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Business of the House

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 16 June—Second Reading of the Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 17 June—Opposition day [14th allotted day]. There will be a debate on the Government’s plans for polyclinics followed by a debate on sentencing policy and the early release of offenders. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 18 June—A general debate on European affairs.

Thursday 19 June—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on defence procurement.

Friday 20 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 23 June will include:

Monday 23 June—It is expected that there will be a statement on the European Council. Opposition day [11th allotted day] [second part]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Sale of Student Loans Bill.

Tuesday 24 June—Opposition day [unallotted day] [first part]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2008, followed by a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) Order 2008.

Wednesday 25 June—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Planning Bill.

Thursday 26 June—A general debate on the draft legislative programme.

Friday 27 June—The House will not be sitting.

I wish to take this opportunity to inform the House that it is my intention that the subject for the topical debate on 3 July will be Zimbabwe. It may also be helpful to Members if I inform the House that Her Majesty the Queen will open the new Session of Parliament on Wednesday 3 December.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business and I probably share the feelings of the entire House in thanking her for the debate on Zimbabwe. I am sorry that it is only a one-and-a-half hour topical debate, but it is good that we will be having a debate on Zimbabwe in the House.

Last weekend, the number of troops killed in Afghanistan reached 100 and yesterday my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister to make a statement on Afghanistan. The Prime Minister said that he was willing to keep the House informed. When will we have this statement?

Following last evening’s vote to give away civil liberties, there has been much speculation about what promises the Prime Minister had to make to win. So that hon. Members might be better informed before the debate on 24 June in the name of the Democratic Unionist party, can we have a statement from the Northern Ireland Secretary on the Government’s plans for expenditure in Northern Ireland?

Talking of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, on Tuesday, Members had only three hours to discuss 16 new clauses and about 60 amendments covering crucial issues such as post-charge questioning and control orders. That has become a regular practice. Ministers tabled at a late stage 218 new amendments to the Planning Bill and the sheer number of late amendments to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill meant that major changes to the criminal law and to sentencing were not debated in the House. It is the responsibility of the right hon. and learned Lady to manage the business of the House, but it is becoming clearer with every Bill that is mishandled that she is struggling. Will she make a statement to explain what she is doing to ensure that important issues are given proper time for debate?

I have previously asked why the Government delayed publication of the poverty figures until after, first, the local elections and then the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Now we know why. The number of children in poverty rose last year and the Government are even further away from meeting their child poverty target. Can we have a debate on the issue as a matter of urgency?

On 18 March, the Minister for Women announced a £1 million emergency fund for rape crisis centres faced with closure but, four months later, no rape crisis centre under threat has received a single penny of that money. So, can we have a statement from the Minister?

This week, the Governor of the Bank of England said that we were facing

“the longest period of financial turmoil”

in memory, yet the Treasury has been characterised by dithering and U-turns, not least on the 10p tax fiasco. There is little wonder that the director general of the CBI has said the Chancellor has “lost it” on tax policy. Can we have a debate, in Government time, on restoring confidence in the Treasury?

Can we have a debate on leadership in government? Since the Prime Minister came to power, the number of working days lost to stress-related illness in the civil service has increased by almost 11,000. Unsurprisingly, one of the two Departments where less time is being lost due to stress is the Treasury, which the Prime Minster left last June. Perhaps his reputation for upsetting secretaries, throwing mobile phones at the wall and reducing his closest advisers to tears is not the best way to boost staff morale. As the only other Department where time lost due to stress fell is the Foreign Office, perhaps the Prime Minister should ask the Foreign Secretary for lessons on leadership.

Finally, can we have a debate on management technique in government? It is today reported that, according to Downing street insiders, the Prime Minister’s “Don't panic” message to motorists was deliberately designed to achieve the opposite effect and to get people to panic buy fuel. [Hon. Members: “What?”] Yes. Perhaps in Brown’s Downing street army, when he, like Corporal Jones, says “Don’t panic, don’t panic”, his Cabinet hear the words of Private Frazer—“Doomed. We’re all doomed”.

