The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 9 September—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will propose an humble address and message on the occasion of the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge. I expect my right hon. Friend to update the House following the G20, followed by consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 10 September—Consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 11 September—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Thursday 12 September—General debate on child protection in the UK, followed by general debate on employment rights.
The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 September—Private Members’ Bills.
The business for the week commencing 7 October will include:
Monday 7 October—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 8 October—Remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (day 1).
Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on this day.
Wednesday 9 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
Thursday 10 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
A report from the Resolution Foundation yesterday showed that one in five workers is paid less than the living wage, a rise of nearly 1.5 million in three years. We now know that the Government’s economic policies have meant that people are £28 a week worse off than they were in 2010, and for all but one month since the election prices have risen faster than wages. It is not a recovery if it leaves everyone but those at the top behind, and the public are not buying it either. Polling shows that 70% of people believe that recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle and lower income families, and 81% believe that politicians who say that household incomes have grown faster than price rises are “out of touch”. I could not have put it better myself. This is an out-of-touch Government, complacent on living standards, building an economy that works only for their rich millionaire friends. So may we have an update from the Chancellor about this week’s understanding of his favourite phrase, “We are all in this together”?
The lobbying Bill that we have been discussing this week shows us that instead of getting the big money out of politics, the Government would rather put a gag on campaigners while protecting Lynton Crosby. But that is not surprising when with this Government money seems to buy influence. Hedge funds gave the Conservatives £32 million and then got a massive tax cut, and then there was the tax cut for millionaires. In spite of all this, I was still surprised to see Boris Johnson say this week that he would change his name to “Barclays” in return for £100 million in sponsorship. How long will it be before we see the Cabinet touting for sponsorship too?
We have been back only a few days and it is already back to normal for this Government. We have had a rebellion, chaos in the Whips Office and abject incompetence, and we have had our first U-turn this morning with the dropped plans on legal aid price competition. Where there is chaos there is waste. We have already had the pointless top-down reorganisation of the NHS at a cost of £1.5 billion. This week we have discovered that they have squandered £74 million forgetting to add VAT on the troubled aircraft carrier programme. Today, the sheer scale of the failure at the heart of the Secretary of State for Work and Pension’s flagship universal credit programme became clear. The National Audit Office report says that the scheme has been beset by
“weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”.
We have also learned that £34 million has been wasted on IT and they have spent £300 million on a computer that they do not know what to do with. The NAO blames a fortress mentality where only good news is released. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on this fortress mentality and the impact it may be having on the ability of the civil service to operate effectively in the culture that this Government have created?
Next week, we have the Committee stage of the comically named Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which had its Second Reading on Tuesday. The Opposition are committed to cleaning up lobbying, getting big money out of politics and keeping dodgy donors out of Downing street, but the Bill achieves none of this. The Leader of the House got a very rough ride, including from three Select Committees and his own Back Benchers, for this rushed, incompetently drafted and sinister mess of a Bill. He has already tabled 23 amendments and there will be a lot more, I am sure, before we have finished. This Bill has united the lobbying industry and transparency campaigners, who agree that it will make lobbying less transparent, not more. The Electoral Commission, hundreds of charities, campaigners and many thousands of members of the public are fighting the Government’s sinister gag on free speech in the run-up to a general election.
It seems that the Bill’s only success has been to create a huge coalition against it, so wide that it includes the TaxPayers Alliance, the Royal British Legion, HOPE not hate and 38 Degrees. Yesterday the Prime Minister accused the trade unions of mounting a concerted lobbying campaign against the Bill, but he omitted to mention that Con. Home is against it, too.
The Leader of the House does not seem to have learnt many lessons from his last disastrous attempt at a Bill, the Health and Social Care Act 2012, but I would like to ask him to learn just one: he needs to pause, listen, reflect and improve. Why not start by listening to the important report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, published today? He should scrap the timetable he has just announced for Committee stage and arrange some much-needed pre-legislative scrutiny. Even better, why does he not just go back to the drawing board?
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her further questions. On the transparency Bill, she is just trying to rerun the debate we had on Tuesday. All the points she has made were presented in that debate and she lost. The Bill secured a Second Reading and, in particular, the support of the House against the Opposition’s reasoned amendment, which specifically sought a delay.
As I made clear on Second Reading, we will look at some of the concerns that have been raised, but I re-emphasise this point: many of the representations that are being made are based on a complete misunderstanding and a misrepresentation, which is that some change is taking place in the definition of what constitutes expenditure for electoral purposes, as distinct from campaigning on policies and issues. Charities will continue to be able to campaign as vigorously as they wish in putting forward their policies, and if any organisations were to step over the line and try to secure the election of a party or a candidate, that should be treated as election expenditure. That was the case in the past and will be the case in future. If there is any way we can make that even clearer, we will set out to do so.
I am surprised that the hon. Lady did not take the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition to the letter I sent him before the recess making it clear that the Bill was available for the Labour party to put forward proposals to give trade union members a deliberate choice on their participation in political funds, which he said they should have. Only yesterday we saw Paul Kenny of the GMB clearly trying to push him off his proposals. If he wants to entrench them, he should come forward next week—he still has time to do so—and table amendments to the Bill so that that can be legislated for and he can show his determination. If he does not do so, we will know that he is not serious about doing it at all.
The hon. Lady asked about the urgent question earlier today, trying to rerun points that I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with very well. Let me say one thing, and I say it from personal experience: he is doing absolutely the right thing to ensure that we deliver the programme on universal credit. It is vital that we do so in order to make work pay and to get the incentives in the welfare system right, which the Labour party failed to do. Stepping into a programme to make changes in order to deliver it on time and on budget is the right thing to do, unlike what Labour did with the NHS IT programme, which was to go into denial about all the problems. When my colleagues and I came into office after the general election we found a broken programme that we had to scrap, but in the process we saved over £2 billion, which enabled my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week to announce a major programme for supporting hospitals and the NHS to improve their technology themselves. That is what we should be doing; we should have workable programmes, not top-down, broken ones. [Interruption.] Talking about the National Audit Office, it has said that delivering the NHS reorganisation programme on time is a major achievement and that it is delivering the planned savings: £5.5 billion from the reform programme itself over the course of this Parliament and £1.5 billion every year thereafter.
The hon. Lady asked one thing about business, regarding an update from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am happy to remind her that he will be at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday to answer questions. I am looking forward to him being able further to remind the House, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, of the events of the summer in relation to the economy, which the hon. Lady did not mention and her leader did not mention at Prime Minister’s Questions. The reason they did not is that the Chancellor will be able to refer to figures showing that employment is up, exports are up, confidence is up, manufacturing is up, services are up, construction is up, housing starts are up, and growth is up. The hon. Lady knows that, as a consequence, the Labour party is going down.
All parliamentarians in this House will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s courageous decision to recall Parliament last week to have a debate and a vote on Syria before military action could take place. He is really putting Parliament first. Can the Leader of the House confirm that if such circumstances occur in future the Prime Minister will again put a motion before this House before military action takes place?
The Prime Minister and I have been very clear at the Dispatch Box that we will respect the right of Parliament, as the source of authority, to express a view in relation to the use of military force in any substantial way, save that, as the Prime Minister has rightly made clear, in any emergency or on issues that are urgent or a matter of the defence of the national interest and the security of this country, he must have the right and the discretion to act immediately if he is required to do so.
I remind the Leader of the House that since the last time we met here for business questions a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs has estimated the cost of High Speed 2—a cost that started at £10 billion, went up to £32 billion, then £42 billion, and then £50 billion—at £80 billion. It also reflects on the fact that this could be very damaging to all the regional cities of our country. May we have an early debate on this?
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is considering the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, which affords further opportunities to consider this. Having looked at what the Institute of Economic Affairs said, it seemed to be one of those reports where if one makes a series of assumptions one can arrive at any conclusion one likes. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary has put some very substantial contingencies into the programme to make sure that we can deliver it within budget.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the findings of the Lloyds TSB regional purchase managers index, which showed the fastest growth across the country in 12 years, with the fastest growth not in London or the south-east but in north-west England? In my constituency, unemployment is down and production is up, and the manufacturing companies that I speak to are very encouraged by the way in which the economy is recovering. May we have a debate on rebalancing the economy to support businesses in the north-west of England?
Yes, the situation is very encouraging. We all know that the nature of the economic crisis we inherited, with the economy having declined to a gross domestic product of 7.2%, meant that the recovery was inevitably going to be long and difficult; we cannot expect it to be easy. However, it is happening, and on a more sustainable basis. My hon. Friend rightly points out that it is more sustainable if growth is better dispersed around the country rather than merely being based on financial services in the City of London, important as that sector is. It is especially sustainable given the development of exports and manufacturing in many regions of the United Kingdom.
May we have an urgent debate in Government time on Burma, where Daw Bawk Ja, a land rights activist, was arrested in July? In particular, will the Government support the United Nations General Assembly resolution noting that while there has been progress in Burma, there are still human rights and constitutional issues that need to be addressed?
The hon. Lady will know that my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office update the House regularly on Burma and our concerns. We were very pleased that President Thein Sein’s visit to the United Kingdom in July gave us an opportunity to raise some of those concerns while reinforcing our determination to provide support for Burma, including the increases in humanitarian aid—I was looking up the numbers while the hon. Lady was asking her question—announced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who was Secretary of State for International Development at the time.
The House will have welcomed your visit to Burma, Mr Speaker, from 29 July to 4 August, when you led a cross-party delegation of Members of Parliament. The relationship between this Parliament and the emerging democracy in Burma is an important one that we all value.
May I take this opportunity to wish all my Jewish constituents shanah tovah? As we enter the year 5774 with record levels of employment, unemployment going down, business confidence increasing and all the forecasts on growth going up, is it not surprising that the Opposition do not want to debate the issue? Is it not time to have a general debate on the economy, so that we can expose the Opposition for what they are?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and I join him in wishing a happy new year to our Jewish constituents. As we enter the new year, it is encouraging that GDP has been revised up and many independent forecasters are increasing their estimates for growth and that employment is up and unemployment down. We know we have to work hard to sustain the recovery and that it will not be easy, but we can all take a great deal of encouragement from the statistics published over the summer.
Sadly and disappointingly, the English Defence League has been given permission to march from Tower Hill near Tower Hamlets on Saturday. Sunday is merchant navy day, the annual commemorative service to remember the sacrifice of seafarers, particularly in the second world war, at the Tower Hill memorial in the park. May I prevail on the Leader of the House to use his good offices to do everything possible to ensure, first, a peaceful demonstration and counter-demonstration on Saturday and, equally importantly, that arrangements are in place to protect the monument and clear up the park so that those relatives and colleagues who will remember the sacrifice from the second world war will be in an environment suitable for the occasion?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of the memorial for Sunday and that it should not be disturbed. I will, of course, use whatever influence I can bring to bear and speak to my colleagues in the Government and the Mayor’s office to try to secure the action for which the hon. Gentleman asks.
We are all very keen that young people in Britain should be more engaged in the political process. I understand that you have given permission, Mr Speaker, for the Youth Parliament to meet in this Chamber during Parliament week to debate its “Curriculum for Life” campaign. May I suggest that we should have a debate ourselves about the outcomes of that debate?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was tremendously impressed by the quality of last year’s UK Youth Parliament debate and in particular the choices it made in pursuing the “Curriculum for Life” campaign. We are looking forward to its sitting in the Chamber on Friday 15 November and I am sure hon. Members will find it a very interesting debate. We may have opportunities ourselves to debate the points it raises. I remind hon. Members that Parliament week, which this year runs from 15 to 21 November, seeks to connect people across the whole country with parliamentary democracy and that this year there will be a special focus on women in democracy, which I know Members will wish to support.
Unite the Union and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have carried out surveys recently to establish how many of their members are engaged in zero-hours contracts. Their findings differ significantly from those of the Office for National Statistics. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to come to the House to clarify how many people in the UK are engaged in zero-hours contracts?
If I may, I will ask a Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond to the hon. Gentleman. He will know that the Secretary of State has stated clearly to the House that he will undertake a review of those issues and I am sure that he will want to report to the House on that.
On 4 October, I will be hosting an event at the university of Derby at which businesses in my constituency can discuss exporting their products. I am sure that we can all agree—even Opposition Members—that exports are key to maintaining the positive economic figures that we have heard about recently. May we have a debate on reducing the tax and bureaucratic burdens on small and medium-sized businesses to ensure that they can afford to send their products to foreign markets and continue to lead this Government’s economic journey from rescue to recovery?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I welcome what she says about the conference in her constituency. The increase in our exports is making a difference to our economic prospects. There has been a 5.8% increase in exports on a year ago. Given the circumstances, we cannot expect Government spending simply to replace private spending. Consumers, as a result of high levels of debt, have also been retrenching. Our ability to invest and secure growth in the economy therefore depends principally upon winning in the global race and getting into foreign markets. The fact that exports to China have gone up by 80% and to Brazil by 47% demonstrates that our businesses can win in the global race.
It was not clear to me whether the Leader of the House refused the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for a debate on what she called the fortress mentality or simply ignored it. Given the issues with the aircraft carrier and what we have just heard about universal credit, can we have an urgent debate about project management in this Government?
I confess that I ignored the request of the shadow Leader of the House. She is very forgiving and will no doubt forgive me for that.
We may not be able to have a debate on project management in government in short order, but it would be a good topic to debate at some point, because it would give us an opportunity to demonstrate how the Minister for the Cabinet Office, along with the Major Projects Authority, has been leading a process of improving project management across government. I am confident that such a debate would show that there have been substantial improvements by comparison with what we saw under the last Labour Government, not least in the Department of Health. The National Audit Office has demonstrated that the project delivered during my tenure was a major achievement. As I outlined earlier, we delivered savings that were returned to the health service to improve services for patients.
May we have a debate on the community value that is derived when councils lease land and property to charities? Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council is using what I would call a legal technicality and substantial amounts of taxpayers’ money to throw out a much-loved disabled riding charity from its home of 34 years, without any proper explanation to my constituents.
The House will appreciate that my hon. Friend is making an important point on behalf of his constituents. I know that they will appreciate that too. His borough council will no doubt hear what he has said in this House. It should reflect on the best value guidance issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in 2011 and on the benefits that should be derived by communities from the way in which councils exercise their powers.
May we have a debate on sound science and the implementation of Government policy? Many scientists in the environmental community have been concerned to find out that the badgers that are culled will not be examined to find out whether they had tuberculosis in the first place. Equally, they are concerned about the Government’s proposals to relieve local authorities of the obligation to monitor air quality at a time when we are facing severe and escalated infraction proceedings in the EU because we have failed to meet air quality standards. It looks as though the Government are not properly monitoring the implementation of their own policies.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made a written statement on Monday, which set out the basis of the policy. He will also remember the debate of 5 June, when the House voted against an Opposition motion that the badger cull should not go ahead. I know that my right hon. Friend is basing his policy on the best possible scientific advice.
When he was Health Secretary, the Leader of the House referred a case of gender selection abortion to the police, no doubt considering it was in the public interest to prosecute. Does he share the grave concern about the fact that, despite sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution, the Crown Prosecution Service has dropped the case? There is urgent need for a statement to clarify whether the restrictions on choice in the Abortion Act 1967 are now meaningless.
My hon. Friend will understand when I say that these matters are the responsibility of the prosecuting authorities, and that inside the Government the Attorney-General is responsible for them, not individual Ministers. In so far as we express a view, it is best for us to leave it to the Attorney-General to look at such issues with the CPS.
Given the sad news in today’s The Sun that Birmingham, once the city of a thousand trades, has broken into the top five jobless blackspots in the country for the first time since records began, is it not time we had a debate on the need for a growth strategy for the whole nation rather than just London and the south-east?
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not the experience of Members across the country, who are seeing an increase in employment. There has been a 1.4 million increase in people in employment in the private sector, which is very encouraging. There are more women in employment than ever before, and the proportion of households in which nobody is in work has been reduced to the lowest we have seen. That is encouraging progress. It inevitably varies across the country, but the regional growth fund and the efforts we are making will make a big difference. I know how much he will also look forward to High Speed 2 enabling growth in the regions of the United Kingdom through access to markets and opportunities.
Next week, a group of parliamentarians from this House and the other place is to visit Gibraltar for the national day celebrations. May we have a statement from my right hon. Friend sending greetings to the people of Gibraltar on that important event?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am happy to send my personal greetings if he will be kind enough to convey them along with his colleagues—I assume that he is taking part. I also send greetings on behalf of the many colleagues throughout the House who support and appreciate the allegiance of the people of Gibraltar to the British Crown.
My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to say that, as he knows, not least from what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said at questions earlier in the week, we remain concerned by the action being taken by the Government of Spain at the border with Gibraltar. We have responded robustly, in partnership with the Government of Gibraltar, and we welcomed the Prime Minister of Gibraltar here last week. We have made it clear to the Spanish Government that their unlawful actions are disproportionate and unacceptable. We have repeatedly expressed our desire to find a diplomatic solution that is acceptable to Spain while reaffirming, as we do from the Dispatch Box repeatedly, our commitment to upholding the rights and interests of the United Kingdom and Gibraltar.
May we have a debate on how Ministers use language? Earlier, we repeatedly heard about “pathfinders”, “rolling out” and “agile processes”—the quiet man was back and turning up the jargon. Could we not make such meaningless phrases unparliamentary, particularly as the statement seemed to be less about universal credit and more about him attributing universal blame to everyone except himself?
I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. He made perfectly good sense and used no jargon at all. He set out absolutely the right objective and policy. He is determined to get there on time and on budget. I heard that several times—he could not have been clearer.
When questioned about High Speed 2 on Tuesday, the permanent secretary to the Treasury, Sir Nick Macpherson, told the Treasury Committee that:
“There will be opportunities to reassess it”
and that the Government
“have not signed a blank cheque”.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is the Government’s view?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Secretary of State for Transport will be at the Dispatch Box next Thursday to answer questions. Nobody is writing a blank cheque—that is the whole point. That is why, in the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, we have clearly set out a budget with contingencies, as people would expect. They expect us to plan, as we did for the Olympics—a good example—to have a clear budget rather than one that keeps moving, and a budget that has sufficient contingency so that the project is entirely deliverable within it.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the continuing controversy over the reorganisation of A and E services in Shropshire? Telford people want to retain full 24-hour A and E services in Shropshire. I believe the people of Shrewsbury want the same. Should not health services be designed around the needs of people and not the needs of health bosses?
The hon. Gentleman and I agree that health services should be designed around the needs of people—that has always been our view. It is important that commissioning organisations—the new commissioning organisations, with general practitioners who know their population and patients best—have the influence necessary to make that happen. As he knows, Sir Bruce Keogh is undertaking a review generally of A and E services. I cannot comment on the specifics in Shropshire, although I remember them well, but I am sure the Secretary of State will have an opportunity before too long further to update the House on that review.
The Humble Address on Monday to mark the birth of Prince George of Windsor—[Hon. Members: “Cambridge!”] I am sorry; I meant to say Prince George of Cambridge. The Humble Address will provide an opportunity for hon. Members who were fortunate to be born in the reign of Prince George’s late great-great-grandfather, the much-loved and last King George, to observe how fortunate we are to have the leadership, continuity and security of the royal family. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House give some thought to the possibility of affording an opportunity to Members of the House to subscribe to a decent christening present for the young Prince George of Cambridge? Perhaps it could be something he could use in later childhood, such as a really good cricket bat.
I can feel a coat of arms coming on—[Laughter.] I appreciate the recognition of that joke from the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty). As one of the two Members who represent the city of Cambridge, I can say that we are only too delighted to have the titles not only of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge associated directly with the city, but of Prince George. Mr Speaker and others more fitted than I am might have a word about whether there is an opportunity to follow up my hon. Friend’s idea. No doubt they will let him know in due course.
With the rugby league world cup getting under way in just 50 days’ time, may I suggest a rugby ball as a christening present?
I was delighted this summer during my volunteering week to join the Green Streams project clearing the bank of the River Colne at Milnsbridge. However, all our hard work was undone by appalling fly-tipping upstream. May we have a debate on the scourge of fly-tipping and see what measures can be taken to stamp out that damaging act to our local environment?
