The business commencing 6 February will be:
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 responsibility and reform for British banks. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion. It will be followed by a motion relating to metal theft. The subject for this debate has been 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 Somalia.
The provisional business for the week commencing 20 February will include:
Monday 20 February—A debate on Iran. The subject of this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. I commended him last week for announcing three days of actual Government business. Clearly exhausted after their exertions, next week the Government are to manage only a paltry one day of legislative business.
A few weeks ago, when I asked the Leader of the House for the date of the Queen’s Speech, he promised it “in due course”. On Sunday, The Independent on Sunday announced that the Queen’s Speech was delayed because the Government needed “more time” to secure their legislation. Given the Government’s incompetent handling of the legislative programme, if we have to wait for them to get their act together, we will not have a Queen’s Speech this year at all. Government business managers might find a deadline helpful, so will the Leader of the House finally tell us the date of the Queen’s Speech?
May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one way to end the legislative logjam and enable the Government to get around to having a Queen’s Speech this year would be to drop the Health and Social Care Bill? This week, the British Medical Journal, the Health Service Journal and Nursing Times called for the Bill to be dropped because the NHS was
“far too important to be left at the mercy of ideological and incompetent intervention”.
The Prime Minister has told Ministers that he wants “less and better legislation”, yet last night the Government put down another 136 amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill—adding to the 1,800 already tabled. Does the Prime Minister actually know what is going on with his own Health and Social Care Bill? Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the NHS to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to inform himself on what the Government are doing and to give the Health Secretary the opportunity to come to this House to announce that he has finally seen reason and will drop this disastrous Bill?
I note that the Prime Minister did not tell his Ministers that he wanted fairer legislation. Yesterday, the Government voted to cut support for disabled children; they voted to cut support for people recovering from cancer; and they voted for a crude cap that even the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government says will increase homelessness. Can the Leader of the House find time—again, he has plenty of it—for a debate on fairness? That would give Ministers the opportunity to explain why, when they are cutting support for those who have the least, all we have had from the Prime Minister about the excessive rewards for those who have the most is pointless press releases.
The Chancellor, who has not been seen at the Dispatch Box since mid-December, is fond of saying, “We’re all in this together.” Will the Leader of the House explain, then, how this Government can triple student fees, leading to an almost 10% drop in university applicants, at the same time as they sign off a tax dodge for the chief executive of the Student Loans Company, which saves him tens of thousands of pounds a year? Will the Leader of the House explain, since the Chief Secretary to the Treasury did not, how that can be fair? While he is at it, will he explain which Minister was aware of this issue and went ahead and approved it?
Will the Leader of the House explain how it is fair that the Government did nothing to stop the chief executive of RBS taking a £1 million bonus and why it took the threat of an Opposition motion to put a stop to it? What have the Government been doing? If the Leader of the House could find time for a debate on fairness, perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister could lead it. There has been no sign of him explaining in public why the Liberal Democrats did nothing to stop bankers awarding themselves multi-million pound bonuses, yet voted to cut support for those who have the least.
The Deputy Prime Minister did pop into the Chamber for the European statement earlier this week—at least he turned up for some of that one, although he was too busy sulking to turn up in December. On that occasion, the Prime Minister told this House there would be absolutely “no way” other European Governments would be allowed to use EU institutions to enforce a fiscal compact. He said “no way”, as he had vetoed it. This week, the Prime Minister slunk back to announce that EU institutions would be allowed to enforce it after all, but it was all right because he was going to be watching them “like a hawk”. Who is he kidding? The only thing the Prime Minister watches “like a hawk” is the news cycle. We have a veto that has been un-vetoed to a treaty that is not a treaty—it is like the mad hatter’s tea party.
Three of this week’s four days have been on Government business, on Monday we have the Second Reading of the Financial Services Bill, and on Wednesday we will deal with the local government and police grant orders, without which no local authority will get its funding next year. I hope the hon. Lady agrees that that is important legislation. There is an Opposition debate on Tuesday—I hope she is not going to describe that as “thumb-twiddling”, as she said last week. Next Thursday we have an important debate on Somalia, which some Opposition Back Benchers have asked for. I hope she will not be so dismissive about the House of Commons programme.
As for the Queen’s Speech, the date will be announced in due course in the usual way—a response with which the hon. Lady may be becoming familiar. There is legislation still to get on to the statute book. On the one hand, she wonders why things are taking so long, but on the other hand I am constantly being asked for more time for debates. At some point, the shadow Leader of the House will have to work out whether the Government are pushing their programme through the House of Commons too fast or whether they are taking a leisurely time about it.
