Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab):
We will all have been horrified by the brutal murder on 28 May of nearly 100 Ahmadiyya worshippers in two separate attacks in Lahore. Britain's Ahmadiyya Muslims work hard and contribute greatly to this country, and their belief in peace and religious tolerance is an example
to us all. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore find time for Parliament to debate how we can help to stop the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan and what we can do to reassure them that they are safe to practise their faith in the UK?
Sir George Young: Freedom of religious worship is an important principle, which I hope that this country will always defend. May I suggest that the hon. Lady find time for a debate in Westminster Hall, where this serious issue can be debated at more length and an appropriate Foreign Office Minister can respond?
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that a Minister can give us the Government's views on the review set up by the previous Administration and hon. Members can set out in the Chamber what they believe are the benefits and disadvantages of the existing legislation?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his question and I am aware of a serious case in his constituency. I will, of course, contact the Home Secretary to ask where the review to which the hon. Gentleman refers has got to and to ensure that its findings are available to the House.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): May I welcome the Leader of the House's indication that he has some sympathy with the idea of an early debate in Government time about their proposal to extend anonymity to defendants in rape cases? When he decides how early a debate we may have, will he take account of the fact that the policy was in neither the Conservative nor the Liberal Democrat manifestos, but appeared in a mere nine words in the coalition agreement?
Sir George Young: That is an ingenious approach on the case for a debate. I just say to the hon. Lady that a Labour Government adopted such a policy in 1976 when they introduced anonymity for rape defendants, so this is not wholly without precedent. However, regardless of whether the proposal was in the manifestos, this serious issue should be debated on its merits.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): May we have a debate on industrial relations in the aviation industry? Most reasonable and rational people recognise that the British Airways cabin crew dispute has run its course and that serious discussions should be taking place. Earlier this week, several hon. Members met a cabin crew member who told us about the bullying, harassment and vindictiveness that is going on in British Airways, and an early debate would allow us to expose the corporate thuggery that is taking place in the company.
Sir George Young: I hope that the dispute can be brought to a conclusion. It is a matter for British Airways, the trade unions and the staff to resolve, perhaps with the assistance of ACAS, but I note the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op):
In Swansea, where I am meeting the chief of police tomorrow, there is growing concern about the relationship between increased job cuts and crime, and between education cuts and
drug abuse. Given the plans to cut the police grant by £125 million, when will the Leader of the House find time to debate those issues, especially given that the previous Government reduced crime by a third, whereas the former Conservative Government doubled it?
Sir George Young: There will be more resources available to police authorities this year than last year, despite the reductions that have been referred to. As I said earlier, the written ministerial statement indicates that the grant reduction requires the approval of the House, so that might give the opportunity to debate it.
May we have a debate soon, in Government time, about Network Rail's contracts for rail track renewal? The Leader of the House will be aware that the rail track renewal firm Jarvis went into administration in April with the loss of 1,100 jobs, including 350 in my constituency. Network Rail has signed a contract with Babcock that will allow 25 of those 350 who were made redundant to be re-employed, but that is not good enough. Rail track needs to be renewed for reasons of public safety, and those skilled workers need jobs, especially if the Government are to fulfil their obligation to build new railways.
Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the loss of jobs in his constituency. A week today-on 17 June-we will have Transport questions, and I believe that he still has time to table a relevant question on the matter.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Did the Leader of the House knock any sense into IPSA when he met its representatives? Did they give an apology for the breach of security by sending these e-mails to the wrong Members of Parliament, because there was none in the letter that I received? Next time he sees them, will he tell them that a strange paradox is occurring in the House of Commons, as the Back Benchers are taking power to themselves-he referred to that today, right?-yet an oligarchy called IPSA is moving in the opposite direction? Tell it to get in tune!
Sir George Young: I raised the issue that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which should not have happened, with the interim chief executive of IPSA, who is apologetic about it. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a letter from the interim chief executive to confirm what he said to the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and myself.
We are doing what the hon. Gentleman's Government failed to do by taking power away from the Executive and giving it to the House of Commons and the Back-Bench business committee. On the question of setting
up IPSA, if he looks at the voting record, he will see that he either supported it or abstained-he did not object to it.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): Yes, the Labour Government made a terrible mistake more than 35 years ago with what they tried to do on anonymity for rape defendants. I do not think that this is about party political point scoring because more than 50 hon. Members, including 18 Government Members, attended a late-night Adjournment debate on the matter, which is pretty rare. It is becoming clearer day by day that there is confusion about the Government's policy, where the priority came from and the basis for their approach, so may I entreat the Leader of the House to think about providing Government time to discuss something that is a Government plan?
