May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?
The business for next week will be:
Monday 8 February—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Terrorist Asset-freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill.
Tuesday 9 February—Motion to approve a money resolution on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, followed by consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Day 6), followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.
Wednesday 10 February—If necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by motion on section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, followed by motion to approve a resolution relating to the House of Commons Disqualification Act, followed by motion to approve an instruction relating to the Crime and Security Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments.
The business for the week commencing 22 February will include:
Monday 22 February—General debate on the report from the House of Commons Reform Committee on “Rebuilding the House”.
Tuesday 23 February—Remaining stages of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.
Wednesday 24 February—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill.
Thursday 25 February—A general debate on Welsh Affairs.
Friday 26 February—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 1 March will include:
Monday 1 March—Opposition Day (Half-day) [4th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by motion relating to the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in Force of Sections 1 to 9) Order 2010, followed by motion relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Uprating Order 2010.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 and 18 March will be:
Thursday 11 March—A debate on the third sector and Government working together to help communities.
Thursday 18 March—A debate from the Health Committee entitled “Patient Safety”.
The House is grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business. I am sure that the House will want to return to the issue raised in the rather unsatisfactory exchanges that we have just heard. Members will have noted that in about half an hour, there was not one supportive question for the hapless Treasury Minister.
On Monday’s business dealing with terrorist assets, may I ask why the Government had no contingency plan for what has just happened? Lord Newton’s Committee warned the Government about the loophole six years ago, and the Government have known about the challenges to orders on terrorist assets since April 2008. Last week the Government had a 40-clause Bill, but now they have a three-clause Bill. There is no law to prevent terrorists from going to the bank between now and Monday and claiming their money back. Why were the Government so ill prepared?
On political reform and the business for the first Monday back after the recess, may I press the right hon. and learned Lady further on the Government’s disastrous handling of the Wright Committee report? She is wasting time next Tuesday on the alternative vote, but putting at risk progress on the recommendations of an elected Select Committee of the House. Two weeks ago she said that some Wright reforms could be
“in operation before the House rises.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 449.]
But on Tuesday at the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister admitted that if proposals were objected to, there might not be enough parliamentary time for them to be implemented before an election. Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a growing feeling that people simply cannot take this Government seriously on reform? No fewer than seven constitutional campaign groups are urging her to look again at the procedure for the debate. Will she give a firm commitment that the House will have proper time to get changes made to Standing Orders, as the Wright Committee wished, before the election? Given the approaching recess, will she ensure that the motions that the Government intend to take forward will be tabled by next Monday at the very latest?
May we have a debate on the chaos of the Student Loans Company? Many hon. Members will have had complaints from their constituents about the endless delays and inefficiencies of that body, and today we learn that two months after the Government said that the problems were being fixed, more than two thirds of students with disabilities or special needs have failed to receive the crucial funds that they need for their studies. May we have a full statement from the Government to explain what they are doing to remedy and mitigate that distressing problem?
The Leader of the House will be aware that the findings on the Government’s management of the out-of-hours contracts will be laid bare today by a report to the Department of Health and by the coroner’s verdict following an inquest into the tragic deaths in Cambridgeshire. Will she ensure that a Health Minister comes to the House to make a statement on the review of the out-of-hours service?
When can we have the annual debate on international development? It was postponed last November and was meant to be rescheduled for next Wednesday, but it does not appear in the business that the Leader of the House has just read out.
Given that the right hon. and learned Lady has so far failed to meet my requests for a debate on the crisis in Haiti, will she now guarantee that that important debate will be held as soon as possible on our return from the February recess?
I now turn to familiar territory. When will the Chancellor present his Budget to the House? Finally on dates, this is the last time we shall have business questions until 25 February, and there is still no news of the Easter recess. [Hon. Members: “Question 42!”] Yes, it is question 42. Let me put to the right hon. and learned Lady a scenario on which I believe it might be sensible to proceed. I suggest that the Prime Minister will visit the palace on 29 March and announce the election, that the House will adjourn for the Easter recess on Maundy Thursday and not return, that Her Majesty will dissolve Parliament on 12 April, with a general election on 6 May, and that some of us will return for swearing in on 12 May. Would the right hon. and learned Lady like to confirm or deny that?
