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Business of the House

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

The business for next week is as follows:

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 motion to approve a European document relating to enhanced co-operation and a financial transaction tax and documents relating to economic and monetary union, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the European elections 2014, followed by a general debate on Sudan. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 19 June—I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to update the House following the G8 summit, followed by Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on the topic of the economic and social importance of regional arts and the creative industries, followed by a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 20 June—A general debate on carers, followed by a general debate on the east coast main line franchise. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 24 June will include:

Monday 24 June—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Tuesday 25 June—Opposition Day (4th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 26 June—I would like to remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement on the spending review, followed by Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, followed by motions relating to the hybrid Bill procedure.

Thursday 27 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 20 June will be:

Thursday 20 June—A debate on the sixth report of the Justice Committee on interpreting and translation services and the Applied Language Solutions contract, followed by a debate on the UK contribution to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

In the light of recent revelations about the Chair of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, may I welcome your decision, Mr Speaker, to write to the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee? It is surely right for you to ask whether Chairs of Select Committees should have commercial interests in those sectors covered by their Committee— but it is not just MPs who can have an influence on Government.

I understand that on Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister’s Australian election guru, Lynton Crosby, addressed the Tory parliamentary party, with the Chief Whip and the Prime Minister in attendance, on his strategy for the general election. He is having a clear influence on Government, but we do not know who Lynton Crosby’s corporate clients are. We do know, however, that his company, Crosby Textor, has long lobbied lucratively for big tobacco. We know, too, that plain packaging for cigarettes suddenly disappeared from this year’s Queen’s Speech, despite strong hints that it would be included. So does the Leader of the House agree with me that for the sake of transparency, lobbyists at the heart of No. 10 should publish their interests and their client lists? We have already had one scandal involving prime ministerial appointments at No. 10; surely we do not need another.

I understand that Government meetings have already taken place to discuss the contents of the lobbying Bill. Labour has been offering cross-party talks to find a solution for three years. Why does the Leader of the House not take up our offer? Will he will arrange for pre-legislative scrutiny, and when can we expect to see the Bill?

At the Coming Year in Parliament conference on Tuesday, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) jumped the gun by announcing that on 5 July the first private Member’s Bill to be discussed would be the EU referendum Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton). [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I thought they might like that, Mr. Speaker. Normally it is the job of the Member promoting a Bill to decide on the day for Second Reading, but the cat is now well and truly out of the bag. Will the Leader of the House confirm the obvious—that the Bill is actually a Conservative party handout?

I thank the hon. Gentleman, but let us see what the Leader of the House says.

Will the Leader of the House also assure me that the hon. Member for Stockton South will at least be consulted on the parliamentary strategy that Conservative party managers will be pursuing in his name? Is not the real purpose of the Bill to persuade the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay and 100 of his colleagues to stop writing letters to the Prime Minister? Does this not show that his party is more concerned with pursuing partisan interests than with pursuing the national interest?

Over the last week, we have seen a bleak picture emerging of an increasingly divided Britain. New figures from Public Health England reveal that thousands more people are dying prematurely in the north than in the south. The shocking variations show that someone living in Manchester is twice as likely to die early as someone living in Wokingham. Moreover, a report published by the TUC this week shows that wages have fallen by nearly 8%. This comes at a time when prices are rising and people are suffering unprecedented cuts in their living standards. The regional differences are shocking, with the north-west and the south-west seeing pay packets shrink by more than 10%. The Chancellor used to say “We’re all in this together”, but those figures, added to his millionaires’ tax cut, make that statement laughable. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on divided Britain, to take place in Government time?

This week, the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) added his request for a leadership contest to the growing pile in the 1922 Committee’s files. Likening the Tories to passengers in an aeroplane, he said that they could either “do something about” the Prime Minister or

“sit back, watch the in-flight movies and wait for the inevitable.”

I have been wondering what movies members of the Cabinet might be watching while waiting for the inevitable to arrive. “Eyes Wide Shut”, perhaps? “Clueless”? “Les Miserables”? Or perhaps they have just been instructed to watch “The Wizard of Oz”.

Luckily for the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary took the opportunity to lecture him about his “motives and values” last night, and his fellow Bullingdon boy Boris Johnson rushed to undermine him by calling him a “girly swot”. As a self-proclaimed “girly swot”, I remind the Mayor of London that being called a woman and clever is not an insult. Indeed, is not the truth that if the Prime Minister had a few more “girly swots” in the Cabinet, he would not be in the mess that he is in now?

