The business for the week commencing 19 March will be:
Monday 19 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the waste water national policy statement.
Tuesday 20 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill.
It may be helpful if I remind colleagues of your statement, Mr Speaker, in which you set out the arrangements for Tuesday 20 March. The House will meet for prayers at 9.45 am and the sitting will then be suspended until 2.30 pm in order to facilitate the attendance of the two Houses on Her Majesty in Westminster Hall for the presentation of Humble Addresses.
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 assisted suicide. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Colleagues will be aware that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday 27 March.
The provisional business for the week commencing 16 April will include:
Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 4) Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:
Thursday 19 April—Debate on regeneration.
Last weekend, the Liberal Democrat spring conference voted against the health Bill. This week, Liberal Democrats in Parliament voted for the health Bill. It could not be clearer: the Liberal Democrat leader now takes his instructions only from the Prime Minister. Would the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the five Liberal Democrats who defied their leadership and voted against the health Bill? Does he not agree that when the legislation returns to this House next week, the Government must publish the transition risk register, as they have been ordered to by the Information Commissioner? Much better still, the Government should just drop the Bill.
This week at the Leveson inquiry we learned further details about how the deputy Mayor for Policing in London put pressure on the Metropolitan police to drop their investigation into phone hacking. The Met say that they had to remind him that the police are operationally independent of politicians and that operational decisions are taken by police officers, not the Mayor’s political appointees. It is especially worrying when it is a Conservative deputy Mayor pressurising the police on an investigation that involved one of the Prime Minister’s senior aides, Andy Coulson. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange for the Home Secretary to make an urgent statement about how such inappropriate interference by the Mayor’s political staff can be stopped?
We now know that the Prime Minister is fond of going horse riding with his old school friends—when they are free. As it is the Cheltenham festival at the moment, may I suggest some horses that Government Members might want to back? As the Prime Minister is conveniently out of the country when unemployment reaches another high, he could back American Spin in the 2.40 today. With the Health Secretary’s career in terminal decline after his disastrous mismanagement of the NHS, his horse is clearly Final Approach. The Education Secretary, who is doing everything he can to undermine the Leveson inquiry, will no doubt want to put his money on Time for Rupert. And the only possible horse for the Deputy Prime Minister is running today in the 2.05: Palace Jester.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been keeping himself busy floating various suggestions for the Budget in the media. Clearly bored with hearing from him, the Chancellor decided to follow Steve Hilton to America. As his economic strategy has unravelled, the Chancellor, rather like the Prime Minister, has been increasingly reluctant to come to the House. Could the Leader of the House confirm that he is actually planning to turn up for the Budget?
I raised last week the Chancellor’s proposals to cut child benefit. The Leader of the House said that the Government’s view was clear. He said the Government’s view was clear three times, but by some strange oversight, he forgot to tell us what the Government’s view actually was. Perhaps the Leader of the House could clear up this issue. Is it fair that a household in which one parent works and earns £43,000 a year will lose child benefit, while a household in which both parents work and take home £84,000 will not? Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on fairness before the Budget? The debate on the Budget within the Government has been a shambles.
Are the Government in favour of a mansion tax or not? The Business Secretary thinks it is a good idea; the Local Government Secretary thinks it is a terrible idea. Conservative Back Benchers want a tax cut for the top 1%; meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Cabinet Ministers and Back Benchers wander around claiming that while the Tories favour tax cuts only for the rich, they themselves do not. The truth is, however, that every member of the Government has voted for Budgets that take the most money from those who have the least.
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on families? It is families who have been hardest hit by the Government’s Budgets, and what families want from this Budget is not Government in-fighting, but real help now to reduce the squeeze on their living standards and get the economy moving again.
Perhaps, while he is in the United States, the Chancellor might ask why the economy there is growing and unemployment is falling, while in Britain the economy is flatlining and unemployment is rising. The Government's economic strategy is failing, and the Cabinet cannot agree on what to do next. No wonder the Business Secretary thinks that the coalition lacks a “compelling” case, and no wonder the Prime Minister decided that he was better off out of the country on the ides of March, as far away as possible from the Mayor of London.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) has taken to warning about Government paralysis. His heart may still be in the coalition, but there is only one horse for Liberal Democrat Back Benchers now. It is running in the 2.05 this afternoon, and it is called Get Me Out Of Here.
