The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 14 October—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (day 1).
Tuesday 15 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Deep Sea Mining Bill.
Wednesday 16 October—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on zero-hours contracts, followed by a debate on high streets and changes to use orders. Both debates with arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 17 October—A debate on a motion relating to defence reforms, followed by a debate on a motion relating to funding support for deaf and young people. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 18 October—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 October will include:
Monday 21 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 22 October—Second Reading of the Immigration Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to the European public prosecutor’s office.
Wednesday 23 October—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 24 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 25 October—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I begin by echoing the Prime Minister in congratulating Professor Higgs, this year’s joint winner of the Nobel prize for physics for his work in explaining why the universe has mass? I think his theory may even be able to explain how the badgers managed to move the goalposts.
I note that the Offender Rehabilitation Bill is still strangely absent from future business, despite the fact that it completed its Lords stages well before the summer recess. The Leader of the House will know that on Report in the other place the Government lost a crucial vote and that clause 1 now reads:
“No alteration or reform may be made to the structure of the probation service unless the proposals have been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.”
We have had no such document, so will he explain why the Government have published contracts to sell off £800 million-worth of probation services and why probation staff have been given notice that they might be offloaded to companies such as G4S or Serco next spring?
It looks to me as though the Government are deliberately ignoring the will of Parliament by delaying the passage of this Bill until after they have privatised the probation service, so rendering their defeat in the Lords irrelevant. Could the Leader of the House prove that my theory is wrong by telling me when we can expect to see the Bill in this House?
The Government succeeded in rushing through their sinister gagging Bill last night without giving us adequate time for scrutiny. It now goes on to the Lords in similar haste so that the Government can get their gag in place in time for the next election. Given that Parliament has not been given the chance to scrutinise the Bill properly and it was not consulted on before it was published, an independent commission has been established to analyse its impact. Will the Leader of the House join me in giving evidence to that commission, and will he give his assurance that the Government will not proceed with the Bill until the findings are published?
We are just back from the conference recess and we learned a lot from the conferences of the two parties in power. The Liberal Democrats believe they have a right to be ensconced in their ministerial cars in perpetuity, whoever wins the election, and the Tories dream of a land of hope and glory. The reality is that, with this incompetent Government, it is more a land of hopeless Tories. I also understand that, following his conference speech, the Business Secretary has changed his voicemail to that old Liberal Democrat staple, “Please leave a message after the high moral tone.”
I am relieved to see both the Leader of the House and his deputy, and, indeed, the Patronage Secretary, in their place after the Government reshuffle at the beginning of the week. Reshuffles on either side are a difficult time for everyone and I want to take a moment to recognise the service of all those leaving their respective Front Benches as a result of Monday’s events. The Leader of the House and I have both been on the right and wrong sides of reshuffles in our time, so we have a personal insight into what people go through. I salute the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who lost his Government job on Monday and was good natured enough to repeat a tweet he received after he had been given the bad news, which said:
“Fisheries Minister sacked. Word is he’s gutted”.
Inexplicably, our friends in the Press Gallery treat reshuffle day as though it were a nerve-wracking episode of “The X Factor”. All that was missing on Monday was some tense music and Dermot O’Leary giving out hugs at the end of Downing street, although I did think that some aspects of the Government’s reshuffle really were worthy of reality TV. First, a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), was sacked for being too right wing. Given that criterion, I am surprised the Deputy Prime Minister managed to spare himself. Then we realised that the Prime Minister’s new strategy to stop his Back-Bench rebellions was to give as many people as possible a job. It seems that a small state needs a very big Government. It then emerged that the Deputy Prime Minister had put a conspiracy theorist in the Home Office behind the back of the furious Home Secretary. I understand that the book written by the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) is shooting up the Amazon charts as a result of all the unwanted publicity. I am sure we all look forward to the new Minister telling us what really happened at Roswell, whether NASA faked the moon landings and whether Elvis ever did actually leave the building.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I am enjoying our return to business questions after the recess.
I join the shadow Leader of the House and our respective party leaders in congratulating Professor Peter Higgs. It is wonderful that this country has produced so many leading scientists and, indeed, recipients of Nobel prizes. That is something that people in Russia might like to ponder when they call us a small country. I am reminded that there is one college in the small city of Cambridge on this small island that has more Nobel prize winners than the whole of Russia.
