The business for the week commencing 24 February is as follows:
Monday 24 February—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.
Tuesday 25 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2014 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2014, followed by general debate on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 26 February—Opposition day (unallotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, including on Housing Benefit (Transitional Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (S.I., 2014, no. 212).
Thursday 27 February—A debate on a motion relating to the effects of welfare reform on sick and disabled people, followed by a debate on a motion relating to parliamentary representation. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 February—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 3 March will include:
Monday 3 March—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on managing flood risk followed by a debate on Government levies on energy bills.
Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Managing Flood Risk, Third report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, HC 330, and the Government response, HC 706; The Levy Control Framework: Parliamentary oversight of the Government levies on energy bills, Eighth Report from the Energy and Climate Change Committee, HC 872.]
Tuesday 4 March—Estimates day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on defence and cyber-security, followed by a debate on the private rented sector. Further details will be given in the Official Report. At 7pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Defence and Cyber-Security, Sixth Report form the Defence Committee, HC 106 of Session 2012-13, and the Government response, HC 719; The Private Rented Sector, First Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, HC 50, and the Government Response, CM 8730.]
Wednesday 5 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill, followed by general debate on the Francis report.
Thursday 6 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 7 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 27 February will be:
Thursday 27 February—General debate on patient rights and access to NHS data.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the week after the recess.
On Tuesday the House voted to ban smoking in cars with children present, despite the Government’s opposing the move in the Lords. Will the Leader of the House confirm that we will have a law on the statute book before the next election?
Yesterday the House voted by a margin of 226 to 1 in favour of the Bill to abolish the bedroom tax—a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)—on the same day as we revealed that thanks to Government incompetence at least 13,000 people have been forced to pay it when they should have been exempt. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has tabled a statutory instrument to try to force those people to pay that hated tax again, but I want to make it clear that during our next Opposition day debate Labour will move to annul that odious measure. The bedroom tax is a callous attack on the poorest people in our country that might end up costing more than it saves, and we do not think that anyone should have to pay it.
It seems that the ever-eager Justice Secretary is the only Minister to have responded to a plea for some business to fill the gaping holes in the Government’s stuttering legislative agenda. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill amends their own legislation from only two years ago. It has apparently been brought forward from next year’s legislative programme, which suggests that the Government are so desperate for business that they are already poaching Bills from their sparse draft of the next Queen’s Speech. Does the Leader of the House think it would be easier just to skip the Queen’s Speech altogether and leave us officially twiddling our thumbs until the next election?
The floods that are blighting many parts of our country are causing untold misery for thousands of people. As we have just heard, the huge storm overnight caused further travel chaos and left more than 100,000 people without power. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said at his Downing street press conference that money would be no object in dealing with the floods, but within 24 hours we were told that there would be no blank cheques. Will the Leader of the House tell us which it is?
During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister failed to tell us whether he would commit to spending more on flood defences, so can the Leader of the House tell us whether he will? Yesterday the Prime Minister yet again cited inaccurate figures on flood defence spending, so will the Leader of the House finally admit that the Government cut flood funding by £97 million when they came to office in 2010, that they changed the Treasury rules to make it harder to give flood protection schemes the go-ahead, and that flood spending for this year is £63.5 million lower than in 2010, even after the extra money announced last week?
We learned this week that Barclays intends to increase its bonus payouts by 10% while cutting 7,000 staff in the UK. In 2011, the Prime Minister said:
“I want the bonus pools to be lower, I want the taxes that the banks pay to be higher and…I want the lending that they do to do business…to increase.”
As always with this Government, the results do not match the rhetoric. Bankers bonuses have increased by £600 million since 2012, net lending under the funding for lending scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises has fallen by £2.3 billion since June 2012, and since the election banks have paid more than twice as much in bonuses as they have paid in corporation tax. Labour would use a bankers bonus tax to fund real jobs for young people, but all the Government can do is refuse to rule out a cut in the top rate of tax. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Chancellor on fairness so that he can explain why he stands up only for a few at the top?
