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3 Jun 2010 : Column 586

Sir George Young: Yes, I will. I take very seriously any breach of confidentiality, particularly on the sensitive matter of Members' expenses, against the background of all the problems that we had in the last Parliament. I will therefore take up the whole issue of security at the meeting that I will have shortly with the acting chief executive and the chairman. I will ask whether they will consider, even at this late stage, an alternative regime for those who are not comfortable with claiming online.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to follow up the important issue of business rates and major regeneration schemes? In the Gracious Speech, we saw our first glimpse of the excellent Bill for decentralisation and localism, which promises to give local communities a real share in local growth. In my constituency of Harlow, the regeneration of the town centre would be hugely supported if a greater share of the new business rates could be kept in the local community.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a forceful point. There will be CLG questions a week today, when he will be able to press the Ministers on that, but I agree that it is important that those who pay business rates should have access to the relief that they are entitled to automatically, and that there should be opportunities to recycle the business rates within the local community.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I entirely agree with the comments made by colleagues on both sides of the House on the workings of IPSA. I did not come to this Parliament to be an accountant, and yet I find that I spend an inordinate amount of time now trying to sort out all the demands of IPSA. I wonder whether there might be confusion in the Government on this, as the written answer from the Leader of the House published in Hansard today in response to a series of questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) states:

On another page, however, a written answer from the Prime Minister states:

So who is responsible for what, and is the Deputy Prime Minister actually a Minister?

Sir George Young: Yes, he is. I understand the concern that the right hon. Lady has raised, and let me explain the thinking behind this. The Bill setting up IPSA was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, and any legislation that dealt with IPSA would have to have a Government Department sponsoring it. To that extent, therefore, it is true to say that responsibility for IPSA and all the other bodies falls under the umbrella of the Deputy Prime Minister. However, it is also the case that at the moment IPSA is an independent body, so questions about how much people get paid and how it operates are not ones that Ministers can answer-hence the reply to the hon. Member for Walsall North. Against that background, however, I hope that she will accept that those two apparently conflicting statements can actually be reconciled.

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Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind the House that there is a statement to follow, and a heavily subscribed debate thereafter. If I am to have any chance of accommodating remaining Members, therefore, I need short questions and short answers.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend make further representations about the demonstration in Parliament square? The current demonstration is completely different from the one in the last Parliament. That focused on one individual, but this morning there were 20 tents in Parliament square. Does he think that this is a satisfactory situation?

Sir George Young: I understand that the Mayor of London is going to the High Court today to get an injunction in order to make progress on clearing Parliament square.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House assist me in getting a response from the Department of Health on a matter that I first raised in February, prompted by consultants at Wexham Park hospital in my constituency? They feared that the hospital had fiddled the books to acquire foundation status. I got replies from the former Secretary of State for Health every month, telling me that the Department was still looking at the question. I have been in direct touch with the current Secretary of State's office but have still heard nothing. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to reply to me on this important issue?

Sir George Young: Yes.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on the badger cull, which is a real and present danger to farmers in my constituency? An infected heifer must be put down immediately, whereas an infected badger has to be let go, as putting it down is a criminal offence.

Sir George Young: I will share my hon. Friend's concerns with the Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs who has responsibility for this matter. I know that there is concern in rural constituencies about the current regime, which precludes badger culls.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week on reducing Humber bridge tolls, or maintaining the current freeze on them, so that they are no longer a tax on local people and businesses in my area?

Sir George Young: I would be misleading the hon. Gentleman if I said that I could find time for a debate on that next week. However, may I suggest that he applies for a debate in Westminster Hall or for one on the Adjournment?

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): In the last Parliament, I asked the previous Leader of the House for a debate on the NHS's use of independent sector treatment centres, following the tragic and unnecessary death of a constituent of mine at the Eccleshill facility in Bradford. May I ask the new Leader
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of the House for a debate in Government time on this important issue, so that we can reassure people that the use of independent sector treatment centres is both safe and appropriate for the NHS?

Sir George Young: I was sorry to hear about the death of the hon. Member's constituent. I see no reason why he should not get an answer from the Secretary of State for Health giving him an assurance that, where health authorities contract out and use the independent sector, they first of all assure themselves that all the appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that patient health is not prejudiced.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): According to the Bank of England's annual report, which was published today, the Governor was paid £305,000 last year. However, that pales into insignificance when compared to the salaries of the chief executives of major-and indeed minor-financial organisations. They are regularly paid more than £1 million a year, and sometimes £10 million or even £20 million. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) would like a debate on public sector salaries, but will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on all high salaries? That would allow the House to be aware of the vast disparity that obtains in this country.

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I think that I am right in saying that Will Hutton has been invited to do a study into pay differentials in this country, and I hope that that will inform the question that the hon. Gentleman has asked.

Christopher Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on pensions and on encouraging the general public to save for their old age? That is especially important given the report in today's Financial Times that suggests that the coalition Government are planning to scrap from 2012 the requirement on employers to enrol employees automatically in pension schemes.

