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Business of the House

Volume 580: debated on Thursday 8 May 2014

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 12 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Care Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 13 May—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Consumer Rights Bill (day 1), followed by motion relating to the Standards Committee report on all-party parliamentary groups, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 14 May—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Deregulation Bill (day 1), followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 15 May—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Friday 16 May—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for what looks to be the last business statement before the end of this Session. Will he confirm that the House now looks likely to prorogue more than a week before the recess date that he originally announced?

The horrific kidnap of nearly 300 schoolgirls by a terrorist group in Nigeria has rightly been condemned by leaders across the international community. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Foreign Secretary so that he can tell us what support the UK Government are offering to help locate and rescue these young women?

On Tuesday, the Business Secretary told the House that he will not “rule out intervention” on Pfizer’s attempted takeover of AstraZeneca, which may threaten UK jobs in the strategically important pharmaceutical sector, but the Prime Minister seems to be a cheerleader for it. At Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, he failed to tell the House whether he would work with the Opposition to deliver a public interest test. That would need only secondary legislation, so perhaps the Leader of the House could tell us now: will the Government work with us to introduce such a test quickly so that the UK can safeguard its strategic interests in this sector, which is so crucial both to our research and development and our science base? Will he arrange for the Business Secretary to come to the House so that he can tell us exactly what the Government’s position now is on this crucial issue?

Coalition chaos on AstraZeneca is just the tip of the iceberg according to a report published yesterday by the Institute for Government. It warns that the Government are in danger of seizing up altogether as the election approaches. Some of us think that they already have. There are now credible complaints that civil service impartiality is being compromised by the partisan and inappropriate demands for policy advice from warring coalition parties. To provide reassurance and transparency, will the Leader of the House tell us whether he supports the Institute for Government’s sensible calls for the publication of civil service engagement rules for this final year so that we can have both clarity and oversight of the Government’s behaviour? Does he also agree with the institute that:

“The access that the two coalition parties will have to the civil service in the pre-election period strengthens the case for offering more extensive civil service support to the Opposition”?

The Government’s habit of believing that policy delivery ends with sending out the press release just gets worse. In November 2011, the Department for Work and Pensions said:

“Over one million people will be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014”.

But when April 2014 arrived, fewer than 4,000 people were on a pale imitation of the proposed regime.

In July 2007, the current Leader of the House said in a press release that there would be no top-down reorganisations of the NHS, but four years into this Government, what do we have? We have a disastrous and expensive top-down reorganisation of the NHS. This week, we have learned that the much trumpeted NHS better care fund has been delayed, after a Whitehall review declared that it would not work, would not help balance the budget and would not bring about the promised revolution in patient care. Is not the truth that the better care fund was a knee-jerk reaction to Labour’s policy on the integration of health and social care, and that the Government’s own legislation is standing in the way of proper integration? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Health Secretary so that he can urgently clarify the status of the better care fund?

There are now just two weeks to go until the local and European elections. The Conservative party has frantically been trying to paint the Leader of the Opposition as a mixture of Karl Marx and Hugo Chávez, the UK Independence party has been hiring eastern Europeans to deliver its anti-immigration leaflets, and the Deputy Prime Minister appears to have resorted to backing a report that calls for the legalisation of cannabis. I suppose mind-altering drugs are the only thing that might persuade people to vote for him. At his campaign launch on Monday, he was reduced to pleading with his activists to shout from the rooftops about Liberal Democrat achievements. I think they might be safer on the roof than they would be on the doorstep.

What about those Liberal Democrat achievements? The Deputy Prime Minister promised to scrap tuition fees, but he trebled them. He promised he would not raise VAT, but he raised it. He promised fair taxes, but he gave tax breaks to millionaires while everyone else pays more. This week, scientists have discovered a new dinosaur with a very long nose, and they have named it Pinocchio rex. I think maybe they should just have called it Nick.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response. She will be aware that only once business is concluded can we be certain of the precise timing of Prorogation, so as is customary, Prorogation will be announced once all the Government’s business required in this Session has been secured.

The hon. Lady was right to ask about Nigeria, and she will have heard what the Prime Minister said about that. We are all shocked by what has been happening there, including the kidnapping of the girls and the other terrorist attacks. As the hon. Lady will know, the Foreign Secretary has been in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova this week, but I will of course talk to the Foreign Office about how we might take an opportunity to update the House not only on his visit this week but on the steps that he has taken on Nigeria, including the contacts that he has had with the Nigerian Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister’s discussion with the President of Nigeria, which was scheduled to take place yesterday afternoon.

