The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 25 February—Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill.
Tuesday 26 February—Remaining stages of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means.
Wednesday 27 February—Opposition Day (18th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalist party, subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Bank of England Act 1998 (Macro-prudential Measures) Order 2013.
Thursday 28 February—Debate on a motion relating to the Kesri Lehar campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in India, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish genocide. The subjects for those debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 1 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 4 March will include:
Monday 4 March—Second Reading of the Financial Services (Banking Reform Bill).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 February will be:
Thursday 28 February—Debate on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on the European Regional Development Fund, followed by a debate on nuisance phone calls.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. The Opposition welcome the decision of the Backbench Business Committee to schedule a debate this afternoon on violence against women and girls. The campaign states that three quarters of a million children witness acts of domestic abuse every year, and that one third of girls in relationships aged between 13 and 17 have experienced physical or sexual violence. Shockingly, one in three women will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. Today’s debate coincides with a series of actions across the UK as part of the One Billion Rising global campaign. Will the Leader of the House join me in fully supporting that campaign?
One of the first actions of the Work and Pensions Secretary after the election was to abolish Labour’s future jobs fund. The Prime Minister then went around claiming that it was
“one of the most ineffective jobs schemes there’s been.”
However, an assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions of the future jobs fund, published by this Government, said that it was one of the most successful and cost-effective schemes ever.
Yesterday the Government had to rush emergency regulations through the House after the courts ruled the Government’s Work programme illegal. For most people looking for work, however, what matters most is the assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions of the Work programme, which concluded that the current scheme is “worse than doing nothing”. The Government blundered in scrapping the future jobs fund and setting up the Work programme. The Work and Pensions Secretary was happy to attack the courts in yesterday’s newspapers, but he has not come to the House. May we have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary on the future of the Work programme?
Last week at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister claimed that the bedroom tax “is not a tax.” This week the Government Chief Whip apparently e-mailed Conservative backbenchers:
“Please could all colleagues refer to underoccupancy and not the bedroom tax?”
You can change the name but you cannot change the facts. This April the bedroom tax will hit those at the bottom, while at the same time the Government are handing out a huge tax cut to those at the top. That is what the Chancellor decided to do in his previous Budget. After the omnishambles of the previous Budget it was reported this week that the Chancellor has retreated to his country house to pore over Budget plans with Conservative party staff to try to do a better job next time.
May I make a constructive suggestion? Before the Government get themselves into another fine mess, the Leader of the House could arrange for the Chancellor to make a statement next week so that he can U-turn on the bedroom tax and U-turn on the tax cut for millionaires. It is hardly as though the Government do not know how to U-turn: new figures show that since the election they have announced a U-turn every 29 days. Given that the Education Secretary U-turned on GCSEs this time last week, I calculate that the next Government U-turn is due on 8 March. As 8 March is a Friday and not a sitting day, will the Leader of the House arrange for his colleagues to bring forward the next U-turn to a day when the House is sitting?
Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to Harold Wilson, who 50 years ago today was elected leader of the Labour party? He was a Member of the House for almost 40 years and led the Labour party for 13 years. He was Prime Minister for more than seven years. Government Members might reflect on the fact that, after the February 1974 election, Harold Wilson chose to lead a minority Government rather than go into coalition with the Liberals. He went on to win the subsequent election later that year.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Deputy Prime Minister, who managed a brief appearance on his weekly London phone-in this morning from Mozambique? I can only conclude that he has gone to Mozambique to help the Liberal Democrats in the Eastleigh by-election. Yesterday, the Chancellor went to Eastleigh, which will also help the Liberal Democrats. As Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs fight it out in Eastleigh, there is only one thing to say: things can only get better.
The coalition has been going through a rough time. Relationships are strained. As all good marriage guidance says, when a relationship hits tough times, you need to get the romance back—put a bit of spice back into it and have a bit of fun. It is Valentine’s day, so in that spirit may I suggest to the Leader of the House that Conservative MPs should be encouraged to take out a Liberal Democrat colleague—for a suitably expensive Valentine’s day meal?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I join her in expressing support for the One Billion Rising campaign. She will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equalities said earlier in Question Time. She will have a further opportunity in the debate this afternoon to express support. I welcome the debate and the focus it rightly puts on that important issue.
