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Business of the House

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 16 January 2014

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 20 January—Second Reading of the Intellectual Property Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a carry-over extension to the Children and Families Bill, followed by general debate on payday loan companies. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 21 January—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, including on the subject of pub companies.

Wednesday 22 January—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the Commission work programme 2014.

Thursday 23 January—Debate on a motion relating to the Shrewsbury 24 and release of papers, followed by a general debate on Holocaust memorial day. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 24 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 January will include:

Monday 27 January—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 28 January—Second Reading of a Bill.

Wednesday 29 January—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 30 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 31 January—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 February will be:

Thursday 13 February—A debate on the third report of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on supporting the creative economy.

I am sure that I am not alone in being disappointed not to be able to be at the funeral of our friend and colleague Paul Goggins today at Salford cathedral. We are all thinking of him and his family.

I had wanted to thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s jam-packed and exciting programme of Government business, but it is becoming increasingly hard to find any. Last week, he refused to reveal what has happened to the elusive centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech, the Immigration Bill, so I will ask him again. When will that Bill return to the House and what on earth is the hold-up? It certainly is not a lack of Government time, as he tried to claim last week.

Last Thursday, the Leader of the House also refused to tell us whether the Government are considering scheduling the Queen’s Speech during the pre-election purdah. I see that we still have no date. Will he now give us the date of the Queen’s Speech, or at least rule out staging the state opening during the election period, which would be a clear breach of the rules?

The lobbying Bill—one piece of legislation that we will debate next week—is in a complete mess. We have had a panicked pause and a flurry of amendments designed to silence the huge chorus of critical voices, but the Government still managed to lose two crucial votes in the Lords. Even in its current form, the Bill is an unworkable disgrace that threatens legitimate democratic debate, while letting commercial lobbyists off the hook. Last night, the other place defeated the Government by more than 40 votes to exclude some staff costs from the slashed spending limits. Will the Leader of the House accept that amendment when the Bill returns to this House next week?

The publication of papers from the National Archives under the 30-year rule has suggested that Mrs Thatcher’s Government may have played a role in the devastating attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation, but I would like the Leader of the House to give an assurance to the House that no documents will be withheld from the inquiry and that the Foreign Secretary will give a prompt and full statement to the House and make the conclusions of the report public.

On Tuesday, during Health questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), appeared to rule out any statutory regulation to prevent psychotherapists from providing gay-to-straight conversion therapy, arguing that a ban could have “unintended consequences”. Being gay is not an illness and should never be treated as something that can be cured. Aversion therapy is an abhorrent practice and the Government should be taking action to stop it. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health to clarify the Government’s position on those issues? Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), which would ban such so-called therapies?

It is now nearly a year since the Prime Minister gave the speech that was supposed to end all Tory divisions on Europe, and it is fair to say that it has not been a roaring success. Within weeks, Tory Back Benchers had amended his own Queen’s Speech motion, and they have not stopped banging on about Europe ever since. This week, there has been a letter from 95 Tory MPs demanding a veto on all EU legislation. Does the Leader of the House agree with his Cabinet colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has described that latest Tory Eurosceptic initiative as “right-wing national escapism”? Or does he agree with me that we should build bridges with Europe to deliver real reform, in Britain’s national interest, rather than petulantly threaten to leave?

The Government are so out of ideas that they have run out of legislation 16 months early; so determined to stand up for the wrong people that they defend massive bankers’ bonuses; and so out of touch that they would rather squabble about Europe than govern in the national interest. I understand from press reports this week that Ministers have spent thousands of pounds on acting lessons from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I think the whole country will agree that whatever their method, it is time the Government exited stage right.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the statement of business. In particular, I join her and our colleagues, including Mr Speaker, who will be representing the House in Salford cathedral today, in expressing our continuing condolence to Paul Goggins’s family and friends.

The hon. Lady asked about the timing of the Immigration Bill. The remaining stages will be announced in due course. I love to leave the House wanting more, and I think I have done that today, not least for the week after next.

The hon. Lady asked about the timing of the Queen’s Speech. I am sorry, but I think she is trying to engender a certain indignation about that. I have made no announcement, and she will recall that last year, I announced the date of the Queen’s Speech on 7 March, so it would be premature to make an announcement at this point.

The hon. Lady is still living in a fantasy world on the impact of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. It will not stop charities and other campaigning organisations campaigning on policies or issues. It will do what it says on the tin—introduce additional transparency and a requirement that those who wish directly to influence the outcome of elections must register to do so. In response to extensive consultation with many dozens of stakeholders, we have brought forward a number of amendments in the other place. If she had cared to read the debates from Monday and Wednesday in the House of Lords, she would have discerned that there is now a lot of compromise and reconciliation on the Bill. Yes, there was a defeat on Monday and a defeat on Wednesday, but we explained carefully why we did not agree with the amendments in question that were tabled in the Lords. The Lords have still to consider the issues further on Third Reading, but I look forward to the debate next Wednesday when I hope we will see a useful Bill passed through both Houses.

