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Business of the House

Volume 488: debated on Thursday 5 March 2009

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 9 March—Estimates (2nd allocated day). There will be a debate on the work of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in the current economic situation, followed by a debate on railways. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Delivering a sustainable railway: a 30-year strategy for the railways? (10th Report of Session 2007-08 from the Transport Committee, HC 219; Government response—eighth special report, HC 1105); and Departmental Annual Report and scrutiny of the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (14th report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, HC 1116; and Government response Cm 7559) and further Oral Evidence of 16 December, 14 January and 23 February.]

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 10 March—Opposition Day (7th allocated day). There will be a debate on unemployment in the UK, followed by a debate on the European working time directive. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Wednesday 11 March—Remaining stages of the Business Rate Supplements Bill, followed by motion to consider the Penalties for Disorderly Behaviour (Amount of Penalty) (Amendment) Order 2009.

Thursday 12 March—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: the 30th, the 36th, the 39th to the 41st, the 43rd to the 49th and the 51st and the 57th Reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2007-08, and of the Treasury Minutes on these Reports (Cm 7493, 7522 and 7545).]

Friday 13 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 16 March will include:

Monday 16 March—Second Reading of the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill.

Tuesday 17 March—Remaining stages of the Welfare Reform Bill.

Wednesday 18 March—Opposition Day (8th allocated day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 19 March—Motion to approve the draft Legislative Reform (Insolvency) (Advertising Requirements) Order 2009.

Friday 20 March—Private Members’ Bills.

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

Thursday 12 March—A debate on the future strategy on race equality.

Thursday 19 March—A debate on the report from the Home Affairs Committee entitled “A Surveillance Society?”

Thursday 26 March—A debate on the report from the Committee on Arms Export Controls entitled “Scrutiny of Arms Export Control (2008): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2006, Quarterly Reports for 2007, Licensing Policy and Review of Export Control Legislation”.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, and welcome her back from her appearance at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday. I hope that she has fully recovered. I also thank her—this is important—for correcting the record so swiftly on Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension, and urge other Ministers to learn from her example.

May we have a further statement on the position of Lord Myners, the City Minister, another banker who has received an honour for his services? Will the Leader of the House confirm that, contrary to previous assertions by the Government, Lord Myners was aware of Sir Fred Goodwin’s obscene pension package and, indeed, acceded to it? Might the City Minister’s willingness to rubber-stamp Sir Fred’s pay-off have had something to do with the fact that he himself has a £100,000 pension entitlement from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group?

May we also have a wide-ranging debate on honesty in Government? Yesterday morning the Minister for Borders and Immigration launched a very aggressive attack on the independent Office for National Statistics, criticising it for, as he put it, “playing politics”, questioning its motives for releasing certain data, and describing its decision as

“naive or, at worst, sinister”.

Is that not an astonishing charge from a Government who have consistently manipulated statistics for their own political advantage? How on earth can the Minister justify his statements when just two months ago his own boss, the Home Secretary, was forced to apologise to the House for partial and untimely publication of knife crime figures? Is it not increasingly the case that the Government quite simply do not like the statistics because the truth about them hurts?

People up and down the country are finding that the social institutions that once bound us together as a country are fast disappearing. Local surgeries, small shops, police stations and post offices have all been victims of this Government, but now, it seems, it is the turn of the great British pub. Can the House, inspired by the all-party parliamentary beer group, be given an opportunity to debate the question of how pubs can survive when Government policy has already led to the closure of 2,000 of them? What is the point of making it seven times more expensive to drink in the controlled environment of a pub than to buy alcohol in a supermarket, following which so many people end up throwing up on the pavement?

May we also have a debate on how the traditional media will survive the recession? Yesterday’s job cuts at ITV are a raw indication of the huge problems that the drop in advertising revenue will cause for both broadcasters and the press, and particularly for local newspapers, which are of great value to all of us in the House. I acknowledge that the right hon. and learned Lady may be tiring a little of the affectionate attentions of her friends in the media, but given that a healthy democracy is sustainable only with a healthy media, may we be told what Government policy is on saving our local radio stations and our local newspapers?

