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Business of the House

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

The provisional business for next week is as follows:

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 dementia services and care of the elderly, followed by a debate on out-of-hours care. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 28 January—Topical debate: Subject to be announced; to follow, the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed private business for consideration.

Friday 29 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 1 February will include:

Monday 1 February—Remaining stages of the Flood and Water Management Bill.

Tuesday 2 February—Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 5).

Wednesday 3 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Thursday 4 February—Remaining stages of the Corporation Tax Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Bill.

Friday 5 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 4 February will be:

Thursday 4 February—A debate from the Joint Committee on Human Rights entitled “Demonstrating Respect for Rights? A Human Rights Approach to Policing Protest”.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. Further to the exchanges that have just taken place, which she might have heard, it struck me that a number of issues were left hanging in the air, so I think it might be helpful to have a debate in Government time on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget.

May I repeat my request for a debate on Haiti? The tragic events there have been the most terrifying humanitarian disaster witnessed in recent years, and apart from a very short exchange at Department for International Development questions yesterday, the House has not had an opportunity properly to debate it, so will she take this as a suggestion, yet again, for next week’s topical debate?

Further to the exchange of a few moments ago about the Wright report, may I say that I am delighted that at long last the Government have belatedly accepted some of our arguments for strengthening and reforming Parliament, and that we welcome them to the table? The Leader of the House announced that there would be a debate on 23 February, but what really matters is not what the Government have decided—she told us what that was—but what the House decides. She has denied the House an opportunity to debate this until 23 February, some three months after the Wright Committee reported, and there is no good reason for that delay.

May I again press the Leader of the House for a clear commitment on the question that I asked a few moments ago? If, for the sake of argument, the House agrees on 23 February to the setting up of a Back-Bench business committee—I hope that it will agree to such a committee—can she assure the House that all the necessary changes to Standing Orders will be made before Dissolution, so that at the beginning of the next Parliament, irrespective of who has won, we can establish a Back-Bench business committee? I hope that she can give me and the House that clear commitment.

Mr. Speaker, may we play another round of the popular panel game that the Leader of the House hosts each week, “Guess the date of the Easter recess”, which still awaits a winner? I have asked seven times why she has been unable to supply the date in the usual way and, although she does not pause and she does not hesitate, she is extremely repetitive. Can she give us the Easter countdown today? Can she also tell the House when the Chancellor will present his Budget?

Can the right hon. and learned Lady clarify what is going on with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? She has announced two more days for consideration, but there is confusion about whether one of those days will be wasted on debating the alternative vote, when we might be debating the Wright report. Yesterday, the Prime Minister appeared to embrace voting reform, but only three days ago it was reported that the parliamentary Labour party was split down the middle, with the Schools Secretary lobbying against any amendment to the Bill. What is going on? Are we going to debate it? On what side of that dividing line does she lie?

May we have a statement on the Government’s nutrition action plan? This was promised by December 2008, but we are now in 2010 and that report has still not been published. All the evidence shows that the incidence of malnutrition in our hospitals is getting worse, not better, so when can the House expect to debate that report? May we also have a debate on the performance of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs? According to the National Audit Office, the department failed to answer 44 million calls last year, with just one in three inquiries being responded to at busy times, such as when tax credits need to be renewed. Vulnerable people cannot afford to be put on hold, so when can we have a debate about that?

Finally, may we have a debate on the speech on inequality that the right hon. and learned Lady is due to make tomorrow? The whole country will be bewildered by the total confusion in the Government’s strategy on this. One week we are told that the Prime Minister wants to soak the rich, the next week, following a conversation with Lord Mandelson, he is promising support for middle Britain and now the right hon. and learned Lady is promising to open up a new front in the class war. Is this confusion due to the Labour party manifesto being dreamt up on the hockey fields of St. Paul’s?

I join the right hon. Gentleman in acknowledging the great importance of the international effort to tackle the appalling suffering that has followed the earthquake in Haiti. I wish to pay tribute to the search and rescue teams that have gone out from this country and to say how important the Department for International Development aid contribution is, not only in terms of the search and rescue effort, but of the assessment of and contribution towards the reconstruction that will be required. I should also say how important the incredible generosity of the British public is. I believe that about £20 million of additional aid has been pledged immediately by DFID, but that about £26 million has come from donations by individual members of the public, not only those who have relatives and friends in Haiti, but other good-hearted people who want to help do their part in alleviating the suffering. Not everything good that happens is done by government.

