The business for the week commencing 5 December is as follows:
Monday 5 December—Motion relating to ministerial statements, followed by motion relating to UK extradition arrangements.
The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 6 December—General debate on the economy.
Wednesday 7 December—Motion relating to the appointment of the chairman of the National Audit Office, followed by motion relating to the membership of the Speaker’s Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to European sales law. In addition, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named the London Local Authorities Bill as opposed private business for consideration.
Thursday 8 December—Opposition day [un-allotted day] [half-day]. There will be a debate on a Scottish National party-Plaid Cymru motion, subject to be announced, followed by a money resolution relating to the Local Government Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 December will include:
Monday 12 December—General debate on immigration.
Tuesday 13 December—Motion to approve the appointment of the chairman of the Statistics Board, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to financial restrictions (Iran), followed by Opposition day [un-allotted day] [half-day]. There will be a debate on a Democratic Unionist party motion, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 14 December—Opposition day [un-allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 15 December—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 December will be a debate on the EU Council.
May I start by placing on the record an apology from my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, who is attending an engagement in her constituency today and is therefore unable to be with us? In fact, she is welcoming the Queen officially to open a new development. I suggested that she might also want to use the opportunity to ask Her Majesty to look in her diary to check when her Gracious Speech is likely to take place, so we can finally clear the matter up—unless, of course, the Leader of the House would like to tell us first this morning?
Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will bring to the House business of any substance? For some time now, we have seen a distinct absence of Government-sponsored business and the schedule just announced, which takes us to almost the very end of the session, is no different. Perhaps the Government are responding to the dark days of winter and the even darker days of the economic crisis they have helped to create by going into hibernation. After just 18 months in government, they have run out of ideas while their economic policy has run into the sand. At a time when millions of families are desperately worried about what the future holds, the Government are showing how desperately out of touch they are by offering no new legislation and not a single debate of any substance.
Mr Speaker, on Monday you heard a point of order from the shadow Leader of the House that raised concerns about the Government’s deliberate and selective leaking of the autumn statement to the media and you responded by expressing your grave concern about those matters. Since then, of course, we have enjoyed the rather dubious pleasure of listening to the Chancellor deliver his statement on the Floor of the House and, indeed, it was an illuminating experience, if only in the sense that it revealed the very few details of the statement that had not already been leaked to the media. How important those small details are, however. We learned, for instance, that the Government are unable to meet the deficit reduction target that they set themselves only 18 months ago and that growth forecasts have been slashed to 0.9% this year, down from the 1.7% forecast in March, and 0.7% next year, down from 2.5%, the fourth downgrade since this Government came to power. We also learned that the Government’s squeeze on living standards will be not only severe but prolonged. It will be extended to six years or longer—a situation not seen in the UK since the last war.
Despite all the spin in advance of Tuesday, the very measures that the Chancellor chose to highlight in his leaks have unravelled under close scrutiny. Borrowing is set to spiral by £158 billion, despite promises to balance the deficit by 2015. Unemployment is expected to continue to rise for the next two years and £1.3 billion a year will be snatched from children and families after cuts to the child tax credit and the freezing of the working tax credit. Meanwhile, the bankers will contribute just £300 million. After 18 months, the verdict is in—plan A has failed colossally. So may we have a debate on the Chancellor’s autumn statement? It is time for the Government to adopt Labour’s five-point plan and put jobs and growth first.
When listening to the Chancellor’s statement, the House could have been forgiven for thinking that we were back in the 1980s—back to the future. Now we have the “back to the future jobs fund”. With more than 1 million young people unemployed, the Government’s U-turn on tackling youth unemployment is welcome, but the devil is always in the detail. May we have a debate on the measures that have been announced for tackling youth unemployment and how far they will go toward repairing the damage inflicted by the Government’s decision to abolish the future jobs fund in the first place? Such a debate would provide the Government with a good opportunity to apologise for their hastiness in cancelling a successful initiative.