In relation to the Terrorist Asset-Freezing (Temporary Provisions) Bill, which I have announced will have all its stages next Monday, subject to the approval of the House, hon. Members will be aware of the Supreme Court’s decision on the vires under which the order involved was made. Clearly we have to set the law in order and ensure that we have the powers that we need to use against assets that have been built up for use in terrorist activity. We are ready to make it clear this afternoon what those provisions are. The Bill will be introduced tomorrow, and on Monday, subject to the House’s approval, it will have all its stages and then go off to the Lords.
As will be seen this afternoon, we have made it clear that the Bill’s application will be retrospective. It is obviously an absolute priority to ensure that terrorists do not have assets at their disposal to use against people in this country, and we will ensure that the powers are available, and made retrospective, to deal with the issue that the Supreme Court raised, which was simply that the order was ultra vires.
I would make two points on how we are dealing with the Wright Committee recommendations. I have said at business questions that we hope the House will agree to more than 20 provisions in the report, and we intend to table them for approval after a full day’s debate on 22 February. If we can approve some, if not all, of the motions that I will table then, that will be a good start. I will bring back those that, because Members object to them, are not approved. We will lay amendable motions, and then the House will vote on them.
As there are more than 20 areas of consideration on which we propose to move forward, it will be helpful if some of them, if not all, can be dealt with after a full day’s debate. We can get the debate dealt with so that the House can be heard, and then if there are motions to which there is no objection, they can go through straightforwardly by agreement. On some issues there will undoubtedly not be agreement, and those will then have to come back to the House in motions that are amendable and can be voted on.
The right hon. Gentleman talks as though there were unanimity in the House on all the Wright reform issues, and as though somehow, only the Government stood in the way. He is fostering that impression, but it is a misapprehension. As shadow Leader of the House, he should know that on some substantial matters that the Government are in favour of, there is division in the House. For example, we support the idea of secret ballots for the election of Chairmen of Select Committees. He will know that last week the Liaison Committee was split down the middle on that, and voted to support it by only seven to six. So I would be grateful if he did not purvey the view that he and the whole House are reformers, and the Government are standing in their way. That is not true and does not reflect all the progress that the House has been able to make in the past 13 years on initiatives introduced by previous Leaders of the House. Reform has happened, and further reform, with the House’s support, will be forthcoming under the Wright Committee recommendations.
Inspection and tight regulation of the out-of-hours GP service are obviously important. All primary care trusts should ensure that the out-of-hours service in their area is in order.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about a day of debate on international development. One of the Wright Committee’s proposals is for all Back-Bench business and general debate to be determined by a Back-Bench Committee. The Government back that. If it were agreed, the right hon. Gentleman or other hon. Members would not be asking me why we had not had a day to debate international development, because it would be down to Back Benchers to decide when to have a defence day, an international development day or a Welsh day, and to determine the subjects of topical debates. Frankly, I look forward to the day when hon. Members can ask themselves rather than me why such a decision has been made. [Hon. Members: “And in the meantime?”] In the meantime, I use my good endeavours to draw on the will of the House and ensure that we get the debates right. The answer is: as soon as possible.
As for an election date, I shall not be announcing that as part of the business of the House.
Seventeen years ago this week “Groundhog Day” was released—a film in which, hon. Members may remember, the major character was destined to relive the same day until he got things right. I wonder whether there is any similarity to business questions, when we ask exactly the same questions each week, and the Leader of the House has not quite got it right yet.
I do not suppose that there is any point in repeating the question that the right hon. and learned Lady simply does not answer, about the date of the Budget. We had, quite properly, a debate on the pre-Budget report. May we now have a debate on the influential study that the Institute for Fiscal Studies issued yesterday—its so-called green Budget? It disagrees fundamentally with some of the Treasury’s rosy assumptions about the UK’s future. It says that long-term growth of 2.75 per cent., as forecast by the Government, is an absurd fantasy, that unemployment is likely to rise from 6 to 9 per cent. by 2015, and that the assumptions about Government revenue are entirely bogus. We should debate those assessments, which experts have made, so that we can gauge how deep a hole the country is in.
