The business for next will be:
Monday 12 January—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill, followed by a motion to approve a carry-over extension on the Consumer Rights Bill.
Tuesday 13 January—Debate on a motion relating to the charter for budget responsibility, followed by a debate on a motion relating to national policy statement on national networks, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, followed by a motion to approve a carry-over extension on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, followed by a motion to approve a carry-over extension on the Deregulation Bill.
Wednesday 14 January—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 15 January—Debate on a motion relating to contaminated blood, followed by debate on a motion relating to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 16 January—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 January will include:
Monday 19 January—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 15 January will be:
Thursday 15 January—General debate on national commissioning of NHS specialised services.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. In the aftermath of yesterday’s atrocity in Paris, I add my voice to the many who have already expressed their shock and anger at this attack on democracy and free speech. This House, of course, stands in solidarity with the French people and we send our heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who were so brutally murdered.
Despite the appalling events of yesterday, I would still like to take this opportunity to wish the whole House a very happy new year and say that I hope the Leader of the House has had a rest over the Christmas period. Judging from the Government’s meagre future business in what is left of this zombie Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman seems to want to extend the period of rest for a few more weeks yet. I hear that the Government Chief Whip, not satisfied with introducing a three-day week for Government Members, has now decided to slim it down to two days for his worried Back Benchers. I suggest that he should be sent as an envoy to the Lords, who this week were forced to debate how to reduce the number of peers attending their House because so many coalition cronies have been crammed into it that it is bursting at the seams. Perhaps a two-day week would be the answer for them too.
Before Christmas, the Governance Committee produced a series of responsible and sensible suggestions and proposals for reforms. It is vital for the new management system to be implemented before the end of this Parliament. I note that the Leader of the House did not announce a date for a debate on the report. Will he confirm that we will consider it very soon, and will he ensure that the House has an opportunity to vote to implement its recommendations rather than merely taking note of them?
The general election campaign seems to have kicked off this week, and I am afraid that the Leader of the House has not had the most auspicious of starts. On Monday he flashed his briefing note at the cameras, and inadvertently revealed secret Tory plans to slash the schools budget after the next election. Perhaps he will now come clean and tell us what cuts that briefing note was trying to hide—or was the Liberal Democrat Education Minister right when he revealed that if the Tories win, they will cut the education budget by a quarter?
At the same press conference, the Chancellor told us that the choice at the general election was between competence and chaos, and on that one issue I actually agree with him. So let us see how the Government are doing on competence. Last year began with severe flooding in the south-west, which they did not even seem to notice until the Somerset levels had been under water for weeks and the hue and cry became too loud to ignore. Then we had the fiasco at the Passport Office when tens of thousands of passport applications were delayed, which caused considerable anxiety and extra cost and ruined many holidays. We have had the ongoing saga of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has been in denial about the fiasco that is universal credit implementation—now very late and hugely over budget. On the deficit, the Government have missed every target and broken every promise, borrowing £200 billion more than they promised at the start of the current Parliament.
The year has ended with chaos on the railways, and our NHS in crisis. Not content with wasting hundreds of millions on botched rail franchise competitions, the Department for Transport topped even that over Christmas, when thousands of travellers were left stranded, separated from their families and herded around stations like cattle—but the railways Minister toasted the success of rail repairs in her Christmas message, and said she was “chuffed” that there was
“light at the end of the tunnel”.
In the last year, the Government have breached half the service standards that they enshrined in the NHS constitution. In A and E, nearly half a million people have been left waiting more than four hours for treatment—the worst waiting time since records began—while the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are in denial. If all that is the Chancellor’s definition of competence, we have to wonder what on earth chaos would look like.
Will the Leader of the House grant us a debate on the competence of the Government, and, while we are at it, may we also debate the chaos of the coalition election launches? First we had the Tory campaign poster, a barren road to nowhere which the Chancellor stubbornly insisted was
“a British picture, a British road”.
