Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 572: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 16 December—Second Reading of the Care Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 17 December—Remaining stages of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill [Lords] followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.

Wednesday 18 December—Opposition Day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on accident and emergency services, followed by a debate on food banks.

Both debates will arise on an official Opposition motion.

Thursday 19 December—Select Committee statement on the publication of the Ninth Report from the Transport Committee entitled “High Speed Rail: On Track?” followed by matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment as selected by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 20 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 January 2014 will include:

Monday 6 January—Remaining stages of the Water Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 19 December and 9 January 2014 will be:

Thursday 19 December—A debate on immigration from Bulgaria and Romania.

Thursday 9 January—A debate on the Fifth Report of the Transport Select Committee on access to transport for disabled people, followed by a debate on the First Report of the International Development Select Committee on global food security.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I take this opportunity to wish him a happy birthday for yesterday?

I also thank the Leader of the House and you, Mr Speaker, for the chance the House had on Monday to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela. Will the Leader of the House confirm when he plans to reschedule the business that we had to move to accommodate what was an entirely appropriate and solemn occasion?

Today the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority released its recommendations on MPs’ pay and pensions. Does the Leader of the House agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister that those suffering a cost of living crisis will not understand a pay rise many times the rate of inflation? Does he agree that, notwithstanding IPSA’s independence, a joint meeting should take place today to ask it to reconsider the package?

Given that the autumn statement has, in effect, turned into the winter statement, does the Leader of the House agree that it is crucial for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement on the provisional local government finance settlement for England before the House rises next week? Local authorities are already struggling with huge cuts and they need as much time as possible to deal with the unpalatable decisions this Government have left them with.

More than 50 hon. and right hon. Members attended yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), on the future of the badger cull. It is becoming increasingly clear that the cull is an expensive disaster for farmers, wildlife and all taxpayers. Since the extensions to the cull were announced, hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions and many experts have demanded that the Government rethink their approach. Some hon. Members who were in favour of the cull are changing their minds, but all the Environment Secretary does is ignore the facts, hide behind written ministerial statements and assert his personal belief that it is working. Does the Leader of the House agree with the swelling numbers on his own Back Benches who recognise that this cull is a travesty? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to emerge from his sett and come to the House for an urgent debate in Government time on the future of the 40 further culls that are currently scheduled to take place?

Last week’s autumn statement confirmed one central fact: working people are worse off under this Government. The Chancellor made the desperate claim that

“real household disposable income is rising”.—[Official Report, 5 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 1101.]

We know, however, that the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies was right when he said that household income is

“almost certainly significantly lower now than it was in 2010.”

Does the Leader of the House think that the Chancellor was right to include the incomes of charities, universities and pension contributions in his calculations as if they were household income? Does he agree with the Office for Budget Responsibility that it is “inconceivable” that household incomes are rising?

The Government began by insisting that they did not enjoy making spending cuts, but the mask slipped a few weeks ago when the Prime Minister donned his white tie and tails and told an audience in the City that public spending cuts are not just for now but for ever. As the Office for Budget Responsibility has said, by 2017-18 Government spending on public services and administration

“will shrink to its smallest share of national income at least since 1948, when comparable National Accounts data are first available”.

This Government’s stated aim is pre-1948 levels of spending, but with double the number of retired people to care for and far more expensive health needs. Despite the hollow protestations of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, the fact is that the Liberal Democrats signed up only last week to creating this pre-war vision of an unnaturally shrunken and feeble state.

The Chancellor can throw as much mud as he likes at the previous Labour Government, but the British people will see straight through him to the cold, stark reality of this baleful vision of a country with no social justice and no safety net—a country in which people sink or swim. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on this Government’s Hobbesian vision of the future?

