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Business of the House

Volume 569: debated on Thursday 24 October 2013

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is sorry to be absent again this week. He is recovering well at home following his back operation last week, and is confident that he will be in his place and carrying out his duties in the House next week.

The business for next week will be as follows.

Monday 28 October—I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to update the House following the European Council. That will be followed by the Second Reading of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords], which will be followed by a motion to approve an instruction relating to the Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 29 October—Remaining stages of the Pensions Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to reform of Eurojust and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Citizenship (Armed Forces) Bill.

Wednesday 30 October—Opposition Day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on education, followed by a debate on the future of the probation service. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 31 October—Remaining stages of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill.

Friday 1 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 November will include the following.

Monday 4 November—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Tuesday 5 November—Second Reading of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 6 November—Opposition Day (10th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by a general debate relating to the commemoration of the first world war.

Friday 8 November—Private Members’ Bills.

Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will adjourn on the following dates during 2014.

The House will rise for the February recess at close of play on Thursday 13 February, and will return on Monday 24 February.

The House will rise for the Easter recess at close of play on Thursday 10 April, and will return on Monday 28 April.

The House will not sit on Monday 5 May.

The House will rise for the Whitsun recess on Thursday 22 May, and will return on Monday 2 June.

The House will rise for the summer recess on Tuesday 22 July, and will return on Monday 1 September.

The House will rise for the conference recess on Friday 12 September, subject to its agreeing future sitting dates for private Members’ Bills, and will return on Monday 13 October.

The House will rise for the November recess on Tuesday 11 November, and will return on Monday 17 November.

The House will rise for the Christmas recess on Thursday 18 December, and return on Monday 5 November 2015. [Laughter.] I mean Monday 5 January 2015.

I thought for a minute there that time had reversed and was going backwards, but the Deputy Leader of the House has put us straight. May I again pass on my best wishes for the speedy recovery of the Leader of the House? We hope to see him back in his place next week—no discourtesy is intended to the Deputy Leader of the House, who has filled in entirely, as we would have expected him to, with great aplomb.

May I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business and also next year’s recess dates, especially around the conference recess? I understand why the Scottish referendum has disrupted the usual arrangements but it does seem a bit strange that we have had to make changes to accommodate the 2014 Liberal Democrats conference. At the rate they are losing members, next year they could hold it in a telephone box over the weekend.

This business statement once again shows we are kicking our legislative heels in the Commons while the other place is yet again stuffed full of legislation. The Government still have to find time for us to discuss the Offender Rehabilitation Bill even though it completed its Lords stages months ago. It has now taken Labour to announce an Opposition day debate for the Government’s underhand privatisation of the probation service to be discussed at all. This is now the third time I have had to ask: can the Deputy Leader of the House confirm when this Bill will return to the Commons?

The Chancellor’s inadequate Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill has been substantially changed by last-minute amendments in the Lords, making it a very different and much longer Bill from the one we debated here originally. Given the importance of banking regulation to everybody’s living standards, will the Deputy Leader of the House now give us an assurance that sufficient time will be allocated to debate what will be essentially a very different piece of legislation when it finally returns to this place?

In the last two weeks, three of the big six energy firms have announced price rises of around 10%. To stand up to this abuse of market power, Labour will freeze prices until 2017, but the Government’s energy policy is in chaos. In opposition, the Prime Minister hugged huskies and pretended to be green, and only last year he was boasting that his green levies were bigger than ours, but last week his Back-Bench climate change deniers were agitating to abolish them, reducing bills by hitting the poorest hardest and abandoning energy efficiency altogether, and yesterday, in a blind panic, the Prime Minister announced that he had given in to them. The Deputy Prime Minister looked like he had swallowed a wasp, and Lib Dem spinners dismissed it as a “panicky U-turn” which will not be allowed to “dictate Government policy.” So I think we now know what the new Tory policy is, but can the Deputy Leader of the House tell us what the Government’s policy is?

