The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 11 March—Second Reading of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.
Tuesday 12 March—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on tax fairness, followed by a debate on apprenticeships.
Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 13 March—Remaining stages of the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] (day 1).
Thursday 14 March—Launch of a report from the Justice Select Committee on youth justice, followed by debate on a motion relating to accountability and transparency in the NHS. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 18 March—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 19 March—Proceedings on a Bill.
Wednesday 20 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
Thursday 21 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 22 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 14 March will be:
Thursday 14 March—Debate on the Foreign Affairs Committee report on the FCO’s human rights work in 2011, followed by general debate relating to Commonwealth day.
The House will also be aware that this morning I made a written statement announcing that Her Majesty the Queen will open a new Session of this Parliament on Wednesday 8 May 2013.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and the date of the Queen’s Speech.
Tomorrow is international women’s day. To celebrate, the Government propose to remove the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s general equality duty from the statute book, having already slashed 70% of its funding. The Government have undermined the EHRC to such an extent that the United Nations has warned that it may lose its current A-list status as an independent body. It was therefore fitting that on Monday the other place blocked that attack on the commission’s powers to progress fairness. No wonder that the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) suggested in The Sun on Tuesday that her own Front Bench needed equality training. Will the Leader of the House confirm when we will see the amended Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill back in this place?
I think I have finally managed to discover something reliable about the Government: the regularity of their U-turns. On 14 February, I observed that with this Government we have a U-turn every 29 days. Following the Education Secretary’s embarrassing climbdown on GCSEs, I predicted that the next one was due to arrive on 8 March—a non-sitting Friday.
Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat. We cannot have points of order in the middle of business questions. There will be an opportunity for points of order in due course and there are plenty of opportunities to contribute, but not in the middle of business questions.
As I said, I predicted that the next U-turn was due on 8 March—a non-sitting Friday. Therefore, may I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting my request that this U-turn be brought forward to a sitting day by agreeing to Labour’s urgent question on the NHS competition regulations, which the Government withdrew ignominiously on Tuesday? It may have arrived like clockwork, but that U-turn took a quarter of a million names on a petition, thousands of doctors protesting and outrage across the House before the Government saw sense and realised that the British public will not tolerate our NHS being privatised.
The Leader of the House may recall that he told me last week that I was “not right” to say that the NHS competition regulations were a direct contradiction to the reassurances he gave during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Yet only yesterday, the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee reported that the regulations are defective for precisely that reason. Will he now concede that he was wrong? Will he tell me when we can expect to see a new version of the regulations, and can we have them published in draft first, to avoid even more chaos? I am setting my clock for the next 29 days, but I make a plea to the Government: if I can predict their U-turns, then surely so can they. Could they, perhaps, just think through their policies a bit more before they announce them?
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House to ensure that the Commons Committee stage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill will not be completed before the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has even published its second report. This week, we learned that the Government intend to railroad the Bill through the Commons Committee stage by 18 April, well before the second report is expected to be published. How can the Leader of the House seriously expect MPs to scrutinise a Bill that is still only half-written? Will he stand up for the rights of this House and delay the Committee stage until after the Banking Commission has reported?
I am glad to see that our downgraded Chancellor has got his priorities right: he spent the week in Europe defending bankers’ bonuses. He gathered his allies around him ready for the fight and ended up in a minority of one. No one seems to respect the Chancellor anymore. Yesterday, the Business Secretary made a pre-emptive strike on the Prime Minister’s big economy speech by agreeing with the Opposition that we need a plan B, and the Governor of the Bank of England has accused the Chancellor of holding back the economy by not splitting up RBS. Most damningly, however, he has lost the respect of the British public, who see him ignoring the suffering of hard-working families, while he signs off six-figure tax cuts to 30,000 millionaires. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to start listening?
While the Chancellor is acting as a shop steward for the rich, another union is growing in strength: the national union of Ministers, united in their determination to dump further cuts to their Departments somewhere else. The Defence Secretary seems to have emerged as the new Arthur Scargill; and, from reports of the slap-down of the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is emerging as the new Margaret Thatcher. Could the Leader of the House tell us whether the union is confident enough in its numbers to win a strike ballot? No wonder the Prime Minister has arranged to take a 28-day comfort break before he has to answer questions in the aftermath of the Budget statement.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her response to the business statement.
I share the hon. Lady’s wish to mark international women’s day tomorrow. In that respect, I hope it is helpful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will make an important statement immediately following business questions. I am sure the hon. Lady and the House will also welcome this morning’s written ministerial statement by the Home Secretary informing the House that the violence against women and girls action plan will be published tomorrow, on international women’s day. That will enable us to underpin further the strategy we set out two and a half years ago, showing the progress we have made and demonstrating our ongoing commitment to ending violence against women and girls, which was also marked by the debates agreed by the Backbench Business Committee in the Chamber recently.
