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Business of the House

Volume 551: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012

Before I turn to the future business of the House, may I take the opportunity to say, on behalf of the House, with what sadness we learned of the loss of two of our colleagues. We continue to send our sympathies and condolences to their families and friends. Malcolm Wicks was an immensely liked and respected Member of the House, who served as Chairman of the Education Committee before performing very distinguished service in government. Sir Stuart Bell, also a much valued colleague, served this House in many capacities over a number of years, not least as Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee and a member of the House of Commons Commission. Both colleagues will be sorely missed.

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 22 October—General debate on Hillsborough. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement on the EU Council.

Tuesday 23 October—Motion to approve a financial resolution relating to an HGV Road User Levy Bill, followed by motion to approve a money resolution on the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill.

Wednesday 24 October—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the police. The debate will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 25 October—Presentation of a report by the International Development Select Committee: DFID’s work in Afghanistan. This is expected to last 20 minutes. It will be followed by a debate on a motion relating to the badger cull. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 26 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 October will include:

Monday 29 October—Second Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill.

Tuesday 30 October—Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

Wednesday 31 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi-annual financial framework.

Thursday 1 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 November—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 22 and 25 October and 1 November will be:

Monday 22 October—A debate on the e-petition relating to children’s cardiac surgery at the East Midlands congenital heart centre at Glenfield.

Thursday 25 October—A debate on the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on Government support towards the additional living costs of working-age disabled people.

Thursday 1 November—A debate on the Transport Select Committee report on air travel organisers’ licensing reform, followed by a debate on the Transport Select Committee report on flight time limitations.

Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the Christmas recess on Thursday 20 December 2012 and return on Monday 7 January 2013. We will rise for the February recess on Thursday 14 February 2013 and return on Monday 25 February 2013. The House will rise for the Easter recess on Tuesday 26 March 2013 and return on Monday 15 April 2013. We will rise for the Whitsun recess on Tuesday 21 May 2013 and return on Monday 3 June 2013. The House will rise for the summer recess on Thursday 18 July 2013 and return on Monday 2 September 2013—I can see that this is the way to attract the attention of the House, Mr Speaker. The House will rise for the conference recess on Friday 13 September 2013 and return on Tuesday 8 October 2013. The House will rise for the November recess on Tuesday 12 November and return on Monday 18 November. Finally, the House will rise for the Christmas recess on Thursday 19 December 2013 and return on Monday 6 January 2014.

To remind themselves, colleagues may pick up a handy pocket calendar from the Vote Office.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for announcing the recess dates for the forthcoming year, which is always very convenient for Members of the House.

I thank the Leader of the House and join him in paying tribute to my two colleagues who recently passed away. Malcolm Wicks was elected to Parliament at the same time as me, in 1992, and had a distinguished career in government; he was also a deep thinker on family policy. Sir Stuart Bell was a Member of this House for almost 30 years, and during his long career he served with distinction, not least on the House of Commons Commission for more than a decade. They will both be sorely missed.

May I also thank the Attorney-General for his statement this week on Hillsborough and for producing clarity ahead of next week’s debate? It has been welcomed by the families and warmly welcomed on both sides of the House.

Yesterday’s Order Paper stated that there would be questions to the Prime Minister at noon. It is not explicit, I admit, but the assumption under which Members have always operated on such occasions is that the Prime Minister will actually answer the questions he is asked; he cannot simply throw his toys out of the pram and refuse to answer a question from an hon. Member. But that is exactly what he did yesterday, rather conveniently. Therefore, will the Leader of the House have a go at answering the questions that the Prime Minister refused to address: why did we discover this week that secret correspondence between the Prime Minister, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson was not disclosed to the Leveson inquiry, and will the Prime Minister now surrender all that material to the inquiry that, after all, he set up?

Following the utter chaos caused by the Prime Minister making energy policy on the hoof during yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, we had hoped that our urgent question this morning would improve clarity and restore some sense to the situation amid soaring energy bills. Given that it so obviously did not and that the Government’s policy is now a shambles, may we have a further statement so that we can establish what on earth the Government’s policy on low-energy tariffs now is?