As Valentine’s day approaches, the coalition will be conscious that it has been going through a bit of a legislative dry spell. Does the Leader of the House have any plans to spice things up, because everyone seems to be falling out of love? The Environment Secretary and the Local Government Secretary have been briefing against each other. Apparently the Deputy Prime Minister thinks that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has “gone native” and is basically just a Tory, and Tory Back Benchers are busy describing their coalition colleagues as
“harder to pin down than a weasel covered in Vaseline”.
I understand that Lord Rennard is trying to sue to the Liberal Democrats so that he is allowed to rejoin the party, but he must be the only person in the whole country who would take legal action to become a Liberal Democrat.
Yes, it was.
I was delighted that the House, in a free vote, expressed its view on smoking in cars—speaking personally, I entirely agreed with it. The Government now have to consider when we bring the relevant regulations before the House, but I am afraid that it will be a while before we can advise hon. Members of the timing.
The hon. Lady referred to the ten-minute rule Bill proposed yesterday by the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), but I was sorry that she seemed not to understand the nature of proceedings on such Bills. The House votes not on the principle of a ten-minute rule Bill, but simply on whether it gives leave for the Bill to be brought in. As the House did not express a view on the principle of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, I do not think that we can draw a particular lesson from those proceedings.
The hon. Lady anticipated Labour’s Opposition day debate on the next sitting Wednesday, when Ministers will set out their position clearly, but that gives us further evidence that the Labour party is in denial. Under the Labour Government, housing benefit doubled and the deficit quadrupled. We must arrive at a point where there is welfare reform so that the fairness of the system is established: the fairness of people in social housing having a similar system in relation to under-occupancy as those in the private rented sector; the fairness of recognising that there has been a dramatic increase, including under the last Government, of the number of people seeking social housing but unable to find it, while at the same time large numbers of people are in under-occupied properties. It is important to get that fairness into the system, and yet, again, the Opposition are resisting it.
The shadow Leader of the House again peddled the proposition that the House is not busy. The House is dealing with legislation. The Thursday before last, four Bills received Royal Assent. In the last three weeks, we have introduced three Bills, which will be carried over into the final Session of this Parliament. I am not sure what in the business statement that I have just announced the hon. Lady thinks does not constitute genuine business. Under the Standing Orders we are required to have estimates days, so we are having estimates days. Under the Standing Orders we are required to give the Opposition access to the time of the House, but she will have noticed that the next sitting Wednesday’s debate is an unallotted day. Is the hon. Lady saying to me, and through me, to the usual channels, that she does not think that that merits the attention of the House? If so, hand that time back to us, and the Government can use it to bring forward measures. As it is, we are busy with legislation and the House is busy debating the issues that are chosen not only by the Government but by the Backbench Business Committee and the Opposition. If she objects to the Backbench Business Committee and the Opposition having time for debates because it does not constitute scrutiny of legislation, the Government will take it back and scrutinise legislation instead.
The hon. Lady repeated the canard that the Government are saying two different things about money being available to support the response to flooding and disruption and the recovery from that. The position is clear. It is exactly as the Prime Minister said yesterday and my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary said today. We will do whatever is needed to support people in responding to these events and in recovering from them, and we will not be constrained in doing that by virtue of resources. Resources will be available to make that happen.
I do not know whether the House can have any debate in relation to Valentine’s day, but in a spirit of amity I point out that we have agreed that about this time of year we will be looking towards the first opportunity to introduce measures on same-sex marriages. The hon. Lady will note that the two Houses will be dealing with the relevant regulations in the first week after the recess. At least at this time of year, in a romantic spirit, we can look forward to that happening by the end of next month.
The hon. Lady’s reference to bank bonuses reminded me of the shadow Chancellor. The Opposition, having access to time for a debate, have not chosen to debate the economy again, which reminded me that this week is national storytelling week. My nine-year-old son was asked by his school to look up “Aesop’s Fables”. The hon. Lady will recall the fable of the eagle and the arrow, where the eagle is flying and is shot by an arrow and falls to the ground, and seeing the arrow recognises one of its own feathers in the shaft of the arrow. The moral of the fable is that we often give our enemies the means of our destruction. That is a little story that she might tell the shadow Chancellor this week.