The shadow Leader of the House asked when the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill would return here from another place. That depends on when those in another place finish their consideration. To my knowledge they have not yet done so, but we will see that in due course.
I do not believe that the competition regulations as originally presented to this House were in any sense in conflict with the commitments given by Ministers. What is clear, however, is that those regulations are capable of being misunderstood and misrepresented—particularly the latter by the Opposition. In that respect, it is simpler and better to illustrate clearly two simple facts in the regulations. First, clinical commissioning groups have a duty, which overrides all other considerations, to secure the needs of their patients and the quality of services to their patients and to make choice available to them. Secondly, contrary to the situation under the last Government, in their “Principles and rules for co-operation and competition”, procurement should be conducted with a view to securing integrated services for patients. To that extent, what we are doing is based on the principles set out in early 2010 under the last Government, but we are enabling patients to be more confident that they will get integrated services responding to their needs with clinical leadership. That seems absolutely fine to me.
The hon. Lady asked about bankers’ bonuses and all that. We have to be clear about this. The Opposition might not think it is important now, but in the past the Labour Government used to rely almost entirely on the proceeds of financial services in the City to fund all their expenditure. Now the Opposition seem to have ignored the fact that, notwithstanding that, we need a competitive financial services industry in this country. Labour seems to have ignored the fact that it did nothing about bankers’ bonuses, which were four times as great under the last Government than they are under this Government. The Opposition seem to have ignored the fact that what the European Parliament is proposing could have perverse results, leading to higher salaries rather than bonuses, adding to companies’ fixed costs and reducing both their capacity to claw back bonuses if there is poor performance and the flexibility that brings. This is not a debate in principle about whether bankers should have bonuses or about the level—we are dealing with that. The issue is whether they are structured in a way that allows poor performance to be penalised without adding to the problems of the industry’s competitiveness in Europe.
The hon. Lady talked about U-turns. On a day when the Labour party is trying to contrive some kind of U-turn on its immigration policy, that was a bit of an own goal. I have not heard the shadow Leader of the House get up and apologise for the fact that the last Government simply lost control and ended up with a net migration figure of 250,000 a year. The coalition Government set themselves the task of bringing that net number down from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands, and the figures published last week demonstrate that net migration has fallen by a third in the past two and a half years. That shows that, in this respect as in so many others, the coalition Government are delivering on their promises.
Order. As usual, dozens of colleagues are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement to follow from the Secretary of State for International Development, and then important proceedings on the Justice and Security Bill, so we are time-constrained. I must therefore exhort colleagues from the Back and Front Benches alike to speak pithily, beginning with Dr Thérèse Coffey.
My hon. Friend and I share a close interest in this matter, and I declare a constituency interest. I will of course talk to my right hon. Friend at the Department for Transport. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but I know that the Government will take the opportunity to discuss this matter with the House ere long.
May we have an urgent debate, or at least a statement, on the marine conservation zones? Given that £8.8 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on consultation, and 127 such zones have been proposed, could the Leader of the House find out when all 127 of them will be designated?
The hon. Lady was no doubt in the Chamber for questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That subject might have been raised in the course of those questions, but I hope she will forgive me for not being here at the time, so I do not know whether it was. If it was not, and if she particularly wishes to pursue the matter, may I suggest that she seeks an Adjournment debate in order to do so?
You were incredibly kind to try to accommodate everybody in DEFRA questions, Mr Speaker. In the light of recent events, including the ash tree disease, chalara, and all that has happened over food adulteration, will the Leader of the House see fit to review the time allocated to questions to the Church Commissioners and, especially, to questions to DEFRA, so that we can go back to having the full hour for DEFRA questions that we once enjoyed?
The Opposition have decided to debate tax fairness next week, so the hon. Gentleman might like to contribute to that debate. Government Members will also be able to contribute to it, and to highlight the fact that somebody on the minimum wage who is working a full week will have seen their income tax halved under this Government as a result of the increase in the personal allowance.
Today is world book day, and children up and down the country are going to school dressed as their favourite characters. I have joined in by dressing as Andrew Fraser, the Social Democratic party MP for Edinburgh Carlton in Jeffrey Archer’s book, “First Among Equals”, who ends up in a coalition Government in this very House. May we have a statement from the Department for Education on what it is doing to support school libraries, to ensure that such outlandish and far-fetched works of fiction are available to all?
