doctors’ list at their GP surgery. They have not moved home. Frances McAleavy is 75 years old and has been with this GP practice since she was five months old in 1936. Will the Government look for more protection for patients in such situations?
I am sorry to hear of the problems that confront the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. There will be an opportunity to touch on some of these issues when we debate the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill, but in the meantime I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
The recently published accounts of S4C, the Welsh fourth channel, showed that the interim chief executive was paid a pro rata salary of £212,000. Is it possible to have a debate in the House about how a public body such as S4C continues to prioritise high salaries at the expense of front-line services such as programming?
May I reinforce the fact that this is a unique opportunity for the House to make very clear the responsibilities and powers of a Select Committee in calling people to give evidence? In the 10 years in which I was Chair of the Education Committee, the situation was never really clear, and it seems to be totally unfair. People such as the rich, the famous and celebrities used to evade us—we never managed to get Jamie Oliver to give evidence. We sometimes used to brag that we had this power—at one stage, on the basis of that threat, I forced the National Union of Teachers to come and give evidence—but it was never clear and precise what it was and who we could call.
The hon. Gentleman will know that under the previous Administration there was a Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. When it reported in 1999, it recommended that failure to appear before a Select Committee should be a criminal offence. The Administration whom he supported never took that Committee’s recommendations forward. We are committed to introducing a draft privilege Bill that will be based on the recommendations of the 1999 Joint Committee report. I therefore hope that we can begin to find a solution to the uncertainty to which he refers.
In reference to an earlier question, I am advised that it is doubtful whether the House can any longer impose a fine; this was last done in 1666. However, that could be addressed in the draft Bill.
In areas as diverse as energy-intensive industries and children with myalgic encephalomyelitis, the issues cross two or more Departments, whereas debates are traditionally answered by one Department. Will the Leader of the House investigate how cross-departmental issues can be better covered by this House in future?
The hon. Gentleman may know that in the last Parliament, we had cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall. The issues that he raises might therefore be dealt with by the House. I think I am right to say that that experiment was not an outstanding success and that that is why it lapsed. It might be worth looking at again, and perhaps the Procedure Committee or the Backbench Business Committee could do that.
The recent announcements of huge increases in gas and electricity prices have left many of my constituents anxious about how they will get through the next winter. They also feel angry and ripped off because Ofgem does not seem to be able to manage the small number of energy companies, which are making excessive profits. May we have an urgent debate on the energy industry and price rises, and can it be held in the autumn before this issue becomes a winter crisis?
The hon. Lady may know that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made his statement on electricity market reform on Tuesday, the issues that she has just touched on, such as how we tackle fuel poverty, were raised. He outlined the measures that are available through the Department for Work and Pensions to help those on low incomes to meet their fuel bills. She will also know that the green deal is going through the House at the moment, which will enable people at no cost to themselves to have measures introduced to their home to reduce their electricity bills. We are working on a range of other initiatives. I would welcome such a debate, but it would again fall to the Backbench Business Committee to find time for it.
Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on jobs? In one year, three out of every four jobs went to foreign workers. That seems to substantiate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Does that not demonstrate why we must be stronger on employment for Britons?
It is very important that as the economy recovers and the 900,000 jobs are created, as forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, more people who are already here have the skills to apply for and secure those jobs. Part of the agenda of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is to achieve the objective, through the Work programme, of enabling more people who are already here, perhaps the long-term unemployed, to have access to the new jobs, rather than having to import people to do them.
Given that the Government launched what was described as a six-month review of our reserve forces on 19 October last year, does the Leader of the House agree that this House should have the opportunity to digest and discuss the findings of that important review before the recess?
I will convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence the strong view of the hon. Gentleman that we should have a report on the Territorial Army and reserves review. My right hon. Friend hopes to keep the House up to date on a number of issues before we rise, such as the basing review. I will see whether this matter might be included in such a statement.
There has been a correlation between the rise in the gold price over the past few years and the number of gold thefts in my constituency. The police seem to have a particular problem in tracing stolen jewellery. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the individual registration of gold dealers, which would require people who sell gold to provide personal identification? That would help the police to detect and prevent these crimes.
I am sorry to hear of the increase in burglaries in Wolverhampton now that the price of gold has gone up. I would like to touch base with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to see whether such a registration scheme might be cost-effective in reducing the incidence of such burglaries or tracing those responsible for carrying them out.
I was astonished to read in one of today’s papers that the independent Office for Budget Responsibility is predicting that income tax might have to rise by 12p in the pound. If things have got that bad after only 12 months of coalition Government, should the Chancellor not make a statement before the summer recess?