May we have a debate on equal pay, and when we do perhaps the Minister responsible can explain why the Government Equalities Office pays men more than women, white people more than ethnic minorities and non-disabled people more than disabled people? Does the Leader of the House not agree that the Government Equalities Office should get its own house in order before it starts lecturing everybody else around the country about equal pay?
My hon. Friend recognises, as I do, that it is our responsibility to meet our obligations under the Equal Pay Act and, more generally, our obligation to ensure that there is access to equal pay. I do not know the circumstances in the Government Equalities Office. I will of course ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport so that she may respond to the points raised by my hon. Friend.
Last week the Leader of the House was almost boasting about the excellent hour he had spent on Wednesday in the Welsh Grand Committee, saying what an enjoyable time he had. We have not had a Scottish Grand Committee since 2007, and despite my repeated attempts the House business managers have refused to have one. In view of the Chancellor’s statement today on currency arrangements in the event of Scottish independence, does the Leader of the House agree that it would be a good idea to have a Scottish Grand Committee and to invite the Chancellor along to debate the matter with Scottish Back Benchers?
I will of course consider the hon. Gentleman’s proposal for a Scottish Grand Committee and discuss it with colleagues, but I point out that we debated Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom in this Chamber very recently, and a debate on currency and the Union took place in Westminster Hall yesterday.
I warmly welcome the Leader of the House’s announcement of the estimates debate on managing flood risk. Would it be helpful to the House if we were to have an annual statement on adaptation so that we can look at critical infrastructure, including gas and electricity, pumping stations, roads, bridges and other national assets such as railway lines, take stock of the situation and have more of an overview between floods, rather than waiting for the next one?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that she has raised this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I cannot promise a statement, but I will of course look with our colleagues at whether, in the light of these events, there is something we can do, in addition to the debate I announced, to enable us at an appropriate time to look at all the issues relating to resilience and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The hon. Lady will have heard what the Prime Minister had to say on that subject. From memory, a threshold of £3 billion—if I am wrong I will provide her with more details later—must be reached before an application can be made. An application for additional resources from Europe would also have implications for our rebate.
Bournemouth is pleased to be receiving some emergency funding for the flooding that took place on the River Stour in my constituency, but storms have also affected the seafront—one of the beach huts has been washed away and 10 have been damaged. Sea levels are expected to rise by 3 feet over the next few decades, so may we have a statement on the Government’s thinking on financial support for improved sea defences?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am afraid that other Members will have similarly sad tales to tell about the impact of flooding, and not only recently but all the way back to early December. I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave our hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh). We will certainly look for an opportunity for that if we can.
When can we debate the actions of the ingrate President Karzai, who is about to release 65 Taliban murderers from Bagram prison and has insulted our armed forces by saying that the sacrifices they made in Helmand were a disgrace? Can we also look at the delusional complacency of the Government who say that the mission has been accomplished, at a time when civilian deaths are at a record high, heroin production is at a record high and large tracts of the country are occupied by the Taliban?
The House will know how strongly we feel about the work that has been done by our armed services and others in Afghanistan and the difference it has made in creating a much better position. We set about the process of ensuring that the Afghan national army and security forces were in a position to maintain security after we left, and I think our forces have made tremendous progress in that direction. What is needed alongside that is political commitment and will, alongside security capacity. I am afraid that in the past couple of days we have sometimes seen evidence of a lack of the political will to ensure that that security is maintained to the same extent.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion on the future of independent petrol retailers?
[That this House notes that there are 5,000 independent petrol filling stations in the UK; recognises the valuable contribution that they make to the economy and the national infrastructure; further notes that independent filling stations are closing at a rate of four per week with the loss of 1,500 jobs per year; believes that this is a real loss for those in rural communities who rely on them, as well as Government due to lost revenue; and therefore urges the Government to implement a plan to ensure fair competition, fair taxation, and fair planning in this industry to secure a sustainable future for the UK's independent petrol filling stations.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that independent petrol retailers employ thousands of people across the country, yet four such outlets close every week, causing about 1,500 jobs to be lost every year? May we have a debate in which we can discuss introducing fair competition, fair taxation and fair planning so that these retailers can continue to thrive?
