The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 23 June—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Deregulation Bill.
Tuesday 24 June—Remaining stages of the Wales Bill.
Wednesday 25 June—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be debates on Opposition motions, including on the subject of the private rented sector.
Thursday 26 June—General debate on the programme of commemoration for the first world war.
Friday 27 June—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 30 June will include:
Monday 30 June—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Tuesday 1 July—Motions to approve Ways and Means resolutions relating to the Finance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 2 July—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Finance Bill.
Thursday 3 July—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 July—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 26 June will be:
Thursday 26 June—Debate on the Seventh Report of the Administration Committee on migration statistics.
I know that Members from all parts of the House will have been pleased to hear of the honour that was granted to the Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Bristol South (Dame Dawn Primarolo), and the knighthoods that were awarded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). May I also congratulate Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, on the award of his KCB and all the other people, including those who are in the service of the House, who were granted awards in the Queen’s birthday honours list?
May I join the Leader of the House in congratulating all those who were honoured in the Queen’s honours list?
Iraq remains under violent siege by Islamic militants who seem set on overthrowing the Government, terrorising the population and dividing the country. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. Given that the Prime Minister said yesterday that as many as 400 British citizens could be fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement to be made on how the Government will co-ordinate across Departments to ensure that those fighters do not pose a risk to citizens if they return to the UK?
The Leader of the House has given us the business until two weeks before the summer recess. I calculate that since the end of the Queen’s Speech debate, just half of our time will have been spent on Government business. There is still no sign of the Commons Second Readings of any of the 11 Bills that were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Of the three Bills that are in the Lords, one recycles old promises, one is only four clauses long and the other is only half written because the Government have not finished their consultation on fracking. It is only thanks to Labour that we have had the chance to debate issues as crucial as the passport crisis and rising energy bills and rent. Does the Leader of the House agree with the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser that the Prime Minister has
“no priorities, focus or grip”?
Why did it take an Opposition day debate for the Home Secretary to apologise to the nearly 55,000 people whose holidays may have been ruined by her passport shambles? Will the Leader of the House tell us when we might start to see some of his new legislation appear?
Another issue mysteriously missing from the future business is the promised regulations on standardised packaging for tobacco. Health professionals want it, the public want it, all the evidence shows it will help, and Parliament has voted for it, but last week the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is responsible for public health, admitted that it is being blocked by No. 10. Does the hold-up have anything to do with the presence of Australian tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby at the heart of No. 10, and when does the Leader of the House intend to bring the regulations forward?
Each week, the gap between the Government’s rhetoric and reality just gets wider. During the flooding crisis in February the Prime Minister promised that money would be no object, but a report released by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Tuesday shows that instead of increasing spending on flood defences, the Government have cut funding by more than 17% in real terms, and that only 5% of the relief money that the Prime Minister promised farmers has been paid. That failure is no surprise when we have an Environment Secretary who does not believe in climate change, a Prime Minister who is more interested in public relations than results, and a chief of staff at No. 10 who has been described by the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser as a
“third-rate suck-up…sycophant presiding over a shambolic court.”
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the report in Government time, so that the Environment Secretary can take responsibility for his inaction?
This week’s “mind the gap” watch could go on all day. The Prime Minister promised to lead in Europe, but he is spending his time isolated and ridiculed. He pledged to transform the lives of 120,000 troubled families, but now we have learned that three quarters of those who have been through the programme have not been helped. His broken promise not to have a costly top-down reorganisation of the NHS has led to a GP recruitment crisis, missed cancer targets and more than a trebling in the number of NHS trusts in deficit. Does the Leader of the House agree, once more, with the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser that the Prime Minister is
“a sphinx without a riddle”
“bumbles from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose”?
I ask the Leader of the House again to arrange for a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, so that he can explain this Government’s complete inability to see through their promises.
I am sure the whole House would like to congratulate the rowers in the other place on their triumphant victory in the annual parliamentary boat race on the Thames last week. I understand that the Commons boat, which consisted entirely of coalition MPs, promised a great victory, but guess what? They failed to deliver, they did not work well as a team, they rowed slowly and in no particular direction, and as they reached the finishing line, they sank.
I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the forthcoming business.
