Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 538: debated on Thursday 19 January 2012

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 23 January—Opposition day (un-allotted day). There will be a debate on rising food prices and food poverty followed by a debate on youth unemployment and taxation of bank bonuses. These debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 24 January—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 25 January—European document relating to EU criminal policy. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 26 January—General debate on progress on defence reform and the strategic defence and security review. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 30 January will include:

Monday 30 January—Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Tuesday 31 January—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Local Government Finance Bill (day 3).

Wednesday 1 February—Consideration of Lords Amendments.

Thursday 2 February—General debate. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 2 February will be:

Thursday 2 February—Debate on Network Rail.

This year marks the happy occasion of the Queen’s diamond jubilee and I am today able to announce that an early celebration of that magnificent anniversary will be the attendance of the two Houses on Her Majesty in Westminster Hall for the presentation of Humble Addresses on the morning of Tuesday 20 March. On a day before then, which will be announced in a forthcoming business statement, there will be a debate on the motion

“That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.”

I hope the House joins me in looking forward to an important and happy event. On that theme, Mr Speaker, although the score is somewhat lower, may I wish you many happy returns of the day?

We all look forward to being able to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee, a remarkable achievement and a very happy reign.

Yesterday’s unemployment figures were desperate. There are now almost 2.7 million people without a job in this country, a 17-year high. This week, two independent reports predicted that the worst is still to come. One said unemployment would increase to a staggering 3 million, the other that it would not fall for four more years, yet all we get from the Government is talk and no action.

On Tuesday, the Economic Secretary actually boasted that the cost of living was coming down. Over the past year, unemployment has gone up by 17% in her constituency, so does the Leader of the House agree she is now a leading contestant to be this week’s most out-of-touch Minister? The Economic Secretary’s boss, the Chancellor, had to fly halfway around the world to Hong Kong before he felt he had sufficient distance between himself and his Back Benchers to announce that the Government would be willing to increase International Monetary Fund funding. While I understand why he might have wanted to make such an announcement 6,000 miles away, would it not have been better if he had made a statement to this House?

On 6 December, the House voted overwhelmingly to continue a debate on the economy in Government time. Given that the parliamentary managers are yet again struggling to fill the Commons timetable as a consequence of their gross mishandling of their legislative agenda, will the Leader of the House now bow to the clearly expressed view of this House by letting the Chancellor know that it is safe to come home and by finding time for a debate on the Government’s mishandling of the economy?

Will the Leader of the House assure me that if we finally get an announcement on tackling executive pay, the Business Secretary will make it to this House first? It is unacceptable that he appears to have lined up a speech to a think-tank next week to make this announcement. He should make a statement to this House and then give a speech to a think-tank, not the other way around. With bankers set to award themselves massive bonuses while millions of hard-pressed families are struggling to make ends meet, we need Government action now, not promises of action at some point in the future or lectures to think-tanks.

Up to 100,000 people died during the famine in the horn of Africa last year. The House will have seen the report that found that this tragedy could have been averted if the international community had responded faster. There is now a growing food crisis in the west of Africa. Will the International Development Secretary make a statement to reassure the House that mistakes made in the horn of Africa last year are not being repeated in the west of Africa this year?

This week, the Government announced a commission into the so-called West Lothian question. Rather than following the cross-party approach we took when setting up the Calman commission and the current Welsh Secretary took when establishing the Silk inquiry—both of which were on devolution matters—the Government have, outrageously, chosen to proceed without any input at all from opposition parties. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that this is yet again constitutional tinkering to secure partisan electoral advantage. Will the Leader of the House explain why cross-party agreement was not even sought?

Tomorrow there is legislation before this House—not Government legislation, needless to say—to clamp down on metal theft. Will the Government confirm that they will now support this important piece of legislation, given the growing problem, as highlighted in Question Time?

We learned from yesterday’s Telegraph that the Government are to launch a consultation on building a new airport in the south-east. Had the Transport Secretary announced it last week when she was before this House, Members would have had the opportunity to question her. According to media reports, a Conservative source said there were timetabling problems because “at the last minute” the Deputy Prime Minister “stepped in to block” that. Coalition infighting may explain the discourtesy to this House, but it does not excuse it. Will the Leader of the House tell us how much this consultation will cost?

I am sure the Education Secretary deeply regrets the fact that coalition tensions mean his confidential Cabinet correspondence has been leaked to the media. Will the Leader of the House confirm that a leak inquiry has been set up? Is not the leaking of Cabinet correspondence the latest sign of growing coalition disarray? The Liberal Democrat leader now spends his time doing interviews claiming credit for allegedly blocking Conservative proposals. In turn, an ally of the Prime Minister is quoted in the Telegraph saying of the Deputy Prime Minister:

“No one has noticed, but there isn’t much about him that is British.”

What sort of Government do we have when the announcement of important infrastructure proposals is delayed by coalition infighting, and when the Transport Secretary then announces that policy—in the media—the Deputy Prime Minister briefs the media that he is going to veto it anyway? This is a complete and utter mess.

We learned from Now magazine that the Prime Minister and his wife have a “date night” each week. Given coalition tensions, perhaps Conservative Cabinet Ministers should have date nights with their Liberal Democrat colleagues. May I suggest that the Education Secretary might want to go on a date with the Energy Secretary to discuss the leaking of Government correspondence? I can understand that no Minister would want to ruin their evening by spending it with the Deputy Prime Minister, but perhaps someone could take out the Business Secretary to remind him that since joining the Government he has abandoned everything he said on the economy when in opposition.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I am reluctant to draw attention to your birthday in case the Prime Minister now starts poking fun at you because of your age, but happy birthday—I hope you have a good one.

