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Business of the House

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012

The business for next week will be:

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 should be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday.

The business for the week commencing 16 April will be:

Monday 16 April—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 4) Bill.

Tuesday 17 April—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

Wednesday 18 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 4) Bill (day 1).

Thursday 19 April— Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 4) Bill (day 2).

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 April will include:

Monday 23 April—Remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill (day 1).

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

Last week, I recommended to the Cabinet horses that they could back at the Cheltenham festival. Well, the verdict is in, and I have to announce that I will not be giving up the day job. Palace Jester, the horse that I recommended for the Deputy Prime Minister, was much talked about before the race and entered the field with high expectations, but it failed to live up to its overblown hype—it wilted at the first sign of pressure and ended up nowhere. That just proves that Palace Jester was exactly the right horse for the Deputy Prime Minister.

I have been forced to conclude that I am about as successful at tipping horses as the Chancellor is at managing the economy. Yesterday, the Chancellor made a rare appearance in the House to present his millionaires’ Budget. Although an appearance from him at the Dispatch Box is always a pleasant surprise, the content of the Budget certainly was not.

In future, the Government could dispense with the Budget Red Book altogether and just publish a collection of newspaper clippings; instead of delivering a Budget speech from the Dispatch Box, the Chancellor could just review last week’s papers. Will the Leader of the House undertake to update the House at next business questions on how the leak inquiry is going?

This time last year, the Chancellor said his budget would

“put fuel into the tank of the British economy.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]

Since then, the economy has stalled, unemployment has risen and he is borrowing £150 billion more than he planned. What fuel has the Chancellor been using? After the lamentable record on growth, what was needed yesterday from the Chancellor was a Budget for jobs. Instead, we got a Budget that will be remembered for giving a huge tax cut to the richest 1%.

We were all astonished to learn from the Chancellor this morning that he was not a top rate taxpayer. The hunt is now on for the name of his accountant, who will surely find himself in spectacular demand. Given that the Chancellor has answered the question, surely the rest of the Cabinet should now do so too. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a note to be placed in the House of Commons Library listing which members of the Cabinet have benefited from the cut in the 50p rate?

Yesterday’s ideological Budget gave a £40,000 tax cut to the richest 14,000 people—wrong choice. Yesterday’s Budget introduced a stealth tax on pensioners to pay for that—wrong choice. Cuts to tax credits in April mean that 200,000 households will now be better off on the dole than in work—wrong choice. With VAT increased, fuel duty going up and child benefit cut, this is a Budget that leaves families £253 a year worse off—wrong choice.

It is not just the Government’s choices that are wrong; their entire philosophy is wrong. We now have a Government who believe that the top 1% will work harder if they are given a tax cut while everyone else can be made to work harder only by having their income cut. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that notorious phrase, “We’re all in this together”? I have been trying to understand what the Chancellor could possibly have meant by it, so I looked up the word “all” in the Oxford English Dictionary, which said:

“All (noun): the entire number of; the individual components of, without exception.”

Having scoured the dictionary, I have to report to the House that I could not find a definition that excluded the top 1%, so will the Government be writing to the Oxford English Dictionary to ask it to correct its definition?

Were the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on the phrase, “We’re all in this together”, the Deputy Prime Minister could lead it, because he has claimed that this was a “Robin Hood” Budget. The Deputy Prime Minister had a very expensive education at Westminster school; what did they actually teach him? In my more modest school, we were told that Robin Hood took money from the rich and gave it to the poor, not the other way round. Every time I have asked the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on fairness, he has ignored my request, and now we know why. This was a Budget that was neither fair nor progressive and built unfairness on top of economic policies that have failed. Will the Leader of the House finally find time for a debate on fairness?

This week, Government Members waved their Order Papers for tax cuts for the richest 1% and the Cabinet banged the table when the Health and Social Care Bill was passed. Wrong choices; wrong philosophy; wrong ideology: same old Tories.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) began by apologising for her tips on horses and then accused us of making all the wrong choices—not a good start. She apologised for her tips; I think she is going to have to start apologising for some of her jokes.