The fiasco at the Department for Work and Pensions continued this week, with the Secretary of State being dragged kicking and screaming to the House after trying to sneak out a major delay to his flagship universal credit programme two hours before the autumn statement. Despite wasting many millions of pounds on useless IT and admitting that he will fail to meet his already extended deadline, he farcically claimed in the House that the entire programme was “essentially…on time”. On that definition, living standards are essentially soaring, the badger cull is essentially a success and England is essentially winning the Ashes.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, especially for her birthday greetings. I heard the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), tell us about her grandmother’s 100th birthday today, and it is great that I have a way to go. I am encouraged by that thought; I am of course now more than halfway there.

The hon. Lady asked about the business that was on Monday’s Order Paper. I am very glad that we could rearrange the business on Monday to have the tribute debate, which was one of those occasions when the House demonstrated its capacity to capture the nation’s mood and speak on its behalf. Of those items of business, the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement on defence reform on Tuesday that he would have made on Monday, and we dealt with the statutory instrument relating to terrorism on Tuesday that would otherwise have been debated on Monday. I hope to be able to announce a date for the Intellectual Property Bill when I announce future business in the new year.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about the IPSA report that has been published this morning. Like other hon. Members, she will have heard what the Prime Minister and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, and I hope that IPSA very clearly hears exactly what the party leaders have said. It is incumbent on hon. Members across the House who disagree with its judgment to make that very clear to IPSA. I have done so on behalf of the Government, making it clear that IPSA should take into account the public sector pay environment; our conclusion is that IPSA has not done that and should reconsider. The report is not a final determination, in the sense that IPSA must have a statutory review after the election, and it has made it clear that it will do so. I hope that such points will be made forcefully, so that IPSA arrives at such a reconsideration on that basis.

The hon. Lady asked about the badger cull. There was of course a debate yesterday, and the farming Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), responded to it. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues will continue with the pilots—I stress that they are pilots and give us an enormous amount of information about the mechanisms by which a badger cull can be pursued. Colleagues in the House and people outside need to be aware of the enormous cost and the tens of thousands of cattle that have been slaughtered as a consequence of the failure to tackle bovine TB previously. That has to be tackled, and the question is how we can do it most effectively. The pilots will give us the information that we need.

I was pleased that the hon. Lady said that there was a need to follow up on the autumn statement. Although time is tight, any opportunity that we have to follow up on the autumn statement will be welcomed by Government Members. It will give us an opportunity to debate the improvement in the growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility; the progress that we are making on cutting the deficit; the freeze on fuel duty all the way through to 2015, which will mean that the price of fuel will be 20p per litre lower by the end of the Parliament than under Labour’s plans; and the reduction in the burden of business rates. Like many colleagues in the House, I spoke to small businesses on Saturday who expressed their support for the reduction in business rates that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement.

Such a debate would also give us the opportunity to talk about how we can raise living standards. That can be achieved only with a stronger economy. It comes ill from any representative of the Labour party who stands at that Dispatch Box to follow the example of the shadow Chancellor and fail to recognise—indeed, to be in complete denial of—the simple fact that the reason why living standards in this country have suffered is that the economy shrank under Labour, in the worst recession for a century, owing to a 7.2% reduction in national output. The only way in which we will be able to raise people’s living standards is by strengthening the economy, which the coalition Government are doing.

Finally, it was a bit rich of the hon. Lady to speak of a “fiasco” at the Department for Work and Pensions on a day when the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions could not decide whether the state pension would be inside or outside the welfare cap. She replied as she did because Labour has it in mind to curb increases in the state pension in order to raise benefits. That is not a judgment that the Government will make.

Finally, I recall that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—

Yes, two finallys for the price of one.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said yesterday that the shadow Secretary of State could not tell the difference between a write-off and a write-down—between a write-off and a depreciation. The Labour party is lecturing us about useless Government IT schemes after what it left! In the Department of Health, I had to take £2 billion out of the contract costs for an NHS IT scheme that was not delivering. Even after I had taken £2 billion out, we were still left with virtually £5 billion of committed contractual costs. The last Government could not run an IT scheme in a brewery!

Order. As usual, a great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement by the Chair of the Liaison Committee to follow and then two debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. There is, therefore, heavy pressure on time and pithiness from Back and Front Benchers alike is imperative.

