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Business of the House

Volume 569: debated on Thursday 31 October 2013

The business for next week is as follows:

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 general debate on the reform and infrastructure of the water industry and consumer bills. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 6 November—Opposition day [10th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Energy Price Freeze”. The debate will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by a motion relating to explanatory statements on amendments to Bills.

Thursday 7 November—A debate relating to standardised packaging of tobacco products. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by general debate relating to the commemoration of the first world war.

Friday 8 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 November will include:

Monday 11 November—Second Reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on a reasoned opinion relating to the regulation of new psychoactive substances.

Tuesday 12 November—Opposition day [11th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 7 November will be a debate on the fifth report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, “Energy prices, profits and poverty”, followed by a debate on the fourth report of the Transport Committee, “Cost of motor insurance: whiplash”.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I also welcome him back to his place. I hope he has fully recuperated.

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill has finally reappeared after I raised its mysterious absence three times and after yesterday’s Opposition-day debate. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government accept or intend to remove the Lords amendment to clause 1, which would require them to seek the approval of both Houses before they continue to push ahead with their reckless plans to privatise the probation service?

A report published by Age UK this week warned that 3 million elderly people are worried about whether they will be able to stay warm in their homes this winter. However, all the Government do is act as a mouthpiece for the big six energy companies, which are profiteering at everybody’s expense. It has been more than a month since we announced our plan to freeze energy prices until 2017 and all the Government do is dither. The Prime Minister says that he wants to roll back green levies, even though he introduced 60% of them. He cannot even tell us which ones he wants to cut. Will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister to stop standing up for the wrong people and vote with us next week to freeze energy prices and reset this failing market?

I note that the private Member’s Bill on the EU referendum returns to the House on 8 November. The Electoral Commission said this week that the question in the Bill risks causing a misunderstanding and it suggested a change of wording. The Leader of the House will be aware that, when the Electoral Commission recommended a change to the Scottish referendum question, the then Secretary of State for Scotland said:

“The UK Government has always acted on the advice of the Electoral Commission for every previous referendum.”

Given that the Bill was written in No. 10 and is supported by the Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will table the appropriate amendment to the referendum question in the Bill?

In January, the Prime Minister went to Davos and told the world that the UK would use its presidency of the G8 to tackle tax evasion. Last week, he could not tell my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) why he had refused to close the £500 million eurobond tax loophole. On Monday, we discovered that the flagship agreement to recoup tax from UK residents who hide money in Swiss bank accounts has brought in more than £2 billion less than the Chancellor scored in last year’s autumn statement. The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee says that £35 billion is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the money that the Government have lost to tax scams. Why, then, have the Government appointed as head of tax policy a man who is on record as saying that “taxation is legalised extortion”? Is it any wonder that, despite the meaningless ministerial PR, the tax gap keeps on growing and Tory donors are laughing all the way to their kitchen suppers in Downing street?

The coalition agreement promised to

“put a limit on the number on Special Advisers.”

It has just emerged that there has been a 50% rise in the last three years, costing a record £7.2 million. The Deputy Prime Minister has 19 special advisers in his office alone, which is nearly 20% of the total. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a complete waste of money? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] It seems that there is agreement across the House on that.

The only thing that appears to be going up faster than energy prices under this Government is the cost of special advisers, which has gone up by a massive 16% this year. There are now 98 special advisers in the Government, but the more of them there are, the more incompetent the Government seem to become. This week, the Department for Work and Pensions lost its appeal in the Supreme Court on its flagship back to work scheme, the Health Secretary was humiliated in the Court of Appeal over Lewisham hospital and the Government had to slow down universal credit for the third time and apply the brakes to disability benefit changes. Yesterday, they could not even write an amendment to our Opposition motion on education that was in order. We then had the spectacle of the Minister for Schools winding up the debate on teaching robustly in support of the Government and then abstaining on the vote. Will the Leader of the House therefore make time for a debate on the mounting evidence that this Government have abandoned all notion of collective responsibility and are descending into chaos and incoherence?

Today is All Hallows’ eve and children across the country will be dressing up as the Deputy Prime Minister to scare their friends. I just hope that they do not do what he does—promise treats, but hand out tricks instead.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, not least for her kind words after my back operation. Indeed, even when I was not in the Chamber, she kindly said some nice things. I am quite pleased about this back operation; it has got me up and about and I have the picture to prove that my backbone is intact—a useful thing in this life. When I was away, the shadow Leader of the House said that she was pleased she would get to find out what the Deputy Leader of the House, who sits alongside me, was thinking. Of course, I always knew what he was thinking while I answered questions, and we now know the truth. He is thinking, “I know the answer to this one”. He demonstrated that when he did an admirable job in answering questions while I was away.