The hon. Lady asked about the inquiries into matters back in 1984 relating to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. I do not think I can add anything to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. He has asked the Cabinet Secretary to undertake an immediate review, which will look at all the documents. The Prime Minister was clear yesterday that he would consider whether it was appropriate to make a statement, or for somebody to make a statement, but one cannot really determine what one should say to the House until one has understood the review’s findings.

The hon. Lady asked about what is referred to as conversion therapy. We do not believe that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is an illness to be treated or cured, so as my colleagues have made clear, we are concerned about so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy. To be clear, the Department of Health does not recommend the use of such therapy, and it is not a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence-recommended treatment. Indeed, clinical commissioning groups must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited under the Equality Act 2010.

The hon. Lady is right that the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has a private Member’s Bill on the list for Second Reading on 24 January, but I cannot say whether we will have the opportunity to debate it on that day.

The hon. Lady asks about Europe. I listened to my noble Friend Lord Dobbs in the House of Lords when he promoted the European Union (Referendum) Bill. The unity in the House of Commons was reflected in a substantial and impressive degree of unity among colleagues in the House of Lords. Lord Dobbs said that anybody under the age of 60 did not get to vote in the 1975 referendum, but I am under 60 and I voted. I voted then for a Common Market and I still want to be in one. Many Conservative Members, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, want a European Union that delivers an effective single market that boosts the competitiveness and wealth of the people of Europe. That is what we are looking for.

I should mention one other thing that we are keen to do in the House—I hope those on both Front Benches share this view. We want the role of national Parliaments to be strengthened in relation to decision making in the EU. We want the yellow card procedure to be used. It has been used once and it should be used whenever subsidiarity or proportionality do not justify measures brought forward by the European Commission. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to promote—he is finding friends and allies across Europe in this—a red card procedure for national Parliaments in relation to European decision making.

The House may not have heard, but it was announced this morning that Andrew McDonald, the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, will retire at the end of March because of ill health. There will be future opportunities for hon. Members to give our thanks to Andrew before he retires, but in establishing IPSA in 2009, he delivered what at the time seemed to be nigh impossible. Despite his ill health from time to time, he has shown great leadership and professionalism in his role at IPSA. I have found him a great pleasure to work with since I became Leader of the House. His skill will be much missed at IPSA and by the House.

I am sure it has come to the notice of the Leader of the House that, in the past few weeks, we have had disastrous flooding in Somerset—my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) is in his place. We are desperately in need of a formal debate on flooding. I have a Backbench Business Committee debate on flooding next week, but it is not good enough. We must have time for a debate. Year after year, flooding is a problem in the UK. We must discuss what we are going to do about the Environment Agency, funding and capital to ensure that we stop having to come to the House every year to beg for money from the Government of the day.

The Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House have the greatest possible sympathy for those affected by the dramatic flooding events, and particularly for the constituents of hon. Members in Somerset. We offer our support and sympathy.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point on debates. I hope that, in addition to the support he has already received from the Backbench Business Committee, there is time available from the Committee in the weeks ahead. I hope that he and other colleagues whose constituencies are affected look to the Committee for such debates. They would be much supported on both sides of the House.

From the Government’s point of view, my hon. Friend will recall not least the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the recent debates on the flood insurance measures in the Water Bill, which reflected how flood management is a priority for the Government. We are investing a record amount and reducing the risk of flooding to 165,000 households during the current spending round. Investment will reduce the risk of flooding for a further 300,000 households in the spending round beyond.

Yesterday, tucked away in the routine publication of statistics from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, we learned that statistics for bovine TB have been suspended because of what the Government agency reported could be a significant over-reporting of the incidence of bovine TB since September 2011. This means that the House has been inadvertently misled on a prime justification for badger culls. Will the Leader of the House demand that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs make an oral statement to the House early next week?

The hon. Gentleman correctly notes that a system error in the GB bovine TB statistics has been discovered by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which affected some of the monthly statistics published. That has affected the reporting of TB statistics; TB surveillance and disease control regimes have continued to operate normally. No livestock businesses should have been directly impacted. The scheduled publication happened, but some of the figures that would normally have been included have been excluded for now. Urgent work to put right the error is ongoing, and a full set of statistics will be published as soon as possible.

May we have a debate on transparency and the use of public funds in local government? In Somerset, a previous leader of the county council fell out with the chief executive and summarily sacked him in 2009. That cost Somerset council taxpayers more than a third of a million pounds. It now appears that exactly the same thing is happening again. The present chief executive is “out of the office” and has been for seven weeks. No statement has been made by the council, and members of the council have been gagged by a confidentiality clause. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—who I gather is in my constituency this week, although he has not had the courtesy to tell me—to investigate?

