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Sir George Young: I take that issue very seriously. As I said last week, I think that the House made the right strategic decision in the last Parliament when it decided to contract out responsibility for the fixing and paying of our allowances. We know of the difficulties that we got into during the last Parliament in that regard. Having said that, however, I should add that the whole purpose of the allowances regime is to enable Members of Parliament to do their job: to represent their constituents, and to hold the Government to account. I am seriously concerned by the growing number of stories from Members on both sides of the House about the difficulties that they are experiencing in accessing the system.
Immediately after business questions I shall meet representatives of all the political parties, and shortly thereafter I shall have a second meeting with the chief executive and the chairman of IPSA, to whom I shall convey the strong feelings which I know are widely shared. I shall also do all that I can to ensure that the technical problems to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are addressed as quickly as possible.
Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I am being besieged by requests to join all-party parliamentary groups. Surely there are now too many of them to be viable. Can the Leader of the House do anything to encourage a merger or coalition between APPGs?
Sir George Young: The solution rests in the hands of hon. Members. An all-party parliamentary group can only get going if enough Members agree to sponsor it; otherwise, it will not get off the ground. However, I agree that there are a large number of APPGs, many of which overlap.
Let me, at the beginning of a new Parliament, urge all colleagues to consider before automatically-to do a favour to a friend-signing up to an APPG whose meetings they have no intention of attending. Although APPGs have an important role to play, we need to be more selective about which ones we have, and to decide our priorities in a better way.
Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the review of paediatric cardiac surgery that is currently under way, and which is due to report in September? I recently visited Glenfield hospital in my constituency, and the patients and staff at its outstanding paediatric cardiac unit are very concerned about the implications of the review for the future of the unit. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will wish those concerns to be fully debated in the House.
Sir George Young: The hon. Lady makes a forceful case, and I can only suggest that she puts in for an Adjournment debate so that her anxieties can be shared and she can get a response from the Minister responsible.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May we have a full day's debate prior to the strategic defence review on the adequacy of our strategy for Afghanistan? That would enable us to examine whether a policy of short-term surging, medium-term withdrawal and no apparent long-term plan for security whatever is the best way to proceed.
Sir George Young: As my hon. Friend will know, we had a debate last week in which the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary both spoke and issues relating to Afghanistan were raised. None the less, I agree that this country is at war and it is important that the House has an opportunity to debate the important issues my hon. Friend raises and to put them in the context of a strategic defence review. I would therefore certainly hope that before too long we have a debate along the lines that my hon. Friend suggests.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In thanking the right hon. Gentleman for arranging a debate on the middle east, may I ask him whether he has seen early-day motion 120, standing in my name?
[That this House advocates and supports a warm and close relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of India; notes the two countries' historical ties; further notes that India is the world's largest democracy; recognises that such a relationship can help resolve the vexing issue of Jammu and Kashmir; believes that the Indian High Commission in London has a vital role to play in fostering this friendship; regrets that the conduct of the Indian High Commissioner, Nalin Surie, is causing serious damage to that friendship; condemns the failure of the Indian High Commissioner to respond to letters from the right hon. Member from Manchester, Gorton stretching back to January 2010, in which the right hon. Member has requested that the visa application of one of his constituents initially made many months ago and for which the constituent has paid £113.86 has still not been granted; is concerned that the efforts of a right hon. Member of this House to help have been rudely ignored; further believes that Nalin Surie is not fit to hold such an important and influential post; and calls for his removal to India by the Indian government and his replacement by a diplomat who will commit himself or herself to fostering good relations between the two countries.]
The early-day motion draws attention to the failure of the Indian high commission to grant a constituent of mine-a British national-a visa six months after he applied, while keeping more than £100 of his money. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot arrange for a debate on the matter, will he ask the Foreign Secretary to intervene?
Sir George Young: I am very sorry to hear of what has happened and of the discourtesy that was extended. I will, of course, pass the right hon. Gentleman's representations on to the Foreign Secretary and see if he can take the matter up with the Indian high commission.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will it be possible to have a debate next week on my right hon. Friend's proposal to set up the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, rather than having it go through on the nod later this evening? If we had a debate on it, we would be able to consider early-day motion 79.
[That this House calls on the Government to ensure that any Bill to establish a fixed-term Parliament and to change arrangements for Dissolution is published first in draft and then subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny.]
