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Business of the House

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 February will be:

Monday 4 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Tuesday 5 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to human rights, followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [3rd Allotted Day]—Any selected amendments to clause 2 relating to human rights. Followed by motion to approve a local government restructuring order relating to Wiltshire.

Wednesday 6 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to the Single Market. Followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [4th Allotted Day]—any selected amendments to clause 2 relating to the single market.

Thursday 7 February—Topical debate. Subject to be announced, followed by motions relating to European scrutiny reform.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 February will include:

Monday 18 February—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Tuesday 19 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to foreign, security and defence policy. Followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [5th allotted day]—any selected amendments to clause 2 relating to foreign, security and defence policy. Followed by motion to approve a local government restructuring order relating to Shropshire.

Wednesday 20 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to international development. Followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [6th allotted day]—any selected amendments to clause 2 relating to international development.

Thursday 21 February—Topical debate: subject to be announced. Followed by motion to approve a statutory instrument on control orders. Followed by motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2008 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2008.

Friday 22 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for February will be:

Thursday 7 February—A debate on the report from the Transport Committee on novice drivers.

Thursday 21 February—A debate on the report from the Health Committee on the electronic patient record.

Thursday 28 February—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on refuse collection.

Today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the next Budget will be on 12 March.

On behalf of the whole House, I wish to extend my warmest congratulations to Jill Pay on her appointment as the new Serjeant at Arms. Our men in tights are now to be led by a woman in tights.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I join her in welcoming the new Serjeant at Arms and congratulating her on her appointment.

For the past five years, the long-term public finance report has been published in November or December. With February upon us, the 2007 report has still not been published. Given that it is expected to show that for the first time total public sector pension liabilities are more than £1 trillion, will the Leader of the House tell us why this report has been delayed and when it will be published?

On Tuesday, we learned that more than 10,000 nurses and midwives left the NHS last year to work abroad. The Royal College of Nursing warns that we face a staffing crisis. May I suggest NHS staffing for a future topical debate?

Last week, the Prime Minister said that he was accompanied on his trip to China and India by

“British business men and women”—[Official Report, 23 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1491.]

But no business women went on that trip. May we have a statement explaining why the clunking fist did not take any business women with him?

May we have a debate, in Government time, on the Defence Committee’s latest annual report? It criticised the Ministry of Defence for failing to give our servicemen and women proper breaks between operational duties in Iraq and Afghanistan and warned that as a result growing numbers of people are leaving our armed forces. So we have a lack of training, inadequate housing and a part-time Defence Secretary. When will the Government honour the military covenant and treat our troops with the respect they deserve?

Ten years after the Government made a manifesto promise to get rid of mixed-sex wards, the Health Minister, Lord Darzi, has admitted that that aspiration cannot be met. Will the Secretary of State for Health make a statement to the House on the failure of that key Government policy?

Last year, the Justice Minister claimed that community punishments were a tough and demanding alternative to prison. A new report from the National Audit Office found that offenders are getting away with failing to turn up for community punishments if they oversleep or if they produce their own sick note. It is a complete farce, so may we have a debate on the Government’s community punishment scheme?

This week, the Minister for Schools and Learners ordered local councils not to close village schools, but just last month the Government issued guidance to councils ordering them to shut schools with empty desks. Will the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families make a statement to clarify the Government’s policy on village schools?

Last January, the Prime Minister launched a campaign to highlight Britishness. We now know that at the same time he decided to remove the image of Britannia from the 50p piece. It will be the first time in 300 years that Britannia has not featured on any British coin. Will the Prime Minister make a statement on how removing a historic British symbol fits into his Britishness campaign?

Those are all examples of a Government who start by saying one thing and end up doing another. Does that not show that we have a country that is drifting under a Government who lack direction and a Prime Minister who simply cannot get a grip?

The right hon. Lady mentioned pension liabilities, but failed to make a point about pension fund assets. The most important issue for pension funds is the strength of the economy. That is why sustained low inflation, low interest rates and growth in the economy are the most important issues for pensions in the future.

