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As it turned out, the Chancellor was announcing yet another commission. Just so that we know whether any decisions remain that are likely to be made by Ministers as opposed to being outsourced to a commission or review, will the right hon. Gentleman place details in the Library of all the commissions that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government have set up, all the reviews that have been announced, the number of people who are involved in the reviews and commissions, their
terms of reference and their cost? Will he give us a pointer as to whether the Government need so many Ministers to carry out the business of government, given that there might not be a lot left for them to do after all the commissions and reviews have been set up?
I see that the Leader of the House spoke at the Hansard Society last night about altering party conferences. Obviously, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences could be merged and simply called the Conservative party conference.
Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the shadow Leader of the House. Doubtless the subject is genuinely scintillating, but it is not a matter of Government responsibility. I hope that the right hon. Lady might want to move on to something that is.
Ms Winterton: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I simply wanted to ensure that if the Leader of the House intends to refer us to the Procedure Committee, as his speech suggested, there will be discussions with all the parties before that is done. I certainly have not been consulted and, as far as I know, nor have other parties. Will he ensure that consultation happens?
On anonymity for defendants in rape cases, we are now getting increasingly confusing and contradictory comments from the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister. Three weeks ago, the Government pledged to give defendants anonymity. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister appeared to change that position to one whereby the accused would be named only if prosecutors brought charges, and this week the Justice Secretary blamed the Liberal Democrats, saying that they had adopted the policy in opposition. There was further confusion at questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities today.
Ministers keep saying that they want a proper, considered discussion, but it is extremely difficult for hon. Members to contribute to any discussion when it is completely unclear which Minister is speaking for the Government. The policy seems to be the victim of hasty negotiations, but the real victims will be women who have been raped. The need for a proper debate on the subject has now become urgent, and I ask the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that he will allocate one of the Government's general debates-we have a lot of them at the moment-to it.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. On the Ministry of Defence, Sir Bill Jeffrey and Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup have announced to their staff that they will retire in the autumn. Both stayed on longer than they originally intended to see things through over the election period and to get through the strategic defence and security review.
The Government have made many statements-nine since the Queen's Speech. We have been very open with the House, and about five, perhaps even seven statements have been made this week. The Speaker has indicated that he wants more urgent questions, and that is a useful way to hold the Government to account and keep the House informed.
The Chief Secretary is robust under fire and can give as good as he can take.
I have answered a written question on reviews, referring to the coalition agreement, which sets out the Government's key reviews and priorities. It is then up to individual Departments to provide information about their reviews.
In my compelling speech last night to the Hansard Society, I said that perhaps it was time for an open and serious debate, in which hon. Members of all parties should be engaged, about sitting hours and sittings in September, to ascertain whether we have the right configuration and whether we are making the best use of our time.
Anonymity for defendants in rape cases is a serious issue, about which there is a wide range of views. The Government are determined to drive up the conviction rate for rape and ensure that those who are convicted get serious sentences. I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is right for the House to debate the matter seriously and calmly, and I will do what I can to provide for such a debate.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on planning guidance for local councils now that the regional spatial strategies have been abolished? In my constituency and many surrounding rural constituencies, there are many proposals to erect vast numbers of wind turbines the size of the London Eye. I greatly hoped that we could have some guidance about extending what happens in Scotland and many other European countries so that we have an exclusion zone of 2 km from dwellings.
Sir George Young: I understand that my hon. Friend is not a fan of wind turbines. The Government's view is that communities should be protected from the unacceptable impacts of development. Current planning policy in England is that the distance between a wind farm or turbine and a home should be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, I will bring my hon. Friend's concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on competition among providers of liquefied petroleum gas to householders in rural areas? My constituents in the village of Llannon find themselves in an impossible situation because when one person has a contract with one company, no one else can go to another provider. That needs serious reconsideration.
Sir George Young: Like the hon. Lady, I have a rural constituency where many people are dependent on one supplier of LPG. Speaking from memory, I think that the Office of Fair Trading had been invited to conduct a review of the matter. I will draw her concern to the attention of the OFT and see whether the issue might be revisited.
