The business for the week commencing 12 March will be:
Monday 12 March—Motions relating to the Backbench Business Committee, a Committee on Standards and a Committee of Privileges, the code of conduct, all-party groups and scrutiny of certain draft orders.
Tuesday 13 March—Opposition day (un-allotted day) (half day). There will be a debate on a motion relating to the Health and Social Care Bill. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion. Followed by consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Wednesday 14 March—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill.
Thursday 15 March—Motion relating to the introduction of charging for Big Ben Clock Tower tours followed by a motion relating to reform of the common fisheries policy. The subject for these debates has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 March will include:
Monday 19 March—Consideration of Lords amendments followed by a debate on a motion relating to the waste water national policy statement.
Tuesday 20 March—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 21 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
Thursday 22 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 23 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
The provisional business for the week commencing 26 March will include:
Monday 26 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 27 March—Motion relating to assisting dying. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 22 March 2012 will be:
Thursday 22 March—Debate on services for young people.
This week, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life criticised the Prime Minister’s failure to ask the independent adviser on ministers’ interests to investigate allegations made against the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), the then Defence Secretary—a course of action that the Opposition urged him to take at the time. Does the Leader of the House agree that since the office was established it has become clear that it would be far simpler and more transparent if the independent adviser could initiate an investigation? Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on the ministerial code so that we can determine what Parliament should do when the Prime Minister himself breaks the ministerial code?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that the Government’s proposals to cut child benefit are “fundamentally unfair”. For some families a pay rise will actually result in a significant cut in household income. Is this the Prime Minister’s definition of fairness? This is a mess entirely of the Government’s own making. They rushed out a press release for cheap headlines ahead of the Tory party conference without bothering to look at the detail, and it is hard-working families who will pay the price. This week, the Opposition forced a parliamentary debate, but we did not get an answer from Treasury Ministers, so will the Government now find time for a debate on what on earth they mean by “fairness”?
That would give them the opportunity to explain why, from April, they are penalising almost 500,000 children with draconian cuts to child tax credits. At the moment, because of tax credits, a couple where one parent works and the other looks after the children are £59 a week better off. It pays to work. From April, they will be £14 a week better off on the dole—this despite the Government’s claims that they want to make work pay. Will the Leader of the House explain how that is fair?
May I wish everyone a happy international women’s day and welcome the debate later today, for which I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel)? Does the Leader of the House agree that the Justice Secretary should clear his diary to attend it? The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will halve the number of women entitled to legal aid in domestic violence cases. The Opposition have set out proposals to reduce the legal aid bill without penalising the most vulnerable. Will the Leader of the House explain how the Government’s proposals are fair?
One person who does not think it fair is the junior Education Minister, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who spends her day voting for Government cuts and then goes delivering leaflets in the evening asking, “Who can you trust to stop the cuts?” The answer is clearly not the Liberal Democrats. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on Government communications to the electorate to enable her to explain herself?
A letter from the Business Secretary to the Prime Minister this week mysteriously found its way into the public domain. The Business Secretary thinks that the Government lack a “compelling vision”. Middle-income families are being hit by cuts to child benefit. Hard-working families are being penalised by child tax cuts. Women are being shut out of the legal system. The Business Secretary is right. That is not a compelling vision for Britain. Is it any wonder that the Prime Minister’s guru, Steve Hilton, the man who authored the statement,
“Let sunshine win the day”,
has fled to California in search of it?
This week the Prime Minister’s top aide leaves the country; last week the Deputy Prime Minister’s chief economic adviser resigned to go travelling the world. Can the Leader of the House therefore find time for a debate on why so many senior Government advisers are fleeing the country?
The Business Secretary said he thought his letter was “helpful”, and I suppose it was—in the sense that it was helpful for the Business Secretary’s party profile ahead of the Liberal Democrat spring conference. May I also be helpful to the Leader of the House? He knows I always try to be. Every time I have raised the Health and Social Care Bill, he has cited parts of it that he thinks have merit. Is he not concerned that doctors, nurses, royal colleges, public health organisations, patients, GP groups and now even the Cabinet Secretary think the Bill should be dropped? Instead of proceeding with this disastrous Bill, here is a helpful suggestion: just drop it and start again.
Let me start with the ministerial code, which sets out that if there is an alleged breach, the Cabinet Secretary can make some initial investigations. That is exactly what happened in this case. As a result of those initial investigations, the facts were put into the public domain, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) resigned and there was therefore no need to refer the matter to the independent adviser—something that, I note in passing, the previous Prime Minister did only once. The shadow Leader of the House will also know that the Public Administration Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the ministerial code. We await the outcome of that inquiry with interest.