I take it that the right hon. Lady has made a representation for a topical debate on midwives and NHS staffing. She will know that the issue was debated in Westminster Hall yesterday, and she will bear it in mind that, because of increasing investment in the health service and the increasing recruitment of midwives, more midwives are going into training than ever before. Those measures are part of our determination to increase the quality of maternity services.

The right hon. Lady mentioned business men and women. She is right, of course, that we need to do everything we can to encourage more women in commerce. Further work is coming out of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to support women. If we compare our economy with the American economy, we see that our competitiveness gap is accounted for by the fact that we have fewer women who start and run their own businesses. We must make progress on that, but I find it a bit much that the shadow Leader of the House—one of only 17 Tory women Members of Parliament who have never done anything to champion women’s rights—should try to tell us what to do, when we have championed women’s rights over the years.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Defence Committee. Training is not inadequate. The housing provided for our armed forces certainly needs to be improved, and we have made progress in that respect against the background of the spending cuts made by the previous Administration.

The question of mixed-sex wards is always a matter of concern. The shadow Leader of the House will know that the amount of single-sex accommodation provided has increased, which has ensured that all patients have access to single-sex toilet and bathroom facilities.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the NAO report on community sentences. The Government welcome the report’s findings, which show that there has been more enforcement when people breach community sentences, and that more community sentences and drug and alcohol rehabilitation courses are being completed than previously. All that is to be welcomed, and I congratulate probation services on their important work in ensuring that strict community sentences are properly enforced. People who serve such sentences are much less likely to reoffend than those who go to prison.

The right hon. Lady asked about primary schools in rural areas, and she also mentioned secondary schools. She will know—

In that case, I shall respond to her question about primary schools in rural areas. She will know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners wrote to remind local authorities of the importance of not closing such schools. She might also remember that rural primary schools were closing at the rate of 30 a year when the previous Conservative Government were in power. Under this Government, however, and under the guidance that my hon. Friend has reminded educational authorities about, they have been closing at an average of only seven a year.

Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition referred to abolishing the stop and search account form. In the area for which I am Member of Parliament, my constituents and I are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than is the case elsewhere, and the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal worries me greatly. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the only way to get more police on the beat is by investing more money in the Metropolitan police, not less?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We need to make sure that the police have the power to stop and search so that people on the streets of London and our other towns and cities can be kept safe. However, we must also make absolutely certain that we have the right accountability so that we can be sure that the police act fairly, as both we and they intend. She is right to remind the House that the police are able to carry out their work because of the extra investment that has been made to increase their numbers and pay. Those who would prefer the Metropolitan police budget to be cut, as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) does, would put all of that at risk.

First, may I, on behalf of my party, join in the warm welcome that has been extended to Mrs. Pay on her deserved appointment as the new Serjeant at Arms?

I welcome the Leader of the House’s announcement that there will be separate debates next Monday on the police and local government settlements, and that there will also be separate debates, next Tuesday and a fortnight later, on the local government settlements for Wiltshire and Shropshire. Will she confirm that each of the proposed structural changes in the counties of Cornwall, Northumberland and Durham will be the subject of separate debates? I gather that the relevant orders will be considered upstairs in Committee, but I hope that we can have a full debate on each.

This week, the House has been debating the Lisbon treaty and the European Union (Amendment) Bill, and more debates will take place in the next few weeks. Whatever view we take on those subjects, we have learned from experience that the House does not have a proper procedure for dealing with and scrutinising treaties. Will the Leader of the House undertake to talk to colleagues and come back as soon as possible with some proposals for a better mechanism for looking at any treaties that the Government are considering entering into? By definition, it is too late by the time a treaty is signed to do anything about it and, as a result, the House’s only option is to take it or leave it.

A few weeks ago, the Leader of the House kindly said that she would consider the suggestion that, as well as the Welsh day debate in March, which is now well established, and the debate on women's issues, which is well established and coincides approximately with international women's day, we have a debate on the role of the Commonwealth and Commonwealth priorities to coincide with Commonwealth day in March. I should be grateful if she confirmed, before the House breaks for half-term, that that will be possible. I am sure that it would be welcomed, not least given events in places such as Kenya.

Yesterday, the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons was published. It contained a horrifying statistic—a 40 per cent. increase in suicides in prisons—and criticised much of current policy. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would greatly support an early debate on the report to help the Government to get the policy right, rather than set out on a policy and then be told by an inspector that it is not doing what it should do.

Two days ago, a report by an assiduous and esteemed national newspaper journalist stated that there will soon be a White Paper on proposed changes to Law Officers’ functions and the inter-relationship of Law Officers and the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is a highly controversial and important matter, not least as evidenced by the previous Attorney-General agreeing to the discontinuance of proceedings against BAE. Will the Leader of the House undertake that we will have an early opportunity to debate that and that there will not be further leaks of what the White Paper might say before it is published?

The way in which the House deals with the important issue of local government restructuring orders takes account of the approach taken by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The hon. Gentleman will know that we are taking on the Floor of the House next week and the week after the House returns from the recess two issues in relation to two counties.

On the procedure for dealing with treaties, we have a Bill that enacts a treaty and we have sought with the latest Bill to give as much time as possible to deal—[Hon. Members: “Not enough.”] Hon. Members say, “Not enough”, but we have afforded the Committee stage of that Bill more days of debate than were afforded to the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the European—[Interruption.]

Order. Let the Leader of the House speak. That is the best thing to do. The Leader of the House cannot speak if the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) interrupts her.

We have afforded this House more days of debate in Committee on that Bill than were afforded the Nice treaty, the Amsterdam treaty and the Single European Act put together. We have given many days of debate on that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Welsh day and international women's day and asked about Commonwealth day. I shall consider whether that matter should be the subject of a topical debate.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the worrying issue of suicide in prisons. I recognise that that concern is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I notice that there are, on motions for the Adjournment of the House, debates next Monday on an inspectorate of prisons report and next Thursday on suicide prevention strategies. The House seeks to debate that matter regularly.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the functions of the Law Officers. He will remember that, in his statement on the governance of Britain, the Prime Minister undertook to consider reform of the Law Officers' functions. There has been a discussion and consultation, and when proposals are made on that important issue they will be brought before the House.

The Leader of the House will be aware that there have been many debates on the Post Office in recent times, but I am particularly concerned about the recent Post Office consultation on the closures. I would like a debate on that, or at least I would like her to pass my concerns on to the relevant Minister. I received a letter from Richard Lynds, who is the network development manager for the Post Office. When I tried to contact him about the changes, I was given a call centre. No one knew who he was. When I contacted the chairman's office, I found that he had gone on holiday during the consultation period. It is not good enough. The nearest post office to Nether Kellet, one of the post offices in my constituency, is two miles away. It is on a road where there is no footpath. Pensioners could not even walk to it. They would have to change buses to get there. This is really unacceptable.

I shall raise my hon. Friend’s account of the unsatisfactory way in which the consultation has operated in respect of a post office in her constituency with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. We must ensure that, if at any stage a Government Department or agency engages in consultation, it is genuine consultation; otherwise it is worse than simply taking the decision itself. The last thing people want is to be told that they are being consulted and then not be consulted at all.

At the heart of the problems that we have experienced this week, which must not continue from now on, is the Government's savage guillotine of the Committee stage of the European treaty Bill. We have had only four hours of debate on the Committee stage to date. It is guillotined so savagely that the borders, visas, asylum and immigration parts of the home affairs provisions that the Government graciously gave to the House were not debated.

I was most certainly there. The Leader of the House, in whose name this atrocious motion was tabled, has bound the ability of the Speaker to protect the interests of the House in discussing something of constitutional importance, which is necessarily debated on the Floor of the House in detail. That has been denied to the House. It is traducing parliamentary democracy. It is even worse than the day when the Government deemed a Bill to have been considered when it had not been.