I was quite surprised that Harold Wilson was the subject of a programme on Channel 4 on the eve of Valentine’s day. It was not an obvious choice. I remember Harold Wilson because he addressed the first political meeting I attended—in 1966, at Abbs Cross school in Hornchurch. That was in the good old days, when I was politically neutral and 10 years old.
We must be careful with Valentine’s day references. I read an interview with the Leader of the Opposition in The Guardian this morning. In telling us about the nature of his Valentine’s day evening—a Chinese takeaway, followed by what he describes as “a surprise”—I fear he provided us with altogether too much information.
I tried to detect questions about business from the hon. Lady, but I am not sure there were any. A written ministerial statement on the Work programme and the Wilson and Reilly court case was made on Tuesday. It is clear that the courts did not quash the principle of the scheme—the problem was the structure of the technical regulations and how they worked. We put down regulations to put that right for the future, and we will continue to contest the Court of Appeal’s decision. That is a matter for the courts and not, for the moment, for this House.
The hon. Lady asked about the under-occupancy charge, but the Government rest on the facts. The simple facts, which we have discussed in business questions and at Prime Minister’s questions, are that, under the previous Government, Labour Members were perfectly content for an under-occupancy deduction to be applied to housing benefit in the private sector, but somehow find it impossible to read that across into the social housing sector. They fail to recognise—the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) made this point well in yesterday’s debate—that hundreds of thousands of homes are under-occupied, and we have a million and a half people on the social housing waiting list and need to ensure that there are incentives to use social housing stock to the best effect. Those are simple facts.
An additional simple fact is that we have to recognise that housing benefit, at £23 billion, pretty much doubled under the previous Government and we have to control that. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) sat in the debate yesterday and failed to recognise what he said when he left government, which was that there was no money left. It is curious that outside the House Labour Members seem willing to accept that. The head of their party’s policy review, the hon. Member for Dagenham and Rainham (Jon Cruddas) said just last night:
“The money is not there and everyone knows that.”
They have to recognise that they left us in an economic mess, and the head of their policy review says that they have to start by saying sorry for that. If their leader does not start saying sorry, they will not be able to participate in debates—as was clear yesterday—with any credible response. Their leader has gone off to Bedford and their policy review is described as a work in progress. Of course, when one is in Bedford one thinks of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. I have to say that the Leader of the Opposition has yet to reach his slough of despond.
In the village of Barton Stacey there is serious concern about the speed at which the Ministry of Defence is disposing of property and land, which is preventing local residents from having enough time to establish a community initiative to buy some of it for public open space. May I ask the Leader of the House for time to debate MOD property disposal, so that other communities might have the opportunity that has been denied to Barton Stacey?
My hon. Friend makes an important point in relation to her constituency. Members across the House recognise that in the midst of the necessity to make proper disposal of surplus land right across the public estate, we want to do so in a way that recognises community interests and the views of local communities, and responds to them. I will raise this issue with my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence. She may wish to note that Ministers will be here for Defence questions on Monday 25 February, and she might like to raise the issue then.
I think the Leader of the House could have been a little bit more generous about Harold Wilson in his remarks. Is it time that we had debates in which we can reflect on the successes and failures of previous Administrations? [Hon. Members: “Margaret Thatcher.”] Certainly we could have a debate on that too. The Wilson years provide an example of a Prime Minister who resolutely kept us out of the Vietnam war, telling LBJ he was not even going to send a band of bagpipes; who expanded higher education tremendously, establishing the Open university; and who gave people a choice on Europe, so there are lessons to be learned. There is no decent statue in the Members’ Lobby to a very fine Prime Minister. It is about time that we rectified that and put up a proper statue.
I recall that there is a bust of Harold Wilson in the Members’ Lobby. I hesitate to intrude on the Labour party’s grief, but as the hon. Gentleman described Harold Wilson’s attributes in office it was almost as if he was attempting a critique of Tony Blair at the same time.