We have no plans to drop the Health and Social Care Bill. The principles of clinical-based commissioning, of patient choice and of any qualified provider as well as the linking of health and social care are important reforms. There will be an opportunity for further debate when the House returns.
We discussed the issue of fairness at some length yesterday. We are convinced that work must always pay more than benefits, which is at the heart of our welfare reform. We owe it to people who work hard, do the right thing and pay their taxes to make sure that there are some limits on welfare. Some families in Westminster receive £2,000 a week in housing benefit; I think that position is wholly unsustainable.
So far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned, I have announced a Second Reading on Monday of the Financial Services Bill; the hon. Lady may find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in the House for that. On student loans, we have just sat through 40 minutes of an urgent question, and I have nothing to add to what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said.
As to bankers’ bonuses, the hon. Lady keeps on asking who signed off the contract with Mr Lester, but we know who signed off the contract for the bonus for Mr Hester at the Royal Bank of Scotland. There is no doubt that the Labour Government signed off that contract, which entitled him to the bonus. Since then, we have taken steps, which Labour never took, to cap bankers’ bonuses in cash. Last week, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced new reforms to empower shareholders to control future pay.
Finally, the hon. Lady asked about the EU treaty. Perhaps at some point we could have an answer to the question of whether or not the Leader of the Opposition would have signed the proposed treaty.
We shall never know the true circumstances behind the murder of Avtar and Carole Kolar by, allegedly, the Lithuanian career criminal Rimvydas Liorancas, but we do know that he entered the United Kingdom without a passport. May we have an urgent debate on the sharing of criminal records data with law enforcement agencies throughout the European economic area, which would prevent such tragedies from ever happening again?
I am sure that the House has sympathy for my hon. Friend’s constituents who were murdered. As for the Lithuanian, who I think has taken his own life, I understand that police inquiries are continuing, so it is difficult for me to comment specifically on the case. I will, however, raise the general issue of the sharing of information about criminals with the Home Secretary, and will ask her to write to my hon. Friend giving the details and specifying the concordats that have been entered into ensuring that relevant information is shared between countries.
Obviously I do not want to sound dismissive, but despite the ample amount of time that has been available in the Chamber recently, the Government have chosen not to allocate it to Back Benchers, choosing instead to allocate it to general debates both today and next Thursday on subjects that they have chosen themselves. Meanwhile, Back Benchers have suggested to our Backbench Business Committee almost 20 debates on important matters such as assisted dying, the future of social care and the state of mental health services. I know that the Leader of the House is aware—because he himself has written to me about it—that there are three outstanding e-petitions which have secured 100,000 signatures. He has asked me to consider them for debate without giving me any time for them to be debated. Will he please stop bed blocking Back-Bench time, so that we can meet our basic commitments to Back Benchers and to e-petitioners?
I commend what the hon. Lady said at the beginning of the Back-Bench debate on the European Council a week ago, when she made clear that responsibility for finding time for pre-European Council debates fell within the remit of her Committee, but of course the Government will do what they can to ensure that dates are available for such debates. She will have seen the recommendation in the Procedure Committee’s report that on Monday afternoons Westminster Hall should be used specifically for debates on e-petitions, with which I have some sympathy. The Government will respond in due course, and that will provide a partial solution to the issue that she has raised.
I am aware of the pressure on the hon. Lady’s Committee, and we will try to accommodate her with some extra time between now and the end of the Session. We are committed to providing 35 days in a Session; so far we have provided at least 49, and we hope to provide more. A number of days were provided before the Committee was set up, which were used for general debates. I sympathise with the hon. Lady over the problem that confronts her, and I will do what I can to help.
The wife of my constituent Mr Gordon Roberts has been placed in a home against the wishes of Mr Roberts. Sadly she suffers from dementia. May we have an urgent debate to consider the criteria according to which patients can be placed in homes against the wishes of their next of kin?
I am sorry to hear about what has happened to my hon. Friend’s constituent. He will know that, under social care legislation, relatives of an individual such as his constituent have a right to be consulted before any package is put in place, and that that entitlement is accompanied by certain other rights. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to see whether any intervention is possible, but in this particular case much will depend on the role of the local authority, and on who was responsible for making the final decision to place the wife of my hon. Friend’s constituent in a home.
