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Business of the House

Volume 503: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010

The business for the week commencing 18 January will be:

Monday 18 January–Second Reading of the Crime and Security Bill.

Tuesday 19 January–Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 3).

Wednesday 20 January–Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill.

Thursday 21 January–Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments to the Video Recordings Bill. To follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

The provisional business for the week commencing 25 January will include:

Monday 25 January–Remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill.

Tuesday 26 January–Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 4).

Wednesday 27 January–Opposition Day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 28 January–Topical debate, subject to be announced; to follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Friday 29 January–Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House about business in Westminster Hall.

Thursday 28 January–A debate from the Environmental Audit Committee on carbon capture and storage.

The House is grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for telling us next week’s business.

The whole country will be haunted by the traumatic images that are emerging from Haiti as the devastating scale of the disaster there becomes clearer. Many British non-governmental organisations are now mobilising disaster appeals. Given that in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, millions of people donated hundreds of millions of pounds to the relief fund, I am sure that the British people will again respond with generosity. I am also sure that all colleagues will want to support fundraising events in their constituencies over the weekend. We welcome yesterday’s statement from the International Development Secretary, and we hope that he will continue to keep the House informed over coming weeks. In addition, might he consider this issue as a subject for next week’s topical debate?

Where is the debate on the Wright report? It has not yet appeared on the parliamentary radar. The Government’s handling of the report makes the case, more effectively even than the report put it, for their relinquishing their iron grip on the business of the House. They dithered for five weeks at the beginning of the process, before the Wright Committee was set up, and now they are dithering at the end. The Committee set the lowest of all possible hurdles at the beginning of the course by asking for a debate within eight weeks, but the Government have totally failed to clear that hurdle. It is not just the House that is impatient for change, but the whole country, so when will the Government hold a debate on the Wright report, and will there be a decision at the end of it?

Following today’s report from the National Audit Office, may we have a debate on the Government’s dementia strategy? The strategy was launched with much fanfare earlier last year, but we now learn from the NAO that Ministers have failed to make the disease a priority, that they show no signs of fulfilling their pledge to provide memory clinics across the UK and that they are unable to prove that the money set aside for the strategy is even reaching those who need it. So, may we have a debate on that crucial report?

May we also have a statement on minimum pricing for alcohol? For months, the Government have said that that idea is, in the words of the Home Secretary, a “non-runner”, but an article in yesterday’s edition of The Daily Telegraph stated that a scheme led by the Health Secretary will fix prices for alcohol units in order to crack down on supermarkets selling cheap drink. Is that a Government U-turn?

Again, may I ask when we will get the dates for the Easter recess? Last week, the Leader of the House claimed that she would publish them “in the usual way”, but the usual way is to publish all the recess dates for the year ahead, once, in October. When is she going to end this state of uncertainty?

Is the right hon. and learned Lady any clearer about whether she will give additional time to debate the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? There is an important new clause on implementing the Kelly measures, and, if the Government have resolved their internal differences, on voting reform of the House. The House will want to scrutinise both those elements, so will she guarantee an extra two days in Committee for the Bill?

Finally, may we have a statement on the election night count? A number of senior figures, including yourself, Mr. Speaker, have said that it would be, in your words, “a travesty” for the count to be delayed by local authorities until the next day. Yesterday, no less a figure than the Government Chief Whip told his local paper that delaying the count would increase the risk of electoral fraud. Is there any doubt that having a Thursday night count is the right thing to do?

I fully support the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the devastation and tragedy unfolding in Haiti. He will remember that the Secretary of State for International Development answered an urgent question about it yesterday. Indeed, the subject of Haiti and of British Government and international support for Haitians at this time was dealt with by the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions. I can tell the House that our search and rescue teams, who are recognised throughout the world as having great expertise and experience, have landed in the Dominican Republic and will shortly arrive in Haiti. They will be working on search and rescue, but Department for International Development humanitarian assessment work will also be done, so that, as the search and rescue carries on, the further needs for shelter, water supplies, medicine and food will be assessed. The work of the disaster assessment and co-ordination team is under way, and it will continue to keep the House updated regularly. Of course, we all support such voluntary work, as well as charitable donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee fund.

I said to the House last week that there will be an opportunity for it to debate the Wright Committee report and to make decisions. We strongly believe in strengthening the role of the House of Commons and that making it more effective is essential to restoring public trust in our political system. That is why the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the Wright Committee last summer and why I brought to the House the motion to establish it and got the House’s support.