The Government should also apologise for their reckless approach to economic management and, more crucially, they should stop blaming everyone and everything else when things do not go according to plan A. Last week, we heard that they were not to blame for their planned reduction in the feed-in tariff for solar-generated power and the damage that threatens to inflict on the solar industry. We were also told that the reduction was not a betrayal of their promise to be the greenest Government ever. This week, we have also heard that it is not their fault that there is no guarantee that the £1 billion for carbon capture projects will be forthcoming in the near future. However, we then learned in The Independent that the autumn statement would announce a review of legislation relating to the protection of precious wildlife habitats in the planning process because they are deemed to be a potential barrier to economic growth. May we have a debate about the role of green policy in promoting economic growth, given that the Conservative party said, “Vote blue, get green”, whereas the reality is that we are not getting very much at all? It will take more than a few huskies and a vanity photographer to restore the Prime Minister’s green credentials.
Not only do the Government refuse to respect the usual courtesies of the House but they refuse to respect the promises they made to the electorate or to take responsibility for their actions when things go wrong. They are out of touch and they are hiding from the electorate and from Members of the House.
May I welcome the hon. Lady to her debut at business questions? Of course we understand the absence of the shadow Leader of the House, who is in her constituency.
On the date of Prorogation and the Queen’s Speech, I repeat what I have said in previous questions—we will announce those in due course. We have a legislative programme going through both Houses, and when that programme has made good progress we will be able to announce the dates of Prorogation and the Queen’s Speech.
The hon. Lady somewhat devalued the debates between now and Christmas that I have just announced, including an Opposition day, which she thinks is of no consequence at all. There is an important debate on the economy on Tuesday and some important debates will be chosen by the Backbench Business Committee. I am sure that she did not mean to insult the subjects chosen by that Committee by implying that they are not of any importance to the House.
On the ministerial code, I look forward to the debate on Monday; the Backbench Business Committee has brought forward a motion on the subject. I repeat that we are committed to what is in the ministerial code: important announcements should be made to Parliament in the first instance.
When we set the target that the hon. Lady mentioned, we gave ourselves an extra year’s headroom, and we have now used that up, so we are still on track to meet the original target. The strategy on which we have embarked, which she criticised, has been endorsed by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the Bank of England and all credible commentators. It is the Labour party alone that wants to embark on a reckless series of policies that would put at risk the low interest rates that the country now enjoys.
I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes the announcement made a few days ago on the youth contract. The future jobs fund was an expensive use of resources, and many of the jobs were short-term posts in the public sector; those in them ended up back on the dole. Our Work programme is a much more targeted and efficient alternative.
On the issues that the hon. Lady raised about climate change, we have just had Department of Energy and Climate Change questions, in which there was an opportunity to press the Secretary of State on our commitment to our environmental targets, which I am sure that he reasserted.
I think that I have answered all the questions that the hon. Lady put to me. Her last point was to ask whether we would stop blaming other people for the problems that confront us. The Office for Budget Responsibility could not have been clearer about the reasons for the difficulties that confront the country. The first is issues in the eurozone, the second is the increase in commodity prices, and the third is the deep recession that we inherited from the Labour party.
On Wednesday, more than a third of questions were Opposition Whips’ questions with exactly the same wording. That blocks Members who really want to ask questions from getting their question on the Order Paper. I know that that is not something that the Government do. Will the Leader of the House issue a statement next week condemning the practice?
I think that I am right in saying that my hon. Friend raised that issue with you, Mr Speaker, at the end of the question session. As my hon. Friend implies, it is way beyond my remit to comment on the issue, but I would say that there is no evidence at all of him ever having asked a question given to him by our Whips.
To help the Leader of the House fill the time before the end of the Session, the Backbench Business Committee will conduct a review of its work. To do that, we are sending out a feedback form asking Back Benchers about their experiences and ideas for the future of the Committee, so that we can put forward proposals for its future in the new Session. What can he do to help the Committee promote the survey and encourage Back Benchers to fill it in and return it before Christmas?
I applaud the work that the hon. Lady and the Backbench Business Committee do, and I welcome her public service announcement about the survey. I would indeed encourage colleagues to complete and return the survey; that will, in due course, inform the review of the Backbench Business Committee that the House has committed to undertake at the end of the Committee’s first year.
May we have an urgent debate on Burma? I am sure that we all welcome the recent release of political prisoners, but there are still more than 1,000 being held without charge or trial. If the Burmese regime is serious about being taken into the international family and community, it needs to let those people go.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Like him, I welcome the signs of relaxation of some of the extreme measures undertaken by that regime. I cannot promise a debate, but I understand that the Backbench Business Committee has indicated that, on the last day before the Christmas recess, we will have a series of Adjournment debates. He might like to apply for one of those.