A debate on the future of the Freedom of Information Act would allow us to test the use of private e-mails by Ministers. I fear that my constituents are losing out because Sandwell council may not have been able to test the validity of the decision to cut the Building Schools for the Future programme from £120 million to zero. However, there is a way of getting round that, which is for the Secretary of State for Education to publish all the private e-mails relating to Building Schools for the Future that he has exchanged with his special adviser Dominic Cummings and the civil servant Ms Narozanski.
The freedom of information legislation is on the statute book. I advise the hon. Gentleman to take the action that is available to him through the process of appeal against decisions if he is unhappy with some of those decisions, and has not obtained information that he wants.
Every day about 75 people in Yorkshire and the Humber are diagnosed with cancer, but at the same time great work is being done in our area in the form of medical research and work on improving training techniques for surgery. I have seen that work being done at the Leeds cancer research centre, which is a partnership between the NHS, the voluntary sector and Leeds university. May we please have a debate on medical research and all that the Government are doing to support it?
I should welcome such a debate. Within the budget of the Department of Health, research is a priority. As for the specific issue of cancer, we have created a £200 million a year cancer drugs fund to help cancer patients gain more access to the life-extending drugs that they need, which has financed more than 10,000 treatments. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome that.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on dignity at work in Parliament? Last night I was disturbed to learn that the guest beer in the Strangers Bar is called Top Totty, and that there is a picture of a nearly naked woman on the tap. As well as arranging a debate, will the Leader of the House join me in asking for that beer to be withdrawn from the bar immediately?
I was not aware of that particular picture in the bar. I will raise the matter with the appropriate Officer of the House through the House of Commons Commission, and I am sure that appropriate action will be taken. I should very much regret it if any offensive pictures were on display in any part of the House.
May we have an urgent debate on Sudan? Will the Leader of the House join me in calling on the Governments of North and South Sudan successfully to conclude the talks in Addis Ababa today on the outstanding issues of the border, the sharing of oil transit costs, and the stopping of the funding by the north of militia in the south?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important issues that confront those who live in Sudan. I cannot promise an early debate, but he might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate, or apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that those important issues can be ventilated.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2681?
[That this House notes that Network Rail has been found by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to be in breach of its licence and that, according to the ORR, ‘major asset failures, congested routes and poor management of track condition' contributed to poor performance of the UK rail network in 2011; welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Transport reported in The Daily Telegraph on 19 December 2011, that ‘Passengers would be extremely surprised if Network Rail attempted to award bonuses next year in the light of this action by the ORR'; further notes that Network Rail members, at their meeting on 10 February, are to be asked to confirm annual bonuses for directors equivalent to 60 per cent. of their annual salary, resulting in a 340,000 bonus for its chief executive; and calls on the company's directors to reject these bonuses.]
The motion urges Network Rail directors to reject their six-figure annual bonuses this year on the basis that they do not deserve them. Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House and confirm that she stands by what she said last year, namely that
“Passengers would be extremely surprised if Network Rail attempted to award bonuses next year”?
The hon. Gentleman’s question is very timely, because later today there will be a debate on Network Rail in Westminster Hall. It would be entirely appropriate for him to stay in the Palace of Westminster a little longer so that he can raise those issues again this afternoon, when he will receive a full reply from the relevant Minister.
Members may be aware that Nantwich, in my constituency, plays host to the world’s largest cheese fair, which showcases outstanding local produce including the unbeatable Cheshire cheese. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on promoting local British produce, so that we can discuss how to stretch the consumer audience as far and as wide as possible?
My hon. Friend may have sparked a bidding war to establish which Member of Parliament has the finest cheese in his or her constituency. [Interruption.] I can hear that the bidding war has already begun. I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot find time for an early debate, but he has drawn attention to the wide range of cheeses that are available in this country and available for export, and I commend what he has done to promote that fine product.
Two weeks ago I took the opportunity to alert the House to the plight of Darlington football club. I know that the House will be pleased to learn that the club is still alive, thanks entirely to the efforts of the fans and a very sympathetic administrator, Harvey Madden. When I alerted the House two weeks ago, the Leader of the House very kindly, and somewhat to my surprise, said that he would look into how the Government might be able to help, and would speak to colleagues. Will he let us know how he has got on?
I commend the hon. Lady’s work on protecting the interests of her football club. Following our exchange a fortnight ago, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, and I will find out what action he took as a result of my representations.