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for her response. Let me begin by echoing her expression of support for your letter to the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, Mr. Speaker—not least because I think that we in the House of Commons want consideration of the relationship between Members’ interests and their responsibilities to proceed on the basis of advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Standards and Privileges Committee, whose task is to secure those standards in the House. However, I also think it important for all of us in recent weeks to have recognised the importance of understanding not only what the rules say, but the spirit behind those rules. I think that if every Member of Parliament lives by the spirit as well as the letter of the rules, we will avoid what might otherwise be excessive and unduly intrusive rule making on what Members should and should not do.

The hon. Lady asked me about a number of matters relating to the Conservative party. I remind her that I am here as Leader of the House, and I speak here on behalf of the Government. Lynton Crosby is not in the Government or an adviser to the Government; he is an adviser to the Conservative party, and I am not therefore responsible here for his activities.

We will make announcements in due course on the introduction of the lobbying Bill to reform third-party influence in the political system. As the hon. Lady will know, the aspects of it relating to a register of lobbyists were the subject of earlier scrutiny with the benefit of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee response, which was not wholly supportive of the original proposals. That has given the Government an opportunity to consider these matters further, and that is the basis on which we will make further decisions and bring this Bill forward.

What the hon. Lady said on the EU referendum Bill might have led people to get things slightly wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is in charge of this Bill, and nobody thinks otherwise. As far as the business is concerned, I am looking forward on, I think, Wednesday of next week to having full details from the Members in charge of all the private Members’ Bills of what their intentions are, including on the timing of the Bills.

The hon. Lady raised a point about Public Health England. The data it has used serve to illustrate the tragic divide in terms of mortality between different parts of the country, and they are, essentially, the same data that we inherited in 2010; there is, effectively, no difference. What is deeply worrying, and what is at the heart of this, is that there is not just a divide between, for example, Manchester and Wokingham; there is also a divide between Manchester and Birmingham. The simple fact is that more can be done in many parts of our country to reduce premature mortality and morbidity.

When I was Secretary of State for Health, we sought to address that through the establishment of Public Health England and especially the transfer of public health resources into the hands of local authorities. The hon. Lady did not welcome the increase in resources for local authorities, relative to those that were previously deployed by primary care trusts, to support public health preventive measures. Putting that money in the hands of local authorities will enable them to make an impact on what we know makes the biggest difference to health, which is lifestyle. It is not just about how much we spend on NHS services, because Wokingham gets the least cash per head from the NHS budget, but it has some of the best morbidity and mortality outcomes. It is also about trying to make sure we change people’s lifestyles. On that we are agreed. There are basic things like the social grading of health, relative deprivation, the extent to which people are in work, the extent to which they have good parenting, the quality of education, and the quality of environment. Those are the things that make a difference, and that is, I hope, where our local authorities will use these powers to very good effect.

May I gently thank the hon. Lady for enabling me to announce one of next week’s Opposition day debates, and also say that I hope that, for the benefit of the House, the Opposition will give the House a little more notice of such debates? Next week, for example, Members should be able to see on Tuesday’s Order Paper what the subjects for debate will be on Wednesday. That was not the case this week, and I hope the Opposition—I say this in the spirit of co-operation that we are often able to enjoy—will in future be able to make that possible.

Order. As usual at business questions, a great many colleagues are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that after this exchange there is to be a statement by the Economic Secretary on the Royal Bank of Scotland, followed by a debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, which is significantly subscribed. Therefore, there is a premium today on brevity from Back and Front Benches alike.

We are in the middle of a consultation on the draft environmental statement for High Speed 2; the Department for Transport is defending itself in the Court of Appeal on HS2; the Information Commissioner has decided that it is in the public interest for the Major Projects Authority’s report in detail on HS2 to be published; and there is an adverse National Audit Office report on the financing of aspects of the project. Surely introducing a preparation Bill giving unlimited spending power at this stage is premature. Will the Leader of the House seriously consider rethinking the provisional business on 26 June, and putting off Second Reading of the Bill until we have satisfactory outcomes to those four matters?

I know how strongly my right hon. Friend feels, not least on behalf of her constituents, about this matter and I know that she will assiduously examine the legislation as it comes through. I remind her that Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill is exactly that: it is about giving parliamentary authority. I believe the official Opposition share the view that such projects should be enabled to go ahead, and the spending authority the Bill provides will enable that to happen. Given the importance that we all attach to HS2 as a project for long-term economic growth in this country, I think it is important that the House proceeds on the basis I have outlined.

