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Business of the House

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 5 May—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 6 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Wales Bill. It may be helpful if I remind colleagues that the House will sit at 2.30 pm next Tuesday and that the moment of interruption will be at 10 o’clock.

Wednesday 7 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Water Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 8 May—A debate on motions relating to House of Commons business, including on petitions, programming, parliamentary privilege and amendments to Standing Orders, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 May will include:

Monday 12 May—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (Day 1).

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

Thursday 8 May—A debate on the fourth report of the Scottish Affairs Committee on the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland: interim report, followed by a debate on the 10th report of the Environmental Audit Committee on sustainability in the UK overseas territories.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business.

Mr Speaker, yesterday you announced that the Clerk of the House will be retiring after 42 years of distinguished service to this place. There will be an occasion in future to pay an appropriate tribute, but for now I just observe that his seminal opus “How Parliament Works” still remains the most borrowed book in the whole of the House of Commons Library. The warm applause he received from all sides of the House yesterday is a fitting tribute to the esteem in which he is held.

Given the languid nature of the Government’s legislative programme to date, may I congratulate the Leader of the House on managing to find at least some business for us to consider? Will he now confirm to the House what we all know: that next Thursday he will be at the Dispatch Box announcing an early Prorogation and admitting that they are a Government who have not only run out of ideas but out of steam?

I note that next Thursday we will debate a range of motions on House business, including on programming, privilege, e-petitions and Standing Orders. I also note that some of those motions are being rewritten at the last minute and even as we speak. Will the Leader of the House set out what he will be proposing? Will he tell us how he plans to structure the debates and, more important, whether there will be separate votes? After last year’s embarrassment of Tory Back Benchers moving to regret their own Queen’s Speech, will he confirm whether the Government are trying to avoid a repeat performance this year by attempting to limit the number of amendments that can be tabled, or are they frantically rewriting the motion even as we speak because they realised that they going were to lose the vote and have had to back off from this attempt to gag Parliament? What a spectacle: a Government who have to contemplate changing the Standing Orders to stop their own Back Benchers amending their own Queen’s Speech, and then have to abandon the attempt because they realised they would lose the vote.

On Monday, almost 80 Conservative Members were allowed to absent themselves or rebel on their Government’s flagship High Speed 2 Bill. Those conveniently absent included the Attorney-General, the Minister for Europe, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury—and the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Prime Minister has been taking lessons on collective responsibility from the Liberal Democrats?

Today is May day. Given that the Tories have farcically renamed themselves the workers party, will the Leader of the House tell me whether he or the Chief Whip plan to be on any May day marches this weekend to show solidarity with their comrades in South Cambridgeshire and North West Hampshire? May we have a debate, in Government time, on the increasing levels of insecurity in work, so they can explain exactly why it is that there are now more than 2 million zero-hours contracts in this country, and why underemployment is at record levels?

Yesterday the Government were forced to reveal the list of 16 firms that had been given priority access to the Royal Mail fire sale. We now know that Lazard—the same firm that had advised the Business Secretary on the price—bought nearly half the shares that were available to the priority bidders, and was able to make a profit of £8 million in a single week. The chairman of Lazard in the United Kingdom is a former Tory Member of Parliament. The Chancellor’s best man made a mint, and numerous Tory donors appear to have benefited from being allowed into this cosy old boys’ club. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills so that he can explain the cronyism that exists in the Government?

With just three weeks to go until the local and European elections, the race is hotting up. The Prime Minister, on the campaign trail in Essex, could not tell his Chelmsfords from his Colchesters—which proves that with this Prime Minister it is not “The Only Way is Essex” but more like “Made in Chelsea”. Meanwhile, in their bunker, the Liberal Democrats are eagerly awaiting the verdict of the electorate. The number of candidates they are putting up is significantly down, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) has described his own party as “largely pointless”, and the Deputy Prime Minister must be fondly reminiscing about the days when everyone thought he was the man who was going to change British politics. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury recently declared that the Cornish were now a national minority; I think it is about time that he also declared that the Liberal Democrats are now a national joke.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the business statement, and, in particular, for her warm words about the Clerk of the House. I hope to be able to announce before the summer recess an opportunity for us to pay tribute to the Clerk. I share the hon. Lady’s sense that we have in our present Clerk someone who has been not only exemplary in the fulfilling of his duties but inspirational in his attachment to the House of Commons and its responsibilities, and to the quality of democracy and accountability in this place. That was demonstrated amply in his letter to the Speaker, which was read to us yesterday.

I welcome the deputy shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), to his new position. We are very grateful to the former shadow deputy Leader, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and wish her well in her responsibilities for water and animal welfare. I have to say that the arrival of the new shadow Deputy Leader of the House has not yet produced any improvement in the quality of the jokes in the response to the business statement, but we look forward to that; it might happen. If nothing else, we know that we shall now have plenty of advice on procedure, which I am sure we shall all appreciate.