Yes, I have seen my hon. Friend’s early-day motion. I recollect that he had one of a similar character at an earlier time and we had an opportunity to talk about that as well. He will recall that last year the Office of Fair Trading, having undertaken inquiries, published a report. I completely agree that fair competition is absolutely what this is all about. If there is evidence of any lack of such competition, it is important for it to be given to the Office of Fair Trading so that the competition authorities can look at it and intervene.
Earlier this year, the Government told us that deaths from human-made air pollution had gone down. A freedom of information request has now revealed that this was because pollutants called PM 2.5s had been reclassified as residual and non-anthropogenic. It has now been admitted that that is not the case. May we have a debate on transparency in the classification of particulate matter?
Fortunately, I know that PM stands for particulate matter because of my former responsibilities for public health and the way in which Public Health England is responsible for assessing these things. Concerns were raised 10 or more years ago in my own constituency about the health impacts of given levels of particulate matter of different sizes. I will of course ask the Minister responsible at the Department of Health, in the first instance, to respond to the hon. Gentleman.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving the opening speech at the annual Love Business East Midlands conference at Donington Park in my constituency. I am pleased to inform the House that delegate numbers and business confidence were at record levels, replicating a report by BDO which said that business confidence is now at the highest level since 1992. As investment intention relies on confidence, may we have a debate on investment in UK businesses and the threats posed to it by the disastrous and reckless policies of the Labour party?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I applaud the opportunity he has taken, along with his colleagues in the east midlands, to bring together business and to continue to push forward that sense of business confidence, which is very important. What BDO found in the east midlands was mirrored nationally in the recent biannual survey undertaken by Lloyds TSB, which reported business confidence at its strongest since January 1994. That is a clear reflection of the success of this Government’s long-term economic plan, which is giving rise to that increase. Through reducing the deficit, creating more jobs and cutting taxes, we are inspiring business confidence and getting business investment coming back.
Lord Lawson said on the radio this morning that there was no evidence to link climate change to floods. The Energy and Climate Change Secretary is due to give a speech saying that Conservatives who deny that human activity causes climate change are ignorant, and contribute to extreme weather events such as the recent flooding. Now the Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), has said:
“Unthinking climate change worship has damaged British industry and put up consumer bills.”
May we have a debate on climate change so that the coalition parties can have this out with each other once and for all?
The Government’s position is very clear. We, as a country and as a Government, are among those at the forefront of tackling climate change and recognising the risks it represents. Speaking personally as somebody whose constituents have included many of those who work at the British Antarctic Survey, I have never been under any illusions about the man-made impacts on global warming. But that does not mean we should ever close down a debate that says we understand—it is exactly this point—the nature of man-made impacts on the climate. What we have to understand equally are the causative effects that that leads to and how we can adapt and mitigate those, as well as trying to minimise man-made impacts on the environment.
My constituent Chris Taylor worked as a Civil Aviation Authority test pilot for 10 years but was recently made redundant. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the Minister on how the CAA can retain the same capabilities and influence at a European level, given the loss of its last dedicated full-time test pilot?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to respond to my hon. Friend, although I know that my hon. Friend has had a chance to meet the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). He knows and the House will be aware that test pilots are employed to undertake flight tests to evaluate aircraft design as part of certification processes. The European Aviation Safety Agency is responsible for the type certification of aircraft manufactured inside the European Union or registered in an EU member state. The Civil Aviation Authority is not responsible for type certification and therefore does not require the services of test pilots to meet its statutory duties. That is enough from me, but I will ask my right hon. Friend at the Department to add a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen).
It is Valentine’s day tomorrow. In that spirit, may I inform the Leader of the House that we probably have in this country the envy of Silicon valley in the United States in the wonderful tax incentives for individuals to invest in new start-up businesses? With the Budget coming up quite soon, may we have an early debate on expanding that tax incentive to people who invest in social enterprises? The whole world of social enterprise, crowdfunding and social impact investment is changing. It is a great opportunity for our country. May we have a debate so that we can get those added benefits to include social enterprises?