One point in the Institute for Government’s report is about making progress in this final year. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said in Question Time, we cannot anticipate the Queen’s Speech, but I can assure the House that there will be a full programme of legislative business for it to consider.

I would remind the House of the sheer scale of the legislative achievement that has been accomplished in this Session. Opposition Members had the opportunity to support much of it, such as legislation on same-sex marriage; on shared parental leave; on the establishment of single-tier pensions; on reforms to speed up adoption; on giving children in care new time limits on their care proceedings, to reduce delays; on introducing special, additional measures for children with special educational needs, including care plans; on establishing the principles of High Speed 2 and the Select Committee on the Bill; on electricity market reform and investment in our energy infrastructure; on investment in the water industry; and on protection for householders seeking insurance against flooding.

The Opposition did not seem quite so keen on some things, of course, such as the employment allowance, which will give 1.25 million businesses and charities the benefit of £2,000 off their employer’s national insurance bill. There is also banking reform; criminal justice; the reform of antisocial behaviour law; and those who leave prison having served fewer than 12 months will receive supervision to reduce reoffending. I think that in any year, any Government could be proud of the scale of the legislative achievements undertaken.

You know how loth I am, Mr Speaker, to engage in any kind of partisan activity at the Dispatch Box, so I will not engage in electioneering. I will just say that the parties of the coalition Government can go into the local and European elections not least on the strength of our long-term economic plan working. We are seeing some of the best growth figures, and indeed forecasts for the United Kingdom to be among the strongest growing economies in the developed world. We debate many things about Europe, but we all know that to be a strong country we need a strong economy. That is what this coalition Government are delivering through our long-term economic plan.

The hon. Lady asked about the Pfizer-AstraZeneca merger, and she will have heard what the Prime Minister said in response to the Leader of the Opposition. She asked for a statement; the Business Secretary was at the Dispatch Box just 48 hours ago to answer questions from the House. I think he did so very clearly. He made clear a number of things, including the point that Pfizer has not as yet made a formal bid, and that from the Government’s point of view there is open-handed neutrality. We have engaged with both companies to establish their positions and what their commitments may be. If there are further developments, I know that the Business Secretary will engage the House. I have substantial constituency interests in relation to both Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The shadow Leader of the House will therefore understand that I am not party inside Government to discussions relating directly to Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and I am not able to go beyond what my friends have said at the Dispatch Box.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement on forthcoming business. He will know that the Procedure Committee has a report on private Members’ Bills waiting to be reviewed by the House, and I look forward to debating that with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who will represent a sort of Darth Vader of dark forces in that area. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that next Tuesday might be a good time for that titanic struggle and battle to take place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although I do not necessarily endorse his views on my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who, along with other Members, has enabled us to assert with confidence that private Members’ Bills that secure the agreement of the House must jump a high bar, and rightly so. Making legislation should not be easy, although my recollection is that, subject to further debate next week in the House of Lords, five private Members’ Bills may have secured Royal Assent this Session.

We have had constructive debates with the Procedure Committee, and I would like the House to have the opportunity to debate further reforms to private Members’ Bills. As yet I do not have a time fixed for that, but I will take on board what my hon. Friend has said and consider when we can do that.

As there is now no more time available for Back-Bench business before the end of the Session, will the Leader of the House allow me to make an announcement disguised as a question, to let the House know that the Backbench Business Committee has now closed its doors until after the Queen’s Speech when our successor Committee is elected? I thank all hon. Members who have served on the Committee, and all those who have used it and brought such interesting debates before the House. I have enjoyed the representations made.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady and endorse what she says. I am pleased that in this Session we have been able to allocate more time for debates determined by the Backbench Business Committee than the Standing Orders required, just as we provided three more days for Opposition day debates than is required by the Standing Orders. The Clerk’s letter to Mr Speaker made clear the scrutiny that this House is undertaking, and the Backbench Business Committee’s progress in this Session has demonstrated an essential part of that enhanced scrutiny.

Will my right hon. Friend, in the oodles of time available, make sure that there is a Government statement next week on holiday pay? Does he know that there is much concern among employers about the interaction between European Union law and British law? It is causing confusion and leading people to believe that holiday pay will have to be based not just on basic salaries, but overtime and additional work? This is a complex issue, but at the moment the Government do not seem to have a clear policy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. If I may, I will ask the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to reply to him, and if, as he says, there is widespread confusion on this issue, to let the House know what it can do to dispel that confusion.