We have sought to provide adequate debating time for the House. The hon. Gentleman will know, of course, that the Bill enacts the treaty. We wanted to ensure that the house has an opportunity to debate not only the clauses of the Bill and the amendments that have been selected by Mr. Speaker but the substance of the treaty that the Bill brings into force. That is why we have proposed that there should be an opportunity to debate the substance of the treaty at the same time as discussing amendments to the individual clauses.

As for the guillotine, I would say only that the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986 was guillotined on 1 July 1986. The motion was proposed by a Leader of the House whom many of us think was a great Leader of the House: John Biffen. I know that the hon. Gentleman is consistent in these matters, so I imagine that he opposed that as well.

I see that the hon. Gentleman did so.

We must ensure that we have enough time to scrutinise not only the clauses and the amendments but the treaty that the clauses bring into effect.

I did not fully respond to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). He stated that the difficulty is that by the time a treaty that has been negotiated and committed to by the Government comes before the House, it is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That is a difficulty facing all Governments and legislatures, but he proposes that we consider whether there might be a different way to do things, as did the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) yesterday in the Modernisation Committee.

May I take my friend to early-day motion 826, which is on the Order Paper in my name?

[That this House notes with grave concern the plight of scores of people who have received multiple penalty notices couched in the most threatening terms from Effective Car Park Management (ECPM) for allegedly parking without authorisation on private land at the Lomeshaye Business Village in Pendle owned by Bizspace; notes that ECPM is registered at Companies House as MJB Car Park Management but that neither company is registered with the umbrella trade association for the parking enforcement industry, the British Parking Association; acknowledges that only members of the British Parking Association can request and receive data electronically from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA); is astonished to learn that the DVLA has been supplying Matthew Brough, the owner of ECPM, with personal data from the DVLA database on the grounds that the company’s request is made by paper and not electronically and calls on the Government to close this loophole without delay; further believes that Bizspace should terminate its contract with Matthew Brough forthwith; and considers that Brough’s business practices are wholly unacceptable and that he is a cheat and a fraudster and that the debt collectors mentioned in the parking tickets have no rights of entry or rights to seize goods and that anyone with a ticket who believes they have been entrapped by Brough should refuse to pay and insist on the matter going before the courts.]

Does my friend share my astonishment that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is giving out personal details from its database to shady operators and crooks such as Matthew Brough from Effective Car Park Management, who is stinging and fleecing my constituents by clamping their cars and trying to extort huge sums of money from people who unwittingly park on private land? It is a serious matter; I expect a serious reply.

My hon. Friend raises two important issues. The first is bogus clamping, which is being looked into by the Department for Transport, as is the regulatory regime by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. We all want traffic to move freely—we do not want random parking in breach of the law clogging up the roads—but we also do not want cowboys ripping people off by clamping their cars, sometimes leaving them very vulnerable and isolated as a result of not being able to drive away. He also raises the question of the use of data, which will come within the purview of the data review set up by the Cabinet Office.

In compensation for the breach of his solemn promise to grant the British people a referendum on the treaty incorporating the substance of the European constitution, the Prime Minister made a further promise that this House would be able in Committee to consider that treaty line by line. Will the Leader of the House confirm that under the present timetable, no Committee consideration will be given to items in the treaty relating to immigration, asylum and border controls? Not a single amendment and not a single line of the treaty relating to those matters will be considered in Committee by this House. Is it her intention thereby to breach that promise by the Prime Minister as well? The one—

Order. Supplementaries should be brief. We are getting into speeches; we have had a few this morning. Some of them were very nice, but they should not be speeches.

If I could just finish, we had six hours of debate on how the House would handle the Bill—six hours of debate in which all Members had an opportunity to raise questions on the procedure for dealing with the Bill, followed by a vote. It has been decided how the Bill should be scrutinised by the House, and we are following through on that procedure.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that there is a great deal of concern about the Law Lords’ decision on 17 October regarding pleural plaques. They have deemed that pleural plaques, which are caused by exposure to asbestos, are not compensatable. She will also have seen the two early-day motions, 812 and 815, which stand in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) respectively, and which ask for remedy.

[That this House recognises the anguish that has been caused by the failure of the House of Lords to overturn the Court of Appeal decision that prevents sufferers of pleural plaques from claiming compensation on the grounds of negligence; notes that there are thousands of sufferers in former industrial heartlands such as the North East who have been left without the compensation they deserve; and calls on the Government to take urgent action to ensure those suffering from pleural plaques receive justice.]

[That this House calls on the Government to explore every avenue possible to reverse the recent decision of the Law Lords which has denied compensation to the victims of asbestosis pleural plaques.]

Will she consider a debate, perhaps a topical debate, on pleural plaques, and will she convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice that the issue needs to be remedied in this place?

My hon. Friend will know that much has been done on the question of those who suffer horrible and debilitating respiratory disease as a result of work that they have undertaken, and those who have lost their lives as a result of contracting such diseases, because he has raised the issues in the House and caused progress to be made on just compensation. As for his further question, the Prime Minister is considering it with Ministers. If further proposals are made, they will no doubt be brought to the House.

Might we have an urgent debate or statement on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which is the subject of a number of reports today? There has been one from Oxfam, and one in The Times concerning the possibility of military training. I draw the Leader of the House’s attention particularly to the front page of The Independent today, which highlights the case of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a journalism student who is apparently facing the death penalty, after having had very little by way of a fair trial and being denied independent legal representation, for the crime of downloading and distributing a report on the oppression of women. Surely, given our current involvement in that country, the Government must have a view on the situation. Surely we will not just sit back and allow that monstrous act to take place without doing anything about it.

There is concern at all times about the situation in Afghanistan; indeed, the issue was raised yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions. The Government are determined to stand up for human rights, including freedom of speech, in all countries, and are of course concerned about the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that there are many children in care establishments throughout Great Britain. We have a serious shortage of foster parents, and many children remain in care establishments until the age of 16, when they are deemed adults who can be independent. It is a serious situation. They are our tomorrows—children who will define Great Britain. The issue is important enough for the Government to have a debate on it. They must have a view about how the situation can be repaired.

There is concern in Government that we should do more for those children who are most dependent on the state and who often appear to be most failed by it, namely children taken into care. She will know of the strategy for children in care, which started in the Department for Education and Skills, and of the work being taken forward in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I will draw her comments to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

A short question on the European Union (Amendment) Bill: does the imagination of the Leader of the House stretch so far as to say that what has taken place to date amounts to detailed, line-by-line consideration of the contents of the Bill and the treaty? Yes or no will do as an answer.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on Network Rail and the delay in running trains from the Ebbw valley to Newport? When the line eventually opens, trains will run to Cardiff but not Newport. Network Rail says that it is because major investment in signalling is needed, yet my constituents Mrs. Ruth Gray and Mr. Ted Beacham and my local paper, the South Wales Argus, say that freight trains are running on the line, and indeed that trains used for driver training in the Ebbw valley all come out of Newport. A debate would at least give us the opportunity to find out what is really going on.

I will consider that as a question for debate, but I will also raise my right hon. Friend’s comments, and his concern for his constituents and the important matter of their transport access, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The Leader of the House has announced motions for debate next Thursday relating to European scrutiny reform. Is she aware that this morning, the Liaison Committee discussed those proposals and registered deep anxiety about aspects of them? Will she now respect the Liaison Committee’s request that next Thursday those motions be not moved?

The question of European scrutiny by the House is a matter for the whole House, rather than for Government policy. We know that we have to improve the way that the House scrutinises European legislation. We undertook to see whether we could come up with a better process of scrutiny to bring back to the House to debate and to decide upon. We need to do that as soon as we can because the old rules under which we have been operating run out three months after the time when we decided to review them, so we face some time constraints. Above all, we want to reach agreement across the House on the matter. I shall therefore consider how to respond to the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised on behalf of the Liaison Committee. We want to get something that everyone agrees is an improvement on the way that we currently scrutinise European business.

