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Business of the House

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 13 October 2011

The business for the week commencing 17 October will be:

Monday 17 October—Motion relating to MPs’ pensions, followed by motion relating to disclosure and publication of documents relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 18 October—Remaining stages of the Pensions Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 19 October—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on energy prices followed by a debate on individual voter registration. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill.

Thursday 20 October—General debate on national planning policy framework.

Friday 21 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 24 October will include:

Monday 24 October—Remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 25 October—Continuation of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 26 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 3).

Thursday 27 October—Business nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

For the convenience of the House, I wish to announce the proposed calendar for the coming year. We intend for the House to rise at the close of play on Tuesday 15 November, returning on Monday 21 November, meaning that we will not sit on two days—Wednesday 16 November and Thursday 17 November—as previously planned. The House will rise for the Christmas recess at the close of play on Tuesday 20 December, returning on Tuesday 10 January 2012.

The House will rise for the constituency break at the close of play on Thursday 9 February, returning on Monday 20 February. We will rise for the Easter break at the close of play on Tuesday 27 March, returning on Monday 16 April. We will rise for the Whitsun recess at the close of play on Thursday 24 May, returning on Monday 11 June. The summer recess will start at the close of play on Tuesday 17 July, returning on Monday 3 September. Finally, we will rise for the conference recess at the close of play on Tuesday 18 September, returning on Monday 15 October. All those dates will be put before the House for approval, and the dates for the Queen’s Speech and private Members’ Bill Fridays for the second Session will be announced in the usual way. All dates are subject to the progress of business, and a calendar is now available from the Vote Office.

May I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, especially for his giving us early notice of the annual calendar? Even if it changes slightly, it is an innovation that I think all Members of all parties will appreciate. May I also take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) as my deputy, and to pay tribute to the work done by my immediate predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who even as we speak is wrestling with the intricacies of the local government grant formula in his new shadow Cabinet role? I look forward to shadowing the Leader of the House. I note that he first came to the House in 1974, when I had only just arrived in big school. I hope that I can achieve a triumph of youth over experience on at least a few of these occasions.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister promised to look at publishing a full list of all the meetings of Ministers and officials with the Defence Secretary’s self-styled adviser Adam Werritty. With further irregularities surfacing by the day, when will this list be published? Following the BBC’s revelations on secretive wealthy donors running a shadow operation at the heart of one of Whitehall’s most sensitive Government Departments, what are the implications for accountability and probity?

With unemployment hitting a 17-year high, youth unemployment at nearly 1 million and the highest levels of joblessness among women for more than 20 years, is it not time that the Government admitted that their economic plan is just not working? Even the Conservative Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee recently described the Government’s action on growth as “piecemeal, contradictory and incoherent”, so it was no surprise to see him being strong-armed round the corner for re-education by the Prime Minister’s spin doctors at the Tory party conference.

Is not the utterly inadequate response from the Government in yesterday’s debate on growth and jobs the clearest proof yet that they are in denial about the plight of millions of people now languishing on the dole? Will the Leader of the House therefore consider bringing forward the autumn statement so that we can take urgent action to implement Labour’s five-point plan on growth and jobs and begin to deal with the soaring unemployment and the waste of potential that it represents.

Speaking of potential, I notice that the Prime Minister yesterday hosted a reception of FTSE 100 companies, exhorting them to promote more women into their boardrooms. With only four women in the entire Cabinet, is this not a case of the Prime Minister telling people to “do as I say, not as I do”? Perhaps if the Prime Minister had more women in his Cabinet he would be spared further embarrassment from some of the men he has in it. And while we are talking about the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, given our debate later today on electronic devices and tweeting from the Chamber, will the Government provide him with urgent training on how best to keep his fingerprints off the increasingly frequent briefings against his Cabinet colleagues?

May I begin by warmly welcoming the new shadow Leader of the House to her post? She has been a Member since 1992 and has held a number of ministerial and shadow ministerial posts as well as serving on Select Committees as a Back Bencher. She is well placed to take on her new responsibilities and help us in our efforts to strengthen the House. I look forward to working with her and her deputy, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), whom we also welcome, but the latter may have to clarify her role. I see from her website that she says:

“Along with the Shadow Speaker of the House, I intend to make sure this government is held to account for its actions right in the heart of Parliament.”