Why are we not being given a statement, even today, on the economy? Can we not have a statement from the Government and a full debate on quantitative easing, so that Members can question the Government on how they intend to steer a course through inflation and deflation? The decisions being taken today are of the utmost gravity and will have profound effects on the economy for many years to come. They are desperate measures designed to address economic failure and collapse. When can we be told in clear terms exactly what the Government are doing and why?

Finally, may we have a debate on the way MPs are treated by the press? In the past few weeks we have seen some very cruel references to the right hon. and learned Lady. We have had “Hapless Harriet”, “The Mad Hattie” and “Hattie the Harridan”—and that is only from her own side. So may I invite her to my office for a comforting hug, a heart-shaped chocolate and an openly declared hefty cheque from me for her leadership campaign?

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his excellent response to the business statement? He has rather over-achieved; indeed, on the basis of what he said just now, he must surely at least be on the shortlist for moving to the Wednesday slot and standing in for the Leader of the Opposition.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension and Lord Myners, and I would refer him to the comments that were made in the House of Lords by Lord Myners when he answered questions on Monday this week. He made it absolutely clear that the decision was not one for the Government, but one for the old RBS board. That is the position, and we are looking into it, as I mentioned yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Government statistics. We set up the independent Statistics Authority and the Office for National Statistics, because after his party had been in government confidence in official information was at complete rock bottom. We therefore set up the Office for National Statistics and it does very important work.

The hon. Gentleman asked about pubs. It is true that pubs, like any other businesses, need support during the recession, and I know that Ministers addressed the lobby of Parliament on behalf of pubs yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman asked for more opportunity to discuss the economy. There will be a written ministerial statement later today about the decision by the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to ensure that the inflation target is met and that the economy does not fall below that target by putting extra money into the economy, which is described as quantitative easing. There will be an opportunity to debate the economic situation in Government time next Monday, as well as an Opposition debate on Tuesday on unemployment and a debate on business rates on the following Wednesday. On Monday week there will be a debate on industry and exports and on Tuesday week there will be a debate on the Welfare Reform Bill. There will be a great deal of further discussion on the economy in the next week or two.

May we have a statement next week about the national Statistics Authority and the e-mail trail that has been published by the Office for National Statistics on knife wounding? It is clear to me that, having set up the new authority, which is at arm’s length and is supposedly independent, the Government are seeking to manipulate the way in which statistics are published. I would ask my friend for a statement next week.

The Home Secretary has acknowledged that she jumped the gun in putting out one particular statistic, in addition to a number of statistics that have been approved. We need to ensure that we co-ordinate at all times with the national Statistics Authority, and the Office for National Statistics and I pay tribute to their work.

The Deputy Leader of the House was far too excitable and noisy earlier for me to give an illustration of what I meant by the truncation of consideration. The Northern Ireland Bill, which everyone agreed yesterday was very important, consisted of five clauses and six schedules, but only two clauses were completed in the House and the rest of the Bill was given no scrutiny at all by the elected House. That is no way to run a Parliament.

I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) that we need a debate on public service broadcasting in the widest sense, particularly in the context of ITV and also because we are losing some very important elements of public service broadcasting, not least children’s television, which has almost completely gone down the drain. We need to make sure that the creative industries in this country are properly supported.

May we have at the very least a statement, if not a debate, on the excellent report on contaminated blood and blood products by the noble Lord Archer of Sandwell? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) and the hon. Members for Knowsley, South (Mr. O’Hara) and for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins) for their very good work in that area. It cannot be right that 5,000 haemophiliacs are infected with blood contaminated by HIV or hepatitis C yet no recompense is made and we do not investigate the circumstances. At present, there is no commitment for a Minister even to respond to the report, because it was not Government-commissioned, but I hope that the Government will respond and do so promptly, as the matter is of great public interest.

I notice that on Tuesday 10 March we have a debate in Opposition time on the European working time directive. I welcome that, but may we have a separate statement from Ministers on the position of retained firefighters? There is a serious problem for those of us who live in rural areas because we rely on retained firefighters to provide an essential service, and the application of the working time directive in its present form will have a profound effect on their ability to do their job effectively.