I am not yet in a position to enlighten the House on the timetable for our consideration of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill. I will announce that in due course. The Ministry of Justice is rightly proceeding with plans that will improve the quality of probation services and, importantly, offer probation services to those who leave prison after short sentences. That is an important reform and I look forward to the consideration of the Bill in this House.
The shadow Leader of the House tried to return to the debate on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. However, it has now left this House. I met Lesley-Anne Alexander, Stephen Bubb and others to discuss the establishment of the commission. I made it clear that we would take account of anything that they said, but that it was important for them to consider the issues more quickly. They are establishing the commission two and a half months after the Bill was published and in the midst of its passage. I will gladly hear what they have to say, but we will proceed with the Bill in the Lords as planned. As we made clear in yesterday’s debate, we have a timetable for the passage of the Bill. It received full scrutiny on the Floor of this House and I know that their lordships will do a similar thing in their House.
I will not dwell on particular aspects of the reshuffle. As the shadow Leader of the House kindly observed, we have all been subject to these things over the years. My observation is that what goes around comes around. I agree with her that a number of my colleagues have given very good service as Ministers. We very much appreciate that and thank them for it.
We must always be aware that one can contribute to public life not only through ministerial office, but through many other forms of service in this House and in public life more generally. I left the shadow Cabinet and sat as a Back Bencher for a couple of years. That did not mean that I could not make a significant contribution. For example, I helped to write the provision in the Communications Act 2003 that provided that media mergers should be subject to a public interest test in the same way as other mergers, which has been found to be of considerable use. I therefore encourage my colleagues who have left the Government most recently to reflect on the other opportunities for public service.
Today, we will rightly have a debate on the funding of local councils. May we also have a debate on the future of small local councils? My constituency contains the smallest local council in England, which is finding it nigh on impossible to survive. We need to consider how we will fund small councils not only for the next two years, but for the next decade. We must consider whether they can survive in the changing world in which we live, given the recession that we are all facing.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about funding. If he has an opportunity to speak in today’s debate, I am sure that it will be relevant. I will say two things. First, while small local authorities have a valuable role in ensuring that democracy is accessible and relevant to their populations, many such public authorities have successfully explored ways of sharing costs and back-office services with other authorities, and that is very useful. Secondly, the BBC survey discovered that it is possible to secure more and better services with less money. That point will be important in this afternoon’s debate. It illustrates how public services have responded to the tough times that we inherited from the Labour Government and is a credit to those who are running local authorities.
It is particularly important that we ensure that regulators and the competition authorities are effective. Competition is what delivers for consumers, and regulators have access to concurrent competition powers with the competition authorities. We need to be sure that those powers are being used to deliver the benefits for consumers that competition should deliver.
I understand that we are now to call High Speed 2 the north-south railway. Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House during the next week to announce that just a fraction of that investment could be spent on providing a barely adequate east-west railway?
It is a great pleasure to have my hon. Friend here to ask a question. He was a distinguished occupant of the post of Deputy Leader of the House, and we thank him for that and for his work in his subsequent responsibilities related to farming.
Over the next few years, up to about 2020, there will be much larger investment elsewhere in Network Rail than in HS2. It is not absorbing resources that would otherwise be available for the rest of the network. On the contrary, we have among the largest ever investment programmes elsewhere in the rail system, and rightly so. Just as HS2 will meet clear north-south capacity requirements, we need other investment to meet capacity needs elsewhere.
Now that we are back in operation, may I ask the Leader of the House if we can reflect on something that troubles me—the growth of monopolies in almost every sector of life? Whether we are talking about the energy sector, the supermarkets or transport, there are organisations with a monopolistic tendency to do down the consumer. May we have a full debate on monopolies and how we regulate them?
I think that is exactly the same point that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) made, and in a sense I think we agree about it. We need competition if we are to deliver benefits to consumers, and we need it to be robust. That competition is not driven naturally in markets; it has to be regulated for by authorities. We should not have a free-for-all in markets, because of the tendency towards monopoly. We must have effective competition regulation to make competition happen, and this Government have been keen to ensure that it is in place. To be fair to the previous Government, they also did that under competition and enterprise Acts. This country has established what is regarded as one of the more effective competition regimes, but we must continuously be vigilant and use the competition authorities to deliver it.
As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth university was named in the top 300 in last week’s Times Higher Education world rankings, putting it in the top 1.5% globally. Will he join me in congratulating it on its remarkable feat? May we have a debate on the role of universities in delivering growth in our economy both here in Britain and globally?