Last week, we made a statement on Haiti and this week, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we had DFID questions and the issue was also addressed in Prime Minister’s questions. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need to keep the House updated on Government and international action, and we need an opportunity for Members to contribute. I shall look for an opportunity, in some form or another, for Haiti to be debated on the Floor of the House next week.

On the Wright Committee, yes, of course, what is important is what the House decides. Although I think that it is perfectly right and proper that we place before the people at the general election a big choice of an alternative view as to how Britain goes forward, with the Tories on one side and us on the other—and the other parties in the fray too—when it comes to the way this House operates, we should surely be able to work together, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said earlier, to try to make progress. I shall offer to have plenty of fights with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) on many issues and on many occasions, but can we just try to work together sensibly on this, because on 23 February we might be able to make some progress? Rather than spending a lot of time saying, “Why is it on 23 February, rather than 23 January?”, let us get on with working together to ensure that we make our 23 February debate an opportunity to make progress. If we make progress then, we will, as I said earlier in questions to the Leader of the House, be able to pass resolutions that put into effect the proposals from the Wright Committee, so that they can begin in operation before the House rises.

As far as Easter is concerned, it is on 4 April.

On the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill—I shall call it the CRAG Bill, as I keep getting the name wrong—we have had a full day on Second Reading and three days on the Floor of the House for the Committee stage already. We have two further days on the Floor of the House, thus making five days in Committee. We have a day on Report and Third Reading, which makes seven days in all. A number of Committees have looked at this Bill, including a Committee of both Houses that looked at the draft Bill, so this House will have given it thorough scrutiny, and the proposals that will be introduced by way of Government amendments or new clauses will be brought forward in the normal way.

On HMRC and tax credits, the right hon. Gentleman can be sure that we are pledged to continue to improve tax credits, which make a very big difference to families on middle and modest incomes. We want to support those who are working, and working hard, by topping up their income with tax credits, and we will continue to support the way that that is distributed.

On equality, it is clear from reading the statement that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made just before last week on race and socio-economic inequality or the Government response via the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Milburn report on access to the professions, as well as the Department of Health’s report on health inequalities—the Marmot report—that will be considered soon or the very important report from the National Equality Panel, which is chaired by Sir John Hills, which will be published next week, that this Government is in no doubt that this country ought to be a place where everyone, no matter what their family background, no matter whether they are a man or a women and no matter what their ethnic origin, can achieve their full potential. We should have a fair society where everyone can fulfil their aspirations, not one held back by prejudice or discrimination. The Hills report will show that we have halted the inequality that increased so badly in the ’80s and ’90s, but we have to take more action to eradicate it, for the sake of not only every individual, but of having a prosperous economy and a peaceful society.

May I welcome the indication that the Leader of the House gave that there would be a debate on Haiti? In her response on that issue, she mentioned the exchanges at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions. May I say that it was hugely welcome that the Prime Minister made a short statement on Haiti, and did so in considerable detail? However may I put it to the Leader of the House that there is a growing tendency for Ministers and, in particular, the Prime Minister to use short Question Times to make what are, in effect, statements, and that that is not helpful to Back Benchers who want to put questions? If there is a statement to be made, will the right hon. and learned Lady encourage her right hon. Friends to make it as a statement rather than using Question Time to do so?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was also asked a very pertinent question, it seemed to me, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) about the takeover of Cadbury. The Prime Minister’s answer was—how can I put it—a little bit “Curly Wurly”, and possibly even “Flake-y”. May we have a statement from the relevant Department on the role of the Royal Bank of Scotland—a bank owned by the British people—in providing the finance for a takeover of a British company by an American conglomerate? That issue must be answered.

