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Business of the House

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 25 November—Second Reading of the Water Bill.

Tuesday 26 November—Remaining stages of the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill, followed by: the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 27 November—Opposition day (13th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Cost of Living and the Government’s Economic Failure”, followed by a debate on business rates. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 28 November—Launch of a report from the European Scrutiny Committee on reforming the European scrutiny system in the House of Commons, followed by a debate on a motion relating to issues facing small businesses, followed by a general debate on the G8 summit on dementia. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 29 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 2 December will include:

Monday 2 December—Second Reading of the Mesothelioma Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on motions relating to Back-Bench business (amendment of Standing Orders) and Select Committee statements.

Tuesday 3 December—Opposition day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 4 December—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Thursday 5 December—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his autumn statement, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 6 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 November will be:

Thursday 28 November—Debate on police procedures in dealing with mental health issues, followed by debate on retail and the high street.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. The Water Bill will finally have its Second Reading on Monday, after nearly three years of parliamentary hanging around. I find it extraordinary that, despite all that time to plan it, nothing in the Bill addresses the key issues of affordability and company taxation arrangements and that only one clause is devoted to flooding. When hard-pressed consumers are struggling to pay their bills, does the Leader of the House not agree that this long-delayed piece of legislation is a missed opportunity to take action on the cost of living crisis? Will he tell us when he expects the Government to set out a more comprehensive package to address flooding?

I note that the Conservative party spent last week’s short recess trawling the annals of its website and confining its pre-election promises to the outer reaches of the dark web in yet another Orwellian attempt to rewrite the past. One of the deleted lines was a promise by the Chancellor

“to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible.”

You just could not make it up! After their recent jaunts to Beijing, I fear that they have fallen further under the spell of the Chinese Communist party than anyone realised.

In another deleted speech, the Prime Minister said that this would be

“the most family-friendly Government we’ve ever had”.

But what has happened? There are 578 fewer Sure Start centres since he got into power and the cost of child care has gone up by 30%. Instead of voting with us on Tuesday to extend child care provision, members of the influential Tory Free Enterprise Group spent their week plotting to slap an irrevocable 15% tax on children’s clothes, and it has emerged that the Government have presided over a cut in the cash going to maternity units.

John Major was right this week when he criticised the dominance of a public school elite in the upper echelons of public life, but how did the Prime Minister respond? He blamed poor young people for their lack of aspiration. How out of touch can this Government get? May we therefore have a debate on the increasing tendency of Ministers to blame the victims of their misguided policies for the plight they find themselves in?

The Leader of the House might remember another promise that mysteriously disappeared from the Conservative party website last week: no top-down reorganisation of the NHS. He might have seen yesterday’s report stating that his £3 billion reorganisation, which no one wanted and no one voted for, has weakened the NHS and put it in a worse position to deal with winter pressures. He will also remember another deleted promise:

“I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS”.

But today’s figures show that we now have 6,642 fewer nurses. As the winter months arrive, I have heard that the Prime Minister is so worried about the way the Leader of the House’s successor as Secretary of State for Health is handling the NHS that he has personally taken control of accident and emergency planning, so will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate, in Government time and led by the Prime Minister, on how prepared the NHS is for the coming months?

In yet another deleted speech from 2009 the Prime Minister promised to cut the cost of politics. Despite the coalition agreement to cut them, the number of special advisers stands at a whopping 98, rather than the 72 in place when we left office. This week we have discovered that the Government are planning to let Cabinet Ministers appoint 10 more each, at a potential cost of £16 million. Can the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement from the Government on yet another broken promise? The Prime Minister might wish that he could erase the Bullingdon Club picture from the internet, but nothing prevented his donning a white tie and tails and standing behind a golden lectern in the City to announce that the cuts are not just for now but permanent. He used to pretend that he did not come into politics to make cuts, but now he has really let the mask slip. Is it not time to admit that the rebranding of the Tory party has been a total failure? It is just as toxic as ever. The Conservatives said, “Vote Blue, go Green.” They have even changed their logo to a tree. But now apparently they want to get rid of all—I have to use this phrase, Mr Speaker—the green crap. They said that they would reform our politics, but now in the lobbying Bill the Government are legislating to shut ordinary people out. They said that they believed in a big society, but now they just play the politics of division and the dog whistle. The Conservatives can delete what they like from their website, but the British people will not forget that they were sold a husky pup. It is no wonder that the planning Minister wants to delete their name as well.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. We are quite used to business questions being not really about the future business so much as what is currently off the top of the head of the Labour party, but it is normally a bit funnier. I will confine myself to the questions.