In liaison with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) may I ask my right hon. Friend—who will personally recall my parliamentary campaign for a public inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005, into Stafford hospital, which was granted by the Prime Minister but persistently refused by the previous Government—to ensure that we have an early debate on the Floor of the House, in Government time, on the Francis report? When will it be?
When I was shadow Health Secretary, my hon. Friend and I discussed this matter fully. It has now been proved that we were absolutely right then, and I was right as Secretary of State to institute the Francis inquiry. We have the report and we will respond. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have been to the Backbench Business Committee to seek time for debate on this matter. I will, of course, gladly discuss with the Chair of that Committee when time might be available for that debate.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) will shortly launch her Select Committee’s report, but she will be taking questions from Members in the form of interventions. The Leader of the House’s Office has produced a set of Standing Order changes to enable Select Committee Chairs to launch a report and then take questions in a more normal format. Will the Leader of the House please bring forward those Standing Order changes?
I will gladly discuss that with the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chair of the Liaison Committee, to ensure that we have, if possible, a format for these reports that works for Select Committee Chairs and which also suits the Backbench Business Committee in the allocation of its time.
Will my right hon. Friend see whether he can find a day for the House to debate the impact of the important news that the United States of America and the European Union are to start formal talks over a new free trade agreement, which would greatly increase trade between us? Will he also confirm that even though this is a pretty dismal time for free trade, with the collapse of the Doha round, our Government believe that free trade is a great and powerful tool for growth?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like me and others across the House, I am sure that he was heartened by the conclusions of the European Council and the EU’s determination to seek free trade agreements. Today’s agreement to commence EU-US free trade discussions is only one part of the EU’s ambitious agenda. That is absolutely right. I cannot identify now when time would be available for such a debate, but it would of course be entirely relevant not least to the Budget debate on maintaining the pace of economic recovery.
By the time the House returns on 25 February, it will have been a month since British troops were first committed to assist France’s activities in Mali. We have heard that there is to be a considerable deployment of troops all across north Africa. I cannot understand why, despite repeated requests, neither the Prime Minister, nor the Defence Secretary or the Foreign Secretary has made a statement since then, and there has been no vote in the House on our significant involvement in another foreign policy adventure. Will the Leader of the House please tell us when a Minister will make a statement and give us a proper opportunity to debate this matter fully?
As the hon. Gentleman knows from previous business questions, including last week’s, I made it clear that a full written ministerial statement would be made before the House rose. That, of course, was made yesterday. Included in that was not only the support we are giving at the request of the French Government, but the question of when the extent of the European training mission and our support for it would be determined. Ministers will keep the House fully updated, but I reiterate the point I have made previously to the hon. Gentleman: we will continually look at and ensure that we fully comply with the convention of securing a debate in the House if our troops are committed other than on an emergency basis to any continuing conflict. Our intention is for our support to be logistical and training support, rather than in the form of combat operations.
The House will know that the Government of Israel now refuse to co-operate with the United Nations Human Rights Council. Despite that, the European football authorities are going to stage the under-21 finals in Israel later this year, and the English FA, despite its “Let’s Kick Racism out of Football” campaign in this country, will be sending a team. May we therefore have a general debate on Israel and its dependence on economic, cultural and sporting associations with the EU, and particularly the UK, when it manifestly is not geographically in Europe?
My hon. Friend invites me to enter tricky territory. What is Europe is often interpreted differently in different contexts, as he will remember from the Eurovision song contest, no less. I encourage him to raise this, particularly the human rights issues, with colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when they answer questions here on 5 March. I will also check with colleagues at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see whether they have anything further to add on the footballing issues.
May we have a statement on the adequacy of the discretionary payment, which exists to support the most vulnerable people who will suffer as a result of the bedroom tax? East Ayrshire council has sent letters to people saying that they might be entitled to a discretionary payment for a short period of time, after which they will have to find the money themselves. This is a matter of serious concern to some of my most vulnerable constituents, and I would welcome the Government looking at the matter again.
The hon. Lady will be aware that this Government allocated an additional £30 million to the discretionary housing payment budget, taking it to £195 million. This is specifically aimed at helping disabled people who live in significantly adapted accommodation, and foster carers.
