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Business of the House

Volume 490: debated on Thursday 2 April 2009

The business for the week commencing 20 April is as follows:

Monday 20 April—A general debate on defence procurement.

Tuesday 21 April—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill, followed by: the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 22 April—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 23 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 24 April—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 April will include:

Monday 27 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 28 April—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 23 and 30 April will be:

Thursday 23 April—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on overseas territories.

Thursday 30 April—A debate on DEFRA’s Darwin initiative.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. However, I and others are concerned that Government business appears to be in a rather chaotic state. The equality Bill and the child poverty Bill were in the Queen’s Speech, but have not been published. The draft floods and water Bill that was promised has not been published either. We were also promised a statement by now on the heritage protection Bill, because the Government have dropped it, but we have heard nothing. The selection of names to sit on the Autism Bill Committee has not been taken forward. Can the right hon. and learned Lady please explain what on earth is going on in all those areas?

We are pleased that the Chancellor is to give a statement to the House on the G20 this afternoon. We called for that and we are glad that the Government will come to the House before we rise for the recess. Many will conclude that the conduct of some of the demonstrators created a poor image for Britain, so perhaps we might all take the opportunity to appreciate, in contrast, the authority and dignity of Her Majesty the Queen at moments such as this. She is a unique asset for Britain—for which we should be proud and grateful.

May I seek the views of the Leader of the House on motion 23 on today’s Order Paper and ask her to add her name to it so that it can be debated and voted on? We all appreciate that the House should not interfere in the judicial process, but in this case there is confusion and even anger in the House about the ground rules that should govern the applicability of privilege when a Member is so directly involved. It is for the House to address matters of privilege, and we have the Committee on Standards and Privileges to advise us. The impression is being given that we have decided not to address the matter, but would rather leave it hanging. That is not the case. It is the right hon. and learned Lady’s refusal to endorse this motion that is preventing us from debating it and referring it to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Will she now allow this motion to go forward so that the Committee can study the whole issue without her blocking it any longer?

Yesterday, Sir Andrew Foster published a damning review of the catalogue of failure in Ministers’ management of further education colleges. The Secretary of State said yesterday in a written statement that he would give a further statement after the recess. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that this will be an oral statement, and can she further promise another debate on this crisis that the Government have created?

Once again, may I ask for a further debate on Regional Select Committees? The whole set-up is becoming ever more farcical as each week goes by. The North East Committee is in disarray, the South West Committee was barely quorate, and the West Midlands Committee—scheduled to take place in Birmingham, appropriately at the old Custard Factory—was cancelled because members were not prepared to turn up. When will she be prepared to admit that this whole innovation is an embarrassing mistake?

Given the growing anger at Lord Myners’s apparently inaccurate witness to the Select Committee on the Treasury, hon. Members will want to see him questioned further until we get the full truth. May we also have a statement even from the Prime Minister himself about the conduct of and his confidence in that increasingly tarnished Minister?

Furthermore, may we have a statement from the right hon. and learned Lady on her equality Bill? It would appear that Lord Mandelson now wants to block it and is in a somewhat unequal struggle with her, the supposed equalities Minister.

Despite her difficulties with Lord Mandelson, the right hon. and learned Lady has many supporters elsewhere. May I refer her to an article that appeared this week in The Daily Telegraph, which made this claim:

“On current form, she is doing a first-class job”?

Unfortunately, it was an article that referred to her as a Conservative plant, designed to insinuate her way into the top tiers of the Labour party, “destroying” it “from within”. May I therefore offer her my personal congratulations, and also wish her a very happy Easter? I hope that she can be my Easter bunny and not a hot cross bun.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the child poverty Bill and the equality Bill. Both will be coming forward. Not only I, as Minister for Women and Equality, but the whole Government are committed to fairness and equality. That is why we put the equality Bill in our manifesto. That is why it was in the draft legislative programme and why it will be brought forward—[Interruption.] Opposition Members call out, “Who’s against it?” That is very good news; it is great if we can have the support of the whole House for that important measure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the important work of the G20 summit. As he said, there will be a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 5 o’clock. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the demonstrations, and I want to place on record the fact that the overwhelming majority of the demonstrations were peaceful protests, with people exercising their legitimate right to demonstrate in the streets. I pay tribute to the police for their work, which included dealing with the very small minority who sought to disrupt the summit and the peaceful protest.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the motion on the Order Paper on privilege. I do not want to delay the House for too long on that point, but the reason I will not support the motion or bring it to the House is that it is for the police to investigate criminal matters or alleged criminal matters, and it is for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what evidence it is necessary to bring before the court to secure a conviction, if there is going to be a prosecution. It is for the court to decide what is admissible in evidence. It is not for any Committee of this House to decide what is or is not admissible in evidence. If there is a question of the privilege of the House and the House wants to assert its privilege in court, it can do so via the office of the Attorney-General acting as amicus curiae.