Does the Leader of the House agree that, as usual, the shadow Leader of the House was talking this country down? It was outrageous of her to suggest that we will not win the Ashes.

I think that the shadow Leader of the House was intending to make a joke, but to make a joke at the expense of our team in the Ashes test series shows very poor judgment.

This morning we heard about cuts to the mental health budget. We are supposed to have a national health service that treats mentally ill people, young and old, in a respectful way. That requires resources. What will the Leader of the House do about the Government policy to cut those vital services?

The hon. Gentleman will remember that it was this Government who in 2012 for the first time introduced a requirement—a duty—in the NHS that mental health issues should have parity with physical health issues, and that must of course be reflected in the way that clinical commissioning groups commission services. There is a structural issue, however, that I experienced when I was Health Secretary and that I fear continues. Many of the services that are commissioned and paid for from NHS providers are paid for under a tariff. Therefore, if somebody requires treatment, the provider gets paid for that, but as a consequence, the clinical commissioning group—mental health services are substantially not on tariff—gets a block grant. After the tariff expenditure has been calculated by the commissioners, the amount available for the block grant is often being squeezed. That is why mental health providers wanted a tariff basis, although they have not yet got it consistently. I hope the commissioners, NHS England and Monitor will continue to make progress on that.

Although there are large companies in my constituency, Mid Derbyshire has a wide range of small and medium-sized businesses. George’s Tradition, a local chain of award-winning fish and chip shops, employs a large number of young people. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the abolition of national insurance contributions for under-21s?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and delighted that after the autumn statement last Thursday, on Tuesday we were able to table a new clause to the National Insurance Contributions Bill that will bring into law the opportunity to reduce national insurance contributions for those under 21 who earn less than £813 a week. As John Cridland of the CBI said:

“Abolishing a jobs tax on employing young people under 21 will make a real difference and help tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.”

That will be the second time in this Parliament that we have been able to abolish a jobs tax.

Order. I remind the House that Members’ questions should bear some relation to next week’s business. That is the essence of business questions. I know we will be led along the path of virtue on that matter by Mr Kelvin Hopkins.

Last week it was reported that one in five hospital admissions are a result of alcohol abuse, and thousands of babies are still born every year damaged by alcohol consumed during the mother’s pregnancy. May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on our serious and growing alcohol problems, and what the Government propose to do about them?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s continuing concern about the abuse of alcohol. The issue is not the overall consumption of alcohol in this country, but the extent to which there is abusive use of alcohol, and to which young people are accessing alcohol, and the consequences that flow from that. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but following the alcohol strategy that the Home Secretary announced last year, I look forward in the new year to further statements in the House on how we take that strategy forward.

Yesterday the UK hosted the G8 dementia summit, which had strong international support for the leadership shown by the Secretary of State for Health and the Prime Minister in putting dementia at the front of the G8, and the international challenge and fight against disease. May we have a statement or debate in the House to allow all parties to discuss how we can do more to change the way we think about dementia, from its being something that every old person gets to becoming a disease, like cancer or AIDS, that with effort, collective funding and new science and technology we will defeat?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I, like Members across the House, was impressed by the support brought together by this country and the Prime Minister in following the issue up at the G8 summit. Colleagues will recall the G8 summit on HIV/AIDS and how that led to a worldwide acknowledgement of the nature of the problem and the removal of stigma in addressing it, as well as investment in research and treatment. We need all of that and more for dementia, because the scale of the task and the challenge is immense and there is no time to lose. The pace at which an ageing population is leading to rising numbers of people with dementia means that immense costs will be associated with care if we do not make great improvements in research and treatment.

May we have a debate on the commissioning of the meningitis B vaccine, which is crucial for children? There are several such cases in my constituency and in the rest of Northern Ireland. Can time be made available for a debate?

I fear I cannot promise time to the hon. Lady immediately, but I recognise the problem. The Government in England and the devolved Administrations work closely together on the development of the vaccination programme. If I may, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to correspond with her, sharing that with the Northern Ireland Health Minister.