In 2010, there was the highest ever level of satisfaction with the NHS. A report this week by the Care Quality Commission on hospitals in Hull shows deteriorating services and staff shortages. May we please have a debate on the cost to the NHS of the £3 billion spent on reorganisation, on the fact that that has meant deteriorating services, and on Hull not receiving a penny of the £250 million provided for A and E services over the winter?

A number of questions were wrapped into that. The latest British social attitudes survey showed a 61% satisfaction rating with the NHS. That is an increase on the previous year and the third highest figure since 1983. One of the reasons why people are satisfied with the NHS is that the service is not deteriorating. On the contrary, we have kept to our coalition agreement to increase the resources for the NHS in real terms. Those resources are being used more effectively across the NHS, including saving nearly £1.5 billion a year through the reorganisation the hon. Lady describes. That cost about £1.5 billion to implement, but will save £1.5 billion a year—more than £5 billion in the course of this Parliament.

The widespread increase in rolling stock spoken about by the Transport Secretary earlier today is welcome news for commuters, but it is creating great anxiety for my constituents who work at the Cauldwell Walk depot and manage the current rolling stock. They know that they will not manage the future rolling stock, but they do not know when that transition will take place. Despite their own best efforts and mine, parliamentary questions and requests to speak with Ministers have been met with a wall of silence because of the franchise renegotiation. This has led them to consider all possible options, including the withdrawal of their labour, something that could lead to strike action and disruption. Will my right hon. Friend advise me on what options I have in Parliament to pursue this matter further?

I can understand how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this matter and the desire of the staff at the depot to have greater clarity on their future position. I will certainly urge the future franchisee to engage with the affected work force to provide that clarity as soon as possible. He does, I am afraid, say correctly that we cannot divulge at this stage the details of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise bidders’ plans for rolling stock or maintenance. That is commercially sensitive information in a live bidding process. We currently expect all depot staff currently employed to transfer to the successor franchisee at the outset. It will then be for that operator to decide how best to manage the maintenance of the fleet. It is not yet possible to give firm assurances on the nature of depot posts. However, as I am sure he would expect, I will ensure that Ministers are happy, once an announcement has been made, to discuss this matter with him, and for other interested Members of Parliament, staff and unions to be able to engage directly with the successful bidder.

Given today’s poll demonstrating that the public believe that the NHS is deteriorating under this Government’s rule, may we have a debate on why that is, and may we have some indication of how they intend to repair the damage they have done?

What is very clear is that after the election we actually managed to eliminate many of the long waits that patients were experiencing. Approximately 180,000 people had been waiting over a year for treatment and we have reduced that figure to below 1,000. That is what people across the country are experiencing in the NHS. The NHS, with rising demand, is managing to use its resources more effectively to sustain the quality of services.

Nikki Sams was just 26 when she died of cervical cancer. Her doctor failed to spot the symptoms eight times but escaped any disciplinary action by retiring, despite having been investigated previously. May we have a statement on when the General Medical Council will get the powers it needs to change the Cohen judgment, which restricts accountability, and allow it to appeal against lenient sentences, as doctors can appeal against sentences they regard as too harsh?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall discuss with my colleagues in the Department of Health. My hon. Friend will recall, not least following the Law Commission report, that there are plans and legislative proposals for the further reform of health professional regulation. I will discuss with colleagues in the Department of Health what progress has been made and whether we will be able better to answer my hon. Friend’s precise questions.

I add my voice to the pleas for a statement on the assistance that the UK Government will give to the Nigerian Government to “bring back our girls”. You will know, Mr Speaker, that in northern Nigeria, only 4% of girls get an education. That is both an immediate crisis for the families and a long-term disaster in development terms. Please may we have a statement?

I will, of course, ask my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office if they will be able to make a statement; at this stage, I cannot determine whether it will be written or oral. The hon. Lady will recall what the Prime Minister had to say yesterday not only about the outrage we feel, but about the fact that we have offered support to the Nigerian Government. As with other countries, we have officials and members of the armed services in Nigeria who would be able to help, but it is a matter for the Nigerian Government to request help and support and determine the character of the help and support that we are able to give. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we provide support for the education of 800,000 children—600,000 of whom are girls—in Nigeria.

Last week, an article appeared in many national newspapers in which an academic argued that the Hinkley Point deal, which is now going through the European Union to ensure that it is robust, should not be pursued. Hinkley Point is massively important to this country: it will produce a massive amount of electricity and it is needed for the security of our energy supplies. May we please have time to debate this matter, which, along with fracking, must be pushed forward if we are not to see the lights going out in the near future? The attitude taken by such academics is not helpful.