Curiously, the shadow Leader of the House began by asking me what I was going to announce next week. I shall announce next week what I am going to announce next week, but it will come as no surprise to the hon. Lady that I shall not be in a position to advise on the date of prorogation until the business that needs to be transacted during the current Session has been assured. And that is the point—we do have business. We have had a busy Session: I believe that we have introduced some 24 Bills, not including carry-overs, which is a substantial programme. There are four Bills whose progress we need to complete, and we are dealing with five that will be carried over into the next Session.

The hon. Lady asked about the structure of next Thursday’s business. Time does not permit me to describe all the motions that will need to be considered, but I propose that there should be a time-limited debate lasting some three hours and allowing consideration of a range of issues relating to House business. There will be separate votes on those issues at the end of the debate.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about the content of Standing Order No. 33. We are simply trying to fulfil what I consider to be the responsibility of the Leader of the House, which is to ensure both that the will of the House can be met and that the Standing Orders are clear and unambiguous. The current position is that the Standing Order sets no limit to the number of amendments, although that was not the intention behind it. I think we can arrive at a solution—not least with the benefit of advice from the Procedure Committee—that will attract consensus throughout the House, which is always my aim.

The hon. Lady asked about the HS2 vote, which illustrated the benefit of business questions, not least because it gave Members an opportunity some weeks ago to ask for additional time, as I think the shadow Leader of the House did. Additional time was found to ensure that we had a very full debate on Monday of this week, and time on Tuesday to debate the future processes for scrutinising the HS2 Bill. There was a majority of more than 400 in favour of the Bill, which was a very satisfactory outcome.

As the shadow Leader of the House knows, the Prime Minister is a very busy man. His support for HS2 is not in doubt. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should not get too excited. I have taken the trouble to look at how often the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) voted in the 2005 Parliament, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and subsequently Prime Minister. He voted on 12.7% of occasions. The Prime Minister in this Parliament has voted on 17.8% of occasions—a considerably improved performance. In fact, it is not only an improved voting performance but an improved performance as Prime Minister.

We have not had an opportunity to announce and discuss the future business of the House since 10 April, and I was struck by the fact that the shadow Leader of the House did not ask for a debate on the economy, on jobs, on the progress on inflation. [Interruption.] Oh—zero-hours contracts, I see. The Opposition are not really interested in how many jobs there are. Don’t worry, there will be an opportunity to discuss jobs, including that issue. My right hon. Friends and others at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills undertook a consultation on zero-hours contracts, so they are in a very good position to come to the House and advise on how we can achieve improvements in such contracts and end abuse. However, in doing so we will recognise that it also matters to people that there are more jobs, that they are in jobs. Since we last met, it has been announced that the number of private sector jobs has increased by 1.7 million overall; that inflation has gone down to 1.6%; that confidence as reported by business surveys is at a 10-year high; and that growth in this country is now the fastest among the leading economic nations.

Order. As usual, a great many hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but there is important business to follow and therefore a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike. We can be led, in an exemplary fashion, on that front by Mr Charles Walker.

I thank the Leader of the House for his movement on Standing Order No. 33 and for providing significant time next week for business to be transacted relating to my Committee’s reports. I urge him, a reform-minded Leader of the House, to join the Procedure Committee in driving forward an e-petition system that is absolutely geared to the needs of the House of Commons, its Members and, of course, our constituents.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and his Committee for their work. I hope that next week’s debate will enable us to demonstrate that although we have a very successful system of e-petitions to Government, we do not have a mechanism by which members of the public can petition their Parliament. It is an essential and historic element of the work of this Parliament that it receive and consider petitions and grievances. Although the public have on occasion seen petitions to the Government website turn into debates in this House, strictly speaking the House has no ownership of the petition system itself. I hope we can, through that debate, initiate a process by which we can enable members of the public to feel that they are petitioning their Parliament and seeking its response, and action and response from Government at the same time.

One problem with the e-petition system was that it has not so far been debated by the House, so I welcome next week’s debate. If the Procedure Committee is to do the work on the details of bringing forward a system, will the Leader of the House confirm that we can all work together to have those proposals debated and voted on as soon as possible by the whole House, so that a system can be in place as soon as the new Parliament starts?

The hon. Lady is right about that, and I want to work with the Procedure Committee and other stakeholders across the House to ensure that we have something that works for the House and for the public. When hon. Members work back from the simple fact that the petitions website will be taken down at Dissolution early next year and has to be with the new Parliament when it assembles—we hope to introduce it in its adapted and enhanced form—I hope they can see that we have to agree in principle what needs to be done by the summer recess.

May we have a debate on competitive tendering within the NHS, using as a case history ERS Medical, a private firm that cheated to win a contract for patient transport services in Essex? This morning, former members of the NHS ambulance trust turned up for work at ERS and were turned away. I would say that that is illegal—it is certainly immoral—and we should look at whether ERS Medical is up to any more of these cheating tricks to win contracts.

My hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position to comment directly on the issues relating to ERS, but I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health whether they will be able to respond to him, not least if he wishes to provide any further information.

Of course, competitive tendering for patient transport services has been a part of the NHS for a long time; it is not something that has been recently introduced. What is new in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is an absolute statutory basis for competitive tendering to be undertaken on the basis of delivering for the best interests of patients, and that is very important.

As a result of changes to the minimum practice income guarantee and the quality and outcomes framework last year, five GP practices in my constituency are threatened with closure, and The Times reports on its front page today that Tower Hamlets is not alone in this. May we please have an urgent statement from the Department of Health on what assessments have been made of the impact of these changes on constituencies such as mine? Would the Leader of the House be so kind as to reinforce my request for an urgent meeting with the appropriate Minister at the Department of Health?

I will of course convey that request and ask whether a Minister will be able to meet the hon. Gentleman. I know from my previous work at the Department of Health—he, too, will understand this—that the MPIG was established under the 2004 GP contract, which had many flaws, one of which was that although it was said at the time that the MPIG would disappear over time, no mechanism was put in place for that to happen. The new framework proposes that the MPIG will disappear over time, but there is a substantial seven-year transitional period for that to happen. I will of course ask my colleagues to amplify things to the hon. Gentleman in detail.

Will my right hon. Friend allow an early debate on rural broadband? On 1 January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is introducing “digital by default” for all single farm payments, but 22% of my constituency will not have access to fast broadband so this really does require the most urgent attention from the Department.

My hon. Friend will have heard our colleagues responding in Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions on issues relating to rural broadband. Some 20,000 homes in rural areas are acquiring broadband each week. It can be difficult to provide broadband in some rural areas, but the Government have a clear focus on ensuring not only that we achieve the objectives we set out on broadband in total, but that we focus on the most difficult-to-reach areas, finding technological and financial solutions for those, too.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there cannot be a more deserved debate than one about the demise of the two deep coal mines in Thoresby and Kellingley, and that it should be held as soon as possible? There are three pits left in Britain, two of which are hanging on by their fingernails. As there is plenty of time to deal with the matter, will he arrange a debate so that we can discuss ways of saving those two collieries? Applications could be made for EU state aid. The Government could also find £70 million out of the £700 million that they took out of the miners pension scheme last February. Those are ways to save these pits, save the jobs and keep the coal mining industry afloat.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard, as I have, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) respond precisely to some of the questions that he has just put. I completely understand that he and other Members may well wish to have a debate on this. It would be appropriate for them to seek to apply for an Adjournment debate, or to go through the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot promise Government time for this matter—

The hon. Gentleman says that it is about state aid, but my right hon. Friend has made it clear that there is no mechanism by which the EU can provide state aid; that is not how it works. It is about whether this country is in a position to provide aid that would qualify as state aid and be accepted. He has heard my right hon. Friend respond directly to that point at this Dispatch Box.

The floods have at last receded in Somerset, and we are going back to normal. Can we please have time in this House to discuss the important lessons that we need to learn not just in the area of the Somerset levels but right across the United Kingdom where flooding has been a concern? We do not want another year like this one for any part of the United Kingdom. Unless the lessons are learned, we potentially face this problem time and again given the way in which the climate is changing.

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, and he is quite right. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that, by establishing the work of the new flooding Cabinet Committee, he is ensuring that there is strategic ministerial oversight of policy on flood recovery and long-term resilience, which is exactly the point that my hon. Friend makes. As those lessons are learned and exercises come together, Ministers who are overseeing the matter will, I am sure, take an opportunity to update the House as soon as possible.

A month ago, the Business Secretary told me that links between donations to the Conservative party and profits made from the sale of Royal Mail shares were nothing to do with him. Now that we know there are links, may we have an urgent debate on propriety in politics? In a week in which my constituents have seen a Member resign over propriety issues, it is clear that these matters go right to the heart of belief in British politics.

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong; there are no such links. I was involved in this area more than 20 years ago, and we made it absolutely clear that in the Conservative party, donations never buy influence over policy. I wish it were the same in the Labour party, but it is not. Last year, Len McCluskey gave the Labour party £1.2 million and said that the time had come to have a policy for rent controls. What did we get—a policy on rent controls.

May I ask for an early debate on financial travel support for parents who wish to send their youngsters to faith-based schools? Parents came to see me because they want to send their children to the Catholic school, St Augustine’s, in Billington. As they have to pass a non-faith-based school, they will get no support whatever for travel costs, and it will cost the parents hundreds of pounds. Financial discrimination is religious discrimination and that should not happen.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is in the Chamber representing his constituents as assiduously as he has always done. We look forward to his continuing to do so. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Education to respond to him. It is important that, although there are significant financial constraints, we try to ensure that parents can in practice access the choice that we want them to.

In the light of the arrest and detention of a certain Gerry Adams in connection with the murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who was abducted and murdered by the IRA, of which Gerry Adams was commander in Belfast in the ’70s, simply for going to the aid of a dying soldier, does the Leader of the House agree that this is an appropriate time for a debate on victims, so that they can be reassured that evidence will be followed up and that people will be brought to book no matter what their status or standing in society?

The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand that I am not in a position to comment on any ongoing police investigation. His point about victims is important and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear at the Dispatch Box recently in relation to the wider circumstances and questions about the on-the-run terrorists review, we should always make sure that the needs of justice are served and that victims can see that we are continuing to pursue the issues that relate to that.

On Monday, I sought to ask the Home Secretary about the cost of the MPs’ asylum and immigration hotline, but was unable to do so. Will a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and give us that figure, and can we also talk about the proposal for a dedicated asylum hotline so that MPs and their staff are not tied up with comments and questions from people seeking explanations about their asylum applications and can focus on our constituents’ needs?

My hon. Friend will know, not least from the many occasions on which I have quite properly received representations from hon. Members, that it is important to Members of this House that they can advise and support their constituents on many issues arising from asylum and immigration and that they can do so effectively through their contact with the Home Office and its associated agencies. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Security and Immigration to respond directly to my hon. Friend on the subject of the cost of the asylum immigration hotline. If he is happy to do so, he might like to have a direct conversation about how we can best represent our constituents in a way that serves their interests.

Will the Leader of the House find adequate time for discussion of the outstanding reports from the Standards Committee that await debate and of the report from its predecessor, the Committee on Standards and Privileges, on the proposed revision to the guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members? That report was published in December 2012, yet we are still waiting for time for a debate in the House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, which allows me to say that I had hoped that we might have resolved those issues before now. We have not and I hope that we will soon. We and other stakeholders across the House need to establish consensus not only on that important issue but on how we might take forward the issues that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee are considering as regards a more general revision of the code of conduct. I hope that in our conversations and my representations to his Committee we might be able to strengthen the work of the Standards Committee and give greater reassurance to the public and our constituents about the independence and robustness of the processes we have in place.

As chair of the all-party group on self-build, custom-build and independent house building, may I remind the Leader of the House that next week’s business includes a debate on this important subject, to which the Government committed £150 million in the recent Budget? Hon. Members who wish to intervene in that debate should attend at the end of the day next Wednesday.

My hon. Friend is quite right and, in self-build week, he has managed to obtain an opportunity for an Adjournment debate that will highlight the support we are giving and the potential there is for people to increase our housing supply in this country through self-build. We do not do very well in comparison with many other countries and he is an advocate of our doing much more. I encourage Members who have the opportunity to do so to support my hon. Friend in his debate on this important subject.

As we have been talking about petitions today, will the Leader of the House take account of the growing number of people from Huddersfield and Halifax who are signing a petition because they are deeply concerned about the possible closure of accident and emergency departments in those two towns? That is very important to them. May we have an urgent debate on what the hell is going on in A and E departments up and down our country?

I know the hon. Gentleman will be aware that what is going on is that we are continuing to deliver high standards of care in A and E departments in circumstances where there is a consistently rising number of people attending. We need to do two things. We need to make sure that people are cared for effectively in the community to minimise their requirement to use A and E, and we need to focus A and E on the task that it needs to do. But when people go to A and E, we need to make sure that they go to an emergency department that has the skills and the capability to deal with their case, and what is available at present varies dramatically between locations. We need to ensure that people with the most serious conditions get to the emergency departments with a full range of capabilities to deal with them.

Each year more than 324,000 tenants are evicted in response to complaints they must make about the condition of their homes, so it is no surprise that 12% of private tenants do not report any problem for fear of retaliatory eviction. May we have a debate about stopping bad landlords dodging repairs when evicted tenants complain to their local councils, and giving tenants the right to appeal a notice to quit if it is a response to a problem, particularly as more than 1.3 million private rented homes do not meet the Government’s decent homes standard?

My hon. Friend will be aware that our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, through their review of property, have identified the extent to which there is a deficiency in the quality of the housing stock in part of the private rented sector. We want to make sure that people have good access to housing and that the housing is of good quality. I will, if I may, talk to my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government about when we might have an early opportunity for them to respond further in relation to that.

Tomorrow I will be meeting veterans and beneficiaries of the Royal British Legion at the very well named 617 Squadron room at the new Penarth Pier pavilion in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming their work and find time for a debate on the importance of community covenants and strengthening community partnerships, such as this excellent work?

I would like to take the opportunity to join the hon. Gentleman in our support for the community covenant and support for the communities who are backing up the military covenant in this way. It is important to recognise the sacrifice and the tremendous contribution that many people have made through their service in the armed services. I do not see an opportunity for a debate immediately, but there may be ere long further opportunities for us to highlight that in our own constituencies.

Two years ago, alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I addressed the UK Trade & Industry Leicestershire chamber of commerce conference. In my speech I highlighted the need for business to look beyond the eurozone to emerging markets and our Commonwealth partners for export growth. Given that exports to India were up 20% last year and exports to China are now averaging £1 billion a year, may we have a debate on what steps the Government can take to help further UK business to export to new markets?

My hon. Friend is right. I applaud what he has done in Leicestershire to enable businesses to access the support and help of UKTI. Many Members will be aware that UKTI has significantly improved its offer to businesses, as was reflected recently in export week, but we know we have much more to do. If we can increase the proportion of businesses in this country, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, that are exporters, we can ensure that the recovery that we are seeing in the economy can be sustained for many years to come.

I thank the Leader of the House for his kind words earlier, but I was disappointed by his response to the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made about Royal Mail. Can I take it from his response that he does not think that the Government have any lessons to learn at all from the way that they handled the sale of Royal Mail?

In relation to the business of the House, the hon. Lady will be well aware that both the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and the Public Accounts Committee are looking at the issue, and no doubt they will bring forward reports, which I know that the Government will want to consider carefully and respond to. The reason why I was perhaps more dismissive of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) than of the hon. Lady’s perfectly proper question is that the hon. Gentleman’s question was based on a false assertion. The Royal Mail privatisation was achieved successfully. I know from my involvement in past privatisations, as a civil servant way back in the 1980s, that it is very difficult to get the price right at the initial public offering. It is normal for the privatised company subsequently to sell at a higher price than the one at which it was offered. It is very important to establish the price at which it can be underwritten, and to engage substantial investors to ensure that the bulk of the sale can be made.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will welcome, as I did over the Easter recess, the news that Wolverhampton Wanderers have been promoted to the championship. I am a stoic Wolves fan, but I am not asking for a debate on that, as it might be guillotined. Perhaps more pertinently, the Black Country local enterprise partnership has outlined a vision for regeneration in the area, and I warmly endorse two aspects of that vision. One is around the Wolverhampton interchange, and the second is around cultural capital investment in the city centre. May we have a debate on how LEPs, and this one in particular, facilitate regeneration in areas such as Wolverhampton?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I wish Wolverhampton Wanderers well; Wolves have a great history, and it may be that their future is getting better all the time. I am sure that he and many supporters of the club will be very encouraged by that.

On my hon. Friend’s question about the Black Country LEP and many other LEPs, it is important to note that we are agreeing a whole range of city deals that are enabling locations across the country to identify what they believe will best assist in economic regeneration for the future. The same is true of applications to the regional growth fund. The LEP and the local authority are coming together, as my hon. Friend says, to define projects such as the interchange. That is very important, and it is important for them to make bids to the regional growth fund. There is £3 billion already committed to 430 schemes under that fund, and there is dramatic leveraging—something like a fivefold or sixfold leverage—of private sector investment as a consequence.

Order. I recognise that there is intense interest, as always, in business questions. I simply remind the House that we have two important debates, under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, to follow. The first is on cervical cancer screening tests and the case of Sophie Jones, and the second is on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. We must progress to those before too long, so I appeal for short questions and answers.

Two weeks ago, Imperial Tobacco announced its intention to close the Horizon factory in Lenton, with the loss of more than 500 jobs, leaving many of my constituents and their families reeling. Can the Leader of the House confirm which Department or Minister is co-ordinating the Government’s response and the resourcing of joint work by the city council, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Futures, the LEP and other partners? When will a Minister report to Parliament on the practical support to be offered to those affected by the shock decision?

I can understand how the hon. Lady feels about the impact on her constituents. On those who will lose their jobs, ensuring that they can access new employment and, if necessary, retraining and the like is a responsibility for the Department for Work and Pensions. As for wider interests, and supporting the local enterprise partnership and local authorities in ensuring a broader economic development response, that is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I will ask both Departments to contact the hon. Lady about the steps that they are taking.

I listened carefully when the Leader of the House announced the business for next Thursday. Perhaps he could add some time to the debate on the procedures of the House for discussing the Backbench Business Committee. He, I and the Chairman of the Committee could then explain to the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), that it was not the Prime Minister who scrapped debates ahead of European Councils; this House unanimously decided, as a result of the Wright Committee recommendations, to give that time to the Backbench Business Committee. We could also suggest that having a debate before every European Council would not be welcome.

Yes, the House took an important and positive decision to give Back-Bench Members, through the Backbench Business Committee, the opportunity to assess the relative priority of debates. I am not sure of the view of shadow Leader of the House on the matter, but I hope that she might have a word with the shadow Minister for Europe, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), to make it clear that trying to revert to the past will actually undermine the independence of the Backbench Business Committee and of Members of this House.

There are 48,000 homes in the private rented sector in Liverpool. All those tenants had been heartened by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government when he said that he wants

“longer fixed-term, family-friendly tenancies that meet their needs.”

May we have an urgent statement about when the Government will honour that aspiration and support the proposals announced today by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to scrap letting fees, end excessive rent rises and introduce long-term tenancies?

If the hon. Lady is saying that she supports what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is doing to promote flexibility, quality and supply in the housing market, I am pleased. I suspect, however, that what she is saying is that we do not want to go beyond that to a rent control policy of the kind advocated by her leader. In that respect, she probably takes the same view as the shadow Housing Minister, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds), who said on “Channel 4 News” in January that

“rent controls are not going to work in practice”.

What the hon. Lady said was right then and it is right today.

This morning, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the National Children’s Bureau published a report analysing the UK’s poor record on child mortality compared with the rest of Europe. Yesterday, the Department of Health’s children and young people’s health outcomes forum also acknowledged that the UK has a historically poor child mortality record. May we have an urgent debate to consider how we can ensure that the UK is the best place not only to end life, but to begin life?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will recall that, some two and a half or three years ago, I initiated work on how to improve health outcomes for children and young people, which led directly to the work of the children and young people’s health outcomes forum. It forms part of the NHS England mandate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has put in place and is a key part of Public Health England’s work. However, outcomes for children and young people depend on things far wider than what the health service does, such as being ready for school and avoiding periods when young people are not in education, employment or training. Such measures are critical, which is why the Government are focused on them.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House likes mangoes, but today marks the first day of the EU ban on the importation of Indian Alphonso mangos, a decision taken by Brussels without consultation with the House that will cost businesses in Leicester and beyond millions of pounds. May we have an urgent debate on the matter, with an action plan to get the ban reversed?

Yes, indeed, Mr Speaker. Temporary restrictions are in place, as the right hon. Gentleman says, and are important to protecting home-grown salad crops—an important industry worth £320 million a year—from potential pests and diseases. India is a key trading partner, but we know that these temporary restrictions will impact only on a very small percentage of the successful business that we conduct with it. However, we are working with our Indian and European counterparts to resolve the issue.

As for the business of the House, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has secured a debate on the Adjournment at the close of business next Thursday that will allow him to raise his concerns with the House.

Now that we have five-year, fixed-term Parliaments, we are obviously in the longest general election campaign ever, and perhaps the business of the House should be changed to reflect that. Clearly the Leader of the Opposition is not going to ask the Prime Minister any questions on jobs, growth or the reduction in the deficit, so can we change Prime Minister’s questions so that the Leader of the Opposition can ask the Prime Minister three questions and then the Prime Minister can ask the Leader of the Opposition three questions? That way, we might have a proper examination of the fact that we have created 1.5 million new jobs, growth was up by 3% last year and the deficit has been halved.

My right hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, but I fear that it is not one we will take up. When the Leader of the Opposition asks his six questions, often what he leaves out speaks volumes, and I think that will inform the public as he continues to be bereft of anything to say on Labour’s plans for the economy.

We all rightly condemn the abduction of more than 200 girls from their school in Nigeria, so may we have an urgent debate on how Britain can help to ensure that they are returned to their rightful place, which is with their families and, more particularly, are in education?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. We will all have been horrified by what we have seen and by the continuing trauma that those girls and their families and friends must be experiencing. We will do everything we can to help. I will of course speak with my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether they can advise Members on what more can be done.

May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to recognise, assist and support businesses that focus on energy efficiency, such as the Vaillant Group—Glow-worm, as it is better known locally—which has a base and factory in my constituency?

The Vaillant Group is very well known. We are doing a great deal to promote the important energy efficiency sector, which is already worth more than £18 billion and employs over 130,000 people in this country. It is economically important to my hon. Friend’s constituents and many others. Indeed, the installation of more efficient gas boilers, the green deal, the energy obligations and the product policy in building regulations are all promoting renewable heating technologies through the world-first renewable heat incentive.

I was delighted to learn a few minutes ago that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has secured an Adjournment debate on the mango ban, which is causing considerable concern for businesses in my part of Leicester as well. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to ensure that we can bring a delegation of businesses affected to the relevant Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ahead of that debate?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I always try to assist Members of the House in whatever way I can. I will certainly see whether Ministers would be willing to have such a meeting in that time frame.

This coming week I will join a party led by the mayor of Rugby on a visit to the Menin Gate memorial to remember local people who lost their lives in the great war, reciprocating the visit made by Field Marshal John French, the Earl of Ypres, who unveiled Rugby’s memorial in 1922. Can our commemorations here in Parliament include a debate on the links between our constituencies and where our brave soldiers lost their lives?

As I told the House at the last business questions, I hope to be in a position to announce a further debate in which Members can talk about how their constituents are commemorating the events of 100 years ago, as I am sure my hon. Friend’s constituents are doing. I was very proud to have an opportunity to visit a village in my constituency only last Friday where they are planning a publication that details each person who died in service during the first world war and tells their story, including where they fell and where they are commemorated.

The Minister for Civil Society recently said that it was “okay” to lose some of the youth services that have been slashed due to Government cuts because—excuse me, Mr Speaker—they were “crap” in the first place. May we have a debate in Government time on the devastating cuts to services for young people, which will also give the Minister an opportunity to explain his disgraceful and derogatory remarks?

I do not remember reading those remarks and I do not know precisely the context in which my hon. Friend spoke. However, because I know him very well, I know that he is a devoted advocate of supporting civil society, charitable organisations and community groups in providing high-quality services, including to children and young people. I will alert him to what the hon. Lady has said and give him an opportunity to respond.

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Northamptonshire is officially the most enterprising county in the country. May I share with the Leader of the House the good news from the latest economic review by Northamptonshire chamber of commerce for the first quarter of this year? It says that 78% of manufacturers in the county report increased export sales and that over 90% of manufacturing and service sector firms expect turnover and profitability to stay the same or to improve over the coming year. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about why counties such as Northamptonshire are leading this country out of the great recession?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know from personal experience of meeting business people in his constituency that those in Northamptonshire are indeed very enterprising—although I imagine that the title he claims will be hotly contested in this House. His question is apt, because this week we have seen evidence from the latest first-quarter GDP growth data that manufacturing is the fastest-growing sector of the economy. That is in marked contrast with what happened under the previous Labour Government, when manufacturing employment was cut by 1 million and there was a focus on financial services to the detriment of manufacturing.

Last month the Government were absolutely right to give the go-ahead to the new power station at Hinkley Point, at a cost to the consumer of £92.50 per megawatt. May we have a debate on consistency in Government subsidy, given that last week they announced that it would be unfair and insupportable to give a subsidy to onshore wind, which costs between £70 and £80 per megawatt?

As the hon. Gentleman will recall from a response from the Prime Minister at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, the point about the build-out of onshore wind farms is that the Government set a target to increase onshore wind farms and renewables generation, and it is not necessary, in our view, to keep providing a subsidy to go beyond that. The point about nuclear is that it is a different form of generation. It is, as it were, the bedrock of security of supply, and it is important to ensure that it is there.

The tourism industry is absolutely essential to the south-west, yet operators in my constituency say that even now they are getting phone calls from people who are convinced we are still under water. May we have a statement before the bank holiday—I appreciate that that probably means the tourism Minister coming back here this afternoon—to tell the world that the floods have gone; that the railways are mended; that the food, drink, countryside and welcome are as great as ever; and that Somerset and the west country are very much open for business?

My hon. Friend makes the point very well, and I hope that people will listen to it. He is absolutely right. The railway line has reopened and the waters have receded. People have gone to enormous trouble to rebuild and recover, and Somerset and the west country are open for business. I was very pleased over the Easter holiday to see evidence of people who were really enjoying themselves in the west country. I hope that people will have sunshine this weekend so as to have an opportunity to enjoy themselves again.

For the benefit of the UK Independence party donor who said this week that women should be banned from wearing trousers, may we please have a debate on the historic contribution that women in trousers have made to this country, including Amy Johnson from Hull, who wore trousers as an aviator, the women’s Land Army in the second world war, and Princess Elizabeth, who wore trousers as a mechanic serving in the second world war?

Well, good for her. I cannot promise a debate, but I entirely endorse the hon. Lady’s sentiments.

Bowel cancer is often a completely curable disease, but a key to successful treatment is early diagnosis. May we have an urgent statement about the effectiveness of bowel cancer screening programmes, particularly in relation to access to colonoscopies, and a comparison between the effectiveness of bowel cancer screening services in Wales and in England so that we can gain best practice?

I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department of Health to respond in detail, particularly on the point about comparisons. We should be very pleased that during this Parliament we have seen the roll-out of the bowel cancer screening programme across England. We look forward very positively to being able to roll out flexible sigmoidoscopy, as we plan over the next three years, which will enable not only early diagnosis of bowel cancer but early interventions. That will make a further big, positive step forward.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a statement or a debate in Government time on the operation of the Access to Work scheme? I recently met a constituent who faces losing her job because she cannot pay through the scheme for a qualified British sign language interpreter. This is a very important and urgent matter on which Members need to be able to question Ministers.

As the hon. Lady will know, through the Work programme and the new Help to Work scheme, further details of which were announced this week, we are focusing on ensuring that we give everybody, including those whom it has clearly been most difficult to help, the support that is necessary to enable them to get back into work. However, she has raised a particular, and interesting, issue. I hope that she might give my office further details, and I will ask a Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions to respond.

The Leader of the House will know that I previously presented a Bill to the House that considers increasing the sentence for those who cause death while driving when they have been disqualified from driving from the current two years to 14 years, in line with the sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. I know that the Government were sympathetic to what I said then. Will the Leader of the House clarify whether they have taken a decision on the Bill prior to next week’s debate on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill?

My hon. Friend is right that the Government do indeed share his concern about those who drive while disqualified and cause death or serious injury on our roads. He will know from my statement that the first day on Report of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will be on Monday 12 May. I direct him to that debate, where I know he will be in his place to hear the response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.

One and a half million pounds worth of donations to the Tory party from private health care providers resulted in £1.5 billion—

There is evidence. The Leader of the House is shaking his head, but I have cast-iron evidence. Those donations resulted in £1.5 billion-worth of NHS contracts going to those same providers. Will arrange a statement to explain why the Government are refusing to exempt the NHS from the EU-US trade negotiations, thereby threatening the future of the NHS as we know it—or is that also linked to those donations?

I scarcely know where to begin in refuting that nonsense. First, donations to the Conservative party do not result in contracts—they simply do not. It is a complete travesty and a disgrace to suggest that the people who take procurement decisions within the NHS would be influenced in any way—or, frankly, know whether the individuals associated with any particular company happened to have political affiliations or otherwise.

On the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations, I wish that Labour Members—this was evidenced during our debate on the subject—would focus on the dramatic potential for increasing trade, jobs and growth in Europe and America rather than trying to focus on something that will not have the effect that the hon. Lady describes, because within the NHS there is already, as there was under her party’s Government before the last election, scope for private companies in America to access contracts if they are able to provide the best services inside the United Kingdom.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1306?

[That this House notes that Essex County Council is turning off street lights across Essex between the hours of midnight and 5am to make savings; further notes that turning off street lights in Harlow affects many Harlow residents, many of whom work late shifts; acknowledges that some Harlow residents have expressed concerns that they feel unsafe; and therefore calls on Essex County Council to review its decision and shorten the amount of time that street lights are turned off each night in Harlow.]

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Essex county council is turning off the street lights in Harlow between the hours of midnight and 5 am. This is affecting many residents, particularly females and shift workers late at night. Will he look at this issue and contact the Department for Communities and Local Government to see what can be done to extend the hours that the lights are on, and may we have a debate on it?

I understand the point my hon. Friend is making and he will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is also aware of it, as shown in a reply he gave during Question Time yesterday. Street lighting is the responsibility of the local highways authorities, including Essex county council in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The Government advise that, when considering its street-lighting needs—including when considering turning them off—an authority should work closely with the emergency services and other key partners on community safety.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), the Leader of the House will know that the country will be looking to Parliament to play our part in the world war one commemorations, and I know that Members on both sides of the House will wish to do so. We had a very good debate in this place last year, but this year many of the key anniversaries fall during the summer recess, so may I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate before the summer recess, so that Parliament can be given the opportunity to pay its own tribute to those who served us 100 years ago?

The hon. Gentleman is right and I hope to be able to announce such a debate before the summer recess. Since our last debate on the subject I, like many Members throughout the House, have seen great evidence of how constituents are proposing to commemorate the events of 100 years ago.

Order. May I appeal to the remaining Members to ask succinct, single-sentence questions so that we might proceed to the next debate ere long?

The Keep Sunday Special campaign has insisted there should be no change to Sunday shop opening hours and it is supported by the Home Retail Group and the workers. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate to put this matter to rest for retailers and workers?

I am not aware of the plans to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I cannot promise a debate, but I will check to see whether there is any way in which we can provide him with the reassurance he seeks.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to report to the House when she will be taking the next step in delivering a modern slavery Bill? She asked my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) to set up a cross-party Joint Committee and it has just reported after 10 weeks of work. We need to build a consensus for a modern slavery Bill, which we promised on the 200th anniversary of Wilberforce’s Bill.

We are very grateful to the Joint Committee on the draft Modern Slavery Bill. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I am not in a position at this stage to anticipate the contents of the Queen’s Speech.

The Leader of the House must have been dismayed with the compensation award made to convicted triple killer Kevan Thakrar. Given that the Government have a bit of time on their hands, why do they not introduce a short, simple Bill that says that any future awards of that kind must be paid directly to a special fund for victims?

Other Members will have been just as dismayed about that. I am not sure whether what the hon. Gentleman suggests is the right solution. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to respond to the hon. Gentleman with his views.

Yesterday the Government issued a ministerial statement on fixed odds betting terminals, which resulted in a sharp rise in bookmakers’ share value. When will Members get an opportunity to debate the proposals in full? I hope it will be before the Whitsun recess.

I cannot at this stage say that there will be a debate on those issues, but it is important that the written ministerial statement said positive things about providing safeguards in relation to fixed odds, high-stakes betting terminals. It also said what I think communities will regard as very encouraging things about how local planning authorities can make their own judgments about the extent of change of use with regard to betting shops on local high streets.

May we have a debate on long-term unemployment? In my constituency, the number of over-25s on jobseeker’s allowance for more than two years has risen by 41% in the past year alone. The rate is now the eighth highest in England and Wales. Instead of recognising that their Work programme is failing, Ministers now want to punish my constituents even further with yet another of their silly schemes, which has been shown not to work. Instead, they should implement Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee, which I guarantee would work.

As I have said, I hope there might be an opportunity for a debate on employment, if not before then during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, which might include a proper focus on it. That would enable us to celebrate the fact that there is a record level of employment; that employment is up by more than 1.5 million since the general election; that youth unemployment is down 38,000 on the previous quarter and lower than at the time of the election; and that the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds not in education, employment or training is at its lowest in five years.

May we have an oral statement on the inspectorate of constabulary report, which says that police are failing to record up to 20% of crime? The situation is intolerable.

The Home Secretary rightly commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to undertake that inquiry and is very clear that we want to ensure that police-recorded crime figures are robust. Those figures and the independent crime survey point strongly to the same conclusion, which is that levels of crime are falling and policing is working. On debating the HMIC report, the hon. Gentleman will know that it is an interim report, so the Home Secretary will no doubt report to the House in due course.

May we have a debate on the excellent review of diagnosis and treatment carried out by the Pernicious Anaemia Society, which is based in Bridgend? Pernicious anaemia involves memory loss, poor concentration, debilitating tiredness, personality and balance problems and mood swings. Two thirds of those who responded to the review were unhappy with their current treatment. That is diabolical. May we have an urgent debate on the issue?

I can well understand how strongly the hon. Lady feels about pernicious anaemia, which she rightly describes as a very debilitating condition. I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health to respond to her about the position generally. She and other Members might like to seek an Adjournment debate in order to raise the issues.