Given that an in/out referendum and cutting the EU budget are both now mainstream Conservative policies, may we have a debate in Government time on redefining the term “rebels” as people who are usually only a couple of weeks ahead of their time?
There are currently only six working mothers in the Government, and only one at the Cabinet table. That might go some way towards explaining the confusion and chaos in the Government’s child care policy. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time—as it involves Government business—to discuss this matter, so that the Government can take on board the expertise of other Members from their own constituencies and their own experience?
I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not recognise the considerable benefits associated with the recent announcements made by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) on child care policy. We are reducing the costs and burdens of child care, and creating greater flexibility. The number of women, and of women with families, in the Government has increased and will no doubt continue to do so, but I would put it gently to the hon. Lady that we men who have families understand the need for good quality child care as well.
The Leader of the House is well aware that a lot of unitary authority and county council areas throughout the country have suffered substantial infrastructure damage as a result of flooding. Money is being made available for bolstering flood defences, but none is being made directly available for the restoration of roads, drains and hedges and for the repair of all the other damage that has been caused. Is it possible to have a debate on this matter—in Government time, as it affects the whole of the United Kingdom—to discuss whether money could be made available to repair that damage?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. This is similar to what happens after severe winter weather, when potholes and other problems need to be dealt with. Last winter and the winter before that, some additional resources were found for local authorities to do that. He makes a good point, and I will raise the matter with the Department for Communities and Local Government, not least in order to see when it will be able to say something about those impacts. I hope that that will be helpful to my hon. Friend.
I am getting an increasing number of letters from disabled constituents who are terrified of the impact of the bedroom tax. There is a storm coming the Government’s way on the issue of benefit cuts. May I repeat my request to the Leader of the House for an urgent debate, with the Prime Minister present, so that we can hear about the horrendous impact of the bedroom tax on my constituents and on tens of thousands of other people around the country?
I am sorry to have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the simple fact that he and his colleagues keep repeating this does not make it so. Under the Labour Government, under-occupancy deductions were made in exactly the same way in relation to those in receipt of housing benefit in the private sector. Opposition Members have to understand two simple propositions. First, we have to save money. Secondly, there is under-occupancy in the social housing sector, as there was in the private rented sector. In order to gain the maximum benefit from the available social housing, we have to have incentives for the space to be best used.
The findings of the Francis report were especially disturbing for my constituents, many of whom received terrible care at Stafford hospital, but the jobs merry-go-round is equally disturbing. For example, Helen Moss, the former director of nursing, who was in charge when care reached appalling standards, now works for Ernst and Young as a consultant. Her company has since won a contract to look at the financial viability of the Mid Staffs trust. May we have a debate on ending this shameful roundabout, where people get on, fail and then are moved somewhere else?
My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment directly on individuals, other than to say that—I think this is a matter of public record—although Helen Moss is working in a consultancy role, she is not working directly in relation to the Mid Staffs trust. I completely understand the general point, however. The Francis inquiry is continuing, and the Government will respond in due course, but while its report has clearly set out many of the central issues for the system as a whole, it was not asked to draw conclusions about the behaviour of individuals, and it did not do so. That is principally a matter for the professional regulatory bodies, of course, but this issue does raise the question of the place of managers in particular in a professional regulatory structure of that kind.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 773? It has attracted the signatures of over 95 Members from seven political parties, including the coalition parties.
[That this House notes that the most significant development that has followed from the Government's healthcare reforms has been the 7 billion worth of new contracts being made available to the private health sector; further notes that at least five former advisers to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are now working for lobbying firms with private healthcare clients; recalls the Prime Minister's own reported remarks prior to the general election when he described lobbying as ‘the next big scandal waiting to happen'; recognises the growing scandal of the procurement model that favours the private health sector over the NHS, by allowing private companies to hide behind commercial confidentiality and which compromises the best practice aspirations of the public sector; condemns the practice of revolving doors, whereby Government health advisers move to lucrative contracts in the private healthcare sector, especially at a time when the privatisation of the NHS is proceeding by stealth; is deeply concerned at the unfair advantages being handed to private healthcare companies; and demands that in future all private healthcare companies be subject to freedom of information requests under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the same way as existing NHS public sector organisations.]