The hon. Lady asked a whole series of questions about the Budget. We have four days’ debate on the Budget. When we come back after the Easter recess, we will have a debate on the Floor of the House on the Finance Bill, and then two more days’ debate on the Finance Bill, as well as a debate on the Financial Services Bill. She asks me for time to debate these issues, but it seems that we are debating very little else over the next week or so. She and her hon. Friends have criticised us for taking a gamble with the Budget, but they took the gamble when they were in government by spending money they did not have and racking up debts that could not be paid.

On the hon. Lady’s comments about fairness, what was fair about selling off the nation’s gold at a record low price? What was fair about giving pensioners an insulting 75p a week increase in the state pension? What was fair about abolishing the 10p tax rate? What was fair about leaving this country with the biggest budget deficit in our history? Labour set back fairness in this country, not the coalition.

Will the Leader of the House kindly consider making time available for a debate on the Olympic legacy, with particular regard to the regions outside London and the south-east? In Erewash, Long Eaton United football club has recently been awarded £50,000 by Sport England—a very exciting investment that demonstrates how we must continue to provide support all round the country.

My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the benefits throughout the country of our hosting the Olympics. A firm in my own constituency is making tents for some of the Olympic sites. There is not only the spin-off impact of the purchasing but, as she says, the money that is being distributed by Sport England via the national lottery to promote sporting organisations in all our constituencies. Only last week, I was at two events where cheques for £50,000 were handed out to clubs in North West Hampshire; that is part of the Olympic legacy.

Given the number of occasions on which the House has discussed the situation in Sudan, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it was a great pity that it took George Clooney to remind the international community that the situation there is getting worse and worse, day by day? May we have another debate of the whole House so that the Prime Minister can explain what actions he has taken, including whether he raised the matter with President Obama during his recent visit to America?

The right hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the problems in Sudan. I commend the publicity that was generated last week in the United States. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, with the House rising next Tuesday for the Easter recess, but the right hon. Gentleman might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for a debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment so that we can address this urgent matter when we return.

The Leader of the House will recall the “Newsnight” revelations before Christmas that the head of the Student Loans Company was not having tax deducted at source. The Government subsequently initiated an inquiry across all areas of the civil service, but that did not include the BBC. Having submitted a freedom of information request to the BBC, this week I received a reply indicating that 41 non-talent-based members of its staff are being paid over £100,000 a year and are not having tax or national insurance deducted at source. Will the Government find time for a debate on the abuse of tax regulations in the public sector?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government have made the position clear in so far as the civil service is concerned. As he will know, the BBC is an independent organisation, but I am sure that his question will have been heard by those at the BBC and that they will want to respond to the points that he made in the light of the FOI request that he has recently had answered.

My constituents in Bruntsfield and Morningside are becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of mini-supermarkets, which are having a significant impact on local traders. May we have time allocated for a debate on the number of mini-supermarkets in our local communities and the detrimental effect that that is having on local traders?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a key issue. I think that the Backbench Business Committee held a debate in January on the subject of the future of the high street and the Mary Portas inquiry. The Government have said that they will respond to that inquiry in the spring. I hope that it might be possible, perhaps with the assistance of the Backbench Business Committee, then to revisit this issue to see whether we can get the balance right between the supermarkets and the imperative to have a flourishing high street full of smaller shops.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when he expects the remaining demonstrators to leave Parliament square and when he expects the road works outside Derby Gate to be completed, as apparently it has taken three months for two valves to be put on to a defective water main there?

I will make inquiries about the last matter. I commend my hon. Friend’s work over many years in campaigning for Parliament square to be restored to its traditional glory. He will know that all but one of the encampments have been removed. I believe that the last remaining encampment is subject to an injunction that is to be heard quite soon. On the works on Parliament street, he will know that that is a matter for Westminster council, and I will raise it with the council. I am grateful to him for his initiative in ensuring that the road surface opposite the House of Lords is now much flatter, which is of great assistance to those of us who go on two wheels.

May we have a debate in Government time to congratulate the previous Labour Government on their ability to attract inward investment? The announcement on GlaxoSmithKline that was made in the Budget yesterday is a result of what we introduced in 2009. Similarly, the Hitachi train-building factory which, as announced last year, is going to be built in my constituency comes as a direct result of Labour’s growth strategy. Does the Leader of the House think that we should have that debate, given that the only aspect of yesterday’s Budget that referred to growth was the result of Labour policy?