I think that the OBR was looking ahead many decades and outlining the impact of increased longevity on the national health service and pensions. It said that if nothing else was done, that might be a consequence. For the hon. Gentleman to attribute that long-range forecast to anything we have done in the past 14 months is heroic. To minimise the impact on the public finances of the sort of demographic changes that I have outlined, we have increased the state retirement age and moved from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. We are therefore taking steps that hopefully will reduce the necessity for an increase in income tax.
I have been working with and on behalf of my constituent, Miriam Khan, whose mother was tragically murdered. The chief suspect, Miriam’s father, escaped justice by fleeing to Pakistan, where he lives to this day. The Pakistani authorities are aware of this case, and sadly there are many similar cases around the country. Can the Leader of the House secure a debate or at least a ministerial statement about the hope for an extradition agreement between this country and Pakistan?
There will be an opportunity on Tuesday to cross-question Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers about our relationship with Pakistan and extradition. In the meantime, I will raise the case with Ministers. I quite understand the distress of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Miriam Khan, and her anxiety to see that whoever committed this murder is brought to justice.
I would very much welcome such a debate to draw attention to the huge increase in the number of academies under this Government, from 203 in May 2010 to 801 in July this year, and the many more that are in the pipeline. Perhaps my hon. Friend would go to the Backbench Business Committee and put in a bid for such a debate.
Certain elements in our constitution are well represented in the Palace of Westminster with statues, portraits and stained-glass windows, but there is almost a total absence of memorials to progressive groups, such as the Chartists and the Tolpuddle martyrs, that did so much to shape all that is best in our modern democracy. May we debate early-day motion 2067, which suggests that we represent, for a start, the sacrifice of the Newport Chartists of 1839, 20 of whom died in what they called “a noble cause”?
[That this House salutes the work of the Head of State; notes that the role of royalty is commemorated extensively throughout the Palace of Westminster; regrets that there are few, if any, portrayals of heroic work for democracy over recent centuries; believes that the work and sacrifices of Chartists, and many other progressive movements, should be honoured and celebrated by depictions of events in their proud histories.]
It is right that we have statues in the Palace of Westminster that remind us of our traditions and the roots of our democracy. I think that whether and where new statues are erected are matters for the House of Commons Commission. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to raise the issue on the Commission’s agenda, I would be happy so to do.
May we have a debate on school discipline? Teachers, parents and pupils in my constituency tell me that the education reform they most want to see is the introduction of measures to ensure that the vast majority of young people who want to learn are not disrupted by the small minority who do not.
We have published new guidance for teachers, which is greatly reduced in volume from 600 pages to 52. It restores adult authority to the classroom and makes it clear that teachers have a legal power to use reasonable force to remove a pupil who is disrupting a lesson or to prevent a child from leaving a classroom. I hope that that sets a new tone in the classroom and enables teachers to teach and children to learn.
Given that a rating agency has suspended its classification of US sovereign debt pending a review and given the problems in the Italian bond market and the rest of the eurozone, may we have a debate on the adequacy of reserving policy in UK banks before, rather than after, any economic disaster?
The UK banks have been stress tested. I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman the sort of debate that he has asked for. However, he reminds the House of the importance of having adequate fiscal policies to ensure that we do not suffer the same problems as Greece, Portugal, Ireland and other countries.
With the growing popularity of academies in mind, may we have a debate about the school funding formula, particularly to raise the question of disparities in funding for local authorities, and to mention the need to get money where it needs to be—the schools and the pupils?
My hon. Friend is right: the funding regime for academies is no longer appropriate. It was designed at a time when there were relatively few academies, and now there are many more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is consulting on a new funding regime for academies, which I hope will address the issues to which my hon. Friend refers.
I hope that the Leader of the House, his deputy and most importantly his courteous and professional staff have a good rest.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), given the huge national interest in the basing announcement that is due very shortly, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Secretary of State for Defence will come to the House on Monday and make that announcement rather than slipping it out either on Tuesday or in written form?
The Government can be rightly proud that we have done more in 13 months than the Labour party did to compensate victims of the Equitable Life scandal. However, there remains one group of people—the pre-September 1992 annuitants—who are trapped and vulnerable, and their cases are not even being assessed. Will my right hon. Friend find time to lean on the Treasury and encourage it to come forward with a statement on the progress of payments so far, so that we can question it on what will be done for that small group of people?