There will be an opportunity to debate unemployment on Monday, as I note that the Opposition have allocated half a day to it. I just make the point that youth unemployment increased by 40% when world trading conditions were benign and, obviously, it is a challenge for any Government, particularly one tackling a huge deficit, to deal with youth unemployment when world conditions are less benign than they were, but the Government will be happy to set out on Monday the steps that we are taking—the youth contract, the Work programme, and the initiatives on apprenticeships and work experience, among others—to bring down youth unemployment.

This country is a good supporter of the IMF, and there are no firm proposals from the IMF at the moment to increase contributions. Our position has not changed: we have been prepared to provide resources in the past and we would be willing provide them in the future if a strong case is made, but we have made it absolutely clear that the IMF cannot lend money to support a currency and, of course, we would have to come back to Parliament if the request took the Government over the limit that has been voted on.

On legislation, and returning to what the shadow Leader of the House has said in past weeks, I hope she will welcome the fact that a lot of legislation is to be dealt with in the two weeks that I have just announced, with three days of it in the second week. On debating the economy, I just remind her that we had no debate on the pre-Budget report in one year when her Government were in office and had sole control of the timetable. Indeed, we went for months without any debate on the economy under a Labour Government. On the Business Secretary, he is well aware of the ministerial code, which of course he will observe; all important announcements of policy will be made, in the first instance, to the House of Commons.

I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House raises the matter of bank bonuses, because the Labour party did absolutely nothing about them when it was in government. We have already had the Merlin agreement last year, which capped cash bonuses at £2,000, and she must await further announcements about what we plan to do about executive pay.

On what the shadow Leader of the House said about Somalia, my view is that this country led the way in the support that we extended to Somalia and that if other countries had responded as proactively as we did, the harm might have been reduced. However, I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development the point that she made about learning any lessons.

The coalition agreement contained a clear commitment to establish a commission to look at the West Lothian question. That question was one of the many unanswered constitutional issues we inherited from the outgoing Government. On metal theft, the hon. Lady must await the views of the Government, which will be set out in response to the debate tomorrow on a private Member’s Bill.

On airports, the coalition parties are united in rejecting a third runway at Heathrow—the Labour party backed that runway in government but they have now joined us in opposing it in opposition. No decisions have been taken on the estuary airport. As the Chancellor made clear in his autumn statement,

“we will explore all the options for maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 806.]

We will consult on an overarching sustainable framework for UK aviation this spring and publish a call for evidence on maintaining effective UK hub airport connectivity.

On relationships within the coalition, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I are at one; we are as brothers in our approach to the issues for which we have responsibility, and not a cigarette paper could be found between us on any issue.

On Saturday, I was pleased to welcome the current and former chairman of the all-party angling group to my constituency where we waded—or rather, walked, because we did not have to wade—down the dry river bed of the River Kennet, which is a world famous chalk river. Could we have a debate on the water White Paper, which sets out proposals for changing abstraction regimes, as we as MPs would like to know more about the detail?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for the point she makes and for her interest in angling. I cannot promise a debate on the White Paper in the very near future, but she might like to apply for a Backbench Business Committee or Westminster Hall debate on what is one of the most popular recreational activities in the country.

The Government have made an announcement on High Speed 2. They are also hinting at having a new airport in the Thames estuary, which the Leader of the House has already mentioned. What local people in Telford want is improved rail services connecting to Birmingham so that they can connect to High Speed 2. May we have a debate in the House on local rail services?

I announced a few minutes ago that there would be a debate on Network Rail, which I very much hope will provide an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his legitimate constituency interests. We will set out the infrastructure investment that we are putting into the railway system, including new carriages, investment in new lines and increases in capacity, which I hope he will welcome.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was bailed out with billions of pounds of public money, saving thousands of RBS jobs, presumably including those of the people who currently run it. However, RBS is pushing Peacocks department stores, which account for 700 shops and 10,000 jobs, towards administration. Is it not the role of the Government to intervene, when they own the bank, and can we have a debate on that?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the future of Peacocks, but I would be cautious about the Government intervening and trying to micro-manage lending decisions, which are best taken by the banks. There will be an opportunity to raise the issue of bank bonuses on Monday, but I shall draw his concerns about the future of Peacocks to the attention of the Business Secretary to see whether there is any action we can take to minimise the pain.

May I declare my interest and remind the Leader of the House that 80% of amputations due to diabetes could be prevented and that 24,000 people with diabetes died last year because they could not manage their condition properly? May we have an urgent statement from the Government about what their diabetes strategy will be in the new health reforms?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing this important issue to the House’s attention. We do have a strategy for trying to reduce the harm that is done by diabetes. I think it would be an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall, where we could set out our strategy in more detail, but he is right—there is a growing incidence of diabetes and there is an imperative to take action to try to minimise the harm it does.

May we have an early debate on who speaks for England and who should make decisions for England in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. We announced on Tuesday the establishment of the West Lothian commission, which will look at a range of options. For example, with issues that affect only England and Wales, one option would be that only English and Welsh MPs voted on such matters. In my view, that would be an appropriate rebalancing of the constitution to take account of the fact that in Scotland they have their own Parliament in which issues are resolved on which English MPs cannot vote. It seems somewhat perverse that Scottish MPs can vote on those very same issues when they apply only to England.

May I welcome the Government’s announcement that during these difficult economic times no taxpayers’ money will be used to fund any building of the royal yacht? May I also ask the Leader of the House to assure hon. Members that that will include publicly owned bodies such as the banks, either directly or indirectly?