My hon. Friend is right, and I join him in expressing appreciation for the tremendous progress that Plymouth university has made and the standards that it is achieving. He and other Members will be well aware not only of the comparative strengths in our higher education system, which are dramatic, but of the contribution that they are making to our economic recovery and our future prospects. If we are going to win the global race, it will be on the basis of knowledge-based industries. The connection between universities and higher education and the new industries of the future is critical.
May we have a debate on the privatisation strategy, which colleagues have mentioned, with a particular focus on Royal Mail? Many people feel that that sale is outrageous and that a lot of smaller investors have been locked out of the process by the fee level.
This House passed legislation that permitted the privatisation to go ahead, and many small investors will have seen the advantage in seeking to be party to that privatisation and part of the future of Royal Mail—a future that will be stronger by virtue of its access to private capital.
Today is world mental health day, and mental illness will be one of the major health challenges we face over the next 20 years. May we have a debate on the vital issue of achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health conditions in the national health service?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and it is right to recall that issue today. The Backbench Business Committee has helpfully scheduled debates in the House on two occasions, which has allowed the House to make a signal contribution to identifying the problems associated with stigma and discrimination related to mental health. We should not rest on that, however, and must pursue the issue further. The Time To Change campaign—which has now rolled out across the country, supported by £60 million of Government funding—is capable of making a big difference. I recall it was trialled in Cambridgeshire, and a lot of people appreciated how it enabled many people to change their views about the impact and character of mental health problems, which so many people in all sorts of families suffer from.
On 16 August and 2 September I wrote to the Business Secretary on two matters: first, the Government’s role in selling fake bomb detectors to other countries, and, secondly, the export of chemicals that could be used to make chemical weapons in Syria. I have not received a reply to either letter and I wonder whether the Leader of the House’s wonderful civil servants could have a word with their counterparts in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to find out why the courtesies of the House are not being followed.
May we have a debate on job creation and the possible impact of tax rises on larger businesses? Last week I visited Honeytop Speciality Foods in my constituency—a company that employs 900 people and is creating 200 extra jobs over the next month. It has exported naan bread to India and made Dunstable the crumpet capital of the United Kingdom. I do not want to see anything that would threaten investment and the creation of full-time British jobs.
Next time I am delayed by a traffic jam on the A5 in Dunstable I will take time out to enjoy a crumpet. I am grateful to my hon. Friend because it is important to illustrate that when we mention the 1.4 million new private sector jobs created since the election, we sometimes lose the human character behind that big number. Those 200 extra jobs in his constituency show that human benefit because these are people in jobs who are bringing home good salaries and changing their economic prospects and those of their town. That is multiplied many thousands of times across the country, and it is right for him to draw attention to the importance of supporting that.
Further to the answer of the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), a few weeks ago I wrote to the Home Secretary about her proposal for a £3,000 visa bond on visitors from India and Pakistan, which is causing consternation in my constituency. Last week a Home Office official rang my office to say that they were sorry, but there is a 12-month backlog of correspondence and they are waiting for the Home Secretary to sign those letters. Does the Leader of the House think that is acceptable?
May we have a debate on the salaries and wages to be paid to staff in the national health service? There have been reports that there will be no wage increase next year, but one is expected. Does the Leader of the House agree that we rely very much on the dedication and hard work of our NHS staff, that we should not treat them in that way, and that they should not be taken for granted in that way?
My hon. Friend will be aware that pay in the NHS is the subject of independent pay review. Therefore, to that extent, the recommendations on future pay will wait on the results of independent review. It is quite proper that the Government, in that context, should provide evidence to the pay review, which has happened. The affordability of any pay rise must have a bearing on that evidence, bearing in mind the overall Government approach, which is for the overall increase in pay to be of the order of 1% in the year ahead. As I know very well, there is contractual pay progression in the NHS. When I was Health Secretary, it was about 1.4% per year. I believe it has increased recently. As he will understand, there is an obvious relationship between the affordability of progression pay of that kind and any headline basic pay increase.
