The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 2 March—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Devolution in England: The Case for Local Government”, followed by a debate on “Towards the next Defence and Security Review: Part Two—NATO”. Further details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Devolution in England: The Case for Local Government, 1st Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, HC 503, and the Government response; Towards the next Defence and Security Review Part Two: NATO, 3rd Report from the Defence Committee, HC 358, and the Government response, HC 755.]
Tuesday 3 March—Estimates day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, followed by a debate on children’s and adolescents’ mental health and child and adolescent mental health services. Further details will be given in the Official Report. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
[The details are as follows: Support for housing costs in the reformed welfare system, 4th Report from the Work and Pensions Committee, HC 720 of Session 2013-14; Children’s and adolescents’ mental health and CAMHS, 3rd Report from the Health Committee, HC 342, and the Government response.]
Wednesday 4 March—Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill, followed by Opposition day (unallotted half-day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced.
Thursday 5 March—There will be a general debate on international women’s day, followed by a general debate on Welsh affairs. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 6 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 9 March will include:
Monday 9 March—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to “Commission Work Programme 2015”, followed by business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 10 March—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Deregulation Bill, followed by a motion to approve statutory instruments relating to counter-terrorism, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to subsidiarity and proportionality and the Commission’s relations with national Parliaments.
Wednesday 11 March—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party—subject to be announced—followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.
Thursday 12 March—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 March—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 5 March will be a general debate on planning and the national planning policy framework.
I thank the Leader of the House.
Monday and Tuesday are estimates days, and we shall have a chance to scrutinise Government waste, but the form of the debates will allow us only to scratch the surface of those overspends. Does the Leader of the House agree that rather than three days being allocated for debate, the estimates process needs to be made much more rigorous? Will he support our plans for a yearly session of budget questions to each Department, so that Secretaries of State can be held to account directly for their spending decisions?
Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) described what seemed to be a worrying case of the blatant misuse of public resources for party-political purposes. After she had passed an e-mail from a concerned constituent to the Prime Minister, her constituent received a party-political reply from No. 10 featuring propaganda about the Conservative Party manifesto. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether party-political letters are being prepared at public expense and civil service neutrality is being undermined, or whether correspondence intended for the Prime Minister is being passed directly to the Conservative party? Will he tell us why this seems to be a developing theme with this Government, with millions of letters to small businesses on No. 10 headed paper filled with Tory propaganda, Government announcements conveniently located in marginal seats, the Prime Minister and Chancellor travelling the country on public money on their “long-term economic scam tour” and the unexplained 22% rise in the Government’s external communications bill just as the election is approaching? Will the Leader of the House also arrange for an urgent statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General on these disturbing developments?
Today, we have had the last set of quarterly migration figures before the election and it is clear that the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is now in tatters. Instead of net migration’s being reduced, it is now higher than it was at the start of this Parliament and illegal immigration and exploitation are getting worse. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Home Secretary on the huge failure in her Department?
Figures released this week show that the number of people on zero-hours contracts has soared, but in this place we have had the sorry sight of the Conservative party defending the right of its MPs to earn millions of pounds on the side. Our motion yesterday was a sensible solution to the widening gap between the rules we have in this place and the standards the public expect of us. In a democracy, when we are out of step with public opinion we must change. The Government voted against banning paid directorships and consultancies, so I want to ask the Leader of the House whether his party is ready to contemplate any form of change.
I have been reading an interview this morning with the Prime Minister in woman&home magazine. In it, he praised his wife and said that behind every great man there is a great woman. Surely he meant that behind every great man there is a very surprised woman.
I am getting a bit worried, Mr Speaker. During questions yesterday, the Prime Minister boasted of how successfully he combines his job as Prime Minister with being the Member of Parliament for West Oxfordshire. That must be easy, because the constituency of West Oxfordshire does not even exist. Last week, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) knocked on the door of a local resident claiming that he was their MP, but was greeted by the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), who pointed out that he was in fact canvassing in the wrong constituency. I do not know about second jobs, but perhaps they should pay a bit more attention to their first ones. It is of course possible that they both just had a mind blank, like the leader of the Green party, who was involved in an eco-friendly car crash at the LBC studios on Tuesday. I gather that following her interview the Green party has joined the Conservative party in campaigning to be excluded from the leaders’ debates.