My experience of leaning on the Treasury is that it tends to lean back, but I am very happy to raise with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury the issue of those annuitants. Speaking from memory, I think the finding of the ombudsman was that the regulatory failure began after 1992, which may be why those who had policies before 1992 were excluded from compensation. None the less, I will raise the matter with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and ask him to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman).
Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has still not published the equality impact assessment of cuts to the provision of English for speakers of other language? He will be aware that many Members are seeking to raise the issue of ESOL provision in Tuesday’s Adjournment debate. Will he ensure that the assessment is published by then and not sneaked out over the summer recess?
This year has been an amazing one for the scrutiny of Parliament, the best in decades. That is down partly to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), the Back Bencher of the year, who chairs the Backbench Business Committee; partly to the shadow Leader of the House, who has done such a good job in parliamentary terms; partly to you, Mr Speaker, for your leadership from the Chair; partly to the star Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who gives us a lot of suggestions, none of which I take; and partly to the Deputy Leader of the House, who has gone from poacher to gamekeeper very easily. Of course, it is mainly down to the Leader of the House, who, when I ask him a question, always gives a full, frank and honest answer, but never to the question that I asked.
To move things forward a little, has the Leader of the House had a chance to ask the Chief Whip whether, in the first week back, the Government are going to support my private Member’s Bill, which would just slightly amend the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975?
If my hon. Friend is referring to some personal vendetta that he has with the Whips Office, and a Bill that I think would disqualify the Whips from being Members of Parliament, I have to say that I have a very good relationship with the Chief Whip and would not be minded to support any measure that removed from me the pleasure of having his company next to me on the Front Bench at every Prime Minister’s questions.
In a week when the House has rightly been focused on the phone hacking scandal, there is of course an emerging humanitarian crisis in east Africa, with thousands upon thousands of people without access to adequate food and water. Will the Leader of the House monitor the situation over the summer recess and, if necessary, find parliamentary time to debate the UK’s response to the tragedy?
It is an important issue, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development made a statement about our aid policy not so very long ago. There were also questions to DFID Ministers yesterday. Of course we will keep the humanitarian crisis under review. I cannot promise that the House will be recalled if there is any deterioration, but we will do all we can to keep Members in the picture on the steps that the UK is taking to reduce the human suffering.
May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the Floor of the House on the quality of care provided at Medway Maritime hospital? An independent report found that there were actions that could be construed as bullying of a senior surgeon, Mr Mufti, the former medical director at the NHS trust. Since then, other professionals at the hospital have contacted my office to say that they have encountered such behaviour. That followed a recent survey showing that one in five workers at Medway hospital had encountered harassment or been abused. My constituents are very concerned about the implications that that may have for patient care.
Bullying and harassment of NHS staff by patients, members of the public or other staff is wholly unacceptable, and the NHS constitution specifically refers to measures that should be taken to reduce bullying. I understand that the Medway trust is aware of the concerns to which my hon. Friend refers, and is having discussions with the trade unions to come up with a policy that reduces such incidents to a bare minimum.
My question follows the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass). A little over a month ago, Scottish Power announced an energy price increase of 20%, I asked the Leader of the House for an urgent statement from the Energy Secretary detailing what discussions he had had with energy suppliers, and what measures would be taken to reduce the impact on hard-working families right across the country. Given that this week British Gas has announced that gas prices will increase by 18% and electricity prices by 16%—perhaps a cynical attempt to hide bad news when everyone is focusing on the hacking scandal—may we now have an urgent statement from the Energy Secretary and not, as the Leader of the House suggested, a Backbench Business Committee debate?
My right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary made a statement on electricity market reform on Tuesday, and he addressed precisely the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expresses. He outlined the measures that we were taking to provide security of supply and stability of prices in future. He was asked many questions about the rising cost of fuel, and he outlined the measures that the Government were taking to address it. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks in Hansard, where he will find an answer to some of the questions that he has raised.
Later this year, private sewers will be transferred to water and sewerage companies, and many householders will be relieved of concerns about future maintenance bills. May we have a debate to consider the implementation of the change, so that we can acknowledge the work of those who have campaigned on the issue, including the all-party group on sewers and sewerage, previous Members for Rugby and my constituent Pam Brockway of Woodlands residents association?
My hon. Friend is quite right that later this year, responsibility for private sewers connected to the mains will transfer from householders to the water authorities. That is a welcome step forward that will remove the incidence of householders suddenly being confronted with huge bills for sewers for which they simply did not think they had any responsibility at all. I commend those who campaigned for that enlightened measure. It will have an impact of roughly £5 on the bills that people pay, but I think that is an acceptable price to pay for the security of mind that goes with the policy.
