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Business of the House

Volume 561: debated on Thursday 25 April 2013

With the progress of business now certain, a formal announcement was made yesterday evening in the other place on the arrangements for Prorogation. It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicated that I expect royal commissioners to attend the other place this afternoon to signify Royal Assent to several Bills and to prorogue Parliament until Wednesday 8 May.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that there will be a Queen’s Speech on 8 May. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you, Mr Speaker, and all staff of the House for their support during this Session. We prorogue today, giving Members the opportunity to get some much-needed exercise campaigning in the local elections next week. I just hope that the Leader of the House will not be in a Conservative battle bus driven by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), because she told the House this week that Sunderland was near Bolton.

In the last few days of this Session, the Government have had to throw a series of cherished policies overboard to save their Bills from falling in the Lords. They have caved in on trying to abolish the general equality duty, on caste discrimination, on the pension age of Ministry of Defence police and fire officers, on licensing letting agents and the free market free-for-all on conservatories. In the battle over the Chancellor’s “shares for rights scheme”, they managed to spark two revolts in the Lords by two previous Lib Dem leaders and four former Tory Cabinet Ministers, including a previous Tory Chancellor. Lord Forsyth, the Thatcherite former Scottish Secretary said the scheme was

“ill thought through, confused and muddled”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2013; Vol. 744, c. 597.],

while the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell asked:

“in the old days the price of slavery was 20 or 30 pieces of silver. Is it now £2,000?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 March 2013; Vol. 744, c. 617.]

The Office for Budget Responsibility thinks that the cost of the Chancellor’s folly will be nearly £1 billion, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that it could “foster tax avoidance”. The Chancellor’s pet scheme was saved by an eleventh-hour compromise last night, but when will he realise that it is simply wrong to put a price on people’s right to be treated fairly at work?

Reflecting on the current Session, I calculated that up to this morning the Government had U-turned 21 times, an average of once every seven sitting days. The Leader of the House has just announced another U-turn, on the House business committee. I wonder whether we shall see even more in the next Session. That may be a promise that the Government considered for the Queen’s Speech: it is probably the only target that they could actually meet. I hope that the Leader of the House will not mind my borrowing a well-worn phrase as a piece of advice for the Government: “You turn again if you want to”—and the sooner the better.

We now know that of the 10 original members of the Downing street policy unit only three remain, and apparently two of those are actively seeking other work. So great is the exodus that Conservative Back Benchers are complaining that No. 10 resembles the Mary Celeste, and that the Deputy Prime Minister has more advisers than the boss. Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), to come and make a statement about the Government’s policy on emergency support for sinking ships?

In a desperate attempt to reverse his fortunes, the Prime Minister has just announced that the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) is to be given a job at No. 10. The problem is that the Prime Minister’s Back Benchers think that he has got the wrong brother, and that it is the top job at No.10 that the Johnson dynasty really want. Meanwhile, sources tell us that the latest round of proposed spending cuts has caused such a backlash that Cabinet Ministers are turning on each other in a circular firing squad. They cannot even organise a firing squad properly.

On Tuesday, the Office for National Statistics released the latest public sector net borrowing figures. They were a quarter of 1% lower than last year’s—and that is only after the most blatant piece of creative accounting at the Treasury that we have seen for a very long time. We now know that the Government are set to borrow £245 billion more than they planned to borrow in 2010. That is the cost of their economic failure.

The Chancellor’s deficit reduction plan has been so successful that, at the rate he is going, it will take 400 years to balance the books. If we look back 400 years, we see that the gunpowder plot had just failed, the King James Bible was newly published, and the pilgrim fathers were preparing to set sail for north America. Can the Leader of the House promise a debate in the new Session on the abject failure of the Chancellor’s economic plan? Today’s anaemic GDP figures show that we are back to where we were six months ago.

