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Business of the House

Volume 555: debated on Thursday 13 December 2012

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 17 December—Remaining stages of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. I also expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the European Council.

Tuesday 18 December—Second Reading of the Justice and Security Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the fund for European aid to the most deprived.

Wednesday 19 December—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Thursday 20 December—Launch of a report and announcement of a new inquiry by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, followed by the pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

Provisional business for the week commencing 7 January 2013 will include:

Monday 7 January—Remaining stages of the Trust (Capital and Income) Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the Commission work programme 2013, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues may also wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday 20 March 2013.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 17 January will be:

Thursday 17 January—Debate on the fourth report of the International Development Committee on tax in developing countries.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I welcome the fact that after months of prevarication the Government have decided to bring forward legislation on equal marriage. Does he join me in hoping that in debates that take place in this House, hon. Members will not resort to outrageous and offensive remarks such as those made by one Member who equated same-sex marriages with polygamy and incest? While welcoming the legislation, we have serious concerns about the Government’s decision to make it illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to hold same-sex marriages, even if they decide to do that in future. Although we would not want to force any church to conduct a same-sex wedding, the Government’s decision to make it illegal is wrong. Will the Culture Secretary look at that again and make a further statement?

I fear that the right hon. Gentleman will have some difficulty in coaxing the Culture Secretary to the House following the antics of her special adviser. The Opposition support a statutory underpinning of media regulation to protect the victims of press intrusion and guarantee freedom of the press. The Government seem to want to threaten the press with statutory underpinning to control the news agenda. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, given the seriousness of events, the Prime Minister is thinking of giving back responsibility for media regulation to the Business Secretary?

This week, the European Union was awarded the Nobel peace prize. When the prize was announced, the Prime Minister said that he thought it should be presented to schoolchildren from across the EU. This week, he sent the Deputy Prime Minister to collect the award.

We also learned this week that the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted speech on the EU has been put off once again till the new year. The Prime Minister has repeatedly delayed a speech setting out the Government’s European policy no doubt because the Government have as many positions on Europe as there are Ministers. The Education Secretary would vote to leave the EU—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That is an interesting Back-Bench response. The Policing Minister warns that Eurosceptics are fantasists. The Deputy Prime Minister thinks that repatriating powers is “a false promise”, but the Prime Minister thinks that it is a good idea.

It is obvious that the Government’s approach to the EU is mired in confusion and hesitation. The Prime Minister will be at the European summit today. Following recent precedent and given the multitude of positions within the Government, will the Leader of the House confirm that, after the summit, the House will be treated to statements by both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, rather than just the one?

Given that we are considering remaining stages of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill next week, will the Leader of the House ask the part-time Chancellor to make a statement updating us on how the infrastructure measures announced in the Budget are going? The Government have a Growth and Infrastructure Bill, but, out in the real world, there is no growth and not enough infrastructure is being built. This PR Prime Minister’s solution is a rag-bag of measures to cover up the fact that the Government have no plan for growth. Given that, I wonder whether, in the next Queen’s Speech, we can look forward to a united coalition Bill; a big society success Bill; and a “We’re all in this together” Bill.

The Chancellor claimed in the autumn statement that his changes affected those

“living a life on benefits”—[Official Report, 5 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 877]

who were still asleep when their neighbours go out to work. The Prime Minister refused to say so yesterday, so will the Leader of the House confirm that 60% of the people hit by the Chancellor’s real-terms cut in support payments are in work? The politics of divide and rule that the Chancellor practises is predicated on vicious, poisonous, nasty little caricatures. Can we therefore have a debate on whether the mother on maternity pay is a shirker; the father on the minimum wage getting tax credits is a shirker; the cleaner who gets up at 5 am is a shirker; and someone on sick pay recovering from an operation is a shirker? Those are the people who are hit by the Chancellor’s proposed cuts: people who are doing the right thing, and people who are trying to get on in life. At the same time, the Government are handing out a huge tax cut to their millionaire mates. So there we have it: the Government think that millionaires are the strivers while workers on the minimum wage are the shirkers.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the statement, although I was surprised that the announcement yesterday of figures that showed the largest quarterly rise in employment for a decade did not feature in her remarks. None the less, she asked several questions.

I am not aware of any prevarication on the equal marriage Bill. We had probably the largest response to consultation of its kind in the middle of last year. It was perfectly proper for Ministers to take some time to get the response to that exercise absolutely right. The Secretary of State came to the House and explained that there are very good reasons why the Church of England and the Church in Wales have special arrangements. The reasons are absolutely clear in the response to the consultation, and will be clear in the Bill when it is published. Those Churches will have the ability and responsibility, as, for example, the General Synod will have in relation to the Church of England, to determine their attitude.

I am aware of no plans for change in ministerial responsibility for the media. The Deputy Prime Minister attended the Nobel peace prize. My personal view is that the Nobel committee’s decision is welcome, but perhaps ought to have recognised that peace in Europe has been secured through not only the development of the European Union, but NATO. It is a pity both were not recognised.

The Government’s European policy is very clear. The Foreign Secretary is securing a review of competences to consider how we can enter into negotiations with our partners in Europe to ensure that where powers do not need to be exercised at a European level, they are not exercised at a European level. The previous Government talked about subsidiarity, but never delivered. They engaged in a process of constant integration—an escalator of responsibilities and competences to the European Union that never went in the opposite direction. As the Prime Minister rightly said, when we are able to undertake a new settlement of competences and powers in Europe, the British people should have the chance make a judgment.

The Prime Minister will be going to the European summit. In the same way that I wondered why the shadow Leader of the House did not talk about the latest employment figures, I wonder why she did not refer to the welcome news that jobs at Airbus have been protected. The Prime Minister will have an opportunity to reflect on that as he goes to the European summit.

The hon. Lady talked about our proposed welfare reforms. She did not say—the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) did—that the Labour party is proposing to vote against them. Labour Members voted against the housing benefit cap, and they are proposing to vote against what is a fair proposal. People the length and breadth of the land know that in the past five years average earnings rose by 10% and that these benefits rose by 20%. They will be asking why that happened and why benefits should be rising faster than incomes. Many people, including those in the public sector whose pay is being limited to a 1% increase, will think it absolutely reasonable that benefits, whether payable to people in work or out of work, should likewise be limited to a 1% increase as part of deficit reduction. I heard nothing from the hon. Lady about how the Labour party would deliver deficit reduction. If Labour Members vote against the proposals, people will not understand why they are not giving priority to people who are earning in work.

The hon. Lady talked about tax, and she might like to reflect on this simple fact. What change has there been in average tax rates for people at different levels of income under the Labour Government in 2009-10 and under the coalition Government in 2012-13? It is straightforward: under this Government, the lower one’s income the greater the reduction in the average tax rate; the greater one’s level of income—all the way up to £2 million—the bigger the increase in taxation. It is clear that under this Government more of the burden is being borne by those who have the broadest shoulders. By April 2013, as a consequence of the increase in personal tax allowances under the coalition Government, the tax bill for someone in work and earning the minimum wage will be more than halved. That is the fair way to proceed; that is the way this Government will proceed.

I have to apologise to the shadow Leader of the House, as I have not been able to announce further time for Opposition day debates. I am sorry I could not do that, because I think many Government Members appreciated yesterday’s Opposition day debate. It afforded a helpful opportunity for the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) to confirm that he regarded it as irresponsible for the coalition Government to have secured a real-terms increase in NHS spending. He also said that he supported a Labour Government in Wales undertaking for an 8% real-terms cut in NHS spending. Such Opposition day debates are only to the benefit of the coalition Government.

I am sure that the entire House will be shocked, angry and dismayed at the continual incursions by the Spanish Government into the waters around the British sovereign territory of Gibraltar. This is an act of aggression. Will the Leader of the House ask the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to make an urgent statement on what Her Majesty’s Government will do to ensure that these illegal incursions into British sovereign waters are stopped forthwith?

The whole House will be aware of my hon. Friend’s stalwart support for the people of Gibraltar and their relationship with this country. There were two incursions by a Spanish naval vessel into British Gibraltar territorial waters on 10 December. Radio warnings were issued and the vessels departed from those waters, and we have protested to Spain via diplomatic channels. The Royal Navy challenges Guardia Civil and other Spanish state vessels whenever they make unlawful maritime incursions into British Gibraltar territorial waters, and we will back that up by making a formal diplomatic protest to the Spanish Government making it clear that such incursions are an unacceptable violation of British sovereignty.

The Leader of the House might be aware of the latest statement on tax by Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt. He said he was “very proud” of its tax avoidance scheme. “It’s called capitalism,” he said. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to remind operators such as Google which operate and make profits in this country that they should pay the appropriate taxes?

I understand capitalism to be about making a profit, not avoiding taxes, and doing so by satisfying customers. The chairman of Google, or any company that wants to satisfy its customers, should take account of customers’ views. The Government are setting out to ensure that people pay the taxes that are due—we are doing that more successfully than the last Labour Government—and we will make further improvements by introducing a general anti-abuse rule next April.

Yesterday, I met an employer from Tamworth who had given a 48-year-old man his first real job in more than 20 years. May we have a debate on what we can do to help businesses, particularly small businesses, play their part in getting the long-term unemployed off benefits and into work?

Like Members across the House, my hon. Friend will have taken great comfort from the latest figures on employment and employment opportunities, while recognising that long-term unemployment remains high. We are doing everything possible to reduce it, however, with almost 900,000 people engaged in the Work programme and one quarter of them having found jobs. In practice, it sometimes takes one, two or three jobs before people find secure long-term employment, which is the aim of the Work programme, but progress is increasingly being made to ensure that the long-term unemployed get those opportunities.

Given the huge cost of road crashes to the NHS and the economy and that nearly 2,000 people die and 20,000 people are seriously injured each year, and on the back of the annual Christmas drink-drive campaign, in light of the overwhelming support in the House for The Times’ cycling campaign, and given yesterday’s disturbing news that the speed cameras on the M25 have not been operational for a whole year, has the Leader of the House been approached by the Department for Transport about having a debate on road safety in Government time? It is an issue that concerns every Member.

Yes, I know it concerns Members, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s own work in this respect over the years. I will talk to my colleagues in the Department for Transport and ask them to update the House. At this time of the year, it is tremendously important that we focus on this matter, not just because of the Christmas season, but because of the weather conditions. It is really important. Overall, this country has an extremely good road safety record, but we need to improve none the less.

May we have a debate on the merits of leaving the European Union? Even the Euro-fanatic BBC decided that it was worth debating on “Newsnight” last night. Surely we should not leave such important matters to the BBC for debate; surely this is the type of thing that should be debated in this House. Opinion polls consistently show that twice as many people want to leave the EU as want to stay in it. Such a debate will allow people to see how many of their MPs agree with the majority view in their constituencies.

I am not sure that the business of the House should be led by “Newsnight”. We in this House regularly debate European issues. We will debate things such as the Commission work programme shortly and, as I told the House, the Prime Minister will make a statement and respond to questions next week on his return from the European Council. I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I hope that what I said to the shadow Leader of the House gave him and others a great sense of assurance that this Government take seriously the issue of arriving at a new settlement in Europe—one that will give the people of this country an opportunity to make a judgment about the basis on which we have a long-term future in the European Union.

On 27 November the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland published a report that showed a serious decline in completion and accuracy of the electoral register, with completion now at only 73% and accuracy at 78%, and 400,000 people from a population of 1.8 million not on the register at the right address. This is very serious. It is a Northern Ireland Office responsibility. May we have an urgent statement about what programme of action the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will implement to address this serious problem?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. If I may, I will seek a response to the point he rightly makes from my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office.

The charity Gingerbread has launched a campaign to ensure that single parents are not disadvantaged in the job market. In my Edinburgh West constituency, three in every 10 families with dependent children are headed by a single parent, which is more than 3,000 families. May we have a debate on what action can be taken to improve access to affordable child care and encourage more employers to adopt flexible working practices?

From our point of view, one of the important things in this context is the overall employment situation, which is very good. We have seen from the latest data that the number of women in work is up 236,000 since the election, while unemployment among women has fallen during the quarter by 21,000. We have to ensure that women in particular are assisted back into work through the Work programme. Expanding access to child care is important. My hon. Friend will know that the Deputy Prime Minister has announced on behalf of the coalition Government that the number of two-year-olds receiving nursery care is being doubled to cover an extra 130,000 children, with an additional £200 million going into child care support under universal credit as well.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the likelihood of a child visiting any green space has halved in the last 10 years? As we enter the Christmas season, is it not time that we started promoting access to the countryside for young people, especially when we know that learning outside the classroom is in steep decline because of the Government’s changes to educational provision and the independence of schools to make decisions on such matters? We need action now, and I say this as chairman of the John Clare Trust, a national centre for learning outside the classroom.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that schools must make arrangements for access to sporting facilities, including sport outside and in the open air, which is important. I very much share his view: we know that there are long-term health benefits associated with giving children access to green space, not just in the countryside, but in urban areas and new developments. As Secretary of State for Health, I had conversations directly with, for example, Natural England about precisely these issues, which have also formed part of our work in the coalition on finding ways to deliver our public health objectives right across Government. Using their new public health responsibilities, local authorities will be able to combine that work with their planning responsibilities in a helpful way.

May we have an urgent statement from the Leader of the House on how he plans to deal with the redefinition of marriage Bill? As I understand it, his plan is for it to have its Second Reading in the new year, right at the end of the Session. The Bill was not in the Queen’s Speech or in any party’s manifesto. It is unique to bring in a Bill in this way. Will he guarantee to the House that he will introduce it in the next Session, after it has been announced in the Queen’s Speech, and that its Committee stage will be held on the Floor of the House?

I can give my hon. Friend a statement on this point. It is our intention to introduce the equal marriage Bill in the new year. The situation is not remotely unprecedented: we have recently introduced a number of pieces of legislation that were not anticipated in the Queen’s Speech. Our intention is to introduce legislation, based on the response to the consultation, and I am sure that when we do so, he and many other Members will find it helpful to enable the House to express its view on how we can ensure equal access to civil marriage in this country.

On Tuesday, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he was embarrassed by the fact that, by the end of this year, a quarter of a million people in this country will have accessed emergency food aid. He ignored the question. Yesterday, I had a debate on food poverty in the run-up to Christmas, and the response from the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), was that he did not think that food poverty was a useful concept. Will the Leader of the House encourage his ministerial colleagues to visit a food bank over the Christmas period, and may we have a statement in the new year in which they can report back on what they have learned about why people in this country are struggling to feed themselves and their families?

I was here when the Chancellor was asked that question, and I do not think he ignored it at all. The hon. Lady must recognise that the most important thing we can achieve is to enable people to be in work. It is staggering to see the way in which the Opposition have completely ignored this week’s data showing one of the fastest quarterly increases in employment that we have seen for a decade. Despite the economic inheritance from the last Government, and despite the deficit, we are stimulating job creation. In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that something like two jobs are being created in the private sector for every one lost in the public sector, which is a consequence of deficit reduction. The latest data show a reduction of 24,000 jobs in the public sector and an increase of 65,000 in the private sector. Since the election, the figure is netting out at something like 1.1 million jobs. The answer to poverty, whether it is child poverty or food poverty, is work. Work is the best route out of poverty.

I very much welcome some of the measures that the Government have taken to tackle antisocial behaviour, but may we have a debate on chronic antisocial behaviour by neighbours? The Leigh, Sanger and Ferreira families in Black Dog walk in my constituency have been the victims of the Clarke family for over a quarter of a century. A debate on how we might further address such unacceptable situations would be much appreciated.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly in relation to his constituents, that will have been recognised by Members across the House. Today, the Government have published the draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The reforms in the Bill will put victims first, and they include a new community trigger that will empower victims and communities to demand that local agencies deal with persistent problems where they have previously failed to do so. I think that my hon. Friend will find that particularly relevant to the circumstances he has described. The measures will also speed up the eviction of antisocial tenants by introducing a faster route to eviction for the most serious criminal or antisocial behaviour. The Home Affairs Committee is looking forward to undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill and producing a final report with recommendations in February.

We know that the Office for Budget Responsibility is predicting that the UK economy will contract by 0.1% in this quarter, and that it believes that the economy will contract this year as a whole. May we have a debate on business lending? It was confirmed to me on 11 December by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), that business lending had contracted by 2.8% this year, and high streets such as the one in Guisborough in my constituency are really suffering due to a lack of funding to business.

The hon. Gentleman will know that this Government are literally leaving no stone unturned, as Michael Heseltine might have put it, to ensure that we support lending to businesses—especially to small and medium-sized businesses. That is why the funding for lending scheme is so important; it is clearly getting going and significant amounts are starting to be lent as a consequence. It is also why my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have together been pushing for the business bank, which will be able to leverage additional specific lending to small and medium-sized businesses—not only through that bank, but through many of the new challenger banks that are giving support in that market.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the latest OBR report. He might recognise that the OBR has published updated figures on the scale of the recession under the last Labour Government, showing a total loss of gross domestic product of 6.3%. We are having to live with the economic consequences of Labour, and I think the Labour party should start from an understanding of the recession and the depth of debt it left this country.

May I pick up on the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), particularly the last part of it, which the Leader of the House did not answer? As it is an issue of conscience, all parties will be entitled to a free vote on the management and scrutiny of the redefinition of marriage Bill. May we therefore follow the precedent set by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in a previous Parliament of holding the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, allowing all Members to exercise their conscience?

I am sorry if I neglected to answer that point—perhaps I did not hear everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) had to say. That is always a mistake—I should listen carefully to him, and I attempt to do so. I cannot promise what my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) asks for. We will introduce and hold Second Reading of the Bill in the new year. When he looks at the Bill, I think he will realise that the Second Reading debate may well crystallise the issues. I share the view expressed by the shadow Leader of the House: I completely respect the views of those who oppose equal civil marriage. I recall listening to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), who I thought expressed the Church of England’s view on the matter very well. I completely understand it, but I do not think that that view should necessarily be translated into the view of the state on what constitutes equality in civil marriage. That, I think, is the difference of view. Expressing that difference of view on Second Reading is the responsibility of this House as a whole. I welcome the fact that all parties appear to be giving Members the opportunity to vote freely on the issue.

Order. It is a curious phenomenon in the House that when there are fewer Members standing—and fewer are standing today than is often the case at business questions—exchanges seem to lengthen to absorb available time. May I gently exhort the House to be pithy because there is a statement to follow and other business. If we can treat these matters succinctly, that would help.

May we please have a statement on undiagnosed cleft palates in new babies? The Royal College of Surgeons has found wide variations across the UK. In North Thames, only 42% of cleft palates are identified at birth, whereas in Oxford the figure is 94%. The Government really must do better by mums and babies on this issue.

I shall endeavour to be brief, Mr Speaker. Perhaps there is a law of the expansion of questions to fill the time available, yet perhaps that time available— [Hon. Members: “You are doing it now!”] I am doing it now.

This is a matter for clinical practice, and it is important that clinical guidelines apply in the NHS. It is the NHS’s responsibility to draw up the guidelines. I listened with interest to points made this morning that resulted from research, and I am sure that they will be reflected in the guidelines in due course.

Next week, Yorkshire is likely to win its bid to host the 2014 Tour de France. UK Sport backed Scotland for this event. May we have a debate to ensure UK Sport now offers the same multi-million pound cash deal to Yorkshire as it did to Scotland, so that there is no tartan bias in the arrangements?

I am very interested in that news, and I shall congratulate Yorkshire if it is successful. The matter is obviously the responsibility of UK Sport, but I will draw it to the attention of my colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and ensure that those at UK Sport are aware of my hon. Friend’s comments.

Is the Leader of the House comfortable with Ministers’ refusing to meet other Members of Parliament? On 17 October, I presented a ten-minute rule Bill on alcohol, relationship and drugs education that received cross-party support and the backing of 14 national charities. I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), asking whether I could bring the Bill’s sponsors and representatives of the charities to discuss the matter with her, but I was refused a meeting.

The hon. Lady will know, as I hope the whole House does, that I consider one of my responsibilities to be ensuring that the interests of the House and its Members are understood and acted on in Departments and by my colleagues. I will therefore take the matter up.

May I support what has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), and gently remind the House that an illegal incursion into British Gibraltarian sovereign waters is technically an act of war? What is happening at the moment is wrong, and we should do something about it. May we have a statement by the Secretaries of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, as a matter of urgency, so that they can respond robustly to this aggravation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reiterating the point about the incursion. I hope that I was clear and unequivocal earlier about the nature of the Government’s response.

As one who is very sympathetic to the idea of equal marriage, may I ask for a debate on the way in which future legislation will apply to Wales? I ask because the Church in Wales is disestablished, and has been since 1920, and because the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has expressed reservations about the Government’s approach.

I am indeed aware of the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, but it does not mean that specific legal arrangements relating to that Church will not prove necessary, given its responsibility to provide opportunities for marriage for the whole population of Wales. I am not an expert on the subject, but I am sure that it will form part of the debate on the equal marriage Bill, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance then not only to make his points, but to be given good answers.

In January this year, the House voted unanimously for a review of the Government’s much-criticised decision to retain self-regulation for the big pub companies. Last week we learned from the British Beer and Pub Association that self-regulation has no role in tenant profitability, which was the big problem identified by the Select Committee. Now that we know that self-regulation cannot work, may we have that review, and may we have a statement from a Minister?

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me when I say that I do not know the answer to his question. I will ask my colleagues whether they can respond to it, as I too will be interested in the reply.

When will the Leader of the House schedule a full debate on the impact that the Government’s plans for real-terms cuts in tax credits will have on the living standards of up to 5.8 million people from next April? Such a debate would enable us to discuss why, according to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, 63% of the affected people in my constituency and 82% of those in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency will be strivers in low and middle-income jobs.

Last Tuesday, if I recall correctly, the House had a full opportunity to debate the autumn statement and the economy generally, and full and clear answers were given. I think that when the hon. Gentleman takes into account not only the working-age benefits that are available to those who are in work, but the positive impact of tax changes on those people, he will recognise that the coalition Government are focusing on ensuring that work does indeed pay.

The Welsh Government’s proposals to pass a new law changing the organ donation rules from an opt-in system to an opt-out system are far advanced. That is, of course, a matter for the Welsh Government, but there is no evidence that the move will result in an increase in the number of donated organs. There may well be negative impacts on the donation system in England, however. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement before the Welsh law is passed on its possible impacts across the UK as a whole?

If I may, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to respond to my hon. Friend on that issue. I responded to the Welsh Government on behalf of the Government, and I made some points about the relationship between the organ donor register and its administration in England and in Wales. That is important, and should be taken into account.

May we have a debate on the merits of docking people’s pay if they do not carry out their duties? The Secretary of State for Education says he wants to do that to teachers, yet he and his Ministers have the worst record in Government on failing to answer parliamentary questions and, as we have heard today, refusing to meet Members who have genuine reasons to want to meet Ministers. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Secretary of State should take his own medicine by docking his own pay until he gets that right?

I have seen the letter my right hon. Friend sent to schools, in which he made the absolutely fair point that, on the basis of ballots in which there was a very poor turnout, there is a minority of teachers who are prejudicing the interests of children in schools. My right hon. Friend was not saying that he was going to do anything; instead he was making it very clear that the Government support schools, as the employers of teachers, in making the right decisions on behalf of their children.

Everyone knows somebody who has been affected by dementia. On Monday I attended a seminar at Stoke Damerel community college organised by Ian Sherriff, a well-known campaigner based at Plymouth university, which was also led by the well-known broadcaster Angela Rippon. May I add my support to calls for a debate in Backbench Business Committee time on dementia, as it is an important issue? Will my right hon. Friend also tell us what progress has been made with the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge?

The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), is present and will have heard my hon. Friend’s request for a debate on dementia. I was with the Prime Minister when we launched the dementia challenge in the early part of the year. I will not give my hon. Friend a complete and comprehensive list of the many things that are happening, but the dementia-friendly community part of the challenge is resulting in the launch of a new dementia friends scheme, the delivery of awareness sessions on dementia to 1 million people, and some £54 million being made available to support dementia diagnosis in hospitals, because we know that there is under-diagnosis in this country, and we need to improve the situation. A substantial capital fund is also being created to support dementia-friendly health and care environments.

Instead of sacking HMRC staff, may we have a debate on how they could collect tax from wealthy individuals? Instead of cutting taxes to millionaires, the Government should try to collect their taxes.

The hon. Gentleman neglects the simple fact that our measures to ensure that people pay the proper sums in tax to the Government are raising about £7 billion a year more than similar measures under the last Labour Government. We are doing more, and we will do still more. The hon. Gentleman does not take any account of the fact that my ministerial colleagues at the Treasury have announced that front-line staff will be working precisely on tax evasion and tax avoidance, and the implementation of additional measures and a general anti-abuse rule in April will enable us to do still more.

The right hon. Gentleman will know of my interest in cancer and that I am generally supportive of the idea that doctors and clinicians should make decisions about local commissioning. Last night, however, I finished reading “Securing equity and excellence in commissioning specialised services”, a document produced by the NHS Commissioning Board. It is 227 pages long, and I was stunned to learn that there are 130 specialised commissioning services groups and a series of subgroups, as well as the NHS Commissioning Board, four regional directorates and 10 sub-regional directors inside 27 local area action teams. I am unclear how introducing more bureaucracy and new layers of staff—who are appointed, not elected—will lead to an increase in the provision of local services.

We are ever so grateful to the hon. Member for Wells (Tessa Munt), who might wish further to pursue this matter by the well-known device of an Adjournment debate.

The commissioning of specialised services through the NHS Commissioning Board is a direct replacement for the previous regional or national specialised commissioning. I have to tell my hon. Friend that the level of bureaucracy she describes is significantly less than there used to be under regional and national specialised commissioning. The total activity in the NHS Commissioning Board, compared with the responsibilities it has taken on, is reducing by about 30% or 40%; I am talking about the number of people employed and engaged in that kind of central commissioning activity. People with some of these specialised conditions want specialised commissioning on a national basis, because it gives them much greater assurance about the consistent application of the clinical guidelines.

This week, a young guardsman, Guardsman Bhullar of F Company, Scots Guards, took up his post guarding our monarch at Buckingham palace. Unlike his fellow guardsmen, he was wearing a turban rather than a bearskin—it has been a long time coming. He has a bright future and is a capable young man. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on improving recruitment of ethnic minorities into our Army, because our armed forces are at their best when they look like the society they protect?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The House recently had an opportunity in time allocated by the Backbench Business Committee to discuss defence personnel. I do not recall whether the issue he raises came up, but I share his view, as I am sure the armed forces do. In particular, I think that they, like many across the House, will have been rather cheered by the new guardsman, recognising the tremendous and courageous contribution that Sikhs have historically made to the British Army over many years.

I want briefly to thank the Leader of the House for being flexible in allowing the Backbench Business Committee to allocate debates at the end of the day. I also ask him to help me to encourage Members to come to the Backbench Business Committee with proposals for not only very big debates on subjects such as autism, but debates that are more flexible and can be held quickly, such as yesterday’s debate on women bishops, and debates that are flexible on time and flexible on whether there is a vote at the end.

I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the House will be aware of the evidence from the Backbench Business Committee of the progress it is making in being able to accommodate requests. I have seen, by sitting with the Committee at its sessions, just how an increasing number of Members from right across the House appreciate that and take advantage of it. The hon. Lady asks for flexible debates if the business of the House concludes early. We took that approach for the autism debate, which I thought was very successful and delivered precisely what the Committee was seeking.

The Government are about to announce a key decision on whether one-year and five-year cancer survival rates will be included in the 2013-14 commissioning outcomes framework. Given the importance of this decision to cancer patients and the cancer community at large, may we have an appropriate statement in this House?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed this on many occasions. He will understand that one thing we have set out to do is hold the NHS to account, through the Commissioning Board, for the outcomes it achieves in the national outcomes—the NHS outcomes framework. The way in which the board then holds clinical commissioning groups to account in greater detail—I am pleased to say that the first 34 have now been authorised by the board—is a matter for it to decide under the NHS commissioning outcomes framework. It is for the board to make these announcements, rather than for Ministers to do so.