I am sure that I am not alone in having found the school library my favourite place to be when I was at school. My hon. Friend might not realise that I, too, am in costume. I am taking the part of the Chief Whip—with apologies to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury—in my good friend Michael Dobbs’ book “House of Cards”. I am dressed as such.
May we please have an urgent debate on the plight of Shaker Aamer, who remains the last British resident incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay? He is still there after 11 years. We have heard sympathetic statements from the Foreign Secretary, and the US and the UK are both saying that he has been cleared for release. We need to know why we do not seem to have enough influence to get this man back. He has never been charged with any crime, and he has been there for 11 years.
I am sure the hon. Lady is as aware as many others in the House are of the representations that Her Majesty’s Government have been making about those in Guantanamo Bay. I will of course ask my colleagues in the Foreign Office to respond directly to her about the issue she has raised, and she may like to raise it further at Foreign Office questions.
I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concern and his repeated efforts to support the Tamils who have suffered in the way he describes. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I will draw what he said to the attention of my ministerial colleagues and get them to respond directly to him.
In a written question on 20 December 2011, I asked the Department for Work and Pensions about the number of people who had died while waiting for an appeal on their work capability assessments and received an answer that up until October 2011 there were 30. I asked the same question on 27 June last year and was told that up to the end of April 2012 there were 32. Last week, I received an answer from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), to the same question, worded in the same way, but with the period extended until the end of 2012, and was told that the information was not available. Those answers cannot all be correct. Given either that the earlier ones were inaccurate or that the later one was evasive, may we have an urgent statement from that Minister on the veracity of his answers to written questions?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I cannot comment in detail on that without notice, but I will of course talk to colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to see whether we can establish the reasons behind the different answers in respect of different periods.
My right hon. Friend mentioned migration and I congratulate the Government on reducing net migration by a third. May we have a statement on how local education authorities can authenticate requests by parents from other EU countries for school places for their children? I understand that Bournemouth borough council—no different from other councils—has no requirement or indeed resource to check whether those parents are working legitimately in the UK. The system is subject to abuse.
My hon. Friend raises an issue that many hon. Members feel we should take an early opportunity to report on. I know that my colleagues are working hard on a range of issues about access to benefits and services. That work is ongoing and will be reported to the House in due course. I will make sure that my hon. Friend is made aware of any response to the particular issue he raises.
May we have a statement or debate in Government time in the near future on the uptake of benefits, particularly among senior citizens whose poverty levels run well over 15% higher in some regions? Senior citizens in Northern Ireland are missing out on up to £1 million a week by not taking up benefits, so more needs to be done to encourage take-up.
The right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to raise that matter with Work and Pensions Ministers on Monday. If I may say so, this Government have worked hard to try to secure that. I am aware that one of the benefits—if I can be forgiven the pun—of universal credit is that it will establish a more secure basis to give people access to the benefits to which they are entitled.
This week, we had the fantastic news that Jaguar Land Rover is going to invest a further £150 million, creating an extra 700 jobs at the engine plant that the company is building in my South Staffordshire constituency. May we have a debate on how we can continue to build on the success of the automotive industry, which is bringing such benefits not just to the west midlands but to the whole UK economy?
It was encouraging news to hear about the 10% increase in new car sales over the course of the earliest part of this year in comparison with the previous year. What is also tremendously encouraging about Jaguar Land Rover is its dramatic success in international markets and exports. The fact that that has been reflected in the investment in the engine plant near Wolverhampton which my hon. Friend mentioned is something that is greatly supported right across the House.
May we have a statement from the Government about when they will sign the maritime labour convention? Enough countries signed last August to make it international law this August, and the UK Chamber of Shipping and others are warning that our failure to do so would seriously disadvantage British shipping internationally. The Government support the measure and led the negotiations on it at the International Maritime Organisation, but for some reason it is mired in bureaucratic difficulty between Departments. I should be very grateful if the Leader of the House would look into the matter, and tell us whether we can have a statement.
I know of the support that the Government have given to the negotiations. I hope that one of my roles can involve entering the innards of that bureaucracy to try to ensure that the process works more smoothly and effectively. I will of course inquire of my colleagues to see what we can do to help the hon. Gentleman, and to succeed in the way that he describes.
May we have an urgent debate on the uncontrolled immigration that was allowed by the last Government and, in particular, on the effect that it has had in reducing the wages of the lower paid? This is a serious issue, given people’s current problems with the cost of living, and it needs to be looked into urgently.
In the last quarter, there has been a large rise in employment among UK nationals and a substantially smaller growth in employment among non-UK nationals. While we must ensure that those who come here to work are not subject to abuse in the sense of being paid less than the minimum wage or experiencing other poor conditions, I think we can feel increasingly confident that we are enabling more people in this country who are seeking jobs to acquire them.
