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Business of the House

Volume 539: debated on Thursday 26 January 2012

The business for the week commencing 30 January will be:

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 to the Welfare Reform Bill.

Thursday 2 February—General debate on the transparency and consistency of sentencing.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 February will include:

Monday 6 February—Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill.

Tuesday 7 February—Opposition day (un-allotted day) (half-day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 8 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 9 February—General debate on the Somalia conference.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 9 February will be:

Thursday 9 February—Debate on the seventh report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on “Football Governance”.

Earlier this week, all colleagues should have received an e-mail on behalf of the House service, inviting them to participate in the 2012 survey of services. As well as providing an opportunity for Members and their staff to provide feedback on the services we currently use, it will also help the House service and the House of Commons Commission to identity priorities for the next few years, when budgets will be tighter. I encourage colleagues to find a few minutes to take part.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response and for finally announcing three whole days of actual Government business—for, I think, the first time since October. The Leader of the House wanders about saying that Parliament is not a legislative factory, but if he were running a factory he would have had us all sent home on half pay ages ago.

I raised last week the extraordinary situation of the Business Secretary lining up a speech to a think-tank in order to announce his proposals on executive pay. The Leader of the House promised to remind the Business Secretary of his obligations under the ministerial code. I fear he would not make a very good factory foreman, because it took an urgent question to force the Business Secretary to come to the House first. Did the right hon. Gentleman forget to remind the Business Secretary, or are Government relations so poor that his Liberal Democrat colleague just ignored him?

Another Minister who is reluctant to come to the House is the Chancellor. Despite two weeks of terrible economic news, he has made no appearance at the Dispatch Box. This week’s GDP figures showed that the economy is shrinking, not growing; 2.7 million people are out of work; and family budgets are under extraordinary pressure. This time last year, the Government’s excuse for the shrinking economy was the snow. We have now had the mildest winter for 350 years, and the economy is still contracting; it was too cold last year, and it is too warm this year—the country is tired of excuses from a Government who refuse to take responsibility for their own disastrous economic mismanagement.

Given that the Chancellor was not present for Treasury questions, will the Leader of the House be a bit more of an assertive factory foreman and insist that he come to the Chamber? If the Chancellor does ever condescend to reappear at the Dispatch Box, we could ask him about the bonus scheme for the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland. I fear that the Leader of the House will be unsuccessful in coaxing the Chancellor out of hiding, so perhaps he will now explain why RBS, a state-owned bank bailed out by the taxpayer, wants to give its chief executive a £1 million bonus this year. The board of RBS is thinking of paying its chief executive in one day more than someone on average earnings would make in a lifetime. We have heard the synthetic outrage from those on the Government Benches, but the question is, what are they going to do about it?

Government incompetence plumbed new depths this week when the local government Minister ended up in the Aye Lobby supporting an amendment that he had rejected moments earlier at the Dispatch Box. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Minister, on realising that he was locked in the wrong Lobby, bravely took refuge in the toilet while a Conservative Minister barked orders at him through the doorway? The Government’s legislative agenda has been bogged down for months—[Laughter.] It says something about the incompetence of the Government that it took the Serjeant at Arms to flush the Minister out—[Laughter.] The local government Minister has inadvertently revealed the Liberal Democrats’ new political strategy—if in trouble, run for the toilet.

Last night, the Government suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Lords. Their proposal to charge lone parents for using the Child Support Agency is simply “unjust”; I am quoting a Conservative peer. I agree with a former Conservative Lord Chancellor, a former Conservative party chairman and a former Liberal Democrat Chief Whip—why on earth will not the Government? The party of Lloyd George is reduced to this: voting to take away support from young people with cancer, the disabled and lone parents. I quite understand why Liberal Democrat Ministers have taken to hiding in the toilet.

It is more than a year since the Health and Social Care Bill was first introduced. It started at 353 pages; by Second Reading, it had grown to 405 pages; and now, almost 2,000 Government amendments later, it weighs in at a colossal 445 pages. In the Leader of the House’s legislative factory, MPs are sat around twiddling their thumbs, but the Clerks are run off their feet redrafting the Government’s disastrous Bills.