Although some Government members do not seem to know quite where their constituencies are, the hon. Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick) appears to have left his for another planet entirely. He has been formulating the new Conservative health policy and not content with wasting £3 billion on a top-down reorganisation of the NHS, he told a journal this week that the way to take the huge pressure off doctors is astrology. He claimed that it is a useful diagnostic tool, enabling us to see strengths and weaknesses via the birth chart. It is unclear whether he thinks that the Chancellor would have met his deficit reduction targets if only he had not broken that mirror.
One person losing his constituency by choice is the Leader of the House. Asked at the weekend why he was leaving Parliament, he replied, “I’ve been Foreign Secretary and I’m determined not to be Prime Minister.” If I may say so, that goes some way to explaining his time as Leader of the Opposition.
As ever, I am grateful for the questions from the hon. Lady. It shows what a broad party we are that we welcome views from all parts of the galaxy, as she has just demonstrated. On the question of what is behind every great man, I have always thought that behind every great man is an astonished mother-in-law, so that is a further refinement of that phrase. I can assure her that the Prime Minister knows where his constituency is and it is of course in west Oxfordshire even though that might not be its name. It would be wise, of course, for all candidates from all parties to know the boundaries of their constituencies for the general election.
On the so-called car crash interview of the leader of the Green party, I think she has been taking lessons from the shadow Chancellor, who has given a series of disastrous interviews in which he has managed to fall out with his own window cleaner, quite apart from anything else. I have previously put the hon. Lady forward for her party leadership, but I really think she ought to consider being the shadow Chancellor in the coming general election campaign, because a shadow Cabinet member has said that if the shadow Chancellor
“carries on behaving like this he is not unassailable…He has complete contempt for colleagues. He’s not a team player.”
The hon. Lady is a team player and she could replace him. I think she would do a much better job than he has done. Indeed, Labour might not then need to bring back Lord Prescott to the front line of the campaign, which in any election campaign is a sure sign of desperation.
I have enormous respect for Lord Prescott, but having to go back 10 years is a sign of desperation for Labour.
On a more serious question, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) asked about Government waste. I remind her that this Government have saved, thanks to the Cabinet Office Ministers, more than £10 billion a year just by making elementary things in government more efficient. They have done that year on year by making sure that contracts are not excessive and that Government Departments buy services together. This Government have rooted out waste in government.
The hon. Lady asked about the estimates days, the subjects for which are, of course, chosen by the Liaison Committee, so there is a well-established procedure. The hon. Lady has reforms in mind, but as things stand it is the role of Select Committees and questions in this House to hold Ministers to account. Although I am not closing off any sort of reform, that will be a question for the new Parliament, in which, as the hon. Lady has noted, I will conveniently not be present.
The Prime Minister dealt with the question of correspondence yesterday. The rules are exactly the same as they were under the previous Government and they are observed.
I am pleased that the long-term economic plan has entered the hon. Lady’s vocabulary, as well as that of the rest of the House and the country. I know she tried to alter one of those words, but it shows that that phrase has entered the economic vocabulary not just of the nation, but of the world. The head of the OECD stated this week:
“My main message to you today is well done. Well done so far, Chancellor. But finish the job. Britain has a long-term economic plan, but it needs to stick with it.”
The Chancellor is backed by economic commentators across the world, unlike the shadow Chancellor, who has fallen out with his own window cleaner. That is the actual choice before the country in the coming election.
The hon. Lady asked about yesterday’s debate. One of the points I made during it is that there have been many improvements to transparency and accountability in this Parliament and there will be scope for further improvements, but neither I nor the House agree with the hon. Lady’s proposals. She said that millions were being earned. I recall that one of the few Members recording more than £1 million in outside earnings in this Parliament was the brother of the Leader of the Opposition before he left the House. I note that the Leader of the Opposition did not put forward his proposals for reform until his brother had left the House of Commons. Perhaps he is in favour of family businesses, after all—you never know—or perhaps we have found the limits of fratricide: it’s all right to stab your brother in the back politically, but not to cut off his earnings as well. How extremely thoughtful of the Leader of the Opposition.