The shadow Leader of the House asked a number of times about the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which will come before the House for Second Reading. In fact, I think three Bills came from the Lords at much the same time, and the Offender Rehabilitation Bill will be the first to be debated in this House. We will consider what we need to do but, as was made clear in the other place, our intention is to press ahead with a reform that will enable a large number of offenders with a sentence of less than 12 months to secure rehabilitation for the first time, and bring down the scandalous level of reoffending among those who have been prisoners. It is important to get on with that, which is what we are doing.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about energy prices, notwithstanding that my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary will make a statement in a few minutes. The hon. Lady should reflect, however, on the apparent utter confusion on her own side during this week’s business in this House and the other place. The Leader of the Opposition stood here and said that he cares about trying to bring down energy bills, while Labour Members in the other place were voting for a decarbonisation target that would have added £125 to the bill of every household. Labour Members cannot have it both ways; they cannot complain about increases in bills when the Leader of the Opposition—as Energy Secretary before the last election—wanted to increase costs through the renewable heat incentive, including a £179 hit on gas bills.

Labour cannot have it both ways, and the so-called price freeze is not a price freeze but a price con. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will demonstrate that the Government are doing what needs to be done and introducing to the market competition that did not exist when we came to office. We are getting the lowest tariffs available for customers, and doing everything we can to ensure efficiency and low costs to people, while delivering on our energy security, environmental and carbon reduction targets.

The hon. Lady asked questions, perfectly reasonably, about the Bill for consideration on Friday 8 November, but that is a private Member’s Bill, not a Government Bill—[Interruption.] I will laugh if I like. I think at the end of the debate on 8 November, we will be smiling, not the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). That Bill is a matter for its promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton).

It was rather an own goal by the shadow Leader of the House to talk about tax avoidance. Not only are the Government taking measures that are delivering a substantial increase in tax revenue—when compared to our predecessors—from those who would otherwise seek to avoid or evade tax, but today my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will announce, as reflected in a written ministerial statement to the House by the Business Secretary, that we are going to proceed with a register of company beneficial ownership that will be accessible to the public. That is important not only in this country but across the world to establish who owns what, and who is therefore liable for taxation.

In the business that I announced, I was almost tempted to pre-empt the 12 November Opposition-day debate; no doubt it will be on energy price freezes again, but it ought to be on the economy, as that is the issue. I have not been here for the past two weeks, but it was fascinating listening to business questions and Prime Minister’s questions. Labour Members do not want to talk about employment because we have had record employment figures. They do not want to talk about the economy because figures last Friday demonstrated that the economy is growing at a faster rate than at any time since 2008. [Interruption.] The supposedly silent one—the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell)—talks about the cost of living. I would be happy to have a debate on the cost of living, because, under this Government, 25 million basic rate taxpayers will be £700 better off than they were under the Labour Government; 3 million people have been taken out of income tax altogether; fuel duty is 13p per litre lower than it would have been under Labour; and there is support from the Government so that councils can freeze their taxes through the life of this Parliament, when, under the previous Labour Government, council taxes doubled. We delivered the biggest ever cash increase in the state pension last year. Those are the things the Government are doing to support people with the cost of living. We will continue to do so.

My right hon. Friend will recall that, some time ago, he kindly agreed to ask the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to meet me. After three and a half years of waiting, I am still very much persona non grata. The disgraceful chairman and chief executive seem to believe that smearing and slandering an individual Member of the House as hysterical—among other vulgar and untrue insults—is an acceptable modus operandi. The situation has reached an impasse. If a Member of Parliament finds that there is no direct redress or recourse in an ongoing issue with IPSA, despite numerous correspondence, e-mails and phone calls, and despite interventions from both the Leader of the House and the party’s Chief Whip, please will my right hon. Friend advise what option is left open to that Back Bencher to secure a professional and equitable conclusion from that inept, discredited and wholly unfit-for-purpose organisation?

