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Business of the House

Volume 541: debated on Thursday 1 March 2012

The business for the week commencing 5 March will be:

Monday 5 March—Opposition day [un-allotted day]. There will be a debate on jobs and growth in a low-carbon economy, followed by a debate on living standards. These debates will arise on Opposition motions. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement following the EU Council.

Tuesday 6 March—Conclusion of Second Reading of the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill, followed by a motion relating to a reasoned opinion on procurements by public entities. That will be followed by the remaining stages of the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Bill [Lords]. In addition, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 7 March—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an Humble Address to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. That will be followed by Opposition day [un-allotted day] [half-day]. There will be a debate on a Democratic Unionist party motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion relating to human rights abuses and the death of Sergei Magnitsky. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 8 March—Topical debate on international women’s day, followed by a debate on the future of social care. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 March will include:

Monday 12 March—Motions relating to Standing Orders and to outstanding reports of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that this morning I made a written statement to the House announcing that Her Majesty the Queen will open a new Session of this Parliament on Wednesday 9 May.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and, ahead of this afternoon’s general debate, wish everyone a happy St David’s day. We spend our time surrounded by his amazing designs in this place, so it is also right to mark today the 200th anniversary of Pugin’s birth.

The Foreign Secretary updated the House this week on the situation in Syria. Today, the whole House will be appalled that the Syrian Government appear to be escalating repression. They are responsible for widespread human rights crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and journalists. We fully support the call by the United Nations Secretary-General for an immediate end to the violence. Across the region, tens of thousands have been killed demanding the freedom that we in this country take for granted. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the middle east so that the House can consider the support we give to those battling against brutal dictatorship? Such a debate would give us the opportunity to praise the outstanding journalism that has meant the crimes of the Syrian Government have not gone unrecorded.

If in Syria we have seen journalism at its very best, we have heard this week at the Leveson inquiry about the worst excesses of some sections of the press. The Conservative Mayor of London, who is in charge of the Metropolitan police, said last year that stories of illegal phone hacking were “codswallop”, but this week he argued that “the caravan should move on”. Joining in, the Conservative Education Secretary said that the Leveson inquiry was having a chilling effect on press freedom. This is beginning to look like a systematic attempt to undermine the inquiry and pre-empt the outcome. Some sections of the press might be trying to browbeat Lord Justice Leveson, but does the Leader of the House agree with me that Conservative Cabinet Ministers and the Conservative Mayor of London should not join in?

I was disappointed this time last week when, in response to my questions about the Health and Social Care Bill, the Leader of the House said that he was not one of the heroic three Cabinet Ministers who briefed ConservativeHome off the record that the Bill was a disaster, but it is not too late to change his mind. After all, the Deputy Prime Minister briefed Liberal Democrat peers this week on the record that the Bill needed amending to stop Conservative Ministers privatising the NHS. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could explain what the Deputy Prime Minister has been doing all this time, because he wrote the foreword to the health White Paper and championed the original Bill. He then voted for the Bill but championed the pause and the rethink. He then championed the revised Bill, and now he is championing a revision of the revision of the Bill. This cynical choreography will not be taken seriously by the public. If he really wanted to, he could stop the Bill now. Why on earth has he not done so? Meanwhile, a Conservative Health Secretary is proving that we can never trust the Tories on the NHS.

The most signed e-petition on the No. 10 website is a campaign to drop the Health and Social Care Bill. The Prime Minister said on launching the site:

“One of the points of the new e-petitions website is to make sure that if a certain level of signatures is reached, the matter will be debated in the House, whether we like it or not. That is an important way of empowering people.”—[Official Report, 11 August 2011; Vol. 531, c. 1092.]

Will the Leader of the House explain why Government Members of the Backbench Business Committee voted en bloc to stop a debate on the NHS petition? Last week the Prime Minister locked his health critics out of No. 10, and this week’s shenanigans in the Backbench Business Committee revealed that the Government are running scared of debate. Does the Leader of the House think that that will win over the public?

As a result of another e-petition, the House decided to ban the keeping of wild animals in circuses, but today the Government sneaked out a consultation that completely ignores the will of the House. It looks as though e-petitions are another public relations gimmick from a Prime Minister who thinks that that is what his job is about, so may we have an early debate on the Government’s response to the Procedure Committee’s report on e-petitions, which after all said that the Prime Minister’s claims on the No. 10 website needed to be rewritten to ensure that they “more accurately reflect reality”?

I thank the Leader of the House for finally confirming what Paul Waugh of PoliticsHome announced at the beginning of January: that the Queen’s Speech would be on 9 May. I have a suggestion for how he could successfully bring this legislative Session to a proper close: drop the Health and Social Care Bill.

I endorse what the hon. Lady said at the beginning of her questions about St David’s day and the 200th anniversary of Pugin’s birth.

On the serious issue of Syria, we had Foreign Office questions on Tuesday. She will know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has issued a written ministerial statement today. She may also know that the matter is likely to be raised at the European Council meeting later today, and I have announced that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on that on Monday, so there might be an opportunity to report progress then. I join her in paying tribute to those journalists who have risked their lives, and in one case lost her life, to bring the truth to the rest of the world, going to the most dangerous places in the world, showing the hardships that people endure there and broadcasting the realities to a wider audience.

On Leveson, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with this yesterday, and I gently remind the hon. Lady that it was the coalition Government who set up the inquiry to get to the bottom of exactly what has been going on.