There was a question about the Water Bill. We will have the opportunity to debate that Bill on Monday. I think it is rather important that the Bill introduces, in addition to measures that will promote competition in the water industry and more rights for consumers, measures relating to flood insurance, which have been the subject of a detailed and difficult negotiation, but which give people most at risk of flooding considerable reassurance. I look forward to that point being made clear in the debate on Monday.

I am afraid that the shadow Leader of the House continues to propagate incorrect statistics relating to Sure Start centres. There are 49 fewer—about 1%. She should have heard what was said by the Deputy Prime Minister on Tuesday and the Prime Minister yesterday and corrected that fact.

I was not quite sure about the character of the debate that she asked for on the so-called public school elite. I am not sure whether I count myself in that elite. She may recall that I attended a public school on a direct grant, in exactly the same way as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) did. Whether he is a member of the public school elite, I am not sure. It will be entirely in keeping with the Labour party’s approach that, in the case of the right hon. Gentleman, this is a manifestation of social mobility, whereas in my case it is a manifestation of exclusivity. I cannot imagine why that should be.

I am pleased that the shadow Leader of the House referred to young people. I am proud of what we are achieving in relation to young people. We have 1.5 million new apprenticeship starts since the election. We have a reduction of 93,000 in the claimant count for young people. We have the fewest young people not in education, employment or training. These are vital things, and we are doing more. What is being achieved with not only apprenticeships but the new traineeships will make a big difference to young people in the years ahead.

The hon. Lady referred to the NHS and preparations for the winter. She used another incorrect statistic. The reforms of the NHS did not cost £3 billion; they cost £1.5 billion and, by the end of this Parliament, will have delivered savings of £5.5 billion and £1.5 billion of reductions each year on a continuing basis. It is precisely because, in addition to that, the NHS is focused on delivering £17 billion of efficiencies that are able to be reinvested, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has in recent weeks been able to allocate £250 million to address some of the greatest pressures in accident and emergency departments and only yesterday made it clear that he would make £150 million more available to tackle those difficulties.

We all know that there are staffing shortages in A and E departments. I inherited those when I came into office as Secretary of State for Health, and I sat with the College of Emergency Medicine and said that we would do everything we could to employ more emergency doctors. However, we cannot just magic up more emergency doctors overnight; it takes a considerable time.

As for nurses, I do not think the shadow Leader of the House has been attending the House and listening carefully, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his statement on Tuesday that more nurses are now being employed in hospitals in relation to acute general and elderly beds, that according to Health Education England hospitals are anticipating recruiting 3,700 more nurses, and that the ratio of nurses to occupied beds has improved since the election so that there are one and a half to two hours additional time per nurse per occupied bed. I am afraid that, as ever, the facts do not support the Labour party’s approach.

There was one omission in the shadow Leader of the House’s requests regarding future business in that she did not ask for a statement or a debate on bank regulation. Labour Members often do that. As the Prime Minister rightly noted yesterday, they are very keen on inquiries but they do not appear very keen in this respect. I hope that there will be an early opportunity for us to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about an inquiry. I think the public are very concerned about the failure of banking regulation that led to the appointment of a wholly improper person as the chair of Co-op Bank. If the Leader of the Opposition is able to tell the press that he is, I think he said, confident of the integrity of the Labour party’s relationships with Reverend Flowers and others, then, by extension, he must know the facts relating to that relationship, and it is incumbent on him to publish them or to admit that he has not actually undertaken an internal inquiry but just wishes the questions would go away.