Although my hon. Friend will understand if I do not comment on the points he makes on his case with IPSA, I suggested directly to the chief executive that my job could be to facilitate a meeting on a without-prejudice basis between him and my hon. Friend. I continue to believe that that is the right way to proceed. IPSA has important responsibilities in relation to all hon. Members, and it should be prepared to discuss and account for the way in which it discharges those responsibilities to hon. Members. I reiterate my offer to my hon. Friend and the IPSA chief executive. I am happy to facilitate and be present at a meeting at which they discuss, on a without-prejudice basis, their concerns.

Tuesday will mark another first for the Backbench Business Committee: for the first time, we will have representation from a member of the minority parties, in the form of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to welcome him to the Committee, but also pledge to review, as soon as possible, the status of minority parties on the Committee, so that they can have full voting rights, as every other member of the Committee has?

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the prospect of the attendance of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) at the Backbench Business Committee. I very much enjoy my opportunities to attend. I am a silent one in the Committee, but I listen carefully. It is a good way of understanding the views and interests of the House for debate. The Backbench Business Committee has admirably demonstrated that it is possible to schedule sittings on, effectively, a non-partisan and consensual basis, reflecting views of Members on both sides of the House. That is a very good basis on which to involve the minority parties and ensure that the views of the House as a whole are heard. The membership of the Committee is a matter not for me, but for the Procedure Committee. I would be happy to facilitate any review by that Committee to that effect.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that Burton upon Trent is the home not only of British beer, but of the England football team at St George’s park. Football fans throughout England are looking forward to cheering on Roy’s boys in Brazil next year. There is no better way to do so than when enjoying a pint in the local pub, but, because of Britain’s licensing laws and the time difference, many people will be unable to watch the football and enjoy a pint at the same time. Therefore, may we have a debate on UK licensing laws and exemptions, to give some cheer to England football fans and put some money in the pockets of Britain’s publicans?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Fortunately, he has done so in good time for his proposal to be considered before the World cup finals—while I was laid up, one of my pleasures was watching England play Poland. I will raise the matter with my hon. Friends at the Home Office, because there have been occasions in the past when it has been thought appropriate to have exemptions to licensing arrangements to recognise the time at which such major sporting events take place.

May we have a debate about the membership of this House? We now have the incredible spectacle of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the former Prime Minister, describing himself as “an ex-politician”. How can someone be a Member of this House and an ex-politician at the same time?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot account for the views of the former Prime Minister. “Politician” is an interesting description, but as Members of Parliament we are all here with a responsibility to represent our constituents, both in the constituency and—in my view—here in Westminster.

The Bill to pardon Alan Turing completed its passage through the Lords yesterday. Can the Leader of the House assure me that, as in the Lords, the Government will leave the decision to Parliament and not seek to oppose the Bill?

My hon. Friend is right that the Bill completed its progress in the other place yesterday and it will in due course come here. I would expect the view the Government took in the other place to be reflected here too.

I recently met a GP in my constituency who described how resources were being wasted on health tourists, but his concerns were ignored when he reported them to the immigration services. I know that the Immigration Bill is making progress, but does the Leader of the House agree that health tourism deserves a debate in its own right?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and it is why, when I was Secretary of State for Health, I instituted a review, which reported in the middle of last year. That review is the basis on which the Government are proceeding with the Immigration Bill, and there will be occasions to debate that issue during the progress of the legislation.

May we have a debate on early-day motion 598?

[That this House notes that World Polio Day is on 24 October 2013; further notes that within five years polio, like smallpox, can be eradicated across the world; recognises that in the last 25 years cases are down 99 per cent with 2.5 billion vulnerable children reached through vaccination programmes which offer a blueprint for cost-effective, targeted and outcomes-driven international public health intervention; further notes that just three countries, from an original 125, now have endemic polio – Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan; understands that vaccination programmes must focus on these countries to eradicate the disease and prevent its return elsewhere; further recognises the contribution of more than 50,000 British Rotarians towards a polio-free world through their volunteering and £20 million fundraising contribution; realises that the funding gap for this final effort to eradicate polio is a tangible £620 million; appreciates that the Government has contributed a world-leading £600 million towards eradicating polio to date; and calls on the Government to help finish the job of creating a polio-free world by continuing to commit funding, maintaining the UK’s commitment to the World Health Organisation, Rotary International, CDC and Unicef’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative and associated Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-18 and ensuring the UK's continued global leadership role through seeking support from international bodies, governments, non-governmental organisations, corporations and the wider general public to help eradicate this disease once and for all.]