My hon. Friend will understand it if I do not comment on the specific case in Somerset to which he refers, but I hope he knows that we are taking steps to simplify the process used for resolving disputes with senior council staff. Indeed, the Secretary of State announced that the designated independent person process is to be abolished and steps will be taken to enhance the transparency of local decisions taken by the full council to provide the necessary protection for senior officers. Soundings were taken on the current proposals. That process closed on 14 January and the Department is currently considering the responses it has received. That is the general context. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not only inform the House in due course on how he is proceeding on those matters, but respond specifically to my hon. Friend.

Between June 2011 and September 2013, only 5.4% of the 3,670 disabled people put on the coalition’s Work programme have found jobs. May we please have a debate on the lamentable failure of the Government’s flagship policy for getting disabled people into work?

The hon. Lady will be aware of the welfare reforms and poverty debate that took place earlier this week. I hope there will be continuing opportunities to consider the Work programme, because overall one can see how it is making an enormous difference to those who have previously been out of work. On disabled people specifically, I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the written ministerial statement today from my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions on the publication of “Better Working with Disabled People”. I hope that that shows how the partnership with disabled people and their representatives is improving under this Government.

I have been approached by a constituent who has seen her arrears increase since Law of Property Act 1925 receivers were appointed to manage her property. May we have an urgent debate on the role and regulation of LPA receivers?

I will not dilate on the issue of LPA receivers at present, but I will ask my hon. Friends to reply directly to my hon. Friend. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but by raising the issue he has enabled us to focus additional attention on it.

A series of UN Security Council resolutions dating back to 1948 have sought to bring resolution in the disputed area of Kashmir. Will time be made available by the Government for a debate to allow the voices of the people of Kashmir to be heard?

Like many hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the continuing concern among many of our constituents about Kashmir. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but I have heard the Foreign Secretary respond sympathetically on these issues, so the hon. Gentleman might consider raising them at Foreign Office questions next Tuesday.

I was going to ask for a debate on the mice infestation in my office, but I suspect there would be so many Members scampering into the Chamber to take part that there would not be time, so I shall not do so.

I am pleased that the Government will be spending £18 billion during this Parliament on new school buildings and developments to existing ones, but may we have a debate on the time scales for these improvements to ensure that there are shorter periods between the agreement of funding, an agreement on the design of the schools and the start of the building projects?

I am scurrying to answer. I was just wondering whether there were any traps in my hon. Friend’s question.

My hon. Friend will recall that when we came into office, under the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme no school construction had started. It is the experience of many Members that considerable reductions in costs and an acceleration in process have been achieved under this Government through the new Priority School Building programme. The Secretary of State recently announced that 260,000 schools places had already been created under this Government, and additional substantial funding has been announced that I think takes the funding over this four-year period to about two and a half to three times what it was under the previous Government. All that is positive news. We want to ensure that plans put in place are cost-effective and achieved in as timely a fashion as possible, and I know that that is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Members on both sides of the House have long had concerns about the badger cull, the Government’s case for its efficiency and effectiveness, and its very morality. We now find out that their case is based on largely dodgy statistics. May we have a debate in Government time on this issue, which is so important to our constituents?

I do not think that the hon. Lady should get too carried away until the statisticians have quantified the error. One should not characterise the situation as she did and certainly should not exaggerate. The Government have been assiduous in bringing this issue back for the House to consider, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will continue to do so.

One of the potential benefits of devolution is that different Administrations can follow different policies, giving us the opportunity to learn from each other. There is particular concern about the performance of education in Wales. May we have a debate about how devolution operates, and about possible mechanisms for making direct comparisons so that we can learn from each other about how different Administrations work?

My hon. Friend rightly points to concerns, not least those captured in the OECD’s statistics on educational attainment. Those statistics, which make comparisons between countries, including England and Wales, show a worrying lack of attainment in reading and mathematics in Wales, and it is important to deal with that. In my view, this is not an intrinsic criticism of devolution, but much more a criticism of the policies pursued by the devolved Administration in Wales. We do not need a change in the devolution settlement to tackle these issues; we need a change of Government in Wales—away from a Labour Government.

I listened to the Leader of the House’s answer on the revelations about the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This issue has caused much shock and upset for many of my constituents of all faiths. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that he thought that a statement might be in order. I hope that we get that statement; many of my constituents will be disappointed if we do not. I also impress on the Leader of the House the need for the inquiry to report quickly, rather than being kicked into the long grass, as some of my constituents fear.

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman what I said to the shadow Leader of the House. As soon as the Prime Minister was aware of the issue, he took action and asked for a review, which is fair enough, but it is not our practice to say that we are going to make a statement until we are in possession of all the facts. It is reasonable for us to operate on that basis. Rather than the hon. Gentleman and others trying to decide what happened, it would be better to wait and find out what happened.

