With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
Monday 18 March—I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement following the European Council. This will be followed by the conclusion of remaining stages of the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords]. Colleagues will wish to be aware that the business is expected to go beyond the moment of interruption.
Tuesday 19 March—Proceedings on the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill, followed by motion relating to section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.
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.
The provisional business for the following week will include:
Monday 25 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 26 March—Debate on a motion relating to flood insurance, followed by pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 21 and 25 March will be:
Thursday 21 March—Debate relating to the post-2015 development agenda.
Monday 25 March—Debate relating to the e-petition on preventable cardiac deaths arising from sudden adult death syndrome.
I thank the Leader of the House for finally announcing the business for next week. I have been following this morning’s chaotic events largely on Twitter, and it is a deplorable state of affairs. It would be helpful to everyone in the House if the Government could get their act together and learn how to organise their business in a more timely fashion.
Ninety-nine days have passed since the publication of the Leveson report, and a decision must be made. Now is the time to act for the many victims of press intrusion whom the report identified. We wanted a cross-party agreement, and we are disappointed that this morning the Prime Minister pulled the plug on the all-party talks. Even at this late stage, we urge him to think again. When he launched the inquiry, he looked victims in the eye and told them that he would fight for them. It is a sad indictment that he now fights for the people who hurt them.
Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Government will allow time for a debate and vote on any Leveson proposals in the Crime and Courts Bill on Monday? When can we expect to see the supplementary timetabling motion which was promised by Ministers yesterday, to facilitate the debate and the votes that must accompany it?
I am beginning to think that my prediction that the Government will perform a U-turn every 29 days is going off the rails. The last one arrived three days early, and this week we have seen two more—and that is before next week’s Budget. Despite the urgent question, we still have no idea what the Government’s policy on a minimum alcohol price of 45p actually is. Will the Leader of the House tell us? Perhaps he will also let us know his personal view.
The Government have amended the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill in the other place to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which provides vital protection for rural communities. According to the Government’s own impact assessment, the abolition will take £260 million out of rural workers’ pockets and transfer it directly to their employers. The Bill is due to complete its Lords stages on 20 March. Will the Leader of the House tell me when it will return to the House of Commons?
We were all startled by the vivid imagery from the Liberal Democrat conference last week. The party’s president said that his own members were
“like cockroaches after a nuclear war”.
The Deputy Prime Minister described his coalition partners as
“like a kind of broken shopping trolley.”
Mr. Speaker, I present you with our Government: a broken shopping trolley full of cockroaches, veering wildly to the right.
Over the last week, the bookies have been raking it in because an important leadership election has been taking place. The front-runners have been jockeying for position, factions have been forming, there has been whispering in the corridors, people have been excited to see who will emerge as their next leader—and that was just in the Vatican. Meanwhile, here at Westminster, the Prime Minister is searching for divine inspiration. The Home Secretary has openly staked her claim, only to be silenced by the Education Secretary, who harbours his own ambitions. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s Aussie spin doctor should turn his attention to the Cabinet, and stop harassing Tory Back Benchers about their tweeting habits.
The Budget is just under a week away. Everyone is wondering what the part-time Chancellor’s encore will be after last year’s omnishambles, and I have to say that the omens are not good. The Prime Minister has suffered an unprecedented ticking off from the Office for Budget Responsibility for obscuring the facts on cuts, the Business Secretary is openly campaigning for Labour’s plan B, and the Chancellor lost £1 billion in the 4G auction and has failed his own triple A test.
The Chancellor’s plan is not working. People are suffering while our economy flatlines, and he is busy handing out tax cuts to millionaires. Perhaps he should listen to the 81% of his own constituents who think that he should spend less time in the Tory bunker and more time in his day job. The Guardian quotes a senior Tory as saying:
“The Conservative party has two moods. Panic and complacency.”
Will the Leader of the House tell us which mood he thinks his party is in?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response.
On press conduct and the implementation of the Leveson report, the hon. Lady will recall that yesterday the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), made it clear in response to the debate on the programme motion that if the talks conclude, either with or without agreement, we will bring forward a supplementary programme motion to ensure that issues relating to press conduct are debated on the second day of consideration of the Crime and Courts Bill. That is what we are doing.
The Prime Minister announced this morning that further all-party discussions have this morning concluded without agreement. For the benefit of the House I will read out what he has said:
“I believe that what we have on the table is a system that will deliver public confidence and justice for the victims. It’s a system that would introduce the toughest press regulation this country has seen and a system that will defend press freedom in our country.”