Every week we discuss the conduct of parliamentary business, and every week we are told that the Government are committed to reforming how Parliament works. In reply to the urgent question that preceded business questions, we heard just how committed the Government are to allowing Parliament a say in matters that are properly parliamentary business. We have just heard from the Leader of the House how she intends to approach the Wright Committee’s report. No one thinks that there is unanimity on the subject, but we would like the opportunity to debate and agree all, not just some, of the recommendations. She has yet to tell us even which recommendations she will allow us to discuss. Perhaps she would like to do that in the near future.
One of the main criticisms of the House is that we scrutinise Bills so badly. Yet we continue to do it badly. As of this morning, the Committee considering the Children, Schools and Families Bill has scrutinised only 14 of the 50 clauses in that important measure, and the Leader of the House has just announced its remaining stages. Today is its last day in Committee, so the other clauses will not be properly scrutinised. When will we do the job properly? If we will not do it properly, we must give the other place a chance to do it instead. Does she accept that many of the Bills before the House will get no further than Second Reading in another place before we enter the wash-up process, and that that is not the right way to scrutinise business?
We had some discussion of dodgy crime statistics this week. I do not approve of basing arguments on crime statistics that are not right, but let me give some genuine statistics. The retail crime survey suggests that retail crime cost the sector £1.1 billion this year—a 10 per cent. increase. That equates to 72,000 retail jobs. May we have a debate on retail crime so that we can ascertain whether there is anything that we as a Parliament can do to prevent such crime—and, ultimately, its cost to all of us as consumers?
The hon. Gentleman raised economic issues, following the report of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. No one could accuse the Chancellor of purveying rosy assumptions. He has always said that it was going to be a difficult time for the economy, and that it would begin to start recovering only at the turn of the year—as has happened. We have been encouraged by the fall in unemployment in the past two months, particularly as unemployment usually continues to rise after an economy begins to recover. In the 1990s recession under the Conservative Government, because of an absolute absence of labour market measures and help for the unemployed, unemployment carried on rising for three years after the economy had returned to growth. In the 1980s recession, unemployment continued to rise for five years after the economy had started recovering. We are encouraged by the improvement in employment, but we make no rosy assumptions.
We are not prepared to go along with cuts in public investment or taking money out of the economy, as proposed by the official Opposition, precisely because we regard the economy as still vulnerable. We will continue to support the economy and to support people who become unemployed to get back into work, and we have a clear plan for reducing the deficit by half in four years.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the amount, as a percentage of gross domestic product, that the Government spend on servicing the debt, which has been necessary to support the economy, is less than the amount that the Conservative Government spent annually on servicing debt in all their years of government, except two. If it comes to a question of whether the debt is affordable, I stress that we are spending less as a percentage of our national wealth on debt than the Tories spent in all but two years. I know that is not what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked, but I am sure that he is interested in the answer.
Worth sharing, anyway.
Yes. I am sure the hon. Gentleman wishes that he had asked that question.
I hope that hon. Members will accept my good faith on the Wright Committee report, because I do not do devious. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I am trying to assist the House. We will have a full day’s debate, when all the issues in the Wright report can be discussed. We will then consider a series of proposals. If there is no objection to them, they will go through and could be implemented. If there is an objection to them, they will come back to the House for decision, but we will not need to debate them all over again, because we will have done that. We will then get on with making decisions. At that point, the decision about what amendments are tabled will be in the hands of the House. We will cover the full range of the Wright Committee report. I sought to arrange things in the way that I outlined because with 646 Members, who all have a view, we could end up with propositions that would cancel each other out. I thought that it would be good to set a clear programme for approval on the first day we debate the report, and see whether we could get some things sorted and agreed, before getting into a position whereby a plethora of proposals, and more than a plethora of amendments, would be tabled, and we could end up with less than we might have achieved had we been able to proceed on the basis of a consensus, pulled together by me as Leader of the House. I hope that we can proceed by consensus.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned the Children, Schools and Families Bill Committee stage. He cannot have it both ways. Either there is rigid timetabling, which ensures that every bit of a Bill is scrutinised in Committee but leads to protests about timetabling, or there is no timetabling, the debate is front-loaded, and the Committee does not get to the end of the Bill. How that scrutiny is carried out is really in the hands of the Committee. We all want to make sure that there is good scrutiny on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report.