May we have an early debate on the procedures to be followed for fracking? A number of fracking licences are being applied for in my area, and I honestly do not know what procedure applies. We heard in Energy and Climate Change questions that there will be a strategic environmental assessment through which we might be able to find out what the licences cover. There is an important difference between the shallow fracking that currently takes place and deep fracking, which will send shock waves through the countryside and is a matter of much greater concern.

I know that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber for Energy and Climate Change questions, so she will have heard about some of the essentials of what a regulatory road map for fracking licences would look like. I know that Members are seeking opportunities for debates through the Backbench Business Committee, and I am sure that the House will continue to consider this issue.

I was a bit surprised by the Leader of the House’s answer to the question about the Queen’s Speech. There is a major innovation here because, for the first time ever, the Government have delayed the local elections until 22 May—the date to which the European elections have been brought forward—and the right hon. Gentleman has already announced the date on which we go into recess as 22 May, meaning that the only way of having the Queen’s Speech in May would be to hold it during purdah. Surely he can just rule out bringing Her Majesty here and tying her into party politics by having the Queen’s Speech during an election period.

Given that I have not made any announcement about the date of the Queen’s Speech, everything that the hon. Gentleman has said is pure speculation.

In what can be described only as a slam-dunk start to 2014, Rossendale and Darwen has heard the announcement that it is the biggest climber in the UK competitiveness index, we have been awarded £2 million to restore our town centre in Bacup and two new major employers are opening up in Darwen. May we have a debate in Government time about how the Government’s long-term economic plan is working and on how Rossendale and Darwen, east Lancashire and your constituency of Chorley, Mr Deputy Speaker, are the best places in Britain in which to start and grow a business?

Mr Lansley: I wish I had time available for such a debate, which would provide an excellent opportunity for my hon. Friend to showcase and pay tribute to what Rossendale and Darwen is doing. It would provide a fantastic opportunity for us to debate the clear success of the Government’s long-term economic plan. We are reducing the deficit, cutting income tax and fuel duty, creating more jobs, capping welfare, reducing immigration and, of course, delivering on better schools and skills, all of which is exemplified in Rossendale.

May I say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would never need acting lessons from RADA?

The Leader of the House knows of my continuing obsession with the accountancy profession and particular auditing processes—or a lack of them—regarding the banking scandal. May I point him to a particular worry about a company called Grant Thornton, which is involved in a relationship with Kaupthing bank in the context of the Icelandic banking collapse? The relationship between that bank and the Serious Fraud Office is a matter of much speculation, and it is believed that £400 million of taxpayers’ money is being held back by Grant Thornton, meaning that the public cannot get it. May we have a debate on the accountancy profession and Grant Thornton’s practices?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not in a position to comment on any of the specifics in that question. He will have noted that there was an Opposition debate on banking yesterday. In our previous exchanges at business questions, the passage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 afforded him the opportunity to raise such issues.

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend and hon. Members to the House of Commons Members’ Fund Bill, which I introduced and which is scheduled for Second Reading tomorrow? The Bill will reform the archaic and costly legislation that governs the benevolent fund that exists to help former Members of Parliament and their dependants who fall on hard times. It will reduce costs and reflect changing circumstances, thereby enabling us to forgo a Treasury grant, to suspend the £2 monthly payment that each Member makes to the fund and to return £1 million to the Treasury, while also ensuring that the fund remains capable of meeting ongoing needs given that, sadly, hardship continues to occur among former Members. If the Bill receives its Second Reading, will my right hon. Friend expedite—

Order. I am sorry, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will manage to construct an answer from what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Members’ fund and whose stewardship of it, along with that of his colleagues, has been very effective. I think that anyone who cares to read the explanatory notes accompanying his Bill will appreciate what a sensible and welcome reform he proposes. He might have been wondering whether, if the Bill receives its Second Reading tomorrow, the Government will table a money motion in support of it, and I can tell him that that would be our intention.

The Business Sprinkle Alliance organises fire sprinkler week, which this year will begin on 3 February. The Building Research Establishment and the Centre for Economics and Business Research have published data showing that fire causes £1 billion of losses to the United Kingdom economy every five years. Can we expect a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in support of fire sprinkler week?

I will of course draw what the hon. Gentleman rightly says to the attention of my colleagues in BIS. They may well be aware of the facts that he has given, and supportive of what he has said. I think he will agree that, overall, this country’s fire prevention measures have been remarkably successful, but it is nevertheless important for us to maintain them, because there are still occasional tragic instances in which fires result in injuries or fatalities that could have been avoided if the right sprinklers and other preventive measures had been in place.

Business questions probably constitutes one of the most important sessions in the week. We have two star performers who do not need any acting lessons, but the real advantage of being here for business questions is that we learn the truth, as well as new things. Today we have learned from the shadow Leader of the House that the Labour party is in favour of continuing our present relationship with the European Union and is opposed to an EU referendum, and we have learned from the Leader of the House—I do not think that even the Prime Minister has said this—that the Conservative party now wants to return to a common market and nothing else. That is really good news, so will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on whether the EU should become just a common market, and give our Liberal Democrat colleagues the right to vote against that proposal along with Labour Members?