That would enable the House to reflect on the £600 million the Government have already given to eradicating polio; on the fact that we could eradicate it completely, as we have smallpox, within five years; and on the fact that Rotarians across the country have raised £20 million through voluntary efforts to eradicate polio. This is a once-in-a-civilisation opportunity to eradicate polio once and for all. May we have a debate in which we can commit to eradicating polio in our lifetime?

I have read early-day motion 598, which highlighted world polio day last week. I cannot promise time immediately, but it would be appropriate to discuss this issue either through the Backbench Business Committee or in an Adjournment debate. It is very important that we achieve this aim, but it is fraught with risk, because of the circumstances we have seen most recently in Syria, where the breakdown of the health infrastructure as a consequence of the conflict has led to an outbreak of polio. We have to achieve polio eradication alongside getting health services into places such as Syria that do not have them at the moment.

This week Tata Steel announced 500 job losses nationally, of which 340 will be in my constituency. May we have a statement or a debate on what the Government are doing to support the steel industry and steel workers at this time?

I cannot immediately offer a debate, but I will discuss this with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. They, along with Tata, recognise the strategic importance of that company to the United Kingdom and have together developed a joint Her Majesty’s Government-Tata Steel strategy to support the business and ensure that it is in the right position to support our growing economy in the future and to enable our competitiveness. Any redundancies are very regrettable, and we feel very much for the difficult time that the work force is experiencing. Jobcentre Plus and its rapid response service will be available and will do all it can to help to support those workers.

I have never doubted my right hon. Friend’s backbone. When can we expect Second Reading of the Water Bill? It contains important provisions on competition and will have a big impact on customer bills and Flood Re insurance. There is enormous interest in the Backbench Business Committee debate next week, which unfortunately clashes with the meeting of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but I am sure we would all like to know when Second Reading will take place.

I recognise the interest, which is reflected in the acceptance of the debate by the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot tell my hon. Friend when Second Reading will be. She will understand that we set out to publish draft measures on flood insurance, which are important to Members across the House, and that they will benefit from consultation before we proceed with Second Reading and consideration of the Bill.

The sister of my constituent Gemma was murdered last year in Blackpool in the most horrific circumstances. During the court case, the murderer consistently referred to Gemma’s sister as “it”. May we have a statement or a debate on what the Government are doing to tackle the objectification of women and girls?

I am sure the House will want to join me in expressing sympathy with the hon. Lady’s constituent. I think I remember the case. If I may, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to respond. We have published a strategy and taken a wide range of measures to tackle violence against women. I will ask her to respond to this particular point.

When the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill returns to Parliament, will there be scope and time for a full and proper debate into the principles at stake and the circumstances that have emerged from Labour’s inquiry into the Falkirk selection process? [Interruption.]

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Opposition Members may shout, but the relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions could have been addressed in the Bill. I invited the Leader of the Opposition to do that and he did not even have the courtesy to reply. It is not too late. Measures could be introduced by the Opposition to regularise the relationship between trade unions and political parties on political funds. Frankly, all I have seen of the investigation at Falkirk suggests that, contrary to the right hon. Gentleman’s protestations, he did not investigate. He is not creating a new relationship and he is not dealing with the issues inside the Labour party and the trade unions. He still continues to dance to Unite’s tune.

The Leader of the House will know that a general election is due in Bangladesh in a few months. May we have a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on what we and our allies in the European Union are doing to assist the Government party and the main Opposition party, but not their Islamist allies, to ensure that free and fair elections take place again?

If my recollection is correct, I believe I heard Foreign Office Ministers refer to this matter during Foreign Office questions. I will check if that is the case. If it is not, I will talk to them and ensure that they write to the hon. Gentleman and consider at what point it might be appropriate to make a written statement to the House.

We all enjoy the contribution from the shadow Leader of the House, but this week she made a good point about the number of special advisers in the Government. If she is right that there are 19 special advisers in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, that, quite frankly, is a disgrace. May we have a statement on how many special advisers the Deputy Prime Minister has and when he plans to cut that number?

I apologise to the shadow Leader of the House for not answering that point. My recollection is that last week the limit on the number of special advisers was further reiterated by my colleagues at the Cabinet Office. If I may say so—this will not make me popular with my hon. Friend—it has to be understood that coalition Government creates special circumstances and a necessity for independent sources of advice to the two parties working together in coalition.

