Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):
Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government informed me that he would not be calling in a planning decision for a mega-Tesco in my constituency. Although gains in jobs will be welcome in the local economy, just down the road in Stretford town centre,
there is a shopping centre in deep financial difficulties as a result of the Tory council's failure to invest and support it. Can we have a debate on how this Government intend to support and regenerate local town centres, which is something that I know is of concern across the House?
Sir George Young: I will of course draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the failure to call in a particular planning decision, but I have to say to the hon. Lady that one of the thrusts of the coalition Government's policies is to devolve decision making down to local communities-to local councillors who are answerable to local people for the decisions that they take on planning and others matters.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the written statement this morning on pre-charge detention? Although I understand that the instrument will be debatable in the House, we are talking about a highly controversial issue. In future when they have such highly controversial issues, can he encourage his right hon. Friends to come and speak to the House, and not follow the new Labour practice of releasing things as written statements on a one-line Whip Thursday.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As he knows, today's statement is about an interim arrangement while the review of detention takes place, and it carries forward for six months the 28-day detention proposal. As he generously said, the order that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just laid will be debatable and votable on in both Houses, so I hope that there will be adequate opportunity for his views on this important issue to be heard.
Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for his congratulations and I look forward to working with him closely. He has always been a vocal supporter of a strong Backbench Business Committee. As such, will he ensure that the Chair of that Committee has full membership of the Liaison Committee?
Sir George Young: I am grateful for the hon. Lady's words. I had always envisaged that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee would indeed be a Member of the Liaison Committee and take part in its important work, not least in its twice yearly interrogation of the Prime Minister.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Would the Leader of the House look favourably on requests for a general debate on the Floor of the House on science and its role in ensuring that we have an expanding and improving economy, particularly so that the Government can express their views on genetically modified technology and the role it can play in British agriculture?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that proposal. As he will know, in future, decisions as to whether or not a general debate is held will fall to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and her colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee, which we hope to get up and running as soon as we can. I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said did not fall on deaf ears.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the answering of written questions with respect to a named day? Last Monday, I was expecting an answer from the Treasury to a named day written question about the distributional impact of a 1% rise in VAT. Given that the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted the Red Book, is he not astonished that I am yet to receive an answer to that question?
Sir George Young: I am genuinely sorry if there has been any discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and I will draw to the attention of my ministerial colleagues at the Treasury the need to get him an urgent reply.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May I welcome the late conversion of the former Labour Government to not leaking to the press before making announcements in this House? May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on the importance of maintaining specialist mental health facilities, which would allow me to raise the question of the loss of the intensive care unit at Woodhaven hospital in the New Forest and the threat to the Crowlin House rehabilitation centre there?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I know that this is an important issue for New Forest Members. He might like to put in for an Adjournment debate on this important issue or raise it with Ministers at the next Health questions.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): A few weeks ago, we were told that a statement on Building Schools for the Future would be made so that everybody would know which schools would be able to go ahead. The people living in Shirebrook and Tibshelf in the Bolsover constituency are still waiting for an answer. Several schools were built when the Labour Government were in power; when are we going to have a statement?
Sir George Young: As the hon. Gentleman will know from the Budget statement, the comprehensive spending review is now under way and the outcome will be known on 20 October. At that point, the Department will be in a position to see how best to spend its capital programme.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): My right hon. Friend will know that the news flow from Afghanistan has not been very good recently. In addition to the further tragic loss of life, there has been the news about General McChrystal, the resignation of key Ministers within President Karzai's Government and the early retirement of the UK special envoy to Afghanistan. Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to encourage the Government to bring forward perhaps a ministerial statement outlining the latest situation, particularly given the talk from within the international security assistance force-ISAF-comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam?