Now that the Backbench Business Committee has reconvened, will the Leader of the House work with us to redesign the e-petitions system, so that it becomes much clearer who is being petitioned and what an e-petition can realistically achieve?

I again congratulate the hon. Lady and all the members of the Committee on their re-election, which is a vote of confidence in the Backbench Business Committee. One of the things I hope we can achieve—not least in planning in this Session for subsequent implementation—is a petitions process that builds on the success so far. My predecessor in the Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), was able to introduce, through the Government e-petition system, a measure that has dramatically improved the public’s perception of how Parliament responds to the issues that matter to them, as evidenced in the 10th audit of engagement published by the Hansard Society. There were negative aspects outlined in that audit, but one of the positive aspects was that more of the public feel that Parliament is debating the issues that matter to them. The hon. Lady is right, however: we have a Government petitions system and some parliamentary scrutiny of that, but I think the public want to know that they are petitioning Parliament, while at the same time engaging an active response from Government, and I hope we can agree that.

The whole country was shocked and appalled at the grotesque and evil murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. May we have a statement on what financial provision is being made by the Ministry of Defence for his widow and son?

My hon. Friend asks a question with which Members across the House will sympathise. I am glad I can assure him that the widow and child of Drummer Lee Rigby will receive financial support, as do the families of all those who have died in the service of this country. That may include a widow’s pension, a bereavement grant, payments via the armed forces compensation scheme, a survivor’s guaranteed income payment and child payments. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend and others.

On 3 July, I will be hosting a dinner at the Birmingham botanical gardens celebrating 60 years of continuous representation by women MPs of Birmingham, Edgbaston —a record not equalled by any other constituency in the country. May we have a debate in Government time on how all the political parties can promote greater participation by women, because we are still far from achieving parity?

I am glad that there is to be such an opportunity, and may I say, at the risk of flattering the hon. Lady overmuch, it is not just that Birmingham, Edgbaston has been represented by women but that it has been very ably represented? That will get me in trouble at the next election.

The hon. Lady makes a fair point. The subject has been discussed in business questions before and the shadow Leader of the House has rightly raised it. I hope that there will be opportunities for such a debate. Perhaps the Backbench Business Committee will consider it, if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and other Members invite the Committee to do so.

May we have a debate on the mis-selling of interest rate swap products by the commercial banks and, specifically, on why tailored business loans have not been included in the Financial Standards Authority—now the Financial Conduct Authority—review, despite there being similar products and similar evidence of mis-selling, which has been hugely damaging to small businesses up and down the country?

I will, if I may, take the opportunity to talk to my right hon. and hon. Friends at Her Majesty’s Treasury about that and, through them, to the Financial Conduct Authority, which, as my hon. Friend says, is undertaking investigations. But it is important for the House to recognise the degree of concern of consumers about this matter, and I hope that I get a decent reply.

May we have a debate on why demand for food banks has tripled over the past year and on what is likely to happen in this coming year?

One of the reasons is that this Government permitted the advertisement of food banks in job centres, something the previous Government did not do. Giving people access to information should not in itself be regarded as wrong.

Will my right hon. Friend resist a futile debate on the subject of Mr Lynton Crosby not only because he is, to anybody who knows him, a man of unimpeachable integrity, but because he is not a Government employee, not a civil servant, not paid out of public funds, not subject to the ministerial code and not subject to the civil service code, unlike the special advisers appointed by the Labour party who were empowered to give instructions to civil servants, instead of Ministers?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend who, as Chair of the Public Administration Committee, demonstrates that he understands these points extremely well and is able to answer the shadow Leader of the House’s point better than I could.

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate on pension contributions in Northern Ireland? It is well known, as per my early-day motion 176, that people in Northern Ireland who were aged 14 and 15 and working between 1947 and 1957 paid national insurance contributions, but that these did not count towards their pension, as this is calculated by taking account of contributions made from the age of 16 upwards.

[That this House recognises that people working in Northern Ireland at ages 14 and 15 between 1947 and 1957 paid national insurance contributions but that these do not count towards their pension as this is calculated by taking into account contributions made from age 16 only; acknowledges that this impacts Northern Ireland disproportionately as the working age in Great Britain changed from 14 to 15 in 1947, 10 years before it was changed in Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to look at measures to address this discrepancy.]

I have taken this matter up with the Northern Ireland Executive, who say that it is not their responsibility and that it is a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions. There is an issue of equality here that deserves a debate in Parliament.

I am interested in the point that the hon. Lady makes and will, of course, ask my hon. Friends at the Department to respond to her. It may also be something that she wishes to raise with them at DWP questions on 1 July. She will understand completely that the Pensions Bill—I have announced the debate on that— includes the creation of the single-tier pension, which will be transformative in terms of people’s expectations of a secure income through the state pension in retirement.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 239 regarding the obscene behaviour of Thames Water, which has increased its profits and charged the consumer inflation-busting prices, but does not pay its corporation tax?

[That this House is disappointed that Thames Water, despite having an annual turnover of £1.8 billion, making a £549 million profit and awarding its chief executive a bonus of £274,000 in the last financial year, did not pay any corporation tax due to paying off debts to holding companies; notes that Thames Water increased its customers' bills by 6.7 per cent last year; further notes that Thames Water plans to increase water bills by a further £80 this year to pay for the Thames Tideway Tunnel; believes that Thames Water's 13 million customers should not pay more for water bills to make up for its bad financial management; and calls for Thames Water to pay tax on the real value of its profits, to stop bonus payouts until then, and for profits to be handed back to consumers for lower prices.]

May we have a statement on that, and will my right hon. Friend lobby the Treasury to introduce a windfall tax on greedy water companies and to pass the money raised back to the consumer?

I have seen the early-day motion to which my hon. Friend refers. He knows, as hon. Members will understand, that HMRC is vigilant in ensuring that companies, including Thames Water, pay the taxes that they are legally obliged to pay. In this context, I would add one further point that it is important to bear in mind. The benefits from investment relief and tax relief enjoyed by water and sewerage companies to encourage infrastructure investment are passed on to customers through lower bills via the regulator Ofwat’s five-yearly price reviews. Those reviews, if they are also vigilant, can ensure that those benefits do reach consumers.

May we have a debate on loan sharks and the increasing number of payday loan companies that are springing up in our communities, and an explanation of why the Government are failing to control them? Could it be that one of them is bankrolling the Tory party?

No, I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right about that at all. The evidence is to the contrary. The Government are serious about this. That is why we announced in March a strong action plan with immediate and longer-term measures relating to evidence of abuse of payday loans, which is not to say that such short-term loans are wrong, but they must not be abusive or harm consumers. One of the things that we therefore wait to find out is whether the Office of Fair Trading intends to refer the matter to the Competition Commission.

Is it possible to have a debate on capping welfare spending? I personally believe that the best way to do it is to cap benefits at the level of the average wage in this country, but it appears that others in the House believe that pensioners should be the ones who are capped. Pensioners in my constituency are very concerned to hear that.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must take measures to ensure that we are fair. We have seen in the latest data that people in work, including and perhaps specifically in the private sector, have had very limited increases in their pay. Working-age benefits should therefore reflect such constraint. The Labour party, however, appears determined to allow welfare payments to balloon. The Opposition did not support us on that cap on welfare benefits, and their view appears to be that all the constraint on spending should be borne by pensioners. If they were to abandon the triple lock and do it that way, it would mean a £234 cut in the basic state pension. There are 11.5 million pensioners in this country who will be aghast at the thought that that is the proper policy to pursue.

On fairness and wages, the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed yesterday that post-2010 a significant fall in average real hourly wages has occurred, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor on why he thinks that since April 2013 average earnings, including bonuses, have shot up by 5.8% in the financial sector? Maybe the Chancellor could tell us whether this has anything to do with the top rate of tax being cut from 50p to 45p in April.

The hon. Gentleman should know that the broadest shoulders are bearing the greatest burden and that in every year of this Parliament the richest people in this country have been paying an increasing proportion of the overall tax burden. He should also know—the Chancellor will, I know, take every opportunity to make this clear—that we are therefore focusing the help that we can give on those with lower incomes, which is why 24 million basic rate taxpayers will be £700 better off next year than they were under Labour, specifically as a result of the measures to increase the personal tax allowance.

May we have a debate on the British overseas territories? Quite rightly and reasonably, the Prime Minister wants all the British overseas territories to sign the OECD convention on tax transparency and information. It would be wholly unreasonable for countries such as Bermuda to frustrate this commitment to greater tax transparency. Surely overseas territories cannot claim the privilege of being British and then fail to co-operate on tax evasion.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, with the G8 summit happening in the days ahead. I hope the Prime Minister will be able to report to the House next Wednesday on that, and I hope he will be able to report on unprecedented co-operation internationally in eliminating tax evasion and reducing abuse and avoidance of tax internationally through international mechanisms. I hope that will include British overseas territories. I know that Bermuda has reiterated, including this morning, its wish to form part of what is an unprecedented international effort to tackle international tax avoidance.