I am sure the House will be interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. I will make sure that the Treasury sees what he has said and he may find other opportunities between now and the Budget to raise the matter. I entirely agree with him. I know from business angels in the Cambridge area that we in this country have a very strong environment in which to undertake start-up investment. One of the key things we need is to ensure that we have the quantity of venture capital available to support those start-ups through development, because we in this country have a very high level of the initial research and start-up businesses, but sometimes we lose control of the business as it grows.
May we have a debate on Cyprus, following the courageous decision on Tuesday by President Anastasiades and Dr Eroglu to restart talks to reunify Cyprus? We can then join the Prime Minister in fully supporting efforts to reach a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement for all Cypriots.
I am glad my hon. Friend raises that. I saw that and I shared with him the sense of optimism that those brave steps generated. It was important for Cyprus and for the European Union and member states of the European Union that those steps were taken. I will, if I may, refer what he says to my hon. Friends at the Foreign Office, who might want to find an opportunity to say something about that to the House at some point.
Given that the House rises today and that the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is scheduled for Second Reading on the day of our return, may I raise a concern that relates to schedule 4, part 1, which deals with the restraint of children in custody? My concern is that in the light of a judgment by the Court of Appeal in 2008, permitting the use of force for good order and discipline in secure colleges may not be lawful. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to liaise with his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to confirm that this is indeed the intended position, as currently stated in the Bill?
Of course I will raise the point with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. The hon. Gentleman will understand that the Second Reading debate will offer an opportunity to debate the principles of the Bill, but the point he raises might also profitably be pursued then and in Committee.
There is now wide recognition that character and resilience are as important as GCSEs for young people as they enter adulthood. May we have a debate on what that actually means and implies and what more can be done in and out of school to help young people develop those key traits?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am happy not only that our Education Secretary has said, with verve and commitment, that he wishes to build activities in state schools that mirror those that often occur in independent schools, but that, only today, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), has followed his lead, as he is sometimes wont to do. Reinforcements such as extending school sport support and support for the development of cadet forces in state schools are just some examples of the ways in which we can help build character. Finally—sorry to go on, Mr Speaker—this is about not just character building in the sense of having a wider range of attributes and abilities, but the self-esteem that goes with it. Whatever can build self-esteem will develop in children and young people something that will be of value to them throughout their lives.
Charlotte Pocklington from Guisborough in my constituency was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and needed treatment at the Freeman hospital in Newcastle after attending the James Cook hospital in Middlesbrough for diagnosis. She expected the ambulance that was to take her there to arrive at 4.30 pm on the same day she was diagnosed, but no ambulance arrived until 4 am the following morning—a 12-hour wait. This time last year I raised the case of an elderly lady in Marton in my constituency who had to wait 11 hours for an ambulance to respond. May we have an urgent about ambulance responses?
To assist the hon. Gentleman, I will make sure that my colleagues at the Department of Health hear what he has said. This also provides an opportunity for the North East ambulance service in particular to let the hon. Gentleman know what the situation is. If he wishes to raise the issue further, Health Ministers will be available to answer questions from the Dispatch Box on Tuesday 25 February.
Last week I visited Claro Precision Engineering, a high-quality company in Knaresborough in my constituency. The company is growing well and it has reported that one of the trends driving that is the reshoring of manufacturing projects and jobs, which is clearly a very positive trend. May we have a statement from the Business Secretary to update the House on what his Department is doing to promote that trend and so further boost UK manufacturing?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He may have heard how positively the Prime Minister feels about the way in which reshoring opportunities have been used in recent years to help boost the 1.6 million private sector jobs that have been created since the election and the very positive steps taken in relation to manufacturing. I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend tell the House about Claro Precision Engineering and I hope that many other companies will share in the sense that they can do more here and not outsource and offshore their activities to other countries as much.
May we have a debate about altering the fixed-term provisions to four rather than five years? As has been intimated, the coalition currently resembles the characters from the film, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, who sang:
“We’re busy doing nothing, working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do.”
We could then have a general election in May and a change of Government.
Is that where it comes from? I thought it was the dwarfs in “Snow White” who sang that, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right, because his knowledge of music is so much greater than mine. Perhaps he should stick to music. I have no immediate plans for any debate on revision of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
May I add my voice to those of others and ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on flooding, particularly so that I can highlight Thames Water’s lack of investment in its sewerage systems in Cirencester, Fairford, South Cerney and other places? I have serious sewer flooding in my constituency and, unfortunately, it has been exacerbated this week by the grant of a large planning application for residential dwellings in the floodplain.