It is extraordinary that in one week two decisions by Secretaries of State have been held by the courts to be legally flawed. May we have a statement on whether they acted against civil servants’ and legal advice, and could the legal costs be published?

The case of the back-to-work scheme demonstrated that the Government were operating on the basis of thoroughly sound principles, and it was important for that to be established. On Lewisham, I understand perfectly what my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary did and why he did it, and I think he was right to pursue the issue, because the relevant legislation, which we did not introduce, was not clear. The unsustainable providers regime was established in primary legislation under the previous Government, but unfortunately it was not clear, so it was important to get that clarity by taking the case further.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister has announced today that companies must publish and make public details of who owns and controls them. In the interests of further transparency, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on demolishing the firewall between the taxpayer and private companies holding Government and local authority contracts by requiring them to meet the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act for those parts of their business paid for by taxpayers’ money?

I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s point—I recall the issue of private companies providing health care services paid for by the NHS—but it would be intensely difficult simply to apply the Freedom of Information Act to private companies and to draw clear distinctions between those parts of their activities to which public money relates and those to which it does not. That is why the public sector, when procuring services, makes clear in contractual provisions the requirement for proper transparency and openness about the nature of the contracts and services being provided to the public.

On special advisers, the Leader of the House’s answers to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and to the shadow Leader of the House were complacent. All over central Government, Ministers are bearing down on spending Departments, yet when it comes to their own personal support, it appears there is one rule for them and one rule for everyone else taking the cuts. A debate would allow us to test whether the Deputy Prime Minister genuinely needs 19 special advisers and why we have a record number of special advisers, given that in opposition they were so opposed to the growth in their number.

The coalition agreement made it clear that we would set a limit on the number of special advisers, and we are doing that, but it is also important to recognise, as has been demonstrated properly in the civil service reform plan, the need not only for civil service advice, but for access to external and independent sources of advice. Excellent and necessary though its role is as part of the infrastructure of advice and delivery, the civil service does not have a monopoly of wisdom. We need further advice as well.

I have said previously in the Chamber that the business of business is business and the business of government is creating an environment where business can thrive. Unemployment is now down to 2.8% in my constituency. May we have a debate about the heroic efforts of businesses in my constituency and across the country, which have created 1.4 million new private sector jobs since the last general election?

I congratulate my hon. Friend, and I am sure that his constituents share his pride in what they are achieving in employment creation and the wealth creation that goes with it. That is exactly what we are here to encourage. Throughout this Parliament, the extent of new job creation has been encouraging, but it is especially encouraging that we have now turned the corner and restored some of the growth lost in the recession created in Downing street under the last Government.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on police funding for our capital cities? I ask that in the light of some very odd answers I have received on policing funding for Cardiff, including one in which the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said he had had meetings with a wide range of international partners on the issue. I appreciate that we are rivals in rugby and football, but I would not have thought the Severn estuary too wide a gulf for him to cross.

If I may, I will ask the policing Minister to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman, because I cannot interpret that answer.

A couple of days ago, as the Leader of the House is aware, we had an enormous conference between British and French chambers of commerce to show that we were working together on a lot of energy projects. Total was there; Arriva was there; EDF was obviously there. May we have a debate on the importance of cross-channel inward investment? We have just heard about unemployment in the UK. This is a chance for us to show that this country is serious about our infrastructure and welcomes foreign investment through our chambers of commerce.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Government Members are supporting investment in infrastructure, although we wonder about those on the Opposition Benches. This is not just a Government-to-Government thing; it is an area in which businesses can work together, and I am delighted that my old friends in the chambers of commerce are working with their counterparts in France in this way.

Last week, the Prime Minister failed to answer my question about why the Government had failed to close the £500 million eurobond tax loophole. Yesterday, the former Chancellor, Lord Lawson, accused the Government of “getting nowhere” on corporate tax avoidance and said that the UK should take the lead on the issue. Given the importance of the issue for Britain, may we have an urgent debate on the Government’s progress and on their unwillingness to explain why they choose to leave loopholes open?

I would have thought that our introduction of the general anti-abuse rule, the fact that our Second Reading debate on the National Insurance Contributions Bill next Monday will cover the extension of anti-abuse legislation into national insurance, and our announcement today of the registration of beneficial company ownership all demonstrated that we were taking further steps beyond the many already taken by the Treasury to deliver on the reduction of tax avoidance.