I am not sure whether you, Mr Speaker, will welcome this development and this new position.

Along with the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), I pay tribute to the previous shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who had a deep understanding of, and affection for, the House. He will be much missed, as his bravura performances at the Dispatch Box every week were enjoyed on both sides of the House. Indeed, I believe he had to be moved because he risked overshadowing his leader on the Wednesdays. He now shadows my right hon. Friend the Communities and Local Government Secretary, and he may find that shadow a rather different profile from mine!

I welcomed what the hon. Lady said about the early announcement of the parliamentary calendar. I think that that is in the interests of the House and all who work here. In 2010 we were given the Easter recess dates two weeks before the Easter recess.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will honour the undertaking that he gave the House yesterday on the list of visits to Ministers as soon as the information has been dealt with. As for the other issue that the hon. Lady raised, the Cabinet Secretary is, as she knows, dealing with all outstanding issues and unanswered questions, and will complete his inquiry as soon as he can.

Yesterday’s unemployment figures were grim. We debated the issue at some length yesterday in Opposition time, and the Prime Minister made clear that every job loss was a personal tragedy. We need to do all that we can to get people back to work. Youth unemployment, sadly, has been rising every year since 2004 and, given that it was rising during a period of growth, it will obviously be difficult to get it down during a period of challenging world recession. I will not repeat what the Chancellor said about 360,000 new apprenticeships, new sector-based work academies and the rest. We have had an Opposition day, and we are always ready to arrange another.

As for being in denial, I think that the Opposition are still in denial on the deficit. During the Opposition day debate, the shadow Chancellor could not bring himself to discuss the central Opposition policy that was announced in the Labour leader’s conference speech. Perhaps that is proof that when it comes to constructive policies on the economy, the Government are the producers and the Opposition are the predators.

I will pass on the hon. Lady’s comments about the need for more women in the Cabinet to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Order. As usual, a great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement by the Foreign Secretary to follow, as well as a series of heavily subscribed debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. As a consequence, we need—from Back and Front Benches alike—brevity.

The whole House is waiting with bated breath to hear details of a written statement later today on improved transitional arrangements relating to changes in the women’s state pension age. Government Members have fought very hard for that. Will the Leader of the House please give us some details of what he is expecting?

My hon. Friend and neighbour might have seen the written ministerial statement that has just been published in the name of the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), in which he says that he will

“today table Government amendments to the Pensions Bill”,

which we shall discuss on Tuesday,

“including one that caps the maximum increase in women’s State Pension age at 18 months, relative to the legislated timetable.”

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will welcome that announcement.

May we have a debate on whether the funding of a charity or an individual to further the political interest of a Minister constitutes a donation in kind?

That sounds like one of the issues to which I referred in my response to the hon. Member for Wallasey, and which may arise from the ongoing inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary. I honestly think that it makes sense to await the outcome of the inquiry, and in the meantime to allow the Secretary of State for Defence to get on with his job.

There is real concern about carbon taxation policy among industries that are large users of energy, such as CEMEX, which manufactures cement and is also a large employer in my constituency. May we have a debate on the matter, and on the need to ensure that UK industry remains competitive?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. He will know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said from this Dispatch Box that he is anxious to engage in dialogues with intensive users of energy who might be adversely affected by the changes, and who might be put at a competitive disadvantage in relation to other producers in Europe. I am sure that those dialogues are continuing, but I will bring my hon. Friend’s concern to the Chancellor’s attention.

May we have a debate to congratulate the Prime Minister on his wisdom in forecasting, just before the election, that the next major scandal affecting the House would involve lobbying? Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has done nothing about introducing his promised register.

Is this matter not quite separate from the inquiry into the Defence Secretary? Appalling accusations have been made that major lobbyists representing extreme views paid an individual who was not registered as a lobbyist, did not register any interests and did not undergo any security checks, but nevertheless gained access to the top discussions in this country and abroad. That dreadful situation requires an urgent debate and legislation.

The previous Government totally ignored the Public Administration Committee’s recommendation to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists; they did absolutely nothing. We have given a coalition commitment to introduce such a register, as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) confirmed from the Dispatch Box on Tuesday. He will publish a comprehensive consultation so that the widest range of views can be considered, with a view to introducing legislation providing for a statutory register of lobbyists.