Lastly, I do not know whether the Leader of the House saw the performance before the Treasury Committee of the leadership of United Kingdom Financial Investments Ltd—or UKFI as I believe we are supposed to call it—but I think most members of the Committee felt that it was fairly deplorable. From what the right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday, it seems that she has confidence in that organisation to do the job she wants. In view of her comments yesterday and, perhaps most appositely, the comments of her ministerial colleagues, may we assume that the Bill writing team for the Sir Fred Goodwin (appropriation of assets) Bill has now been stood down?

The hon. Gentleman made some comments about my deputy, but I have to say that I will not hear a word against him. My hon. Friend is fast on his way to becoming a national treasure. He is not excitable and noisy; he is energetic and outspoken—rightly so.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Northern Ireland legislation. As he will remember, there was no vote on the Second or Third Reading of the Bill because the principles were accepted. On his question about the consideration of amendments, their selection is rightly a matter for the Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman asked about broadcasting and regional news—as did the shadow Leader of the House. Regional news is very important indeed and I will, if I may, consider it for a future topical debate.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the work of Lord Archer. Everybody will know that is not Jeffrey Archer but our own Peter Archer, Lord Archer of Sandwell. He is a former Member of this House, who has done important work on the report on contaminated blood products. I thank him for his work. The Government will be responding shortly.

The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the effect of the working time directive on retained firefighters and there will be an opportunity further to debate that during the Opposition day debate on the working time directive next Tuesday.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in deploring the Competition Appeal Tribunal decision on Tesco and the Competition Commission’s original decision to have a local competitiveness rule linked to planning permission? Is she aware that many of our towns and cities are being blighted by that manipulative monopoly, and is it not about time that we debated Tesco in this House and introduced legislation to cut its monopoly?

I will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and ask them to contact him directly. He might also consider seeking a debate on the Adjournment on the subject.

Following East Devon district council’s insistence on a judicial review of the boundary changes, Mr. Justice Cranston said that the boundary committee had

“misdirected itself as to what it could publish, consult on and propose to the Secretary of State”.

In addition, the Minister for Local Government said:

“No change has always been an option.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 24 February 2009; Vol. 488, c. 22WH.]

That is certainly not what the boundary committee told Members of Parliament when we were briefed at the beginning of the process. Therefore, please will the Leader of the House insist that the Secretary of State makes an urgent statement to the House at the earliest opportunity to clarify a process that is rapidly becoming a fiasco?

I will draw the matter to the attention of my ministerial colleague. I would have liked to be able to give a fuller answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point—which is, no doubt, important—about East Devon district council. If he and other Members wish to raise a specific constituency issue and want a substantive reply, then I ask them, please, to nip around the corner to my room and tell me in advance. If the hon. Gentleman had done so, he might have got a fuller answer. I will get a fuller answer to him, but I cannot give him one right now.

May we have a debate on the future of the UK’s energy needs? Such a debate would allow us to highlight the Scottish National party-led Scottish Executive’s complete disregard for nuclear energy as part of Scotland’s future energy mix. I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that that SNP stance flies in the face of current scientific opinion and contradicts the opinion of Scotland’s scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover.

It is a pity if the SNP fails to recognise the sea change on the need to ensure that we have a mixed energy economy, and that nuclear energy will play its part alongside renewables and carbon. Almost the whole of the environmental lobby has grasped the importance of the role of nuclear energy, and it is a pity that the SNP is lagging behind the times.

May we have a statement from the Leader of the House herself on the basic standards of ethics expected from hon. Members when they endorse scurrilous charges in the press against the personal conduct of other hon. Members? I declare a personal interest in this, because the day before the vote on secrecy of Members’ home addresses, an article appeared in the sleaziest tabloid in Britain, accusing me of hypocrisy, lying and abuse of the parliamentary housing allowance. Those issues are for another time, but at the end of the article was a statement by an hon. Member whom I do not propose to name today, and who is not present even though I warned him that I was going to raise this issue. The article said that he

“fumed: ‘This is all further evidence that the second homes allowance has to be tightened up so the public can have confidence MPs only claim what they need.’ ”

That was a clear endorsement of the charges. He has now written to me and said:

“I can confirm that I did not see the final story before it appeared and was unaware of much of its contents.”