May we have a debate, or at least a statement, on the current plight of those who pay electricity bills? We have heard that the big six are raising their prices again, and now we hear that they are also making excessive profits. Is it not time that we did something about that?
The Energy Bill has completed its Committee stage and will return to the Floor of the House in due course, when it will become clear to the hon. Gentleman that—as we have discussed previously—the Government are taking the power to require that consumers are given access to the lowest tariffs available. That, along with the electricity market reform which is encapsulated in the Bill, is a tremendous step forward.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of today’s ruling in the High Court about the children’s heart unit at Leeds general infirmary. I am sure that he would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all those who have campaigned so vigorously on the issue, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), whose campaigning has been outstanding. Will he also ensure that a Minister comes to the House as soon as possible to make a statement about the implications of the ruling, and about how the Government intend to proceed from now on?
I pay tribute to Members who, as my hon. Friend has said, have been assiduous in supporting their constituents and expressing their concerns. Those concerns are understandable, but let me reiterate that—as I think has been widely acknowledged—it is necessary to reduce the number of units responsible for children’s heart surgery in order deliver sustainable, secure, high-quality care for those children in the future.
It is clear from this morning’s decision that, while the judge has determined that the application for judicial review must succeed, what that means in terms of an order relating to the process itself is for future determination. I think it best for me to wait and see what the judge says in relation to the process before pressing my colleagues to make any kind of statement about how the joint committee of primary care trusts might proceed.
Whatever urgent debates the Leader of the House wants to arrange for next week, I must tell him that I may not be present, because the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has cancelled my travel card on the basis that I failed to submit my January conciliation form. It was submitted—I know that, because according to the online system it is “awaiting validation”, so it is clear that someone in IPSA has seen the form and typed those words—but IPSA has cancelled the card nevertheless.
It is unacceptable when this terminally abominable, incompetent organisation fails to pay the simplest expenses, but surely, when it starts to interfere with MPs’ ability to come to the House and return to their constituencies, that is something about which the Leader of the House and every Member should be concerned.
I understood what the hon. Gentleman said. I think he is seeking a statement or debate on the matter. [Interruption.] I know he wants his card back, but that does not of itself render his remarks orderly. They will be rendered orderly if there is a request for a debate and I am sure there was such a request; I probably just did not hear it.
I am sure we all want to enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s presence here next week. To that effect, I will draw directly to the attention of IPSA the points he has made and the cautious and modest way in which he expressed himself. I think there are other Members across the House who have found themselves in similar circumstances and who have some sympathy with him.
I rise somewhat nervously to draw attention to a widespread concern about the conduct of the Government’s business. I am sure the Leader of the House would join me in congratulating the Backbench Business Committee on providing time to debate an aspect of the Francis report, but when are we going to have a full day’s debate in Government time on the Francis report? The Leveson inquiry gave rise to just such a debate in Government time. Surely our relations with the press are less important than what has happened at Mid Staffordshire hospital and its implications for the health service as a whole. We would not want the House of Commons to give the wrong impression about what we think is important.
I am not sure I agree with my hon. Friend that the debate the Backbench Business Committee has scheduled for Thursday of next week is on one aspect of the Francis inquiry report. I think it is about accountability and transparency in the national health service. He will have seen on the Order Paper the nature of the motion presented. I do not think it constrains debate at all, and it is perfectly appropriate for us to proceed on the basis of the House considering this matter next Thursday, as the business papers make clear. I hope my colleagues will respond to the Francis inquiry in the course of this month, which in itself will give us a basis for considering what processes follow from that.
More than 40 employment agencies are operating in Corby, which is disproportionate. Having met representatives of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills this week, I am particularly concerned that there are now plans to cut the employment agency standards inspectorate, which protects the most vulnerable in my community, particularly in workplaces. May we have a debate on this?
The hon. Gentleman may by all means seek to secure an Adjournment debate on these issues, and I will certainly talk to my BIS colleagues about the points he raises, but in this context he might like to celebrate the fact that employment in this country has risen by over 800,000 since the election and more than 1 million private sector jobs have been created. If his constituency’s experience is contrary to the national trend, he might like to consider what further measures to stimulate employment will be needed in his constituency, especially as the area in general is seeing employment growth.
May we have a statement from the Justice Secretary about the need to restore honesty in sentencing, with particular reference to the fact that convicted terrorists stand to benefit from being released halfway through their sentences, with the extra burden that will inevitably place earlier than necessary on the police and security services?