As I said when I announced the future business, we expect the remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill to be debated on Monday week. I think that that will give Members an opportunity to continue to debate specific issues relating to the Europe for Citizens programme which, in my view, illustrates the capacity for positive co-operation across Europe that extends beyond the achievement of a common market.

I fear that I must inform my hon. Friend that while I said that I had voted for a common market and that I wanted one, I did not say that I had voted for a common market and nothing else. However, I think that there is as yet unfinished work to be done in the establishment of a single market, and that one of the best things that we can achieve in Europe is to become the strongest and most influential advocates of a competitive single market. I thought that the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor earlier this week amply illustrated the benefits of that competitiveness to Europe, the necessity of achieving it, and the dangers of not doing so.

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of North Skelton ironstone mine, which was the last ironstone mine in East Cleveland to close. East Cleveland ironstone fed Teesside’s iron and steel industry from the days of Bolckow and Pease, with great structures such as the Sydney harbour bridge being smelted from East Cleveland iron on the banks of the Tees. More than 30 men and boys were recorded as dying in North Skelton pits, so may we have a debate on making Skinningrove’s East Cleveland ironstone mining museum the nation’s ironstone mining museum?

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says and think that he makes an important point about the history and circumstances of his constituency. I cannot promise a debate, but he has put his important points on record and there may be further opportunities for him to raise them.

May I associate myself with the words of the Front Benchers about Paul Goggins? Paul was a lovely man, and we worked together over the past three or so years as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Leader of the House will be aware that that Committee has got some new and inflated powers, following the passage of the Justice and Security Act 2013. Will he therefore reinstitute the annual debate in Government time on matters of security and intelligence?

My hon. Friend is right that that Committee has important new responsibilities and powers under that Act. It was not an invariable practice that the Government would hold an annual debate, but it is also the case that, when the Backbench Business Committee was established, it was clear that a number of general debates that had taken place in Government time previously should properly be considered by the Backbench Business Committee as debates in its time. I have had a continuing conversation about that with the Chairs of the ISC and the BBC.

Any attack on a place of worship must be condemned so, on behalf of my constituents and those of other Members, may I ask that all the documents in respect of what happened at Amritsar in 1984 that are in the custody and control of the Government are released so that we have full transparency?

Without wishing to repeat myself, let me say that I completely understand and share the concern the hon. Lady raises, but I urge Members not to prejudge the circumstances then until we know more.

With the rise and re-emergence of anti-Semitism across mainland Europe and its links to organisations in the United Kingdom, may we have a debate about how we can stamp out that vile practice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for a debate to commemorate Holocaust memorial day next Thursday. Recently, of course, we received the findings of a survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights showing that, regrettably, two thirds of respondents considered anti-Semitism to be a problem, while three quarters said that the situation had got worse over the past five years. While that survey found that the UK Jewish community had more confidence in the authorities here and were less nervous about anti-Semitism than communities elsewhere in Europe, there are too many anti-Semitic incidents, so we need to work actively with civil society to challenge anti-Semitism through education and better reporting, and by tackling hate crime.

As we have heard about Ministers’ acting lessons, may we have a written statement from the Prime Minister about the cast of characters—the 96—who wrote to him about the European Union, because do not the public and this House have a right to know who are the principal players in the Euro soap opera that is the current Conservative party?

As I understand it, the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is flawed in that the reference to money being paid for drama lessons was in relation to civil servants, not Ministers.

As the only Sikh Member of the House of Commons, and as a Sikh who was 16 when the attack on the Golden Temple happened, I would like to advise hon. Members that, 30 years after that event, what Sikhs actually want is an end to rumour, suspicion and speculation. What they all want is the truth, and I ask all Members of this House to avoid politicising this because it is much more important than that.

Turning to my substantive question to the Leader of the House, Wolverhampton council is seeking to close Wolverhampton central baths. A petition has been signed by 6,000 people including myself. May we have a debate on safeguarding valuable facilities such as Wolverhampton baths?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that Members throughout the House will take on board and follow his prescription in relation to the events in Amritsar. He is quite right to say that the truth needs to be established.

I also completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point about swimming pools. Local authorities have the ability to use their public health resources to look at a wide range of issues, not least because of the reforms brought in by this Government, and I hope that they will consider access to swimming pools as a significant source of support for public health. For example, I recall a scheme—in Birmingham, I think—that provided free swimming opportunities for older people as part of the local authority’s public health measures.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Shares in Royal Mail closed at 616p yesterday, which was their highest ever price and 90% more than the issue price of 330p. May we have a statement from the Business Secretary on why he sold Royal Mail at 330p, and why he finds it acceptable that the taxpayers of this country lost £750 million?