Earlier this week, during proceedings on the Serious Crime Bill, I highlighted the need for effective mandatory reporting of suspected sexual abuse in regulated settings, to afford better protection to our children and vulnerable people. Today, we shall hear in more detail about the repulsive activities of Jimmy Savile at our local hospital in Buckinghamshire, which will further reinforce the urgent need for reform. Will the Leader of the House give serious consideration to giving more time for a full debate on mandatory reporting, so that we might perhaps achieve cross-party consensus that could lead to action before the general election, rather than waiting until later in the year?
As my right hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State for Health will make a statement on this matter shortly, and there will be opportunities for her and other Members to ask him questions. This is an important issue, and she, as a local Member of Parliament, will take a close interest in it. I think it would be best for the House to wait to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has to say before we consider what further debates on mandatory reporting might be necessary.
Later this year, the world will turn its attention to the conference of the parties in Paris in December and, before that, to the conference on sustainable development goals in September. In July, the conference on the financing of development, which is perhaps more important, will take place in Addis. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important that we have a major debate on that conference in this Chamber in Government time, and that the Treasury should be represented at such a debate to explain to the House precisely what it will be doing to ensure the success of the sustainable development goals and of the United Nations framework convention on climate change in December?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of that whole sequence of conferences later this year. I remember agreeing, as Foreign Secretary, to give assistance and advice to France on the hosting of the Paris meeting, because we in this country have so much expertise on these issues. This is a matter for the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for International Development, so it would primarily be for them to take part in any such debates. The Treasury’s role is to help to supply the money, as is so often the case. I certainly hope that there will be debates on the matter, but I anticipate that they will now have to take place in the next Parliament. The Backbench Business Committee has a few remaining days in this Parliament, as I have announced, but it would be a matter for the Committee to decide whether we had a general debate on these or other issues.
My question will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend, as I have asked it several times before. In the diminishing number of days between now and Dissolution, is it still his ambition to hold a debate and a vote on the options in his White Paper “The Implications of Devolution for England”?
My right hon. Friend’s question comes as no surprise—he has indeed asked it several times. The answer is that my ambition remains the same, but I have not achieved it yet. I am conscious of that, but such a debate and vote would of course require a measure of agreement among the parties in the House, including in the coalition, on how to phrase and frame the question. But it is not too late to have such a debate.
On Friday evening in North Antrim, we will be celebrating the life and times of Private Quigg, who in 1916 was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous valour at the Somme. Yesterday, we read the wonderful news about Josh Leakey, who has just received the most recent Victoria Cross. Does the Leader of the House plan to do anything here formally to celebrate the life of this modern-day hero, and other heroes who have been awarded the VC, to enable Parliament to pay its respects to those wonderful people?
That is a good point. The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to an individual of whom the whole nation will be extremely proud—the only living recipient of the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan. Everyone who saw pictures of the ceremony on their television screens this morning will be intensely proud of him. We can give consideration as to how the House should recognise people who receive those and other medals for valour and gallantry. Much has been done in this country to recognise them. The brilliant new extension of the Imperial War Museum celebrates the recipients of the Victoria Cross throughout history, for example, and I recommend that everyone should go and see that. Perhaps we can give further consideration to how we can meet the hon. Gentleman’s request.
Will the Leader of the House speak to his colleagues in government to consider how small, resource-stretched charities such as the amazing Burnham Area Rescue Boat, which is so busy all year round delivering life-saving services and famously was on television every day during the Somerset floods last year, are informed about Government schemes such as the inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme? Such schemes would help small charities such as BARB to access the funds they need so badly.
I very much congratulate the local charities that my hon. Friend is talking about on the work done during the floods, and the Government are always open to further suggestions to improve information to them. There are many sources of information for charities; Grantmakers and governmentfunding.org.uk are appropriate examples of where charities can find the necessary information. I know that if my hon. Friend has suggestions as to how that can be improved my colleagues will be grateful for them.
The Leader of the House will know that many, many months have passed since we agreed the principle of standardised packaging of tobacco. I understand that we are waiting for the detail of the regulation to come through. Can he tell us how that will happen, whether it will be dealt with on the Floor of the House or in Committee, and when it will happen?