Among other things, the purpose of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is to make the system open, honest and transparent, reduce the cost of politics and help raise the standing of MPs with the public. In the light of IPSA’s announcement this morning of a 9.2% pay raise for MPs, along with a cost-neutral package of reforms, may we have a debate on whether IPSA is fit for purpose? It is totally out of touch with what is going on in the country, has not reduced the cost of politics and does nothing to contribute to raising the standing of MPs with such packages.

My hon. Friend will be aware that IPSA’s proposal is not a final determination, as the pay element is subject to a statutory review. We have made progress: in July, there was a package that would have cost more. IPSA has tried, as he will see in today’s publication, not to increase the cost of politics. Since it put the new scheme of costs and expenses in place, the cumulative reduction in total cost in the past three years is £35.8 million, so the cost of politics is being reduced. The Government are doing their bit. The Prime Minister and his colleagues reduced Ministers’ pay by 5%, compared with our predecessors, at the start of this Government, and that has been frozen for the life of this Parliament. There is a particular point relating to IPSA’s judgment on MPs’ pay at a time of continuing pay restraint in the public sector, on which it has to listen to party leaders.

Exactly a week ago, suspected al-Qaeda militants burst into a hospital in Sana’a killing 52 people, including all the doctors, nurses and patients. May we please have a debate next week on the situation in Yemen, and may I ask the Leader of the House not to ask me to raise this issue at Foreign Office questions? That would not help us. We need a debate next week.

I am sure Members understand fully the seriousness of the situation to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly refers. I cannot promise time for a debate next week, but I am sure he is aware that there is scope for such matters to be raised before the Adjournment next Thursday under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee.

Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the conduct of the Iraq war started in 2009 and has cost more than £8 million. The report was due to be published in 2012; a year later, there is still no sign of it. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister or the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), to come to the House to make a statement on when the report will be published, or on who or what is delaying publication?

Sir John Chilcot wrote to the Prime Minister on 4 November to update him on the inquiry. He reported that continuing discussions on certain classified documents had delayed what is known as the Maxwellisation process, and hence publication of the report. Members and the public can see that correspondence, which is published on the Iraq inquiry website. The Government are committed to giving Sir John as much time as he needs to finish his report. Readers of that correspondence will be aware that the Government continue to act in good faith to enable Sir John Chilcot to complete his inquiry as soon as he may.

I warmly congratulate the Government on announcing that the first same-sex marriages will take place on 29 March, not least because this is Norman Tebbit’s birthday—so that’s one in the eye for the bigots, isn’t it? Will the Government explain next week, however, why they are delaying for so long the introduction of the upgrades to same-sex marriages for those currently in civil partnerships? France managed to do it a week after legislating, so why are we taking 18 months?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for the announcement made by the Minister for Women and Equalities, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), about the opportunity on 29 March. My recollection is that the legislation includes a requirement for a review of the situation relating to civil partnerships, so I suspect that is one thing that needs to be proceeded with in the first instance.

May we have an early debate on school transport? If a youngster passes an entrance exam to Clitheroe Royal grammar school, but lives more than three miles from it and has to go past another school on the way, they get no assistance with school transport costs, which is hugely discriminatory. We should be encouraging youngsters to attend the school of their choice.

Like other Members, I am aware of the issue my hon. Friend raises. It is often quite complex: there is not necessarily no help at all, but that help may be limited to those in low-income households. I will ask my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education to reply to him about those issues and how they see us being able to help promote parental choice in relation to schools.

In the light of a constituency case, may I ask the Leader of the House to persuade the Secretary of State for Health to come to this House to make a statement on the lack of places available to sectioned juveniles? There appears to be a dearth of units around the country appropriate for that type of care, and commissioners have told me that they find it difficult, in the current health structure, to work out how best to place these young people.

I will raise that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If, as the hon. Lady says, it relates to a constituency case, I am sure she will write to him—if she has not done so already—and I shall encourage him to respond on the particular case and the general point.