The Government have made their position clear. We think the offer is generous but we have made it absolutely clear that no taxpayer money can be involved. I cannot add to what has already been said.

May we have an urgent debate on the conduct of a Mr Scott Venning and his company City Watch parking, a seemingly criminal organisation with shaven-headed enforcers who lift people’s cars and then extort money to return them?

My hon. Friend uses robust language. I know, because he has raised the subject before—it is a matter of deep concern—that he knows that the Protection of Freedoms Bill is currently in another place, and that when the Bill hits the statute book, hopefully in May, it will be an offence to clamp on private land and incidents of the sort that my hon. Friend has mentioned will simply be outlawed. In the meantime, I can only suggest that he uses his eloquence to try to get redress for his constituent from the offending company.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) has not got anything against people with shaven heads, or who happen to have less hair than other people have, but we will leave it there.

Following on from the comments by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), I am happy to report that there is an addition to the big society, and that is the Hannah Mitchell Foundation for the devolution of the north of England. Given the Government’s austerity programme, which is attacking people in the north of England, and the effect that is having, we are seeing a north-south divide, and it is becoming a major issue. Will there be a debate in Government time on the devolution of England, and the opportunity for northern England to seek the same position that Scotland and Wales have?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that his Government went there and tried to sell devolution to the north-east. There was a resounding humiliation for that Government in the referendum on that. I detect no appetite at all for the sort of initiative that he mentions.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if ever there are proposals before the House to change the status of marriage, any votes will be on a free vote?

The issue of the guidance that may be given to my hon. Friends in the event of a vote would be a matter for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, another of my brothers. My hon. Friend is way ahead of the game on this, in that we are about to consult in March on a range of options, including equal civil marriage. At the end of that consultation period there will then be proposals and possibly legislation, and it will be at that point that decisions will need to be taken about the status of any votes on that legislation.

In the aftermath of last summer’s disturbances, the Prime Minister said that his Government would help affected businesses to get up and running quickly. However, a complex and bureaucratic application process has left nine out of 14 businesses in and around my constituency still waiting and unable to restock effectively. May we have an urgent statement, updating the House on those businesses still waiting for compensation, and what the Government are going to do to help our small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy?

The hon. Lady is right that the Government made funds available. There was one source of funds, through the police authorities under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886, and there was another source of funds, I think through the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will pursue the issue that she raises and unblock any hindrance in funds flowing to her constituents, perhaps retailers, who have been adversely affected, and see whether we can make fast progress. It is our view that they are entitled to compensation; we want them to get it.

Mr Speaker, may I also wish you a happy birthday? It is an easy date for me to remember because it is also my birthday.

Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House recall me raising, in October 2010, the situation in Parliament square, when I described it as

“a no-go area surrounded by a campsite”.—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 256.]?

Will he update the House on progress in clearing Parliament square?

I commend my hon. Friend for the initiative he has taken over many years to ensure that Parliament square is restored to its dignity. Following the passage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, powers were available to the Metropolitan police to clear the encampment, and the House may have noticed that, earlier this week, the majority of the tents were removed using the provisions in that Act. One encampment remains, which is subject to a High Court injunction, which I think will be addressed in a few weeks’ time.

I very much hope that before too long we can restore Parliament square to its former glory. It is at the centre of the finest capital city in the world, with Westminster abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall, and I very much hope that we can make the space available to people who have been denied that space by the activity over recent years. Finally, I would say that we have also restored the historic right to protest, as long as those protesting go home at the end of the day.

This morning we have seen yet again the contempt that the Secretary of State for Health has for professional people working in the health service, as shown by his comments that opposition to NHS reforms is just about spite regarding the pension agenda. May we have a debate in the House about who really supports NHS reform and who does not? May we also, in that debate, discuss why the Secretary of State has so much contempt for nurses and midwives and other professionals in this country?

That is a travesty of the views of my right hon. Friend, who has on many occasions paid tribute to the work that nurses and doctors do within the NHS.

On the issue of pensions, our view is that a generous offer has been made to doctors and consultants. The average consultant retiring at the age of 60 will get a pension of £48,000 and a lump sum of £143,000, worth about £1.7 million in a pot. We think that is unsustainable, and we want a system that links pensions to lifetime earnings rather than final salary—a reform that I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome.

On the issue of NHS reform, the hon. Gentleman knows that there will be an opportunity for a further debate when the other place has finished its consideration of the Health and Social Care Bill. We believe that that reform is essential and that it is in doctors’ and nurses’ interests, because they are put at the centre of clinical commissioning.

The Leader of the House knows that there will be a summit on European matters towards the end of the month—probably 30 January; my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) raised the matter last week. The European Scrutiny Committee has unanimously called on the Government to provide for a debate before that summit, on the Floor of the House, for a minimum of three hours. The last time I asked this question, I was told it should go off to Westminster Hall or should be dealt with by a Backbench Business Committee resolution. That is quite inappropriate; this is a serious matter, affecting the whole of the United Kingdom. It needs to have a general debate on the Floor of the House. Can we please have one?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend that it is inappropriate to ask him to go to the Backbench Business Committee and ask for time in this Chamber for a debate on the European Council. That is precisely the recommendation that was made by the Wright Committee at paragraph 145. It explicitly says that the two days for the pre-European Council debates should be handed over to the Backbench Business Committee and it should find the time for them. My hon. Friend will have heard that the Government have made time available to the Backbench Business Committee. I am not sure whether he approached the Committee with a subject for the debate in the weeks that are forthcoming, but that is the appropriate way to get debates on the European Council, as outlined by the Wright Committee, whose recommendations we have implemented.