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister said we were living in

“some sort of Marxist universe” —[Official Report, 9 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 152.]

for suggesting a 20-month energy price freeze, and he said it was not possible to intervene in a market to set prices. This week, his Government signed a nuclear deal with the Chinese which sets prices not for 20 months, but for 35 years. On Tuesday Sir John Major announced his conversion to a windfall energy tax and worried about the silent have-nots who have to choose between heating and eating this winter. Meanwhile, No. 10’s advice to those who are cold was to wear a jumper. It speaks volumes when the Tory ex-Prime Minister responsible for the creation of the big six energy companies sounds more in touch than the current Prime Minister. So will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement to clarify Government policy on energy, and can we have a statement from the Prime Minister on whether he thinks Sir John Major is living in a Marxist universe too?

The Conservative party in the 1992 Parliament is remembered for being one of the most disloyal in its history, but I have been looking at the numbers and it turns out that the current crop of Government MPs are three times worse than they were then, and I think the Patronage Secretary’s expression says it all, because he has to deal with them. It sounds like the Prime Minister needs to listen to his predecessor not only on energy prices, but also on how to control his rebellious Back Benchers. While Sir John told them to put up or shut up, the current Prime Minister just caves in.

We know that for 39 out of the 40 months since the election prices have grown faster than wages. Will the Deputy Leader of the House now admit what we all know: that it was the Chancellor’s city bonus tax dodge that accounted for the surge in earnings in that one isolated month? So while living standards are falling bonuses are soaring, and the Chancellor creates a bonus tax loophole for his mates. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange for a statement from the Chancellor about why he prioritises his millionaire friends over tackling our cost of living crisis?

Last week, I asked the Deputy Leader of the House why he is campaigning against the closure of his local hospital, despite being in the Government responsible for it. Today, the Deputy Prime Minister will criticise the free schools policy, despite being in the Government responsible for it. I know that it was the final of “The Great British Bake Off” this week, but when will the Liberal Democrats realise that they cannot have their cake and eat it?

Last week, the shadow Leader of the House asked what I am thinking when I am sitting alongside the Leader of the House. I must ask her today what the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) might be thinking as she sits alongside the shadow Leader of the House—she may be wondering whether it is vanity that has prevented the shadow Leader of the House from letting the hon. Lady who shadows me speak in questions, or perhaps the shadow Leader of the House was worried that her hon. Friend might outshine her at the Dispatch Box.

I am pleased that the shadow Leader of the House referred to the 2014 Liberal Democrat conference. I recommend that she attends, because I am sure that she would welcome the very open policy debates we have. She alleged that the Government were kicking their heels on legislation. As I read out, we are to debate pensions, high-speed rail and national insurance contributions—if she thinks those are minor issues, she needs to think again. She referred to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill and of course there will be an opportunity for it to be debated on the Opposition day she has provided. I reassure her that the Bill will be brought forward as soon as possible: as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The shadow Leader of the House referred again to Labour’s price freeze con. We all know that bills would go up before it, that the Leader of the Opposition has said that he could not guarantee things during the freeze if global prices went up and that the prices would go up afterwards. So we all know where that would lead. We had the nuclear statement at the beginning of the week, and I hope that she would have welcomed the fact that, finally, we are getting some investment in our energy industry. She may not be aware that over the next 10 to 15 years about 60% of our energy generation is going to be switched off as plants come to their end, so there was a need for the Government to take urgent action to address that. I would have thought that she would have welcomed that action.

Clearly we want to help families with the cost of living. The Government have introduced a number of measures that will do that: 25 million basic rate taxpayers are going to be £700 better off next year; we have capped rail fare rises; 3 million people will be taken out of paying income tax altogether; we stopped the 13p fuel duty rise that would have occurred under Labour; and we have capped the council tax. So this Government have a very proud record of tackling cost of living issues.

Finally, I would like to thank the shadow Leader of the House for again giving me the chance to mention at the Dispatch Box the save St Helier hospital campaign, which I am leading.

May we have a debate on making better use of natural resources, particularly daylight? Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that this weekend we are to undertake the flawed ritual of putting our clocks back by one hour, thereby plunging the UK into darkness by mid-afternoon? May we have the opportunity to examine the case for changing to British summer time and double summer time—putting our clocks forward an hour? That would make the afternoons lighter, it would reduce the number of road accidents and it would boost tourism.