We welcome the new career that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) is developing as a tipster. It will be interesting to see how well the horses that she has commended to the House actually perform.
The hon. Lady raised—yet again—the subject of the Health and Social Care Bill. It is interesting: we have had three Opposition day debates on the Bill, and I still have not the faintest idea what the Opposition’s policy is on health. Nor, apparently, does the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). He turned up the other day to support the amendment tabled by a Back-Bench Liberal Democrat, but disappeared when the time came to vote on the Labour party’s own motion. Perhaps he had not realised that the negotiations with the Liberal Democrats had ended, some two years ago, in failure. Perhaps he, and indeed the hon. Lady, should heed the wise words of his former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, who wrote today:
“Labour will get back into government by having a better plan for the future, not by opposing changes which are working well.”
[Interruption.] Lord Adonis clearly thinks that they are working well.
The hon. Lady asked about the risk register. As she knows, we are awaiting the detailed judgment of the tribunal before deciding what further action the Government might take.
The police are operationally independent of politicians, and rightly so. The Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box on Monday, when she will be happy to answer questions.
As the hon. Lady may have noticed, the Chancellor will be making a Budget statement on Wednesday. I think that the best thing to do is to put to one side the speculation in the papers about what he may or may not do, and then come along on Wednesday and listen to the real thing.
The hon. Lady mentioned child benefit. Is it fair for someone earning £20,000 a year to pay, through his or her taxes, for the child benefit of someone earning five times as much? That is the question that she needs to address. As for growth, she will be aware that the International Monetary Fund has pointed out that growth in this country this year is three times that in France and twice that in Germany.
Finally, the hon. Lady always obsesses about the relationship between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, but when even The Guardian reports, as it does today, that Labour is in “turmoil”, we know something must be going very badly wrong with the Opposition, and when another report uncovers that morale at Labour HQ is
“even worse than the dark days under Brown”,
we have to wonder how bad it has to get before the hon. Lady stops worrying about the coalition and starts to focus more on the chaos in her own party.
May we have a debate on avoiding false economies? Has the Leader of the House seen the report released this week that states that at the current rate of progress it will take local authorities some 11 years to complete the backlog of road repairs? Is he aware—he ought to be—that potholes are dangerous for cyclists and damage car suspension systems? What more can the Government do to ensure that local authorities complete roadworks diligently and speedily?
As a cyclist, I am all too aware when there is a pothole on my route into the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend may have seen a recent statement by one of the Transport Ministers that said that, following last year’s severe winter, additional resources were made available to local authorities to address the pothole issue, and I think I am right in saying that the resources for local authorities over the next three years are higher than in the preceding three years before we took office. I shall, of course, pass on my right hon. Friend’s concern to the Secretary of State for Transport in order to see what can be done to make my right hon. Friend’s ride around his constituency more comfortable than it clearly is at present.
On Monday, 186 Members voted against all-House elections to the Backbench Business Committee. Of those, 119 were payroll Members. Without those Front-Bench votes, Back Benchers would have secured all-House elections by 38 votes. We all saw the pain on the face of the Leader of the House on Monday night. Can he explain the tortuous logic by which he squares the coalition’s promise to give more powers to Back Benchers with Monday’s Front-Bench intervention?
My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House set out in his speech on Monday the reasons why he and I believed the House should support the amendment in question. As the hon. Lady knows, all we have done is bring the Backbench Business Committee into line with all the other Select Committees and ensured that, for example, the Conservative party cannot choose which Labour Members serve on her Committee. That would be an abuse, and the House agreed, through a Division in the normal way, with the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend—and supported by the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench party colleagues. We have had that debate, and the time has come to move on.
Two years ago, the Speaker’s Conference recommended that we should have a review of sitting hours, and one year ago the Procedure Committee launched an inquiry into that. It has been very thorough, with both written and oral evidence having been taken, and there was then a further consultation exercise, which closed three months ago. When does the Leader of the House think we will have the chance to vote on options for reform?
There is a missing ingredient in the equation, in that we have to wait for the report from the Procedure Committee. I understand from the Chair of that Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), that good progress is being made. I have given evidence on this topic, and I am sure my hon. Friend has, too. When the report is placed before the House—I do not know whether that will be before the end of the Session—it will be important to find time so that the House can reach a decision on whether to stay with the existing sitting hours or to make changes. In the first instance, however, my hon. Friend’s question should, I think, be addressed more to the Chair of the Procedure Committee than to the Leader of the House.