The hon. Lady will have heard the statement on Iraq that the Foreign Secretary made on Monday, and he had the further opportunity to respond to Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday. Indeed, the debate that will follow business questions, on the statutory instrument relating to terrorism, will afford an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned, particularly the security threats that the Prime Minister referred to yesterday.
We regard the developments in Iraq as extremely serious, as I am sure the House will agree. Fighting continues in Baqubah and close to Baghdad, as well as in the north of the country. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a violent and brutal group, and we must ensure that we understand what is happening and how it is appropriate for us to respond. The debate on terrorism that is to follow will enable my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to amplify those points. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a further extension to our emergency support provided to refugees from that fighting, which the House will agree is tremendously important. The Foreign Secretary will continuously review whether it is necessary to make any further statement to the House.
Eleven Bills were announced in the Queen’s Speech—a substantial programme for a short Session. Three of those have been introduced in the Lords and three in this House. I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House said that we have spent only half our time on legislation, because only half the time is available to the Government for legislation. In a four-day week of Chamber consideration in the Commons, two days are available to the Government, one day to the Opposition and one to the Backbench Business Committee. What the hon. Lady says is a statement of the—how shall we put it?—obvious.
Most remarks by the shadow Leader of the House seem to have been constructed around an interview given to The Times by Dominic Cummings. Frankly, I do not agree with anything he said, and I suspect that I am joined by my colleagues wholeheartedly in that thought.
No, it is true—we do not agree with Dominic Cummings.
The hon. Lady asked about standardised packaging. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison) made a clear statement to the House, and that has not changed. The Government have decided to proceed with standardised packaging, and in due course we will bring forward the necessary regulation.
The hon. Lady asked about flooding, and we have often had that debate and demonstrated how we are making available additional resources to support flood defences. As I said in previous Business questions, my right hon. Friends in the Government are working on the lessons learned from the recent winter and the exceptional weather events, and on how we can improve resilience and recovery in the future. I hope that before the summer my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will have the opportunity to make a statement to the House on the lessons learned.
The hon. Lady made some assertions about the NHS. We have more GPs now than at the last election, and slightly more GPs per head of population. Health Education England has a mandate to secure 50% of doctors going through training to be GPs, and about £18 billion of efficiency savings have been achieved during this Parliament by this Government, in complete contrast to the Labour party. A pretty telling example is that in the year before the election, when Labour knew there was no money left, the administration costs of the NHS went up by 23% in one year. Since then, and by the end of this Parliament, we will have reduced NHS administration costs by one third, delivering a recurring £1.5 billion a year saving on administration. That is why we have 16,000 more clinical staff in the NHS than at the last election, and 19,000 fewer administrators.
The hon. Lady referred to the debates that the Opposition are bringing forward. Yes of course, but when it comes to the really big issues, they cannot have a debate. They cannot hold a debate on the economy, the deficit, jobs or welfare—Labour has failed to have a positive message on any of those topics because the Government are taking the necessary steps. Our long-term economic plan is working: the deficit is down, growth and jobs are up, unemployment is down, the welfare bill is under control, and this country is going in the right direction.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement next week to explain why Mr Deputy Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, is not a member of the selection panel for the new Clerk of the House? Is there not a conflict of interest in appointing the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) in his place, given that the Clerk is the accounting officer of the House and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is responsible for scrutinising the spending of public money?
My right hon. Friend asks an interesting question. I have to confess that I do not know if the point he raises was considered before an invitation was extended to the right hon. Member for Barking. Accounting officers are indeed held to account by the Public Accounts Committee, of which she is the Chair. Whether a conflict of interest therefore arises is something she will wish to consider.
The Leader of the House will know that the Serious Fraud Office is a total shambles. It is in all our interests to have an efficient and effective Serious Fraud Office that is properly resourced and properly manned. May we have a debate on the future of the SFO? The real danger of a weak SFO is that it relies far too much on big accountancy firms, such as Grant Thornton and KPMG, and that is not healthy for our democratic or legal process.
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman asserts to be the case. The National Crime Agency, legislated for by this Government and now operating successfully, includes among its objectives tackling economic crime and major fraud. The evidence is that the NCA is making a substantial improvement on past arrangements to tackle serious and organised crime.