Clearly, we are all in favour of making better use of daylight. I know that the House has considered the issue on a number of occasions, and I am well aware of the arguments that my right hon. Friend is putting forward about the benefit that would be derived, particularly for the tourism industry and road safety. He may wish to consider raising the matter in a Westminster Hall Adjournment debate.

Would the acting Leader of the House agree that if we had a debate in the Chamber on the orchestrated campaign of intimidation against The Guardian, that would be an opportunity for some of us to point out that if it had not been for the Snowden disclosures, the monitoring of the German Chancellor’s mobile phone by US intelligence would not have been known? Surely the message about Snowden should be, “Let’s have more disclosures.” What The Guardian is publishing is undoubtedly in the national interest.

Clearly, I do not agree that there is an orchestrated campaign against The Guardian. Clearly, there is a need for the issues of public interest that The Guardian wants to highlight to be balanced with the security implications of any material it puts into the public domain.

During the summer recess, I met Stuart Wyatt, a constituent who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He told me that he and many others would like to use cannabis for medical reasons. Although I do not think that we should legalise cannabis at all, I do recognise that the pain of some who suffer from MS and other neurological conditions could be relieved by it. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the role of cannabis in relieving pain and how it could be given on prescription?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which he has put in measured terms. I understand why he has put it on behalf of his constituent. He may be aware of Sativex, a cannabis-derived mouth spray licensed in the UK in 2010 as an additional treatment for moderate to severe spasticity in multiple sclerosis. He may also be aware that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is updating its clinical guideline on the management of MS in primary and secondary care. Sativex is one of the new interventions that NICE has identified for inclusion in its updated guidelines, which it expects to publish in October 2014.

May I support the call made by the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on energy, so that the Government can clarify whether they are in favour of the warm homes programme, the renewable energy programme, Labour’s cap or John Major’s windfall tax? Those points need to be clarified. May we have that debate?

Obviously, the Labour party has Opposition days that it could use to secure such a debate. Earlier there was a statement about the nuclear industry and in the course of a number of exchanges, including Prime Minister’s questions and Business, Innovation and Skills questions earlier today, we have made clear the Government’s position on energy and why we do not believe that what the Leader of the Opposition proposes is a sensible or feasible approach.

It is a year since Paul Silk made recommendations for further fiscal devolution to the National Assembly for Wales. Why are we still waiting for the Government’s response to those recommendations? May we have a statement about the Government’s intentions and, better still, legislation?

I know why my hon. Friend is pursuing the matter vigorously; it is clearly of great interest to him and his constituents. The matter is still under discussion in Government. The most sensible thing for me to do is ensure that we write to him setting out the current position.

On 26 May 2011, the then Health Secretary, whom we wish a speedy recovery, wrote to me about a decision by West Midlands strategic health authority to reduce nurse training. He replied that it believed that

“a reduction in commissions is necessary to avoid a significant oversupply in the nursing workforce.”

Last week it was revealed by Nursing Times that a massive one in three hospitals is going abroad actively to recruit new nurses. May we have an early statement so that the new Health Secretary can override his incompetent bureaucrats and expand nurse training opportunities for our desperate and deserving youngsters?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question, and I will certainly draw the matter to the attention of the Leader of the House when he returns, as he may want to consider it further. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have provided an extra £12.7 billion of investment in the NHS. He may also be aware that 4,000 more clinical staff have gone into the NHS and that there are 23,000 fewer administrative staff. Specifically on the west midlands, however, I will ensure that the Health Secretary responds to him.

Last Saturday presidential elections were once again postponed in the Maldives when President Waheed and his puppet interim Government of the previous elected President refused to step aside. Will the Deputy Leader of the House make time for a debate so that MPs on both sides of the House can voice their support for free and fair elections in that country?

The annulment of the first round of Maldivian elections held on 7 September, and the continued delay in holding new elections, are of concern to the Government and to the Foreign Secretary, as he made clear in a statement last week. It is important that elections take place to a timing specified by the Maldives elections commission and in accordance with the Maldives constitution. Ministers and officials are in touch with candidates and are strongly encouraging them to engage in a process that will deliver inclusive, free and fair elections, and a smooth transition of power. My hon. Friend may be aware that we have Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday when he could raise the matter again.