Neal Butterworth, editor of the influential Bournemouth Daily Echo, has drawn it to my attention that media passes for the Olympics are not being given out fairly to the local and regional press. May we have a statement from the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, so that our local media can be properly represented?

I understand why all our local papers are anxious to have access to next year’s Olympics. I will certainly raise this with Department for Culture, Media and Sport Ministers, although it might be a matter for the organisers of the Olympics. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I will pass it on.

May we have an urgent statement on whether any Conservative candidate at the last general election received illegal funding for foreign travel from foreign organisations linked to Adam Werritty?

If there is any evidence that anything illegal has taken place, the hon. Gentleman should notify the police.

The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has now published its report into pub companies, which shows that self-regulation has failed and that the Government must now legislate. The Government have said they will do that, so may we have a statement in the House from the responsible Minister, instead of just the normal response to the Select Committee report?

I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work in promoting the interests of those who run pubs and who often face onerous Pubco terms. I am aware of the report the hon. Gentleman mentions, which basically says that the voluntary agreement has not worked. I cannot anticipate when the Government will respond to that, but I will inform the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills of the hon. Gentleman’s appetite for an early announcement.

On 2 December last year I put a question about Southern Cross to the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) and received the dismissive reply that it was a matter for local authorities. I think he subsequently came to regret that response. An article in today’s Financial Times claims that from the summer of that year the chief executive of Southern Cross had been informing the Department that he wanted a meeting with the Minister in order to explain the seriousness of the problems and the possible consequences, but, again, the Minister said his diary was too full. May we have a statement from the Minister explaining his actions—or, rather, explaining his complete inertia?

A written ministerial statement on Southern Cross was published on Monday; the right hon. Gentleman may have seen it. Because of the piece in the press today, I have made some inquiries. There have been regular constructive discussions between the Government and Southern Cross representatives since the moment it became clear that the Government were in difficulty. Ministers took the situation seriously, and they were kept fully informed. There were numerous meetings between senior Department of Health officials, the company and others, to seek to formulate a solution that protected the health and well-being of the residents. Ministers were kept fully in the picture.

Following today’s worrying report from the Care Quality Commission on the lamentable standards in the care of older people in the NHS—it found that 20% of the 100 hospitals it inspected were almost criminally negligent—may we have a debate on this subject?

In response to the previous question, I think that instead of saying Southern Cross was in difficulty, I said that the Government were in difficulty, which of course they never are.

Like my hon. Friend, I was very concerned by the reports in today’s press. Everyone admitted to hospital deserves to be treated as an individual and with compassion and dignity, which is why we commissioned the report she mentions. It certainly shows the value of unannounced inspections. It found some exemplary care, but it also found that some hospitals were not getting even the basics right. The new Health and Social Care Bill gives new responsibilities to Monitor to integrate health care across health care services. I hope that everyone will learn the lessons: that some things need to be done tomorrow to put things right; that there are problems of culture, such as putting paperwork before patients; and that there is inadequate management training and leadership in hospitals. Some of these problems may have been going on for some time. Important lessons must be learned if we are to improve the quality of care in many of our hospitals.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the future profile of civilian jobs in the Ministry of Defence? Many people in my constituency are concerned that they will lose their jobs while he is flying around the world with his mate.

I understand why Labour Members want to continue on this issue, but the Secretary of State for Defence has a responsible job to do on behalf of this country and the Government. He should be allowed to get on with it and the hon. Gentleman should wait for the Cabinet Secretary’s report into the issues he raises.

Given the recent decision by the Communities and Local Government Secretary to overturn the inspector’s decision to reject 500 new homes in Hampton Park II in Salisbury, may I urge the Leader of the House to table a debate on public understanding of localism? Local councillors, community groups and residents constructively engaged to persuade the inspector to turn the application down, and they are now bemused and do not understand what localism means.

I understand the concern of another of my parliamentary neighbours about the outcome of that decision in his constituency. My hon. Friend asks for a debate, but I have just announced a debate next Thursday on the national planning policy framework, which will provide an opportunity for him to raise that issue and get a response. The decision was issued on 21 September. The Secretary of State has no further jurisdiction in the matter, and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits as we are still within the six-week period during which the decision can be challenged in the High Court.