Actually, it turned out to be in Germany, which presumably explains why there were no potholes in it. Then we had the Liberal Democrats promising to be the heart and spine of any future Government. Well, while we are all in favour of organ donation, it is surely impossible to donate something that you do not already possess.
And then we had the Leader of the House and his colleagues, the least exciting five-piece ever to take the stage. Their fan base is in decline, and they are all jostling to be the lead singer—except the Leader of the House, who is leaving the band. It was not so much One Direction as No Direction.
On the solemn note on which the hon. Lady began, I absolutely join her, as will the whole House, in condemnation of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France are very much in the thoughts of this House and of the British people today. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will, of course, offer all possible assistance to our colleagues in France. I think this attack will only redouble the determination of people in Britain, France and across the world to defend freedom of speech, because that is clearly what is at stake here.
The hon. Lady said that, despite that, it was appropriate to wish a happy new year. I am not sure why she thought I particularly needed a rest over the new year, but I join in wishing her a happy a new year. It will, however, still be a year for a considerable amount of work in this House. The hon. Lady used the phrase “zombie Parliament”, and I ought to point out that in this Parliament we will actually sit for 734 days, which is more than the 718 days of the five-year Parliament under the last Government, and that in this Session we are considering, including the Bill to be introduced today, 23 Government Bills, compared with 13 main programme Bills under the Labour party in the last Session of the last Parliament. In the penultimate Session of the last Parliament there were 18 Government Bills, whereas there were 20 in this Parliament. I therefore do not think the Opposition have much to crow about in that regard. The Bills we are considering are not only numerous, but they include the Pension Schemes Bill, which is giving people a freedom on retirement that they never enjoyed under any previous Administration, a small business Bill, which is very good for entrepreneurs, and an Infrastructure Bill, which is giving another multi-billion pound boost to our economy, and these are things that the Opposition do not seem to think are necessary or desirable. That is what is happening in this Session of Parliament.
The hon. Lady asked about the very important report on the governance of the House. I certainly intend that that will be debated soon—almost certainly in the week after next, although I have not been able to announce the full business for that week. That will mean that debate can take place after the meeting of the House of Commons Commission, which, as she knows, will also take place that week, on the 19th. I am sure the House will want to make a decision about how to proceed with this, rather than, as she said, just take note of matters. A great deal of work has gone on in the Governance Committee. It has been very good work, as I am sure the House will agree, and we do now need to get on with implementing many of the conclusions of that report.
The hon. Lady asked about various aspects of political campaigning and advertising in the last week, including a road in Germany. We know that what the Opposition would lead us to is the road to Greece—not the road to Germany, but the road to the deficit of more than 10% of GDP that they left us with.
I am happy to read out to the hon. Lady the note that the press noticed me carrying:
“In this Parliament, we’ve shown that we can protect the front line by making the Education budget more efficient and effective…But putting the economy at risk because Ed Miliband doesn’t have an economic plan, Labour would put our schools at risk.”
I am very happy to read that out to her, but I do not think she can lecture us about competence when the rebuttal document from the Opposition to what we said on Monday first of all confused a “million” with a “billion” three separate times, which does not inspire confidence as to how they would make any numbers add up, and asserted that one of their spokesmen was only a Back-Bench peer, the noble Lord Rosser, when he turns out to have been on their Front Bench for five years now without them even being aware of it in their own party headquarters. So telling us about competence after such a document may not be a very appropriate way to start the new year. Labour has also been forced to drop 12 policies in their entirety over the course of this week. It is too long a list for me to go through them all—
Well, the list is too long for me to go through them all, but a proposal to ban food waste from landfill was dropped within minutes of Monday’s press conference. Bringing back Care First—[Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says that that has never been Labour’s policy, but according to her colleagues it was. Other policies that were dropped include additional funding for a national refuge fund; justice reforms for 18 to 20-year-olds; a women’s justice board; and reinstating Cycling England. Also, Labour’s opposition to reductions in the Arts Council budget was dropped within hours of Monday’s press conference. So competence has not really been on display from the Opposition this week. I notice that, over the recess, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)—I can say this because he is here—gave a very good analysis of the Labour leadership, saying:
“We’ve got an elite which quite frankly frightens me. They haven’t been anywhere or done anything, and when you’ve got an accent like mine, they think, ‘Well, that man doesn’t really know too much’.”
