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Business of the House

Volume 549: debated on Thursday 6 September 2012

The business for next week will be:

Monday 10 September—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill [Lords] (day 1).

Tuesday 11 September—Opposition Day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on tuition fees, followed by a debate on a subject to be announced. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 12 September—Remaining stages of the Defamation Bill, followed by a motion relating to the appointment of a new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Thursday 13 September—A debate on a motion relating to oil markets, followed by a debate on tax avoidance and evasion. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 14 September—Private Members’ Bills

The provisional business for the week commencing 17 September will include:

Monday 17 September—Second Reading of the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill.

Tuesday 18 September—Motion on the conference recess adjournment, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 September will be:

Thursday 13 September—Debate on the dairy industry.

May I say how privileged I am to be appointed Leader of the House? I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), and to the former Deputy Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who takes on important new Government responsibilities. Throughout the House, my predecessor was held in the greatest respect and affection, and continues to be. He saw through important reforms, and I can hope to do no better than to emulate him in how he demonstrated that he understood the importance of being not only Leader of the House but a leader for the House, speaking for the House and representing it in government and beyond, and balancing that with the important responsibility of representing the Government within the House. I look forward to these new responsibilities.

I welcome the new Leader of the House and join him in paying a warm tribute to his distinguished predecessor. The right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has given long and distinguished service both in government and to the House. Over the years, he has surprised political pundits with his Lazarus-style tendencies, and perhaps even this time he is merely on a sabbatical and will be back. I also welcome the new Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, and pay tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath).

I also welcome the Chief Whip to his new and extremely challenging job. One of the first things he will have to do is console his colleagues who have been sacked in the reshuffle—and not given knighthoods. If it is any help, I can tell them that, in my experience, being sacked from government does not necessarily mean the end of a Member’s ministerial career. I returned to government in a subsequent reshuffle—under a new Prime Minister.

Over the summer, the Olympics and Paralympics have shown the best of our country, and I salute the tremendous achievements of all our athletes and those who volunteered during the games, who contributed to making it such an inspirational summer. I pay particular tribute to those at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), who did so much to bring the games to this country and make them a success. Also, in the spirit of cross-party unity and wanting, as always, to be helpful, may I single out the part played by the Mayor of London? No one has asked him whether he is a man or a mouse.

Speaking of the Prime Minister, after his disastrous summer, it is hardly a surprise that we have had yet another Government relaunch. After the reshuffle, we have a new right-wing Justice Secretary, an Environment Secretary who is a climate change sceptic and an Equalities Minister who has voted against almost every piece of equality legislation. So now we know: at the end of the rose garden, turn right. Given her record, can the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement from the new Equalities Minister, so she can inform the House of her unique approach to her brief?

The new Secretary of State for Health said before the election that a Conservative Government would “crowd-source” ideas, because Conservatives believe in collective wisdom. Will the Leader of the House commend the Chancellor for going to the Olympics stadium the other night to do his own little experiment with crowd-sourcing, and can he tell us what the Chancellor will be doing with the answer he got?

What the British people want is not yet another Government relaunch, but a real plan for jobs and growth, because the Chancellor’s economic policies have failed spectacularly. We now have an economy in the longest double-dip recession since the second world war. Growth forecasts have been cut and borrowing is up by a quarter. The Prime Minister has been on “Daybreak” this morning making announcements that should have been made to this House. When will he learn that cosy chats on the “Daybreak” sofa are no substitutes for a statement to this House? We should not have to rely on urgent questions.

The Deputy Prime Minister said in an interview with The Guardian over the recess that, given the economic situation, it was right to increase taxes on the very wealthy. The next day the Chancellor rubbished the idea. After the reshuffle, does the new roving Economic Minister, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), have the casting vote? With the excitement of the Olympics, I thought I must have forgotten about the Liberal Democrats joining us in the Lobby to vote against a Budget that gave a huge tax cut to millionaires, but according to Hansard the Liberal Democrats voted for it. After the Deputy Prime Minister’s disastrous performance at the Dispatch Box this week, the new Leader of the House might find it difficult to coax him back to the Chamber any time soon, but can he try to get us an urgent statement? The impression at the moment is that the Deputy Prime Minister is saying one thing in public and voting the opposite way in this House.