Moreover, we would be able to consider whether the Committee should be a Joint Committee of both Houses. My right hon. Friend and I both served on a Joint Committee on constitutional reform in the last Parliament,
and I suggest to him that a Joint Committee would be more appropriate than a single Committee of this House alone.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have put down a motion on today's Order Paper to set up the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee because we thought it would be helpful to the House for that Select Committee to be elected at the same time as all the other Select Committees and to get it up and running quickly. My hon. Friend will know better than anyone else in this House that if he is here at six o'clock this evening and makes a noise, the matter will be adjourned and we will then have to find time for a debate. He is perfectly entitled to do that. The consequence would be that we would lose a bit of time in establishing this new Select Committee, but it would not be the end of the world if that happened-and my hon. Friend could, indeed, raise in that subsequent debate the broader questions about how this proposed new Select Committee would interface with, for example, the Public Administration and the Justice Select Committees.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Last year, in Liverpool, Wavertree we saw the savage death of John Paul Massey, who was savagely attacked by a pit bull. A review of the dangerous dogs legislation was initiated in March, under the last Government. Will the Leader of the House urge the Home Secretary to update the House on the progress being made with this review?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, and I understand the concern felt in her constituency. On Monday, we have the Queen's Speech debate on home affairs, and I will make sure that the Minister replying to that debate takes her point on board and updates the House on the review to which she refers.
Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): I pay tribute to the courage and dedication of firefighters up and down the land. May we have a debate on funding for fire authorities because under the previous comprehensive spending review, shire authorities, such as your own, Mr Speaker, received on average an allocation of just 2%, whereas many urban authorities received up to 18%. Although we all understand the financial constraints that we are under at the moment, can the funding under the next review at least be fair across the land?
Sir George Young: There are oral questions to the relevant Department a week today, so I hope that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to share his concern with Ministers and get a robust response.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): When will the Leader of the House timetable a debate on the provision of respite care homes and, in particular, on their closure when there is an urgent need for them and no alternative provision? I am thinking, in particular, of the possible closure of Earlsmoor respite care home in my constituency. Does he agree that such homes should not be closed when no alternative provision has been made, given what is, in many cases, a thankless task carried out by thousands of carers?
Sir George Young: I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the job done by those who work in respite care homes. I do not know whether it would be appropriate for him to have an Adjournment debate on the specific subject that he raises and, thus, get an answer from the responsible Minister.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Further to this week's letter written by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government regarding regional spatial strategy and specifying recommendations for Gypsy and Traveller site numbers per region, could we have a debate on how local authorities can protect themselves from Gypsy and Traveller encampments riding roughshod over planning law in green belt areas? We must ensure that we have a fair system of proper provision of legal campsites for Gypsies and Travellers.
Sir George Young: I understand the anxiety that the hon. Lady expresses and I know that at the previous general election my party put forward proposals to give local authorities greater powers to deal with these unauthorised encampments. She may have an opportunity a week today at Communities and Local Government questions to develop her concerns with the appropriate Ministers-perhaps she will be able to do so during topical questions.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): May we have a debate on domestic energy prices and, in particular, on the fact that many of my constituents are still being ripped off? That applies particularly to those who live in rural areas that do not have a connection to the gas mains. Those people's unit prices are increasing every quarter and people living on some small estates are paying different prices. Can we ensure that the market helps these people, because at the moment it is not working?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman speaks with feeling on behalf of those who live in rural constituencies and are exposed to those higher prices. I shall share his concern with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and see that he receives a reply.
Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that community hospitals could "breathe easily", which is great news for those of us who have such hospitals in our constituencies, as we know how important they are. Could we have an early debate on community hospitals so that I and others can raise issues of importance to us? For example, people in Clitheroe were promised a new hospital to replace the old community hospital, but the project was frozen last year-the people of Clitheroe should not have to wait.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a forceful case. He will know that we exempted health expenditure from the difficult decisions that an incoming Government will have to take. He may wish to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall on community hospitals, and I am sure that if he does so, the debate will be well attended by Members from both sides of the House.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab):
Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on support for the UK film industry? Labour
Members raised the issue in Business, Innovation and Skills questions earlier. My personal interest arises because of the centre of creative excellence south of Seaham, part of the funding for which comes from One NorthEast, the regional development agency, and from Northern Film and Media. We understand that One NorthEast faces a cut of 40% in its budget this year. This is a matter of concern, because of the potential for jobs and training opportunities. Those on both sides of the House might find it instructive if we were to have a debate on this issue.