There is a difference of view between the shadow Leader of the House and me on this point. I have sought the Attorney-General’s advice and she confirms my view of the legal situation. I know that the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee has also asked for the Attorney-General’s advice, and on that basis no doubt that advice will be made plain. As Leader of the House, my concern is to ensure that we do not impinge on a criminal investigation, that Members of Parliament are not above the law and that we protect our privilege, but do so appropriately.

The hon. Gentleman asked about further education colleges. I want to thank Sir Andrew Foster for the report that he has helpfully produced. He talks about the excellent programme of capital investment in FE colleges that has transformed more than half the estates of those colleges, with benefits for countless students, staff and entire communities. He says that the programme has helped the skills in our economy and added to our global competitiveness, but concludes that it has been mismanaged. The Government are considering his important and helpful report, and we will be updating the House about it.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) talked about the South West Regional Committee. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is in his place, and he will attest that there was rigorous examination by—

There would be more if Opposition Members joined the Committee. There was rigorous questioning of members of the local regional development agency about what they were doing to make sure—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Robathan, you are a senior Whip and therefore you should behave yourself and show a good example. You are not doing that. The Leader of the House has been asked a series of questions and is giving replies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud may sit on the Labour Benches but he is a fierce champion of his constituents and the region and there was proper cross-examination of the evidence put forward by the RDA. Opposition Members know that the Regional Select Committees have been set up as part of a pilot programme. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton asks whether they should be scrapped and re-examined, and we have agreed that they should be kept under review. The pilot will last for one Parliament only but the evidence from the sitting of the South West Regional Committee suggests that it is doing a very good job. I urge hon. Members to join the Committees’ work.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Lord Myners. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Lord Myners helped to save that bank when it was falling off the edge of a cliff, in stark contrast to those who had been running it. In addition, Lord Myners takes no pay, which is also in stark contrast to those who had been running that bank. He is doing important work on behalf of the Government.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the membership of the Committee considering the Autism Bill. That private Member’s Bill is on course to have its first sitting on 29 April.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the growing problem of film piracy and intellectual property theft in the entertainment industry, which is one of the country’s most important employers and earners of foreign currency. In 2007, film piracy alone cost the UK film and television industry a staggering £486 million—money that could have been put to better use funding British talent and financing the next “Slumdog Millionaire” or “In Bruges”. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore consider holding a debate on the issue of piracy in the creative industries and its effect on our economy?

I know that my right hon. Friend has a longstanding commitment to the arts and that he has a fine record as a Minister with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. He knows the importance of the film industry to this country. Perhaps he can bring that to the attention of Ministers on the Monday when the House returns.

I, too, welcome the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to make a statement this afternoon—although, had the House been sitting tomorrow, it would have been better to get a report then from the Prime Minister.

It is likely that one of the clear conclusions of the G20 summit will be that there should be a global crackdown on tax evasion, so can we have a debate in this House on that subject? We should look in particular at the position of the British overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Crown dependencies. We should also look at the position of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and how it treats what it describes as “high-risk corporates”. That term basically means that the bigger and richer a firm is, the less HMRC will chase it for tax, and that cannot be right.

The Home Office gave a solemn undertaking to the High Court that a statement would be made to the House before 24 April about the Gurkhas’ right of domicile. We have not yet had that statement. The Budget statement is on 22 April, so will the Leader of the House tell us categorically when the Home Secretary will come to the House to make that statement?

I wholeheartedly welcome the speedy response to the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) that the party leaders come together to talk about MPs’ expenses. The suggestion was taken up by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and indeed the Prime Minister. Not only do those talks need to take place urgently, but they need urgently to be reported to the House, so that other Members have an opportunity to express a view. I think we all agree that something needs to be done as a matter of urgency—we cannot go on like this. It is unacceptable both for us and for the world outside.