I believe that this is despicable behaviour, and I would like a statement from the Leader of the House to advise hon. Members at least of basic standards of decency towards other hon. Members.

All of us as Members of this House know that we are fair game for rumbustious political debate; we expect that, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point about allegations of wrongdoing, dishonesty and the like. In this Chamber, there are very strict rules that people have to have some evidence before they throw mud. Members should not make personal allegations against other hon. Members outside the House; that maligns the reputation of hon. Members and the House as a whole. I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says.

May we have a debate on how Members of Parliament who represent this House in other assemblies report back on their activities? We have no mechanisms by which the House can debate, and be informed about, the work of bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is becoming increasingly important in building democracy in eastern Europe, the NATO parliamentary assembly and the Council of Europe. May we discuss this?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Parliamentarians do an important job in scrutinising legislation and holding Ministers to account, and they speak up for, and engage in, activities in their constituencies, but, as she rightly points out, they also play a big role in other, international institutions. There is no current format by which that can be reported back to the House, so I will be happy to discuss with her how we might find an opportunity to do that.

It is welcome that the Government have published the national dementia strategy, but the way it was announced—on television and without Department of Health Ministers coming before the House and explaining it—was unfortunate. As this is such an important issue, and one that is of concern to Members in all parts of the House, may we now have a debate in Government time to talk about this important initiative, and how we can help the many people, and their families, who are plagued by that awful range of conditions?

These issues are important, and this might, perhaps, be the subject of a Westminster Hall debate.

May we have an urgent statement on the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, with the Sri Lankan army onslaught on Tamil areas? There are some terrible human rights abuses, serious atrocities are taking place, a lack of medical facilities and a complete news black-out is being imposed by the Sri Lankan Government so we hear very little about this in the media. Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to ensure that we get more information about this in House, and, in particular, will she consider whether Sri Lanka should be suspended from the Commonwealth, bearing in mind those appalling human rights abuses?

My hon. Friend is right: the situation in Sri Lanka remains extremely grave, even since that which we debated in the House a couple of weeks ago. I will make sure that I, together with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, keep under review opportunities both for updating the House on this and for further debate.

May we have an urgent debate on the nationalised banks and, in particular, access to the minutes of their board meetings? Is it not right that, if the taxpayer is the majority shareholder, there should be full access to those minutes, in order that my constituents can see what decisions have been made on pensions and a variety of other remuneration matters?

Treasury Ministers frequently address questions to do with giving out information that is in the public interest and should be put in the public domain when they come to the House and account for our support for the banking system. An issue has arisen about the publication of information about the HBOS merger, and all information, other than that which is restricted under the Enterprise Act 2002 for commercial confidentiality reasons, is being released. I cannot add to what Lord Myners said in the House of Lords earlier this week about the process that led up to Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension arrangement, but, as I said yesterday, United Kingdom Financial Investments is looking into this, and we will, no doubt, hear further on it.

For the past few days, a delegation of doctors from the north-west of England, including at least one from my constituency, has been waiting in Rafah to gain access to Gaza to deliver a very valuable consignment of medical supplies. Will my right hon. and learned Friend speak to the Foreign Office to see if there is anything more the British consul in Rafah can do to enable them to get access to Gaza, and now that Gaza is moving off the headlines, might it be possible to have a debate entitled, “The reconstruction of Gaza”, so that the House can assess the result of the atrocities committed several weeks ago and the nature of the international effort to rebuild that troubled region?

My hon. Friend might have seen that the Secretary of State for International Development was in Gaza just a few days ago—perhaps I shall discuss with him whether it would be worth while his updating the House by way of a written ministerial statement. Our utmost concern is to ensure, together with the international community, that the humanitarian aid so desperately needed for reconstruction in Gaza gets through to the people who need it.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is one of the most honourable, straightforward and honest Members of this House. A grave disservice was done to him on Monday night when his proposal was put to the vote without a proper debate. Since the Ballot Act 1872, which was one of the great achievements of the Victorians, there has been a requirement that one must put one’s home address on the ballot paper. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Yes, since that Act—and as far as I know nobody has been attacked in their home. This matter is vital, because it is about the liberties of the people. Will the Leader of the House now commit to our having a proper debate on it?