On a number of occasions I have raised failures of child protection services, including, sadly, in my own county of Somerset. However, the proposals in the consultation paper for the part-privatisation of the service are not the answer. I do not know whether this is another of Dominic Cummings’s brilliant wheezes, but will the Secretary of State for Education come to the House and say clearly that that will not happen under a coalition Government?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the consultation on plans relating to children’s social care functions has just recently finished. It is not a proposal for privatisation, but a means by which local authorities have the discretion—not a requirement, but a discretion—to delegate additional functions to third parties, including child protection. That will, of course, give rise to opportunities for mutual organisations and charities to bring innovation. We have seen in recent years, in many aspects of public service, that that can be very beneficial.
It was reported this week that the problem of A and E departments being overwhelmed by drunken patients is now not just a weekend phenomenon, but is spreading through the week. There are suggestions that such patients should not be admitted to A and E, but dealt with separately in specialist drunk units. When will the Government accept that Britain’s alcohol problem is serious? May we have a debate on the need for comprehensive legislation to deal with this growing national problem?
The hon. Gentleman will recall the alcohol plan, with which I was directly associated, that was announced by the Home Secretary. When I was Secretary of State for Health, we looked at the issues relating to so-called “drunk tanks”. We did not proceed with them, because of the dangers of mistakenly identifying somebody as drunk in circumstances where they are suffering a clinical condition that requires clinical treatment. As for whether we have an alcohol problem, yes we do. It is not so much about the overall consumption of alcohol, which is coming down—that is positive—but the abusive use of alcohol. Many of the measures in the alcohol action plan focus on that.
Can my right hon. Friend please find time for a debate on the west coast main line franchise and today’s good news that Virgin will continue to operate its excellent service right up to 2018, which this time will include, we think, a direct service from Blackpool to London, ensuring that hard-working families and others in my constituency can have a direct route from the coastal town to London?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the written ministerial statement that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made to the House this morning about the extension of the west coast main line franchise. Recent further announcements on franchises are bringing positive developments for passengers, which shows that this Government are now using the franchising process positively to benefit passengers.
The Leader of the House will recall that a couple of weeks ago I asked him about the mutual defence agreement with the United States. Will he give us an opportunity for a full debate about it, so that we can examine the details of this agreement?
I will ensure that either I or a Minister in the relevant Department writes to the hon. Gentleman about that matter. However, he will have noted, if he was in his place, that a debate on defence spending will take place later today. I am sure it would not be regarded as out of order for him to make the points he wishes to make then and to ask that question again.
Many of my constituents who run small businesses are coming to me more and more frequently to complain about how business rates are calculated, which is leading to crippling charges that in many cases result in shops emptying. Will my right hon. Friend give us a debate on this vexed topic in the near future, which is affecting many businesses, not least in my constituency, but also right across the country?
Business rates are something on which this Government have focused positively and intensively, which is why small businesses benefit from rate relief. It is also one of the reasons why we have taken steps to ensure that the business rate burden is ameliorated for small businesses. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond to my hon. Friend’s point about valuation issues.
There is another Government shambles, with delays to personal independence payments. Although I have had great help from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), and Jayne Benton in the Department for Work and Pensions, the delays to payments are causing untold misery to my constituents, including the injured firefighter who waited 52 weeks for payment, and there are many people suffering in silence. Can we please have an urgent debate on the PIP debacle?
I remind the hon. Lady that Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions will be responding to questions on Monday. However, I am afraid that I do not agree with her description of what is happening with personal independence payments. It is tremendously important for us to move to a much better system of assessment—disability living allowance was never reviewed or properly assessed. Modest numbers are going through at the moment, but the plan is for large numbers of those requiring to be assessed to be assessed by 2018. In particular, one must bear in mind that those awaiting assessment are generally in receipt of support, including through the continuation of DLA or the employment and support allowance.
Around 3,000 horses are currently on land without consent in England and Wales, and there is still no low-cost legal remedy for landowners to address the problem. Can we have a debate on whether fly-grazing should be made a criminal offence, so that action can be taken swiftly and offenders brought to justice? In addition, we can draw on the experience of the Welsh Assembly, which has enacted the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014, which provides all Welsh local authorities with powers to seize and impound horses.
