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Business of the House

Volume 560: debated on Thursday 21 March 2013

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 25 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 26 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by debate on a motion relating to flood insurance, followed by the pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee.

The business for the week commencing 15 April will be:

Monday 15 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 16 April—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Defamation Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 17 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Thursday 18 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill (day 2).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 18, 22 and 25 April will be:

Thursday 18 April—Debate on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report on the road to UNFCCC COP and beyond, followed by debate on the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report on low-carbon growth links with China.

Monday 22 April—Debate on an e-petition relating to immigration from Bulgaria and Romania in 2014.

Tuesday 25 April—Debate on the Transport Select Committee report on road safety, followed by debate on the Transport Select Committee report on plug-in vehicles, plugged in policy?

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business and congratulate him on the fact that there have been no sudden U-turns, on the business at least.

This is our last business questions session before we rise for recess, so may I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, staff, the Leader of the House and all colleagues from across the House a happy Easter? Would the Leader of the House care to comment on rumours that there are plans afoot to start selling a coalition Easter egg? It would have shiny yellow wrapping but the chocolate would be true blue. Despite the slick advertising it would be entirely hollow, and it would come with two free mugs and a health warning.

The situation on the European Union bank bail-out for Cyprus is volatile and fast-moving. The Government gave assurances at the weekend that no British service personnel or civil servants working in Cyprus would lose out, and then had to dispatch an aircraft full of cash to fulfil that promise. As Parliament will rise on Tuesday for the Easter recess and not return until 15 April, and because a bank run in a eurozone country would have serious implications for the UK, will the right hon. Gentleman consider recalling the House if there is a serious deterioration in the situation?

While the Chancellor was busy revealing the scale of his economic failure in this House, the other place was voting to defeat his absurd shares for employment rights scheme, which was announced with great fanfare at the Tory party conference. Mrs Thatcher’s favourite Chancellor, Lord Lawson, was so impressed with his successor’s flagship policy that he voted against it—he was not the only one. So will the Government now see sense and abandon this appalling policy before the Growth and Infrastructure Bill returns to the Commons on 16 April?

Mr Speaker, you have just made a statement about yesterday’s Budget leak. It included market-sensitive information being leaked on Twitter before the Chancellor had even opened his mouth. We welcome the apology, which you have drawn to our attention this morning, from the Evening Standard, but is it not the case that budget secrecy is now a principle more honoured in the breach than the observance? Will the Leader let the House let us know what action will be taken on behalf of the Government to ensure that this never happens again, particularly in respect of the inclusion of market-sensitive information in any embargo?

This morning, the Chancellor refused to say whether his mortgage support schemes would be open to those who wish to buy second homes up to the value of £600,000. As the Chancellor could not tell us, perhaps the Leader of the House could clear up the confusion: is it really the Government’s intention to subsidise the purchase of second homes up to the value of £600,000 while homelessness rates soar? Or will this be the first U-turn of the Budget?

The next Prime Minister’s questions will not now take place for a whole month, so the Prime Minister should have time to read all the Budget documents for himself. Close inspection will show him that the Office for Budget Responsibility has halved growth forecasts for this year and downgraded them for next; revealed that borrowing will be £245 billion higher than was thought in the spending review to pay for the costs of his Government’s failing economic plan; and shown that real wages will fall by 2.7% over the course of this Parliament. We have had three years of pain and not an inch of gain. The Chancellor claimed he was trying to

“light the fires of ambition”—[Official Report, 20 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 941.],

but it is his own reputation and the dreams of millions that are going up in smoke, and next week 3,000 millionaires will get a tax cut while the rest of us pay the price of this Government’s failure. This was a downgraded budget from a downgraded Chancellor.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for that, and I share her hope that those in the House service who look after us so well here in the House will get a bit of a rest while we are busy in our constituencies.

The hon. Gentleman reminds me of the shadow Leader of the House’s desire for us to keep up Easter traditions, one of which, as I recall it, is a white rabbit. The shadow Chancellor is clearly fond of dressing up—he appears as Father Christmas over the Christmas season—so perhaps he could dress up as the white rabbit. It would be in keeping with his tradition of popping up everywhere but never being pinned down on anything in particular, just as the Leader of the Opposition found it intensely difficult yesterday to respond to the Budget and any measures in it. He seemed to be devoted to reading out a pre-prepared script about everything else.