We have already had a 90-minute debate on the report in Westminster Hall last month-in which 17 colleagues participated, and an opportunity to debate and approve the principle of the election of Deputy Speakers by ballot, which was a Wright Committee recommendation. However, this is a complex matter on which the Government will have to take a view about what it is right to bring to the House. The report was not unanimous in all respects, and there are some complex issues to consider. We want to ensure that we offer the House the right opportunity and that we do not dictate to the House on the matter.

I do not want anybody to misunderstand the right hon. Gentleman’s comments as somehow meaning that the Government have stood still on improving how the House works. We have already introduced major reforms to modernise the House, including evidence-taking Public Bill Committees, pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills, greater resources and core tasks for Select Committees, Regional Committees, topical questions, which we have just heard, and topical debates. We have not stood still, but we do have further to go and the Wright Committee will be an important step forward when we bring its issues to the House. I can confirm that the House will have an opportunity to debate the report and decide on its recommendations.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the important question of dementia and the National Audit Office report. He will remember that it was just a year ago that we established the first national dementia strategy, which is on track. It is very important work that is fundamental to work in primary care, in the community, in hospital-based health care and in social care. It is work across the piece and we fully accept that it will not be completed in one year, but it is under way and it is a priority. We will obviously look in detail at the NAO report.

As far as the recess is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman is already complaining about the announcement of the Easter recess when we have not yet even got to the February recess. Again, I would not want him to create the wrong impression, and he knows that although Members of Parliament work in the House, we also work in our constituencies. We work in two places at once, and I would not want him to curry favour with those people who would like to imply that when we are not here in this House we are on holiday. That is not the case.

As far as progress on the Queen’s Speech programme is concerned, we have had 13 Second Readings since the Queen’s Speech and we are well under way. We will consider what amount of time needs to be given to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill when we bring forward the new clauses to implement Kelly, on which there have been talks with all the party leaders.

I have two concerns about election night. The first is that the count should be announced as soon as the people have voted, and the second is that it should be the right result.

The Wright Committee produced a draft motion for the House two months ago and it is still not on the Order Paper. The Leader of the House says that she is keen to facilitate it. I hope that she will tell us when she is keen not to facilitate something, because it will be a long time coming.

Last February, the Prime Minister said:

“The old short-term bonus culture is gone. No rewards for failure…the old bonus culture removed”.

I seem to have read this week that it is expected that about £40 billion will be paid out in bonuses this year, so may we have regular updates on that clearly very successful policy?

To renew a request from last week, may we have a debate on agriculture in the light of the Government’s proposals for its future, the welcome announcement yesterday of the supply chain ombudsman and the ongoing difficulties faced on an everyday basis by people in rural areas, such as farm crime and fly-tipping? It is time that we had a proper debate on agriculture, so will the Leader of the House find time for it?

May we have a debate on public performance rights and music copyright licences? I do not know how well it is known that a new scheme that is to come into place in April will mean that anyone who switches on a radio or plays music in any bed and breakfast, pub, office, charity or carnival float, indeed any public place, will need a licence. I am the first to defend the right of musicians to receive proper recompense for their work, but that is an over-onerous burden to place on people across the country who will not be expecting it. We should debate that requirement, because it seems excessive.

Finally, the Leader of the House committed a heinous crime against the English language this week when she coined the word “wellderly”, meaning well and elderly. Although some old people are well and elderly, may we concentrate on the “illderly” and the “poorderly”? May we have a debate on the fact that millions of pensioners in this country will not receive severe weather payments, after the cold weather of the past few weeks, simply because, although they are eligible for pension tax credits, they do not claim them, and so do not qualify for those severe weather payments? Given the extreme conditions, we should be worried about that, and I think that the House should have an opportunity to debate it.

I have answered fully the question about the Wright Committee in response to the shadow Leader of the House, and I do not want to detain the House further on that because a number of hon. Members want to get in. I therefore have nothing further to add to what I said a couple of minutes ago when I responded to the shadow Leader of the House.