As my hon. Friend knows, the type and length of a sentence imposed is a matter for the courts, but severe maximum penalties, including life sentences, are available for terrorism offences and terrorists frequently receive long custodial sentences. He will also know that extended sentences imposed on those convicted of a specified terrorist offence attract eligibility for parole consideration at the two-thirds point of the custodial period, with automatic release only once the custodial period has been served in full. I can assure him that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is keen to ensure public protection and keeps these matters under close review.
The Children and Families Bill has much to commend it, but as it goes through Committee the bedroom tax will hit foster carers, adoptive parents, disabled children and some children with special educational needs, all of whom stand to benefit from the provisions in the Bill. Will the Leader of the House use his influence to protect the children affected by the bedroom tax so that the widely supported measures in the Bill are not completely undermined by actions elsewhere in government?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Of course, the Children and Families Bill has a great deal to commend it, including its important provisions for the support of families with children with special educational needs. I am sure that he was in the Chamber and heard the responses given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to a series of questions yesterday. My right hon. Friend made it clear that we must understand not only the context of the £23 billion that is payable in housing benefit and the need to deal with that but how the change is being undertaken in a fair way. It is important to recognise that it brings the social housing sector into line with practice in the private rented sector in a way that offers not only access to a hardship fund but specific exemptions for some of the most vulnerable categories of tenants.
May we have a debate on the perspicacious and insightful fifth report of the Procedure Committee, which recommends that the Second Church Estates Commissioner and the other colleagues who answered questions earlier today should be allowed to make statements to the House on serious matters of national importance?
Yes, and, if I may, I will seek time, as it is our practice to do, to try to secure an opportunity for the House to consider matters recommended by Select Committees relating to House business. We will discuss that through the usual channels in the normal way, but I entirely recognise my hon. Friend’s point, although, as he will recognise, only in extremely rare circumstances will it be felt appropriate for such a statement to be made.
The Leader of the House has already, in passing, mentioned exports and it is vital that economic recovery, when it finally comes, should be export-led. Sterling’s recent dramatic fall in value should, at the very least, help the competitiveness of our exports, but net trade actually fell in the last quarter and the Bank of England has described our trade performance as disappointing. May we therefore have a debate on the crucial subject of trade and exports to see how the Government can raise their game?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government do not have a policy for the value of the pound in international markets. We have a policy to support growth, enterprise and employment in this country and we can see how employment has increased and how we are supporting the private sector in wealth creation through deregulation measures, the reduction of corporate tax rates and the dramatic increase announced by the Chancellor in access to investment allowances. There are issues with exports, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, because of the dramatic reduction in demand in the eurozone, which is hitting so many economies that are dependent on it. At the same time, in the first two years of this Government, British exports of goods have increased by 47% to China, by 33% to India, by 33% to Brazil and by 134% to Russia. As he rightly says, we need therefore to focus on stimulating that activity. The Chancellor’s autumn statement gave very specific additional support to UK Trade & Investment to do exactly that.
Yesterday was estimates day, and as usual we voted through countless billions of pounds of public expenditure with no vote and no debate. Yesterday, however, something different happened. My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh) tried to talk about estimates on estimates day, but he was immediately ruled out of order and told to get back to medical implants. As it happens, we have produced a report for the Chancellor on how to improve the accountability of estimates to Parliament and it is sitting in the Library. May we have a debate in Government time about how we can talk about estimates on estimates day?
I was present in the House and I think my hon. Friend is referring to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh) said that he believed that if he had sought to talk about estimates, he would have been ruled out of order, although I do not believe that the Chair issued any ruling at all. As the House will know, the determination of the subjects for debate on those two estimates days was conducted by the Liaison Committee. I have read the report published by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Southport. There is a fair point, which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and I have discussed on the Public Accounts Commission, about improving and enhancing the scrutiny of public expenditure by this House in a number of ways. I shall not talk about what they might be, but I share the view that we should find an opportunity in the future to try to enhance that.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make an urgent statement so that we can do a fact check on his answer to me yesterday, which was inaccurate when he claimed that severely disabled children, pensioners and people needing round-the-clock care were exempt from the council tax? With reference to children, those families with a second spare bedroom will face the bedroom tax. The only reason that some severely disabled children are exempted is a Court of Appeal ruling which, perversely, the Government are challenging.
I think that when the hon. Gentleman referred to council tax, he was referring to housing benefit. [Interruption.] Be that as it may, the hon. Gentleman and I heard what the Prime Minister said, and the Prime Minister is assiduous in ensuring that what he says to the House is accurate. If ever what he said was not accurate, he would of course correct it.