The shadow Leader of the House asked specific questions about Cyprus. She will recall that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made a statement to the House on Monday and we are committed, as she knows, to ensuring that those we have sent to Cyprus as part of the armed services or the civil service are looked after. That is why the flight went there. Indeed, we are also ensuring that the UK benefits payable to UK nationals in Cyprus are protected likewise. Of course, in coming days, as was made clear by my right hon. Friend, we will continue to keep the House updated. We have no plans to seek Mr Speaker’s permission to recall the House. One must always consider that only when the circumstances would demand it, and we have no such plans.

The hon. Lady asked about the Growth and Infrastructure Bill and, as I set out, we expect consideration of Lords amendments to that Bill to be on Tuesday 16 April. In the course of the Budget debate, there will also be an opportunity to realise how we are supporting employee ownership, not least through tax measures that will relieve capital gains tax for those who want to sell their business interests to their employees as part of the promotion of employee ownership.

The hon. Lady asked about the circumstances of the Evening Standard’s pre-publication of material on the Budget and the House will have heard Mr Speaker’s statement. The House will know that I, like Members of the House, deplore the fact that contents of the Budget were published before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement to the House. Members will have seen the statement of apology made by the editor of the Evening Standard, as Mr Speaker set out. It has been a long-standing practice to provide information under embargo, but as the House will be aware my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has asked the permanent secretary at the Treasury to investigate the circumstances of the event in relation to the material that was briefed, to whom it was briefed and what led to the Evening Standard’s premature release of that information. The House will understand the importance that I attach to major announcements being made first to this House and I will ensure that the House is updated on that investigation.

The shadow Leader of the House made a number of points about the Budget and economic circumstances. The business of the House today, tomorrow and on Monday will enable them to be discussed. On Monday, there will be an opportunity to discuss housing and to see how this Government will give a tremendous boost to home buyers and those who seek to buy properties with relatively high loan-to-value mortgages.

I am looking forward to our discussing in the Budget debate the scrapping of the further extension that the previous Government had planned to fuel duty. Fuel will be 13p a litre less than it would have been under their escalator. We will also have the opportunity to debate the benefit to pubs of the reduction in beer duty instigated by a number of Members, including my hon. Friends, and resulting from the e-petition to this House that was debated on 1 November. Those representations led to that important measure from the Chancellor. We will also have the opportunity to discuss the following: that we have reduced the deficit by a third; that employment is up, with private sector employment up by 1.25 million; the tax cut by April 2014 for 24 million people through the personal allowance going up to £10,000, taking 2.7 million people out of tax altogether; the help for many hundreds of thousands of home buyers; and the help for every business through a cut in national insurance to promote jobs. It is a Budget for jobs and growth and it will be the business of this House for the next three days.

Order. As usual, a very large number of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that a statement by the Foreign Secretary will follow and it might be of interest to the House to know that the Budget debate today is very heavily subscribed, with almost 40 Members seeking to contribute. If I am to accommodate the level of interest expressed in the business statement, brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike will be imperative. We can be led in that mission by Fiona Bruce.

What is the reaction of the Leader of the House to the proposals to change the chapel of St Mary Undercroft in this place to a multi-faith prayer room? There is already a multi-faith prayer room in Parliament and an Islamic prayer room in the Lords.

My hon. Friend is right. There is a multi-faith room on the estate at 7 Millbank which is available to those who work here. The question of a change of use of the chapel of St Mary Undercroft is not a matter for the Government. Any proposals would be subject to consideration by several stakeholders, including this House and the royal household, owing to the chapel’s status as a royal peculiar. The other place would have an interest as well. It raises complex issues on which I will not offer immediate answers, but I can tell my hon. Friend that under the provisions of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill that is being debated, no religious organisation will be forced to opt in to conducting same sex marriages, and the Church of England has thus far made it clear that it will not choose to opt in.

The Transport Secretary recently visited Wolverhampton and, in an interview with the Express and Star, described Wolverhampton train station as “awful”. I agree, but will the Leader of the House ask the Transport Secretary what he is going to do about it?

I will, of course, ask the Transport Secretary, as the hon. Lady asks. I know that Network Rail and the train companies are undertaking quite a programme of improvement. I can say that because I know that the awful circumstances at Cambridge station will benefit from a substantial programme of rebuilding very soon. I will seek a reply for the hon. Lady.

