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Business of the House

Volume 533: debated on Thursday 20 October 2011

The business for the week commencing 24 October will be:

Monday 24 October—Motion relating to a national referendum on the European Union. This subject has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement on the European Council.

Tuesday 25 October—Remaining stages of the Public Bodies Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 26 October—Opposition day [unallotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 27 October—A general debate on the UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

The provisional business for the week commencing 31 October will include:

Monday 31 October—Instruction relating to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 1 November—Continuation of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 2 November—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (day 3).

Thursday 3 November—Business nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 27 October will be:

Thursday 27 October—A debate on NHS care of older people.

I remind the House that the week commencing 31 October will be Parliament week. This is an exciting new national initiative, exploring how democracy affects citizens and how they can participate in it. Of particular interest to Members during Parliament week will be the fact that the UK Youth Parliament is holding its annual debate in the Chamber on Friday 4 November. I look forward to welcoming all those taking part on that day, and I am sure that other hon. Members will take an interest in the proceedings.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his answer. I certainly hope that the business remains the same until we get to Monday because we have had two very drastic changes in less than 24 hours.

I pay tribute to the outgoing Serjeant at Arms, who will be sorely missed when she leaves in the new year. She is the first woman to hold the post and she has served the House with distinction for 18 years.

Never let it be said that business questions does not achieve results. Just 24 hours after my first appearance here as shadow Leader of the House last week, the Prime Minister answered my call to include more women in his Cabinet. If he is going to take my advice that quickly, I start today by calling for an immediate general election. [Interruption.] They are already out there campaigning.

At the beginning of the week we all saw the astonishing pictures of the Minister of State, Cabinet Office taking his regular early morning strolls in the park. He is well known for his wisdom. He recently startled a group of his own Back Benchers by announcing that the Government would run out of ideas by 2012. Some of us think that they already have. He then upset the Deputy Prime Minister by saying:

“We don’t want more people from Sheffield flying away on cheap holidays.”

Now it appears that the Prime Minister’s policy supremo and blue-sky thinker has developed a penchant for al fresco filing and is the subject of two official investigations as a result. Is not the real problem that he has been throwing away the wrong things? Next time he is out for an early morning stroll in the park he should be throwing the Government’s failing economic strategy and their wasteful NHS plans in the bin, rather than disposing of his constituents’ private details. May we have a debate on Ministers who think that the rules do not apply to them?

Speaking of which, in his statement yesterday the Leader of the House said that it was time to move on from the scandal engulfing the former Secretary of State for Defence. Will he accept that we cannot move on while serious questions remain? In that context, it has been widely reported that the former Secretary of State used his then parliamentary office to run his discredited charity, Atlantic Bridge. Has the Leader of the House conducted an investigation into this issue, and if so is he satisfied that no parliamentary rules were broken by that unusual arrangement?

If yesterday saw the House at its most combative, Monday saw the House at its most consensual. The injustice and raw emotion still felt by the Hillsborough families was movingly reflected in this House on Monday in one of the most powerful debates I have witnessed in all my time as a Member of this place. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the Backbench Business Committee on the speed with which it facilitated that important debate? Members on both sides of the House now recognise the urgent need to release all the documents relating to the disaster to get finally at the truth and bring some comfort to the families. Following the disgraceful comments yesterday by Sir Oliver Popplewell, who accused the families of harbouring conspiracy theories, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to join Opposition Members in condemning unreservedly those crass and insensitive remarks.

The Leader of the House has just announced last-minute, wholesale changes to next week’s business. There have been two major changes to business in less than 24 hours, and the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward the Public Bodies Bill and shifted the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill back by a week. That Bill has been ambushed by Tory hangers and floggers, and torn to pieces, both in the press and by the legal profession. It is all too obvious that the Ministry of Justice is in a mess and cannot even bring its Bill to the House.