Well, on the basis of that, I think he knows quite a lot. It is time the Labour leadership listened more attentively to the hon. Gentleman’s views on that and perhaps on other things.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said about an early debate on the governance report. I would be grateful if he could tell us, as a footnote to the question from the shadow Leader of the House, what has happened to the recommendation in paragraph 186, which states:
“We therefore recommend that the ‘paused’ recruitment process be formally terminated. We believe that this action should be taken immediately.”
In his own White Paper, “The implications of devolution for England”, my right hon. Friend has indicated that he would welcome an early debate and a vote on this matter. When he has narrowed down the options, will he give us an idea of the timetable for this? May we have such a debate before the February recess?
On my right hon. Friend’s second question, I certainly hope that we can do so, but there will need to be consultation between the parties about the nature of such a debate as well as its timing. However, I certainly hope that we can have such a debate and, if possible, have it before the February recess, although I cannot rule out it having to be later than that.
On my right hon. Friend’s first point, the implementation of that recommendation of the Governance Committee is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, but I know that it will be possible to discuss these things in the forthcoming meeting of the House of Commons Commission and in the debate.
I have been prompted to ask for a debate by something the Prime Minister said this week. He seemed to suggest that there were too many old people in this country, and that that was the reason behind the problems in accident and emergency departments in the national health service. That kind of ageism seems to be creeping into our society.
We have debates in the House on many “isms”, and it is about time we took ageism seriously. May we have an early debate on how we can keep the older population in this country happy and healthy? They are very important electors and very important citizens.
I think all of us, including the Prime Minister, are opposed to ageism, and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) has just loudly proclaimed his opposition to it. We have just lost the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) from the Chamber but I am sure that he, too, would have agreed strongly with these sentiments. He is an advertisement for great activity in slightly older age.
Of course no one is blaming older people for the problems that have been experienced in A and E departments. We now have almost 1,200 more A and E doctors, including 400 more consultants, than we had in 2010, and they are trying to cope with the pressures. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) makes a good case for discussing ageism and for combating it; I fully agree with him.
A car is a necessity, not a luxury, in the Ribble valley. It is a rural area, as the Leader of the House knows, and many hard-pressed motorists are now benefiting from the fact that petrol prices have dropped. They have not dropped enough, however; petrol should now be about £1 a litre. May we have a debate on fuel prices so that we can not only shame those organisations that are not fully passing on the price reductions but propose that if they do not do so now, the Government will consider imposing a windfall tax on their profits?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor has stressed the importance of this matter. As the Chancellor said on Tuesday, the oil price is now at its lowest in five years, and it is vital that this is passed on to families at the petrol pumps, and though utility bills and air fares. The Government are closely monitoring whether companies are passing on to their customers the benefits of plunging oil and gas prices as quickly as possible. Let me add that Ofgem has referred the gas and electricity markets to the competition authorities to ensure that those markets are working effectively, and it has made it clear that it will be looking at the relationship between wholesale costs and retail prices as part of its investigation.
The Leader of the House will know that the Cabinet Office has recently published its list of upcoming triennial reviews of non-departmental public bodies, helpfully pointing out that they will take six months from start to finish. Will he therefore ask the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) to come to this House to explain why the triennial review for the Marine Management Organisation, which closed in October 2013, with publication due in early 2014—a response to a parliamentary question then said it would be published before the end of 2014—has still not been published? This is the subject of a cross-party request for an investigation into the quality of data, and fishers in my constituency are being affected. Will the Leader of the House please explain what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Government are hiding?