May I seek the advice of my right hon. Friend in respect of the NHS competition regulations, which were laid before the House? The first version has not been revoked. As a result, the second version of the regulations, SI 500, as I understand it, even if it were successful, would not stop the implementation of the previously laid and defective competition regulations. I would be grateful for his advice on that.

If I am wrong about this I will correct it, but my understanding is that when the second draft of those regulations was laid, it included the revocation of the first draft.

I have read it. It does include that, so I know that to be the case. Since those regulations are subject to a negative resolution, they will come into force unless they are negatived. The original regulations will therefore not come into force, and the subsequent clarified regulations will.

When can we debate the subject that is being discussed in almost every television studio, newspaper and pub in the country—that is, Britain’s decision 10 years ago to join Bush’s war in Iraq? A timely request for such a debate was made by two Tories, a Green Member and a Labour Member, yet it has not been timetabled. Is it not of paramount importance that we discuss the consequences of our own decision in this House which, among other things, sent 179 British soldiers to their deaths?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall that the hon. Member from—[Interruption]. The Scottish nationalists asked a similar question last week. The hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) will recall that a number of Members made an application for such a debate to the Backbench Business Committee a number of weeks ago. Such a debate has not been timetabled. I will reiterate what I said before: it is important to debate these issues, but we are aware of the prospect of a report from the Chilcot inquiry and the importance of debating those issues in the light of that report.

May we have a debate on the value of house building to the UK economy? I have several high-profile house builders in my constituency, as well as two of the country’s leading brick manufacturers. I am sure they will all be delighted at the Government’s announcement yesterday in the Budget of the Help to Buy scheme—£3.5 billion of investment to help people get on to and move up the housing ladder.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and other Members will have realised how important the construction industry is to securing growth. Frankly, we all have many families in our constituencies who are looking for homes but do not have the opportunity to buy them. The number of households is growing, but we do not have the number of homes we need. We were left an appalling situation after autumn 2008, when new house building fell off a cliff. We need to build that up again. The measures set out in the Budget yesterday, which will be debated on Monday, will turbo-charge the housing construction sector, which is what we are all looking for.

On that very matter, if we do have that debate, may we have some clarification on the mortgage subsidy the Chancellor proposed in the Budget, because this morning on the “Today” programme he could not say whether or not it will be available to people buying second homes? Would it not be ironic if the Government, at the same time as they are imposing a bedroom tax—a “spare-room subsidy”, as they call it—brought in a second home subsidy for the most affluent?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not read page 39 of the Red Book, where he will find the answer to his question—[Interruption.] He just has to read it, which he clearly has not done. I remind the House that on Monday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be here and Members will have an opportunity to focus specifically on housing issues.

As a result of the necessary cuts to the Ministry of Defence budget, 80 MOD police officers are due to leave Wiltshire. In the light of the recent basing review, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from a Defence Minister on reviewing that decision because, with 4,000 soldiers returning to Wiltshire, clearly it would be appropriate to have sufficient MOD police to look after them?

I know that the House will share my hon. Friend’s appreciation of the work of the MOD police. The MOD has concluded that there is scope for savings to be made in the policing of some defence establishments. The measures relating to that are subject to ongoing consultation with staff and trade unions. No final decisions have been made.

I am sure the Leader of the House would like to note that today the Scottish Parliament will learn the date of Scotland’s historic independence referendum. Over 90% of MSPs voted against the bedroom tax but, like the poll tax, it will still be imposed in Scotland. If we have another debate and 100% of MSPs vote against the bedroom tax, can we have that pernicious, awful tax withdrawn from our nation?

I am sure that the House will be interested to learn the date of the referendum in due course later today. We live in a United Kingdom, and some matters are devolved and some are reserved. The same principles apply in Scotland as apply anywhere else in this country. In circumstances in which we are paying £23 billion in housing benefit and need to make savings, we must have a view to fairness, and how can it have been fair that housing benefit was not available to subsidise spare rooms in the private rented sector but was available for that in the social rented sector?

In April the people of the United Kingdom will fulfil their commitment to give 0.7% of GNI to the developing world, which I think all Members of the House will welcome. At the same time, the Small Charitable Donations Act 2012 will come into effect. May we have a statement, perhaps from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, to explain how that will benefit those who donate to charities in all our constituencies?

