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Sir George Young:
If the hon. Lady recalls what Stern said, she will know that the report also said that nor was there a case for the opposite. I have some sympathy with the case she makes for a debate on this important subject. Without making any firm commitments, and in light of the fact that I hope that we will have a Back-Bench business committee, I would like to find time for that
important issue to be explored. However, I am not sure that what I said warranted the description "rowing back".
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May we have a debate to provide an opportunity for the Opposition to do something that they have not yet done, which is to say sorry? The terms of the debate will need to be set with care, given that the Opposition need to move on from their present condition of denial and being sorry only for themselves to one of penitence, regret and being sorry for the damage that they caused to the country while in government?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What was remarkable yesterday in the urgent question was the total absence of any contrition from Opposition Members for the shambles in which they left this country.
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I am looking at a photograph of a British National party councillor, Steve Batkin, with some individuals he describes as loyal patriots who are doing Nazi salutes outside a war memorial while clutching the British flag. It is even more poignant today, given the commemoration of Dunkirk. Will the Leader of the House consider making time for a statement, perhaps from the Minister of State for Schools, about the appropriateness or otherwise of BNP councillors who hold such appalling views and who consort with such individuals serving on governing bodies such as that of Edensor high school in my constituency?
Sir George Young: The whole House will share the hon. Gentleman's views about the offensive nature of that photograph. Of course I will raise with the Schools Minister the specific issue about the appropriateness of certain individuals serving on school governing bodies.
I welcome his abolition of the regional Select Committees. However, will he consider reinstating an annual general debate on London, in Government time, so that we may have an opportunity to raise a wide variety of issues, as we used to have in the past?
Sir George Young: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's point as I used to be a London Member and take part in those regular debates. Without giving any firm commitment, I shall see whether we can move in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests.
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): May I thank the Leader of the House and his deputy for redeeming, in very short order, the promise to the House that Back Benchers should be able to decide which debates we have in Back-Bench time? We have heard today some very good examples from Members on both sides of the House. Does he accept that if Back Benchers can prove that they can run their own time effectively, and Parliament can run its own time effectively, it adds to the urgency of bringing forward a fully fledged business committee so that Parliament, not Government, decides the agenda of this House?
Sir George Young: May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's work in this and the previous Parliament on carrying forward the agenda for reform? I have seen the motions on the Order Paper that he has tabled. I hope that he will recognise that the commitment that we have given to introduce within three years a House committee goes further than we got in the previous Parliament. I want to get the Back-Bench committee up and running, and when that is firmly established, to move on to the next stage of merging it with a House committee. Therefore, I think that there is no difference between us on destination and I hope that there is no disagreement either on pace.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Could we have a debate as soon as possible on the allocation of health funding? Mindful, as I am, of the vote of the whole House shortly on the chairmanship of Select Committees, I must point out none the less that the Labour party put in place a gerrymandered allocation of health funding, which means that the good people of the East Riding, for instance, have only £1,200 per head spent on their health care, whereas the people of Hull, who are much younger and generally fitter, receive 50% more. It is simply wrong.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and if he is quick he can table-I think-an oral question for 2 June, when the Health Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box and in a position to deal with the inequities to which my hon. Friend refers.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on advice given by civil servants to Ministers, with particular reference to the advice used by the Chief Secretary yesterday to say that the future jobs fund, which many of us regard as a major success of the previous Government, is not working? We would all like to see that advice. Will the Leader of the House assure us that we can have a debate on that matter?
Sir George Young: There will be a debate on that matter, because the Department for Work and Pensions has a day in the debate on the Queen's Speech. The fund is not being abolished; it is being phased out and fed into- [Laughter.] It is not being abolished with immediate effect; it is being run down, and the new work programme will take over. As I said, however, there will be an opportunity during the Queen's Speech debate for the hon. Gentleman to press the issue about the advice given to Ministers.
Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab):
Can I ask for a debate on Government co-ordination of business unemployment support? The biggest private sector firm in my constituency has just gone into administration, leading to the immediate loss of 650 jobs in Hartlepool. I am concerned that those people will find it difficult to secure alternative employment, yet the Department charged with helping business has been asked to find the biggest cuts. We have just helpfully heard from the Leader of the House that the future jobs fund, which has been so important and successful in Hartlepool, is being phased out. What reassurance can he give me that those workers,
who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, will be able to get support, despite the best efforts of the new Government?