May we have a debate on how local residents can be protected from bad-neighbour businesses, such as European Metal Recycling in my constituency, whose latest trick, flouting planning law, is to build a wall behind people’s homes of shipping containers three high, which it is welding together to make a permanent structure? That is the latest thing that it has done. May we have a debate about bad-neighbour businesses?

I am sorry to hear of the problems faced by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. It is not clear whether the wall that the company has built had planning permission.

If it has not, enforcement action is available: the local authority may ask that it be removed, and if it is not, remove it and then charge the business. I hope the hon. Gentleman will follow that initiative.

We have passed through the House the Localism Act 2011, which gives more powers to local communities to influence the environment in which they live. I hope the hon. Gentleman would welcome the increased planning powers available to local government.

In Great Yarmouth, we have seen a vast increase in the number of apprenticeships in the past 12 to 18 months. That has been a great asset in trying to match the skills available with the demands of industry in the area. May we have a debate to highlight the importance not just of apprenticeships but of vocational training in developing skill sets required by industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I hope he may catch Mr Speaker’s eye on Monday, when there will be an opportunity to debate the subject. In our first year we delivered more than double the number of extra apprenticeships we promised, and the Chancellor announced in May our ambition for 50,000 extra post-19 apprenticeships, funded from in-year spending cuts in other areas. We are keen to develop the apprentice agenda, and I welcome what my hon. Friend said about his constituency.

I wish you a happy birthday, Mr Speaker—and my colleague on the Health Committee, the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick). You share this day with the first anniversary of the introduction of the Health and Social Care Bill—a day that will obviously live in infamy. We need an urgent debate on what is going on on the ground, because we now have credit agencies involved in the health service, 2,000 job losses—according to the Royal College of Nursing—and the Information Commissioner not being able to release the appeal from the Government into the risk assessment. We need the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to answer questions as to why he is usurping the will of Parliament and putting through these reforms before the Act has been passed.

I will bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the request that the hon. Lady has made about information—I think that was the gist of her question—and of course I will pass that response on to her. The Bill has passed through the House and, as she knows, once a Bill gets a Second Reading certain actions are allowed to proceed. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has done nothing that is in any way inappropriate. As I said, there will be an opportunity to debate the Bill when it returns to the House, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

May we have a debate on child abduction? International rates of child abduction are up 10% this year. Is the Leader of the House aware of the anomaly in the law whereby the abduction of a child to a foreign country is a criminal matter, but if a parent initially gives permission for the child to go on holiday but the child never returns it is a civil matter with little protection? May we address this loophole?

My hon. Friend is right that the number of abduction cases is growing. If a child is abducted to a country that has not signed up to The Hague convention, there are real difficulties getting them back. I will draw the possible loophole to the attention of the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to see whether action can be taken to close it.

Many of my constituents work in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office in Cumbernauld, the largest in the country, and are worried about what they perceive to be the creeping privatisation of HMRC through the introduction of private providers in its call centres. May we have a debate on whether bringing private providers into the call centres is sensible?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the previous Government used private agencies in public sector organisations where that was the right way to proceed, and I am sure that he would support measures to reduce costs within HMRC and make it more efficient. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and his team will be here on 24 January for Treasury questions, when the hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity to ask his question again.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), I asked the same question last week and the Leader of the House replied in his best insouciant manner, but I am afraid that that is not good enough. Today we will have a debate on the connecting Europe facility, which is one part of the matter, but he is denying Members the opportunity to discuss these issues, as other countries do, on the Floor of the House before the Prime Minister goes to the European summit. It is not good enough for the Leader of the House to tell us to go to the Backbench Business Committee. I have been to the Committee, but it has no time and will not give us the debate—it is down to him. This is a major issue, and the House is not overstretched. Imagine if someone had asked for a debate on German rearmament in 1930s and the then Leader of the House had said, “Oh, just go off to Westminster Hall or the Backbench Business Committee.” It is ridiculous. These are important matters that should be in a central debate.

My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that there are regular debates on Europe in the Chamber—there is one today and I have announced another for next week. If I may say so, he glosses over the whole thrust of the Wright Committee’s recommendations, which was that the Government should provide time for Government legislation and no longer control exclusively the diet of the House. The time we used to have for the debate he refers to has been handed over to the Backbench Business Committee. That empowers the House by giving it a power that has been taken from the Government. It is for the Committee to decide whether to give priority to my hon. Friend’s request or to those of other Members. I am not sure whether he has been to the Committee recently to make his request, but ultimately it must decide whether to accede to it.

The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), told a Committee of this House earlier today that Birmingham city council is cash-rich and the Conservative/Lib Dem administration running the city is sitting on millions of pounds. The administration says that the budget is dire, which is why it has been forced to make such savage cuts in services. They cannot both be right. May we have an urgent statement so that we can uncover the truth about the council’s financial circumstances?

I am reluctant to get involved in a west midlands turf war between my hon. Friend the Minister and the local authority. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise the matter again during Communities and Local Government questions. In the meantime, I will ask the Minister whether he would like to respond.

May we have a debate on nursing care in the NHS, a subject recently raised by the Prime Minister? Most nurses do an excellent job, but sadly some patients have distressing experiences. Does the Leader of the House agree that, rather than focusing on structures, we need to concentrate on high standards of care closely supervised by ward sisters?

My hon. Friend might know that the Prime Minister recently made a speech in which he outlined the steps the Government are taking to remove red tape and bureaucracy so that nurses can devote more time to patient care. My hon. Friend’s suggestion is very much in line with the Government’s policy of enabling nurses to use their skills to drive up the quality of care in our hospitals.

