The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 17 March—All stages of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure, followed by a motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution relating to the Pensions Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Pensions Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to mesothelioma.
Tuesday 18 March—A general debate on Ukraine, followed by motions to approve statutory instruments relating to combined authority orders, followed by a motion to debate three EU proposals on criminal procedural rights.
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.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 March will include:
Monday 24 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 25 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 26 March—Motion to approve a statutory instrument, followed by remaining stages of the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 27 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 28 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 and 27 March will be:
Thursday 20 March—A debate on the contribution of women to the ordained ministry of the Church of England.
Thursday 27 March—A debate on the seventh report of the Transport Committee on local authority parking enforcement, followed by a debate on the eighth report of the Transport Committee on access to ports.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.
Reports this week have suggested that the House might prorogue at least a week earlier than the recess date the Leader of the House has announced, because there is so little business in the Commons. Will he confirm whether that is the case? If so, why will he not give us some more Opposition days so that we can set out our alternative to this clapped-out, zombie Government?
Last year, Eurosceptic rebels on the Tory Back Benches tried to amend their own Queen’s Speech in order to deliver a referendum on EU membership. In a panic, the Prime Minister was forced into setting an arbitrary date for an in/out referendum, proving that he is desperately trying to manage his own party rather than acting in the national interest. While the Prime Minister is banging on about Europe, Opposition Members are clear that our national interest is best served by remaining in Europe, focusing on tackling the cost of living crisis and providing an in/out referendum should there be a further transfer of powers. Is the Leader of the House expecting his Eurosceptic rebels to attempt to amend the Queen’s Speech again, and if so, what else will the panicking Prime Minister be forced to concede to buy them off this time?
Last week, the Leader of the House was unconvincing when he tried to claim that the Government take account of votes in the Commons, despite the fact that they have ignored more than 20 of them. Later this afternoon, the House will vote for a second time on a Back-Bench motion to end the badger cull. Will he now confirm that if the House again votes to end the cull the Government will abide by the will of the House?
Yesterday, it was revealed that a report on the Work programme that was ready six months ago is being suppressed by Ministers, because its contents would embarrass the Government. The report reveals that nearly 50% of employers found the programme ineffective and criticised the support that participants received. So far, more than £1 billion of public money has been spent on the Work programme, yet people who go through the scheme are more likely to return to Jobcentre Plus than to get a sustainable job. The Department for Work and Pensions is acquiring a reputation for incompetence and cruelty. Given the importance of tackling long-term unemployment and the public money spent on this programme, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Work and Pensions Secretary to make a statement on the serious allegation that the report is being withheld?
When the Chancellor gets to his feet for the Budget statement next week, the British people will wonder why, despite his self-satisfied spin, they still do not feel any better off. In 2010, he predicted that the economy would grow by 8.4%, but it has grown by just 3.8%. In 2010, he told us that he would balance the books by 2015, but we will instead have a deficit of nearly £80 billion. He told us that he would get Britain working, but there are 1 million young people without a job, and under-employment is at the highest level since 1992. He told us that we are all in this together, but he has cut taxes for millionaires, while working people are £1,600 a year worse off and thousands are forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves at the end of the month. It is not a recovery if millions of people do not experience it.
On Saturday, the Deputy Prime Minister told his spring conference, without any sense of irony, that “consistency matters in politics”, so how are the Liberal Democrats doing? On Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) failed to move a new clause in his name in relation to the hospital closure clause in the Care Bill, despite claiming to have led the opposition to it. Despite all the Lib Dem handwringing in public, when it came to it, not one Liberal Democrat voted to remove the draconian ministerial powers from the Bill. At the Lib Dem spring conference last weekend, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) said that the new homes bonus was “incoherent”, “unfair” and “absurd”. Who would have thought that he is actually a Minister in the Department responsible for it? The Liberal Democrat party president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), has called the bedroom tax “wrong and unnecessary”, although the Deputy Prime Minister reaffirmed his strong support for it in the House yesterday. It is clear that what we get with the Liberal Democrats is the rhetoric of Arthur Scargill and the voting record of Mrs Thatcher. It is no wonder they were beaten into fifth place in a by-election last week by the Bus Pass Elvis party. Come the general election next year, we will all just be waiting for the Liberal Democrats to leave the building.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response. On the date of Prorogation, she is getting a bit confused. We have published the calendar, including the recess dates, which are not changing—Prorogation is not a recess; it is Prorogation—and as she knows, the date of Prorogation is subject to the progress of business.