Sir George Young: The position of the Government is that we have put forward a proposal in the coalition agreement. That proposal will require the assent of both Houses before it comes into effect. We have made it clear that we would like a debate before we proceed with the proposal. I take seriously the right hon. Lady's point, which has also been made by her colleagues, that we ought to find time as soon as possible to debate the matter at greater length.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Further to that, there is a lot of confusion about the Government's position. The agreement says not, as the Leader of the House suggested earlier, that the Government will give "serious consideration" to introducing the proposal, but:
"We will extend anonymity in rape cases".
Would he care to propose an amendment to the coalition document to reflect what he said, and perhaps to publish a White Paper or Green Paper on the proposal? Given what the Prime Minister said recently, is he suggesting that there will be consideration of a free vote on the issue when the Government introduce legislation? The coalition's programme for government states that it "will extend anonymity", so he cannot get away with saying that he is just running this idea up the flagpole-that is fag packet politics.
Sir George Young: That, if I may say so, is a distortion of what I said. I said that the coalition Government have made a proposal, which is in the coalition agreement. That proposal cannot reach the statute book unless it goes through both Houses. Before it can do that, it is clear that there needs to be a serious debate about the pros and cons. I have taken on board requests for a debate before we make progress, and I will try to respond to them.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab):
I listened with interest to the Leader of the House when he responded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) about Short money and the proposals made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), the new deputy leader of the Liberal party. However, may we have a debate about the seating arrangements in the Chamber, as some of us remain concerned that although the Liberal party is a signatory to the coalition document, its Members want
the right to set out statements against certain policies, for example on nuclear power, and to make a principled abstention? As a precursor to that debate, may I suggest that we build a fence down the middle of the Chamber so that when the Liberals are sitting on it, we can at least see that they are doing so?
Sir George Young: I am delighted with the new seating arrangements and so are my hon. Friends. May I amplify what I said earlier about Short money? It is for the Clerk of the House, as accounting officer, to ensure that Short money payments are made in accordance with resolutions of the House. As for the voting record, the hon. Gentleman will find that Members of the last Parliament who sat on the Government side of the House very occasionally voted against the Government.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): Patients and NHS staff would have been as concerned as I was to learn yesterday that decisions on capital projects in the NHS that had already been announced, such as the vital rebuild of the Royal Liverpool hospital, will not be forthcoming until the autumn. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or one of his Ministers comes to the House to make an urgent statement about the delay?
Sir George Young: That is probably better raised with the Secretary of State for Health, but I say to the hon. Lady that we were the only party at the last election to pledge an increase in real terms in spending on the NHS, so whatever the prospects are for her hospital, they are better than they would have been.
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): The Leader of the House said last week and again today that he has had meetings with IPSA, and I thank him for the overtures to IPSA that he has made on behalf of the House. Is there any point where he can make a statement to the House on the results of those discussions, before the byzantine bureaucracy of IPSA stops and prevents Members of this House from serving their constituents?
Sir George Young: I understand the concern and repeat that, as Leader of the House, I would be concerned if the allowance regime stood in the way of Members discharging their responsibilities as constituency MPs. In addition to the meeting with the interim chief executive, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I held a meeting with the chairman of the 1922 committee, the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party and the leader of the parliamentary Liberal group. Discussions are ongoing about how we improve the dialogue with IPSA. I add as a footnote that, if the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) looks at the list of ministerial responsibilities, he will see that Government responsibility for policy towards IPSA rests with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and the debate in Westminster Hall will be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary from the relevant Department.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask your advice? Today, two contradictory statements have been made on the Floor of the House-and just repeated by the Leader of the House. It was stated that the decision by the last Government to build 20,000 new homes was not properly funded and there was a black hole, but we also heard the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), say that no ministerial direction was given in the Department for Communities and Local Government in the past 12 months. Both statements cannot be true, because if the policy was not properly funded, the permanent secretary would have asked for a letter of direction. Will you advise on whether it would be possible to have a Treasury spokesman come here to explain the true picture?
Mr Speaker: I do not think I can offer any advice on that point. What I say to the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), who is a very experienced Member, is that what he has just put to me is not a point of order, but a point of debate. He has put his views and concerns very clearly on the record and that may be an object lesson to new Members in debating points, although probably not in points of order.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps you can advise me, even if you could not advise my hon. Friend. In the course of business questions, the Leader of the House made a statement that absolutely no preparation at all had been undertaken by the last Government for a referendum on extending powers to the Welsh Assembly-something that is strenuously denied by those concerned. Is there any way Members can require Ministers to provide evidence for statements made when they are trying to rewrite history?