From my own constituency, I know of precisely the kind of circumstances to which my hon. Friend refers, which can be very distressing to a local community. We do not believe it is necessarily a solution to give local authorities powers to remove horses and kill them at public expense. We need to tackle the perpetrators directly. We need a co-ordinated and co-operative approach, using the available legislation. There is some legislation that was previously available, but there are also new measures to tackle antisocial behaviour that will soon become available, following the legislation passed in the last Session. I hope that will enable us to act more effectively in relation to those responsible for fly-grazing.
May I press the Leader of the House for an urgent statement on the issue, raised by the shadow Leader of the House, of the number of British citizens fighting abroad? Information from Iraq this morning suggests that 400 are currently fighting there, and if we add that to the 400 identified as fighting in Syria, it becomes a very large number of people. This is separate from a discussion about the security situation in Iraq or indeed the proscription of ISIS, which will be debated later today. May we please have a statement on how we can stop our citizens going to fight abroad?
I completely understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point that there is a distinct issue here—a very important one, as the Prime Minister made perfectly clear yesterday—and we take it extremely seriously. It is linked, of course, to the question of the proscription and the more general debate about the situation in Iraq, but the issue of people going from this country to fight, the training they receive and their returning to this country, is a very important one. I cannot promise an immediate statement or debate, but we keep the issue very much in mind, and we will keep the House updated. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the House of Lords is currently considering legislation that includes measures to make the planning of terrorist attacks abroad a criminal offence in this country. That will give us more direct powers to deal with the issue.
Will the Leader of the House look at providing an urgent debate on the importance of having regular elections? He may not be aware that the senior Labour peer, the noble Lord Grocott, has a Bill in the other place that would repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, but leave no mechanism for dissolving Parliament and no mechanism for having elections at any point. Although that would lead to the remarkably positive result that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be in power for ever, the British public might occasionally like a general election!
My goodness, what my hon. Friend says sounds jolly tempting. I am surprised that the noble Lord Grocott considered it wise to legislate in such a way. Perhaps he and the Labour party are rather worried by the prospect of elections and the dangers they might represent. I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that we in the coalition Government are not frightened of elections and we have no intention of returning to a “Long Parliament”, as it were.
Last week, BBC Radio Humberside and the Hull Daily Mail were reporting a scam alleging that the bedroom tax had been abolished and asking for people’s personal information so that refunds of their payments could be made. May we have a debate to make it clear that this bedroom tax policy was supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and that it will be abolished only with the return of a Labour Government in 2015?
I find the scam to which the hon. Lady refers shocking: people should not be exploited in that way, and I am sure that we agree on that. The trading standards department of her local authority might be in a position to take some action against it. The policy, however, is straightforward. It is about dealing with under-occupancy so that large numbers of people who are trying to access social housing will have an opportunity to do so through the better use of our social housing stock.
I echo the call for a debate on developments in the middle east, which are arguably more significant than the events we have seen unfold in Ukraine. Britain is not isolated: we are very much affected by the diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and military issues that are for this place to consider, and who knows when the Executive might seek Parliament’s support in designing any response?
As my hon. Friend will know, the Foreign Secretary took immediate steps to update the House on Monday. I cannot promise an immediate debate on Syria and Iraq, because, contrary to what was implied by the shadow Leader of the House, there is legislative pressure on Government time. However, I will discuss the matter with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. We have given the Committee time in which to arrange debates on issues that are considered important by Members in all parts of the House, and I have understood from Members that they feel the need for a debate on Syria and Iraq.
We recently marked the 30th anniversary of the Indian Government’s attack on the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister set up an internal inquiry into allegations of collusion between the Thatcher and Gandhi Governments at the time. The inquiry was limited and internal, it did not include publication of all the documents, and it has not gained the confidence of the Sikh community in Britain, who have now launched a call for an independent, judge-led inquiry into the whole affair. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement in response to the Sikh community’s request?
The hon. Gentleman will recall the Foreign Secretary’s statement to the House following the Cabinet Secretary’s report. I saw the report and the papers associated with it, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman did. The Foreign Secretary made clear that the report constituted a comprehensive and conclusive response to the issues that had been raised, and I do not currently expect any further statement to be made.
Next Monday, the House will debate the Report stage and Third Reading of the Deregulation Bill. My right hon. Friend will have noted that our hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) have tabled a number of new clauses which, if passed, would completely deregulate Sunday trading. I must tell my right hon. Friend that any such move by the House would be seen by the Church of England—and, I am sure, by many other faith groups—as an act of bad faith on the part of Parliament. The present Sunday trading arrangements arose from a series of compromises that were agreed in the mid-1990s to strike a balance between keeping Sunday special and enabling more stores and shops to open on Sundays. I should welcome my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that if you, Mr Speaker, select any of the new clauses for debate, they will be resisted by the Government.
I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House would respond on behalf of the Government if the new clauses were to be debated. I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government believe that the current position constitutes a reasonable balance between some people’s wish for more opportunities to shop in large stores on Sundays and the desire of others for further restrictions, and that we are therefore not minded to legislate for further liberalisation.
The issue of passports was aired in the House yesterday, but we did not receive an answer from the Prime Minister to my question about the Passport Office. It would be helpful to hear some sort of statement about the matter. I should like to know why the Passport Office, which is providing such a terrible service, is being run not as a service to the public, but as a cash cow for the Chancellor. Last year, it made a £73 million profit.
Actually, I think that I did hear an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. The purpose of any agency of that kind is to cover its costs. Its charges should be set, and prudential levels of surplus will enable it to cover those costs. There would be no merit in running it in any other way.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Passport Office was being run as a service to the public. It is, absolutely. As is clear from the answers given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary during yesterday’s debate, substantial steps are being taken—through the helpline, the provision of additional front-line staff, and the waiving of charges for urgent applications when people have to travel—to ensure that the service to the public is achieved as we wish it to be.
Last week a tribunal judge gave the nuisance call industry the green light to cause misery to millions by deciding that the sending of illegal and unsolicited texts on an industrial scale failed to cause
“serious harm or serious distress”.
On 30 March, the Government published an action plan that included measures to deal with the problem. May we have a statement from a Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport outlining what progress has been made, and when we can expect less planning and more action?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions and it is of importance to Members and their constituents. As he rightly says, the Government brought forward the action plan on 30 March. We are continuing to look, together with the regulators, at how the system of penalties for those breaking the code can act as the necessary disincentive to this kind of behaviour. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when they think it might be appropriate to update the House and how we might do so.
The Leader of the House will be aware that thalidomide is still an issue, especially as the victims get older and face new problems. May we have a debate on how best to help these people and, linked to that, a debate on a national birth register?
If I may, I will seek an answer for the hon. Gentleman in relation to the Government’s view on the national birth register. On support for those suffering from the consequences of thalidomide treatment, he will remember that when I was Health Secretary we made a very substantial settlement. In my view, that put the position where we would want it to be, and I do not know that there was more we needed to do at that time. Clearly, from the NHS point of view, those who are older who are living with the consequences of thalidomide treatment in the past often have increasing requirements, and the question is the extent to which the NHS can support those.
This week Salisbury city football club was faced with demotion and a funding crisis when one of its new owners failed to deliver on his promises, despite the Football Association waving him through a fit and proper person test. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on football governance so other small clubs across the country like Salisbury do not have to pay the price for this failure of proper governance?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He will know that football authorities collectively have introduced more checks and greater requirements around the owners and directors test, particularly at premier league and football league level, and that does support responsible ownership. In the case of Salisbury whites, the football conference took steps it believed to be appropriate to establish the club’s funding capability and its decision was to regulate the club. The conference has rigorous financial regulations in place, developed in conjunction with the FA. That has seen a substantial reduction in debt in the conference in recent years, but many Members feel that there is a case for a debate. A request for such a debate on non-league football was made to the Backbench Business Committee towards the end of the last Session. I will discuss with the BBC whether it would wish for that debate to take place soon. That may be of interest to Members across the House.
Yesterday my constituents suffered the inconvenience and disruption of three trains in a row being cancelled. Sadly, this has been a more regular occurrence in recent years. May we have a debate in Government time on commuter rail services? It is not just that there are short franchises leading to a lack of investment and a poor service; the reality is that we are having real difficulty in getting anything like the service that is claimed to be provided. May we have a debate on this as a matter of urgency?
I will, if I may, ask Transport Ministers to address the specific points about the hon. Gentleman’s line and the circumstances that led to that loss of service. He will be aware that some of the recent franchise announcements have related to Greater Anglia, the line that serves north London and beyond, including my constituency. From my point of view, the level of service running into King’s Cross that has been achieved most recently has been satisfactory. Indeed, the capacity increases in prospect under the new franchise should make the experience of passengers considerably better.