I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman that yet; otherwise I would, of course, have announced it in the business statement. Details will become clear as the days go by. I have made it clear before that regulations could be laid but that they could not be made until after a date in early March—I believe in the first week of March. We have not got to the point when those regulations can be made, and we will announce how we are to do it in due course.
Westcliff high school for boys, Westcliff high school for girls, Southend high school for boys and Southend high school for girls are four superb local grammar schools. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the funding of grammar schools, because at the moment they are perversely discriminated against in funding terms on the grounds of their very success?
As my hon. Friend knows, we support the expansion of all good schools, including good grammar schools. I know that the schools he mentions are superb grammar schools in his constituency. Grammar schools, with their combination of high standards and ambition on behalf of the pupils, have a very important role to play in this country, so I certainly would not rule out any debate. Such a debate would have to be pursued through the normal channels, but it would allow him to bring to the House’s attention successful schools such as the Westcliff high schools and Southend high schools in his area.
On the day when the whole House celebrates with pride and congratulates our servicemen on their valour in Afghanistan, would it not be appropriate to consider early-day motion 813?
[That this House records its sorrow at the deaths of 453 British soldiers in Afghanistan and notes the post-conflict judgements by Brigadier Ed Butler that the UK was under-prepared and under-resourced, by General Sir Peter Wall that the calculus was wrong, by Major General Andrew Mackay that the war was a series of shifting plans, unobtainable objectives, propaganda and spin, by former ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles that the UK operation was a massive act of collective self-deception by military and politicians unable to admit how badly it was going, and by General Lord Dannatt that the UK knew it was heading for two considerable size operations and really only had the organisation and manpower for one; and calls for an early inquiry into the conduct of the war in order to avoid future blunders.]
Early-day motion 813 lists the comments since the war of the generals who took part. They universally say that it was futile and an act of self-delusion in which lives were wasted. Is it not right that we consider what happened in that war and have a full inquiry as early as possible, in order to avoid other hubristic politicians sending young men to die in vain?
The hon. Gentleman often pursues this issue and we have discussed it before. These are important issues; it is always important to learn the lessons from any military conflict. I do not agree with his assessment, having been to Afghanistan many times. I have to reflect on the fact that international terrorist bases were operating in Afghanistan before the western military action which are not there today. Our national security has been improved as a result, and the lives of millions of people in Afghanistan have been improved by the action we took. We will disagree on that assessment, but no doubt it can continue to be debated over the years ahead.
My 13-year-old constituent Lucie Low is suffering from a rare, complex illness and is currently in Medway hospital in sheer agony. The hospital is working with Great Ormond Street hospital and King’s College hospital to help find a diagnosis and support her pain relief. Will the Leader of the House allow for an urgent statement on supporting children who are suffering from rare health conditions? I met Lucie yesterday in hospital and saw the suffering she is in. Please, may I ask everyone to do everything they can to help her and her family at this difficult time?
My hon. Friend is right to stand up for the needs of his constituent and bring the attention of the House to such a case. The Government want to see all children with complex needs receive the very best care and support. I am pleased to say that since 2010 the number of doctors working in paediatrics has risen by 11%, but that does not mean that everything is perfect. I will draw the attention of my colleagues at the Department of Health to what he has said about this particular case, so that they can respond to him directly.
Given that it was not possible for me to raise in Health questions or with the chief executive of NHS England in a personal meeting the continuing concerns about the procurement of a PET scanner across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, will the Leader of the House give assurances, amid concerns about openness and transparency, that there has been no undue influence from the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) as a board member of Alliance? There are real concerns about the possibility of a monopoly service, which may mean that the contract will need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority. Will the Leader of the House find time for a proper, open debate about these continuing concerns?
The hon. Lady has raised related concerns before in the House. I am sorry that she was not able to do so in Health questions, because there will be no more Health questions before the election; we are entering a period in which some Departments will not have further questions before Dissolution. However, she is still able to ask written questions and to seek answers in every other way through correspondence with Health Ministers. I will draw their attention to the matter that she has raised. As Leader of the House, I cannot give her any assurances about what she has asked, but I know that my colleagues will want to attend to what she has raised in the House today.