I look forward very much to working with the Leader of the House. I hope that he can set out his views soon on the proposed House business committee. In the meantime, will he put all our minds at rest, on this first occasion at the Dispatch Box, and rule out a top-down reorganisation of the House of Commons?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her welcome. I am also grateful for her very warm tribute to my predecessor. I know that the House will very much appreciate the intention that he should be further honoured, as a Companion of Honour. It is a rare honour, but one that reflects the regard in which we all hold him.

The hon. Lady is quite right: I recall at the last business questions before the recess that the House was looking forward to the Olympics and Paralympics. In truth, I think all our expectations have been wonderfully exceeded. It has been a most inspirational event, and not only inspirational for a generation, as it was intended to be, but a fabulous showcase for what this country can achieve. We, the Government and the people of this country will be able to depend on that reputation across the world in years to come.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions and made a number of points. Let me tell her that the changes in the Government are all about ensuring that we take forward our reforms and our focus on growth. All of us, as the Prime Minister absolutely said, recognise the difficulties that we encountered when we came into government. We know—and have known for two and a half years—how difficult they are. In a sense, they have been added to by the problems in the eurozone and the international economic situation. We are not alone in the problems we have to face, so we are focused on growth, and that will be true, as the Prime Minister has rightly said, in every Department—whether in the Department for Education, in developing the skills, the qualifications and the standards that are required; in the Foreign Office, which has been focused on delivering trade and investment, and business relationships across the world; or in the Department for Communities and Local Government, in using the powers that the Localism Act 2011 gave to local authorities and the new planning arrangements to deliver increased growth and build jobs. That is what it will mean in all those Departments. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that the Labour Government were responsible for the mess that the country was in in 2010, whereas this Government are focused on getting the country out of that mess.

Millions of law-abiding citizens will be outraged that Mr and Mrs Ferrie spent three days in custody after defending themselves against burglars, one of whom turned out to be a violent career criminal out of prison early on licence. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the urgent need to include common sense in the training of police officers, and may we have a debate about the rights of householders to defend themselves and their property?

I completely understand how strongly my hon. Friend feels about that, and I think many Members of the House feel the same. I hope she sees that there is an opportunity for her on the 18th of this month to raise that issue at Justice questions. I am sure that Ministers will feel as strongly as she does on this.

Before I welcome the new Leader of the House to his new role, I too would like to put on record my thanks to his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). Without his help and good advice, the Backbench Business Committee would not be what it is today, and the Back Benches are a more interesting and more powerful place as a result of his time in office.

I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee will continue to enjoy a good and strong working relationship with the Office of the Leader of the House, and I look forward to working closely with him. May I take this opportunity to say to the House that the closing date for submitting subjects for the mini-recess Adjournment debate on the final Tuesday is Wednesday 12 September?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s kind words. I was pleased that in my first announcements on the business of the House I was able to include not only the pre-recess Adjournment debate but a day for the Backbench Business Committee which is not a Thursday. I want to follow what my predecessor achieved in improving the opportunities for debates for Back-Bench Members and in bringing a sense to this House of being a forum for the nation on issues of importance. I hope that we will continue to do that.

For more than 100 years the Bacup and Britannia Coco-nutters have been dancing the boundaries of Bacup on Easter weekend. May we have a statement about the cost of road closure orders, as the Coco-nutters face the prospect of not being able to dance this Easter because it will cost £1,000 to close the road? It is endangering our morris dancing tradition.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an early opportunity to understand the encyclopaedic nature of business questions. The limits of my knowledge I have always been aware of, and it does not extend to morris dancing. I will draw the point that he raises on behalf of his constituents to the attention of my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and ask them to respond to it.

May we have a clear statement from the Government on their policy on regional pay? In May the Deputy Prime Minister said:

“There is going to be no regional pay system. That is not going to happen.”