The whole House will have been disturbed by the figures released this week on the under-educational achievement of white working-class boys and girls, particularly in attaining five good GCSE levels. May we have a debate on how free schools in particular can bridge the ethnic education gap and, more broadly, about how we can help parents engage with their children’s education?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting and important point. It is a good question to ask today because we have just heard from the Department for Education that approval has been given for 38 additional free schools. That is very encouraging news for parents as it will help them gain access to the schools they want and the places they want with the character they are looking for, and it will help us to drive up standards. The Education Committee makes some important points in its report, to which the Government will respond. I take pride in the fact that this coalition Government have ensured that more than a quarter of a million fewer children are being taught in failing schools.
May we have a debate on the accuracy of information provided on Government websites, particularly on the Home Office website? We heard yesterday in the debate on the passport crisis of many constituents being misled about processing times. Despite the Home Secretary’s very lengthy statement, we are none the clearer on processing times, what constitutes a straightforward application and who is eligible for compensation. Does the Leader of House agree that our constituents have a right to get that information accurately—and now—on Government websites?
I am sorry but I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was here for the statement and much of the debate, and I heard the Home Secretary accurately describe in terms what is on the Home Office website. She characterised the information as a promise of a straightforward application being achieved in three weeks. She quoted precisely from the website, which makes it very clear that that cannot be guaranteed in circumstances where additional questions have to be raised. The Home Office website is clear and the Home Secretary, in what she said yesterday, was absolutely clear about the number of passports that are currently a work in progress and the number that are in excess of the three-week objective.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which states that I have shares in the company, Polity Communications. I am also chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment. Sir Terry Farrell has undertaken a review of architectural policy for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently. May we please have a debate on the future of architectural design as a real basis of our building for a significant amount of our heritage in the future?
I am aware of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the important work it does in advising on the developments that are coming forward. We do have opportunities, not least in relation to new settlements and prospective garden cities, not only to reflect the successful design concepts in architecture of the past but to establish something in the 21st century that will be part of our architectural heritage for the future. As far as a debate is concerned, the subject might lend itself to an application for an Adjournment debate.
Tomorrow is national care home open day, and I will visit several homes in Harrogate and Knaresborough. Caring for those suffering from dementia is a major challenge in the care sector. We know that one in three people aged over 85 suffers some form of cognitive impairment. There has been a positive announcement today about the UK commitment to research into treatments, but any such treatment is still a long way off. Please may we have a debate about caring for those who are suffering from dementia in care homes; the support available in the community to help people stay in their own homes longer; and how we can make our society more dementia friendly?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am glad that he has drawn attention to the good work that is done in care homes. Too often, I fear, people hear about the occasions on which the quality in care homes fails, but many care homes do first-class work and provide an important environment for people who cannot look after themselves at home.
Dementia is one of the main reasons such care is required. I was proud to launch the challenge on dementia with the Prime Minister in early 2012, and a major step is being taken today towards global action to promote dementia research. That is tremendously important. As my hon. Friend says, creating more dementia-friendly communities is equally important, and we are making tremendous progress on that. Some communities across the country are leaders, and I hope that many communities will follow them in providing dementia-friendly support to people.
The UK Independence party is proud of its newly formed alliance with a Swedish party that was founded by white supremacists, one of whom is a former member of the Waffen SS. Not to be outdone, the Tory party’s latest ally in Europe is a Dutch party that banned women from its membership until 2006. May we have a debate on whether those alliances are an example of what the Prime Minister means by “British values”?
At the Dispatch Box, I speak on behalf of the Government. The hon. Gentleman referred to matters in the European Parliament; they are not the responsibility of the Government. [Interruption.] I speak here as Leader of the House, and for the Government. As it happens, speaking personally, I would not draw the same conclusions as the hon. Gentleman did. It is important for us to look carefully at the relationships in the European Parliament, and I think that UKIP needs to reflect carefully on the relationships it is forming.