As for the crime statistics, we have to look to reduce crime across all areas, including both violent crime and acquisitive crime. One encouraging thing is that the fall in crime, both violent and acquisitive, has been so marked that it has not increased during the recession. I think that this is the first time that that has happened during a recession. Usually, a recession is accompanied by an increase in acquisitive crime. On this occasion, with the roll-out of neighbourhood policing, police community support officers and all the other crime prevention measures, we have not seen crime rising; indeed, it has continued to fall.
Order. Twenty-eight right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. If I am to accommodate everybody, as I would naturally wish to do, short questions and short answers will be required.
I am deeply honoured, Mr. Speaker, to be the first of those 28. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend shares my view that it is wrong that religious organisations should be able to discriminate against, for example, gay people or women who apply for non-religious posts in those organisations. She will also know that a Government amendment on that subject was defeated recently in the other place. Will she therefore take this opportunity to clarify for hon. Members whether she will reintroduce such an amendment when the Equality Bill returns to the Commons?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. The Government’s policy is clear and has not changed. Our view remains that religious organisations employing people should comply with the law that applies to all other employers, whether that is the requirement to have written contracts, pay sick pay or the minimum wage, or the requirement not to sack people unfairly or discriminate against them. However, our position has always been that for specifically religious work—as a vicar, priest, rabbi or imam—religious organisations would be exempt from non-discrimination law. A religious organisation cannot discriminate against gay people or women when it hires a bookkeeper, but it can when choosing a minister of religion.
The amendment that we proposed in the House of Lords did not intend to change that policy position. What it sought to do was make the distinction between religious and non-religious jobs clearer. The Lords did not regard our amendment as helpful. We will therefore leave the law as it is, and not bring the amendment back to this House. The law will remain as it was: in anti-discrimination law there is an exemption for religious jobs but not for non-religious jobs.
May we have a statement on Thameslink? It is recorded in Hansard that the Thameslink programme is now
“scheduled to be completed from…2016”
“key output 2…is scheduled to be delivered from 2016.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 48WH.]
That is a year’s slippage from the 2015 Thameslink project announced previously. Either the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) was not on top of his brief, or he made a statement in that Westminster Hall debate that the Thameslink programme was being slipped by a whole year.
Obviously, I try to keep on top of all the issues relating to all the train lines relating to all hon. Members, but I am not able to give the hon. Lady a very specific answer on this. If she had given me notice of her question, I might have been able to give her a more substantive answer, but as it is, I will ask the Minister to write to her.
Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen early-day motion 480, standing in my name and those of a number of other Members, with regard to the disgusting way in which Bestway Northern Ltd treats its employees?
[That this House expresses its extreme disapproval of Bestway Northern Limited, a business which seeks to treat its employees like serfs, which conducted a show-trial of two employees, constituents of the right hon. Member for Manchester Gorton, defamatorily accusing them of gross misconduct when their alleged offence was simply waiting for a decision on their immigration status by the UK Border Agency, which was entirely outside these two employees’ control; strongly objects that they have now been dismissed on the grounds stated by their director, Dawood Pervez, that these employees ‘are not permitted to work in the UK’, which is a lie, since the right hon. Member has in his possession a letter dated 4 December 2009 from the UK Border Agency confirming that these two men ‘will be allowed to continue with their employment in the United Kingdom, until a decision has been made on their outstanding appeals’; warns anyone seeking a job to steer clear of Bestway Northern Limited; and further warns possible customers and clients to have nothing to do with these duplicitous tyrants.]
The company staged a show trial of two of my constituents and found them guilty of gross misconduct when they had done nothing but wait for a decision by the Home Office. It sacked them despite the fact that I have a letter from the Home Office saying that they have the right to work until their appeals are heard. Is that not utterly disgusting, in the year 2010? Will my right hon. and learned Friend get the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to deal with those people?
There will be an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to raise issues of immigration law in Home Office questions next week. I know that he feels very strongly about this; he has spoken about that employer in business questions before.