The right hon. Lady asked about Afghanistan, and we all express our condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the fight against the Taliban. We must remind ourselves of the progress that their heroic work has helped to secure. The Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday that only 2 million children were in school in Afghanistan when the operation started, but that the figure is 6 million now, 2 million of them girls. We need to make progress on tackling the Taliban for the sake of the people of Afghanistan and because of the threat that their terrorism poses to the world. Statements to keep the House updated will be made as and when they are appropriate. I know that the Prime Minister addresses those matters whenever they arise at Prime Minister’s questions on a Wednesday.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about yesterday’s debate and vote on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. I say again that the Government’s concern is for the safety of people in this country and for the protection of our civil liberties. The Bill was scrutinised by the Select Committee, there was extensive debate in the House, and now it goes to the Lords. I ask her to spare us her crocodile tears over civil liberties: we introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 against opposition from the Conservatives, who plan to abolish it. That legislation is one of the most important defences of civil liberties to have gone through the House in recent years.

The right hon. Lady raised the question of the programming of the Counter-Terrorism Bill, and of Bills more widely. It is important not to rewrite history, so I remind her of what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing said about the programme motion:

“At the start of the process, quite properly, the usual channels asked for two days on Report rather than just one—they asked for and were given that, because of the importance of the matters covered by the Bill. Within that, they asked that one day be given over…for a full day’s debate on one clause.”—[Official Report, 10 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 172.]

That request was also granted. There was discussion through the usual channels, and exceptional arrangements were made for a very important debate.

As for child poverty, there has been a substantial fall in the number of children being brought up in poverty since this Government came to office in 1997. However, we are determined to step up the momentum and that is why we have introduced further measures to bring even more children out of poverty. Last Monday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families gave evidence on child poverty to the Select Committee, and next Monday the House will consider the Children and Young Persons Bill. That is a stark contrast to what happened under the Conservative Government, when there was a relentless increase in the number of children being brought up in poverty. I therefore regard the concern expressed by the right hon. Lady to be entirely phoney—as with so many of the issues that she raises.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about rape crisis centres. It might be a good idea if I had a further discussion with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Justice and for the Home Department, after which I shall write to the right hon. Lady with an update on where we have got with the extra funds that have been made available for distribution to rape crisis centres. I shall place a copy of that letter in the House of Commons Library.

As for the financial situation, I think that we all acknowledge that it is difficult, both in this country and internationally. We will take action at national and international level, make sure that we support the resilience of the economy and focus on what we can do to help family finances.

The right hon. Lady made what I think was intended as a joke about fuel supply, in respect of the tanker drivers’ industrial dispute. It is a serious issue and it is important to state two things. First, it is important that people do not fill their tanks more quickly than they would otherwise, thereby creating a problem of supply in petrol stations. Secondly, we express our hope that the two sides in the dispute will come together and reach an agreement swiftly.

Last summer, the Law Commission recommended reform of the law relating to cohabiting couples to avoid expensive and protracted court cases after the breakdown of a relationship. In March this year, the Ministry of Justice announced in a written ministerial statement that it would not change the law but that it would await the results of the introduction of the law in Scotland. Will my right hon. and learned Friend urgently hold a meeting with me to discuss that decision with Resolution, the family law representative body, and the Ministry of Justice to see what we can do to speed up reform to avoid thousands of people being left destitute each year when their relationship breaks up?

May I suggest that my hon. Friend has a prompt meeting on that important issue with the Secretary of State for Justice? I undertake to arrange that as soon as possible. My hon. Friend has raised the issue consistently over a number of years. I welcome her back to the House after her maternity leave, and congratulate her on a truly gorgeous baby.

I join the Leader of the House and the Conservative shadow Leader of the House in their tributes to our troops in Afghanistan. Many of our constituencies have seen people go to fight there, and we know the risks. Many of them have made the supreme sacrifice. We are proud of them.

On the matters the Leader of the House announced, will she—before the debate in the name of the Democratic Unionist party—put in the Library a record of all the meetings between Ministers and DUP Members since the Easter break, to save us all having to spend lots of public money on freedom of information exercises? We will then know exactly when the meetings happened, with whom and on what subject.

On the announcement about the next Queen’s Speech, can the Leader of the House confirm that the date for the new Session of Parliament is extraordinarily late? Is it not probably the latest start in normal times ever—certainly for the past 25 years? If so, is it an indication that the Government anticipate considerable difficulty in dealing with their legislation after the summer break? In that context, what is now the expected time in the Government’s programme for Royal Assent to the Counter-Terrorism Bill?