The most revealing announcement from the Leader of the House was about the Government’s decision to rush forward the debate proposing a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union from Thursday to first thing Monday. Fifty-nine Conservatives have already declared their intention to defy their leader, and there are reports that at least five ministerial aides are on the brink of resignation, so is that not proof of a growing Tory mutiny that has the Prime Minister running scared, the Whips Office in a panic and a Government split from top to bottom? Will the Leader of the House confirm that if he thought he could have got away with it, he would have scheduled this debate on Sunday evening during “Songs of Praise”?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those questions, and I endorse entirely what she said about Jill Pay, the Serjeant at Arms, who has been a doughty servant of the House for so long, and who will be much missed when she retires in January.

The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that within 24 hours I responded to her request for more women in the Cabinet. On the issue of calling a general election, I have announced an Opposition day, and it is perfectly open to the Opposition to table a vote of no confidence in the Government. I am sure that she had the approval of the Leader of the Opposition in laying down that challenge.

We held a debate on the economy last week, and we spent some time on the issue. It remains our view that an essential ingredient of growth is low interest rates, and we believe that the policies advocated by the Opposition would prejudice that. A 1% rise in interest rates would, on average, increase mortgage costs by £80 a month, which would not be welcomed by householders.

I agree that the debate on Monday was a very, very moving debate that showed the House at its best, and it was a credit to the Backbench Business Committee that it scheduled. It was the product of the e-petition system that was introduced at the beginning of this Parliament in response to a coalition agreement commitment, and it was a credit to that system, too.

I have not read the comments by Justice Popplewell, but I would condemn any insensitive comments, particularly at this moment in time. I think that the House is united in urging everyone to work constructively with the independent panel so that the public can finally learn the truth.

The final issue raised by the hon. Lady was the business for next week. When I first became a Member of Parliament, we received the business for one week ahead, and that was it. A few years ago, it was changed, so one week was fixed and business for the second week was provisional. The deal was always that the second week was provisional. We try not to make any changes, because we know that that causes disruption, but occasionally it is necessary. Last Thursday I announced that next Thursday would be devoted to a debate approved by the Backbench Business Committee. The motion was not tabled until yesterday—Wednesday—which was when the Government saw the motion on an EU referendum.

My view—I hope that it is shared by the Backbench Business Committee and the House—is that the debate would be enriched by the presence of the Foreign Secretary. He is available on Monday; he is not available, because he will be at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Australia, on Thursday. That is why we brought the debate forward to Monday, and I think that the House would welcome a debate addressed by the Foreign Secretary. I hope that that is generally understood. Consideration of the Public Bodies Bill in Committee ended two weeks ago, and it is entirely appropriate that we deal with the remaining stages next Tuesday.

Does my right hon. Friend share my utter frustration with Opposition Members constantly talking women down? May we have a debate to celebrate British women and what the Government are doing to support more women and girls to fulfil their full potential? [Interruption.]

Order. We are all interested to hear about the frustrations of the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, even if they are expressed from a sedentary position.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would welcome any opportunity to celebrate women, Mr. Speaker.

We discussed on Tuesday the changes we made to the Pensions Bill, which have reduced the delay that confronted women before they became entitled to the state pension. We have announced changes to the universal credit so that those working less than 16 hours a week will be entitled to child care payments, and we are taking a range of measures, not least the Work programme, that will help those women who want to return to part-time work. I would welcome such a debate, but at the moment I cannot find time to schedule one.

There will be suspicion in the House about the timing of the Report stage of the Public Bodies Bill. There is growing concern about the Government’s inadequate response to the call for the establishment of the office of the chief coroner. If we consider the Bill on Report next Tuesday, that is well ahead of any intention by the Government to publish and make available the details of the responses to the consultation on this issue. How can we deal with the Bill on Report without those responses? Will the Leader of the House put them in the Library?

The Bill is of course paving legislation; it introduces the capacity to make the changes to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. The Bill finished in Committee two weeks ago and only one amendment is down for consideration, so I think that one day on Report is appropriate. The progress of the Bill on Tuesday in no way precludes the progress for which the right hon. Gentleman has just asked.

May we please have a statement on whether the Government will recompense anyone who planned to attend a lobby of Parliament next Thursday, organised by the People’s Pledge, but have now had to reorganise their travel plans as a result of the rescheduling of Government business?

If the Government were to be liable for changes in the provisional business for the second week, I suspect that the consequence would be that it would never be announced. It is perfectly possible for those who want to lobby Parliament to do so next Thursday.

