The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 10 June—Second Reading of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.
Tuesday 11 June—Remaining stages of the Children and Families Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to section 10 of the European Union Act 2011.
Wednesday 12 June—Opposition day [2nd allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 13 June—Debate on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the Prime Minister of Canada will address both Houses of Parliament on this day.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 June will include:
Monday 17 June—Second Reading of the Pensions Bill.
Tuesday 18 June—Motion to approve a European document relating to the reform of the common agricultural policy, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to enhanced co-operation and a financial transaction tax, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to the European elections 2014.
Wednesday 19 June—Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 20 June—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 June will be:
Thursday 13 June—Debate on the seventh report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on dog control and welfare.
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who threw herself at the King’s horse demanding votes for women. As the battle for women’s suffrage raged, she was at its forefront, being imprisoned on multiple occasions and force fed 49 times. She has a connection with this place because she hid in St Mary’s Undercroft so that she could register as a resident here for the 1911 census. She is also known for throwing things at Chancellor Lloyd George.
Since women won the vote, just 35 have entered the Cabinet and today we make up only 23% of the House of Commons. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that, on this centenary, we should have a debate in Government time on women’s progress in the UK? Under this Government, women’s rights are going backwards: as carers, service users and public sector workers, women are bearing the brunt of Government cuts and women’s unemployment is the highest it has been for a generation. No wonder the Government forgot to do a gender impact assessment of their first Budget. I suggest that if Emily Wilding Davison were alive today, she would still find reasons to throw rocks at the Chancellor.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House recalls last October’s Back-Bench business debate on the badger cull. The vote at the end of that debate instructed the Government not to proceed with the cull, but the Government just ignored it and started anyway. The Government have lost Back-Bench votes on circus animals, badgers and the Royal Fusiliers, and since starting to lose votes on Back-Bench motions so frequently, they have simply stopped opposing them. Today, we have a motion on the effects of pesticides on the bee population. Will the Leader of the House let us know whether the Government intend simply to let the motion pass without a vote, and if they do, will the will of the House be ignored again?
The Commons is abuzz with speculation about the end of the greatest No. 10 love affair of all time. Their eyes met at a press conference in the garden and they accepted each other with open arms, but the Prime Minister was unfaithful with his Back-Bench EU deal and now the Deputy Prime Minister has gone to the papers over his child care demands. They have been kidding themselves for a while, but the Queen’s Speech showed us that they did not even have the energy to try any more. Their mouse of a legislative programme has already unravelled, with No. 10 at panic stations over another lobbying scandal, the EU Back-Bench Bill, and the third U-turn of the Session in the abandonment of the appalling plan to increase ratios for child care providers. It is hard to believe that the House has sat for only 11 days since the Queen’s Speech was unveiled.
It is the job of the Leader of the House to co-ordinate the Government’s legislative programme. I know he likes expensive top-down reorganisations, but this is ridiculous. To be fair to him, though, it is not as if his Cabinet colleagues are faring any better. The Education Secretary has been so busy positioning himself to be the next Tory leader that he has forgotten to do the day job. According to a damning report from the Procedure Committee, his Department is very late in answering half of all written questions tabled by Members, and answers only one in five written named day questions in time. During the recess the chairman of the Tory party was told off by the UK Statistics Authority for making things up. He joins a long list of his Cabinet colleagues languishing on the statistical naughty step, including the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary. So may we have a debate about sanctions that could be applied to Ministers who do not answer questions in a timely fashion or get censured for misusing statistics?
Perhaps we should also have a debate about performance-managing the Cabinet. Such a debate could start with a look at the NHS. Since 2010 the number of people waiting in A and E for more than four hours has doubled. The ambulance queues have doubled, but instead of taking responsibility, the Government have tried to blame immigrants, women doctors and a 10-year-old GP contract for a problem that has only just emerged. Of course, they are only following the Chancellor’s lead after he blamed the flatlining economy on the snow, the rain and various bank holidays, including the royal wedding and the jubilee. This Government have been in office for three years. When will they face up to their responsibilities and realise that they have only themselves to blame?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, not least for the opportunity to mark in the House the centenary, as she rightly said, of the death of Emily Wilding Davison who, on 4 June 1913 I think it was, threw herself in front of the—was it the King or the Prince of Wales?—the King’s horse at the Epsom derby. I understand that there was an extremely successful event in Westminster Hall yesterday to mark that; it is important for us to do so.