That is, of course, a question directly for the DEFRA Ministers, and the hon. Lady will have opportunities to ask them directly. I am sure she has done so before, so I encourage her to do that again, but I will make it clear to them the concern that she and other Members have about this matter.
Yesterday, my Committee deeply deplored the fact that the Prime Minister, despite promises given, provided a mere written statement regarding the most recent European Council. That is greatly to be deplored, but another matter of grave concern to my Committee is the failure to schedule debates on the Floor of the House and to carry those through. I recently asked a similar question of the Leader of the House and he said that he would try to do something about this. We have only recommended 11 debates, including on matters as important as the free movement of persons—that has not been debated, despite the fact that we made the recommendation one whole year ago. It simply will not do. In the circumstances, will he agree to appear before my Committee to explain the situation, because, frankly, we have just about had enough?
On the first point about a written statement, the Prime Minister has a very strong record in coming to the House to deliver statements, including after the great majority of European Councils. As my hon. Friend knows, this particular Council meeting took place after the end of Parliament’s sitting, so it would not have been possible to come straight to the House about it. I think there are some Councils and occasions when it is appropriate to give a written statement instead, but on the vast majority of occasions an oral statement is made. I understand the point my hon. Friend is making about the range of reports and requests from the European Scrutiny Committee. It has not been possible to schedule those debates as things stand, but of course I am happy to discuss that further with him.
May we have an early debate on compensation for victims of badly installed cavity wall insulation? Many people, including my constituents, have had cavity wall insulation carried out, funded by the obligations placed on energy companies by the Government. When that goes wrong, as it sometimes does, the Government refuse to intervene and the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, the industry regulator, is absolutely useless at taking any action. May we have an early debate with Ministers to see what can be done to sort the problem out?
There will be people caught in a difficult situation as a result of that, and the right hon. Gentleman raises a point that will be important to some people around the country. It would be an appropriate subject to advance for a Backbench Business Committee debate or for an Adjournment debate, but I will also draw the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change to what he has said.
My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the very strong feeling expressed both in this House and in the other place for a speedy report by the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. I accept the fact that, as this is an independent inquiry, he and the Prime Minister have no control over this matter, but I hope that Sir John Chilcot takes note of this concern and expedites the report as quickly as possible. Assuming that he does report by February, Sir John Chilcot will undoubtedly make a press statement and a statement will be made in this House, but can the Leader of the House assure us that we will have a full day’s debate on the report and that there will be a gap between the report’s publication and the debate to allow Members to read the 1 million words that are reported to be in it?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He is renowned for his reading and his reviews of books, but even he would need some time to read 1 million well-chosen words. Of course it will be important for the House to digest the report before having a full-scale debate on it. Whenever it is published, I certainly expect that to happen, but I cannot undertake—and the Prime Minister made this clear yesterday—that that will be in this Parliament. It may well be something for my successor in the next Parliament to deal with, but I am sure that those running the inquiry will have heard the concern in Parliament, which my hon. Friend has again expressed today.
May we have a statement or a debate led by the Department for Work and Pensions on the guarantees or guidelines that have been given to local authorities for when the independent living fund is abolished? Sadly, no Conservative Members attended a recent lobby meeting to speak to people who are facing this problem. One representative told me:
“When ILF closes in June 2015, none of the 18,000 disabled people who currently receive the independent living fund, nor their families or friends, have any idea whether they will end up condemned to living in a care home or effectively imprisoned in their own home without adequate support.”
There were poignant tales of people who have gone from independent living to being put into care homes by local authorities. May we have a statement and a debate on this terrible tragedy, which has been caused by the Government’s abolition of the independent living fund?
That is something that can be raised with DWP Ministers at their regular questions. It is a perfectly normal subject for debate, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to pursue all the various means of obtaining a debate—through the Backbench Business Committee and so on—but I will bring this matter to the attention of the Ministers concerned.
Affordable housing is a major issue in London, especially in my constituency of Brentford and Isleworth. May we have a debate in this House about that matter and about how we can encourage Government and local authorities to ensure that we have enough affordable housing in planning applications?
Again, there would be a good case for such a debate. As my hon. Friend knows, the national planning policy framework makes it clear that local authorities should use all the evidence available to them to ensure that their local plan meets the objectively assessed need for affordable housing in their area. The Mayor in London is currently revising the London plan to address a likely increase in the capital’s population and is proposing a minimum of 17,000 affordable homes per annum in the future. Again, as I have said to other Members, it is open to her to pursue a debate in all the normal ways.
The Times today carries an alarming story that when public registrars report alleged sham marriages to the Home Office, no action is taken in three-quarters of cases. Moreover the Home Office refuses to provide feedback to the registrars. That shocking state of affairs is only too familiar to MPs and constituents when we report cases of immigration abuse. It is no wonder that there is such concern in all communities about the immigration shambles. May we have a debate so that the Home Secretary can try to justify this incompetence and chaos? It would be even better if she could knock her Department into shape.
The Home Secretary has done a great deal to knock her Department into shape and continues to do so. The right hon. Gentleman raises a legitimate concern, of course, and I have also seen that report in the newspapers today. I know that the Home Office will want to respond to it and I will draw the Home Secretary’s attention to what he has said. I am sure that there will be opportunities to raise the subject further in this House, including with Home Office Ministers.
May I thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the cross-party support for the Bill that will enable women who are consecrated diocesan bishops in the Church of England to be nominated for membership of the House of Lords as soon as possible? I thank the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the usual channels for providing time for that one-clause Bill to be debated on Monday week. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the intention is that if the Commons can cover all stages of the Bill on 19 January there will be time in the other place for the Bill to be passed and enacted during this Parliament so that we can see women bishops in the House of Lords as soon as possible?
My right hon. Friend has been assiduous in ensuring that the Bill was brought forward in a timely way. He asked a few weeks ago for all of its stages to be dealt with in one day and that is what we will be able to do, subject to the agreement of the allocation of time motion on 19 January. Of course, it is very much the intention that it will be possible for the Bill to receive Royal Assent before the dissolution of Parliament. We would not have introduced it with any other expectation. I am pleased that we have been able to introduce it speedily and I hope that we will be able to consider it speedily, and that they will be to do so in the other place as well.
Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Whitefoot and Downham community group here in London on winning the Paul Goggins memorial prize, which was established by the all-party parliamentary group on poverty and the Webb Memorial Trust? As it was the anniversary of Paul’s death yesterday, will he also extend the sympathy of the House to Paul’s family during this very difficult period?
Yes. What the hon. Gentleman has said will have wide support and will have raised strong feelings across the House and I congratulate the group that won that award. In all parties we have fond memories of the work of Paul Goggins and we remember him again today.
I thank the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) for what he has said and the Leader of the House for his reply. Paul Goggins was hugely respected and much loved across the House and what has been said today will offer some comfort and succour to his family. That is greatly appreciated.
May we have a debate on how the honours list is determined? Mr Peter Smith, the Tour de France project co-ordinator for Leeds council, was awarded an MBE in the new year's honours list, which was, I am sure, well merited, but does that not go to show what a glaring omission it was that Gary Verity, who brought the Tour de France to Yorkshire, was ignored? In that debate we can perhaps show the strength of feeling in Yorkshire that Gary Verity should receive a knighthood for what he did, which I hope will be addressed as soon as possible. In any such debate, we could also perhaps discuss the merits of a knighthood for Geoffrey Boycott who, as the Leader of the House knows, is a rival to him as the greatest living Yorkshireman.
Without straying into all parts of that question and recognising that we are not allowed to dispense honours at the Dispatch Box, I am sure that we all agree that many people did tremendous work to bring the Tour de France to Yorkshire. It was a fantastic success. It is right that those people are recognised and I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the crucial and important role that Gary Verity played as leader of Welcome to Yorkshire. I cannot comment on how the honours system operates, but I will certainly convey what my hon. Friend has said about Gary Verity to all those responsible. After all, the new year’s honours list, while an important list, is not the only honours list in the year and so names can be considered for another list as well.
Before the Christmas recess, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of human rights abuses in Bahrain and the opening of a British base there at the same time. He will be aware from my early-day motion and from news reports of the arrest and imprisonment of Sheikh Ali Al-Salman, the leader of the opposition in Bahrain, who remains in detention, as do many other people. Will he put pressure on the Foreign Office to receive a delegation of Members to express serious concerns about human rights in Bahrain and the apparent approval of the Bahrain Government’s record on this by the placing of a British base in that country?
Foreign Office Ministers have, as I know from my experience as Foreign Secretary, been very ready to discuss these things with Members of Parliament, and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman asks for a meeting for Members of Parliament with Foreign Office Ministers, it would be entirely the normal thing for them to give a positive reply. It is very important to be able to discuss these things. We have often raised human rights concerns directly with the Bahraini Government, but I stress that the minesweepers that are based in Bahrain are there for the protection of our own national security and that of our allies more widely. They provide a very important role in assuring safety of navigation through the strait of Hormuz. So the British military role there is not something simply about Bahrain; it is about our wider collective defence and it should be seen in that context.
May I offer a happy new year to the shadow Leader of the House? She is an excellent shadow Leader of the House and I hope that she continues in that role in the next Parliament. Has the Leader of the House given any thought to the sad day when he delivers the last business statement of this Parliament? Will he do a multi-choice? He has to announce the first week’s business of the new Parliament. Will he announce what the Labour party might do if it was able to form a majority Government? It would obviously have to have an emergency Budget to increase taxes and borrowing. If it was a Conservative majority Government, we would immediately introduce a European Union (referendum) Bill. If it was a Liberal Democrat majority—no, I am not going into fantasy land. Could we have a statement next week?
That is a very attractive idea for the last business statement of the Parliament, which we will come to towards the end of March. I will look at that idea. Certainly, my hon. Friend is right that a Conservative Government will want to have a European Union (referendum) Bill, and to have the earliest possible debate on it as a Government Bill in Government time. I do not know whether there would be time for any of that if there were to be a Labour Government, since they would be dealing with the financial crisis, the huge uncertainty in the markets and the difficulty facing the currency. Since they would be on that road to Greece, I am not sure they would have time for much legislation.
Is there any means by which the business of the House today could be suspended briefly at 12 noon to allow hon. Members to attend in Westminster Hall with a pen, joining journalists and members of staff of this House in a show of solidarity with our French neighbours in the face of what happened yesterday, and to demonstrate that ultimately the pen is mightier than the sword?
The whole House will agree with that sentiment. Any suspension of the sitting is a matter for you, Mr Speaker, although it will be possible for the majority of hon. Members to do that even when the House is sitting. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about showing our solidarity and determination to protect freedom of expression in this country and across the world.
May we have a debate about national responsibility for the funding of memorials such as St George’s, the RAF memorial chapel at Biggin Hill? It was saved yesterday, but there was some debate and some bad words about the possibility of the local council, Bromley council, having to fund it. Such memorials are a national responsibility and we should have plain, understandable instructions on how they are preserved.
There is, of course, a good case for these things to be clarified, and even for a debate on them. In this particular case, which is very important and which my hon. Friend and other neighbouring Members of Parliament have been assiduous in pursing, as the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday, the chapel at Biggin Hill will be preserved for future generations. We are very pleased that Bromley council wishes to create a heritage centre on the site, and, subject to agreeing suitable terms to secure the site, we will lease the site on a long-term basis to the council for a peppercorn rent, which will help enormously. For today, we should thank all the parties that have come forward in offering their support, which we all greatly appreciate.
We begin 2015 with ownership of Tata Steel UK’s long products division uncertain into the future. This is causing great anxiety in steel communities throughout the land. Is it not time that we had a debate in the Chamber about the future for UK steel?
We have just had Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions, where there were opportunities to raise that. We had an urgent question some weeks ago about the matter, and of course there are continuing concerns. The hon. Gentleman will be able to continue to raise the matter with BIS Ministers. There will also be opportunities to debate the economy in general over the coming months. There is a strongly improved outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce survey published only today. The hon. Gentleman will be able to find many opportunities to continue to pursue the subject, as he always does.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that in Harlow we have had over 100 illegal traveller encampments over the past year and sadly we have a police commissioner who seems to have adopted the unwise mantle of the three monkeys—hear nothing, say nothing and do nothing. Now he wants to increase the police precept and hit the most vulnerable residents across Essex and in my constituency, Harlow. May we have an urgent debate on the police precept? Will my right hon. Friend, with the Home Secretary, ensure that the police commissioner consults local residents before putting up taxes, and will he do everything he can to stop that?
My hon. Friend, as always, raises an issue that is important to his local communities. There is already a statutory requirement for police and crime commissioners to consult their police and crime panel regarding any proposals in relation to the council tax precept, and the police and crime panel has the power to veto the proposed precept and ask the PCC to set it at a higher or lower level. Ultimately, one of the virtues of PCCs being elected is that they are periodically accountable to the local voters for their decisions if they want to stand for re-election.
May we have a debate on the role and responsibilities of NHS England in ensuring reasonable access to GP surgeries? I raise the matter because the Highfields medical centre in my constituency was forced to leave its premises, giving patients just a couple of weeks’ notice, and move to premises in Leicester East, the neighbouring constituency. I wrote to NHS England on 18 November, raising concerns on behalf of my constituents. I have not yet had a response. Many patients in my Leicester South constituency are now without a GP in that part of the city and are deeply concerned about it.
GP access is extremely important to people all over the country. All Members of Parliament understand that extremely well, and I hope that NHS England will respond quickly to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raised on behalf of his constituents. There are questions to Health Ministers next week in the House, so he will be able to raise the matter with them directly if he has not achieved satisfaction for his constituents before then.
Yesterday Harrogate borough council confirmed its plans to deliver a sixth successive annual council tax freeze, taking advantage of the support from the Government to help it do that. May we have a debate to consider what we can do to encourage and support more local authorities to set fair and sound budgets that are sound for local taxpayers as well?
My hon. Friend’s council is a good example of setting sound budgets. Every part of the public sector needs to do its bit to pay off the deficit left by the previous Government, including local government, which accounts for a quarter of all public spending. We have been working hard to give hard-working people greater financial security by keeping the council tax down so that the local government settlement that was introduced in December is fair to all parts of the country. It helps councils to do that, including freezing council tax bills, and that is a tremendous contrast with the doubling of council tax bills that took place under the previous Government.
I recently discovered that 30 addresses in the midlands accounted for 5,000 bogus emergency calls to the ambulance service in one year, and 600 were to a single address in Birmingham. I have since been advised that there might be a perverse incentive in the operation of the ORCON—operational research consultancy—response system that deters the service from tackling those bogus callers. Given the problems that the health service is facing and the fact that this is clearly not just a local matter, may we have a debate in Government time on bogus calls and the operation of the ambulance ORCON response system?
On the face of it, it sounds as though the hon. Gentleman raises an important point about bogus calls. There is no Government time available for such a debate, but there are many other opportunities to explore such matters, including Adjournment debates and questions to Health Ministers, which we will have next week. I encourage him to take those opportunities, because this is an important matter. If changes can be made that lead to a reduction in such bogus calls, and therefore to the more effective use of emergency services, that would be an important improvement for people across the country. I will refer the points he has raised to the relevant Ministers and encourage them to look into the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) referred to the Chilcot inquiry, as did the Prime Minister yesterday, which was established only two years after my right hon. Friend first called for it. In my constituency we have seen two inquiries by Sir Robert Francis, the latter a public inquiry steadfastly called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). May we have a debate on public inquiries, including how they are initiated, their conduct and, most importantly, whether they achieve their aim of getting to the truth and bringing about change for the better?