There is glorious news coming from the High Court this morning that campaigners for the children’s heart unit have won their case against the review. It is a tremendous victory for the parents and families and I pay tribute to them. It clearly confirms the view that the review is flawed. The judge said that the review team made an ill-judged and fatal mistake in not revealing how the Kennedy sub-scores were compromised. Recognising that there will be a further judgment, may we have a statement on the day of that judgment or the very next day so that we can get the matter resolved once and for all for those patients?
As I said before, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and colleagues across the House who have been assiduous in representing their constituents’ interests. I will not repeat what I said, but there will be a follow-on decision by the Court relating to what this decision means in terms of the process itself. As the process is conducted not by the Government, but by an independent joint committee of primary care trusts, it will in the first instance be a matter for it. I would not encourage my hon. Friend to assume that it is the responsibility of Ministers at that moment to do other than to report the facts to the House. It is not their responsibility at this point to determine the progress of the review.
Will the Leader of the House organise an urgent debate on the use of English in the House, following the new euphemism that we heard yesterday, when the bedroom tax became the spare room subsidy? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the Conservative party changed the community charge to the poll tax, it cost them a leader.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motions 1097 and 1157 about the cost of petrol and diesel and fuel poverty?
[That this House notes the action that the Government has taken to cut the cost of petrol and diesel, with a cut in fuel duty in 2011, two freezes in 2012 and the scrapping of the planned rise in January 2013; further notes, however, that rocketing fuel bills are causing misery for millions, and that this matters because fuel duty is a tax on everything, hitting food prices, bus prices and everyone who commutes to work; further notes that fuel duty hits the poorest the hardest, and that many workers in Harlow constituency and elsewhere are spending a tenth of their income just filling up the family car; and therefore calls on the Government to do everything in its power to stop the planned September rise in fuel duty and to help keep prices down.]
May we have a debate on petrol prices and fuel poverty, following the report by the RAC Foundation that the poorest are paying 20% of their income to fill up the family car, whereas the richest are paying 10%?
Yes, I have seen the early-day motions to which my hon. Friend refers. I cannot promise an immediate debate but as he knows, this is a matter that we have considered in the House and no doubt we will have an opportunity to do so again soon. I know that he believes, as I do, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken important steps to ensure that petrol at the pumps is now 10p a litre lower in price than it would have been if the fuel escalator under the previous Government had been carried forward.
During the recess I tried to live on £18 a week, which is what my constituents will have once the bedroom tax is introduced. I found that I ran out of food before the end of the week. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the bedroom tax and its impact on nutrition?
I think the House had an opportunity, on a motion tabled by the nationalist parties, to debate the housing benefit structure and the under-occupancy deduction. If the hon. Lady and her colleagues felt so strongly that that was the most important issue to debate, I am surprised that they did not choose to bring it forward for debate next Tuesday, as they could have done.
The Financial Services Authority authorised Barclays bank to use KPMG and Deloitte as independent reviewers of the 40,000 interest rate swap agreements mis-sold to small and medium-sized businesses. May we have a debate about the true independent City law firms, Eversheds and TLT, which Barclays is using as its fact finders to interview by phone, for sometimes up to three hours, many of the customers classified as “unsophisticated? They are discouraged from having their solicitors present, refused a transcript and often feel that they have been cross-examined. Those tactics mean that the bank’s lawyers might be breaching the solicitors’ code of conduct and only go to reinforce the bank’s reputation for bullying.
I think that the House will share my hon. Friend’s concern about the companies that have been affected by interest rate swap mis-selling. I will not attempt to answer the question she rightly asks, but I will ask our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to her directly about it.
The announcement earlier today about the permanent closure of Daw Mill colliery will have far-reaching consequences not only for the 650 people working there, E.ON, Ratcliffe power station and the 1.5 million tonnes of coal the colliery generated each year, but for the whole future of UK Coal, the British coal industry and the country’s energy supply. Why has the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change not seen fit to come to the House today to make a statement on the matter?
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work of all those who responded so promptly to this major incident at Daw Mill colliery. It was, and continues to be, a serious incident. With regard to helping UK Coal, the Energy Minister met the company to discuss the matter on Monday, and a cross-Government team led by the Department of Energy and Climate Change is working with it. I will, of course, talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about when it will be appropriate to report to the House on the work the Government are doing, together with UK Coal, to respond to the situation.
May we have a debate on the importance of the City of London in creating jobs and wealth and, in particular, growing both public and private sector pensions, making Britain a wealthier country than it would be if we listened to the Opposition?
