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Commons Chamber

Volume 552: debated on Thursday 8 November 2012

House of Commons

Thursday 8 November 2012

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before questions

New Writs


That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Croydon North in the room of the right hon. Malcolm Hunt Wicks, deceased.—(Ms Winterton.)


That the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Middlesbrough in the room of Sir Stuart Bell, deceased.— (Ms Winterton.)


That the Speaker do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the Borough constituency of Rotherham, in the room of the right hon. Denis MacShane, who since his election for the said Borough constituency has been appointed to the Office of Steward or Bailiff of Her Majesty’s Three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, in the County of Buckingham.—(Ms Winterton.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Innovation and Skills

The Secretary of State was asked—

Business Start-ups

1. What steps he has taken to increase the amount of information available to people who wish to start their own business. (127295)

In January we launched the Business in You campaign to highlight the support available to start-ups. It gives access to online tools, such as a finance finder to help identify local sources of finance. Since then, we have made simple, easy to use information on starting a business available at the GOV.UK website. New businesses have access to 22,000 mentors offering advice on starting and growing a business.

At the start of the year, Leamington Spa set a new record for the number of companies formed in the first quarter, with 164 new start-ups registered—a 10% increase on the previous record. Will the Secretary of State look at how we get information out to our new entrepreneurs and collaborate with important local bodies, such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the chambers of trade, so that we can capitalise on this new wave of entrepreneurship?

We will do just that and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his role in promoting local companies. I was in Leamington Spa recently to meet some video game companies that have started up and he has played a useful role in promoting all that. Last year, encouraged by the overall improvement in the business climate, half a million new companies were established in this country, which is a major indication of the growth of entrepreneurial commitment.

The Secretary of State will be aware that with the number of university and college places falling and youth unemployment increasing, now, more than ever, we should be encouraging young people to set up their own businesses. Will the Secretary of State be willing to come and visit the Entrepreneurial-Spark scheme in my constituency and see the innovative ways in which Glasgow is helping to encourage young business people to come forward in the city?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I take a particularly close interest in positive news in Glasgow and I would be happy to come and see that project. Suffice it to say that there is a new start-up loan scheme for young entrepreneurs, of which large numbers of young people are taking advantage. I am delighted to see that it is happening in Glasgow, too.


More than a million apprenticeships have been started under this Government, 500,000 of them in the last year. As well as this welcome increase in quantity, we are improving the quality of apprenticeships so they are rigorous and provide value for money while being more rewarding to employer and apprentice alike.

Since 2011 the Department for Work and Pensions has encouraged its private suppliers through procurement to hire nearly 2,000 apprentices. If this were rolled out across Whitehall, it would create nearly 100,000 new apprenticeships. Will the new Minister with responsibility for apprentices study this pilot scheme to see whether we can make that happen?

As my hon. Friend knows, I am hugely supportive of the DWP pilot and will study its outcomes carefully, in particular the value for money that it generates. I pay tribute to his parliamentary apprentice academy. Getting an apprentice through the academy that he supports is extremely easy and I recommend it to all Members of the House.

Does the Minister agree that our schools and colleges play a key role in helping to encourage young people who are potential apprentices, and that they need to provide the courses that are relevant to industry today?

I certainly do agree. It is important to include English and maths in apprenticeships for all those who do not have level 2, and we must do more to make sure we inspire young people to look not only at the academic route, but at apprenticeships which combine work and training at the same time.

I commend my hon. Friend and his predecessor for their work on the apprenticeship programme. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published its report on apprenticeships. Can he say a little more about the drive for quality, as opposed just to quantity, of apprenticeships?

I welcome the Select Committee’s report. The focus on quality in apprenticeships is important. We have already said that almost all apprenticeships must be longer than a year, and we have taken action to close down some low-quality provision, so this is a direction that I very much want to go in. I will be studying the recommendations of the report extremely carefully.

After the rhetoric, has the Minister read what the all-party Select Committee said in its report last week about his Department’s handling of apprenticeships? It said that the apprenticeship scheme

“continues to lack clarity and purpose”

and an “overarching strategy” to succeed. Those are the latest in a series of warnings to the Department. There was Jason Holt’s report on small and medium-sized enterprises. Apprenticeship starts over the past year are down for under-19-year-olds in seven out of the nine English regions, down in engineering by 30%, and down in construction by 18%. The Minister’s own officials say that one in five apprenticeships get no training, and, as we heard, the Select Committee has issued strong warnings about quality. When will his Department take practical steps such as those that we have urged for almost a year, requiring big companies that want Government contracts to take on apprentices? If the Minister does not get a grip on this, it is not Pitt or Disraeli that he will have to compare himself to, but being in the bunker in charge of phantom armies.

I am glad the shadow Minister has mined the report for all the negatives. I want to start with the opening sentence of the Select Committee report, which says, “We welcome the commitment of this Government to apprenticeships.” This Government commissioned Jason Holt’s report so of course I welcome it. We have already taken action to improve quality and we will take more action. Not least am I looking forward to the Doug Richard report later this month. The vital thing to do is not only to increase the quantity of apprenticeships, as we have done, but to make sure that they provide excellent value for money, so that all those apprentices throughout the country get a brilliant education as well as training in work, and that is what we will deliver.

Business Olympics

3. What assessment he has made of the effect of the business Olympics on exports and inward investment. (127298)

Over 4,000 business leaders and others attended 17 business summits at the British business embassy at Lancaster House. Every one was attended by a BIS Minister. I was very pleased to attend five, which were excellent events. We expect them to generate £1 billion of additional sales by UK companies, and £6 billion of direct investment over the next four years.

Wild Automotive, a great company in Redditch, has increased export sales by 73% over the past two years. What more help can this company and others in Worcestershire access to continue this great record of growth?

I congratulate that company on its performance. UK Trade & Investment is running export week in the next week, with more than 100 events throughout the UK, which is a great opportunity for businesses to get further advice about exporting. The automotive sector, of which the company in my hon. Friend’s constituency is an example, is now running its first balance of payments surplus since 1975.

Student Loans

4. What estimate he has made of the proportion of loans for students starting courses in 2012 with fees of £9,000 a year which will not be fully repaid. (127299)

We estimate that around half of all borrowers will have some part of their loan written off, as repayments are contingent on their future income. Our reforms are more progressive than the previous system, because people start to repay only once they are earning over £21,000. The new system helps reduce the deficit and is affordable and sustainable for the Government, while offering protection to those who may not go on to high paid employment.

I thank the Minister for that response but, despite what he says, some estimates put the cost of the Government’s higher education funding policy at £1 billion more than anticipated, completely wiping out any expected savings. How will he plug that gap?

There is no such gap. That report was an eccentric interpretation of the evidence. Our figures have been checked by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, and the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has produced its own estimates and reached conclusions that are very similar to ours.

Well, that eccentric report was produced by the highly respected Higher Education Policy Institute, and one of its arguments is based on the findings of the self-same Institute for Fiscal Studies, even though the Minister has just said that it underestimates the figure. The Government originally assumed 32% non-payment, but the IFS, as quoted in the report he dismisses as an eccentricity, cites 37%, and today he has said it will be up to 50%. That is where the £1 billion figure comes from. How will the Government explain that away?

Perhaps it would help my right hon. Friend if I explained that there are two different measures. The answer I gave the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) was that we think about half of all borrowers will have some part of their loan written off. There is a separate calculation for the value of the loans that will be written off, which we estimate will be about 30%, so both figures are correct. Nothing can be completely certain in this life, and repayment essentially depends on future earnings, but what is certain is that starting to repay only when one is earning more than £21,000 is a jolly sight better than repaying when one is earning more than £15,000, which was the system left by the Labour party.

It is clear that the maths supporting the Government’s higher education funding policy is staring to unravel. The Office for Budget Responsibility has shown that tuition fees count towards inflation and will add 0.2 percentage points to the consumer prices index in the fourth quarter of this year, so the impact of the Government’s policies not only will be felt by students, but will have wider implications. Because CPI is the measure by which public pensions and benefits are increased annually, the Government’s welfare bill and civil service pensions will be affected at next year’s annual uprating. Therefore, does the Minister accept that his policies are disastrous not only for students, but for Government finances in general, and what conversations is he having with other Departments about mitigating that?

Let us be absolutely clear about what our reforms will do. They will save money for the Exchequer, but at the same time they will ensure that universities have, if anything, an increase in the cash they receive for teaching, and graduates will repay only when they are earning more than £21,000 a year. That is a fair deal for all the partners in the higher education system.

Is not it the case that costs would be lower if the cost of courses was lower, particularly for the Open university, which was not always supported by the previous Government as fully as it should have been, and for further education that is skills-based? I thank Ministers, in particular, for their recent intervention in Kent college to secure skills-based education in Kent.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is, of course, a range of options for access to higher education, and the Open university is an important part of them.

Research Partnerships

5. What support his Department has provided to university and business research partnerships in the last 12 months. (127300)

We want to see the best possible links between universities and businesses. The Chancellor recently tripled public investment in our UK research partnership investment fund, which promotes investment in shared research and development facilities on our campuses. Winning bids must include sponsorship from businesses or charities, so the scheme will deliver more than £1 billion of new R and D investment in total.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response and highlight for him the success we are achieving in Chester with the Riverside innovation centre and work between businesses and the university of Chester. May I ask him to visit the innovation centre in the near future?

I have happy memories of visiting the university of Chester when Opposition spokesman and so will certainly try to visit as a Minister. My hon. Friend describes just one example of the reason why the World Economic Forum recently placed the UK second out of 144 countries for the quality of university and business collaboration in R and D.

Does the Minister agree that there is so much in Lord Heseltine’s review, “No Stone Unturned”, that it shines a light not only on the eyes we see under the rock, but on the policies that affect the relationship between universities and the business and research communities and the entrepreneurship we need in all our regions to make this country economically vibrant?

Lord Heseltine’s report was excellent. The message that we need to see growth across the entire country is absolutely correct. It is also correct that universities across the country are crucial drivers of local economic growth, and that is one of the many reasons we are supporting them.

In past years, Higher Education Funding Council for England letters have never done much for Wiltshire. Will the Minister be flexible in his approach to student number controls on universities seeking to co-locate with high-tech businesses, and so bring university education to our fine county?

That is an ingenious piece of local lobbying on which I congratulate my hon. Friend. I will certainly bear that in mind. We are continuing to reduce the number controls that we inherited from the previous Government; we have been able to achieve that successfully through our reforms. Now, one in three students is choosing a university without number controls, and we want that to go further.

Business Start-ups

One of the main contributions is the number of jobs created. The best estimate that we have is that start-ups are responsible for a third of all jobs created. Start-up activity has remained highly resilient, with Companies House reporting over 450,000 newly registered companies in 2011-12—the highest number since 1997-98.

I am sure that the Minister will welcome this week’s CBI report showing that small and medium-sized enterprises are very optimistic about adding jobs in the year to come. However, what would he say to a start-up in my constituency, Energetic UK, which builds eco classrooms for schools? It is run by very experienced people, but because it is a start-up they do not have the three years’ annual accounts needed to get local authority contracts. I have written to him about this company and wonder what the Department could do to help.

Instructions to contracting authorities emphasise that the assessment of financial risk should be based on a business judgment, not on a purely mechanistic application of financial formulae such as value of turnover or three years’ accounts, which could unreasonably shut out start-up companies.

Small businesses are being held back from expanding and taking on extra workers because they are unable to get the finance they need. This week Dave Fishwick, also known as Bank of Dave, addressed a group of MPs about a model of community banking that has worked in his area. What more could the Government do, particularly given the failure of their Project Merlin scheme, to ensure access to finance and better relationship banking in communities such as mine?

I am not sure that we need lectures from a party that introduced six new regulations every working day during its 13 years in office. We have cut red tape and business tax. There is an issue with access to finance. That is why we have set up the business bank, the funding for lending scheme, and a range of other schemes. It is now up to the banks to rebuild their relationship networks to make businesses more aware of the appeals mechanism. We are encouraging the British Bankers Association to do that to make sure that the money that the Government and the taxpayer are providing gets through to the companies that need it.

The Minister understands that every new successful entrepreneur is a new job creator, a new wealth creator, and a new net contributor to paying for our public services. Does he also understand the importance of the intention of people to become entrepreneurs? What is the Department doing to strengthen the entrepreneurial culture in our country?

We shall be playing our part in next week’s global entrepreneurship week, with 2,500 events throughout the country. I shall also be promoting a range of other Government schemes such as the CEiS scheme, which encourages more investment by entrepreneurs in start-up companies, and a number of other schemes that encourage enterprise in our schools and colleges to help those who are thinking of starting up companies as soon as they leave further or higher education.

On economic growth, does the Minister agree with the National Audit Office’s assessment that a “significant portion” of the regional growth fund has been

“allocated to projects that create or safeguard relatively few jobs for the money invested”?

What steps is he going to take to address this concern?

I do not wholly accept that criticism. The regional growth fund has been a key part of creating and safeguarding 500,000 new jobs in rounds 1, 2 and 3. I find the logic of the National Audit Office report somewhat perverse. It argues that we should look only at net jobs. If a plant in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency closed with the loss of 500 jobs and 450 of the people affected were subsequently employed elsewhere, he would not stand up in this House and say that he had only lost 50 jobs.

Does the Minister agree that new start-ups benefit from grant aid in particular? To that end, will he ensure that the UK takes advantage of EU transition zones in the next funding round, and will he structure them in accordance with the Heseltine recommendations of local flexibility to ensure that new start-ups are not put in a straitjacket and are unable to use them?

Yes, I will certainly look at that. We are now preparing how we manage and administer the programmes under the new multi-annual financial framework, which will begin in January 2014 and last until 2020. I want to make sure that we have a smaller number of programmes across the United Kingdom and that we therefore minimise the differing costs and start dates under the previous seven-year framework. We need a simpler approach to the cohesion funds, but I certainly take the hon. Gentleman’s point on the importance of the transition regions outside the category A regions.

Tied Landlords

7. If he will establish an independent body to review the relationship between big pub companies and tied landlords. (127304)

11. If he will establish an independent body to review the relationship between big pub companies and tied landlords. (127308)

20. If he will establish an independent body to review the relationship between big pub companies and tied landlords. (127319)

The Secretary of State has written to the industry asking for evidence on how the self-regulatory approach announced last November is working. We will make our decisions after considering its response.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but a broad coalition of organisations as diverse as the Campaign for Real Ale, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which has a majority of coalition members, the all-party save the pub group, Unite and the GMB—the list goes on—all think that the relationship between pubcos and their licensees is unfair. Is the Minister able to name any serious organisation that thinks that self-regulation will work in this sector?

I understand that a wide range of organisations have expressed concerns, which is exactly why we have written to the industry to ask for its views on how this is working. We want to proceed on an evidence-based approach and once we receive the evidence we will report back to the House.

In Wigan, we are proud of our small breweries, AllGates and Prospect, whose beer will be in this place very soon. An independent inquiry would allow us to consider the impact of restrictions on their trade and, in particular, the impact on our local economy, given the breweries’ importance to Wigan. A commitment today from the Minister to establish such an inquiry would go a long way to restoring confidence in the industry. Will she make that commitment?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She does a wonderful job in championing her local breweries and the BIS Committee was very positive about the relationship that family brewers have with tenants. I may have to disappoint her by not giving her the commitment that she asks for today, but the Government are open-minded. As I have said, when we receive the industry’s response, which we have asked for by 23 November, we will consider the matter further.

On 12 January, this House supported unanimously a motion stating that the Government should commission a review of the self-regulation of the pub industry, to be conducted by an independent body, by the autumn of this year. It is now November and there has been no action. Why does the Minister hold the decision of the House of Commons in such contempt?

I do not think that that is an accurate representation of my view. I came into the post just a couple of months ago and I am looking at the issue very seriously. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the industry and it is appropriate to proceed on an evidence base. Once we receive the written responses, discussions will be required with the industry and, as I have said, we will return to the House with further information on what has been presented to us.

Will the Minister outline how she, as the Government’s representative, might help independent freehold houses generate business and, in particular, line up with independent mini-breweries?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is certainly interesting that three quarters of the new pubs that have opened in the last year and a bit have been freehold. That says a lot about how people who are looking to set up pubs feel about the business models. The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) outlined some of the initiatives of global entrepreneurship week. The Government have a raft of measures to support small businesses. I know that Members from all parts of the House want to support small community businesses in their constituencies, including small breweries.

The Minister says that she wants to hear from the industry. If she has looked into this matter, she will know that the entire industry was united in thinking that the Government’s response last November was too weak. The Secretary of State said in June 2010 that he would support the commitments made by the previous Government, and this House set out its clear view in January 2012. Now, years after all the Select Committee reviews, we have yet another consultation. Why does the Minister not listen to the view of this House, listen to the view of the industry and set up an independent review of whether self-regulation is working? Let us start saving some jobs and pubs before it is too late.

I am listening; that is the purpose of asking the industry how the current approach is working. There are positive signs, such as the setting up of the Pubs Advisory Service and the Pubs Independent Conciliation and Arbitration Service. PICAS has started to hear cases and two have been found in favour of the tenants. There has been positive action and we need to assess whether that is sufficient. That is what the gathering of evidence is designed to do.

Wind Farms

8. What assessment he has made of the effect on jobs of the extra costs of energy arising from subsidising wind farm development. (127305)

There are 94,000 people employed in the development and construction of wind farms. We are seeking to develop the supply chain to create more jobs. We are separately preparing a compensation scheme for energy intensive industries to offset the higher electricity costs in order to maintain their competitiveness.

Some businesses in Montgomeryshire tell me that the greatest impediment to their growth and job creation is the rapidly rising cost of energy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that controlling energy costs, including by dealing with the unsustainably high subsidies to the onshore wind farm industry, must be the aim of the coalition Government if they are to achieve their ambitions of job creation and economic recovery?

We do accept that proposition. That is why we have introduced the £250 million programme to provide compensation for energy intensive industries. I may have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman on the wider issue because the coalition Government are absolutely committed to the 30% target for the generation of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Onshore wind is one of the cheaper renewables and its costs are falling. I notice that a few days ago, the hon. Gentleman tweeted that there is a big lesson here:

“If my party loses in 2015 they’ll say ‘It was wind farms wot done it’”.

All parties in the House, particularly mine, may have to brace themselves for the return of Lembit Öpik.

It is true to say that there are differences within the Government on the importance of wind power. When will the Government speak with one voice so that there is a clear strategic approach, rather than the alternatives that we have before us today?

We very much speak with one voice on this subject. I encouraged the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) aggressively to promote apprenticeships. I am sure that when he has settled into his new job, he will be an enthusiastic advocate of wind farms.

Experience and Training

9. What steps his Department is taking to encourage participants in further and higher education to gain experience and training in business and industry. (127306)

We are supporting students to gain vital work experience by growing high-quality apprenticeships across the economy. We are also supporting the roll-out of student enterprise societies in every university to support the creation of student internship and graduate job opportunities with local enterprises.

In my constituency, the human resources department of our local Morrisons regional distribution centre is working closely with Sittingbourne community college to ensure that school leavers have a better understanding of what employers expect from potential employees. Will the Government encourage human resources departments based in the head offices of large companies to liaise in a similar way with universities, to better equip students for the workplace?

That is an excellent and imaginative idea. I think some of that happens already, but we are actively promoting such initiatives in a series of round tables that the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), will be leading. Universities are now obliged to put on their websites key information about graduate employment outcomes from their courses, which will encourage initiatives such as that described by my hon. Friend.

Green Manufacturing Jobs

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on investment in green manufacturing jobs. (127307)

I regularly meet the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to discuss energy and climate change policies, including investment in green manufacturing jobs. We are seeking to exploit opportunities for growth through green technologies, and I have recently announced that the UK Green Investment Bank is operational, which will support investment in green manufacturing.

Companies such as Tag Engineering Services on Teesside, and many others, have invested millions of pounds to create capacity to build monopiles and other components for the offshore wind industry. They have some of the best facilities in the world, yet they see multi-million pound contracts go out to Europe. What is the Secretary of State doing to get British wind farm contracts placed with British firms?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration that supply chains in that sector are not as well developed as they should be, not just in respect of the components, but also of the steel that contributes to the masts. That is why the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I are bringing together the renewables supply chain to develop the capacity that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is considerable potential for new, green manufacturing jobs in new housing systems? In Bicester, which has an eco-town project and aspires to become a new garden city, we are keen to have a green-collar cluster of companies manufacturing new housing systems.

That is a very constructive suggestion. To put it in a wider context, there are already something in the order of 1 million green economy jobs, which is about 8% of our economy. The construction sector is potentially an important and big component of that, and I would be happy to talk to and work with the hon. Gentleman to encourage it.

Engineering Careers

12. What steps his Department is taking to encourage young people to take up careers in engineering; and if he will make a statement. (127309)

This Government celebrate engineering. World-class engineering is vital for Britain’s future, and world-class engineering needs world-class engineers, so we are supporting engineering in schools, apprenticeships and universities to inspire the engineers of the future.

That is a pretty positive answer. However, as defence equipment Minister, I saw time and again that the single greatest problem facing British engineering businesses is a shortage of skills. I therefore commend to my hon. Friend a report from the Engineering Employers Federation, “Skills for Growth”, which makes recommendations to ensure that young people have a better understanding of the opportunities in engineering through careers advice and stronger links between businesses and schools.

Yes, I have seen that report, and the Government have taken action. Some 25,000 science, technology, engineering and maths ambassadors are going into schools to inspire pupils, and there are some signs of success. Over the past three years, twice as many pupils have taken triple science, and the proportion of STEM courses in university is no longer falling as it was under Labour, but rising.

The Minister will be aware that the number of women entering the engineering professions is still appallingly low. What actions will he be taking not only to encourage women into those professions, but also, just as importantly, to retain them there as there is a high drop-out rate?

I agree very strongly with the hon. Lady, and in my first week in this job I announced support for a pilot scheme by Rolls-Royce and other engineering companies to expand the number of women in engineering. After all, we cannot possibly believe that we are getting the best people in engineering if almost half the population are excluded.

Construction Output

13. What assessment he has made of the latest construction output figures; and if he will make a statement. (127310)

15. What assessment he has made of the latest construction output figures; and if he will make a statement. (127312)

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that construction output fell by 2.5% in the last quarter, but overall gross domestic product increased by 1%.

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State gave a commitment that the Government were taking steps to address the decline in construction output, but this week’s construction trade survey showed, for the first time ever, a decline in every single construction sector. What has gone wrong?

There are various surveys; another construction survey shows that output increased in October. In September, we announced a housing and planning package that will deliver up to 70,000 new homes and 140,000 jobs, with a £40 billion guarantee for infrastructure projects and £10 billion for new homes. We have also introduced the Growth and Infrastructure Bill to speed up the planning system and unlock new investment in housing and infrastructure. I am surprised the hon. Gentleman voted against it on Monday night.

Given the importance that the Government placed on the national infrastructure plan just a year ago, why has the value of new construction orders for infrastructure fallen by more than 40% in the first two quarters of this year?

It is being so cheerful that keeps you going, isn’t it? I would have hoped that the hon. Lady welcomed the £4.5 billion contract won by Hitachi to build the next generation of inter-city trains, creating 900 new jobs in north-east England. The north-east also did particularly well under round 3 of the regional growth fund, with 29 bids selected, worth £120 million, creating or safeguarding 30,000 jobs. I am looking forward to my visit to the north-east next week to open new factories in Blyth and on Tyneside.

The 2.5% quarterly drop in construction output to which the Minister referred is dire enough, but year on year, activity in the construction sector has fallen by a massive 12%, and further decline is predicted through to at least 2014. The sector is crying out for assistance from, and co-operation with, a Government who value construction as an important part of an active industrial strategy. Will the warm words, the excuses, the complacent tone that we have heard this morning, the protestations of just how difficult it is and the bland and vague promises of help in future stop, and will the Minister take decisive action that will help the construction sector now?

As I have already said, we are investing £4.5 billion to fund new affordable homes over the spending review period, all of which is committed to be spent in this Parliament. That is leveraging in a further £15 billion of private sector investment. We are on track to deliver 170,000 affordable homes by 2015.

New Businesses (Outstanding Debts)

14. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to prevent owners of businesses which have failed with debts outstanding from starting new businesses of an identical or similar nature. (127311)

The Government have no current plans to bring forward legislation. We recognise that some businesses will fail, but we do not want to prevent entrepreneurs from learning from an initial business failure. I understand, however, the significant concerns that are expressed about so-called phoenix companies. I know my hon. Friend has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents on this issue, and I will keep it under close review.

Cavendish Conversions Ltd and, in my constituency, Number Nine Restaurant Ltd, have risen phoenix-like to start again in new guises thanks to dodgy financial gymnastics by their owners, leaving innocent citizens and businesses with serious financial losses. I urge the Government to take action against those people. It is unfair that they can rack up losses and start again.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He highlights the distress that is caused to his constituents—I know from my correspondence that this also applies to constituents across the country—when companies undertake the activities he describes. I look forward to meeting him to discuss this specific issue in a couple of weeks’ time. He has already introduced an Adjournment debate to go into his case in detail. I reiterate that we need to get the balance right between encouraging enterprise and protecting consumers and business, but I look forward to discussing the matter with him further.

I agree with the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). What happens is that perfectly good businesses get left with bad debts because a contract has not been paid. They then have a cash flow problem and the banks often will not support them. The Minister should look again at this and at the role of the banks in this situation.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, because what often happens is that one business goes under and its creditors get into difficulty as a result. We want to make sure that the system works to prevent such situations and provide support to businesses. We need to be wary of unintended consequences, because we also do not want a regime under which people who have had a failure in business cannot start up again, but we need to look at the disqualification regime and check that we have got the balance right.

Business Start-ups

16. What recent steps he has taken to encourage business start-ups; and if he will make a statement. (127313)

19. What recent steps he has taken to encourage business start-ups; and if he will make a statement. (127316)

There were almost 500,000 start-ups last year—the highest number since records began in 1997, up from 360,000 in 2010. We are helping to encourage business start-ups by providing advice and financial support, and confidence that the Government will pay their way.

I recently visited Warwickshire college’s Rugby site to talk to students at the Peter Jones enterprise academy, and I joined them on the “StartUp Britain” bus. Thirty years ago I started a business without any formal training, and it would have been of great value to me if those resources had been available then; I might have made fewer mistakes in the early days of running my business. Does the Minister agree that these schemes are a great way to ensure that our young people get the vital skills they need to help get new businesses started effectively?

Absolutely. I too have visited a Peter Jones academy, and they are a brilliant new innovation. The new start-up loans provide finance and support for young entrepreneurs to help them get a start, and we need to do all that we can to support people who want to start up businesses.

In addition to making it easier for people to start up their own business, what steps are the Government taking through the tax system to encourage investment in small business?

We have sharply increased the enterprise investment scheme limit and we will do all that we can to support people who work hard and want to get on in life and start their own business. As well as making investment in small companies easier, we also stopped the planned increase in the small business rate and we are cutting business taxes. We are doing everything we can to get Britain working.

Female Board Members (Quotas)

The European Commission is considering what proposals to make to increase the number of women on boards. I expect an announcement shortly, perhaps as early as next week. It is an important issue. I want to see more women on boards on merit. As the House will know, the UK’s voluntary business-led approach is working well, with significant increases in women on boards in FTSE 100 companies.

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer, but does she agree that it is also important that we focus on the pipeline of talented women? Does she welcome the pilot initiative by the Mentoring Foundation which offers women at the junior end of senior management mentoring support from senior women executives who themselves have been mentored by FTSE chief executives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the pipeline issue. It is vital that we encourage businesses and organisations to develop talented individuals. If an organisation is viewed as a pyramid, there are good numbers of men and women at the base of the pyramid, but higher up the number of women falls away, and mentoring schemes are an excellent way to address that. The Women’s Business Council is also looking at this issue, and the Government’s initiative “Think, Act, Report” encourages companies to put in place schemes to ensure that they develop the talent within their organisations and address the pipeline issue.

Regional Growth Fund

18. What recent estimate he has made of the number of jobs that will be created by the regional growth fund. (127315)

The regional growth fund will generate over half a million gross jobs over the period 2011-2021, with 80% of the impact coming in the first five years. Some 300,000 jobs will be delivered by projects and programmes in rounds 1 and 2, and 240,000 from bids selected for round 3. In rounds 1 and 2, eight out of 10 projects and programmes have now started and 149 bidders have now signed final agreements.

When the regional development agencies were in existence, they provided important match funding to enable European regional development fund money to be properly used. When the Communities and Local Government Committee looked at this, we suggested that a portion of the regional growth fund be earmarked to ensure that all our ERDF money could be properly spent. That suggestion was turned down. If we do not spend all the ERDF money to ensure that we create the maximum number of jobs, will it be the Minister’s responsibility or that of his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government?

We are certainly looking at how we can spend money better in the next seven-year framework. There has been underspend, not least because there were so many programmes. I am trying to rationalise and simplify them, working with colleagues in the three other Departments affected. The House will want to note that the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward employed 434 people and spent a large amount of public money, but did not leverage in anything like the amount of private sector money that the new regional growth fund is doing.

Topical Questions

My Department has a key role in supporting the rebalancing of the economy and business to deliver growth while increasing skills and learning.

Schools routinely measure the number of youngsters going on to higher education, but not necessarily those who go on to apprenticeships—something that was picked up on in the report published this week by the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills. Does the Minister think that more can be done in this area?

Yes. As I said earlier, we welcome the thorough and interesting report from the Select Committee. Recommendation 16 said that alongside university admissions, schools should publish apprenticeship starts from their former pupils, and I agree. Through the new destinations measures, which were introduced this summer, we will ensure that that happens.

There are more than 1,200 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in the Secretary of State’s constituency. Under his proposed “shares for rights” scheme, employers in his constituency will be allowed to make the acceptance of job offers conditional on people agreeing to give up their basic rights at work for shares. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that JSA claimants in Twickenham will not lose their benefits for refusing the offer of a job because it is conditional on them giving up their rights for shares?

In a statement in the Commons a couple of days ago, I think, the Minister in the Treasury who is responsible for taxation made it absolutely clear that the scheme was voluntary. While the hon. Gentleman hunts for the ghost of Beecroft in this proposal, I will put a simple proposition to him. If employers were seriously interested in trying to set up an arrangement that had minimum job protection for employees, why would they go to the trouble of establishing a complex employee ownership scheme when they could do that so much more easily through an agency workers agreement, which would have far lesser employment rights than this proposal?

There was no answer to my question in what we have just heard from the Secretary of State. He cannot answer it because this has not been properly thought through. He has said that the scheme has had a mixed reaction. That is a gross understatement: it has been described as “awful” by the National Center for Employee Ownership. He has said that it is not intended for most ordinary businesses. It would be interesting to know which businesses have lobbied him to introduce this nonsense. While we support strongly employee ownership, it is beyond me to think why that must be tied to giving up rights at work. Is it not the case that, just as the Secretary of State was forced to consult on proposals to fire employees at will by the Treasury, he has now been forced to do the same on this crazy proposal? This is a Secretary of State in office but without the power to say no to the Chancellor.

There is no proposal to fire employees at will, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I will repeat what I said: the scheme is entirely voluntary. He should perhaps reflect in a little bit more detail on some of the comments of both businesses and trade union stakeholders. Businesses have said that this is an interesting proposal that many are unlikely to take up. The trade unions have said, similarly, that they do not like it, but they do not expect it to have a significant impact on the labour market.

T3. Having recently taken a trade delegation of Worcestershire businesses to China, as per my entry in the register, I was impressed by the support from UK Trade & Investment that was available to small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which received sponsorship towards the cost of the trip. What is the Minister doing to ensure that the message gets out about the help that the Government are providing to smaller companies to export to the world’s fastest growing markets? (127323)

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who I think took part himself in a trade mission to China last month. I encourage other hon. Members to follow in his footsteps.

UK Trade & Investment is building relationships with its private sector partners to increase awareness of its services for exporters throughout the networks. UKTI will host export week from 12 to 16 November, when there will be more than 100 events around the UK designed to reach out to small and medium-sized enterprises, including events being organised in the west midlands to promote forthcoming market visits to Austria and Romania.

T2. Jaguar Land Rover and Tata have committed to Birmingham and Britain, transforming the Jaguar plant in my constituency into a world-class success story. Just when the plant is taking on 1,100 workers, the High Speed 2 route unnecessarily threatens its rail terminal, which would have serious implications for the company and the community. Will the Secretary of State intervene with his counterpart in the Department for Transport and meet me, because nothing must be done to put at risk the success of the biggest plant in Birmingham? (127321)

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and anyone else concerned about this problem. I meet regularly with Jaguar Land Rover, as does the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon). This is not an issue that it has raised with us so far, but we are happy to pursue the matter. I want to reinforce what the hon. Gentleman said, however. This is a magnificent company investing £2 billion over this decade and creating high-level employment. The Government have made a substantial contribution to support it through the regional growth fund, support for the engine plant in Wolverhampton, which is now getting off the ground, and in other respects.

T8. Chester has seen record numbers of new businesses being set up in the past year, with 305 being registered during the first six months of the year—a 323% increase on the year before. Does the Minister agree that these and other recent figures show that the work that the Government are doing to encourage private sector growth and redress the north-south imbalance is beginning to deliver results in the north-west of England? (127329)

That is encouraging news and shows the strength of the small business sector in the north-west in particular. The key to encouraging small businesses is to continue to cut back the burden of red tape imposed by the last Government, to reduce the level of business taxation imposed by the last Government and to ensure that they have full access to finance through the banking system.

T4. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and me to discuss the rejection of the bid for a regional growth fund grant by Durham Tees Valley airport and for his offer to meet representatives from the airport and the local enterprise partnership. Will he reaffirm his support for regional airports as drivers of economic development, and tell the House what he can do to help our Durham Tees Valley airport to deliver on its development plan and ensure that the airport is sustained well into the future? (127324)

Yes, I did indeed meet the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. It was a good meeting, and they have followed it up with a very good submission explaining the link between the regional airport and the growth fund bid. We are now analysing that. I hope that he would acknowledge that there has also been some good news, however, in the sense that the Tees Valley LEP has just won a substantial programme bid through the regional growth fund, which will contribute to development in his area.

Next week is global entrepreneurship week. May I welcome the work that the Government are doing to support entrepreneurship, particularly their support for the national student entrepreneurship union, for silicon valley coming to the UK next week and for the launch of the important Cambridge cluster portal, which highlights that in Cambridge there are now 1,400 technology companies employing 53,000 people and more than 10 billion-dollar companies? Does that not suggest that our policy for an innovation economy is working?

That is an excellent example of the success of our innovation policies. Like other BIS Ministers, I will be welcoming visitors from silicon valley, who I am sure will be coming to England and Cambridge to see how it is done.

T5. Every pound invested in the construction industry generates nearly three in economic activity. What support is being given to construction companies, such as Marshalls in Halifax, to get them building, boost the construction industry and protect and create jobs now—before it is too late for these companies? (127326)

The best way that the hon. Lady can help that company is to support our proposals to unlock new housing, particularly affordable housing, and new infrastructure as set out in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which unfortunately the Labour party voted against on Monday night.

Earlier the Secretary of State gave us an update on the good progress we are making on the green investment bank. Can he confirm, however, that EU state approval specifically excludes the nuclear supply chain, which is a major low-carbon industry, and that organisations such as Sheffield Forgemasters will be excluded if we do not appeal that?

We have indeed got state-aid approval for the green investment bank. There are no plans for it to invest in the nuclear supply chain, but we have not ruled that sector out. As it happens, a working party is being assembled to develop a strategy for the nuclear supply chain, which my colleague the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), will be co-chairing, and we expect to give it substantial support.

T6. Polestar, a major printing works in my constituency, has created hundreds of well-paid jobs through its investment in recent years. However, its bid to the regional growth fund to create hundreds more jobs has been turned down. Will the Minister look at how such firms can get good quality feedback, so that hopefully they can submit successful bids in future and create those jobs? (127327)

I will certainly do that. All unsuccessful bidders are offered feedback from the regional growth fund secretariat, and if that has not happened, I am happy to arrange it for Polestar in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. There were a number of other successful bids in the Sheffield and Yorkshire region, which I hope he will acknowledge will bring more growth and jobs to Sheffield.

Perhaps the most valuable long-term economic legacy of the Olympics will be a boost in UK tourism. To achieve that we will need a few high-profile attack brands. London will of course be one of them; another must surely be the Lake district. What plans do the Government have to make the Lake district an attack brand for UK tourism?

I had an opportunity recently to meet my hon. Friend and his local enterprise partnership, which is one of the most dynamic and is dominated by small business, most of it focused on the tourism industry. He is absolutely right that one of the key legacies of the Olympics is attracting people to come to the UK, and I am happy to talk to him even more frequently than I do at the moment about tourism.

The Minister of State has been to Darlington and should be, but probably is not, embarrassed by the decision he made to decline the regional growth fund bid for Durham Tees Valley airport. Is he as shocked and frustrated as we in the north-east are to learn that there is now £1 billion of unallocated RGF money in his Department’s coffers?

I have not only been to Darlington, as the hon. Lady knows, but I spent 10 years of my life there—and, in the interests of social mobility, I was happy to give her predecessor a leg up the political ladder. I look forward to my visit to the north-east next week. The Secretary of State has already explained the circumstances in which the bid for the airport was turned down, but I have to tell her that the north-east did extremely well in round 3 of the regional growth fund. I look forward to hearing more about some of the successful projects when I visit next week.

I welcome the good news that the British Antarctic Survey is to continue as an independent organisation. May I underline the need to ensure that it remains on a firm and sustainable footing, and also add my thanks to the Minister for helping in that matter?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The decision by the Natural Environment Research Council to continue supporting the British Antarctic Survey has been widely welcomed. At the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to go to Rothera and the Antarctic and can personally confirm the excellence of the research that the British Antarctic Survey does.

Ministers tell us that they are well minded against capricious regulation, perverse taxation and over-interpretation of EU judgments. Will one of them therefore listen to the consortium of intermediate alcohol producers and exporters across the UK? They have profound concerns about the impact on their business of HMRC’s changes to notice 163, which go far beyond a one-off adjustment to a marginal tax rate.

I am certainly prepared to look at that. One of the purposes of the red tape challenge was to ask businesses themselves what were the issues constraining growth, and I am happy to look into that matter for the hon. Gentleman.

I was disappointed that I could not join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his recent visit to the MIRA technology park. Despite my personal disappointment, will he join me in celebrating this world-class project, which will create 2,000 jobs in the midlands region, and does he agree that it has been facilitated by the regional growth fund and the enterprise zone policies of this Government?

Indeed, I have now been twice to MIRA. It is a magnificent institution and one of the most successful in the UK at promoting advanced technology. MIRA has benefited from the regional growth fund and a successful enterprise zone, and could well expand to become a world-class centre for transport technology.

The growth of businesses in rural areas is being constrained by the lack of access to broadband. Even where businesses can achieve the Government’s target of 2 megabits, they are finding that that is the download speed, and they are still constrained by the greatly inferior upload speed. Will the Government consider reassessing the 2015 target of 2 megabits?

I will certainly do that. This is an issue for businesses in rural areas across the country. Clause 7 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will help to accelerate the roll-out of broadband, not least in rural areas, but the hon. Gentleman joined his party in voting against it on Monday night.

I think that most of us in the House would admit that the Secretary of State is passionate about manufacturing and business, and he exhibited that last Thursday when he came to Huddersfield to visit our textile training centre of excellence. Why cannot we have more all-party agreement on some of the challenges that we face? The recommendations in the Heseltine review give us an opportunity to adopt a common strategy across the House. Is that a challenge that the Secretary of State is willing to take up?

I am absolutely willing to take up that challenge. There is an enormous amount of wisdom in the Heseltine report and we will of course respond to all 89 of its recommendations in due course. I was particularly enthusiastic about his strong endorsement of the industrial strategy, an important part of which could well be the resuscitation of the textile industry of which the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) has been a prominent advocate and which I was happy to visit in Huddersfield a couple of weeks ago.

Business of the House

The business for next week will be:

Monday 12 November—Opposition Day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on the Government response to Ash dieback, followed by a further debate on the cost of living. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 13 November—A general debate on child sexual exploitation. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will rise for the November recess on Tuesday 13 November and return on Monday 19 November.

The business for the week commencing 19 November will include:

Monday 19 November—Second Reading of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 20 November—Second Reading of the HGV Road User Levy Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by a general debate on autism. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 21 November—Opposition Day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party.

Thursday 22 November—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism, followed by a debate on a motion relating to life-saving skills in schools, followed by a general debate on industrial policy and UK manufacturing industries. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 26 November—Remaining stages of the Small Charitable Donations Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 29 November and 13 December will be:

Thursday 29 November—A debate on the Welsh Affairs Committee report on inward investment in Wales.

Thursday 13 December—A debate on the first joint report of the Committee on Arms Exports Controls.

I would also like to remind the House that the week commencing 19 November will be Parliament week. This is the second year of the initiative that works to build greater awareness and understanding of, and engagement with, parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom. I would like to encourage all Members to engage with the programme. Of particular interest will be the annual debate of the UK Youth Parliament in this Chamber on Friday 23 November. I look forward to welcoming those taking part, and I am sure that many Members will take an interest in the proceedings.

I join the Leader of the House in looking forward to the visit of the Youth Parliament, which it will also be my pleasure to attend. I also thank him for his statement and, ahead of Remembrance day, pay tribute to all those who have died serving this country and those who are now serving. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

We welcome the statement by the Home Secretary this week about the inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse in north Wales. The victims of sexual abuse who have come forward have suffered terribly; they should be listened to and supported. There are now, however, 13 separate overlapping inquiries into the various allegations of sexual abuse of children and young people. As I have raised with the Leader of the House before, would it not be more appropriate for a single overarching inquiry to be established that could get at the truth? While we welcome the fact that the Home Secretary did not rule it out in her statement on Monday, surely the victims deserve some clarity, so will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary perhaps to look at this again and make a further statement?

Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) asked about the Leveson inquiry. The Deputy Prime Minister agreed that we should work on a cross-party basis, but meanwhile Conservative Cabinet Ministers have been publicly undermining the inquiry ahead of its publication. While some Ministers might want to, this report should not be quietly buried by the Government. Ministers must set out before publication the process for consideration of the report, and there is no need to wait until Lord Justice Leveson has reported to let us know about this process. There should be an opportunity for this House to debate the report in Government time, so may we have a statement from the Culture Secretary on the approach that the Government intend to take?

Is the Leader of the House able to update Members on when we are likely to consider the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill? Last week, in a panic, Government business managers in the House of Lords delayed the Bill; this week, they pulled it altogether from the not exactly packed legislative programme. The reason given by the Leader of the House of Lords was that there needed to be “conversations” at a senior level in government before the Bill could proceed. “Conversations” is one way of putting it; I heard it was a stand-up row at the highest level.

It has been suggested that the reason why the Government pulled the Bill is that Labour peers and our Liberal Democrat colleagues tabled an amendment to delay the implementation of new parliamentary boundaries. The Government are wasting millions of pounds on a partisan review of constituency boundaries when there is not a majority for it in this House. Voters, returning officers and all political parties need clarity about the boundaries on which the next election will be fought—and the sooner, the better. So may we have a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister to confirm that the implementation of the new boundaries will not now go ahead before the next election?

While we all enjoyed the Deputy Prime Minister’s contribution yesterday—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear”]—the slot is actually Prime Minister’s Questions. Rather conveniently, the Prime Minister managed to avoid Prime Minister’s Questions again this week; he made it back in time for dinner with Mrs Merkel, but not for his appointment with this House. It is not just Prime Minister’s Questions that he has taken to avoiding. He has not held his monthly news conference since July—July 1911—[Laughter.] 2011. Now he has even banned journalists from flying on foreign trips with him. When the going gets tough, this Prime Minister stages his own version of “I’m the Prime Minister, Get me Out of Here!”

In the Prime Minister’s absence, and rather worryingly for him, the Mayor of London decided to sneak in and give the 1922 committee a pep talk—on loyalty. Whatever next? Perhaps they will invite the Deputy Prime Minister to talk to them about honouring manifesto commitments. Tory Back Benchers are at each other’s throats, the Government are divided and the Prime Minister has gone AWOL. Mr Speaker, the country really deserves better than this.

Let me join the shadow Leader of the House in saying that Members on both sides of the House will be with their constituents on Sunday morning at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, including not only those who did so in the two world wars but, sadly, the many who continue to do so in conflicts on behalf of this country. I agree with her that we want to make very clear our remembrance of them.

The hon. Lady asked about an overarching inquiry in relation to the range of inquiries into the Jimmy Savile allegations, the north Wales care scandals and other such issues. The House will of course be able to debate the subject, not least on Tuesday by virtue of the debate nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. I can say on behalf of the Government that, as was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, we do not rule out such an overarching inquiry, but it must be emphasised that this is not an issue of principle, but an issue of what works best in practice.

That range of inquiries will have the powers and the ability to investigate specifics. If we try to substitute an overarching inquiry, there is a danger that its scope, scale and timetable will impede our progress. Not only must the police investigations be the first priority, but we must consider very carefully how we can make the fastest possible progress on other inquiries.

The hon. Lady asked about Leveson. I must tell her that I will not be asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to come and make a statement about Leveson before it reports, because that does not strike me as remotely practical.

Let us put substance before process, shall we? Let us wait to find out what Lord Leveson has to say. There is no prospect of its being quietly buried, as the hon. Lady suggested. The Government will respond, and the House will have a chance to discuss Lord Leveson’s conclusions after they have been reported.

We seem to have adopted the curious new convention that the shadow Leader of the House can ask me about the business of not only this place but the other place. However, I have no intention of responding. How it manages its business is a matter for the other place; let us focus on the business here.

When the hon. Lady returned to the business here, it seemed that her principal preoccupation was trying to protect the deputy leader of the Labour party from the monstering that the Deputy Prime Minister gave her yesterday during Prime Minister’s Question Time. The deputy leader does not want to see that happen again. I think that it was a 6-0 victory for the Deputy Prime Minister.

In the business statement, I was able to announce the choices for the Opposition day debates on Monday. I am disappointed to note that, once again, the Opposition have not opted for a debate on employment at a time when there are so many positive aspects of overall employment to mark, and have instead proposed a debate on the cost of living. I must say, however, that I look forward to the opportunity for us to mark the fact that the cost of fuel would be 10p per litre higher if we had followed in government the plans for fuel duty that were set out by the Labour party; the fact that inflation has halved since September last year; the prospect of a freeze in council tax for a third year, cutting people’s bills; the fact that we have funds for lending that are now being taken up; and the fact that historically low interest rates are now available. A 1% increase in interest rates today would add £10 billion to family mortgage bills—£1,000 a year for a typical family. As far as I can see, a debate on the cost of living will only highlight the fact that the people of this country cannot afford a Labour Government again.

Order. The question from the shadow Leader of the House was about Government legislation, which is why I judged it to be perfectly orderly, but, equally, it was entirely orderly for the Leader of the House to respond as he did.

Many Members wish to contribute. Let us keep it brief, and then perhaps I shall be able to accommodate all of them.

I commend Her Majesty’s Government on making history last week by ensuring that, for the first time ever, the flags of each and every one of our British overseas territories and Crown dependencies were flown in Parliament square. The loyal subjects of those territories will be delighted that that decision has finally been made, but will the Leader of the House request a Minister to look into the possibility that our territories and dependencies could lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday? So far, they have been denied the opportunity of doing so.

Of course I share my hon. Friend’s pleasure at the opportunity for us to show our continuing affection, respect and attachment to the people of the British overseas territories. I will of course ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport if she might respond to his question about Remembrance Sunday proceedings.

I was heavily involved with the child abuse cases in north Wales because several of my constituents were abused at that home. I took witness statements from four of them, and I cannot adequately describe the horror of what they described to me. It upset me greatly. I would welcome an overarching inquiry, because there have been so many small inquiries. There was the Waterhouse inquiry, and before that there was the Jillings inquiry. I ask that the Jillings report be published. I saw it at the time; I was not supposed to see it, but it was shown to me. It was subsequently pulped by the then Clwyd county council because it was afraid of the attitude of the insurers. I ask for the Jillings report to be published because it highlighted buggery, rape, bestiality, violent assaults and torture, and the effects on the young boys at that time cannot be overestimated. May I also say that I welcome next week’s debate?

I share the right hon. Lady’s sense of shock and outrage at what happened, and I know that the whole House does, too. These events took place many years ago, but in a sense that makes the situation even worse; there has not been any recognition of what took place even though so much time has passed. The victims have had to live with the consequences without a satisfactory resolution, and it is therefore all the more important that we take action now.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out the action we will be taking, and we continue to consider how best to achieve a proper resolution. There are ongoing police investigations into the abuses in north Wales and, as my right hon. Friend said, judicial investigations into what happened in respect of the Waterhouse inquiry, but I will draw her attention to what the right hon. Lady has just said.

The Hindu festival of Diwali is next week. Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world, and in particular in this country, a very happy Diwali, and may we have a debate on the wonderful contribution the Ugandan Asians have made to this country, and the wisdom of the Conservative Government in admitting them in 1972, when no one else would?

Yes, I entirely share every sentiment my hon. Friend has expressed, including those about the tremendous contribution made by the Ugandan Asians. I know from my past responsibilities for the health service what a tremendous contribution they have made to medical services in this country, as well as, as we all know, the contribution they have made over many years in enterprise and business creation.

Festivals such as Diwali play an important role in helping us appreciate and celebrate the cultural diversity of this country. Diwali is a vibrant celebration of the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance. It is a time for celebration and reflection about what we have achieved and our ambitions for the future, and I know that Members across the House will extend our best wishes to our constituents for the festival of Diwali.

The Government listed that there would be a written ministerial statement today on the future of the Prison Service. They trailed that it would mark the start of the wholesale privatisation of the Prison Service, which would have enormous consequences for the large number of our constituents who work in prisons and for our communities in general. As of 10.30 am that written statement had not emerged, although it might well have done so by now. Will the Leader of the House explain what criteria were used to determine that that should be a written ministerial statement rather than a statement on the Floor of the House, given its enormous consequences for the administration of justice in this country, and if there is no ministerial statement in the future, may we have a debate on the matter?

I will, of course, check that that written ministerial statement has been laid, and I have no doubt that it will make clear to the hon. Gentleman and the House the nature of what it is announcing. If outstanding issues arise from its contents, the hon. Gentleman will note that he may have an opportunity to raise them with Justice Ministers, not least at their question session next Tuesday.

A supplier can make an informed judgment as to whether it continues to provide goods to a company in difficulty, but most consumers are not similarly aware. May we have a debate on the merits of changing administration law to make those holding gift vouchers or savings preferred creditors?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. If I may, I will ask my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond on that, as they consider issues relating to consumer rights generally.

A very important debate on Scotland and the European Union had to be cancelled because the Member sponsoring it could not be bothered to turn up on time. What reprimand did that Member receive? Should there not at least be an apology given to those who had prepared speeches and bothered to turn up on time?

I must confess that I should have seen that that had happened; it is my fault that I was not aware of it, and I will certainly look into it. Of course, individual Members are responsible for their attendance at debates, particularly those they have sought, but I am sure that Members from across the House will regret it if debates to which they wish to contribute are available and other hon. Members fail to enable them to take place.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation in Parliament square? Despite the welcome clearing of the square, which made it available for the public and tourists during the Olympics and Paralympics. However, one small demonstration remains, which is trying to expand and is clearly breaking the law in using sleeping equipment at night and causing an obstruction. In addition, what is he proposing to do about the fact that the main gates of the House were closed at the 10 o’clock Division on Monday because of demonstrators who were firing fireworks into the Palace?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 prohibited the erection of tents and the use of sleeping equipment in Parliament square. The Act also enabled local authorities to attach the power of seizure and retention of property to byelaws. So the powers in the Act allow the police to remove tents and other sleeping equipment from the square. He also raises operational matters relating to the square and its impact on Parliament, which are of course a matter for the Metropolitan police force and its commissioner. To help my hon. Friend, I will ensure that the points he has made in this House are drawn to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s attention.

I declare my interest as a type 2 diabetic. Has the Leader of the House seen Tuesday’s report from the Public Accounts Committee, which estimates that 4.4 million people in the United Kingdom will have diabetes by 2020? I appreciate what he did as Health Secretary to raise awareness, but may we please have an urgent debate on preventing diabetes?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about what we are continuing to hope to achieve. I have seen the Public Accounts Committee report. It is important that we recognise that the prevalence of diabetes is rising and that it is important to tackle it. Prevention is, as the cliché goes, better than cure. In that respect, we are making more progress on health checks, which can make an enormous difference in ensuring that the proper management is in place. Although we know that there is significant variation across the country, there is a rising overall level of adherence across the country to the nine principal recommendations for the care and treatment of those with diabetes.

Tomorrow marks the international day of action for the Rohingya people in Burma. Will a Minister from the Department for International Development come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement explaining to the House how the UK Government intend to use their overseas aid programme to help these internally displaced people, given that the Government of Burma fail to recognise them as citizens of the country?

My hon. Friend will recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development did update the House on the situation in Burma in a written ministerial statement last week. Of course we are deeply concerned at the recent violence in Rakhine state in Burma. October saw an increase in communal violence between the de facto stateless, Muslim Rohingya and the majority, Buddhist, Rakhine communities. The United Kingdom is providing £2 million to enable emergency water, sanitation and health care provision to go to more than 58,000 people affected. We are pledging £3 million, subject to the results it will achieve, for short-term peacebuilding initiatives. We will do all we can to support and strengthen the wider peace process in Burma, but I will ask colleagues at the Foreign Office to ensure, as they have done, that the House is continually updated.

Will there be a statement any time soon from the Police Minister to address the increasing problem of poor police morale? I regularly receive letters from constituents who are serving police officers complaining about the policies of this Government, the cuts to the police force and the attacks on their pensions and conditions, and morale is the lowest that I have seen it for some time.

With the police and crime commissioner elections coming up next Thursday, there is a great opportunity for us not only to raise the public’s sense of accountability in policing but morale among the police. The police can take pride in what they have achieved in reducing the levels of crime by 10%. That is the measure of what we ask of them and the measure against which they are performing. Additionally, by strengthening the engagement between police services and local communities, the police and crime commissioner elections offer a tremendous opportunity.

Next year, Zimbabwe will face a general election. May we have a debate on how the proceeds from the Marange diamonds are being used by ZANU-PF to intimidate Zimbabweans in the run-up to the general election?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He will recall that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), described in a Westminster Hall debate in July how we are approaching the issues relating to the militarisation of diamond finance. We are continuing to work with the non-governmental organisation Global Witness and other partners to consider the evidence prior to discussions with EU partners and, where appropriate, we will seek to retain or add names to the EU targeted measures list if there is a compelling legal justification to do so. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary further to update my hon. Friend.

I am increasingly being contacted by constituents who are concerned about the impact the bedroom tax will have on their living standards when it comes into effect. That is further compounded by the shortage of one-bedroom accommodation for them to move to. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on how the Government intend to increase the supply of one-bedroom accommodation in the rented sector when the bedroom tax comes into effect?

I find it astonishing that the hon. Gentleman makes that point three days after he and his party voted against the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which, among many other things, will enable more social and affordable housing to be built. For example, we will enable sites that are non-viable because of section 106 agreements to enter into new agreements so that that housing can be built. That is what we need to do, among other things, to create new and additional social housing.

Last month, construction work commenced on the brand new £9 million urgent care centre at Burnley general hospital that the Leader of the House, as Health Secretary, approved back in March. Work has also commenced on demolishing the derelict Kwik Save building in Colne, which will be the site for the new Colne health centre. May we have a debate on NHS funding and the investments made in the NHS by the Government, as opposed to the Labour party, which downgraded my accident and emergency department when it was in office?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, as ever. I absolutely agree and find it astonishing that the Labour party’s objective yesterday was to have a debate on regional pay in the NHS and completely to ignore all the ways in which the NHS is being supported by the Government and is achieving more as a consequence. As he says, there has been investment in Burnley in facilities for those with urgent care requirements, which were downgraded by the previous Government. That shows the commitment on our part. It is now clear that in the past year, we increased the NHS budget in real terms relative to the year before. Under Labour’s plans, it would have gone down and the shadow Secretary of State for Health told us that it would be totally irresponsible to increase the NHS budget in real terms. It is our responsibility, we are doing it and we will defend and support the NHS.

The West Midlands ambulance service has seen an increase of 210 calls a day for 999 emergencies, and refused to pick up a four-year-old constituent of mine who had suffered a head injury. It is now bringing in St John Ambulance to cover front-line services. May we have an urgent debate on why charities are propping up NHS front-line services?

The hon. Lady will know that St John Ambulance, like some other ambulance services, has always worked with the NHS ambulance services. She should recall that the latest data published in the summer showed that, for the first time, all the ambulance services across England were meeting the recommended standards for responding to category A calls. There are always individual cases where things go wrong. I know that from my constituency and she will know it from hers, but if she would care to provide me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health with details, of course we will ensure that any individual case where things went wrong is investigated.

May we find time for a statement from the Home Secretary about visa applications for people from India coming to the United Kingdom, and in particular for religious workers? I am been approached by Tarsem Paul, the chair of the Ravidassia community in Bedford, with concerns that the process has become unduly bureaucratic.

I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will want to respond. We know that we must make sure that we respond sympathetically to religious communities such as the Ravidassia community and their needs to bring people, in this case from India, to this country. My hon. Friend will know that we have not made any changes to the routes for religious workers entering this country. Clearly, I cannot comment on the details of any individual case. Visa applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. We apply firm but fair rules, with the responsibility on the applicant to ensure that they meet the immigration rules. I will be happy to speak to my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration about whether he can help in any particular case.

Thousands of babies are still being born every year damaged by alcohol. It is becoming commonplace abroad to see a pregnant woman symbol on all alcoholic drinks containers. Will the Leader of the House intervene with his ministerial colleagues to bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency to provide for a pregnant woman symbol to be displayed on all drinks canisters?