While we are talking about remuneration in the public sector, may we shortly have a debate about what seems to be the rapidly escalating cost of appointments to non-departmental public bodies—the quangos? It seems to me that the amount of money being given to people who serve on those bodies is going completely over the top. The leader of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is the latest: £184,000 a year for a part-time, non-executive job. That is vastly more than the Prime Minister is paid. May we have a debate on that matter?

Last week, I drew attention to the shenanigans in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee, where as a result of an incompetent Whip, feckless Labour Members and a hapless Minister, the Government lost votes, so after business questions the Whips threw all their toys out of the pram and decided that the Committee would sit all night—for 17 hours—and complete the Bill, leaving a day free. That is the politics of the kindergarten; it is not a way of seriously considering legislation, so can the Leader of the House give me an assurance that when the Bill returns to the House on Report we will have enough time for sensible, reasoned consideration of its measures, and that she will not attempt to guillotine it so that we again have rushed legislation that has to be amended in another place?

The hon. Gentleman asked about tax evasion. No doubt he can raise that with the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon when my right hon. Friend makes his statement on the G20 summit. Tackling offshore tax havens has been very much at the centre of discussion at the G20 today. The Government are working internationally to make sure that we clamp down on tax havens, but we also work every year in the Budget and through the Finance Bill to make sure that we plug tax loopholes. As I announced earlier, there will be a debate on Thursday 23 April on overseas territories, when no doubt such issues could be considered.

I will look into the question of pursuing progress on the response to the Gurkhas that the hon. Gentleman asked for. I will write to him about that, and perhaps when the House returns I will take the opportunity to tell the House if there is something substantive.

On the question about the allowances we receive so that we can do our work as Members of the House, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. I will not actually read out the words, but it was clearly set out that the Prime Minister was happy to have a meeting with other party leaders, that he thought action needed to be taken, that all parties could agree that the Committee on Standards in Public Life could do a good job looking at the issues and that he had asked it to speed up its review so that it could be completed as quickly as possible. That is the course of action and approach that should be taken; we should work across the parties and with the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned remuneration, both pay and bonuses, of people on non-departmental public bodies. We agree that we have to keep a careful eye on not only the pay but the bonuses of chief executives and top managers of NDPBs. This is public money, and we do not want people feeling that there has been a race to the top, following the excesses in the finance industry, that has affected pay and remuneration levels in the public sector. I agree with the sentiments that lie behind the question and reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government and all Departments and Ministers are looking at it. He will know that we seek to take action in the finance sector, not only internationally through international agreements on remuneration to tackle risk taking and excess, but also with work through the Financial Services Authority to make clamp-downs on remuneration part of its work on corporate governance.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which we regard as a very important measure. It will guarantee education up to the age of 18, and apprenticeships in the future for all those who are suitably qualified. That is very important indeed. The Bill contains more than 200 clauses and insufficient progress was being made in Committee. Extra time was made available for scrutiny, with many extra hours for Committee sittings, and after those extra hours progress was indeed made.

School league tables have just been published and yet again we see wide dispersion of performance between schools and a fairly wide dispersion between schools with similar social composition. I am absolutely convinced that the crucial factor for success in schools is teaching methods and classroom regimes, yet we still seem reluctant to address them directly. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make space for a debate on teaching methods, to make sure that all our children have the best possible advantages when in school?

The skill level of children is a question not just of fulfilling their individual potential, but of the future prospects of the economy. No doubt, education will come up in the Budget debate and perhaps my hon. Friend and other Members on both sides of the House will be able to raise those issues then.

On 3 March, secondary schools in Hertfordshire were notified by the Learning and Skills Council of their sixth-form funding settlements. On 30 March, they received another letter saying that their funding settlement was to be cut by £2.1 million, or on average £40,000 per school. May we have a statement about that from a Minister so that we can understand what is going on?

I would have been able to give the hon. Gentleman a more substantive answer if he had let me know, even five minutes beforehand, that he was going to raise that question. I would then have been able to give him the information he requires. I am not fully across all the detail, so I cannot confirm whether that is our understanding of the situation. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my colleagues in the Department concerned.