We are using less time than we expected for two reasons. First, the House of Lords is not insisting on its amendments, but accepting the amendments that are made in this House. As far as the Government are concerned, that is a good thing, because we are securing agreement on Government legislation and consuming less time in ping-pong than would otherwise be the case.
The other reason, which the shadow Leader of the House ought to acknowledge but does not, is that there is a zombie Opposition. Yesterday, the Intellectual Property Bill came forward on Report and Third Reading, and not one Labour Back Bencher spoke. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is a major piece of legislation, had its Second Reading a fortnight or so ago. Three Labour Back Benchers spoke all day, one of whom was a Labour Whip, hoisted rapidly on to the Back Benches in order to say something.
We have a zombie Opposition who do not have anything they want to say. That deals with the hon. Lady’s point about Opposition days. The days have been allocated, although we will happily talk about the matter. There is nothing else that the Opposition are able to talk about, but they may be able to think up something. However, there were many weeks earlier in the Session when they had the chance to debate the economy and they did not do so. We will have a chance to debate the economy in the Budget debate and we will find out what the position really is.
That will be very interesting, given what has been said in the last couple of days. The shadow Business Secretary said on the “World at One” programme:
“Most of our thirteen years in office we didn’t have a debt, er, a deficit,”—
he was a bit confused about that—
“because we hadn’t had the financial crash.”
That is complete nonsense. The shadow Chancellor said:
“I don’t think Governments should spend money they haven’t got”.
The Opposition are in a parallel universe. They ran a deficit not just in the immediate run-up to the last general election, but from 2002. They did not mend the roof when the sun was shining. They spent money that they did not have. One pound out of every four that they spent went on borrowed money. That was a disgrace, and what was the result? The result was that 7.2% was wiped off the value of the economy of this country. That is the equivalent of £3,000 for every household in the country.
That is why we are pursuing the long-term economic plan, which will no doubt be the centrepiece of the Budget debate that I have announced. We are reducing the deficit that Labour left us, taking 3 million people out of income tax altogether, freezing fuel duty, capping welfare, delivering the best schools and skills for young people, creating more jobs, and backing small business and enterprise. We are doing those things. That is the debate that will matter most in the business that I have announced. It would not be appropriate during the Budget debate to have an Opposition day. The Opposition will have the chance to have their say. Perhaps they will explain why they are in such denial.
The House voted for the European Union (Referendum) Bill by 304 votes to none in this Session. It was not a Government Bill, but a private Member’s Bill. The House knows perfectly well that it was not a coalition commitment. The same principle will apply in the next Session. If the ballot affords it, there will be an opportunity for a Member to bring forward a private Member’s Bill in the same way.
I do not know where on earth Labour is coming from on that issue. The moment the leader of the Labour party got up and talked about it, the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said that it was a “shoddy compromise”. The Institute of Directors was more or less right when it said that
“the EU has to change, and it makes sense to put such changes to the British people.”
The Government have already put it into legislation that there cannot be a further transfer of powers to the European Union without a referendum and the consent of the people of this country. As a Conservative, I believe that the people of this country are looking not simply to have that but to have a renegotiation of our relationship with the rest of Europe. They want a focus on the things we want to achieve, such as completion of the single market, competitiveness, free trade and working together on issues that matter, while at the same time ensuring that we in this country have greater freedom and sovereignty to decide on issues that we are responsible for, and that do not need to be agreed and delivered through a European Union mechanism. We are clear that an EU referendum for that purpose is necessary, but that is not the same as what the Labour party is offering.
The shadow Leader of the House also asked about the Department for Work and Pensions, but that is a bit rich coming from the Labour party, which every time has left government with unemployment higher than when it came to office. Labour Members are now complaining about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and a Work programme that has supported 1.36 million people. There are 1.6 million more jobs in the private sector. There are nearly 1.3 million more jobs than when Labour were in office. For a Department that is concerned with getting people into work, that is a record of which it can be proud.
Order. As always, large numbers of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I simply remind the House that we have a statement on school funding followed by two statements by Chairs of Select Committees on the reports of those Committees. We then have what I advise the House is a very heavily subscribed debate under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee on the badger cull. The consequence of all that is that there is a premium on brevity, and I ask colleagues to ask single, short supplementary questions without preamble, and for the Leader of the House to provide characteristically pithy replies.
May we have a debate in Government time on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000? My right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday’s Court of Appeal judgment, which from my reading seemed clearly to misunderstand what this House and the other place set out in primary legislation. I am glad the judgment will be challenged, but a debate would be helpful so that the House can fully understand who makes the law—this place, or judges.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it was a disappointing decision, and the Government will appeal it in the Supreme Court. We have been clear that preserving the confidentiality of communications between the Government and the heir to the throne is an important principle to be protected. Indeed Parliament endorsed that approach when it passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, amending the Freedom of Information Act. The case obviously relates to earlier papers, but the House is clear about that principle.
Humberside police has the highest number of child rapes reported to it of anywhere in the country, with 176 cases reported last year, alongside 193 adult cases. The Ministry of Justice has cut funding to the Hull rape crisis centre, and if it closes, people will have to travel 60 miles to Leeds for face-to-face specialist crisis counselling. May we have a debate on the Government’s commitment to rape crisis centres and their secured funding?
If I may, I will ask my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Justice to respond to the hon. Lady on that point. She will know of the Government’s commitment to this issue, and in the action plan published on Saturday she will have seen further references to our support for action relating to domestic violence against women and girls, and to issues relating to her point. She will also know that Ministers at the Ministry of Justice will respond to questions on Tuesday if she is in her place.
May we have a statement on the Government’s position regarding whether the recent environmental statement consultation on HS2 complied with Standing Order 27A? Does my right hon. Friend believe that it could be subject to a complaint?
My hon. Friend, and the House, will have noted that this week it was settled that the assessor appointed by House authorities will summarise the responses to the consultation report to Parliament by 7 April. The Standing Orders Committee has already ruled that the environmental statement is compliant, which I hope will be helpful to my hon. Friend.
This week a new report shows that an EU-wide target of just 30% of energy from renewables by 2030 would create an extra 500,000 jobs, yet UK Ministers are leading the charge against strong and binding renewable targets. May we have an urgent debate on the number of jobs the UK will miss out on, and on the need for the Government to change their position?
I am sure the hon. Lady, if she has not already done so, will read the written ministerial statement on the European Environment Council. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs both attended and, rightly, pursued ambitious targets. They argued that it is very important for us not to have binding renewables targets, because it is necessary for each country to meet not just the challenge of climate change but supply and security requirements.
I understand that the Prime Minister’s excellent policy to have an in/out referendum by 2017 cannot be introduced as Government legislation, because it is being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. May we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on whether he would welcome a Back-Bench amendment to the Queen’s Speech asking that the EU referendum be debated in Government time?
If I may speak frankly to my hon. Friend, the Government’s objectives are put into the Queen’s Speech—that is what we set out as a Government. On behalf of the Government, I have to say that, if the Government do not agree that there should be an EU referendum Bill, then we do not agree that. I am afraid it is then for the House to decide by other means.
May we have a debate soon in Government time on the operation of the National Crime Agency? It is not operating in the way it should in Northern Ireland, because of issues in the Northern Ireland Executive, where the nationalist parties are blocking it. Criminal assets cannot be seized in Northern Ireland and there are real dangers for the UK as a whole—it is a national issue. May we have a debate on what the Government are going to do about that?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will recall our disappointment—and I imagine his—that the legislative consent motion was not forthcoming to enable the NCA’s remit to extend to Northern Ireland. I cannot promise a debate immediately, but he knows that this is a matter of continuing concern to my hon. Friends at the Home Office. We will continue to consider the matter and update the House.
High energy prices affect everybody, but the worst affected are those who live in rural areas off gas grid. They are unable to avail themselves of the dual fuel discount and rely on liquefied petroleum gas or fuel oil. May we have a statement from an Energy Minister late next week to set out what will be done as a result of the package that I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will want to announce in his Budget statement to help precisely those people?
I understand what my hon. Friend is looking for. I cannot anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say in the Budget statement, and therefore whether there will need to be a statement to follow it, but I will, if I may, draw this matter to the attention of Energy Ministers. They completely understand the point he is making and it has been a matter of discussion and debate in this House. It is something we continue to keep in mind.
May I request an early debate, in Government time, to discuss a risk assessment of the Flood Re replacement of the statement of principles? I understand that the Prime Minister is organising a review of many of the exceptions, but it has come to light that leaseholders will not be covered. Leaseholders do, of course, own their own property, and it is unacceptable that their insurance will go up prohibitively and put them in a higher risk bracket that in most likely circumstances they will not be able to afford.
I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to respond to my hon. Friend on that point. In addition, issues relating directly to this matter are being debated during the House of Lords consideration of the Water Bill, so we may have an opportunity to consider them when the Flood Re provisions come back from the House of Lords.
Businesses in Telford want a link between the M54 and the M6 northbound and the M6 toll road, and are concerned about the fact that the project is being significantly delayed. May we have a statement from a Minister about the plans that are being made?
It is very helpful to have the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber. We would all fall into error without him, would we not? We fall into error with him, actually.
I travel up the M6 on my way to Anglesey on the old Telford road, and it is frustrating not to be able to make the connection between the M54 and the M6. I will speak to my colleagues at the Department for Transport, and I shall be interested to hear what they have to say.
Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the support of the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) for my campaign for a link between the M6 southbound and the M54? I should welcome a debate on the issue, and I invite the Leader of the House to join me on the new road link at any time.
Can the Leader of the House explain why the Secretary of State for Education has not made a statement on the raising of the participation age? According to statistics from the House of Commons Library, a significant number of young people have been abandoned and are not in education, employment or training, although the law says that they should be.
I think that our proposals for young people are very positive. We have made it clear that they should not be in the position that the hon. Gentleman has described, but I will of course speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education so that he can respond to the hon. Gentleman and look into the issue.
Given the news that the new Jaguar Land Rover engine plant next to my constituency is creating 750 skilled jobs, and Sainsbury’s is creating 200 in my constituency, may we have a debate about the role of volunteers, jobcentres and colleges in the upskilling of employees in their new positions as the economy continues to grow?
That is a good point. When we point out, rightly, that 1.6 million more people are in private sector employment, we should bear in mind that that is more than just a big number. A great many specific companies are creating jobs such as those to which my hon. Friend has referred, and that is a very positive development, especially when jobs in this country—such as those being created by Jaguar Land Rover—are a result of successful competition in global markets.
I recall that we did have a statement from the Justice Secretary at the time when the failings of the companies concerned were identified. He made clear our determination to secure redress for the taxpayer, and I pleased to say that it is evident that he succeeded in that regard.
May we have a statement on the proposed sale at auction of Wisbech magistrates court? One taxpayer- funded body, the Ministry of Justice, is selling it at a reduced rate because a second taxpayer-funded body, Cambridgeshire police, is refusing to vacate it as a sitting tenant, thus preventing a third taxpayer-funded body, the local authority, from redeveloping the site, and therefore not offering the taxpayer value for money.
I know that this matter is important to my hon. Friend’s constituents in Wisbech. The Ministry of Justice negotiated for some time with Fenland district council, which then withdrew its offer. The Ministry decided that sale at auction was the best option, but the auction did not proceed because an offer was received from a local developer at what it considered to be an acceptable market price. It is likely that the sale will be completed imminently, but I have asked the Ministry of Justice whether the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara)—who is responsible for the courts and legal aid—could discuss the issue with my hon. Friend as a matter of urgency, in order to establish the position.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been kind enough to arrange for the responsible Minister to reply to me on the personal independence payments, where problems are growing by the day—I have more and more cases—but surely the time has now come for the Leader of the House to arrange for the Secretary of State to come here and make a statement on the problems with PIPs and what he is doing to sort them out?
I think the hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware that we are making progress with the transition to PIPs and there are clearly issues that have to be resolved to make that happen. I will talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions and see what further update they can give the House on the progress being made in dealing with those outstanding issues.
To mark yesterday’s 25th anniversary of the web, Tim Berners-Lee called for a digital Bill of Rights, something my party also called for at its recent spring conference. Will the Leader of the House make sure time is available for such a Bill to be debated, and could he persuade the Queen to include it in her speech?
I was interested in what Tim Berners-Lee had to say. My hon. Friend will recognise that it is a legislative challenge to contemplate such a thing, but it is important to understand how we can secure the rights of people using the internet and the protections they are looking for while at the same time making sure that it is the bastion of freedom I think it was always intended to be.
Will the Prime Minister be making a statement to the House following his visit to the middle east? If so, does the Leader of the House anticipate that being on Monday or a different day? Secondly, given that debates on the middle east in Westminster Hall are regularly over subscribed, is it not time that the Government put, in Government time, a full day’s debate on the Israel-Palestine question?
I am not presently anticipating a statement by the Prime Minister and I do not think it is customary for there to be statements following every visit the Prime Minister makes. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Prime Minister makes a great number of visits, including substantial numbers of trade missions, as he has to Israel and many other countries, and we do not make statements as a matter of course.
There has been a wide range of debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere on the middle east, including most recently on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but so far as the Israel-Palestine negotiations are concerned, I am not aware of the House having had any recent opportunity for a debate. However, he and other Members who seek to have such a debate could of course approach the Backbench Business Committee.
May we have a debate on science and technology skilling, because over 30% of the 200 businesses I have polled in my constituency were concerned about the science and technology skills of their new recruits? A debate would enable us to discuss how we can improve those skills and help businesses in places like Tamworth, which has an unemployment rate of just 2%, find the resources they need.
I agree with my hon. Friend. This is very important. He will recall the initiative just last September of a £400 million fund—£200 million from the Government matched by £200 million from the private sector—for university science departments to develop world-class facilities so that Britain can meet the science industry’s demand for highly skilled young people. In my constituency, only last week recruitment was taking place for the first entry to the university technical college in Cambridge, which is offering courses and places focusing on life sciences training for young people, and similar things are happening in other places. We need these developments, and we are very much aware of the demands coming from industry for those kinds of skills. I hope in Tamworth and elsewhere we will increasingly be able to support the places that are required.
The Keogh review looked at operations and other procedures that revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of bodily features. May we have a debate on why the review makes no mention of the damage, disfigurement and permanent scarring that can result from tattooing and piercing, an area in which there is very little regulation of those without the skills and ability to carry out those procedures?
I confess that I have not had an opportunity to look through Bruce Keogh’s review in detail, although I was probably responsible for initiating it. I will look at it, and I will check with the Department of Health as to its position on this and ask it to respond directly to the hon. Lady.
Given the situation in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, the Leader of the House will be aware that the tourism trade has been affected on the peninsula. May we have a debate on this in Government time? The effect has been devastating over half term, and Easter is nearly upon us. We are going to have to make plans to ensure that everyone in the UK understands that the peninsula is open for tourism and business.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am very pleased that the railway line through Dawlish will reopen by 4 April, a fortnight earlier than was previously expected. If an opportunity arises for a debate, I suspect that it is more likely to be on the Adjournment than by other means, but it would be helpful for the Government and for Members to make it clear that the south-west will be open for business, including tourism, this summer.
Will the Leader of the House answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) about the Work programme evaluation report, whose existence was revealed yesterday by “Channel 4 News”? The report apparently points out that people who are out of work on health grounds are getting a particularly raw deal. When will it be published?
Yes, I will join my hon. Friend in welcoming today’s report. It is important that children’s heart surgery units should be safe, and that any past failings in the standard of care that they provide should be identified and dealt with. This report is not the same thing as the review of the future of children’s heart surgery centres, which was conducted not on the basis that the existing units were unsafe but on the basis of determining how the highest clinical standards could be sustained in the future. That review has yet to be completed by NHS England, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will want to report to the House when that moment arrives.
I am able to tell the hon. Gentleman that organ donation rates have risen by 50% since 2008. There were two reviews under the last Government. Also, transplant rates have increased by 30% since 2008. That is encouraging, and it is partly a result of investment in transplant nurses. As he will know, the relationship between skilled staff and the family at the point at which the question of donation arises is an important one, and I hope that we will be able to make further progress on that.
As the Leader of the House will know, I have introduced a Bill to increase the maximum sentence for those who cause death while driving while disqualified, from the present two years to 14 years. May we have an urgent statement from the Ministry of Justice on what is being done to address this issue?
I cannot promise a statement, but I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this, and that the Secretary of State for Justice feels very strongly about these issues. He will be answering questions in the House on Tuesday, and perhaps my hon. Friend will be in his place at that time to ask him about this.
Following the passage of the legislation earlier in the week, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the future of district general hospitals? Warrington and Halton hospitals have already lost their vascular services; a review of maternity services is now under way; and nearby Whiston hospital continues to have financial problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I would like some reassurance from the Minister that our local hospital will not have its services downgraded or removed, as we have seen previously under this Government.
The legislation passed earlier this week does not threaten district general hospitals. It secures a commitment to the fullest consultation to enable us, if necessary, to reconfigure services on the basis of clinical quality as well as finance. Under the 2009 special administration regime of the previous Government, the process was finance-driven, not quality-driven. I am astonished at the effrontery of the hon. Lady getting up to talk about a vascular services review that started under her Government—as far as I am concerned—and about Whiston hospital, which was one of a number of unsustainable private finance initiative projects put in place by the previous Government. They had no idea where the money was going to come from to pay for that from within the local economy.
I was recently approached by a constituent who expressed concerns that Plymouth city council is granting planning permissions for pop-up shops to sell what are generally known as legal highs. As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a university city with 30,000 students in it. I have great reservations about selling these legal highs. May we have a debate on the matter so that we can have a better understanding of what Government policy will be?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Planning control, as he knows, considers the land use impact of different types of development, but does not generally regulate the sale of particular items inside shops. The Home Office, however, is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling this reckless trade, working closely with the Local Government Association and trading standards. My hon. Friend will be encouraged that the Minister for Crime Prevention has commissioned a review to see how we can enhance our response, including possible legislative responses, alongside better health promotion and education.
This week, sadly, sees the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict, and yet we seem no further forward today than we did a year or two years ago. The international community, including the United Kingdom, bears a heavy responsibility for this. May we have a debate in Government time so that this House can explore all possibilities to start the international community along the course of a peace settlement?
We all share the evident sense of deep disappointment expressed by the hon. Gentleman at this third anniversary about how damaging the situation in Syria has been to the people there and to international peace. He will recall that the Foreign Secretary made a statement on Monday, 24 February, which included reference to the situation in Syria and ongoing questions there. I cannot promise a debate at the moment. It is something that is regularly reported to this House, and if time were to be available for a debate at this stage, I know that it is something that the Backbench Business Committee would certainly want to consider.
Recently, a large cargo ship was apprehended by the Israeli navy with a record haul of rockets being transferred from Iran to Gaza. Yesterday, a record number of rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. Given that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Israel for the first time as Prime Minister, may we have a wide-ranging debate on the middle east, including our relations with Israel and the sanctions to be imposed on Iran?
The unmanned level crossing at Smithy Bridge has not worked properly since it was installed. Local people have been inconvenienced, and there is the potential for safety risks. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on Network Rail’s ability to manage such projects effectively?
I cannot promise a debate immediately, but I recognise the issues. Issues relating to level crossings more generally have come to the fore. Network Rail has a considerable programme of investment. It has been straightforward recently about the failings that have occurred with level crossings and with its approach to the safety concerns expressed about such crossings. I hope that that is changing. If I may, I will take the opportunity to ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Transport about this and ask them to respond to the hon. Gentleman directly.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1174 about bingo taxation?
[That this House believes that bingo plays an important role in the community; notes that Harlow Mecca Bingo has 54,000 members; further notes that despite being a soft form of gambling, bingo is subject to a gross profits tax of 20 per cent, despite all other forms of gambling being taxed at 15 per cent; and therefore urges the Government to reduce the bingo tax so that it is in line with other forms of gambling.]
May we have an urgent debate, with a full House, so that we can support the 54,000 members of Harlow Mecca Bingo and ensure fair taxation for bingo clubs, in order to boost bingo across the country, to boost employment and to boost prizes?
I have seen my hon. Friend’s early-day motion. It is a pity it was not tabled earlier in the Session, as it could have been early-day motion 66—that would have been even better. I will take his question as a further application to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot anticipate what the result will be, but he will of course have opportunities to raise these issues during the Budget debate.
May we have a debate or a statement on the Highways Agency, particularly the way in which it manages temporary road schemes? Businesses at Tollbar End in Coventry, where there is a three-year scheme, have been badly affected because people have been held up while going to work in the morning. Some businesses have said that if they had known it was going to take this long they might not have invested in Coventry. May we have a statement, and will the Leader of the House get the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) to respond to the issue, as I raised it with him last week in the Department for Transport?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that Transport Ministers will be responding to questions here again next Thursday but, as I wish to be as helpful as I can, I will ask them to respond directly to him about this scheme. Transport schemes often take much longer than we might imagine they would, but it seems that this one has taken a long time.
Last Friday, more than 100 women attended my “Labour Listens” event in my constituency. They were deeply concerned about the sexualisation and objectification of women, which is still common in the media, exemplified by The Sun’s page 3. As the Government seem to be struggling to fill their time, may I help them by suggesting that we have a debate in Government time about the sexualisation of women?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady was able to celebrate international women’s day with women in her constituency. She raises an important issue. Some of the most damaging effects of objectification of women are evident in some of the violence against women and girls, which of course was the subject of the further action plan that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published on Saturday. We do not have the immediate prospect of a debate on these issues, but I hope that she recognises that in the sense I have outlined we are addressing some of the abuses that result.
May we have a debate on banking? In the light of recent events, the House should particularly explore whether The Co-operative Group has
“the ethics of responsibility, co-operation and stewardship”
claimed in 2012 by the Leader of the Opposition or is simply a very badly run institution with appalling corporate governance?
My hon. Friend is right; many Members will be very disappointed by this situation, particularly given that, not very long ago, the Leader of the Opposition was talking about the ethics and responsibility of the Co-op—it is a pity that it came to all this. Many of us have a sense that we are having to deal with so many of the abuses in the banking system in the past. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 will be very important in that respect, and I hope that some of the principles that this Government are putting in place for future conduct in the banking system will be fully embraced in the governance of the Co-op.
All the scientific evidence now agrees that concussion can be fatal, yet the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union, the Football Association, the premiership and the governing bodies of many of the other sports in this country are in complete denial about the danger that is posed to many of their players, particularly young players. I do not want a debate on this, because the danger is too serious; I want the Leader of the House, now that we are getting on so well, to organise, with me, the setting up of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into concussion in sport, so that we can save people’s lives.
I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman that. I recognise the problem; obviously, I had a health interest over many years, and on a number of occasions I remember neurologists describing some of the difficulties to me, and I think that some of those doctors have been at the forefront of making the case to some of the sporting bodies that the hon. Gentleman talks about. If I may, I will refer the issue to my friends at both the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to see if they can facilitate a response to his points.
On Monday, I attended the annual Westminster gathering of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, and heard both of its optimism for the future and its concerns. Leisure parks and piers are vital ingredients of our seaside resorts, and the best of them can be found in Cleethorpes. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to consider how best the Government can encourage and support our seaside towns?
I am very glad that those representing leisure parks and piers were able to be here at Westminster. Those who watch our proceedings in the House sometimes might not realise the sheer volume and extent of interest in what goes on in the Palace of Westminster far beyond the debates in the Chamber. My hon. Friend is right about the issues for coastal towns, which he understands so well. That is why we created the coastal communities fund of £23.7 million in 2012 to help coastal towns and villages provide training and employment opportunities. In August last year, we announced that that fund would be increased to £29 million, and that it would be extended until 2016. That in itself is a manifestation of the Government’s support for the issues that my hon. Friend raises.
In manslaughter cases in which a single punch to the head has resulted in death, we are seeing absurdly low sentences, as permitted under sentencing guidelines. Obviously, I want much tougher sentences. Will my right hon. Friend agree to give the Chamber the chance to debate this very serious issue?
I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say. I think that the subject may be in the scope of debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. I encourage him to raise these issues; it is important for Parliament to set out its expectations regarding sentencing guidelines. The Bill will, I hope, be an opportunity for the issue to be debated.