We believe that people find it objectionable that people get big bonuses, particularly when they appear not to have contributed but actually to have made matters worse. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) will know that we have taken action through the Financial Services Authority, and in many other respects, to curb the risk-taking bonus culture. He will also know that we are looking to tackle the deficit through a tax on the pool that companies set aside for bonuses. He will also know that we want to have a new tight rein on public sector bonuses, which is especially important for the highly paid given that we are looking to reduce the deficit by half over the next four years. He will know that the Treasury Select Committee has been hearing from Ministers on the great range of measures being taken to deal with soar-away bonuses in the private sector and to encourage proper restraint in public sector bonuses.

The hon. Gentleman asked about food and agriculture, and I agree that we need to look for an opportunity to debate those things. Matters for consideration include not just food production and the food 2030 programme of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but the rural economy and the interaction between supermarkets and consumer protection, so we might look to find time to debate that. On music copyright, Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions are next week, and it would probably be better for him to try to raise that question then.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the elderly, on whom we have debates relatively frequently—the last one was before we rose for the summer recess. He says that some people are well and elderly, but I would say that he has stressed the wrong emphasis. There is a new cohort—it represents a massive demographic change—of a large number of people who are over 65 but healthy, well, active and energetic and who have a great deal to contribute to their families, local communities and the economy. They are well and elderly, but we need the appropriate focus to be on the frail and elderly—those who are vulnerable, dependent and who have dementia. Actually, however, in this day and age, the overwhelming majority of elderly people are not like that, and it is about time that public policy recognised that fact. And if he can think of a better word than “wellderly”, I would like to hear it.

Order. Thirty-one right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and the House will be conscious that there is a statement to follow. I would like to be able to accommodate everybody who wants to take part, but short questions and answers will be required if I am to have any realistic chance of doing so.

May we have a debate on the Government’s immigration policy. My right hon. and learned Friend might be aware of a recent BBC investigation into the exploitation of European women by non-European men paying them to enter into sham marriages so that they can get access to this country. That is clearly a loophole in immigration policy, and it should be closed. I hope that she can do something to facilitate that.

I will raise my hon. Friend’s point with the Home Secretary. We are in no doubt that that practice is a breach of immigration rules and is serious organised crime undertaken by gangs. It is the exploitation of vulnerable women from abroad, and I shall ensure that the Home Secretary keeps the House informed.

Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a statement next week so that hon. Members can familiarise themselves with the proposals and decision to turn Bellamy’s and the Astor Suite into a crèche? Were the Administration Committee, the staff associations, the staff directly involved and those who use the facilities consulted? Why was there a need to close those two establishments to make room for a crèche?

Having nursery facilities for Members, their children and the children of staff and Officers of the House of Commons is a great step forward taken by the Members Estimate Committee. It is long overdue. I would have liked it to have happened when I first entered the House about 25 years ago. On the question about the procedure prior to the decision, I shall look into whether the Members Estimate Committee can place a letter in the House of Commons Library about the detailed process undertaken and how the matter will progress.

Is the Leader of the House aware that £333 million of subcontracts have just been signed for two aircraft carriers? Given that the two Opposition parties have not yet signed up to the aircraft carriers, does she agree that a debate on the future of the Royal Navy is essential?

I will take my hon. Friend’s suggestion into account. He is right about the aircraft carrier orders. They are essential not only to the military but to our manufacturing base, which we are determined to support. Perhaps he would like to know that I am going to Faslane tomorrow.

Many carers up and down the country will be disappointed by the Leader of the House’s refusal to hold a debate on the Government’s dementia strategy. No one expects the entire problem to be solved within a year, but there has been scant progress in better training for GP memory clinics up and down the country and in better patient support. Will the Leader of the House reconsider and have Ministers make a statement to the House to update us on where the dementia strategy is going?

I have already said that there are a number of issues relating to older people, including not only the “wellderly”, but those who are not well and who have dementia, so we might be able to have a debate encompassing dementia. We are determined to make—and are making—progress on the national dementia strategy.

My private Member’s Bill on sunbed regulation is set to receive its Second Reading on 29 January. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that as well as debating the introduction of regulations governing sunbed use, we should debate the huge issue of why so many people, particularly young women, feel under pressure to use sunbeds and to get a tan? Ought the House not to be debating that?

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on picking sunbed regulation as the subject of her private Member’s Bill, and I wish it every success. The need for such a Bill is a sad reflection on the need that women feel to alter their image. However, her Bill also highlights the dangerous health risk that sunbeds pose. I wish it every success.