The growing length of the Health and Social Care Bill has not won over critics—the royal colleges, doctors, nurses, patient groups and the voluntary sector all now oppose the Bill. Even the Select Committee on Health, chaired by a former Conservative Health Secretary, has questioned what the Government are doing. The Health Secretary is about the only person in the country who still believes in the Bill. Is it not time that the Government listened and dropped this disastrous measure?

On the programme before the House, we believe in a balanced diet, including proposed legislation. For the hon. Lady to describe as “twiddling our thumbs” Opposition days, Back-Bench business days and serious debates, such as the one I have announced on Somalia, does a genuine discourtesy to the House.

My right hon. and hon. Friends are fully aware of the ministerial code and I remind them about it from time to time.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer was at ECOFIN on Tuesday, which is why he was not at Treasury questions. I am sure that if the hon. Lady reflects on her days at the Treasury, she will understand that from time to time the Chancellor has to represent this country overseas and therefore cannot appear in the House.

I am surprised that the hon. Lady raised the subject of bonuses, as the contract that entitles Mr Hester to a bonus was put in place by the Labour Government. We have done something that they failed to do: we have limited cash bonuses to £2,000 at RBS and Lloyds, and we will do the same this year. We have also said that the bonus pool at RBS and Lloyds will be lower and more transparent this year than last year—something else that the Labour Government failed to do. So far as this year is concerned, no decision on bonuses has been taken.

I have looked at Hansard, and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), voted the right way. I understand that after so doing, as an act of generosity, he went to refill one of the carafes on the Table so that his fellow Minister would be refreshed during the remaining stages of the debate, when he was entrapped in the opposite Division Lobby. I understand that there were fraternal greetings. We are all grateful that my hon. Friend emerged from the Lobby unharmed.

On the Child Support Agency, I understand that the provision to make charges was introduced by the Labour Government. We all know from our constituency work that the CSA is in need of reform. All too often, it lets down those it seeks to help. Part of the purpose of that reform is to encourage more settlements outside the CSA. The proposal to which the hon. Lady referred is part of that process.

On the Health and Social Care Bill, many of the amendments to which the hon. Lady referred were called for by the Opposition, so I hope she will welcome them. In due course, this House will deal with Commons consideration of Lords amendments.

Order. A large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Ordinarily, I seek to accommodate everybody, but I give notice that that will almost certainly not be possible today, because I have to protect the Back-Bench business. There is an important topical debate on the European Council and an important debate on defence, both of which are heavily subscribed. To get in the maximum number of colleagues on business questions, I am looking for short questions and the usual short answers from the Leader of the House.

Will my right hon. Friend say how many communications he has received from my constituents on the Daylight Saving Bill? Would he care to reply to them through me by saying whether there is any prospect of his providing more time for this subject, if not next week, at some point in the future?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. A good number of e-mails have found their way into my inbox. Of course I understand the strong feelings that have been expressed by our constituents about what happened last Friday. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), who did heroic work in bringing the Bill forward and enabling the House to consider it last Friday in a form of which the Government approved. The Government supported the Bill as it passed through. I have considered my right hon. Friend’s suggestion of providing more Government time. I do not think that that would do the trick, because it would not be this Bill that would get more time, were more time to be provided. There is also the question of whether the Bill would have time to get through another place. My view is that at the beginning of the next Session, somebody should pick up the baton from my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and try another private Member’s Bill. I remind the House that in previous Parliaments this has always been a subject for private Members’ Bills. I think that that is the right way to make progress.

Last week the Procedure Committee published its excellent report on e-petitions. Together with the Backbench Business Committee and the Hansard Society, we will hold a seminar on the future of e-petitions on 6 March. Will the Government therefore indicate when they will produce a response to the report so that we can have a debate in the Chamber in which the whole House can express an opinion on the future of e-petitions?

On the subject of time, the Backbench Business Committee is overwhelmed with demands for debates on issues such as metal theft, daylight saving and UK Trade & Investment—very important subjects that we do not have the time to allocate for debate. Perhaps the Government can help the Backbench Business Committee and the House to bring forward some of those topics for debate by allocating more time to the Committee while we are waiting for business to come from the other House.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. The important subjects she mentions, which hon. Members want to debate, are referred to as “thumb twiddling” by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I welcome the report from the Procedure Committee. I am broadly sympathetic to its proposals, which build on the success of e-petitions. I note what she said about the time of her seminar, which I greatly welcome. The Government will seek to respond to the e-petition debate shortly after that seminar.