Britain has an enormous and ongoing trade deficit with the rest of the European Union, including a goods deficit of more than £1 billion a week, mainly with Germany. That is equivalent to 1 million exported jobs. The situation is conclusive evidence of a substantially misaligned exchange rate, so will the Deputy Leader of the House make Government time available for a full debate on the exchange rate?

I am afraid that I cannot provide the hon. Gentleman with an opportunity to discuss that in Government time, but he might want to make representations to his party’s leadership about whether it could be the subject of an Opposition day debate. I know that he has strong views on the European Union, and I wonder whether he feels that coming out of the EU would help or hinder the trade deficit.

In January 2012, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a wonderful speech about how to reconstruct an inclusive, just and popular capitalism. He called for a new co-operatives Bill, but that has not yet appeared. I cannot imagine that the Liberal Democrats are opposing it, but I cannot think of any other explanation, as the Secretary of State for Education and Cabinet Office Ministers have supported such a Bill. Will the Deputy Leader of the House see to it that time is provided to bring forward that important new Bill on co-operatives?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to raise that issue during today’s Business, Innovation and Skills questions, as that would have been a good opportunity to flag it up. However, I will ensure that he gets a written response to his very specific question.

My constituents are getting angry and frustrated about the rocketing cost of High Speed 2. At a time when we are expecting winter weather and more flooding, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport on what he is doing to ensure that the line between Penzance and London is resilient in the face of floods and can be kept open beyond Exeter?

I assure the hon. Lady that the cost controls around HS2 are very firm. This substantial and important project is going to provide the biggest boost to our rail network since the Victorian era. On the specific issue about her locality, the Government have set aside substantial investment to ensure that other projects around the country are delivered. She may wish to raise the matter at Transport questions on 7 November.

Could time be found for a debate on human rights in Russia, given that tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the imprisonment of Amnesty prisoner of conscience Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was imprisoned in a gulag in the Arctic circle for having the temerity to disagree with the President?

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Minister for Europe issued a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest and met his son on 10 October to discuss the situation. The Government have significant concerns about the processes used to convict Khodorkovsky and continue to call for him to be released on schedule next August. The promotion and protection of human rights is a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia and we regularly raise it at all levels.

It may be appropriate to add that, since I announced the business statement, I have been informed of further business. On Thursday 31 October, there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on the oversight of the intelligence and security services.

The Foreign Secretary is very good at updating the House about the situation in the middle east. Yesterday, 300 al-Qaeda-affiliated prisoners organised an attempted break-out from the main prison in Sana’a in Yemen. When can we have a statement on what assistance we are giving to the Yemeni Government?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that pertinent and timely question. I cannot guarantee that there will be time for a debate or a statement, but I will ensure that the Foreign Secretary hears his concerns and responds directly to him. He will also have an opportunity to raise the issue directly with the Foreign Secretary during Question Time next Tuesday.

May we have a debate on charging by general practitioners? Vulnerable people in my constituency are being charged up to £130 by their GPs to provide medical information that is needed for Atos assessments. That is money they can sorely afford to spend and this important issue is affecting some of the most vulnerable in society, so may we please debate it?

Clearly that is a significant issue that I am sure presents a real financial challenge to some people. I would like to think that GPs would be careful about levying such charges when it is clear that the person might not be able to afford them.

May I challenge the Deputy Leader of the House to come back to the House some time in the near future and explain exactly how the Government are devising policy? Yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister on green measures and fuel prices caught everyone unawares. Today the Deputy Minister is making a speech about education and suggesting that we should regulate with regard to qualified teachers in our schools, but only last week the Minister for Schools signed off on cuts that could deregulate the oversight of qualified teachers. The Government’s approach, and not least that of the Liberal Democrats, seems to be inconsistent, so could we have an explanation of exactly what is going on?