May I welcome the additional day that has now been provided—I had a bit to say about this when we debated the programme motion on Tuesday—for consideration of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? However, the right hon. and learned Lady has still not answered the question put by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the shadow Leader of the House. Will she simply say, without equivocation, whether a Government amendment on the reform of our electoral system will be tabled for debate in Committee? Yes or no? She must have decided by now, surely; it has been fought over for weeks. Will she tell us whether there will be such a Government amendment?

May we have a debate on the continuing problem, which I know affects a lot of Members on both sides of the House, of funding in further education and the activities of the Learning and Skills Council? After the fiasco of last year, a huge number of decisions are waiting on a backlog of schemes that were given provisional support but on which the funding has not been confirmed. That delay affects a college in my constituency, Frome community college, and the college is now desperate to know whether the scheme, which is supposed to be going ahead this year, can go ahead and whether the funding will be provided. May we have a debate on that?

May I return to a point made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire? The Leader of the House has answered, very helpfully, with the date of Easter. I am personally not terribly interested in the dates of the Easter recess, but I am very interested to know when the Budget will be. Will she tell us what the date of the Budget will be?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned statements and the question of Haiti. As I have said, we had a full statement from the Secretary of State for International Development on Haiti and I think that it was important for the Prime Minister to update the House yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions. It is important not just that we hear from the Secretary of State but that the Prime Minister has the opportunity to update the House. The Prime Minister has made an unprecedented number of statements in the House on a range of issues and we will continue to keep the House informed on action in Haiti.

As for the Cadbury’s debate, I would certainly not want to give a “Flake-y” response. Perhaps I can give a “Crunchie” response and tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be an Adjournment debate on the matter on the Floor of the House next week. This is an important issue because people are concerned not only about their pride in this historic brand but, above all, about the work that is generated for 5,500 people in factories up and down the country. It will be debated on the Floor of the House next week.

On the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, the Secretary of State for Justice will bring forward amendments and new clauses in the normal way. This is not an occasion for the announcement of Government new clauses on individual Bills.

On the Learning and Skills Council, I shall ask Business Ministers to look into the case of Frome community college. We all recognise that despite the fact that there has been a great deal of important extra funding for further and higher education, the LSC presided over mismanagement on that very important programme, which is only just being sorted out. I shall ask Ministers to look into the case of that college but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that Frome community college and all other further and higher education would not prosper if his party had its way and introduced savage cuts.

Order. Twenty-seven right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to be able to accommodate everybody, but if I am to have any chance of doing so, I shall require the help of the House in the form of short questions and short answers.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend can clear something up for me. On 4 January, the Leader of the Opposition said that giving married couples a tax break was

“something we want to do, something we believe we can do”


“something…I’ll definitely hope to do”.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time on the Floor of the House for a debate on married couple’s allowance so that we can all be enlightened about the difference between a promise, a belief, an aspiration, a pledge and any other word that might describe the Leader of the Opposition’s policy?

I note that the Opposition have not chosen the married couple’s allowance as the topic for their Opposition day debate next week. One thing that my right hon. Friend’s question brings out is the fact that families cannot rely on the Opposition. They can rely on this Government to back them up. We would not penalise women who get divorced and we would not use a tax penalty to penalise men who find themselves divorced. We want to support families in all shapes and sizes, including not only families made up of parents and children but grandparents, who play an important role.

The Leader of the House will know of the work of the Liaison Committee in improving financial scrutiny in this House, which has led to the alignment project in the Treasury, which I welcome. As we will debate increasing the powers of Select Committees on 23 February, will she say that she is at least open-minded—I am not asking for a commitment—about giving Select Committees more resources through the Scrutiny Unit and eventually more powers through substantive motions to control spending in the House of Commons, which was a traditional function of the House of Commons?

The Wright Committee made some recommendations in that regard and when we come to the debate on 23 February, that issue can be thoroughly aired.

May I push my right hon. and learned Friend on the subject of a debate about support for families so that I can raise the concerns of working parents across Redditch—married and unmarried—who fear that they will lose the little bit of help that comes from their tax credit, as well as access to Redditch’s children’s centres, so that funding can be given to an unthought-through and ill-conceived tax break to encourage them up the aisle?