On the issue of child benefit, we debated it on Monday —we had a half-day Opposition day—and it featured regularly in the exchanges at Treasury questions on Tuesday. Our view is quite clear: it is not fair that somebody on £20,000 a year should pay, through their tax, for the child benefit of someone who might be earning five times as much. That is the view that we put forward in that debate, and we are very clear that those who are better off should make a contribution to paying down the financial deficit. The same issue was also raised in relation to child tax credit in the debate on Monday, and again at Treasury questions, and we made our position quite clear. To put it in the broader context of universal credit, even couples working 16 hours a week will be some £36 a week better off when universal credit is introduced next year.
On international women’s day, the hon. Lady may have seen that we have announced a new offence of stalking—an amendment has been tabled to the Protection of Freedoms Bill. On Monday we had a written ministerial statement about domestic violence disclosure—the so-called Clare’s law. We will take no lectures from Labour Members about women. They did nothing about the glass ceiling or the differential. I welcome the debate that is about to take place on international women’s day.
On legal aid, the hon. Lady will know that the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is in another place. Legal aid in this country, at some £39 a head, is way above what is spent in France or Spain, at some £5 a head. The Labour party consulted on reducing legal aid, but never got round to doing it. However, we are protecting the most vulnerable members of society in the legal aid scheme.
On the letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, I am not sure whether the BBC has changed its definition of “breaking news”, but this was, in fact, originally reported several weeks ago in a newspaper. However, I think the whole country was much more interested in the news on Tuesday that Nissan was bringing an additional 2,000 jobs to the north-east—a clear vindication of the Government’s decision to put support for manufacturing at the heart of our economic strategy.
I am responsible for many things; I am not responsible for leaflets that get distributed in the London borough of Brent. However, it is certainly the case that had the Labour party been re-elected at the last election, it would have had to make some cuts. Labour would not have been able to maintain the investment in, for example, the numbers of police on the front line.
So far as Steve Hilton is concerned, yes, he is going; but the good news is that he is coming back. Also, he is not leaving next week, and I pay tribute to the number of creative new ideas that he has injected into the first two years of the coalition Government.
Finally, on a serious note, the whole House will want to honour the memory of two previous Leaders of the House, Robert Carr and Norman St John-Stevas, who died recently. They were not only effective politicians of their day, but fine parliamentarians who left an enduring mark on this place, and the resurgence that the House is currently enjoying, both in the Chamber and on the Committee corridor, would not have been possible without the changes that they put in place all those years before.
Order. A very large number of colleagues, as usual, are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is a statement to follow and important business, significantly subscribed, thereafter, which means that there is a premium upon brevity. We will be led in that important mission of brevity by Karen Bradley.
Last week I was honoured to join Falco UK, a manufacturing business based in Staffordshire Moorlands, in celebrating 20 years of existence and in looking forward to a further 20 years-plus. It is a great proponent of apprenticeships and training, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate about small manufacturing businesses and their contribution to apprenticeships?
I understand that in my constituency the firm makes bicycle racks, in which I have a professional interest, and I applaud not only what it does in making bicycle racks but, as importantly, what it is doing for apprenticeships. There are more than 400,000 apprenticeships this year, and as I have said before we all have a role to play in encouraging employers in our constituencies to do exactly what my hon. Friend is doing in hers, and in encouraging young people who are currently unemployed to take up the apprenticeships that become available, financed in part by the Government.
The Leader of the House has announced a debate on Monday about the operation of the Backbench Business Committee, motions for which were placed on the Order Paper on Tuesday night. He will be aware that today is the closing date in a call for evidence by the Procedure Committee, which is also reviewing the Backbench Business Committee’s operation. The Backbench Committee itself is producing a report imminently on its operations over the past year and a half, so why have the Government chosen to hold a debate now about its operation, rather than waiting so that the House might be much better informed and come to its conclusions just a little later?
I very much welcome the review of the Backbench Business Committee, which is being undertaken by the Procedure Committee, and of course we will want to respond to its report in due course. The answer to the question that the hon. Lady poses, “Why are we debating the matter on Monday rather than waiting for the report?”, is set out in the Procedure Committee’s Ninth report of Session 2010/12. It made several recommendations for changes to the Backbench Business Committee, and the Government in their response said:
“The Government propose to allow time for consideration of proposals to this effect towards the end of the current Session.”