Many would share the view that we have come on a very long way in a century, but not as far as we would like to have done, not least in ensuring that we realise to the full the potential that women are able to bring into our political life. In my party we feel strongly that we did very well at the last election in doing so, and we have further to go and I am looking forward to—
Busy, I would imagine. The experience in this Parliament of increased numbers of women in the parliamentary Conservative party will have encouraged Conservative associations across the country in their selections for the future.
The hon. Lady mentioned child care. She will be aware that no announcements have been made. We are committed to securing improving quality and affordability for parents seeking child care and we will make announcements in due course.
The hon. Lady made a point about Back-Bench debates. She said that Back-Bench votes instructed the Government. She completely understands, I know, that they are very important opportunities for Back-Bench and House opinion to be expressed. The Government never ignore them, and particularly in relation to the debate on the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Ministers took that decision seriously, weighed it carefully and came back to the House on a further occasion in order to explain why they maintained the decision that they had made.
Yesterday, Ministers came back to the House at the instigation of the Opposition in order to explain fully why the pilot badger cull was going ahead, and in a vote yesterday the House endorsed the Government’s view on that. In the course of her questions, including requests for debates, the shadow Leader of the House did not tell us what the Opposition are planning to do with their time.
I know it is a question, but in the course of her questions the shadow Leader of the House might have indicated to the House what the subjects for the Opposition day debates next week might be, not least as she seems to have an idea of the issues that she regards as important. She might think, for example, that 19 June would be a good opportunity to debate tax evasion and tax avoidance in the wake of the initiative, which is, I think, unprecedented in scale and success, that the Prime Minister has led in securing international co-operation, not least through the G8 summit that will have taken place over the previous weekend. No doubt by that date there will have been an opportunity for the Labour party to have paid to the Revenue any tax that would have been due on any donations that might have been given to it.
In the light of the speeches that have been made this week, the hon. Lady might also try to have a debate about the credibility of Opposition policy. On Monday, the shadow Chancellor was in complete denial about the simple fact that he talked with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister about “iron discipline” just ahead of the biggest spending spree by a Government that this country has ever seen, which left us in the biggest debt that this country has ever encountered. That is no iron discipline; there is no credibility in that.
If the Opposition are going to make speeches about welfare reform, they have to answer some simple questions. To give just one example, do Labour Members now believe that they were wrong to oppose the Bill that became the Welfare Reform Act 2012, with its cap on welfare uprating for working-age benefit recipients? If the shadow Leader of the House is able to say that they were wrong about that, there might be some credibility; otherwise it was a completely empty policy.
Today I will be delivering a letter to the Prime Minister signed by 81 Conservative colleagues calling for a parliamentary debate and a vote before the Government make any decision to arm any factions in the Syrian conflict. There is considerable concern in this House and, indeed, the country about our being pulled further into another middle eastern conflict where there appear to be many sides but no end. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that if such a decision to arm any of the groups is considered during a recess, Parliament can be quickly recalled so that we can debate this very important issue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have had the opportunity to see early-day motion 189, which relates to this.
[That this House believes that prior to any decision being taken to supply arms to the Syrian National Coalition or any other groups in Syria, a full debate and vote should be held in Parliament and in addition to this, if Parliament is in recess, it should be recalled to facilitate this important debate; notes the division and sensitivity that this issue evokes both with colleagues and the general public; believes that it is a matter that needs to be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny and debate before the UK potentially becomes further involved in another Middle Eastern conflict; and further notes that in some matters of defence, time does not always allow for parliamentary debate, whilst not however believing this constraint applies to this potential course of action.]
My hon. Friend will recall what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, when he was absolutely clear—in the same way that he was careful to ensure that on 21 March 2011 the House had an opportunity to debate Libya on a substantive motion—that any decision relating specifically to the arming of the Syrian National Coalition or others in Syria would be the subject of debate and an opportunity for a vote in this House.