I have previously asked a question on the sale by the Ministry of Justice of the former magistrates court at Fenton town hall, to which I received a reply stating that the Ministry of Justice wanted to receive maximum funds for the sale. Given that neither the Ministry of Justice nor its predecessor Departments have ever paid so much as a penny to the people of Stoke-on-Trent to buy or rent the building, may we have a debate in Government time on Government Departments selling buildings that properly belong to local people? Perhaps we could have the debate before the petition is delivered to No. 10, which will happen soon. It is outrageous that the MOJ is selling a building that belongs to the people of Stoke-on-Trent, who have never received a penny for it.
If I may, I will look at the correspondence—I recall that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised the question previously and has received a reply. If the MOJ has proper ownership of a building, it must, not least in the interest of the taxpayer, ensure that it realises best value for it, but the Government have been clear on the opportunities local communities should have in relation to assets of community value. I cannot promise a debate, but I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s point.
As part of its reporting of national security issues, The Guardian has not denied sending the detailed family and personal information of our security agents across borders. That is illegal and it is threatening our agents and their families. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary to clarify that the law will be upheld, whether or not the organisation involved is hiding behind the fig leaf of journalism?
My hon. Friend and the House know that the freedom of speech we prize so highly comes with a responsibility. Members of the House and the public will have been struck by what the director general of MI5 said this week. I am sure he was right to say what he said. In that context, I will ask the Home Secretary to consider my hon. Friend’s point and how she might inform the House in due course, but it seems to me that, regardless of any action taken by the Government, it is incumbent on the press—meaning, in this context, The Guardian—to exercise accountability for its decisions.
May I declare my interest and remind the Leader of the House that 1 million people in this country have undiagnosed diabetes? He is the architect of the health and wellbeing boards. May we have a statement or debate on the amount of money they are spending to create awareness of the condition among the general public? I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), for the good work she did on diabetes before she was moved from the Department of Health.
I join the right hon. Gentleman in thanking the Under-Secretary for the work she did, which has taken us into a new era in public health. We are protecting the real value of the resources within the NHS budget, which we are increasing in real terms, but a larger increase is going to public health, because, as he correctly identifies, if we can anticipate future illness and act to prevent it, it is important that we do so—in the case of diabetes, early diagnosis and intervention has successful outcomes. Health and wellbeing boards, as part of their joint commissioning in public health, will look at how they can ensure that people access diagnoses of the conditions that place them at risk.
Given the importance of localism, which the Government have recognised, and in the light of the new powers communities have been given to influence housing decisions in their area, does the Leader of the House agree that the time is now right for a debate on a community right of appeal in the planning process? That is not the same thing as a third party right, which the Government have considered and rejected, but at the moment local communities feel disfranchised in the appeal process.
My hon. Friend might like to note that on Monday 21 October my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be here with his colleagues and she may consider it worth her while to raise this issue then. We must be careful in this context. It is important to ensure, as we have, that we strengthen the local or community voice in the establishment of local development frameworks and—as I have seen done very effectively—through neighbourhood plans, to create a framework so that those who exercise their right to bring forward development on land they own or have acquired do so in the context of the community’s view about the use of land in their area. Otherwise, we might run the risk of a chilling effect on development as a consequence of subsequent rights of appeal for the community against planning permissions that have been granted.
We are continually engaging in a debate on the issues relating to cost of living, and how families are able to cope with the consequences of the reduction of wealth in this country by 7.2% under the last Government, in the most serious recession we have faced in a century. It is inconceivable that such a reduction in wealth would not have consequences across society. Fortunately the number of workless households is now at its lowest level, and those who are in work are increasingly finding that their tax bills are going down. Inevitably and rightly, there are charitable and other endeavours to help those people who are in hardship, just as the benefit system should. We will have further opportunities to debate how we can target that support to best effect, and I look forward to those.
Perhaps we could have a wider debate on planning laws. The issue that has had a real impact on the Ribble Valley, whose core strategy is not in place, is the number of speculative planning applications that have been put in. The local council turns them down, they go to appeal and the decisions are overturned. It is not only communities that feel frustrated, but local councillors, who wonder what the use is in rejecting such planning applications only to have their decisions overturned time and again.
I completely understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, not least because South Cambridgeshire—he will not be surprised to learn—has a heavy demand for new housing and many applications. We want to ensure that we also meet housing need by having local plans in place, including neighbourhood plans, so that decisions can be made consistent with the local understanding of how planning should be structured in the area. That is what needs to happen. If those local plans show how they will meet the housing demand for the next five years, they should be robust in the face of challenge.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Education on his announcement that only the first entry results for GCSEs will count towards school league tables? Any improvement in a pupil’s progress through his or her hard work and excellent teaching will not be counted. Is that not the wrong way to deal with multiple exam entries?
