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Business of the House

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 24 January 2013

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 28 January—Remaining stages of the Succession to the Crown Bill.

Tuesday 29 January—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, followed by remaining stages of the HGV Road User Levy Bill.

Wednesday 30 January—General debate on Europe.

Thursday 31 January—Consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means, followed by debate on a motion relating to the Liaison Committee’s report on Select Committee effectiveness, resources and powers. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 1 February—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 4 February—Second Reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 5 February—Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Wednesday 6 February—Opposition Day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 February—Debate on a motion relating to subsidies for new nuclear, followed by general debate on the closure of A and E departments. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 February will be:

Thursday 14 February—Debate on eating disorder awareness.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week.

Yesterday’s Opposition day debate on the disgraceful blacklisting of trade unionists who raised safety concerns, along with other workers in the building sector, was very powerful. Members highlighted the devastating impact that the practice had on construction workers and their families across the country over many years. Although there is legal action by some of those affected, we still do not know the extent of the practice or who was involved, which is why we called in yesterday’s motion for a full inquiry to get at the truth. The Government did not oppose our motion yesterday, which we welcome, so could the Leader of the House ask the Business Secretary to make a statement quickly on what action Ministers will now take to stop this practice ever happening again?

This week the International Monetary Fund cut its growth forecast for the UK, and this morning its chief economist called for a reassessment of the Government’s fiscal policy. Moreover, December’s figures showed Government borrowing up 4% year on year. It is up because the Government’s economic strategy is failing, and it is hard-pressed families who are paying the price.

Yesterday in this House the Prime Minister was asked about food banks. The chief executive of the Trussell Trust said that his answer was “manipulating the numbers”. The number of people turning to food banks for support has increased by 90,000 since the election. This year it is expected that 250,000 people will need help from food banks to get by. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions obstinately refuse to visit a food bank to see for themselves the consequences of their failing economic strategy, so may we have a debate in Government time on food banks?

Ministers claim that the Government’s flagship energy efficiency programme, the green deal, will enable thousands of householders to take out a loan to make their homes more energy efficient. Having scrapped schemes introduced by the last Labour Government which helped to make thousands of homes more energy efficient, the Government have a new scheme, which has been months in preparation. Forty organisations are involved and 600 trained builders are on stand-by, ready to spring into action, but the Department of Energy and Climate Change admitted this week that just five households had benefited. The Federation of Master Builders had a simple explanation for this failing policy: it said that the Government had done too little, too late to promote the scheme. Given the recent freezing weather and the inevitable impact on people’s energy bills, could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on the latest Government shambles?

Last week I warned that those on the increasingly fractious Government Front Bench were at risk of turning on each other. On cue, we had a petulant outburst from the Department for Education, when a Government source blasted the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), a former Education Minister, as a

“lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion.”

I am puzzled by who the DFE source could be. It could not have been a civil servant or a special adviser, because what happened is clearly against the special advisers code of conduct. Who does that leave? Could we have an urgent statement from the Education Secretary to clear the matter up?

The Leader of the House has announced a debate next week on Europe. Ahead of that debate, could the right hon. Gentleman say whether enabling legislation would be needed for a referendum to happen? Could he also confirm that the reason why there has been no Government statement on Europe is that the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday was not announcing Government policy? In next week’s debate, therefore, will the Foreign Secretary be speaking for the Government or the Conservative party?

The Leader of the House will recall that, a little over a year ago, he and I both voted against an in/out referendum. It is not immediately apparent what seismic events have occurred in European affairs to prompt Conservative Ministers to have a damascene conversion on this issue. Two Government Parliamentary Private Secretaries were fired for voting in favour of holding an in/out referendum. Will those Eurosceptic martyrs now be reinstated to Government? Will they be reinstated now that the Prime Minister has joined the headbangers in obsessing about Europe rather than tackling the effects of his failing economic policies?