This week the Chancellor told John Humphrys that he had shed a tear while listening to the headlines on the “Today” programme. Can the Leader of the House tell us which headlines he meant? Was it the IMF describing his economic plan as “playing with fire”? Was it the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that we were in a depression? Was it yet another ratings agency stripping us of our triple A status? Or was it the Chancellor’s poll ratings, which are plummeting among his own Back Benchers?

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for, in particular, expressing her appreciation for the House service, which I share. At the end of a parliamentary Session, we should express our appreciation especially for those who support us in the carrying on of the Business of the Chamber—the Clerks at the Table, in the Table Office and in the Public Bill Office, those who look after us in the Chamber, and of course the Official Reporters. The list of those on whom we depend is very long, and we are very grateful to them.

I am not in a position to comment on business to be conducted during the next Session, but in the current Session we have completed the passage of a substantial amount of important legislation. Some 27 Bills have been passed, including three that were carried over from the first Session to the second. Important measures were introduced, such as the Justice and Security Bill, the establishment of the National Crime Agency in the Crime and Courts Bill, individual voter registration, the new green investment bank, the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, and of course just this week the Succession to the Crown Bill.

At previous business questions, the shadow Leader of the House has asked about the publication of legislation in draft. In this Session, we published 15 Bills in draft, which is more than in any previous Session, including the two-year Session that preceded this one. To that extent I hope, we have continued a process established in this Parliament by my predecessor of ensuring that the House, the public and stakeholders have the greatest possible opportunity for input and contribution to the passage of legislation.

The shadow Leader of the House raised a number of issues. I know that the Prime Minister was thinking of the right Johnson when he engaged my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) in policy making. It is not just about my hon. Friend, but about other Government Members; there is a difference. In the Liberal Democrat party, for their purposes, and in the Conservative party, elected Members of the party democratically take part in the discussion of policy, and contribute directly to policy. Labour policy is directed to Members by the trade unions. We have it from a former general secretary of the Labour party himself, who said of the trade unions that they were

“running rings around him”

—the Leader of the Opposition—

“and soon will control much of the party.”

He says that they control the selection of MEPs. They are the piper who calls the Labour party tune. In the last quarter, Len McCluskey and Unite paid a third of the Labour party’s total income—just that single trade union. Is it any surprise that it wants to go from controlling candidate selection to controlling the policy of the Labour party and who is on the Opposition Front Bench? I am sure the shadow Leader of the House is safe, but some of her colleagues are not. In the next Session, we shall see what the consequence may be in terms of changes on the Opposition Front Bench.

Order. In the light of the imminent end of this parliamentary Session, I gently remind hon. and right hon. Members that somewhat greater ingenuity than normal will be required if their business questions are to be in order, bearing in mind, as they will, that those questions must relate to future business of the House. Perhaps we can be offered a textbook example of the genre by Mr William Cash.

I shall certainly try, Mr Speaker.

Last Saturday, 30,000 people gathered in Stafford regarding the outcome of the Francis report on the whole Stafford hospital saga; my right hon. Friend is well aware of the tragedy. The Prime Minister has given his personal assurance that there will be a debate in due course. Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House prepared to make sure that it happens much sooner rather than much later?

My hon. Friend knows that I am very well aware indeed of the situation at Stafford and all the circumstances that led to it. He will recall that the Backbench Business Committee very importantly secured a debate on NHS transparency and accountability. In response to his questions, I have made clear my view that once we have gone beyond the interim report made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, there should be occasions in the future, when the Government make a formal response to the public inquiry held by Robert Francis, for the House to have further opportunity to debate it.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 1304?

[That this House expresses its utter condemnation of and disgust with Bernard Rowen of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Limited for his repeated victimisation of a constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, whom he has dismissed twice without any valid justification; deplores slanderous statements made by management about this constituent; calls for the immediate reinstatement of this constituent and for his victimisation to cease; further calls instead for the dismissal of Bernard Rowen, who is not fit for this publicly-funded job; further calls on the Charities Commission to investigate the conduct of this organisation; further calls on the operating partners (Community Transport Services Manager, Manchester City Council, Manchester Community Transport and Manchester Ring and Ride) to carry out a similar investigation; and further calls on Transport for Greater Manchester Committee to review its funding of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport in the light of these circumstances.]