My hon. Friend is right. I share with him, and with the House, the hope that that Act will give further support to charities. It is an essential part of how we support the charitable sector here and around the world. I am not entirely sure how we will mark it, but it will be a very important moment, because, despite the tough times we and others around the world are experiencing, we have demonstrated our generosity, and indeed our responsibility, to the poorest people right around the world by fulfilling, under the coalition Government, the long-held ambition of devoting 0.7% of our GNI to overseas development assistance.

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), may we have a debate on the Chancellor’s policy announced yesterday on helping people to buy a home? On page 39 of the Red Book it specifically says that the scheme is

“open not only to first-time buyers but also to existing homeowners”.

As my hon. Friend said, how can a Government be taxing people in social housing for a spare bedroom but subsidising those who already own a home to purchase a new one?

I am very impressed that Opposition Members have made progress by actually finding page 39 and reading it. It says—[Interruption.] All I will say to the hon. Gentleman and to Labour Members is that they are asking for an opportunity to debate this issue, and it will be available in the Budget debate.

West Yorkshire police recently lost in the High Court and the Court of Appeal a case against Leeds United about who pays for policing on match days. This will lead to West Yorkshire police having to repay Leeds United £1 million. It will also lead to my constituents having to lose police officers so that they can move across to help to police Leeds United football matches because of a small element of hooligan supporters. Will the Leader of the House get the Home Secretary to come and make a statement about this so that we can find out what she is going to do to reverse this intolerable situation?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and important point. I will, if I may, make clear to the Home Secretary his interest in this matter. Of course, were he to be here for Home Office questions on Monday he might find that he attracts Mr Speaker’s eye.

Early-day motion 1177 refers to concerns about the contracts of parliamentary House staff.

[That this House draws attention to the discrepancies in proposed salary increases amongst staff working on the Parliamentary estate, ranging from one per cent for lower paid staff to an average of five per cent for senior level staff; expresses concern at these double standards; notes that lower paid staff appear to be paying the price for austerity measures, while senior level staff are not facing the same cutbacks; and calls for the House authorities to examine these pay rises in detail and ensure all levels are forced to bear the same levels of cuts.]

Having discussed this matter with some of the people involved, it seems that our hard-working Hansard staff and our messengers appear to be threatened with a substantial loss in their earnings. Is it not time that we had a debate in here about the principles of how we employ our staff, who have certainly served us well in the 21 years that I have been here, and seem to be under the threat of a cut to their earnings?

I have read the early-day motion. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, these are matters for the House of Commons Commission. In that respect, there are opportunities to ask questions of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who answers on behalf of the Commission. In this particular instance, I would say two things. As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I know that it has always sought to pursue the principle that the House should be an exceptionally good employer, and we set out to do that. That does not mean, however, that arrangements for pay should not reflect the issues that govern public service generally, and, indeed, it should not inhibit us from being prepared to modernise pay systems in this House.

May I ask the Leader of the House to grant time for an early debate on the proposed reforms to the common agricultural policy? Broad political agreement is expected to be reached at EU level by the end of June. The key will be how these reforms are implemented and will impact on farmers in this country. They involve technical concepts such as who will be defined as the active farmer, how the moneys will be spent, and what will be the contribution from the UK Exchequer.

My hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary and his colleagues are actively engaged in precisely the negotiations that she describes. Of course, as we all appreciate, this is happening against the backdrop of the success that the Prime Minister achieved in the EU budget negotiations, which is terrifically important. We do need further reform of the common agricultural policy, and that is what this Government have set out to achieve. In terms of a debate in this House, I suspect that in the course of this process the European Scrutiny Committee will have an opportunity to look at these proposals, and it is of course open to it to make a decision on whether to refer them to the House for debate.

In the light of news that the Mersey gateway, like the Forth road bridge improvements, might well be built with Chinese steel, may we have a debate in this House about procurement policy for major infrastructure projects?

What we want to do is not only to secure best value in procurement, but to ensure that British manufacturers and companies are best placed to deliver it. Today offers an excellent opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to debate growth and, indeed, Michael Heseltine’s important review, with my right hon. Friends and others.