Does my Friend have any sense of when the Postal Services Bill is to come here from the Lords? May we have an early debate on the very important report from the Business and Enterprise Committee on the Postal Services Bill, which is hugely controversial on the Labour Benches?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Lords set their own timetable, so it would not be proper for me to say when they will be finished with their considerations or when the Bill will come to the House. When it does, it will no doubt have full scrutiny and full debate.

May I reiterate the calls for a debate on the Learning and Skills Council building programme—or lack of one? In Hemel Hempstead, the head of West Herts college has told me that her programme, which is part of the town centre redevelopment, is under threat. The teaching of young people is under threat because of the chaos in the funding programme. We cannot just dismiss that; we must have a debate and thrash out what the hell has gone on that is undermining the building programme in the sector.

We acknowledge that there has been mismanagement, and it is disappointing for all those who have been affected by it—indeed, the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council has resigned. However, if the policy of the hon. Gentleman’s party was pursued—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but from my point of view those complaining about the further education colleges in their constituencies do not have a shred of credibility when their policy is to cut the programme by £600 million. I am concerned about West Herts college and I would not dream of subjecting it to the equivalent of £600 million-worth of cuts.

May we have a debate on the importance of the tourist industry to the UK economy? Visit Wales suggests that the contribution from Wales alone is in the region of £3 billion. At a time when small businesses need a stimulus, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we should be taking advantage of the relatively low pound to encourage visitors to come to the area? As a further stimulus, may I invite her, as Leader of the House, Members from all parts of the House and you, Mr. Speaker, to visit the jewel in the crown of the UK industry, the Isle of Anglesey, in the not-too-distant future?

I visited the beautiful Isle of Anglesey in the not-too-distant past, so I know what my hon. Friend is talking about. It might be worth having a topical debate on tourism as we approach the summer. I will definitely consider that suggestion.

In recent days, European Commission officials have been briefed by Scottish fishing leaders about the impact of the reduction in effort days at sea on this year’s fishing, particularly as it affects my constituents in Berwickshire. Given the seriousness of the situation, there is now an issue about the financial sustainability of the industry, quite apart from the issue of the sustainability of fish stocks. Will the Leader of the House make urgent provision for a debate on the Floor of the House about this year’s fishing arrangements, so that we can bring our concerns to the attention of the Minister concerned?

I think that what the hon. Gentleman is talking about comes within the purview of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; am I right? There were Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions earlier this morning, so I think—[Interruption.] I am sorry; he had two issues to raise. I will raise the point with the Ministers concerned.

Did the Leader of the House receive a copy of the report from Parliament First, an all-party group, many of the members of which are in the Chamber? The report suggests that there is a better way of running our business in this House. We could have a business committee, to which Members from all parties would be elected. The House could create commissions of inquiry—for example, to look into the causes of war—and there should be a petitions committee, so that people in this country have a channel through which they can bring legislation before the House. Will she meet a delegation from Parliament First to discuss those issues, and the next issue in which it is interested, which is the election of members of Select Committees by Members of Parliament?

I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend and those involved with Parliament First. He will know that the Procedure Committee is doing ongoing work on petitions. On people being able to bring legislation before the House, he will know that we have opened up the legislative programme process, so that people can see our intentions. That offers people the opportunity to add their proposals before we get to the Queen’s Speech. We will be carrying out that process again this year. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and the other hon. Members involved with Parliament First.

In the Leader of the House’s reply to the shadow Leader of the House on the question of privilege, she indicated that the Attorney-General’s view implied that there should be some action in the courts. Does the Leader of the House understand that the question of what constitutes privilege is a matter for the courts, but the question of whether a matter is privileged is for the Committee on Standards and Privileges? In those circumstances, will she make certain either that the Attorney-General’s opinion is placed in the Library—the Attorney-General is adviser to the House of Commons and the House of Lords on these matters—or that the Attorney-General comes to the House and explains exactly what her reasoning is?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good suggestion that the Attorney-General’s advice be placed in the Library. She is, as he says, adviser not just to the Government, but to the House. As the Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges has asked for that advice, it is advice to the House. That affords us the opportunity to place it in the Library, so that all Members can see it. I think that that is a good idea.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the reports of the discussions yesterday between the United States of America and Russia about their nuclear arsenals. She will also be aware that the review conference on the non-proliferation treaty is due to take place next year. Does she agree that we need to move the issue higher up the political agenda over the next year, and will she say when we might get a debate on nuclear disarmament in Government time?

