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The right hon. Lady asked about the position on the employment figures and the expectations set out by a variety of economists on what might happen. I have to say that I do not always have great faith in what economists predict; nevertheless this is an important issue. What I do have faith in is the newly established Office for Budget Responsibility, which is independent of Government and has set out the figures. I thought that the Opposition supported it. I thought that they saw it, as we do, as being a gold standard of accurate information presented to the House, but they prefer to bang on about figures that they want to choose instead. There will be an Opposition day debate next week, when the Opposition will choose the matters that we will be debating. So she asks for an opportunity to raise these issues with Ministers
and she will have the opportunity to raise them with Ministers. Finally, I have to say to her that the figure that was given-the 1.3 million losses that she cited-was coupled with 2.5 million increases in employment in the very same breath. By my simple arithmetic that makes a 1.2 million increase, and the fact that Labour Members cannot do that simple sum explains to me why this country is in the position it is.
Mr Speaker: Order. Dozens of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to be able to accommodate every colleague, but brevity in both questions and answers will be essential if I am to have any realistic chance of doing so.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motion 328, which describes how Google allegedly mapped every wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes?
[That this House is concerned by reports that Google allegedly mapped every single wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes, for commercial purposes; is further concerned that the firm may have failed to disclose that it was building a massive database of wi-fi networks across the UK without people's consent; notes the reports that BT and other companies are using software to trawl social networking websites such as Facebook to identify anyone making negative comments about them; and therefore calls on the Coalition Government to balance innovation on t he internet against individuals' right to privacy and the new threat of a surveillance society.]
Is it not time for a debate on the balance of internet innovation, and on the individual's right to privacy versus the new threat of a surveillance society, given that we have just got rid of the previous Government's own one?
Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, I have read his early-day motion and it seems to raise a very important point about surveillance. The whole issue of the increasing prevalence of what was called "the surveillance society" is something that the coalition Government are very aware of and want to address. I cannot promise him a debate in the next couple of weeks on this subject, but he may try to ask a question at questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on Thursday 8 July. This subject may also be a suitable one for the newly constituted Backbench Business Committee to consider for future business.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Chancellor's grossly disproportionate attack on the benefits system, not least on housing benefit, which is causing grave anxiety and disquiet among some of my most vulnerable constituents? These feelings are exacerbated by the Government's attempt to present all benefit claimants as workshy scroungers. May we have a debate urgently so that this particular calumny can be disproved?
I invite the hon. Lady to ask questions of the Department for Work and Pensions on 19 July. She also asked for a debate on this matter, and I suggest that
she will find opportunities to raise it during our debates on the Finance Bill on Tuesday 6 July, Monday 12 July, Tuesday 13 July and Thursday 15 July.
Mr Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): The shadow Leader of the House-[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I apologise, I meant the Deputy Leader of the House. He will be aware of the WWF's Rivers on the Edge campaign. There has been great concern in the House for some time about the condition of English chalk streams, and the debate on the subject that we had during the last Parliament was over-subscribed. Will he bear this in mind and see whether we can fit in a debate on the chalk rivers of England?
Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have great affection for the World Wide Fund for Nature because I used to work for it and promote its interests. I hasten to add that that is not a declarable interest. There might be an opportunity for him to raise this important issue at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 29 July. It would also be an entirely suitable matter for a Westminster Hall debate or an end-of-day Adjournment debate.
Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): The next time-or perhaps the first time-the Deputy Leader of the House meets the Backbench Business Committee, will he raise the question of private Members' Bills being discussed on Wednesday evenings to allow greater participation? Will he also consider doing away with the knives procedure under which such Bills can be talked out, and introduce deferred voting so that everyone can participate in the process?
Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman knows that I agree that we need to reform the process for private Members' legislation. When we discussed this a week or so ago, it was agreed that the Procedure Committee would look into the matter and bring forward proposals. I hope that its members will also speak to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can have the benefit of the views of both Committees. It would certainly be to the benefit of the House if we could improve the way in which we deal with private Members' business and put an end to the procedural nonsense that we have at the moment.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): When is the motion on the fixed-term Parliament, which was promised by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House on 25 May, going to be brought forward? He said that it would be put on the Order Paper at the earliest opportunity, and that we would have a debate on it before the summer recess. Is that still the position?
Mr Heath: I think I am right in saying that the Deputy Prime Minister intends to make a statement on that subject in the very near future, so my hon. Friend will have to be patient for a little longer- [ Interruption. ] It will, of course, be made in Parliament, which is the right place for such statements.
Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab):
A debate on police productivity would allow me to question Ministers on how much time police officers spend on the beat. Now
that the policing pledge has been scrapped, how are we to guarantee that the police will spend 80 % of their time on the streets?
Mr Heath: The hon. Lady will know that this has been a recurrent theme over many years, since long before she was in the House. Members on both sides have been concerned about the most effective way of deploying police officers and reducing the bureaucracy that often prevents them from doing the job that we want them to do-namely, being out on the streets catching criminals instead of sitting in a back room in a police station filling in forms. I hope that we shall be able to make rapid progress on these issues. As a former chairman of a police authority, I know that this has been a problem for a very long time. The hon. Lady is right to bring the subject up, and it is equally right that we should find time to debate it at some stage.
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): May I first declare an interest as a member of Portsmouth city council? That council, like many others, is heavily involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme. There is real anxiety about the delay in getting decisions on whether the plans are going to proceed as expected. The situation needs to be resolved quickly because of the amount of local authority money involved. Does my hon. Friend also agree that a shortage of parliamentary time prevented Labour Ministers from coming to the House to apologise for the number of times they briefed the media before speaking to us?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about Building Schools for the Future. I know that Members on both sides of the House are keen to hear the results of that review. We had hoped that there would be a statement this week and, last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he thought that a statement was likely to be made this week. He said that in good faith, but unfortunately it has not been made yet. I understand that it will be made very shortly-within days.
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has already explained why some information has been given not to this House but to other people. May I ask him to take up with his colleague the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), the fact that I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the important issue of housing benefit, asking for simple factual information, and received the response:
"The Department for Work and Pensions undertakes an assessment of the impact on specific groups as part of the policy development process"?-[ Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 548W.]
Mr Heath: Well, I shall also assume that the question has something to do with parliamentary business-[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] This is about business for the next two weeks; sometimes colleagues need to be reminded of that.
I do not think that I can guarantee that there will be a statement or a debate on the matter. However, I will mention the hon. Lady's concerns to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and see whether more information can be obtained.
Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May we have a debate on supporting British citizens overseas? The Deputy Leader of the House might recall that last week I raised the case of my constituent, Ken Spooner, whose children have been abducted to Zambia. Unfortunately, the case has taken a turn for the worse and Mr Spooner is now in a Zambian jail, having not been charged. Can we possibly ensure that he gets the support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that he was promised?
Mr Heath: Obviously, it is always a matter of great concern to hon. Members when their constituents find themselves in difficulties overseas. It is part of the consular duties of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide such support as may be provided in country. I shall certainly make sure that these concerns are passed on to members of the ministerial team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on pay for our brave servicemen and women, especially in the light of the written answer to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) this morning from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), which announced that 140,000 members of the armed forces will have a pay cut next year? That is in marked contrast to what we did when we were in office, when we honoured in full the recommendations of the independent pay review body for the armed forces.
Mr Heath: I seem to recall that there was a significant increase in the allowances made available to members of our armed forces serving in conflict areas. That seems to me to be a significant development. However, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise these matters in the very near future, because Defence questions are on Monday 5 July.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Given the excellent agreement in New Forest East between leading Liberal Democrats and Conservatives that fluoridation should not be imposed on the community against its will, may we have a statement-not in the next two weeks, but perhaps in the next two minutes-from the Deputy Leader of the House, confirming that the fact that the Liberal Democrats have joined the Conservatives in government in no way vitiates the pledge given by shadow Conservative Health Ministers before the election that fluoridation should not and would not be imposed on communities that did not want it?
