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10 Jun 2010 : Column 474

Sir George Young: I heard what the Prime Minister said:

When we introduce the proposed legislation, that will be the opportunity for debate that my right hon. Friend referred to. However, I recognise the serious concern of Members on both sides of the House and it may be possible before we set up the Back-Bench business committee to find time for a further debate.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I supplement the question put last week by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds)? I would like a debate in the House to reconsider the question whether a Member who was elected to the House should be able to use its facilities, and possibly take allowances from the public purse, without him or her taking the Oath of Allegiance.

Mr Speaker: Order. I think a statement, not a debate on the matter is sought by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir George Young: Indeed. This reply may not make my hon. Friend's pulse race. Nevertheless, issues about allowances are no longer a matter for the House. Issues about allowances, including to Members who may not have taken their seats, are now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): Given that the Department for Communities and Local Government has just announced the end of ring-fencing for stroke strategy money, can the Leader of the House arrange for any Department of Health advice on the increase in disability and the number of hospital admissions that that is likely to cause to be placed in the Library? Will he allow time for a debate on the stroke strategy in Government time, given that stroke is a major cause of death and disability?

Sir George Young: I am in favour of giving local government the maximum freedom to use its resources intelligently, without constraining its decisions by directions from central Government. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady and her colleagues who share her views will be able forcefully to make the case to the local authority in her area about the importance of providing resources for those who suffer from stroke.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The new chairman of the Sentencing Guidelines Council has called for hefty cuts in sentences to people who plead guilty to the police, which does not bode well for his term in office. May we have a debate about the Government's approach to sentencing? Given that people already get a considerable discount for pleading guilty and prisoners are automatically released halfway through their sentence, many of my constituents would like the Government to move towards ensuring that prisoners are serving their sentence in full, rather than softer sentences or letting people out of prison even earlier.

Sir George Young: That is a typically robust proposition from my hon. Friend. On 15 June there are oral questions to Justice Ministers, which may be an opportunity for him to raise the matter again.

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Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the importance of diversity in news broadcasting in the UK? There is real concern in Wales, Scotland and the regions of England about the Government's decision not to proceed with pilots for regional news programmes. What is the Government's position and how will they ensure the diversity in news broadcasting that is so important?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue and I think it best that he comes along on 21 June and puts the question to Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The September G8 in Canada will pay particular attention to how the international community takes forward the millennium development goals. Between now and the rise of the House for the summer recess, will my right hon. Friend try to make time for a general debate on international development so that both sides of the House can reinforce the need for the international community to take forward the MDGs, as set out in early-day motion 179?

[That this House recognises the important contribution and commitment the UK has made to the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); welcomes the Government's commitment to spend 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on overseas aid and to enshrine this commitment in law; further recognises that development benefits often remain out of reach of those who are poorest, most marginalised and affected by conflict; acknowledges that many of the MDGs are off track, especially those relating to maternal, infant and child health; further acknowledges the importance of the G8, G20 and MDG Review in mobilising the international community to achieve the MDGs; and trusts that the Government will show strong international leadership in encouraging others in the international community to work towards an MDGs' rescue plan with clear political and financial commitments, and with every G8 country providing solid national commitments and timetables.]

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a forceful case. I will see whether between now and the summer recess we can arrange a debate along the lines he has proposed.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House and his deputy for bringing forward with great expedition the proposals for a Back-Bench business committee. Sadly, that stands in contrast to the delay we experienced over the last year or so. Before we have too much of a love-in, however, I must tell the Leader of the House that there are a number of omissions in the decision of the whole House last year about how the committee should be constituted. To maintain consensus next Tuesday, and to keep all Back Benchers behind his proposals, will he meet me and a number of interested colleagues from all parties to discuss serious amendments, which we can table tomorrow?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him on his election to the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform.

The debate on Tuesday is House business, and it will be for the House to decide whether it wants to proceed with the motions I have tabled or agree to amendments.
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Amendments to some of the motions have already been tabled. I should be more than happy to see the hon. Gentleman after business questions if he is available, to explain why we have constructed the motions as we have, why this is not the last word on implementing Wright, and why I believe that on Tuesday we should take an important step forward and build on it.