My hon. Friend, who has a long history of campaigning on these issues, brings an important matter to the attention of the House. Often, it is possible to lose sight of the progress that has been made in working towards non-proliferation. I will definitely take up her suggestion and consider how we can bring the matter before the House.

As the right hon. and learned Lady is the Leader of the whole House, will she recognise that there is support throughout the House for Members from the regions to meet once or twice a year as a Grand Committee to examine issues and to hold people to account, but that there is no such consensus on the Regional Select Committees? Will she not therefore move away from the current situation, in which we see the ludicrous spectacle of two or three Labour MPs purporting to be a Select Committee acting on behalf of the whole House, when they are no such thing?

There would be more Members from the regions, and not just two or three Labour MPs, on the Regional Select Committees if Members from Opposition parties decided to go along to those Committees and ask questions of regional development agencies and other agencies that are important in the regions. That is a matter for them. Opposition Members cannot complain that there are too few Members on a Committee if they themselves do not turn up to it. I am sorry, but that is not a justified complaint. As far as Grand Committees are concerned, discussions are under way in respect of the different regions, and where the Committees would hold their first meeting. No doubt that information will be forthcoming.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the equality Bill, and I congratulate her on all the work that she has done in that field. Yesterday, young people from a number of voluntary groups came up from Wales to lobby Welsh MPs to extend the scope of the Bill to the under-18s, drawing to our attention groups that are particularly discriminated against, such as young fathers, young carers, and black and minority ethnic young people. What opportunity will there be to discuss those issues?

Perhaps I could have a meeting with my hon. Friend, and any other hon. Members who would want to attend, about protecting young people. I know that she is a great supporter of the programme to eliminate child poverty and improve child health. There are many other initiatives across government to improve the situation of children and young people. I thank her for her support for the Bill. She will see many of the measures that she has championed over the years in the Bill when it is published.

On 2 March, the Learning and Skills Council notified my council, the London Borough of Sutton, that it would receive sixth-form funding of £19,161,103 for the coming academic year. Just yesterday, the LSC issued a revised figure of £18,226,694—a 5 per cent. reduction in the allocation for sixth-form education in my borough. May we have a statement or a debate, when we get back, so that we can explore how the cut can be reversed, and how the Government square it with their commitment to three-year budgets, which avoid such shocks? At the very least, will the Leader of the House let her ministerial colleagues know about the problem?

I will draw the points made to the attention of my ministerial colleagues, but I think that they are scrutinising the issue in considerable detail, so I hope that they will already be aware of the matter. Despite there having been major investment, which has produced 600 projects that have gone ahead in more than 300 colleges, and which has made a massive difference, we make no bones about the fact that there has been mismanagement. That obviously needs to be looked at.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that one of the outcomes of the G20 is a crackdown on tax havens. However, is she also aware that the Swiss are now saying that they might change their law to bring in a British trusts system? Using that system is one of the best ways of hiding money and its source from the Inland Revenue. May we have an early debate on the secrecy of the British trusts system? Furthermore, can we change the rules of the House so that all right hon. and hon. Members have to declare any beneficiary trust from which they get money, or any trust that they may have set up?

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that, behind the global credit crisis, lies the problem of a lack of transparency, which meant that financial things were bought and sold without those who were buying and selling them knowing what it was all based on. Lack of transparency and secrecy have led to this global problem, which Treasury Ministers, working with colleagues internationally, are determined to sort out. There will be a further statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 5 o’clock.

I fully support the Leader of the House’s statement that there should be cross-party discussions on Members’ pay, allowances and expenses. Will that also include details that she gave in a ministerial statement on the parliamentary pension? The Government are recommending that there should be a 1.9 per cent. increase in Members’ contributions to the pension fund. That will equate to an additional £60 a month out of Members’ pay. Bearing in mind that, as of the first day of this month, we have been given a salary increase of 2.33 per cent., which equates to £68 a month, is this not a most unfortunate situation? We should bear it in mind that the deficit on the pension fund is not due to Members, although it is a little bit due to longevity. It is mainly due to the fact that the Treasury, as the employer, has had a contribution holiday for 14 years.