The hon. Gentleman will not have a statement from me on a matter of health policy, but he can quite properly ask hon. and right hon. Friends in
the Department of Health to give a response. It seems to me that this is a very important issue-I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's position-and I am sure that his constituents would like some clarity on the issue. However, I also know that the legislative framework under which these proposals are considered is the legislative framework introduced by the previous Government.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): May I press the Deputy Leader of the House on his earlier answer about the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme? First, I was disappointed that there was not a statement this week, following the comments made by the Leader of the House last week to the effect that Members could expect a statement on the programme's future and the huge uncertainty that it is being caused. Secondly, will the statement give specific details about which schools will be built and which will not be built?
Mr Heath: I cannot possibly pre-empt the statement, but the hon. Lady is right to press us on this. We are very clear that we want a statement to be made at the earliest opportunity. I can only apologise to her through you, Mr Speaker, that we were unable to bring forward the statement this week, which we had certainly intended to do. I can promise yet again that it will be provided shortly.
Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): The Deputy Leader of the House is aware of the impressive lobby of this place yesterday by the Huntington's Disease Association. Will he give us time for a debate to consider the challenges facing the 6,700 people diagnosed with Huntington's disease, particularly those to do with accessing insurance and the adequacy of research into a hitherto incurable disease?
Mr Heath: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I, too, yesterday met constituents who either had Huntington's disease or who were caring for people with Huntington's disease. It brought home to all Members of the House who had contact with those people how difficult the disease is to manage. It is a degenerative disease with a genetic component that imposes a great deal of stress both on those who contract it and those who care for them. I know that there are clear issues about future research and the sort of support that can be given at the point of diagnosis and the point of management in GP practices and elsewhere in order to help. I understand that an all-party parliamentary group on Huntington's disease has been established and that is a welcome step forward. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the next two weeks, I am afraid, but he might care to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on this important subject.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
May I press the Deputy Leader of the House to get his master, the Leader of the House, to come to the House and give the statement that he promised two weeks ago on progress on setting up the European Scrutiny Committee, and to scotch the rumour that is going about that Ministers intend to vote in the 1922 committee's election of the Conservative chair of that committee? I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will say
that even the gelded Liberals would not stand for the Government's trying to elect a Back-Bench committee's chairman.
Mr Heath: Happily, I have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens in the 1922 committee and that is no doubt a situation that will continue. The important issue is the setting up of the Select Committees, including the European Scrutiny Committee, and I understand the urgency of that. I was very pleased that the motion was passed by the House last night to make the small amendments to the number of members on Committees. That means that the Committee of Selection can now proceed in good order to make appointments to Committees. We should have all the Committees of the House up and running as soon as possible.
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): May I ask a question in a similar vein to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for a debate on how our consulates aid and advise our residents abroad in extreme circumstances? I am thinking in particular about the Calder Valley resident who died last week, Sarah Royle, and her family. She fell off a balcony watching the England match in the World cup. Sarah lost her parents at a very early age and her two remaining sisters, who are of limited means, are being asked to sign an indemnity against the costs of bringing the body home and paying the bills, because the insurance company believes that she might have been drinking at the time.
Mr Heath: Obviously, my condolences go out to the friends and family of the hon. Gentleman's constituent, who died in very tragic circumstances. Rather than securing a debate, the most effective thing I can do is to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that they can, perhaps, give support.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): May we have an urgent statement on the release of the documents on the Hillsborough disaster? The last Government agreed that those files and documents would be released. The Deputy Leader of the House will understand the concerns about the Culture Secretary's comments. As someone who was at Hillsborough and who has in my constituency families who lost loved ones there, this matter is of great importance to me personally. Rumours are circulating that the Government are thinking about not publishing the files and that there are arguments between Departments about the cost. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the situation or arrange for an urgent statement to be made as soon as possible?
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