This week, the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is no longer in her place, published an important report on the need for transparency and genuinely independent powers of review in the NHS in England. Will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on her report, so as to enable Welsh MPs, many of whose constituents are treated in English hospitals, to make the case for the same approach to transparency and genuinely independent review in Wales?

My hon. Friend is right to welcome, as I do, the right hon. Lady’s report on complaints. I hope that it will be taken up by the NHS not only in England but in Wales, not least because of the circumstances that gave rise to her serious concerns. I hope that the NHS in Wales will recognise that the NHS in England is making changes in regard to listening and responding to complaints, and that it will emulate the steps we are taking to deliver services on which patients can rely. Cutting the budget in Wales, which Labour is doing, is undermining the delivery of those services.

The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust is increasing parking charges at the two main hospital sites in Shropshire. I am against parking charges at hospitals—they are a charge on the sick—and is not this the wrong time to introduce such increases anyway? May we have a debate on the cost of living, in that context?

The hon. Gentleman will know that parking charges at hospitals in England are a matter for the individual trusts. In Wales, this is a devolved matter and the relevant bodies can make their own decisions. I personally find it astonishing that the Welsh Administration thought it appropriate to abolish parking charges—

I know. I am just making the contrast. If the hon. Gentleman thinks it appropriate to abolish those charges, he will have to find the money from somewhere else. In Wales, they have cut the money for patient services and care in order to subsidise car parking, and that cannot be the right decision.

A recent report by the TaxPayers Alliance showed that one fifth of house purchases in my constituency last year were subject to stamp duty of more than £7,500, and that is projected to rise to more than 41% of purchases in the next five years. May we have a debate on the reform of stamp duty?

It will not surprise my hon. Friend to learn that stamp duty land tax is an important source of revenue; it raises several billion pounds each year. It is important to consider how best we can support the housing market, and we have taken action in relation to first-time buyers. There are also effective ways of doing this through Help to Buy and the NewBuy guarantee scheme, among others. This is of course something that we continue to look at.

I alert the Leader of the House to the fact that quite a rare creature is wandering around the parliamentary estate this morning in the form of Sir David Attenborough. He is here to launch the crowdfunding initiative on flora and fauna to save the gorillas. Did the right hon. Gentleman know that at a press conference this morning it will be announced that tomorrow is a national crowdfunding day? May we have an early debate on the importance of crowdfunding for the renaissance of the communities of this country?

I was not aware of that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for alerting me and the House to this fact. The hon. Gentleman may like to raise the matter again in Treasury questions on Tuesday, as the Treasury will be interested. Members of all parties might find this interesting, too, so they could together ask the Backbench Business Committee whether time could be found in Westminster Hall for a debate on these issues.

A report published yesterday by Invest Black Country in conjunction with the West Midlands Economic Forum showed that over the last two years exports by the west midlands have grown by 30%—a better performance than any other region of the UK. May we have a debate on the continuing need to support the encouraging signs of economic growth in areas such as the black country, part of which I represent?

My hon. Friend illustrates a very impressive record of export promotion in the black country and the west midlands generally. We have done very well in increasing exports to some of the emerging markets and key markets for the future—China, India, Brazil and Russia, for example. We need to do more, however, because exports have been depressed, not least because of difficulties in the eurozone. The Government will look continuously to try to emulate the success of the west midlands, to which my hon. Friend referred.

It is a national disgrace that more than 350,000 people have had to turn to a food bank over the past six months. The Prime Minister has said twice from the Dispatch Box that this is because, under his Government, jobcentres are referring people to food banks. According to the many written answers I have received from Work and Pensions Ministers on this subject, however, that is simply not happening. The DWP has not been able to confirm how many jobcentres are doing this in practice or how officials decide whether someone is in need of emergency food aid. May we please have an urgent debate on this matter, on the wider causes of food poverty and on what the Government are going to do to stop the scandal of our people going to bed hungry?

First, it is a fact that Jobcentre Plus is signposting people to food banks, whereas the previous Government decided before the election that they would not do that. That is a positive thing to do. More food banks are being established—locally and more widely. It is important to offer that help. If people are in hardship, resources and funds are available to support them, and it is important for them to access the discretionary hardship funds.

I have two immigration cases in my constituency, one relating to the Mashongamhende family and the other to the Tapela family. Both families have been in the UK for many years. Despite numerous letters, direct telephone calls to the UK Border Agency and a personal meeting with the Home Secretary in July, both these cases are still unresolved. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the cost, inefficiency and delays of the UK Border Agency? In particular, when can I expect my two cases to be resolved?