My hon. Friend will have to forgive me as I did not read the article to which he refers. From what he says, however, I completely agree with him that the rebuilding of our nuclear fleet is important to the security of energy supply in this country and to meeting our future targets for reducing carbon generation. I know that my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary, who has kept us informed about this project in the past, would be keen to update us about it in future.

Yesterday, Monitor announced that it will be investigating the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust regarding its referral times and governance. This comes just after a trust special briefing stating that its financial gap has gone from £5 million to between £30 million and £50 million in 12 months. May we have a debate on why that foundation trust and others have recently found themselves in such massive deficits? When can we expect the £3.8 billion better care proposals from the Government?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue; I confess that I neglected to answer the point raised by the shadow Leader of the House about the better care fund. There is no need for a statement because there has been no slippage in the better care fund. It is to be introduced from April 2015 and it was always anticipated that at this stage Ministers would receive submissions from local authorities together with their clinical commissioning groups on how they propose to use that fund for local plans. In that sense, nothing has changed. As far as the foundation trusts are concerned, it is important to recognise that Monitor is the regulator. If I may, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman’s question to the attention of Monitor’s chief executive and seek a reply about South Tees hospitals.

May we have a debate on honesty in sentencing? My Bury North constituents will be astonished and dismayed that anyone such as the convicted armed robber known as the “Skullcracker”, who had been given not just one but 13 life sentences, was being prepared for release in an open prison despite having absconded twice before and committed dozens more armed robberies while at large.

I am sure that many Members share my hon. Friend’s view, and rightly so. As he may know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has ordered a full review of the case to establish the circumstances of the decision to grant Mr Wheatley temporary release, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on it. However, we know that there is a need for reform of the temporary licensing system, which is why, in March, my right hon. Friend announced plans to scale down access to temporary licences. In future, when prisoners are let out on temporary licence, they will be tagged, more strictly risk-assessed, and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released. That will ensure that we make more effective use of release on temporary licence, and take the steps that are necessary to maintain public safety.

Three years ago, the Government announced that 261 schools would benefit from the priority schools building programme, but so far only 28 have done so. May we have a statement on the Government’s use of “prioritisation”, given that 10.7279% does not really reflect a good priority?

I am afraid that I do not recall the precise number of schools that have already benefited from the programme, but I am pretty sure that the last figure that I heard was higher than the one given by the hon. Gentleman. I will check with the Department for Education, and ensure that we are both informed of the latest figure.

I am sure that, along with other Members on both sides of the House, the hon. Gentleman welcomed the announcement a fortnight ago of a further £2 billion for the priority schools building programme. That money will enable us not only to rebuild schools and build new ones where necessary—which was made possible by the first tranche of funding—but to help schools with rebuilding or refurbishment. Over the next few years, it will make a big difference to our school estate.

May I, as a free marketeer, request a debate on the universal service obligation in the postal industry? In my constituency, TNT has been able to come in and cherry-pick some of the more lucrative parts of the postal service, thus posing a threat to the universal service obligation. Recently, when cleaning out a river in Colindale, I found a bundle of letters that someone from TNT had dumped without delivering them. Will a Minister come to the House and make a statement, so that we can ensure that competition in the postal market is fair competition?

Of course there should be fair competition, and it is the responsibility of Ofcom, as the regulator, to ensure that that is the case. Let me add, however, as one who is equally a believer in free markets, that I think my hon. Friend should welcome—and I am sure he does—the fact that, in its private sector capacity which enables it to generate private investment to support its business, Royal Mail will be increasingly able not only to meet its universal service obligations, which are unchanged, but to compete in the marketplace.

The consultation on the HS2 route is still ongoing, but last week the Prime Minister was talking about a station near Crewe—as the Secretary of State for Transport continues to do—although no such station is on the route on which consultation is taking place. The Department is talking up the viability of such a station at the expense of the general taxpayer, whereas the Stoke proposals are being worked up at the expense of Stoke ratepayers. May we have a debate, in Government time, on the subversion of consultations and the failure of Departments to follow proper procedures?

I understand that the phase 2 consultation is proceeding, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has announced that the results will be reported to the House later this year. I am sure that all the submissions are being properly taken into account in the consultation.