On Tuesday the Secretary of State for Defence announced that 4,100 servicemen and women will be made redundant. Why was an oral statement not made to the House so that we could question him on the implications of the decision? Will the Leader of the House ask him to publish before next week’s debate a statement on the implications for Yorkshire regiments, such as the Green Howards, and others in the Army’s key recruiting grounds in Yorkshire and the north-east of England?

I believe that the announcement was made in an appropriate way in a written ministerial statement, a procedure for which I think we can find precedents. I will ensure that by the time we have the defence debate that I announced a few moments ago Defence Ministers will have the detailed information the hon. Gentleman has asked for and, if possible, will let him have it before the debate.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that our country’s reaction to the drought in Somalia was impressive, but it was the worst drought for six decades, thousands of people have been displaced, millions have been left starving and the threat to international trade and security in the region is ever-increasing. May we have a debate on Somalia on the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Despite the best efforts of the African Union, the United Nations and international diplomacy, Somalia continued to slide backwards. He might know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has convened an international conference on 23 February, to which he has invited representatives of 40 countries and international organisations, in order to identify measures that will restore Somalia to health and help address some of the problems my hon. Friend mentions, such as poverty, the threat to international trade and the threat from international terrorists now based in that country. I have noted his request for a debate.

Will next week’s defence debate concentrate on the paramount need to reduce tension between the west and Iran in order to avoid this country stumbling into another avoidable war, and may we explain to those responsible that murdering Iranian scientists can have only one outcome: making war more likely?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman couched his remarks in a suitable way they would be perfectly in order in next Thursday’s debate. I have noted his views. There is a real threat to the rest of the world from Iran possessing nuclear weapons, and I think that it is right that a range of responses is available.

Given the concern expressed in the House about the protection and welfare of children, may we have an urgent statement from the Government on the preposterous actions of the Turkish authorities, who have issued an international arrest warrant for Sarah, Duchess of York, for daring to make a television documentary about looked-after children in that country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. It is not the Government’s usual policy to comment on individual cases, but the Home Office confirms that it has received from Turkey a formal request for mutual legal assistance concerning Sarah, Duchess of York. It would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

The Public Accounts Committee learned yesterday that the NHS strategy for people with long-term conditions was ineffective for those with neurological conditions and not good value for money. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that before the Health and Social Care Bill, which will make that pattern the usual one for particular conditions, returns to the House we learn whether that issue is one of the things on the risk register that the Government are seeking to block?

I will raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. She will know that we plan to publish a White Paper on long-term care in the spring, which I hope will drive up the quality of care. I will pass her request for data on to my right hon. Friend.

Last week I paid a visit to the Leek campus of PM Training, a vocational training organisation providing skills and vocational training for the young people furthest from the workplace. One of the keys to its success is its zero-tolerance policy on attendance, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how the Government and others can take action to encourage attendance at school and prevent truancy in order to give all our young people the best start in life?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises the important issue of truancy in schools. We have reduced the threshold at which a pupil is defined as persistently absent from 20% of time missed to 15%, ensuring that schools act earlier to deal with absence; and we are looking at the range of sanctions that can be placed on parents of truanting children, with a view to introducing higher fines and a more consistent application of sanctions. I hope that goes in the direction that my hon. Friend has indicated.

I have always thought that the Leader of the House is the most reasonable of the brothers on the Government Front Bench. Does he agree with me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and several Members on both sides of the House that existing firearms legislation, which is scattered among 34 Acts of Parliament, needs codifying, and that, in view of the terrible events in my constituency on new year’s day, it would be timely to have a debate on the merits of such a course of action?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and understand his constituency concern. The Home Affairs Committee recently produced a report on the issue, but it did not recommend a reduction in the age at which people can hold a shotgun licence. There were other recommendations in the report, however, and I will ensure that the Government not only respond to it, if they have not already done so, but deal with the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises about codifying existing legislation on shotguns and trying to achieve a more rational approach.

The issue of feed-in tariffs is ongoing at the Court of Appeal, and we are still not sure when it is going to lay down a judgment. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask the relevant Minister to table regulations so that the 40-day period can start and solar companies can have some clarity for the future?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have appealed against the initial decision, and we await the outcome. Without the action that we took, the money that is available would simply have been soaked up within a few months, and the entire £800 million budget would have been exhausted. I will pass on to the relevant Minister the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about early action now, in advance of the appeal decision, but I am not sure whether that is a practical option.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and penblwydd hapus i chi.

May we have a debate on the nonsense issue of copyright law and university examination papers? Universities are unable to share past examination papers either in digital form or in photocopied classroom handouts because of third-party information in the questions. That is a nonsense, as universities are liable to prosecution if they do so, and it prevents students from preparing for exams. I am aware that the Conservative party had a manifesto pledge to deal with the issue.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is a long time since I had anything to do with university examination papers, but I will of course raise with my right hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the important copyright issue she raises to see whether there is a way through the dilemma she outlines, whereby it is apparently illegal to share past papers, which might be in the interests of students.

In Tamworth the governors of Greenacres primary school hope to integrate with the local Landau Forte academy so that both schools can work better together to identify the most disadvantaged youngsters and help them before they reach secondary school. Such vertical integration between schools is highly innovative, so I hope that the Leader of the House will grant time for a debate about it and other similar innovations in education.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point about the advantage of vertical integration between primary and secondary schools. It would be an important issue for a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, and I understand that so far 29 “all through” sponsored academies have opened, with the latest doing so this month. There is a need to promote the seamless transition from one school to another, and the process that he outlines assists that and is greatly to be welcomed.