In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Cressida Dick, the head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan police, told the Committee that, on one hand they were proposing to assess protection for Anjem Choudary, but on the other they were considering prosecuting him for racist and inflammatory statements. He is a former member of a number of proscribed organisations. May we have a statement on any guidance that the Home Secretary has issued about the protection of people who go out of their way to inflame tensions?
The right hon. Gentleman will of course understand that I am not in a position to make any comment about any individual case. I am sure that the Home Secretary—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, she has done this before and will do so again—will keep the House fully updated about any actions she is taking relating to tackling violent extremism and tackling those who seek to propagate views promoting violent extremism and terrorism in this country.
In the light of recent speculation that the London-based Science Museum Group could axe three regional museums, including Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, to protect the London Science Museum, may we have a debate on the future of funding for museums and the need to protect our regional cultural assets?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that many Members will share with him a sense of the importance of the Science Museum Group, including, in particular, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. The group receives over 5 million visitors a year, so it is very important. It received a real-terms reduction in its overall funding in the previous funding review and, obviously, I am not in a position to talk about any future spending review. The distribution of funding within the Science Museum Group is an operational matter for the group itself, but I will bring the point raised by my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
May I seek absolute clarity on what the Leader of the House kindly said about a debate on arming the Syrian rebels? Are the Government committed to having a substantive debate and vote before any decision is made on whether to arm the Syrian rebels, even if Parliament is in recess at the time? Will we get that debate before any policy is implemented?
Let me be clear: as the Prime Minister made perfectly clear yesterday, that question has not yet arisen because no such decision has been made. The Prime Minister was clear, as he was in relation to Libya, that he will seek to secure an opportunity for the House to debate and express its view through a vote on these matters. It is, of course, a hypothetical question at present. The Prime Minister is determined, as is the Foreign Secretary, that the House should have the opportunity, as was the case with Libya, to express its view.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been trailing his lobbying Bill all over the press yet again, and this time his ideas seem to be staggeringly incoherent even by his standards. It is three years since the Prime Minister’s original remarks. When will the Deputy Prime Minister make a statement to the House or even present a Bill? After all, it is many months since the consultation exercise closed.
The coalition agreement is very clear that we will introduce legislation. The Prime Minister said in response to a question yesterday that we will legislate to tackle the issue of third-party influence in our political system. We are looking to introduce proposals before the summer recess.
Could we have a debate on the practices of companies such as Phyderma and Elisa Jewels, which actively seek to scam British pensioners by enticing them to purchase catalogue items with the promise that they will win prizes such as new cars and luxury holidays? I recently met a distraught constituent whose father has spent more than £5,000 to date on these false promises.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Members will sympathise with him and his constituents about these matters, which come up for many of us. Misleading or false promotional or other advertising material is covered by the advertising code of practice, which is policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, with which my hon. Friend may wish to raise these matters. Failure to comply with ASA rulings can also result in referral to the Office of Fair Trading, so that is a further avenue for him to take if he is not initially successful.
May we have a debate on something that affects a large number of Members of all parties, namely the rules used by the NHS to consult on hospital closures? In my own area the “Better Services, Better Value” scheme proposes to close the A and E and maternity units at St Helier hospital after a 12-week consultation over the school summer holidays at a time when it is difficult to find venues and get people to volunteer to assist in gathering the information in order to discuss the schemes. Could that debate also include a discussion about the rules on giving notice about venues and dates for important meetings where members of the public might wish to see the NHS making decisions on its future?
My colleagues from the Health Department will be here to answer questions on Tuesday, if the hon. Lady would like to raise the issue of the NHS’s internal guidance on the conduct of consultations, which should also, of course, reflect the guidance issued by the Cabinet Office. The hon. Lady will be aware, as I hope all Members are, that if the overview and scrutiny committees of local authorities are not satisfied with the procedure, evidence or outcome of consultations, they can refer them to the Secretary of State, who in my experience is able to take advice from the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time to debate the valuable heritage of our rivers and canals, and the volunteers who work on them? As one of the few MPs whose constituency is named after a river, I understand well the importance of waterways. [Interruption.] We can now begin the list, Mr Speaker. It is worth noting that this is national volunteers week. Such a debate could highlight the campaign for new volunteers to help the Canal & River Trust in Erewash, which has the Erewash rangers scheme, and elsewhere up and down the river and canal network.