Given that £7 billion of NHS contracts is currently being tendered for, or has been awarded to, private sector health companies, may we have a debate on whether freedom of information requests should apply to private health companies bidding for NHS contracts that currently hide behind a cloak of commercial confidentiality?
Health questions will take place on the next sitting Tuesday. On public procurement and the need to audit public money, the Freedom of Information Act cannot at present reach wherever public money goes, but the transparency requirements set out in contracts enable there to be absolute clarity about the propriety and purposes of public funds used in procurement.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on food labelling for processed food? The horse scandal has shown that the labels on processed food throw mystery on where that food comes from, rather than provide enlightenment. We have an opportunity to get something positive from this scandal, by making sure that people recognise where their food comes from.
I understand the point my hon. Friend makes, and he will have heard the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who has responsibility for food and farming, say precisely that. The Minister agrees that we must make sure food labelling delivers to consumers the information they need. As I know from my experience, we are making good progress in respect of the nutritional content of food and helping people to construct a good diet, but the provenance, origin and composition of foods must also be made very clear. My ministerial colleagues have reported to the House on that, and I know they will find further opportunities to do so.
Order. As the House will know, I almost invariably call everyone at business questions, and I would like to do so again today, but it is a day of Backbench Business Committee debates, which are well subscribed, so we are under heavy time pressure. I therefore appeal to colleagues to ask single short questions, and to Leader of the House to give pithy replies.
Unpaid carers provide vital care to frail, ill and disabled people, but thousands of them are being hit by the benefits cap and the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. Many will also be hit by the bedroom tax and the loss of council tax benefit, and we now find from the updated impact assessment for personal independence payments that 10,000 carers will lose their carers allowance and 5,000 fewer will qualify. May we have a debate on why this Government are hitting unpaid carers with their reforms, rather than exempting them?
The hon. Lady has to recognise, for example, that we specifically excluded carers from the constraint on the uprating of welfare benefit—recognising their role. The draft Care and Support Bill puts into statute for the first time specific support for carers, not least in respect of supporting their health.
I think I may have detected a somewhat different sense to the remarks of the shadow Leader of the House than my hon. Friend has in his interpretation. I think that the Leader of the House and the deputy Leader of the House make a perfectly good team; that is how we regard ourselves for these purposes.
The Leader of the House will have heard the Chair of the Health Select Committee on the “Today” programme earlier today talking about gagging orders and the way in which they have been used in the health service. Will the right hon. Gentleman make time for a debate so that we can discuss making it a criminal offence to put a gagging order into a contract that is guaranteed to be against public safety?
It would be relevant to consider that matter when the House has an opportunity to debate the Francis inquiry. I did not hear the Chair of the Select Committee today, but when I was Secretary of State for Health, I made it very clear—and the chief executive of the NHS made it very clear—that gagging clauses would not be put into NHS contracts. We set that out. If I recall correctly—I will, of course, make sure it is corrected if I am wrong—the particular case that gave rise to this report related to a contract of employment and a gagging clause that was applied before the last election.
May we have a debate on how Telford and Wrekin council consult local people on residential and retail development? In particular, we need to debate how the council is ignoring the concerns of Newport residents about the speed and size of applications both for housing and retail supermarket development in that ancient market town.
Local development framework consultation should explicitly allow for a response from local communities. In my experience, it can be buttressed by our new statutory provision for neighbourhood plans. I encourage my hon. Friend and his constituents to get together in Newport and look to providing a neighbourhood plan, which could entrench local views into the local planning framework.
Over the last two days, many of my constituents have been caught up in the extensive disruption on the Thameslink railway route. Could time be made available to discuss the problems on that line, particularly given that, in the light of the west coast main line debacle, the operator has been awarded a two and a half year contract to continue to run the franchise when it would otherwise have finished earlier?
The hon. Gentleman might care to raise that matter at Transport questions, which I believe are on the Thursday of the week the House next sits. He will have seen the announcement on the Thameslink northern franchise, to which he referred. If I may, I will ask the Department for Transport whether there are any further issues arising out of recent problems and ask it to correspond with the hon. Gentleman and let me know the outcome.