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) gave evidence to the BIS Committee that amply illustrated how, after many years of failure to secure the necessary private sector investment in Royal Mail, this was a very positive step forward. Securing a successful sale was an achievement. The Secretary of State and the Minister responded to the points put to them, and the Select Committee will report in due course.

Does not Monday’s welcome news that the Government are going to offer more to communities that might be affected by fracking add to the need for a full debate on the Floor of the House about the community compensation scheme for fracking so that we can determine whether enough is being offered, whether the scheme needs statutory underpinning and how we can protect future funds as an addition to other local government funding?

My hon. Friend will recall what the Prime Minister said yesterday in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) about this subject—he was very supportive of continuing to discuss it with the Local Government Association. My ministerial colleagues and I will ensure that the House is updated in response to the points that my hon. Friend has rightly raised.

Headlines in the past few days’ papers have stated that sugar is the tobacco of today’s age and warned of the dangerous levels of obesity and diabetes resulting from the addition of sugar, salt and carbohydrates to the foods that we eat. This is not just a health issue. Will the Leader of the House arrange that we have a statement—or, better still, a debate—on this important subject?

The hon. Gentleman will recall the responses from the Prime Minister yesterday and from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week on this issue. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman; one of the objectives that we are achieving through the responsibility deal is the reduction of sugar in foods in a manner that reflects the successful approach that we have taken to the reduction of salt. This is not something we can unilaterally impose, not least because of the structure of the single market. Making misleading comparisons with tobacco is unhelpful in this context; any consumption of tobacco is harmful, whereas it is the excessive consumption of sugar that is harmful. We want to tackle the inclusion of excessive amounts of sugar in food, and we can do so.

May we have a statement following the visit of the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, which resulted in a significant joint communiqué yesterday that reaffirmed the active commitment of the Prime Minister and the President to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem? Significantly, it included an agreement to allow property development within the sovereign base areas. Does not that demonstrate that the British Government are a true friend of Cyprus?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Yesterday’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the President of Cyprus was very welcome, and the statement was an important one. I hope that, as a result, there will be opportunities for my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to set out further details relating to this matter.

On Monday, the House passed a motion, with massive all-party support, calling for a commission of inquiry into the effects on poverty of the Government’s welfare reforms. I know that the Leader of the House is a great defender of Back-Bench debates and motions. Will he tell us when the Government intend to establish such a commission of inquiry?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any positive response in that regard. Backbench Business Committee debates are important, and we continually look at the conclusions that are reached and the contributions to those debates. However, I cannot give him any specifics about the date of any commission.

For many years, schools in my county of Leicestershire have bumped along at the very bottom of the education funding league tables, in stark contrast to schools in Leicester city. Each pupil there has £700 more funding than those in the county, while areas in my constituency have severe deprivation. Please may we have a debate on a fairer funding model for schools?

I hope that my hon. Friend will know that the Government agree that the current funding system—the one we inherited—is unfair and irrational. We have already introduced important reforms to ensure more transparency and consistency in the way in which school budgets are set locally, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will announce shortly how we plan to continue the reforms by taking steps to address the current unfair distribution of funding between local areas.

As the House knows, there is an excellent rock band in the House, MP4, but if Scotland secedes from the Union, it will be MP3. Will the Leader of the House assure us that if that were to happen, proper auditions would be held, with him, to ensure that there is a new keyboard player for MP4?

It is a matter of regret that I was not able to attend the concert on Tuesday, but I hope it went well and I have listened to the CD.

Yes, I am still in the 1970s—that is when I used to organise concerts. My approach to this matter would be to say that we are better together.

If the Leader of the House was unfortunate enough to be commuting on the Hertford loop over the past four months, he would know that First Capital Connect and Network Rail have combined to give the most sustained period of heavy delays, cancellations and limited rolling stock, resulting in passengers having to resort to bikes on some days. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has joined me in meetings with those companies, but we feel that yet more progress has to be made, particularly with negotiations for a new franchise coming up. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to have a debate on this appalling service in our constituencies?

My hon. Friend will know that if he were able, with others, to go to the Backbench Business Committee, he might find time in an Adjournment debate or in Westminster Hall to raise these specific issues. However, in order to be as helpful as I can, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look specifically at the issues that he and his colleague raise.

May I ask the Leader of the House once again to look at the issue of housing in this country? Will he examine the terrible combination of the benefit cap, cuts in benefits altogether and the sky-high private sector rents in London, which are leading to the social cleansing of whole areas of our capital city? We need urgent action on this, including a debate on the need to bring in realistic rent controls so that housing is affordable for everyone in this country, not just the privileged minority.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government are as focused as any Government in recent history on increasing the supply of housing, from the woefully low levels occurring in the years before the last general election. Included in that is the achievement of additional affordable housing; we have 170,000 more affordable houses, following the lamentable decline of more than 400,000 in the number of social houses available under the previous Government.

At the north of England education conference this week, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the quality of teaching was improving. He also said:

“We have never had a more motivated, more qualified, more enthused generation of young teachers than we have now”.