Standing Orders provide that a minimum of 35 days should be provided in each Session, and so far we have provided 49. However, I recognise the demand to which she refers, and we will seek to respond to her bid for more time between now and the end of the Session.

May we have a debate on bad budgeting and the wasting of public money? Has my right hon. Friend seen reports today that the cost of the London Olympics is likely to balloon from £2.3 billion to more than £12 billion—a huge sum that will bring no benefit at all to many parts of the country, including East Yorkshire? When that flaming torch goes round the country, will not the fuel that it is burning be pounds sterling?

I am surprised by how my right hon. Friend greets the London Olympics. I think he will find that benefits are spread broadly throughout the country, not least from much of the work that is now taking place. My understanding is that the Olympics will be held within budget and that the work is on time. No events are being held in North West Hampshire, but my constituents broadly welcome the London Olympics as something that they are proud this country is holding, and they are glad that the flame is going through North West Hampshire. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend accurately reflects all the views of his constituents.

May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on why he dismissed the Health Committee’s report as “Westminster nonsense” and “out of date”? He is now telephoning all the royal colleges to tell them to withdraw their opposition to the Bill. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to get the Secretary of State out of his bunker and into the Chamber?

The Government will respond in due course to the Health Committee report that was published on Monday, and the House will debate the remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill when it completes its passage in another place. I think that my right hon. Friend was perfectly entitled to defend the Government’s view on the radio and elsewhere on Monday, and of course he will continue to be held accountable in the House at Question Time and in Opposition day debates, which were also described as “thumb twiddling” by the hon. Member for Wallasey.

May we have a debate on the charitable not-for-profit sector to deal with what has been described to me as the “Tescofication” of the sector, which is contrary to the big society and localism? For example, Ormiston children and families trust, which operates across the east of England, is about to lose seven of its Sure Start centres in my constituency because Barnardo’s has come in and hoovered it up.

I am sorry to hear of the potential loss of Sure Start centres in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I would be happy to pursue the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is anxious to build on the Sure Start initiatives and extend the help that they offer to many people.

Last Friday, a handful of hon. Members waffled on for the best part of five years—[Laughter] It felt like it! I mean five hours—to kill the Daylight Saving Bill. In how many other workplaces does the Leader of the House think it would be acceptable for individuals purposely to waste time, and what is he going to do to change the practice here?

I understand the sense of frustration that the hon. Lady expresses, which is shared by many of my constituents. She will know that the Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into the calendar, included within which is a section on private Members’ Bills. As I said before, I have examined the matter, and in my view there is no practical way for that Bill to complete its passage through both Houses in the remainder of the Session, even if the Government were to provide time. The best way for it to be taken forward, as I suggested earlier, is for someone to build on the heroic work of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point.

One of the first decisions that Mayor Boris Johnson took was to ban the consumption of alcohol on public transport. That has meant that thousands of passengers have been able to enjoy their journeys to and from home. Now, the old pretender threatens to remove the ban if he is re-elected. May we have a debate on the consumption of alcohol on public transport?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to the attention of the House and the wider public some of the issues that will confront Londoners later this year, when they will have to make a choice between the current Mayor of London and the old pretender, as he put it. One of the many reasons for continuing to vote for Boris is exactly the initiative that he mentions.

Has the Leader of the House been given notice that the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury intends to make a statement, either written or oral, about the closure of 15 offices of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which was announced yesterday?

I am not aware of any announcement, and I believe that there is no written ministerial statement today from my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary. I will make some inquiries about the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises.

May we have a debate on postal prices? Many of my constituents are alarmed by the proposed rises in second and first-class stamps. One of them, Mr Burton, put it very well when he expressed his concern that he would lose the pleasure of the written word.

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concern, and I will raise the matter with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who have responsibility for it. He will know that there are efforts to extend competition in postal services, in order potentially to bring down some of the costs of posting mail.