Earlier, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the Leader of the House outlined the position with regard to criminal sanctions for contempt of the House and the proposal of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1999. I am sure that it is totally coincidental, but those were the very points that I made in a letter that I copied to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House yesterday. However, we are living in a very fast-moving world. Will the Leader of the House examine the two specific provisions made in the 1999 report, and incorporate them into emergency legislation that I am sure would command support from both sides of the House?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. He is asking us to do as an emergency something that the previous Administration had 11 years to do and did absolutely nothing about. The answer that I gave the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) earlier was that we are considering a draft parliamentary privilege Bill. I welcome the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) that contempt should be made a criminal offence, as suggested in the 1999 report. I can assure him that it will be considered, and he will have a chance to feed his comments into future consultation on the Bill.
I think everyone in the House is agreed that our pensions should be no different in principle from the pensions of others in the public sector. Will my right hon. Friend tell us when the House will have an opportunity to make it clear that we consider that our pensions should be reformed in line with the principles set out in the Hutton report, and when will he table a motion that will unequivocally pass responsibility for MPs’ pensions to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority?
My hon. Friend will know that a written ministerial statement today outlines the Government’s position on MPs’ pensions, which is exactly as my hon. Friend describes. We should be treated no differently from other public servants, and I will table a motion before the House rises, but for debate subsequently, that asks the House to endorse that position. It will also propose that we transfer to IPSA responsibility for a new pension scheme for MPs. That motion will reassert the importance of the independent determination of MPs’ remuneration.
The Scottish National party has decided to impose huge tuition fees on English students who go to Scottish universities. Given that the SNP previously called those tuition fees both “discriminatory” and “anti-English”, and that it has said that the
“added cost of a 4 year degree means we won’t see English students going to Scottish Universities”,
may we have an urgent debate on the impact that those politically motivated policies, which are designed to promote a separatist agenda, will have on both English students and our wonderful Scottish universities?
I am loth to ask the Leader of the House this question just before the recess, but may we have a debate on IPSA? Earlier this week I spoke to the operations team at IPSA, which tells me that it now processes and pays claims, on average, in six or seven days, but in my experience it takes twice that long, which is in breach of its service level targets and places a real difficulty on some Members in managing their cash flow. May we therefore discuss how we can help IPSA to improve those service levels, so that it can help us to do our job?
I am sorry to hear of my hon. Friend’s problems. I understand that the director of operations at IPSA has offered a meeting with my hon. Friend, which I hope addresses his particular concerns. As he knows, we have just set up a Committee to look at the legislation that covers IPSA. He will have an opportunity to feed in to the work of that Committee his suggestions as to how we might make future changes.
Can the Leader of the House imagine the reaction there would have been if Tony Hayward, the then chief executive officer of BP, refused to appear before the congressional committee in the US? My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has pointed out to the Leader of the House that he has the power to introduce a motion that would require the witnesses who are refusing to come to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to attend, and for the Serjeant at Arms to go and fetch them. Will he at least pledge today, on the Floor of the House, that he will use whatever powers are at his disposal to ensure that those witnesses turn up next week?
When does the Leader of the House expect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement on tuberculosis? Twenty-five thousand cattle a year are being slaughtered, and it costs £100 million of taxpayers’ money, and yet that pall of disease out there in the wildlife is not being tackled. A statement from the Secretary of State is urgent.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. TB causes real difficulties for farmers in many parts of the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been consulting on a range of options to tackle that disease. I cannot promise an immediate response from her, but I will convey my hon. Friend’s interest and see whether we can get a reply on the timing of any Government announcement as soon as possible.
Earlier this week, I was surprised and just a little shocked to learn from the National House-Building Council that only one house was started in my constituency in the last six months for which figures are available. With the massive cut in grant funding for affordable housing, and with the shambles that appears to be developing over the Government’s so-called affordable rents policy, may we have an early debate, preferably in Government time, in September, to discuss the future of affordable housing in this country?
I understand that there was a debate on housing market renewal on Tuesday in Westminster Hall. I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the measures announced in the Budget to help first-time buyers, and that he recognises that house building starts fell to an all-time record under the Administration whom he supported.