I will ask my hon. Friends about that, as the hon. Gentleman asks. It is also important to improve the quality of the antenatal care, advice and support that is given to women in pregnancy, particularly those who may be more vulnerable and some of the youngest pregnant women. That is where, as I know from my direct experience, the expansion of our health visitor programme across the country is showing tremendous progress, with more health visitors who are devoting more time to providing more antenatal education and guidance.

I am sure many Members of the House will be surprised to learn that one in six of the UK adult population are functionally illiterate. That figure rises to a staggering almost half of the UK prison population. Does the Leader of the House agree that, because this is a cross-departmental issue affecting so many areas of our life, we should have a chance to discuss it in the House?

As my hon. Friend says, some Members may indeed be surprised to hear those figures. Others of us, I know, have been aware of the situation. She is right. It is important and it extends across a number of Departments. She will be aware of the importance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education attaches to ensuring that literacy standards are met in schools and the necessity of including additional remedial work for those who are not meeting those standards as they go through school. But we have a legacy of adult illiteracy and we have to tackle it. My hon. Friend, with colleagues across the House, might like to ask the Backbench Business Committee if it will find time to discuss such an important and wide-ranging issue.

Following Department for Work and Pensions questions this week, Ministers clearly believe that getting work experience for 20 young people in my constituency is a success, when in fact almost 1,000 are looking for a job. May we have a debate about the shocking levels of youth unemployment in this country, in an attempt to drag the Government into the real world?

The hon. Lady should remember that it was her right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) who said frankly and correctly that youth unemployment in this country was rising from 2004. In the midst of a boom, youth unemployment was still rising. In the latest figures, we have seen some amelioration of those trends. The Youth Contract is about making sure that there are work experience places, apprenticeships places and special support for 16 to 19-year-olds who want to get into apprenticeships. As I have said many times, there will be opportunities, and I hope even she might encourage those on her Front Bench to make opportunities available to debate the progress that we are making on employment.

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary offering guidance on the appropriate action to take against a police officer who has been accused of using his position to intimidate and harass, a finding that has been recorded by a judge in a family law case? Are the police correct in taking no action as a result of the family court’s refusal to discuss the matter with them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that serious issue. As he will know, police officers are expected to maintain the highest standards of professional behaviour. In addition to the criminal and civil law, they are subject to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, which set out the standards of professional behaviour they are expected to maintain. When they fail to meet those standards, they can face disciplinary action. Of course, decisions about disciplinary action are a matter for the chief officer of the police force concerned or its police authority. If someone wants to make a complaint about a police officer, however it arises, they should contact the force concerned or its police authority or, if they fail to secure action that way, the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government no longer publish police numbers on a borough-by-borough basis, which makes it very difficult for Members to make like-for-like comparisons? May we have a statement from the Home Secretary?

I will ask my right hon. Friend to reply about that specific statistical point. Speaking from experience in my constituency, I know pretty much how many police there are on the streets, and in Cambridgeshire we are recruiting more police.

The Leader of the House might recall visiting Rowley Regis hospital with me before the general election. Since then, working with the local NHS trust and local commissioners, we have secured considerable new investment for a new in-patient re-ablement ward. May we have a debate on the value of local commissioning as a way of getting valuable services into community hospitals?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Many Members across the House will value the fact that the new clinical commissioning groups, which have been developed to bring together largish groups of GP practices, are rooted in an understanding of how services can best be provided for patients, and often that is through accessible, community-based care, which reduces the demand on hospital services so that patients are admitted to hospital only when they need to be. We understand that in some cases people have to be in hospital, but we do not want them to be there if they do not need to be.

The Ministry of Defence has announced that 50 defence specialist jobs will be moved from Kentigern house in my constituency to Abbey Wood in Bristol, at an additional cost of £50,000 a year for the MOD. A leaked MOD value-for-money analysis states in its conclusions:

“The cheapest costed option in any of the comparable timescales is for UKNCB staff to remain in Glasgow… A simple comparison between the levels of benefits (Medium) and risks (High) provides the conclusion that the arguments weigh clearly in favour of the UKNCB remaining in Glasgow.”

May we have a statement on this important issue or, at the very least, an agreement that a Minister will meet the workers in Glasgow?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that, having not had notice of that question, I cannot comment specifically on it. I will of course ask my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence to respond directly to his questions. I will say, in that context, that over the past two and a half years this Government have resolved for the first time the £38 billion over-commitment––the black hole in the MOD’s future commitments––which we inherited from the previous Government.

Given that 750 teenagers currently travel out of my constituency to secure their post-16 education, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on free schools to recognise the fantastic opportunity taken by local parents, teachers and community leaders to set up a free school to meet provision in a better way for local children in Salisbury?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He rightly draws attention to how the free schools programme is a major success, with 79 free schools already opened. They are popular with parents and pupils. In my constituency, a free school sponsored by one of the academy schools is extending provision in places where parents and pupils most want it. I understand that a group in my hon. Friend’s constituency will shortly make an application to open Salisbury sixth-form college in September 2014; it will focus on science, technology, engineering and maths and address a shortage of such provision in the area. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will welcome that application and give it very careful consideration.

Regarding the Government’s agenda and legislative programme, the Leader of the House has given us another “spot the business” statement. In large part, this Chamber is again reduced to playing keepy-uppy. In that context, how does he think that we can credibly explain, at the Parliament Week events to which he referred, that this Chamber could not afford the time duly to consider the House of Lords Reform Bill, which won such an overwhelming vote on Second Reading?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that in my view his question is better directed towards Labour Members, who voted for the Bill on Second Reading and made it clear that this House was supportive of the principle of reform of the House of Lords, and then failed to vote to give it the time to be debated.

May we have a debate on dementia? There are nearly 700,000 dementia sufferers in England, but sadly only half of them are diagnosed, and awareness of the condition is shockingly low. The Prime Minister has made this a personal priority and has today announced the dementia friends initiative whereby we will look to recruit 1 million people and train them to spot the signs of dementia early, as well as putting £10 million towards dementia research and £50 million towards making wards more comfortable for dementia sufferers. May we have a debate on this ailment, which is very serious for the nation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue of concern to all Members across this House. Back in March, when the Prime Minister launched the Prime Minister’s challenge, we set a number of very ambitious objectives for ourselves. It is great to see some of those coming through and further, very important measures being put in place. In the west midlands, some of the best work that I have seen is being done in making hospitals understand dementia, identify where patients have dementia, and then provide more appropriate care to look after them. Today’s initiative relating to 1 million volunteers across the country can be a tremendous boost in providing what are known as dementia-friendly communities that people with dementia find accessible and understanding, enabling them to derive the best possible quality of life from a very sad condition.

May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) on the Rohingya community in Burma? A few weeks ago, we had a Westminster Hall debate on this to which many Members came along. Horrific sectarian violence has unfolded again in recent days. We would welcome a statement from the International Development Secretary to update us on what her Department is doing to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to that part of the world.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes an important point. Many Members across this House are very concerned about the situation in Burma. We care deeply about its people, not least because the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi gave us the opportunity to appreciate the prospects for peace and democracy there, which we do not want to be undermined. I will of course speak to my right hon. Friend to see whether she might find an opportunity to make a statement of some description to the House.

Residents in my constituency and, indeed, throughout the country are plagued with endless nuisance calls from people selling payment protection insurance and the like. The Telephone Preference Service is clearly almost entirely ineffective. Will the Government make a statement on what they intend to do about this and how they will overcome the obstacles to achieving a properly working blocking system?

We are all grateful to my hon. Friend, who has raised this issue before. I appreciate his continuing concern. In the light of the concerns that he and others have raised, the Minister for culture, communications and the creative industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), has met representatives from the Information Commissioner’s Office, Ofcom and the Telephone Preference Service to see what can be done to strengthen action in this area. I will, of course, ask him if he could update my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and, if appropriate, the House.

Ten years on from the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, Members throughout the House continue to be concerned about the exploitation of leaseholders through unfair service charges and forfeiture. Will the Government look again at this area, and may we have a debate on it in Government time, so that they can take positive action on this serious issue?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. I am aware of such issues and will, of course, talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government to see whether they can respond to him and perhaps update us more generally.

Over the past two months, 100% of the stroke care patients using the George Eliot hospital have spent 90% or more of their time on a dedicated stroke care ward, which, as my right hon. Friend will know, far exceeds the national target. Will he join me in welcoming the progress that the George Eliot hospital is making in this regard, and may we have a debate on the importance of high-quality stroke care?