My hon. Friend will have observed that on Monday 3 March, which will be an estimates day, the House will discuss managing flood risk. I hope he will also emphasise to Ofwat—as I and other Members have done over the years—the importance of identifying, quantifying and supporting in its price control review the investment required to minimise sewer flooding of properties.
Given that the Prime Minister has announced that he wants to think again about his new flood insurance scheme—perhaps because of the Help to Buy scheme, which the Government are promoting heavily in areas that are prone to flood risk but will not be covered by the new scheme—and the fact that the clauses in the Water Bill for the scheme were tabled very late, may we now have one of the right hon. Gentleman’s famous legislative pauses to get the scheme right?
I remind the hon. Lady that the Water Bill is in the House of Lords, not this House, so her question does not relate directly to the business of the House at the moment. Her question was a bit rich, given that this Government worked incredibly hard to get an agreement with the Association of British Insurers to give people the security of knowing that access to affordable flood insurance was backed by a statutory scheme. That could have been done in the last Parliament, but it was not.
On the fact that the scheme was added to the Water Bill at a late stage, we made it clear from the outset, through the inclusion of place holder provisions, that we would consult on it and bring it in later, so I cannot accept the proposition that there is consequently any case for a delay.
Good rail services, particularly to the capital, are essential for the economic development of our provincial towns, such as those I represent in northern Lincolnshire. Open access operators have demonstrated that they are well capable of filling the gaps left by the main franchise holders. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that we can discuss the availability of services provided by open access operators?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is probably best for my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport to respond to him. Other hon. Members may be interested in such a debate, and if he thinks that they might join him in seeking to secure time on the Adjournment or through the Backbench Business Committee, he might find that an interesting line to pursue.
Will the Leader of the House pass on my sincere best wishes to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in his recovery from a very serious eye operation?
When the Leader of the House has a chance for a word with his right hon. Friend, will he, at an opportune moment, seek a guarantee that the independent expert panel report on the failed badger culls will be fully debated and possibly voted on by all Members before an announcement is made about any further roll-out of another 10 culls this summer?
The hon. Gentleman is very gracious, and I will indeed make sure that his good wishes are passed on to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who I know is making very good progress. As we might expect, it turns out that he is quite resilient.
The independent expert panel is still preparing its report. The timing of the completion of the report and of its submission to Ministers is a matter for the panel. The hon. Gentleman will know that the report will include an assessment of the costs, and an economic assessment is being prepared to inform decision making. We will of course keep the House informed about that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for providing Government time to debate the Francis report. Officials at the Department of Health have written to a constituent of mine in respect of the trust special administration of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust that
“the Secretary of State cannot develop his own solution or accept the proposals only in part, nor can he require any amendments to the TSAs’ proposals other than by using his veto.”
With respect, I challenge that interpretation, given the Secretary of State’s overriding powers under sections 1, 2 and 4 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Although they accept the broad thrust of the trust special administrators’ recommendations, my constituents look to the Secretary of State to protect local services, especially for the most vulnerable in the areas of maternity and paediatrics. May we have a debate on the powers of the Secretary of State for Health?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the debate on the Francis report and the Government response. I have said before that it is important that we have such a debate and I am glad that I have been able to announce it.
The foundation trust special administration regime could and should have been put in place by the Labour party as part of the creation of foundation trusts, but it was not. The regime has to be carefully specified. It is important that it does not become a means by which the independence of foundation trusts and the role of Monitor as the regulator of foundation trusts can be overridden, other than specifically in relation to the Secretary of State’s adherence to his general duties. The Secretary of State must use the measure only in exceptional circumstances, which implies that it is a veto, rather than to impose his view of how services should be configured over the views of the local commissioners.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the online petition organised by Coventry City football club supporters and the local newspaper, which asks the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to take evidence from both sides in the dispute? Those on both sides of the dispute have agreed to give evidence. Will he nudge the Chairman of the Committee to take evidence from both sides in order to end the dispute, because they are calling for conciliation? Finally, can we have a date for when the Minister for sport, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), will come to the House and tell us what her proposals are for reorganising the Football League?