I do not think the Leader of the House knows his own power. It would be perfectly possible for the Government to take on the Daylight Saving Bill and ask the House of Lords to agree to carry-over to allow it to go into the next Session, then we would be able to have it on the statute book in the next few months. Rather than succumbing to the witterings of a few Members last Friday, why does he not back the wholehearted support for the Bill of nearly everybody else in the House and ensure that it comes to pass?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman, when he was Deputy Leader of the House, took no steps whatever to change the procedure for private Members’ Bills. It has not changed at all; nor is he right in what he says about carry-over in the other place.

Can time be found for a debate on planning applications for mobile telephone masts? The transparency of those applications is causing real concern to many residents in my constituency, and we would welcome a debate at the earliest opportunity.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, and many of us are aware of concern in our constituencies about communication masts, although my impression is that there is much more sharing than there used to be. There was consultation last year on a national planning policy framework, which included a section on communication masts. That consultation has ended, and the Government will announce their conclusions shortly. I cannot promise a debate, but there may be an opportunity for further discussion when that process is complete.

In answer to a question about cuts affecting disabled children asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), the Prime Minister said that she was “wrong”. We now know that she was in fact correct. Will the Prime Minister come to the House to make an apology and correct his inaccurate statement?

My right hon. Friend was quite right in what he said yesterday. I have made some inquiries, and under the introduction of universal credit there will be transitional protection to ensure that there is no cash loss for those whose circumstances otherwise remain the same when they migrate from their existing benefit. The Prime Minister was absolutely right in what he said.

With jobs and growth right near the top of the agenda, Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate on self-employment was massively oversubscribed by Government Members. Sadly, the entire parliamentary Labour party was unavoidably detained elsewhere. May we have another debate in Government time to allow the Labour party to join the debate on jobs and growth?

I am sorry that there was an apparent lack of interest in self-employment among Opposition Members. I am sure that their constituents are as interested as ours in the opportunities available for self-employment, particularly under the new enterprise allowance scheme, which I hope will give many people an opportunity to commence their own business and in due course begin to employ other people.

What are the Government going to do about the Scotland Bill? It is back in the Lords today, like a sad, eccentric old aunt that nobody wants to visit. After the momentous events in Scotland of the past couple of weeks, as we move towards independence, are not the Government starting to think about pulling the plug on the sad old dear?

Absolutely not. The Scotland Bill will implement commitments that I believe all three parties made. The reason progress is not being made at the moment is that one of the options in the consultation document, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, was to amend the Bill. We need the consultation process to end before we decide whether it needs to be amended as was suggested in that document.

Tomorrow morning I will have my monthly slot on Moorlands Radio, which is on 103.7, in case you, Mr Speaker, should ever be in Staffordshire Moorlands. It is a great community local radio station, and like many up and down the country it provides access to information for local organisations, charities, events and good causes. However, it faces many challenges, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on community local radio stations and what we can do to support them?

I am sure that we would all like to take part in that debate, particularly if it were recorded by our own community radio stations. The Government are a keen supporter of community radio and allocate some £450,000 to the community radio fund. I commend my hon. Friend’s work to get more resources for Moorlands Radio. All such radio stations are a means for MPs to communicate with our constituents, listen to their concerns and reflect them in the House.

Will the Leader of the House shed some daylight, if not sunlight, on what the universities Minister is getting up to? We had a White Paper on higher education, but now it has seeped out of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that there will be no higher education Bill. What is going on? There is a rumour that there is some bold initiative on higher education that is so secret that someone would have to be shot if they heard it.

In which case, I am very glad that I have not heard it.

The contents of the Queen’s Speech will be made available to the House in due course. Not only is the date of that event still unknown, but its contents are still a matter of ministerial discussion.

May we have a debate on the process of applying for village green status? In 2004, “Keep Yeadon Banks Green” applied for village green status for Yeadon Banks. Several attempts by Leeds Group plc to block it have been overturned, including in the High Court, but now, in 2012, we are having to take the matter to the Supreme Court, which is outrageous. May we have a debate on simplifying the process so that areas get the protection they need?

I understand that part of the matter is covered in the Localism Act 2011, but many hon. Members have the same problem as my hon. Friend. I will draw it to the attention of Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government, but I am sure that many people would welcome any efforts that he might make to have it debated either in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall.

N-ergy is a social enterprise working across more than 40 prisons in England and the five Welsh prisons, offering vocational and employability programmes to offenders and ex-offenders. However, like many successful SMEs working in specialist areas, it is unable to bid for public procurement contracts because its turnover is not seen as being high enough. May we have a debate on developing a separate public procurement process for SMEs, so that some of their innovative and new ideas can be brought into Government contracting?