It refers to the persecution of one of my constituents by Bernard Rowen, managing director of Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd, a publicly funded charitable body. Does the Leader of the House agree that the vilification, as well as the persecution and repeated dismissal, of my constituent by Rowen is outrageous and intolerable? In the remaining time for this Session, or during the recess before the resumption of Parliament on 8 May, will he take all action open to him both to find justice for my constituent and to stop public money being wasted on an organisation whose managing director behaves like a tyrant?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the House fully appreciates his concern for his constituent. I had read the early-day motion to which he refers. Of course, this is a matter for the transport and local authorities in Greater Manchester, and I know that he has been in touch with them about the situation involving Greater Manchester Accessible Transport Ltd. If I may, through discussions with his office, I will ensure that I draw the attention of the relevant authorities to the issue and to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Is it possible to extend the duration of Transport Question Times to an hour, because the sessions are heavily oversubscribed? During today’s Transport questions, I was unable to raise BBC Suffolk’s “Don’t Be a Tosser” campaign on reducing road litter, and support for such an issue deserves to be raised on the Floor of the House.

These things are considered carefully, but the allocation of time for questions is a matter for the Procedure Committee in the first instance. However, I will by all means look at the point that my hon. Friend raises and the campaign in Suffolk to which she refers.

Many Members constantly have to deal with conflict between neighbours, and one of its causes is the planting of trees that undermine nearby boundary walls, drains and the foundations of neighbouring properties. Insurance companies say that that is a matter for regulation by this House, while the House says that it is a matter for insurance companies. Will the Leader of the House—either later today or in the next Session—consider whether it would be appropriate for the House to legislate on the matter and to provide guidance so that householders no longer face difficulties caused by inappropriate trees in neighbours’ gardens?

Several of my constituents have experienced such difficulties, and some hon. Members will recall that they were debated in the House when we were considering leylandii legislation. Rather than making a commitment regarding future business, I shall, if I may, seek the views of my colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that they may respond to the hon. Lady.

In January, a new European directive changed the rules for motorcycle licences. One of my constituents booked her test before the new rules took effect, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. She is now being made to take more expensive and time-consuming tests. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a written statement to be made on how the new EU directive adversely affects those who planned to take their test before 19 January, and is there anything that can be done about this?

I understand why my hon. Friend’s constituent might have been disappointed by that turn of events. I regret that I have to say that the answer to his question is no, because apparently neither domestic regulations nor the underpinning European legislation makes any provision for such an exemption to the requirements. I am sorry to have to disappoint my hon. Friend, and I recognise why he feels for his constituent.

Does the Leader of the House agree that this is a time to reflect on issues that we have not addressed properly during the Session? Does he agree that one of those—I wonder whether there is any time to consider this in the few hours left to us—is the rights of women? There is an exhibition on slavery in the Upper Waiting Hall, and who would have thought that we would be told that that exists in this country today? We are now aware that female genital mutilation is reasonably widespread in this country and that women in our communities are prevented from voting. Is it not about time that we talked about the rights of women to education and a full life? Who would have thought that, in the 21st century, we would have to discuss such issues?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues. In the course of this Session important debates have taken place relating to a number of them. I recall in particular the time that was allocated by the Backbench Business Committee around international women’s day and in anticipation of it, focusing on violence against women and violence in conflict situations. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of how my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has raised that through our leadership of the G8. He will no doubt be aware of the many steps taken by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) to support action in relation to female genital mutilation. I share with the hon. Gentleman and many Members of the House the outrage at the extent of modern slavery in this country, as illustrated and informed by the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. I attended its launch, which the Prime Minister undertook on Monday. The all-party group and Anthony Steen have done an important piece of work in bringing that exhibition here so that we can debate those issues.