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know about the great success of the south of England show at Ardingly recently. Does he also know that I am president of the hounds show at Ardingly? Will he see what he can do to lay aside some Government time for a debate on the future of farming, particularly getting more young people into the industry, the security of the food supply in this country and essential research and development for the future of farming in Britain?
Sir George Young: I was not aware that my hon. Friend was president of the hounds show, but I am not surprised. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has attended several agricultural shows and I will draw her attention to the success of the one at Ardingly.
My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the future of farming and the need to increase young people's interest in that career. I will do what I can to see whether we can provide a forum so that he can share with the House his important views on the subject.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Following my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House's question, will the Leader of the House state when he took over responsibility for setting Labour party conference dates?
Sir George Young: That is a wilful misrepresentation of what I just said. I said that I think the House should have a serious debate about its sitting hours, when it sits in the summer and whether the 82-day summer recess that we have had in the past is the right way forward. I think all parties might consider whether party conferences are immoveable or whether there is a more intelligent way of reorganising the political year. I accept that it is not a matter for one party, but one for all parties and the House. I hope that the House will engage in that debate in the spirit in which I launched it.
Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the actions of bailiffs? The subject was mentioned in the coalition agreement and I am sure that many hon. Members have examples of constituents who have been targeted by bailiffs. As I understand it, that area of law is unclear and it would be helpful to have a debate.
Sir George Young: The coalition agreement is specific on the matter. We will provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charging orders, ensuring that courts have the power to insist that repossession is always a last resort and to ban orders for sale on unsecured debts of less than £25,000. Better regulation of bailiffs will be one of the strands of that policy as we develop it.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Last week at business questions, the Leader of the House, in response to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), indicated that allowances issues are no longer a matter for the House. Of course the administration of allowances is now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, but is the question of who is entitled to allowances still a matter for the House? Will he therefore correct the record, and in addition confirm that the administration of Short money is still a matter for the House, and that it will remain so?
Sir George Young:
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on that last point-the administration of Short money is a matter for the House-and I answered questions on that last week. IPSA is responsible not only for the administration of the allowances but for the policy on allowances, as a number of hon. Members said in yesterday's debate in Westminster Hall. IPSA
has simply carried forward the regime that it inherited from the House on questions such as whether Members are entitled to pay or allowances. Under the current legislation, it remains a matter for IPSA to make any changes in the allowance regime.
Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May I add to the calls for a debate on regional spatial strategies? The Government's decision to scrap housing targets was most welcome, but it poses questions for the future of Milton Keynes Partnership-the unelected quango in my constituency-its role as a planning authority, the ownership of the land bank and the future of the local plan. A debate would help to clarify those points.
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a forceful case for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that Communities and Local Government Ministers can address the issues he has outlined, and see whether responsibility can be passed down to the locally elected local authorities in his constituency.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): There is growing concern that further increasing student fees will deter students from poorer backgrounds. I am meeting Luke Young, the president of the Swansea students' union, next week. When will the right hon. Gentleman timetable a debate on student fees, particularly when we should be tooling up all our young people, but particularly those from poorer backgrounds, for the recovery that we all hope is ahead?
Sir George Young: That is a devolved matter in Wales. So far as England is concerned, we are awaiting the outcome of the inquiry by Lord Browne of Madingley. One of the key things that the Government will be looking at is exactly what the hon. Gentleman mentioned- whether any changes would impede or promote access to higher education by students from low-income families.
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on Members who refuse to take their seats and fail to give proper representation to their constituents?
Sir George Young: That is a candidate for debate, and a sensitive issue. I can give no guarantee that the Government will find time for such a debate, but it is a perfectly legitimate candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday the North report, which recommends reductions in drink-driving limits, was published. An hour or so ago, the Secretary of State for Transport said that there would be consultation in Government Departments on the proposals, yet newspapers have been full of reports-inspired, it would appear, by ministerial briefings-that the proposals would be rejected. One headline states: "Motorists escape bid to lower drink-drive limit". Will the Government agree to a debate in Government time to clarify their policy on drink-drive limits? The Leader of the House is a great supporter of road safety, so I hope he agrees to such a debate, and confirms that the Government will be positive about reducing drink-drive limits.