The Government will now publish the royal charter again so people can see how it would deliver the principles that Lord Justice Leveson set out. Through the consideration of the Crime and Courts Bill on Monday, the minimal legislative changes required to put in place a system of exemplary damages will be tabled. As the Prime Minister made clear this morning, other parties can also table amendments, although we hope, of course, that they will see that the minimal legislative changes supporting a royal charter will deliver what is required to balance a tough system of press regulation and the need for freedom of the press. The shadow Leader of the House asked me about the tabling of amendments and motions. As the House is not sitting tomorrow, they will have to be tabled today.
I hope my comments have given Members an indication of the shape of the debate. My purpose is to facilitate the debate of the House. As the Prime Minister made clear this morning, the debate on Monday should resolve this issue and I hope the way the debate is structured—we can discuss that through the usual channels—will facilitate the House reaching a conclusion. The hon. Lady asked about other Bills, including the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. I hope these steps will enable us not only to achieve the implementation of the Leveson report recommendations, but to enable other important legislation to be concluded in a timely fashion.
Now—[Interruption.] I think we can be quick on other things. On minimum alcohol pricing, the Minister of State at the Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, has just responded to an urgent question, and my personal view is the same as his. [Interruption.] I agree with the Government, no problem.
The Government’s decision to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board is an important deregulatory measure. The minimum wage will remain in place.
The hon. Lady mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) referring to Liberal Democrats as cockroaches. We can squash that right now. We all know that Liberal Democrats have a capacity to fly away, as their symbols demonstrate, but we will leave it at that.
The hon. Lady talked about next Wednesday’s Budget statement. I cannot pre-empt what the Chancellor will say, but there are a number of things the House recognises and the hon. Lady and her party ought to recognise: that we were left a dreadful financial mess; that we have cut the deficit by a quarter; that we have seen private sector employment rise by over 1 million; and, as was discussed when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Skills delivered his statement to the House, 1 million people are going into apprenticeships as part of our creating sustainable growth for the future. We are making benefits fairer and we are making work pay. We have taken 2.2 million people out of income tax all together as a consequence of the increase in personal allowances. All this, and so much more, means the Chancellor will be delivering the Budget statement against a background of a record of achievement thus far and can set out proposals that will enable us to secure deficit reduction and our growth prospects for the future.
May we have a debate in Government time on the important steps this Government are taking to improve life for older people: not only reforms to the state pension but auto-enrolment and the pensions triple lock? All are such good news that we never get time to debate them on the Floor of the House.
My hon. Friend makes a good point well. I confess that I cannot immediately identify when such a debate might be possible, but much can be discussed during the Budget debate. I noted, as many other Members will have done, remarks this morning from the House of Lords Committee underestimating what this Government have done to anticipate and create a more sustainable structure to support people in old age. We have made public sector pensions more affordable and sustainable, and auto-enrolment could give an additional 11 million people access to their own pensions in retirement. The draft Pensions Bill will make the state pension system simpler and more affordable, and I would never neglect to mention the many measures in the draft Care and Support Bill that will provide support for vulnerable and frail people in old age.
The Prime Minister has pulled the plug on the all-party Leveson talks today. He now expects this House to implement his version of press regulation, which would have no teeth and would not be independent. That would be a gross betrayal of the victims and a craven surrender to the perpetrators. Should we not have a full statement from the Prime Minister or the Culture Secretary, so that Members know exactly what they are voting for on Monday?
Members will know the structure of the debate on Monday, and what is important is that, as was made clear yesterday and has been confirmed today, they will have the opportunity to have that debate. I took the trouble to repeat what the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box, so that Members are aware of what is now planned.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. It is extremely regrettable that the all-party talks on Leveson have broken down, and extremely regrettable that the Prime Minister is no longer willing to take part in them. I am clear on behalf of my colleagues here—and, I think, the official Opposition and other parties—that we do not think a simple charter, without seeking to implement Leveson as recommended, will be at all sufficient. Will the Leader of the House elaborate on Monday’s business? Given that it is likely that other amendments will be tabled—they are actively being constructed at this moment—can he make sure there is sufficient time to debate not just a Conservative amendment but other amendments? That means we will not have a short day at all, because some of us are determined to get it right and not dishonour our pledge made after the Leveson report.