My hon. Friend raises two valuable aspects of life in her constituency. Her views about our canals and rivers, and about volunteering, are shared in many constituencies. I would love to be able to stand at the Dispatch Box and dispense debates on such issues, but I direct my hon. Friend and other colleagues to the Backbench Business Committee, which is very receptive to applications for such debates.
May we have a debate on how employers can help employees who are suffering from work-related mental health issues? Last year on St Stephen’s day, 26 December, one of my constituents, Filep Myzylowskyj, tragically took his own life. He was employed by National Express as a bus driver and had been on sick leave following an accident involving a pedestrian. His widow, Janet, his family and his friends agree unanimously that his suicide was work-related. I have written to Dean Finch, the chief executive of National Express, seven times. It appears that he simply refuses to respond to my correspondence. Such a debate would help us to determine how employers can help employees and how they should communicate with Members of this House.
Members will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and he is right to raise the case. I hope that the fact that he has done so will encourage some employers, including National Express, to take note of the points that he makes. Many employers are taking up the opportunity under the responsibility deal to improve the occupational health support for their employees. Through the national health service, we are continuing to expand access to psychological therapies. In my experience, such therapies are particularly valuable for employees who are suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression. Early access to those therapies can help to avoid the kind of tragedies to which he refers.
I look forward to welcoming the Pendle rainbow parliament tomorrow morning for a question and answer session following its parliamentary tour. It is made up of hard-working school children from Nelson St Philip’s Church of England primary school, Walverden primary school, Higham St John’s Church of England primary school, Holy Saviour Roman Catholic primary school and Castercliff community primary school in my constituency. May we have a debate on what we can do to make it easier for teachers to take pupils on educational trips so that more Pendle school children can visit Parliament and other educational places?
I am glad that my hon. Friend raises that matter. I am sure that the House will be delighted to host the Pendle rainbow group. In the last year for which figures are available, 2012-13, some 47,000 young people made educational visits to this place. That is some 10,000 more than in 2010-11. I know that you have attached particular importance to this matter, Mr Speaker, and that increase is testimony to the priority that you have given it. I know that you want us to go further and do better. Ultimately, I hope that schools across the country will feel confident that all young people will come here at some point in their educational life to learn about democratic processes and the history of Westminster.
Can we have a debate on how sensible is the Government’s new requirement for a member of the armed forces to get their chain of command to confirm they are deployed on operations, in order for service personnel to secure an exemption from the bedroom tax? Is that efficient and practical when people are deployed to Afghanistan or at sea? May we have a statement on how many members of the armed forces are still awaiting that confirmation, and how many households are now in rent arrears?
In 2020, Britain will commemorate and celebrate the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim fathers leaving Plymouth on the Mayflower to go and found the American colonies. Unfortunately, a number of other cities and towns are trying to claim that they should be the centre of celebrating this main historic event. Please may we have a debate on Britain’s relationship with the USA, so that everybody can be aware that Plymouth is the unrivalled home of the start of the special relationship, and a potential prime contender for hosting the G8 in 2020 when it comes to Britain?
My hon. Friend takes a fantastic opportunity to promote Plymouth’s ambitions in that regard. Being from East Anglia, it is not for me to judge these matters, but having been in Massachusetts and gone to Plimoth Plantation, it seems obvious where those who named it that way thought they had come from.
Mr Speaker, you know that I am not a puritan or killjoy, but like most Members of Parliament I think that the betting and gambling industry is out of control in this country. Fixed-odds betting terminals and bookies are proliferating in every deprived part of our country, and online gambling is destroying lives. Is it not about time that the House tackled the scourge of betting shops, which often sit next to payday loan shops? They are preying on the poorest people in our country, and it is about time that the House was aware of it and acted to regulate this industry which is out of control.