It might well be a good idea to have a debate on this issue. On that occasion, we will ask the Opposition to explain whether they think that any couple has got married thinking, “Well, we weren’t going to get married but we will get married now because we have heard that there will be a tax break.” Relationships do not work like that and there is no evidence that couples can be made to stay happy together simply on the basis of a tax break. The point about the proposed tax break is that it will not work when it comes to making families happy together. However, it will penalise those who find that their marriage has failed and stigmatise children in families who have not stayed together. Such a debate might be a good opportunity to air the subject on the Floor of the House.

May we have a debate on the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 on immigration? On Monday, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus reported how the Somali man who hid the killer of PC Sharon Beshenivsky won his appeal against deportation on the grounds of human rights, rightly angering the family of Sharon Beshenivsky and the West Yorkshire police federation. Surely, when the Government passed the Human Rights Act, they did not have it in mind that it would stop Somali nationals who hide the killers of police officers from being deported from the country.

The Human Rights Act is a matter for interpretation by the courts, but whenever the Government believe that an interpretation by the courts has crossed the line and interfered with national security, we do not hesitate to take action either to appeal or to amend the substantive law.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate in parliamentary time on the subject of regional spatial strategies and their current status, particularly in the south-west, where we have been waiting for them for quite some time? As we have been waiting, local authorities such as Stroud district council have been working with speculators and developers to dump their entire housing allocations on the end of places such as Tuffley in the Gloucester district area. Clarity, an early debate and early decisions would be very helpful.

Perhaps that is something that my hon. Friend, who I know strongly supports the communities living in his constituency, can raise in Communities and Local Government questions next week.

I indicated earlier at Question Time that I welcomed the debate on the reform of the House, and that I shall certainly support the motions to be tabled by the Leader of the House. However, will she admit that there is ongoing concern that the House Committee that she has announced will deal only with Back-Bench business and not with the overall business of the House? Does she accept that there has been no mention as yet of the reduction or removal of guillotines—programme motions—on the remaining stages of a Bill? Those stages are very important for Back Benchers who were not part of the Public Bill Committee and were not called to speak in the Second Reading debate.

The Wright Committee made a great many proposals on a wide range of issues, and recognised that they needed to be taken forward step by step. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: what I said in my comments this morning, and what the Prime Minister said yesterday, was that we had identified the need for a House Committee for Back-Bench business to be brought forward. I hope that we can agree that on 23 February. I also hope that those who think that we should have a House Committee for Government business will not make the best the enemy of the good, and that we can achieve a wide range of agreement the next time we debate the matter on 23 February.

I am sure that the Leader of the House remains a committed reformer of Parliament, but the Prime Minister made the incredible commitment yesterday that he would implement all three tranches of the Wright Committee report. Will she assure the House that there will be an immediate vote as well as a full debate on 23 February on the resolution that the Wright Committee prepared, rather than any other device?

Actually, there are four tranches, as follows: the Chairs of Select Committees to be elected by the House, the membership of Select Committees, private Members’ motions that can be brought to the House to be debated and voted on, and the question of the House Committee. We want to take the opportunity to debate those matters and then adopt resolutions to give them effect. If, as I hope and expect, there is consensus in the House on those four areas, we want to get work under way. The point is to make a start on those matters over which there is the widest possible agreement.

The right hon. and learned Lady will have heard the evidence given to the Chilcot inquiry by the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), to the effect that it was the decisions of the present Prime Minister that resulted in British forces going to war in Iraq under-resourced, and in the lack of helicopters in Afghanistan. She will also have heard the Prime Minister’s statement that he is willing to give evidence to the inquiry before the general election. Can we have a debate next week so that the House can encourage Sir John Chilcot to call the Prime Minister to give an account of his activities before the general election?

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Chilcot inquiry operates under the general procedures that usually govern such inquiries. Sir John Chilcot has said that he will take as much of the evidence in public as he can without risking national security. The Prime Minister has said that he will give evidence as and when requested to do so. We should leave it to the members of the independent Chilcot inquiry to get on with their work, and not constantly breathe down their necks or tell them whom they should call, and when. We should not try to discuss the results of the inquiry before it has even produced a report.