The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the important report that has been produced by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The Government will respond to that in due course, although I cannot recall precisely when we are due to respond or what the character of the response will be. Although I must not tell any Select Committee what it should or should not do, I will raise the issue of Coventry with the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
With the country suffering some of the worst flooding in living memory—our thoughts are with the communities that have been affected—may we have a debate on the need to strengthen the safeguards in the planning system to prevent houses from being built on the floodplain? City of York council is proposing development on flood-risk areas in my constituency. Is it not time that we started to learn the lessons of the past?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure that people in York are only too aware of the risk of flooding, following the serious floods in 2007. He will know that the number of dwellings being built in areas of high flood risk is at its lowest since the land use change statistics began in 1989. To mitigate the risk of flooding, the Environment Agency is consulted on planning applications for areas that are at risk of flooding. In the last year for which figures are available, 2012-13, 99% of planning decisions on housing by councils were in line with the agency’s flood risk advice. I hope that that gives him some reassurance about the role of the Environment Agency in the decisions of his council.
In Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions earlier, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), said that the reason for the delay in publishing the report on food banks was that it was going through the quality assurance process. The quality assurance process seems to be taking longer than the writing of the report. Perhaps I should ask for a debate on the quality of Government reports, but, in all seriousness, will the Leader of the House speak to his colleagues and get the report published, because this issue is of interest to many Members and the report will inform the debate on both sides of the House?
I had the benefit of hearing my hon. Friend’s reply to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) at DEFRA questions. I have also responded to the hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) on this subject. We are ensuring that the report is in a position to be published. However, I am afraid that I am not in a position to say when that will happen.
Will the Government consider updating the role of the Minister for cities, the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), to make him the Minister for cities and counties, in recognition of the fact that growth deals are just as important in non-metropolitan and county areas as they are in our great cities?
My hon. Friend will know that some 20 areas have been included in the second tranche of city deals. Those are not only major conurbations, but cities and towns with a population of about 100,000. Many of the deals include the surrounding rural areas, where an awful lot of economic activity and growth can be generated. I say that advisedly because Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are promoting a city deal jointly. The Minister for cities and constitution is pursuing that model. He is identifying where growth is happening in order to construct city deals that support that growth.
Will the Leader of the House take advantage of the relatively light legislative programme—which, in itself, is not a bad thing—to arrange for daily oral statements from Departments on a rota basis to enhance the accountability of the Government? Given the poor quality of debates on unallotted Opposition days, will he scrap them and replace them with extra days for Back-Bench debates? Will he consider creating a Back-Bench week that would be entirely devoted to issues that Back Benchers want discussed?
My hon. Friend tempts me. [Interruption.] Yes—a little bit. However, I will resist that temptation because we are a Government who believe in ensuring accountability and scrutiny in the Chamber. We have deliberately in this Parliament seen through reforms to the Backbench Business Committee, which has afforded time, and from now on in this Session time in this Chamber for that Committee will be in excess of its 27 allotted days. As I said earlier, the same is also true for the Opposition, which is fine and as it should be. We cannot have a sort of closed period for scrutiny and opportunities for debates generated other than from within the Government. Finally, I will take issue again with my hon. Friend. We have just seen the introduction of the 20th Government programme Bill in this Session, which, for a Session of this normal annual length, is broadly speaking what one would expect and what we have seen in previous Sessions. There is no merit in having a large number of Bills as such—perhaps the contrary—but the idea that there is a light legislative programme when we have introduced 20 programme Bills is, I am afraid, simply not true.
Order. We now come to the Back-Bench debate on the Normington report on reform of the Police Federation. Before I ask the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) to open the debate, I will mention that four hon. Members who have applied to speak are not currently present in the Chamber. Further and better particulars of those hon. Members can be provided to the Whips. It is incumbent on Members who apply to speak in a debate to be present at its start, both because it is a courtesy, and in this case because I feel sure that they would want to benefit from the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman, from which the House is about to benefit.