Would it be possible to have an early debate on the explicable reluctance of senior schools to display and distribute information and advice on the avoidance of forced marriages to their students? Last summer, the Department for Education and Skills sent round some good guidelines on the subject, which seem to have been ignored.

I will bring the issue to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Perhaps Ofsted can shed some light on the matter. We need to be sure that all children in every school get the highest quality teaching, education and information.

May we please have a statement on the intended programming of the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill? Given that criticism was expressed in some quarters about the limited scope for parliamentary scrutiny of the sexual orientation regulations and of the new offence of incitement to homophobic hate crime, both of which Government measures I enthusiastically supported, may I suggest to the Leader of the House that it is in the Government’s interest, in Parliament’s interest and, above all, in the public interest that when the Report stage of the Bill takes place, she should err on the side of generosity in ensuring that all points of view on the controversial features of the Bill are comprehensively aired?

The hon. Gentleman makes a point that has been drawn to my attention by a number of Members in all parts of the House. We have all been impressed by the way that the House of Lords has dealt with the Bill and discussed it in an informed and responsible way. I intend to ensure that we have sufficient time for a serious and good debate on that important measure in this House.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the failures of the Tory-controlled South East England regional assembly to address major transport problems in east Kent, in particular its failure to designate Dover as a regional transport hub, and the failure to dual the last few miles of the A2, which is the road to the busiest ferry port in the world?

I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments on transport, which is very important indeed to his constituents, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Successive Leaders of the House have promised me and the House that there would be a further debate on the tragic situation in Zimbabwe. Elections are due in that country shortly. This is absolutely the right time that the House should express its views on that tragedy. Will the Leader of the House accept a request from me to have even a short debate—a topical debate—on the subject next week or as soon as there is time for it?

I accept that request for a debate. I know that there is support from Members in all parts of the House for the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.

May we have a debate in Government time about the behaviour of Britain’s six leading energy companies, which at a time of making record profits are increasing prices by eight, nine and even 10 times the rate of inflation? We are capping public sector workers’ pay in the fight against inflation. It is time we capped those price increases as well.

My hon. Friend will know, as the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, that there is a concern about increasing energy costs on the back of increasing fuel prices. The regulator is required to look at that. As my hon. Friend knows, we have dramatically increased the winter fuel payments and we are moving forward on the matter of insulation. We want to ensure that despite the increasing price of oil and gas, people can afford to keep their homes warm.

The Treasury yesterday published a consultation document on financial stability and protecting depositors. It contains a large number of suggestions for consultation, including proposals that would mean a swingeing reduction in transparency by the Bank of England in the case of its offering support to another failing bank. Notwithstanding the merits or demerits of that case, the consultation was issued without an oral statement and there has been no opportunity yet to probe the Chancellor or the Government about their thinking on that matter. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to make an oral statement on the new consultation in good time before the end of the consultation period in three months, so that those in the House and outside can take on board the Government’s thinking when finalising their submissions to the report?

No doubt the hon. Gentleman can contribute to the consultation along the lines that he set out in his comments, and no doubt they will be considered.

On the subject of the economy, we usually hear a great deal of doom and gloom from the Opposition. I take the opportunity to welcome the 800 new jobs in Nissan in the north-east, and congratulate all those in the Nissan team who were involved in bringing those jobs to the north-east.

Two weeks ago I visited Stockport academy to see the progress of the new £27 million building. I was struck by the enthusiasm of the students for their new school, which has had an impact on attendance and behaviour. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate so that I can persuade the Minister for Schools and Learners to include more Stockport schools in the Government’s successful Building Schools for the Future programme?

I congratulate the Stockport academy and the schools in Stockport on whose behalf my hon. Friend speaks. Perhaps she will have an opportunity to put those points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families at oral questions next Monday.