May we have a debate on relations between the UK and China? I have asked for one before, and it is obviously more and more important as the Olympic games come down the track. I hope that the Government will accept that it is important that the debate happens before the summer break.

Linked to a question put by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), may we have a debate on what is clearly the continuing widening gap between the rich and the poor? When I put to the Chancellor that the gap is now evidenced by the statistics, he refused to confirm or deny it, but the statistics are clear. I hope that the Labour party is still committed to narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, so can we debate on why that is not happening?

If it is not, why not? It used to be. That may be why the Labour party is not as popular with its core supporters as it was in the past.

On internal House business, the Leader of the House obviously has plans to put to the House proposals for Members’ pay, pensions and allowances. I understood that Sir John Baker was due to report to the Government in May, although we have heard nothing of his report. May I assume that he did report in May and that the report is ready? If so, can it be published now and will the Leader of the House confirm—specifically following the comments made yesterday by the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life—that whatever view the Members Estimate Committee comes to, an independent body of authority will confirm that it is acceptable not just to Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, but to those who monitor the public interest outside this place, so that we are not in the embarrassing position of the House deciding on something that is immediately thought inappropriate by those outside who look after standards of public life?

On the point about meetings between Ministers and others, there are processes, by way of parliamentary questions, whereby information can be elicited. Such questions should be answered promptly and accurately, and a similar process applies with freedom of information requests. There are processes for asking about meetings that have taken place and what happened at them. The hon. Gentleman knows that civil servants are not present at all meetings with Ministers.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), like all Members, will have been in meetings with Ministers where civil servants have not been present.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the date on which this year’s debate on the Queen’s Speech will be the latest ever. No, it will not be. In 2000, it took place on 6 December, so this year’s date is not the latest. He also asked when the Counter-Terrorism Bill will receive Royal Assent. There are very important measures on that most important of issues, and I hope that the Bill will go through the House of Lords, return to this House and receive Royal Assent promptly. Of course, we want it to have proper scrutiny, but we also want to ensure that those important new laws are on the statute book.

The hon. Gentleman asked about UK relations with China. There is an opportunity for him and other Members to raise further points when Foreign Office Ministers take oral questions on 24 June.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the gap between the rich and poor. Of course, we remain committed to a more equal society and to narrowing the gap between rich and poor. If he looks at our public service agreements, which embody the objectives for work that takes place throughout Departments, he will see a number of PSAs that require action throughout the Government to narrow the gap between rich and poor in relation to educational and health outcomes and to income. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) says, “It’s not working.” I just ask her to look at the relentless and growing trend of inequality between rich and poor and the growing number of poor people under the Government of whom she was a Member. I am prepared to—[Interruption.] At least the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has been consistent on the issue. I am happy to answer his question, but I shall move swiftly on to Sir John Baker’s report.

Sir John has reported and I strongly thank him for the work that he has undertaken at the request of the House. Our resolution on 24 May asked him to look into the question of MPs’ pay. On the question of publication and debate, we are committed to debating the Baker report and to making decisions about an independent mechanism for reviewing pay, including a new comparator. We have made a commitment that the House will have an opportunity to debate these issues and to make decisions before the House rises for the summer recess. We are determined that the report should be published in enough time to give Members time to consider it and to propose any amendments that they would like to make to it.

Bearing in mind, however, that we also aim to debate the report on allowances from Mr. Speaker and the Members Estimate Committee, we thought it would be convenient for the House to debate that report at the same time as the Baker review—on the same day—so that the House could deal with all the issues at once. As we would like the reports to be debated on the same day, it would also be convenient for the House if we published the MEC and Baker reports on the same day. That is our objective. It might not prove possible, but in any event, we will go ahead and publish the Baker review to ensure that Members have enough time to consider it and to produce their amendments.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey asked about independent scrutiny of the Members Estimate Committee’s proposals to the House. That has been the subject of much debate within the Committee—particularly among the three Committee members to whom the whole House owes much for the great deal of work that they have done. They have consulted Members, and the question is how we ensure that we have not only the right structure to pay for our offices, travel and London accommodation, but proper investigation systems, so that any misuse of those structures and any abuse of the system can be rooted out. Members have been debating that point with MEC members, and there has been discussion with the National Audit Office. The proposals will then return to the House. Once the MEC report is published, everybody, including the Committee on Standards and Privileges, will be able to look at it, and then it will come back to the House for a full debate and a decision.