I will give the hon. Gentleman an explanation immediately. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that parents want and expect their children to be taught a core body of knowledge by good, qualified teachers or teachers seeking qualification—the quality of their teaching is checked by Ofsted—and to get a healthy meal every day. The Government believe that every child should have access to a good choice of excellent local schools. The hon. Gentleman may know that three quarters of free schools provide good or outstanding education, compared with just 64% in the public sector.

I recently met my constituent Angela Lavelle, who suffered from breast cancer. She told me how chemotherapy affects eyesight, leading to a greater risk of cataracts, and the teeth, leading to problems of rapid decay, which results in the need for more frequent check-ups. Unless patients are in receipt of benefits or on a low income, they have to meet those extra costs. May we have a debate to discuss what help we can give these cancer sufferers?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman and everyone in the House will welcome the extra funding the Government have put into cancer treatment. I will ensure that the Health Secretary responds to him on the specific issue of the extra costs that his constituent has to meet.

On energy prices, may we have a debate or a statement in which we may raise the concerns of households that are off the gas grid and heavily dependant on home heating oil? That is a particular problem in rural areas and regions such as Northern Ireland, where 70% of households are dependent on home heating oil. The costs are extremely high and people are suffering in fuel poverty. Such a debate or statement would allow us to explore the help that is available for those households.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for highlighting the significant issue of the additional fuel costs that are faced by those who are off the grid. Although I cannot assure him that there will be an opportunity to debate the matter, I will ensure that what he has said is passed on to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change so that my right hon. Friend can set out how we are helping those who are in the most difficult financial position of all.

May we have a debate on reforming the Official Secrets Act? Breaches of the Act over the past decade in the Royal Navy and the Secret Intelligence Service have attracted only light custodial sentences. Is it not about time the Act was reformed to ensure that there is sufficient deterrent against treason in this country?

I am not aware of any opportunities that there will be to raise that matter shortly, but the hon. Gentleman could apply for an Adjournment debate on the subject. If he feels that there is cross-party concern about the issue, he could also seek a debate from the Backbench Business Committee.

May we have a comprehensive statement to the House about the health service in Shropshire? There is a debate about A and E services between Telford and Shrewsbury, which nobody in the county wants, and there is an emerging crisis in the ambulance service, particularly with regard to response times. May we have a comprehensive statement from the Government about those health services, because they are very important to people in Shropshire and particularly to those in Telford and Wrekin?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight his concerns about his local health service. He mentioned A and E and the ambulance service, and I am sure that he will welcome the fact that the Government are investing £250 million in each of the next two years to support those A and E departments that are under the most pressure. He may also welcome the fact that, for the first time, the Government have put in place measures to examine waiting times. I will ensure that a response is sent to him about the specific issues that he has raised about the health service in Shropshire.

Last week, when I gently asked the Deputy Leader of the House about the forthcoming announcement on nuclear, he said that I would have to wait for the announcement. The announcement has now been made, so I will ask my question again. Bridgwater college is training the top engineers who will be needed to fulfil our promises not only, as somebody put it, to the Chinese and the French, but to the United Kingdom. Sedgemoor district council in my constituency must have a major part of the inward investment that the country needs to ensure that the supply chain for this enormous project is fulfilled. May we have time to discuss training, skills and inward investment for the United Kingdom in relation to the biggest infrastructure project that we have seen for a generation?

The UK is determined to become a low-carbon economy, which is why our energy policy requires a mix of renewable, clean coal, gas and nuclear energy. As a result of the announcement on Monday, I am sure that the Government will want to work with employers and training providers to ensure that UK plc derives the maximum possible benefit. We believe that the nuclear industry is cost-competitive with other generation technologies. However, as the hon. Gentleman identified, we must ensure that we derive the maximum benefit from the project so that we can use those skills as the industry develops around the world.

On 18 April, I raised the issue of a fake internet jobs scam that was exposed by BBC Radio Humberside. Today, Radio Humberside has reported on another racket in which jobseekers are tricked into calling an expensive 070 phone number and completing a long questionnaire for a fake company called SB Millers, which is run by Sean Dixon of 33 Epsom road in London. Please may we have a debate on how we can stop these rackets that exploit desperate people who are looking for work and prosecute the criminals behind them?