We had an urgent question on the Health and Social Care Bill on Tuesday, which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary answered. The Bill continues to be improved by amendments tabled from both sides of the House, and from both Houses, as it goes through Parliament. It was a Labour Secretary of State for Health who had a motion of no confidence passed in her by one of the royal colleges.

We have no intention of dropping the Bill. I asked the hon. Lady last week which particular clauses she wanted to see dropped. Does she want to drop clauses 22 and 25, which make it explicit that patients should have more choice and be much more involved in decisions about their care? Does she want to drop the clauses placing a duty on key organisations to integrate health and social care services? Does she want to drop the clauses that remove the arbitrary private patient cap, which stifles groundbreaking new treatment by organisations such as The Royal Marsden?

The Government have passed to the Backbench Business Committee responsibility for the subjects that it chooses. It has chosen Magnitsky, social care and a wide range of important issues which have been brought before it by Members from both sides of the House. The Committee may have taken the view that the health Bill has been adequately debated in this House since it was introduced more than a year ago. It has probably had more debate than any other Bill in recent history, and that may be why the Committee took that decision.

We have just had DEFRA questions, and I watched the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), answer questions about circus animals. As the hon. Lady knows, we have put out a written ministerial statement—

Nor, as my hon. Friend says, is answering questions about it on the same day. There could hardly be a more open process of bringing a matter before the House.

Finally, under the Labour Administration there was an e-petitions system that ended up in Downing street and got nowhere. We have introduced a much better system, whereby if a certain threshold is reached the petitions are eligible for debate. Some of the best debates that we have had have been as a result of the e-petitions system, introduced by this Government, and we are proud of it.

Order. As usual a very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. May I just remind the House that Members who were not here when the Leader of the House stood up to answer the business question should not now be seeking to catch my eye?

Ever since I have been a Member, there has been a full day’s debate on Wales to coincide with St David’s day. Today that debate is being seriously curtailed by the Backbench Business Committee. I understand that not a single Conservative MP petitioned for today’s Back-Bench business debate, so is one right in assuming that the Labour party wishes to curtail debate on Wales because it wishes to curtail debate on Labour’s stewardship in Wales and, in particular, Labour’s stewardship of the health service in Wales?

My hon. Friend poses some interesting questions about the mentality of Welsh Labour MPs, but however short the time available for that debate is, I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will criticise the stewardship of the NHS in Wales and at the same time outline the steps that the coalition Government have taken to support growth in the Principality.

As we celebrate St David’s day, we should also celebrate the fact that citizens of Wales are able to choose which language they fill out their application forms for driving licences and passports in because Welsh is recognised throughout the UK as an official language. The same cannot be said of Gaelic, which is recognised in Scotland as an official language but not in the UK, so Scottish citizens cannot fill out their applications for driving licences or passports in any language other than English. May we have an early ministerial statement so that the Government can set out their plans to give Gaelic equal status with Welsh and English, so that in turn Scots native Gaelic speakers can start to fill out such applications in the language of their choice?

I very gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe he was a Minister in the Department for Transport, and I wonder why that progressive measure was not introduced on his watch.

The Leader of the House will be well aware of The Times cycling campaign after joining us in the Westminster Hall debate last week. Given the level of interest in and support for the campaign in all parts of the House, will he find some parliamentary time for my Road Safety (No. 3) Bill, which addresses much of The Times’ campaign?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the quality of the debate in Westminster Hall last week, at the end of which the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), set out the steps that the Government are taking to promote cycling and cycling safety. I would be raising the hon. Gentleman’s hopes if I implied that his road safety Bill was likely to reach the statute book in the remaining days of this Session, but there will be an opportunity in the new Session to put forward private Members’ Bills, and I very much hope that he pursues his campaign in that context.

Today the Prime Minister is hosting the Czech Prime Minister. On 20 February, the Prime Minister posted on the No. 10 website a letter to the European Commission, signed by them and 10 other European leaders, on a plan for growth in Europe. It said, among other things :

“We should foster labour mobility to create a more integrated and open European labour market”.

May we have a debate so that Ministers can explain to the public and, indeed, to their own Back Benchers, why they think that giving away more British jobs is such a good idea?

As I announced a few moments ago, the Prime Minister will be at the Dispatch Box on Monday after the European Council. Is the right hon. Gentleman seriously wishing to detract from the commitments made by all Governments for mobility of labour within the European Union?

Following yesterday’s excellent news on the increasing number of companies joining the coalition’s voluntary work experience programme for young people, may we have a debate on this topic so that certain sections of the media, which seem to be confused about voluntary work experience for young people, workfare and the Work programme can be enlightened?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to the attention of a wider audience the benefits of the work experience programme. I was delighted to hear that another 200 businesses want to sign up against the background of the debate that we have had in recent weeks. I found very compelling an article in The Times on Tuesday by John Bird, founder of The Big Issue, setting out exactly why the work experience initiative was in everyone’s interests. I hope that companies and young people will consider joining the work experience programme. As local MPs, we all have a job of work to do to encourage employers to participate and young people to take up vacancies.

Has the Leader of the House been given notice by the Secretary of State for Defence of the appointment of the commercial management company Serco to run Defence Business Services within the Ministry of Defence? The House and the staff believe that this is still subject to a consultation, yet over the past week Serco has been advertising appointments on its website. Could a Minister come to the House to clarify the exact situation?

The answer to the first half of the hon. Gentleman’s question is no. However, I will make some inquiries of the Secretary of State for Defence seeking confirmation that the contract has not been let if, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is still subject to consultation, and I will ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.