In these straitened economic times, I have had to intervene on several occasions on behalf of local businesses, which for non-payment or late payment of taxes have been threatened by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs with a range of sanctions up to and including closure. May we expect an early debate, attended I hope by both Business and Treasury Ministers, so that the House can remind them that sometimes a more softly, softly and common-sense approach is more effective and, certainly, more appropriate than one of bullying?

I am sorry to hear that some of the businesses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency face such action. From my own experience, I know that quite often an intervention from a local Member of Parliament can secure a modified approach, and it is the Government’s view—we have set it out at some length—that, given the problems facing many businesses, HMRC should exercise restraint where appropriate. I shall pass on his concerns to my hon. Friends at the Treasury, and he might like to raise the issue at Treasury questions on Tuesday.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and may I, too, take this opportunity to wish you a happy birthday?

May we have a wide-ranging debate on Britain’s contribution to the IMF? Would the Leader of the House like to put it on the record that, if any new contribution is sought from the United Kingdom, there will be a vote in this House before it is provided?

My hon. Friend is right to draw the attention of the House to that important matter, and the position is as I set out a few moments ago: the Government have authority to increase their subscriptions to the IMF up to a certain level, and if any new bid from the IMF requires a contribution that takes us over that level it will of course be a matter for Parliament to debate and approve.

I confess that I rather like the right hon. Gentleman and his approach to business questions, but he really must answer the point that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) made earlier. The feed-in tariff consultation was ruled illegal; the Government have appealed against the judgment, at a cost of £58,000; and as yet there is no outcome. But in my constituency, businesses that manufacture and install solar panels are suffering confusion because of that shambles, so may we have an early statement on the matter?

There will be an opportunity next Thursday to cross-question Ministers, but the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal would go against the action that the Government have taken to appeal against the decision. He is in effect inviting us to admit, by taking the action that we do not want to take, that we have lost the appeal—[Interruption.] And I see from his body language that I have correctly identified the problem for the Government. We must simply await the outcome of the appeal.

This week the Foreign Secretary revealed that there is a secret bunker from which the Government will be run in the event of some catastrophic and destabilising incident. Unfortunately, we do not know who would be in the bunker or who would be in charge. I should hope that the Leader of the House would make it, and for that matter his brother, the Deputy Leader of the House, but may we have next week a written statement listing all the people who would be in the bunker?

No. But I was sorry to read in Hansard that among those specifically excluded from the bunker was Mrs Bone.

Will the Leader of the House say a little more on whether the Government will support the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill, which is on the Order Paper for tomorrow in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones)? I also heard the comments of the Second Church Estates Commissioner, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), and a great many Members want something done about the issue. Would not supporting the Bill allow action to be taken before the Queen’s Speech and the Olympics? We really do need something doing rather quickly.

The Government are concerned about metal theft and the damage it is doing to churches, monuments and other buildings throughout the country, and there is a working party within government looking at a range of options, such as banning cash payments and better licensing. The Government will outline their views on the Bill when we reach it tomorrow, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the issue seriously, we are looking at a package of measures and we want to make progress.

May we have a debate on the way in which income tax policy affects families? The CARE report on the taxation of families highlighted the fact that single-earner families in the United Kingdom pay a disproportionate amount of their income in tax. In view of the hint by the Prime Minister that the decision on child benefit will be revisited, is now not the time to have a debate on a tax system that is equitable for all families in this country?

I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend expresses. The Government have made it clear that as we reduce the deficit it is appropriate for those on higher incomes to make a contribution. Against that background, we announced that households with one or more higher rate taxpayer would forgo child benefit from next year. That remains our policy. We are looking at how it will be implemented and hope to make further announcements in due course.

May we have a statement later today from the Prime Minister on responsible capitalism? Peacocks, which is based in Cardiff, has gone into administration, as we heard earlier. RBS pulled the plug on the finance for the company, yet we hear that its chief executive, Stephen Hester, is to get a £1.5 million bonus. When will the Prime Minister actually do something about this, rather than giving the impression that he is busy doing nothing and working the whole day through to find lots of things not to do?

It is not the case that the Government have done nothing about bankers’ bonuses. A moment ago, I outlined the action that was taken through Merlin to cap cash payments at £2,000 and to get bonuses on a downward trajectory. The hon. Gentleman will know that we finished consulting on executive pay in November. We hope to make an announcement very soon. His Government totally failed to take such action over 13 years.

Huddersfield Town fans, and I declare an interest as a season ticket holder, are campaigning for the return of the club’s original 40% share in its home ground, the Galpharm stadium. I hope that an amicable agreement can be reached between the chairman of Huddersfield Town football club and the chairman of the Huddersfield Giants rugby league club. May we have a debate on football governance that focuses not only on club ownership but on the ownership of football grounds and stadiums?

I, too, hope that there is an amicable resolution. An unamicable resolution between those two formidable people would be a sight to behold. There has been a Select Committee report on football governance. I hope that in due course the Liaison Committee will propose it for debate. That might be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise his concerns. In the meantime, I will see whether there is anything that Ministers at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport can do to resolve the local tussle to which he refers.

The Secretary of State for Health has now united doctors, nurses and midwives against the disastrous Health and Social Care Bill. In view of his comments this morning, will he be coming to the House to provide evidence for his claim that that is more about pensions than concerns over the Health and Social Care Bill? My constituents who work in the health service are concerned about the disastrous effect that the Bill will have on health and social care in this country, not about pensions.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has consistently made clear his views about the valuable work that is done by nurses, doctors, midwives and others in the NHS. We are disappointed at the response to our proposals on pensions, which are based on the Hutton report. My right hon. Friend addressed the House on health at some length on Monday. Of course, he will also be available for Health questions. I reject the assertion, which we have heard on several occasions, that he does not value the work done by workers in the NHS—of course he does.