A recent meeting was held at Middlesex university in which three speakers variously said that Israelis support the death of Palestinians, glorify in Palestinian deaths and loot the bodies of dead Palestinians. When I wrote to the vice-chancellor of Middlesex university about the anguish that such unfounded comments cause local residents, he advised that when he had intervened in the past about radical and offensive speakers, the student union had complained to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the university was fined and reprimanded. May we therefore have a debate on anti-Semitism on university campuses and how we can prevent such occurrences?

I can understand how my hon. Friend might feel about that. It is of course a matter for the universities themselves, but he might consider raising it on the Adjournment, when the opportunity is once more available, as an important subject for us to consider. In the meantime I will take the opportunity to send to the vice-chancellor of Middlesex university a copy of today’s Hansard in order to ask if he will reply to my hon. Friend and to me.

Early-day motion 1305 celebrates the work of Crick and Watson, Rosalind Franklin and others on an important day: today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of their work in Nature.

[That this House marks the 60th anniversary of the discovery of DNA; notes that the article entitled Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid was published by Francis Crick and James D. Watson in the scientific journal Nature in its 171st volume on 25 April 1953; further notes that that was the first publication which described the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA; further notes that much of the data that were used by Crick and Watson came from unpublished work by Rosalind Franklin and several others; applauds the discovery of DNA as having had a major impact on biology, particularly in the field of genetics; and further marks one of the most profound scientific discoveries of the 20th Century.]

It would be a great day for the Government to show some leadership on science and commit to holding Government-sponsored debates on major science topics so that the House can be informed and develop policy on some of the important consequences of the work of those scientists and other science disciplines—for example, the articles in the paper today about genetic editing, which is going to be an important issue in relation to food supply. Will the Leader of the House give a commitment to deliver such debates in Government time?

As a Member of Parliament representing part of Cambridge, I am only too aware of that anniversary, of the tremendous character of those discoveries, and of the work that Crick and Watson and others did. That is recognised. For example, I was directly involved as Secretary of State in securing the future of the Francis Crick institute, which I see emerging next to the British Library. I think this Government are giving leadership on science. We are investing in science, we see it as an essential part of this country’s economic future, and we are supporting it to that effect, as well as recognising that the quality of our science has a unique contribution to make for the whole world. We are determined to build on that.

Would the Leader of the House consider arranging a debate about the conflict in which insolvency practitioners find themselves when they are appointed by a bank to deal with the administration of a company that has failed owing to the mis-selling of interest rate swaps and hedging products by the very same bank? There is therefore a requirement for them to pursue a claim against the bank and the desire to remain loyal to their employer and to maintain a long-term business relationship with that bank, which requires the skills of poacher and gamekeeper simultaneously.

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a point which has been raised at business questions before. It is important to try to ensure clarity about how mis-selling claims are to be handled in order to give confidence and reassurance to small firms in particular. I will ensure that in the time available we are in contact with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills about getting an answer to my hon. Friend on that point.

The measles outbreak is not just in Wales; we have had a steep increase in reported cases in Salford, mainly among older children—10 to 14-year-olds—who were not vaccinated in the 1990s, and I understand that about 10% of them have been hospitalised. Will the Leader of the House support my message to parents who did not have their children vaccinated when they were younger that it is absolutely vital that they take them now to be fully protected by the MMR vaccine? May we also have a statement from the Health Secretary—it would have to be today, of course—on what plans he has to boost the vaccination programme?

I cannot promise a statement today, but I am sure that the hon. Lady and the House know that Public Health England is producing publicity to encourage unvaccinated children and young people to come forward for vaccination. Having been shadow Secretary of State from 2003, I know that on both sides of the House we were very clear that the MMR vaccine was safe. We now have vaccine coverage rates back up to record levels, which is important, but we of course have an inheritance of unvaccinated young people. If we can deal with that rapidly, we will offset what would otherwise be a really unfortunate risk from a very nasty disease.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on getting young people with special needs into work? A project in my constituency and across the London borough of Redbridge will hopefully, with the help of the parent group, Interface, the borough council and employers, have the first people taking up jobs shortly.