With regard to private Members’ Bills and the forthcoming return of the European Union (Referendum) Bill, will the Leader of the House remind the House that the Bill is such a beautiful yet fragile flower that seeking to improve it by amending it will be about as useful to its life as throwing a gallon of poison over it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This important Bill is drafted in a straightforward way. Even with the best will in the world—he is very knowledgeable about the procedures of the House—seeking to improve private Members’ Bills in a way that is no more than tinkering risks prejudicing them. Those who, like me, share the view that the Bill should pass—it will give people the say that they should have, and at the right time, in the future of this country’s relationship with Europe—should accept that and get on with it.
Total UK production decreased by 1.1% between July 2013 and August 2013, with manufacturing decreasing by 1.2%. Between August 2012 and August 2013, production output decreased by 1.5%. Investment in plant and machinery for factories remains below 2007 levels. The Leader of the House talks about the global race and the Chancellor talks about the march of the makers. May we have a debate on manufacturing and talk about why UK manufacturing is in full retreat at the moment?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to remind the House that business confidence is up, consumer confidence is up, exports are up, construction is up, manufacturing is up, growth forecasts are up, and that only this week the International Monetary Fund’s international outlook upgraded its forecast for the UK economy for this year and next year by more than any other major economy.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House to make a statement about the recent changes proposed in Europe to both the packaging of tobacco and the banning of menthol cigarettes? While we all support anything that reduces the number of people who take up smoking and reduces the number of cigarettes that people smoke, the House needs to have the opportunity to debate this serious health issue.
These are important issues and the House will want to consider the agreement in Europe this week on the tobacco directive. Rather than the Secretary of State coming to the House to make a statement, the proper route is for the issue to be scrutinised by the European Scrutiny Committee. If the Committee then recommends a debate in the House, we will seek to achieve that.
I have been contacted by a number of parents who are concerned about the Prime Minister’s announcement at the Conservative party conference on “earn or learn”. This might just be one of the attention grabbing gimmicks we expect from the Government during conference season, but people are concerned about it. May we have a debate so that the Government do not rush into this ill-thought-out policy?
Parents should be encouraged by what the Prime Minister has said. All indicators regarding young people’s prospects suggest that they should be in either education, employment or training. Not being in education, employment or training can cause serious damage to their prospects. We are setting out to minimise the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training, and I hope the hon. Lady supports that.
It was announced last week that developers had signed a legal agreement with Blaenau Gwent council for construction of the Circuit of Wales. It was also announced that the project will be part-funded by the Welsh Government. May we therefore have a debate on the subject of devolved Governments using public funds potentially to distort markets—in this case, a matter of great concern to the Association of Motor Racing Circuit Owners?
May we have a debate on why the Government are refusing to do anything about the scandal of rip-off premium rate phone lines? The Which? report out today shows that this is a continuing scandal, yet I understand that the Government plan to take no action on it. Why are the Government always on the side of rip-off big business rather than the little guy?
On the contrary, the Government have been very clear that public services should not use premium rates so that people can access public services without paying a premium price to do so. If I may say so, when I was Secretary of State for Health, the roll-out of 111 as a service could be distinguished in a number of ways from its predecessor service NHS Direct, including being free to those who use it. There is a wider issue about the use and impact of premium rate services, particularly from utility companies and the like: customers, and particularly vulnerable people, should be able to access them without having to pay an extra charge. I shall ask colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond to the hon. Gentleman on this point.
The closure of the A344 alongside Stonehenge appears to have caused chaos along the A303. The Stonehenge traffic action group is very keen for the roads Minister to make a statement on progress made towards dualling this infamous stretch of road. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that happens?
I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. I sat in a queue on the A303 in August, so I had the benefit of that experience myself. I will, of course, ask my colleagues at the Department for Transport about this. As my hon. Friend and the House know, the Department is well aware of the problem and is seeking to deal with it. I hope that, by the end of the year, it will be in a position to make announcements as a result of its study of the relevant options.
My local authority wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), about cuts to the fire service on Merseyside. The reply it received, however, was rather disappointing because it came from a civil servant and not from the Minister. Will the Leader of the House confirm that replies to local authorities, especially on such important matters, should come from a Minister, not a civil servant?