The autumn statement included commitments to investment in several much-needed improvements to roads in England, and the Welsh Government will take similar decisions in Wales. May we have a debate or written statement on the establishment of a process to deal with improvements across the border between England and Wales, which have collapsed as a consequence of devolution?

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point that I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales about. I know he will share his interest in the issue. Devolution has many merits, but all of us in the devolved Administrations and the UK Government want to work together to deliver the infrastructure improvements we all want.

Will the Leader of the House indicate when we can have a debate on housing? I have raised this issue before. There are many people in this country who have no prospect of ever being able to afford a property, who have great difficulty accessing council or housing association properties and who therefore have no choice but to enter the unregulated and—in London—incredibly expensive private rented sector. May we have a debate on Government proposals, if there are any, to regulate the private rented sector, including through a cap on rents or at least some kind of fair rents formula?

I think I heard the makings of a contribution to the pre-recess Adjournment debate being formulated by the hon. Gentleman even as he asked his question.

Yes. I cannot at the moment promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, given the considerable pressure of legislative business, but when we can have one, I personally would welcome a debate on housing. One of the Government’s priorities is to turn around the 400,000-plus reduction in social housing under the last Government. We are setting out to ensure that more social and affordable housing is available, and we are seeing an increase of approximately one third in the number of planning approvals, which will sustain what I hope is now a rising trend from the position we inherited from the last Government on overall house building numbers.

May we have a debate on nuisance calls? Time and again, my constituents are being plagued by automated and unwarranted nuisance sales calls. These are often via unidentified numbers and can be particularly worrying for isolated people, especially the elderly who live on their own.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He will know that tackling unsolicited marketing nuisance calls is being addressed through measures in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport strategy paper published in July, to which I referred in previous business questions, and through an action plan to be published shortly. I know that Members have gone to the Backbench Business Committee to seek a debate in order to influence the content of that action plan. My hon. Friend and others may well have a sympathetic hearing from the Backbench Business Committee.

The Leader of the House will be aware that, after two disastrous franchise agreements, rail services on the east coast main line have been publicly and successfully run since November 2009, achieving record levels of passenger satisfaction and returning hundreds of millions of pounds to the Treasury. May we have an early debate on the Government’s imminent plans to re-privatise the east coast main line service—against the best interests of the taxpayer and the passenger, and without full public consultation?

I cannot promise a debate immediately but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that, a week today, on 19 December, my colleagues from the Department for Transport will be here, and I am sure they will be happy to answer that question if he is here to ask it.

Given the launch of Formula E—an electric car racing championship, much like Formula 1—does the Lord Privy Seal agree that we should have an opportunity to promote a similar contest for aeroplanes made of composite materials and powered by electric batteries, because that is one way of pushing forward innovation in an exciting way, matching up our ambitions in the autumn statement?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He will know that the Government share his aspiration that by 2050, almost every car and van in the UK fleet will be an ultra-low emission vehicle. The huge UK automotive industry is at the forefront of the design, development and manufacture of such vehicles. The Government published in September their ultra-low emission strategy, “Driving the Future Today”. I have to say, however, that due to the limited capability of battery technology to store sufficient energy even for short flights, there is currently no prospect of which we are aware for commercial electric aircraft. However, I will encourage my colleagues at the Department for Transport to discuss his ambition further with him.

The Leader of the House obviously heard the shadow Leader of the House talking about yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on the badger cull. Even the Chief Whip took the time to attend it. There is a demand and a real expectation on both sides of the House for this Chamber to have a lengthy debate on the issue. We all know about the plight of farmers, but we also realise that money is being wasted on this cull.

I have taken note of that, and the hon. Gentleman is right that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary listened carefully to yesterday’s debate. I will not add to what I said earlier, but I am listening.

The Leader of the House will be aware that annuities are coming under increasing scrutiny. At a recent meeting of the all-party group on pensions, which I chair, it was made clear that millions of current and future pensioners would benefit considerably from improvements to annuities and from greater transparency, competition and flexibility. Will a Treasury Minister attend next week’s pre-recess debate, so that I can encourage the Treasury to focus on this area?