There is considerable concern not just in Greater London but beyond about Thames Water’s proposal to create a Thames tunnel for a super-sewer in the near future. Will the Leader of the House look into how soon we can debate the Government’s policy statement on waste water, which is awaited? Will he confirm that this House will have a debate and a vote on that policy statement and on the power to transfer the decision on planning to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?

My right hon. Friend raises an issue that is important not only to Londoners but to others who would benefit from the proposal. It would be an important infrastructure investment and I agree that it should be subjected to appropriate debate in the House. If he will leave it with me, I will see what would be the most appropriate forum for that debate. If certain issues were raised, there would have to be a debate under the Localism Act 2011. He should leave it to me to find an appropriate avenue for that debate.

Many of my constituents are keen to see justice, self-determination, peace and prosperity for people in Kashmir. May we have a debate on that issue, because it would enable the relevant Minister to update the House on the Government’s work to encourage talks between Pakistan and India and to encourage economic development and better education and health care systems? Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be a good idea for a Foreign Office Minister to come to constituencies such as mine, where there are constituents who have a great deal of knowledge and expertise on how Britain could help in this area?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for extending a generous invitation to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which I will of course pass on. There was an opportunity on Tuesday, when we had Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter. I will pass on his concerns to the Foreign Secretary and ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.

Teachers’ ability to instil discipline in schools plays an important part in driving up educational standards. May we have a debate on this issue to ensure that teachers have the necessary powers and clarity on policy to reintroduce discipline?

My hon. Friend is right: teachers need to be able to enforce discipline in their classes. We have issued new, simpler guidance for teachers on discipline, cutting the length from 600 pages to 50. The new guidance states that no-touch policies are unnecessary, that teachers can use reasonable force to control or physically restrain disruptive pupils, and that heads can search for items such as alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen property. I hope that that is a move in a direction that my hon. Friend can support.

Further to the exchanges that the Leader of the House had with the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), may I join the calls for a debate on Somalia? There is a humanitarian crisis in that country, its political instability is well known and the conference that the Prime Minister is convening in February is potentially an important moment. It would be beneficial to have a debate ahead of that conference. I join the calls of other hon. Members for the Leader of the House to consider that request and I hope that he looks upon it kindly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he couched that bid for a debate. I agree that it is an important issue. As I said in answer to an earlier question, I would like to reflect on the case that hon. Members have made for a debate on Somalia.

Last year, under the European health insurance card scheme, the UK paid £1.7 billion to other European economic area nations for the treatment of Britons abroad but recovered only £125 million from EEA countries from the treatment of their citizens in this country. May we have a debate on the efficiency of NHS trusts in auditing, and therefore in recovering, such costs?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about that imbalance in trade. My understanding is that it is due to the fact that more UK pensioners retire to other EU countries than residents of EU countries retire here. Under EU rules, we have to pay for the health treatment of those who retire to EU countries. The imbalance that he refers to is not a result of health tourism or the abuse of the NHS, although we are of course against those things, but due to the fact that more of our citizens retire to the EU than EU citizens retire here.

Next month, I will attend the official launch of the Ormiston academy in Cradley Heath in Sandwell, which is the latest school to become an academy in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on giving schools that are currently in LEA control similar powers to academies, so that we can drive up teaching standards and attainment in areas where LEAs are underperforming, such as Sandwell?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that we now have more than 1,300 new academies. The number of academies has risen sevenfold since we came to power. All the evidence is that schools that convert to academies do better than those that do not. On the issue of extending to local authority schools the powers that academies have, which was the thrust of his question, my initial response is to ask why such schools do not go for academy status and get the benefits in that way. I will, of course, pass on to my ministerial colleagues the suggestion that he has made.

The Health Secretary claimed that the Health and Social Care Bill would put clinicians back at the centre of the NHS. In the light of the decision by clinicians to withdraw their support for the Bill this morning, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Health Secretary to make a statement to set out a permanent pause to this ill-fated measure?

No. There was, as the hon. Lady knows, a pause last July when we had the NHS Future Forum, in which nurses and doctors were involved. I am sure that when the Bill goes through, doctors and nurses will welcome their increased responsibility for clinical commissioning, and it must be right for that to be transferred from primary care trusts to professionals and the NHS, who are more aware of the needs of those who need treatment.

Happy birthday to you, Mr Speaker, and may you preside over many future such occasions in the Chair of the House.

Harrow council is currently considering two major developments. The first is a commercial development on Whitchurch playing fields and the second involves the demolition of a library, building on a car park and the demolition of a community centre, all to provide a superstore. The one common factor is that Harrow council owns the land and has failed to consult the public on the proposals. May we have a debate on transparency and consultation in local government?

If the local authority has failed to carry out a statutory responsibility, namely to consult those affected by a development, my hon. Friend should raise the matter in the appropriate way. He can also refer it to the local government ombudsman if he believes that the local authority has in any way been guilty of maladministration. He will know that the Localism Bill will introduce a new requirement on developers to consult local communities, so I hope that in future local people will have more of a chance to comment on developments than they have at the moment.

Next month will see the 500th day in which the Leader of the Opposition has been in his post. Could Government time be given up to commemorate the occasion?