Last month, the all-party group on pharmacy, of which I am the vice-chairman, held an open meeting on the decriminalisation of pharmacists for dispensing errors. As my right hon. Friend will know, pharmacists can be sent to prison for that offence, but unfortunately it appears that general practitioners cannot. Could we have a debate so that we can try to clear up this anomaly and get the Government to announce the timetable for doing so?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, which I know has been of continuing concern to pharmacists for a number of years. I have been concerned to make progress on the issue and the Department of Health has established a programme board to examine the balance between medicines legislation and pharmacy professional regulation in order not only to deliver protection for the public, but to deal with an issue of great concern to pharmacists, and rightly so, because inadvertent errors could leave them vulnerable to criminal prosecution. I hope that that work will be taken forward and I will ask the Department to get back to my hon. Friend about the timetable.

Will the Leader of the House secure a statement from the Secretary of State for Justice on whether he will carry out a risk assessment of his transforming rehabilitation programme?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the requirement for proposals to be subject to impact assessments, which I imagine is what he meant to say, because risk assessments are internal examinations. When those proposals are introduced to the House, an impact assessment will accompany them.

Moldova is not in the European Union and it is a centre for human trafficking. It is right next door to Romania, and hundreds of thousands of Moldovans, through grandparental rights, are now applying for and getting Romanian passports with the intent of immigrating to the United Kingdom from 1 January next year. Could we have an urgent statement from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister about what representations Her Majesty’s Government are making to the Romanian Government to plug this loophole in the EU’s external frontiers?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is relevant to an e-petition debate in which he may like to participate, if he is able to do so, on Monday 22 April in Westminster Hall. He will also be aware of the work taking place inside Government to ensure that, while we meet our obligations relating to free movement, we do not so in a way that leaves us open to abuse.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me remind the House that the Home Secretary will answer questions on Monday. He could also discuss alcohol pricing in the Budget debate, especially in the light of the Chancellor’s decisions on alcohol duties, including the reduction in beer duty. I am sure that the House would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

Following the Chancellor’s welcome help yesterday for the least well-off to keep more of their own money, could we have a debate on hospital parking charges, and especially on the decision by Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to levy up to £6 a day on users of the Sir Robert Peel hospital car park? The proposals were made without consultation, contrary to the trust’s previous assurances, and will hit the very people whom the Chancellor set out to help yesterday.

I know how important this issue can be for many constituents, particularly if they are frequent users of hospital services. A code of practice has been established through the NHS Confederation and that should ensure that those frequent users are able to access discounts and the like. I encourage my hon. Friend to talk to the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust about that, while recognising that these are decisions for NHS organisations. As a Government we have not sought to impose a structure on hospitals. Indeed, we have not chosen to divert money that should be available to support patient care to the subsidising of car parking.

Several of my constituents who are small business owners came to see me on Saturday to tell me that the Clydesdale bank is refusing to renew their facilities, despite promises that it would do so. They are now on punitive interest rates of 29.9% APR and face the threat of losing their homes. May we have an urgent debate in the House on why the banks are telling us that they are doing all they can to support businesses and to ensure that people do not get thrown out of their homes, when in reality they are doing the opposite?

Many Members across the House share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration about the relationship between many small businesses and the banking system, but I bring him good news. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has made a written statement, which may be followed up in today’s debate, about the operation of the new business bank and the support that it will give to stronger lending to small businesses. I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman has a further meeting with small businesses in his constituency, they will share with him their delight at the Budget measures, including the £2,000 per employer reduction in national insurance contributions.

The Chancellor’s announcements yesterday on housing have been warmly welcomed by the construction industry, estate agents and the many people who are looking to get on the housing ladder across the UK. Indeed, I received an e-mail from a local estate agent, Mark Horsfall of Twenty Four Estates in Barrowford, while the Chancellor was still on his feet. I am aware that the schemes may require legislation, so will the Leader of the House clarify when we will be able to debate the specifics of those very welcome proposals?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the proposals are very welcome. Many people find it difficult to see how they can get on the housing ladder as a first-time home buyer. We know that the whole housing market can be very responsive to first-time home buyer activity spreading through the marketplace. The Help to Buy scheme will provide dramatic help. Although we have the funding for lending scheme and low interest rates in this country, which have happened only because of the credibility that the Chancellor’s policy has given this country, those things are not translating into access to mortgages for those who, of necessity, are looking for high loan-to-value ratios. All of that will make a very big difference and it may be debated on Monday.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by a Minister on food prices? Families and older people in the Wirral are seeing the price of their shopping going up and up. They will have noticed that any gains that they make from income tax thresholds are being inflated away. Will the Leader of the House get the Government to explain what they are doing?