My hon. Friend raises a point of real importance. Many Members are, like me, aware of the pressure on annuitants buying annuities at times when yields can be relatively low, highlighting the importance of their getting the best possible deal, the best possible information and, frankly, the lowest possible charges. If my hon. Friend raised this issue in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, I cannot promise that a Treasury Minister would be there because my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is going to respond to it. My hon. Friend could, however, be confident that if he raised the matter, Ministers would be made aware of it and would listen to what he had to say.

The education of 16 to 18-year-olds already receives 22% less funding than the education of those aged between five and 16. May we have an urgent debate on the impact of the 17% cut in funds for the education of 18-year-olds that was announced this week?

I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I will ensure that my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills respond to the part of the hon. Gentleman’s question that was relevant to further education colleges, and that the Department for Education deals with his point about the overall distribution of education funding.

A business in my constituency has sadly fallen victim to a scam involving a bogus website, and I fear that such illegal activities are more widespread. Given the impact that cybercrime can have on small businesses, and given the work that the Cabinet Office is undertaking on cybercrime—it is set out in a written ministerial statement today—may we have a debate about this important issue on the Floor of the House?

As my hon. Friend knows, cybercrime is often under-reported. Action Fraud is a national reporting service run by the National Fraud Authority, a Home Office agency, to which members of the public and businesses can report fraud and financially motivated cybercrime either online or by telephone. The Government have announced a £4 million campaign to raise awareness of cybercrime among businesses and individuals, including young people, so that they can protect themselves better. It will be launched in January, supported by the private and voluntary sectors. I cannot promise a debate at this stage, but my hon. Friend will have noted that in January, members of the public and businesses will have an opportunity to be better informed.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy, perhaps next week? Although the Energy Bill finally received Royal Assent this week, it has become apparent in the last couple of days that the future of Eggborough power station, which accounts for up to 4% of UK capacity, has been placed in jeopardy because of a unilateral, last-minute and unexplained change to the early contract for difference allocation process undertaken by officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

I cannot promise a statement but, as the hon. Gentleman has raised an important and specific point, I will ask the Secretary of State for Energy to reply to him directly.

Small business Saturday was a big success in the borough of Kettering last week, when local people came out to support their local traders. Given that the beneficial effects of every £1 spent in the local economy are worth £1.76, I am sure that the Leader of the House, like me, is supporting the campaign by the Federation of Small Businesses to keep trade local. The aim is to encourage people to buy locally from now until Christmas. Will he ensure that, throughout 2014, we have regular opportunities to highlight the good work and endeavour of local small businesses and traders?

Yes. I believe that we in South Cambridgeshire shared my hon. Friend’s experience, and I am sure that was the case throughout the country. Of course we want to support local businesses, but so do many consumers who require locally produced, well-differentiated goods. Small businesses are the economic powerhouse of the future. We have 400,000 more of them now, and small business formation is at a record level. That presents a tremendous prospect, as long as we continue to give those businesses the support they require.

The Leader of the House said earlier that he would like the House to have more debates on the economic situation following the autumn statement, and he has just been talking about small businesses. I, too, participated in Small business Saturday, in Blackpool. However, it is a long time since we had a proper debate on the Floor of the House about how the economic climate is affecting seaside and coastal towns such as Blackpool, which have been hit particularly badly by a range of funding cuts—and that includes small businesses. Will the Leader of the House consult his colleagues and arrange for a debate about seaside and coastal towns to take place on the Floor of the House in the near future?

I should love to arrange a debate about seaside and coastal towns, which would be very useful. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the differences between this and previous Parliaments is that a significant part of the time that used to be available to Ministers and the Leader of the House for debates that do not relate specifically to the passage of legislation has been transferred to the Backbench Business Committee. In my experience, the Committee has been extremely receptive, on a cross-party basis, to Members who approach it seeking debates.

I was pleased to visit Barnfield primary school in Burnt Oak last week, where I was told in terms how pleased both parents and staff are that the Government have announced free school meals for children from reception to year 2. Therefore, may we have a debate on the nutritional values of free school meals and their effects on early-years learning?