As someone who, needless to say, is very pleased that the Labour party has been in office for 11 years, and who certainly wants to avoid the nightmare of a Tory Government, may I ask whether the Cabinet should not carefully consider whether it is wise to go ahead with the 42-days measure, knowing that the Lords will certainly reject it and that there will then be ping-pong between the two Chambers? Perhaps a statement could be made at some stage. Should not we all be united against the terrorist danger instead of having controversial and divisive measures that serve no purpose at all?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we should be united against the terrorist danger. The Government are determined to ensure the safety of the British people as well as to protect civil liberties. It was on that basis that we put our Counter-Terrorism Bill before the House. It was accepted last night and it will go through the proper processes of debate.

The right hon. and learned Lady is aware that the Government have made proposals to allow money to be spent on swimming and on swimming pools. That is to be welcomed—to tackle obesity and for many other reasons. However, in Minehead in west Somerset, we have had to lose our only public pool, for two reasons: first, the building is unfortunately not up to the job that it is meant to do; and secondly, the district council—which is under no overall control, so there is no political gain from my question—has neither the money nor the ability to reopen the pool in the near future. The Government quite rightly want to encourage people to swim and older people to continue to swim, yet for reasons outside our control we cannot do so. Therefore, would it be possible to have a debate about that issue, which is important not only to my constituency, but, I suspect, to many others throughout the United Kingdom?

There has been a substantial increase in central Government funding to local authorities, but the hon. Gentleman raises a point about swimming which is very important. Swimming is part of a major programme and we want to ensure that it can take place in all areas, so I suggest that he seeks a meeting between himself, his local council and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that there was some coverage about the topical debate on knife crime last week. By their very nature, topical debates are important to our constituents, but the debates have a problem, because, often, not many Members can participate in them, hence the coverage that last week’s debate generated. Will she consider reviewing how we arrange topical debates so that more Members can participate and so that the media cannot distort what goes on in the House by suggesting that Members on both sides of the House are not in tune with what goes on in their constituencies, or do not share their constituents’ concerns?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about topical debates. He is a champion of work against antisocial behaviour and criminality in his local community. I confirm to him and the House that we are reviewing the operation of topical debates, which have only recently been introduced. Several points have been raised, including not only how we choose the topic, but at what time during the week the debates take place. I shall report to the House before the summer recess. The question of the day on which they are held is under close review.

The Government continue to reject the call for compensation for veterans who suffered as a result of their participation in the British nuclear weapons tests in the Indian and Pacific oceans in the 1950s. Instead of paying expensive lawyers to defend the indefensible, could we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that we can hear Ministers’ reasons for continuing to refuse that group of ex-servicemen the apology that they so obviously deserve?

The Secretary of State for Defence and his team of Ministers will be answering oral questions on Monday; I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises that issue then.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the horrible events at her family home at the weekend were a timely reminder to all Members that to confuse openness about our expenses—something that I thoroughly support—with the exposure of addresses of Members of Parliament is a mistake, and one that we should absolutely resist?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course we want to make sure that public money is properly spent and that we are open with the public about how it is spent. However, the question of the publication of Members’ addresses raises an issue that is fundamental to the role of hon. Members in this House. No Member should have to make a choice between saying in the House what they believe to be right, and fearing for their and their family’s safety because of the publication of their home address. We will defend the right of all hon. Members to speak openly. That means that, while we are open about public spending, we do not put the addresses of hon. Members’ London homes in the public domain.

Last week the Leader of the House indicated, but understandably could not confirm, that there would be no rule change that would have the effect of allowing the disposal of defence estates to accrue to devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. Since then we have had last night’s important vote and the rumours surrounding it. Will the right hon. and learned Lady arrange for the Chancellor to rule out categorically any Treasury rule change that, whatever the merits of increased spending in Northern Ireland, would have the effect of a defence cut?

Treasury questions are not until 10 July, but the hon. Gentleman may find an opportunity to make his points in the Democratic Unionist party Opposition day debate or the defence procurement debate, which takes place on Thursday next week.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that later this afternoon we will discuss opposed private business relating to the control of illegal street trading, including that of peddlers. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) has pursued my right hon. and learned Friend assiduously on the issue, but I make no apologies for joining the hue and cry.

Given that the measures enjoy cross-party support and that councils and the police are having to put huge amounts of time and effort into tackling these issues, as well as lobbying us in this House, and given the time that we Members spend on the issue, is it not time for the Government to provide at least a legal framework that gives councils the discretion to introduce the powers when they think they are necessary, to protect local consumers and legal traders?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I am sure will be amplified in the debate later and considered closely by my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

I thank the Leader of the House for arranging a debate on Zimbabwe, although I am a little saddened that it will come after the rerun of the presidential election in that country and that we are not able to emphasise the importance of a large number of election observers there to see that the election is free and fair.

I have a question for the Leader of the House about future business. Will she produce a report for the House to consider on the processes of programming and selecting topical debates? I believe that there is a requirement on both sides of the House for those processes to be reviewed, and I hope that a review of both will be announced by the Leader of the House in the relatively near future.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed the fact that I intend the House to debate Zimbabwe on 3 July. I know that he was able to make the points that he so often makes in the House at a meeting earlier this week with Lord Malloch-Brown, who briefed hon. Members and Members of the House of Lords on Zimbabwe. I know that Lord Malloch-Brown found it useful to hear from the hon. Gentleman, who has a long-standing interest in Zimbabwe.

The hon. Gentleman will know that programming was considered in detail by the Modernisation Committee, which reported on it in 2006; there is no reason to look again at the issue now. As far as topical debates are concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are reviewing their operation. There is still an opportunity to make points to that review before I make my report, which will happen before the House rises in the summer.

I welcome the fact that there is to be a debate on polyclinics next Tuesday. Will my right hon. and learned Friend advise me whether it would be in order to refer to the British Medical Association petition presented to No. 10? I am sure that many people, including my constituents, were misled into signing that petition because they were told that general practices, particularly in rural areas, would close as a result of the changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) and I met the North Lincolnshire primary care trust representatives, who said categorically that the funding for the new clinic in Scunthorpe is additional and that not a single practice is under threat. Will it be in order to emphasise that point in that debate?

It certainly will be. We are pleased that the Opposition have chosen the issue of polyclinics and GP services for the Opposition day debate. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that people are very concerned about primary care services. It is important that they should not be subjected to misinformation; that issue particularly concerns vulnerable and elderly people.

My right hon. Friend is right—we are talking about new, additional money. Some £250 million was announced last autumn for new GP-led health centres in every PCT area; that comes on top of the existing GP provision. Furthermore, there will be additional, new GP surgeries in the most deprived areas. That situation is different from that in London, where there was a long-term review, with a proposal for polyclinics that is the subject of discussion by PCTs in London today. My right hon. Friend is right: we are not imposing anything anywhere. We are, however, demanding high standards, greater access and good premises. We are supporting that with more funds and higher pay, and next Tuesday there will be not only an Opposition day debate but oral questions.

May we have a debate in Government time about compensation for members of our armed forces who have been injured in action? I know that the Ministry of Defence is currently reviewing the amount and type of compensation given to our brave servicemen and women. However, before that is put into practice, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House so that hon. Members can say how we feel our servicemen and women should be treated if they are injured?

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity shortly to raise that issue in MOD questions; in the meantime, I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence.

Following on from the previous question, my right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt be aware of comments about pay and conditions for our military. The Prime Minister announced that there would be a White Paper to consider that issue and the military covenant, on which the Royal British Legion has been campaigning for some time. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that when that White Paper is published, the House will have an opportunity to discuss it so that we long-term supporters of the covenant will get the chance to have our say?

My hon. Friend reflects concern across the House on those issues. I will make sure that when the White Paper is forthcoming, we consider opportunities for it to be presented to and debated in the House.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether the Northern Ireland Secretary will make a statement early next week on the financial and other implications of the agreement made yesterday with representatives of Northern Ireland constituencies? It is quite plain that, aside from the pressure exercised on Labour Back Benchers, an awful lot of English pork is being shovelled into a very large Northern Irish barrel. We have a right to know something about the detail of that so that we can judge the propriety—I use my words carefully—of the influences that were brought to bear.