House time is regularly given up to the Opposition, and there will be an Opposition day on Monday. The Opposition might like to take the opportunity to clarify some of the confusion that has arisen recently about what exactly their policy is on the measures that we have taken. First the shadow Chancellor says that the Labour party accepts them, then the deputy Labour leader says that it has not accepted the austerity cuts. I hope that when we have a debate on these issues on Monday, the Opposition’s position will become clearer.

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate following the recent disappointing report by the Government of Sri Lanka into the atrocities that took place there? May we have a debate on how to get justice for the innocent civilians who were killed?

I commend my hon. Friend’s work as chairman of the all-party group on Tamils. I will raise with the Foreign Secretary the report to which he refers and see what action Her Majesty’s Government can take in response to it.

May we have a debate about skills in the workplace? In my constituency, businesses have raised with me some of the challenges that they face in filling the vacancies that they have simply because of the lack of skills among applicants. They have also told me of their support for the various Government initiatives to address the problem, particularly higher-level apprenticeships.

We all have a role to play in drawing to the attention of local employers what is available under the apprenticeship scheme and the youth contract. Under the youth contract, help of more than £2,000 a year is available to employers who take on young people. I hope that we all play a role in highlighting the Government’s provisions to reduce youth unemployment in our constituencies.

The Leader of the House will be aware of a recent report stating that there were 2,823 incidents of honour-based violence in our country last year. May we have an urgent debate to consider what more can be done to address such horrendous acts of violence?

Honour-based violence and killings are appalling crimes, and I agree with my hon. Friend that we should do all we can to tackle them. He will know that we published last year our action plan to end violence against women and girls, which outlined a range of initiatives, including some funds, to drive down that horrendous crime.

Staffordshire county council will shortly integrate adult social care and health services with the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust. I believe that that will bring great benefits to people across the city, the county and my constituency, and I pay tribute to all those involved for their hard work. May we have a debate on the integration of adult social care?

My hon. Friend raises perhaps the most important issue confronting the NHS, which has confronted it for many years, namely the iron curtain that has historically existed between the NHS and social care. I welcome the work to which he refers, which is breaking down the barriers, and I am in favour of joint commissioning and joint budgeting. I hope that the White Paper that we have promised in the spring will take that agenda forward, and I commend the work that is going on in his constituency.

As we all live longer and enjoy more and more birthdays, Mr Speaker, not only social care for the elderly but palliative care is becoming the greatest challenge for the Government and Parliament. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there are early opportunities to debate those issues in the Chamber?

One of the first actions that we took on coming to power was to ask Andrew Dilnot to undertake a review of the issues to which my hon. Friend refers. He reported last July, and we then consulted for a period of up to three months. We are working on a White Paper, and my hon. Friend will have seen that talks between the parties on the issue have now started. I welcome that development, and I very much hope that we can get a consensual approach to the long-term funding of social care.

Last year the Government estimated that cybercrime cost the UK economy £27 billion. May we have a debate on the issues surrounding cyber-threats to UK citizens and businesses?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Some 6% of gross domestic product is now accounted for by trade on the internet, and that figure is likely to rise. Of course, we want a secure digital environment so that that trade can flourish. He will know that on 25 November we launched the cyber-security strategy outlining a number of measures to protect economic prosperity, and we are investing £650 million in making our cyber-security capability even better. I would welcome such a debate, and he might like to approach the Backbench Business Committee.

There has been a 70% increase in apprenticeship starts in Pendle over the past year, which is a bigger proportional increase than in the north-west or England as a whole. May we have a debate, particularly ahead of national apprenticeship week in February, to mark what the Government have done and what more can be done?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who may like to intervene in the debate on Monday about youth unemployment. He asks what more we are doing. We have commissioned Professor Alison Wolf to review vocational education, and we are trying to remove perverse incentives that may push pupils into easy options. We are working with employers and universities to identify the best vocational opportunities.

In the light of today’s welcome report by the Procedure Committee, will my right hon. Friend make a statement about ways in which debates on e-petitions can be better accommodated by the House?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and to the Procedure Committee for the report on e-petitions that it has just published. He will know that some 3 million people have engaged with the e-petitions system that we launched, and it has inspired a number of good debates in the House and helped to shape Government policy on some key issues. The Committee states:

“The system introduced by the Government has proved very popular and has already provided the subjects for a number of lively and illuminating debates.”

I propose to consider the detailed recommendations in the Committee’s report and respond in the usual way in due course.

May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that ahead of all future European Council meetings, we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that we have the opportunity to set the agenda? In respect of the forthcoming European Council meeting, he set out in his reply to the business question that there is, in effect, a blank day that is set down for a general debate. May I urge that that day be used to discuss the agenda for the next European Council?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising and underlining a point that was made earlier in these exchanges. I think I am right in saying that the day that I identified for a general debate on a subject to be announced is after the European Council rather than before it, but of course I have taken on board the suggestions made by him and other hon. Friends. Along with the Backbench Business Committee, I will consider the matter before the next European Council meeting later this year.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can only assume that you have saved the best till last.

In reply to my question last week after the statement on high-speed rail, the Transport Secretary replied favourably to my request that everything possible be done to ensure that British-based companies receive the orders, such as my constituents who work at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement on how the Government intend to achieve that?

My hon. Friend will know from the national infrastructure plan that HS2 will form part of a long-term pipeline of infrastructure projects enabling private sector firms to plan for the future. We are very keen that the UK’s supply chain industries should be able to benefit from those investments, and we want to ensure that our tendering procedure does all it legitimately can to enable locally based suppliers to bid. We are opening a dialogue with UK-based suppliers to ensure that they can bid competitively for future contracts, and we are using pre-procurement dialogue to encourage efficiency and innovation and to establish more sustainable supply chains.