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her further questions. I was grateful to her and other Opposition Members for giving the House good notice of yesterday’s Opposition day debate on blacklisting, following our exchanges at business questions last week. That certainly assisted the debate, during which the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable) said that the evidence available to date did not merit a new inquiry, but that it would be a serious matter if new evidence came to light that those practices were continuing. He asked anyone with information about the practice continuing to get in touch with the relevant authorities. I echo that request.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about economic forecasts. Our forecast was set out in the autumn statement by the Office for Budget Responsibility. It was produced independently—something that was never done under the previous Government, who published their own manipulated forecasts. The International Monetary Fund has forecast that growth in the United Kingdom this year and next year will exceed that of the eurozone. So, notwithstanding the OBR’s statement that the crisis in the eurozone has been a “major drag” on performance in this country, given that that is our principal market, we are none the less able to expect higher growth than the eurozone.

We have discussed food banks at business questions, and I have said that I visited a food bank in Loughborough with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan). The Prime Minister has also answered that question at Prime Minister’s questions on many occasions. I will simply reiterate that, on 9 January, the director of the UK food bank network said:

“I think the need has been there for a while. The growth in volunteers, and awareness about the fact you can get this help if you need it, help to explain the growth this year.”

The hon. Lady made no reference, of course, to the employment statistics that were published yesterday. They showed that employment is now at a record high, and that it increased last year by 552,000—the largest increase in one year since 1989. Time might not have permitted her to refer to the crime statistics published this morning, which show an 8% reduction in crime, year on year, to September 2012. That is extremely welcome.

The hon. Lady referred to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe. I fear that she did not explain what the policy of the Labour party was, however, but I think we know. The Leader of the Opposition told us yesterday that Labour was opposed to an in/out referendum. So, as we discovered last week, the right hon. Gentleman believes that powers should come back to this country from Europe, but he has no mechanism by which he would seek to achieve that. He also has no basis on which to ask the British public for their consent to such a settlement. I am afraid that the Labour party has a problem. It has no interest in a new vision for Europe, such as the one the Prime Minister set out yesterday. That vision is attracting support right across Europe, including from the Finnish, Czech, Dutch and Danish Governments. They recognise that what is required is a more flexible, more competitive and more open Europe that is democratically accountable. As Leader of the House, I believe that what the Prime Minister said about the primacy of national Parliaments in securing democratic accountability was most important. But Labour has no vision for Europe, no trust in the British people and no support for democracy.

My final point is that the shadow Leader of the House might have a small problem with democracy. There was a local government by-election in her constituency in the Wirral. In that by-election, sadly occasioned by the death of the sitting member, in Leasowe and Morton East—a ward Labour won last year by a majority of 318—Ian Lewis, the Conservative candidate won by a majority of 265 votes. On the same day, in the neighbouring constituency of Wirral South, in a by-election in Heswall ward, the Conservative Kathryn Hodson overturned a Labour majority and won the seat, pushing the Labour party, which held the seat last year, into third place.

I am sure that, from now on, questions and answers will relate exclusively to the business of the House for next week and the provisional business for the following week.

Does the Leader of the House have any views on what will happen in next week’s local government by-elections following the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe? I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has granted a debate on Europe so that all the party leaders can make their position quite clear—with the Prime Minister saying we want an in/out referendum, the Leader of the Opposition opposed to it and the Liberal Democrats facing both ways.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It seems to me that next week’s business, including as it does a general debate on Europe, affords an excellent opportunity for the Foreign Secretary to set out the Government’s position—and in so doing, he may well refer to the Conservative party’s policies for beyond the next election. That should provide a real opportunity for the Conservatives to maximise the Conservative vote at any by-election.

Should we not have a statement today from the Home Secretary on the 16,000 immigration cases that have been found by the chief inspector of borders and immigration—in addition to the number of cases found last year—with boxes being found in all kinds of places, unknown to the UK Border Agency? When is the Home Secretary going to get a grip on the situation after nearly three years in office and stop blaming her predecessor?

As the hon. Gentleman should know, this is an historical problem. It would not arise now because the reconsideration of those rejected applications could not happen under the current policy. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has made it clear that this is being dealt with and that such a situation would not be allowed to arise again. As I have made clear in business questions before, the chief inspector of borders and immigration is equally clear that performance is being turned around. The Minister has said that he is not satisfied with the performance of the UK Borders Agency and the chief executive is not satisfied with it: they are taking every measure to ensure that it is improved in the future.

May we have a debate on the mis-selling of interest rate swap products by the banks to small and medium-sized enterprises, on the speed with which these matters are being resolved and on the fact that businesses across the country are facing bankruptcy?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I know is a matter of concern for many Members that have small businesses across their constituencies. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I cannot recall precisely who is investigating the problem at the moment—it may be the Office of Fair Trading, but I am not sure.

The FSA—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for prompting me. The FSA is investigating the matter. As we have discussed at business questions before, it is important to try to help small businesses in the interim, but it is particularly important that the FSA pursues its investigation with rigour. I know it will.

May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s red lines on their negotiations with Europe? We know that the Prime Minister is going to take a tough line on this issue, but we do not know what he is taking a tough line on. Will he make a statement to clarify what the red lines are?

The hon. Gentleman will have noted that I announced a general debate on Europe next Wednesday. I know that one key aspect of that debate will be the Foreign Secretary setting out how the balance of competences review is under way. The Government are pursuing that now. The first set of reports covering four semesters has already been published and is open for consultation. I hope Members will have an opportunity to respond before February.

Tomorrow, I will be hosting an event at Warwickshire college with the Minister with responsibility for creative industries. This event is partnered by the Gazelle Local initiative and is spearheaded by the college’s principal, Mariane Cavalli. The aim is to create an entrepreneurial college, building on partnerships with employers, entrepreneurs and social enterprises, with the potential to make our colleges engines for growth. Will the Leader of the House commit Government time for a debate on how our further education colleges can collaborate better with businesses to prepare our young people for work?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I welcome his comments about FE colleges getting together with employers in his constituency. Colleagues from across the House and I met the principals of FE colleges who visited Westminster yesterday evening to discuss just these issues. There are many opportunities now for FE colleges, which they are taking, to get involved, together with local enterprise partnerships, to maximise participation in apprenticeships programmes and work experience. What the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), recently said about traineeships adds to the opportunities for FE colleges to equip young people for work.

The Leader of the House may be aware of the tragic case of my constituent, the Indian student Souvik Pal, who went missing on new year’s eve in Manchester, and whose body was tragically found this week. The right hon. Gentleman may or may not also be aware of the huge publicity that this case has received in India. Taken together with the callous and brutal murder of Anuj Bidve in Manchester on Boxing day last year, there is now growing concern that Indian students and their families will be put off studying in the UK. May I ask for a statement or some Government action on this important issue?

I am indeed aware of these tragic and very disturbing cases, as I know the House is, and we share the concern that the hon. Lady expresses on behalf of her constituents. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was recently in India and had the opportunity to discuss with the Indian Government many issues, including students coming here, and was able to reassure them. However, I will talk to my right hon. Friend and see whether there is any further means by which she can provide the necessary reassurance.

May we have a statement on departmental responses to letters? Despite 11 attempts over five months to get a response from the Treasury to a constituent’s query, I have so far failed. I very much hope that the Leader of the House can help to sort this out.

If my hon. Friend or Members across the House experience failures on the part of Departments, I hope Ministers will respond and take action. However, if I can be of any assistance, I will. I will certainly be in touch with the Treasury and will perhaps encourage my colleagues there to respond to my hon. Friend before they answer questions here next Tuesday.

The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give a rather positive answer to a question I asked last week about whether the debate on preventing violence against women could happen on the international day of action against violence against women, on 14 February. Can he say whether he expects the Backbench Business Committee to be allocated that day, so that I can see whether we might get our debate?

I if may, I shall simply smile delphically at the hon. Lady. These are matters that we keep closely in touch with the Backbench Business Committee about.

The Ormiston Forge Academy in my constituency is using its new freedoms to develop innovative relationships with business to improve the teaching of science and other technical subjects. May we have a debate about how academies are using their new freedoms to improve the educational experience of children in such subjects?

Yes, I agree: it has been extremely encouraging to see the considerable progress that has been made, not least with academies and free schools taking such opportunities. For example, on EBacc take-up, in 2013 the number of pupils taking triple science will have gone up by 82%. That and other increases in the number of science students are very important for the future competitiveness and success of our students.

The Leader of the House will be aware that a massacre of London’s police stations, including Wanstead police station in my constituency, is under way. Apart from anything else, it is funny that Boris did not mention it until his campaign was over and he had been elected. Given the number of closures that are in the pipeline, may we have a statement from the relevant Home Office Minister?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, consultations are taking place about police stations across London. Responsibility lies with the police authority and with the Mayor in his capacity as commissioner, but I will of course raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice.

Will the Leader of the House join me in thanking all the postmen and postwomen who have worked so hard to deliver residential and business post during the period of bad weather? May we have a debate on Royal Mail and the provision of 4X4 vehicles for rural areas, which would enable parts of Shropshire that have not received their post to start to receive it if the snow continues?

I share my hon. Friend’s appreciation of the postal service. My constituents and I have experienced no interruption in mail deliveries, which is important and welcome, and I congratulate Royal Mail on its work. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) whether the Department, or indeed Royal Mail itself, could tell my hon. Friend a little more about how Royal Mail is equipping itself to ensure that deliveries are not interrupted.

Regrettably, I am not in a position to add to what I have said thus far, but I will write to the right hon. Gentleman if I have any more information about the future business that is planned.

May we have a statement on motorway safety and the use of chevron markings? Many accidents occur because cars are travelling too close to each other, and the markings are a simple and cost-effective way of encouraging the keeping of safer distances between them. I have not been able to establish from answers to parliamentary questions whether there is a strategy for the provision of more markings. The M3 has none at all. I should appreciate the support of the Leader of the House.

I understand the benefit of chevron markings. There is a point on the M11, which I use a great deal, where they are very helpful in maintaining space in traffic, particularly as it is a two-line highway. I will ask the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) whether my hon. Friend, and perhaps other Members, could be given more information about the road safety programme on the highways.

May we have a debate on fair access to universities? Yesterday’s announcement that AS-levels would no longer count towards A-levels was greeted with almost universal opposition. The University of Cambridge, for instance, said that the change would

“jeopardise…a decade’s progress towards fairer access”.

Is not ignoring everyone’s views on a subject a particularly dangerous form of narcissism?

I am pleased to note that, having not managed to introduce his argument during questions on yesterday’s statement, the hon. Gentleman has returned to it now. I like to think that business questions give Members a second chance.

The University of Cambridge, part of which is in my constituency, has sought on occasion to use its own attainment test because of its lack of confidence in its ability to distinguish between candidates on the basis of A-levels. Yesterday evening I spoke to the principal of Hills Road sixth-form college in Cambridge, which used to be in my constituency, and which sends as many candidates to Oxford and Cambridge as any institution anywhere in the country. I am confident that, along with other routes, the retention of AS-levels, although they will no longer contribute directly to A-levels, will give that college an opportunity to demonstrate that its students have the capacity to excel at the best universities.

May I echo the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) for a debate on science and technology, because 100 years ago Birmingham and the west midlands was known as the workshop of the world and in this century it must be the science lab of the world? May we have a debate on not only how we encourage students to study those subjects, but how we encourage scientists and technologists into the classroom to inspire them?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I entirely agree with him. Our Government’s reforms to curriculum, qualifications, teaching and the schools system will support better science and technology education. They include: a strengthened mathematics and science curriculum; more rigorous key stage 4 qualifications; and, not least, attracting more graduates with the appropriate qualifications into teaching by offering bursaries of up to £20,000. We all know that the ability to teach science and maths effectively for students often depends on teachers having the appropriate specialist qualifications.

As we do not appear to be overwhelmed with Government business, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the plight of disabled people under this Government? Like many other hon. Members, I am now receiving letters from disabled people who are in despair at the cuts they are facing. One gentleman wrote to me last week saying that he believes the answer for him is the introduction of voluntary euthanasia. Is it not about time we had a proper debate on these issues?

I am sorry if anybody should ever feel that, because it is absolutely not necessary. As the Prime Minister has clearly said, and as I have reiterated, the changes to benefits for disabled people, including the personal independence payments, will focus more resources on those most in need with disabilities. I also dispute what the hon. Lady said about the business. This week five Government Bills are being considered in this House and five are being considered in the other House—that is a busy programme.

May we have a debate on the use of police cautions? This week, we have had the case of a burglar who admitted 113 offences and was given a caution by Surrey police. Surely that is a totally inappropriate use of a police caution. That person should not have been seen at a magistrates court; somebody who commits 113 burglaries should be dealt with at a Crown court.

I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. Of course, we must be careful, as the Executive, not to trespass on the prosecuting decisions of the prosecuting authorities, but I will raise the points he makes with my colleagues at the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Does the Leader of the House share my concern about the large number of bankruptcies, including the recent ones at Comet and HMV, and those at many small businesses up and down the country? Is he also concerned about the growing evidence of a big question mark over the ethics of the people who carry out the process and administration of bankruptcy? The way they work it means that they suck all the lifeblood out of what remains in the business and leave nothing for the creditors. May we have a debate on this corrupt process, which goes to the very top of some of our big accountancy companies?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I make no comment on his closing remarks. In this Parliament, we have legislated for a reform of insolvency practices. A review is under way to look at some of the ways in which the claims of creditors can best be met during insolvency. I share his concern where bankruptcies occur, but I would also point out that in the past year for which figures are available—I believe it was 2011—we had the highest rate of new business formation in this country for a long time.

My constituent Jason Durk was recently charged £60 for an urgent prescription that was unavailable from local pharmacies, apart from the hospital dispensary. The alternative for him was to visit accident and emergency, where he would have paid only £7.20. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on joined-up budgets in primary care to prevent this very unfortunate situation where somebody who was desperate to receive medical attention had to pay a ridiculous sum of money?

If I may, I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond to my hon. Friend on that point. There is a distinction between access to prescription medicines, which attract the normal prescription charge—my hon. Friend and the House will recall that some 90% of all prescriptions are free—and access to medicines that are supplied in an emergency, which attract a higher charge. That is not about a prescription but about the cost of providing medicines in an emergency.

Further to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), the Leader of the House might be interested to know that a written answer I received on 15 January showed that between 2010 and 2012 the number of days it took to receive a decision on tier 1 visa applications made from within the UK went up from 30 to 83. In the same period, the number of cases taking more than four weeks to process has gone up from 25,000 to just under 64,000—all while this Government have been in office. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary or a Home Office Minister makes an urgent statement on that process, as those figures do not show the progress he mentioned earlier?

I will not reiterate the points I made earlier. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration has made it very clear that he does not yet regard the performance as satisfactory, and nor does the chief executive of the UK Border Agency. I will of course encourage my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to find opportunities to update the House during questions and at other times about improvements in performance at the UKBA.

Yesterday in the European Parliament there were some important votes on reform of the common agricultural policy. That subject is important for producers and consumers of food. Will the Leader of the House set aside some time so that Ministers can set out their views and hon. Members can reflect their constituents’ concerns about this important matter?

As my hon. Friend rightly says, that is important. He will know that as those measures make progress the opportunity to consider them will be offered to the European Scrutiny Committee, which will decide whether it should be debated in Committee or on the Floor of the House. We will have to wait and see, but reform of the CAP has been a continuing priority of this Government. As the Prime Minister’s speech set out yesterday, it is an illustration in one very important area of the importance of the single market and of how the single market must promote competitiveness, ensuring that not only producers but consumers get the best deal.

May we have a debate on the challenges facing Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust? The Leader of the House will know from his former role that there is a question mark over whether the forthcoming review of services will result in the retaining of key services, such as a full maternity unit, at Furness general hospital. There is also a need for lessons to be learned about the great failings at the trust over recent years.

The hon. Gentleman is right—I am very familiar with the issues at the trust and had opportunities in the past to meet the staff and visit Furness general hospital. I will not venture any view about the outcome of the review, but I shall certainly ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to correspond with him and give him an idea about the process and any emerging conclusions.

The Secretary of State for Education has taken significant steps to reintroduce rigour into the examination system, yet my constituents will not necessarily benefit from that because of the devolved settlement and the different approaches taken in different parts of the UK. May we have a debate on the examination system to provide clarity and certainty to employers and universities who want to know the differences in the approaches of the various authorities around the UK?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least because he speaks from a Welsh perspective. There was recently a debate in Opposition time on reform of the exam system, which provided an opportunity for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to demonstrate that our reforms are replacing GCSEs with rigorous world-class examinations, for example. We are setting out to ensure not only that standards are set and maintained in core subjects but that our examination system and curriculum match the best in the world.

Ovarian cancer is called the silent killer, as its symptoms go unrecognised and spread quickly. We could save the lives of 500 women a year if our services matched the best in Europe. Can we have a debate on how to improve awareness of the symptoms among both women and GPs, so that we can catch this cancer earlier?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The disparity in survival outcomes for some of the main cancers is at the heart of the improving outcomes strategy for cancer that the Government set out; indeed, I set it out when I was Secretary of State for Health. I visited the very large-scale research project on ovarian cancer. From memory, I think 200,000 women formed part of that trial, which should soon—in the next couple of years or so—start to give us results that might lead to much better options for screening for ovarian cancer, and hence early access to treatment.

Can we have a debate on the long-standing problem of interference on licensed radio stations, particularly in London and south-east England, from illegitimate broadcasters?

My hon. Friend tempts me a little. He will remember “The Boat that Rocked”, a recent film that was in part about trying to suppress pirate radio stations. When I watched it with my wife, I had to confess to her that in the mid-1980s, as Private Secretary in the Department of Trade and Industry with responsibility for the Radiocommunications Agency, I was the official sending teams out to shut down pirate radio stations. Happily, that is now Ofcom’s responsibility, and I will of course ask the chief executive of Ofcom to let my hon. Friend know what steps it is taking to ensure that the integrity of broadcasting on the spectrum is maintained.

Britain is now set to renegotiate its relationship with the European Union. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that a first priority in the negotiations should be to seek to withdraw from the common fisheries policy and re-establish Britain’s historical fishing limits? May I also suggest that in next week’s debate, the Government come forward with proposals on the common fisheries policy, and perhaps think about using the Norwegian model as a basis for the future?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity of next Wednesday’s debate on Europe to raise those issues. I know the Prime Minister referred, in his speech yesterday, to reform of the common fisheries policy as an issue, and included in that is the question of the balance of powers and competences. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hear from the Foreign Secretary in that debate about how our balance of competences review, which will be conducted by the Government during this Parliament, will inform the renegotiation and allow us to secure some return of powers.

In the Prime Minister’s speech on the European Union yesterday, he properly and rightly drew our attention to the importance of the single market, and said that it should include energy. I would say that the key theme should be competition and connectivity. Will the Lord Privy Seal have discussions with his ministerial colleagues to make sure that we have something significant to say on that soon?

I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s view. Indeed, one of the most remarked-on things about the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday was that it was directed not just at Britain, but the whole of Europe. All of us in wider Europe need to create a more flexible and competitive Europe; that goes particularly for eurozone countries, whatever their needs may be in terms of integration in the eurozone. As for energy, when it comes to being part of a single market and meeting the 2014 deadline, delivering that kind of competition is exactly what we need to do to demonstrate the benefits of European Union membership.

Yesterday, my constituent Terry Renshaw came to London, alongside his more famous former workmate, Ricky Tomlinson, and other members of the Shrewsbury 24 group, to get the Government to consider releasing papers relating to their 1972 trial. May we have an early debate on the release of those papers, particularly as the Government signed an order this very month to prevent their release until 2022, which will impact considerably on the group’s ability to put to the Criminal Cases Review Commission the case for looking at the matter again?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter on behalf of his constituents and others. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to respond to him. I will also, if I may, take an interest in that response, because these are not issues with which I am very familiar, but I will be glad to see what she has to say on the matter.

Primary schools in my constituency have told me of the challenges that they are facing from the growing demand for places and the pressure that this is causing, particularly on capital budgets. I do not think that it is just a local issue. It is affecting primary schools up and down the country. May we please have a debate to discuss what is being done to ensure that schools can cope with the growing demand for places?

Yes; my hon. Friend raises an important point. The problem is not confined to his constituency. The number of live births in this country began to rise in 2001 and since then, through to 2011, there has been about a 16% increase, so we have rising rolls in primary schools. The Building Schools for the Future plans of the previous Government did nothing to help primary schools respond to that. My hon. Friends in the Department for Education have been doing that, and through the spending review we are making available £2.7 billion to target local authority areas needing to provide places. I know that my hon. Friend will have seen in the capital allocations particular emphasis on meeting basic needs in the education system, which of course includes areas where demography demonstrates that capacity of schools is not sufficient.

May we have a debate on why the Prime Minister says in a Tory party advert that he plans to pay off the nation’s debt, when in fact the Prime Minister plans to increase the national debt by 60%, according to his own Treasury forecast—a percentage that would be larger than in any other European nation?

It gets a bit rich, doesn’t it—the Labour party talking about debt. The debt would have been so much worse if we had carried on in the profligate way of the Labour Government. We came together as a coalition Government recognising that in the national interest we have to reduce the deficit. We have reduced the deficit by a quarter. It is a programme set out by the Chancellor in his original Budget in 2010 and maintained ever since to eliminate the structural deficit. It is a formidable task. It will not happen in one year. It will happen by 2017, and from that point we will stop the growth of the national debt, which doubled under the previous Government.

Plymouth university, the city council and the chamber of commerce are all seeking to bid for the Government’s city initiative. Will my right hon. Friend consider holding a debate on how such Government initiatives are helping cities and towns such as Plymouth, where 38% of working people work in the public sector, and how that can help to rebalance the economy?

The initial city deals in the largest cities demonstrated how those can energise economic potential by bringing people together and allowing them to think not in terms of what local authorities, universities, chambers of commerce, local enterprise partnerships and central Government do individually, but to put all that together. I will not be parochial, but Cambridge is also submitting an expression of interest in the next round of city deals. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury about whether we might find an opportunity for some of the cities that are coming forward with new expressions of interest in city deals to have, in effect, a shop window to say how they would use that flexibility.

In Hull North seven members of the Hooper family, including a disabled five-year-old child, will lose £80 a month because under the coalition’s bedroom tax, they are under-occupying their four-bedroom house. On 8 January, Hull city council told me that it had 73 one and two-bedroomed properties available for households needing a smaller property, but 4,700 tenants will be hit by the bedroom tax. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about the shambles that this unfair policy will cause up and down the country?

The hon. Lady and her party need to recognise that when, as I and many hon. Members know, very large numbers of people are seeking access to social housing and we have large numbers of under-occupied houses, it is necessary to do something about it. If the hon. Lady wants to raise the issue, she will have the opportunity at questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his colleagues on Monday.

Concerns have been raised in my constituency about problem gambling and the operation of fixed-odds betting terminals. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on the impact of problem gambling on local communities?

There will be a debate on offshore gambling tomorrow, so if my hon. Friend is here and able to contribute he might find that it will be in order to refer to some of those issues. Although gambling is an important and legitimate industry, I entirely share his concern, and there are limits that we must be sure we understand and police. As he will know, some useful analytical research has been done to help to understand what impact changes in the legal framework for gambling might have had on problem gambling.

Payment protection insurance mis-selling appears to have spawned another abuse: people are being subjected to unsolicited texts, e-mails and phone calls. In addition, spurious claims then have to be defended by businesses, such as those in my constituency, which is putting them at risk. Is it not time we had a debate on the behaviour of claims management companies?

My memory is that the issue was raised in the Backbench Business Committee’s discussions, but I cannot be sure at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I might talk with the Chair of the Committee. I think that it might have scheduled the debate and that it has already taken place, but I just do not remember entirely. However, there are certainly important opportunities for us to debate that.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 965, which is about using the extra revenue raised by the new 45p rate of tax?

[That this House notes newspaper reports that the top rate of income tax is expected to raise more money when it falls to 45 pence, not less, as fewer will avoid it; further notes that the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Treasury have estimated that £7 billion was lost when the top rate was raised by the previous administration to 50 pence; concludes therefore that when the economy recovers, any extra revenues gained from the rich by the cut in the top rate should be used to pay for lower taxes on lower earners, for example by restoring the starter 10 pence rate of income tax; and finally notes that a new generous 10 pence band between £9,440 and £12,000 would be worth at least £250 annually to British workers, and would lift everyone on the minimum wage at least halfway towards earning the living wage in cash terms.]

Will he consider having a debate on the subject so that we can see whether we could use the extra revenue to restore the 10p income tax rate and lower tax for lower earners?

Yes, I have seen that early-day motion—we have discussed it in previous business questions. My hon. Friend has been assiduous in raising it, including, if I recall correctly, during Northern Ireland questions. He is so assiduous in these matters that I think no Government Minister can be unaware of the point he is making. However, it is of course a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged the If campaign on world hunger and confirmed that he wants to see the issue addressed at the G8 summit he will host. We also know that many other issues are being canvassed for consideration at the summit, ranging from tax evasion to the impact of speculation on commodity prices, climate change and banking. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will ensure that there will be adequate debate in Government time in advance of the summit to address those issues so that they do not all have to vie with each other for hard-pressed Back-Bench business time?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes an important point. The House had an opportunity to debate global hunger yesterday in Westminster Hall, and I know that will not be the last opportunity. It might be for the usual channels, and indeed the Backbench Business Committee, to discuss how and when the priorities for the G8 summit, including, as he rightly says, the Enough Food for Everyone campaign, are debated by the House prior to the summit.

May we have a debate in Government time on the success of our free schools policy? The Hindu free school in my constituency is heavily oversubscribed and the I-Foundation is now applying for a network of Hindu free schools across the country so that parents, if they wish, can choose a Hindu ethos for their children’s education.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am surprised that the Labour party appears to be openly sceptical about free schools, 79 of which have opened in little more than two years. They are playing an important part in increasing the diversity and character of state education. No doubt my hon. Friend has in mind the Avanti House free school in his constituency. I hope that it and other free schools will continue to demonstrate that they can create not only a more diverse and appropriate range in state education, but higher standards by responding directly to the needs and wishes of parents and pupils.

Last year, one of Lancashire’s best public schools, Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Blackburn, applied to become a state school under the Government’s free schools programme. If approved, this will mean that a school to which for years only the wealthy could send their children will be open to all, free of charge. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a great example of the Government’s free schools policy in improving choice in education? May I therefore join other hon. Members in calling for a debate on the free schools policy?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is very encouraging that we do not have to see a binary divide, as it were, between independent education and state education, and to know that there is an opportunity for the very best to be available to pupils, wherever they come from and whatever their circumstances. I know, as he does, that free schools are part of that. In addition to the free schools that are already open in my area, 100 more are due to open this year, including one in my constituency.