Yes, I am with my hon. Friend on that. I think that such a debate would be important, if the opportunity arose. It would be an occasion to discuss the issue, rather than trying to devise some political advantage, in circumstances in which everyone knows that it was the Labour party that was responsible for the banking crisis that has so afflicted this country. Instead of apologising for that, Labour Members are trying to take political advantage when they know perfectly well that we should actually be working together to ensure that we have effective regulation of the banks, including bankers’ bonuses and not the kind of regulation that could lead to higher costs and reduced competitiveness.
Yesterday we saw a leaked internal report by the Scottish Government showing that even Scottish National party Ministers have huge concerns about the stability of the Scottish economy should Scotland become independent. May we have an urgent debate on the report, which would show once and for all that Scotland is better together?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I must confess that I was unaware of the report to which he refers, but I will certainly seek an opportunity to read it. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I think that, as we move towards to next year’s referendum, it is very important that we have the kind of debate he seeks in this House and across the country.
Did the Leader of the House see the launch this week of the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign here in Parliament? Given that the average family throws away food worth £270 each year, may we have a debate on raising awareness of the issue and on how effective packaging and labelling can reduce the amount of food wasted?
Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Throwing away food not used in time is costing consumers £6.7 billion a year—£270 for the average household. Only about one in seven consumers realises that packaging can play an important role in protecting food in our homes. The Fresher for Longer campaign launched earlier this week can do a great deal of good in reducing food waste and highlighting how people can ensure that they eat food that is in good condition.
This week the Daycare Trust revealed that child care costs across Britain are rising by £5 a week, or 6%—twice the cost of living. May we have a statement on why the Government are still delaying bringing forward plans through the tax and benefits system to help families struggling with declining living standards and child care costs?
I was interested in the figures published by the Daycare Trust and understand the concerns of many families. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will support not only the measures that have already been brought forward but those recently announced by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), which are designed to give families exactly that kind of help in meeting child care costs while maintaining quality.
May we have a statement from the Minister responsible for the Defence Infrastructure Organisation? I remain very concerned that, in making the decision about the disposal of Wilton barracks, an optimistic assessment is being made of the local authority’s likely attitude towards excessive housing on the site when a locally supported bid has already met the needs of the local plan. It is crucial that local opinion is respected and that the Ministry of Defence does not accept a speculative bid that will not, in the end, be realisable.
My hon. Friend raises an important point for his constituents, and I completely understand it. I am pleased to assure him that the Ministry of Defence did take local opinion into account before seeking outline planning consent. That consent has now been granted, and the site is being offered for sale on the open market by formal tender in a joint sale with a private landowner. My hon. Friend will understand that as the bids were received on 28 February and are being evaluated, they remain commercially confidential for now. However, I am told that the MOD is confident of a sale being completed shortly.
On 12 February, during the Environment Secretary’s statement on horsemeat, at column 742 of the Official Report, I asked him whether he had ordered the testing of gelatine and gelatine-based products for horse DNA given that they would extend to food such as children’s confectionery. The Secretary of State told the House that I had asked a good question but that these were matters for the Food Standards Agency. I therefore wrote to the agency immediately after the statement. To date, I am still awaiting an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. Will the Leader of the House secure a debate in Government time about the accountability of Executive agencies, as it seems that Ministers are unwilling to answer for agencies during statements and agencies are unwilling to reply to Members of this House?
I will of course seek to help the hon. Gentleman in getting a reply to his question. However, the Food Standards Agency is not an Executive agency; it is a non-ministerial Government Department that is accountable to this House through Ministers at the Department of Health, of whom I used to be one, so I fully understand the matter. I will talk to my hon. Friends to secure the response that he is looking for.
I am sure that the whole House will be united in its support for the 650 workers of Daw Mill colliery and their families following today’s announcement by UK Coal of its decision to close the mine and suddenly make most of the work force redundant following the recent underground fire, which is yet to abate. I know that the Energy Minister is doing all that he can to support the work force during this difficult time. May we have a debate in Government time on energy policy and the vital role that the coal industry plays in the UK?
I completely understand how concerned my hon. Friend is, as are other Members, about the circumstances of the continuing fire underground and the closure of Daw Mill colliery. Of course, jobs are at risk as a consequence of that, notwithstanding that they have been reduced in recent months through a process of voluntary redundancies. As I said, not only Ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change but Ministers across the Government are seeking to work with UK Coal to try to ensure that we provide all the assistance we can. I hope that there will soon be an opportunity to update the House about what that response can be.
Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on the recent disclosure that one in four of the UK’s top companies pays no tax at all, while an ordinary person on a lower wage continues to pay tax each and every week of the year?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the general anti-avoidance measure will come into force in April—an important strengthening of our reduction of tax avoidance. If the hon. Gentleman does not have the opportunity to discuss these issues beforehand, he might find that they are relevant to the debate on the Budget.