I commend the work that many voluntary organisations do to help those who are in prison get the skills that they need to cope when they leave. There will be an opportunity to raise that specific issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who has responsibility for procurement, on 8 February, but in the meantime I will raise with him the option that she mentions of having a separate category so that organisations such as the one to which the hon. Lady refers might be able to bid for public contracts.

May we have a debate on apprenticeships? I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating the sponsors of the new Milton Keynes apprenticeship academy, which opens today and specialises in IT and accountancy. With such a rise in apprenticeships, does he agree that it is vital that they should be led by demand from businesses?

I welcome what is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the issue of apprenticeships was touched on in the Opposition day debate that we had on Monday. He will applaud the work that the Government are doing to increase the number of apprenticeships very substantially, and I agree entirely that that should happen in response to the needs of businesses. Apprentices should get the skills that they need to apply for the jobs in our constituencies.

I hope the Leader of the House sensed the House’s disappointment in his reply to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) on the Daylight Saving Bill. Given the overwhelming support for the Bill, the outrageous wrecking tactics last Friday and the fact that this House is not exactly inundated with Government business, why does the Leader of the House not introduce a Government Bill in the next two weeks?

I believe that, like the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the right hon. Gentleman also had responsibilities as Deputy Leader of the House in a previous Parliament, and he took no steps whatever on reform.

In response to that heckling, I have already answered the question. I have looked at the matter. There is no way that a Bill could complete its passage through both Houses in the time available. My advice remains that a successful Member in the ballot in the next Session should pick up the baton currently held by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris).

Order. I remind the House that there is heavy pressure—extensive pressure—on time, and I would appeal to colleagues who might have dreamed up lengthy questions to shorten them to single sentence questions. If they do so, they will be helping other colleagues to get in.

Will the Leader of the House urgently make time for a debate on judicial reform in the Republic of the Maldives? Although the judiciary is constitutionally independent, sitting judges are underqualified, often corrupt and hostile to the democratically elected regime.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), is seized of this problem and is in touch with the Maldives President to see whether we can resolve the impasse. The high commission in Colombo is also engaged. We want to help the Maldives to make progress towards democratic reform in the direction that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) outlines.

May I press the case for a statement from the Business Secretary on higher education policy, to end the uncertainty that has been created by the Government’s chaotic way of developing their policy, which is causing enormous damage to our universities?

I reject the hon. Gentleman’s accusation of confusion. There will be an opportunity to cross-question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the next time his Department answers questions. Our proposals for education reform that have gone through the House have been broadly welcomed.

In the autumn statement the Chancellor provided the Humber bridge with £150 million so that tolls could be cut, for which all had argued. Sadly, a Labour council in the region has rejected that offer, meaning that our tolls could stay at £3 for vehicles. May we have statement from the Transport Secretary on that subject?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I will, of course, raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether she can take any action to resolve this dilemma.

The House will be aware that the climate change risk assessment was published this week, because it was briefed heavily two days ago to the newspapers. Hon. Members will have seen it in their papers this morning, but as yet no executive summary is available in the Vote Office. Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ask her to pull her finger out?

I may make a request, but it will not be so indelicately put as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I will convey his concerns to my right hon. Friend and see whether she can respond constructively.

Dementia is one of the cruellest diseases of our age. Will my right hon. Friend make time available to discuss not only dementia but the support we provide to those who care for sufferers?

My hon. Friend raises an important subject. Some 600,000 people care for those who suffer from dementia. The Government have sought to help by putting £400 million into the NHS to provide the resources for breaks for those people. We outlined our strategy in a document published last year. I would welcome a debate; my hon. Friend might like to approach the Backbench Business Committee.

May we have a debate on the extraordinary refusal of Mr Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, to reveal details to some 17,000 victims of newspapers that were blagging and finding out personal details using Mr Steve Whittamore? It is extraordinary that the Information Commissioner—of all people—is denying the British people their right to know. The details are with the police and the newspapers, but not with the victims themselves. This is not Stasi time for the Information Commissioner.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there is a process of appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decisions, which is open to those who object to them in the way that he has outlined. I am not sure that it would be appropriate for the Government to get involved.