The Leader of the House will be aware that, four times now, Opposition Members have objected to the setting up of the Committee to scrutinise the draft Financial Services Bill. Does he know what they have against better scrutiny of financial services, and in particular why they do not want that Committee to start its important work?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern that we have been unable to establish that Joint Committee to look at the draft Financial Services Bill. I very much hope that when the motion comes before the House later today, it will be possible to make progress and set up the Committee. I cannot endorse what has happened on the Order Paper, where Members of one political party have sought to interfere with the nominations of another.
With the publication this morning of the national crime statistics showing that burglaries have gone up 14%, and that domestic violence, worryingly, has gone up 35%, may we have a debate on the risks that the Government are taking with the 20% cuts to the police force and on the 12,000 police officers who will lose their jobs?
I understand where the hon. Lady is coming from on this, but I must just remind her that before the last election, the then Home Secretary made it absolutely clear that he could give no guarantee at all that the number of police officers would not be reduced were the Labour party to be re-elected. A Labour Government would have been confronted by the same sorts of decisions as this Government were, but we believe that our police reforms will put more on the front line and enable the police to make further progress in preventing and detecting crime.
May we have a statement and debate on the increasing amount of our national debt? That would give the House the chance to highlight the fact that, despite all the measures being taken to control public spending, because of the sheer size of the budget deficit bequeathed by the previous Government, the national debt will actually increase by around £350 billion before the next election, and not decrease by that amount, which, according to a poll out this week, seven out of 10 of the British public wrongly believe will happen.
I listened, as I am sure my hon. Friend did, to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) introducing a ten-minute rule Bill on the same theme—the size of the national debt. One reason that continues to increase is the very high interest bill on the outstanding debt, which we inherited from the previous Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) will know that we have made some difficult decisions to reduce the pressure on public finances, including bringing forward the state retirement age, changing to the consumer prices index for benefits, and accepting Lord Hutton’s recommendations to reform public service provision. I very much hope that my hon. Friend agrees that what we have begun to do will help to reduce the escalating nature of national debt.
In the next few months, Southern Cross will be broken up. During that period, the 30,000 residents in 400 constituencies will be very concerned about the place they call home. May we have a proper debate on this topic directly on our return in September?
There will be an opportunity on our return in September to discuss health-related issues during debate on the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill. The hon. Gentleman will also have heard the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), reply to an urgent question on Tuesday following Health questions. Our primary concern remains the welfare of the residents. Whatever the outcome, no one will find themselves homeless or without care, and we are working closely with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Care Quality Commission to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place in the event of any need.
May we have a debate on the Yorkshire Post “Fair Deal for Yorkshire” campaign, particularly regarding the need for a fair deal on tourism funding between Yorkshire and Scotland, and the huge benefits of locating the green investment bank in Leeds?
My hon. Friend might be opening a bidding war in stating that he wants the green investment bank to be located in Leeds—I am sure that other hon. Members think it could be located in their constituencies. I would have thought that the benefits of Yorkshire spoke for themselves as a holiday destination, but I am sure that VisitBritain will do what it can to promote York, along with—I hope—Hampshire.
Like so many ex-servicemen, my constituent Mr William Young has found it difficult to enter the domestic labour market. May we have a debate on what more the Government, the armed forces and the nation can do to help ex-service personnel as they transition from the forces to civilian society?
The purpose behind one of the key components of the military covenant was precisely to help those leaving the armed forces to develop alternative careers. One particular opportunity was to encourage them to join the teaching profession, for which many of them have the necessary skills. However, I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary the question of our progress, through the military covenant, on finding work for those retiring from our armed forces.
The number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in the Vale of Glamorgan has fallen by 25% over the past year, and according to the latest figures unemployment fell across the whole of the UK. May we have a debate on unemployment to establish what policies are working best and why they are working in some areas better than in others?
I am delighted to hear that unemployment has fallen in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I hope that we will continue to make progress in bringing it down. As I said a few moments ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that there will be 900,000 extra jobs between now and 2015. There are encouraging signs in the labour market figures. The Work programme, which has just been introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is encouraging new providers into the market to provide long-term jobs for those who are unemployed. I hope we will make some progress there. The challenge is to help people into employment and to help the recovery. The Work programme is up and running and will offer jobseekers flexible support tailored to their needs in order to help them into employment.
Food prices continue to rise at an alarming rate across the whole of the United Kingdom. In the past year, they have risen by 6.5%, whereas the overall inflation rate for June was 4.2%. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on an issue that affects everyone in the UK?
Food is every bit as important as fuel. I cannot promise time for an early debate on food prices, but of course the Government are taking appropriate action to try and bear down on inflation. However, for those confronted by rising food prices, support is available through the index-linked benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions.