The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 11 February—I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the European Council, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by general debate on the local government finance settlement for rural local authorities. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 12 February—Opposition Day [17th Allotted Day]. First part, there will be a debate on an Opposition motion on education. Second part, there will be a debate on an Opposition motion on infrastructure.
Wednesday 13 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2013 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2013.
Thursday 14 February—Debate on a motion on protecting future generations from violence against women and girls, followed by general debate on preventing sexual violence in conflict. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The business for the following sitting week will include:
Monday 25 February—Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill.
I thank the Leader of the House. Yesterday a number of supermarkets and suppliers withdrew ready meals because of concerns about contaminated meat and adulteration. There is growing concern about this issue and consumers are rightly worried and want reassurances, yet the Government appear to be slow to react. Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement on this matter by a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?
On Tuesday, the Lords accepted amendments to the Defamation Bill that included plans for a new arbitration service to hear libel cases, along the lines of the recommendations of Lord Leveson. Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to look at those who voted for the amendment? This week’s alternative coalition included Lord Fowler, Lord Hurd, Lord Ashcroft and the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, Lord Astor. Half of the Conservative party voting against him on equal marriage is one thing, but now the Prime Minister cannot even persuade his own father-in-law to vote for the Government. Tuesday’s vote showed that there is cross-party agreement on the need to implement Lord Leveson’s recommendations, to ensure that the suffering of the Dowlers and the McCanns will never be repeated. Will the Leader of the House tell us when the legislation will be returning to this House for Members to consider? Will he undertake to ensure, when it does, that he will keep within the spirit of that cross-party agreement and not seek to rupture it?
Yesterday, astonishingly, the Prime Minister claimed that the Government’s taxes and benefits were progressive. On that very day, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies claimed that the tax changes being introduced this April were regressive, with the richest tenth gaining the most while the bottom 50 % lose. At the same time, the IFS warned that the social security bill was going up and that borrowing was going to overshoot by £64 billion. The reason is that the Government’s economic strategy is failing. May we have a statement from the Chancellor, ahead of his Budget?
Yesterday, the motion on the Order Paper from the Leader of the House that the House should sit on Friday 22 March was objected to. It is not immediately apparent why Government business managers need the House to sit on that day, so will he explain that in his reply? The Government’s legislative programme is hardly packed, so that cannot be the reason. I wondered whether, after last year’s omnishambles Budget, the business managers might have been planning an extra day of debate to give the Chancellor room to perform a few U-turns. An extra sitting day on the Friday would, of course, enable the House to rise on the Tuesday, meaning, conveniently, that the Prime Minister could once again miss Prime Minister’s questions. Given the Government’s mismanagement of the economy, it is little wonder that the Prime Minister wants to duck out of PMQs after the Budget. Will the Leader of the House now think again about that Friday sitting, given that it is a day on which many MPs will already have constituency engagements?
The Daily Mail reported yesterday that the Prime Minister recently spoke in the ballroom of the Hurlingham Club, where
“the Dom Perignon flowed like water at £100 a bottle”
“ordinary club members complained about being unable to get in the entrance because of all the Rolls-Royces and Daimlers clogging the drive”.
In that rarefied environment, did the Prime Minister really make a speech about how the Conservatives had
“modernised and were no longer the party of privilege”?
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the team who found the remains of Richard III? He was only in charge of this country for two years, and he was of course the first leader of the country to lose his horse and get stabbed in the back. The Prime Minister has already lost the horse lent to him by Rebekah Brooks, and he has found a stalking horse in the form of the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). And as for being stabbed in the back—well, it is no wonder that the Education Secretary is so keen on the history of our kings and queens.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her questions. I thanked her and her colleagues at business questions last week for having announced the subject for the Opposition day debate prior to that, and I thank her again today for having ensured that I was able to announce the Opposition day business for next week. I appreciate that.
The hon. Lady asked me a question last week during the debate on the effectiveness of Select Committees, but I did not have the relevant figures in front of me at the time. She sought the publication of more Bills in draft. I can confirm that, in the last Session, we published more Bills in draft—13 Bills—than in any previous Session under the last Government.
The shadow Leader says that it was a two-year Session, so I am happy to be able to tell her that in this Session, which is not a two-year Session, we have thus far published 10 Bills in draft, and I am hopeful that before the Session is ended, we will match the record of the previous Session.
The shadow Leader of the House asked me about my colleagues at DEFRA. As she will know—there was an equine theme to her questions—
That was not even an attempt to be funny. I will talk to my colleagues in DEFRA and in the Department of Health, which is responsible for the Food Standards Agency and has given evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I will ask them to ensure that the House is kept up to date. Following previous business questions, I will ensure, too, that before the House rises for the short recess next Thursday, we are updated in respect of the situation in Mali by means of a written ministerial statement.
The hon. Lady asked about the timetable for the Defamation Bill. That is a matter for the other place, although I understand that it is intended that Third Reading there will take place on 25 February. It will, of course, arrive here thereafter. The hon. Lady will recall that in that debate in the other place, my noble Friend Lord McNally made it clear that we expect to be able to publish proposals relating to the response of the Leveson recommendations in the course of next week. We are doing so actively on a cross-party basis. It is precisely because we want to secure cross-party agreement that we are acting together in that way. To that extent, the amendment passed in the other place was clearly premature. I hope that, when people see the proposals as they come forward, they will recognise that we are actively seeking to ensure that we achieve the recommendations and principles set out in Lord Leveson’s report, albeit in a way that continues to respect the need for a press free from political interference.
Curiously, the shadow Leader seemed to ask me to seek from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a Budget statement prior to the Budget statement. We will settle for one Budget statement; that will be more than enough. It will give the Chancellor the opportunity to reinforce the simple fact that we in this country have credibility behind our fiscal stance and, indeed, our monetary policies. The new Governor of the Bank of England is giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee right now, but we all know from what was said by the OECD and others internationally that the commitment of this coalition Government to the reduction of the structural deficit and to the achievement of fiscal consolidation has allowed for our active monetary policy, notwithstanding the international pressures, and has gained us the credibility that has clearly contributed to the confidence that has brought 1 million more jobs since the election and low interest rates, which are of central importance, not least to mortgage holders.
The hon. Lady might have explained the Labour party’s policy to colleagues—a confused complaint about borrowing yet wanting to borrow more—but it was responsible for the most appalling inheritance of debt.
The hon. Lady asked about last night’s motion on the sitting of the House on 22 March. The reasoning is very straightforward. There is a calendar—the House has welcomed this fact—that has allowed Members and the House service to plan ahead. The calendar was very clear that the House would rise for the Easter recess on Tuesday 27 March—I hope that date is right—and colleagues will have planned on that basis. Following the Budget on 20 March, accommodating both the requirements of the Budget debate and the needs of the Backbench Business Committee for a pre-recess Adjournment debate will require the House to sit on 22 March. I hope Members will recognise that that is for the benefit of the House, enabling business to be secured, including Back-Bench business.
I join the shadow Leader of the House in congratulating the archaeological team from the university of Leicester. Let me add, on a personal note, that I remember visiting the archaeological team with my daughter. She subsequently went to Southampton university, but at that time she was considering reading archaeology at Leciester, and perhaps she now regrets not having done so.
It will, of course, be a matter for the university of Leicester, in due course, to deal with the question of the re-interment of Richard III, but, like the shadow Leader of the House, I hope that the interest generated by the discovery of his remains will enable those who are interested in the history of this country—not least young people—to recognise what a significant date 1485 was in that history.
Order. As per usual, dozens of Members are seeking to catch my eye. I simply remind the House that there is a further statement to follow—from the Secretary of State for Education—and then two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is real pressure on time, and I appeal to colleagues, whom I am keen to accommodate, to ask short questions, and, of course, to the Leader of the House to provide us with pithy replies.
May we please have a debate on the future of pedlary in the United Kingdom? During last night’s debate on opposed private business, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), announced that the period for consultation on the proposed reform of the laws on pedlary and street trading was to be extended by a month. A debate would enable Members in all parts of the House to contribute to that consultation. Pedlars are the ultimate in micro-businesses, and we need to ensure that there is no danger of their being regulated out of existence.
I am sure the House continues to take an interest in that issue, as it did yesterday. I heard my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary say that the consultation period had been extended, and that the promoters of the four private Bills were well aware of that and were able to accommodate it in relation to their Bills. I am sure that the House will have an opportunity to ask questions about the matter—perhaps during the next session of questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, which might correspond with the timetable.
Today’s Hull Daily Mail reports that Peter Del Grosso, a former rogue wheel-clamper with a recent criminal conviction for racially aggravated assault, is now a legally registered parking ticketer. Given Labour’s warning, during the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, that that would happen, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House about the effectiveness of the coalition’s legislation on the issue?
I should be happy to ask my colleagues at the Department for Transport about the specific case that the hon. Lady has raised, but I think that, in general, it should be recognised that the coalition Government have achieved a £3.3 billion reduction in cumulative regulation costs since the election. One cannot wish for growth and at the same time continue, as the last Government did, with the constantly accumulating cost of regulation.
Today’s report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies makes sobering reading. It emphasises the need to continue to control public spending. May we have a full day’s debate on the economy? Given that there are only about two years to go before the general election, and given that the Opposition have so far failed to support a single public spending cut or endorse a single welfare reform, the nation is entitled to be able to consider in some detail how both we and the Opposition are to address control of the nation’s public finances in a responsible manner.
We made an additional day available for a debate on the economy following the autumn statement, and we do not have long to wait until the Budget and the debates that will follow it. However, my hon. Friend has made some good points. Control of public spending is integral to our economy. If we did not control our spending, we would lose credibility. There would be a risk of a rise in interest rates, and a significant risk of our losing the international confidence and credibility that we currently command. The Government have maintained that spending control: we have consistently met the target in the spending plans that we have set out, or even achieved a reduction below that level.
May we have a debate on how foreign companies can be prevented from buying British companies and then closing them after a short period of time after removing their assets and sending them to China? Some 80 jobs in my constituency are currently under threat because of that, and it is not the first time this has happened in the Govan area in recent years.
As the hon. Lady knows, it is never easy to reconcile oneself to these things, but we live in an international marketplace. We need to win in what is a global race and, frankly, the capacity of investors to invest in this country is integral to that, and to the free movement of capital across the world. We benefit from that free movement of capital, not least in terms of inward investment, but sometimes it has a downside as well.
The Pennine Sailing Club and the Valley Bowmen of Huddersfield archery club in my constituency recently each got £50,000 of Olympic legacy lottery funding. May we have a debate on the success of the national lottery, and can we also help our constituents and community groups navigate their way through the myriad funding schemes so they can benefit our local communities?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that, and I am sure the Pennine Sailing Club and the Valley Bowmen of Huddersfield archery club are very deserving recipients of lottery funding support. Some 400,000 groups and organisations across the country have now benefited from lottery funding since the lottery was established in 1994. There are some very good mechanisms for organisations to access lottery funding, including the funding search tool at lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/funding.
On the contrary, the Prime Minister absolutely understood that housing benefit has risen dramatically and that it is essential to control it. He was absolutely clear, too, that under the last Labour Government the kind of rules that were applied to social housing had been applied to private rented accommodation, and that raises the question of why there should be a difference. He was also very clear that, as resources are finite in the current circumstances, we should ask why we are funding almost 1 million unused bedrooms in the social housing sector when there are 1.8 million people on the social housing waiting list.
My hon. Friend and many other Members have, over quite some time, raised the question of football governance. I will discuss the possibility of holding a debate on the subject with colleagues, although I am unsure which mechanism might be used—perhaps the Backbench Business Committee. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on football governance is a good starting point for moving on to consider when the House might look at these issues more generally.
Targets to reduce the number of people being killed and seriously injured on our roads served the country very well for over 30 years. In 2010, the then Transport Secretary abolished targets. The new Secretary of State has introduced forecasts. May we have a debate on road safety in general, in which we might clarify the difference between targets and forecasts—or, indeed, if there is any difference at all?
The hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about these matters, and I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Transport to respond to his question. What I will say, however, is that we are looking for outcomes, and what really matters is finding the mechanisms that enable us to improve road safety.
Harrow council tops the league for both the number of staff suspended and the length of time for which they have been suspended. One member of staff has been suspended for two and a half years on full pay. The council has also refused £3.6 million in Government grant to freeze the council tax, preferring to raise it to the third highest in London. May we have a debate on inefficiency and ineffectiveness in local government?
My hon. Friend makes important points relating to his constituency and local authority. If he catches your eye, Mr Speaker, in the debate on the local authority finance report, he will have the opportunity to raise the issue of securing value for money in his constituency and others.
Is the Leader of the House aware—he will not be, but I will ask him anyway—that at 9.30 this morning, the Post Office announced that it will be seeking franchisees for 50 Crown offices across all the constituencies in the UK? I asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills about that as he was leaving the House this morning, and it appears the Post Office did not tell him about the announcement. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State on what the Post Office is up to, where the Crown offices in question are, what will happen if a franchisee cannot be found, and the impact this will have on the Government’s promise to seek a mutual arrangement for the future of the Post Office?
Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not complaining, but I simply mention in passing that he was a relatively late entrant to the Chamber. No offence was committed, but there were other Members who had been here longer whom I thought were more deserving at the time.
I am accustomed to questions to me being described colloquially as “poor man’s Prime Minister’s questions”; I did not realise they had become “poor man’s BIS questions”, as well—perhaps poor man’s every kind of question.
I will secure an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question from my ministerial colleagues. However, we are very clear—in contrast with the record of the last Labour Government—that there will be no programme of post office closures under this Government. I have seen in my own constituency the confidence that gives, particularly to villages where post offices have temporarily shut down.
Virtually every week, I read in my local papers the Bradford Telegraph & Argus and the Yorkshire Post about serious offenders having been brought to justice through advances in DNA testing and the use of the DNA database. Extraordinarily, however, this Government seem to think that there are far too many people on the database and are trying to find ways to take them off it. May we have a debate on the effectiveness of the DNA database in bringing serious offenders to justice, and how we should use it to maximum effect to help the police bring them to justice?
My hon. Friend addresses a very important point, which we understand: the need for effective use of the latest forensic techniques to enable us to tackle crime; but at the same time, the need to respect civil liberties and people’s right for their DNA, which can be acquired in a range of circumstances, not to be held where there is no good reason for the authorities to retain it. The balance between those two issues has been discussed, but my Home Office colleagues will be happy to discuss the issue again and answer questions in future.
May I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement from the Department for Work and Pensions on its promise to give £8 million to redundant Remploy workers to get them back into work, and to give them benefit advice? To date, there is little evidence of any of that money reaching the people it is supposed to reach. A statement would help to clarify where their money is and how it is being used.
The hon. Gentleman will recall, as I do, that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), referred to this issue when she was here answering related questions. I will encourage her to identify an opportunity, at Work and Pensions questions or before, to update the House on the redundancy arrangements for Remploy workers.
May I congratulate the Chair on invoking Standing Order No. 40 last night, which I think we all enjoyed, thus expediting a whole series of votes called by only a dozen or so Members? Some of them seemed to take sport in delaying the passage of Bills against the will of the House. This has affected the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, costing the council hundreds of thousands of pounds and delaying the Bill for about three years. May I therefore ask for an urgent review of the voting process for private Bills?
I never fail to be impressed by the judgment of the Chair on these matters, but the Chair, like all of us, works within the Standing Orders of the House. If my hon. Friend feels that the procedure of this House requires a change, I would encourage him to address his points, along with his evidence, to the Procedure Committee.
May I press the Leader of the House again on the urgent need for us to have a debate on the bedroom tax when the Prime Minister is present? He needs to understand the disastrous consequences he is inflicting on thousands upon thousands of people in this country, particularly those in my constituency; I receive letters by the day telling me about the consequences of this decision.
I will not reiterate the points I made to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts), but I just say to the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister was very clear yesterday about the necessity of this measure. I do not hear, nor did we hear yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, any explanation from the Labour party as to how it proposes to meet the financial requirement that we have to control expenditure. Labour Members are occasionally free in debates to say, “Oh yes, we must control expenditure” but they have resisted every measure that has been introduced, be it on welfare, on the benefit cap, on housing benefit or on other things. They must understand that they cannot criticise in circumstances where they do not have a credible alternative.
Following the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday on the publication of the Francis report, will the Government make time for a full debate in this Chamber, so that MPs from all parts of the House can discuss the report and its conclusions?
My hon. Friend and other hon. Members will be very concerned to ensure that the report is fully debated, and he may know that a number of Staffordshire MPs have sought a debate through the Backbench Business Committee. The Committee will consider that request and I will be happy to understand in due course whether the Committee can accommodate such a debate.
In a particularly callous move, the Foreign Office has withdrawn concessionary visa arrangements for children from Chernobyl, thus depriving many of an opportunity to receive respite and to boost their immune system in constituencies such as mine. May we have a debate about how the Foreign Office decides on these concessionary visa arrangements, so that we can try to persuade the relevant Minister to change his mind about this appalling decision?
From memory—obviously I will correct this if I am wrong—Ministers at the Foreign Office have met representatives who are seeking these concessionary visa arrangements. I will, of course, ensure that the hon. Gentleman is informed about the result of those discussions, but I am not aware that I will, before Foreign Office questions, have a likelihood of being able to ask that question directly.
If the Backbench Business Committee is good enough to grant a debate on the scandal at Stafford hospital, will my right hon. Friend avoid arranging any Government statements for that day, so that we can have a full debate about the implications of the Francis report? After what we learned yesterday about the culture of box-ticking managerialism at the hospital, it seems to me that those people who close their eyes to reform of the NHS should open them and let us get on with it.
Of course my hon. Friend understands that we always endeavour to keep the House fully informed of announcements of Government policy, through the means of statements, and to seek not to impede the business of the House. That always involves a balance, and we will endeavour to strike it well. I understand his point that many Members, understandably, feel strongly about what Robert Francis had to say in his report. I feel strongly about it, because it demonstrates that appointing Robert Francis to undertake that public inquiry was absolutely the right thing to do. It also points clearly to the kind of changes in culture and behaviour that the NHS needs now and has needed for a long time. This is not about the structures, because in the course of the past two and half years we in this House have given the NHS the structures it needs. In the introduction to his report, Robert Francis makes it clear that we now need to achieve those culture changes within the structure of the new reforms and they can be achieved in that way.
Would it not be a really sneaky trick for the House not to sit on the Wednesday after the Budget? It would mean that the Prime Minister would not be able to answer in relation to the Budget for four full weeks, by which time, if last year’s Budget is anything to go by, nearly every element of it will have been undone. The Prime Minister would then have to do a massive mea culpa and apologise to everybody for having misled them all the way along for four weeks. Would it not be better to sit on the Wednesday or for the Prime Minister to lead the debate on the second day?
I published the calendar for the House last October. It set out very clearly, to correct what I said earlier, that Tuesday 26 March was to be the day on which the House would rise. It is perfectly possible for the business of the House to be accommodated by that date, but we must sit on the Friday for that to happen.
Notwithstanding the comments made by the Leader of the House a few minutes ago in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), there is an evident lack of democratic accountability in the national health service. I am sure that all Members have come up against those barriers at various times. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that issue?
I am sure that when we come to debate the Francis report my hon. Friend and others will be able to make many points, including that one. I draw his attention to the simple fact that the implementation this year of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 will give local authorities much stronger powers through the health and wellbeing boards to ensure that commissioning is agreed with the local authority and democratically elected representatives, as well as direct powers to fashion a public health improvement plan for their area.
Last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the issue of the deployment of British troops in Mali and north Africa and he promised me that the House would be kept updated. I raised the question again yesterday on a point of order following the Prime Minister’s extensive visit to the area last weekend and apparently all we will get is a written statement. That is not good enough and is not acceptable. We need a full statement and a full debate on the significant deployment of British troops in that area, which might last for a very long time and should be of great concern to everybody in this House. I ask him again: may we have a debate with a votable motion so that we can discuss the situation and the long-term objectives of the British deployment?
I noted the hon. Gentleman’s point of order yesterday and I will reiterate what I said to the shadow Leader of the House earlier: I and my colleagues will ensure that there is a report to the House next week before the House rises. I will not reiterate all that I said last week, but we continue to look carefully to ensure that we meet fully the convention that before there is a commitment of our armed forces to conflict and combat for any substantial period, when it is not an emergency, this House should have the opportunity to debate that. As the hon. Gentleman understands from what I said previously, this involvement has an urgent character but it is not the Government’s intention or plan to commit our forces to combat and conflict.
I welcome the fact that the Government have increased the income tax threshold, lowered corporation tax, worked with local authorities to freeze council tax for the third year and scrapped Labour’s fuel duty escalator. A report earlier this week said that if we were to abandon air passenger duty we could increase economic activity by £18 billion a year and increase GDP by 0.46%. May we therefore have a debate on how tax reductions can stimulate the economy further?
My hon. Friend will understand that the level of tax must be set in a way that optimises revenue while minimising the adverse impact on economic performance. That is a constant effort on the part of the Treasury, and it is one reason—this is not specifically related to air passenger duty—why reducing the top rate of tax to 45p makes good economic sense as well as revenue sense. That has been done in the context of completely understanding, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has agreed in its analysis, that following the Government’s tax changes the wealthiest 10% are making the greatest contribution to meeting our requirement for fiscal consolidation.
I make no apology for raising this matter as a business question—I tried to raise it at Prime Minister’s questions and during topical questions today, and I arrived early on both occasions. The Leader of the House has said how passionate he is about global capitalism and free markets, but media ownership is a different question. We have had no statement, and I think we should have a statement or a debate, on the fact that Virgin Media might be taken over by an eccentric American oligarch. That means that two major American companies, led by rather strange characters, will own our media empire. When will we have a statement about that threat to our media?
The hon. Gentleman shares my belief that if we are to be competent and create wealth, we must be prepared to understand that we do so in a global marketplace and there are capital and investment consequences from which we will benefit. But he should not confuse that with a belief that competition and rigorous competition authorities are essential to make that happen. I will take no lessons in relation to that because as a Back Bencher I wrote, together with the noble Lord Puttnam, the provisions that were put into the Communications Bill to apply a public interest test to media mergers.
I will of course be glad to see if there is anything further that needs to be said to my hon. Friend in relation to these matters. I answered questions in the latter part of November, I believe, relating to Spanish incursions and made it very clear that we would not allow those to impinge in any way on the integrity of the position of Gibraltar.
I am sure that, if time allows, it would be helpful to debate that issue. We must understand, however, that it is not just a matter of childhood obesity. Most of the people who will be obese by 2050 are already adults, so we cannot solve the problem by tackling childhood obesity alone. It is adults who must take responsibility, but we must understand that at the same time as we do all the things that we are doing—calorie labelling, calorie reduction, getting rid of artificial trans fats, reducing saturated fats—people need community support and opportunities to get more exercise and to make better decisions. Features such as front-of-pack labelling give them that opportunity, but they must be willing to take it.
My hon. Friend knows that the legal position is straightforward. The licence gives to the university of Leicester an obligation, but also discretion as to the choice of location for the interment of Richard III’s remains, but there will be other claims. I completely understand the claims of both Westminster abbey in relation to the burial of Anne Neville, and York minster.
We need an urgent debate on the bedroom tax and particularly the exemptions. I have a constituent who is a foster carer and who needs the extra bedroom. She provides a service for vulnerable children and she should not be penalised for that.
The deductions from housing benefit were explained by the Prime Minister yesterday, and I have heard them being explained very carefully to the House previously. The hon. Lady should understand that in addition, as the Prime Minister said again yesterday, resources are provided to meet the specific requirements she raises and local authorities can respond to such circumstances.
On 29 January, Mary Portas visited the town of Nelson in my constituency following the Government’s decision in May to designate it a Mary Portas pilot town and to give it £100,000 to revitalise its high street. May we have a debate on the excellent Portas pilots and what the Government can do to breathe life back into our high streets and town centres?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the Portas pilots. The funding of £2.3 million is only one little part of the effort that it has enabled. The multiplier effect in high streets is very important, including on those beyond the Portas pilots. It might be a slight contrivance to extend next week’s debate on local government finance to discuss the matter, but I hope that it might be one mechanism used to illustrate how local authorities can use resources effectively to generate economic activity.
You will remember, Mr Speaker, that I have raised the idea of Bob Dylan coming to Swansea to play at a centenary Dylan Thomas concert in 2014. Well, the times they are a-changing, and I have had a letter from Bob Dylan’s manager to say that he would prefer to perform in the summer in case of inclement weather. I wonder whether the Leader of the House would find time, as the House’s “Mr Tambourine Man”, to come to the concert and, more importantly, timetable a debate in this House before 2014 on cultural and literary icons of the UK and Wales.
Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), may I ask, as a proud Yorkshireman and a York MP, for a debate on returning Richard III, the last king of the House of York, to his rightful resting place—the great city of York?
In business questions in May, I raised the scandal of Criminal Records Bureau checks blighting the lives of tens of thousands of people years, or even decades, after conviction, or even cautions for minor offences or misdemeanours. The Leader of the House’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), was graciously helpful, the Home Office less so. In the autumn, the exclusions from the police commissioner elections highlighted how absurd and outrageous this practice is. The High Court has now told the Home Secretary to think again about CRB checks. May we have a debate in which the Home Secretary can explain why she stubbornly refuses to correct this gross injustice?
The House will be aware of the recent High Court case. The Government must recognise our responsibility to ensure that CRB checks are thorough and comprehensive. We are directing them towards jobs with access to children and vulnerable adults where the vulnerability is real and the need for confidence is absolute. Having said that, the Home Office will respond in due course, and the right hon. Gentleman might like to think about raising the matter in Home Office questions on Monday.
On Christmas day in 2011, my constituent Khuram Sheikh, a Red Cross worker, was brutally murdered in Sri Lanka. Since then, the justice system in that country has moved exceptionally slowly. I met his family just before Christmas, and they are still mourning. Foreign Office Ministers are putting pressure on the Sri Lankan Government, but still more needs to be done. A parliamentary debate on the failure of the Sri Lankan justice system would be very welcome.
I am sorry to hear what the hon. Gentleman says about his constituent’s family circumstances. Foreign Office questions are on 5 March, and he might like to consider raising the matter then. Alternatively, Members often think that an Adjournment debate on such circumstances might be appropriate.
On 4 December, I tabled a round robin question asking each Department how many computers, mobile telephones, BlackBerries and other pieces of IT equipment had been lost. I have received answers from every Department —very interesting they are too—apart from the Cabinet Office. Will the Leader of the House use his influence to get me an answer, bearing in mind that I also tabled a named day question on 16 January and have not had an answer to that either?
Following the right hon. Gentleman’s alleged answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), will he arrange a seminar for all Ministers to explain the precise meaning of the word “question”, the precise meaning of the word “answer”, and the need for a link between the two?
Last month in Education questions, I raised with the Secretary of State the latest delay to the rebuilding of Hetton school in my constituency due to Government financing issues. Will the Leader of the House impress upon his ministerial colleague the urgency of that matter because I am yet to receive a response?
May we have a debate on the best use to which the Government can put the rather hefty fines that some banks are paying over the manipulation of LIBOR? Do the Government agree that it would be a good idea to transfer that money to the new green investment bank in Edinburgh?
Will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate on the effects of the bedroom tax in Glasgow? Is he aware that the tax will remove £18 million a year from the Glasgow economy, cost 202 jobs and reduce wages by £5.3 million? Do we not need a debate to expose the tax as not just socially brutal, but economically disastrous?
I will not reiterate what I have said. The hon. Gentleman has to understand that to meet our requirement to reduce the deficit that we inherited from the last Government, we inevitably have to make decisions, including decisions about the level of benefits. As he knows full well, when 1.8 million people are seeking accommodation in social housing, the fact that there are nearly 1 million underused bedrooms across the country must be factored into how we constrain housing benefit expenditure.
Last year, G4S secured the contract to service court buildings. It is now drastically cutting the hours of cleaning staff and making them redundant. May we have a debate on introducing plain English into written parliamentary answers, because it is not clear from the slippery replies that I have received so far from the Ministry of Justice whether that is being done as part of the MOJ contract or whether low-paid, part-time workers are paying the price for another G4S miscalculation?
On Richard III, the case for Leicester is overwhelming, so hands off, York! I ask the Leader of the House to really think about holding a debate on the bedroom tax. When that policy was debated in Westminster Hall recently, no Government Back Bencher turned up to defend it. Given that it will affect so many vulnerable and disabled people, Opposition Members are keen to hear from the Government how it can possibly be described as fair.
I have made it absolutely clear, as did the Prime Minister yesterday rather better than I could, that we must meet the requirement to control the ballooning housing benefit expenditure left by the last Government. The Labour party have resisted every effort to do so. When there is unused accommodation in the social housing estate, it is important for there to be incentives for it to be better used. There are nearly 1 million unused bedrooms. It is not a tax; it is a deduction in housing benefit expenditure. Many of the examples that have been presented by Opposition Members completely ignore the fact that there are other deductions in housing benefit expenditure, particularly in relation to private rented housing, which demonstrate that Labour always accepted this as an argument.