Sir George Young:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that the Prime Minister made a statement on Afghanistan a few days ago and that the Government are committed to regular updates to the House on Afghanistan from where there has indeed been some more tragic news today. He will also know that Foreign and Commonwealth questions takes place on 6 July,
but I do bear in mind his request, which I know is widely shared, for a more general debate on what is happening in Afghanistan.
Mr Phil Woolas (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): The House would not want to be left with the suspicion that the Deputy Prime Minister says one thing to one group and quite another thing to another group. Will the Leader of the House ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will report to the House on his meeting, due to take place tomorrow, with Sheffield Forgemasters? This is an issue not just for Sheffield-important though it is there-but for the whole of the nuclear industry, and particularly for our plans in the north-west of England.
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Deputy Prime Minister answers questions to the House like any other Minister- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise the matter with him. Alternatively, he can table a written question to the Deputy Prime Minister on the issue he has raised.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): All the English Members of the House thoroughly enjoyed England's qualification yesterday, and it was wonderful to see the cross of St George flying. However, it is still frustrating to hear England singing the wrong anthem-the anthem of the United Kingdom. Following the historic decision to use "Jerusalem" at the Commonwealth games, may we have a debate in the House about properly establishing an English national anthem for when England, as opposed to the United Kingdom, compete?
Sir George Young: I am sure that England's victory yesterday was celebrated not just in England but in Scotland and Wales. The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In future, whether or not something is debated in the House will be a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. In the meantime, he might like to try his luck in Westminster Hall.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Further to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the impact of VAT increases on low-paid families, bearing in mind that the Chancellor's and the Prime Minister's claims that the Budget is fair are contradicted in the Institute for Fiscal Studies report?
Sir George Young: We are in the middle of a four-day debate on the Budget, and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity later today and on Monday to raise precisely the issue he has just touched on and to get a convincing reply from one of my right hon. Friends.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In view of the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that regrettably the civil list is to be frozen yet again, will the Leader of the House please arrange for a statement on the latest position on the Queen's forthcoming diamond jubilee being properly marked in the House and throughout the country?
Sir George Young: I understand that the arrangements on the civil list were dealt with by agreement, and I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that appropriate celebrations are necessary. We have a year or two in which to plan them, and I hope there will be an opportunity to share with the House exactly how that will be handled.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): May I offer my most sincere congratulations to the English football team on reaching the knockout stage of the World cup? Does the Leader of the House not agree that disqualification of the smaller parties in the House from the Backbench Business Committee is in danger of rendering the whole project undemocratic and illegitimate? What is he doing to ensure that all Back Benchers are equal and that all have an opportunity to participate in the business of the House?
Sir George Young: The Wright Committee recommended that there should be a business committee of between seven and nine members. The House agreed the establishment of a Backbench Business Committee of eight members a few days ago, and the allocation between the parties was done according to the formula with which the hon. Gentleman is familiar, and the minority parties did not get a place. However, that Committee will be re-elected every year, and I can only suggest that when members are elected for the current year, he opens a dialogue with as many of them as possible to ensure that the voice of minority parties is heard at the Backbench Business Committee, and I am sure that its Chairman has listened to his point.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that following years of under-investment in our magistrates courts, Goole magistrates and county court, along with neighbouring Selby magistrates court, are scheduled for closure. May we have a debate on that important issue?
Sir George Young: As my hon. Friend will know, the Lord Chancellor yesterday announced a consultation on the closure of 157 magistrates and county courts. With public finances under pressure, we need to reduce costs wherever we can. We are committed to supporting local justice, and the Justice Secretary will take all views expressed into account before deciding which courts ought to be closed and when.
Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am not entirely sure about this new democracy malarkey. Although we are not allowed to say it, the Whips did a very good job in previous Parliaments of ensuring that Select Committees had a good balance, geographically and in terms of gender and experience. Under the new system, I am not sure that that will be possible. May we have a debate at some point on whether this new experiment in democracy within the House has worked? I am not sure that the Wright reforms were the right reforms.