Even at this late stage, will the Leader of the House use his good offices, and his significant influence with the Chancellor, to make a special plea to him to reflect again on the proposed 10% increase in air passenger duty? I fully accept that that duty was introduced by the last Labour Government, but it has risen significantly, and is now the highest in the world. If this tax goes ahead, we will be totally uncompetitive in relation to our European partners, and there will be job losses and impacts on tourism, especially in Scotland. I therefore ask the Leader of the House to speak to the Chancellor about this important issue.
The hon. Gentleman makes a last-minute submission to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor as he puts the finishing touches to his Budget, and he will understand that I cannot give any undertaking whatsoever. However, there will be a number of days in which to debate the Budget measures, when the hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to develop his case at greater length.
May we have a debate on local government finance? Wolverton and Greenleys town council has applied for grant funding under the Portas pilot project but has been told that if—and, we hope, when—it is successful, it is not deemed to be a suitable authority to handle the money. Given the Government’s commitment to localism and the fact that the local town council is deemed competent to raise the precept, is this situation not slightly odd?
My hon. Friend may know that section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003 says that a Minister can make a grant to a local authority, but the definition of “local authority” excludes the body to which he has referred—the town council. If the bid is successful, I see no reason why the money should not be “laundered”, if I may use that word, through the district council, which would be an intermediary between the Government and the town council. That may offer a way through.
Equity member Michael Sheldon recently provided a reference for a passport application for his daughter’s boyfriend, but the application was turned down because the passport office apparently said that acting was “not a proper job.” Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the massive contribution to our economy, and to the world of culture and entertainment, made by the many fine and great actors produced by Britain?
Acting is a proper job, and many Members in the House prove that on a day-to-day basis. I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s concern to the attention of the Home Secretary, who will be at this Dispatch Box on Monday. I pay tribute to the acting profession, which is an important invisible earner of foreign exchange. This country leads the world in providing high-quality actors, and, indeed, some of them have been Members of this House.
May we have an early debate on the Government’s perverse and bizarre definition of equality? Why are they saying that same-sex partners should be able to have access to marriage while denying the opportunity for heterosexuals to have access to civil partnerships?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have just published a consultation document with the proposition that access to marriage should be available to same-sex couples. We have already made some changes to civil partnerships; there is now access to services in church. During the course of the consultation on that document, my hon. Friend will be able to develop his argument for extending the opportunities in the way that he has just outlined, but the debate has just been launched by the consultation document and the written ministerial statement published a few moments ago.
May we have a debate or a statement from the Education Secretary on the implementation of the Government’s academy schools policy, following revelations that the first school in Exeter to apply for academy status pays its head £10,000 more than the Prime Minister and employs the head’s wife as the deputy head, as well as allegations about a company car and trips abroad on school expenses? Does that not show that there is real risk and a real accountability problem with the Government’s academy policy?
The right hon. Gentleman says that it is the Government’s academy policy, but it is actually his own party’s academy policy which we are building on and strengthening. The regime for academies was developed by his party and, if I may say so, we are building on one of the successes of the previous Administration.
I do not want to get drawn into a battle between the various tribes in Essex. I understand the sadness in Southend, but this is not a matter for the Leader of the House. I just join in commending the towns that were successful on their graduation to city status.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate in this House on the control of raptors—birds of prey? In parts of the United Kingdom, the number of birds of prey has increased, to the detriment of songbirds, as the statistics show. Will such a statement address a review of the occasional licences to control raptors, as in parts of the UK the control of raptors is urgently needed?
I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises, and I will share it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where responsibility for that rests, to see whether we should review the current legislation in view of the damage—the extinguishing of songbirds—to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
The figures published this week show a growth in private sector employment, and the enterprise zones, which promise even further employment and growth in the private sector, will start in April. I am thinking, in particular, of new enterprise zones such as New Anglia’s in Great Yarmouth, which really is the best seaside town, because we have leisure and business in one place. With these zones coming into force in April, may I ask that we have a statement from the relevant Minister to reinforce and reaffirm the excellent opportunities that they offer?