I do not have to agree with the hon. Gentleman to say, just from a business point of view, that he will note that the Government have published the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill. I have not yet been able to tell the House the date of its Second Reading, but when that time comes the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his points.
Recently, the British Chambers of Commerce again called for extra support for British exports from the Government. We have not had a debate about exports on the Floor of the House since 2010, yet UK Trade & Investment receives more than £400 million of British taxpayers’ money to help British companies export overseas. I have spent the last 10 months interviewing hundreds of SMEs to get their first-hand experience of UKTI. May we please have a debate on the Floor of the House to scrutinise how the money is spent and consider what more needs to be done to ensure that British companies get the support they rightly deserve to start exporting all over the world?
My hon. Friend is an active, energetic advocate for promoting British exports, and I know the work he does. When I was at the British Chambers of Commerce we set up the export advisory service and took on delivery of the export marketing research scheme back in the late 1980s, so I completely understand where the British Chambers of Commerce is coming from. I will, of course, discuss with my hon. Friends what opportunities there may be, and the Chancellor set out in the autumn statement his ambition to support the UKTI in whatever it can achieve to maximise our impact in terms of exports. Whenever we have an opportunity for a debate on economic issues, it is important that we bring forward export and trade promotion as one of the central measures to promote growth.
Order. More than 20 Back-Bench Members are seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate them. I remind the House that there is a statement by the Foreign Secretary to follow, and then a number of debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee to which I must give proper consideration. There is, therefore, a premium on brevity from those on the Back and Front Benches alike.
The Leader of the House may be aware that the pre-inquest hearings into the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough disaster are taking place. Given that press reports of yesterday’s hearing said that lawyers representing the match day commanders accused the Hillsborough Independent Panel of having a so-called “agenda” guided by the families of those who died, and that questions were raised on whether the Home Office put a block on providing sufficient resources for the inquiry, does he believe it could be helpful to have a debate or statement on the matter?
I am not sure whether I can endorse the hon. Lady’s request for a statement at this stage, not least because I am not sure whether my ministerial colleagues would wish to come to the Dispatch Box and intervene or express a running commentary on inquest proceedings. She will know that I was able to announce at previous business questions Government support for the families’ legal costs for that inquiry, but in order to be sure I will bring her point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary so that they are aware of it.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the case of Geoffrey Bettley, a teacher at St Mary’s in Menston, on the border of my constituency, who downloaded child porn images and was rightly sacked by the school and put on the sex offenders register? In a decision ratified by the Education Secretary, Geoffrey Bettley has been told that he is allowed to teach again. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will appreciate that many parents will be deeply disturbed by the fact that somebody who has been convicted of downloading child porn should be allowed to teach again. Can we have a statement from the Education Secretary so he can explain what on earth he was thinking when he allowed that person to teach again?
I have read press reports on the matter. The decision was taken by the National College for Teaching and Leadership and then endorsed by a senior official at the Department for Education. I will be in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education so that he might give my hon. Friend an account of the process in the case.
In responding to a question yesterday from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris) on the latest lobbying scandal, the Prime Minister made a strange comparison with the open and transparent donations by trade unions to the Labour party. He also said that he would clear up over-influence in the House. Will the Leader of the House clarify what the Prime Minister meant by “third parties” other than trade unions?
What the Prime Minister said was very clear, and it was not just about the question of the statutory register of lobbyists, which should ensure transparency and greater accountability in relation to third-party influence with Ministers and in Parliament. We must be sure that the whole political system has not only a transparent structure, but one that is accountable and open about those who seek to exercise such major third-party influence. Not just trade unions but other organisations seek to do so; the trade unions are a major source of third-party influence in the political system, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well.
Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the processes in place to follow up the implementation of recommendations made in serious case reviews, and to review and report in public in the long term on the adherence to points made in action plans after incidents in care homes, so that changes to poor practice are made for the long term, and that care of the vulnerable and elderly does not slip backwards?