My hon. Friend has rightly and typically been diligent in support of his constituents, and I know they will appreciate that. As he knows, the Home Office is fully aware of those cases and is seeking to make progress on them. I will get the Home Office to respond further to my hon. Friend; it is seized of the importance of doing so. More generally, the House has heard very positive statements from the Home Secretary about how she has reshaped the Border Agency for the future, turning it around as compared with the past. It is still early days when it comes to the progress that we all want to see, but I know that my right hon. Friend is bending every effort to ensure that we make such progress.

A number of charity shops in my constituency sell new goods in direct competition with other retailers, yet they pay a reduced business rate. May we have a debate on the need to create a level playing field between charity shops and other retailers, especially when new goods are sold and the charities are acting as full-blown retailers in their own right?

I will not venture too far into this subject, but many charities are, of course, retailers in a substantial way. Just the other day I was talking to representatives of the British Heart Foundation. It has 700 shops all over the country, which provide an important basis for much of its work. However, I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to reflect on what the hon. Gentleman has said, and to respond to it.

This week. the “Lonely Planet” guide ranked Yorkshire as the third best region in the world. Given the countryside of the Dales, the brand-new retail development in Leeds—with more to come—the Grand Départ and, apparently, the fact that it contains more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else outside London, may we have a debate to prove that Yorkshire is not just the third but, indeed, God’s own county?

I think that the House will be staggered by the effrontery of suggesting that Yorkshire is the third best county. We all know that it must be the second best, after Cambridgeshire.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) and the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) are right: we do need a debate on the Government’s special adviser job creation scheme. It is not just about the quantity, but about the quality as well. For the last couple of years, the Education Secretary has maintained as his special adviser a semi-house-trained polecat who runs secret, private e-mail accounts to conduct Government business, and runs an anonymous Twitter account on which he abuses even members of his own party. Would not a debate bring the issue into the full sunshine of parliamentary scrutiny?

I am only staggering to my feet because I am astonished by the effrontery of the Labour party in suggesting that special advisers might be behaving in a semi-house-trained way. What is happening under this Government bears no comparison with what happened under the last Government.

There has been a sharp increase in the fly-grazing of often badly malnourished horses, with a particular concentration in Alton, which is in my constituency. May we have a debate on this so that we can determine how local authorities can be given effective power to deal with fly-grazing quickly?

My hon. Friend may wish to apply to the Backbench Business Committee—along with colleagues—or to seek an Adjournment debate, because the issue is important. There is legislation that can be used, but there are unscrupulous owners who are fly-grazing horses and putting landowners at considerable risk as a consequence.

Yes, we got that joke.

Earlier today, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said that it would take up to 12 months to create the recognising body for the press regulatory organisation. That means that in the next eight to 10 weeks at least one body, and probably two, will be seeking recognition, and there will be no one to recognise them. Should we not get this up and running a little bit faster?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no. We will not need a debate, because there is no necessity for it.

On 4 October, The Guardian published in minute detail the techniques used by the intelligence services to apprehend those who use the Tor network—the so-called dark internet—to commit, anonymously, serious online crimes, including crimes involving child pornography. May we have a debate on the impact of those Guardian reports on the combating of serious crime in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend has been rightly assiduous in pursuing this issue. I entirely share the Prime Minister’s view that The Guardian not least, but others as well, should reflect on the damage that could have been done to the UK’s safety and security by the undermining of those whose job is to keep us safe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) has secured a three-hour debate in Westminster Hall on oversight of the intelligence and security services. It will take place this afternoon, and will afford my hon. Friend an opportunity to make exactly those points.

May we have a debate on the cold weather payment? It starts tomorrow, and will allow many of our constituents who are receiving certain benefits to receive £25 if the temperature falls below zero for seven consecutive days. Such a debate would also allow us to publicise the fact that it is this Government who have made the payment permanent, and the last Government who had budgeted to cut it.

My hon. Friend is right. The last two winters have been relatively severe, and in each of them there have been substantial such payments. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but if she catches Mr Speaker’s eye she could further raise these points on the annual energy statement which follows. That payment, the warm home discount and support through the cold weather plan I instituted two years ago, with a warm homes healthy people fund, are all helping people to be energy-efficient and to meet some of their bills in the winter.