Unemployment in the Vale of Glamorgan has fallen consistently over the last 12 months, and now stands at a rate of a little over 5%. For those people who remain unemployed, experience is an important attribute as they need it to try to get back into work. May we have a debate on the Government’s Work programme to clarify what was said in court this week, but also to underline the principle that for people who receive these sorts of benefits, experience can help them back into work?
I do not know whether a debate will be possible in the near future, but I certainly think it is important for us to continue to support the principle, which I think the court did not contest, that it is right and proper for the Government, and in the interests of the unemployed, to ensure that people get back in the workplace, get that experience and do not lose contact with work. That is at the heart of the Work programme.
May we have a debate on the management of special advisers? The Education Secretary has taken the unusual step of writing to the Education Committee in response to an invitation that he has not yet received, asking him why he did not know that one of his special advisers, Dominic Cummings, was one of those who were involved in a grievance procedure initiated by a member of staff which resulted in a £25,000 payout. Should the Secretary of State not know about such things going on in his Department, and does he not have a responsibility, under the Ministerial Code, to know what his spads are up to?
This is national heart month, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend has seen Members wearing badges in recognition and support of it. Please may we have a debate about what is being done to support long-term funding of research on heart and circulatory diseases, and what is being done to help people take care of their own hearts?
Yes, I have seen the badges. Indeed, there was a specific day on which I wore a British Heart Foundation badge myself.
Because the Government recognised its importance, we maintained the research budget, including the budget for the National Institute for Health Research. I believe that, in the last full year, the institute spent some £54 million on research on cardiovascular disease and strokes.
My constituents and I continue to be frustrated by the continuing saga of the roadworks and speed restrictions on the M62 between Huddersfield and Leeds. This has been going on for many months. Will my right hon. Friend raise it urgently with the Secretary of State for Transport, and also find time for an urgent debate? The ever-increasing number of accidents and the ever-increasing congestion are affecting the whole west Yorkshire economy.
I have driven along that piece of road, and I know exactly what my hon. Friend is referring to. The matter is very important to his constituents and to others, and I will of course raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I know that efforts are being made to complete the work this year, and to do it as fast as possible, but I will encourage my right hon. Friend to say what can be done to ensure the best possible flow of traffic and maximum safety.
On 28 January, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State for Health to the excellent Airedale general hospital. Many Pendle residents use the hospital and the outside services that it provides. For example, telemedicine is used in a number of Pendle GP surgeries and in our nursing homes. May we have a debate on the potential benefits of telemedicine to the NHS, to ensure that they can be realised and that proper joined-up working can take place between doctors, the ambulance service and our local hospitals?
I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friends enjoyed my right hon. Friend’s visit to Airedale general hospital. I recall visiting the hospital myself and being very impressed with the work it was doing. When I was in Kirklees, I was also very impressed by a demonstration of what telehealth and telecare can achieve. A trial was completed which led to the launch of the “3 million lives” programme just over a year ago, which achieved a 45% reduction in mortality rates among those who were enrolled in the programme.
May I reiterate the calls for a debate about Harold Wilson, and ask whether, in the event of such a debate, we would be allowed to refer to the fact that he smoked a pipe? It seems that the politically correct brigade at the BBC have decided to block out that fact, Soviet-style, for the purposes of the programme that they are making about him. Perhaps we could combine a debate about Harold Wilson with a debate about politically correct idiocy at the BBC.
I find it difficult to conceive of the possibility of a programme about Harold Wilson without his pipe. How would it explain how he gave himself time to think? I must say that I am not sure how he managed not to use his pipe at the Dispatch Box, given that it was such an integral part of his make-up.
Against the background of falling crime levels, a recent sharp increase in the number of burglaries in Kettering is cause for local concern. The Leader of the House will know that most burglars are already known to the police, and that most burglaries are carried out by burglars who are released too early from prison having not completed their sentences. May we have a joint statement by Ministers from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to tackle this most pernicious of crimes?
I have listened to what my hon. Friend says and, to be helpful, I will, of course, ask my colleagues at the Home Office to reply, particularly on his local situation. If I recall correctly, they were saying that although there has been a reduction in crime, they have had a particular focus on the clear-up rates in relation to burglary. It is very important that they do that.