The people of Halesowen and Rowley Regis are rightly anxious to see action against the something-for-nothing society at all levels. May we have a debate in Government time to explore why the previous Government did not get undertakings on executive pay from banks that took taxpayers’ money, and a debate on what this Government are doing to curb bankers’ bonuses?

I would welcome such a debate. My hon. Friend will know that we have introduced a bank levy that raises £2.6 billion a year, and reduced bonus payouts, which are now some 40% lower than under the previous Government, who, as he says, took no action whatever in that important area.

Following the farce of last Friday, will the Leader of the House agree that it is important for the Speaker to be given powers to limit the length of speeches by Back Benchers in debates on private Members’ Bills?

You, Mr Speaker, will have heard that question, which was directed towards you rather than me. I would not want to prejudice my position in any way by beginning to answer it.

May we have a debate on what the Chancellor has done to tackle tax avoidance and on what else could be done, so that hard-pressed taxpayers in Croydon and elsewhere can be confident that they are not paying a penny more for people who are allowed to get away without paying their fair share?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are introducing measures that will raise around £4 billion over the current Parliament by clamping down on tax avoidance. Some 2,250 HM Revenue and Customs staff are moving into a new anti-evasion and avoidance unity. We took action in the previous Budget to close loopholes.

Why have the Government failed to provide support or time for the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill, which was due to be discussed last Friday? It is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House in every party, and there is a crisis out there in the country. It could have got through in time. What is the reason for the Government’s lack of support? Is it petty party politics?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had time to look at the written ministerial statement by the Home Office today, but it outlines the action the Government are taking on scrap metal dealers. I know he was on television earlier this morning, which may have detained him from looking at that.

My constituents are dismayed to find that, following the resignation of one of their MEPs, they will have no say in who her successor will be. Their cynicism in the political process increased when they found that her successor will be her husband. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the process of replacing our MEPs?

The process that my hon. Friend outlines—whatever feelings it may engender—is set out in statute and enshrined in legislation. I would be misleading him if I said I had any plans to amend it.

The Government’s decision to appeal against the Court ruling that it was illegal to slash solar tariffs retrospectively raises critical questions about whether the UK is a safe place to invest at all. The CBI has said that it

“creates a mood of uncertainty that puts off investors”.

May we therefore have an urgent debate on the impact of that decision on investor confidence in the UK?

I cannot promise an early debate, and the hon. Lady will know—I suspect that she was in her place—that that was dealt with at some length an hour ago in Department of Energy and Climate Change questions.

The average weekly earnings for jobs in my constituency are £450—£23,400 per year less than the regional and national average. My area has therefore benefited disproportionately from the increases in personal tax allowances. Please may we have a debate on the work the Government are undertaking further to reconnect work and reward?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He will have an opportunity next Wednesday when we debate amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill to develop his arguments at greater length. The steps we are taking are designed precisely to do what my hon. Friend has suggested—to make work pay and remove some of the perverse disincentives from the system that we inherited.

May we have a debate in Government time on the sustainability of the London Olympic games following the resignation this morning of Ms Meredith Alexander as the sustainability commissioner? She said that she resigned in protest against the commission being used to justify the sponsorship deal between the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and Dow Chemical. She has made particular allegations about irregularities, saying that 12 out of 13 commissioners knew nothing about a report that was claimed to be produced by the commission.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked about this earlier by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, and gave the Government’s response. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Dow did not own Union Carbide at the time of the tragedy and I do not think there are good reasons, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, for taking the action that was taken.

Would my right hon. Friend agree to a debate about the provision of Government services to the deaf and hard of hearing? On Monday I had the first surgery with a deaf British sign language user in my constituency using Deaf Action’s SignVideo system over the internet. We must be assured that all services, whether in education, health or justice, are equally accessible.

I am sure that every Member of the House would agree with the proposition, which my hon. Friend has just put forward, that services should be more accessible to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. I will raise the issue with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has responsibility for disabilities, and then let my hon. Friend know what steps we have already taken in this area and what further steps are planned.