Sir George Young: I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we go back to the old system whereby the Whips nominated Members to Select Committees. It is astonishing that in the House of Commons, the cockpit of democracy, an hon. Member should make such a regressive suggestion that we abandon elections and go back to nominations.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that we should in no way wish to curtail demonstrations in Parliament square, but that the present system of almost permanent incumbency is unsatisfactory? The square should be used on a much wider basis by more demonstrators and by people for recreation, including tourists.
Sir George Young: I agree with my hon. Friend. With the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Whitehall, it is a historic setting, and the presence of a shanty town right in the middle does no credit to the centre of one of the greatest capital cities in the world. As he will know, the Mayor of London is responsible for the green in the middle of the square, and he is in the process of taking action through the courts against those currently occupying it. If he is successful, I hope that the green will be cleared and accessible to more people. Personally, I have no objection to people lobbying and protesting outside the Houses of Parliament, but I think that at the end of the day they should go home.
"the last government mistakenly believed that the test of an effective police force was how many officers it employed."
We know that the Budget and spending review will ensure that there are far fewer police on our streets across the nation, but at the recent general election, in Garston and Halewood, my Conservative opponent promised
"more officers on the beat in Liverpool" ,
as did my Lib Dem opponent. The Deputy Prime Minister, who visited on a number of occasions, also said that the Lib Dems would put more police on the streets. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time on the new politics that the governing parties appear to be advocating, and on whether it equates to no more than completely ignoring election promises and treating the electorate like dupes?
Sir George Young: There will be Home Office questions on 28 June. Until the hon. Lady tells the House how the Labour party would have filled the £50 billion gap in the public finances, we will listen with suspicion to her points accusing us of making reductions that the Labour party would not have had to make had it won the election.
Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May we have a debate on child abduction? We might then discuss the case of my constituent, Ken Spooner, whose two British-born children were abducted by their Zambian mother in 2008. Having spent nearly all his life savings on successfully getting his children made wards of a UK court, and having that registered in Zambia, even now he cannot get them returned to the UK. Can the Government do anything to help?
Sir George Young:
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Many Members of Parliament will have experienced cases in their constituency in which the courts have awarded custody to the UK parent but the children are abducted to another country. Where the other country has signed the relevant Hague convention,
it is possible through the courts of that country to get the child repatriated, but it is difficult where the country concerned has not signed up to that agreement. We are pursuing the matter with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which will be in touch with my hon. Friend.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): May we have a debate on compensation payments for Christmas Island victims? Such a debate would allow us to find out exactly why the compensation payments are taking so long and to assure the victims that the payments will still be made. More importantly, it would allow us to choke off the financial gravy train for the legal profession.
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I will share his concern with the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. On 6 July, there will be questions to that Department, and he may have an opportunity to raise the issue then.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a topical debate on the remit and membership of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which is rapidly in danger of becoming a nanny state monster? Most people thought that its job was to assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of drugs, yet not a day goes by without it proposing some ridiculous measure, such as compulsory sex education for five-year-olds, state handouts to food companies to produce healthier food, smoking breath tests for pregnant women or minimum pricing for alcohol. May we have a debate on getting NICE back to doing what it should be doing, rather than a load of garbage that it should not be doing?
Sir George Young: No public body should engage in mission creep and start encroaching on the responsibilities of other organisations such as school governing bodies or, indeed, parents. My hon. Friend may have an opportunity to share his concern with the Secretary of State for Health during Health questions, which I believe will take place next Tuesday.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): May we have a debate in Government time on the politicisation of the military, given that a story in this morning's Daily Telegraph made clear that a row had taken place between the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister, and given that it was announced last week that the Prime Minister would personally interview candidates for the post of Chief of the Defence Staff? Is there not a danger that any future CDS will be seen as merely a Tory party stooge?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the papers, even in The Daily Telegraph. As for the question of public appointments, I can assure him that the proper procedures will be observed in the appointment of senor public officers.