May we have a debate on the spiritual, cultural and musical contribution that cathedrals make to the life of the nation? During the 300th anniversary year of the Three Choirs festival, will the Leader of the House thank all those who have contributed to the festival over 300 years and the cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford that have hosted the event, and particularly Hereford that is hosting it this year?
I certainly congratulate the cathedrals of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester on this 300th anniversary. Cathedrals play an important part in the life of our country. As the House may be aware, the Prime Minister has asked me to oversee the plans for VE day, just after the general election. We have not yet announced those plans, but I have it in mind that they will involve the cathedrals of the country in an important way. They are an important thing to celebrate, as my hon. Friend has made clear.
Has the Leader had a bid from the Department for Transport for a debate on road safety? Even though our roads are among the safest in the world, the latest casualty statistics show some worrying trends. There is an ongoing concern about cycle safety and the Green Paper on graduated licensing has disappeared, so there is quite an appetite for a debate on road safety before Dissolution. Might that be possible?
Road safety is a very important issue that Members on both sides of the House have always taken seriously and on which broadly the United Kingdom has a strong record by international standards. We have to maintain that, and it is right to debate it if there are any doubts about it. That is a legitimate subject to put forward to the Backbench Business Committee. I cannot offer any Government time for it in the remaining days of the Parliament. The Department for Transport does have questions remaining before Dissolution—next Thursday—and I encourage him to raise the issue then.
May we please have a debate on nuisance phone calls, which would allow us to consider the merits of this week’s announcement by the Government on giving more powers to the Information Commission to stop unwanted calls? The proposal has been extremely popular among and warmly welcomed by my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue on which, as he says, the Government made an announcement this week. The statutory instrument was laid this week and will become effective by 6 April. The measure will make it much easier for the Information Commissioner’s Office to take action on nuisance calls, including by issuing monetary penalties. We have just had questions to the Department responsible, and while I cannot necessarily offer a debate, that would be a good issue on which to pursue one in the coming weeks.
There is much discussion in the corridors of this place about whether the House might dissolve earlier than expected ahead of the general election. Should not hon. Members know now whether that is in the minds of the Leader of the House and his colleagues, given the implications for all of us of the date when we cease to be Members of the House?
Tempting though it would be to spring a great surprise on the hon. Gentleman and others, the date of Dissolution is set down in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 as 30 March, so there is no doubt at all about that date. Of course, it is possible for people to speculate about a date for Prorogation in advance of Dissolution. The Chancellor has announced that he will present his Budget on 18 March, however, and I am sure that it will be necessary for the House to debate that Budget at some considerable length, so clearly the date of Prorogation will not be very much in advance of the date of Dissolution.
Local authorities throughout the country are finalising their budgets for the coming year. Tonight, Labour-run Harrow council will consider proposals from its administration to impose a garden tax on the collection of garden waste and to increase the council tax by 1.99%, thereby avoiding a referendum, while it is closing down popular libraries, including the Bob Lawrence library in my constituency. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can consider what local authorities throughout the country are doing to decimate local services and increase taxes?
The people of Harrow are fortunate to have my hon. Friend to speak up for them when their local authority is behaving in that way. Rather than cutting front-line services and hiking council tax, councils should be making sensible savings, such as through more joint working, better procurement, cutting fraud and using transparency to drive out waste. It is disappointing that Labour-run councils such as Harrow are taking the lazy option of making cuts to the front line, rather than adopting many other local authorities’ best practice of making sensible savings.
At my recent jobs and skills fair in Edinburgh, which was attended by hundreds of my constituents, one of the main conclusions was that the job-creation powers in the Work programme are best delivered by local authorities. In the last few weeks of his distinguished political career, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy—a legacy for which he will be known the world over—by finding time for the House to pass my Job Creation Powers (Scotland) Bill?
The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating for effect, tempting though it is to leave such a lasting legacy. Of course, many more powers, including for job creation, will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament by whoever wins the general election, because of the implementation of the Smith commission proposals. It will then be important that there is decentralisation within Scotland, because there is a danger for Scotland and Wales that England will become the most decentralised part of the United Kingdom before long, which will mean that devolution is not really leading to power going down to the local level. I know that the hon. Gentleman advocates that, but I cannot, just on that basis, agree to give Government support for his Bill.
Children with Morquio disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and tuberous sclerosis are being badly let down by NHS England, which cancelled its process of approval of the drugs for these ultra-rare conditions. I am sorry to say that these families now feel that they are being fobbed off by the Department of Health and Ministers. May we have an urgent statement to confirm that we will have what we asked for—an interim funding solution to fund these drugs, to be announced before this Parliament is dissolved?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which will be vital for the people most affected by it. As I have already pointed out, we have had the last regular Health questions of this Parliament, but Ministers will continue to respond to written questions and correspondence. I think the best thing I can do to help my hon. Friend is to refer this to the Health Ministers and tell them of his concern so that they can respond to him directly.
Following a campaign by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, Labour colleagues and me, the Chancellor announced in his autumn statement a consultation on rip-off umbrella payroll companies. However, recent written answers show that the Government intend only to tinker around the edges and will not close the loopholes that result in workers losing hundreds of pounds per month. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Chancellor will formally announce his plans to the House and explain why low-paid workers continue to lose out under his Government?
There will be many opportunities in the coming month to debate matters with the Chancellor, who is regularly in the House. It will be Treasury questions on 10 March and then, of course, he will present the Budget on 18 March. I do not know when the Chancellor intends to present his final conclusions on that, but we will have debates on the Budget so it will be possible to debate what is or is not in the Budget statement in the course of those debates. That will be the best opportunity for the hon. Lady.
As the Leader of the House knows, many of my constituents are concerned about the level of immigration and the strain that that places upon the NHS, school places and housing, and the effect it has on the overall wages of workers. May we have a debate on immigration to see whether we can address some of those concerns? In such a debate we can count the number of Members who accept the blindingly obvious: that no Government can control the level of immigration while we are a member of the European Union and have free movement of people.
My hon. Friend will be familiar with the plans that the Prime Minister has set out—the Conservative party’s plans for after the general election, to negotiate a better relationship with the EU and a reformed European Union in which it will be possible for this country to take actions that we cannot take now, particularly on welfare payments and other issues relating to immigration. This is, of course, a very important issue, which my hon. Friend has raised regularly. Part of what we are seeing at present is the impact of this country’s having a dramatically stronger economy than the rest of Europe, which is producing more migration into the UK. In that sense it is a problem of success, but it remains an important issue. Although the shadow Leader of the House raised it in earlier questions, she omitted to mention the completely open-door policy of the Labour Government, during which millions of people migrated to the United Kingdom, and we are certainly not going back to those days.
Last week I met Sam, Charlotte, Sarah and Sara, constituents of mine, who gave me their personal testimonies about the physical, emotional and sexual violence that they had suffered, perpetrated by their ex-partners. I am sure the Leader of the House will commend their bravery in coming forward to talk to their MP about that. They are also campaigning for safe spots with businesses and public agencies in Wythenshawe town centre, where people may go in future for advice and support. My parliamentary office has signed up to be one such safe spot. Is it time that the House authorities considered creating a safe spot here on the parliamentary estate?
That is an interesting idea. I salute the courage of the individuals whom the hon. Gentleman met. I have had many distressing conversations internationally with victims of sexual violence—he will be aware of my campaign on that—and I am very much aware of the courage that it takes to speak out and to speak to other people about such experiences. We will have to consider with other authorities in the House whether it is possible to do what he has just proposed, but we should give consideration to that.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give me some guidance on next week’s business. I have a number of private Members’ Bills that I can move on Friday. Will he indicate which ones the Government are going to support so that I know what to concentrate on? Here is the list: the Wind Farm Subsidies (Abolition) Bill, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Abolition) Bill, the Foreign National Offenders (Exclusion from the United Kingdom) Bill, the Free Movement of Persons into the United Kingdom (Derogation) Bill and—my personal favourite—the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition) Bill.
I cannot indicate a sudden rush of Government support for the massive legislative programme on which my hon. Friend has embarked so indefatigably—indeed, we have all seen on the BBC how many sleepless nights he had in order to put together this massive legislative programme. As he might anticipate, his Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition) Bill could run into handling problems in the coalition Government, to put it mildly, so I do not expect the Government to perform a sharp about-turn on these issues, but he will have to wait until the day—it will be exciting—to see which Bills the Government object to.