May we have an early debate on a possible conflict of interest in the Office of the Rail Regulator? The ORR has responsibility for both investment and safety, but we now discover that 1,500 front-line workers are to be made redundant by Network Rail. Those people have responsibility for track inspection and maintenance, overhead cabling and signalling, all of which are crucial to the safety of the railways for passengers and rail workers. Could we therefore have a look at this conflict of interest?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of rail users. She has urged that more freight as well as more passengers should go by rail, and she is also a great champion of those who work on the railways. Perhaps I could suggest that she raise the issues that she has brought to the House today with Ministers at Transport questions next week.

The Wright Committee, which was elected by this House, addressed itself to the problems that arise at Report stage, when key groups of amendments go undebated and key decisions on legislation are not even put to the House. In its conclusions, the Committee said that

“we recognise that unless the current problems in this area are resolved, then there will continue to be dissatisfaction and a sense that the House is failing to perform one of its core duties. In those circumstances, we will have failed one of the primary parts of our mission.”

Does the Leader of the House agree?

Well, I agree that we should do everything that we can to make sure that all aspects of a Bill are scrutinised at all stages, but to some extent that is in the hands of the House. One thing that I will never understand is why people who justifiably complain about the lack of time to debate substantive issues use up loads of time on procedural motions. If we used that time to debate the substantive issues, we would reach more conclusions.

This is normally a session for complaints and demands, so may I simply say that I welcome what the Leader of the House has said about a secure date for the House to consider the report from the House of Commons Reform Committee? In addition, I endorse her hope that the House will want to operate on a consensual basis, and that there will be a mechanism enabling it to come to some firm decisions.

I am glad to have the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for his very important work in proposing the Committee. His effective leadership has brought the Committee very quickly to some profound and radical solutions. I think that Members of this House can have major arguments, debates, disagreements and rows about the economy, public services and the sort of society that we want in the future, but I hope that we can at least agree on a non-partisan basis about how to ensure that the House works better in future.

My concern about the Wright report is that the consensus will be between the Executive and the shadow Executive, and that it will not take the views of Back Benchers into account. The consensus must be across the House, and not just between the two Executives.

I hope that we can build a consensus across the whole House based on the proposals made by the Wright Committee, which is a Back-Bench Committee. I do not think that any of its members would say that they were responding to pressure from either the Executive or the shadow Executive, and they would give anyone who suggested that a dusty answer. The Wright Committee is made up of Back Benchers, and we have responded to their proposals by saying, “Fair enough, let’s get on with implementing a great many of them.”

Do the Government intend to bring in a stand-alone Bill to deal with non-doms in Parliament, or will the Government rely on amending the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill?

We are determined to make sure that people who are not prepared to be registered as taxpayers domiciled in this country cannot purport to represent taxpayers in constituencies or legislate in the House of Lords in ways that affect taxpayers. The only real question—my hon. Friend has adverted to it—concerns the right vehicle for bringing the matter to the House. We expect to reach a conclusion on that shortly and to bring it to the House.

Notwithstanding the fact that there will be a defence review in the next Parliament, whoever wins the general election, may we have a debate on future defence policy in the light of the thought-provoking speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir David Richards? We need such a debate not least because of the profound implications for the three services, and for procurement in particular.

The hon. Lady will know that we have regular defence debates. There will probably be one next month, so perhaps she can amplify her comments then.

I, too, welcome the announcement of a debate on the Wright Committee report on 23 February. Normally, honourable parliamentarians on both sides of the House would share my disdain when changes are introduced to legislation or to the procedures of the House on a nod and a wink and under the cloak of consensus, but that does not apply in this case. I was a member of the Committee and I was not part of that consensus. Will my right hon. and learned Friend guarantee that none of the proposals will be introduced without a full debate on every issue? I do not share the consensus on electing the Chairs and members of Select Committees, or on the establishment of a House business committee. I have deep concerns about those proposals, and I want a full debate on them. I am not part of this consensus.