My right hon. Friend will have been listening carefully to what I said in my statement. I freely acknowledge that we do not always satisfy everybody in terms of the time made available, but I did say in my statement that colleagues must expect business on Monday to go beyond the moment of interruption, and I fear that will have to be the case. That will allow a debate, and without dwelling on precisely how we achieve that, my and my colleagues’ purpose, through the usual channels, will be to ensure that this House can have the debate—including the votes—that will enable it to resolve the issue, I hope very positively, so that all of us who are concerned to ensure that the Leveson report is implemented in principle see that happen. The Prime Minister set out some very clear proposals that will enable that to happen. I do not suggest for one moment that we will vote on those and not on other amendments, if others are presented. But the House should be given that opportunity.
May we have a full ministerial statement on the bedroom tax, which affects thousands of people in Telford? A number of them will be single people looking for one-bedroom accommodation. When I checked, two such properties were available on the social housing register, and only 175 have been available all year. How are those thousands of people supposed to downsize? This is about them paying more money.
The House and the hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State explain repeatedly that the spare room subsidy is about bringing fairness into the system. It comes in the context of a £23 billion housing benefit bill and circumstances where a large number of people in this country are living in overcrowded accommodation while many are receiving a subsidy in under-occupied property. Although the Labour party, over many years, was perfectly happy to see exactly the same principles applied to those in receipt of housing benefit in privately rented properties, Labour Members do not see that it is perfectly fair to carry that analogy forward into social housing.
Leveson is a hugely important issue. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether the supplementary programme motion has yet been laid, so that we can table amendments? Will he allow Monday’s debate to go until any hour—I urge him to do so—as that would solve the problem of people worrying about having time to scrutinise it?
I make just two points to my hon. Friend. As I hope I made clear, motions and amendments relating to proceedings on the Crime and Courts Bill on Monday need to be tabled today, and they will be laid in due course today. In effect, he is seeking to have no programme motion, with the time to be “on debate”, but I am afraid that I cannot offer that. It is important that the Bill is protected, although we will ensure that time is provided for the debate on press conduct matters.
On 1 November 2012, the House debated air passenger duty, unanimously agreeing a motion calling for a “comprehensive” review of that punitive tax: the UK’s is the highest of any country in Europe and for many it is having devastating consequences for tourism, families going on holiday and so on. What progress has been made in response to the motion passed unanimously in this House?
In February 2011, the Department of Health announced that it would introduce a statutory register of herbalists by the end of 2012. It is now 2013 and the Department has not even published any draft legislation. May we have a statement from the appropriate Health Minister about the interference from the European Commission in preventing Her Majesty’s Government from introducing a new law of this land?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, I am aware of this issue, having been the responsible Secretary of State when that written ministerial statement was made. I do know—this was true before I moved from the Department of Health last September—that we were encountering complex issues relating to the preparation of this legislation. The interface with EU legislation is one such issue, but it is not the only one. We need to get the legislation right, and I know that my colleagues in the Department are working on it and will, of course, make an announcement as soon as they can.
I do not accept for a minute what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that what the Prime Minister has described this morning as the proposals that will be brought forward for discussion in our proceedings on the Crime and Courts Bill next Monday is the toughest structure of press regulation this country has seen. I think it is entirely consistent with the Leveson principles, not least in the link with the Crime and Courts Bill and the introduction of a system of exemplary damages.
My right hon. Friend might recall my raising at Prime Minister’s questions in November 2010 the situation in Parliament square, which I described as
“a no-go area surrounded by a campsite”.—[Official Report, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 257.]
Our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s response was that he wanted it “sorted out” as quickly as possible. Will the Leader of the House update the House on the situation and give us some indication of the costs of policing the demonstration?
I think that the House will, like me, be grateful to my hon. Friend for his assiduous work in raising this issue. Many Members of this House will take pleasure in celebrating the fact that Parliament square has now been returned to a state in which its splendour and the architectural setting surrounding it can be enjoyed by residents, workers and our many visitors to Westminster. He asked me about the cost to the taxpayer, but I regret to say that I do not know. However, I will draw his question, which he rightly raises, to the attention of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to see whether it might be able to respond to him about that cost, a matter for which it has been responsible.
May I reiterate the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) about the need for a clear statement on the bedroom tax policy? After all the U-turns, there still seems to be confusion about exactly how it is going to work. With 4,700 households affected in Hull and only 73 one and two-bedroom properties available, the Government need to be clear about how this policy is going to be implemented in practice.
Of course the hon. Lady can reiterate the point, but I will not detain the House by repeating the answer. I will simply say that the clarification that she and other hon. Members actively sought was provided in the written ministerial statement made by colleagues earlier this week.
More than 20,000 people in my constituency—nearly a quarter of the population—are pensioners. Please may we have a debate about how our country will fund the pensions of the future, both state and private, looking particularly at what help can be provided to help people make provision for their own futures so that they have a secure and dignified retirement?