Although I welcome the participation of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in the debate on Monday, does the Leader of the House agree that such short-notice rescheduling could be avoided by simply giving the Backbench Business Committee a set day every week, perhaps Wednesday afternoon, in which to schedule its business? While on the subject of scheduling business, will he please confirm what time the Government will give the Committee in the Chamber between now and the end of the Session to compensate for the extended length of the Session?

I welcome what the hon. Lady says about the Foreign Secretary’s participation in the debate, as I think it is important, as I said, that he takes part. Although a fixed day for Back-Bench business would give certainty, it would not necessarily overcome the particular problem of Ministers being unavailable on a fixed day for debates that are settled at short notice.

On the hon. Lady’s question, we have said that we will give proportionately more time to the Backbench Business Committee to reflect the longer Session. She will know from the business I have announced that the Committee is getting roughly one day a week. I said in response to her a few weeks ago that once we are through the main Report stages of the Government’s Bills, there should be more headroom in the remaining months of the Session to be more generous to the Committee with time.

May I welcome the words of the Leader of the House on the importance of e-petitions leading to debates such as the one on Hillsborough? Does he agree that that also applies to the debate on the referendum, which he has brought forward to Monday? I welcome the fact that the Government have elevated the importance of that debate and recognise how important it is that the Foreign Secretary attends. Does the Leader of the House not also agree that these issues overlap with the core purpose of the coalition, which is deficit reduction and the need to obtain growth, and that growth can be revived in this country only if we are able to deregulate our economy and therefore renegotiate our relationship with the EU?

We are committed to an agenda of deregulation. For example, there is the one-in, one-out rule; there is a deregulation unit working at the moment to see what further deregulation can be introduced; and we are working on the agenda of the report by Lord Young, introduced a year ago. I see no reason why we should not continue with that agenda and still remain full members of the European Union.

We should not draw up the timetable for our business according to the convenience of Ministers; it should be about the convenience of this House. The Leader of the House has already committed in the coalition agreement to hand over the whole of our business to the Backbench Business Committee by the third year of this Parliament, which I reckon means—[Interruption.] Yes, it says “by” the third year; it does not say “in” the third year. I reckon that means that he has only 19 more sessions of business questions, so when will he bring forward the legislation or Standing Orders to ensure that we do hand over the whole of our business to the Backbench Business Committee?

Unusually, the hon. Gentleman is wholly misinformed about the commitment in the coalition agreement. There is no commitment to hand over the whole of our business to the Backbench Business Committee.

There is not. There is a commitment to establish a House business committee alongside the Backbench Business Committee. We are committed to doing that, and we remain committed to doing it in the third year of the Parliament.

I am absolutely delighted—indeed, thrilled—that the Government are so keen to discuss the European Union that they have brought the business forward to Monday, but what will the Leader of the House say to those members of the public who might have preferred one or two more weeks to make their views perfectly clear to their MPs?

Earlier in this session, the Backbench Business Committee was commended for scheduling the debate, which was going to be next Thursday and is now next Monday, so I find it difficult to reconcile what my hon. Friend says with the freedom that we have given to the Committee to respond promptly to e-petitions. The e-petition in question was started many weeks ago, and people have had adequate time to contact their Members of Parliament if they so wish to.

May we have a debate in Government time on the work of the Electoral Commission? A report out today strongly criticises the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland for

“poor planning, insufficient communication and lack of an overall management plan”

for the counts during the Assembly elections, the referendum and the council elections held in May. Voters in Northern Ireland deserve the same high standards that apply elsewhere in the United Kingdom, so a debate would be very useful in focusing attention on those serious matters.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. I cannot promise a debate, but I will draw the attention of the Electoral Commission for Northern Ireland and, indeed, of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the concerns that he has expressed.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the People’s Pledge on pressing for a referendum on Europe and the debate on Monday? Does he agree that another advantage of having the Foreign Secretary here for Monday’s debate is that he will then be able to report the good news to our Commonwealth partners?

That, if I may say so, was not the question I was expecting from my hon. Friend, but it is of course a much easier one, and the answer is yes, the Foreign Secretary will be able to pass on the views of the House when he goes to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting later in the week.