In other words, if Members want to make changes to take effect at the beginning of the next Session, they cannot wait for the report of the Procedure Committee, because that will come too late. That is why we are putting the motions before the House on Monday. It will be for the House to decide what to do with them, but if we want to make changes, we are going to have to do so quite soon; we cannot wait for the Procedure Committee’s report.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about this week’s announcement of £330 million in efficiency savings, which the Government are now able to spend in the NHS on new units and equipment, including at Crewe’s Leighton hospital, whose bid, which I was pleased to support, successfully secured £25.2 million for new operating theatres, an intensive care unit, a labour suite and a CT scanner, much to the delight of clinical staff?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who I understand spent four days working in the hospital and gives the bid his personal support. That is a good example of how one can reinvest savings in front-line services, and by reinvesting the money that we have saved we are able to put more than £330 million into projects that will help more than 2.5 million patients per year. My hon. Friend has given a very good example of how that assistance is feeding through.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will join me in paying tribute to our brave fallen, who have died over the past couple of days in Afghanistan, but at the same time I am sure that he is appalled by the actions in Benghazi, with the wanton destruction of many of the war graves in our cemeteries. Will he have a word with his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure that the strongest representations are made to the Libyan Government, and will he in the near future find time for a debate about that most important work?
The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to a very serious matter. It is important that the damage is repaired immediately, and I pay tribute to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Representations have been made to the Libyan Government expressing our dismay at what has happened and urging them to take every step to prevent any recurrence. I cannot promise an early debate, but it might be an appropriate subject for a debate on the Adjournment commending the work that is done by the commission.
Many small manufacturers in my constituency are in the good position of running at full capacity to fulfil their order books. May we have a debate in Government time on what the Government are doing to provide such businesses with credit in order for them to continue to expand, export and grow?
I commend the work that is going on in my hon. Friend’s constituency and the full order books that he mentioned. There will be an opportunity after the Budget statement to debate the assistance that we are giving to manufacturing that flows from the advanced manufacturing growth review that was published a year ago. There will also be an opportunity to debate the issue of credit available through the banks, perhaps against the background of the national loans guarantee scheme that is shortly to come into effect, making £20 billion available to the banks for onward lending at preferential rates of interest to businesses such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 2826, which stands in my name?
[That this House condemns New Look Windows of Manchester for taking money from clients to carry out work on their property, for botching the job in a way that makes matters worse than they were before, including creating a fire hazard and for keeping their hands on the money they were paid in advance for their work; and warns potential customers to have nothing to do with this dodgy firm.]
The EDM exposes the swindling activities of New Look Windows, a company in Manchester which, when engaged by a constituent to repair his windows, not only made a mess of it but created a fire hazard where none existed before and has kept the money that it demanded be paid in advance. Will the Leader of the House condemn this disgraceful behaviour and refer it to the appropriate Minister for action?
I have now seen early-day motion 2826 on New Look Windows. I understand the concern that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed, as has a fellow Manchester Member. I will draw the issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Skills. The trading standards officer at the local authority might also take an interest in the matter to see whether any appropriate action could be taken at that level.
May we have a debate about the impact of the Schmallenberg virus and the way that it is hitting farming incomes? The virus is affecting sheep, and in the current lambing season a proportion of lambs are being stillborn or born deformed. This is very relevant in my constituency and right across north Yorkshire, as we have many hill farms, and while the virus is currently only in the south of England, it is spreading very rapidly.
I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, which may be shared by other Members with farming constituencies. The matter was raised during the exchanges with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers a week ago. All the evidence suggests that the disease was brought into the UK from infected midges blown across the Channel; we have seen no evidence that it came from imported livestock. We are closely tracking the disease and will continue to work with partners across Europe and the UK to develop our knowledge of it.
Yesterday the whole House was shocked and stunned to hear of the death of six soldiers—young men—in Afghanistan. We are particularly hard hit in Yorkshire, where five of those young men came from; three were from my own constituency of Huddersfield. Is it time for us to have a serious, thoughtful debate about what is going on in Afghanistan? The House will know that I am not one to say that we should cut and run, because those young men gave their lives for a great cause, but it is time for mature reflection at this stage.
I understand the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman, which I know are shared in all parts of the House. Today the Foreign Secretary is giving evidence before a Select Committee, and I have no doubt that he will be cross-questioned on these issues. There will also be an opportunity to raise them during the regular quarterly statements on Afghanistan by the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence. There may be an opportunity for a more general debate on foreign affairs if the Backbench Business Committee can find time for one.
This week we have seen the fantastic news that Nissan is creating 2,000 jobs in the north-east and that Jaguar will be building the new XF Sportbrake in the west midlands. Both those companies have had support from the Government’s regional growth fund. May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the regional growth fund?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because Labour Members have made some derogatory remarks about the effectiveness of the regional growth fund, but we have just heard at first hand from him about its benefits, with the extra jobs that it is creating in his constituency and the assistance that it is giving to the motor manufacturing industry, which is now a major manufacturing export industry and part of our strategy of rebalancing the economy so that we are less dependent on financial services.
The tragic news from Afghanistan that we heard yesterday highlights the need for continuing support to the families of servicemen and servicewomen, who do such a tremendous job on behalf of our country. May we soon have a debate about the military covenant and what support is being given to servicemen and women and their families throughout all parts of the United Kingdom, because, as the Leader of the House will know, in some devolved regions the level of support differs from what happens in England?