Yes, to reiterate a point I made earlier, my hon. Friends from the Department of Health will answer questions in the House on Tuesday next, when the hon. Lady might wish to raise that issue with them. The Minister of State, Department of Health, who has responsibility for care services, recently set out further details on how, for example, the Winterbourne View cases are being followed up by the group to ensure that the residents are being well looked after. That example illustrates how important it is that people are not lost in the system, and that serious case reviews are followed up.
Given yesterday’s announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister that the Government’s plans to cram more toddlers into nurseries have been dropped, may we have a statement on child care policy? It is welcome that Labour Members’ campaigning and that of tens of thousands of parents and child care professionals has forced the Government to drop their plans, but it is shocking that we have not had a statement today. If the Leader of the House will not arrange a statement, will he at least tell us the current policy? The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that the plan had been dropped, but the Leader of the House has told us this morning that it is being reviewed. What is the policy? It is a shambles.
Our policy is to ensure an increase in the quality of child care and to improve affordability for parents: that is what we are setting out to do and that is what we will do. As soon as the policy is agreed, there will no doubt be an opportunity for it to be announced in the House.
As was highlighted on Tuesday by the “Gloucestershire goes to Westminster” event, locally produced food and drink is extremely popular. May we find a way of demonstrating how important local produce is to the rural economy, and have a debate to discuss our locally produced food in the context of the common agricultural policy?
As chance would have it, as I announced earlier the House will discuss a motion on reform of the CAP. Members greatly welcomed Gloucestershire coming to Westminster—many other areas have held similar events—to tell us about its local produce, something we all value in our constituencies.
May we have a debate on the Olympic legacy? Walsall has the only brine swimming pool in the west midlands, which is used for hydrotherapy and general fitness. Walsall also nurtured Ellie Simmons, the Paralympic champion. However, the Gala baths are threatened with closure. May we have an urgent debate on how to protect these vital community services?
I cannot offer time at the moment, but we attach the greatest importance to the Olympic legacy, which Lord Coe is pursuing actively. We committed to the legacy as part of our Olympic bid, and I hope it will be as successful as the Olympics and Paralympics themselves. As regards securing a debate, I suspect that the hon. Lady might like to get together with other colleagues with a view to making representations to the Backbench Business Committee.
In an article in The Times yesterday, Daniel Finkelstein raised the issue of industrial policy and called it the economic big idea. I agree completely with this viewpoint. We still need a comprehensive industrial policy that will encourage investment in British manufacturing. May we have a debate on industrial policy and the role it can play in helping to rebalance our economy?
My hon. Friend will share my strong support for the industrial strategy set out by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), which focuses on the many sectors where we have identified comparative advantage, and on rebalancing our economy geographically and away from an undue reliance on financial services, to bring forward internationally tradable manufacturing and service industries, which are the only basis for paying our way in the future. I cannot offer a debate on the strategy at the moment, but I hope I have indicated the importance we attach to it. We will look for opportunities for the House to help to frame its implementation.
Further to the previous question, City and Guilds today published research that shows that we in this place spend four times as much time debating academic qualifications as vocational qualifications and skills. Most people do not have degrees, while the vast majority of MPs do have them. When can we find time to debate the important issue of skills and vocational training in relation to our growth strategy? Does the Leader of the House have any idea how we might get more representation from people who have had real jobs in the past, and who have even faced redundancy?
I have found in business questions that hon. Members pay consistent and frequent attention to the development of skills. My colleagues have supported the doubling of apprenticeships that has taken place under this coalition Government and the introduction of traineeships to secure, as the Queen’s Speech set out, the expectation that all young people should be going into higher education, traineeships or apprenticeships, to ensure that we have appropriate skills at all levels for those going into the work force.
I suspect that when the House meets to consider private Members’ Bills for the first time this Session on Friday 5 July it will be rather fuller than it is sometimes on a Friday. Given the likely increased interest in private Members’ Bills, may we please have a statement on whether the Government will if necessary provide more time for their consideration, and clarification on whether, if the Backbench Business Committee were so to decide, the time made available to that Committee could be allocated for the consideration of private Members’ Bills?
My hon. Friend, who increasingly understands intimately the workings of the House, will recall that the time available for private Members’ Bills is established in Standing Orders. It might encourage him to recall that last year that time was sufficient for 10 private Members’ Bills to secure Royal Assent.