There will be a full debate, and I hope that there will be reassurances on my hon. Friend’s concerns. I know that she played a full part in the Committee, but following its majority decisions, we would like to see changes made in the four areas that I have identified.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission is about to receive an application from Hinkley Point in Somerset. Everything is going well, and I am very grateful for the Government’s support, but we have hit a snag. The relevant Department also has to do its own consultation, and it is not doing it properly. Can we please have time to debate that? Unless the IPC gets the application right, the application could be knocked back or, worse still, undermine the whole IPC system. Can we have time to discuss that?

The hon. Gentleman could raise that issue in Communities and Local Government questions next week and obtain an answer from the Secretary of State or one of the Ministers in that Department.

May we have an early debate about debt, debt collection and, in particular, the activities of bailiffs? I have received an increasing number of complaints from constituents, many of them young single mums, about the intimidating and bullying behaviour of debt collectors. Although people should pay back their debt, they should not be subject to such behaviour. One of the big issues is that people do not understand their rights in terms of access to their homes, so can we have a debate as soon as possible about that issue?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, about which a number of hon. Members might be concerned, so in the first instance he might seek a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

May we have a statement from the fire services Minister about the tremendously good work that British firefighters, who are specialists in urban search and rescue, are doing in Haiti? I had the privilege of visiting their state-of-the-art training facility at Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, and their tremendously good work really should be commended.

I am sure that everybody agrees with those sentiments. If the hon. Gentleman wants a further chance to question Communities and Local Government Ministers, he should take up the opportunity next week at Communities and Local Government questions.

There has been a further welcome fall in the unemployment figures for Wales this week, but many of my constituents will suffer from the announcement that Bosch, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith), will close with the loss of 900 jobs. When can we have a debate not only about the very welcome measures that the Government have introduced to help people who lose their jobs, but to discuss what more can be done?

We remain very concerned about the jobs question, which is very much at the top of our agenda, and I shall refer to the Business Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the points that my hon. Friend has made. I agree with her about how important it is that, for the first time, unemployment has gone down—based not only on the claimant count, but on the International Labour Organisation unemployment rate. That is in marked contrast with previous recessions, when unemployment went up dramatically and continued to rise long after the economy had returned to growth. That shows, in a reversal of the Tory election slogan, that Labour is working.

The Leader of the House will be aware of increasing public concern at excessive bank charges and the Office of Fair Trading’s decision to throw in the towel. Can we have a debate, in Government time, about the Government’s failure to extract a voluntary agreement? They promised that they would extract one from the banks, but they have so far failed.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need strong regulation and regulatory bodies to protect consumers. We have no doubt about that; it is his party, generally speaking, that regards such measures as the nanny state, as a burden on business and as a surfeit of regulation. However, if he wants to support our stance of leaving no stone unturned to protect consumers and ensure the right regulations, he can work with us to achieve it.

May I reinforce the request for a debate about married couples’ tax breaks, a policy that contrasts starkly with the concerns of my constituents, who have benefited hugely from child tax credits and the child trust fund? My constituents are greatly concerned by such “back to basics” Victorian standards. The real worry is that the Leader of the Opposition is becoming more and more a captive of the right-wing of his party, which, as I have said, contrasts very much with this Government’s approach to tax breaks for the family.

My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. It is a modern-day version of “back to basics”—it is “back to basics” with an open-necked shirt. People want good support for families, which come in all shapes and sizes, and we rightly have child tax credits, child trust funds and Sure Start centres. Those are the practical measures that help families make their way in life, and it does not help families to be told by politicians of any Government that they should get married and stay happily married. No Government’s Ministers have all been able to manage that, so how can we tell people, through tax relief, that they should be able to do so?

I am grateful to you for calling me towards the end of these proceedings, Mr. Speaker, which saves my having to go to the gym, which I need to go to because I have been eating too much chocolate. Everyone keeps referring to chocolate, but that is very dangerous. Fudge is obviously the chocolate of choice for us here; the Leader of the House obviously has a soft caramel centre; and I have a close connection with Frank Muir’s and Cadbury’s “Fruit and Nut Case”.

To be serious, I must say that we can benefit from more people visiting the Palace of Westminster, but unfortunately, as we tell visitors, it has a habit of burning down. Bearing in mind that there is now a different line of route, through Westminster Hall, what can be done to ensure that there are proper facilities to advise people of any emergency, and that we are able to detect fires as early as possible?