That is an important point. The Budget may well afford an opportunity for some wide-ranging debates, of which pensions could be one part. The measures on auto-enrolment will support people in retirement. The draft Pensions Bill will give people a much simpler and more predictable basis on which to judge the state’s provision for retirement and what they may need to maintain the standard of living they are looking for. Overall, after years of failed experiments with stakeholder and other pensions, we are finally getting something that people can understand so that they can identify how they can meet their needs in old age.
May we have an urgent debate on the one thing that blighted the Olympic effort of which we are all very proud? That one thing was the behaviour of G4S. We now understand that it has done a deal with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games that is very generous, given its failure to deliver on its contract. At the same time, G4S is refusing to pay what is owed to the hard-working, smaller sub-contractors who worked on the Olympic site. This is a scandal; it will not go away, and G4S must know that Members of this House will not let the public forget it.
The hon. Gentleman has put that point on the record. He will know that the Home Affairs Select Committee have been pursuing this issue. I cannot promise him an urgent debate on this matter, but if he were in the House and caught the Speaker’s eye, Home Office questions on Monday 25 March might present a suitable opportunity for him to reiterate his point.
Welfare benefits exist to provide a safety net for people who are not able to work, or the weak and vulnerable, and also a hand-up for people seeking return to work. May we have a statement or a debate in Government time on ensuring that welfare benefits are contribution-based so that those people who paid in through national insurance and taxation receive those benefits, and those who have not paid in are assessed on their personal need?
Only a few weeks ago we were celebrating the anniversary of the Beveridge report, and it is important to recognise that the contributory principle was at the heart of that report. I cannot immediately offer my hon. Friend a debate. I am resting at the moment on the wide-ranging character of the Budget debates to allow many such issues to be raised. The House will recognise the importance of the benefit system being fair. It is important to distinguish between the contributory principle for many and the circumstances of those who are so vulnerable and dependent that we are talking about something that does not rely on contributions but is based on need.
In the reforms that we are putting through now, we are focusing on making work pay and ensuring that those who can work do work, but also on making sure that resources are focused, and on increasing resources for those who are most in need through disability.
Medway council in my constituency proposes to invest half of its unallocated reserve in a new development fund to support future regeneration and development. Will the Leader of the House consider granting a debate on how local authorities can use their reserves to support local communities?
I welcome what Medway council is proposing. I know that my hon. Friend will share my support for what my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government are doing through their “50 ways to save” publication, which shows how councils can make significant savings. Many councils have reserves, quite prudently, and how they use those reserves, including for investment purposes or, in the case of my council, to work together with others to create an investment bank to support business projects in the county, can show initiative and enterprise.
Following my point of order yesterday on the online petition for the Shrewsbury 24, will the Leader of the House make a statement on the Government’s online petition system? Specifically, will he ensure that the many thousands of people who have allegedly failed to fill out the online form properly are contacted electronically and notified that their signatures have not been registered?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. I wrote to him yesterday following his point of order, although I entirely understand that he might not have received the letter yet. I will not detain the House with all that is in that letter, but I hope that it answers the questions he quite properly raised yesterday and today. If it does not, I would be glad to try to clarify further. This has demonstrated to me that there is no problem as such with the online petition system; there are just difficulties in some cases with duplications, addresses and things of that kind.
My constituent Harald Hamley has recently contacted me to express his support for the Defamation Bill. I am sure that many across the country are anxious to see it become law to reduce the possibility of vexatious libel claims and to uphold freedom of expression. When does the Leader of the House expect the Defamation Bill to return to this House for further consideration?
The answer to my hon. Friend is that I will make a statement on the further proceedings on the Defamation Bill in due course. It might help him and Mr Hamley if I say that as the Prime Minister has made perfectly clear this morning, we will resolve issues relating to the implementation of Leveson principles in our debate on Monday. As a consequence, I hope it will be possible for us to proceed with other legislation, including the Defamation Bill, in a timely way.
Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on the full scale of the collapse in living standards affecting our constituents which has been presided over by this Government? Has he seen the new research by Landman Economics for the TUC, published yesterday, which finds that the cumulative impact of Government policy on wages, tax and benefits is a drop in Scottish household income of £28.63 a week, or £1,488 a year? Is that not a truly dreadful record for this Government?
Mr Speaker, you would imagine when listening to the hon. Gentleman that May 2010 was year zero and that nothing happened beforehand. At the heart of all this is the 6.2% reduction in the gross domestic product of this country as a consequence of the bust under a Government who said that there would be no boom and bust. It was the biggest bust we have ever seen and we were left with the biggest deficit we had ever seen. It is not possible to pay down debt, to cut the deficit and to cut consumer debt without having a negative impact on people’s living standards.