The work of VisitWales to promote the tourism industry in Wales would be greatly enhanced were VAT on tourism to be reduced. May we have a debate on reducing VAT on tourism, particularly given its importance for rural areas, which are very dependent on the tourism sector, including counties such as Ceredigion and Montgomeryshire, which is soon to be the Leader of the House’s home county?
I certainly recommend to everybody in the country, and indeed around the world, tourism in Wales where they can see many splendid sites, some very fine countryside and great history. That is true in Ceredigion, where I know tourism is a key industry. There are opportunities coming up in the House—Treasury questions on 10 March and then the Budget debate—to raise issues about VAT. In the meantime, I know that the Welsh Government can and do provide support for tourism, and all of us can set a good example of tourism in Wales.
Looking around the Chamber, it is quite clear that not all of us come from advantaged or affluent backgrounds, and perhaps that includes you, Mr Speaker, and even the Leader of the House. In the previous Parliament, when I was shadow Minister for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and then shadow Minister for Innovation and Science, it became increasingly clear that social mobility was slowing down. I therefore very much welcome the recent figures showing that 20% more people from disadvantaged backgrounds are now going to university. May we have a debate on the growing levels of social mobility resulting from the policies of the coalition Government?
I think that is an excellent idea. That increase in the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university is a significant development, and it is very different from what was forecast when tuition fees and other matters were being debated in the House. It is a very serious success. It will help long-term social mobility. I would very much welcome such a debate, although I cannot offer it, given the constraints on Government time. It is the sort of debate that my hon. Friend could put to the Backbench Business Committee.
Less than 2% of medical research funding in the UK is directed towards the eye and sight-related issues. Given that 40 people a day—about the number of Members in the Chamber today—lose their sight, and up to 2 million people in this country are living with sight loss-related issues, may we have a debate in Government time to see how we can address the issue and increase funding in the next Parliament?
We might not be able to have a debate before Dissolution, but I can tell my hon. Friend that investment in eye-related research by the National Institute for Health Research has risen over the past four years, from £7.1 million a year to £15.6 million. Although that is a small proportion of total research, the amount has doubled under this Government. The institute welcomes funding applications for research into any aspect of human health, including eye care, so there is every opportunity to expand that research further in the coming months and years.
My right hon. Friend has done incredible work on sexual violence in conflicts, so he absolutely understands the importance of the issue of violence against women and girls. In this country, two women a week still get killed by a partner or former partner. Will he consider providing some Government time on Thursday 12 March, when we have sixth-form girls coming to shadow their MPs from all parts of the House—also supported by Mr Speaker —so that we can inspire the next generation to say no to domestic abuse and violence?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I congratulate her very much on all she has done to highlight this issue. I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee has allocated time on the Floor of the House, not on 12 March but on 5 March, next week, for a debate to mark international women’s day. That will allow Members to raise issues celebrating the achievements of women but also about tackling violence against women. It is right that the House keeps that on the agenda, and I am determined to keep it on the international agenda. I welcome everything my hon. Friend does on this, including helping to bring people to the House to discuss these things on 12 March.
May we have an urgent statement on the fact that doctors are charging families £80 every time they sign a cremation consent form? A resident in my constituency, Lee Dangerfield, had to pay £160 to doctors when his father sadly passed away, causing him financial hardship at what was already a difficult time. In 2010, it was estimated that doctors were topping up their salaries by an extra £15 million a year by signing these forms. Will my right hon. Friend write to the Health Secretary about this to see why these fees are necessary, given that this practice seems to be part of the day-to-day job of being a doctor in the free NHS?
As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is in his place and has been listening to that question, I shall not need to write to him about it; he has taken note of it. The Government are committed to reform of the death certification system. When a patient dies, it is the statutory duty of the doctor who has attended them in their last illness to issue a medical certificate of cause of death. There is no fee payable for completing that, but there are other forms before cremation of a deceased patient. The proposed reform of the system to which the Government are committed would remove the need for cremation form fees. My right hon. Friend has heard my hon. Friend’s point about the urgency of tackling this.