Please may we have an urgent debate on the health protection of our citizens in this country, and the Government’s policy on that? Three years ago the Government decided—very wisely and quite rightly—to rebuild the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at Porton Down in my constituency. On Monday they told the 800-strong work force of distinguished international scientists, who protect this country against swine flu, ebola, green monkey disease, and emerging diseases and viruses—and who, incidentally, are involved in the response to terrorism—that instead of rebuilding the centre on site, they were going close it down and move the 800 jobs to Essex. That has caused huge distress locally, but of course it cannot be in the national interest at this particular moment, facing the threats we face, to disrupt the entire service on which we all so depend.
I can see that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about this matter on behalf of his constituents. If he had given me notice of his question, I could have given him a more substantive answer—and, I am sure, reassured him and his constituents. However, as it is, I will ask the Minister concerned to write to him.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in three short years, the participation age for education, training and work will increase to 17 years. We have not yet had a commission, or a serious debate in the House, on how we are going to provide for those many young people who will need training in the community or in environmental projects. May we have a debate very soon? Three years is not very long to prepare for that great change in our education system.
I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a substantive and important change. In terms of the process by which the House can engage with Ministers and scrutinise their proposals, perhaps he could raise the matter at Work and Pensions questions next week.
The already stretched postal services at Putney post office face massive disruption because the leaseholder now wants to redevelop the site. All that post office managers will tell me is that they are consulting their lawyers. May we have a debate to find out how much of the post office network is at risk because the Post Office is not actually in control of it?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to the hon. Lady.
May we have a debate on child protection procedures in England and Wales? I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend has seen the report published today by Bournemouth university, but it says that violent deaths of young children have decreased by 40 per cent. since 1974, meaning that they have decreased consistently under all Governments. Such a debate would serve to prevent people from coming to the House with outrageous claims about “broken Britain”, made on the back of the tragic deaths of young people, and it would give us an opportunity to focus on an important field of social care, celebrate some of the work that is being done, and find out where improvements can be made.
It is gratifying to see those figures coming down, but my hon. Friend and everybody in the House will agree that while even one child is at risk, we want to make sure that all the services work together to make sure that preventable abuse and death is avoided.
Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 798, in my name, on the use of ultrasonic Mosquito devices?
[That this House notes the growing use of ultrasonic Mosquito devices; agrees with the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Alan Aynsley-Green, that these are ultrasonic weapons designed to stop young people gathering, which are a powerful symbol of a deep malaise in British society and its views towards children; believes that their use in public places where children legitimately gather is wrong; and calls on the Government to urgently limit their use.]
Has she seen the comments of the Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who yesterday described the use of such devices as symbolic of a “deep malaise” in the UK and its attitudes towards children? Such devices are used on railway stations during the rush hour when young people are going to school or college, and outside shops where young mums, who cannot hear them, leave their children, who can hear them, in distress, so may we have, as a matter of urgency, a debate on the rights and protection of young people?
Order. I am very worried that we have already had that debate.
I think that that is an issue that would interest a number of hon. Members; perhaps it is something on which the hon. Gentleman can seek a debate in Westminster Hall.
On the subject of young people, the Leader of the House will remember coming to Leicester three years ago to open the nursery at the Peepul Centre, a £19 million project. Sadly, because of the economic situation, that millennium centre is facing financial problems. Will she arrange for a statement from the Department concerned, so that it knows what it can do to ensure that that wonderful nursery—which is called “Harriet’s nursery” locally—can stay open?
That is one nursery that we certainly do not want to see close. I am sure that reassurance can be given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, working alongside my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools. It might be a good idea for me to facilitate a meeting between the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), because I know that he is a great champion of children’s services in his constituency and has done much to ensure that support services for children and parents are much better than they were some years ago.
May I revert to the request that I made last week for a debate on Treasury interference in Ministry of Defence procurement? It is plain that the Prime Minister, when Chancellor, intervened so as to deny British forces the kit—in particular, helicopters—that they required. As a result, lives were lost. That was the evidence of Defence Secretaries and chiefs. We need to hear that evidence on the Floor of the House and call the Prime Minister to account.
As far as evidence to the Chilcot inquiry is concerned, it is given as far as possible in public, and only in private when that is in the interests of national security. The Chilcot inquiry has yet to report, but we will have a defence debate soon, perhaps next month, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman could raise those issues then.