Given what my hon. Friend was saying about sport, perhaps, as the Tour de France will be going through Cambridge, a racing bike, not just a rugby ball, would be appropriate.
I think many Members will sympathise with my hon. Friend on fly-tipping. He will be comforted to know that local authorities and the Environment Agency have powers to deal with those responsible, but the Government are taking further action to tackle fly-tipping. We are strengthening the powers of local authorities and the Environment Agency to stop, search and seize the vehicles of suspected waste criminals.
Half a million people have marginal deduction rates of 80%—they lose 80p in every £1 they earn. That is an unacceptable legacy of the previous Government that this Government are determined to put right through universal credit. Does the Leader of the House share my disappointment, therefore, that this morning the Opposition gave no support for a project that will help so many of our poorest workers? This is particularly ironic given all our concerns about living standards. Does he share my view that all Members should welcome the changes made by the Secretary of State in 2012 to ensure this vital programme is delivered on time and within budget?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the points he makes came through strongly in the course of the exchanges. The Opposition utterly failed in their criticisms of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), and further demonstrated that while they may talk about welfare reform, they have opposed every step we have taken to live within budgets, and to heighten incentives to give people every possible encouragement and support to be in work.
This week Yorkshire Water came to Westminster to meet Yorkshire MPs to explain why, at a time when it is raising customers’ bills, it paid zero tax in the past financial year. May we have a debate on how Yorkshire Water, and other water utility companies, are paying such low levels of corporation tax?
I cannot promise a debate immediately, but my hon. Friend will know that considerable effort is being put in by the Public Accounts Committee, the Treasury Committee and other Select Committees. The Government are seeking to ensure that people pay the tax that is due, and that we minimise tax avoidance and act against tax evasion. As far as corporation tax is concerned, the Prime Minister will update us on the G20 summit. Acting on an international basis on profit shifting and so on could make a dramatic difference. Following on from the G8, the Government and the UK are taking an excellent lead in trying to ensure that we have that kind of tax regime of an international basis.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians last year pointed out that whereas there are 30 medical specialties in Norway, there are 63, and rising, in the UK. It explained the pressures that this brings on to the NHS. May we have a debate on medical specialties in the UK and the consequences for the NHS—particularly on smaller, acute hospitals—and on the important work that generalists do?
My hon. Friend tempts me, because this is a very interesting subject. At the same as we have had greater specialisation and continue to try to ensure that we drive forward with excellence and the highest standards in clinical terms, there has been something of a revival in the medical profession of generalist positions, for example, general surgeons. From personal experience I know it is important sometimes to establish specialties. We did that about five years ago in relation to strokes, for which there was not previously a stroke speciality. It is a complicated issue that would no doubt merit debate. I cannot promise a debate, but what my hon. Friend has said may well start the ball rolling.
Unemployment in Tamworth now stands at its lowest level since 2008. On 12 October, I shall play my own small part in helping to drive it down still further when, with the Tamworth Herald, I will host a jobs fair at South Staffordshire college. May we have a debate on jobs fairs to highlight the value they provide by bringing together local employers and jobseekers, and by the practical way they help us to help our constituents?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he is doing in his constituency is important. He and other colleagues have demonstrated through jobs fairs that there are many practical steps we can take to help to connect those who are without work with the jobs that are available. The latest data show that we have near-record levels of vacancies in the economy. Matching people to jobs is vital, as the success of job fairs demonstrates. I will not reiterate the points I made earlier, but the increase in employment of 935,000 since the election demonstrates that they have the benefits that we are looking for.
Tourism in Brighton and Hove is worth a staggering £1 billion a year. This morning, Labour twice failed to rule out a tourism tax in oral questions, and the Leader of the Opposition has failed to reply to a letter of four weeks ago. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who is in his place, seems to think it is a good idea. May we please have a debate on this disastrous policy?
If I may say so to my hon. Friend, I must not hold the Government accountable for the policies of the Labour Opposition—or, indeed, of any Labour council—but I can at least note that, as our old friend David Mellor once told us, dogs bark, ducks quack and Labour puts up taxes.