Of course, the Budget debate affords an opportunity to debate precisely those issues. I hope that the hon. Lady will take that opportunity to express her appreciation of the fact that by April 2014, the increase in personal allowances will have taken 3,071 of her constituents out of income tax altogether.

After the positive news in yesterday’s Budget about the scrapping of the beer duty escalator and the other cuts in duty, I was contacted by my constituent Mr Simon Theakston, who runs the iconic Yorkshire brewing business of the same name. He said that the changes would be seen as a vote of confidence in the industry and trigger investment from it. May we have a debate about that great British institution, the pub, and its role in communities, especially in village life?

Yes; the House demonstrated its concern about that issue on 1 November last year, when it debated beer duty. It will no doubt do so again during the Budget debate and there will perhaps be further opportunities to debate the brewing industry and pubs, when the House will be able to share in the coalition Government’s recognition, through the Budget changes, of the importance of pubs not only as an industry but to local communities.

I have raised this matter before, but Members of Parliament from Greater Manchester are desperately seeking a chance to debate the imminent privatisation of passenger transport ambulance services in the conurbation. Soon, those services will no longer be delivered by the NHS, but by Arriva buses as the Government’s agenda for the NHS starts to take shape in our constituencies. I have applied repeatedly for an Adjournment debate since the beginning of January, but unfortunately I have not been successful. Surely it is reasonable to try to scrutinise a decision of such magnitude.

I recall that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue with me previously, and if the Department of Health can add anything further by way of information, I will ensure that it is made available to him. He could, of course, seek an Adjournment debate on this matter, as it relates to his constituency and neighbouring constituencies. I remind him that we are talking about passenger transport services, not the emergency responses of ambulance trusts. There are instances across the country where passenger services are not necessarily provided by the ambulance service but work alongside it, which can work perfectly effectively.

Research has suggested that more than half of cigarettes smoked in Gillingham have avoided tax. Can we have an urgent debate on tackling illegal tobacco?

I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I reassure my hon. Friend that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and UK Border Force published their latest strategy to tackle tobacco smuggling in April 2011, building on success already achieved in tackling tobacco fraud. Since the launch of the first tobacco anti-fraud strategy more than a decade ago, the illicit market for cigarettes has reduced from 21% to 9%, and from 61% to 38% for hand-rolling tobacco.

Yesterday’s Budget was very good news for Wales and added more than £100 million to the Welsh Assembly budget— £161 million for capital investment. Will my right hon. Friend arrange an opportunity for the House to consider the impact on Wales of investment decisions in England by the UK Government? Cross-border investment is hugely important to my Montgomeryshire constituents as well as to the efficient operation of devolution.

I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I hope that opportunities will continue to manifest themselves for us to debate those important cross-border issues. Some decisions that have been made—for example, on the electrification of the rail line in south Wales to Cardiff and Swansea—are tremendously important for economic recovery in Wales. If the Welsh Assembly Government have any resources available, it might be an opportunity to reconsider what seems to be the completely misplaced priority of cutting the NHS budget by 8% in real terms in Wales, with all the damaging consequences illustrated in Wales itself.

Order. I was advised that the hon. Gentleman had left the Chamber; he certainly left his seat and for some significant period was not visible. He has insisted that he was in the Chamber, even though he was not in his seat, so on this occasion—this is not the first time this has happened, as he knows—I will call him, as he is a very assiduous contributor to the proceedings of the House. In future, the hon. Gentleman would help himself if instead of perambulating around, he remained in his seat.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am suffering with a tickly cough, and I would like to thank your Clerk for providing me with a glass of water, for which I came to the Front Bench.

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House join me in congratulating on behalf of other Yorkshire MPs the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury on agreeing to underwrite by up to £10 million the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire? Can we have a debate on the wonderful economic and social benefits that that global sporting event will bring to Yorkshire?

That was a question worth waiting for, Mr Speaker. When the Cabinet was in Leeds, we heard a presentation about the Tour de France grand départ and were tremendously impressed by what Yorkshire had done to secure that event for this country. From my point of view, since a subsequent stage will go through my constituency in Cambridgeshire, we are doubly grateful to Yorkshire for that. I do not know whether we will be able to have a debate soon, but we very much welcome my hon. Friend’s support, and that of his colleagues, for what will be a wonderful three days of cycling in 2014.