Sir George Young: All existing commitments under that programme will be honoured, and it will be replaced by a different programme that we hope will be more cost-effective. Of course, I will raise with Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the hon. Gentleman's point about support being extended to those in his constituency who face the loss of their jobs.
Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) has pointed out the uncertainty surrounding the future of One NorthEast, the regional development agency in the north-east. At the same time, the recent cuts targeted BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government. We all know that we need to build up manufacturing and industry, particularly in the north-east and the green industries. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we are to do that and how regional development agencies will be funded to support it?
Sir George Young: The hon. Lady makes her point very forcefully. Next Thursday there will be questions to the relevant Minister, and she may like to table a question and use the opportunity during questions to that Department to get a substantive answer.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): Given that Ministers of this Conservative Government, particularly those sporting a yellow tie, are positively salivating at the prospect of imposing swingeing cuts which less than a month ago they were campaigning against, when can we have a debate on the economic nonsense of the Government's saying that they will fully fund the Crossrail project-a good decision-and yet, at the same time, significantly undermining Crossrail's value for money by cancelling the third runway at Heathrow?
Sir George Young: We made a firm manifesto commitment on the third runway at Heathrow, which the hon. Gentleman would expect us to honour. I welcome his support for what we said on Crossrail. It is an important project that we want to take through. However, if he wants to press the Transport Secretary more fully on the funding issues, there will be an opportunity to do so at Transport questions.
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): The Leader of the House will know that, in the previous Parliament, all parties supported the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London. In the light of the change of Government and the many new Members, may we have an early debate-perhaps a topical debate-about the future of the Olympics, given that the Government have announced £6 billion-worth of cuts, including some to the infrastructure relating to the Olympic games, and more worryingly, cuts in the departmental spending of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which could affect the ability of our athletes and para-athletes who are now in training to be successful?
Sir George Young: The Government are determined to make the 2012 Olympics a success, but in view of the interest of a large number of new Members I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point about a bid for a topical debate on the future of the Olympics.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I was going to welcome the right hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly to his new post, because he is a fine and decent man, and he will have a splendid deputy and wonderful staff to back him up. However, he has let himself down today. He should surely not be defending the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announcing elsewhere what he is planning to do about benefits, which will affect many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, rather than bringing that decision to this House. The Leader of the House also said that he deplored the leaking of the Queen's Speech, but he is not announcing any practical measures to ensure that the person who did it is sacked. Is he really going to be a proper Leader of the House or is he just going to use all the phrases that we used in the past?
Sir George Young: I recall the hon. Gentleman answering business questions in the previous Parliament, when the Leader of the House was not here, and using some of the expressions that I may have used this morning. However, on his substantive point, there was nothing in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that announced any change of Government policy. It was a scene-setting speech about his approach to welfare reform, and it was perfectly appropriate for him to make his speech in that forum. He will appear before the House in the debate on the Queen's Speech, when the hon. Gentleman can press him further.
Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): This morning a journalist on the Sheffield Star, Richard Marsden, rang to inform me that a meeting to which local councillors in the east midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber had been invited to discuss the proposed route of the high-speed rail link to Sheffield and Leeds had been cancelled. That seems to be the clearest indication that the Government have decided to abandon the high-speed rail route to Sheffield and Leeds, and that the Deputy Prime Minister has abandoned my city of Sheffield. Once again a decision has been made with no statement to this House. Could we rectify the situation at the first instance?
Sir George Young: I am always cautious when a reporter rings me up with a story, and I do not always believe everything that I am told. However, I will make some inquiries about the hon. Gentleman's point and get somebody from the Department for Transport to contact him as soon as they can.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab):
Can we have an early statement on the Government's national planning statement, in view of the fact that they have scrapped the Infrastructure Planning Commission? The issue is particularly important to those of us on the Opposition
Benches, on whom the Government will be relying for controversial decisions on nuclear power and energy projects, because they have decided that their junior partner can have the day off on those occasions.
Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals on housing and planning, because they will be in a Bill that will be introduced in this Session. That will be the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his points.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I welcome the suggestion by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for a debate about saying sorry, so that those of us on the Labour Benches can say that we are not sorry that we prevented the global recession from turning into a global depression; we are not sorry that we kept half a million people in work who otherwise would not be in work; we are not sorry that we kept businesses going that would have closed; and we are not sorry that we will never ever say that unemployment is a price worth paying.