My hon. Friend reminds the House that 24 enterprise zones will be providing real opportunities for inward investment and fresh jobs in those particular areas. The Budget debate will provide an opportunity to develop this further. He also reminds the House that the figures that came out yesterday show that the increase in private sector employment more than outweighed the decrease in public sector employment, and we all hope that trend will continue.
May we have an urgent debate or statement about the shortage of branded prescription drugs in pharmacies? Early-day motion 2801 states:
[That this House is deeply concerned that prescription drugs intended for UK patients are being sold abroad; notes that a recent survey of pharmacists found that 85% were very concerned that patients were being adversely affected by shortages of such drugs; further notes with alarm research that found 40% of pharmacists had seen patients hospitalised because of the problem; and calls on the Government to hold urgent discussions on what can be done to combat this immoral activity with devastating consequences.]
Given that figure of 40%, could we please have an urgent debate on the subject?
There will be an opportunity to discuss that on Tuesday week, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be at the Dispatch Box answering questions. In the meantime, I will draw his attention to the shortage of certain branded prescription drugs and the very unfortunate consequences to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, to see whether there is any action that the Government can take to ensure that supplies are available where they are needed.
I welcome the introduction of neighbourhood planning, which will allow local communities to help shape a vision for their future. May we have a debate to encourage the take-up of neighbourhood plans, as councils such as Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council have failed, thus far, to engage in empowering eager constituents of mine who want to embrace neighbourhood planning?
I hope that many parish councils, town councils and, indeed, neighbourhoods will take up the opportunity to which my hon. Friend referred and draw up neighbourhood plans, which will ensure that the views of local people are taken on board as the local authority then produces its district plan. We are committed to publishing our response to the national planning policy framework consultation exercise shortly, and there may be an opportunity subsequently to have a broader debate about the planning regime.
Unemployment continues to rise, and it now stands at 7.2% in Telford. May we have a debate entitled “Unemployment: the Government’s strategy and how it is failing”? Perhaps the Prime Minister could lead the debate and he could tell us about what is happening in the United States.
Again, there will be an opportunity in the context of the Budget debate to talk about such issues. However, it is worth putting on the record the fact that employment is also up. Women’s employment was up by 10,000 in the past quarter, long-term unemployment was down by 12,000 and the number of vacancies was up by 15,000. It is important to put things in context, and to remind the hon. Gentleman of the measures the Government are taking to develop sustainable growth and ensure that unemployment comes down.
The Range leisure outlet, which began life in Plymouth in 1980 on a market stall, is about to open an outlet in Tamworth, creating scores of new private sector jobs. That is the sort of entrepreneurial spirit we need to see more of, so could the Leader of the House grant a debate on how the Government can help entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, create more private sector jobs and rebalance the economy?
I am delighted to hear what is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can grant such a debate—indeed, I have announced such a debate for four days of next week when we can explain that we are encouraging the enterprise to which my hon. Friend has referred, by cutting corporation tax, extending the small business rate relief holiday to small and medium-sized enterprises and making it harder to make vexatious claims for unfair dismissal. We want to encourage yet more firms to set up shop in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
This Saturday, the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards will be holding a number of St Patrick’s day parades in Northern Ireland. Following on from the excellent news that the city of Armagh will be awarded a lord mayoralty in this diamond jubilee year, can we look forward to the statement that St Patrick’s day will become an official public holiday in the United Kingdom?
Speaking from memory, I believe that I have seen a response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, if not to the right hon. Gentleman then to one of his colleagues, that explains the issues that surround the declaration of new public holidays. I think it is best if I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to that letter, which is somewhere in the system.
May we have a debate on supporting local newspapers? In my area in recent years, we have gone from having three local newspapers to having one, so will my right hon. Friend lobby the Department for Transport to ensure that they continue to push for transport notices to be published in local newspapers, to ensure that people who do not use the internet can see the adverts and to create a level playing field?
I am surprised that there is any space in the Harlow Star for anything other than reports on my hon. Friend’s activities in the House of Commons. We are consulting on proposals that would devolve to local authorities responsibility for deciding how to reach their target audience, and I am sure that my hon. Friend’s local authority will bear in mind the importance of a vibrant local newspaper when it decides how to place advertisements in the future.