That is a very encouraging quote. Please may we have a debate on what is being done to bring the brightest and best into our teaching profession, and to retain them, because that is vital to ensuring that our educational standards keep improving?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Not only Sir Michael Wilshaw, but The Times Educational Supplement has made it clear that there has probably never been a better time to be a teacher and to join the teaching profession, and the quality of teachers in our schools is at one of the highest levels it has ever been. That is partly because of the reform of initial teacher training, and 74% of graduates entering initial teacher training now have a 2:1 degree or higher—that proportion is the highest on record.

May we have a debate on education, particularly on the refusal of Tory councils to support or invest in community schools? That would give me the opportunity to raise the case of Sulivan school in Fulham, one of the best performing primaries in the country, which on Monday Hammersmith and Fulham council will decide to close and demolish solely so that its site can be given to a free school.

I cannot comment on the particular case, but I will of course ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to look at the matter and respond. I will discover more about the circumstances then. In my experience, there is an undoubted determination on the part of councils—I know Hammersmith and Fulham as a council pretty well—to ensure improvement in the provision of schools.

Earlier this month, we had the welcome news that £29 million is being allocated to Harrow council for the creation of new school places. As a result, 13 schools will get 2,845 new places. That is in direct contrast to two years ago when the then Labour-run council failed even to submit a bid for much-needed school places. May we have a debate, on the Floor of the House, on the issue of school places and on ensuring that there is a place for every child in this country to get a proper and decent education?

My hon. Friend raises an issue, which I, if I had time available, would welcome a chance to debate. The announcement before Christmas of additional funding for school places was important and welcome. He will know that since 2011 Harrow has been allocated a total of £36 million for new school places and has also benefited from £34 million of investment through the targeted basic need programme, which will fund the expansion of 15 schools by September 2015.

When can we have a debate to explain to former US Defence Secretary Gates that having a full spectrum of military cover has cost us grievously in the loss of more than 600 of our brave soldiers in two recent avoidable wars? Furthermore, being the fourth highest spender on defence in the world and punching above our weight means that we spend beyond our means and die beyond our responsibilities.

If we had such an opportunity with the former US Defence Secretary, he would understand that we, like many across the world, have had to take tough decisions on defence spending. However, he would acknowledge that, as a consequence of the decisions this Government have made and the value for money that we are achieving not least in procurement, we have closed that enormous black hole in commitments against resources that our Ministry of Defence had. That has enabled us to plan to spend £160 billion on equipment over the next decade, giving us a formidable range of cutting-edge capabilities. As for the Navy, the new aircraft carrier is almost complete, and the Type 45 destroyers, Type 26 frigates and seven new Astute class submarines are coming into base, which demonstrates that we have the best trained and equipped armed forces outside the United States.

The Government’s welcome banking reforms, including the raising of capital, are one part of countering the excessive risk-taking over many years by the banks. Another part of that is for the banks to acknowledge the consequences of that risk- taking. May we have a statement on the slow rate at which banks are looking into things such as the mis-selling of interest rate swaps to so-called unsophisticated investors?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 will allow us to make important steps in ensuring that we have a banking system that is not prey to the regulatory failures of the past. None the less, he makes an important point about mis-selling in relation to interest rate swaps. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are anxious to make progress in settling that. I hope that the new Financial Conduct Authority will see that as one of its priorities.

Following the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), will the Leader of the House clarify in what way the significant over-reporting of bovine TB and its associated costs and consequences will be brought before the House?

The hon. Lady will have heard me say that although there were statistical errors, they will not have affected the surveillance and they will not have directly affected livestock businesses through costs and impacts. When the statisticians have identified and quantified the errors, there will be an opportunity for Ministers to provide information to the House about the nature of the error.

May we have a statement from the Home Office to highlight the success of the National Crime Agency in cracking an international paedophile internet ring responsible for the online sex abuse of children living in poverty in the Philippines? Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to congratulate Northamptonshire police, who first uncovered the ring through a routine investigation of the then registered sex offender and now convicted paedophile Timothy Ford in his home in Kettering? Does that not show that sometimes diligent routine local police work can have important international repercussions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was not aware of the role of Northamptonshire police but I am interested to hear about it and I entirely endorse what he has to say about the merits of such diligent police work. The case also demonstrates the importance of the NCA’s focus on some of the issues that are of greatest concern to us all, including child exploitation. The nature of the internet has made it possible for some crimes to be perpetrated across the world and some measures, including the recent ones in Canada, can, along with the international co-operation of which our NCA is a part, give us heightened effectiveness in tackling such organised crime.

Why has the Home Secretary not made a statement to the House on the astonishing admission that police crime figures are fiddled to the point of being totally unreliable? Does the Leader of the House agree that that dreadful state of affairs needs to be addressed urgently?