The Leader of the House will be aware that G20 meetings are increasingly becoming as important as those of the G8. The next G20 meeting, in November, will be particularly important. Will the Government agree to have a debate in advance of a G20 summit in which the House can express its views on the policies that the Government should put forward, as used to be the case for G8 meetings, and to ensure that there is a statement from the Prime Minister after the summit to report on and account for what has happened?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and I agree that such an approach would be desirable. I am not sure whether he has approached the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it would find time for such a debate, but I will certainly take account of what he has said in planning future Government business.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the rise in the number of photovoltaic cells on houses across the United Kingdom is a policy started by the former Government and rightly continued by this one. However, the rise of cowboys installing them is costing the country money and resources, and putting people’s long-term ownership of houses at risk. May we have a debate on this Government’s renewable energy policy to discuss the photovoltaic cells that are being put on householders’ roofs?

My hon. Friend might catch your eye, Mr Speaker, a week today during Department of Energy and Climate Change questions, but in the meantime I will alert the Secretary of State and ask him to write to my hon. Friend.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the recent report showing that 20% of FTSE 100 companies do not have any women on their board and that it will take 20 years before one in three executives are women, so may we have an urgent debate to show everyone outside that this House believes in positive action and not just positive words?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a speech about this a few days ago, urging the FTSE companies to do even better. As for a debate, the hon. Lady may wish to raise the matter with the Backbench Business Committee or, indeed, to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that we can have a proper discussion of this important issue.

The East of England strategic health authority published an independent review into Downham Market health centre, which found serious failings in oversight by the authorities, as no action was taken after four serious incidents at the health centre. I am very concerned that, as yet, no individuals have been held to account for those failures. Please may we have a statement from the Health Secretary on the steps he will take to ensure that people are accountable?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern to make sure that anyone guilty of misdemeanour is held accountable. This is a matter for the local NHS, and I understand that NHS Midlands and East is working with NHS Norfolk and the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust to take forward the report’s recommendations. I have been assured by NHS Norfolk that there will be accountability for the failings to which she refers.

When we discuss the Localism Bill next week, will the Government give a guarantee that the protections against the sale of playing fields—school playing fields or public playing fields—will still be in place? At the moment, there is nothing in the Bill to protect those playing fields.

The debate next Thursday is not on the Bill as such—it is on the policy framework—but the hon. Gentleman will be able to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, and raise those issues. In the meantime, I will alert the relevant Secretary of State to the fact that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the disposal of playing fields and that he is anxious that proper protection should be in place to ensure that children and others have access to recreational facilities.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on the report by the British Hospitality Association, which was published today and which was mentioned in The Times? The report calls for a reduction in VAT in the sector, as happens in many European countries, which would benefit all seaside towns, including my own, and greatly help local tourism in this country.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the impact of VAT on the hospitality sector, particularly in his constituency. He will know that taxation matters are for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will be coming to the House in November, as the shadow Leader of the House said. When he does so, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to press him on the issue.

The Leader of the House announced a shorter week in November when detailing the calendar. Will he confirm that the Prime Minister will account to the House on 15 November, which is during that week?

If the House is not sitting on a particular day, it is difficult for the Prime Minister to come to be held to account. I say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I congratulate on his appointment to the Opposition Whips Office, that the Prime Minister has made more statements from this Dispatch Box than his predecessor, that he has stood here, on some occasions for hours on end, being held to account by the House and that he has appeared before the Liaison Committee, so my right hon. Friend has no fears about coming to the Dispatch Box to answer questions.

The Leader of the House will be well aware that lots of colleagues on the Government Benches were very concerned about the impact of the proposed pension reforms on a particular group of women. I welcome the idea that we will have some movement on that and a statement today. As this is such a vital issue, perhaps he could expand on what the Government are going to do. Will we see amendments to the Pensions Bill next week?

Yes, it is probably easiest if I refer my hon. Friend to the written ministerial statement, which sets out the amendments that are being tabled today. It states:

“The amendment to Clause 1 will ameliorate the increase in State Pension age for around 245,000 women and 240,000 men and reduce total savings from the increase to 66 by around £1.1 billion…It maintains our policy to equalise the State Pension age for men and women in 2018 and increase to 66 by 2020.”

My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to intervene in that debate, but I note that she welcomes the fact that the Government have listened to the concerns that have been expressed and taken steps to mitigate the impact on women of the increase in the state pension age.

The Leader of the House will, I hope, be aware of this week’s damning report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which predicts that an additional 500,000 children will be living in absolute poverty by 2015 as a direct result of this Government’s policies. May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s abject failure to keep their promise to end child poverty?

The hon. Lady will know that progress towards the target of eliminating child poverty by 2020 stalled under the previous Government. We remain committed to that target. The universal credit will take 600,000 adults and 450,000 children out of poverty, as the IFS said. The report also examined tax and benefits, but did not look at some of the broader things that the Government are doing, for example, in the Work programme. I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that we remain committed to the target of eliminating child poverty by 2020.

I am chairman of the all-party group for motor neurone disease, and the group has recently produced a report on access to care for those suffering from the disease. It is a dreadful, devastating disease; would it be possible to have a debate on access to palliative care for sufferers?

I commend the work that the all-party group—my hon. Friend and other Members from both sides of the House—have done to emphasise the importance of palliative care for those who suffer from motor neurone disease. I think it would be an excellent subject for a debate in this House, either nominated by the Backbench Business Committee or in Westminster Hall. The Government would very much like to hear more about the report to which my hon. Friend has just referred.

In answer to my written question yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), told me that he would not be considering plans put forward by staff at Crosby coastguard that would save the Government money on plans for a new maritime operations centre. The Crosby plan would use existing buildings and makes revenue savings, too, whereas the Government plan is for a new build. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that any plan that saves the Government money should at least be evaluated, not disregarded before such an evaluation takes place, and will he ask his colleague to reconsider his decision?

Of course, the Government are interested in all options that might save money, and I will put that option to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Order. I remind the House that we are very pressed for time and I am not likely to be able to call many more Members, so there is a premium on brevity if we are to maximise the number of contributors.

I have recently been dealing with a case on behalf of two constituents who were dismissed from their jobs with a commercial cleaning firm called Jani-King, allegedly for being British. May we have a debate on discrimination against British workers in this country?

If anything illegal has taken place, I hope the appropriate authorities will be notified. I shall share my hon. Friend’s concern with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and see whether anything irregular has taken place.

There are reports that up to 60 NHS hospitals face serious financial difficulties due to the new burdens being imposed by NHS reforms. As there are risks that such trusts could be taken over by private sector health interests, may we have an urgent debate or an urgent statement, so that we can take some action before the situation becomes terminal?

No trust can be taken over by a private sector concern, but I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that any financial problems confronting his trust or other trusts would be even worse without the extra resources committed by this Government, which his party opposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) recently received a written answer from the hon. Member who represents the House of Commons Commission showing that the marginal costs of the House sitting for just two weeks in September could be £1.5 million on an ongoing basis. May we have a debate on the merits of moving the party conference season to save that money for the public purse?

I thought my hon. Friend was going to suggest abolishing the party conference season, which might have received an even greater cheer—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] He raises a serious issue, in that the party conference season imposes some constraints on the parliamentary calendar, and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of the chairmen of my party and the opposite numbers in the parliamentary Labour party and the other parties—[Interruption.] We have a chairman and a chairwoman. I shall see whether there is any emerging consensus on the treatment of political conferences in the future.

I note that the Leader of the House passed very hastily over the answer to the first question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) today about the meetings between Adam Werritty, Ministers and members of Downing street staff. Will he assure us that that information will be made promptly available and that if there is anything of substance in it, it will be the subject of a statement to the House?

I do not think it makes sense to have a running commentary on the inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary into the Secretary of State for Defence and related matters. I have said that the inquiry will deal with all unanswered questions and outstanding issues, and the sooner it is brought to a conclusion, the better. In the meantime, I think it is sensible to avoid speculation.

In 1997 the incoming Prime Minister said that his priorities were “education, education, education”, yet 14 years on, a publication has shown that in reading, 15-year-olds in our classrooms are a year behind those in our competitor countries. May we have an urgent debate on the actions that the Government will take to remove this appalling legacy for the people whose future has been prejudiced?

I would welcome such a debate. Some of those issues were touched on in the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on Monday. I would welcome further opportunities to debate the steps that we are taking to drive up standards of education in our schools.

Following the riots in the summer, the Prime Minister announced a cross-departmental review of gangs and serious youth violence. A strategy is due to be published this month. Can the House have a debate on this vital issue in Government time?

There will be a debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall on the riots, and the hon. Lady might like to go to that and to ask that question. She is right to say that there is an ongoing report into gang violence and related issues, and I hope that it will be made available in the relatively near future.

Well over 2,000 early-day motions have been tabled in this Parliament so far, and it is estimated that they cost the taxpayer around £1 million each and every year. Given that in the last year we had a spending review that carefully considered every aspect of public expenditure, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that we should now have a debate to examine the cost-effectiveness and value of early-day motions?

It is suggested that my hon. Friend table an early-day motion to abolish early-day motions. He is not alone in believing that the costs of the current arrangements outweigh the benefits, but on the other hand many people place some value on early-day motions. Any debate on early-day motions should take place in Backbench Business Committee time and be informed by the views of the Procedure Committee; its Chairman was in his place a few moments ago, and I shall draw those remarks to his attention.

There are only three more days allocated for private Members’ Bills before the end of this Session, but there are 96 such Bills now tabled for consideration on those days. Some of them are completely and utterly bonkers, because, frankly, they come from Members whose grasp of reality is somewhat strained anyway—[Interruption.] Mine is splendid, obviously. As only one more of those Bills is likely to become law in this Session, does that not show that the system for examining private Members’ Bills is now completely bust? We need to reform it. Before the Leader of the House says that that is up to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, could he please show some leadership on this matter in his remaining weeks as Leader of the House, as he will have to hand all the business over to the Backbench Business Committee by the start of the third Session?

I was hoping that I had a little bit more than a week left in this post. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Procedure Committee is looking at private Members’ Bills, the way in which they are treated, and whether it makes sense to deal with them on Fridays. We have allocated more Fridays to private Members’ Bills to reflect the length of this Session. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s rather dismissive remarks about the Procedure Committee, I think this is something that it is worth its while investigating.

Would my right hon. Friend be willing to have a debate on mental health issues for young people? According to today’s edition of the Plymouth Herald, a very good organ in my constituency:

“Hundreds of vulnerable children in Plymouth are having to wait months for mental health treatment”,

and 90 have had to wait beyond the 18 weeks allowed.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. Funding for child and adolescent mental health services for local authorities has been maintained and is included within funding provided for ongoing personal social services. That funding is due to rise in line with inflation through to 2014-15, but it is for commissioners at a local level to decide how best to spend the money.

May we have a debate on the Department for Transport’s policy of installing station barriers even when they block pedestrian access to established routes for non-rail users? Such is the situation in Sheffield. The previous Government made a commitment that no barriers would be installed until alternative access routes were provided, but the current Government have changed their mind, apparently.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to write to him.

May we have a debate on the history of the Conservative party so we can gently remind our coalition partners that, far from being the party that sent children up chimneys, we are the party of Wilberforce, who abolished slavery, the party of Disraeli, who emancipated the working classes, the party of Baldwin, who brought in universal suffrage, and the party of Thatcher, who turned Britain into a property-owning democracy?

Whose birthday it is today, and I am sure that the whole House wishes Baroness Thatcher a very happy birthday. It was not right to say that the party—my party—is the ideological descendent of the people who sent children up chimneys. Lord Shaftesbury introduced the legislation against the practice; I am not sure where the Liberals were on that matter.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to uphold Scottish Parliament legislation that will allow people who have been exposed to asbestos to receive compensation, will the Government now introduce legislation here to enable pleural plaque sufferers across the UK to achieve justice?

I shall certainly raise that matter with the appropriate Minister—perhaps the Attorney-General, the Justice Secretary or the Home Secretary. The hon. Lady raises an important issue and I shall ensure that she gets an answer.

May we have a debate about immigration? Many of my constituents are keen to see the Government make progress on their promise to reduce migration from the hundreds of thousands that came in under the previous Government to a more reasonable level.

I would welcome such a debate and I am sure that the Opposition would too, as they now recognise that this is an issue that they did not take seriously. We could set out the measures we are taking on students, family visas and work permits to bring the numbers down to a sustainable level.

Following the Home Secretary’s conference speech, which drew such praise from the Lord Chancellor, when can we expect to have an opportunity to discuss her amendments to the Human Rights Act 1998?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have just set up a commission to consider the Human Rights Act. When that reports, there may be an opportunity to debate its recommendations and conclusions.

May I add my name to those of the Opposition Members who are calling for a debate on NHS funding? NHS East Lancashire has just been given the go-ahead for a new £10 million, state-of-the-art health centre in Colne town centre, subject to the approval of NHS Lancashire and the North of England strategic health authority. This Government’s £12.5 billion increase in investment in the NHS has been widely welcomed, and stands in stark contrast to the Labour party’s proposed cuts of £28 million.

I am glad that the extra funding is being put to good use in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I remind him that the shadow Secretary of State for Health said:

“It is irresponsible to increase NHS spending in real terms”.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the 1,400 job losses that will occur at BAE Systems as a result of the Government’s cutting the defence budget too far and too fast? That is having a devastating effect on families across Lancashire and on the manufacturing base in this country. May we have a debate specifically on the future of manufacturing in this country?

I know that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Defence are anxious to mitigate the problems that confront BAE Systems and a number of towns throughout the country that have been impacted by the reduction in defence spending—which I suspect the hon. Gentleman’s party would have had to do in any event had it been re-elected. I shall certainly pursue the particular issue in his constituency and see what steps can be taken to mitigate the impact on unemployment.

The Leader of the House will be aware that many of us have struggled to enjoy the rugby down under in recent weeks—

May I wish Wales every success in their match against France? In Yorkshire, not only do we have Leeds Rhinos, who have thrashed our Lancastrian opposition, but the Keighley Cougars have become the grand finalist champions. May we have a statement heralding their support please?

Earlier this month, Hartlepool borough council passed a vote of no confidence in the management of the local NHS trust as a result of the loss of accident and emergency services at Hartlepool hospital. The Secretary of State has said that this is a local matter, but the local authority has made its views clear. I know that other areas, such as Chase Farm, have similar problems, so could we have a debate in Government time on local accountability and the reconfiguration of services in the NHS?

The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently in another place. The Bill reinforces the links between the NHS and local government, and gives local government much more influence on how the NHS will be run in future.

As energy bills rocket and more of my constituents might be unable to pay their energy bills—especially if this winter is as hard as has been widely predicted—may I endorse the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) for a debate so that the Government can reassure the House that the price of developing greener technologies will not fall on our poorest pensioners?

My hon. Friend is quite right. There was a written ministerial statement earlier this week reminding everybody that cold weather payments are £25 a week when activated. Those payments complement the winter fuel payments, the green deal and other measures we are taking to reduce the costs of energy. There is also work going on to increase transparency and the ease with which people can switch from one supplier to another. I would welcome such a debate.

May I press the Leader of the House and ask him whether we may please have a statement on NHS care for the elderly? As he knows, today’s Times describes it as

“a scandal that is getting worse”.

The House should discuss this as soon as possible.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, and other hon. Members have raised the reports in today’s press regarding the Care Quality Commission investigation into a number of hospitals. I would welcome such a debate, and I suggest that he should approach the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it might find time for one.

These are unhappy times for employment. May we have a debate to congratulate Government Ministers on adding to total taxpayer-funded employment by having more special advisers—not including the unofficial one—than the Labour Government? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister will commit to his 2009 statement that Liberal Democrat special advisers will be paid from party political funds? As I like the House, and the Leader of the House, I am willing to work for him unpaid as a part-time special adviser if it helps to resolve the problem.

That is a very generous offer, but I have total confidence in my current special adviser, who needs no reinforcements. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that on coming to office we appointed fewer special advisers than the outgoing Government.

I must thank the Leader of the House and colleagues for their extreme self-discipline, which has meant that all 43 Back Benchers who wished to take part in business questions had the opportunity to do so. It shows what can be done when we put our minds to it. I am most grateful to all colleagues.