Following an announcement made some 18 months ago, 170 of my constituents are to be made redundant later this year as a consequence of the decision to transfer the functions of the General Social Care Council, based in Rugby, to the Health Professions Council, based in London. Given that office accommodation costs and the cost of employing people are lower in the regions than in the capital, may we have a debate about the Government’s strategy for the location of Departments and regulatory bodies?
My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, and I was sorry to hear about the loss of jobs in his constituency. Of course I will raise the matter with the appropriate Minister. As my hon. Friend will know, the Government have had to take some difficult decisions on public sector manpower that involve some rationalisation, but I will certainly see that his point about the relative costs in the regions are taken on board as we come to make these difficult decisions.
May I press the Leader of the House on the absolute bombshell for British manufacturing industry that we may not get the Eurofighter contract with India? Is it not about time that the House showed our constituents that we care about the manufacturing sector by having an urgent debate on the subject? Will he use his good offices to send Lord Bhattacharyya to India to try to sort this out for us?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills say that we are disappointed that at this stage we are No. 2, rather than No. 1, but that there remain opportunities to try to secure the contract. We believe that the Eurofighter Typhoon offered the most comprehensive offer on technology transfer, industrial participation, and security of supply.
I now have in front of me a letter dated 26 January to the hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman), setting out the action that is being taken as a result of the representations she made two weeks ago.
Well, that is helpful up to a point, but it is a bit of a tease from the Leader of the House. It is like saying, “I know a good joke, but I won’t tell it to you.” The hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) is probably itching to learn the contents of said letter.
There are two great mysteries in my constituency. First, do we have a giant cat with yellow eyes in Woodchester? Secondly, why are Gloucestershire’s schools suffering so badly under section 251 in the allocation of administrative grants and moving on to become academies? I would like a debate on the cat and school funding, but particularly on school funding, because the subject is important, and we need to encourage the academy programme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that I am right in saying that he has raised the issue with me before. There is a problem in his county about the way in which the so-called LACSEG—local authority central spend equivalent grant—formula works. His academies get the same per-pupil funding as local education authority schools, but the funds that the local authority used to dispense are dispensed to the academies in a formula that has disadvantaged his county. He will be pleased to know that there is a review to see whether we can move to a fairer system of funding. I hope that his county will find that that is an answer to the problem that he raises.
I have just come from a meeting with News International in Wapping in my constituency, during which I took the opportunity to congratulate it on today’s issue of The Times, which launches a campaign for safer cycling. Given the Leader of the House’s personal interest in the subject, will he advise me on whether there will be a statement from the Department for Transport, or a debate on cycling safety and the campaign, in the near future?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject, and to The Times both for the front-page spread and the profile it is giving to making cycling safer, not just in London but everywhere. Along with many other Members, I bicycled into the House today. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), takes cycling seriously. I would welcome a debate in which we could set out some of the steps that we have taken to promote cycling. I went on a trip with the all-party cycling group to Holland, where the lesson was that there is safety in numbers. When there are more cyclists, the terms of trade with the motorist begin to change, and cycling becomes safer. I welcome some of the steps that have been taken to promote cycling, as that will in turn change the terms of trade and make it a safer mode of transport.
May we have a debate on how we can expand the fantastic network of university technical colleges across our country? Early results are impressive; they represent real poverty-busting, enterprise-enhancing change in our country. I have one in my constituency, but I would like all colleagues to have one for the benefit of all our constituents.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he has in his constituency a UTC that was approved in October last year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. We are committed to putting in place at least 24 of them across the country over this Parliament. Two have already opened and 17 are on the way. We will make announcements in the summer about where the UTCs will be based. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the support he has given, and for raising the profile of UTCs, which have an important part to play in higher education.
I was surprised to read a story in yesterday’s Financial Times, quoting liberally the Minister with responsibility for defence procurement, on a new Government policy of procuring defence equipment from overseas companies as well as British companies. I was particularly surprised when I turned up at the House to find that no oral statement to the House was planned, and that the statement being released was only a paper one. Either this is another instance of unilateral action by a Minister, in which case I hope the Leader of the House will take the issue up on behalf of the whole House, or the Government are changing the rules of engagement, and have decided to allow Ministers to announce major policy in the newspapers before they tell the House, in which case may we have a debate on the matter?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. I think it was entirely appropriate for the information to be placed before the House in a written ministerial statement. There are plenty of precedents for such important announcements being made in a WMS. If she looks at the business before the House yesterday, she will see that it was a serious debate on welfare reform. I am not sure that the House would have welcomed the Government injecting an oral statement, and so taking away from the House some of the time for debate.