The European Court of Human Rights has drawn attention to the fact that prisoners in this country do not have voting rights, and much consideration has been given to that. Far less consideration has been given to the fact that among the member states of the Council of Europe a large number of countries—Malta is a particularly bad example—hold prisoners for a very long time without charge or trial. Instead of just leaving this matter to the Backbench Business Committee, will my right hon. Friend consider that there ought to be at least one day of the year when this House gives the opportunity to those of us who represent the United Kingdom on the Council of Europe to indicate precisely what we are trying to do about this? A regular debate would be a very good idea.

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about matters relating to the Council of Europe. He will be aware that in terms of the management of business, the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee and the amount of time made available to it was expressly intended to ensure that some of the issues that are regularly the subject of general debates in this House could be considered by the Committee and scheduled for debate in line with the priorities of Back Benchers and not at the whim of Government. That is how the business should be conducted.

My hon. Friend will know about the reforms to the Council of Europe made in Brighton last year, which will, I hope, enable the European Court of Human Rights to focus much more strongly on issues of importance rather than a very large number of proceedings that have not been taken forward. I hope that he and others in the House appreciate the way in which the Secretary of State for Justice gave evidence to the Joint Committee that is considering the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill yesterday. That demonstrated how seriously we take our obligations in this respect.

May we have an urgent debate on domestic violence? In my constituency there is a lack of a joined-up policy between the Government, the police and the local authority. We are seeing the closure of refuges, and everyone is blaming each other. We need a joined-up policy on this very serious issue. Will the Leader of the House commit to provide a debate in Government time?

I cannot promise a debate at the moment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware, as will the House, that that was one of the areas focused on in some important debates relating to international women’s day last year. The Government, my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport and others have been working very closely together to tackle issues relating to domestic violence through the action plan on violence against women and girls. This is an important issue for us and we are taking action on it. We will continue to return to it on a regular basis.

May we have a debate on flexible working? The employment rate in the UK is one of the highest in the world and I think that is down to some of the steps that the Government have already taken to improve the right to request flexible working. Such a debate would also allow us to discuss the plans for shared parental leave, which I think will also increase the employment rate, particularly among women.

What my hon. Friend says is true and important. I think that we have now demonstrated that it is a myth to suggest that flexible working and the rights associated with it are somehow an impediment to successful business. In fact, they are often integral to successful business, because they enable businesses to acquire and retain the skills they are looking for, especially as far as women in the workplace are concerned. This country has a very high participation rate of women in work and record levels of women’s employment. I think that is absolutely part of what is enabling businesses in this country to respond successfully to, and to recover at the same time as, the economy.

Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on taxation policy? Many of us would like to debate the unfulfilled promise that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister made to publish their tax returns, so that we can see exactly how much they have gained from cuts in the top rate of tax and work out how much they might gain from the current proposals to impose VAT on food and children’s clothing in order to cut taxes for the rich.

On the last point, I do not think the hon. Lady listened yesterday when the Prime Minister said that we had no such proposal. On other tax matters, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will, of course, deliver his autumn statement at the Dispatch Box on 5 December.

Many couples in my constituency choose to have children at a younger age for religious and social reasons. Although I support their decision to do so, I would like assurances that there is appropriate support for those younger mothers. May we have a debate on what this Government have implemented to ensure that every mother has a health visitor before her baby is born and continues to receive support afterwards?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Opposition Front Benchers mention Sure Start. One of the most important things for mothers and young families is to get that start right, but it is not just about the availability of a centre; it is about the availability of a health visitor for every family to give them the right start in life. Under the previous Government, health visiting ceased to be a universal entitlement for mothers and young families as they started out. That is why we committed ourselves—it is in the coalition agreement—to providing 4,200 more health visitors. From memory, I think there are about 1,000 more health visitors already. We are on track to deliver on that commitment. That increase of 50% in the number of health visitors will be integral to giving mothers and young families the support they need to get the right start in life.