There is a good case to be made for such a debate, and my hon. Friend might wish to pursue it more generally, including through the Backbench Business Committee. There are regular calls for major inquiries, and some of them are of huge importance. He referred to those that related to his constituency. The House has heard several times this week about the anxiety that the Chilcot inquiry report should be published. He rightly referred to the fact that in June 2007, two years before the inquiry was set up, some of us tabled a motion in this House, supported by Members now sitting on the Government side, calling for it to be established. Had that happened then, the inquiry would have reported long ago.
Over the past few days, police in Bangladesh have continued to crack down on protesters demonstrating against last year’s general election. At least two protesters have been killed, the leader of the opposition has been placed under house arrest and the media have been banned from reporting the views of opposition figures. Does the Leader of the House agree that the behaviour of the Bangladeshi Government is completely unacceptable and that we should have a debate on how the UK can contribute to restoring democracy in that country?
We have been concerned for some time about political events in Bangladesh, which have sometimes impinged on human rights, particularly the events surrounding the last election and the failure of the two main parties there to agree a way forward for elections to take place with wide participation. These events are the result of that continuing failure. The UK Government are certainly concerned about the situation in Bangladesh. We will have questions to Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers on 20 January, when the hon. Gentleman will have a further opportunity to raise the matter.
Further to my previous question, the Leader of the House will know that illicit tobacco continues to concern my constituents, as it damages local health and the local economy. May we have an urgent statement on the measures that are being taken to tackle this, including the often underused powers available to strip retailers of their lottery and alcohol licences when they are found to be breaking the law?
My hon. Friend has indeed raised this matter before, and I think that I mentioned on that occasion the powers that are available to deal with such situations and the increased attention that is being given to them. He has again made the case for more of those powers to be used, and I am sure that what he has said will be listened to by both the Government and local authorities.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health was required to come here to answer an urgent question about the crisis in our accident and emergency services. Is it not right, given the widespread concern up and down the country about A and E services, that we should have a debate on this issue here, in Government time, so that we can examine the details? It would also give the Secretary of State a chance to put right his claim that I misled the House yesterday in stating that he proposed the closure of the Lewisham accident and emergency service, which he certainly did. Subsequently, in October 2013, he lost a judicial review on that same issue, so it is surprising that it seemed to slip his mind. Will the Leader of the House provide an opportunity for the Secretary of State to put the record straight and let us have a debate on this very important issue?
There was a lot of discussion about this in the House yesterday in a lengthy urgent question and during a great deal of Prime Minister’s questions. Next Tuesday, there will be questions to the Secretary of State for Health and his colleagues on the Floor of the House, and next week there is an Opposition day debate in which the Opposition have yet to decide what to debate. Putting all those things together, I am sure that there will be many further opportunities for these issues to be debated on the Floor of the House.
Once again this year over the Christmas period, we have seen our A and E departments and police cells clogged up with people who have simply had too much to drink. A constituent of mine from Barton Seagrave wrote to me this week to say the following:
“I feel that we have to claim back our town centres at the weekends from drunks and protect our Health Service from thoughtless, ignorant abuse. To me it isn’t rocket science. When we see how the Drink Drive campaign has changed behaviour over the years, plus the Seat Belt campaign what we need is a government led campaign to educate against such boozy and loutish behaviour.”
May we have a Government statement or debate in the House on this important topic?
These things have, quite rightly, been debated in the House from time to time. We have introduced a radical package of measures to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003, including providing more local powers to deal with problem premises, doubling the fine for persistent under-age sales, and giving residents a greater say about licensing decisions in their area. We have banned the worst cases of very cheap and harmful alcohol sales. We are challenging the alcohol industry to raise its game in doing more on a voluntary basis, including by widening the availability of lower-strength alternatives in pubs, removing high-volume and high-strength beer and developing new retail standards. I hope that a great deal will continue to be done to address the problem that my hon. Friend rightly raises.