We always knew that the decision to close the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds was flawed, biased and unacceptably opaque, and today we have found out that it was unlawful. In addition, the safe and sustainable consultation as a whole has been declared unlawful and the conduct of the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts has been called into question and accused of failing in its duty. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that we must have a statement in this House, because the whole review is now in chaos, and part of that statement should say that JCPCT members should never take part again in any consultation on major changes to the health service.
The High Court’s decision on the failure to disclose the sub-scores of the Kennedy scoring system was announced only this morning, but the judge has not made a further decision on the implications for the review itself or on the order she might make in that regard. I reiterate to my hon. Friend that it would be premature for Ministers to make a statement. Indeed, it is not for Ministers to make a decision in the first instance, as this is an independent review conducted by primary care trusts. They should decide how to proceed once the court has made its decision.
Twice the Leader of the House has given sympathy to those people at Daw Mill colliery who have lost their jobs. UK Coal owns other mines—not many, but they are still in business—and it may fold up completely as a result of the Daw Mill closure. It is one of the main employers left in the coal-mining industry. Do the Leader of the House and this Government want to be in power when the remaining part of the coal industry in England is closed down?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the closure at Daw Mill is the result of the catastrophic fire. I reiterate to him and the House that Ministers are in direct contact with UK Coal. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), met UK Coal on Monday and is co-ordinating a cross-Government response. Some 1,300 people are employed at UK Coal’s other sites, Thorseby and Kellingley, and the company believe that they remain viable operations. On that basis, it does them no good to speculate in a damaging way about the viability of those operations.
May we have an urgent statement from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury so that he can inform the House to which media outlets the Liberal Democrats will leak the Budget? Right hon. and hon. Members will then know what papers to buy and what television programmes to watch.
Over the past two years, Conservative-led Lancashire county council has approved the construction of four brand new primary schools: Laneshaw Bridge primary, a new Church school in Barnoldswick, St Paul’s primary and Whitefield infant school in Nelson, where I am a school governor. May we have a debate on investment in primary school buildings, so that I and other hon. Members can welcome these developments and raise the cases of other schools where investment is still needed?
I think that many Members throughout the House will have been pleased by and welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Schools of additional funding for capital projects in schools. Lancashire county council has been allocated basic need funding totalling £112.6 million for the period 2011 to 2015 to support the provision of additional pupil places. In Lancashire, as in many places throughout the country, that will ensure that the condition of schools is improved. It also responds to the demographic pressure moving through the school system at the moment. It is very welcome.
Being prevented from talking about Government estimates on estimates day would have puzzled Franz Kafka. Does the Leader of the House recognise that the report on improving parliamentary scrutiny of the nation’s finances mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) was actually commissioned by the Chancellor because he did not think that that scrutiny was good enough?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The report has been published, but it would be premature for me to say anything about how we might respond or take the issue forward. There is no question, however, but that we want to enhance scrutiny; this is not an Executive who want to inhibit it. In many ways, we have enhanced the scrutiny of the Executive by the House, and I hope that in this respect we can go further.
Given that the number of applications from hon. Members for Adjournment debates always exceeds supply and given that we are now going to sit on Friday 22 March, will my right hon. Friend seek to enhance his reputation for parliamentary innovation by effectively making that day a Wednesday in Westminster Hall, so that there might be a full programme of Adjournment debates to enhance the House’s ability to hold Ministers to account.
My hon. Friend will know that the House debated this matter and decided last night to sit on Friday 22 March in order to continue the Budget debate. It is scheduled for that purpose, and I know that many Members will want to contribute to that debate, so I would simply limit it to that.
For the third year running, the NHS staff survey at Medway Maritime hospital in my constituency has reported an increase in the number of staff members experiencing bullying. Will the Leader of the House allow an urgent debate or statement on this matter?
My hon. Friend knows that the NHS staff survey this year shows an increased proportion of members of staff who feel they know how to raise issues, but unfortunately no corresponding increase—in fact, a very slight reduction—in the number who fear that their position might be prejudiced if they do so, although the majority still feel that they can and would raise these issues. As he knows, we have to arrive at a position where all staff feel entirely confident and empowered to raise any issues affecting the safety of patients and if necessary—although it should not be necessary—to blow the whistle if they are not being listened to.
In responding to a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), made clear his view that consideration of planning approval for onshore wind farms should take place at the same time as planning approval for essential associated infrastructure. In mid-Wales, however, a planning inspector appointed by the Minister has taken exactly the opposite view. May we have a statement outlining the Government’s position?