Like everyone in the whole House, the Government remain committed to peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. That is the work to which the Government, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his team of Ministers are committed. I deplore the smears and disgraceful slurs and allegations that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made. He ought to know better.

A number of hon. Members, including me, have been raising various issues related to the beauty industry—issues ranging from nail bars to tattooing and tanning salons. We have been expressing our concern about the health aspects. There is a problem, however, in that the matter crosses a number of areas—the health of customers, the occupational health of employees, trading standards and the licensing systems of local government. Will the Leader of the House consider how the House could look at all those different aspects of the beauty industry together, rather than our having to try to pick them off one by one?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I would add the Department of Health to the list of Departments concerned. Sometimes, the people receiving such so-called beauty treatments end up with their health being jeopardised. Perhaps I might have a meeting with my hon. Friend to discuss how we could take the issue forward so that the House can be given the opportunity to debate it, and so that we can bring together ministerial action on the issue.

May we have an urgent debate on the proposals of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to slash the number of tax offices, and close all three in my constituency? The proposals would mean that my constituents would have to travel long distances for a face-to-face meeting with a tax inspector—over 100 miles in some cases. They also mean the loss of an awful lot of experienced tax inspectors. That is no way to run a fair and efficient tax collection service. The proposals should be withdrawn.

We want to make sure that HMRC operates as efficiently as possible, and that administration costs are kept to a minimum. More and more people are dealing with their tax matters online, but there is still an important role for face-to-face meetings, which the hon. Gentleman mentions. In respect of his constituency, I suggest that he seek an Adjournment debate on the matter.

In 2008, is it not appalling that sports and social clubs in my constituency still can, and do, discriminate on grounds of sex? Is it not about time that we had a debate on the subject in the House, with particular reference to mixed clubs that treat male members differently from female members, so that we can discuss how to bring about more equality in sports and social clubs?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s commitment to equality, which I share. He will know, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and other Members in the House do, that we will bring forward an equality Bill. Later this month, I hope to be able to set out to the House what the Bill’s provisions will be, but I can say that the Bill will ensure that clubs that offer membership to both women and men will no longer be able to discriminate against women; they will have to treat men and women equally.

May I press the Leader of the House a little further on the question of statements from the Prime Minister on the strategy for Afghanistan, as did my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House? We last had such a statement on 12 December, which is nearly six months ago. On that occasion, the Prime Minister gave us the broad strategy for winning Afghanistan in the long term, but since then I have obtained a paper from the Foreign Office, which I will place on my website this afternoon, and which demonstrates that things are not going according to plan. We are winning militarily, but we are in big trouble strategically. Only if the Prime Minister shows real leadership on the issue, and explains time and again to the British people and the international community what we are trying to achieve there, will we succeed. Will he show that leadership by making a statement to the House?

I do not accept that we are in big trouble strategically. There is international action, in which we are joining together with other countries. The hon. Gentleman may know that there is a Westminster Hall debate on Afghanistan next Tuesday. However, I know that there is concern on the issue across the House, and I will consider how we can find an opportunity to debate fully the important work of our troops, and those from other countries, in Afghanistan.

May we have a debate on the recent proposals to give additional money to carers to access respite care? Those carers will take up that money only if they can be assured of good quality care in residential homes. The excellent series on the Radio 4 “Today” programme last week on residential homes did not do anything to inspire confidence on the issue.

The series of programmes to which my hon. Friend refers—I agree that they were excellent—put the spotlight on an issue of growing concern. Over the next 20 years, the number of people aged over 85 is set to double. We are all concerned to make sure that those in residential or nursing homes have the best institutional care, and that those who are with their families are able properly to be supported by them, and that includes respite care. I will bring my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health, and to the commission that the Government have set up to advise us on those important issues.

May we please have a statement on Government policy on Cuba? I know that the Leader of the House considers Fidel Castro something of a hero, and she may be pleased that it is reported this morning that Government policy on sanctions against Cuba may be changed as a consequence of buying off a couple of rebels on the 42-day detention vote. How does she think our allies will view foreign policy if our policy on Cuba is to be changed as part of a grubby deal to buy off a few Labour Back Benchers who are sympathetic to left-wing dictators?

Fortunately, I think I can rest assured that our allies will take no notice of the sort of points that the hon. Gentleman raised, and neither will I.