Police Constable David Rathband passed away last night. He was an outstanding Northumbria police constable, and I know that I speak for all local north-east colleagues when I say that this brave man will be sorely missed. Will my right hon. Friend join me in passing on our condolences to his family and to the police colleagues he worked with and who continue to serve our region so well?

The whole House will endorse what my hon. Friend has said following the tragic death of David Rathband, who lost his sight bravely risking life and limb to arrest a suspect. I applaud what he did subsequently, having lost his sight, in setting up the Blue Lamp Foundation, and also becoming internationally renowned for the way he responded to the challenges that he had to face. I endorse what my hon. Friend said about his tragic loss and extend our sympathies to his friends and family.

The recent acquittal of a dozen or so defendants in a paramilitary-related supergrass trial in Belfast costing upwards of £20 million has raised serious questions about the use of “assisting offenders” evidence under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which is a Westminster Act not an Assembly Act. May we have a statement from the Attorney-General on the use of that Act specifically in relation to paramilitary supergrass trials in Northern Ireland, which were last seen in the 1980s?

I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. Of course, I have announced that a debate has been allocated to the right hon. Gentleman’s party on Wednesday, so it is open to him to choose this matter as a subject for that debate next week.

Last week, Hatton & Harding in my constituency came second in the best small shop in Britain awards 2011, highlighting the quality of retail in our community. On the back of that, Warwick TweetUp, a group of local businesses, is campaigning for Warwick to put in a bid to be one of the Portas pilots, which I fully support. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Hatton & Harding on its success, and will he schedule a debate in Government time on small retailers and how we can best support them?

I commend Hatton & Harding for coming second in the competition to which my hon. Friend referred. He will know that we had a debate on the Mary Portas review in January in Back-Bench business time. The Government are grateful to Mary Portas for her review and are reflecting on its recommendations. We will announce in the spring our conclusions on that review. There may be an opportunity thereafter to have a further debate on the future of the high street.

The Government had let it be known that an announcement on the location of the headquarters of the green investment bank would be made in February. Even though February had 29 days this year, no announcement had been made by yesterday. What we did get was an e-mail indicating that the decision had been further delayed. There has been no written statement and nothing on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website. Will the Government ensure that a written statement is forthcoming so that we know what is going on with the green investment bank, at least as a courtesy to the 32 Members across the House who have supported its being located in their constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is right that a large number of Members have bid for the green investment bank to be located in their constituency. I was not aware that a firm commitment had been given to make an announcement in February, but I will make inquiries at BIS to establish when a decision on the location of the green investment bank will be made.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2,781, which opposes the fee for tours of the Big Ben Clock Tower?

[That this House regrets the plans of the House of Commons Commission to create an admission charge of 15.00 for Big Ben tours; notes that if fees increase in July 2012 as planned, it will cost a family of four 60 to visit the Big Ben Clock Tower; believes that this undermines the basic principle of British democracy, that this is a people’s parliament, open freely to its citizens; further believes there must surely be other ways of saving money, such as publishing Hansard and business papers online; and therefore urges the House of Commons Commission to think again, to scrap the fees and to make sure that this remains a parliament for the many, not the few.]

May we have an urgent debate on these unaffordable, undemocratic and unprecedented plans, so that MPs from all sides of the House can vote against the proposals once and for all?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. He raised this matter on a point of order on Monday. I have in front of me your response, Mr Speaker, which I will not read out because it would take longer than you like me to take at the Dispatch Box, but I will—[Laughter.]

It is quite a long statement. I reiterate your advice, Mr Speaker, that if my hon. Friend wants to take the matter further, he should pursue it with the Finance and Services Committee.

First, I thank the Leader of the House for getting me a reply from the Secretary of State for Education. When will we have the promised statement, which we have been waiting on for about six months, on the capital programme for schools? There are schools in Coventry that are dilapidated, falling down and badly in need of repair. The Government are letting down teachers and kids in Coventry.

There were questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on Monday this week. I do not know whether there was an opportunity to raise the issue then. I will raise it with my right hon. Friend and seek to establish when an announcement will be made about the capital programme, particularly as it impacts on Coventry.

As well as being a terrible tragedy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, the death of PC David Rathband poses difficult questions about how we support police constables who have been wounded in the line of duty. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate in Government time on this important and urgent issue?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, particularly given the background that he has touched on. I cannot promise a debate in the near future in Government time, but it strikes me as an appropriate subject for a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. I am sure that a large number of Members on both sides of the House would like to take part in such a debate.

Having said that they would not do so, the Government adopted the previous Labour Government’s 18-week waiting time target for treatment in hospital once somebody has been referred by a GP. The number of people breaching that 18-week period has gone up by 43%. We are now told that people are being bounced off lists and left waiting once they have breached the 18-week point to hide the huge spike in the number of people who have breached it. May we have a debate to expose the Government’s appalling record on that target?

I must gently disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The backlog of over-18-week waiters is going down and the figures for December were the best on record. In the broader context, the average waiting times for in-patients and out-patients before they start treatment are lower than at the time of the last election, and the number of patients waiting for more than a year is half what it was in May 2010.

