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Sir George Young: My hon. Friend reminds the House that bank lending is crucial. The latest figures are quite encouraging. The amount of lending has far exceeded what was expected—the £204.9 billion total lending overreaches the £190 billion target by nearly £25 billion. As a result of Project Merlin, we saw more lending to small businesses in 2011 than in 2010.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Many of my young constituents have today dressed up as fairytale characters to celebrate world book day. I am not sure what my right hon. Friend’s favourite fairytale character is, but will he support the Evening Standard “Get London Reading” campaign and a debate to focus on the value of parents reading with their children?

Sir George Young: I am sorry that my hon. Friend has not joined in the fun by coming to the Chamber dressed up as his favourite character, but I commend the initiative of the Evening Standard and the work of those who voluntarily go into schools to sit down and listen, one to one, to children learning to read. That is an important skill. I hope the reforms we are promoting in the Department for Education will drive up the standards of reading of our young people.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Can we have a debate about the relationship between economic growth and fiscal policy, especially in the light of recent figures from America, which show that its recent economic growth was delivered during a time of fiscal tightening? Also, given that our national debt exceeded £1 trillion at the end of last year, such a debate would provide an excellent opportunity to explode the myths perpetrated by Opposition Members, who cling to the misguided mantra that we are going too fast and too far in cutting the deficit that we inherited from the last Government.

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that the debt is now around £1 trillion. When my party left office in 1997, it was around £300 billion; when we came back, in coalition, it was somewhere around £900 billion. That was the escalation that took place in the intervening 13 years, and that is why we need to take steps to get the debt back under control.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): On the threshold of the launch of the much-needed national careers service by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, may we have an opportunity in this House to highlight the need for good, independent careers advice, and also to underline the fact that schools and colleges must engage with businesses to find out what they really need?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend reminds the House that next month, in April, we are launching the national careers service—the source, which he has just commended, of professional careers advice and information on learning and work. Young people and adults will be able to access the service online, and I hope that it makes genuine progress in providing the right advice and opportunities to young people as they enter the workplace.

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Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): There is a pile of rubble in the centre of Ealing on the site where the Ealing cinema used to stand. Empire, which owns the site, has consistently disappointed and frustrated many of my constituents by failing to deliver on its promises to build a new cinema and by evading all opportunities to explain the continued delay.

Sir George Young: As the former Member for Ealing Acton, I spent many evenings in that cinema, and I am sorry to hear that it has been demolished. My hon. Friend will know that under planning legislation, the planning authority can impose a condition that rebuilding shall start by a given date, and it has powers to commence that work if the applicant does not do so. I very much hope that the London borough of Ealing will look again at the planning powers available to it—under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, I think—and take whatever action it can to ensure that my hon. Friend can go to a decent cinema in her constituency.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Under the excellent Localism Act 2011, passed by this Parliament, every local authority in the country is required to produce a pay policy statement. It therefore came as something of a surprise at the Harrow council budget setting meeting when a hastily cobbled together document was presented under a guillotine, so that no debate could take place. When Conservative councillors raised the issue, they were denied legal advice and the opportunity to defer the item so that they could consider it properly. The key point is that every local authority in the country will be considering such documents. May we therefore have a debate on the implementation of this excellent strategy to ensure transparency in public life?

Sir George Young: I am sorry to hear what happened in the London borough of Harrow. As my hon. Friend knows, there are statutory duties imposed on local authorities that relate to the documents that are made available, and these will be complemented by the standing orders of the London borough of Harrow. My hon. Friend should take up the matter with the monitoring officer in the borough in the first instance, and if that fails, he should perhaps draw it to the attention of one of the Local Government Ministers.

Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con): The only source of money for Government to pay for nurses, teachers and police officers is, of course, tax revenue. That is why it is vital that unacceptable loopholes are closed and that taxes are raised to pay for those vital public services. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on closing unacceptable tax loopholes, and perhaps also unacceptable planning that may be used by candidates for future mayoral elections?

Sir George Young: My hon. Friend reminds the House of the action that was taken earlier this week by Treasury Ministers to close a tax loophole. She will also know that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has set up a special unit to ensure that those evading their taxes pay them—speaking from memory, I think some £13 billion was brought in by that unit. I very much hope that we can debate the issue at greater length in the Budget

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debate, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will take on board what my hon. Friend has just said about the need to close up further loopholes.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): The Leader of the House and hon. Members will no doubt be aware of the prejudiced and inflammatory comments of Baroness Tonge about Israel and the Israeli people. Although her views in no way represent the position of the coalition Government, it remains the case that many of our friends abroad who are not aware of our constitutional arrangements might see the comments of this Liberal Democrat Peer as indicative of the Government’s position on the issue. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Office condemning her comments fully and unreservedly and restating the Government’s commitment to Israel and the Quartet proposals for re-establishing the peace process?