That Bill was dealt with in the usual way, and the question of the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker.

My constituent, Declan Turner, who is dyslexic, achieved nine A to C grades at GCSE. Despite that, because he did not achieve the same in English, he is precluded from progressing to a level 3 apprenticeship. The local Stephenson college has been very helpful, but policy change is needed by EMTA Awards Ltd. It is one of many such problems that dyslexic students encounter. May we have a debate on dyslexia and the Government’s plans, priorities and resources for tackling the discrimination and injustice that is still the daily lot with which many people have to grapple on a continuing basis?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point on behalf of his constituents. I shall raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I shall also discuss it with him, because we want to ensure access for everybody who can benefit from apprenticeship schemes and that people do not face the obstacles that my hon. Friend has described.

What has happened to our topical debates? Does the right hon. and learned Lady recall saying the following to the House?

“Topical debates will be weekly 90-minute debates on a topic of the day”.—[Official Report, 25 October 2007; Vol. 465, c. 448.]

We had no topical debate on Thursday 12 February, when the House adjourned at 2.52 pm, or last Thursday. No such debate will take place today or on either of the two Thursdays whose business she has just announced. Is there really nothing exciting going on outside that we should debate, or is this a reform that she has quietly buried?

It is not a reform that has been buried—far from it; the topical debates have been very useful. The possibility of Lords amendments next Thursday, together with the fact that we will consider the motion to take account of the reports of the Public Accounts Committee, are the reasons we will not have a topical debate next Thursday. The following Thursday’s business was only provisional, so I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman wait until next Thursday to see the final business for the following week before deciding whether it would be more important to have a topical debate.

May we have an early debate on the operation of the Department for Transport’s Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, which announced the closure of the Steeton testing station, in my constituency, without any consultation? That facility is well regarded and is booked up for weeks ahead, and local firms and the Keighley bus museum, of which I am a trustee, will have to travel at least 25 miles after the closure. This is a really badly thought out closure.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about concerns in her constituency, and I suggest that she take the opportunity to raise it in oral questions to the Department for Transport next Tuesday.

The Prime Minister gave an undertaking that the Executive would ensure that the House was able to scrutinise legislation properly, and it is the Leader of the House’s job to implement that commitment. Will she explain how she will provide sufficient time for us to debate all the groups of amendments that you select, Mr. Speaker, on large Bills such as the Policing and Crime Bill? It started off with six substantive sections, which will all be in different parts in any groupings, and the Government have added two new sections in Committee—those on the DNA database and on gangs—where there was not enough time for Opposition Members to table amendments. Will she give an undertaking that at least two days will be taken for that Bill and any similar Bill, because it is not acceptable for legislation to go through this House without being debated?

We are trying to ensure on that Bill that there are as few Government amendments as possible, aside from those that arise from Opposition and Back Bencher requests in Committee. As far as subsequent stages are concerned, until we have seen the full range of Opposition amendments tabled it is not possible to work out the adequate amount of time that needs to be set aside for addressing the Bill.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the parlous state of Sudan at the moment, with the International Criminal Court citation of President Bashir about to be followed through. I have already had notice that Save the Children is withdrawing all its aid workers and that Médecins sans Frontières Holland has been expelled from Darfur—that puts millions of people at risk. Would she consider an urgent debate to examine the ramifications for that troubled part of the world and how the British Government may still be able to help at this time?

I will look for an opportunity to debate the important issues that my hon. Friend raises. It is important that Sudan co-operates with the ICC investigation, does not escalate the situation and does not retaliate against the aid agencies, which are doing very important work, delivering for people who are under great threat in that country.

Perhaps I may update the House by saying that the Bank of England has just announced that it has cut interest rates from 1 per cent. to 0.5 per cent., and that in respect of quantitative easing the Monetary Policy Committee has introduced up to £75 billion extra that will be put into the economy.

My hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House raised the matter of the news journalists being made redundant by local newspapers and local radio stations. Silk FM, which is part of The Local Radio Company plc—in turn, a subsidiary of the Guardian Media Group—has recently got rid of both its news journalists in Macclesfield. One of them has been made redundant and the other has been transferred to a new centre—which will cover at least three local radio stations—in Burnley, 40 miles from Macclesfield. Will she find time for a debate, either on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall, on the problems facing local newspapers and local radio stations, and on their failure now to provide proper news coverage, which is affecting the information that is available to people in my constituency, among others?

There clearly is a demand for a debate—it could probably be discussed in Westminster Hall—on the important services of local and regional news media, as well as the question of public service broadcasting.

My constituent David Fielding was one of those haemophiliacs, referred to by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who contracted the hepatitis C virus as a result of a national health service blood transfusion. His brother, Brian, actually died from it, and as a result David has led a vigorous campaign for a public inquiry into what has become known as “tainted blood”. I was pleased to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier about Lord Archer of Sandwell’s very important report, but may I be audacious enough to suggest to her that it would be better if we had a full debate so that all its content could be fully explored in this Chamber, rather than a statement from the Secretary of State followed by questions?

I will take into account the points that my hon. Friend has made, and I offer my congratulations to the campaigners who, as well as suffering ill health as a result of the contaminated blood products, have brought to the public’s attention the injustice that they have suffered. The Government will respond shortly.

Let us get back to the behaviour of the Treasury Minister, Lord Myners, who is totally unaccountable to this House, and specifically to the issue of Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension. It is now clear from the new chief executive of RBS that the Government were consulted on the pension. Lord Myners was the Minister and it is now clear that he receives a substantial pension from RBS. Is it not inconceivable that he did not ask whether the pension was in any way discretionary, and should we not have an urgent statement from the Chancellor or another Treasury Minister next week?

Order. We must be careful about what we say about Members of the other place. We must not imply anything about their conduct. Perhaps the Leader of the House will take that point into account.

Lord Myners is accountable to the House of Lords, and he was accountable in the proceedings there on Monday. It might not seem important to Opposition Members, but it was very important that the Government took action to ensure that RBS was still standing. I pay tribute to all the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Ministers and Treasury Ministers who were involved in ensuring that RBS did not collapse altogether, as that would have had devastating results. I also congratulate the officials in those Departments who worked with the banks to ensure that outcome. Perhaps hon. Members should focus on that as well as the pension point.

The business of one of my constituents in Edinburgh has been severely affected by the dubious practice of English Heritage in recommending that local authorities refuse planning consent for one of his products—replica historic fireplaces—and use instead products from a competitor, for which English Heritage receives a commission. Given that my request for a debate in Westminster Hall on the issue was unfortunately unsuccessful this week, will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to issue a statement on the matter or at least arrange for it to be investigated as soon as possible?

I suggest that my hon. Friend seek a meeting with the Minister responsible. I know that it is an important issue for his constituents who produce the fireplaces in question.

The Prime Minister promised that there would be full consultation with Members on our relationship with members of the UK Youth Parliament. When will that consultation take place? What does the Leader of the House think would be a reasonable period of time for the debate on motion 2 on today’s Order Paper?

The motion is on the Order Paper today, and it is disappointing that it has been blocked. It is important that we have a strong relationship between this House and the national Youth Parliament.

May we have a debate to clarify the definition of assisted suicide? The Leader of the House will be aware that the Lord Chief Justice has declared that leniency will be shown in interpreting the legislation in the case of suicide of terminally ill patients. He confirmed that there would be no further judicial clarification and that the

“proper forum for that discussion is Parliament.”

Does the Leader of the House agree that whatever side of the debate we are on, we cannot have a situation in which the judges make the law? Does she agree that the sooner this matter is sorted out the better?

This House has set down the legal framework, and the Government have no plans to amend the law on assisted suicide. It is the responsibility of the judges to interpret the law as it stands.