Sir George Young: Again, there was absolutely no recognition at all from the hon. Gentleman of the problems that this country now faces because of the irresponsible way in which the outgoing Government borrowed £3 billion a week, with no plans for rebalancing the country's books.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Can we have a debate about the poor quality of the teaching of history in our so-called great public schools? What else could explain the Deputy Prime Minister's comment that his reforms represent the most important reforms since the Great Reform Act of 1832, including universal suffrage, apart perhaps from his innate tendency towards sanctimonious hyperbole?
Sir George Young: I am not sure that that directly related to the future business of the House, but the Deputy Prime Minister will be replying to one of the days of debate on the Queen's Speech. I will make a point of drawing his attention to the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made and ensuring that he gets a robust reply.
Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Lab/Co-op): Could we have a debate on the role, responsibility and competence of the Electoral Commission, following not only the well publicised problems during the general election but the less publicised problem that arose for Members such as myself who are historically described as Labour and Co-operative party candidates? We were told by the Electoral Commission that that description was no longer valid, which caused enormous confusion at a very sensitive time during the election campaign and could have disqualified us from standing.
Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear that, and I wonder why that name had not already been registered with the Electoral Commission so that that problem need not have arisen. A large number of people were turned away from the polling stations at or around 10 o'clock, and that must never happen again. We must ensure that those who want to vote are entitled to vote. I take on board the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate, before our memories of the recent election fade, to determine in what ways the quality of the election and the way in which it was delivered might be improved.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their co-operation, which has enabled 42 Members to question the Leader of the House in 41 minutes. That is a very good start indeed, and I hope that that will continue.
Mr Speaker: I should like to make a relatively brief statement. May I congratulate all Members on their success in being elected to this, the 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? In particular, I should like to congratulate those who have been elected to the House for the first time-the largest number of new Members since 1997. The House always has sympathy with former Members who have lost out in the electoral contest, but there is no doubt that it also benefits from the regular infusion of fresh blood. I am sure that that will be true on this occasion.
I draw Members' attention in particular to the House's code of conduct, which we should all observe in letter and in spirit. Members are answerable for their conduct in this place not just to the House but to the public. While the new Parliament gives the House the opportunity to put behind us the events of the last few years, we cannot expect to be under any less scrutiny than our predecessors. At the same time, we should explain to the public how we work on behalf of our constituents.
On receiving royal approbation for my re-election as Speaker, I made the traditional claim to Her Majesty for all the House's ancient and undoubted rights and privileges, particularly to freedom of speech in debate. That is at the very heart of what we do here for our constituents, and it allows us to conduct our debates without fear of outside interference, but it is a freedom that we need to exercise responsibly in the public interest, and taking into account the interests of others outside this House. I would encourage any Member to research carefully and to take advice before exercising this freedom in sensitive or individual cases.
I should like also to reiterate three key points about security. First: wear your photo-identity pass while you are on the parliamentary estate and take it off when you leave. The pass is particularly helpful for enabling our security and police officers to get to know who Members are, and with large numbers of people working here and visiting, it must be immediately apparent that people are in the right place and helped when they are not. Secondly, you are responsible for the behaviour of your visitors and for ensuring they are escorted in non-public areas of the estate. Thirdly, security is everyone's responsibility. Please be vigilant and tell the Serjeant at Arms about any concerns you have on the subject. I will write to all Members soon with my updated guidance on conventions and courtesies of the House. Most of these will already be familiar from the "New Members' guidebook".
I have one last request to make of Members: brevity. If I am to fulfil my promise to champion the rights of Back Benchers, I want to be able to call as many as possible to ask questions and speak in debate. It is a simple equation: the shorter each question, the more Members may ask one. I will inevitably show my impatience when questions-and answers-are too long, and the more concise you are in debates, the more likely it is that others can speak and that you can do so next time.
Yesterday, I announced the timing of the ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers on Tuesday 8 June. I am now announcing an extension to the time, in order to allow Members to take part in the ballot and to attend the service for the new Parliament in St Margaret's, which is being held that morning. The ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers will therefore be open from 10 am to 12 noon on Tuesday 8 June.
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