We know from the pilots held between 2009 and 2011 that where free school meals are provided to primary pupils, educational attainment has improved, particularly among children from less affluent families. Studies also show that where universal free school meals have been provided, there are social and behavioural benefits to the children and they are more likely to eat healthily during the school day. We also know, of course, the risks associated with poor diet and childhood obesity, so in addition to the measures the Deputy Prime Minister has announced and that the Government will bring in from next September, I was pleased to see the latest figures on the national child measurement programme showing the overall obesity level of children coming into reception classes is down on what it was in the previous year, and lower than in 2006.

When we discuss the Care Bill on Monday, we will be debating amendment 118, which gives the Secretary of State for Health a kind of Henry VIII power to direct mergers and changes in hospital provision. However, in cases where hospitals actually want to merge, the situation is overcomplicated by the role of the Competition Commission. Will the Leader of the House discuss with the Secretary of State for Health the tabling of an urgent amendment to that Bill to ensure that instead of our money being spent on expensive competition lawyers, it is spent on health provision?

I think the hon. Lady seeks a statement, too, or a debate in the House next week. [Interruption.] Indeed.

I think the hon. Lady was referring to clause 118 of the Care Bill, which will be the subject of debate on Second Reading as announced, and I am sure she will be able to make those points then. For my part, I will simply say that it is a matter of necessity in any sector of activity for there to be proper competition rules. Monitor is responsible for those competition rules in relation to the health sector, except in relation to mergers, where the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission, or the new Competition and Markets Authority, have wide-ranging expertise across all sectors.

One of the items that did not make the oral statement on the autumn statement was the welcome news that the pre-1992 trapped annuitants—the most vulnerable victims of the Equitable Life scandal—will receive their compensation before Christmas, so may we have an urgent statement next week from the Minister responsible laying out exactly what the Government have done to compensate the victims of the Equitable Life scandal compared with the Labour party, which did nothing for 13 years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I recall the past occasions when he has rightly raised this matter both with Treasury Ministers and with me at business questions. I am very pleased that his efforts on behalf of those pre-1992 Equitable Life annuitants have borne such fruit—and early fruit, before Christmas. We will, I hope, next week take the opportunities to make sure the people affected and the wider public are aware of this.

Five weeks ago, on 6 November, I asked wither the Prime Minister thought that Tory councillor Abdul Aziz, whom the Prime Minister invited to a party in October, should return to face justice in Pakistan where there is an outstanding arrest warrant for him in connection with a brutal murder. The Prime Minister promised he would write to me. That was five weeks ago and I have had no response from the Prime Minister. May we urgently have a statement from the Prime Minister on this matter?

I recall the Prime Minister saying he would inquire into this matter. Along with the hon. Gentleman, I do not know the outcome of that, but I will inquire into it myself.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating everyone who worked so hard towards agreeing the city deal for Coventry and Warwickshire, including my hon. Friends the Members for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), who took part in my Adjournment debate earlier this year? May we have a debate on how we can deliver the most for our region through the city deal, which is expected to create over 15,000 new jobs by 2025?

I am delighted that the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) has been able to announce the agreement on the Coventry and Warwickshire city deal, along with city deals for the black country and other areas. I cannot promise an immediate debate on the subject, but it will be an encouraging occasion when the city deals collectively can be debated in the House. My hon. Friend’s example is a good one; focusing as it does on advanced manufacturing and engineering, it holds out the prospect of £66 million of investment and 8,000 new jobs in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector, which will be important for our economic progress.

May we please have an urgent statement from the Government on segregation in our universities, in order to restate clearly our cross-party commitment to equality, especially in those institutions that are receiving public money?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I confess that it was news to me when I heard a discussion about it on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning. If I may, I will talk to the Minister for Universities and Science about the matter, to see whether it might be appropriate for him to report to the House.

May we have a debate to review the pupil premium? I was delighted to learn this week that Avon Valley school in my constituency has had a “good” Ofsted report and that the inspectors found that the head teacher, Don O’Neill, and his staff were using the premium effectively to provide a welcome narrowing of the attainment gap between the students who benefit from the premium and their classmates.