I remind the Leader of the House that at no time in the history of this country have power, influence, employment and wealth been more dominated by London and the south-east. Is it not about time—or is it too late—to influence next week’s Budget so that we can start to redistribute some of the wealth and power to the northern and midland regions that make this country what it is?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise some of the steps that we have introduced, such as the regional growth fund and the exemption from national insurance employers’ contributions for those outside the key areas to which he has referred and the launch of enterprise zones. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is alert to the importance of bridging the north-south divide to do more to help areas with high unemployment. The hon. Gentleman should await my right hon. Friend’s Budget statement.
Following the tragic news from Afghanistan about the loss of those brave soldiers’ lives and the murder of many civilians by an American soldier, and the discussions coming out of the United States about the future of Afghanistan, will the Leader of the House look in the forward programme and find time for a full debate in the House on our strategy in Afghanistan, both in the military and in development, and on the long-term future for Afghanistan?
We are committed to making regular quarterly statements on the position in Afghanistan. I think I am right in saying that one of those quarterly statements is due quite soon and there will then be an opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about those issues. I agree on the broader question and I hope that, if not in the immediate future then at some point in the new Session, we can have a broader debate about foreign policy in Afghanistan—and in Iraq, Syria and other places.
May we have a debate or a statement on the state of public transport in Country Durham, which even the Minister responsible for employment has called poor? Things are now so bad that the Jobcentre Plus in Newton Aycliffe is considering purchasing bicycles so that people can get to work. Is it now the Government’s policy to purchase bicycles so that people can get to work rather than providing public transport?
I think I am right in saying that the previous Government introduced a scheme whereby employers could make bicycles available on preferential terms to their employees, so there is a precedent. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the poor quality of public transport in his constituency, and I shall raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether she can take any action to relieve that problem.
With more than 300,000 school governors in this country, may we have a debate to celebrate the work they do for their schools and communities and, secondly, to highlight the need to change and adapt their role to respond to the welcome changes in our school policy, particularly on academies?
That would be an excellent subject for a Westminster Hall debate; I commend my hon. Friend on his work in setting up an all-party parliamentary group on education, governance and leadership. He is right that as the school system develops and we have more academies, it is even more important that there is good local leadership and that we recruit good-quality governors to remove unnecessary burdens and distractions for schools. We need to get the right people in the right position with the appropriate skills, abilities and experience, and I think that a debate in Westminster Hall would do exactly what my hon. Friend has recommended.
May we have a debate about the mixed messages from the Government, who are telling people from the north to move to the south for jobs and people from the south to move to the north for housing? How will that help rebalance the economy?
Coal continues to play a key role in our energy mix, accounting for a third of our electricity generation. May we have an early debate on the importance of domestic UK coal production in energy security, particularly in the light of yesterday’s worrying news that the Daw Mill colliery, which borders my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), might shortly close, with a devastating impact on the 800 men and women who work there, resulting in an increase in coal imports to the UK?
My hon. Friend is right that we need a balanced energy policy, and there is a role for coal. We have put resources on one side to promote clean coal technology, and if we can overcome the environmental problems associated with the traditional coal-fired power stations, I am sure that coal can play an important role in the future supply of this country’s energy.
To mark the re-establishment of the all-party group on folk arts, following the sad death of Alan Keen MP—I was elected chair, by the way, and the vice-chair is the be-knighted Member for the town of Colchester—may we have a debate on the importance of folk arts to the economy, and in particular on the Government’s position on representing the folk traditions of the nations and regions of these islands in the Olympics opening ceremony?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I am sorry if I misconstrued the same point when it was made a fortnight ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) on his election to the chair of that important group; I am sure it was done by secret ballot of Members from all parties and I commend the group for its work. It is important that the opening ceremony for the Olympics is taken as an opportunity to portray all that is good about the United Kingdom, and I agree that the elements the hon. Gentleman has identified should be part of that ceremony.
The population of England is 52 million and the combined population of the other three countries in the UK is 10 million. Over the part 12 years, 11 places have been granted city status but only four have been English towns. May we have a debate on this discrimination against England and the extraordinary criteria used by the committee that came up with the conclusions, bearing in mind that in Wales, with only two applicants, a town with a population of 130,000 was deemed not appropriate to become a city of the 21st century whereas a small community with a population of 3,500 was? Where is the logic and sanity behind that decision?
There are some questions that the Leader of the House is totally unable to begin to answer, and the turf war that has broken out in Essex is something that I do not want to venture into. I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment that his town was not recognised, but I am sure that his town is proud that he now has a knighthood.