In his botched reshuffle, the Prime Minister appointed the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) as a roving Minister. It appears that the Education Secretary also considers himself to be a roving Minister, as he has announced that he would vote to leave the European Union in a referendum. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He is obviously gathering support from the Conservative Back Benches, perhaps for a leadership bid. It was then reported that a third of Cabinet members agree with him, so will the Leader of the House tell us whether he is one of them? May we have a debate on European policy following the European summit, rather than just a statement, to give Conservative Cabinet Ministers who want to sound off a forum in which to do so? They do not need to brief the media in secret; let them come to the House and tell us what they really think.

On Tuesday I received an invitation from the Bruges Group to a dinner marking the 20th anniversary of the Maastricht rebellion. It promised that there would be

“a rebel at every table”.

Sadly, diary commitments mean I am unable to attend what promises to be a fascinating occasion. Will the Leader of the House say whether the Work and Pensions Secretary—he was, after all, one of John Major’s backstabbers—will be attending to offer career advice to current Back-Bench Europe rebels?

The war in the Congo is the world’s deadliest conflict since the second world war. It is estimated that as many as 5 million people have died during the conflict—half of them children—from war, disease or famine. According to a United Nations report published this week, the Rwandan Defence Minister is effectively commanding a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On his last day in office, the previous International Development Secretary inexplicably reinstated aid to Rwanda despite the US, the EU and other major donors maintaining their suspension. May we therefore have an urgent statement from the current International Development Secretary to respond to the serious allegations being made about the case?

As the Leader of the House has announced, next week there will be an Opposition day debate on the police. There is a long-standing convention that Chief Whips should be seen but not heard. The current Government Chief Whip, who inexplicably is not in his place, would be well advised to observe that convention outside the House as well. We know the police’s account: they report that the Chief Whip said that police officers were “plebs” who should “know their place”—I have missed out the expletives. The Chief Whip keeps changing his story. Had he had the courtesy to the House to attend today, I would have said that he should come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House what he actually said, but perhaps he is too busy repairing relations with Conservative Back Benchers to bother attending business questions.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her opening remarks. I am not sure that she was listening to the Prime Minister yesterday, not least in relation to his clear and robust answer on our support to Rwanda and the reasons it is being given. He was absolutely clear that we are making clear to the Rwandan Government our opposition to any intervention on their part in the Congo. It is always tempting not to reply to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), but let me be absolutely clear that the Prime Minister gave the Leveson inquiry all the information requested.

The shadow Leader of the House was sitting in the Chamber this morning when the urgent question received the reply that was required, so her remarks are astonishing. It was made very clear, and more than once, as the Prime Minister said, that we will bring forward the Energy Bill shortly and legislate so that people get the best possible tariff. That is exactly what the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), said and what the Prime Minister said yesterday.

The hon. Lady asked about European debates. I remind her that we will indeed have a European debate in this House on Wednesday 31 October, as I have just announced as part of the provisional business, on a motion to approve European documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi-annual financial framework. That will give an opportunity, in addition to the Prime Minister’s statement on the EU Council, for Members to debate the future of EU budgets. That is from a Government who are determined to ensure that we do not see increases in the EU budget of the kind we saw in the past and, still less, increases in this country’s contributions, such as those that followed the former Labour Prime Minister’s giving up the rebate that this country had enjoyed.

The hon. Lady asked about my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. He is doing his job and doing it well. He is now in his place, but he also has many other duties elsewhere in the House. He knows, as he has made clear, that he made a mistake. He apologised for it, and the police officer concerned and the Metropolitan police accepted that apology. I will take no lectures today, or indeed during next Wednesday’s Opposition day debate on the police, about the support this Government give the police. In my constituency in Cambridgeshire we are seeing an increase in the number of police and additional police are being recruited. For my part, as someone whose brother was a senior officer in the Metropolitan police and whose niece and her husband are officers, I support them. We support them and will continue to do so.

Clearly, we have a very light legislative programme this year. Rather than regretting that, should we not rejoice in it? After all, in the past 30 years, in which we have had large overall majorities, so much legislative rubbish has poured through this building, imposing more and more rules and regulations on people. Should not our motto be, to adapt Lord Falkland’s dictum, “When it is not necessary to legislate, it is necessary not to legislate”? Is that not a good motto for this Conservative Government?

I think that is always a good motto to pursue, but from our point of view it is sometimes necessary to legislate. That is what we are doing, not least in the progress that we have already made on the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill, and also with the publication today of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill and the Bill relating to HGV road user levies. We are taking further measures that will promote growth and the development of infrastructure in this country, getting us the growth that we know is an absolute necessity, alongside deficit reduction, for improving our competitive position.

When the Leader of the Opposition is out marching with the TUC and it is saying that it wants long-term economic progress but does not think that political leaders today are offering that, he might reflect that that is exactly true in relation to him—that the Labour party’s leadership are not addressing the long-term economic problems of this country, they are denying the deficit and they have no policies for growth. We in the coalition are putting forward those policies for growth.

Will the Leader of the House allow me to record my thanks to the many people who have made my job so simple during the 29-plus years that I have been in the House? I am thinking of the Clerks of the House and those who clean for us and staff the cafés and bars to make our lives straightforward.

I also offer my thanks and appreciation to colleagues on both sides of the House—more enthusiastically to some than to others, perhaps—for being part of the enormous privilege of serving my constituents in Stretford and Manchester Central over those years, in what is still a wonderful and great experiment in representative parliamentary democracy.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Members on both sides will appreciate not only his sentiments, but how he expressed them. I share in that and know that the staff of the House will appreciate it too.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the heroic efforts of Portsmouth supporters trust in its quest to enable its community to own its club. It has often had to do battle with football governance rules that are not fit for purpose—not least the “fit and proper person” test, which is less rigorous than a five-minute session on Google. Given the importance of the national game to our communities, is it not time that we debated the reform of football governance and finance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. I am aware of how she has supported the Portsmouth supporters trust’s trailblazing bid, and I very much appreciate the sentiments that she has expressed. The Government share her view that we need to impress on the football authorities the need for stronger scrutiny of clubs at all levels and transparency about ownership. She will be aware of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into football governance. I would be happy to refer the matter to the Sports Minister; she might also talk to him about the issue. There may be an opportunity, not least in light of the Committee’s inquiry, for the matter to be considered by the House.

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions, which resulted from the system that the Government launched last year. Unfortunately, that number does not translate into people’s being satisfied with the system. To avoid further frustration and anger among those who use the system, will the new Leader of the House work with the Backbench Business Committee to see whether we can bring the system into Parliament, as suggested by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, to make the system the success that it ought to be?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is indeed right that, under the coalition Government, not least through the e-petition system and the Backbench Business Committee reform, we are improving opportunities for public engagement. Those are being taken up and they are demonstrating their potential. In so far as there is confusion, we just have to work through it. I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s point. We will, of course, work together. I look forward to working with Opposition Front Benchers, the hon. Lady’s Committee and the Procedure Committee to ensure that public engagement, not least through the new e-petition system, is as good as we can make it.

In the Ministry of Defence there appears to be ignorance of Government policies on localism and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises. May we have a debate, or at least an oral statement from a Minister, about garrison radio? I am talking about local garrison radio services such as those in Colchester, Aldershot and Catterick. There is urgency because on Monday the Ministry of Defence is due to sign away those local radio stations to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which hitherto has shown no interest in local garrison radio.

I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. I remind him that Defence Ministers will be here for questions on Monday. He may find that to be the earliest, and therefore most appropriate, opportunity to raise the matter.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister is going to be here on Monday because I have a question that I would like to ask him; with any luck I will manage to catch your eye, Mr Speaker.

May I ask the Leader of the House about the House business committee? The coalition agreement guarantees that that will be in place by the third year of the coalition Government. Many of us thought that meant by the beginning of the third year, but there are now only 18 Thursdays before the end of the third year. Will the Leader of the House scotch rumours, multiplying by the day, that he is trying to prevent the committee from coming into being?

I will simply repeat what I said, I think, at business questions last time around. It is a matter of weeks since I took up this post and I am absolutely clear about what the coalition programme has said about the introduction of a House business committee in 2013. There are no grounds for any rumours, but I will make it clear that there have already been important developments, not least the Backbench Business Committee, which is enabling the House to exercise more control over business; that is a very positive step, and my intention is to understand how that is being developed and ensure that we can develop it further.

May we have a debate on NHS waiting times? Figures out today show that waiting lists have fallen to new record lows, with 95% of patients being seen within 18.6 weeks and the number waiting over a year also declining to a record low. Such a debate would allow Members on both sides of the House to put on the record their appreciation for the hard work of NHS staff.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. Not only the figures published today but also the document published today, which summarises the performance of the NHS in the first quarter of this financial year, through to the end of June, demonstrate that NHS staff are continuing to deliver continually improving performance. I heard Opposition Members show apparent disbelief about that; I remind them that when we came into office, more than 200,000 patients had waited beyond 18 weeks. We have brought that down by more than 50,000. Approaching 20,000 people had waited beyond a year for treatment and we have brought that figure down to below 5,000. That is in addition to many other aspects of improving performance in a service that, on the latest data, has already delivered, in a year and a quarter, £7 billion of the up to £20 billion efficiency savings required and continues to deliver an overall financial surplus.

In the aftermath of the LIBOR scandal, we were told by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister in statements, debates and questions that changes could be made to the Financial Services Bill. Are we to take it from the current consultation on secondary legislation that the Government no longer plan to adjust or add to the primary legislation?

I direct the hon. Gentleman to what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury stated in a written ministerial statement to the House yesterday. That clearly set out the position.

When we hold our debate on the police, I wonder whether we will be able to bear in mind this week’s report from Warwickshire police that levels of crime in the county are the lowest for six years. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Chief Constable Andy Parker and his officers and agree that that means that the concerns of many officers about reforms to the service are unfounded?

I gladly join my hon. Friend in congratulating Warwickshire police. The reduction in crime is not least because of the Government’s focus on ensuring that we reduce bureaucracy, freeing up 4.5 million hours of police time in a year. That increases the proportion of police time involved in front-line duties, so that while we achieve the necessary financial performance for the police service, we also get more police providing front-line services, enabling us to continue reducing crime.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on the risk to the lives of Londoners of the proposed closure of 17 fire stations across London, including the very important one in Clapham in my constituency? Does he agree that Londoners will just not accept that, and that there must be other ways of saving money?

I will, if I may, ask my ministerial colleague from the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond to the hon. Lady. I do not know of any plans for a debate on the matter, although the hon. Lady may want to seek an Adjournment debate about it.

I welcome the news that the Government are working with industry to make £1 billion available for leading science projects. Porton Down in my constituency has the potential to build on its reputation as a hub of world-class research. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement on the outcome of the recent applications for the regional growth fund, which would enable the Minister to reflect on the merits of Wiltshire’s bid to have a science park at Porton Down?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am aware that he, Wiltshire council and the institutes and businesses in his area are working to bring together Wiltshire science university and to exploit what is one of the leading centres for science and life sciences. Because of my previous ministerial responsibilities, I am very well aware of the world-leading character of the work that is being done at Porton Down, not least under the Health Protection Agency. In response to his question, I hope that there will be announcements very shortly in relation to the regional growth fund, where we are seeing many projects coming through and further resources being put behind projects that will enable us further to exploit our leading position in science.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on sports sponsorship, with the ultimate objective of putting in place a fit and proper companies test for future sponsorship of major sporting events? I name the likes of Atos and Wonga—companies which, in my belief, are pretty dubious in terms of being in a position to sponsor major events.

As the hon. Gentleman knows from the business I have announced, I have no immediate plans to do that. If he feels strongly about this issue, he might like to promote it by way of an Adjournment debate or through the Backbench Business Committee. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is looking at many of the issues relating to the governance of sport, and he might like to correspond with it too.

There continues to be a lot of concern on both sides of the House about education funding. We know that this situation has not been established overnight but goes back many years. However, children in the poorest part of my constituency continue to receive hundreds of pounds less for their education than those in the wealthy part. May we have a debate on this important issue?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he will recognise that under this coalition Government the pupil premium plays a vital part in ensuring that those who come from the most disadvantaged families and communities have education resources put behind them to enable them to achieve better results. That is particularly true this year because of the resources being made available for the catch-up premium for those in year 7. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has set out proposals on the future of education funding that are still subject to consultation.

May we have a debate on the place of plebs in society? The worst aspect of what the Chief Whip said to those police officers was that they should know their place, and such a debate would not only give him the opportunity to get on his feet and give us the truth about what happened but give those of us who consider ourselves to be plebs an opportunity to know exactly what our place is.

I explained in response to the shadow Leader of the House how I feel about this. It is all very well Labour Members trying to make political capital out of this, but we support the police. We are getting on with that job, and the Chief Whip is getting on with that job and doing a grand job in doing so.

More or less everyone, whether opponent or advocate of the third runway, agrees that delaying the decision until after the election is both cynical and disruptive. Will the Leader of the House allow us time to debate the timing of the Davies review?

Clearly, my hon. Friend may seek opportunities for a debate, but it would be inappropriate for the Government to do so when we are in the midst of the further review undertaken by Howard Davies, which will provide an interim report next year and a final report in 2015. As my hon. Friend and the whole House knows, these are immensely complicated issues that it is not easy to resolve in a short period of time.

This year in Manchester two people have been arrested, charged, prosecuted and imprisoned for abusing police officers, and in South Shields in the north-east of England an arrest has taken place for a similar offence. May we have a debate on policing, prosecutions and sentencing as a matter of urgency, as it is very topical?

I think that members of the public watching our discussion might wonder whether it would not be better for Members to devote themselves to the interests of their constituents and new issues rather than constantly trying to contrive new ways of returning to an issue that, frankly, was closed weeks ago. The Chief Whip apologised and that apology was accepted, and on that basis the matter was closed.

May we have a statement from the Sports Minister on what is happening to deliver the Olympic and Paralympic legacy at community sports level? May I bring to his and the House’s attention the “Get Involved—Be Inspired” initiative, which organises events to get people involved in participating and volunteering, the first of which will be held at Lawnswood school in my constituency?

I am delighted to hear about how the Olympic legacy is giving rise to additional sporting activity in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that that will happen across the country, because the Olympic legacy is being followed up by my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and by Lord Coe. That is happening not only through activities such as the school games—which this year, for the first time, demonstrated the fantastic capacity for sporting participation across the whole school system; half the schools in this country took part, and back in the early summer I went to the Olympic park to see 35,000 children participating in the finals—but more generally, not least through the measures being taken by the Department of Health to encourage physical activity for every child, particularly at primary school level, so that when children are contemplating taking part in physical activity in later years they have a grounding that enables them to do so.

Important though it may be to some people, could the Leader of the House justify why he has allocated six hours of debate in this Chamber to badger culling? Given all the issues facing the country and our constituents, is that really a priority for this Government?

I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the allocation of time for a debate on the badger cull was made through the Backbench Business Committee and not provided by the Government.

The Welsh Language Act 1993, which was championed in this House by my predecessor Lord Roberts, has been diluted by the Welsh language measure passed by the Labour-Plaid Administration in the Welsh Assembly in 2011—a change that has resulted in significantly less protection for the Welsh language in non-devolved matters. May we have a debate in this House to reaffirm the principles of the 1993 Act, which are being diluted by the actions of the Labour-Plaid Administration?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, as will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. He and the Wales Office are addressing this issue and will continue to work with the Welsh Language Commissioner and with the non-devolved Departments and organisations to champion the Welsh language. I will further contact the Secretary of State and ask him to be aware of my hon. Friend’s comments and to respond.

It is 18 months since the then Health Minister promised to make the allocation for my local private finance initiative hospital in St Helens available to the trust, but it still has not got its budget and is weeks away from being required to set one. May we have a statement on when funding will be made available to those trusts?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Ministers from the Department of Health will be here on Tuesday, when he may wish to raise that issue. Under this Government, we as Health Ministers for the first time addressed the problems created by the mismanaged PFI programme under the previous Government. We made it clear that where the problems were most deep-seated, not least in relation to the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, we were prepared, on the basis of a good business plan, to give continuing support in order to resolve any problems.

During the recess I was pleased to visit two very important charities in my constituency: Myton Hospice and Guide Dogs UK. Both are involved in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and rely on the good will and support of our communities. Will the Leader of the House commit Government time to a debate on the importance of charities and the impact that they have on our communities, so that we can better support them?

That is an important representation for the use of Government time and, indeed, Backbench Business Committee time. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Guide Dogs UK illustrates how a charity can provide something integral to the life of a community—something that enables people to realise their potential—without which the whole community would be so much poorer.

Last year our noble friend Lord Hodgson looked at how to reduce the impact of red tape on charities and voluntary groups and made 117 recommendations in his report, “Unshackling Good Neighbours”. We are looking to implement as many of those as possible and have already reported back on our progress so far.

Could the Minister with responsibility for sport make a statement about not just the racist incident in Serbia the other night, but the appalling reaction of the Serbian Football Association, which said that nothing happened and that it is all the fault of the English black player and his team mates? The former Serb leader Karadzic is denying Srebrenica in The Hague and the Serb Prime Minister in Belgrade is denying the existence of Kosovo. What is wrong with the Serbs? Does the Leader of the House agree that their national and club teams need to be suspended for the rest of this season, until they apologise for the disgraceful racist statement? The PM has already condemned it and we now need action from UEFA.

I did not have the opportunity to see the England under-21 match, but I have seen the news reports and news footage of it. I absolutely share the right hon. Gentleman’s sense of shock at the events, as does the Minister with responsibility for sport, who has made it absolutely clear that what happened was unacceptable. Any kind of racist abuse is unacceptable. He has urged UEFA to act and to do so quickly and strongly in relation to any such unacceptable actions.

The UK has become a net exporter of cars and is at the centre of automotive research. Some fantastic innovative work is taking place, as I have seen at Nidec SR Drives in Harrogate in my constituency. Could we have a debate about the manufacturing success of the automotive sector, specifically looking at what more could be done to support it and whether there are any lessons from its success that could inform other sectors?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. What he describes is part of an essential rebalancing of the economy. A million manufacturing jobs were lost under the previous Government as they neglected the industry in pursuit of the prawn cocktail circuit in the City of London. We now know that we have to have a balanced economy that enables us to pay our way in future. Nothing is more significant in that regard than our ability to promote competitiveness in manufacturing and exports. We have some world-leading manufacturing sectors. Vehicle manufacturing in this country has made tremendous strides forward. We have some of the most efficient plants anywhere in the world, and evidence from them must be used to inform how we can deliver advanced manufacturing elsewhere. The aim of the Government’s programmes through the Technology Strategy Board is to promote exactly that.

The Northern Echo reports today that Durham Tees Valley airport, which is a strategic transport hub in the north-east and my constituency, will not receive the regional growth grant that it applied for to help create 1,500 jobs. Could we have an urgent statement from the Business Secretary on the ability of the regional growth fund to deliver regional growth, especially when only £60 million has reached front-line operations?

On the contrary, I heard the Deputy Prime Minister explain to the House the day before yesterday how a very high proportion of regional growth fund moneys are now reaching projects and delivering the promotion of growth. I will, however, seek a response from the Business Department to the case raised by the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a debate on the unacceptable practices of the banks in general and the Yorkshire bank in particular? It is treating its business customers in a most appalling manner, piling on unjustifiable costs and new terms, including a constituent of mine who has been a customer of the Yorkshire bank for 35 years and never missed a payment. When banks make risky investments that go wrong, surely they should stand the losses and not pass them on to their long-established, sound small business customers.

I will draw my hon. Friend’s important point to the attention of my Treasury colleagues. He may also like to raise it with the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which is considering such issues.

Earlier this week the Home Secretary made it clear to the House that she is seeking to opt out of all justice and home affairs measures in the European Union. She is playing hokey-cokey by saying that she may want to opt in again, but there is no guarantee that it would be possible to opt back into the EU arrest warrant. May we have a debate in Government time on this vital issue? I am worried about the effect that the absence of an arrest warrant would have on justice for the victims of those who commit a crime and flee to European countries.

I will consider the hon. Lady’s request. The Home Secretary’s statement was clear. Using the opt-out in the way she proposes will give us the leverage to get the kinds of measures, if we want to opt into them, that are in this country’s interests. The Home Secretary set out an excellent approach that will enable us to focus on what is in this country’s interests and to secure those interests.

Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the Dorset security services and, indeed, the armed forces for their part in ensuring that the Weymouth-based Olympic events were safe and went without incident? Could we have a debate on the efficiency of local resilience forums and the work of tier 1 and tier 2 responders? It was clear in Dorset that existing structures would not have coped and that extra measures, which have now sadly been removed, were needed to keep the games safe.

I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to respond on the issue of local resilience forums and their effectiveness. I know from experience that they are being developed, enhanced and strengthened even now. I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend has said. I did not have an opportunity to visit Weymouth during the Olympics or Paralympics, but what I saw demonstrated that it was the most remarkable event. We are all grateful to the armed forces for their contribution to making it a remarkable success.

A motion that I tabled appears in today’s Order Paper and reads:

“That, in the opinion of the House, the salary of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Government Chief Whip) be reduced by £1,000.”

That equates to the amount for which the Chief Whip would be prosecuted for doing what he did. Surely that is worthy of debate.

I answered that question earlier. It is interesting that nobody on the Opposition Benches has requested a debate on employment. Given that we have seen a further reduction in unemployment and a dramatic improvement in jobs in the private sector in this country since the election, it is interesting that they want to pursue a party political point rather than an issue that is in this country’s interests.

In recent weeks there has been a spate of burglaries in my constituency and in other parts of the country, targeting the Asian community in particular. The issue has been heightened by the fact that many safety deposit boxes, which used to be available in banks and in which people could store their jewellery, are no longer available. Could we have a debate on the importance of the availability of safety deposit boxes in high street banks, so that people can keep their valuables safe?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue that also affects the constituencies of other hon. Members. The Association of Chief Police Officers lead on burglary is due to meet banks to establish the extent of the problem caused by the closure of secure storage and to offer crime prevention advice, including, where appropriate, the use of home safes. Moreover—I know that my hon. Friend will fully endorse this—this is further evidence of how police and crime commissioners, following their election, will be able to address such issues so that police forces can respond to them as part of their operational priorities.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for several weeks, the Chief Whip has struggled to answer questions about exactly what he said in Downing street. Is it time for a ministerial statement on ministerial answers?

I recently visited Graham Engineering, an excellent firm based in Nelson which specialises in the nuclear sector. It recently submitted an excellent grant application under the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. The proposal would create or secure a large number of jobs in my constituency, and support the supply chains in which they operate. I have raised the Graham Engineering proposal with a number of Ministers, but may we have a debate on supporting advanced manufacturing to ensure that such great firms continue to thrive under this Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that Graham Engineering and other firms in his constituency are appreciative of his support. That firm has put in a bid for funding under the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative, which is one of the initiatives to which I referred earlier that support the competitiveness of industry. Those bids are being assessed. Ministers will play no direct part in that process. The independent assessment board will meet on 14 November to decide on those bids.

I strongly endorse the call from the shadow Leader of the House for a further Government statement on energy tariffs. The Leader of the House should not underestimate the degree of disarray that will be caused to the energy industry by the combination of the Prime Minister’s answer yesterday and the answer to the urgent question today. The matter needs to be cleared up now, because companies will not know what the Government expect them to do on social tariffs and fuel poverty. On all these important issues, we need answers in days, not months.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) answered the urgent question and made it clear that simplification and tariff reform will form part of the Energy Bill, enabling us to deliver precisely what he and the Prime Minister said we would do, which is to use legislation to get consumers the best possible tariff.

Two women who ran a business called Purple Mountain for many years recently lost the business due to a tendering process conducted by the Forestry Commission. May we have a debate on tendering processes, and will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs meets me and the two business owners so that we can explain the terrible circumstances that they have had to endure?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue of which I was not aware. I will contact my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask him to respond.