In his autumn statement, the Chancellor announced £30 billion-worth of capital projects as part of the rebooting of the economy. A recent Institute for Public Policy Research report stated that 84% of the projects are in London and the south-east—a spend of £2,700 per head in London, £134 a head in the north-west, and £5 a head in the north-east. May we have a debate or discussion on how we can get capital spending better aligned in the regions?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. We developed the regional growth fund precisely to help regions such as those that he mentioned, and to move the centre of gravity, so far as one can, away from London and the south-east. He will know that we have introduced enterprise zones to encourage business investment in the north-east and north-west, which benefit from allowances not available elsewhere. There are also allowances available to new companies that locate outside London and the south-east, so we are doing what we can to promote a sensible regional policy to help regions such as that represented by my hon. Friend.
At a meeting of the Select Committee on Education earlier this week, the Secretary of State three times refused to answer my question about whether personal e-mails have been used to avoid scrutiny of information that should be available under the Freedom of Information Act. He was unable to clarify whether any steps were being taken to prevent deletion of e-mails that contained important information that should be in the public domain. Given how potentially serious that is, will the Leader of the House ensure that time is allowed for Members to seek definitive answers to these important and incredibly urgent questions?
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education was unable to give an answer when asked the question three times, I hope that the hon. Lady will understand if I do not give an answer now, but I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend to see whether he can add to what he said to the Education Committee. I shall also put to him the specific question that the hon. Lady asks about the deletion of e-mails, and ask him to write to her.
Warton in my constituency is proud to be the home of the Eurofighter Typhoon and the thousands of jobs associated with it. Will the Leader of the House give us some time to debate the Indian order, some of the decisions behind it, and what more the Government can do, even at this late stage, to secure that order for the UK?
I understand the concern of my hon. Friend’s constituents at the Indian Government’s decision to back the Rafale rather than the Eurofighter Typhoon. During an exchange at BIS questions, the Secretary of State outlined the action still open to this Government and this country to try to secure the order. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but my hon. Friend might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall.
International women’s day will be celebrated worldwide on 8 March. The theme this year is connecting girls, inspiring futures, which is timely at a time of such austerity. It would be a travesty if there were not a debate in this House, the mother of all Parliaments, on 8 March. Will the Leader of the House help to ensure that a debate takes place, in the main Chamber, on international women’s day?
Last year, there was a debate, rightly, on international women’s day in the Chamber. As she will know, responsibility for finding time for international women’s day is specifically mentioned in, I think, paragraph 145 of the Wright Committee report. I will seek to make available to the Backbench Business Committee a day on or around that specific day, so it has the opportunity to fulfil the hon. Lady’s request.
HealthEast is the GP-led commissioning pathfinder group that covers Great Yarmouth and, indeed, Waveney. May we have a statement on the progress of GP commissioning pathfinder groups across the country, given that, like HealthEast, many are enthusiastic about the programme and want to get on with the work, in order that local decisions can be made by local medical experts, rather than by central diktat in the NHS?
There will be an opportunity to consider this issue when the Health and Social Care Bill returns, but my hon. Friend makes a good point: many GPs step forward to act as volunteers for the clinical commissioning groups. It seems there is a broader appetite in the country for these reforms than the impression sometimes given by the leaders of such bodies. My hon. Friend will have seen that the heads of more than 50 new doctors groups have argued that the BMA’s policy of blanket opposition fails to represent their views. I am grateful to him for making that point.
Does the Leader of the House agree that Select Committees, particularly the long-standing Public Accounts Committee, are crucial to our parliamentary system? If so, was he as concerned and alarmed as I was to see the article by Sue Cameron in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph stating that the outgoing head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, who staggered out the door under the weight of his pay-off and his pension, had written to the Chairman of the PAC complaining about the robust questioning of senior civil servants? Is that not an outrageous challenge to the rights of Parliament, and may we have a debate in which we can remind these arrogant mandarins that they are supposed to be civil servants, not uncivil autocrats?
It so happens that I have read Sue Cameron’s article in The Daily Telegraph, concerning the alleged letter written by Sir Gus O’Donnell to the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. [Hon. Members: “Alleged?”] I have not seen the letter. The right hon. Gentleman raises a serious point, and of course the PAC is one of the most important Select Committees in the House. As I understand it, it will be up to the PAC to decide how it wants to respond to that letter, and it may want to make a report to the House, to which the Government would respond. That is the appropriate way to take the issue forward.