May I continue with the clean-up agenda that seems to be prevalent this morning? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate on the damning report on the Ashcroft affair by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, which said that statements by senior politicians about Lord Ashcroft’s undertaking were “evasive and obfuscatory”. The impact of certain actions by that individual, especially as we are in the run-up to an election, need scrutiny and a debate in this House. I hope that she will make time for such a debate.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. This is now in the hands of the Information Commissioner, who has said that this information should be made public. It is in the public interest because before Lord Ashcroft was able to take his seat in the House of Lords, undertakings were given in relation to his tax affairs. The question is whether those undertakings have been met. Has he done what he promised in terms of paying tax in this country and putting his tax affairs on a proper footing? There has never been a definitive statement from him on that point, and when the Opposition have been asked they have simply given a formulaic code, which has not revealed the situation in its true light. The Information Commissioner has said that that information must be put into the open so that everybody can be sure that Lord Ashcroft has complied with the undertakings he gave in order to get into the House of Lords.
May we have a debate on food security, an issue that is rising up the political agenda? Bearing in mind that scientific evidence points to the world entering a 30-year cooling period—[Interruption.] This is true. However, to my knowledge, no assessment has been made of the effect of global cooling on agricultural output. This is an important and serious issue, and the House should have an opportunity to debate it.
We have just had Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, and DEFRA has just produced an unprecedented report called “Food 2030”, which deals centrally with the question of food security, including against a background of global warming.
I will not ask the Leader of the House to alter her arrangements for the debates next week or call for an early debate, but does she agree that this Parliament is sorry that the sad story of expenses has brought it into disrepute? Does she agree that with the 62 recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly, the publication today of the Legg review and five years of allowances, and the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which creates a new body to look at our expenses, the Government and Parliament have gone some way towards restoring public trust and confidence in this Parliament?
Yes, I believe that they have. We are in no doubt that the whole issue of expenses has damaged the reputation of the House, and public trust and confidence in Parliament. We are in no doubt that action needed to be taken, and it has. Everything to do with expenses is now fully out in the open and published. The current expenses system has been cut right back, and in future all expenses will be set and administered independently. On the basis of today’s report, it is now clear which Members need to pay back and how much. Obviously, we expect all Members to make arrangements to repay and it is clear from the report that most already have. In any event, I will bring to the House a resolution to authorise the recovery from Members’ salary or allowances of any amount outstanding after 22 February. All repayments will have had to be made—or firm arrangements to do so entered into—otherwise the recovery process will start after that date. The public can be confident that everything that should be paid back will be paid back, and I agree that today is an important step on the path to restoring public trust and confidence.
I am sure that all hon. Members welcome that statement by the Leader of the House. May I ask her for another statement about participation in important debates and statements by the respective parties—and I do not mean just in Divisions? As a shadow Defence Minister, I have noticed that defence debates include plenty of Government and Opposition speakers, but no Liberal Democrats. Yesterday, in an important defence statement, only a single Liberal Democrat Back Bencher asked a question. What is going on, and should not people be getting better value for money from the Liberal Democrats?
We are strongly committed to our armed forces and ensuring that their mission is clear, the numbers on the ground are sufficient, and that they have the kit and—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) asked the question: he should listen to the answer.
I suspect that this is one of those occasions when the hon. Gentleman feels that the question was rather more important than the answer. However, I shall press on with my answer. The Government remain strongly committed to our defence forces, but the question of Liberal Democrat contributions to the issue is a matter for them.
May we have a debate on the valuable work carried out by the vast majority of Members? That work has been undermined by the recent comments by the Leader of the Opposition comparing Members of Parliament to ciphers. That may be his view of his Back Benchers, but I am sure that it is not my right hon. and learned Friend’s view of the Benches she has the pleasure of leading.
If that is indeed what the Leader of the Opposition said, it is a shame and I do not agree with him. However much I disagree with hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, I would not call them ciphers. It is for each and every one of us who is elected by constituents to come to this House to represent them, either in government or holding the Government to account, and it is up to all of us to do our work properly and support the work that the House does. Denigration of the House of Commons for party-political purposes is not the way to restore public trust and confidence in this institution.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 626?