Late on Monday night and in the early hours of Tuesday morning, hundreds of motorists were stranded by the freezing weather conditions on the A23 and M23 in west Sussex. I pay tribute to Sussex police and many of my constituents, who came to the assistance of those who were stranded. May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary about Highways Agency winter preparedness?
I echo my hon. Friend’s praise for the emergency services and for his constituents—I was taken with the reports that the Red Cross, for example, was reaching out to people and giving them support. I know that they worked together around the clock in partnership with the Highways Agency and I, too, pay tribute to them. The extreme weather, which was probably experienced to a greater extent in much of northern Europe, had a heavy impact on the south of this country—
And, indeed, on other parts of the country. I note the request for a statement from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith). I do not anticipate a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the moment, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we constantly learn from what happens and apply those lessons in ensuring that we minimise disruption to the public and business during severe weather.
David Green, director of Civitas, said today:
“Labour is showing the way to the present Government, which has shown no imagination in tackling the problems facing SMEs and has ignored too many good ideas.”
Given the failure of the Government’s Project Merlin and other such programmes, may we have a debate on the only growth plan—that is, Labour’s growth plan—including a British investment bank, regionalised banking and business lending?
I know David Green, of course, and I suspect that he would not subscribe to the Labour party’s view of how these things should be tackled. None the less, we are determined to support small and medium-sized enterprises. We will push to ensure that small businesses can get access to the finance they need, as we did through Project Merlin, and we are supporting that through the funding for lending scheme and the finance guarantees. The tax measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in place, including an exceptional tenfold increase in investment allowances, will support that. If the hon. Gentleman were at the conference being held by my old friends at the British Chambers of Commerce over the road today—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will be there—he would hear their ideas. I know that many of them support what the Government are doing, including not only the deficit reduction but our infrastructure support and the business bank being set up by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary.
I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend be the first in this House to make a bid in business questions for city of culture status on behalf of his constituents. He is right to say that I have enjoyed visits to Chester many times and I look forward to more. Chester has a fantastic history and a vibrant artistic and cultural life, both now and in the future. I look forward to those visits, and perhaps we will share some of that entertainment when we are there.
The Leader of the House might not be aware that next Tuesday marks the bicentenary of the birth of Dr David Livingstone, who was born in Blantyre in my constituency. Members will be aware of his work in Africa and he is, of course, buried in Westminster Abbey. There will be a series of events, including in Blantyre, culminating in a service in Westminster Abbey next week that we hope the President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, will attend. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for International Development to update the House on the progress towards reintroducing foreign direct aid to Malawi to help in the progress that President Banda hopes to achieve in that country?
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to draw attention to that important anniversary and to the remarkable contribution of Dr David Livingstone as an explorer and someone who, as a consequence of that, was an inspiration to many in this country and beyond. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I am pretty sure she will be meeting the President of Malawi in the course of her visit, and I will draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the points that the hon. Gentleman raised in the House so that she can incorporate them in that discussion.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Further to the points raised by the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), and the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), will the Leader of the House now confirm for the record that adequate time will be provided on Monday to debate not only the Prime Minister’s proposals but those of the Opposition?
I hope that what I said was clear and helpful to the House. It is our intention to secure adequate time and to do so without prejudice to the discussion of other very important matters on the second day of the Crime and Courts Bill. That will necessitate the House sitting beyond the moment of interruption on Monday. I do not know precisely what other amendments there may be in relation to press conduct or the Crime and Courts Bill, but I know that we will work with the Chair and through the usual channels to ensure that the House is able to have a full and decisive debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Surely we will have a debate to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion and the war in Iraq. Iraq remains our most damaging and appalling foreign policy adventure ever, with more than 100,000 dead and the region destabilised. I was in the House with the right hon. Gentleman when we listened to the nonsense and the lies from the Labour Government on the case for war. Surely we should revisit that next week.
I was in the House, as the hon. Gentleman recalls, at the time of the debate leading up to the invasion of Iraq—[Interruption.]—and did not vote for it. The shadow Leader of the House is wrong in her intervention from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will be aware that a number of hon. Members have sought such a debate from the Backbench Business Committee. From the Government’s point of view, that is a matter for the Committee, but we are only too aware of the prospect of the Chilcot review coming forward at some point, and the importance of being able to debate and understand all the circumstances leading up to that decision in the light of the Chilcot review when it is published.