Mr Speaker: Such a strict requirement would create an entirely new precedent in the way in which debate is conducted in the House. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is asking me to insist that, in future, any statement by a Minister or another Member should require evidence before it can be made. That, I think, would be an extremely dangerous and risky precedent to set. However, he has put his views on the record and I am sure the House is grateful to him.
That this House has considered the matter of tackling poverty in the UK.
Helping people in the UK to escape poverty is one of the key challenges for the new Government and something that we are passionate about achieving. Although this Administration face one of the biggest financial challenges in our peacetime history, we are determined that we will not act in a way that leaves behind some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Before Labour Members contribute to this afternoon's debate, I hope that they will think back to their 13 years in power in times when they felt able to spend money freely, and remind themselves just how little progress was made with so much money.
Within days of taking office we saw the release of official poverty statistics, and what a bleak picture of progress they painted: 18% of people in the UK today live below the official poverty line, defined as a typical family, comprising a couple with two children under 14, having an income before housing costs of less than £342 a week. Official research has shown the number of children who live in families where even the most basic needs cannot be met. Of children in households with incomes in the bottom 20%, more than half live in families who cannot afford to replace worn-out furniture or broken electrical goods, and about two thirds cannot afford to make a saving of £10 a month. Of course, families under pressure to meet their daily needs are likely to see making provision for their retirement as a relatively low priority, which adds further to poverty down the line.
We believe that the last Government went wrong because they simply did not understand the nature of the poverty problem in this country. With one or two notable exceptions-I shall return to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) later in my speech-they seemed to believe that Whitehall knew best: they always talked about poverty simply in terms of money and seldom demonstrated a clear understanding of the far deeper problems that can leave so many people struggling. Behind the facts and figures-beyond the statistics and the measures of material deprivation-lie incredibly complex and challenging issues.
Poverty is not just about income. Family breakdown, a lack of experience of work and education in the home, a lack of experience of parenting in the home-all contribute to a climate of poverty. Some children are brought up without even a single stable family home or in households that are ridden with the challenges of addiction. All of that shapes someone's chances of getting on or not getting on in life.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): A debate on child poverty, which I introduced, was held yesterday in Westminster Hall. Will the Minister confirm that, according to Barnardo's, at the conclusion of 13 years of Labour Government the number of children living in poverty totalled 3.9 million?
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman makes his point very well and I commend him for the work that he has done to highlight the subject. One of the most disappointing things about the last Administration is that, despite talking as much as they did about child poverty, they missed their 2010 target. In their later years in office, child poverty was rising, and not simply as a result of the recession.
The reality is that being in poverty shapes those children's lives and too often ends the lives of too many people. On average, people living in the poorest neighbourhoods in England will die seven years earlier than those living in wealthier neighbourhoods. Health inequalities today are worse than they were in the 1970s and the gap in educational attainment between children from rich and poor backgrounds remains persistently great.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that one form of poverty that is little mentioned is poverty of aspiration for young people who come from very deprived backgrounds? They do not see further or higher education as something that is for them. That is why it is important that we continue to put money into education: if we do not, that gap will worsen.
Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman is right. What he says about higher education is one reason why I am proud that the present Administration will provide more university places this year than were planned by the previous Administration. He makes a valid point. I remember the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) saying in the House some years ago that in his constituency, a person was seen to be weird if he or she stayed on in education past the age of 16. That underlines the challenge in communities where there is too little experience of educational achievement. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami): there is a need to break down the barriers and to raise aspirations.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that evidence also shows that children from the poorest families are unable to make the most of their education? At as early as 22 months, children from poorer backgrounds are doing less well than children from better-off backgrounds and that gap continues to widen as they go through the school system. Does he agree that efforts to address both educational attainment and aspiration and family incomes need to go hand in hand if children are to make the most of their schooling?
Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady has extremely extensive experience of these matters and she is absolutely right. We remain firmly of the view that early intervention is important. I mentioned parenting skills earlier; when talking about these matters, I always pay tribute to the charity Home-Start. Enabling people who have good parenting experience to mentor those who do not makes a valuable contribution to helping young people who grow up in more challenging environments to do better than they might otherwise have done. That is hugely important because we have massive divides within communities, between people living side by side.