John-Paul Conley of Middlesbrough has been missing since Tuesday 19 November, when he was caught in a current and carried away while swimming in the Don Khon 4,000 islands region in Laos. Since yesterday, more than £23,000 has been raised to aid the rescue effort. May we have a statement at the earliest opportunity from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the search and rescue attempt for John-Paul?

I know that the House will be as concerned as the hon. Gentleman and his constituents about this. I will, if I may, talk to my right hon. Friend at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and ask him to respond to the hon. Gentleman and the House on what steps can be taken.

The Britannia Coco-nutters, led by their longest serving member, Dick Shufflebottom, have danced in Bacup in my constituency for the past 156 years. They survived the depression, two world wars and the winter of discontent, but it looks as though their boundary dance may not survive the health and safety inspectors from Rossendale borough council and Lancashire county council. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to come to the House and make a statement about how the Britannia Coco-nutters can be accommodated for generations to come?

I am interested to learn about this from my hon. Friend as, I am sure, are my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government. If the matter relates to the Health and Safety Executive in particular, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, our hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), who I know takes a common-sense view of things, will be happy to talk to my hon. Friend about how such provisions are properly applied in this case.

Later today we will debate the cost of this place and the savage cuts being imposed on it. At the same time the Government are creating more Lords at the other end of the building. The other place is a model of care for the elderly. May we have a debate on introducing a retirement age in the House of Lords so that this massive job creation scheme can at least be brought under some sort of control?

I was not quite sure where the hon. Gentleman was going with that. We will of course have an opportunity to debate the finances of this place. It is a bit rich for any Labour Member to talk about savage cuts. In order to reduce the deficit, we have as a matter of necessity to reduce the costs of administration, and we are doing so in this place in the same way as is being done in other public services. I am not sure whether those in the other place would take kindly to the way in which the hon. Gentleman expressed himself. They have done a lot of work on the Care Bill and we are looking forward to seeing that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) which, if passed, would allow Members in another place not simply to have leave of absence, which they do at present, but to retire.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the statement in the House yesterday from the Secretary of State for Defence that this House will be given an annual opportunity to consider our reserve forces. May we please have a statement on whether it is the Government’s intention that this annual debate should be in Government time or whether it will be diverted to the Backbench Business Committee?

I did indeed hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I recalled him making it clear that there would be an annual report to the House. I do not think he made a specific commitment as to how that report would be received by the House and debated, but I will discuss that collectively and through the usual channels, as usually happens.

Yesterday the Prime Minister failed to acknowledge that more than 500 children’s centres have closed on his watch. May we have a debate about the impact of the closure of children’s centres on the Government’s watch?

I heard the Prime Minister respond to that question and provide the accurate figure, which was that something approaching 1% of Sure Start children’s centres have closed—nothing like the figure the hon. Gentleman refers to. The Prime Minister also pointed out that financial support for early intervention is rising in this financial year from £2.3 billion to £2.5 billion.

May we have an early debate on the future of mutuals and co-operatives, so that those of us who have consistently supported the mutual concept have the opportunity to argue the case on behalf of well run, properly regulated and non-political mutuals and co-operatives, and to demonstrate the contribution that they have made to this country?

I cannot promise a debate immediately, but I completely understand the point that my hon. Friend rightly makes. The failings that have been evident in the way in which the Co-operative bank was run and the implications of that are a matter of the greatest disappointment to many of us. I personally share with my hon. Friend a sense that we do not want that to undermine the commitment to mutuals and co-operatives as a form of organisation for businesses. They have tremendous potential—as yet unrealised potential in many cases—for ensuring that businesses are very successful in the long term because they engage staff successfully and enable staff as well as customers of an organisation to feel that they have a stake in its long-term future.

In April 2010, there were 3,631 Sure Start centres in England, according to the Department for Education. The Government currently record 3,053, which is 578 fewer. May we have an urgent debate on children’s centres, given that discussions are still continuing on the Government Benches about whether or not more than 500 have closed since the Prime Minister took office? A debate might help Ministers to prompt his memory.

