The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 10 March—Remaining stages of the Care Bill [Lords] (day 1).
Tuesday 11 March—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Care Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 12 March—Remaining stages of the Intellectual Property Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, followed by, if necessary, considerations of Lords amendments.
Thursday 13 March—Statement on the publication of the sixth report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on local government procurement, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the badger cull. The Select Committee statement and the subject for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 14 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 March will include:
Monday 17 March—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Tuesday 18 March—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 19 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
Thursday 20 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 21 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 March will be:
Thursday 13 March—A general debate on Commonwealth day.
The House will also be aware that this morning I made a written statement announcing that Her Majesty the Queen will open a new Session of this Parliament on Tuesday 3 June 2014.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
The events unfolding in Ukraine are of grave concern. There is agreement across the House that Russia’s actions are without justification and flout international law. European leaders are meeting today in Brussels. In view of the seriousness of the situation, will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a statement on the outcome of that meeting in the House on Monday? Will he also undertake to ensure that the House is kept adequately informed about this rapidly developing situation without having to depend on inadvertent Downing street leaks?
This Saturday is international women’s day. It is important that we reflect on the ongoing fight for women’s equality in this country and around the world. A shocking report published this week shows that one third of women in the European Union have suffered physical or sexual violence, but under this Government the number of domestic violence cases passed to the Crown Prosecution Service has fallen by 13%. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on how to end the scourge of violence against women, and ensure that the perpetrators know that they will be brought to justice?
If the Prime Minister is good at one thing, it is completely failing to provide answers during Prime Minister’s questions. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) asked the Government exactly how they are planning to achieve their aim of bringing back fox hunting for their Bullingdon buddies. The Prime Minister guaranteed the House a vote, so will the Leader of the House now confirm that, if the Government intend to use a statutory instrument to drive a coach and horses through the Hunting Act 2004, the statutory instrument will be taken on the Floor of the House and not upstairs?
Next Thursday there will be a Back-Bench business debate on the badger cull, which will call for the cull to be stopped. The Government have already ignored one vote to stop the cull, but the emerging evidence is that the trials have been a failure and may even have made the situation worse. Will the Leader of the House tell us that, if there is another vote to stop the cull, the Government will this time abide by the will of the House?
On Monday and Tuesday the House will debate the Care Bill. There is a lot in the Bill on which both sides of the House can agree, but unfortunately the Government are using it as a back-door route to give themselves the power to close any hospital they want. Given that the Leader of the House was the first to use trust special administrators in south London, and his successor was embarrassed in the High Court for trying to use them to close services at Lewisham hospital, will he now concede that any reconfiguration of hospital services should be clinically led and not done for purely financial reasons?
I congratulate the Leader of the House on finally being able to give us the date of the last-gasp Queen’s Speech of this clapped-out, dysfunctional Government. A Queen’s Speech in June and an extended recess show that this is a zombie Government who have long since run out of steam. They may think they have cobbled together an agreement, but it has lasted less than a day. Today, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and a Home Office Minister will make totally contradictory speeches on immigration.
The Chancellor ambushed the Liberal Democrats in the Cabinet on vetoing a European Union referendum, and with the Budget only two weeks away, he is too busy fighting with the Mayor of London about who will be the next Tory leader to think about his day job. As yesterday was Ash Wednesday, may I suggest that, hard as it may be, they may want to give up squabbling, conniving and plotting for Lent?
This week the Deputy Prime Minister has been so desperate to grab the limelight that without any apparent sense of irony he has been busy accusing politicians of having brass necks. He is now so worried about the Liberal Democrats being completely wiped out in the European elections that he has agreed to a featherweight boxing match with Nigel Farage on television. We have a Deputy Prime Minister so desperate for attention that I am surprised he has not photoshopped himself into that selfie at the Oscars.