On 18 July, the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning announced that he was working with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government and with the Association of Colleges on new forms of support for community-based ESOL—English for speakers of other languages—learning for those in settled communities who are not in receipt of eligible benefits, but colleges have had no funding for such courses since August. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement from the Minister updating us on his discussions with CLG colleagues so that funding can be secured?

I understand the importance of securing that funding for continuity of education. I cannot promise a statement, but I will contact my hon. Friend and ask him to write to the hon. Lady with a response to the important issue that she just raised.

This Sunday a regular season National Football League American football game will be played at Wembley. During that game—[Interruption.] During that game, the NFL will honour our brave servicemen and women, and it is providing 500 free tickets for them. May we have a statement next week supporting that measure and encouraging other sporting events to do the same, and can we ensure that it is not on Monday. [Interruption.]

Order. Just before the Leader of the House responds, I note that there is quite a lot of sedentary chuntering about the inappropriateness of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) having a prop. On the whole, we discourage the use of props in the Chamber, but it is fine for the hon. Gentleman to hold the ball or even to put it down—but not to do anything violent with it.

If I may say so, Mr Speaker, you have been very generous. I remember a debate on oranges, when an hon. Member produced an orange and was severely rebuked for so doing, as it had the potential to be an offensive weapon.

I think that that is a generous gesture by the NFL, and it should be commended. My hon. Friend may know that the all-party group on American football had its inaugural meeting yesterday and was, indeed, addressed by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, so I applaud the initiative and hope that it is a very successful game at Wembley stadium on Sunday.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate before the Christmas recess on the Roma? Everyone in the House is aware of the alarming scenes that occurred yesterday at Dale Farm, and they have been viewed with despair by human rights organisations not only in the UK, but elsewhere. Will he also ask his colleagues in the appropriate Department whether they will take the issue with them into the presidency that we will shortly hold of the Council of Europe?

I am not sure that the cause of the Roma was assisted by the scenes that took place yesterday; they may give a totally wrong impression to the one that the hon. Gentleman wants to give about the Roma community. There are provisions in the Localism Bill now going through the House to strengthen councils’ powers to ensure that such scenes do not happen again, and there is £60 million over the spending review period to help councils and other registered providers provide more sites, but it is important that the law is upheld, and no one should be beyond the reach of it.

The Daylight Saving Bill, the Second Reading of which the House passed by 92 votes to 10 in December, has been held up for 10 months by the passage of its money resolution. The Bill is unable to make further progress until the Government table that resolution. Will the Leader of the House tell us when he intends it to be tabled so that the Bill can make further progress?

I shall make some inquiries of the Treasury, whose consent would be needed for any money resolution, and when I have had that dialogue I will get back to my hon. Friend.

When may we have a debate or statement on the situation in Yemen? As the Leader of the House knows, the Foreign Secretary has taken a resolution to the UN Security Council, and we are very grateful for that, but 94 children have now died, 300,000 people have been displaced and 30 schools in Sana’a are now occupied by the military. This is a political and humanitarian crisis. Please may we have a debate about it?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern that, following the President’s return on 23 September, there would be renewed outbreaks of violence, and indeed there have been some very worrying incidents, with 110 people killed in clashes. We urge all parties to reach a consensus urgently on implementing a political settlement, leading to the formation of a national unity Government, the restoration of security and early elections. The right hon. Gentleman might like to ask the Backbench Business Committee whether it can hold a debate on that important issue.

Given that the international aid budget is now about £8 billion and will rise to £13 billion during this Parliament, given the fact that one of the worst aid crises ever seen is happening in east Africa, with a record-breaking British response, and given the fact that the Government are leading the world on international development, is it not time that the Department for International Development joined the departmental top table, starting with an hour-long International Development Question Time?