Given that the Leader of the House was sitting next to the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, she will have heard the succinct question from my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) about the Prime Minister’s views on the situation in the western Sahara, and she will know that the Prime Minister became geographically challenged. His reply was confusing and will have caused concern to the Government of Morocco and the people of the western Sahara, because he clearly moved it very far east. May we now have a statement, therefore, on the western Sahara from a Minister who can give a proper answer?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman can ask that question during Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions next week. Of course, we are concerned about the long-running dispute over the status of western Sahara. It is vital that a political solution to the conflict is found, and we remain committed, as we always have been, to a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution in the western Sahara.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Lord Morris of Manchester’s Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill has just completed an expeditious passage through the other place, with strong and wide support in all parts of that House. Could she indicate when the Bill will come before this House and give an assurance of Government support and time to ensure its passage through this place before the general election?

It is very important that we ensure that those who have suffered from contaminated blood are properly and additionally compensated. I look forward to having an early opportunity to keep the House informed on progress on that.

Is the Leader of the House aware that when most of the country was covered by snow, farmers were warned that if they did not drain the red diesel from their tractors before helping their neighbours by gritting nearby roads, they could be prosecuted? Could the Solicitor-General or a Treasury Minister come to the House and provide a reassurance that they are not living on another planet?

I am sorry, but I shall have to have a “western Sahara moment” on that one and get back to the right hon. Gentleman.

I appreciate that my right hon. and learned Friend might not have any more to say on the Wright proposals, but I do. I appreciate also that they are ultimately a matter for the House, but could the Government show a little more enthusiasm about them? Were we to vote down everything that has been proposed, that would damage the entire political system and us as a class; and the way things are going, I think that we are heading in that direction.

We are absolutely not heading in the direction of voting down all the proposals of the Wright Committee. However, my hon. Friend will recognise that the issues are complex. We want to ensure that we have unanimity and consensus, and that we start from a firm foundation, building on the Wright Committee’s proposals, and that is what we will do.

Owing to the collapse of Avon and Somerset police’s computer system, 30 Indians have been brought in on temporary visas to try to sort the situation out. Given the fact that they need total access to all the records held by Avon and Somerset police to do so and given the world that we live in, could we have time for a debate on the rights and wrongs of bringing in temporary workers in a very high security area?

If the hon. Gentleman cannot get a satisfactory answer on that matter from the police authorities in his area, he should raise it directly with the Home Secretary. However, I would hope and expect that proper security measures have been taken.

The application of stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 was found by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this week to be illegal. Although members of the public of course want to know that the police use such powers to protect them, they equally want to be assured that they are not being used by the police to go on fishing expeditions. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that we have an opportunity to debate the matter at some length?

These powers are very important indeed to protect our security, and they are only used sparingly. We do not accept the Court’s judgment and we are appealing against it. While we are appealing, as we are perfectly entitled to do, our law stands and the police will continue to have it at their disposal.

The Leader of the House will be aware of my United Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill, which is published today, on one sheet of paper and with only five clauses. She will also be aware of the debate that we had on the subject last night in the House. Will she now arrange for the Bill to be enacted by the Government?

Perhaps that is something that the hon. Gentleman can put to the Foreign Secretary at Foreign Office questions next week.

The recent severe weather again underlines the need for reliable and convenient public transport services, yet many of our smaller railway stations remain underused. Tomorrow I will chair another round-table meeting to try to make more use of our local stations, but with so many different bodies involved since privatisation, experience shows that doing so is a bit like wading through treacle. Can we therefore have a debate on the rail network and how we can simplify procedures to allow local decisions on the best solutions for each area?

I will consider the opportunity for debate, but I will also draw the attention of Transport Ministers to the important initiative that my hon. Friend has taken on behalf of his constituents to address their transport needs.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had time to study the report published by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson about dog welfare, dangerous dogs, microchipping and all the issues relating to dog crime in this country. Will she ensure that we have a debate on that important matter and that the Government act upon it as quickly as possible?

The United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked the Chinese Government to explain themselves after a tech company, Google, revealed that its internal systems had been hacked into with a view to looking at the e-mail accounts of Chinese dissidents. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that we need a debate on cyber security, so that we can applaud Google’s brave corporate decision to end the censorship of its search results and encourage other tech companies, such as Microsoft, Yahoo! and Apple, to follow suit?