If I may, I will check the position with the Minister responsible for the fire service, who is assiduous in his duties. I know that he would normally expect to respond to local authorities on this issue; we need to know what happened. It might have had something to do with the summer recess and an attempt to ensure that the local authority received an early reply, but I will inquire into the circumstances.
May we have a debate on the lamentably slow way in which the banks are dealing with cases of alleged mis-selling of interest rate swap products, which affected many businesses across the country, and on the fact that tailored business loans, in respect of which similar products have the same damaging implications for people’s livelihoods and businesses, are not included in the review at all?
My hon. Friend is right to raise these issues and to be persistent in raising them. We need the banks to come forward with their compensation schemes as quickly as possible. I will raise my hon. Friend’s particular point with colleagues in the Treasury and ask them to respond.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
On 9 August, the Hull Daily Mail led with the following report:
“Yesterday the Prime Minister…said A & E departments would get a share of the money over the next two years, to ensure they are fully prepared for winter.”
On 10 September, I learned that Hull will not get a penny of the £250 million set aside for this winter. May we have a debate on why Hull, despite its real needs, is not getting a fair share of funding—it applies to council funding, too—from this Government?
As the hon. Lady will recall, a written statement reported that there had been full consultation between the Department, Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority to establish how resources could be used to offset the specific risk of their not meeting the required service performance standards. In fact, Addenbrooke’s hospital, which is in my constituency, received no resources, although its staff had worked immensely hard to maintain their performance standards. Ministers are only too aware of the issue, but they have focused their additional resources on managing the greatest risks throughout the country.
I understand that in Wellingborough the song “Maggie May” is being sung with great gusto today following the publication by the Home Secretary of the Immigration Bill. Lefties hate the Bill, the Labour party is against it, and I understand that some Liberal Democrat MPs are queasy about it—so it is clearly the right Bill. Will the Leader of the House insist that the Immigration Minister come to the House and introduce it as a matter of urgency?
I am happy to report that the Immigration Minister is available and ready to introduce the Bill presently. As my hon. Friend will have noted, I have announced a date for its Second Reading, so that we can make progress with a vital measure that will ensure fairness in relation to access to services and the country’s immigration structures.
Like me, the Leader of the House represents constituents who are heavily affected by the A14. He will have been as saddened as I was to learn of a fatal car accident that occurred in the summer on the A14 near Kettering, in which two young people in their twenties lost their lives because a drunk driver was driving along the road in the wrong direction. That drunk driver was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment by Northampton Crown court. Along with many of my constituents, I feel that that simply is not enough. May we have a statement from the Ministry of Justice, or a debate on the Floor of the House, about the sentences that are imposed on people who kill passengers on our roads as a result of either bad driving or drink-driving?
I entirely share my hon. Friend’s distress at what happened. The character of such events, not only on the A14 but on other roads, is very disturbing. My hon. Friend may have heard the Prime Minister say, during Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice had asked the Sentencing Council to review sentences for driving offences, including the offence of causing death through dangerous driving. I will refer my hon. Friend’s question to the Secretary of State for Justice, and will try to establish when he may be able to report further on the issue.
May we have a debate on the booming manufacturing sector in Yorkshire? Today, we heard the sweet news that Haribo is to open a new £92 million factory in the county, which will provide 300 new jobs and which has received £6.4 million from the regional growth fund. In my patch, we learnt over the summer that Disposables UK would be moving to new premises; Wentworth Valve is also moving to new premises, and the order books of Camira Fabrics are bulging. Will my right hon. Friend allocate plenty of time for a long debate on the manufacturing success in Yorkshire?
That is immensely encouraging news from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am delighted to hear it. I have been struck by the number of new projects that are being supported by the regional growth fund. I believe that about half a million new jobs will be associated with projects that are receiving such support, or for which such support is in the pipeline.
As we all know, creating the right economic framework is the fundamental way of bringing new investment to the country and promoting new investment in companies here. That is what the Government are doing and what we will continue to do, and I know that, as a consequence, more companies will report having received new investment of the kind to which my hon. Friend has referred.
May we have a debate on how councils are responding to community applications for “assets of community value” registrations? Leeds city council recently turned down applications for a playing field and a swimming pool in Headingley and Hyde Park, where there are very few such facilities, on the grounds that the community would not realistically be able to buy them. I do not think that that is appropriate in terms of legislation. May we have a debate to establish whether the community could at least try to bid for those facilities?