Yet 20 health trusts in south-west England have announced that they intend to abandon the NHS’s national “Agenda for Change” pay structure and adopt just such a regional pay system. This is causing great concern and anger among thousands of NHS workers and their families across the south-west.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity further to reiterate—we have discussed it in the past—that we were not proposing regional pay. I made it clear in my previous role as Secretary of State for Health that we were proposing pay that was more reflective of local labour market circumstances, marketplace and pay. That is capable of being achieved through the “Agenda for Change” framework, and to that extent it is consistent with national frameworks for pay. The consortium of trusts has made it clear that its frustration is borne of the lack of progress in the national pay frameworks.

The Leader of the House will be fully aware that the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is due to be cut. That decision is wrong on many levels. It is a fully recruited, highly motivated regiment, in whose 6th Battalion I served. May we please have time in this Chamber to discuss what is blatantly a wrong decision and to put forward the reasons why the 2nd Battalion the Fusiliers should be kept as a line regiment doing the phenomenal job that it has been doing and wants to continue to do for this country?

I completely understand the strength of feeling that my hon. Friend expresses. He will have heard, as I did, the Prime Minister’s response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) yesterday. The Prime Minister explained how the reshaping and the changing character of the armed forces were being developed under the Army 2020 arrangements. He was willing to arrange a meeting to discuss that matter, and I simply reiterate that.

I welcome the new Leader of the House to his post. We will miss the old Leader of the House, who was essentially a great parliamentarian. He was full of wit and wisdom, and he will be a hard act to follow, but I am sure that the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) will have a good go at it.

May I raise an important question as the Member of Parliament for Huddersfield? It relates to Pakistan and extradition. Criminals and suspected criminals who flee to Pakistan are almost impossible to track. Ten years ago, eight members of the Chishti family were killed in an arson attack, including the mother, the older children and tiny babies. Three of the gang that did it were arrested, tried and convicted, but one of the prime suspects, Shahid Mohammed, fled to Pakistan. People in Pakistan know where he is. What can we do to track him down, bring him back to face justice and give comfort to the Chishti family?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is clearly of great importance to his constituents. I do not know the answer to his question, but I will gladly raise it with my Foreign and Commonwealth Office colleagues and ask them to respond to him.

May I say to my former chief at the Conservative research department what a pleasure it is to see one of the most decent people in political life now occupying one of the most distinguished positions in Parliament? In return for that, may we have a statement from a member of the new Defence ministerial team on the situation of Commonwealth soldiers who would normally be in a good position to apply for citizenship at the end of their service, but who are being prevented by the UK Border Agency, on very questionable grounds such as minor military disciplinary infractions? We owe those soldiers a debt of honour, and they should not be discriminated against in that way.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I will raise that issue. I know that people feel strongly that service personnel who serve this country should be treated with the greatest respect and honoured as a consequence. My colleagues at the Ministry of Defence will want to reply to him on that matter.

May I also welcome the Leader of the House to his new position? I should like to take him back to his previous incarnation as Health Secretary. Is he as shocked as I was to find out how much typing work is now being outsourced abroad by hospitals? My freedom of information request has revealed that West Middlesex outsourced 230,000 letters in one year, that Whittington outsourced 90,000, that Epsom outsourced 11,000 in a quarter, and that Kingston outsourced 17,000 in a pilot. Medical secretaries are being laid off as a result. May we have a debate so that the Secretary of State for Health can justify taking away British jobs from British workers?

I will of course raise that issue with the Department of Health on the right hon. Gentleman’s behalf, but he might also like to raise it himself in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, which will give Members the opportunity to mention issues of that kind. I was interested to see, in my own constituency a few years ago, that Addenbrooke’s—a major hospital—had outsourced activities of that kind, but that it brought them back to this country as a consequence of seeing the quality of service that could be delivered here.

In July this year, the Prime Minister said that he fully supported the right of people to wear religious symbols at work. That position was supported by the Attorney-General and the Equalities Minister. Will a Minister therefore come to the Dispatch Box to explain why lawyers acting on behalf of the Government are contradicting the Prime Minister in bringing a case against Shirley Chaplin for wearing a crucifix at work?