I entirely agree that the events in Ukraine, as we discussed briefly last week, continue to be deeply disturbing. It is important, as the Prime Minister made clear yesterday, that we continue to set out clearly that there will be costs and consequences to the Russian Government if they continue, as they are doing, to breach international law and to intrude on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Today’s summit in Brussels gives us an opportunity, which the Prime Minister is using, to set out clearly the nature of those costs and consequences. We are looking for de-escalation, and it must be made clear to the Russian Government if that if they do not take action to de-escalate and to move back from their position, robust action will follow.
The hon. Lady asked about future business. Of course, I expect my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to update the House following today’s discussions in Brussels and on such events that may occur over the next few days. As she knows, following the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Tuesday, we will keep the House fully informed. I will continue to discuss with my colleagues how we can ensure that the views of the House can be fully expressed. I think that will be helpful and I hope that it will further reinforce internationally the outrage that we feel about events in Ukraine.
I am delighted that the House will have so many opportunities to mark international women’s day, including through the Backbench Business Committee’s scheduling of a debate in this Chamber this afternoon, and this afternoon’s debate on women and the economy in Westminster Hall. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and others have secured a very important debate on Monday on the petition relating to female genital mutilation. There is a wide range of actions on this.
In the particular instance the hon. Lady mentioned, I share her concern about the survey that was published this week. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has published a ministerial statement today setting out that there will be an update of the violence against women and girls action plan, which will be published on Saturday. That will provide an opportunity to highlight the progress that we have made in tackling violence against women and girls. Last year, we extended the definition of domestic violence to include controlling, coercive behaviour; introduced two new stalking offences; and in December launched the This is Abuse campaign to highlight that it is not just physical violence that makes a relationship abusive. We have also announced the roll-out of Clare’s law and of domestic violence protection orders, and ring-fenced nearly £40 million of funding for specialist local support services and national helplines to support people in abusive situations.
The hon. Lady asked about the statutory instrument relating to the number of dogs used to flush out foxes for shooting. I am perfectly happy to discuss this through the usual channels. As she will know, it is always our practice to ensure that, where it is requested and sought by the House, there is an opportunity for proper debate on and scrutiny of statutory instruments, so we will of course look at that. I have to say, however, that I do not regard this, in any sense, as a debate about undermining the Act that the House passed. It is quite separate from the question of what should be the position in relation to the Hunting Act more generally, whereby the coalition agreement said that under the coalition programme we would look for a debate in the House, and we have not had an opportunity to do that yet.
The proper place for Ministers to set out the position on the badger cull is in the debate. The Backbench Business Committee has scheduled that debate for next Thursday, and I am very happy to let it take place. As the shadow Leader of the House knows, Ministers take account of Back-Bench motions, and we have done so in the past in relation to the badger cull. She may recall that we brought the issue back before the House before the badger cull pilots were undertaken, and there was a further vote that endorsed the position taken by the Government.
When we debate the Care Bill next week we will look at clause 119 and further amendments relating to trust special administrators. As far as I am aware, it has always been the case that whatever the trust special administrator brought forward, it was necessary, as was the case in relation to Lewisham, that it should meet the need to put services not only on a financially sustainable basis but on a clinically improving basis; the two have to be recognised as being linked. In south-east London, it was not possible to sustain the quality of services in the situation in which South London Healthcare NHS Trust found itself, and that is why the trust special administrator was appointed. The powers that the Secretary of State has and the powers that are sought should enable the clinical services for patients to be improved, and that is how they will be used.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcome of the announcement of the date of the state opening of Parliament. Last year I published the date on 7 March, so I managed to make it a day earlier this year; we are trying hard to give the House maximum notice. Her point about the lack of business is misplaced. I have announced for next week four days’ business, three of which consist of substantial progress on Government Bills. I reiterate to her again that I do not regard, and the House should not regard, days allocated to Opposition debates and to Backbench Business Committee debates as anything other than a substantial use of the House’s time. Debating Government legislation is not our only purpose in being here. In recent years, and during this Parliament, the House has established a very positive track record of debating the issues that matter to the people of this country alongside making progress on Government legislation.