The UK Government have prioritised health reform and committed to increasing spending, while devolving decision making to clinicians at local level and making it more accountable. Sadly, my constituents do not benefit from such changes. May we have a general debate on health care, so we can compare and contrast the different forms of health care provision within the UK and expose the fact that Labour is the only party in government in the UK that is cutting the health service?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend’s constituents do not benefit from some of the reforms that will be the subject for debate when the Health and Social Care Bill comes back. He rightly points out that the Department of Health is allocating an extra £12 billion over the spending review period for investment in the NHS—spending the NHS would not have got, had the Opposition been returned to government.
Some weeks ago, the Leader of the House promised me in this Chamber that we would have adequate time to consider the Welfare Reform Bill on receipt of the Lords amendments. Given the very short time we had yesterday, we could not divide on the programme motion, as we wanted to protect precious time for debate. The Minister of State hogged the Dispatch Box for some 45 minutes during consideration of the third group of amendments. One of the amendments that was then accepted, because it could not be put to a Division, hollowed out the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was supported by all parties in this House in the last Parliament. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the House can reconsider the matter, so that we do not end up telling the public that we inadvertently deleted a key field in that important Act, which was passed in the last Parliament?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The question whether any further debate is held on the Bill depends on another place, to which it has now been returned, amended. I did announce last Thursday one day’s debate on the Welfare Reform Bill. No official representations were made against what I had planned, and there was no Division yesterday on the programme motion. There were three separate debates yesterday, every single Lords amendment was considered, and we had already had some two days on Report, so it was not as if the House was addressing these issues for the first time. My view is that, in the context of Commons’ consideration of Lords amendments of other Bills, a one day debate was adequate, and that its structure enabled debates to take place on all the important Lords amendments.
I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). If the House had divided on the programme motion, I would have voted against it—the House’s view on it should have been tested. However, I am afraid that the official Opposition did not seek to divide the House, so the Leader of the House cannot be blamed. That said, I hope he will consider such issues in future, because that is what was wrong with the previous Government: they did not give enough time for proper consideration of Bills. Although I support the welfare reform legislation, we should have had more time to discuss it.
My hon. Friend has consistently argued for more time for debate. I am not sure whether he was in the House for last Thursday’s business questions, when I announced the provision of a one-day debate. That would have been his opportunity to make the point he has just made, which is sadly one day too late.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is due to take place in Sri Lanka in December of next year. Given that President Rajapaksa is turning that country into a kleptocracy, that term limits on the presidency have been abolished—turning that country, potentially, into a dictatorship—and that there has been no adequate response to the UN Secretary-General’s commissioner for human rights, does the Head of our Government believe that it is still appropriate to hold the CHOGM there, and will the Queen attend?
The hon. Gentleman asks some good questions, and it sounds as if we have some time to reflect. If the CHOGM is taking place in December next year, we have adequate time, but I will certainly convey his concern to the Foreign Secretary. I expect that the decision on the location of this conference is one not for the UK Government but for the Commonwealth as a whole. However, as I said, I will pass on his concerns to the Foreign Secretary and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent leaked NATO report suggesting that the Taliban insurgency will not be beaten and that the Taliban have widespread support among local residents, despite NATO’s public claims to the contrary on both counts. Given the report’s credibility, is this not the right occasion for the Government to make a statement?
The Government do not normally comment on leaked reports, but my hon. Friend will know that the Government make regular quarterly statements on Afghanistan. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make such a statement to the House very shortly, when my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to put to him the questions about this report.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government failed to convince the majority of Members in the other place of many aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill. Against that background, will he use his good offices to clarify reports that the Government intend to appoint to the other place a number of peers equivalent to the number of elected MPs in this place?
Caring is a noble vocation but there are too few opportunities for training. May we have a debate on the establishment of carers’ academies, such as the one proposed in South Staffordshire at Rodbaston, to be run between the college there and South Staffordshire housing association?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. We want to raise the qualifications of those who are caring and he might have seen a number of recent instances of bad quality care and untrained practitioners. I would welcome the initiative he has just mentioned. I will mention it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health—and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, if it is an academy—and see whether we can make progress down that path.