May we have a statement on the approach to care in the Staffordshire NHS cluster? My 22-year-old constituent, Thomas Berry, suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, which means that he cannot do very much for himself, but the cluster wants to change his care plan, against his wishes, the wishes of his carers and the advice of his doctor. That could have a material impact on his health, yet the cluster is not even able to tell me whether it thinks it might have an impact on his health. May we have a statement so that we can question Staffordshire’s approach to care, including the apparent refusal of the chief executive and the head of continuing care to answer MPs’ questions adequately?
I know that the chief executive of the Staffordshire primary care trust cluster would be very willing to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this matter, if it would be helpful. Obviously I cannot enter into a discussion about his constituent, but the general point he makes is that the whole object of care plans is for them to be agreed between the patient, their family and their clinicians.
We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, a conflict that saw the loss of many British service personnel and more than half a million Iraqis killed. There are still unanswered questions about the legality of the war, so will my right hon. Friend facilitate a debate on this important issue?
My hon. Friend raises a point that I know has been raised with the Backbench Business Committee. I think we should particularly commemorate this anniversary and remember the loss of life, particularly our own dead and injured. I think that the Government should look to the Chilcot inquiry as the basis on which this House should then consider the lessons to be learned.
May we have a debate about the merits of introducing financial incentives to UK whistleblowing legislation? Such incentives are in place in the United States, where its Treasury makes a fortune as a result. If we had them here, be they in respect of health, banking or other sectors of our economy, more people would step forward and indicate where malpractice is taking place.
Of course, I am familiar, to some extent, with the fact that there are incentives for whistleblowers in financial services in America, but I did not know that they extended any further than that. In a number of contexts, we want to ensure, in particular, that there are no disincentives, but we also want to ensure that there are clear incentives for people to be whistleblowers, where that is appropriate.
My constituents from the Wilton community land trust were delighted to have the opportunity, finally, to bid for the Ministry of Defence site at the Erskine barracks. However, they were somewhat dismayed by the lack of provision in the tendering document for communities’ views to be taken into account. May I reiterate the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for the MOD to make a statement on how it is going to listen to community groups when disposing of its assets?
I will not repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North earlier, but it is important, in any set of circumstances where disposal is being taken forward, for the local councils and the partners to engage fully with the local community. I hope that that is the practice in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen), too.
Many of my constituents will welcome the fact that this week the Government have taken an important step forward by committing to support people with their care costs where they have assets of up to £123,000, as opposed to the current limit of £23,000. Will my right hon. Friend schedule a debate on this issue, which is extremely important in respect of fairness, particularly for those who have saved hard and done the right thing for their retirement?
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health was able to make a statement at the beginning of the week on the response to Andrew Dilnot’s commission, which I had the privilege of establishing. The relevant provisions are the subject of a further representation to the Joint Committee considering the draft Care and Support Bill and I hope that that will enable the House in due course to see the measures taken forward as rapidly as possible.
Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that one of the successes of the coalition Government has been the provision of a proper framework for post offices so that they can feel secure, modernise and serve their rural communities? In my constituency, many post offices have felt a huge benefit from that support, in complete contrast to the closure programme under the previous Labour Government.
I can tell my hon. Friend that the Lord Privy Seal is very much in agreement with him. There will not be any repeat of the closure programme that we saw under the previous Government, which I experienced in my constituency and he no doubt did in his. We are committed to maintaining a network of 11,500 branches, with £1.3 billion of funding to support that during the spending review period. By 2015, at least half of those branches will have been modernised as he describes.
There are concerns in my constituency about the mortality rates at the local hospital, which will now be investigated by the NHS Commissioning Board. Will the Leader of the House allow an urgent debate on how we can improve such hospitals?
My hon. Friend will recall that I visited Medway hospital. It is very important that we recognise that when there is a significant deviation from the standardised mortality data and too high a level of apparent mortality is recorded that is an indicator that should be acted upon and is not in itself evidence of poor care. From the point of view of the Department and the Care Quality Commission, one of the lessons from Mid Staffs was that indicators, alarm bells, smoke alarms or whatever we might call them should never be ignored. I hope that we will see determination to act on any evidence but not to jump to any conclusions.