May we please have a debate on deregulation? This week saw the publication of the third progress report on the Government’s one-in, one-out policy. A debate would allow the House to examine the extent to which the progress made by the Government is being completely outweighed by new regulations from the European Union, which are not covered by the one-in, one-out policy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There may be an opportunity in the context of the Budget debate to discuss that matter further. He is right to point out that from January 2011 to April this year, the one-in, one-out system will result in the net change in domestic regulation remaining at or close to zero. Eleven of the 14 Departments report a net reduction or no change in the regulatory costs to business. The red tape challenge has so far considered more than 1,200 regulations, and has agreed to scrap or improve well over half of them.

More than six weeks ago, the Department of Health’s propaganda machine put out an announcement that private finance initiative hospitals, including my own, will get an additional allocation of £1.5 billion. No prior warning was given to the trusts or to MPs who are interested in this issue. Six weeks on, the allocation has not been made. May we have a statement from the Department of Health about when the allocation will be made to those hospitals, so that they can get on with planning for the future?

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would preface his remarks with a tribute to the Government who are seeking to put right the disastrous PFI contracts that the previous Government entered into. None the less, in a conciliatory mood I say to him that I will pursue the issue of any resources that might be made available to his authority to give it the assistance it needs to cope with the ongoing debts incurred by the previous Administration.

With about 600 young people being supported by more than 250 companies in the work experience scheme in Norfolk alone, may I join my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) in asking my right hon. Friend for a statement or a debate in Government time to highlight the excellent things that are being done in the work experience scheme, to clarify the erroneous statements that are out there, and to promote the good work that is being done by these companies and the well-motivated young people who are taking advantage of the scheme?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Some 34,000 young people have taken advantage of the scheme since it was launched in January, and more than half of them have come off benefits. At a fraction of the cost of the previous scheme, it is finding work for young people. I reiterate my response to an earlier question: we all have a responsibility to promote the scheme widely in our constituencies over the coming weekend.

Sadly, the death rates for mesothelioma in north Lincolnshire are above the national average. Will the Government make a statement on their progress in delivering the commitment to set up a fund of last resort to act as a safety net for workers who can no longer trace the employers who exposed them to asbestos?

I understand the problems of those who suffer from mesothelioma. I will raise the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and ask what progress is being made on establishing the fund to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The all-party parliamentary group on global education for all recently concluded a visit to Nigeria, where we saw some harrowing scenes and heard that 8 million children there are denied basic education. There are some excellent Department for International Development projects working on sanitation and on access to education for young girls in particular. May we have a debate on the successful work of DFID and on how we can enhance that good work?

I am delighted to hear of the good work being done by DFID in Nigeria to tackle the problem to which my hon. Friend refers. There will be an opportunity on, I believe, 14 March, the next time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development answers questions, to press him further on what additional assistance can be extended to Nigeria to make further progress in the direction that my hon. Friend outlines.

Yesterday, HMS Liverpool arrived at Liverpool for the final time before it is decommissioned at the end of the month. For three decades the ship and her crew have served our country with bravery and distinction in conflicts around the world, most recently in Libya. Will the Leader of the House ask the Defence Secretary if he will make a statement recognising the courageous service of all those who have sailed on HMS Liverpool over the past 30 years?

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would like to join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all those who have served on HMS Liverpool. She will know that we had to take some difficult decisions to balance the Ministry of Defence budget on coming into office. The outcome was announced in the strategic defence and security review some 18 months ago. I hope that we now have a more balanced MOD budget and can go ahead on a more sustainable basis.

In 2006, I raised the unintended consequences of the Extradition Act 2003. Six years on, many individuals still find themselves at the wrong end of that legislation and denied bail, meaning that they are kept from their families and livelihoods for long periods. May we now have a debate to see how we can improve our relations with other countries so that people, some of whom will ultimately be found not guilty, are not disadvantaged?

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, particularly against the background of the case of Mr Tappin. He will know that the Home Secretary received the Scott Baker review in October. Since then we have had two good debates on the matter, and my right hon. Friend is reflecting on the review, which examined how we might improve extradition arrangements with the EU and the wider world. She will announce her conclusion on the review and the debates in due course, at which time she will also publish the documents referred to in a question asked last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab). The Government understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and want to make progress.

May I invite the Leader of the House to come to Huddersfield to explain to my constituents how laws are passed in this House? They know that the Health and Social Care Bill has not become law, but they also know, having listened to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, that 95% of GPs are already putting it into effect. They also know that a vast amount of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on letting contracts and hiring people under a law and structure that has not passed the House of Commons.

It has actually passed the House of Commons. I will not come to Huddersfield to explain how laws are passed in the House, because the hon. Gentleman can perfectly well do that himself. He knows full well that there are certain things that a Government can do once a Bill has received its Second Reading, and what we have done on the Health and Social Care Bill is absolutely consistent with actions taken by his party’s Government once Bills had received a Second Reading in the House of Commons.

In view of a parliamentary answer that I received yesterday, may we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? I have discovered that over a three-month period, there were nine meetings of Ministers with IPSA, notably on 16 January when its chairman and chief executive met the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Leader of the House and the Minister for the Cabinet Office. The written answer states:

“We do not intend to provide further details of these meetings as to do so may inhibit free and frank discussions in the future.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2012; Vol. 541, c. 287W.]

In the interests of openness and transparency, and bearing in mind that one of the subjects discussed was MPs’ pensions, may we have a debate on the subject?