The hon. Lady rightly highlights that problem in the Chamber today and I hope that it will receive publicity to ensure that people are more widely aware of that scam. I am sure that she has raised the matter with her local trading standards officers to see what action they can take. Thanks to her, we are all aware of the potential problem, and I am sure we will all want to keep an eye out to ensure that our constituents are not affected in the way that hers have been.

There has been an outrageous slur from the Opposition that Liberal Democrat Ministers are not supporting the Prime Minister. If we closed our eyes today, we could hear the Deputy Leader of the House sounding exactly like a Tory Minister. Just to ensure that there is no doubt, will he arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement next week that he fully supports the Prime Minister’s desire to roll back green energy regulations?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to listen to the Deputy Prime Minister on LBC, but he might have found clarification on that point. Perhaps Mrs Bone had an opportunity to listen to that interview and will be able to report back to him. The coalition Government have made it clear that we are committed to being the greenest Government ever, and we will not do that at the expense of the environment or of jobs in the emerging industries. At the same time, however, we are aware of the pressures that people face due to their energy bills. That is why we have legislated, for instance, to ensure that people are offered the lowest tariff, and it is why we have measures in place to address the winter peak in fuel costs, with £135 available to 2 million people.

As the Deputy Leader of the House has demonstrated, creative inventiveness has its place in parliamentary debate, but there is a time and place for everything, and it can be taken too far. In light of that, will it be possible to have a debate on the errors—inadvertent, of course—the misrepresentations, inadvertent, and the all-too-frequent inaccuracies, inadvertent, of the Prime Minister in his attempts to answer PMQs?

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but there is clearly not such an opportunity beyond the Prime Minister’s weekly attendance at the Dispatch Box, when he puts across the Government’s position on matters of all natures forcefully and effectively. Of course, the Prime Minister is a more regular attendee at the House to make oral statements than his predecessor.

May we have a debate on how we can continue to build on the legacy of the amazing London 2012? This Saturday, the next major international sporting tournament in this country, the rugby league world cup, will begin with Australia against England and Wales against Italy. Will the Government give it their full support? As a London MP, will the Deputy Leader of the House be going to the semi-final double header at Wembley on 23 November?

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was offering me tickets for the game on the 23rd; if so, we can discuss it later. He is right about the rugby league world cup, which could well be the best attended ever. He is also right to highlight the importance of sport, which can tackle some of the health issues that we face and may be used to work with young people to help to build their leadership and team skills, as it is by Cricket for Change, an organisation in my constituency.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that Parliament and the parliamentary estate should be open to people of all backgrounds and to all our constituents, and that that should not depend on how wealthy or influential they are? Is he aware that the proposed massive increase in the cost of using rooms in the House and on the parliamentary estate will put many charities, third sector groups and small organisations off coming here to hold events? May we have an early debate on the chaotic management and running of this place?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and I think that he is sufficiently experienced to know that that is perhaps not a matter on which I can respond. We can both agree that we want the parliamentary estate to be as open as possible to anybody, but he will also be aware that at the same time Parliament is under a lot of pressure to ensure that it covers its costs. The commercial implications of such matters must therefore also be considered.

Last Saturday night and into Sunday morning, I went out on patrol with Humberside police officers, the excellent police and crime commissioner for Humberside, Matthew Grove, and the magnificent street angels into the streets of Cleethorpes to view the night-time economy. It became evident that a review of the current licensing laws is necessary. Will the Deputy Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on such matters?

I am afraid that I am not in a position to announce time for such a debate. The hon. Gentleman might want to try to secure an Adjournment debate. I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House will have strong views about their own nightlife and the impact of licensing laws on it. He rightly highlighted the work done by the street angels on his patch, and I want to take this opportunity to congratulate the street pastors in Sutton, who play a similar role.

Tomorrow is wear it pink day in aid of the Breast Cancer Campaign. LivinginBL, one of the excellent local newspapers in Bolton West, is organising many activities to raise money and awareness. Will the Deputy Leader of the House join me and many thousands of people throughout the country and wear it pink tomorrow?