The points made in Google’s statement raise serious allegations in respect of human rights, privacy and freedom of information. Although we are not party to Google’s discussions with the Chinese authorities, we are monitoring the situation very closely indeed. My hon. Friend regularly raises such issues in the House of Commons. We are strongly committed to freedom of speech in China and everywhere else, and the matter is one that could be raised in either Foreign Office questions or Culture, Media and Sport questions next week.

Teachers, head teachers and staff have heroically kept many schools open in Leeds, compared with other areas of the country, yet now those schools and their pupils are to be penalised, because of the attendance records of those pupils who could not get in. That is clearly absurd and needs to be changed. Can we have a statement from the appropriate Minister to say that that will happen?

Nobody will be penalised because pupils could not reach their schools owing to transport problems. However, it is important that we should expect schools to monitor and do everything that they can to ensure that all pupils attend. If pupils do not attend, individual action must be taken to ensure that their attendance is improved, and if the whole school has a poor attendance record, action must also be taken. We must ensure that all pupils can get to school, but we must also ensure that we deal with the problem of truancy and the lack of attendance.

The Leader of the House has, certainly until now, enjoyed a justifiable reputation as a parliamentary reformer, but who can doubt that this place still needs to reform its arcane and antediluvian procedures and practices? However, with yet another business statement failing to announce time for a debate and a vote on the Wright report, does she not realise that unless this House gets a specific date and time in the next couple of weeks she is, perhaps unfairly, in danger of being portrayed as a roadblock to reform,?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue of my reputation, but what is important is not my reputation, but that of this House and the fact that we need to make progress to restore public confidence. We have already taken many steps along that road, in sorting out the parliamentary allowance system and reforming how the House does its business, and building on that is very much the next step.

Does the Leader of the House accept that the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons was established to honour a commitment made by the Prime Minister to restore integrity and independence to the Chamber? Is that not a good reason to bring forward the Wright report for a full day’s debate and for decisions by the House on a free vote? We want this House’s integrity and independence to be restored, so that there is power for the Back Benchers in this Chamber.

I refer the House to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. When can we have a debate on the situation in Yemen? The Leader of the House will know that, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Speaker, an urgent question was answered last week. However, since then the date for the conference has been moved, from 28 January to 27 January. The German Foreign Minister has flown to Sana’a and a British hostage is still being held in Yemen. Surely we should have a full debate on that important subject and not just be left to ask questions of the Foreign Secretary in the House.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for raising the urgent question that enabled the House to discuss Yemen as soon as the issue arose. The next opportunity to raise the subject will be next week at Foreign Office questions, but I will look into whether we can have a topical debate on the matter.

May we have a debate next week entitled “Evidence to the Chilcot inquiry”? This would enable right hon. and hon. Members to express the view that the Prime Minister should give evidence to the inquiry before the general election, so that the electorate may know the extent of his personal responsibility for what is clearly an unlawful war and for the underfunding and under-resourcing of British forces when they went to war and in the reconstruction period thereafter?

I would have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would recognise that Chilcot is independent, and that it is not the job of the House to breathe down the neck of an independent inquiry before it has even reported. The time for the House to debate the Chilcot inquiry will be after it has reported.

May we have an early debate on the globalisation of homophobia as politics, the ugliest example of which is in Uganda? Why is DFID sending so much money to countries that promote anti-gay politics? When will our faiths—including the Church of England, the Church of Rome and the Muslim Council of Britain—condemn the new international politics that seeks to oppress gays in many parts of the world?

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend that tackling homophobia has to be at the heart of our concern for human rights for every individual in every country in the world. Perhaps he could raise the specific point about DFID at DFID questions next week.

The Calman commission has recommended that certain extra powers be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. There is cross-party agreement on a lot of those powers, including the one relating to the drink-drive limit. We have a problem of deaths caused by people who have drunk too much alcohol, and I believe that tomorrow is the deadline for the Government to make moves towards transferring the powers. Will they do that?

I will ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to write to the hon. Gentleman about that issue.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the free offer scam on health supplements such as the acacia berry free offer, which, unfortunately, involves a company that has its base in Linlithgow in my constituency. Although people cancelled the free offers, they still had money taken from their credit cards for up to four quarters. I am told by the police that a solution would require a change to the banking regulations, because they have no power to deal with such arrangements when people take up these offers using their credit cards. Can the Leader of the House do something about this?