I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. He will know that we have now enshrined in statute an obligation to report annually on the military covenant, and it would be appropriate to include the issues that he raises in that review. I will see whether it is possible to have a debate on the military covenant, given that we have to review it every year, and see whether we can reflect on the regional disparities.
While I would defend to the hilt anybody’s right to peaceful protest, a permanent encampment is a different matter altogether. The City authorities have now cleared the Occupy London site around St Paul’s, and the sites around Parliament square have largely been cleared. Today it looks fantastic as it is being prepared with flagpoles, but one or two eyesores remain on the pavements, which are the responsibility of Westminster City council. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the council to make sure that they are cleared as soon as possible?
Following the passage of the legislation that we introduced last year, Westminster City council took action to remove the encampments. I think that there is an injunction that protects one residual encampment and that the case is being heard later this month. If the council is successful, as it hopes to be, that remaining encampment will be removed, and then we can begin to restore Parliament square to the glory that many of us remember—a place that can be enjoyed by tourists and visitors—and remove some of the problems that Members and staff have encountered with the noise that used to emanate from the site, which I hope that we have now dealt with.
My 10-year-old constituent Joseph Duffy has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and learning difficulties. He was recently reassessed for disability living allowance, which he has received from the age of two. On Tuesday, his parents were informed that as a result of that reassessment he will lose his higher-rate mobility and higher-rate care components and instead receive nothing. The Motability car that the family depend on will be taken away at the end of the month. May we please have an urgent debate on the way in which benefit reassessments are being carried out when they lead to shockingly bad decisions such as this one?
Of course I understand the distress of Joseph Duffy’s family. We have not changed the rules concerning DLA, and there is an opportunity for the hon. Lady’s constituents to appeal against the assessment if they believe that it is unfair. We have asked for an independent assessment of the work capability assessments, and we are implementing the recommendations of that independent review as they come forward. The answer to the hon. Lady is that if she believes that an injustice has been done, there is an opportunity to appeal against it.
May we have a debate about the defiance of the Highways Agency in opposing a decision by the excellent roads Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), to reinstate two brown signs on the A1 upgrade at Masham? The agency is quoting a cost of tens of thousands of pounds for those brown signs, which clearly the community and businesses in the local area cannot afford.
I will make some inquiries of the Secretary of State for Transport. We all know that many sites in our constituencies depend on brown signs to generate traffic, and that when those signs are removed or damaged, that has an impact on the destinations concerned. I will pursue the matter with my right hon. Friend to see whether it is indeed the case that the Highways Agency is defying something that it should not be defying and to see whether we can get these brown signs restored.
Can we have a debate on the merits of bonus payments to public sector workers? The Mayor of London has agreed bonus payments for London tube drivers working during the Olympics, but he has failed to agree similar terms for other public sector and, indeed, emergency workers. Given that the Government have overall control of taxpayers’ money, how does that unfairness fit into their fairness agenda?
The Mayor. The Mayor of London; I am sorry. The Government believe that there is a role for bonuses in the public sector in order to reward performance, but that they should be on an acceptable scale. I am sure that the Mayor of London—Boris, who I hope will be re-elected—will be tuned into this exchange and that he will respond to the hon. Gentleman’s concern in due course.
May I make an early request for a debate to mark the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, the celebrated Bletchley Park code-breaker and pioneer of modern computing, in order to celebrate his achievements and to consider whether it would be appropriate to grant him a pardon for the so-called crime of which he was convicted?
We all applaud the work that Alan Turing did at Bletchley Park in my hon. Friend’s constituency during the war. I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend also paid tribute to Alan Turing in his maiden speech and referred to an apology that had been made by the previous Government for what had happened to him. I understand that an application for a royal prerogative of mercy was made on the basis that the offence should not have existed but, sadly, one cannot give a royal prerogative on those grounds. I will have another look at this, but I am not sure that there is a case for intervention by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. That could happen only if fresh evidence came to light to show that the conviction should not have taken place. The argument that the offence should not have existed in the first place is not normally a ground for prerogative.
Developers in my constituency are queuing up to build on green-belt land and on urban green spaces, encouraged by the Government’s new planning framework and supported by Tory and Lib Dem councillors as recently as in yesterday’s planning committee meeting. My constituents want to know whether they have any chance of defending themselves against such developments. Please may we have a debate on the Government’s planning reforms, to discuss the changes that they have made following the consultation?
There is a specific protection in the national planning policy framework for the green belt, so I am not quite sure where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. We will be making a statement on this matter in due course, and announcing our conclusions after the consultation exercise on the NPPF.