Sir George Young: I would counsel the hon. Gentleman against believing absolutely everything that he reads in the papers, even the Financial Times. However, there will be opportunities to put questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the hon. Gentleman will, of course, be able to share his anxieties with ministerial colleagues during the debate on the Budget statement, when that comes.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware of the plight of people with haemophilia who were infected with HIV and hepatitis C as a result of their NHS treatment with contaminated blood products. Given the confirmation yesterday that Ministers do not intend to challenge the High Court ruling in the case of March, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come urgently to this House to set out the Government's approach to supporting that very needy group, bearing in mind that nearly 2,000 haemophiliacs have died so far?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I remember the campaign in the last Parliament, which had support from both sides of the House. Of course I will arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to answer the question that he has raised.

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Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): Can the dear Leader tell us when he might find time for a debate on the future of the aircraft carriers? Before the election, we were promised that we would have an examination of the break clauses on day one of the new Government. However, day one, week one and almost month one have gone and there has been no announcement. Any public expenditure could be found by cutting the grants that we provide to the EU.

Sir George Young: I am grateful for that helpful suggestion-the only suggestion that we have had so far from the Opposition-as to how money might possibly be saved. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have announced a strategic defence and security review, which will examine the issues that he has raised, and he will have an opportunity at Defence questions to press Ministers on the specific projects that he has outlined.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): May I ask the Leader of the House when we are going to have a debate on what the Government call quangos, because there are 700 jobs at stake in Coventry? More importantly, do the Government consider regional development agencies such as Advantage West Midlands to be quangos? Do they also understand that major problems are now building up in the civil service itself-among the lower-paid, not the higher-paid? If the definition of quango includes them, should we not have a major debate on this?

Sir George Young: On the specific issue of the west midlands regional development agency, we have just had an hour's questions to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which included, I understand, a question on the west midlands RDA. On the issue of quangos generally, quangos cover a wide range of Government Departments, and it may be better to look at the quangos within the context of each individual Department and see how they fit in, rather than have a wide-ranging debate on quangos spanning every Department.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Leader of the House to the Dispatch Box. Thinking back to when he and I, and the Speaker, entered the House, one of the toughest parts of the job was if someone had a young family and represented a constituency some way from the House. They were tough times, and I do not want us to go back to the days when I very rarely saw my wife and children because they lived 200 miles away. Is it not the case that IPSA almost seems to be at war with new young Members who have family responsibilities some distance from this House, and without consultation has changed the transport arrangements for families and is making it more and more difficult for families to stay together when we are doing the difficult job that we do in this House?

Sir George Young: I believe people of all incomes, all ages and all types of family arrangements should be eligible to become Members of Parliament, and the allowance regime should not penalise any particular group or deter any particular group from becoming MPs. IPSA has said that it will conduct a review of the regime. I believe that that is an important step, and I know that other hon. Members will feed into the review
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points similar to the one that the hon. Gentleman has raised, so that Members are not separated from their families for large lengths of time.

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I am aware that the Government have so far announced in just two weeks some 24 reviews; there may well be many more. May we have a debate in the House on the number of consultants who will be employed to conduct these reviews-and, possibly, the Leader of the House might be agreeable to having a debate on whether we need a review to look at the number of reviews?

Sir George Young: I am sure that that was meant in an entirely helpful way. I see nothing wrong in having a review on a serious and complex issue, in order to ensure that Governments come to the right conclusion, and the last Labour Government announced a long series of reviews. At the same time, we are taking steps to cut costs in-year on IT and the use of consultants, and I see no conflict between having some serious reviews on constitutional issues, economically conducted, and at the same time reviewing the use of consultants more widely within Whitehall.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Further to a number of questions asked during BIS questions, may we have a debate, or at least a clear statement, on the future of the agency workers directive, which would affect beneficially and give minimal protection to millions of workers in many constituencies, including my own? Before the election there was a clear commitment to enforce the agency workers directive. There seems to be some confusion in the new Government; that may be the product of having Ministers from different parties in the Department, but we need a clear statement so that we know where we are.

Sir George Young: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that there was sometimes confusion between Ministers when they all came from the same party. On the serious issue that he raises, I understand that it was touched on during BIS questions, but I will ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to him, dealing with the specific question that he asks about the agency workers directive.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): Given the contradictory answers given to me and to the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills by the Secretary of State, I wonder whether we could have a debate on the loan facility for Sheffield Forgemasters, given that it is not only of importance to Sheffield but of strategic national importance for manufacturing.

Sir George Young: That sounds an excellent candidate for an Adjournment debate, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is successful in the ballot.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): For the convenience of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman publish in a single document a list of all the reviews that the Government are undertaking, their purpose and their time scale?

Sir George Young: If the hon. Gentleman tables a question for written answer along those lines, I am sure that he will get a full reply.

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Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Is it true that the Lib Dem part of the coalition is continuing to claim state funding, despite not being in opposition, and if so, should we not have an urgent debate on that obvious way to save the Leader of the House some money?

Sir George Young: Short money is available to Opposition parties; it is not available to Government parties. On the more general question, we are committed to a reform of party funding, and that was announced in the Queen's Speech.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time-a full day debate, on the Floor of the House-on human rights around the world, in which we might discuss, for instance, the problem in Russia and the Government's change of policy in relation to Russia, which is cutting all the programmes that engage with civil society in Russia and that make it possible for people to defend their rights against a very difficult regime, in a situation where very few people have an opportunity to put forward their legitimate rights and few people have an opportunity to assemble? Will he ensure that Ministers come to that debate and explain their change of policy on Russia?

Sir George Young: It sounds to me an ideal question to put to Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers when that time arises.

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