It is very important indeed that consumers are protected from that sort of scam, and I will raise the matter with my colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Mine is a western Southampton question. Given that the Prime Minister himself said that the people of Southampton and Totton would decide whether their water should be fluoridated, and that both the Labour Southampton MPs, including a member of the Cabinet, have said that it should not be fluoridated—for the time being at least—because of the 72 per cent. opposition to the proposal, may we have a statement from a Health Minister explaining why a health spokesman in the House of Lords said in a written answer on behalf of the Government:

“We continue to support South Central Strategic Health Authority’s decision to fluoridate a large part of Southampton and parts of south-west Hampshire”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 2009; Vol. 715, c. WA239.]?

If hon. Members want to make a point in business questions, that is obviously fine, but if they actually want an answer to a specific, detailed question, it is probably best to let me know what they are likely to ask, so that I can give them a better informed answer than the one that I am about to give, which is that I will ask the Health Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have an early debate on the long-term effects on our constituencies and our country of foreign takeovers of UK companies? In Yorkshire, we have had Walmart taking over Asda with disastrous results, and Nestlé taking over Rowntree. Now, Cadbury is possibly to be taken over by Kraft or Hershey. These events can have a considerable effect on our constituencies and our country. Let us have a serious debate on the long-term effects of foreign ownership of British companies.

We have just had Business, Innovation and Skills questions, but I would like to assure my hon. Friend that the Government are acutely aware of the strength of feeling generated by the takeover bid in respect of Cadbury, which is a major UK company. Today, Lord Mandelson will be holding a round-table discussion with shareholders and companies to ensure that shareholders play a full part in corporate governance, including by taking a long-term view of their investments. We need to ensure that the work force and British manufacturing are protected.

May I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 42, which deals with carers?

[That this House notes that in the National Strategy for Carers the Government pledged that by 2018 carers will be supported so that they are not forced into financial hardship by their caring role; believes that carers cannot wait because too many are living in poverty and financial hardship now, struggling to afford the basic costs of living, unable to study or work without their benefits being cut off, or facing the removal of their allowance when they start to claim their pension; further notes that the UK’s six million carers save the country an estimated 87 billion per year, and that in return, the main carer’s benefit is the lowest of its kind, paid at only 53.10 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring, equivalent to 1.52 per hour, far short of the national minimum wage of 5.73 per hour; supports the Carer’s Poverty Charter signed by the Alzheimer’s Society, Carers UK, Citizens Advice, Contact a Family, Counsel and Care, Crossroads Caring for Carers, Every Disabled Child Matters, for dementia, Mencap, Macmillan Cancer, Motor Neurone Disease Society, National Autistic Society, Oxfam, Parkinson's Disease Society, Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Rethink, Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and Vitalise; and calls on the Government to set out an urgent timetable of action to improve carers’ benefits and income that protects carers from falling into poverty or financial hardship, reflects carers’ different circumstances, helps carers to combine caring with paid work and study and is easy to understand and straightforward to claim.]

May I ask for a debate on the evidence produced by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care, which shows that, in many parts of the country last year, the NHS siphoned off millions of pounds that was meant to have paid for the breaks and other support that carers need? We need to have that debate, so that we can establish whether Ministers have learned the lessons in the first year of having money made available for that purpose, and ensure that all the money—£100 million in the coming year—actually gets to the carers.

Obviously, we have made sure that additional resources are directed to supporting carers. We also want to ensure that the money reaches those who need it. In addition, we are giving greater protection to carers who are also at work, because most carers hold down a job as well as caring for an elderly or disabled relative. There will be new, stronger legal protection in the Equality Bill to protect carers from being discriminated against by their employers.

The Post Office is a much-valued, much used and much loved brand. When can we have a debate to ask the Government to put more services through the Post Office and Royal Mail, to ensure that there are no more closures? Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow us an early debate in order to support the post office network?

I will look for an opportunity for that sort of debate. We have a strong, ongoing commitment to the post office network and we are looking for opportunities to provide new services through post offices.

May I ask the Leader of the House to return to the subject of the national dementia strategy? She said earlier that it was on track, and I hope that she is right. She will know, however, that the National Audit Office this morning suggests that it is not so sure. The Government were right to make dementia care a priority last year, and to produce the dementia strategy. Given what has been said this morning, however, may we have a proper debate—the first in Government time—about the strategy, to ensure that this important priority is being effectively implemented?

Of course we all want to ensure that the strategy is kept on track. It was drawn up following a wide consultation involving primary and hospital care as well as the voluntary sector. I know that the hon. Gentleman chairs the all-party parliamentary group on dementia. The Government are not complacent. We regard this as long overdue action, and we will be taking it and working with Members on both sides of the House to ensure that it happens in every constituency.