In a week when we learn that three of the science museums in the north are under threat, may we have a major debate on the overweening, unhealthy dominance of London and the south-east, which is sapping the life-blood out of the other cities and other regions in this country?

The hon. Gentleman was here last week and will have heard some of the exchanges on that point. Colleagues on both sides of the House have set out how strongly they feel about the contribution made by some of our national museums, particularly those relating to science and technology, railways and coal mining. Of course, his persuasion and influence no doubt encouraged Opposition Front Benchers to choose the contribution of the creative arts in the regions as the subject for the Opposition day debate next week.

As we approach the first anniversary of the wonderful London 2012 Olympics, may we have a debate on what more can be done to strengthen the position of sports facilities and playing fields in the planning system? The Hyde Park Olympic Legacy Group in my constituency is campaigning to retain a field but finding it frustrating, so this is an issue that we should discuss.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that we are all actively pursuing the sporting legacy. I know that is something that Lord Coe is doing, leading from the Cabinet Office. In my area—I hope that this is true for others—we are working together, through the sports partnerships, to try to maximise the sporting legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics. My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about access to facilities. I think that some of our legislation, including that relating to assets of community value, will make a considerable difference. He will have an opportunity to raise the matter when Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport answer questions next Thursday.

Recently there have been a number of examples of damaging conflicts between police and crime commissioners and chief constables, the most worrying of which has been in Gwent, where the PCC effectively sacked the chief constable. May we have a debate in Government time on whether it is appropriate for PCCs to involve themselves in operational police matters?

I am sorry to hear about the case in Gwent, although I do not know the circumstances and cannot comment on it directly. In my county, I am pleased to say, the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable are working together very effectively. It is clear that that should rest on the chief constable and the police service understanding that the police and crime commissioner has a democratic mandate to set priorities and strategy and allocate resources, and they should respect that. At the same time, police and crime commissioners, like the police authorities that preceded them, should respect the police’s responsibility to take charge of operational matters.

With the sixth fastest household growth rate in the whole country, the borough of Kettering has many new residential developments that have unadopted roads. There is effectively no legal mechanism whereby the local authority can force developers to develop the roads to an adoptable standard. Unless they are adopted, there are no parking controls, no proper street lighting and so on. May we have a statement from the Department for Transport on the legal mechanisms it could make available to local authorities to get roads up to adoptable standards?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an interesting point. In my constituency, which, like his, has had many recent developments, many such roads have been adopted, so it is clear that many authorities are taking up the opportunity that exists. However, I will of course talk with my friends in the Department for Transport to secure a fuller answer for him. If he wishes to raise the matter on behalf of his constituents, Ministers will be here to answer questions on 27 June.

Today the Canadian Prime Minister is addressing hon. Members of both Houses as part of what seems to be a huge state lobbying effort on behalf of companies, such as Shell, that want to exploit tar sands at any cost and weaken the EU fuel quality directive to create a market for this dirty oil. Since tar sand oil is so incredibly damaging, may we have a debate on the cosy relationship between politicians and the fossil fuel industry, both in the UK and elsewhere?

For a moment there I was pleased that the hon. Lady was drawing attention to the presence in the Houses of Parliament of the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who will be speaking in an hour or so. I rather regret the way she then went on to speak about Canada. Canada is among our very closest friends and allies in so many ways. The Prime Minister is a distinguished occupant of that post in Canada and I think that we should welcome him wholeheartedly.

On 17 April, my 18-year-old constituent, Georgina Woodley, sadly lost her brave battle with cancer. Hospice care for those at the beginning of life and at the end of life is extremely good, but her courageous family are now campaigning for better palliative care for teenagers and young adults. May we have a debate about this issue at the earliest convenience?

I am sure that the whole House will share my hon. Friend’s sadness at the loss of his constituent and express our condolences to her family. Considerable strides have been taken in palliative care, particularly in relation to teenagers. I have met the youngsters at Christie hospital and University College London hospital, which, not least with the support of the Teenage Cancer Trust, have done a tremendous amount to improve the age-appropriate character of care for teenagers with cancer. There is more that we can do, absolutely, especially in support of the hospice movement. I hope that, following up on the Tom Hughes-Hallett report, we can introduce a system where money follows the patient so that the hospices that provide care that would otherwise be provided by the NHS get the support they need to provide the very high-quality personal care that they specialise in.

Now that we have had a chance to digest the latest report on children’s heart surgery and the flawed decision making to which it draws attention, may we have a debate on the quality of decision making in the NHS as a whole? That would give us an opportunity to debate further issues such as the removal of vascular services from Warrington hospital, on very flawed evidence, and the constant pressure for a merger between Warrington and Whiston, which would no doubt take away Warrington’s accident and emergency provision.

I will not comment on the particular instances that the hon. Lady mentions, though I have been aware of them in the past. The previous Government used to tell us that all these decisions were being made locally, but some of the evidence shows that they were, in effect, being made on a national basis but were not accountable on a national basis. Accountability will now be much clearer. Following what my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary said at the Dispatch Box yesterday, it is clear that in future NHS England will have a responsibility for commissioning these national specialised services across the country instead of the joint committee of primary care trusts from all over England that did it in the past. That is much clearer and much more straightforward, and I hope that NHS England will demonstrate a greater degree of consistency in decision making as a consequence.

May we have an urgent debate on the level of bonuses paid to Network Rail bosses? Is it not the case that rail bosses should not be paid large bonuses if they stand in the way of economic progress and also stand in the way of the vital need for a direct rail link from London to Shropshire?

Clearly, we are looking for Network Rail management to be appropriately rewarded in relation to their performance. I have nothing against bonuses if they accurately reflect the performance that is part of the contractual requirements. The job of Network Rail’s management—I think that they recognise this—is not only about the performance of the railway system as a whole but the many steps they should take through their investment programme to secure economic activity and growth, not least in some of the areas that are currently less well served by the rail network.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s flagship policy, the big society? That will give us an opportunity to discuss the important work done by volunteers as individuals, societies and institutions. It will also give us an opportunity to discuss the astronomical rise in the number of food banks across the country, which is a cost of living issue, and more so than any Government directive. May we have that debate, because this is a stain on David Cameron’s Britain?

During last week’s volunteers week, I saw for myself, as I am sure that many Members will have done, very many examples of fantastic volunteering activity. These are often tough times for charities, and inevitably so, because of the economic circumstances in which we found ourselves at the end of the last decade. I hope that an opportunity for a debate will arise, but I cannot promise one in Government time. The House will consider through the Backbench Business Committee the relative priorities in providing time to debate such matters. Such a debate would enable us to see how the Government’s big society initiatives are having a dramatic, positive difference. Last week, for example, the Work and Pensions Secretary led internationally on how social investment can deliver benefits to communities.

The House will be aware of the implications for farming of the 18 months of extreme bad weather: we expect a poorer harvest, milk production has dipped and there has been a reduction in farm incomes. Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate, preferably in Government time, on the implications for food security and farm incomes of the extreme bad weather?

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable on these matters and I completely understand her point, not least because my constituency has substantial arable production. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but I am sure it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to cover some of these matters in next week’s debate on the reform of the common agricultural policy.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Lord Chancellor to come to the House to explain his flawed policy on legal aid? He refuses to meet the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, the Law Society is threatening legal action, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls are against it, and it undermines the English legal system. We need a statement or a debate in Government time.

I sat here with my right hon. and hon. Friends during Justice questions a few days ago when almost exactly the same point was made to them, and I heard them reply and say how often they meet the Criminal Bar Association and others and that they had done so recently. I will, of course, draw their attention to what the hon. Lady has said, but I heard them say that it is not true that they are not discussing this issue with those affected.

May we have a debate on the current and future prospects for private sector employment? As we know, since 2010, 1.3 million new private sector jobs have been created and total employment stands at just a shade under 30 million. In my constituency unemployment fell by 79 last month and has fallen by 248 in the past 12 months. In addition, two private sector projects are set to create more than 8,000 new jobs over the next three years. All this in a constituency that is already in the top 20 for economic growth in the country.

Too long. I ask the hon. Gentleman to exercise a degree of self-restraint. He heard me earlier exhorting colleagues on both sides to be briefer. He should not then indulge himself in a long-winded question. He might have to wait a little longer for his next question than he otherwise would have done.

My hon. Friend was taken with enthusiasm at the economic performance under this coalition Government. He is right. Many people in many constituencies will be encouraged by private sector employment growth—by the simple fact that three private sector jobs are being created for every one lost in the public sector. To be frank, the Labour party derided us when we said that we could expect that to happen. It was wrong. This bodes well for job creation and, indeed, for wealth creation in the future.

Yesterday the Prime Minister was pressed on the issue of arming the Syrian rebels. He said that he has

“always believed in allowing the House of Commons a say on all these issues.”—[Official Report, 12 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 333.]

However, he was not explicit on whether the House would have a vote. Is the Leader of the House able to guarantee that there will be a vote on any proposal to arm the Syrian rebels?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was at business questions last week, but I was explicit about this. The Prime Minister was very clear and so was I last week.

May we have a debate on celebrating Yorkshire? It is the 150th anniversary of Yorkshire county cricket club and, yesterday, skipper Andrew Gale scored a century at Lords; the Secretary of State for Health scrapped the flawed review that was to close Yorkshire’s children’s heart surgery unit; and in my part of Yorkshire employment is up and unemployment down.

I am glad to have another opportunity to celebrate Yorkshire. At the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting Geoffrey Boycott at the Yorkshire county cricket club’s 150th anniversary celebrations here at the House on Monday. I will enjoy any opportunity to celebrate Yorkshire again in the future.

Since the Government do not bother to monitor how they spend taxpayers’ money through the high street innovation fund, may we have a debate in Government time on the effectiveness of the Government’s policies on high street renewal and business improvement districts, so that we know whether all areas, including the Lifford business association area in my constituency, are getting a fair deal?

The Government are constantly seeking to evaluate the value for money of our expenditure in ways that the previous Government never attempted and we are delivering better value for money. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place during Business, Innovation and Skills questions, but if he was, he would have heard the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) pointing out that more retail outlets have been opened recently than have been closed. The industry is undergoing substantial structural changes, not least because of the growth of online shopping. It is important for us all to recognise that there will be an inevitable process of adaptation.

May we have a statement on how the Government have worked to improve transparency, particularly in relation to the use of Government procurement cards?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. When we came to office, we set out to curb the profligate use of taxpayers’ money through such expenditure. We must think about how much individuals pay in tax and about how cavalierly that money has been spent, not least under the last Labour Government, through the use of procurement cards. The private office of a single Secretary of State spent hundreds of pounds on dinner in restaurants and on hotels. We have curbed all that. It is important, in so many ways, that we do not go back to the days of the last Labour Government.

The Prime Minister walked out of the cross-party talks on a press charter, there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech on lobbying and, although we all understand the need for international action on aggressive tax avoidance, there has been no legislative proposal in the UK. In contrast, the French Government have taken action this week to insist that companies that make money in France have to pay tax there. In the interests of a fairer and more transparent society, will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will bring forward proper measures to tackle those three important areas?

I am slightly staggered that the hon. Lady says all those things. I think I am in a different world. She should pay attention to what is happening. The Government have taken unprecedented action to secure international action on tax avoidance and are bringing forward legislation on general anti-avoidance measures. I have announced that we will bring forward legislation to tackle third-party influence on the political system, which will include a statutory register on lobbying. The hon. Lady has to catch up with what is going on.

May we have a debate on strengths and weaknesses? Five years ago, unemployment in Tamworth stood at 1,821, which was the highest in a decade. Today, it stands at 1,462, which is the lowest since before the Balls bust. May we discuss the strengths of the present Government’s economic handling, the weaknesses of Labour’s approach and the dangers of trusting weakness again?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I wish that I could have announced a debate for that purpose, but the pressures on business are such that I could not. Such a debate would have enabled us to compare the record of this Government with that of the previous Government, under whom the national debt doubled and the gross domestic product of the country fell by 6.3%, and who borrowed one pound in every four that they spent and left us with the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. In contrast, the deficit is now down by a third, more than 1.25 million more people are working in the private sector and, last year, employment grew faster in the UK than in any other G7 country. I hope that we have an opportunity to debate that contrast.

Returning to the subject of films, people in Shropshire feel like it is groundhog day because the rail service that they had hoped would be provided to the county has been blocked. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who on this matter, as on many others, is my hon. Friend. May we have a statement from a Minister about the direct rail service from Shropshire to London, because it is important for the local economy and local people really want it?

I will, of course, raise the point made by the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) with my friends in the Department for Transport, and ask them to respond directly to all Shropshire MPs about the rail service to that area.

The House should congratulate the European Parliament on its vote yesterday to make Governments and companies publish what they pay for oil, gas, timber and mining extraction in resource-rich countries. Coupled with US laws, it means that transparency standards cover 65% of the world’s revenues from those sources, and that may be followed by similar laws in Canada, Switzerland and Australia. Will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister not to miss the opportunity to show great leadership of the G8 by ensuring that the UK has an open, public register of company share ownership, so that we can lead the world in rooting out tax evasion, corruption and money laundering?

My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not expose my ignorance of the precise detail of those measures. I hope that she and all colleagues know that the Prime Minister is determined that at the G8 summit, in addition to promoting trade for economic growth and measures to deal with tax avoidance and evasion, we are also concerned to promote growth and development in the context of much greater transparency. I hope that that issue will be reported positively at the G8.

In the context of pressure on household incomes, in Harrogate and Knaresborough we are benefiting from the fourth consecutive year of a council tax freeze from the Conservative-run borough council. We benefited disproportionately from the cut in fuel duty; I do not know whether we benefited disproportionately from the cut in beer duty, but I do know that in April, 1,833 people were taken out of paying income tax and a further 36,000 received a tax cut. May we have a debate on the actions being taken to help with the cost of living?

I cannot promise a debate immediately but it would be good if we could have one as that would give us the opportunity to reiterate some of the points raised by my hon. Friend, including that 3 million people on low pay will be taken out of income tax altogether by the coalition Government as a result of our changes to the personal tax allowance. The typical motorist will save £40 a year on petrol and diesel, in contrast to what the price would have been under the previous Government and the fuel duty escalator. Not least, we are also helping councils to fund a council tax freeze. Most of us recall that under the previous Labour Government, council tax doubled. We are now coming to the fourth year of this coalition Government, and that is a dramatic contrast in the impact on people’s household bills.

May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on how private Members’ Bills work on Friday—especially for Members who are not often present on Friday—pointing out that they are for Members to introduce legislation that the Government are not prepared to introduce? Will he also point out that only one party in this House is prepared to introduce an EU referendum Bill? I am sure that the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) will be different from the handout Bill the Conservative party published, and it will probably receive support from some brave Labour Members as well.

My hon. Friend perhaps invites Members to be in the Chamber for private Members’ Bills on Fridays, and it would be jolly good if they were to attend for that purpose. On the procedure for private Members’ Bills, I will, if I may, await the report by the Procedure Committee, which has been inquiring into the matter. I hope it will soon report on the issue and give us some guidance.

Following the earlier request from the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) for a debate on payday loans, and given the welcome announcement from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about easing restrictions on credit unions in the short-term loans market and ongoing Government support for credit unions and the expansion project, may we have a debate that combines how to cut out predatory and excessive cost lenders with how to help the responsible alternative credit unions reach their full potential?

My hon. Friend makes a good point and in addition to the payday action plan that I referred to in response to an earlier question, it is important—as he says—that the Government have announced they will raise the credit union interest rate cap from 2% to 3%. That should reduce the losses made on loans, increase stability in the sector, and improve consumer access. The Government have also committed up to £38 million in additional investment in credit unions, which should increase access for at least 1 million more people. I hope that will do what my hon. Friend asks in promoting credit unions as an alternative.

The headmaster of Bishop Wordsworth’s school informs me that, by the end of the current spending review period, he will receive £150,000 a year less for sixth-form provision. May we have a statement from the Education Secretary on how he is enabling excellent schools such as Bishop’s to thrive as well as providing funding for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds?

I know my hon. Friend has written to Department for Education Ministers—I will encourage them to respond more fully than I can now—but he knows that we have taken steps to protect funding in school budgets with a minimum funding guarantee. Announcements were made only last week, I believe, on further simplifying and protecting schools in the context of the complex structure of school funding we inherited from Labour. I hope we can go further in that regard after the spending review.

May we have a debate on tax reform? Hon. Members are concerned about the shameless tax avoidance by the likes of Google and Amazon, and, we now learn, by the Labour party. They need to change, but we need to consider what we can do to fix things for the long term.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is perfectly obvious that we need to ensure that we actively enforce the current legislation. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set out to do so. Something like—[Interruption.] Thank you. If I am at all disorderly, Mr Speaker will tell me; I do not need the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) to do so. HMRC has secured something like £23 billion in total through improved enforcement measures and up to £2 billion in revenue in relation to contentious current issues such as transfer pricing in large companies. My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should not only enforce the law as it is, but look continuously to ensure that it is clear and ensures that everybody makes their contribution. Tax rates can be lower if everybody is under the law and pays the tax they are due to pay and the appropriate level in relation to their activities.