I have regular meetings with the chairman and chief executive of IPSA, but on the subject of MPs’ pensions, the Government made their views perfectly clear last July when I tabled a motion, which was passed unanimously without Division in November. IPSA referred specifically to that resolution when it announced its proposals in the document that was published a few weeks ago.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the quality of decision making in the NHS, since MPs in my area, including my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), recently discovered that a decision to make Chester rather than Warrington a hub for vascular services was taken without any criteria being set down and therefore without any scoring against set criteria? We are now left in a position in which our hospital and its future services are at risk, based on a decision that appears to have been taken arbitrarily. Do people not deserve a better quality of decision making than that?

I challenge the hon. Lady’s assertion that hospitals and health services are at risk because of the decision about the hub to which she refers. However, I am happy to refer to the Secretary of State for Health the issue of why that particular configuration was chosen in her part of the country.

Oh, thank you, Mr Speaker. I thought you were looking at somebody else.

A lot of doom and gloom is being peddled at the moment, so in this Olympic and diamond jubilee year, may we have a debate so that Members can mention all the many positive and uplifting things happening in their constituencies? For example, in the past week in my patch I have met many young apprentices—there are 130 new ones. There is a new dye works opening, David Brown Engineering has had another investment from the Government, the National Citizen Service is being launched on Monday in my constituency and young people are engaging with the Olympics. Let us have more positivity.

I hope that my hon. Friend continues to be called in business questions. He is right to say that there is a lot of good news around. In January, retail sale volume was up by 0.9% on December and up on a year ago. The services purchasing managers index, the manufacturing purchasing managers index and construction output are up, and in January we had a budget surplus of £11.8 billion, £2.5 billion higher than last year. I hope that he will put his name in for the debate on the Budget, when we can listen to him tell us at greater length about all the good news in his constituency and the rest of the country.

Will the Leader of the House have a discussion with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about holding a Westminster Hall debate on making St Patrick’s day a public holiday? The decision on that is a reserved matter that lies with the Northern Ireland Office.

I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Depending on the subject that is chosen for debate next Wednesday, which will presumably relate to Northern Ireland, the hon. Lady may have an opportunity to raise the matter then and get a response from him.

I had understood that the January surplus was £7.8 billion, so I congratulate the Leader of the House on finding another £4 billion down the back of the sofa.

The Backbench Business Committee has been unable to allocate time for pre-European Council meetings, because it has limited time that is often changed at the last moment. Will the Leader of the House now reinstate those debates in Government time, or does he believe that the Standing Order No. 24 process is more appropriate?

That would be to reverse the commitment that we made to implement in full the Wright recommendations, which involved putting in a pot a number of days, including those for the pre-EU Council debates, and transferring the pot over to the Backbench Business Committee. I would be most reluctant to take power away from the Committee in the way that my hon. Friend suggests by reducing its number of days.

On a more encouraging note, my hon. Friend may have heard the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) yesterday, with which I have a lot of sympathy. He suggested that at the beginning of each Session, we earmark a number of days that would be made available to the Committee at the appropriate time when an EU Council was imminent. If we go down that road, we may avoid the problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) refers.

The Leader of the House might recall that a few weeks ago, I raised with him the situation facing Leicester businesses that were damaged at the height of the summer disturbances. They are not getting any compensation, because the police authority does not designate the disturbances as a riot and they have missed all the other compensation schemes. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice on Monday evening to discuss the problem, but may we have a debate on it in Government time to see how widespread it is and how many businesses are not getting compensation, so that Members on both sides of the House can make representations on the Floor of the House?

I do remember the exchange, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice met representatives of the insurance industry to urge them to speed up their compensation payments to victims. On the outstanding cases with the Government bureau, which covers uninsured individuals, there are 75 out of the 1,261 cases that were originally received. The Home Office has reimbursed all authorised claims for expenditure. Rather than waiting for a debate, I would like to pursue with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman raises to see whether we can get compensation out of the door to those who are entitled to it.

The Government are right to seek through the Council of Europe to change the rules so that the Supreme Court in this country would be the ultimate determinant of human rights. I would like to be helpful to the Government. I have introduced the European Convention on Human Rights (Temporary Withdrawal) Bill, which would speed up that process and allow us to deport extremists. Unfortunately, there must be a problem with the telephone line between the Chief Whip’s office and mine because he has not contacted me yet to make arrangements. May we have a statement on that?

My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip was 6 feet away from my hon. Friend a few moments ago, when there would have been an opportunity for a direct dialogue. I would be misleading my hon. Friend if I said that, in the remaining days of the Session, his Bill was likely to reach the statute book, but he knows that we have the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is seeking to reform the ECHR in a way that my hon. Friend would approve of to tackle the backlog and to ensure that cases reach the European Court only when there is no alternative, thus returning more to subsidiarity of the national courts. Although I cannot promise my hon. Friend any progress on his Bill, I hope that he will endorse the direction in which the Government are now travelling.

May we have an early debate in Government time on the national policy statement for waste water? Yesterday, during a debate on the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that

“there were 21 working days for the national waste water policy to be debated from the moment it was laid before Parliament…There is still time and I am sure that hon. Members will take advantage of that.”—[Official Report, 29 February 2012; Vol. 541, c. 354.]

In conversations with the Journal Office today, it was made clear to me that until the Localism Bill becomes law, the decision on whether there is a debate on the national policy statement is entirely in the Government’s hands. Will time be made available for that important issue?

I read the exchange in Hansard to which the hon. Gentleman refers. As he knows, Second Reading of the Bill was adjourned. I will seek to ensure that, in the winding-up speeches on Tuesday, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) has the response to the hon. Gentleman’s question.