I will not repeat myself at length, but the Prime Minister made it very clear yesterday and I have already said today that about 3,000 children’s centres are open and only 49 have closed.

There is concern in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire that the future funding of the clinical commissioning group might be based on historical primary care trust budgets, rather than on the formula developed by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, which focuses on such things as demography, age and rurality. Will the Leader of the House implore Health Ministers to base future health funding fairly and equitably on empirical data?

I completely understand my hon. Friend’s point. Although I will obviously ensure that Ministers at the Department of Health see what he has said, that is no longer a matter for them. By virtue of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, that matter is no longer susceptible to the kind of political influences we saw in the past. It will be determined by NHS England and, as I understand it, we do not expect it to do so until its board meeting in December.

NHS England has conducted a fundamental review of allocations, and it has statutory responsibilities that are set out in the Act. Under the mandate—openly—the Government have made it clear that we expect

“the principle of ensuring equal access for equal need to be at the heart of the NHS England’s approach to allocating budgets.”

I think that that will be of help to my hon. Friend.

Following Hull’s wonderful success in becoming the city of culture for 2017, may we please have a debate about why arts funding is still skewed to London, not to the north of England and areas such as Hull?

I recall a recent discussion relating to the distribution of Arts Council England and arts funding, so if I may, I refer the hon. Lady to my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when they are next here to answer questions.

I do not want the moment to pass, however, without expressing the appreciation felt across the House at the exciting decision for Hull to be the city of culture in 2017. Many of us are aware of how exciting it has been for Derry/Londonderry, and I know from personal experience what a big difference it made to Liverpool. I am looking forward to exactly that kind of personal experience, which we can all have when we visit Hull in 2017, of seeing the tremendous show that it will put on as the city of culture.

Of course, Hull also has a fine university, which I had the great pleasure to visit and address last year. I think that there is general consensus around the House on this matter.

I am sure that the whole House shares my affection for our local independent radio stations that provide an invaluable service in keeping us up to date on community issues, such as Minster FM in my constituency, but there is concern about the proposed switchover to DAB transmission. As such, may we have a debate on the digital upgrade plan and the impact it could have on local independent radio stations?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which he may want to raise when that matter comes up at Culture, Media and Sport questions. In the meantime, I will try to secure a response in relation to Minster FM and other stations from my hon. Friends at the Department, who I know are very interested in ensuring that the digital switchover does not impede that kind of local access to community broadcasting.

The local police and crime commissioner thinks that crime figures have been capped in Gwent, and the chief constable of Derbyshire said yesterday that he thought crime figures were being manipulated. May we have a debate in Government time on crime figures? Some police need to drive down crime, not numbers.

If the hon. Gentleman is in his place on 2 December, he may wish to raise that matter with my colleagues at the Home Office. From everything I know, I think we are very clear that crime statistics must be accurate and properly reflect crime in an area. As in so many areas, if we are to have confidence in the accountability of organisations, the statistics on which they are held to account—the Home Secretary has been very clear that she is focused on reducing crime—must be accurate and truthful. Fortunately, we have the recorded crime statistics and the national crime survey, and they show in parallel that there has been a substantial reduction in crime under this Government.

In my constituency, Labour-run Dudley metropolitan borough council is planning to close Tenterfields children’s centre, which will affect some of the most vulnerable communities in Halesowen and leave residents having to walk 3 miles to attend another centre. May we have a statement on the new statutory guidance that the Government have issued to local authorities on the provision of children’s centres in local areas?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, because the plan to which he refers is being put forward by a Labour-run council. That is interesting, given what is being said by Labour Members. I am sure that that fact will not be lost on his constituents and others.

It is for local authorities to ensure that the provision they offer meets the needs of local communities. As I mentioned, the support that is being provided for early intervention this year is £2.5 billion, which is up from £2.3 billion last year. As my hon. Friend said, councils have a statutory duty to consult when they are planning changes to children’s centre provision so that parents and the public have an opportunity to influence the proposed changes.