I think that that response to my hon. Friend’s question demonstrates the fact that we feel strongly about this matter. People should be able to wear crosses and to reflect their faith and beliefs. The law allows for that, and employers are generally good at being reasonable in accommodating people’s religious beliefs. We believe that the law as it stands strikes the right balance between the rights of employees and employers. We also believe that it is better for the UK to look after its own laws, rather than being forced into a change by a European court. We believe that UK law strikes the right balance, and losing that case would place extra restrictions on how employers treat their work forces. We are not seeking that.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on his new position. May I also express my disappointment that the Government reshuffle did not deliver a Minister for Teesside? I say that because figures from the Office for National Statistics have today shown that South Teesside has moved from 14th to second in the country for its number of households with no work. May we have a statement on why the number of workless households in Teesside has increased so desperately in the past year?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not put that in the context of the overall reduction in the number of households with nobody in work, which I believe is very much to be applauded.

May we have a debate on the appointment of judges, and on how to make them more reflective of public opinion? A great deal of concern has been expressed about lily-livered judges by many people, not least me, and yesterday we heard a judge saying that it took a huge amount of courage to burgle a house, and refusing to send a persistent burglar to prison. How can we ensure that idiots like that do not remain in the judiciary, and that the people who are appointed to the judiciary do not reflect the views of that individual?

I am conscious that, in my new privileged position, I stand at a constitutional juxtaposition between the legislature and the Executive. One of the last things I would want to do, on my first occasion at the Dispatch Box, would be to trespass on the relationship between the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary, and in particular on the independence of the judiciary, so I will avoid commenting on that. However, my hon. Friend’s observations are on the record.

Yesterday, 500 Teessiders, many of them from my constituency, lost their jobs with Direct Line, which is part of the state-owned RBS Group, not long after apparently having been cajoled into signing new contracts. That means that their redundancy payments will be considerably less; they will lose thousands of pounds as well as their jobs. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that such actions are abhorrent, and that the managers must be held to account. Does he know whether the Business Secretary plans to make a statement on the decisions of this state-owned business, and would the Leader of the House allow a debate on the issue?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s view, as I am sure all Members do, that the prospect of losing one’s job can be difficult and that we should all sympathise and do everything we can to help. Indeed, the Government will do everything they can to help, and Governments have done a great deal in the north-east. For example, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Chancellor were there recently to see how new investment was going to the north-east as a result of the enterprise zones. I confess that I was in the House only for the latter part of Business, Innovation and Skills questions, so I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was able to raise this matter then. That would have been a good opportunity to do so.

Six hundred and fifty million silent calls were made in the UK last year, many of them to vulnerable older people. Forty-five million spam texts are sent in Europe every single year, 92% of which are estimated to be fraudulent, and 3 million UK adults will be scammed out of £800 each this year by fraudulent marketing calls. May we therefore have an urgent debate on the effectiveness of the powers of the Information Commissioner’s Office, as it is now clear that we have an industry in crisis and a country under siege?

I am interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I think that all Members and people outside the House will, almost without exception, have been the recipients of such nuisance calls, which can be very distressing, particularly for older and vulnerable people. He will know that this is exactly the sort of issue that it is helpful to raise, for example, in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, not least because that will focus the mind of the Information Commissioner. In any case, I will make sure that the issue, which touches on the responsibilities of Ofcom and the ICO, is raised with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

When can we debate the apparent ambition of the Prime Minister to rival the work of King James I and David Lloyd George in degrading the honours system? A Select Committee has already criticised the Prime Minister for setting up in March this year, without the knowledge or consent of Parliament, a new Committee dominated by the Whips, which exists to give honours to MPs. The distribution of consolation prizes to sacked Ministers is likely to bring the honours system into further disrepute and ridicule.

I do not welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. In this House as elsewhere, we should honour public service. This is a mechanism for honouring public service, and I see absolutely no reason why this Members of this House should be debarred from having access to that kind of honour.

For the first time in ages, all the shop premises in Holmfirth, a market town in my constituency, are actually let, which is really good news. I know that the Government have been doing their bit to support our town centres with their high street strategy, but could we have a debate on the many “shop local” campaigns, which are working hard to support our local shop centres and businesses and our local producers?

I am pleased to hear what my hon. Friend has to say, and I welcome what he said about Holmfirth high street. Indeed, we have accepted and implemented virtually all Mary Portas’s review recommendations. I hope that the pilots will show how we can extend some of the lessons further to invigorate high streets across the country—something that, as my hon. Friend illustrates, can be achieved.

I welcome the Leader of the House to his new position and place on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) for the helpful and courteous way in which he dealt with Back Benchers. I hope that that will continue.

Can we have an urgent debate on the Sunday trading laws, given that the announcements outside this House are at variance with the undertakings given inside it? If there is any consultation, will the Leader of the House ensure that retail staff, the unions, the Churches and the Association of Convenience Stores are included?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her kind words about my predecessor. I do hope to emulate in many respects the way in which he fulfilled his responsibilities so wonderfully. As to Sunday trading legislation, however, I do not accept the premise of her question. I do not think there is any variance between what the Government said when we introduced the legislation about the extension of Sunday trading hours during the summer and what has been said subsequently.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend to his new position as Leader of the House, I would like to reiterate and add my voice to the calls for a debate on the proposal to disband the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers? In particular, we should consider how that decision will affect recruitment opportunities in my Bury North constituency, which has a long and proud history of providing new recruits to the Fusiliers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who reiterates on behalf of his constituency a point that is particularly important to it as a location for recruitment. My colleagues in the Ministry of Defence are, through Army 2020, setting about the process of changing not the size but the shape of the armed services, particularly the Army. In that context, they are looking for something that is sustainable, not least because the Army recruits from across the country. I have already mentioned the opportunity for Members to talk to Ministers about this, but in addition, I hope that Members will recognise that this is the sort of issue that is worth raising in the pre-recess Adjournment debate on Tuesday week.

It was reported yesterday that 50,000 more patients suffering from alcohol problems had been admitted to A and E, bringing the national annual total to a staggering 1.2 million. Again, according to experts, cheap alcohol is to blame. Will the Leader of the House press his Government colleagues to bring forward comprehensive measures to deal with Britain’s growing and serious alcohol problems, including a minimum price for alcohol?

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware of the alcohol strategy that the Government published several months ago. In itself, that reflected a comprehensive strategy to address the severity of the problem he describes. In that context, data were published only last week on alcohol-related admissions to hospital showing that the previous rates of increase in those hospital admissions under the last Government were considerably greater than those under this Government last year.

I was in the House a lot yesterday, and have been here a lot during the week, but I cannot recall any tribute being given to our armed forces for how they rescued the security of the Olympics. I may be wrong, but I would like to place on record everyone’s thanks to our armed forces. When watching the Olympics on my big television, I often noticed the red and white hackle of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. These soldiers were brought in quickly in an emergency to sort out a problem. I reiterate what colleagues and friends on both sides of the House have said: we need to debate what is happening to English regiments, which may well be needed quickly in the future. I would very much like to have a debate on the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and on my own old regiment, the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, called the Staffordshire Regiment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I will not reiterate my earlier points, as the importance of his points is recognised, as are the opportunities to debate the matter before the House rises for the pre-conference recess. I entirely share his view about the fabulous job done at the Olympics by members of our armed services, as I noted from my experience of visiting the Olympic park on one occasion. It is not just that they provided security, but that they did so in such a friendly, welcoming and engaging way.

Can we have a debate on multiple and double jobbing? I am thinking particularly of the large number of Conservative MPs who now have more than one job in government. For example, the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) is not only a Wales Office Minister, but a senior Government Whip. Leaving aside the convention that senior Whips do not normally speak in the Chamber, how do we know which job has his priority?

I am absolutely clear that there is no conflict between having a responsibility as part of the Government’s business management and having responsibilities on policy and administration. I understand that there is no conflict, because I have such a role: I have responsibilities to this House and I have responsibilities in government, and I see them as equally important.

Order. I remind the House that there is a further statement to follow. I am keen to accommodate the interest of colleagues in business questions, but if I am to be successful in doing so, brevity from both Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike is now vital.

Can we have a debate on intellectual insanity? The Labour-supporting Institute for Public Policy Research is now arguing that motorists are not suffering enough from high petrol taxes, and is calling for more taxes. Is that not surprising, given that high petrol taxes hit the poorest Britons twice as hard as the rich?

I am interested by what my hon. Friend has said. I seem to recall that, according to Einstein, one of the definitions of that kind of insanity was “to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result”. I am afraid that that is what we see from the Labour party day by day.

I, too, pay tribute to the former Leader of the House. I think it is a bit of a shame that he has not been given a knighthood. I know that he is already a baronet, but I thought he could prove that at the age of 70 it was still possible to do “twice a knight”.

Let me now ask a question of real importance. Given that the Government have a massive hole in their programme for the autumn because we lost the House of Lords reform Bill, which was carried by a three-to-one majority, can the Leader of the House do something on behalf of all the Back Benchers in the House, and ensure that the days that would have been allocated to that Bill—10 days, perhaps—can be allocated to Back-Bench business, particularly private Members’ Bills, so that some of the good ideas on the Back Benches can inform the Government?

I must confess that I am slightly staggered that the hon. Gentleman now seeks to make a virtue of the fact that he and his party voted by a substantial majority for the principle of House of Lords reform, and then effectively sought to obstruct any progress. My definition of opposition is not obstruction. It may be his definition, but it is not mine.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. Will he consider arranging a debate on over-zealous health and safety regulation? Apparently my local authority, Crawley borough council, has been told to remove all park benches that are under trees.

I hope my hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that we in the Government have been working actively over the last two and a half years to ensure that common sense is at the heart of the way in which we apply health and safety regulations. It must be evidence-based, common-sense and proportionate. Measures have been taken, but I will certainly draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills so that they can continue the process.

This week, in Westminster Hall, Members held a debate on the shambles that is Atos. When will the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions come to the House to make a statement on what is going on in that organisation? In my constituency I have seen a woman undergoing chemotherapy passed as fit for work, and a veteran who was classed as being more than 40% disabled for the purpose of industrial injuries benefit lose his disability living allowance following an Atos report which referred to him as a woman throughout. When are we going to get some answers in relation to what this organisation is inflicting on disabled people?

In terms of business, the hon. Lady is right. The House had an opportunity to debate Atos Healthcare, and I think that she may have received replies from the then Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I personally know that the work done as a consequence of the Harrington reviews, and what we announced in July about the recording of tribunal judges’ reasons for overturning decisions on appeal, will enable us continuously to improve the process.

I welcome the Leader of the House to his new post. May I ask him to consider one further fact relating to the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers? It is the only infantry battalion that is being axed for political rather than military reasons, in order to save the more poorly recruited Scottish battalions ahead of the referendum. In fact, no Scottish battalions are being axed. I am married to a Scot and I believe in the Union, but discriminating against the English is not the way for us to achieve our goal.

My hon. Friend had an opportunity to raise that with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and I hope that he will take the opportunity that the Prime Minister gave him to make his points at a meeting. However, I do not recognise his description of the way in which decisions were made. They were made on the basis of an assessment of how the armed services could be sustainable for the future, and could secure representation and maintain recruitment throughout the United Kingdom.

It is good to see that the Leader of the House is still in the Cabinet, and especially good to know that he will not be steering any legislation through the House in his new position. He will know that the number of university applications from young people in Britain has dropped by nearly 10% for this year, as a direct result of the disastrous decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000. Why will the Government not find time for a debate on the subject—in Government time—rather than leaving it to the Opposition?

When the Opposition have wished to present an issue for debate and have chosen the issue of tuition fees, I have announced it as a consequence.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to legislation. I wonder whether he meant by it the piece of legislation which, shortly after its introduction, he described as “consistent, coherent and comprehensive”.

It is clear from what the Prime Minister said yesterday at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and will be clear from the statement that we shall hear shortly, that a considerable number of initiatives are being taken throughout Whitehall to promote growth and jobs. Indeed, it is sometimes quite difficult to keep up with what is being done. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a quarterly statement to be deposited in the Vote Office, in which every Whitehall Department reports to the House on the initiatives that it is taking to promote growth and the progress of those initiatives?