May we have a debate on Ministers’ responsiveness to Members? I wrote to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury on behalf of my constituent Karen Bawker of Thorneside, Denton, on 4 April in follow-up to correspondence on 11 January, which was answered by him on 4 February. This time I have not had so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a reply, despite my having sent reminders, including most recently at the start of this week. Will the Leader of the House investigate this discourtesy and, through his good offices, also ensure that my constituent’s query is responded to?
I will of course be in touch with my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary, who I know is an assiduous and hard-working Minister. Like all of us, he seeks to respond to Members’ correspondence within 20 working days, and I am sure he will want to address the reasons he has failed to do so in this instance.
May we have a statement from the Government about streamlining procedures at Companies House better to support people trying to start a business for the first time? A constituent of mine had his form returned because it was in the wrong colour ink, and when he sought advice and human guidance from Companies House he was told simply, “Look at our website.” When he re-filed to ensure that it was absolutely correct, Companies House returned it, having identified errors that it had missed first time, and then he was fined £375 and told that he was liable to prosecution for a criminal offence. I think we can do better in encouraging business.
It is not a happy tale my hon. Friend tells. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will want to look at that. When we tackle red tape, as we are doing, we should not just be reducing the burden of regulation by taking away unnecessary regulations and simplifying others, but looking constantly—the Cabinet Office is leading on this across Government—at simplifying administration and reducing costs on those who have to comply with regulations.
Last week, I made a most enjoyable and informative visit to the National Coal Mining museum near Wakefield, which adjoins my constituency. It was packed with families and children. I, too, would like to add my voice to the calls for a debate on our wonderful national museums and how best to support them financially during these difficult economic times.
I completely understand what my hon. Friend says. He will recall what I said about the Science Museum Group more generally. In that particular instance, although these are operational matters within the group, I understand that there is a £2.5 million per annum ring-fenced grant for the National Coal Mining museum.
Yes, I am saying that we can agree about it. We should increase the influence of national Parliaments over legislation, for the achievement of which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has set out specific proposals. As Leader of the House, I want to work not least with the European Scrutiny Committee and the Liaison Committee to ensure that we use every opportunity to the maximum, identifying proposals as they come from the European Commission, intervening as early as possible, sending our political and reasoned opinions on the legislation and maximising our influence over EU legislation.
May I remind the Leader of the House about private Members’ Bills and the days allocated to them? In the last Session the Government tabled a motion, which was passed by the House, to increase the number of sitting days for private Members’ Bills, so I am afraid that hiding behind Standing Orders to suggest that we cannot increase the number of sitting days for private Members’ Bills is not quite correct. May we have a statement on that?
I never like to disagree with my hon. Friend, but in that instance I think we brought forward a motion for the House additionally to sit on a Friday, but not for the consideration of private Members’ Bills—rather, it was for the extension of a debate. If I am wrong, I will gladly confess and correct that. As far as I am aware, the issue is simply put. The number of days—13—is set out in Standing Orders.
Sport, as we know, plays a crucial part in the development of young people. May we have a debate on the work of sports clubs in the community? By coincidence, 150 years ago the Yorkshire county cricket club played its first ever official cricket match here in London, across the river, against Surrey. One hundred and fifty years ago today, Yorkshire skittled out Surrey for 60 runs in the second innings. The Leader of the House will know the names: Hawke, Sutcliffe, Trueman, Close, Boycott, Gough, Lehmann, Vaughan—all Yorkshire sporting legends who have played for a club that does incredible good work in our community. As well as the debate, will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating Yorkshire on its anniversary? Will he also join me on Monday for a reception on the Terrace for Yorkshire county cricket club, where he will get to meet the great Geoffrey Boycott and the current Yorkshire squad?
Who can resist? I absolutely endorse that celebration and commemoration in this House. Let me say how much we applaud Yorkshire county cricket club for its many achievements over 150 years. It would be the greatest possible pleasure to meet some of those who have contributed to them. Cricket clubs in Yorkshire and across the country play a vital part in promoting sport and community life. Yorkshire has been at the forefront of that, and I hope we can celebrate that on Monday.