I have seen the Glaxo press notice and, like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the creation of new jobs. The press notice mentioned the confirmation in yesterday’s Budget of a specific regime for patents. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is entirely correct in claiming the credit for the company’s decision. I think that Government Members can share in the glory.

Next week, I am holding a jobs fair in Kidderminster to provide practical support not just for the unemployed, but for local businesses that are seeking to expand. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on how the Government can support local initiatives, such as my jobs fair, to stimulate the economy at a grass-roots level?

I commend my hon. Friend’s initiative in Kidderminster to bring together employers and those looking for work. He may have an opportunity during the debate on the Budget to develop his point further. With the Work programme, which is helping more than 3 million people, the more than 400,000 apprenticeships this year, the youth contract and the work experience programme, there are a lot of initiatives that the Government are taking. It is up to each Member of Parliament to ensure that the benefits of those programmes filter through to their constituency. I commend him for the initiative that he has taken.

The Chancellor announced yesterday that the Government plan to legislate to suspend the Sunday Trading Act 1994 for eight Sundays to coincide with the Olympics. There is concern that that is less to do with the Olympics than with testing the water for a permanent repeal of the Act. Will the Leader of the House confirm that it will be limited legislation, as announced by the Chancellor yesterday?

I confirm exactly what the hon. Lady has said. Any legislation will have to pass through both Houses and will be subject to discussion through the usual channels. It will apply only to the Sundays during the Olympics and Paralympics, so it will be strictly confined to that period. It is not our intention at this stage to go for the wider reform to which she referred.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to grant a debate on the European arrest warrant? My constituent, Graham Mitchell, was acquitted 18 years ago of attempted murder in Portugal, after being held in prison for more than a year. The prosecutor fell asleep during the course of the trial and the assailant did not identify Mr Mitchell as his attacker. Eighteen years on, a new application has been made to take him to Portugal on a charge of murder, when the victim is alive and well and playing golf, I believe, in Germany.

I commend my hon. Friend for championing the cause of his constituent. The case has received some publicity recently. He will know that I cannot comment on an individual case. I gather that it has been adjourned until 28 March. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is looking at the Scott Baker report and hopes to make her conclusions available shortly. In the meantime, we are asking EU countries to observe the principle of proportionality in considering whether such an arrest warrant is appropriate.

I have received a letter from the Department of Health explaining that it is not yet in a position to respond to the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on alcohol. Yesterday in the Budget, at column 803 of Hansard, the Chancellor said that the Government would make an announcement on the subject shortly. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Select Committee receives a proper reply from the Government ahead of that statement, in time for us to have a proper discussion and respond to the Government’s response?

I commend the work done by the Select Committee. I will make inquiries, but I cannot give a categorical undertaking that we will respond in what will probably be a short time scale, given that we want to make progress with our alcohol strategy. However, I will make inquiries and write to the hon. Gentleman.

The Leader of the House may be aware that last year I tabled early-day motion 1518, following the assassination of the Pakistani Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti.

[That this House condemns the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani Minister for Minorities, who was the only Christian in the cabinet; notes that this comes only days after the government of Pakistan’s retention of a minorities representative in the new cabinet and the Ministry for Minorities Affairs as an independent ministry; recognises the significant advances made in the interests of minority rights and interfaith dialogue by the Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti through this ministry; expresses concern at the ongoing misuse of the provisions of section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, known as the blasphemy laws, and the threats posed to all who challenge this legislation; and urges the government of Pakistan to reconsider reviewing the blasphemy laws as a matter of urgency.]

After speaking with the British Pakistani Christian Association earlier this month, I tabled early-day motion 2807 to mark the anniversary of Mr Bhatti’s death and to continue to raise awareness of the plight of minority communities in Pakistan. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that important issue?

My hon. Friend refers to an appalling and cowardly assassination, which struck at the heart of democracy and freedom of expression in Pakistan. Alongside our European partners, we will continue to intervene on human rights issues in Pakistan, where we believe we can make a positive difference. We engage regularly with the Government of Pakistan on this particular matter, along with broader matters that raise the same issues.

Following the written statement on military afloat reach and sustainability—MARS—ships that was sneaked through Parliament and my debate on the matter on Monday night, may I ask the Leader of the House for a statement or a debate on the Floor of the House so that we can discuss grey ships and warlike ships and the Government’s policy on protecting the jobs of maritime workers?