Sir George Young: This is an important issue and our priority is to tackle drink and drug driving in the most effective way. I listened to the Transport Secretary's response a few moments ago, and I did not detect the equivocation that the hon. Gentleman alleges. The Transport Secretary said that the report covered a wide range of issues and made 51 detailed recommendations, which the Departments concerned need to consider carefully. He also said that the Government would respond to Sir Peter in due course. However, on top of that, I agree that it is an appropriate matter for the House to debate.
Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): One of my constituents recently turned up for duty in court as a witness and spent most of the day there, but was then sent home because no other witnesses turned up. He wasted most of his day but, more importantly, the court case had to be delayed again. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to consider more measures to ensure that witnesses are made to turn up when they are required, so that cases are not postponed or even put off altogether?
Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure the hon. Lady is seeking either a statement or debate.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important that we use the resources of the court system effectively, so that the sort of waste to which she refers does not occur. I will contact the Justice Secretary and share her concerns with him, and see whether the Government have proposals for making better use of the available resources.
Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): On 26 May, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury came to the House and said in answer to an urgent question on the future jobs fund that Government
"policy...has to be informed by the facts, and...advice...from the Department for Work and Pensions".
He added that that advice was that the fund
"was...not effective and that the money was wasted."-[ Official Report, 26 May 2010; Vol. 510, c. 164.]
However, when I visited my constituency's district Jobcentre Plus office on Monday, I was told that it was far too early to judge the effectiveness of the scheme, because no data are yet available. May I suggest that we have a debate on the scheme, so that we can work out whether what we are being told about the DWP's view of the matter is a reflection of what is happening on the ground?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for a debate. The future jobs scheme cost about £6,500 per place, which is about five times the cost of other components of a similar programme. Many of the jobs were relatively low-paid and insecure, and many were in the public sector. The Government believe that we have better approaches to dealing with unemployment-namely, the Work programme-but I hope that it will be possible at some point to discuss the issues that he raises. That could happen in the context of the Budget debate, because I believe that the Work and Pensions Secretary will speak then.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
Mr Speaker, as the defender of the rights of MPs, I am sure that you were aware of the debate on the Independent Parliamentary
Standards Authority that took place in Westminster Hall yesterday, which about 50 Members attended, and of the excellent speech made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). The matter cannot be allowed to remain there; we need to take it forward. The Leader of the House will know that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the
"interface between parliamentary privilege and IPSA's decisions"
"the privilege of freedom from obstruction in the performance of parliamentary duties."
He quoted pages 75 and 143 of "Erskine May", and referred to what it says under the heading, "Obstructing Members of either House in the discharge of their duty".
With that in mind, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that we had a Minister at the Dispatch Box for a debate, because the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling concluded that IPSA
"is obstructing Members in the efficient and effective discharge of their parliamentary duties"?-[ Official Report, 16 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 144-145WH.]
Sir George Young: I attended that debate and heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) make that speech. The debate was, of course, replied to by a Minister from the Cabinet Office. If any Member believes that there has been a breach of privilege, a procedure can be followed, which involves an approach to Mr Speaker.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): During Transport questions, the Secretary of State made it clear that his priorities are encouraging economic growth and reducing carbon emissions, yet Transport for London is proposing massive job cuts and the closure of virtually every ticket office on the London underground. Those actions will impact directly against the Secretary of State's hopes. May we have a debate on that, and not least on what seems to be a marked lack of communication between the coalition Government and the Conservative Mayor of London?
Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Lady's concern, but the staffing of individual underground stations is a matter for TfL, which may be having to do what Departments are having to do: coping with the economic legacy that we have inherited. Perhaps at some point Opposition Members will tell us where the £50 billion of cuts they identified before the election would have applied.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the big society? Many community organisations in Harlow are keen adopters of the big society reforms that will do so much to transform voluntary groups up and down our country.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Prime Minister's speech on the big society has indeed whetted the appetite of voluntary organisations up and down the country for further development of that policy. I agree that the question of how we engage the resources of the third sector is important. I am not making a commitment, but I should like to find time for a debate if we can.
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