This year the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency received more than 1 million requests just from car park operators for individuals’ vehicle registration information. Invariably, penalty notices followed. May we have a debate to review the measures the Government can take to protect motorists so that they are not fleeced by car park operators aiming to boost income through hefty fines?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point because later this year it will be illegal to clamp on private property, so the emphasis might move on to the collection of fines for parking on such property. I will raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport and see whether any additional measures are necessary to protect innocent motorists from being harassed by such companies.
On 16 January, in Education oral questions, the Secretary of State was unable to reassure the House that he or his special advisors had not
“deliberately destroyed or deleted e-mails relating to Government business that he has sent or received through private e-mail accounts”. —[Official Report, 16 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 467.]
May we have a debate on that issue, which other hon. Members have raised and which is beginning to have the whiff of a cover-up about it?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who raises a similar issue to that raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy). I have already undertaken to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is copied in to the letter that will be on its way.
When will we get the Secretary of State for Education’s promised statement on the capital programme for schools? In the past, Ministers have made promises to visit schools in Coventry but they have not materialised. We have schools that are falling down and badly need a rebuild. The midlands in general badly needs those capital programmes, which could revamp the west midlands economy. When are the Government going to do something about it and when will we get that statement?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, when we came into government we sought better value from the capital programme for schools and we brought to a halt a rather extravagant programme that we had inherited and introduced one that gives much better value for money. I shall raise the concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and ask him either to visit Coventry or to write to the hon. Gentleman to set out our programme for investment in that city.
May we have a debate on what safeguards there are to protect people studying for qualifications when their privately run providers go into liquidation? I met a constituent on Friday who had paid a substantial sum to obtain a plumbing and gas qualification from BTSC Europe—Building Trade Skills Centres Europe—which had styled itself as the largest such provider in Europe and even had the Prime Minister come and open its premises in Trafford park. My constituent has been left high and dry with no qualification and with debt now that that company has gone into liquidation. It seems another example of people who work hard and play by the rules being the ones who are punished when we as a state should protect them.
It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman could have raised that issue in BIS questions, when the Minister for consumer affairs and others were in the Chamber. I am sorry to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and see whether there is any action that we can take to get redress.
May I associate myself entirely with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee on the question of time? It is becoming rather difficult to manage the business proposed to us by hon. Members. At the Select Committee on Education on Tuesday, the Secretary of State asserted that he had received what seemed to be conflicting advice from officials about the use of private e-mail accounts for official business. He also told us that he chose to follow the advice that he had received from the Cabinet Office. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the publication of the advice the Secretary of State received from the Cabinet Office and have it placed in the Library? Will he also arrange for a statement to clarify what advice is given to Ministers on such issues?
The hon. Gentleman will know that advice from civil servants to Ministers is not normally published, but he raises an issue that has been raised by some of his hon. Friends. I have got the message: they want some response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I shall do what I can to secure that.
We already know that the Ministry of Defence will no longer support British industry and jobs. This week, Merseyside police authority decided to purchase a fleet of cars with no manufacturing base in the UK. May we have a debate on whether the Government and public services overall need to do a lot more to support British industry and jobs?
There will be a debate on the police grant next Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not the Government but the police authority that purchases police cars in his constituency. He will have an opportunity to raise the issue on Wednesday and I shall ensure that the Minister replying to the debate knows that the matter will be raised by the hon. Gentleman.
I do not know whether you, Mr Speaker, or the Leader of the House have read the article in today’s The Guardian by Professor Roy Greenslade on the continuing refusal of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, to give the names of the 15,000 victims of data mining and illegal data trawling carried out for newspapers by Mr Steve Whittamore. I raised this absolutely astonishing question last week. May we have a debate on it? Perhaps you are among those people, Mr Speaker, because in those days the media were always ganging up on you. We need a debate on the Information Commissioner’s denial to the British people. He has given those names to the media and the police, but not to the victims. It is outrageous.
I have to repeat what I told the right hon. Gentleman last week: it would be quite wrong for the Government to overrule the Information Commissioner. There is a process of appeal if the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the commissioner’s decision, and that is the line he should follow rather than asking me about it week after week.
The Government’s written ministerial statement, published yesterday by the Ministry of Defence, sets out a worrying path on defence procurement that will be to the detriment of British manufacturing jobs. May we have an urgent debate on that in Government time? Secondly, if time was short yesterday, why could not the Minister come and make the statement today so that we could question him on his policy?