There is no merit in filling the House with legislation for its own sake. The previous Labour Government put 53 Bills before the House in one Session. [Interruption.] I will stop in a moment. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) will have his chance—he always does. In the penultimate Session of the previous Parliament, the previous Government introduced 27 Government Bills, while in this Session of this Parliament, this Government have introduced 24 Government Bills, so I completely refute the proposition that we are not dealing with business—and ours are rather better Bills, if I may say so.
The hon. Lady asked about the Deputy Prime Minister’s debate with Nigel Farage. I am really pleased he is doing it, because I think it will be very welcome if the Deputy Prime Minister takes the opportunity to set out to the people of this country the sheer lack of effort, energy and commitment of UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament. Happily, in my region, David Campbell Bannerman left UKIP, joined the Conservative party and is more responsible in what he does and puts in much more effort, but others have lamentably failed to represent the people who voted to send them to the European Parliament in the last election and who I hope will not make the same mistake again.
Order. As usual, dozens of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. However, I remind the House that there are two further ministerial statements to follow, first from the Home Secretary and then from the Secretary of State for Defence. Thereafter, there will be a statement by the Chair of the Defence Committee and two debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Therefore, there is a premium on time and, exceptionally—I emphasise the word “exceptionally”—it may not be possible today to get everybody in, which, as the House knows, is my usual practice. There is an imperative, therefore, on Back and Front-Benchers alike to be brief.
In the light of one of the statements you have mentioned, Mr Speaker, and the publication in a few minutes of the Privileges Committee report, will the Leader of the House consider a debate on a positive aspect of the relationship between UK police and MPs? I am, of course, referring to the little-known—it should be publicised—police service parliamentary scheme, which has successfully brought police and MPs together. It started in 1999 and operates under the guidance of Sir Neil Thorne. An early, short debate would be timely, because the new scheme for this year has just commenced.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a very good point. Just as Members have very much appreciated participating in the armed forces parliamentary scheme, they have equally benefited from participating in the police service parliamentary scheme. A meeting was held last week to set out what the scheme has achieved and to look forward. I hope Members will take advantage of it. Many of us benefit from the opportunity to spend time with the police service in our constituencies, but the scheme offers the opportunity to understand more systematically the character of policing, not just in our own constituencies, but elsewhere too. In the context of all the debates we are having about policing in this country, it would be wonderful if more Members demonstrated to the police service their commitment to understand the nature and challenges of policing today.
Last month, Liverpool city council won a High Court action, which ruled that cuts by the Government to European funding for Liverpool were unlawful. Last night, Liverpool city council had to agree £156 million-worth of cuts, which will impact severely on the provision of mandatory services, including social care to the elderly and children, yet yesterday the Prime Minister said that he does not believe the people of Liverpool are being short-changed. Can we please have an urgent debate on the Government’s blind spot when it comes to Liverpool?
The Government have no blind spot in relation to Liverpool. On the contrary, many of the things we are doing are helping Liverpool. Speaking personally, when I was Secretary of State for Health, two of the most important future building projects to which I gave my personal support were the rebuilding of Liverpool Broadgreen and Alder Hey hospitals. That does not ignore Liverpool; it supports Liverpool in the continuation of one of its most important services. I will not reiterate the points the Prime Minister made yesterday. He set out very clearly the figures for the level of support received per household in Liverpool relative to other places.
Between 1997 and 2011, the number of prescriptions for methylphenidate hydrochloride—also known as Ritalin—rose from 92,079 to 929,839, which is a 1,000% increase. As the drug is commonly used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, may we have an urgent debate about the effects on society of drugging a generation of children?
I know that there have been such debates, if not in the most recent past. If my hon. Friend and other Members feel strongly about these issues, they might together choose to ask the Backbench Business Committee to find time to explore them—if not in the Chamber, then in Westminster Hall.