If I may, I will join my hon. Friend in expressing appreciation in this House for the activities of Interface, other groups and his borough council. I welcome what he does on behalf of his constituents and applaud it.

The Lord Chancellor recently announced plans to introduce price-competitive tendering in criminal legal aid. The plans are ill thought through and will destroy the criminal justice system and the criminal law profession. May we please have an urgent debate in the next Session on that very important topic?

I cannot anticipate debates in the next Session. What I can say is that what my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and his predecessor have done in trying to secure better value and a much greater focus for legal aid is terrifically important. [Interruption.] We have a very generous legal aid system, compared with countries around the world. [Interruption.] The intention is not that we should become ungenerous, but that we must be more focused and ensure that legal aid supports those who genuinely require public support in order to undertake their cases.

I have a hunch, as I suspect does the House, that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) is seeking to equal the volume of his predecessor.

Figures released in answer to a written question I tabled on the Safe and Sustainable review show that costs to date include over £300,000 in legal fees, £1.7 million for external communication consultants and over £6 million in other costs. That is around £8 million in total. Now we hear that NHS England plans to add to the costs by appealing the High Court decision, potentially delaying the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s report. Given that, and in the time available, is there any way we can urge NHS England not to appeal, so that we can finally get a resolution to children’s heart surgery in this country?

My hon. Friend will know that the Safe and Sustainable review was established independently within the NHS by the joint committee of primary care trusts and that it is being sustained by NHS England on the same basis. Those are decisions for NHS England and I, of all people, must recognise that we have legislated to give it greater independence in decision making on the basis that it must lead on clinical matters. What he has said will of course be communicated to NHS England, and it will obviously consider carefully all the aspects of value for money associated with how it proceeds.

Will the Leader of the House use his influence with the Secretary of State for Education to find out why he has not come to the House today to answer for his decision yesterday to close the Department for Education offices at Castle View house in Runcorn, with the loss of at least 220 jobs, and to transfer the work to a more expensive location, despite the Runcorn office being the cheapest location, with the lowest-paid staff, in the 32nd most deprived borough in England and Wales? The opposition to that is shared in the private sector: the Halton chamber of commerce and enterprise is opposed to the move. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to come to the House today to make a statement?

I fear I do not think it will be possible for the Secretary of State to be here today to make a statement or answer an urgent question on that. I also recall that we had exchanges on this issue at business questions, and it has been the subject of meetings that have taken place, in particular with the permanent secretary at the Department for Education, who explained why the move was necessary to help secure the administration cost savings—and I must say that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary has been exemplary in securing administration cost savings in his Department.

The National Assembly for Wales has now resolved to take forward the Welsh Government’s proposal to introduce presumed consent into the organ donation system. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the view of the Department of Health at Westminster is made clear through a written statement on the consideration that has been given to the impact that change will have on the increasingly successful organ donation system in the rest of the United Kingdom?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, my personal view is that the decision the Welsh Assembly Government are proceeding with is not the right one. From the Government’s point of view, I know that the Department of Health provided evidence in the consultation that illustrated that consequences and difficulties would flow to the organ donation system in England as a consequence of the proposed changes in Wales. If I may, in pursuance of this request I will ask my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary when and how he intends to follow through on those issues and on the concerns expressed at an earlier stage.

In a few days’ time in May, the European Union arms embargo on Syria will be up for expiry. The US Administration said there would be a red line if chemical weapons were used in Syria. It is increasingly clear they have been used, probably by the Syrian regime. Given that, what parliamentary accountability will there be before any decision is taken by our Government to arm elements of the Syrian opposition, which includes al-Qaeda-linked jihadists?

The hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has regularly reported to the House on these issues, including at this Dispatch Box. What he has said when he was here is still true: these are difficult areas and dynamic situations, and as a consequence the Government are not ruling out further changes and, in discussions over the next few days with our European partners we will be discussing how the arms embargo has been amended and may be amended in future. My right hon. Friend has kept the House fully informed, therefore, and I am sure he will take every opportunity to do so again in the future.

A few weeks ago we had a debate on the lack of accountability in the NHS and I am afraid it appears that we need another one. On 19 April, these comments were made in Computer Weekly about Sir Bruce Keogh’s decision to suspend surgery at Leeds:

“Keogh, first by requesting unverified data, then by ignoring the data's obvious faults, then by breaching usual procedure in not seeking to clarify those faults, then apparently wilfully misinterpreting that data, and then using the weight of all these errors to tell Leeds to close its heart unit, may have committed a serious breach of protocols he had helped establish.”

Why is the Secretary of State for Health still refusing to have an independent investigation into this matter?

My hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary said in response to an urgent question about these issues. I share the Health Secretary’s confidence in the decisions that Sir Bruce Keogh took and, indeed, his precautionary approach. As my hon. Friend will recall, in a matter of days he and NHS England were able to agree with Leeds general infirmary on how to proceed in a way that offered parents and children the necessary reassurance about safety.

Today’s quarterly growth figures are truly lamentable. May we have an emergency debate during the next few hours, so that although the Government have no new policies to offer, they can at least show their concern about the situation?

Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, I think that today’s figures are an encouraging sign of how the economy is healing. We know the economic backdrop and the House is under no illusions about how difficult the economic circumstances are, not just in this country but, as the IMF has made clear, across Europe in particular. The IMF’s forecasts for this country were for a limited return to growth, but that growth was stronger than that of France and Germany. Alongside that, we have to maintain the credibility of our fiscal position and give space for an activist monetary stance. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill and related measures show that in this Session we have taken every possible action to promote enterprise and wealth creation, because they are the only means by which the growth we are looking for will come.

It is said that there are three types of economist: those who can count and those who cannot. [Interruption.] I knew that hon. Members would get that eventually. Given that this morning’s GDP growth figure of 0.3% was three times the much-reported best upper estimate of the BBC, may we have a debate on BBC bias?

I cannot promise a debate in this Session, but some Select Committees are taking every opportunity to scrutinise the governance of the BBC, so I encourage my hon. Friend to discuss the issue with them.

Figures this week show that in the course of this Parliament, Hull will lose a total of £649 per head through local government and welfare cuts, compared with Surrey Heath, which will lose only £199 per head. May we have an urgent statement from the relevant Minister on why this Government want to penalise the most disadvantaged parts of this country?

I am sorry, but that is one of the poorest uses of statistics I have heard. One has to recognise the base one is starting from. In some parts of the country, Government grant to local authorities is very modest in the first place, while the consequences of reductions in central Government spending, which are necessary—we have to do it—are, in absolute terms, greater in those places where the original level of grant distributed was highest. We cannot avoid that simple fact. We are setting out to make sure that we are fair across the country and that the way in which grant is distributed reflects need properly.

When a suitable opportunity presents itself, might we have a debate on magistrates courts and magistrates? Figures released earlier this week show that 3.8% of offenders who appear before magistrates courts are jailed, but the figure in Northamptonshire is the highest in the country at 6.5%. Such a debate would allow me and other Northamptonshire MPs to praise magistrates in Northamptonshire, including the Kettering bench, for their effective use of sentencing powers.

As my hon. Friend knows, the Crime and Courts Bill has completed its passage through the House. I would not want to encourage him to believe that the Government want to compare sentences and praise sentencing in some courts relative to others. We in this House establish the legal framework, but we rightly expect magistrates and, indeed, judges to make their own decisions, and circumstances will vary across the country. It is entirely open for Members of Parliament to act in their own constituencies, as my hon. Friend does, and to speak freely on behalf of the people they represent.