I will of course reflect on my hon. Friend’s suggestion. However, although he says that it is difficult to keep up, the connection between the things that are being done is often very straightforward. For example, our announcement in July of funding for lending that would allow increased access to mortgages at more affordable rates will be followed up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in his statement shortly. While we wish to create more demand for new housing, we also wish to ensure that some sites that have not been developed can be developed in future.

For the second time in 12 months, the Department for Work and Pensions is planning to close the Old Swan jobcentre. Unemployment in the Old Swan ward has risen by 3% in the last month. Will the Leader of the House find time for the employment Minister to make a statement to the House explaining why he is making it more difficult for my constituents to find jobs?

The hon. Lady will have an opportunity to raise that issue during questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions next Monday.

I, too, welcome the new Leader of the House, who I am sure will do an excellent job. May I take him back to his old brief for a moment, and ask for a debate about the gross distortions in health care funding that we inherited from the last Government? For instance, in Dorset, which I believe has the largest elderly population in the country, £4,000 is being spent on each cancer patient, while in Tower Hamlets, which contains very few elderly people, the figure is £13,000. We have a grossly distorted inheritance from Labour. In the name of deprivation, Labour distorted health funding and cheated people of the health care that they deserve.

A consultation is taking place on the mandate of the NHS Commissioning Board. It will deal with, among other topics, the board’s responsibility to allocate NHS resources on the basis of equal access for equal need. If my hon. Friend wishes to make his points again, the board will be able to take them into account when it receives recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation.

I welcome the members of the new team. They will be as surprised as I was to hear what happened to a constituent of mine, a victim of domestic violence. Her screams and the breaking of a window from the inside attracted the attention of the police, but it is she who is now subject to antisocial behaviour powers. Will the Leader of the House please ask the new Home Office team to come to the House and engage in a debate about the way in which domestic violence victims are supported—or not—by police forces around the country?

I am surprised, and like the hon. Lady, I am obviously disappointed. I will of course ask whether my colleagues in the Home Office can respond to her on the issue.

When I spoke recently to Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, I was informed that there was persecution of Christian and minority communities in 130 out of 190 countries. May we have an urgent debate on tackling this growing problem?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. This matter has exercised Foreign Office Ministers. They have made substantial representations in a number of countries about such situations. I will gladly raise the matter with Foreign Office Ministers and ask them to respond to him.

I welcome the new Leader of the House to his post. Will he explain why only sacked male Ministers received honours, while none of the women who were sacked received honours, despite their having been more senior Ministers?

I welcome the new Leader of the House to his post. I know he will do well for the House, as he did day in, day out for the health service in the last two-and-a-half years in government.

My right hon. Friend was present for the end of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions, and he will have heard the representations made about the Post Office. May we have a statement from the new Minister with responsibility for the Post Office about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency contract? The Government say they support post offices and making them viable front-office businesses. We need to put our money where our mouth is, so we are not at the mercy of a Europe-wide tendering process. Kings Worthy post office and its customers have made many representations to me over the summer, and this decision could very well close the business.

I did, indeed, hear the answer rightly given by the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills Minister. I should put this matter in context. The post office local model is an excellent model, and we are seeing substantial take-up, which is in many instances reviving post office services. The Government are absolutely clear that we will not entertain a process of post office closures, which is what happened under the last Government. On the specific point, this contract process is currently live and it would not be proper for Ministers to comment or interfere during the course of that.

I welcome the new Leader of the House and his deputy to their posts, and as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) is on the Treasury Bench, may I also congratulate him on his appointment to his new post of Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household, prompting the headline “MP4 drummer joins Queen”? May we have the debate on the honours system that has just been suggested, because is not giving honours to losers in a reshuffle to console them an example of the “all shall have prizes” culture that the Prime Minister claims to denigrate?