I know that the hon. Gentleman had an Adjournment debate earlier this week. If we had another debate, I am not sure whether the Government would be able to add to what the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) said in response to the hon. Gentleman. I will raise his concerns again with my hon. Friend and see whether there is anything that he can add to what he said earlier this week.

Work has started on a building project to create a new cancer care centre at Harrogate district hospital. It will be called the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan centre and is named after a generous benefactor. Further funding has come from Macmillan Cancer Support and the local foundation trust. It will be a welcome addition to patient support in the area. May we have a debate on improving cancer care across our NHS?

I applaud the generosity of Sir Robert Ogden in making those funds available. It is right that the building should be named after him. My hon. Friend will have read “Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer”, which was published in January last year. It outlines our commitment to improve outcomes for cancer patients and to save 5,000 additional lives every year by 2014-15. I understand that the new centre to which my hon. Friend referred is being funded jointly by Macmillan Cancer Support, the local NHS foundation trust and the donation. That is exactly the sort of progress that we want to see to enable us to hit our cancer targets.

My constituents in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch were delighted to learn this week that the Olympic torch will be relayed through Cumbernauld on 13 June. That is particularly appropriate given that the British female handball captain hails from Cumbernauld. May we have a further debate on how we can ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom can get involved in these great Olympics? That is very important for the good of the country.

We have just had questions to my colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was able to intervene in those exchanges. The issue of how we will ensure that the benefits of the Olympics are broadly shared throughout the country has been debated in recent exchanges and debates involving DCMS. I will see whether there is anything that we can say to the hon. Gentleman that impacts directly on his constituency. I hope that the handball captain leads her team to success.

May I start by saying that I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman to whom I will refer in this question? I join my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) in calling for a debate on the morally repugnant use of service companies by those in public life to avoid paying their fair share of tax. In that debate, can we look in particular at the tax arrangements of the Labour candidate for Mayor of London and the recent publication of the accounts for the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown Ltd?

The point of order will come after the business question. The hon. Gentleman should hold his horses. I am sure that he will.

I hear what my hon. Friend says. We are, of course, having a debate on the Budget. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made clear his views on tax evasion and what he called “aggressive tax avoidance”. I am sure that it would be in order to talk about the tax loopholes that are being closed by the Government during the Budget debate, as long as one remains within order.

May we have a Government statement to clear up the confusion about the cut to the top rate of income tax? A study published during the Budget suggests that it will cost the country billions of pounds if the Government’s assumptions are incorrect. If we are going to clear that up, perhaps the Leader of the House will also accept the suggestion of the shadow Leader of the House that he may wish to put in the Library a list of the Cabinet members who will benefit personally from this give-away, so that we can see from where the motivation for it might have come.

This country has never adopted the practice that they have in the United States, whereby all those who stand for public office have to file their tax returns. If that is the hon. Gentleman’s proposition, I am sure that he can make the case during the Budget debate, but it is not our intention to introduce it. On the 50p tax rate, I just make the case that for 13 years, the Labour party did not introduce a 50p rate of tax. It left it to us, along with a letter saying that no money was left in the Treasury.

The Chancellor made the excellent announcement yesterday that Cardiff was to be included in the urban broadband fund. May we have a statement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the details of the procurement and roll-out of that fund, to see whether neighbouring authorities can benefit from the investment in that area?

There has just been an exchange on the Government’s broadband policy in Culture, Media and Sport questions, but I will follow up my hon. Friend’s question by asking the appropriate Minister to write to him to see to what extent companies and people outside the immediate area can benefit from the roll-out of broadband in Cardiff.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), can we have a statement on the Cabinet and the higher rate of tax? The Twitter account of The Sun is reporting that friends of the Prime Minister say he pays the higher rate of taxation. We have not heard anything from friends of the Chancellor—or does he not have any left after mugging the nation’s grannies yesterday?

Why should this outbreak of openness be confined to Members on the Government Benches? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will try to persuade all his friends in his party to be as open and transparent as he apparently wants us to be.