The GMB union has claimed that, without the support of trade unions, Labour would have lost another 40 to 50 seats at the general election. With several marginal constituencies receiving thousands of pounds, such as the £5,600 given by the GMB to Dudley North, which was won by just 649 votes, may we have a debate in Government time on capping political donations to end any undue influence by only one political donor?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who may know that there was a debate on the reform of trade union funding in Westminster Hall yesterday. He may like to read the response by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd). On the broader issue, we want to reform funding. My hon. Friend will know that we are trying to achieve a consensus between the main parties on the way forward and that Government Members—certainly the Conservative part of the coalition—believe that any restriction on funding should embrace the trade unions rather than their having the privileged position that they currently enjoy.

May we have a debate on the retention of the 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards? All four of the regiment’s battalions are on active service in Afghanistan and the future of the second battalion was raised in the most recent edition of The Sunday Times? May we have an urgent debate and statement on that so that the welfare of those troops and their families is properly discussed?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern for the regiments that are based in his constituency. I cannot promise an early debate on the matter, but I will draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman, giving such assurances as he can about the future of those regiments.

For many years, the British Thomson-Houston Co. was the biggest employer in my constituency. In 1921, it erected a memorial to employees who gave their lives in the great war, and, with additions after the second world war, it bears 418 names. This week, in an appalling act of vandalism, Nazi graffiti has been scrawled all over it. May we have a debate to consider what should be done to keep alive the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice?

I was appalled, as I am sure that the whole House was, to hear that Nazi graffiti has been scrawled on a memorial to those who gave their lives in the service of this country. I very much hope that the police in my hon. Friend’s constituency are trying to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice and that the appropriate authorities are removing the graffiti immediately so that no more offence is given. Of course, I understand the concern that that has generated in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

In November 1981, Katrice Lee went missing from a German supermarket on her second birthday. She has never been found. Her father, who is my constituent and was serving in the armed forces in Germany at the time, has never been satisfied about the investigation to find his daughter. He has requested access for the family to the case files. The hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), where Katrice’s mother now lives, has worked hard on the matter, and I have written to the Prime Minister and asked a parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Defence. May we have a debate on that harrowing and tragic issue, and more generally, about consistency in providing case files on missing children to families, so that the hon. Lady and I can discuss the matter in the House?

I am very sorry to hear of Katrice Lee’s disappearance in 1981 and of course I understand the relevant local MPs’ concern to find out what happened, and about access to the case files. I would like to contact the appropriate Minister, probably in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to ascertain what representations they can make, presumably to the authorities in Germany, who have the case files and see whether they can be made available. I understand the wish of members of the family to find out what happened, and I will raise the matter with the Foreign Secretary to see whether we can make progress.

Following the fire under the M1 in my constituency in April 2011, Network Rail and the Environment Agency were going to look at possible sites of future risk. I understand that the Highways Agency audit was developed into an action plan, which, a parliamentary written answer to me stated, would be completed by the end of spring 2012. Will my right hon. Friend advise whether that action plan will be published?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about sites at risk following the fire that he mentioned. I will contact the Secretary of State for Transport and find out what progress has been made and when information will be put in the public domain about the action that she plans to take.

May we go back to the schools capital programme? I urge the Leader of the House to provide an urgent debate on that. He will recall that the Building Schools for the Future programme was cut in the early months of his Government and a promise was made to introduce a new capital programme scheme. We were expecting an announcement before now, but I understand from reports yesterday that it is some six months away. That is a long time, given that we are now in March 2012. The matter is important to my constituents, who are concerned about their schools getting investment.

Again, there was an opportunity on Monday to raise the matter during education questions. However, I give the hon. Gentleman the same reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham): I will make inquiries about the progress of the capital programme for schools and find out when a decision will be made, referring to schools in his constituency.

Today the Government sold £2.75 billion of 10-year Government debt at just over 2% and that is good news for borrowers and business, but it is a complex issue. The Government have a strategy for credit easing so may we have a debate in this Chamber on why it is so important for Government policy to continue to bear down on the interest that we pay? Opposition Members have been making very different statements to the media and there is real confusion in the country.

My hon. Friend brings to the House’s attention the benefits of low interest rates to business and households. Those low interest rates would be put at risk if we listened to some of the siren voices in the Opposition, who want to push up the budget deficit. When we have the Budget later this month, there will be an opportunity to debate the issues that my hon. Friend mentioned. Speaking from memory, every 1% increase in interest has an impact of about £1,000 a year on the average mortgage. That puts the matter in context.

On this St David’s day, it is appropriate for us to remember the Welsh troops who were killed tragically and injured terribly during the Falklands war. Was the Leader of the House as surprised as I was that the Prime Minister’s spokesman this week said that the Government took no position on the news that the Argentine Olympic team will include a Malvinas logo on their Olympic kit? May we have a statement to clarify the Government’s position?

Of course I would understand the concern were that to happen. That may be a matter for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which is in charge of the Olympic games. I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s concern to the attention of Lord Coe and see whether any steps need to be taken to ensure that no inappropriate logos are on display during the Olympics.

The Backbench Business Committee has given more than a month’s notice of the very important debate on assisted dying, which will take place on Tuesday 27 March. It would be helpful to the House and the nation if the Leader of the House confirmed the timings for that day. His normal practice, if he follows it, will have a knock-on effect on tours around the House. In addition, members of the public who want to attend the debate want to know what time it will start.