That was one of the most extraordinary Government business statements that I have ever heard—extraordinary for its complete absence of Government business. Is the Leader of the House not the slightest little bit embarrassed to be scrabbling around, trying to find things for us to do, when the Government face the gravest crisis since the 1930s? If I may make one suggestion, how about a debate on the Government’s plan for regional pay rates in the public sector, which will be absolutely devastating in south-west England, where we have very low pay in the private sector and, already, the biggest gap in house-price affordability?
On the first point, we are anxious to avoid the fiasco that took place in the last Parliament; towards the end of a Session, Bills would be rushed through the House with inadequate consideration. As a result of the way in which we have planned this Session, the House has had ample time to discuss legislation. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have two Houses of Parliament. Bills have to go through both Houses, and they have to complete the process before the House can be prorogued.
The legislative programme means that Bills, having gone through the House of Commons, are now in another place, where they are being considered. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is asking for yet more legislation when, quite often, I receive complaints from Opposition spokespeople that we legislate too much and do not give the House adequate time. As for regional pay rates, he will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in the autumn statement: he has asked a commission to look at this and report back.
May we have a road safety debate, so that Transport Ministers can explain to the House and to the country why they are pursuing policies that will result in more crashes, injuries and deaths, which would be the inevitable consequence of raising the speed limit to 80 mph, using the hard shoulder for moving traffic, and reducing the frequency of vehicle checks? Last night, St John Ambulance held its inaugural national awards. May I suggest that such a debate would provide an opportunity to discuss its campaign to introduce first aid training in schools, which would help to save lives, not increase deaths?
I understand where my hon. Friend is coming from. The Government are consulting on raising the maximum speed limit and reducing the speed limit elsewhere. A final decision has not been taken on that proposition, and I shall ensure that his views are fed into the consultative process.
I appreciate the efforts that you made, Mr Speaker, to allow me to ask a question earlier. I hope that the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), duly noted the way in which I stood aside for him, and rewards me accordingly.
In a breathtaking display of bigotry this week, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast refused to give a Duke of Edinburgh award to a young Army cadet. That typifies the intransigence that we see from Sinn Fein: Sinn Fein Members ignore the electorate by refusing to take their seats in the House, yet they get hundreds of thousands of pounds supposedly to carry out parliamentary businesses. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate and a vote so that the issue of the abuse of public funds can be dealt with?
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He will know that that issue was raised yesterday in Northern Ireland questions, and he may have heard what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. I understand the disappointment of the young person who did not receive the medal in the way in which they hoped, and I understand the very strong feelings that have been aroused. I remind him of what my right hon. Friend said when that point was made yesterday:
“The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The armed forces are a wonderful example of people from right across the community working together.”
He went on to draw on the example of the Royal Irish Regiment and the work that it has done in securing
“representatives from right across Northern Ireland and the Republic”.—[Official Report, 30 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 925-926.]
I very much hope that we can move forward in a more consensual way than that particular gesture indicated.
I know from personal experience and from my postbag in my Loughborough constituency that the lack of access to affordable child care is critical in preventing women from going back to work. May we have a general debate on child care policies?
I would welcome such a debate, and on Tuesday it may be in order to discuss that. We have announced that we will invest an additional £300 million in child care support under universal credit, on top of the £2 billion in the current system. At the moment, that provision is available only if someone works more than 16 hours, but we are going to remove the minimum hours rule. I very much hope that my hon. Friend welcomes that announcement.
May we have a debate next week about the harmful effects of violent video games? Last week, the university of Indiana published research that showed that regularly playing those games resulted in physical changes in the brain. At a time when parents are thinking of purchasing video games for Christmas, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is important to hold a debate on this matter? This is not about censorship—it is about protecting our children.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I know that this is an issue that he has pursued with vigour for some time. I cannot promise a debate next week. Home Office questions, I think, will be held on 12 December, but in the meantime I will draw his concern to the attention of the Home Secretary.