The New Anglia enterprise zone is set to open in the next few weeks, and it aims to create 2,000 new jobs by 2015, growing to almost 15,000 in its lifetime. This is a clear example of a Government policy that is creating real new jobs in the private sector. May we have a debate to highlight the opportunities that will be created by the enterprise zones across the country?
I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity in the debate on the Budget to draw attention to the benefits of enterprise zones. We announced some 24 enterprise zones with the specific objective of generating employment in the areas that needed it, and I am delighted to hear of the impact of the EZ in his constituency, and of the extra jobs being created. I hope that many more will be created on the back of the ones already in existence.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the Information Tribunal meets today to consider its decision on the Government’s appeal against releasing the risk register for their huge NHS upheaval, which I requested back in November 2010. Will he confirm that, if the Government lose, they will respect the law and release the register? Will he also confirm that the House will not be asked to consider Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill without the benefit of that important information?
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking on that last point, because I do not know when the tribunal will deliver its ruling. The Bill is scheduled to have its Third Reading in another place on, I think, 19 March, and we would then hope to deal with it here, so I cannot give him that particular undertaking. I hope that he will understand, however, that it is important for Ministers to be able to consider policy options, and to get frank advice from civil servants on their impact, without those options going into the public domain. We need sufficient space to develop our thinking and our policy options, which is why the Government opposed the right hon. Gentleman’s application. We will have to wait and see what the tribunal ruling comes up with.
Further to what the excellent Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) said earlier, all Members of the House have received an e-mail from the Procedure Committee asking them to submit their comments on the reform of the Backbench Business Committee by today. However, the very issues that we have been asked to comment on are those in the motion that the Government have tabled for debate on Monday. This is going back to the bad old days of the Executive overruling Select Committees. Whatever wishy-washy answer I get, this is not acceptable. Will the Leader of the House agree not to bring forward that motion on Monday?
I am not sure that there is any point in my rising and coming to the Dispatch Box, as my hon. Friend has already discounted my reply. I must point out to him that, on 8 February, I made it absolutely clear that
“the Government believe that it would be appropriate for the House to address the anomaly whereby members of the Backbench Business Committee other than the Chair…are elected by the House as a whole rather than by Members of the political party to which they belong before the next elections of members. The Government propose to allow time for consideration of proposals to this effect towards the end of the current Session.”
That is exactly what we are doing. It will then be a matter for the House to decide, in the light of the debate on Monday, whether it wishes to adopt the proposal on the Order Paper. I note that my hon. Friend has tabled an amendment to the motion indicating a contrary view.
I do not know what the Leader of the House knows about the contents of the Budget that lead him to believe that we shall need a debate on assisted dying the next day. May I ask him about the Backbench Business Committee debates that we have had in which the Government have let motions go through, because they knew that they would lose a vote on them, but have then gone on to do absolutely nothing about them? So far, we have had five, including one on prisoners’ voting rights, one on circus animals and, last night, one on the death of Sergei Magnitsky. Is there a means whereby the House can ensure that, when it has agreed a motion, the Government must follow up on it?
The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice) released a statement on circus animals last week, making it clear how we were responding to the vote in the House last year. The hon. Gentleman will have seen what the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) said on behalf of the Government at the Dispatch Box in response to the motion on Sergei Magnitsky last night. It is of course always open to the Backbench Business Committee, if it feels that the action has not been substantive enough, to re-table a motion with another vote. In response to what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question, I must point out that it was not the Government’s decision to debate assisted dying on the last day, but it is a serious subject on which many Members will welcome a debate.
May we have a debate on business investment in the UK? Last week, I visited Megger, a high-tech manufacturing and export powerhouse in Dover that makes diagnostic testing instruments. I saw at first hand the massive investment that it has put into its manufacturing process, and it struck me that we could create more jobs, more productivity and more economic success by further boosting business investment in the UK.
I am delighted to hear of the success of the firm in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Medical technology is an area in which we have a competitive advantage and in which we are making progress in the export market. I hope that it will be possible to have further debates, on the back of the Budget statement, on exports and on the steps that the Government are taking to enable such firms to flourish and create more jobs.
My constituent Mrs Abdulgader’s three children were abducted in Libya by their estranged father during the uprising there. She has all the legal documentation necessary to have them returned, but the Foreign Office says that there are no consular personnel on the ground and that the legal institutions in Libya have yet to be re-established. May we have a statement in the House on what the UK Government are doing to support those Libyan institutions, so that Mrs Abdulgader’s children can be returned to Edinburgh?
I am very sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent’s children have been abducted; I know what a serious issue that is. I will make inquiries in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see what representations we are able to make to the Libyan Administration, and what powers are available to them to track down the children and bring them back to this country. I will ask the appropriate Minister in the FCO to contact the hon. Gentleman.