The Leader of the House will be familiar with the saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. The public want a Bill on daylight saving, as do Members across this House. Will he think again? Will he find the will and find a way?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Indeed, I myself sponsored such a private Member’s Bill with my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo)—I think it was in the Parliament before last—and I had exactly the same problem that the hon. Gentleman has just referred to: his party’s Government did nothing whatever. I have outlined a way forward. The Government have agreed a Bill in the terms produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, and I think that is the best way forward.

May we have a debate on lower taxes for lower earners, given that poor motorists will be hit twice as hard as richer motorists if petrol and diesel duties rise? Can my right hon. Friend urge the Chancellor to cut petrol and diesel tax in the next Budget?

I will relay to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the bid that my hon. Friend has just made. I commend what he did with the e-petition on the issue last year, which resulted in the postponement of an increase that was due earlier this month.

I thank the Leader of the House for scheduling a debate on the Somalia conference—a debate that I called for last week. May I ask him for an urgent statement on the businesses affected by the riots and disturbances last August? Leicester businesses have learnt that they are not eligible for any money from the policy authority, and we learnt from the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice yesterday that they are not eligible for any of the other compensation schemes either. Leicester businesses are hugely disappointed about that, if not furious, as am I.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least for the plug for business questions on his blog earlier this week. I am also grateful for what he said about the Somalia conference. Compensation is available for those who suffered loss in the riots, either from the police authority or from local government. I will chase up the issues that he has referred to and see whether we can make progress to help his retailers.

Can we have a debate on employment tribunals? A large number of businesses in my constituency are concerned about the number of vexatious complaints that are taken to employment tribunals, which they find very expensive to defend against, particularly in these times. I know that the Government want to help with this, and a debate in the House might help them in that regard.

My hon. Friend will know that we have proposed some changes to the employment tribunal regime, one of which would oblige those who are taking cases to an employment tribunal to make a contribution towards the costs. I hope that those and other initiatives that we announced last year will go some way to meeting my hon. Friend’s aspirations.

Can the Leader of the House advise how the scores of hon. Members who spoke out in the Back-Bench debates on BBC local radio can put on record their support for the recommendations made by Lord Patten yesterday that many of the planned cuts be reversed and that afternoon programming be protected?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; that sounds an appropriate subject for a Backbench Business Committee debate. I welcome what Lord Patten said yesterday when he indicated that some of the proposed closures of local radio stations were being rethought. I am sure that we would all support that initiative and want to encourage whatever support is necessary to maintain local radio in our constituencies.

Can we have a debate on the right to buy, giving us an opportunity to discuss how we can help all those strivers out there and the Opposition the opportunity to turn up, which they did not do in the self-employment debate?

I would welcome another debate on self-employment. We hope that the new enterprise allowance will help up to 40,000 unemployed people start up businesses by 2013. We all have a role to play in bringing home to our constituents the opportunities available for self-employment, which have been promoted by some of our initiatives.

My constituent Mr Philip Wright has been persecuted by HMRC for more than 12 years over a test case involving construction workers and their contracted terms of employment. In light of the huge cost of this case for the taxpayer, can we have a debate on HMRC, and in particular, when it will stop harassing my constituent and bring the case to an end?

Sitting next to me on the Front Bench is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who has noted the protest that my hon. Friend has made and has now undertaken to raise it with his colleague—

My hon. Friend has undertaken to raise the matter with the Exchequer Secretary, who has responsibility for taxation.

Given the recent unemployment figures, can we have a further debate on High Speed 2 and how it will directly create tens of thousands of jobs in the midlands and the north, solve the capacity challenge of the west coast main line and help equip our economy to compete in the 21st century?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for HS2. I think I am right in saying that we have recently had at least one debate on HS2. Whether there is appetite for another one in the immediate future I am not sure, but I am grateful to him for his support for the project.

The main difference between the rich and the poor is, of course, that the rich have money to save and the poor have to spend nearly every penny they have. Will the Leader of the House please give time for a debate in the run-up to the next Budget on the obvious merits of raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 before 2015, lifting more people out of income tax altogether?

My hon. Friend will know that section 29 of the coalition agreement sets out a commitment to raise the threshold to £10,000 during this Parliament, and the Deputy Prime Minister is making a statement today. This will be taken on board by the Chancellor as he prepares his Budget statement.

I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their brevity, which meant that 44 Back Benchers were able to take part in 35 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time. That shows what we can do when we try.