I hope to be able to help the hon. Lady. When I go home this evening, I will have to check what pink items there are in my wardrobe, and subject to there being a suitable pink tie, pink shirt or, indeed, pink wig, I might well be able to join her tomorrow. It is a fantastic campaign and I am sure that many MPs will have taken advantage of the photo opportunity provided, wearing pink glasses, pink wigs or other pink items. It is an effective way of drawing attention to an effective campaign.

In the light of a recent conviction in my constituency for the mistreatment of horses, and alongside the Welsh Assembly’s recent proposals on the issue, may we have a debate on tackling fly grazing and the abandonment of horses, which sadly happen all too often in my constituency and across England and Wales?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He will be aware that that is an issue not just in rural areas but in urban and suburban areas such as mine, where horses are often left on local playing fields. I am afraid that I cannot provide any time immediately for that matter to be debated and I will have to refer him to the opportunities provided in Westminster Hall. If there is a greater appetite for such a debate, he could perhaps refer the matter to the Backbench Business Committee through cross-party representation.

May we have a debate or statement on the Government’s discretionary housing payment policy? Since April, 1,307 households across the public and private rental sectors have applied to Redcar and Cleveland borough council for the discretionary housing payment. Only 358 households have been awarded it, not because eligibility criteria have not been met but because the fund is exhausted, which means that nearly three quarters of households will not receive anything. May we have a statement or debate on the policy, as families in my constituency are in dire straits as a result of this Government’s bedroom tax and other cost-of-living measures?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in response to concerns expressed by local authorities the Government made additional moneys available for the discretionary housing payment. I am sorry that on his patch the funds are, he says, exhausted, but I am aware that a number of other local authorities did not fully access the money made available to them. He will understand the reasons why the Government have proceeded with the changes to the spare room subsidy, and if he has concerns about the policy, we need to hear whether the Labour party would provide additional funding or simply deliver the same as the Government’s programme.

We recently had the intolerable situation where a triple killer, who murdered his last victim while he was on the run from prison, was not given a whole-life tariff by the judge, because the judge said that that would breach a European Court of Human Rights ruling. I know the Deputy Leader of the House is on the wishy-washy wing of the coalition Government—quite a crowded wing—but will he arrange for a debate and a vote in this House, so that the House can make it clear that we expect judges to impose whole-life tariffs where they see fit, and ignore the views of the pseudo-sham judges at the European Court of Human Rights?

I thank my hon. Friend for that, but I do not think I would describe myself as wishy-washy in any shape or form. I hope he will acknowledge that there is separation on this issue, and that Members of Parliament and the Government generally should be a little reluctant to interfere in decisions taken by judges.

In contrast to the previous question, will the Deputy Leader of the House allow a debate on the state of prisons in England? He is probably aware that many inmates have completed their tariffs but cannot be released until they complete an offender behaviour programme, but waiting lists are currently more than five years long. Does he agree that it makes no economic or moral sense to keep people locked up who are eligible for release and incarcerated only because of a paucity of suitable courses?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that sensible question and for highlighting the state of prisons in England. That matter was raised during questions last week, and the Government rightly set out that the priority is safety and security in prisons. I agree, however, that if there are people who are in a position to be released but have no access to an offender behaviour programme, the matter needs to be addressed. I will ensure that the Ministry of Justice writes to the hon. Gentleman on that subject.

One in six men in the country, and in this Chamber, will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lives—it is the single biggest killer of middle-aged men. With November looming, will the Deputy Leader of the House join me in expressing support for the Movember campaign? Movember was started by two patients, and has now raised more than £200 million and become the world’s biggest charity in the field. Will the Deputy Leader of the House signal his support and consider becoming a fellow Mo Bro, and can we have a debate in the House on the importance of male health awareness and the involvement of patients in research?

The hon. Gentleman may be alarmed to hear that I took part in Movember three years ago, but the general view of my trucker-style moustache was that it was best never seen again, and I am afraid that this year I will not be participating. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman intends to sport a dramatic moustache—a Mexican moustache perhaps—during November, but I agree that Movember is a fantastic campaign that has caught people’s imagination. Men are not very comfortable talking about prostate cancer and their health in general, and the campaign has highlighted an issue that men of my age—and the hon. Gentleman’s age—need to be aware of and concerned about.