May we have a debate on taxi legislation, to discuss the legal loophole that allows some private hire firms to register in one local authority area but operate almost exclusively in another, as is happening in Milton Keynes? They normally do this to avoid the higher charges made by urban authorities and the knowledge exams required. This is bad for business and very bad for customers.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. This is also a question of the standards being enforced equally across different authorities. I will discuss the matter with Transport Ministers and get back to him.

When citizens from other EU countries come to reside in the UK, they are allowed to bring their vehicles with them, and to drive them on British roads for up to six months before getting the necessary MOT and so on. There is no effective mechanism to enforce that six-month rule, however. May we have a statement in the House from the Transport Minister on the measures that the Government intend to introduce to ensure that these vehicles can be appropriately registered and MOT-tested?

A lot of us enjoy watching soccer in the lower leagues of the English league system. What can I do to raise this subject with Ministers in the House? One of my local clubs—Croydon football club—has been having abortive discussions with the council about gaining support. How can I best raise this issue?

I think the hon. Gentleman has done a good job already, but he can reinforce it at Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions next week.

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary about my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who was given the green light yesterday by the High Court to challenge the Home Secretary’s decision to allow his extradition? Surely the Home Secretary should see the writing on the wall from the court’s decision that he was wrong to ignore the compelling medical evidence and wrong to allow the extradition, given my constituent’s perilous mental state.

May we have a debate on the Government’s failure, after more than three weeks, to issue travel documents to Mr. al-Sirraj, who was wrongly detained in the US Camp Cropper in Baghdad, that would allow him to come back to the UK to be reunited with his British wife?

I will raise that point with the Minister for Borders and Immigration. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has tabled a written question, written a letter or asked for a meeting; if those steps have already been taken but have not succeeded, I will raise the matter with my ministerial colleague this afternoon.

My area is well covered by two excellent local hospitals—Stepping Hill in Stockport and Wythenshawe in south Manchester—but I am concerned about new rules under which Department of Health officials are interpreting new regulations for NHS charities, whereby donations to individual hospitals and charities would have to be consolidated into general NHS funds, thus undermining the independence of the said charities, potentially damaging the level of income from donations. May we have an urgent debate on this extremely important matter, which is also the subject of early-day motion 518 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott)?

[That this House is alarmed at the manner in which the Department of Health and Monitor are applying International Accounting Standard 27, which will come into effect from April 2010, to NHS charities; notes the serious concern amongst the Association of NHS Charities and the Charity Commission that this could lead to the consolidation of NHS charities' funds, worth over £300 million annually, and assets, worth over £2 billion, into the public accounts of their parent NHS bodies; believes this would seriously undermine the independence of those charities and damage their level of income from donations; further believes that the manner in which these accounting standards are being applied is entirely inappropriate for NHS charities; and calls on the Treasury and the Office of the Third Sector to take action to ensure that the existing independence of NHS charities from public sector bodies is maintained.]

I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to respond to the hon. Gentleman about the issues raised in the early-day motion and to place a copy of his response in the Library.

Business questions are, especially for Back-Bench MPs, one of the most important parts of the parliamentary week, and not only because the deputy Prime Minister answers those questions so excellently. Will the Leader of the House—sorry, I mean the Deputy Prime Minister—explain why the February recess starts on a Wednesday rather than a Thursday, which means that we will miss the opportunity to hear her on Thursday 11 February?

The Wright Committee was elected by all parties, so it is only logical that the House should have a chance to vote on the result of its recommendations. Why not, then, just put the resolution proposed by the elected Wright Committee and invite the colleagues of the Leader of the House, including anyone who disagrees with it, to amend it? Why not just do that at the appropriate time?

The Committee itself acknowledged that there were very complex issues at stake, some of which required further work and some of which were ready to bring forward. Indeed, we have already dealt with the question of electing the Deputy Speakers. We will make progress, but it is not a simple, straightforward issue on which there was unanimity. We are as concerned as anyone else, if not more so, to ensure that the reputation of the House should be held in high regard. We will make sure that these measures can be taken forward.

I am very grateful for the House’s co-operation, as no fewer than 36 Back-Bench Members were able to get into the debate in a session lasting 46 minutes. I am extremely grateful to colleagues for that.