My hon. Friend is right that, normally, when the last sitting day is on a Tuesday, we move the sitting forward from 2.30 pm to 11.30 am, which is the Wednesday timetable. No announcement has been made, but I take my hon. Friend’s point. I will see whether at the next business questions we can give some certainty about the sittings of the House on that last day, 27 March.

Mr Speaker has announced that marvellous ceremonial occasion state opening of Parliament for 9 May. That is followed by the trooping of the colour, the Derby, the royal garden parties, the Eton-Harrow match, the Durham miners gala, the Government reshuffle and the opening of the grouse shooting season. Are not too many ceremonial occasions crammed into the summer? May we have a debate on moving the state opening back to an autumn date, both to take a bit of pressure off Her Majesty and to allow us to debate the Queen’s speech in the more austere, chilly autumn winds rather than in the heat of the summer?

The right hon. Gentleman has a very busy social calendar and will be attending a number of events that I will not be at.

To return to his question, he might remember that I made a statement in 2010 explaining why the state opening of Parliament would always be in the spring/summer because we now have fixed-term Parliaments. The general election will always be in May, so the first state opening will be in May. We want full, one-year Sessions rather than the six-month truncated Session that he has just advocated. If we have a state opening in November and a fixed-term Parliament ending in May, we would not have a full Session, which I know he would miss.

Like Sir Stuart Rose, I started my working career stacking shelves in my local Co-op in Poynton, which gave me a great work ethic. I fully agree with the former chairman of Marks & Spencer that it is baffling that anyone would oppose unemployed young people being given the opportunity to gain good-quality work experience. May we have a debate on workfare so that we can take on the misguided opponents of that vital scheme?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing a point that some of our hon. Friends have made. I would welcome such a debate. I should point out to him that we have the same success rate as the future jobs fund at a 20th of the cost, so we are getting much better value for money than the scheme we were left with.

The Paediatric Continence Forum found in a survey that 50% of children do not want to use the toilets because they are poor facilities, and that affects their health and education. The regulations for staff toilets are more robust than those for children’s toilets. May we have an urgent debate or a statement on how we can eradicate that anomaly? Perhaps that aspect could be included as part of the Ofsted inspection report, because it affects children’s health and education.

I will raise that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and see whether there is an anomaly that needs addressing, and I will ask him to drop the hon. Lady a line.

Plans have recently been submitted for a new retail development in Blackheath in my constituency, which will bring much-needed construction and retail jobs to the area. May we have a debate on the Government’s success in generating private sector jobs and on what more needs to be done over the coming years?

Again, the Budget may provide an appropriate forum for such a debate, but my hon. Friend reminds the House that private sector employment is up 580,000 since the election, and that the overall number of people claiming out-of-work benefits has fallen by 30,000. I hope we can maintain that impetus, and that my hon. Friend will take part in the Budget debate, when he can make the point at greater length.

May we have a debate on the Kafkaesque policies of Lloyds banks? When my constituent Mark Williams was unemployed three years ago, he set up a new business, Pins ’n Cool Things. He was suddenly notified by Lloyds that it was closing his bank account. It will not tell him why and he can have no explanation. His business has ground to a halt. There is no way he can find out what he is allegedly guilty of, which is surely against the nature of British justice. May we have a debate on why banks have the power to destroy companies by refusing to tell them why they close bank accounts?

The constituent has done the right thing in contacting his Member of Parliament. I am sure she is in contact with the Lloyds chief executive to see whether she can get a satisfactory explanation of how her constituent has been treated. I hope she is pursuing that, but I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to see whether there is a role for him in view of the Government’s stake in that bank.

Order. There is still a large number of hon. Members trying to get in—they are all on one side of the House as it happens. I am keen to accommodate them, but we must now have brief questions, because the Leader of the House always provides brief answers.

Tomorrow, I will visit Megger, a very successful business in my constituency. May we have a debate on how we can accelerate economic growth in the UK, particularly in the light of the excellent news in the International Monetary Fund report that Britain is likely to grow more quickly than Germany and France this year?

Indeed. The best news for Megger would be a continuation of the Government’s economic policies, which allow low interest rates to endure. My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that, this year, we are growing three times as fast as France and twice as fast as Germany. That is a tribute to the economic policies that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has championed.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the importance of local initiatives to stimulate business growth, such as the successful loan fund set up by Staffordshire county council and administered by the mutual Black Country Reinvestment Society, of which I am proud to be a member?

I am delighted to hear that despite all the pressure on Staffordshire county council, it has been able to find the resources to make the loan available to that mutual company. It is important that loans continue to be made to promote growth and employment and I commend the priorities of my hon. Friend’s county council.

A consistent theme raised by businesses in Tamworth is their access to bank lending. May we have a debate on that and on what opportunities there are for banks to borrow money, particularly in respect of Project Merlin, which has exceeded its target this year, and which means that more money was lent to small businesses in 2011 than in 2010?

My hon. Friend reminds the House that bank lending is crucial. The latest figures are quite encouraging. The amount of lending has far exceeded what was expected—the £204.9 billion total lending overreaches the £190 billion target by nearly £25 billion. As a result of Project Merlin, we saw more lending to small businesses in 2011 than in 2010.

Many of my young constituents have today dressed up as fairytale characters to celebrate world book day. I am not sure what my right hon. Friend’s favourite fairytale character is, but will he support the Evening Standard “Get London Reading” campaign and a debate to focus on the value of parents reading with their children?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not joined in the fun by coming to the Chamber dressed up as his favourite character, but I commend the initiative of the Evening Standard and the work of those who voluntarily go into schools to sit down and listen, one to one, to children learning to read. That is an important skill. I hope the reforms we are promoting in the Department for Education will drive up the standards of reading of our young people.