It is widely anticipated that a decision on the future of the children’s heart surgery unit in Leeds will be known soon. There has been a wide campaign across the House, involving many Members. Can the Leader of the House assure us that when a decision is made, there will be an oral statement?
I will, of course, talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I am not aware that he has received, or made any decision in relation to, an Independent Reconfiguration Panel report, but I will of course discuss with him how an announcement will be made in due course.
Earlier this week you confirmed from the Chair, Mr Speaker, that the Standing Orders of the House permit only the Government to make a formal request to recall Parliament. Given that Governments can be tempted to make major policy announcements during the recess and given that the Leader of the House is, after all, the leader of all of us in this place, would he be kind enough to give consideration to amending the relevant Standing Order, so that if a certain threshold—for example, 20%—of Members requesting a recall were met, they would be able to use that mechanism to make a formal request?
Of course, my hon. Friend understands that I take very seriously my responsibility to represent both the Government in this House and the House as a whole, including within the councils of Government. From my point of view, in my recent experience I do not see any mischief—in the sense that there have been issues on which it was thought appropriate for the House to be recalled when Ministers did not take a suitable initiative—but I will keep this under review.
This morning the Government issued an important statement about the public voice in relation to onshore wind farms. Three times this morning you have called me, Mr Speaker, and I have asked a similar question about how the statement will affect Wales. I have not received a satisfactory answer. I have been left in a position of deep frustration, and I am sure the people of Wales feel the same. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have an early statement clarifying the position, so that people in Wales will know that applications for developments over 50 MW, which are not devolved, will be subject to today’s new guidelines?
Engineering businesses in my constituency have told me of the challenges that they face in recruiting, particularly in relation to the academic backgrounds of applicants. They are looking for achievement in computer sciences, mathematics and physics. May we please have a debate to discuss what more the Government could do to encourage participation in those critical subjects, and to ensure high standards in the curriculum and rigour in the examinations?
From my point of view, I am clear that my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working closely together to ensure that we maximise our support for education and training in science, technology and engineering. The first job I ever did, many years ago, was in the then Department of Industry, and it was to support the Young Engineer for Britain scheme and Women into Science and Engineering. This has been a long, hard struggle, but companies today still feel that we in this country do not attach as much importance to science, technology and mathematics as other countries do. We have made significant progress recently in the number of students following those subjects and the success that they are achieving, but we still need to attach greater importance to encouraging the brightest and best to go into engineering and manufacturing industry.
Almost exactly 12 months ago, I raised with the then Leader of the House my concerns about a stretch of the M6 that has become known as “Rugby’s mad mile” because of the large number of accidents in the traffic queuing to join the A14 at Catthorpe. His response was that funds had been allocated for improvements, but that a public inquiry was needed. Twelve months on, we are waiting for the outcome of that public inquiry, but accidents are continuing to happen, with yet another fatality occurring only last week. Given the importance of that junction to the UK motorway network, may we have a ministerial statement on the progress on bringing forward those urgently needed improvements?
As somebody who lives down the A14 in an eastward direction, I am only too familiar with the Catthorpe interchange. My hon. Friend will know that the local public inquiry into the proposed improvement of junction 19 and related sections of the M6 and A14 closed on 16 March this year. The Department for Transport received the inspector’s report on 16 May. The report is currently being considered, and a decision will be issued as soon as possible. Subject to a satisfactory outcome of this statutory process, the Highways Agency expects that construction could start in the spring of 2014. That would be sooner than the date announced in the Chancellor’s 2011 autumn statement, when it was stated that the scheme would be prepared for start of construction before 2015.
May I add my voice to the call for a debate on the importance of local museums and the way in which they protect our culture and heritage for future generations? An example is the fantastic National Railway museum in York, which I visited many times as a young boy. I now have the pleasure of taking my young children there, and I know how important that museum is to York’s DNA.
Yes, indeed. I know that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not reiterate what I said earlier about the Science Museum Group, but I will ensure that all the contributions relating to this subject, including his question on the National Railway museum, are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.