Before the House rises, may we have a statement from the Chancellor about the pitiful state of the construction industry in this country? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Office for National Statistics established this morning that construction output has shrunk by a tenth under this Government and that 70,000 jobs in the sector were lost in the year to last December? Do Members not deserve an urgent opportunity to find out whether the Government have any plans to deal with that dreadful situation?

The hon. Gentleman knows that construction orders were up in the last quarter and that new work is up. It is a bit rich for any Labour Member to speak about construction, because they know as well as I do, when they look in their hearts, that construction activity in this country, and house building in particular, fell off a cliff in 2008 as a consequence of the bust that the Labour Government said would never happen. We are fighting our way back. The Chancellor’s Budget set out unprecedented measures to support new house building in this country and the Government continue to spend more on infrastructure investment than the last Labour Government had planned to spend.

During this Session, we have had debates about skills and apprenticeships, tax competitiveness, the progress in cutting red tape, and investment in transport and digital infrastructure, such as the successful rural broadband project in North Yorkshire. When we return for the new Session, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate that pulls all those things together and reviews the progress towards making the UK a better place to do business?

My hon. Friend is right. There are some very impressive schemes in North Yorkshire that demonstrate how IT can be used in rural areas. I am aware of that not least because of the way in which the telehealth and telecare systems were rolled out by North Yorkshire county council. In the year ahead, the introduction of the £2,000 employment allowance will reduce businesses’ national insurance contributions bill for employing people and stimulate further employment, we will move to having the joint lowest corporation tax rates among the G20 countries and there will be a tenfold increase in the investment allowance for businesses. I hope that it will be recognised that those measures and many others are making this country the best place to do business. In the next year, I hope that we will take every opportunity not only to add to that, but to shout about it in this country and beyond.

How incredibly kind, Mr Speaker.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has published its draft clauses for revising the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and asked the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to report by 29 April? We stand prepared to do that, but there is the slight problem that the House is not meeting next week to enable us to adopt our formal report. Prorogation is the only time when no Select Committee can meet. I ask the Leader of the House to use his good offices to ensure that the Department does not publish the clauses formally, but awaits the opinion of the Select Committee so that there is proper scrutiny and we do not repeat the situation that gave rise to the 1991 Act, which has caused so much concern that it now needs to be revised.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She raises an issue of timing. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consults her. What may be done formally during Prorogation is limited, but rather more may be done informally. Clauses would not be published during Prorogation. We will wait until the new Session before proceeding, subject to what is in the Gracious Speech, with the publication of further legislation.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1310 on the plight of disabled staff working for Tesco?

[That this House is concerned by reports from disabled Tesco workers in Harlow, that they may be forced into redundancy because their existing adjustments will not be transferred to the new site at Dagenham; notes reports that one warehouseman, who has been registered disabled and received an adjustment for many years, will be expected to hit new performance targets within an eight-week trial period at the new site; further notes the anxieties of disabled workers that this may make moving to the new site effectively impossible for them, pushing them into unemployment; and therefore urges Tesco’s management to allow Harlow workers to transfer to the new site with their existing pay and their existing terms and conditions, including disability adjustments.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the closure of the Tesco distribution plant in Harlow, and there are disabled workers at risk of redundancy. One warehouseman has been registered as disabled for six years, yet he has been told that in order to transfer to Dagenham and keep his job, he must lose his disability adjustment and will be expected to hit new performance targets in an eight-week trial period at the new site. That will be impossible for him and could push him on to the dole. Will the Leader of the House urge Tesco to be more compassionate and treat all its workers fairly—disabled or otherwise—and ensure that workers who move to the Dagenham plant get the same pay and conditions for doing the same job?

My hon. Friend’s constituents in Harlow affected by the redundancy consequent on the changes to Tesco’s distribution facilities will be grateful to him for the way that he has represented them, not only as a community of employees, but in this instance individually. It is not for me at the Dispatch Box to urge anything on a private company in such a way, but I take the opportunity to draw what my hon. Friend has said directly to the attention of Tesco, and ask it to respond. I hope it will do so very sympathetically.