Let me follow up the question asked by my namesake, my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright). The Leader of the House might recall that two or three weeks ago I asked for a debate on unemployment in the north-east, but he was somewhat dismissive, in his usual courteous and gracious way, about the impact of Government policies on jobless totals in my region. Given yesterday’s publication of figures showing that 4,678 people in Hartlepool are unemployed—a rise of nearly 10% year on year—and that the north-east is still the worst region in the country for unemployment, will he rethink his position, and may we have an urgent debate on unemployment in Hartlepool and the north-east?
I commend the way in which the hon. Gentleman fights for more jobs in his constituency, and I am sure that no discourtesy was intended when I last replied to his question. However, I think the answer is the same as I gave to his hon. Friend. We are going to have a Budget in a few days’ time, the Government have made it clear that we want growth to be a key part of our agenda, and I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman should wait for the Budget and take part in the Budget debate. I very much hope there will be something in the Budget that he is able to welcome and that will help his constituency.
One thousand schoolchildren in Biddulph in my constituency have each designed a unique footprint to mark the “Take a Step for Fairtrade” campaign. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the important subject of Fairtrade and other initiatives that help to support those in the greatest poverty in developing countries?
I commend what the schoolchildren in my hon. Friend’s constituency have done to mark Fairtrade fortnight. This issue would be an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall. Through the Department for International Development, we are a committed Fairtrade partner, and DFID provides support to Fairtrade International—some £12 million over four years—helping to strengthen the Fairtrade certification scheme, broaden its scope and deepen its impact. I commend what is happening in her constituency.
The recent terrible events in Afghanistan have convinced 73% of the public that our troops should be brought home immediately. Similar public opinion in the Netherlands and Canada convinced those countries to bring their troops out of that combat two years ago and one year ago respectively. Should we not reflect public opinion and have a debate and a vote in this House so that we can say what the public are saying—that our brave troops should not be asked to continue a mission impossible and risk their lives for a single day longer than necessary?
The hon. Gentleman has put this view forward consistently over a period of time and I commend him for his persistence. Such a matter would be for the Backbench Business Committee to find time to debate, but he might have seen in reports from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s visit to America about the timetable for withdrawal that we will have withdrawn from the combat role by the end of 2014. Also, there will be regular statements on a quarterly basis updating Members on the position in Afghanistan; he might want to ask a question in response to one of those statements.
A report in last week’s Sunday Telegraph highlighted the mis-selling of complex interest rate swap products to small businesses, such as a hotel in my constituency owned by Mr Colin Jones. Those businesses clearly did not have the financial expertise to understand the risks to which they were being subjected as a result of signing the forms. The cases that have been highlighted are merely the tip of the iceberg, so may we have a debate about this issue and about the reluctance of the Financial Services Authority and the Financial Ombudsman Service to get involved in this mis-selling and protect the businesses in question?
There might be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise this issue when the Financial Services Bill returns to the Floor of the House having completed its Committee stage. In the meantime I shall raise it with my hon. Friends at the Treasury. I would say, however, that anyone who is thinking of investing in such products should take independent professional advice before signing any contract.
Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency figures show that requests from private car park operators for vehicle registration data have increased dramatically—by more than 300%—in recent years. Those data are used to issue fines to motorists, and more than 1 million motorists have received fines in the past year. Transport Ministers say that new measures coming on stream will tackle this problem, but they will not. Motorists deserve a fair deal, so may I press the Leader of the House again for a debate on car parking management?
I understand the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, and I shall touch base with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary on this, but he will know that we are banning cowboy clampers. I hope that will bring some consolation to the motorists to whom he refers.
Given the interest on both sides of the House, may we have a debate on the labour market? As the Leader of the House has acknowledged, the statistics published this week show, beneath the headline figures, a fall in long-term unemployment. They also show that while there has been a 380,000 reduction in public sector employment since the general election, the private sector has created more than 630,000 jobs.
As my hon. Friend says, we are seeking to rebalance the economy so that there is less cost in the public sector, which is being downsized, with that being compensated for by growth in the private sector. The figures he has mentioned outline the progress we are making in that regard. He also underlines a point that was made in earlier exchanges about having a well-educated work force. The investment we are making in apprenticeships is part of the process of giving people the skills they need to find work in the private sector as it grows.