My hon. Friend the Minister made the statement yesterday by means of a written ministerial statement. I have looked at it and I see no evidence to support what the hon. Lady has just said about it being bad news for UK industry. On the contrary, much of what he has proposed will benefit UK industry. For example, purchasing off-the-shelf rather than individually specified equipment is of great advantage to British manufacturers who already have a number of products in that range.
Tragically, it now requires 24 early-day motions to list the names of those brave soldiers who have fallen in Afghanistan as a result of decisions taken in this House. As the aims of the war become increasingly meaningless, may we debate early-day motion 2673 so that we can record our gratitude for the sacrifices of the fallen and avoid our military leaders being faced with the terrible question that John Kerry asked himself at the end of the Vietnam war: “Who will be the last soldier I will order into battle to die for a politician’s mistake?”
[That this House salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and records with sorrow the deaths of Lance Corporal Kyle Cleet Marshall, from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 23 from Newcastle, Private Lewis Hendry, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 20 from Norwich, Private Conrad Lewis, 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 22 from Bournemouth, Warrant Officer Class 2 (Company Sergeant Major) Colin Beckett, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 36 from Peterborough, Ranger David Dalzell, 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment, aged 20 from Bangor in County Down, Private Martin Simon George Bell, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 24 from Bradford, Private Joseva Saqanagonedau Vatubua, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, aged 24 from Suva, Fiji, Warrant Officer Class 2 Charles Henry Wood from 23 Pioneer Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, serving with the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force, aged 34 from Middlesbrough, Corporal Steven Thomas Dunn from 216 (Parachute) Signal Squadron, attached to 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment Battlegroup, aged 27 from Gateshead and Private John Howard, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, aged 23 from Wellington, New Zealand.]
The hon. Gentleman has consistently pursued this case in the House and we respect him for that. As I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), I anticipate that the Foreign Secretary might make his statement on Afghanistan quite shortly. That will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his case.
I have had many representations from constituents who are very concerned about the large increases in water bills announced in the past week or so, particularly against a background of people having their wages cut, losing their jobs or having only small wage increases. May we have an urgent debate so that we can hear from the Government what representations have been made to the water companies to try to keep down their charges?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that Ofwat recently announced that water and waste water bills could go up by 0.5% ahead of inflation. That decision is broadly in line with the decision taken back in 2009 and is necessary partly to secure investment in infrastructure and drive up the standards of water in this country. He will also know that the Government are taking action to ensure that tariffs are available to those on low incomes so that they are insulated, to some extent, against the increases.
On Wednesday 20 July, I received a written answer from the Department for Education on the use of e-mails. It was very clear:
“Never use non-DfE email services…to carry out Departmental business.”—[Official Report, 20 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1017W.]
It then became equally clear that officials were using Hotmail accounts to advise people in relation to academy status. I raised this issue at business questions on 8 September, when the Leader of the House helpfully said I would get a reply from the Secretary of State. In that reply, the Secretary of State made it very clear that this was one rogue official, and I accepted that response, but we have now heard, as recently as the Select Committee on Education’s session this week, that there is still a lack of clarity about how the Secretary of State himself is using private e-mail accounts. May we have a statement by the Secretary of State in the House to clear up this issue?
It seems there is a theme running through some of the questions from Opposition Members. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my answers to the questions asked by his hon. Friends. I have registered the concerns of Opposition Members and I will take this up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education; I will ask him to respond to and address all the relevant issues that have been raised in this question session and to send a copy to all the Members who have raised them.
The Government plan to introduce a draft parliamentary privilege Bill soon. May I urge the Leader of the House to delay the publication of that report, unlike all the other recommendations, until the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has finished its report into phone hacking? I am not on that Committee, but it might well suggest that those who have lied to Parliament, including the police, the Murdochs and others, should appear at the Bar of the House and it would be unfortunate if there were any conflict with what the Bill is going to propose. While I am at it, may I suggest that the Leader of the House should stop continually delaying the end of this Session so that he can get his legislation through? That is what the Stuart kings used to do and it did not do them much good in the end.
I am not sure what Bills they were trying to get on to the statute book but I wonder whether they had the merit of the Bills now before Parliament. On the hon. Gentleman’s first question, we are committed to publishing a draft privilege Bill in this Session, and we plan to do that, but it is a draft Bill and it will be accompanied by a consultation document. If after we have published the draft Bill other documents are available from a Select Committee, of course they can be taken on board before we decide to go ahead with a real Bill, so the conflict he outlines need not arise.