That is an important issue not just for Members, but for those who work for Members, all other staff and, as the hon. Gentleman has said, people who visit. The House has a detailed programme of works to make the whole parliamentary estate compliant with fire safety legislation. That programme is based on an assessment of fire risk and is planned to be completed over a number of years. It includes the installation of automatic fire detection and voice alarm systems, fire compartmentalisation and detailed services. I shall ask the House authorities to write to him with further information.

I strongly support the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer). There are also serious concerns about the feeble performance of the rail franchise companies—especially First Capital Connect—about the ordering of new rolling stock from foreign producers rather than British-based producers and about the future, given the inadequacies of, and cuts in, rail freight capacity. We need a wide-ranging, general debate about the whole railway industry.

Transport questions take place next week, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), but my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) has raised broader issues that go beyond an oral question to the Minister during that session. I shall therefore consider the issues that my hon. Friend has put forward, possibly for a topical debate.

It should come as no surprise to the Leader of the House that immigration is one of the British people’s top concerns, having had 13 years of our immigration system’s shambolic mismanagement by the current Government. Will she make time for a debate about the subject? If we do not tackle it, the gainers will be those on the far right, whom none of us wants to succeed.

The House considers immigration regularly, not only in statements but in questions, and the Prime Minister answered a question about it from the hon. Gentleman yesterday. However, I shall keep under review the question of whether there should be a full and further debate.

Clause 1 of the Equality Bill gives legislative backing to my right hon. and learned Friend’s words a few moments ago about the impact of socio-economic class in our society, and the importance of making not simply a statement about but a reality of Britain as a nation where no child is limited by, among other things, their socio-economic class, which has disfigured this nation for so long. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether the Equality Bill, which is now in the Lords, will come back with that part intact, so that we can say to the British people that it is a Labour Government who have put that legislation into practice?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. We considered the Equality Bill in the House of Commons, and we included in it clause 1, which requires all public authorities, when taking big decisions and taking action, to consider how they play their part in narrowing the gap between rich and poor and making for a more fair and equal society. Despite the fact that the Tories voted in Committee against that measure for social mobility and for people to achieve their aspirations, the Bill has gone to the House of Lords, and I fully expect it to come back to the House of Commons with that clause in it. We want to see a more fair and equal society. We have made a lot of progress, but more progress needs to be made.

May I underline the calls for a debate on Haiti and British involvement and support there? Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that a decision has been made to send the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Largs Bay to the Caribbean. It will take three weeks for that ship to arrive. We already have a ship there, HMS Iron Duke, which has marines on board, helicopter support and so forth. It could provide assistance immediately instead of waiting for three weeks. I urge the Leader of the House to allow us to have a debate on Haiti immediately.

As I have said, we have had a statement and the Prime Minister’s response on this. I would hate the hon. Gentleman to give the wrong impression to people who care so much about the fact that we should do everything we can to help people faced by the devastation in Haiti. We are providing immediate assistance with our search and rescue teams out there. We provided immediate additional resources to the international aid effort, so we are not waiting three weeks. However, we recognise that the effort to help people in Haiti will need to go on for much longer than the immediate crisis period. Therefore, we will be fully engaged with the need to plan not only for the immediate term but for the next months and, indeed, years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with that.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for an urgent debate on the role of the Governor of the Bank of England? Will the board—that is, the Cabinet—consider giving him the football manager’s vote of confidence, so that we can get someone in who actually knows about the economy such as David “Danny” Blanchflower?

We all heard David Blanchflower’s comments. Labour Members support the idea that there should be public investment to ensure that the recovery in the economy takes root, so that we do not take any risk with the recovery and threaten it by pulling the plug on public investment.

Order. I am pleased to tell the House that after the exchanges between the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House, 27 Members from the Back Benches who wished to contribute to business questions were able to do so in the period of 28 minutes occupied by those Back-Bench exchanges. That shows what can be done when the spirit is willing, both among those Back Benchers and, indeed, very creditably and fortunately, on the part of the Leader of the House. I am grateful to the House for its co-operation.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Video Recordings Act 2010

Beverley Freemen Act 2010.