In this great city of London, which contains more than 10 million people, transport infrastructure and investment are incredibly important. The Mayor has agreed to allow Piccadilly line trains to stop at Turnham Green, in Chiswick, throughout the day. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State make a statement to the House about investment in the upgrading of the line, when that upgrade might take place, and whether it can happen earlier than planned so that my residents can benefit from a better service on their way to work?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue for Chiswick residents and businesses. She has been campaigning hard on it, with some success, as I understand that she has received confirmation from the Mayor of London, following consultation, that Piccadilly line trains will stop at Turnham Green when the line upgrade has taken place. This Government have provided £10 billion to Transport for London in this Parliament, supporting the biggest upgrade in the London underground for 60 years. Passengers using Turnham Green station will see real benefits, including a 24-hour service through the night on Fridays and Saturdays from later this month, and improvements to the District line in 2016 and 2018. As she asked, once the Piccadilly line has been upgraded, London Underground plans to stop trains at Turnham Green all day.

May I add my weight to the representations made by the shadow Leader of the House and other hon. Friends asking for an early statement from the Health Secretary about the future of the better care fund? I participated in a visit to look at a pilot in Greenwich in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), and there is another pilot in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns). It is important that we know about the futures of those pilots and the entire fund.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman planned his question but did not listen to the answer I just gave. There is no change in the planning for the better care fund. In response to what he and the shadow Leader of the House said, I should point out that this Government have taken the necessary steps to further integrate health and social care delivery. We made significant resources available to local authorities, in each of the first two years of this Parliament, to support social care-health service interaction. The health and wellbeing boards are creating a powerful structural mechanism to enable that to happen, and the better care fund will put the resources behind that capacity to deliver integrated care.

On state visits and certain other occasions—although, interestingly, not during the recent Irish state visit—flags of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom and the overseas territories are flown from Parliament square and then taken down. May we have a statement from the Culture Secretary on the possibility of flags of the constituent countries of the UK and the overseas territories flying full-term from Parliament square?

The hon. Gentleman is of course a noted vexillologist, a fact that I thought I should draw to the attention of the House.

Yes, and my hon. Friend has a considerable interest in heraldry as well.

Currently the flags of the Commonwealth are flown in Parliament square for Commonwealth day. Flags also fly on the square for Europe day and UN day, and the flags of the overseas territories and the Commonwealth dependencies fly for Trooping the Colour and London state visits. Any unscheduled flag-flying outside of designated days and ceremonial occasions in Parliament square would require the approval of both Buckingham palace and the Earl Marshal. Parliament square is also managed by the Greater London authority, which schedules events throughout the year, so there might be a loss of revenue if flags are flown throughout the year and access to the square is restricted. To that extent, I am afraid there is not a simple yes-no answer, but my hon. Friend asked an interesting question to which there is, I hope, an interesting answer.

It is clear from the Leader of the House’s statement that there are really only two reasons why the Government are staggering on. One is that they passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and the other is that not every Liberal Democrat has yet been given a knighthood, a damehood or a turn as a Government Minister. As it is so hard to kill zombies off, why does the Leader of the House not announce the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act so that we can put an end to this long night of the living dead?

On the contrary, the hon. Gentleman may have read the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee report of this week which, among other things, said the planning and certainty given by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has been very useful. When he hears the Queen’s Speech and sees the future legislative programme, he will see that this Government are using that certainty of being able to deliver a fourth Session programme very effectively.

Following reform of the common agricultural policy, farmers in my constituency are keen to know about, and have clarification on, the new greening rules. Will the Leader of the House make a statement so that farmers know what to expect and how to plan for the coming year?

I will, if I may, talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and see what they can say to provide the certainty that my hon. Friend and his farmers would appreciate.

The Leader of the House is obviously grappling with how to fill up the hours of the day and the days of the week. Instead of ending the Session next week, why does he not spend a week allowing as many private Members’ Bills and ten-minute rule Bills as possible to be debated? In that way, Parliament could become a real debating Chamber, enabling us to debate the issues that affect ordinary Members of this House rather than being sent into yet another recess because the Government have run out of business.

I am afraid that there is some kind of fantasy going on. Next week, I have announced three days of Government business—Report stages of three Bills. I did not notice the Labour party recognising that by the end of next week, as a consequence of commencing with more than one day on Report on three carry-over Bills, we will have had 11 Bills this Session that will have had more than one day for consideration on Report. There were only 10 Bills that had more than one day’s consideration on Report in the whole of the previous Parliament. I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that this Government are creating much better opportunities for legislative scrutiny.

A few weeks ago, a taxi driver in my constituency was subject to a violent alcohol-fuelled attack while working a night shift. Bearing in mind that last year saw a 5.8% increase in assaults on NHS workers, many of which occurred in night-shift time, can we have a debate about what further protections the Government can put in place to protect night workers so that they have a safe environment in which to carry out their business and be free from the threat of assault?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I know from my former interest in the health service that it is a matter of considerable concern to health workers that they are kept safe. Assaults on any of our public sector or emergency service workers, on whom we depend, should be treated very seriously. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but it strikes me as a subject that would merit one. Perhaps it would be helpful if my hon. Friend secured an Adjournment debate to discuss those issues.

We have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) concerns about the way in which Government consultations are being carried out. Does the Leader of the House accept that the public place a great deal of value on the quality of Government consultations, irrespective of the nature and type of Government, and on their open-mindedness, and so on? Does he therefore share my concerns that the consultation on the future of the Land Registry and 600 jobs in Plymouth appears, from board minutes, to have been a total sham? Will he ask the Business Secretary to come to this House and make a statement?

I will ask the Business Secretary to respond to the hon. Lady. I do not share her concerns about that matter. It is important to recognise that the Land Registry continues to make greater efficiencies and progress. She will have seen the written ministerial statement made today about the targets that are being set for the Land Registry’s future activities. That is important because of the service that it provides to people in this country.

Despite National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines suggesting that women up to the age of 42 should be allowed up to three rounds of in vitro fertilisation treatment, women in my local area are offered only one round of IVF treatment up to the age of 35 by the local clinical commissioning group. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on what is effectively a postcode lottery for fertility treatment in the UK?

My hon. Friend will no doubt recall that these are issues with which parts of the NHS have wrestled for a very long time. My view, and I think the view of the Government, is that clinical commissioning groups, in their responsibility for commissioning, should take full account of the NICE clinical guidelines. NICE has published fertility guidelines, which are not mandatory but are there for a reason. It should be recognised that the recommendation of three full cycles of IVF and the age limit is evidence based. Clinical commissioning groups should look to the evidence. If they do otherwise, large amounts of money will have been spent on investigations of infertility, but the opportunity to maximise the chances of conception in the IVF that follows will be undermined. It is important to use the resources that are used in the investigation to support proper treatment.

My constituent, Pete Woodcock, is unable to claim jobseeker’s allowance because of treatment for his advanced cancer, yet Atos says that his application for the personal independence payment will not be processed for at least five months. He writes that to make sure that his family can manage, he will be cancelling his treatment and will sign back on jobseeker’s this week. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to explain why PIP is performing so badly and to say what he is going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman and the House will know that the development of the personal independence payment system is proceeding in stages and it is important that we get it right. It is geared to the needs of people with disabilities far more than the previous system, under which they were often not subject to assessment for years on end. I recall that the figures for those with life-limiting illnesses showed that a high proportion of those assessments had been undertaken. However, I will look at the figures and ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions responds to him. I am sure that we would be grateful to have the details of any particular case so that we can respond to it.

I listened intently to the Leader of the House’s impressive list of legislative achievements, and, following yesterday’s debate, I look forward to the Immigration Bill joining that list, which should really improve our immigration system. However, now that we have listened to the shadow Leader of the House for a number of weeks, will the Leader of the House remind her and the House that this House’s job is not just to be a legislation factory? It is important that we take time to debate important issues, have question sessions and hold Ministers to account as well as passing legislation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The legislative achievement in the course of this Session has been impressive and the Immigration Bill and the Care Bill, which will, I hope, pass its final stages next week, will add substantially to that list of achievements. He is quite right, too, that our work goes beyond that. It has been depressing week on week to hear the shadow Leader of the House and other Opposition Members interpret debates nominated by the Backbench Business Committee and even their own Opposition day debates as of no consequence. Such debates are the essence of what we do in this place and the fact that in this Session we have been able to give the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee more days than we were required to while securing Royal Assent for some 20 Bills by the end of the Session is a good use of parliamentary time.

LUTS, the expert group in lower urinary tract symptoms, held awards this week highlighting best practice in incontinence management and treatment. May we have a debate on incontinence? It is a secret that affects one in five women and 40% of men, and there are dignified ways of managing and treating the affliction. May we discuss it so that people feel greater confidence in going to their GPs and seeking the help that is urgently needed?

If the hon. Lady and other Members were to seek such a debate, I think that would be a very good thing. The problem affects a large number of people and can be very distressing if it is not well managed. It can be well managed, however, and, from the male point of view, I remember visiting Southampton hospital and seeing some of the nurse-led research projects that went on there. It is doing work to change, update and modernise the technology to support men with incontinence that could and should have been done many years ago, because many of the technologies used for male incontinence are decades old.

Will the Leader of the House look into the fact that following the impressive renovation of the encaustic tiles in St Stephen’s Lobby, the spot that has traditionally marked the assassination of one of my predecessors, the Member for Northampton, Spencer Perceval, who was Prime Minister in 1812, has been removed? That is an important part of the history of Northampton and of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend look into that and perhaps find a replacement?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am sure that I have had the same experience as many other Members of reaching that part in my tour for constituents visiting the Palace and pointing out the tiles that are not in the proper formation. It was a way of enabling us to recall that event at that spot, but I will, if I may, discuss further with the House authorities what their thinking is in this regard and whether we can commemorate that unique event, unhappy as it was.

If Parliament prorogues early, which seems to be in the mind of the Leader of the House, it will be impossible for this House to be summoned, even if the Prime Minister wants it, even if the Leader of the House wants it, even if 649 Members of this House write to the Speaker and demand it, even if the Clerk of the House wants it. We will not be able to sit for three weeks, and during that time, first, there will be elections in Ukraine, which could well be an important flashpoint for NATO troops, let alone anybody else; and, secondly, the Prime Minister will have to decide who will be the British Commissioner, and how Britain will vote on replacements for Mr Van Rompuy and for the President of the European Commission. Would it not be better if we did not prorogue until the day before the Queen’s Speech, so that it was available for us to summon the House if necessary, to hold the Government to account?

The hon. Gentleman bases his proposition on the idea that we will prorogue early, and we have no intention of proroguing unless and until all the business that requires to be transacted in this Session has been completed.

I recently held a public meeting in my constituency so that the Environment Agency could update residents and businesses on the floods that followed the tidal surge in December. The agency is now making final plans to be submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Will the Leader of the House assure me that there will be a statement at that point?

Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raised the subject with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House in the recent pre-recess Adjournment debate. DEFRA Ministers will be continuing to develop further investment in flood defences, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will update the House both on that and on the lessons learned exercises as soon as he can.

Will the Leader of the House issue a statement explaining why a Government official who used to work for an investment bank involved in the Pfizer-AstraZeneca deal is leading the takeover negotiations, and whether that lack of independence is in the public’s interest?

I do not know of any civil servant who is in any sense compromised in relation to conflicts of interest. I do not think one can reasonably say that any relationship at any point in one’s past professional life necessarily constitutes a conflict years and years later. Civil servants are committed impartially to working on behalf of the Government. They have no conflicts of interest, or if they had any conflict of interest it would have to be declared.

Two years ago, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, the Food Labelling (Halal and Kosher Meat) Bill, to ensure the compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat at the point of sale. It was defeated by three votes—voted down largely by the politically correct brigade on the Labour Benches. As usual, I was ahead of my time, because the Leader of the House will appreciate that there is now widespread concern about the use among retailers of halal and kosher meat that is not labelled as such. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House to explain what the Government are doing to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice when they are making their purchases?

I do recall my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill and indeed he correctly anticipated what is clearly a continuing and emerging debate. I will, if I may, talk to our ministerial colleagues at DEFRA, but if he is able to—I am not sure quite how closely it will link—he may find an opportunity, on the first day on Report of the Consumer Rights Bill, to draw attention to these issues, because that Bill is very much about something that I am sure we all believe in, which is giving consumers not only rights, but the information on which they can base their purchasing decisions.

There is a sense of urgency about the need to strengthen the public interest test in the context of a further likely bid from Pfizer for AstraZeneca, and the country will expect the Government and the Opposition to work together on that issue. Will the Leader of the House commit to delaying Prorogation, so that we can make the time available to debate the actions required to deal with that situation and to legislate if necessary?

The hon. Lady will have heard my reply to the shadow Leader of the House. There is no formal bid from Pfizer for AstraZeneca. When the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) talks about the public interest test, she is no doubt referring to the wider public interest test which the previous Government removed from legislation when they introduced the Enterprise Act 2002. I remember it well because I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill at the time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills was very clear on Tuesday about not only his neutrality in relation to the two parties involved in this, but his open-mindedness about what steps the Government might take in relation to it.

Roadworks are badly affecting parts of my constituency and have been doing so for month after month, significantly affecting trade in nearby shops and businesses. May we have a debate on how local authorities can work with utility companies and developers to ensure that residents and businesses are consulted and fully informed about roadworks in advance?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point and he is right, as we try in many contexts to support our high streets and the traders and small businesses on them. One of the ways we can do that, which the Government have done, is to require greater notice of roadworks and for utility companies to work together in a more co-ordinated fashion, so that roads are not constantly dug up for one purpose, with someone else then coming along and digging them up for another. Giving notice and co-ordinating work is important, but I will ask my hon. Friends from the Department for Communities and Local Government to update him on anything else we are doing in this context to support high streets.

I was disappointed that the Leader of the House said nothing about the future programme for Westminster Hall in his statement, but he has had time to think about my question. Will he bring forward the Westminster Hall debates to 10 June? He has been eloquent about the need for this House to hold the Government to account. Here is an opportunity to show that he is right behind that.

The hon. Lady will understand that the provisions for sittings in Westminster Hall are determined by Standing Orders. It is not in my gift to change Standing Orders; it is a matter for the House, but as she rightly asks the question, I will look at what provisions in Standing Orders permit us to bring debates forward in Westminster Hall more speedily after the opening of a new Session.

Yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions the subject was raised of the deeply worrying lack of a pipeline of new antibiotics, owing to market failure. May we have a debate on how the UK, perhaps through the Department of Health and the Department for International Development, can take the lead in a global initiative to support the development of new antibiotics, similar to that which has been so successful in producing new malaria drugs?

My hon. Friend is right. The Prime Minister rightly stressed the importance of this, which he has discussed with the chief medical officer directly. The chief medical officer made an important report on the subject, in addition to her annual report. Last year we published the UK’s five-year anti-microbial resistance plan. That is world-leading, but it would be better if we were able to work with others. The World Health Organisation’s report gives us the basis on which to work with others at stimulating the necessary research to develop new antibiotics. If we can make sure that we use antibiotics more sensibly in the meantime, that will prolong far into the future the effective use of the existing supply of antibiotics, the stocks available and the kinds of antibiotics available at present.

Last Thursday in a debate on freedom of conscience and religion, a number of Members, including me, raised the issue of the abduction of the schoolgirls in northern Nigeria. We have had no opportunity to discuss this with a Minister, and the Foreign Secretary is not the only Minister in the Foreign Office. Bearing in mind that Prorogation approaches, may we please have a statement in the House on this issue so that we can ask questions of the Government and obtain some answers?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate from my previous answer that I am not at all unsympathetic, but I want to make sure that we look carefully with my colleagues to see when and how we can give the House the best opportunity to consider these issues.

Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), may I add my voice to the calls for a debate on the findings of the World Health Organisation’s report on the global issue of antibiotic resistance? It concluded that antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction for the future; it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone in any country.

My hon. Friend is right, and I know of his interest in the matter. This relates to our use of antibiotics not only in human health, but in animal health and how they interact. It is very important to get both right. He will understand from my previous answer that I hope we will take an international lead in trying to achieve a greater effect against anti-microbial resistance in future.

The Leader of the House has been clear that the better care fund will continue, so will he investigate why Whitehall sources are briefing the media that the fund is now at risk? What is the status of the Cabinet Office report that has been extensively quoted in the press? Will he place a copy of the report in the Library and be clear that it is not a statement of Government policy, because it is very worrying for councils across the country?

I think that I stated the position very clearly, and it is certainly not my intention to start speculating on who is talking to whom and whether or not they are talking to the press. That is not the responsibility of Ministers, and neither is talking about purported or actual leaks to the press.

My constituent Bill Baugh recently spoke to me about his involvement in No. 7 Squadron, which was formed at Farnborough airfield on 1 May 1914 and last week celebrated its centenary. As we approach the centenary of the first world war, may we have a debate on how we can share our constituents’ memories and stories about their involvement in both world wars, paying tribute to their service and sacrifice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to reiterate, as I have said in previous business questions, that I hope Members will have a further opportunity to share their constituents’ views on commemorating the great war before the House rises for the summer recess. Of course, there will be an opportunity in the coming years, not least from my constituency’s point of view, to commemorate the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps and its translation into the RAF at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford.

I support 100% the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). My constituents will be horrified to read reports in today’s newspapers that major high street supermarkets are selling halal and kosher meat without it being labelled as such. Although I recognise that certain faith groups require halal or kosher meat, surely it is perfectly reasonable to expect to know what we are buying. If the Consumer Rights Bill is the right vehicle to address the problem, can we look forward to a Government amendment to ensure that if the meat we buy is halal or kosher, it is labelled as such?

The point my hon. Friend makes is not unreasonable, in relation to the desirability of consumers knowing what they are buying, and it is the responsibility of producers and retailers to make that happen. I am not sure whether it would be in scope to debate that next Tuesday, and I am afraid that I cannot give him any comfort that the Government plan to table such an amendment. I hope that it will generally be the case that where consumers have an expectation, it should be met by producers and retailers; it should not have to be the subject of Government legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friends recognise that legislation is not the answer to all problems.