Can we have a debate about the relationship between economic growth and fiscal policy, especially in the light of recent figures from America, which show that its recent economic growth was delivered during a time of fiscal tightening? Also, given that our national debt exceeded £1 trillion at the end of last year, such a debate would provide an excellent opportunity to explode the myths perpetrated by Opposition Members, who cling to the misguided mantra that we are going too fast and too far in cutting the deficit that we inherited from the last Government.

My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that the debt is now around £1 trillion. When my party left office in 1997, it was around £300 billion; when we came back, in coalition, it was somewhere around £900 billion. That was the escalation that took place in the intervening 13 years, and that is why we need to take steps to get the debt back under control.

On the threshold of the launch of the much-needed national careers service by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, may we have an opportunity in this House to highlight the need for good, independent careers advice, and also to underline the fact that schools and colleges must engage with businesses to find out what they really need?

My hon. Friend reminds the House that next month, in April, we are launching the national careers service—the source, which he has just commended, of professional careers advice and information on learning and work. Young people and adults will be able to access the service online, and I hope that it makes genuine progress in providing the right advice and opportunities to young people as they enter the workplace.

There is a pile of rubble in the centre of Ealing on the site where the Ealing cinema used to stand. Empire, which owns the site, has consistently disappointed and frustrated many of my constituents by failing to deliver on its promises to build a new cinema and by evading all opportunities to explain the continued delay.

As the former Member for Ealing Acton, I spent many evenings in that cinema, and I am sorry to hear that it has been demolished. My hon. Friend will know that under planning legislation, the planning authority can impose a condition that rebuilding shall start by a given date, and it has powers to commence that work if the applicant does not do so. I very much hope that the London borough of Ealing will look again at the planning powers available to it—under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, I think—and take whatever action it can to ensure that my hon. Friend can go to a decent cinema in her constituency.

Under the excellent Localism Act 2011, passed by this Parliament, every local authority in the country is required to produce a pay policy statement. It therefore came as something of a surprise at the Harrow council budget setting meeting when a hastily cobbled together document was presented under a guillotine, so that no debate could take place. When Conservative councillors raised the issue, they were denied legal advice and the opportunity to defer the item so that they could consider it properly. The key point is that every local authority in the country will be considering such documents. May we therefore have a debate on the implementation of this excellent strategy to ensure transparency in public life?

I am sorry to hear what happened in the London borough of Harrow. As my hon. Friend knows, there are statutory duties imposed on local authorities that relate to the documents that are made available, and these will be complemented by the standing orders of the London borough of Harrow. My hon. Friend should take up the matter with the monitoring officer in the borough in the first instance, and if that fails, he should perhaps draw it to the attention of one of the Local Government Ministers.

The only source of money for Government to pay for nurses, teachers and police officers is, of course, tax revenue. That is why it is vital that unacceptable loopholes are closed and that taxes are raised to pay for those vital public services. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on closing unacceptable tax loopholes, and perhaps also unacceptable planning that may be used by candidates for future mayoral elections?

My hon. Friend reminds the House of the action that was taken earlier this week by Treasury Ministers to close a tax loophole. She will also know that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a special unit to ensure that those evading their taxes pay them—speaking from memory, I think some £13 billion was brought in by that unit. I very much hope that we can debate the issue at greater length in the Budget debate, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will take on board what my hon. Friend has just said about the need to close up further loopholes.

The Leader of the House and hon. Members will no doubt be aware of the prejudiced and inflammatory comments of Baroness Tonge about Israel and the Israeli people. Although her views in no way represent the position of the coalition Government, it remains the case that many of our friends abroad who are not aware of our constitutional arrangements might see the comments of this Liberal Democrat Peer as indicative of the Government’s position on the issue. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Office condemning her comments fully and unreservedly and restating the Government’s commitment to Israel and the Quartet proposals for re-establishing the peace process?

I agree with what my hon. Friend says: those remarks were unacceptable. They do not represent the policy of the Liberal Democrat party, or indeed of the coalition Government. I understand that the noble Baroness has now lost the Whip and therefore no longer speaks for anyone except herself.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has seen the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report on council tax that was published today. I wonder whether he would consider having a debate on council tax, so that we can expose councils that are increasing their council tax bills, but praise those such as South Staffordshire district council and Staffordshire county council, which are ensuring that my constituents will not see an increase in their council tax bills.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I commend what Staffordshire county council and South Staffordshire district council have done. We had a debate on the revenue support grant a few weeks ago, which was an opportunity to make the points that he has just made. I commend all local authorities that have accepted the resources available from the Government and frozen their council tax, which I know will be gratefully received by the relevant ratepayers.

News that Rolls-Royce has reported record profits and an order book of nearly £52 billion in its civil aerospace division will be welcomed by the many workers at the company’s plants at Barnoldswick in my constituency. Given the good news being reported by numerous manufacturing firms over the past month, may we have a debate on supporting manufacturing and reversing the huge decline that we saw under the previous Administration?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for ending questions with some more good news about manufacturing. It is a national success story that generates over half our exports, and it is responsible for much of our research and development. My hon. Friend will have seen “The Plan for Growth”, which included the outcome of an advanced manufacturing growth review. We are making good progress in implementing those actions, and further progress will be reported around the time of the Budget.