Many constituencies such as mine have a large number of houses that are vulnerable to flooding. Can we find a way of ensuring that flood maps demonstrate and clearly indicate the impact of flood defences and natural defences when flooding risk assessments are made, so that home owners and insurers can make sensible judgments?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Those maps can have a devastating effect on people who are trying to sell their houses, and it is important that they are up to date. He will know that the Government and the Association of British Insurers are committed to ensuring that flood insurance is available to everyone who needs it, and there is an ongoing programme of discussions with the insurers to ensure that we can achieve that objective. I will draw the issue of flood maps to the attention of my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to ensure that the maps that are used are as accurate as possible and there is no collateral damage to people whose properties are not really at risk of being flooded.

I have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), with regard to the urgent situation of the alarming unemployment statistics in my constituency. I asked for an urgent meeting, and one refused and the other said I would have to wait in excess of 30 days for a reply. Due to the urgency of the matter, will the Leader of the House make time to discuss unemployment rates in the north-east, and particularly in my constituency?

The hon. Gentleman does a first-class job of championing the cause of those in his constituency who are out of work. Of course he is entitled to a response to the letter or questions that he sent to my colleagues, and I will do what I can to chase that up and ensure that he gets a prompt reply.

Among the excellent measures announced in the Budget yesterday was £70 million of additional funding for London for the Growing Places fund, which will help Mayor Boris Johnson produce 200,000 new jobs over the next four years. That brings into sharp contrast the choices before Londoners on 3 May. May we have an urgent debate on those choices?

I would welcome such a debate, but I am not sure I can find time for it out of the Government’s allocation in the remainder of this Session. We will be debating the Budget from now until Monday evening, and it would be perfectly in order for my hon. Friend to raise the matter at greater length in the debate and get a response about the £770 million of funding for the Growing Places fund, some of which has been allocated to London. The Mayor of London will complement that with his own resources, to give new opportunities to those who live in London who are looking for a job.

As usual, there is a lot of interest. I am keen to accommodate that interest, but we do now require extreme brevity—not preamble, but short, single-sentence questions, please.

As the person who perpetrated the terrible atrocities in Toulouse claims to be a former al-Qaeda bomber who escaped with 500 others from Kandahar prison with the collusion of Karzai and his army and jailers, may we now debate why we tell our brave soldiers to dismantle bombs? The only reason is so that the perpetrators can be identified and jailed. As that is now a futile occupation, because the perpetrators escape almost at will, should we not debate the issue now and allow our soldiers to destroy bombs at distance?

I think that sentence contained a lot of commas and semi-colons, but I do not recommend that it be imitated by other colleagues.

I say to the hon. Gentleman, who has pursued this issue with dogged ferocity, that there will be questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday, which might provide him with an opportunity to pursue it with Ministers who have the answers at their fingertips.

May we have a statement or a debate on the Government’s plans for gift aid? A number of charities are finding it difficult to access the gift aid that they are due.

I commend my hon. Friend for the question that he asked, I think, yesterday, and I commend the work of the air ambulances. We are committed to an online filing system for charities to claim gift aid, which will come online in 2012-13. I hope that will make it easier for charities to reclaim the money that they are owed and drive up the resources available for the causes that they promote in his constituency and others.

Can we please have a debate on the Government’s plans to introduce VAT on holiday caravans? Their impact assessment states that that will probably result in a 30% reduction in demand for holiday caravans, which will have a particular impact in Hull, where we manufacture a lot of caravans. It will also have an impact on families who want to go on holiday and spend a week in a rented caravan, because hire prices will go up.

If such a measure requires legislation, the Finance Bill has its Second Reading when we come back and there may be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to raise the matter.

May we have a debate on the importance of the teaching of foreign languages to export performance, so that we can ensure that young people such as those who participate in the excellent Stafford and Stone young enterprise programme can spearhead the UK’s export growth in future?

I very much hope that schools and colleges give priority to foreign languages that will help us win exports in competitive world markets. I commend the work in my hon. Friend’s constituency, where that is clearly seen as a priority.

May we have an urgent debate on how we can extend the Freedom of Information Act to commissioning support groups? Under the Health and Social Care Bill they will not be statutory bodies, so no one will be able to get access to the information that they have, and they are set to be privatised by 2016. How will the public find out information that was previously available from primary care trusts but will not be available from commissioning support groups?