During this Parliament we have had the welcome practice of Government coming to the House in the event that military action is contemplated. What would happen during Dissolution in the very serious event that that might again be the case?
An important convention has grown up that the Government come to the House in the event of military action. During a Dissolution there is no provision for the recall of the House. When Parliament has been dissolved, none of us are MPs after 30 March so it is not possible to recall it. In the highly unusual circumstances of military action that might then arise, of course we continue very much to have a Government who would, I am sure, in any set of circumstances handle the situation extremely responsibly. This Government are always vigilant about our national security, and that will remain the case during Dissolution. I think that in the circumstances that my hon. Friend mentions, what would happen in practice is that whoever emerged in government after the general election would need to come to Parliament as soon as possible thereafter for parliamentary debate on the issue.
We are in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight. On Saturday, I will join Harrogate Fairtrade Campaign at St Peter’s church for its annual fair trade coffee morning. I am rather looking forward to that, having been the borough’s fair trade champion for years, and it is always a very successful event. May we have a debate about fair trade and its impact on millions of people across the developing world, and perhaps also look at what we can do to encourage more towns and boroughs to become fair trade champions?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work on fair trade. It would indeed be very good if other towns followed his example and that of Harrogate in having an annual Fairtrade coffee morning and other activities. Fair trade plays a very important role in improving the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, and the UK Government are a committed partner of Fairtrade. I doubt that there will be time for a debate before the Dissolution of Parliament, but I can tell him that the UK’s commitment is demonstrated by the fact that the Department for International Development has recently extended our support for Fairtrade International to £18 million over six years.
Thanks to substantial school capital funding from the current Government, when Lancashire county council was run by the Conservatives funding was allocated for four brand-new primary schools across Pendle, which have now all been built and opened, and for a £6.2 million facelift for West Craven high school. Sadly, since Labour won back control in 2013, Pendle is once again being overlooked. May we have time for a debate in which I can highlight the need for investment in some of our other high schools, such as Park high school in Colne, which I have been calling for since I was elected?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for Pendle on all issues. Since 2011, we have allocated £112 million for the improvement and maintenance of schools in Lancashire, and we have recently announced a further £23.8 million for the coming year, so Pendle ought to have its fair share. Lancashire county council is responsible for the maintenance of community schools in its area, and it is for the council to prioritise its local investment needs, but if it does not give proper priority to Pendle, people will know how to vote in coming elections.
May we have a debate on the funding of school transport? There is concern among parents in Rugby, where we have choice in secondary education, including three excellent grammar schools—Lawrence Sheriff, Rugby high and Ashlawn—that the local authority is considering the withdrawal of funding for transport for pupils who do not attend their closest school. If implemented, that could lead to some young people being denied the education to which they are entitled.
As my hon. Friend will know, the statutory position is that the local authority must provide free home-to-school transport for pupils of compulsory school age who attend their nearest suitable school, provided that the school is beyond the statutory walking distance. Beyond that, however, local authorities have discretion about what to do. A debate would certainly allow him to explore further with Ministers his view that all pupils should get the education they deserve, regardless of their ability to pay for transport, which is a very important consideration. I encourage him to pursue such a debate through all the normal channels of Adjournment debates and the Backbench Business Committee.
I bring good news from Kettering. Last night, Conservative-controlled Kettering borough council, of which I have the privilege to be a member, announced that it will freeze its share of council tax for the fifth year in a row, while confirming lower car parking charges and protecting funding for front-line services and the voluntary sector. May we have a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government about this remarkable success story? Such a statement could highlight how many other councils have managed to freeze council tax over the lifetime of this Parliament to deliver cost-effective, value-for-money local government services.
The good news from Kettering never seems to end, which is very closely connected with my hon. Friend’s tenure as Member of Parliament for Kettering and, as he says, with the good work of his Conservative-controlled council. That sort of record—freezing council tax for the fifth year running, while reducing other charges and improving local services— is exactly what responsibly run local authorities have been able to achieve. It is a dramatic contrast with the doubling of council tax across the country under the previous Labour Government. It is exactly the kind of thing that could be achieved by more local authorities across the country if they followed the example of Kettering.