I will give the hon. Gentleman the prize of best joke of the day, if I may. I merely reiterate the point I made earlier: in this House, people give public service. It is not simply a job; it is much more than that. People do far beyond what I think people in most jobs would expect to do. They give of themselves and their time, and their families and their lives, especially when they are in government, as many Opposition Members will know from their past experiences. Being in government is an onerous and demanding task. For example, my parliamentary neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), has had Front-Bench responsibilities for over 22 years. That is a dramatic contribution to public service, and I think it is right that it is properly recognised.

Has the Leader of the House had time to see early-day motion 337, standing in my name, welcoming the success of Pendle borough council in promoting tourism over the summer?

[That this House welcomes the success of Pendle Borough Council in promoting tourism; notes that 2012 is the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, whose Bandmaster Wallace Hartley came from Pendle; commends the opening of the Titanic in Lancashire Museum to remember the many Lancastrians caught up in the tragedy; further notes that over the summer events will include the Trawden Agricultural Show and Barrowford Show, the Trawden Garden Festival, the Pendle Cycle Festival, including the Colne Grand Prix Cycle Race, the Pendle Pedal and the Tour of Pendle; further notes that the highlight of the summer for music lovers has to be the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne, spanning four days and featuring some of the greatest names in blues, and that the event was named the Best British Blues Festival in the British Blues Awards 2011; further notes that September brings the annual Pendle Walking Festival, which is now the largest in the UK; believes that promoting tourism is vital for economic development across the north of England; and encourages hon. Members to visit Pendle during 2012.]

I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that the tourism sector is vital in the north of England. May we therefore have a debate on this vital sector of the economy?

I will perhaps now become more familiar with early-day motions than I have been in the recent past. I will certainly pay attention to the one that my hon. Friend mentions, and he might like to reiterate his important point about tourism at the soon-forthcoming Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions.

The “rockets and feathers” strategies employed by oil companies are crucifying motorists in Blaenau Gwent, so I welcome the Office of Fair Trading plans to investigate petrol pricing. May we have a debate on how to help our road hauliers and logistics industries to get our economy moving again?

I, too, take an interest in this issue, and welcome the OFT call for evidence. I note that the Backbench Business Committee has selected the oil market as a subject for debate, and it would probably be entirely in order for the issues the hon. Gentleman has just raised to be discussed in the course of that debate.

May we urgently have a debate about the effectiveness of the Government’s bursary scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds? The latest figures show that the proportion of 16-year-olds classed as NEETs—not in education, employment or training—has fallen year-on-year in the second quarter of 2012. Given that this is the first cohort to be affected by the transition from education maintenance allowance to the bursary scheme, does this not show that, despite the hysterical reaction of the Opposition, the scrapping of EMA has not had a negative impact on the number of NEETs, and that the money is now being better spent and better targeted?

My hon. Friend makes important points. The coalition Government have put £180 million into the 16-to-19 bursary fund this year, to enable the most financially disadvantaged young people to participate in education. The most vulnerable young people receive, as a standard amount, £1,200 more than they would have received under EMA.

May I welcome the dear Leader to his new Front-Bench post? I suspect he will be a very effective Leader of the House—probably more effective than the Prime Minister would strictly want. Is there any sign of a Bill to create a register of lobbyists, which we have been promised for over two years? The Prime Minister said this would be the next big scandal in British politics and he has been proved right. When will a Bill be on the statute book?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I never expected to be called “Leader”; to be called “dear Leader” was beyond my expectations.

At yesterday’s Cabinet Office questions, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), explained the current situation and noted that there have been many responses to the consultation on this matter. They are being seriously considered and he will make a statement in due course.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment. From his previous post, he will be acutely aware of the different approaches to cancer care across the UK. Sadly, my constituents in Wales have less money spent on drugs, longer waiting times and higher mortality rates than those in other parts of the UK. May we have a debate on cancer treatment and the merits of the various approaches, so we can at least show that Wales is getting a worse deal on cancer drugs?

I understand, and greatly sympathise with, my hon. Friend’s point, and I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health to respond to him. The coalition Government should be especially proud of tackling directly the issue of access to new cancer medicines. As a consequence of the Cancer Drugs Fund, more than 12,500 people with cancer have received access to the latest medicines over the last two-and-a-half years who would not have done so under the arrangements the last Government left us.