We as a coalition Government can take great pride in the way in which the pupil premium is impacting on the most disadvantaged pupils who need additional support, and in the ability of schools to offer that support in a way that allows the leadership of the school to make their own judgment on how the resources should be used. I am pleased to note that Avon Valley school is providing a good education. The chief inspector of Ofsted pointed out only yesterday that good schools require good leaders, and I understand that Avon Valley school’s Ofsted report highlights the strengths in the leadership and the teaching at that school.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the disgraceful, disreputable and frankly immoral conduct of Rothschild’s for its role in giving advice and support on providing mortgage equity release schemes to hundreds of thousands of pensioners in this country who are now facing extreme poverty in their later years instead of compensation from that big finance house? That is a disgrace. Will he help us to find time to debate the matter in the House?

I am sorry; I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman was going to raise that issue, and I have not had an opportunity to talk to my hon. Friends at the Treasury about that case. However, he clearly feels strongly about the issue and if he is in his place next Thursday for the pre-recess Adjournment debate, I know that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, would be more than happy to respond on behalf of the Government if he raises it at that time.

May I join my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) in asking for a debate, or at least a statement, on funding for students aged 18 in further education? My local college received a letter from the Education Funding Agency this week telling it that it will be £800 per student worse off compared with sixth-form colleges, which will be no worse off at all. Will the Leader of the House please arrange for an Education Minister to come to the Chamber to address this issue, by means of either a statement or, preferably, a full debate?

The hon. Lady will have heard the response that I gave to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). I will of course discuss this with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Education to see how they might wish to update the House and perhaps Members individually.

Yesterday, the UK and the US stopped all non-lethal aid going into northern Syria. This is yet another development that has not been debated in the House. We last had a debate on the matter in August, and the last statement was on 8 October. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to provide a statement on the matter before we break for the recess?

In the light of these developments, I will of course talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Time for an oral statement is very limited and that could therefore be difficult to arrange, but I will see whether it is possible for a statement to be given to the House before we rise for Christmas.

In response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about mental health funding, the Leader of the House implied that he was against NHS resourcing based on activity. So may we have a statement on why previous Health Secretaries and the current one have pushed for NHS resourcing based on activity? Will the right hon. Gentleman not then be supporting proposals that NHS England is considering next week, which emphasise health care resourcing based on activity and not on health care need or health inequalities?

If the hon. Lady reads what I said, I think she will find that I was supporting the principle of tariff-based funding, which is an activity-based funding scheme. In that sense, NHS England, independently, is responsible for allocating resources to clinical commissioning groups and the mandate to it is clear: it should do that according to the principle of equal access for equal need.

City analysts from Liberum Capital have described the Hinkley Point nuclear power station deal as “economically insane” for offering a price for electricity at double the going rate, index linked and guaranteed for 35 years, at the cost of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Next week, there will be a decision on whether an investigation takes place in Europe—that would delay the power station for at least 18 months. So is it not crucial that next week Parliament decides its view on this astonishing rip-off for taxpayers?

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change came to this Dispatch Box and made a statement announcing the Hinkley Point deal. The hon. Gentleman should not construe the fact that the European Commission looks at it as anything to be remarked upon; it was inevitable and a matter of necessity that it would do so. It was always anticipated that that would happen.

This week, we heard some marvellous tributes paid to Nelson Mandela. Next week, will the Leader of the House, together with the relevant House authorities, look into the possibility of dedicating a room in this place to the memory of the great man?

We have not had occasion to remark upon it, but the House will of course be further commemorating and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela this afternoon in the Great Hall at Westminster, and people will be coming from right across the country to do exactly that. Beyond that, it is probably a matter more for the House of Commons Commission or its Committees to consider the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. If he wishes to put a proposal forward, I am sure it will be considered.

I think we will take points of order after the Select Committee statement. That would be seemly, and I am sure that Members will be patient enough to wait for that opportunity.