May we have an urgent debate on the Ratner effect, which is the effect on a company when its chief executive describes its products in unparliamentary language? I am sure that the House would want to discuss not just whether but how and why the Government’s green policies have become mired in controversy.

You have the advantage over me, Mr Speaker, because I was not able to be here throughout questions to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when the hon. Gentleman graced his party’s Front Bench. If he wished to raise such a question, he might have had an opportunity to do so then.

May we have a debate on the activities of Labour-run Bradford council? Not only are there questions about whether there was a cover-up regarding Paul Flowers, but my constituents in Menston have serious and legitimate complaints about the planning process, which led to a planning application being approved on a wholly inappropriate site. I have received a letter from a developer saying that Bradford council planning officers are supporting developers in pursuing another bid for housing on another inappropriate development site, which has been rejected by a planning committee, a planning inspector and the Secretary of State twice. Is it not time that my constituents had a council that worked in their interests, not against their interests?

I understand why my hon. Friend wants to raise issues on behalf of his constituents about which he has concerns. He will understand that I am not in a position to comment on the specific matters to which he refers. Fortunately, he has the opportunity to raise those matters in the House by seeking an Adjournment debate. That would allow him to set out in more detail for his constituents and for others the concerns that he has about Bradford council.

I am a proud Co-op member and I use my local Co-op in Honley and Holmfirth every week. May we have an urgent debate on why the Co-operative Group feels unable to give the annual members’ dividend this year, which would help hard-pressed families in the lead-up to Christmas, when it is able to find hundreds of thousands of pounds to donate to Labour party politicians?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He will know that there are 7.6 million Co-op members across the country who will not get a dividend, whereas last year they received a dividend of £64 million. That is 7.6 million people who have a legitimate question to ask about why they will not get a dividend when, through the Co-op, loans continue to be made to the Labour party, including in the past few months and—[Interruption.] The Co-op party, yes. Loans are being made by the Co-op bank and the Unity Trust bank. Co-op members will all be asking why the below market rate loans and the donations are continuing, while their dividends are not.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House saw the front of The Sun today before skipping to the inside, but it clearly states that the Prime Minister is going to get rid of green c-r-a-p levies. That is great news and will keep energy prices down. We are doing something about keeping energy prices down; Labour wants to put them up. May we have a debate on that to make our position clear?

My hon. Friend will be aware of provisional business for a debate in this House to consider Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, and that may afford him, and others, the opportunity to make such points. Through competition and better electricity market reform, the Government are setting out to ensure that the public have access to the lowest possible tariffs, and that we bring prices to the lowest point that is consistent through competition. At the same time, we must ensure that we fulfil our obligations on the reduction of carbon emissions and meet climate change objectives, but without—quite properly, I think, under the circumstances—loading those costs on to consumers. To meet those otherwise competing objectives, it is important that we help consumers to lower their energy bills and reduce energy consumption. As far as newspapers, and particularly that newspaper, are concerned, I tend to start at the back—I think I am not alone—as I enjoy the sports coverage rather more than I do the front.

An independent civil service is a key cornerstone of the British constitutional system of government. My constituents—and, I suspect, a majority of the great British public—will be deeply troubled by suggestions that each Cabinet member will be allowed to appoint up to 10 political advisers to their office. Given that the number of special advisers is already too great, and their cost too high, may we have a statement from the Cabinet Office on those proposals, and a debate and vote in the House, so that they can be put to rest before they come into existence?

I realise it may be a little way off, but my hon. Friend may wish to raise that issue when my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General responds to questions in the House on 11 December. I do not agree that we have too many special advisers at the moment; we need special advisers for a number of reasons and they do an important job. The particular circumstances of coalition government inevitably give rise to an additional requirement, because it is important for both parties in the coalition to have access to independent and politically supportive advice. As part of the civil service reform plan we must understand that valuable and excellent as civil service support can be, civil servants do not have a monopoly on advice. Ministers should be able to draw on additional expert support and advice, and it is sometimes difficult for that to be achieved wholly by organisations outside Government. Sometimes the only way Ministers can get access to that further advice is by bringing experts into the Government, and that is part of the civil service reform plan.