That is an interesting proposition and we would like to have discussions through the usual channels to see whether there is an appetite for it. However, any lengthening of a session for one Department of necessity means reduced time for another, so I should like to reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s proposition to see whether there is any flexibility.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Sayce report and its potential impact on the Remploy organisation? The Remploy factory in my constituency has a first-class work force, and I am sure the same is true of its factories throughout the country. Such a debate would allow us to reach the right decision, which should be continued Government support for Remploy rather than unnecessarily throwing people on the dole.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about Remploy. I cannot promise a debate, but he might like to apply to Mr Speaker for a debate in Westminster Hall, or to the Backbench Business Committee, so that we can spend more time on these important issues.

May we have a debate on the whipping of Back-Bench business, given that there is now a three-line Whip for those on the Government Benches, a three-line Whip for the Liberal Democrats, and, within the past 30 minutes, a three-line Whip for those on the Labour Benches? Is it any surprise that the British public are increasingly frustrated that this place is more out of touch than ever on the European question with regard to their own opinions?

Whipping matters, happily, lie in the capable hands of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, but I say to my hon. Friend that nothing in the manifesto on which I stood mentioned an in or out referendum. We stood on a manifesto of being in Europe but not run by Europe.

The Leader of the House has always been very helpful in trying to make sure that Ministers meet Members of this House, but may we have a statement on what is expected so that we can prevent the situation whereby a Minister in the other place said to one of my colleagues that he is rationing his exchanges with Members of Parliament and offered an official instead, which, I think the House would accept, is outrageous?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The last time this was raised at business questions, I asked for a list of the Ministers who had declined to see hon. Members. I took it up with my colleagues, and I think we reached a resolution. I should like further details of the problems the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I will do what I can to resolve them.

May we have a debate on political timing, in which I could try to persuade the Government why now is precisely the right time to hold a referendum on the European Union? It would give my right hon. Friend the opportunity to try to persuade me—in vain, I suspect—that a time when we are cutting domestic budgets is precisely the right time massively to increase our overseas aid budget.

I think that my hon. Friend has rehearsed a speech that he might make on Monday if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr Speaker.

The Leader of the House will have heard some of the questions on the collapse of the carbon capture and storage scheme at Longannet on the River Forth. Will he arrange for a debate in the Chamber or a statement on carbon capture and storage? The scheme moved from the River Don, where it was decided not to place it, to the River Forth. I have visited the scheme, and it is technologically workable. The pipeline will always be there, but using the North sea makes it necessary to put a pipeline in, and that will cost money. Surely the Government must explain what they are doing about carbon capture and storage and what the involvement of the Scottish Government is.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I have just re-read the speech that my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary made yesterday, which contained a big chunk on precisely this issue. He confirmed that the £1 billion was still available, and a number of other schemes are eligible. We have therefore debated this recently, and we have just had Energy and Climate Change questions.

Is the Leader of the House aware of recent reports that the UK bioscience industry is returning to levels of economic activity not seen for quite some time, and should not this be the subject of a debate?

I welcome the progress that is being made, and I am aware of my hon. Friend’s academic background in this area. I understand that, according to Oxfordshire Bioscience Network, county firms in the field attracted £125 million of cash—80% of the total for the whole of the UK. I applaud the work the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is doing to promote this area of growth.

Earlier this week, the Luddites of Greenpeace achieved a judgment at the European Court of Justice disallowing the patenting of discoveries made where the basis was a human stem cell. This will put British science back for years and damage it enormously. It also increases the likelihood that people suffering from degenerative diseases will not get the cures they need in time. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate in Government time on this incredibly important issue?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. There is a good leader in The Times today on this important subject asking what Greenpeace’s interest is in this area of science. Speaking purely personally, I am in favour of research that enables one to treat and prevent degenerative diseases. I will certainly contact my right hon. Friends to see whether there is any action we can take in the light of this decision.

Lord Justice Scott Baker has now published his report into UK extradition arrangements, to which, worryingly, he seems to have given broad approval. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate so that this House can voice its opinion on the report and conclusions?

I agree that it is an important report, and I understand the wide concern that exists. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the very near future, but he might like to try his luck with the Backbench Business Committee.

We now know that the former Defence Secretary’s private office and the permanent secretary knew that he was breaking the ministerial code. We are led to believe that the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister did not know. May we have a statement on why they did not know and what action is going to be taken against the officials for not reporting this breach?