Earlier this week, I met US Treasury officials in Washington who share my concern that the SWIFT—Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication—financial transaction system is still being used by Iranian banks, despite sanctions. May we have a debate on the effective use of the SWIFT system so that we can ensure that countries such as Iran which promote terror are not able to operate under it?
It is important that the financial sanctions agreed against Iran are not undermined or subverted in any way. I will ask my right hon. Friends at the Treasury to take up my hon. Friend’s point and see whether there is any action we can take to ensure that the appropriate UN resolutions are enforced.
May we have a debate on the definition of Britishness? The Leader of the House may be aware of a Channel 4 documentary with the inflammatory title “Make Bradford British”. It did not succeed in the way the programme makers wanted the programme to move forward. It would be interesting to have a debate on this topic, perhaps accompanied by a survey of Members beforehand, to find out whether any of us would pass the current citizenship test.
A test brought in by Labour Members, I might add. I would welcome such a debate on Britishness. I cannot promise Government time for it, but given that a writ was moved in Bradford yesterday for a by-election, I am sure that there will be adequate opportunities during the campaign to debate those sorts of issues. Indeed, that campaign might have started a few minutes ago.
The South Gloucestershire Labour group claimed to be in favour of a council tax freeze, but when it came to the vote, it behaved in exactly the opposite way and voted it down. It claimed to be in favour of protecting the Kingswood green belt, but when it came to the vote, it failed to back it, potentially causing uncertainty and havoc within the local core strategy. This is not only irresponsible; it is misleading to the public. At a time when we want to empower local communities, may we have a debate on the accountability and responsibility of local councillors to the public?
The local councillors in my hon. Friend’s constituency are accountable to the electorate, which I am sure will have taken note of the points he has made. Let me say in passing that local councillors are subject to the Nolan principles of high standards in public life, and if they do not live up to those high standards, they should expect appropriate sanctions through the ballot box.
Now that the Information Commissioner has reported, may we have a statement from the Education Secretary on the private e-mails he sent, using his alter ego of “Mrs Blurt”, to two advisers in his Department, discussing Government business and trying to avoid the Freedom of Information Act? The Prime Minister said that sunshine is the best disinfectant; when are the Government going to start acting that way?
The hon. Gentleman might have seen the statement put out by the Department for Education at the weekend, cleared by the permanent secretary, which said that special advisers were not required to maintain records of deleted e-mails. All civil servants routinely delete or archive e-mails, taking account of their nature and content. I am not surprised that that is what happened in this particular case. On the broader issue, the Cabinet Office will issue advice shortly in the light of what the Information Commissioner announced in December.
The European Parliament has called for lower mobile data roaming charges—shortly to be discussed at the European Council. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement in the Chamber by the relevant Minister so that we can understand the Government’s latest position on this issue?
My hon. Friend has made such a statement redundant, as he has been successful in securing a debate on Wednesday 14 March in Westminster Hall, to which the Government will respond. He will know that we have the interests of consumers and competition uppermost in our mind in the negotiations. We have two basic principles: that wholesale price caps should not be set below cost, and that there should be a sufficient margin between wholesale and retail price caps to enable competition. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s debate.
May we have a debate on the Government’s e-petitions system—an excellent initiative aimed at keeping the Government in touch with the British public? The Leader of the House will know that the e-petition “Drop the Health Bill”, which was organised by my constituent Dr Kailash Chand OBE, has not resulted in the debate that he wanted, despite its now reaching 171,000 signatures. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will refer me to the Backbench Business Committee, but the Prime Minister promised debates on these things, and this is another promise broken. What people want to know is this: what is the point of having this system if the Government will not listen to the British public?
I do not think anyone could say that we have not had adequate debate on the Health and Social Care Bill in recent weeks, and there will of course be a further opportunity when we consider Lords amendments to it. As the hon. Gentleman implied, this is for the Backbench Business Committee, and I quite understand why it took the view that the matter had already been debated adequately, and therefore chose other subjects. On this particular occasion, I am happy to endorse the decision of the Backbench Business Committee.
From early April, owners of pleasure boats using red diesel, including those along the beautiful Essex coastline, will no longer be able to take their vessels outside UK waters owing to a new diktat from Europe. May we have a debate about the considerable practical and economic difficulties that these boat owners will face, so that we can listen to their concerns rather than simply comply with more regulation from Europe?
This is a complex issue. My understanding is that the use of red diesel with full duty paid to propel pleasure craft is a UK procedure permitted within UK waters, and that it is not illegal to use red diesel outside UK waters. However, if a pleasure craft with red diesel is used outside UK waters, its owners need to be aware that it will be subject to national legislation, including any restrictions or prohibitions of the member state in whose territorial waters it is being used. That is perhaps an incentive to stay within UK territorial waters.
Thousands of jobs in Telford are linked to Government IT contracts, notably that of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. May we have a statement—oral or written—on the future structure of contracts for IT support services for HMRC and other Departments?
I believe that this matter falls to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, who is in charge of IT procurement contracts, for which we are seeking to get better value for money. Cabinet Office Ministers will be at the Dispatch Box on Wednesday 21 March, when there will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to pursue this matter in greater detail.
May we have a debate on why there is no Easter Adjournment debate? I had thought that these debates were set in stone, and I really think that the Easter break of three weeks, during which time we will be unable to raise important constituency matters on the Floor of the House, is unacceptable.
The concept of having a debate on why there is no debate is a novel one. I know that my hon. Friend is a regular participant in the pre-recess Adjournment debates, but the Government have made the last day before the Easter recess available to the Backbench Business Committee, which weighed the option of using it in the traditional way that my hon. Friend prefers against the alternative of providing time for a debate on assisted dying. The Backbench Business Committee has done what it is perfectly entitled to do, and decided to have a debate not on pre-recess issues, but on assisted dying. That is a matter for the Backbench Business Committee—a consequence of the Government’s giving away powers to it, enfranchising the Back Benchers.
The main justification given yesterday by Ministers for our continuing presence in Afghanistan was that it protected the United Kingdom against Taliban terrorist attacks. May we have a debate in which the Government can present to the House and the nation their evidence of Taliban plans for terrorist attacks on the United Kingdom, so that we can ensure that the country knows that there is some good reason for our continuing presence in Afghanistan rather than its being for the convenience of politicians? Our brave troops should not remain in Afghanistan for a day longer than necessary.
Afghanistan was a failed state in which al-Qaeda was allowed to flourish and launch deadly attacks against citizens of other countries, including this one. We have an interest in ensuring that Afghanistan is no longer a failed state, but one that can police and look after itself. That is why we are there. There are many opportunities to cross-examine Ministers on this subject. As I said a few moments ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee as we speak.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the wholly inadequate way in which the Boundary Commission has published responses to the public consultation this week? More than 5,000 responses for the south-east region are included, but there is no way for people to be able to identify which of them are about, for instance, the Isle of Wight rather than somewhere else. Can we do something about that?
As an MP in the same region, I understand the issue my hon. Friend raises, but the Boundary Commission for England is independent of the Government, so we cannot order it to do anything. My understanding is that there would have been some difficulties in doing what my hon. Friend wants, as linking proposals in the way suggested might have prejudiced the second round of consultation. That is why the information was presented in the way that it was.
I am sure the entire House will wish to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to the families of the fallen heroes in Afghanistan of the past few days. I am sure everyone will also wish to join me in utterly condemning the comments of a Scottish political activist who said yesterday that our fallen heroes deserved no sympathy as they are a “bunch of child killers” and that the majority of our servicemen and women are “racist, arrogant, undereducated thugs” who joined the armed forces for the “thrill” of killing human beings. That demonstrates the ugly side of nationalist politics in Scotland. Please may we have an urgent debate on online abuse and hatred? No matter what views we may have about individual interventions overseas, what should never be questioned is the bravery, compassion and heroic service of our young men and women, many of whom, sadly, give the ultimate sacrifice for love of our country.
The whole House will join the hon. Gentleman in unequivocally condemning those insensitive remarks. They are wholly inappropriate. I do not think we need a debate in the House, as I think the whole House agrees that those comments should never have been made.
I know that the Leader of the House pays close attention to the regional breweries represented in Strangers Bar—as, indeed, do you, Mr Speaker. I am therefore sure that it will not have escaped his attention that, in the middle of an exciting six nations rugby union tournament, the current offer is Webb Ellis bitter, produced by the Wood Farm brewery in my constituency, all of whose beers bear a connection to the game which has its birthplace in my constituency. May we have a debate on the role of breweries in establishing regional identities?
I approach this matter with some caution, as the last time beers were raised at business questions, that got more coverage than any subject I have discussed in two years and resulted in the removal of a beer from the Strangers Bar. I understand that subsequently sales of that particular brew took off, and that the coverage it received was about the best thing that ever happened to that beer, whose name I dare not mention.
We look forward to hosting both the rugby league world cup in 2013 and the rugby union world cup in 2015. I pay tribute to the Webb Ellis ale brewed in Rugby, and also to the good work of rugby clubs in towns and cities across the country both from a sporting and a tourism perspective.
Over the past decade, some 300,000 children have been kidnapped and turned into child soldiers by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, led by Joseph Kony, who is the International Criminal Court’s No. 1 target for capture. As the Leader of the House will know, young people around the world have dedicated 20 April to publicise that fact, calling it Kony 2012, in order to put pressure on Governments to take action to bring that criminal to justice. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made at about 20 April on what the Government are doing to assist in these efforts?
I hope that at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions three days before, on 17 April, there may be an opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to address this matter, perhaps in topical questions, if the hon. Gentleman is present then. I will forewarn my fellow Ministers in that Department both of the date and the likelihood of this subject being raised.
Today is the Jewish festival of Purim and the Hindu festival of Holi. Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from an evil King of Persia—there is, of course, a contemporary parallel with the President of Iran, who wishes to wipe Israel off the map. Holi commemorates the deliverance of Prahlad, whom Holika took into a funeral pyre in an attempt to kill him. However, Holika was consumed by the fire and Vishnu delivered Prahlad to safety. Will my right hon. Friend deliver a message to Hindus and Jews everywhere that this demonstrates the victory of good over evil?
Both the Hindu and the Jewish communities are good examples of well-integrated communities that have made a great contribution in business and in commercial and professional life. The House joins them in commemorating and celebrating the two festivals of Purim and Holi.
May we have a debate on the resolution of the House that is to be found in column 928 of yesterday’s Hansard? It calls on the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to freeze the assets of Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky and to impose a travel ban, but in yesterday’s debate the Minister made it quite clear that the Government did not have the faintest intention of accepting the resolution. This marks a turning point for the Backbench Business Committee. This was not a Westminster Hall debate or to do with an early-day motion. You, Mr Speaker, were bullied by the Russian ambassador and saw him off with great firmity. I want our Foreign Secretary not to be the Kremlin’s stooge, and instead to stand up to it by implementing this resolution of this House of Commons in this matter.
Well, we have just had a debate on the matter. I am not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman wants yet another one. The House had a debate: there was a motion on the Order Paper, it was carried unanimously and the Government made their position absolutely clear. I do not agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Government proposing to disregard totally that which the House resolved unanimously.
The video games industry is a major employer in my constituency—several hundred people in Warwick and Leamington are employed in the sector—but it needs support if it is to continue to thrive. The industry body, TIGA, and a number of Members have been calling for video games tax relief in order to encourage growth and establish a level playing field in respect of international competitors. As the Budget will be delivered soon, will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on video games tax relief, so that we can boost exports and create new jobs?
I commend my hon. Friend on his ingenious pre-Budget representation to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I will certainly ensure that he is aware of the bid my hon. Friend has just made. I pay tribute to the work of the video games industry, which is another successful industry that is doing well under the coalition Government.
Tomorrow morning, I will meet Remploy workers in my constituency who heard yesterday that this Government are taking away their jobs. Will the Leader of the House, whom I believe to be a reasonable man, assist me by enabling me to say to them that the Government will permit a debate in Government time on Remploy, so as to enable the employees and their representatives across the UK to make representations to the Government?
We had a statement yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman knows as he asked a question. The Government do not plan to have a debate on Remploy, although it is perfectly open to the Opposition to choose Remploy as the subject for debate on an Opposition day—they have one next week. The hon. Gentleman will have heard in yesterday’s exchanges that the last Labour Government closed 28 Remploy offices. He will also know that the policy of switching resources away from financial institutions that lose a lot of money and towards people is supported by the disability organisations. He will know, too, that we have ring-fenced the budget for assisted employment for those with a disability and found an extra £15 million for access to work. The tailored support we are giving to those affected by the current closures far exceeds the support given to those affected by the closures under the last Administration.
Following yesterday’s successful fair fuel lobby day when hundreds of motorists lobbied their MPs, may we have a statement on fuel prices? Although we acknowledge that, thanks to the Chancellor’s tax cuts, fuel prices are 10p lower than they would otherwise have been, lower earners are still paying a tenth of their income to fill up their family car and small businesses are spending a third of their income on such costs.
Matters of taxation are matters for the Chancellor, who will shortly be making his Budget statement. I applaud the work that my hon. Friend has done through his e-petition at the end of last year. No doubt because of his eloquence, the increase that was scheduled to be introduced in January has been postponed and the one for August has been cancelled. I am sure that motorists up and down the country are grateful to him for his campaigning zeal, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have heard the representations that he has just made.
There is growing concern in my constituency about the impact of high energy prices on the fuel poor and on business competitiveness. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the impact of onshore wind subsidies for developers on the poorest people in our society and on the competitiveness of British industry?
We have just had questions to Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers, where I understand these issues may have been raised. My hon. Friend will know that the subsidy to the wind farms is being reduced. I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the points that he has raised, which may be relevant to his Budget statement.
Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on reforming our rotten system for European elections? On three occasions, it has left my constituents, who voted on a closed party list, with an MEP who switched parties halfway through a Parliament and was still allowed to retain the seat—that is a disgraceful situation.
I hate to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I cannot promise an early debate on the electoral system for the European Parliament. Speaking from memory, I believe that once we had opted out of the old system, whereby we had MEPs for seven or eight constituencies, into the new one, there was no going back. The issue that he has raised is one more for party management than for the House of Commons.