Recent figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government have shown that Wolverhampton city council failed to collect more than £6 million of business and council tax last year. Given that nationally we are demonstrating a prudent attitude to public moneys, may we have a debate on how we could improve collection rates by local councils? Shockingly, if Wolverhampton city council mimicked neighbouring Sandwell, it could safeguard more than 700 jobs and protect services.

I completely understand and agree with my hon. Friend. I am fortunate in having in my constituency South Cambridgeshire district council, which last year won an award for the amount of council tax it collected. That is right and makes a big difference. People expect, as a matter of fairness, those who are liable for council tax to pay it, as that enables services to be provided to everybody. If a council is failing to achieve that, my hon. Friend, and others, should draw attention to it and press the council to match the record of the best. If he is in his place on Monday when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and other Ministers in that Department, are here, my hon. Friend might wish to reinforce that point with them.

I was pleased this week to co-host a reception in Parliament for Together for Short Lives. We heard a powerful speech from young Lucy Watts about the impact of her condition and the support she receives from her mother and her local children’s hospice. Together for Short Lives launched eight policies that it would like to see to support children and young people with life-limiting conditions. May we have a debate on those policies to examine them properly and to celebrate the tremendous and wonderful work of children’s hospices?

I hope there will be an opportunity for the House to consider this issue. We all appreciate the work of children’s hospices in our constituencies. I was pleased to attend the reception my hon. Friend sponsored and to meet people from East Anglian children’s hospices. I was very glad to meet Lucy and to hear directly from her. I hope that as a Government we will be able to respond to some of the things that children’s hospices have wanted for a long time. In particular, pilot sites are doing important work to prepare for a change in the funding system, so that children’s hospices can be assured of a per patient system of funding. While that is being prepared for 2015, we continue to provide more than £10 million annually to support children’s hospices. I personally think that the assurance of per patient funding will enable children’s hospices to plan with even greater confidence.

The terrible impact of Typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines will continue long after the tragedy no longer dominates headlines across the world. May we have regular statements over the coming year to update the House on progress in bringing relief to the people suffering in the Philippines?

I hope we can find time for statements—written statements and, if possible, a further statement to the House—on the support we are giving to the Philippines. The public have demonstrated, in a magnificent way, their compassion and support for the people of the Philippines through their donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee. The Secretary of State for International Development and the Government have shown that we are able to lead the world in the scale and quality of that support. The House heard from the Prime Minister on Monday that we are now able to do so much more to provide support. For example, the Big Lottery Fund can provide longer-term support to help to rebuild damaged communities. I hope the House will have a chance to hear about that shortly.

On 27 June, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced that more than £4 billion would be spent on national road maintenance; enough to resurface 21,000 miles of road and 19 million potholes. In my constituency, I am campaigning with The Plymouth Herald’s Pothole Pete for some of that money to be spent on our potholes. Indeed, some are so deep that when it rains people start applying for fishing licences. May we please have a debate or a statement from the Treasury on the amount that Plymouth city council has received, and on the number of potholes that have been fixed nationally?

My hon. Friend is commendably on the spot in understanding the issues in his constituency. I can give him the news, which I hope he will find welcome, that not only did the spending review announce £12 billion of funding for highways maintenance on strategic and local road networks from 2015-16 to 2020-21, but I am advised that from 2011-12 to 2014-15, the Department for Transport will have provided £9.6 million in capital funding to Plymouth city council for local highways maintenance. I hope that that funding will help to tackle the potholes to which my hon. Friend refers.

May we have a debate on how we can better promote to out-of-work UK citizens the tens of thousands of annual vacancies in fruit and vegetable production, which tend to be more widely advertised overseas than in our country?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. At the moment, we are blessed not only with record levels of employment—1.4 million more private sector jobs—but with record levels of vacancies, so if people are out of work, they should be looking for work; those opportunities are available to them. With the ending of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, it is particularly important for fruit and vegetable growers to have increased access to the work force they need, when they need it.