Following the welcome announcement of additional funds for the Highways Agency and the Department for Transport for road infrastructure projects, may we have a debate on the key projects that Members wish to raise? Personally, I do not always find the Highways Agency as responsive as it should be, and it would be good to put on the record some of the projects that we are passionate about in our constituencies.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who reminds the House of the supply side measures that we have taken, bringing forward some important infrastructure projects to generate employment. He will know that a large number of schemes were announced by the Chancellor on Tuesday, including some infrastructure projects to support growth in the west midlands. I am sorry if that did not go quite as far as my hon. Friend would wish, but on Tuesday, in the debate on the economy, I am sure that he will have an opportunity to make his plea, which I hope will be heard by Ministers.
The Leader of the House may not have seen the Amnesty report on Saudi Arabia, which was published this morning. Amnesty says that
“hundreds of people have been arrested for demonstrating, while the government has drafted an anti-terror law that would effectively criminalize dissent as a ‘terrorist crime’ and further strip away rights from those accused of such offences.”
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) will lead a delegation from Parliament to Saudi Arabia at the weekend. Does the Leader of the House agree—I have already spoken to the hon. Gentleman—that anyone who represents the House in Saudi Arabia should raise those issues, and it is important that they are raised face-to-face with our opposite numbers?
I feel as if I am a postbox in the dialogue between the right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski). She will know that we had a debate on Monday—indeed, I think she took part—in which some of those issues were raised, although not the recent report by Amnesty International. I am sure that my hon. Friend heard her plea, has taken it on board, and will report back when he returns and let her know how he got on.
May we have a debate about rail in the north? We have a huge requirement for rail investment in the north, especially Yorkshire, and we have had some encouraging news recently. It would be timely to hold a debate after the announcement of the TransPennine Express electrification in the autumn statement on Tuesday.
I would welcome such a debate, and it may be relevant on Tuesday. I see from the Chancellor’s announcement on Tuesday that there will be two new park-and-ride sites in York; and Leeds rail growth will be assisted by two new railway stations in Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge, and a number of other schemes in the Yorkshire region. I very much hope that my hon. Friend accepts that this is a priority, and that we are making progress with infrastructure in the area that he represents.
May we have a debate specifically on the national infrastructure plan 2011? As a fellow Shropshire MP, I support the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) in calling for a debate about roads and road investment. Just after the last election, we saw the removal of the M54-M6 toll road link from capital infrastructure projects. I should like to debate that in the House, and I am sure that other Shropshire MPs would, too.
This reminds me of when I was Secretary of State for Transport many years ago, and heard all these pleas for extra investment, which I take seriously. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when his party came to power it imposed a moratorium on many of the schemes with which I was planning to go ahead. None the less, he makes a serious point about that particular road, and I shall draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
May we have a debate next week on today’s written ministerial statement on the retention of the mobility component in residential care? It would give the House an opportunity both to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), for listening to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, and to welcome the fact that, today, the Government have announced that the mobility component of disability living allowance will not be removed from people living in residential care homes, as an amendment will be tabled to the Welfare Reform Bill on Report in the Lords. That is welcome news, and the House ought to note that it is an extremely good example of Ministers taking the care, time and trouble to listen and respond accordingly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. In business questions about 12 months ago, that subject was frequently raised by Members on both sides of the House, who expressed concern about our proposals under the personal independence payment to remove the mobility component of DLA for people in residential accommodation. As he knows, we asked Lord Low to review our proposals. He reported a few weeks ago, and today, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has announced that we will not go ahead with our original proposals, as my hon. Friend said. We will table an appropriate amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill in another place to retain that entitlement, which enables people to have the mobility that they very much welcome if they live in residential or nursing homes.
You fortuitously called me, Mr Speaker, just in time to revive an old English custom: a pinch and a punch for the first day of the month. Of course, I would never pinch or punch the Leader of the House, but I might be tempted to do so with the Government unless during the slight time announced today we have a serious debate on the fact that university applications are already 15% down, which is a serious challenge to our university system. The punch is that we should do something more ambitious on youth unemployment than what came out of the autumn statement.
I do not think that the position on university applications for next year is quite as grim as the hon. Gentleman outlines. There was a fall of 0.9% for places that had to be applied for by 15 October. The 15% drop to which he refers is in applications for which there is still time to apply. We have not reached the final date, so it is too soon to say that there will be a fall of 15%. The earlier figure to which I referred is much more encouraging. If one looks at the demography, one will see that fewer people in that age group are coming forward for higher education.
May we have a debate on women and the prison system? Mahatma Gandhi said that a society can be judged by how it treats its first, its last and its lost. It is my strong belief that women in the prison system and the 17,000 children a year who are separated from their mothers as a result of incarceration are among the lost. May we have a debate in Government time to review that important problem?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in that important subject. I very much hope that our new approach to the penal system of payment by results will also benefit women in prison, that new contractors with an interest in finding long-term, secure employment and accommodation for those leaving prison will come forward, and that we will be able to improve our record so far and help those women rebuild their lives after leaving prison.
Certainly not. Our policy on rail fares applies throughout the country. We have changed the formula from RPI plus 3 to RPI plus 1, which will benefit travellers in whichever part of the country they travel. As far as the capital programme is concerned, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the announcements my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made on Tuesday, he will see that every region in the country will benefit from infrastructure projects being brought forward.
Just the other week I visited the Cheslyn Hay Boys Brigade, an organisation that has been running for 40 years as a result of the dedication and commitment of its volunteers. May we have a debate on how we can encourage more Boys Brigades to play an active role in supporting young people’s involvement in civic society?
I welcome the work of the Boys Brigade in my hon. Friend’s constituency and agree that it has a role to play in achieving the objective he has just outlined. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, although he may be able with some ingenuity to squeeze the subject in on Tuesday, and there will be the normal pre-Christmas Adjournment debate on the Tuesday we rise, during which he may have an opportunity to develop his case with yet greater eloquence.
Yesterday’s strike had less of an impact than some people had feared. Fewer job centres closed than in June and the number of schools that closed was lower than had been feared. While I am on my feet, I would like to pay tribute to those who work for the House for ensuring that it could operate yesterday and that in the Chamber we could have important statements and a debate on living standards.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at page 4 of the distribution analysis, he will see that the distribution is progressive and that those in the top 10% are paying 10 times more than those in the bottom 10%.
I know from my own experience and that of my constituents just how important health visitors are to new mums in the vital first few weeks of a baby’s life, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on health visitors and other support given to new mums to help families through that difficult and daunting time?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She will know that one of the commitments we made was to increase the number of health visitors, which we are doing by redeploying resources. With regard to social mobility and giving people a good start in life, health visitors and what we are doing with free nursery care and the pupil premium are all part of a process of enabling people from disadvantaged families to break through and achieve their full potential.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), may we have a debate on university applications? Today, applications are down 15% on average, compared with this time last year, but in Middlesbrough they are down 40%. Does the Leader of the House agree with the chair of South Tees Conservative Future when he said that he “can see the benefits of lower applications”?
I am in favour of more applications but, as I said to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, it is too soon to draw the conclusion that I think the hon. Gentleman is drawing—[Interruption.] It makes sense to wait until applications close before drawing conclusions on whether they are up or down on last year. As I said, where applications have closed the reduction is 0.9%, so I think that he is being unduly alarmist.
May we have a debate on how the Government are working with local authorities to protect some of our most vulnerable children, especially in areas such as Sandwell, where the Labour-run council was recently judged by Ofsted to be failing in its provision to some of the most vulnerable children in the community?
May we have a debate on anti-Semitism, because yesterday an hon. Member of this House said in front of a House Committee that Mr Matthew Gould, our distinguished ambassador to Israel, should not serve as such because he is Jewish? In such a debate we could make it absolutely clear that we do not have a religious bar in our diplomatic service and that we do not say that Jews cannot serve in Israel or that Catholics cannot serve in Catholic countries or the Holy See, so that we may eradicate anti-Semitism once and for all from public discourse in our country?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and applaud the work that he did in the last Parliament on the subject. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is an equal opportunity employer. It is inconceivable that it would apply any sort of prejudice of the type to which he refers in deciding who should be our ambassador in any part of the world.
Earlier this week one of my constituents was arrested after a video of her ranting at fellow passengers on a Croydon tram and using the most foul racist language spread on social media. It shows that the evil of racism is still with us, but it also shows, on a positive note, the power of social media, as it allowed her to be caught and showed that the vast majority of Croydon residents do not share her views. May we have a debate on how the evil of racism in our society can finally be eradicated?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I should not comment on the particular incident, as I understand that charges have been made. It would be quite wrong if people could not travel on public transport because they were worried about being subjected to the sort of abuse to which he refers. I believe that the penalties we have to deal with hate crimes are serious and hope that they will be used if the offences justify them.
The Government have stated their desire to rebalance the economy and make up for the thousands of public sector jobs that are being lost in regions such as mine, yet today we received the dreadful news that 4,500 jobs at Carillion—a big employer based in Newcastle and Gateshead—have been put at risk as a direct result of the Government’s changes to the feed-in tariffs for photovoltaic panels. May we have an urgent debate on how their policies are impacting on private sector jobs in regions such as the north-east?
I hope that the hon. Lady is able to intervene in the debate on Tuesday. I think I am right in saying that, right at the end of questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the specific case of Carillion was raised and my right hon. Friend dealt with it. On the overall issue of unemployment, the OBR forecast shows that employment will be higher and unemployment lower if we compare the end of this Parliament with the start.
In Tuesday’s autumn statement, we heard good news on regional infrastructure development, and I was encouraged in particular to see the Chancellor refer to engagement
“with the Welsh Government on improvements to the M4.”
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ensure that there are opportunities for hon. Members to discuss investment in cross-border issues and projects that impact on Montgomeryshire and other cross-border constituencies?
Those are important issues, and my hon. Friend reminds the House that there is indeed a commitment to
“engage with the Welsh Government on improvements to the M4 in south east Wales.”
The Welsh Government will also benefit from the Barnett formula, receiving enhanced funding in line with that which has been allocated to England, and there is also an urban broadband fund, which will create 10 super-connected cities, including Cardiff. There was a lot in Tuesday’s announcement to help my hon. Friend’s constituency and others in Wales.
Given that the Leader of the House seems, if I may say so, to be struggling somewhat to arrange items of business, may I suggest that he schedules a debate on the important work of faith organisations in what I presume he would describe as the big society? Will he also join me in congratulating Leicester’s council of faiths, now in its 25th year, on its successful inter-faith week?
I applaud what Leicester is doing on that particular subject, but let me explain to the hon. Gentleman what happens. The Government schedule time for Government legislation, and most of the rest of the time is allocated to the Backbench Business Committee, so if he wants a debate on faith organisations, which I would heartily support, he needs either to present himself on a Tuesday at 1 o’clock to that Committee and put in such a bid, or to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate. That particular subject would be warmly welcomed on both sides of the House.
On Tuesday in the autumn statement, the Chancellor made the argument that investing in early years education and schools will do more to lift people out of poverty than just increasing benefits. Figures that I have obtained from the Library show that of all single-parent families on child tax credits with five or more children, 23,000 such households are out of work and 4,000 are in work, so may we have a debate about whether the best way to help those households aspire to greater prosperity is through helping parents into work with increased free child care, rather than increasing the size of their benefit cheque?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the way to help such people is to help them into work and to remove the barriers that prevent them from going into work, one of which is child care. She will know that we have expanded free nursery education, first, for all three to four-year-olds and, then, to 20% of two-year-old children from disadvantaged families—a figure that was increased on Tuesday to 40%. I very much hope that that will help achieve the social mobility to which my hon. Friend refers.
May we have a statement from the Government on the protections given to whistleblowers? This is a particularly emotive subject in my constituency, as a result of the legacy of the Harold Shipman murders and the crucial role that whistleblowing played in bringing him to justice. A ruling in the Court of Appeal last month, however, to the effect that employers cannot be held responsible for incriminatory acts by the fellow employees of another of my constituents, has some people worried that the protections that we give to whistleblowers are not vigorous enough. Will the Leader of the House raise that issue with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and, perhaps, arrange a meeting between me and one of those Ministers to discuss it further?
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and there should not be the deterrent, which he implies, preventing people from coming forward and reporting malpractice, injustice or, even, criminal activities. Of course I will raise with the Lord Chancellor the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed following that decision of the courts, and I will see whether the Government need to take any remedial action.
In Norfolk and East Anglia, a huge number of engineering, energy and high-tech businesses are ready to expand and grow, but for many years they have complained about the previous Government’s neglect of our infrastructure and, particularly, our road infrastructure. I therefore welcome this week’s announcement on the A14, building on the A11 and the Government’s broadband investment in East Anglia. May we have a debate on infrastructure and the economic opportunities resulting from it, particularly so that we can highlight in Norfolk the further opportunities that will emerge if we eventually dual the A47?
My hon. Friend makes an important bid for yet further investment in infrastructure in his constituency, and I note that he welcomed Tuesday’s announcement, which will improve the A14, A11 and parts of the M1—junctions 10 to 13. I will pass on to the Secretary of State for Transport the fact that my hon. Friend’s appetite has now been whetted, and that he wants to see yet further investment in his constituency.
May we have a debate on localism? The Nun Wood wind farm application spans three local authorities, each of which looked at it independently and, in line with their local plans, turned it down, only for a distant planning inspector to decide that he knew better than the local plans, thereby allowing the application. Does the Leader of the House understand why my constituents, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), feel so strongly about this issue, which is a real smack in the face for localism?
I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment at the decision of the planning inspector, and I know from my time as a planning Minister that there are now fewer opportunities to appeal. I very much hope that, when the Localism Bill hits the statute book and we introduce a new planning regime, there will be a system that is more responsive to local needs than the system we operate at the moment.
Given my right hon. Friend’s personal commitment to this Chamber being at the centre of the political life of the nation, will he support the motion, put forward by the Backbench Business Committee on Monday, that ministerial statements on major policy announcements be made first to this Chamber of the House of Commons?
I reaffirm my commitment to that part of my hon. Friend’s motion. If he has looked at the Government’s response to the Procedure Committee’s report, he will see that I have severe reservations about the second part of his motion, which includes a rather punitive regime for breaching that aspect of the ministerial code. I will in due course on Monday, if I catch your eye, Mr Speaker, explain why the Government have doubts about the wisdom of the second half of the motion.
The Leader of the House will know about the extensive work being undertaken at the Department for Communities and Local Government on community budgets, including 16 pilot programmes, on families with complex needs in particular and on cross-departmental spending to solve those problems. Given the wide range of measures being taken by the Government, particularly with reference to today’s announcement by the disabilities Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), may we please have a debate about the scope of that work and its potential consequences?
I welcome such a debate on that initiative and on other schemes such as the early intervention grant, which has done a lot of useful work, trying in particular to bring together funding streams that were previously disparate, and providing a more comprehensive policy to help such clients. I cannot promise such a debate, but in the pre-Christmas Adjournment debate my hon. Friend could initiate a discussion on that important subject.
Thirteen days ago four Harrow police officers were stabbed while trying to apprehend a suspect in neighbouring Kingsbury. I am pleased that their courage has been commended by the Home Secretary and by the Mayor of London, and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is writing to the four police officers, who I am pleased to say are recovering after having suffered those injuries. They are also about to receive “Get well” cards from local children, who are pleased about the work of the police in helping them to celebrate their religion and in going to school, but may we have an urgent debate or a statement on the measures that we can take to help the police and, in particular, given the protective clothing that is issued to them, to combat knife crime?
Many of us will have seen that particular incident on our television screens. The specific issue of protective clothing is a matter for the police service, and I will draw my hon. Friend’s concern to the attention of the appropriate authorities, but more broadly he has reminded the whole House of the professionalism and bravery of our policemen and women. They get up in the morning and do not know what risks they will confront during the day, but they discharge their responsibilities with a commitment for which we are all very grateful.
May we have a debate on ways to tackle the shortage of doctors who are specialised in accident and emergency care—a major factor in the temporarily reduced hours of the A and E department at my local hospital in Stafford? I place on the record my thanks to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), for all his great help in the matter, but it is a long-term problem that needs to be discussed and tackled.
My hon. Friend draws the attention of the House to a serious issue, but the problem in that case is the shortage not of resources, which are there, but of applicants to take up the posts. Discussions are indeed continuing between the Department of Health, the strategic health authority and the local trusts to see whether those barriers can be overcome, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thanks to my right hon. Friend. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concern and see whether we can accelerate the process.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I shall try to be worth the wait.
In Northumberland, hundreds of women have outstanding equal pay claims that some Opposition Members and I are trying to persuade the local authority to resolve. Please may we have a debate in the House on the issue of equal pay for women, past and future, and what the Government are trying to do about it?
The Government are keen to address the injustice of unequal pay between men and women. In 2009, there was a gap of some 16.4% between men’s and women’s pay. We are working with employers to encourage voluntary non-legislative action to improve transparency on pay and on equality more generally.