May we have a debate on reducing VAT on energy bills? Every 1% reduction in VAT means £300 million saved for hard-pressed householders. Will my right hon. Friend lobby the Prime Minister to ensure that regaining control of our VAT rates is the No. 1 part of renegotiation on our relationship with the European Union?

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that under the EU directive covering VAT it would not currently be possible for VAT on gas and electricity supplies to be reduced below 5%. We know that rising energy prices are hitting many households hard at a difficult time, which is why in response to an earlier question I set out exactly what the Government are doing about the issue. The Government’s view is that the best way to keep everyone’s bills down is to help people save energy, and to ensure there are fair tariffs and to encourage competition, which is exactly what they are doing. If the Government were to pursue the approach that the hon. Gentleman suggests, they would also have to say where the extra money would come from to make up for the loss in VAT.

Has the Deputy Leader of the House seen the recent European Parliament ruling on e-cigarettes, which determines that an e-cigarette is not—I repeat not—a medicinal product? Given that the Government remain committed to increasing regulation in the UK, may we have a Department of Health statement on what action it will take to enable smokers who are looking to reduce their dependency on tobacco to continue to use e-cigarettes?

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask the Government to set out our position. We were disappointed that the European Commission’s proposal to regulate products including e-cigarettes as medicines was not supported by the European Parliament. The Government believe they need to be regulated as medicines. As he is aware, in the meantime licensed nicotine replacement therapies are available to help to reduce the harm of smoking to smokers and those around them, as recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

The Care Quality Commission has raised concerns about maternity services in my local Medway hospital. May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health on Government policy on maternity services and what is being done to get more midwives into our hospitals?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for flagging up his concerns about his local hospital in Medway. He will be aware that the Government are taking action on midwives. He might also be aware that there is a record number of midwives in training. There will be 1,300 or so additional qualified midwives by the middle of this academic year in comparison with the beginning of the Parliament.

Earlier this month, the OECD published a report showing that young adults in England have among the lowest results in the industrialised world in international literacy and numeracy tests. The report showed that this is the only country in the survey in which results are going backwards, with higher numbers in the elder cohort than in the younger cohort. May we therefore have a debate on standards in schools, focusing on why such a high proportion of academies and free schools are classed as outstanding?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I was quite depressed at what the report said on the progress young people are making. Clearly, literacy and numeracy are the foundations on which all further achievement in education depend, and are critical for work and everyday life. We need to do more work to raise the quality of English and maths throughout the country. Our reforms to schools and further education will improve the quality of the teaching work force, reward the best providers and ensure that learners are stretched to achieve the best they can. He might have heard the Minister for Schools set out in his statement last week exactly what we are doing to ensure that standards in all schools are improved.

Like most of my constituents in Kettering, I believe that if a foreign national commits a crime they should be sent back to their country of origin and banned from re-entering the UK. That very sensible policy platform is outlined in my Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the United Kingdom) Bill, which is scheduled for debate tomorrow. Are the Deputy Leader of the House and Her Majesty’s Government inclined to support that sensible policy?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill and his concern about foreign nationals who commit crimes. We will listen to the debate on his Bill, but I cannot reassure him today from the Dispatch Box that the Government will support it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I know my place; regrettably, you appear to know it, too. Be that as it may, may we have a debate on entrepreneurship? Tomorrow, I am meeting Tom Robinson, who at the age of 22 is one of Tamworth’s youngest entrepreneurs. He began by selling T-shirts from a market stall and is graduating to selling them from his first shop in the town centre. A debate would allow hon. Members to discuss what help we give and what more help we could give to young entrepreneurs such as Tom to help them to get their businesses off the ground.

Clearly, we left the best question till last. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, Tom Robinson, on the effective entrepreneurship he is deploying to promote his business. From small things grow much larger businesses. The Government are clearly committed to helping entrepreneurs. We have made significant funds available—loans-wise—to young people who are setting up businesses. We are growing jobs in the private sector and have the largest number of businesses registered, and business confidence, construction, manufacturing and exports are all up. We are beginning to see the economy as a whole moving in the right direction.