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Last week, the Leader of the House told us that the Mayor of London had applied to the High Court for an injunction in respect of the demonstration in Parliament square. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation?

Sir George Young: The Mayor did indeed apply for an injunction. The case has been adjourned. My understanding is that more people appeared wishing to make their case than was originally anticipated, so it is taking longer for the High Court to hear many of the people now on Parliament square before it reaches a decision, but I shall try to keep the House informed.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Members on both sides of the House who attended the annual meeting held by the all-party group on learning disability and Mencap will know that research was published showing that it costs £7,000 per place to support people with learning disabilities to go into employment. This morning, it was announced that there would be a £30 million cut in the supporting people element of the local government area-based grant. That will obviously fall on some of the most vulnerable people with learning disabilities, including those in my area, and will undermine their efforts to find employment. If we contrast that with the £17,000 cost per place for day care, we see that it makes no sense in economic terms, so may we have a debate on fairness and supporting people, and how to make the big society more inclusive?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. He will know the background to the decision to reduce the resources available. Before the last election, the outgoing Chancellor said that the cuts that would be necessary would be deeper than those imposed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but I am afraid we have heard no details at all from Opposition Members as to how those economies might be made. Turning to the point the hon. Gentleman made, he says that the cuts will inevitably fall on the most vulnerable. I hope that the local authority will protect the most vulnerable from the impact of that decision and not seek economies from the client group he has just referred to.

Matthew Hancock (West Suffolk) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that my constituents and those of Members throughout the House have welcomed the proposal to abolish the regional spatial strategies set up by the previous Government. May we have a statement and a debate about when regional spatial strategies will be abolished in legislation?

Sir George Young: If my hon. Friend had asked that question an hour earlier, he would have received a definitive response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Later in the Session, there will be a planning Bill, which may
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be a forum for changing the planning regime. There has been a statement about regional spatial strategies. Speaking from memory, I think the guidance is being altered, but I shall arrange for a definitive reply to be forwarded to my hon. Friend.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): It is my desire to help the Leader of the House to save money wherever possible. To that end, has he seen my suggestion that we hold the September sittings in Birmingham, rather than in the building site that the House will be in September? May we have an early debate on the obvious benefits and cost-effectiveness of moving Parliament to Birmingham?

Sir George Young: Whether it would save money to sit in Birmingham, rather than in London, given some of the costs involved for some Members, is a moot point. So I am afraid that the motion on September sittings, which I have tabled, presumes that the House will continue to sit here. But may I commend the hon. Gentleman? He is the first Opposition Member who has made a proposal to save money.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware of the significant concerns among hon. Members about the business practices of banks, in which, of course, we now hold a substantial stake. The Royal Bank of Scotland in Partington-one of the most deprived areas of my constituency-has just announced closure plans. Will he ensure that there is time to debate the future of the banking sector and to discuss economic and social responsibilities, and emphasise to his colleagues in the Treasury team that the House will want that to be covered?

Sir George Young: I was sorry to hear about the proposed closure of the bank in the hon. Lady's constituency. She will have heard me announce that the Budget statement will be made on Tuesday week, after which there are a number of days to debate Budget resolutions. That will provide an opportunity for her to raise this concern with Treasury Ministers.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): It might surprise the House to know that, among the letters that I receive, there are many asking me what I am doing to uphold the hunting ban in inner-city Hackney. They at least equal the number of letters that I receive about urban foxes. In the past week, nine-month-old twins in my constituency were the very unfortunate victims of a nasty attack by one of those urban foxes. Given that we have some idea of the Government's plans about how to deal with fox hunting, have they any plan to consider either guidance or, if necessary, legislation on urban foxes?

Sir George Young: The hon. Lady raises a serious issue, and the whole House has sympathy for the family of the twins who were mauled by a fox a few days ago. I will raise with the Home Secretary the issue of whether further guidance or, indeed, a change in the legislation is necessary, but I hope that there may be ways to deal with those risks other than primary legislation.