Given the very belated statement we had last week on Remploy factory closures and the point-blank refusal of the disability Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), to take up the offer of the Welsh Government to take over responsibility for Remploy factories in Wales and put in expertise to improve their viability, may we have an urgent debate on the Floor of the House about strategies for making Remploy factories viable?
My hon. Friend the disability Minister made a statement to the House on this last week, and then answered questions. I point out that the party of the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) closed 28 Remploy factories, and that there is a change in the way we are helping disabled people. There is more and more emphasis on finding work in mainstream employment for those with a disability, and less reliance on places of employment such as Remploy, which is sometimes referred to as being segregated. The money saved by the closure of Remploy factories is being diverted into giving more personal help to people with a disability to find work in mainstream employment. We are not saving any money at all; indeed, we are putting £15 million more into the access to employment scheme within that budget. I would welcome a debate on the future of Remploy, but I honestly believe that the policy on which we are embarked is in the best long-term interests of those with a disability, and it has been supported by most disability organisations.
Conservative-led Dudley council has launched a £1 million new business loan fund. Given the figures that were published yesterday showing that 60,000 more people were in work in the west midlands than at the time of the election, could we have a debate on how local initiatives can help to drive jobs and business growth?
We can indeed have such a debate: on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and—[Hon. Members: “Saturday?”] No, not Saturday—on Monday. We are doing everything we can to support businesses through this difficult time, and I was interested to hear about what is happening in Dudley. We also have the business growth fund of £2.5 billion—a bank-led investment scheme without any Government money—investing in businesses across the country in return for a 10% equity stake. My hon. Friend might like to promote that scheme in his constituency.
Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or debate about the appointment of an independent oversight team to watch over current live police investigations? Does the Leader of the House not find it peculiar that one of the members of the team is a political appointee and a Member of the other place? Should not the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland make a statement about this matter, especially as it has national security implications because some of the murders involve key witnesses in national security cases?
I understand the sensitivity of this matter and its importance in Northern Ireland. I will relay to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed and will ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman responding to these serious issues.
In April last year Conservative councillors on Pendle borough council created a business start-up grant scheme, which over the past year has supported 76 small businesses, created 21 jobs and brought four vacant premises back into use. Given that other Government initiatives have helped to create more than half a million new jobs in the private sector since the general election, may we have a debate on the role that local initiatives can play in supporting the Government’s initiatives on job creation?
I am delighted to hear about what has been happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Local enterprise partnerships have a key role to play in delivering this policy and helping to grow jobs in particular areas. This is part of the process, to which other hon. Members have drawn attention, of creating extra jobs in the private sector to compensate for the necessary decisions we have taken to downsize the public sector. I am delighted to hear about the rebalancing taking place in his constituency.
May we have a debate on the fact that the chief constable of Gwent police has embarked on a programme of draconian spending cuts at the behest of the Home Office without any consultation whatsoever with elected representatives, the police authority or, indeed, members of the public?
There will be an opportunity to raise the matter on Monday, when the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box. Many police authorities, certainly in England, have been able to manage with the reduced budget available to them and ensure that front-line services remain unaffected. They have secured the necessary economies through joint purchasing and by pooling resources and moving people from back offices to the front line. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is now forewarned that the hon. Gentleman is on the war path.
In the light of yesterday’s welcome news that there has been a 70% increase in job vacancies in West Worcestershire, and a 22% increase in the west midlands as a whole, may we have a debate on the wonderful role played by our network of jobcentres, which are working so hard with local private businesses to add vacancies to the database?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend and know that colleagues on both sides of the House regularly visit their jobcentres to see at first hand the heroic work being done to find suitable jobs for those currently out of work. She reminds the House that jobcentres are notified of around 10,000 new vacancies every day, and over the past 12 months Jobcentre Plus has received more than 4 million vacancies. The figures released yesterday show that the number of vacancies is up, so jobcentres have an important role to play in ensuring that those vacancies are taken up by people currently out of work.
The UK’s triple A credit rating is essential to our economic recovery. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the logic or otherwise of the argument, presented by some Members, that the way to get out of a debt crisis is simply to borrow more money, and on the implications that would have on employment prospects?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who might like to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, during the Budget debate. It is important that we maintain our triple A status. A 1% increase in interest rates would cost the average family with the average mortgage £1,000 more a year, which is the last thing they want at the moment, and it reminds us of the importance of sticking to the deficit reduction strategy.
May we have an urgent statement on the operation of London transport during the London Olympics and Paralympics? All tube workers have been offered an £850 bonus because they will be required to work at short notice and possibly for longer hours, but members of the Unite union have rejected this and are calling for a no-strings-attached bonus just for turning up for work. May we have a debate so that we can expose this intransigence?
It is important that the Olympics are a great success, as I am sure they will be, but it is equally important that the presence of the Olympics is not used to make wholly unreasonable demands. I think that I am right in saying that the issue my hon. Friend raises is more a matter for the Mayor of London than for the Government, and I am sure that Boris will have listened to what he has said. I hope that there will be a sensible resolution of the dispute between Unite and Transport for London so that we can get ahead and everyone can enjoy the Olympics and get there and back on public transport.
This morning The Times carried an encouraging report that there might be some movement on the extradition arrangements between the US and the UK. Given this, and the presence of the Scott Baker report, will the Leader of the House require a statement from the Home Secretary on when the House will hear the Government’s conclusions and recommendations?
As I mentioned a few moments ago, the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box on Monday, and I am sure that she will respond to my hon. Friend during topical questions. The Scott Baker report was published in October and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is reflecting on it, together with the debates that have taken place. My hon. Friend refers to the statement issued after the US President and the Prime Minister met yesterday, which indicated that their teams will now get together and look at how the extradition arrangements are operating. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he would prefer more cases to be tried in the UK, rather than in America. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to give a more authoritative reply on Monday than I have done.
May we have an urgent debate on the state of the construction industry? The industry is not only of huge importance to the UK economy, but of particular importance to my constituency, where we have some of the largest brick factories in the country, and many companies involved in the supply of building materials. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will be heartened to hear that growth in the construction sector is at an 11-month high, and I hope that they would all agree that that is something we need to build on.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He reminds the House that under Labour, house building fell to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s. He will have seen the announcement by the Minister for Housing and Local Government on Monday about the NewBuy scheme, which will give new purchasers the opportunity to buy their first home without having to find a huge deposit. I hope that this will help to kick-start the building industry, and that builders will buy lots of bricks manufactured in his constituency.
A Westminster Hall debate this week debunked a whole string of myths about the Government’s work experience programme. May we have a debate in Government time on how we can move on, grow that programme, get more employers on board and, crucially, give Opposition Members an opportunity to break the Labour party’s eerie silence and express their support for helping young people on the road to work?
I agree with every word my hon. Friend has said. It is worth remembering that some 50% of those who do work experience then find a job. We all have a role to play in our own constituencies by encouraging more employers to offer work experience to constituents who are looking for jobs, and I welcome the fact that more and more employers are offering work experience. I would welcome a debate, which might take place in the context of the Budget and would provide Opposition Members with an opportunity to show their hand and, on reflection, hopefully support the initiatives that the Government have introduced.
May we please have a statement on how the one-in, one-out policy on regulation applies to private Bills? This week the London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill received its Third Reading, and there are two further private Bills in the pipeline, all of which will add more to the mountain of regulation.
Repealing regulation might require a Bill to be introduced, so it would be somewhat perverse if a Bill that introduced deregulation counted as more regulation, but I take my hon. Friend’s point, which he has developed—at some length—during debates on private business. We are determined to reduce the burden of regulation. He mentioned the one-in, one-out policy. There has been a review of regulation, and I hope that we can announce more progress on relieving businesses of the burden of red tape in due course.
We learned this week that the trade deficit for January was better than expected, one of the factors being strong exports of cars to the United States and to Brazil, Russia, India and China—the BRIC countries. We have also learned some further encouraging news from the automotive sector, with increases in production for Land Rover and Nissan, and data published this morning suggest a sector-wide production increase of almost 20% year on year. Of course, the vast majority of cars made in this country are exported. May we please have a debate on the progress we are making on rebalancing our economy towards manufacturing and exports?
My hon. Friend reminds the House of the encouraging news about the motor industry, particularly our success in export markets. We had the good news about Nissan and about Land Rover providing more jobs in Merseyside. I hope that in the Budget debate he will be able at greater length to give examples of success in regenerating the manufacturing sector and getting a more healthy balance, with less reliance on financial services and more reliance on manufacturing, engineering and industries of that nature.