We dealt with this at some length yesterday. The subject is covered by the Cabinet Secretary’s report, which addresses the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman and comes up with recommendations to ensure that if there is a recurrence the necessary steps will be taken and the Cabinet Secretary and, if necessary, the Prime Minister will be notified.

Darent Valley hospital in my constituency labours under one of the first private finance initiative arrangements in the national health service. Could Government time be allocated to discuss how we might best help hospitals that are held back by PFI arrangements that have not exactly stood the test of time?

In some cases, it has been possible to renegotiate PFI arrangements, obviously with agreement on both sides. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to this issue and see whether there is any role for the Department or, indeed, the Government to play in helping to reduce the burden on this trust.

The Department for International Development is rightly putting more resources into countries such as Somalia and Pakistan. However, the Public Accounts Committee is concerned about increased financial investment where there are problems of corruption and governance or where DFID has reduced its administrative capacity. May we have a statement on DFID and financial management?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that his Department has zero tolerance of fraud and abuse. My understanding is that some 82% of fraudulent payments are recovered and that new systems have been introduced since June last year to reduce the likelihood of payments going astray. I know that in due course the Government will want to respond to the PAC report.

May we have a debate on the amount of investment by businesses in the UK? We have very good examples such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Jaguar Land Rover, but there are examples from right across the country. I would particularly like to highlight the tourism and food manufacturing sectors in my constituency.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important to keep a perspective on this. One tends to read disappointing news about closures, but that needs to be balanced by good news such as the investment of Jaguar Land Rover in Wolverhampton, strong order books at Airbus’s plant at Broughton, and the announcement by PricewaterhouseCoopers of a £20 million investment in Belfast. I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about getting a balanced debate on these issues.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Prime Minister’s attitude to youth unemployment? Last week, the Prime Minister told me that the future jobs fund provided only phoney jobs. Since then, I have been inundated with young people getting in touch with me to tell me that they had found genuine employment through the future jobs fund. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Prime Minister should be a little more sensitive when talking about such matters?

I am sure that the Prime Minister is always sensitive on issues such as youth unemployment, about which he cares deeply. The latest figures show that the number of 16 to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training is falling. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. I hope that he will also welcome what we are doing with the Work programme to get people back into work.

Inspired by the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney) to the Prime Minister yesterday, may I ask for a debate on the regional growth fund and the new jobs that will be created by the first tranche of £450 million that has been conditionally allocated?

I welcome what my hon. Friend says. I think that the Leader of the Opposition was rather dismissive of the regional growth fund yesterday. The first £450 million has been awarded on a conditional basis to 50 companies. That is expected to create 27,000 jobs directly and more than 100,000 indirectly through associated supply chains.

I wonder whether I can persuade the Leader of the House to make this House even more relevant and to enhance its reputation by listening to the concerns of the people—mainly young people—who are clustered around St Paul’s in the City, and by debating in this House the particular concern about the growing chasm between the super-rich who make up 1% or 2% of the population and the ordinary people of our country. It would surely show the relevance of this Chamber if we spoke directly to those concerns.

I hope that the House does address those concerns when it debates the economy, youth unemployment and education. Having listened to some of those outside St Paul’s, it does not seem to me that there is one coherent message. They have a range of objectives. Of course we should listen to them. It is a matter for the authorities of St Paul’s how long this goes on, particularly if it is impeding access to the cathedral.

There has been no consultation so far with Church and faith groups on the Government’s proposals to introduce legislation for same-sex marriage. As the Leader of the House will know, the view of the Church of England on marriage is that which has been approved by Parliament in the Act of Uniformity 1662 and which is set out in the Book of Common Prayer: that marriage is an act between a man and a woman. When determining the business of the House, will he ensure that there is sufficient time for sensitive and considered consultation with Church and faith groups on this issue? If the principle is one simply of equity, is it also the Government’s proposal that different-sex couples will be able to enter into civil partnerships in church?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I commend the work he does as Church Commissioner in this House. Next week, my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities will start a range of discussions, including with religious organisations, about the consultation document on equal marriage, which we plan to publish in March next year. That will address some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has spoken about. It is not the Government’s intention to oblige religious organisations to carry out ceremonies with which they feel uncomfortable.