Sir George Young: I agree with what my hon. Friend says: those remarks were unacceptable. They do not represent the policy of the Liberal Democrat party, or indeed of the coalition Government. I understand that the noble Baroness has now lost the Whip and therefore no longer speaks for anyone except herself.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. Friend has seen the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy report on council tax that was published today. I wonder whether he would consider having a debate on council tax, so that we can expose councils that are increasing their council tax bills, but praise those such as South Staffordshire district council and Staffordshire county council, which are ensuring that my constituents will not see an increase in their council tax bills.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I commend what Staffordshire county council and South Staffordshire district council have done. We had a debate on the revenue support grant a few weeks ago, which was an opportunity to make the points that he has just made. I commend all local authorities that have accepted the resources available from the Government and frozen their council tax, which I know will be gratefully received by the relevant ratepayers.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): News that Rolls-Royce has reported record profits and an order book of nearly £52 billion in its civil aerospace division will be welcomed by the many workers at the company’s plants at Barnoldswick in my constituency. Given the good news being reported by numerous manufacturing firms over the past month, may we have a debate on supporting manufacturing and reversing the huge decline that we saw under the previous Administration?

Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for ending questions with some more good news about manufacturing. It is a national success story that generates over half our exports, and it is responsible for much of our research and development. My hon. Friend will have seen “The Plan for Growth”, which included the outcome of an advanced manufacturing growth review. We are making good progress in implementing those actions, and further progress will be reported around the time of the Budget.

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Points of Order

12.37 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The very able and normally well-informed shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), quite inadvertently I am sure, misled the House earlier when she said that there had been a vote in the Backbench Business Committee on whether Back-Bench time could be provided for a debate on the health Bill. There was no such vote; the decision was agreed unanimously on the normal basis, and there was not a Tory majority at that meeting. How can I put the record right?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): The hon. Member becomes more ingenious by the day at ensuring that his points are made in the Chamber, and I congratulate him on that. He knows that that is not a point of order, but he also knows—even though he is disappointed—that he has got his comments on the record, for which I am sure the entire House is grateful.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 13 October I wrote a letter on behalf of a local business to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, despite numerous follow-up requests by my office, I received a response only the other day, saying that the matter was being transferred to another Department. What pressure can be brought to bear on Departments to address the inordinate length of time that it takes to respond to hon. Members?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I must admit that I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment at the delay in replying to him. The Leader of the House is in his place, and I am sure he will immediately take up the matter on behalf of the hon. Gentleman.

Bill Presented

Private Pensions (Charges, Disclosure and Accountability) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Gareth Thomas presented a Bill to require firms offering regulated private pensions services to exercise a fiduciary duty of care to consumers and other users of financial services, to exercise due diligence when making decisions on behalf of consumers, to provide clear information to consumers on all charges and costs paid by the consumer or the pension fund on the consumer’s behalf and to disclose any conflict of interest and potential conflict of interest including commercial relationships that might result in or be perceived to result in financial detriment to consumers or undermine the integrity of financial markets; to make provision for disclosure by postcode of the location of investors in private pension funds; to make provision for an Annual General Meeting for each private pension fund; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April, and to be printed (Bill 313).

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Backbench Business

[Un-allotted Day]

CPI/RPI Pensions Uprating

12.39 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes that the e-petition entitled Public and Private Pension Increases—change from RPI to CPI attracted over 100,000 signatures very quickly, revealing a high level of concern about the Government’s decision to change the indexation for occupational pensions from the Retail Prices Index to the Consumer Price Index, which will mean that many people, both those retired and those yet to retire, will receive less in their pension payments than they were led to expect; and calls on the Government to reintroduce the RPI measure immediately.

The motion is tabled in my name and those of a number of colleagues, and I should like to inform you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I would like to press it to a Division.

This important debate would not be taking place today were it not for the efforts of one individual. This is real democracy in action. Jim Singer is a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union, and he was so angered by the Government’s unilateral decision to switch the methodology of how his pension would be calculated from the usual retail prices index to the consumer prices index that he launched an online petition. Within weeks, that petition had secured more than 100,000 signatures in support. I should like to thank Jim and all those who have signed the petition. I should also like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the request for the debate, on behalf of myself and my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg). Hon. Members might know that she has recently suffered a serious accident,