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Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Surely the Leader of the House is washing his hands, Pilate-like, of the responsibilities that the House ought to have when it comes to the payment of Members' allowances to a party and to Members who deliberately abstain and fail to do the work that they ought to do on behalf of their constituents. Surely, there should be not only a debate in the House but a statement by the Government and, indeed, an admonishment of those Members who fail to turn up to the House and to do the job as elected Members, but who are paid full allowances for coming here and for failing to do that job.

Sir George Young: I understand the concern, but it was a unanimous decision of the last Parliament that decisions on the salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament should be taken no longer by the House, but by an independent organisation. That is where the responsibility rests. As I said a moment ago, there is a debate on Government policy on IPSA on Wednesday, and that may provide the hon. Gentleman with an opportunity to raise the issue again.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that, in Ealing, the Post Office is engaging in yet another consultation on a major proposal to close down a post office in one place and move it to another. Even while the consultation is going on, it appears that some of the preparatory building work is taking place at the proposed site. I wonder whether we can have a further look at how the Post Office conducts some of these so-called consultations.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Ealing is an area with which I am not unfamiliar. I am looking forward to sharing with her the party in my former constituency later today to celebrate her election to the House. I will raise with Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers the issue that she raises about whether the Post Office has gone through the appropriate procedures in apparently pre-empting a decision on closing one office and moving it to another location.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Returning to the economy, in view of today's forecast that unemployment will rise substantially and stay there for the duration of the Conservative-dominated Government, will we have regular statements by the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary on the misery that will be undoubtedly inflicted on so many of our constituents?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman can raise that matter in the Budget debate. We inherited the largest fiscal deficit in the EU. Everyone agrees that we must take some measures to get it under control. The sooner that we get it under control, the better for securing a long-term, sustainable recovery and the better the prospect for interest rates. Unless we take those decisions to rebalance the economy and promote growth in the private sector, the situation will not improve.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Although I welcome the Government's proposals to introduce individual voter registration, I wonder whether the Leader of the House could grant us an early debate on restricting
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postal and proxy votes, which have brought the electoral system in this country under so much criticism in the past.

Sir George Young: The Electoral Commission is, I believe, doing a review of the recent election that will be published. It would be sensible to await the outcome of that review before we consider any decision on restricting postal or proxy votes. I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend expresses, but we need a debate set against the background of the work that is now under way.

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I am sure that, as a very distinguished former Housing Minister, the Leader of the House will be disappointed in the appalling complacency of some of the answers and, frankly, the frightening delay in getting to the Dispatch Box of some Housing Ministers during Communities and Local Government questions today. May we have a debate in Government time on housing and planning policies, so that we can ensure that they are based on the needs and aspirations of those who live on council estates, not those who live on country estates?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman was also a good Housing Minister. Housing completions in the year that has just ended were the fewest since 1946. The last Labour Government built 26,000 fewer houses per year than the previous Conservative Government. That is not a record to be proud of, and as the hon. Gentleman will have heard from the Housing Minister who was at the Dispatch Box, he found that promises had been made to spend money that did not exist. That is why we had to take some tough decisions. None the less, when the Chancellor considered savings to be made in year, £170 million was found to make progress with social rented housing. We hope to do a lot better than the outgoing Administration in meeting housing need.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): There is great concern in Cleethorpes, particularly among those who are employed in the tourism trade, about the spread of the salt marsh on Cleethorpes pleasure beach, and there is anger at the attitude of the Government agency, Natural England-an unaccountable and unelected body-in respect of overruling the local authority, which is, of course, democratically accountable and elected, in its desire to manage the beach. Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the role of agencies, such as Natural England, and their ability to overrule democratically accountable bodies?

Sir George Young: My extensive briefing does not cover salt marshes in Cleethorpes, but my hon. Friend raises an important issue about the role of elected local authorities and that of the unelected quangos that sit above them. There may be an opportunity on 24 June, during Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, for him to press Ministers in more detail, and I will give them advance notice of his concern.

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