I am very hopeful because of what the Leader of the House has said about having an employment debate. May I ask him for an employment debate, specifically on the problem of Departments holding up decisions that affect the creation of jobs? Heath business and technical park in my constituency has a dispute with Manweb over electrical lines, which is holding up much-needed investment in jobs and housing. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is saying to me that it does not have the resources to make the decision quickly. It is many months since the matter went to DECC. If we cannot have a debate, will the Leader of the House intervene to remind the Department that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor want to ensure the speedy resolution of infrastructure and housing decisions?

I am encouraged by the hon. Gentleman’s support for a debate on employment. He might like to talk to his party’s Front Benchers, because so far this Session, including for the seventh allotted day, they have not sought one debate on employment. That is a great pity because, judging by what the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, one would have thought that it was the matter with the greatest importance.

We need to debate employment because the figures are compelling: employment is up; there are more than 1 million more jobs in the private sector; we are tackling youth unemployment, not least through the youth contract; we are tackling long-term unemployment, not least through the Work programme, from which 693,000 people are already benefiting; and there has been a two-thirds year-on-year increase in the number of young people going into apprenticeships since the time of the Labour Government. Those are important things, but we are not complacent. There is more to be done and we are going to do it. A debate will help us to achieve that.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the concerns of the more than 1 million shooting enthusiasts in the UK over Royal Mail’s decision to ban the postage of firearms and their parts throughout the UK? More than 1,000 comments from shooting enthusiasts have already been registered. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on this important matter, which will potentially jeopardise rural businesses and legal leisure pursuits?

I am grateful for that question. I cannot promise a debate or a statement, but I will seek a response from my right hon. Friend to the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly makes.

A constituent wrote to me about the powers of the receiver under the Law of Property Acts. I forwarded the letter to the Ministry of Justice on 8 May. We chased it up on 19 July and my excellent caseworker chased it again on 24 August and 29 September. We did not get a reply or an acknowledgement. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that a Minister comes to the House to reassure Members from all parties that Departments will respond to letters from MPs in a timely manner and not leave it six months?

Across Government, it is always our intention to respond in a timely manner. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the matter that she raises.

Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), I again ask the Leader of the House to persuade the Business Secretary to come to the House to explain the decision not to give a regional growth fund grant to Durham Tees Valley airport. I would like to know why the decision was leaked to the media and why the Prime Minister’s pledge of support to the airport from the Dispatch Box just a few months ago counts for nothing.

As I said, I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and secure a response to the issues that have been raised. The hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the matter at Business, Innovation and Skills questions on 8 November.

May we have an urgent debate on the sale of publicly owned freehold assets—the so-called family silver? In a written answer to me, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) said that that information was not held centrally. Will the Leader of the House say how such matters are being audited and how there is accountability for this public money?

The House will remember that the gold was sold by a former Chancellor, losing this country £5 billion. From our point of view, not least following resource accounting, it is important that we use assets efficiently. It is the responsibility of Ministers across Government to ensure that they are aware of where they have freehold assets and to use them.

In 1908, an organisation was set up to promote independent working-class education. It was called the Plebs’ League. Would the Leader of the House support an all-party parliamentary group whose purpose was to promote the principles behind that organisation once again?

I was not aware of that organisation, but I am happy to be advised of it. As is shown by the Workers’ Educational Association and the like, education is one of the routes of social mobility. That is something that this Government have focused on and we will continue to do so.

Many Members have raised sports-related issues with the Leader of the House today. Will he consider having a general debate on sports matters, so that we can talk about Wonga sponsoring football stadiums? I am concerned that future sporting events, such as the rugby world cup in 2015, should be a great success. Does he agree that it is ridiculous that Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium has been excluded from the list of venues for the rugby world cup in 2015?

I am not in the least surprised that sports issues have featured strongly in business questions, because the Olympics and Paralympics demonstrated the power of sport to inspire and enthuse people. I hope that we will follow through on that. Many of the issues that have been raised are about the governance of sport. I will discuss with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Backbench Business Committee how we might provide an opportunity to discuss this range of issues.