As my hon. Friend knows, a range of factors affects the number of prescriptions. During as long a period as 1997 to 2010, much of course happened in relation to awareness about such conditions and the overall level of prescribing and treatment for ADHD generally. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance in 2006 and the clinical guidelines in 2008 have had an impact on prescribing by clinicians. I say all that merely to illustrate that there is a range of issues, but he is right to say that it is sometimes useful for this House to take the time to look at them.
Given the fact that Barclays and Lloyds bank have now created more millionaires than the national lottery, as reported in the Daily Mirror, may we have a debate in the House about why this Government are allowing the banks to continue to rip off customers and Britain?
It is not this Government; we are doing no such thing. This Government have seen the level of bankers’ bonuses substantially reduced compared with the rate under the previous Government. It is astonishing. I will not go on about this, but when Labour Members were in government they mismanaged regulation of the financial services sector to such a point that we had bust banks and immense bail-outs, with bonuses wildly out of control, but they have the brass neck to stand up and complain about the reduced level of bankers’ bonuses being implemented under this Government. Frankly, we are making very clear that where we have shareholdings, bonuses have to be within a very controlled framework, and they are coming down relative to last year.
We are very lucky to have had some excellent Leaders of the House. I wonder whether the current Leader of the House might make a full oral statement next week on votes in this House. As a Member of the House, I have always thought that when this House votes, the Government are bound by that vote, but that does not necessarily seem to happen when Back-Bench motions are debated. Will he make a statement on that next week?
I can tell my hon. Friend that it has never been the case that a motion in this House binds the Government, except in so far as a vote is taken on legislation. With the greatest respect to him, whatever he may believe to be the case, a motion in this House has never bound the Government, except in such circumstances.
To repeat what I said to the shadow Leader of the House, time and again, even if the Government have not agreed with what was expressed in a motion passed after a Backbench Business Committee debate, we have always taken the motion seriously and responded to it. For example, I recall that hon. Members felt strongly about the matter relating to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. We did not agree with them, but a lot of care was taken to explain why we did not agree and to respond to the House on that subject. We will continue to act in that way.
I am very pleased that we will have a debate next week about the removal of railway rolling stock from the north to improve services in the south, but may we have a wider debate on exactly what the coalition Government have got against the north, and to look at the cuts to major northern cities and northern arts funding, and the delay in giving any assistance to areas of the north that flooded in December?
The hon. Lady asks that question when it is this Government who are bringing forward HS2, which will make the biggest difference since the Victorian era in terms of providing capacity and creating high-quality links between northern cities, to the rest of the rail network and beyond London. The Network Rail programme is the largest programme of rail investment since the Victorian era and many of the areas that will benefit are in the north of the country.
A £3 million gamma knife radiotherapy machine is sitting unused at University College hospital in London because NHS England refuses to send cancer patients there. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to look into that as a matter of urgency?
I will, of course, raise that matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as the hon. Lady requests. However, the commissioning of specialist services is a matter for NHS England under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, as she will recall. I completely understand what she says. I have seen the latest radiotherapy machines of the kind that she describes, which perform stereotactic radiotherapy. That is an interesting new treatment, but it is not appropriate in all circumstances.
Some good work has been done in this Parliament to hold down fuel duty, and I pay tribute to the Government for that. However, may we have a debate on the benefits of cutting fuel duty, such as boosting jobs, boosting the economy and helping hard-pressed families? Given that it would be self-financing, would it not be a good idea to think about it in the run-up to the Budget?
I will tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the right hon. Gentleman’s thoughts in the run-up to the Budget. We will, of course, debate those issues during the Budget debate. I share his sense of how important it is to people that fuel duty has been frozen for the entire Parliament, with the result that it will be 20p per litre lower than it would have been under the escalator put in place by the previous Government.
In the last Parliament, the number of health visitors dropped by 16%. In this Parliament, that trend has been reversed and the number has gone up by 1,000. There is an even faster increase in the number of midwives, which is up by 1,500, with a further 5,000 in training. Please may we have a debate about the improvements in maternity services? That would allow me to highlight the recent survey by the Care Quality Commission, which put Harrogate district hospital’s maternity services among the very best in the country.
I am glad to have the opportunity to congratulate the staff at Harrogate district hospital. I visited it some years ago and know that it is a fine district general hospital.
My hon. Friend makes a good general point. In about 1998 or 1999, the last Labour Government abandoned universal health visiting services. Because we are expanding the number of health visitors, by the end of this Parliament, we will again see a universal service for all parents coming home with a new baby, so there will be an opportunity for health visitors to work with every family. That will make a big difference by starting people off on the right track.
On midwives, for years after 2001, the previous Government ignored the increase of about 16% in the number of babies being born in this country. There was nothing like a commensurate increase in the number of midwives. Happily, since 2010, this Government have more than kept pace with the increase in the number of babies being born and have been making up that deficit. The increase in the number of midwives will help us further to improve maternity services.
Notwithstanding the previous comments of the Leader of the House on bankers’ bonuses, does he understand that millions of our constituents are at a loss to understand why British bankers are acting with impunity? Out of respect for you, Mr Speaker, I will temper my language. If these people continue to hold the country to ransom by threatening to leave the country, please let the reprobates go.
The Government have been very clear that in banks where we exercise a shareholding responsibility on behalf of the taxpayer, the level of bonuses will come down, bonuses should be paid in a form that can be recovered if people do not deliver and bonuses should often be deferred so that they can be linked directly to the long-term increase in the value of the business and the benefit to customers. Of course, there are many banks in which we do not have that shareholding responsibility. Those banks are subject to the law and to their shareholders, but that is as far as it goes.
What is important is that we have a more competitive banking system. That is what the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 and the measures that we are putting in place will achieve. There should be more challenger banks. People can and should make their own judgments about which banks are providing them with the right service.
This afternoon a general debate on Welsh affairs will be held in this Chamber. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a hugely welcome development, so close as it is to St David’s day, and that it should be standard practice to hold a similar debate every year as part of the programme of the House?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and in this instance credit goes to the Backbench Business Committee. It has demonstrated that it is responsive to Members in this House, and the Welsh affairs debate today is very positive. I hope, for example, that Members will look forward to the changes that the Government are planning to bring forward in the draft Wales Bill, and it might be an opportunity for those on the Opposition Front Bench to explain why they are opposed to further devolution of tax powers to the Welsh Government.
Last week we debated the impact of welfare reform on people with disabilities. Following that debate, I was contacted by a deaf constituent, who said that she wanted to follow the debate, but had been unable to do so because of the lack of signing or subtitles. May we have a debate on how we can improve accessibility to debates in this House for people who are deaf?
There may be an opportunity to discuss that at some point but I cannot identify when it will be. The hon. Lady makes a good point and if I may, I will discuss it with colleagues on the House of Commons Commission and elsewhere. It might form part of the agenda when we discuss matters such as parliamentary broadcasting with the BBC.
May we have a statement about the criteria for environmental impact assessments to be carried out on wind turbine applications to ensure they are properly scrutinised? In my constituency, the local council has decided that such an assessment is not required on a forthcoming planning application in a sensitive area, but I fear, in my generosity, that it may have misinterpreted current guidance.
My hon. Friend knows that planning regulations set out the procedure for establishing whether an environmental impact assessment is required. Not every wind turbine development will require one, and the need for an EIA depends on a proposal’s size and location, and whether it is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. I hope that when my hon. Friend looks at the planning regulations—as I know he will have done—he will be able to challenge if necessary whatever decision his local authority may have made. If I may, I will raise the issue with my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and he may wish to have a further conversation with them about whatever interpretation the local authority has taken.
May we have an urgent Government statement on the great train robbery? In east Lancashire we have a brand new line with no trains on it, and last week we found out that the trans-Pennine trains are being moved to the Prime Minister’s constituency in the south. It seems to me there is a huge north-south shift, and that the north is being short-changed.
I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport if they will respond directly to the hon. Gentleman on that issue, and he may wish to raise it at Transport questions. As far as I am aware—I stand to be corrected—such matters are governed not so much by Government policy but as a consequence of the way train operating companies and Network Rail behave.
Throughout the world, 57 million children are denied basic access to primary education, and excellent work has been undertaken by the Global Partnership for Education. May we have a debate on its work, and on the need for our Government to renew their commitment and replenish its funds in June?
I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I know that hon. Members feel strongly about this issue. The renewal of the millennium development goals and our determination to try to meet them is something that we can be proud of, but we need to ensure that we make progress, because we have not always made the progress that we want to make collectively. In this country, we can be proud of what we are doing, because—it is the first time it has been done by any major country—we are achieving the goal of providing 0.7% of gross national income in support of our international development aid. That enables us to speak with great authority internationally when it comes to meeting those objectives.
To mark Fairtrade fortnight, I had a meeting this morning with farmers from the Kuapa co-operative in Ghana who sell Fairtrade cocoa that goes into Divine chocolate. May we have a debate in Government time to review what more might be done to boost Fairtrade?
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say and welcome the fact that he was able to meet the producers of Fairtrade chocolate. Hotel Chocolat is close to my constituency, and I would be glad to talk to them about their use of Fairtrade chocolate. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but the Backbench Business Committee can consider such issues if several Members feel strongly enough to bring them to it.
The Government have recognised the importance of the Humber estuary for the renewable energy sector and in December the Transport Secretary approved a new port facility and energy park. However, two petitions have objected to the proposal, triggering a special parliamentary procedure. To make sure that we get the much needed jobs and growth, can the Leader of the House ensure that the process makes progress as quickly as possible?
My hon. Friend once again shows his consistent pursuit of the interests of his constituents, and I completely understand that. He will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the merits of the project before all the statutory processes have been completed. Now that the petitioning period has ended, the matter is in the hands of the Chairman of Ways and Means and his counterpart in the Lords, and I am sure that they will give it consideration in a timely manner.
This question genuinely requires just a yes or no answer. Can the Leader of the House confirm, as per the coalition agreement, that there will definitely be a debate and vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004 during this Parliament?
Earlier this week, Raquel De Andrade was imprisoned for a string of offences. She was apprehended at Harrow registry office trying to marry a Nigerian national who had overstayed his visa. Her big problem was that she was already legally married to three other men who had also overstayed their visas, and she was caught when officials became suspicious because she wore the same wedding dress each time. On a serious point, may we have a debate in Government time on what extra support can be given to efforts to combat the menace of bogus and sham marriages?
It is an abuse, and it is important that it is dealt with. My hon. Friend will recall that we are taking further powers in the Immigration Bill which is now before the House of Lords. I will raise the issue with my colleagues at the Home Office, but I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured that we take it seriously. We are legislating on it, and he may have an opportunity to raise it further in Home Office questions or in consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration Bill in due course.
In June 2011, the House made clear its view that wild animals should not be used in circuses. In March 2012, the Government gave a commitment to the House and the country that they would bring forward legislation to deal with the issue. Can the Leader of the House say when that legislation will be brought forward?
This week, Dennis Eagle, a local business, was awarded an £8.5 million grant under the advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative. This will create 52 jobs and safeguard another 32 jobs across the supply chain. May we have a debate on reshoring and supply chains, which are essential to re-establishing the UK as a centre for manufacturing?
What my hon. Friend says is very encouraging. I am pleased to have the opportunity to join him in congratulating Dennis Eagle on its advanced manufacturing supply chain initiative award. We are in favour of all Eagles, in their place—[Laughter.] He makes a good point. Some recent examples of reshoring have been very encouraging and demonstrate the tip of the iceberg. Those looking to increase manufacturing and supply manufacturing jobs no longer need to go abroad to be competitive, and that makes an enormous difference. Our backing for skills, apprenticeships, supply chains and innovation in new technologies is creating the right environment. On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills announced further supply chain funding, which is another practical example of well-targeted Government support helping UK firms to keep that progress going.
Is the Leader of the House aware that crowdfunding allows many people, particularly women, to get into business start-ups for the first time? This is an area that has not been colonised by men, so, in the week of international women’s day, will he arrange an early debate? The Financial Conduct Authority released its recommendations on the regulation of crowdfunding this morning. Getting the regulation right will provide a wonderful opportunity to expand and become the international centre for crowdfunding.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. I have not had an opportunity to look at what the FCA has had to say. He has, rightly, raised this issue before and I hope he finds today’s publication positive. We certainly want to see an improvement in the sources of funding available to small business. He will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills say how we want to achieve additional sources of funding for small businesses, through not only banks but a wider range of sources. Crowdfunding is for entrepreneurs. There are 400,000 more businesses than there were in 2010, many of which were set up by women. The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to raise the issue further in this afternoon’s Westminster Hall debate on the contribution of women to the economy. If we can raise the rate of women entrepreneurship in this country to the level in the United States, it will dramatically increase our prospects for growth. [Interruption.]
May we have a debate on credit rating companies, which can have a negative impact on some businesses because of false commentary? For example, a company called Experian claims that a company in my constituency, Fast Food Supplies (Anglia), is high risk and has a bad credit record. That is not true: the business has been operating successfully for 26 years and is expanding, moving into bigger premises and taking on more employees.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Credit rating is used widely by reputable companies, of which Experian is one. None the less, it needs to be done accurately. I think he and his constituents will find that Experian, as a highly reputable company, is as concerned as anybody to ensure that its credit ratings are accurate, but the House will appreciate that he is representing his constituents’ interests and will continue to do so.
May we have a debate on racism, particularly anti-Semitism? The repellent behaviour of Nicolas Anelka, and the pathetic and spineless response of the Football Association, remind us that racism is always there and always requires vigilance.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, with which I completely agree. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but there were debates to mark Holocaust memorial day earlier in the year, and I hope that the House will continue to have opportunities to convey its abhorrence of racism and our determination to tackle it wherever we see it raise its ugly head.
As I said to the shadow Leader of the House, it is evident from the number of questions asked by Members in response to the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Tuesday that, in due course, there will be good reason for many of those Members to have an opportunity to make a somewhat longer contribution in a debate. I cannot promise such a debate next week, because Government legislation will be debated on three days out of four and the Backbench Business Committee will be using its slot on Thursday, but my colleagues and I will think about when it might be best for one to take place.
May we have a debate on the importance of public consultation in the setting of Government policy? This morning, with no consultation and on the basis of a very small and flimsy scientific report which is hotly disputed, the chief veterinary officer announced that the Government might be minded to ban the practices of shechita and halal. May we have a debate on precisely why that has not been subject to any public consultation on the Government’s part?
May we have a debate on how we can encourage more families to adopt? Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming Yorkshire and Humber’s adoption day—which was staged by an organisation called Being Family—given that there are currently 116 children in the Leeds area who would like to be adopted?
Many of us, as constituency Members, are aware of the benefits of adoption—particularly for the youngest children—and the need for it to take place more quickly. I hope the hon. Gentleman will find that the Children and Families Bill will make a substantial difference. There have been more adoptions in the last year than there were in the year before, but I expect the Bill to help more children for whom it is appropriate to be adopted, and to be adopted sooner.
Pendle’s work force contains one of the highest proportions of manufacturing workers in the United Kingdom. I have been delighted to encounter an increasing number of female engineers, including Annette Weekes, the managing director of PDS (CNC) Engineering Ltd in Nelson, whom I met most recently last month. As we approach international women’s day, may we have a debate on what more the Government could do to boost the trend and get more women into engineering?
I hope that we shall be able to achieve more in that direction, because it is important for us to do so. I have been very impressed by the number of young women who are entering apprenticeship schemes, often in engineering, not least when I have visited organisations that are operating such schemes. The pathway through qualifications alongside work that apprenticeships encapsulate often makes them more interesting and attractive to women than the prospect of simply starting work in engineering and working their way up, and it seems to be more effective. I was involved in the promotion of women in science and engineering way back. It is a long-standing objective, and we still have a long way to go, but I hope that a great many other women will be able to follow the example of Annette Weekes.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has had an opportunity to see a report on the BBC website headed “The march of the postcode battlers”. It refers to a number of campaigns by residents who are highlighting problems caused by their postcodes. Residents of Tyersal, Thornbury and Apperley Bridge in my constituency have long complained that, given that technically they live in Leeds, their Bradford postcode causes numerous problems when they are trying to use services such as health and education. May we have a debate to establish how widespread the problem is in the United Kingdom, and what solutions might be found?
The looks on Members’ faces and their nodding heads suggest this is quite a widespread problem, and I sympathise with my hon. Friend and his constituents, not least because I live in Cambridgeshire yet my postal address says I am in Hertfordshire and my postcode says I am in Stevenage, but I am in neither of those places—I say that with the greatest respect to Stevenage. We fought for years to get CB postcodes instead of SG postcodes and we have failed thus far. Royal Mail is very clear that there are major costs and consequences associated with trying to change the input codes and they would have to be changed all over the country, but I know that there are many Members who, with their constituents, feel this is something worth doing.
I have recently been contacted by a constituent who expressed extreme disappointment that, having used a search engine, he had paid a third-party website for a European health card, which, he later discovered, could be provided free by the Government. I am aware that a number of Members have similar cases relating to passport issues, visas and driving licences. May we therefore have a debate into what Government can do to protect consumers from unwittingly paying for services that the Government provide for free?
My hon. Friend makes a good point and he is not the first Member to raise it at business questions recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), the employment relations and consumer affairs Minister, announced on Tuesday that websites which try to pass themselves off as legitimate Government services will come under the trading standards spotlight. We have committed an additional £120,000 in this financial year to the National Trading Standards Board so that it can investigate such websites and be better equipped to take enforcement action against them. I hope that provides some reassurance to my hon. Friend and other Members. Government and Members need continuously to identify— and perhaps expose, through the kind of questions my hon. Friend has raised—the issue to our constituents so that they know they need to be careful about potentially misleading false websites.
As has been mentioned, Saturday is international women’s day. As my right hon. Friend may know, Plymouth city council and Devon and Cornwall police run a groundbreaking initiative called Encompass, under which the council rings every primary school each morning to check that children are in school. One sign of domestic violence is when kids do not turn up. May we have a debate on best practice, so that we can share what happens in other communities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the steps being taken in his constituency and Plymouth by Devon and Cornwall police. As he knows, the Government are committed to working with the police and other criminal justice agencies to ensure the response to domestic violence and abuse offers the best possible protection to victims. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who is alongside me on the Front Bench and will have heard what my hon. Friend said—has commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to conduct a review across all police forces of the response to domestic abuse, and we will consider the case for any change to the law against the backdrop of HMIC’s findings and recommendations.
I was recently honoured to speak at the inaugural meeting of the inspirational Nuneaton women’s business club. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lorraine Phimister of Willson Solicitors and Cheryl Stanley of Stewart, Fletcher and Barrett accountants on starting this important group, and may we have a debate on how we can encourage more women into business?
I am glad that my hon. Friend is able directly to follow up the theme of international women’s day, which is about inspiring change. That is a very positive approach. In a later debate, he might be able to amplify how the examples of those such as Lorraine and Cheryl show that women can be successful entrepreneurs and make an ever-increasing contribution to the economy of this country.