The hon. Lady raises a good question. There will be Health questions on Tuesday, when there may be opportunity for her to ask it, but I will in any event raise it with the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to write to her, to ensure that information that should be in the public domain remains so.

Many of my younger constituents will be delighted with the news about the enterprise loans announced in yesterday’s Budget, which will help them set up their own businesses. May we have a debate on how we can build on such measures to help our young entrepreneurs?

We can indeed have such a debate, and it will commence when business questions finish. I am delighted to hear that the enterprise loans scheme is alive and well in my hon. Friend’s constituency, with which I have some acquaintance. We all have a role to play in making information about it available in our constituencies, so that young people can get access to those loans, build their own businesses and help build a thriving community in west London.

We on the Government Benches care deeply about tackling tax avoidance, so when will the legislation come in to tackle the offshore gambling tax loophole? That was announced in the Budget yesterday and is vital for many of my constituents.

I cannot anticipate what may or may not be in the Queen’s Speech on 9 May, but my hon. Friend is right that measures were announced that need legislation. As Leader of the House, I can say that they are on my radar.

In the Budget yesterday, £130 million extra for London’s infrastructure was announced. May we have a debate on the coalition’s continuing commitment, combined with that of the Mayor of London, to the continual improvement of London’s infrastructure?

As my hon. Friend knows, Crossrail is under way, and it would be wholly in order for him to develop that point at greater length in the Budget debate—perhaps tomorrow, if he is around. The Minister who replies to that debate will set out the coalition Government’s view on infrastructure. My hon. Friend will also have seen what the Prime Minister said in his speech on Monday about developing new models for financing infrastructure in this country.

Can we have an urgent debate on the implications of the Government’s decision to cut the Environment Agency’s budget for flood defence work, because that is having a significant impact on my constituents in Darley Abbey and Chester Green, who are potentially exposed to devastating flooding and escalating—indeed, rocketing—home insurance bills?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have had to take difficult decisions in order to get expenditure back under control, but I will pursue the issue he raises through the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and see whether the Environment Agency, which might be the funding body, has resources available to tackle it.

The town of Leek—spelled with two Es rather than an E and an A—has been at the forefront of the arts and crafts movement and was a centre for silk printing for more than 100 years. However, sadly, that silk industry died out about 20 years ago. I am therefore delighted to learn that British clothes maker, Bonsoir of London, has started printing silk in Leek again. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we promote economic growth and prosperity by reviving traditional trades such as silk printing in Leek?

I am delighted to hear of the revival of that industry in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It will be possible to raise that during the Budget debate. The Government have launched a number of programmes to assist manufacturing, including a £75 million programme to help small and medium-sized enterprises to take on apprenticeships. We have also set up the launch of a series of high-value manufacturing technology centres and a programme of manufacturing fellowships, and, of course, we have the regional growth fund and other initiatives. The Government recognise the challenge to which my hon. Friend refers, and a number of funding sources are available to promote progress.

We all depend on the regional media to spread public understanding of serious politics and activities in the House, and we must all be concerned when a reduction in regional media coverage is threatened. In Wales, we are particularly dependent on BBC Wales. Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the plans of our regional media in the nations and regions of the UK to ensure that we have proper, serious coverage of politics?

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says on the importance of regional media. We have just had Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions, when there might have been an opportunity to raise that. We have put the BBC’s funding on a more stable basis for the foreseeable future, and I will ensure that the BBC hears what my hon. Friend says and see whether appropriate resources are being allocated to the regional media that cover his constituency.

Just before we move to the next business, there is one matter with which I should like to deal. In the course of business questions, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) prefaced his question by indicating that he had notified the right hon. Member to whom he was about to refer in advance of coming to the Chamber. I simply want to say this to the hon. Gentleman and the House: advance notification to a Member of an intention to refer to that Member is, of itself, not sufficient; much depends on what is then said. I say for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and the House that where an accusation or implication of possible improper conduct is made, that must be done either by a reference to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards or upon a substantive motion. It should not be done in the course of a question. That was wrong, and a discourtesy—unintentional, I am sure—to the House. Therefore, I invite the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen to apologise to the House for that discourtesy. He should now rise from his seat and apologise for that discourtesy, which I accept and am sure was unintentional.