That is an important point. I will ask Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond specifically on how the new legislation should be interpreted in relation to what should be entered on to the register of community assets and whether some pre-emptive decision should be made about whether the community would be able to bid for that. It is important that assets of community value can include sports fields and sports facilities, and the right to bid really applies, of course, when that list of community assets is established, so the point my hon. Friend makes is important.
The Education Committee recently published a report on school governance and school improvement. The report has generated some interesting comments from the Government, so the Committee would like to have a debate in this Chamber. Will the Lord Privy Seal consider that request, and may I say that I hope that debate is held in this Chamber so we can all focus on what is an important step in the right direction through improving accountability and localism in our schools?
I encourage the Select Committee to seek time for such a debate through the Liaison Committee, which has a certain allocation of time, although the Backbench Business Committee has substantial time available in the week after next, and not only on Thursday, so I hope it will take good advantage of that, not just in respect of the school governance issue but also in the light of what we have read this week in the OECD report. I have to say I was staggered by this simple fact, if by nothing else: we are among the three highest performing countries in literacy for 55 to 65-year-olds, but we are among the bottom three countries in literacy proficiency among 16 to 24-year-olds. All of us in public service and public office should be ashamed of the fact that we are not making progress in improving literacy and numeracy skills among the young people currently leaving school and those who have been leaving school over recent years. That is shameful, and we in this House should focus on it.
May we find time for an urgent debate on the deteriorating situation in the Maldives, where the first round of a presidential election has been annulled and it is feared the authorities are trying to obstruct the return to power of President Nasheed, who was ousted in a coup last year and who clearly won an election that was described by international observers as free and fair?
Yes, these are disturbing circumstances. I have not visited the Maldives, but many people in this country are familiar with it from holidays and the like, and I will ask my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to update the House on this matter at oral questions, if not before.
Given that the 4 million self-employed in our country make a huge contribution to the economy and many have the potential to take on a first employee and bring thousands into the workplace, may we have a debate in the House on the support available for first-time employers in order to help further strengthen the entrepreneurial spirit across the country?
I have not yet had an opportunity to announce to the House the timing of the introduction and consideration of the national insurance contributions Bill, which is relevant to the point my hon. Friend rightly raises. We know that so many of the new jobs being created are coming from small businesses, and we have perhaps the highest rate of start-up businesses. We hope many of those start-up businesses will move from being sole traders or one self-employed person to somebody who starts to employ others for the first time, and that Bill will enable us to introduce the employment allowance next April. That £2,000 off each employer’s national insurance bill for employment will seriously help in encouraging people to take that first step to becoming an employer as well as a trader.
May we have a debate on volunteering? I am pleased to say that Tamworth has more volunteers per head of population than anywhere else in Staffordshire, and they are ably led by Rev. Alan Barrett and his wife Janet, who are soon to retire from St Editha’s church to Cumbria. That debate would allow us to discuss the value of volunteers and praise volunteers such as Alan and Janet, who make it happen.
If I may, I will join in thanking Rev. Alan Barrett and Janet for their voluntary service and the leadership they have given to voluntary service. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the record of volunteering in his constituency, which is reflected across the country; volunteering continues to be well supported. I hope that we will even increase it in the future, not least because of what the Prime Minister has done in promoting the National Citizen Service, in which this summer more than 30,000 young people will take part. That creates for them the prospect of a lifetime of public service and volunteering.
Two days ago, the Competition Commission made a bizarre decision that may force the sale of the much-loved and well-used Cambridge Arts Picturehouse. The Competition Commission has previously refused to act on Stagecoach’s near-complete monopoly of bus services in Cambridge or on Tesco’s dominance in the grocery market in Cambridge, but it is acting in a case where not only do the public not have concern, but many thousands have signed a petition against the Competition Commission’s decision. May we please have a debate on whether the Competition Commission should focus on real local monopolies and leave the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse alone?
I say to my neighbour, having visited the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, that I agree with him; it is an excellent facility in Cambridge, and I do not think for a minute that it is in the same market as some of the multiplexes outside the centre of Cambridge. The job of the Competition Commission is to identify markets and act to restrict monopolies in those markets, but I do not think we are talking about the same market here. The point my hon. Friend makes is a good one. Speaking purely personally, and not for the Government in this context, I share his view that there is no cause for the Competition Commission to seek to intervene in the ownership of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse.