The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 31 March—Second Reading of the Wales Bill.
Tuesday 1 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 2 April—Opposition day [unallotted half day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Thursday 3 April—Statement on the publication of the fourth report from the Work and Pensions Committee on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, followed by a debate to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee, followed by a general debate on civil service reform. The Select Committee statement and subjects for debate were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 April—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 7 April will include:
Monday 7 April—General debate on justice and home affairs.
Tuesday 8 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 9 April—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Thursday 10 April—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 11 April—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 April will be:
Thursday 3 April—Debate on incapacity benefit migration.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I also take this opportunity to mark the funeral of Tony Benn, which will begin at St Margaret’s church shortly. As we heard in the fulsome tributes last week, Tony Benn was one of the great parliamentarians of our age, and we will miss him.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the competition authority for listening to the Leader of the Opposition and announcing an inquiry into the big six energy firms? After SSE showed yesterday that it backs the Leader of the Opposition’s plan by freezing its prices, perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us why his party still do not. Will he give us an assurance that, while the investigation is ongoing, consumers will be protected from any more unfair price rises?
We have the Second Reading of the Wales Bill on Monday, which gives further powers to the Welsh Assembly. Given that it wants these new powers as soon as possible, will the Leader of the House confirm when he expects the Bill to reach Committee stage?
My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) has today published his Bill to abolish the bedroom tax, after the House supported its introduction by 226 votes to one. As there is no time left for private Member’s Bills to have a realistic chance of getting a hearing, will the Leader of the House arrange for us to debate this Bill in Government time? After all, the House has expressed a strong view and it is not as if the Government are overly busy with their own legislation.
It seems that this Government are becoming more and more Orwellian. Last week we had beer and gambling for the proles, and this week the Justice Secretary has been forced to defend his ban on prisoners being sent books. The author Philip Pullman has called the change “disgusting” and “vindictive” and one unnamed senior Tory Minister briefed the press that the Justice Secretary
“wins the prize for the Government’s least enlightened Minister”.
Will the Leader of the House tell us whether he agrees with the Justice Secretary and his ban on books in prisons?
This week, we have been debating the Chancellor’s missed opportunity Budget. Across the country, people are £1,600 a year worse off, long-term youth unemployment has doubled and according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, energy prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation. The Chancellor called it a Budget for savers, but the OBR revealed that the savings ratio will have halved by 2018. The Chancellor said that it was a Budget for makers, but productivity remains weak and the trade gap has widened. The Chancellor said that it was a Budget for doers, but real wages have fallen by 2.2%. This was a Budget of spin. The Red Book revealed the depth of the Chancellor’s failure and buried in the small print was yet another stealth tax cut for Britain’s biggest banks. Next Tuesday, we will discuss the Finance Bill. On every crucial measure—living standards, growth and debt—the Chancellor has failed.
The Government are fast acquiring a reputation for staggering incompetence. They said they had an economic five-year plan, but it is already running four years late. They said that universal credit would save money, but it is now costing an unbelievable £160,000 per person, and their trebling of tuition fees is drowning students in debt yet bringing in no extra money. What a Government for the Liberal Democrats to prop up. Faust sold his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures; the Lib Dems have sold their souls for a mess of pottage
You have—sold your soul for a mess of pottage. [Laughter.]
In the hotly fought race to be the UK’s next EU Commissioner, I am sure that the Leader of the House will be delighted to hear that his odds have dramatically shortened and he is now the clear front-runner. As we get closer to a reshuffle that might ship him off to Europe, I wonder whether the Leader of the House would like to agree with his local Conservative councillor, Mark Howell, who has said that South Cambridgeshire would “love” to have Boris Johnson as its next MP? I for one would miss our exchanges if he did decide to go.
There are still 406 days until the general election, but recently Lord Tebbit said that
“the coalition has…gone past its sell-by date”
and that it is
“beginning to smell a bit“.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have just announced their separation, so I would like to suggest that the Leader of the House gets them in as advisers. Their strategy of “conscious uncoupling” sounds exactly like what this Government are trying to do.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her questions. Today is an opportunity for many Members to say farewell to Tony Benn at St Margaret’s and I was very glad that we were able to do so formally in the House last week. Indeed, many Members were able to do so individually in the Chapel during the course of yesterday evening.
The hon. Lady asked about the big six. The Secretary of State will make a statement to the House immediately after questions, but it is clear that the Government are taking action. In its announcement about the price freeze, SSE said that the Government’s decision to cut the taxes that add to energy bills was the
“principal factor in SSE being able to make this price commitment”.
There is a world of difference between an effort on the part of the Opposition to try to buck the market, as they always want to do, and an effort on the part of this Government to get a competitive market that delivers the greatest possible benefits to consumers. In that context, I was staggered that by voting against the Budget the Opposition voted against measures that would cut energy costs for energy-intensive industries, including in some of the areas that Labour Members represent where jobs depend on the competitiveness of manufacturing. Those same measures will help in the long term to reduce energy bills for consumers in this country.
The Wales Bill will have its Second Reading next week, and I will announce when its Committee stage will be. As it is a constitutional Bill, however, I hope that we will find time, before too long, for it to be considered on the Floor of the House. We are anxious to bring forward the Wales Bill—that is why we have introduced it in this Session—and the debate next week will allow us to hear from the shadow Secretary of State for Wales whether he is in fact, as he appeared to be in the Welsh Grand Committee, against the devolution of powers relating to tax to Wales. This is an astonishing position: the Government are in favour of further devolution to Wales, and the Opposition are against it. They will have to explain themselves.
I agree with the Lord Chancellor in relation to prisons. There is not a ban on books. There is, on the part of the prison authorities and the Ministry of Justice, a determination to act to make sure that security in prisons is maintained. There are libraries in prisons and there is access to books. We have to make sure that the security is appropriate.
I would say that the hon. Lady was attacking the Budget, but her approach was a bit limp to be described as an attack. The Budget is clearly a success. The fact that Labour Members voted against the Budget will, I am afraid, return to haunt them. What happened in the last couple of days has been very curious. When challenged yesterday on whether Labour Members had in fact voted for higher taxes on business, the shadow Chancellor was busy denying it, having the day before voted for exactly that to happen. Then yesterday, they voted for—at least most of them did—the cap on welfare, while at the same time in private the shadow Chief Secretary was busy trying to tell everybody,
“It will be much better if we can say all the changes that the Government has introduced we can reverse”.
So Labour Members are voting against the Budget and denying it, and voting for the cap on welfare and denying that. I do not know where they are coming from or going to; what I do know is that they will have to explain themselves. In particular, they cannot vote against a cap on housing benefit, against the overall cap on the benefits a household can claim and against plans to limit the annual increases in benefits, and at the same time vote overall for the cap.
I hope that we will raise a glass to those who are entering into marriage this weekend—for the first time, those who are entering into same-sex marriages, as well as the no doubt thousands of others who are entering into marriage. I was pleased to note that in 2011, there was an increase in the number of people getting married in this country. I hope that the measures that we have taken on same-sex marriage will help to promote, as my support was intended to do, the lifelong commitment that marriage represents.
On the justice and home affairs debate on Monday week, which I announced in provisional business, I hope the House will welcome the fact that we committed to returning to the House for a further vote. We will do so later this year, before formally applying to rejoin the measures we are seeking to rejoin, following the House’s support for the opt-out. We are grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee, the Home Affairs Committee and the Justice Committee for their reports on the matter. The planned debate on 7 April will provide Parliament with an opportunity to debate those issues and the Select Committees’ reports, in order to seek the views of the House, as we have always made clear that we will, prior to any specific measures being rejoined later in the year.
Finally, in the course of the debate yesterday evening between the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the UK Independence party, I was slightly staggered by what Nigel Farage said about Ukraine and Russia. Actually, in the House of Lords yesterday, in response to the statement that was repeated from this House, Lord Pearson of Rannoch also made a remark to the effect that the cause of the crisis was the EU’s relationship with Ukraine, and not Russia’s. I think it is outrageous that UKIP should be behaving as apologists for President Putin. I hope that they will withdraw the comments.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us what the point is of the Osmotherly rules? They require the Government to respond formally to Select Committee reports within two months of their publication, or six months at the very latest. It is with great regret that I must tell him that the Public Administration Select Committee has today published a report criticising the Government for failing to respond to our report on the business appointment rules, which are very controversial and not very satisfactory, for 20 months. We published the report in July 2012 but are still waiting for a response. We feel that we have been extraordinarily patient. Does he agree that his Department ought to have a system for chasing Government Departments on behalf of the House to ensure that they respond to Select Committee reports on time?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. I see it as part of my role to represent the House in the Government as well as to represent the Government in the House, so I will of course ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office to respond to the report that the Committee published this morning. The purpose of the Osmotherly rules is to give civil servants guidance on how they should make themselves accountable to the House.
In the week when we heard the fantastic news about Siemens bringing 1,000 green jobs to Hull, which comes on the back of the announcement that Hull will be the city of culture in 2017, I was dismayed to learn that Channel 5 is proposing to make a further documentary, based in Hull, about people in the north living on benefits. May we have a debate on responsible documentary making that does not build on stereotypes about the north and that shows the positives, because the north is a thriving place, with people in work and doing very well?
I certainly agree with the need to accentuate the positive. We need continuously to highlight the fact that, in contrast to the loss of 1 million manufacturing jobs under the previous Government, we are now creating jobs in manufacturing, establishing our competitiveness and seeing inward investment of the type the hon. Lady describes, which is extremely welcome. I hope that the way the local business community, and indeed Hull itself, have got behind local enterprise is something that can be accentuated, rather than the negative stereotypes.
May we have a debate on the vital role of public transport in rural areas? I know that the Government understand that, but I do not think that some local authorities, and certainly some bus companies, do. For instance, First Bus recently decided no longer to route its 267 bus via the village of Rode, which will effectively cut off those who does not have access to a private car from the city of Bath. It is a scandalous state of affairs, and I want something done about it.
My hon. Friend makes a point that I know concerns many Members. Where there is a lack of demand for particular services, it is obviously for local authorities to decide how best to use their grants to support bus services in some of the most rural areas. He rightly raises that point, and I will refer it to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Transport and seek more details for him.
Today a report on the police’s handling of domestic violence cases has shown appalling failures and some horrifying treatment of victims, yet when we have raised in the House the fact that reports of domestic violence are rising and fewer cases are being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, those concerns have been dismissed. Now that the Home Secretary has announced to the press that she is taking charge of the police response, will the Leader of the House arrange for her to make a statement to the House on what she will do to address the appalling failures that have taken place on her watch?
Many Members will have been very concerned by the report Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published this morning. I certainly was, as one of the four police forces identified as failing to meet the standard required was Cambridgeshire constabulary, which serves my constituency. I will talk with the Home Secretary, but I would not characterise her response in the way the hon. Lady did. I think that the Home Secretary has been foremost in her handling of the matter, for example in the way she has brought forward or strengthened action plans for dealing with violence against women and girls. I will ask her to find an opportunity to update the House by means of a statement of some description before too long.
Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer among under-40s, and tomorrow is Wear A Hat day in aid of brain tumour research. We are very fortunate in Harrogate and Knaresborough to have a dynamic local charity called the PPR Foundation founded by a local lady, Pamela Roberts, who does great work raising funds for brain tumour research. Please may we have a debate about how we can raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours among the under-40s?
It is important that my hon. Friend raises the work that PPR and Pamela Roberts are doing, and I am grateful to him for doing so. When I was Secretary of State, I was very aware of the continuing risk of brain tumours, particularly among younger people, and the lack of diagnosis and treatment options. That is one of the reasons we took the decision to invest £150 million in the establishment of proton beam therapy centres. It is a continuing issue. I will of course raise it with my hon. Friends at the Department of Health, but if he is in his place next Tuesday when they respond to questions, he might find a further opportunity to do so.
The police in Northern Ireland have stated that if the National Crime Agency is unable to operate fully in Northern Ireland, that will have a detrimental impact on their ability to keep people safe and combat serious and organised crime. Will the Leader of the House find time to debate this important subject on the Floor of the House?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will know from past answers at business questions and statements by my right hon. Friends that we regret that a legislative consent motion was not made available on the legislation in order to allow the National Crime Agency to operate in Northern Ireland. I hope we can continue to make progress in this direction. I cannot offer time on the Floor of the House for a debate, but I hope there will be further opportunities for us to make progress.
The new boss of High Speed 2, Sir David Higgins, astonishingly announced to the Transport Committee that the Second Reading of the HS2 hybrid Bill would be on 29 April. I do not tend to believe that until I hear it from the Leader of the House. It is evident, however, that we are getting closer to the petitioning process, so when will the House provide to those affected by this project details of the physical arrangements for that process? Will he consider waiving the £20 fee, particularly for those who are disabled and OAPs? Will he give some thought as to whether the hybrid Bill Committee ought to visit each of the constituencies affected by the project to take petitions and evidence from constituents who are disabled, elderly, or frightened by the processes of this House?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that the timing for the Second Reading of the Bill is a matter for the business managers, and I will announce it to the House in due course. Members of the House would always be advised to wait for such an announcement at business questions. She raises an important point. The petitioning period will take place after Second Reading, and I hope that the House and those outside the House will have as much notice as possible about its start date and duration. I am not in a position to provide that information at the moment, but I will speak to the Department for Transport and ensure that the relevant action is taken. The hybrid Bill Committee will be able to make visits outside Westminster, and I am sure that its members will want to acquaint themselves personally with the line of route and areas affected. In addition, the petitioning process will ensure that they obtain a comprehensive view of the issues for those directly and specially affected by the route.
Does the Leader of the House agree that universities are absolutely a jewel in the crown of our society and essential to the wealth creation and civilisation of our nation? Does he know that Huddersfield university is this year’s university of the year? I know he has got quite a good university in his part of the world. Does he agree that we can only go on for so long paying university staff very poor wages and salaries that have not had an increase that would attract top talent? When can we have a debate about this, because the future of our universities depends on the quality of staff we attract and retain?
The hon. Gentleman is right: I am proud to represent Cambridge university in this House, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). As we all know, universities are central not only to the long-term prospects of students, but to our economic prospects and competitiveness. They are also principal engines for growth in many of the areas in which they are located. They are tremendously important. I am delighted that the coalition Government’s reforms have led to increases in the number of students; to more disadvantaged students and students from black and minority ethnic communities going to university; and to more opportunities as we open up and get rid of the limits on access for students. That is all positive.
Universities are, however, self-governing institutions and the pay they offer staff and their relationships with them are matters that they govern themselves. Although the House will rightly debate university matters from time to time, I hope Members will understand that this is a matter for universities rather than for Government.
It is rather a pity that Ofgem has reported the big six to wherever they will go. Smart metering is the way in which we as a nation can address how we use our energy, yet we have not standardised the technology, what we will do with the data or how much it costs. May we have time in the House to discuss the way in which we save energy in this country, and energy security? Smart metering has an enormous role to play: it is very simple to do, it is tax neutral and it will actually help everybody in this country.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I cannot promise a debate, but he might want to seek an Adjournment debate or find another opportunity with colleagues. I hope that more of these important technologies are being put in new homes as they are built. It is also, rightly, a matter for the regulator to ensure that we achieve energy efficiency as part of securing greater progress in carbon reduction and energy security.
May we have a statement on the east Lancashire train line? It has no trains on it, which is a bit of a joke. I was promised a statement by the rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), in January, but it has not occurred. Wages in Manchester are considerably higher than those in my constituency and the rail line will give employment opportunities to my constituents and put them in a far better position to gain employment in this tough area in difficult times.
Perhaps it was not on that issue specifically, in which case I apologise. I will, of course, raise the issue with my colleagues at the Department for Transport, who I know will be anxious to provide the hon. Gentleman and, perhaps, the House with information.
I have learned today of another reason to dislike the European Union: the idea that it will deprive the Leader of the House of the opportunity to be here is absolutely outrageous. Did he listen to the LBC debate on the EU yesterday and hear the leader of the fourth party in British politics say that only 7% of our laws are made by the European Union? The Deputy Prime Minister quoted the House of Commons Library, but I have spoken to Library staff, who have confirmed that he was referring only to primary legislation. If we take into account the thousands and thousands of statutory instruments, we will see that the actual figure is much higher. Could the Leader of the House arrange a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister next week to clarify that?
I think we all recognise that primary legislation is critical. Although there is an enormous amount of legislation, the question of who makes our primary laws is an issue on which we should focus. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his solicitous remarks. I cannot comment on such issues, because they are matters for the Prime Minister, not for me, happily—it is up to him.
No, because I do not particularly approve of gambling. I listened to the debate yesterday and thought that, on the facts, the Deputy Prime Minister had the better of the argument. All the way through, however, I thought to myself that a debate about Europe is all very well, but what the British people want is an in/out referendum. The leader of the UK Independence party cannot deliver it and the Labour party and our Liberal Democrat friends will not deliver it—only the Conservative party will deliver a referendum.
There is a long-term trend of falling voter turnout among young people. It is good that we will get online voter registration in June, but may we have a statement on the possible introduction of online voting to help to address this big problem?
We are of course making progress on individual electoral registration, which I hope will allow people in England and Wales to register online for the first time from June. We are putting the maximisation of registration at the heart of our work to improve the electoral system, but we want to make sure that individual electoral registration is working well before we consider any further changes. I have to say that there are concerns about whether e-voting can be made secure from attack and fraud, so although it may be something to consider, it is not a priority for us at present.
May we have a statement on the delayed Presumption of Death Act 2013? This month marks the fifth anniversary of Claudia Lawrence’s disappearance, and it is encouraging that further information has emerged following the “Crimewatch” appeal last week. The legislation is of the utmost importance to the families whose loved ones have gone missing, and the delay only serves to compound their anguish.
I am sure that Members from across the House are aware of the cases that have caused considerable distress and rightly led to the House approving the Presumption of Death Bill. If I may, I will talk to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Justice about what steps are being taken to bring the Act into force.
This weekend, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its fifth assessment report on the impacts of climate change. Given that the final draft of the report covers disruption to the economy, disruption to water availability, changes to the food supply and adverse health impacts, I am not quite sure which Secretary of State it would be best to get the Leader of the House to ask to make a statement: it could equally be the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, for Health, for Energy and Climate Change, for International Development or for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If there could be a conscious uncoupling between the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Farage next week, the Deputy Prime Minister might come to the House to give a statement on the impact report.
These important issues are taken very seriously across Government. We must take far-reaching steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change. As it happens, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will respond to questions next Thursday, and he is the appropriate lead Minister to whom the hon. Gentleman should direct his questions.
With two of the largest brick manufacturing companies in the country based in my constituency, I very much welcome announcements in the Budget to aid energy-intensive industries and the doubling of the annual investment allowance to £500,000. May we have a debate on the measures taken by this Government since they came to office to help private sector businesses expand in line with our long-term economic plan to rebalance our economy?
I know that businesses, such as the brick manufacturers to which my hon. Friend refers, have benefited considerably from the recovery promoted by this coalition Government. The Budget’s support for their future competitiveness—not only in doubling the annual investment allowance, but in taking steps to ensure that energy-intensive industries can access competitive energy prices—is very important for such key manufacturing businesses.
Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on a thorny issue that I have raised in the House on numerous occasions? Tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who were born in the Irish Republic during the past 40 or 50 years are denied the right to get a British passport, although many people in Northern Ireland can avail themselves of an Irish passport on the same basis.
Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1206?
[That this House pays tribute to the good work of school crossing patrollers in Harlow; notes that they provide a vital service for Harlow’s school children, are important figures of reassurance for the community, help keep roads safe and speeding to a minimum; is concerned that Essex County Council (ECC) is considering the future of school crossing patrols around Essex; further notes that school crossing patrollers have offered alternative ways to save money; and urges ECC to do everything it can to support school crossing patrols and secure a strong future for them.]
Essex county council is having a conversation about reducing school crossing patrols. May we have a debate on the importance of such patrols? Will the Government consider whether any other budgets could be used, such as the education budget, so that we can support hard-working Harlow lollipop men and women? Will my right hon. Friend raise this matter with other Departments?
I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents will be grateful, once again, for his vocal support for interests in his constituency. I shall raise the issue with the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government to see what position they take. He and the House will understand that, important as school crossing patrols are, where they should be provided and the funding for them are matters for the county council. I do not encourage him to think that Ministers will intervene directly, but I am sure that they will give him advice on the effectiveness of school crossing patrols in promoting the safety of children.
May we have a statement on the Floor of the House about the Government’s carbon floor price policy? They brought in that tax, and its effect on industry is four times worse than the taxes of our EU competitors. No company has yet received the compensation. The original compensation is not as much as was promised and has been delayed by another two years. May we have a statement to update the House on why the Government are making things so hard for industry, particularly in the north-east?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to talk to energy-intensive industries and ask them what they think of the Budget. The answer he will get is that the Budget did absolutely the right things. Time and again, we are hearing the representatives of manufacturers and businesses in this country welcome the Budget. It is a disgrace that the Labour party does not put the interests of business first and that it voted against the Budget.
Small businesses have been crucial to the economic growth and employment growth in my constituency, and they are grateful for the many measures that the Government have implemented to support that employment growth. Is it possible to have a debate in the House on the changes to statutory sick pay, which might have an inadvertent effect on those small businesses?
My hon. Friend will know that the abolition of statutory sick pay was recommended in Carol Black and David Frost’s independent review of sickness absence. The Government agreed with them that the system was outdated and that it reduced the incentive to manage sickness absence in the work force. The Government are reinvesting the money that is saved into the new Health and Work Service. That will help small businesses, which often do not have occupational health provision, to manage sickness absence in a more proactive way and to get their employees back to work sooner than under the old system. Frankly, as we all know, that is also in the best interests of the employees. Employees will be able to take advantage of a new tax exemption on medical treatments that are recommended by the service or an employer-arranged occupational health service.
Yesterday my hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) visited the Scottish Parliament to set out why people in the north-east are keen that the UK stays together. They proved to be just as popular up there as they are down here. Given that the vast majority of people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland want the UK to stay together, may we have a debate in Government time about why we are better together?
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are, as a Union, better together. It is in the interests of Scotland and it is in the interests of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Happily, we had an opportunity recently to debate Scotland’s place in the Union through the good offices of the Backbench Business Committee. I know that many Members across the House feel that it has become increasingly obvious, not least since the publication of the White Paper by the Scottish Government, that their numbers do not add up and that their arguments do not stack up. The arguments for the Union to stay together are increasingly compelling and will, I hope, be given increased exposure through this House to the people of Scotland.
Does the Leader of the House have any knowledge of what the process will be for the fundamental review of our flood defences, following the lessons of the last six months? Whatever the process is, will there be a debate on the Floor of the House so that hon. Members can make a contribution to the review?
I know my hon. Friend agrees that there is much for which we can commend the professional and volunteer services, individuals and communities for their response to the exceptional weather conditions. We know that some aspects of the response and recovery require improvement, and we are committed to reviewing the lessons learned from recent events. Some of those reviews are under way, including reviews of the loss of electricity, the transport disruption at Gatwick and to rail services, and the response of service providers and local authorities. The Department for Communities and Local Government is pursuing a review of the Bellwin scheme. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is conducting an internal operational review of its handling of flood incidents to improve future operations. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Prime Minister has set up a new Cabinet Committee, which he is chairing personally, to oversee the recovery effort and ensure that lessons are learned and action taken across that broad range of issues.
Shooting sports are worth £1.6 billion to the economy. They create 70,000 full-time jobs, they take place over two thirds of the countryside, and they account for £250 million and 2.7 million work days being spent on conservation, all from followers of shooting sports. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate or a statement on this matter, which brings so much good to our countryside?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know from members of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation what tremendous work they do to promote conservation of the countryside, as well as pursuing a legitimate sport. I cannot promise a debate, but I know that many Members may be interested in the points he raises and he may find support for an Adjournment debate, which would give an opportunity to highlight those benefits.
May we have a parliamentary debate on successful local initiatives to get hard-to-place young people into the world of work? During such a debate, I would be able to highlight and congratulate Tresham college and its deputy principal, Rachel Kay, who organised Experience Kettering, a work experience-matching event last Friday, which more than 60 local young people attended, most of whom have secured work placements with local employers. Is this not just the sort of successful local initiative that we need to encourage around the country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. It is tremendously important. I pay tribute to the work that he and so many people across Kettering are clearly putting in to give young people opportunities for work experience and to enter the world of work. Happily, that is something we as a Government are doing as well, including through the 1.6 million apprenticeships already begun under this Government. The fact that youth unemployment is now lower than at the election is tremendously important. The youth claimant count is down by 118,000, long-term youth unemployment is down by 37,000 since last year, and through the youth contract we are giving lots of young people additional opportunities for work experience, which, with the traineeships and apprenticeships, is giving them much more diverse and appropriate routes into the world of work.
Despite the answer that the Leader of the House gave my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), the reality is that energy-intensive industries are detrimentally affected by the coalition’s carbon floor tax. Not a penny of promised compensation has been given to them yet, and the Budget said that something would come over the hill in 2016. May we have a debate now on the impact of this Government’s unilateral carbon floor tax on energy-intensive industries?
I reiterate what I said to the House. It is clear that the steps we are taking recognise that while we are meeting our objectives to deliver on decarbonisation, we must make sure not to do so in a way that discriminates against and disadvantages energy-intensive manufacturers in this country. That is what we are doing and what the Budget does.
We all appreciate that the timetabling of business in the House is an art more than a science. It is also the case that too much scrutiny of legislation happens in another place, which is a poor reflection on this House. Given the relatively light business expected in the next Session—rather like the present Session in terms of legislation—will my right hon. Friend give some thought to ensuring that more Committee stages are taken on the Floor of the House, not just for constitutional Bills but for the more controversial clauses, which would allow all Members to have their say in properly scrutinising Government legislation?
I am sorry, but I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. First, the amount of time spent in scrutiny of legislation in the two Houses is broadly comparable. Secondly, the time spent in scrutinising Bills—not least by allocating two days to Report in this House—is substantially higher in this Parliament than it has been in previous Parliaments, and is providing exactly the opportunity for scrutiny that he seeks. Thirdly, it is a matter of participation by Members. For example, on the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, I was staggered that only three Opposition Back Benchers were willing to debate that important Bill—and one of them was a Whip sent to the Back Benches to make up the numbers.
For the last decade or so, there has been a significant gap in transport and infrastructure spend between London and the English regions—perhaps as much as 15 to 20 times per head. Much of that has been caused by Crossrail 1, which has been very successful but has been responsible for part of that gap. Before we commit money to Crossrail 2, may we have a debate on its relative priority to similar projects in the English regions?
During the Budget debate, and later this year when the announcement is made on the national infrastructure plan, I hope that my hon. Friend and the House will see our continuing commitment to developing infrastructure across the regions of England, as well as across the United Kingdom as a whole. He will have noted that, as the Prime Minister made clear the other day, we have spent £8 billion on supporting rail and transport infrastructure in the north of England, and we will have an opportunity, ere long, for the House to support the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, which potentially will be the most important project this century for providing access to, and improving, rail infrastructure in the north of England.