The Leader of the House may be aware that together with our hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and five other colleagues across the Chamber, I have written to the Home Secretary to ask for an independent inquiry into historic child abuse. That call has already been taken up by more than 70 hon. Members from across the House. Given that new stories emerge almost daily of grotesque abuse of children going back to the ’60s, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that such an inquiry was held, and will he give time for a debate in the House to set the scene for it?
My hon. Friend has done important work on tackling those issues. He will be aware of the range of inquiries that have taken place, some of which, I hope, are approaching a conclusion. As the Prime Minister has said and recently reiterated to the House, we have not been persuaded of the case for an overarching inquiry; indeed, we feel that there is a significant risk that such an inquiry might impede and delay the resolution of some of the issues in the separate inquiries that are taking place. As the Prime Minister rightly said, however, he will continue actively to keep the question under review.
The Government have allowed a situation to arise whereby Swansea prison now holds twice as many prisoners as it was designed for, which the chief inspector of prisons describes as a “political and policy failure”. Can we have a proper debate in Government time on prison policy?
I do not think that there is a case for a debate, because I do not think that the case that the hon. Lady makes was sustained in the questioning that took place on an urgent question on the subject earlier this week. On the contrary, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice set out clearly the number of spare places across the prison estate; the reasons for the increase in the prison population; and the steps that we are taking to deal with any capacity issues that might arise, including plans for an additional 2,000 places to be made available over the next nine months. He set out the position clearly to the House, and that does not give rise to any further requirement for debate.
On Tuesday, the Punjab police force took action to remove security barriers around the Minhaj-ul-Quran headquarters and the home of Dr Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri in Lahore. Eight people are confirmed dead and many of the injured remain in hospital. This incident has caused outrage not just across Pakistan but across the Pakistani community living in the UK, so may we have a debate on what happened and on what pressure the UK Government can bring to bear on the Pakistani Government to ensure that a full inquiry is held?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Government are concerned by the reports of injuries and deaths of protestors in Lahore on Tuesday. We urge restraint by all and call for calm. It is important, as he suggests, to ensure that the full facts are understood and we understand that the Chief Minister of Punjab has announced a judicial inquiry into the events.
Many coalfield MPs will recently have had the bittersweet experience of attending commemorative events of the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, and the memories are bittersweet. That has coincided with the publication of the official papers after 30 years, which have disclosed that there was—this was denied at the time, but is now clearly evidenced—a hit list of pit closures and allegations of collusion between the police and the state. Is it not now time for an inquiry, and will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Floor of the House? This will not go away.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have no knowledge of any intention to have such an inquiry. I say that without prejudice, of course, because, as he will be aware, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is continuing to consider the requests for an inquiry into matters at Orgreave. The hon. Gentleman’s reference is more general, and we are seeing the disclosure of public documents, as is the nature of events, but I would not interpret what happened in the way that he does. People will make their own judgments on the basis of the evidence as disclosed in the publication of the Government papers.
As the England football team continue their quest for glory, supported as we know by The Sun, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the controversy surrounding that newspaper’s free circular? That will give the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to speak as well as offering those Labour Members who went in a delegation to him to complain—a delegation that might have included the shadow Leader of the House—the chance to put their views on the record.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend in extending our best wishes to the England team as they take on Uruguay this evening. I will be rooting for them. I noted that in her generally humorous remarks the shadow Leader of the House did not see occasion to poke fun at her own leader—
Yes, well—it is my job to answer questions. The hon. Lady did not even see it as an occasion to poke fun at the deputy leader of the Labour party, who seems to have contrived a position in which it was right both to have been in the picture in the first place and to have apologised for that. That seems to me to be a very curious position to have arrived at.
May I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I visited the west bank last year? The security of the Jordan valley is controlled by Israel, as the Israeli Government insist that they have significant security concerns about the misuse of the area should they relinquish control. That view is now justified following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers last week, possibly to be used in a swap such as that which occurred with Gilad Shalit. Given that only a return to direct peace talks can achieve a peace deal, may we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to say what the British Government are doing as part of the Quartet in seeking such a deal?
I know that my hon. Friend reflects the sense of distress that will have been felt by many in Israel and more widely about the kidnapping of teenagers in that way. That calls for condemnation and the House and the Government condemn the abduction in the strongest terms and call for the release of the teenagers to their families as soon as possible. Obviously, this is not strictly a matter for this Government but it is something about which we feel strongly and on which we have called for action.