In January, the House agreed by resolution that we would keep a cap on the Exchequer contribution. Like other people in this country, Members are living longer, so the Government Actuary’s Department expects an imbalance between the contributions being paid and the amount that needs to be paid out. We all agree that we must protect the Exchequer from having to take the strain of that and having to increase its contribution to our pension fund. Therefore we have either to reduce Members’ benefits or increase Members’ contributions.

The Government Actuary’s Department report has been published by way of written ministerial statement and is available to colleagues this week. We will have a debate in the House on the matter, and there can be a resolution and a statutory instrument. We are determined that—and it is important that—we all stick with the principle that we do not allow the Exchequer contribution to rise. There are a number of ways in which we can protect the Exchequer contribution from rising and obviously we will consult hon. Members on whether they think the best course of action is to increase the contributions, or, for example, to delay the retirement age at which the pension is available. We are concerned to listen to what hon. Members say on how we should address the issue, and I am happy to discuss their proposals before we bring our proposals to the House for debate. We have to be absolutely clear: at this time, it would be quite wrong to put more money from the Exchequer into our pension fund. I do not think that we should do that.

As my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, manufacturing is on its knees at the moment, and it needs real support. Employees are either losing their jobs or are unable to claim working tax credits because they are not putting in enough hours. Will she consider holding a debate on my early-day motion 1182?

[That this House calls on the Government to introduce subsidies to employers moving workers to short-time hours or making temporary lay-offs as a result of the economic difficulties caused by the recession; believes that such support would enable employers to avoid immediate redundancies and retain essential staff and skills, preventing unnecessary job losses; further believes that if linked to training, it would also enable longer-term workforce investment; further believes that such a measure is a quick and effective way to target support to struggling employers and providing financial support to employees during these difficult times; notes that similar subsidy packages have already been introduced in Wales, which has been welcomed by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, as well as in Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy; welcomes the support of business organisations and trades unions; and calls on the Government to work with business representatives and trades unions to introduce a targeted subsidy package to support the sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, that are in greatest need.]

Seventy-three Members have already signed it. It supports the short-time working subsidy that we need to bring in to protect and help manufacturing jobs in this country. It would make for a good debate, whether a topical debate or any other that she believes suitable.

No doubt my hon. Friend could bring the issue to the attention of Treasury Ministers. His support for manufacturing industry in his region and the country as a whole is very much appreciated.

The Leader of the House is well aware that the nuclear industry is incredibly important in my area. However, we have hit a problem with the building of the nuclear academy within Bridgwater college—which, I am glad to say, is a superb further education college. The problem is that the funding from the Government is being cut. We desperately need engineers and safety technicians for the future and unless we start building the hub-and-spoke system now, the necessary people will not be in place for the start of the civil nuclear building programme. It will take three to four years to train those people, and EDF wants to get its first application in by next year to start the building programme. May we please have a debate on the nuclear issue and especially on the training of the future graduates and others who will run the stations?

The Government are committed to the future of the nuclear industry in this country as part of a balanced and self-sufficient energy policy. We have increased the budget—about £200 million, for example—on projects such as the nuclear development college at Workington. We are putting in a great deal of investment, and we will continue to do so.

If the Government have already agreed that there will be a debate on Members’ pensions, does it not follow that there ought to be a debate on Members’ allowances? Given the importance of the meeting between the party leaders and of the early report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, would there not be an advantage in having a debate on allowances without there being a requirement to have a vote at that point? In that way, we could build consensus on the basic principles.

We have had many hours of debate in the House on the basic principles of Members’ allowances, both at the beginning of this year and, on occasions, last summer. We have to consider the balance of issues that need to be discussed in the House—the global financial situation, climate change and education for people in this country. We have committed to a debate on pensions because we need a statutory instrument to cap the Exchequer contribution to our pensions, so we will have that debate. However, we had a free-ranging, in-principle debate about Members’ allowances in January. No doubt we will return to the issue once the party leaders have met and once we have the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am sorry, but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that we need a general talk about the issue now. I do not think that it should be a priority for debate in the House now.

Last month, 23 new trains were expected on the Thameslink line. In the event, only one appeared—and it had to be sent back. As the Department for Transport was responsible for the contract, may we have an urgent statement from that Department about why the train manufacturer Bombardier’s long-standing problems, which have a national impact, have been allowed to go on for so long?

I will bring that point to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Transport.