Will the Leader of the House urgently investigate with the Department for Transport the content of a parliamentary answer that I received this morning? It says that more than 1,500 postcards opposing the expansion of Heathrow from my constituents were excluded from the consultation analysis because they were received before the start of the consultation. However, I have a photograph of myself handing in those postcards at the Department during the consultation. That raises some serious questions about how many representations from constituents have been excluded. If I send the Leader of the House the details, can she follow that up with the Department?

I suggest that the most direct route for the hon. Lady to follow would be to raise the point at Transport questions next Tuesday.

I echo the request made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) about Sudan, and in particular Darfur.

May we have a debate or at any rate a statement in Government time on the Floor of the House on the plight of the 6,000 children who exclude themselves from school as a result of extreme bullying, 50 per cent. of whom have contemplated or sought to commit suicide in consequence? Is the Leader of the House aware of the Red Balloon learner centres, of which there are currently three, in Cambridge, Norwich and north-west London? They have a fantastic track record in rebuilding the self-esteem of those damaged children and enabling them to return to school, to go on to college or university, or to obtain employment. Those centres have great difficulty in accessing public funding. There are plans for another five such centres, but we need the tap of public funding to be turned on. They are a very vulnerable group of children to whom we owe a particular duty of care.

The hon. Gentleman will know, because he is closely involved in and works continually on these issues, that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has been developing and implementing an anti-bullying strategy. Bullying at school can blight a child’s whole life, and I suggest that he try to raise the issue at DCSF questions on Monday.

In the business statement I missed again any reference to a debate on the aircraft carrier programme. The Leader of the House will remember that in December the delay to that programme was sneaked out by way of written ministerial statement. The grounds for the delay—that the aircraft could not be provided within the timeframe originally envisaged—have been flatly denied by the supplier. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Defence Ministers are apprised of the importance of this matter and that Government time is made available for this issue of vital national significance to be adequately debated in the House?

There will be the customary debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on defence procurement. I hope to be able to announce that as part of the business of the House, certainly before the Easter recess.

May I first agree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) on the issue that she raised.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on regional transport boards. The Department for Transport produced some data that showed that the average speed of cars travelling along the A650 in my constituency is 12 mph, and it is much slower at peak times. There is also a real bottleneck at Saltaire roundabout. Saltaire is a world heritage site, but the funding necessary to sort out that roundabout is being blocked by the regional transport board in Yorkshire, to which Bradford council must keep applying for funding. The RTB is unelected and unaccountable. How can my constituents lobby the board to allow work that is vital to the local area?

That is a good argument for the hon. Gentleman to put his name forward to join the Yorkshire and the Humber regional Select Committee. If he wants to hold the regional transport board to account for the work that it does in his constituency, he can join other hon. Members from his region who will be doing exactly that. Otherwise, his voice will not be heard.

May I ask the Leader of the House to consider again a debate in Government time on the Government’s policies for disabled people? It is nearly three years since this House last debated that subject. I have raised it with her on two occasions, on both of which she said that she would go away and think about it. This time, can she commit to going away, thinking about and providing such a debate? In that debate, we can talk about the disability pay gap, especially that at the Home Office, which on average pays its disabled employees a third less than its non-disabled employees.

I take the hon. Gentleman’s points and I am in the process of seeing whether there is an opportunity to debate the issues that he has raised. The equality Bill that we will introduce in the next few months will provide an opportunity for the House to focus on the injustice and unfairness that many disabled people meet and on the importance of legislating to ensure the fair treatment of disabled people. I look forward to working with him as we take the Bill though the House.

Yesterday, the charity SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society, held a parliamentary reception to celebrate the publication of its report, “Saving Babies’ Lives”. Some 6,500 babies die just before or after birth in this country in every year—that is 17 every day. The rate of death is 10 times that of cot death and the rate of stillbirth has not changed over the last decade. May we have an urgent statement from the Department of Health about what the Government will do to tackle this problem?

The Government will be responding to the SANDS report. The society has done excellent work over the years highlighting the important issue of stillbirth. We have put a great deal more resources into this. There are more midwives, more health visitors and more specialists but, as SANDS reports, we need to go further and no doubt SANDS will be in discussions with the Department of Health.