I think we all agree that it is important that recorded crime statistics are as robust as they possibly can be. One of the first things we did when we came into office was to transfer responsibility to an independent Office for National Statistics. It is doing its job, and that is a reflection of an important step that the coalition Government took. The Home Secretary asked the inspectorate to carry out an audit in June of the quality of crime recording in every police force, and only last week she wrote to chief constables emphasising that the police must ensure that crimes are recorded accurately and honestly. It is worth noting that the separate and wholly independent crime survey for England and Wales, endorsed again yesterday by the ONS, also shows a more than 10% reduction in crime over the same period from 2010. Crime now stands at its lowest level since that survey began in 1981. The evidence is clear that police reform is working and crime is falling.

May we have a debate on the 2014 index of economic freedom, prepared by the Heritage Foundation, so that the House can explore why the UK is placed 14th on the list and why not a single other EU country is categorised as free, whereas countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada are categorised as economically free?

I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but he raises an interesting point. I know the Heritage Foundation and the importance of some of the research that it undertakes. The 1.2 million additional jobs created in this country since 2010 are evidence that illustrates to Europe the positive impacts associated with greater economic freedom. That is something that can be understood and appreciated across Europe.

Late last year, a relative of my constituents died while in prison serving a custodial sentence. He was tried and convicted in England but returned to serve part of his sentence in Scotland under what is called a restricted transfer. As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, when relatives are unable to afford to pay for a funeral the Prison Service is obliged to make a reasonable contribution to funeral expenses, but because this situation involved a prisoner convicted of an English offence serving in a Scottish prison neither the Scottish Prison Service nor the English Prison Service will take responsibility for this matter. May we have a statement from the Ministry of Justice about how prisoners who are transferred—or, more accurately, their relatives—are dealt with by the Prison Service?

I can understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that issue on behalf of his constituents. It is regrettable that they were placed in that situation. I do not know the circumstances of the case, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and his colleagues to look into it and respond to him as soon as possible.

In November, on the Terrace of this place, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society launched the Now or Never campaign on shaping pharmacy for the future. On Tuesday the Secretary of State for Health met me, pharmacists from Devon and Cornwall, including some from my constituency, and a member of the English Pharmacy Board. Given the Leader of the House’s commitment to putting pharmacists at the centre of the NHS, may we have a debate on how, by sharing data with pharmacists, we can work to take the pressure off GPs and accident and emergency units?

My hon. Friend will know, not least because the all-party group on pharmacy, of which he is a member, has followed these matters carefully, that the last contract under the previous Government promised pharmacists much but delivered very little. There is clearly tremendous potential, previously unrealised, for pharmacies to contribute to public health and prevention, taking the load off the NHS, for example by dealing with minor injuries and medicines management. There is every prospect that NHS England, through its framework pharmacy contract, and clinical commissioning groups have a tremendous incentive to use pharmacies, as do local authorities in relation to some preventive measures. I hope that they will do that. One of the blockages that he rightly refers to under the previous Government was pharmacists’ complete inability to access patients’ summary care records. We need to make it possible for patients to have their conditions monitored and treated and to be provided with medicines in pharmacies through access to that information.

In the light of recent food scandals, including the horsemeat scandal, may we have a debate in Government time on the importance of food labelling, which allows consumers to know what is in the products they are eating and the country of origin? Will he also join me in congratulating Halen Môn Anglesey sea salt on achieving European special status? It is a unique product from a unique county of origin.

It is indeed, and I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Halen Môn Anglesey sea salt on the designation. It is about not only food safety, but preference, because consumers attach importance to quality. Origin labelling gives them access to the sort of information they want.

The scandal at Mid Staffordshire still casts a long shadow over the patients, families and health care professionals in my county. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—he is in his place—who has been a sterling champion of local concerns. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he favours having a debate on the matter. Will the Leader of the House find time for such a debate as soon as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and join him in thanking our hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and colleagues across Staffordshire for their assiduous work in following up on the concerns of their constituents. He is quite right that the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are looking to have a debate on the Francis report in due course. As I made clear to the House before, I did not feel that it was appropriate to have such a debate before there had been a full Government response. We had that response at the end of last year, and some of it is being reflected in measures coming forward in the Care Bill. However, I hope that it will still be possible to have a more general debate shortly on the Francis report and the Government’s response, because it raises issues much wider than those specifically covered in the Care Bill.

When the Government reduced services at Rochdale infirmary and moved some of them to North Manchester general hospital, we were assured by the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust that adequate public transport would be provided. That clearly has not happened. May we have a debate on the adequacy of public transport links to our local hospitals?

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about this because, as he will probably recall, as shadow Secretary of State I was very concerned about access for communities not only in Rochdale, but in Bury and in Rossendale and Darwen, to services in north Manchester. I raised those concerns, along with other Members, at the time. Transport for Greater Manchester has a responsibility in relation to this. I know that the Department for Transport is aware of these issues and is raising them with TFGM.