May we have a debate on the new Tory thinking on benefits and pensions? It was reported yesterday in The Daily Telegraph that coalition Back Benchers sitting on the Public Accounts Committee have called explicitly for a further cut in the basic rate of state benefits that is used to calculate pensions. Given that Tory policy has created the current levels of inflation, will the Leader of the House comment on the new Tory thinking that wants to reduce the rate for benefits below the consumer prices index?

The Government’s position on benefits was set out in the Budget last June. We made it clear that benefits and pensions should be linked to CPI. We have made firm commitments on that basis. There will be an uprating statement later this year in the light of the latest CPI and retail prices index figures.

A few moments ago in response to a question, my right hon. Friend described Conservative policy in the last manifesto of being

“in Europe but not run by Europe.”

He will remember a particular occasion on which he was standing for election, when he described himself as being somebody who was

“in the Conservative party, not run by the Conservative party.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 619.]

Does he think that the same principle could usefully be applied to the Back-Bench business on Monday?

I think that the quotation that my hon. Friend refers to was made during one of the speakership elections in which I stood—in fact, I think that I said it in both speakership elections. Had I been elected, I would of course have stood by that. However, on Monday I think that we need to consider what we said in our manifesto. As I have said, there was no commitment to an in or out referendum, but there was a commitment not to transfer any more powers to Brussels. We have secured the referendum lock. I hope that he will listen to the Foreign Secretary’s speech on Monday and come to a conclusion in the light of the balance of the arguments.

Last week at business questions, I asked the Leader of the House about Crosby coastguard and the proposal by its staff to site the maritime operations centre there, which would save the Government a significant amount of money. His reply was that

“the Government are interested in all options that might save money”.—[Official Report, 13 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 488.]

I wonder whether he has had time to discuss this matter with his ministerial colleagues, and what the answer might be.

Further to the hon. Gentleman’s question last week, I raised this issue with Ministers at the Department for Transport, who will write to him shortly. I can confirm that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency is considering all responses to the specific questions that were asked. Ministers will decide on a way forward very soon.

During Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Opposition levelled the accusation that large numbers of people had not registered for further education colleges this year as a result of the abolition of education maintenance allowance. As it happens, I spoke last week to the principal of the excellent Gloucestershire college in my constituency. He told me that it was true that registrations had fallen sharply this year, but his research had shown that that was the result of a substantial increase in the number of pupils staying on for sixth form at schools. He was dealing with the EMA issue using a judicious combination of the Government’s new 16 to 19 bursary fund and the college’s subsidy. Will the Leader of the House ask an education Minister to research this issue and confirm whether the accusation was inaccurate?

The bursary fund will give £400 more than was available under EMA to the most vulnerable students. It is worth reminding the House that EMA was paid to 45% of 16 to 18-year-olds in further education or training. Only one in 10 of those people said it was necessary for their continued participation, so there was a lot of dead-weight in EMA. The new arrangements are much more realistically targeted, and those in the greatest need are getting more than they would have received under EMA.

The Deputy Prime Minister is in Cairo today making an announcement about £5 million of investment. With 49 people chasing every job vacancy in my constituency, 899 people under threat of redundancy at BAE Systems at Brough, and only two companies benefiting from the regional growth fund over the past 16 months, may we please have a debate in which the Deputy Prime Minister can announce to the House what investment he can offer to boost the economy in Yorkshire?

I hope that the hon. Lady did not imply that the assistance that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced should not be given. I hope that she welcomes the increase in the budget of the Department for International Development. We had a debate on the economy last week in which there was an opportunity to raise these issues. She knows what we are doing through the Work programme, which is the most ambitious programme to get people back to work that we have ever seen. I hope that she will support the initiatives that will bring hope to people in her constituency.

Following Monday’s short debate on Members’ pensions, does the Leader of the House plan to make a statement about when he intends to sign the order transferring responsibility for our pensions to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for ever?

I have signed the commencement order following the unanimous decision of the House on Monday to transfer responsibility for pensions to IPSA. IPSA now has responsibility for pensions, allowances and pay, and I think that that is the right place for all those things to be.

The Public Bodies Bill has significant implications for Wales, and not least for the future of S4C. Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that the Government are riding roughshod over the concerns that remain by leaving only 24 hours to table amendments? They have made these changes in the full knowledge that most Welsh Members are at the Welsh Grand Committee in Wrexham and are unable to protest here today?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he has had two weeks in which to table amendments since the Bill came out of Committee. Only one amendment has been tabled. There is still adequate time for him to table amendments so that they can be considered on Tuesday.

Although I will defend for ever people’s right to protest and demonstrate peacefully, the growing encampment outside St Paul’s cathedral has residents who are clearly not available for work and should not be eligible for state benefits. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on what action the Government are taking to withdraw those benefits from people who are resident there?

Everyone receiving benefits on the basis of unemployment, including people outside St Paul’s, is required to be available for, and actively seek, work. They must show that they meet those conditions when they sign on. If they cannot do that and have no good reason for failing to comply, they face a complete loss of benefit.

There is ongoing concern in the House about the implications of the loss or misplacement of private documents in public places by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin). So that we can assess accurately the scale of the problem that we face, may we have a debate on the literacy levels of tramps in public parks?

Royal parks, yes.

I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that an appropriate rebuke was administered and I am sure there will be no repetition of the incident.

Tomorrow I will meet an international development charity in my constituency called Cord, which has been doing fantastic work over the past 40 years in conflict-affected and fragile states such as Chad and Cambodia. Will it be possible to provide Government time for a debate on the work of our international development charities in the UK and how we can support them further?

I support the work that Cord is doing not just in the countries that my hon. Friend mentioned but in Burundi, where it is helping those affected by HIV. I know that many such organisations are supported by the Department for International Development, which has a particular fund for such initiatives. I would welcome such a debate, but I am afraid I cannot promise one in the very near future.

Next Tuesday, hundreds of young people and youth workers will lobby Parliament to save their youth services. Youth work is en route to being the first public service to disappear completely, and indeed in a number of places it already has. Please may we have an urgent debate in Government time on the disappearance of youth services?

The youth service is an important service provided by county councils, and it is up to them to decide which of the resources that have been made available to them to put into it. Of course Ministers will be happy to respond to a lobby, but decisions on resource priorities are made by locally elected authorities.

In my constituency we have a lot of manufacturing and engineering to celebrate, especially in the small and medium enterprise sector, but there would be more if we could just encourage banks to lend a little more to those firms. May we have some assurance that the credit easing that we are about to have really will reach those firms in a meaningful way?

My hon. Friend is right. Ever since the 1930s we have had the so-called Macmillan gap, which is the absence of secure capital funding for small and medium-sized enterprises. Other countries, such as the US, have bonds that are available to small companies. Credit easing, more details of which will be available in the autumn statement, has as its objective not just helping SMEs to provide growth and employment but creating a new market in capital for them by possibly generating a new market in bonds.

Six hundred and fifty young people from all parts of the world were stunned by the sudden closure of the TASMAC London business school. Many of them had been asked to pay up front their fees not just for one year but for the full three years, and the company has now sought to go into liquidation. I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Minister for Immigration, because the Home Office insists that those young people have only 60 days to find a new course, pay new fees and establish their credibility as students in this country again. They have been victims of what many believe to be a serious fraud, and the Government need to treat them as such. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that will be done?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will support the Home Office’s work to close down bogus colleges. I have great sympathy with those who find themselves in the position he describes, and I will contact my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration to see whether there is any flexibility in the situation.

May we have an urgent debate, or an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Education, on schools’ capital funding? On the one hand the Secretary of State is supporting the setting up of a free school in Runcorn, but on the other many schools in Runcorn and Halton need capital investment, particularly the outstanding Heath school. That would have been taken care of under the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. May we have an urgent statement on the schools capital project?

We had questions to Department for Education Ministers earlier this week. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was able to take part. I will certainly raise the issue with the Secretary of State and see whether we can make any progress.

Order. I am grateful to the Leader of the House and colleagues, because 45 Back Benchers got in in 41 minutes. It was great economy by Back and Front Benchers alike.