Earlier this week the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee met Dr Haass who is undertaking a review of politics in Northern Ireland, which I understand is set to report by the end of this year. Will the Leader of the House tell us when that report is likely to be published and whom it will be sent to, and may we have a debate on the matters Dr Haass raises and his recommendations?

We welcome the establishment of the all-party group in Northern Ireland considering these issues, and we are very glad that Dr Richard Haass is chairing the talks; he does so with great ability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland met Dr Haass for the third time this week and gives that process her full support. As my hon. Friend knows, the process itself is owned by the Northern Ireland political parties, not the Government, so it will be for them to decide when and what to publish, but that will be of great interest to Members across the House and I know my right hon. Friend will ensure that my hon. Friend and others in the House are informed about the progress of the talks.

May I add my voice to those who have asked for a debate on the national health service? Last year there were 5.3 million admissions to A and E, an increase of 47% over 15 years, which is totally unsustainable. Perhaps we can look at one of the reasons this is happening, which is to do with access to GP services in the evenings and at weekends—unbelievably, people do get ill at these times. We need to look at the whole of the national health service so people get the service they deserve.

I hope that before too long the House will have an opportunity to hear from my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary about the further measures he is taking that will have a positive impact this winter, both in relation to supporting general practitioners in looking after patients in the community, rather than admitting them to hospital, and in using the integration funds the Chancellor set out in his spending review— £3.8 billion to enable local authorities and the NHS to work together to ensure community services are there and are effective in minimising the number of emergency admissions to hospital.

North East Lincolnshire council has just installed speed cameras to enforce a 30 miles-per-hour limit on one of the main roads between Cleethorpes and Grimsby, which is a pedestrian-free road with a wall either side of it. The council claims this is in line with Department for Transport guidelines, but a BBC reporter established the opposite. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by a Transport Minister to clarify what the guidelines are?

My hon. Friend will know that the process of setting speed limits is a matter for local authorities, notwithstanding that the Department for Transport provides them with guidance. The Secretary of State for Transport and his colleagues will be here next Thursday, and my hon. Friend might like to raise that with them then. Meanwhile, I will alert them to the point he rightly raises.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 652 regarding youth services in Harlow?

[That this House notes the remarkable work of youth organisations in Harlow and the value they give to the local community; further notes that they help young people in need, and provide a range of services in education, skills, mentoring, sexual health services, sport, music, culture and other related areas; thanks the Youth Council for the work it does promoting youth issues in Harlow; further notes the consultation announced by Essex Council about the future of youth services; and urges that youth services in Harlow are protected from any future budget reductions.]

Youth services in Harlow do remarkable work and their future is uncertain because of a consultation by Essex county council. Will my right hon. Friend do everything possible, working with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to try to ensure youth services in Harlow are protected?

Once again my hon. Friend is taking up issues on behalf of his constituents in an admirable way. I completely understand the point he makes about the importance of youth services, and all of us want to ensure we maximise the support we give to young people because, as has been demonstrated, young people not being in employment, education or training presents a serious long-term risk to them and the country, so we need youth services to be effective. I will write to the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who is the Minister for civil society; I know that, with his new responsibilities in relation to young people, he will want to respond positively.

This week, we heard reports that the former head of Haringey children’s services, Sharon Shoesmith, has agreed a six-figure payout for unfair dismissal. May we have a debate about rewarding people for failure?

There should be no rewards for failure, in the public sector or in the private sector. We have made it clear that legal devices such as non-disclosure or compromise agreements should not be used to gag staff or brush under the carpet golden goodbyes to senior staff. In this context, it is hard to see how Haringey council’s secretive actions can be in the public interest, given the large sum of taxpayers’ money involved and the immense public concern arising from the baby P scandal. Bankrolling a state-sponsored cover-up must be a massive error of judgment on the part of Haringey council, following earlier mishandling of the affair.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or a statement on the sentencing powers for magistrates, so that we can find out if and when the Government intend to allow magistrates to sentence people to 12 months in prison, as opposed to six months at the moment? The law is in place and it just needs activating. Such a debate or statement would help to tease out the Government’s response, and that of other hon. Members, to Frances Crook and the idiotic Howard League for Penal Reform, who believe that magistrates should not be allowed to send people to prison at all.

I recall precisely the point that my hon. Friend raises, and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor to respond to him. I also gently point out to my hon. Friend that we will have questions to the Justice Secretary on 12 November, which may also provide him with an opportunity to push forward this important point.