Sir George Young: The UK film industry is an important export earner for this country, and we are proud of it. Culture, Media and Sport questions will take place on 21 June, and I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the film industry.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a full debate on the implications of the Government's excellent proposals to get rid of the previous Government's planning targets? Two beautiful pieces of countryside in my constituency, which are at Micklethwaite and in Menston, face unnecessary and unwanted proposed developments. Our holding a full debate may allow residents in those areas, who are campaigning against the developments, to see a route map towards having these pieces of land taken out of the unitary development plan altogether.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend reminds the House that the letter from the Secretary of State abandoning the regional spatial strategies has been greeted with acclaim by those on this side of the House and, I suspect, secretly by those on the other side of the House too. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to cross-question planning Ministers a week today, and I will see that they are forearmed with an answer to his question about the sites in his constituency.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Funding for the Manchester Metrolink extensions is being reviewed by this Government, despite the fact that advanced works and track laying are taking place. Can the Leader of the House use his good offices to urge the Secretary of State for Transport to come to this House to give assurances to Greater Manchester transport planners and my constituents on this important matter?
Sir George Young: I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, because in a previous capacity I authorised the extension of the Metrolink. All the questions from Labour Members are requests for more public money, at a time when they have left us with a deficit of £160 billion. It would be helpful if, at some point, we heard, alongside the suggestions to spend more money, one or two suggestions as to how we might save some of the money and get the public accounts back in balance. To return to his specific question, I should say to him that Transport questions will take place on 17 June, and that will give him the chance to press the case for the Metrolink in his constituency.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I understand that the Government intend to press ahead with using valuable parliamentary time to debate a Government motion on hunting. If that is the case, may I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that that debate is as quick as possible and takes place as soon as possible?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend is right, because the Queen's Speech contains a commitment to have a debate on hunting and for the House to resolve whether or not the Hunting Act 2004 should stay. I note his request for such a debate to take place sooner rather than later, but it will have to take its place against bids for debates on other subjects that are equally or perhaps more important.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): In the previous Parliament and in the run-up to the general election, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, made it very clear that one of the first priorities would be to remove allowances from Members of Parliament who are elected to this House but who do not take their seats and do not fulfil the range of duties that people expect of a Member of Parliament, and thus to resolve an iniquitous situation. Given the great public concern about the abuse of expenses and allowances in the previous Parliament, when can we expect a motion to come before the House to remove those allowances from Members of Parliament who do not do their jobs here?
Sir George Young: I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman raises. I hope that he will understand my saying that I will need to consult colleagues in government and perhaps the authorities in the House before we go down the particular route that he has outlined.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Yesterday, the Prime Minister confirmed that nobody in the public sector will be allowed to earn 20 times more than what the people at the bottom earn. I calculate that no manager in the NHS will, thus, be able to earn more than £189,321.60. Can the Secretary of State for Health make a statement as to when that limit will be imposed?
Sir George Young: I commend my hon. Friend on his mental arithmetic in coming up with that figure. Clearly, this involves issues relating to those who are already getting paid salaries that exceed the differential, so the policy is easier to implement in respect of new recruits as opposed to existing staff. None the less, I shall raise this issue with the appropriate Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and see that my hon. Friend is given an appropriate answer.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): This follows on from our initial discussion about IPSA. If the Leader of the House has any discussions with Sir Ian Kennedy, will he remind him that a lot of people in this House are concerned about the safety of the online system? Is the Leader of the House aware, for instance, that this email that I have here has been sent to me when it should have gone to another Member of Parliament? It has names and everything on it-I am not disclosing the name now, but he is welcome to see it if he wants. He should draw this to the attention of Mr Kennedy and tell him that a system that allows this to happen within the space of a few weeks-according to my information, this has also happened to another Member of Parliament-has to stop. Therefore, when the Leader of the House has these discussions he should consider the question of not merely sticking to the online system. While he is at it, will he ask Mr Kennedy whether his expenses details are online? And what are they?
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