[That this House notes that the report of the National Audit Office (NAO) on dementia services found that there has not been a robust approach to implementation of the National Dementia Strategy; is concerned that the NAO concludes that the strategy has not been given the levers or urgency necessary; further notes that there is a lack of joined-up, well-informed commissioning necessary to redirect the resources needed to pay for new dementia services; regrets the lack of progress on basic training of healthcare professionals; and calls on the Government to put in place urgently the mechanisms needed to bring about the large-scale transformation of dementia services that are desperately needed.]
Yesterday a report was published by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust that found that more than 820,000 people in this country are afflicted by dementia, with countless families also affected, and that the cost to the UK economy is now £23 billion a year. There is a compelling case for investment by both charities and the Government in dementia: may we have an early debate on that case to see when the Government will make this a national priority?
We make time for debate on dementia, and services and support for the elderly, but I agree that we need to ensure that we put this specific issue on the agenda for debate. Dementia is one of the greatest challenges facing our society, and we fully recognise the importance of dementia research. By 2011, we will be investing more than ever—nearly £1.7 billion—in health research. We have received the report from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and will consider its findings, and of course a year ago we launched the first ever national dementia strategy, implementation of which is underway.
Given that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health refuses to answer my questions on Bolton primary care trust, when can the House have a debate on the accountability of PCTs?
Obviously, PCTs operate within a national framework, but within that framework they are supposed to be accountable to local people to deliver high-quality and improving local health services. Perhaps I can suggest that I will arrange a meeting between a Health Minister, my hon. Friend and the chair and chief executive of the PCT. Nobody should be so dissatisfied with a situation that means that they cannot get the answers they need to questions about important PCT services for constituents. He has raised an issue about which he obviously feels strongly, and I think that we need to set up a meeting to sort it out.
With regard to what the Leader of the House said earlier about the Equality Bill, she will know that concern was expressed in the other place that her amendments were so tightly drawn that they could have encompassed even the Archbishop of York, because he spends a lot of his time working in the community, not just proclaiming the liturgy. Being positive, and now that the Government are not overturning their defeats, can we take it that the Government now accept the principle that the Churches must be allowed to regulate their own clergy according to their own conscience?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. We never sought to, or indeed even unintentionally, propose non-discrimination laws covering bishops, rabbis, archbishops or priests. In the 2003 non-discrimination employment regulations, we explicitly allowed for an exemption for those involved in religious ministry, so I am sorry that he has taken the opportunity to spread a misapprehension. There was never an intention—and nor is there an intention—to apply the provisions to those involved in religious ministry. However, if a church, synagogue or mosque is hiring a cleaner, bookkeeper or finance officer, it will have to comply with the normal, non-discrimination provisions of employment, like all others. I hope that, instead of spreading misapprehension, he will reassure those who raised that concern with him that it never was the Government’s intention to make that change. The amendment simply clarified the difference between a religious and non-religious job, and whatever the criticisms of the drafting, which I do not accept, nobody could think that it would say that being Archbishop of Canterbury was not a religious job.
My right hon. and learned Friend will want to hear about the good work of the Royal British Legion in Chorley, which raised more than £23,000 in the poppy appeal there. However, will she now give time to have a discussion on the Royal British Legion manifesto? This is important. We are coming up to an election, and I think that it would be a worthy topical debate.
I congratulate the Royal British Legion in Chorley, which is an organisation that my hon. Friend, as a Member of Parliament, strongly supports, and I will look for an opportunity to raise issues involving the Royal British Legion.
I shall not be back on 12 May, so will the Leader of the House do me a favour and give me an assurance that, as part of the debate on the reform of the House of Commons, she will negotiate with the Opposition parties about introducing a procedure preventing major parts of legislation from going from this House to the House of Lords without being debated here? That would be one way in which to restore people’s confidence in the House and its responsibilities.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should ask his Front-Bench colleagues whether they actually want those sorts of issues dealt with in the way that the Wright Committee suggests. We have to ensure that the Government, having produced a manifesto and been elected on the basis of promises made in it, can get their business through. Obviously, everyone wants provisions to be properly debated, and that depends also on everybody in the House ensuring that they limit their speeches and stick to the point, and then the business of scrutiny can be got through.
Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to provide for a debate on recognising the achievements of military men and women and on the support that they can expect on leaving Her Majesty’s armed forces? Such a debate would allow me to mention Michael Lyons of the New Addington Royal British Legion, who has campaigned for repairing school memorials, and for seeking out and securing the repair of the gravestones of servicemen who won the Victoria cross. I would also like to emphasise the great flexibility of Mayday hospital and the NHS in working to provide a centre for returning soldiers suffering from combat stress.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), the hon. Gentleman strongly supports his local Royal British Legion, and I commend the work that he has told the House about and which Mr. Lyons is doing in his constituency. Obviously, those in the armed forces regard their work as very rewarding, but we all recognise that it requires selfless duty and places many restrictions on the lives not only of our service personnel, which they willingly accept, but of their families. As he will know, the Ministry of Defence has produced a Command Paper setting out our commitment to our armed forces, their families and veterans. That is a cross-Government initiative. Furthermore, he mentioned stress and mental health issues. There are six ongoing mental health pilots within the NHS and throughout the country, and they will continue and be evaluated.
We understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to make an announcement just before the half-term recess about his decision on which unitary authorities can be established in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon. May I urge upon the Leader of the House that a written statement at that stage is totally unacceptable? The Secretary of State should come to the House and explain it in an oral statement. Colleagues on both sides of the House feel strongly about the matter, and as she is probably aware, there has been a series of judicial challenges to the decisions made so far.
Obviously accountability on such issues is very important, whether through written or oral statements. I shall undertake the hon. Gentleman’s request to discuss the matter with the Secretary of State and make absolutely sure that the right level of accountability will operate.
Given that the right hon. and learned Lady clearly believes in its continued importance and relevance in today’s world, may we have a debate in Government time on papal infallibility?
That is not a matter for the House. What are matters for the House are public policy and legislative scrutiny, and what is a matter for the Government is to ensure that, although we respect the fact that some areas of religion must be subject to the control and decisions of those religions, for the rest, religious organisations, like everyone else, obey the law.
If the Prime Minister is advocating a referendum on changing the voting system to the House, why is he going to restrict the public to two narrow choices? Why not put all options on the table, including the single transferable vote, and let the people decide? May we have a full debate?
I think that there will be a debate on day six of the Committee stage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, when the relevant amendments will come before the House.
The Leader of the House was very helpful a few weeks ago when I asked about Indians having temporary work permits to work in the Avon and Somerset police authority. She sensibly suggested that I ask parliamentary questions, which I did, but I was told that the information would be too expensive to get. On the back of the security implications of people’s data being seen by foreign nationals, may we have Government time to discuss what is an important issue not just in Avon and Somerset, but—I am told—across the United Kingdom?
I will follow up the hon. Gentleman’s point. What is presumably being said is that providing the answer to the questions would incur disproportionate cost, but there is also an issue about the proportionate importance of these matters, so I will look at the questions and see whether we can assist him in getting them answered.
I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer a named day question about net contributions to the EU over the past three years. I got a holding answer, and I then got a rather bizarre answer addressed to the right hon. Member for Wellingborough. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] More importantly, it did not answer my question; it simply referred to a footnote in a table, so nobody could actually see the answer. Will the Deputy Prime Minister, who does not do devious, summon the Chancellor to her office, discipline him, and report back next week that she has done so?
Sometimes, the Treasury has to do complicated, and I think that that might be what has happened in this case. However, I think that referring hon. Members to footnotes that refer to other footnotes, which refer to tables in documents that are not readily to hand, is not the way to provide full and open accountability. I know that the Treasury wants to be fully and openly accountable about this country’s contributions to Europe, against the background that working with Europe is important in regard not only to security and climate change but to the economy. I will therefore ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a full answer.
May I be straightforward and understandable? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on the loss of national identity? In the week in which the Townswomen’s Guild published the results of a survey of its 34,000 members which showed that over 95 per cent. were concerned that Britain was losing its national identity as a result of the scale of mass immigration that the country is currently having to put up with, it is important that politicians in this place should be seen to be discussing the issue.
Indeed. Those same points were made against the background of Irish immigration. They were also made in respect of Jewish immigration, and of those immigrants who came here from the Caribbean, particularly to work on London transport and in our health services. This country has great traditions from those who have been here for generations, and it has become great on the back of the work of many successive waves of immigrants over the centuries and in the past decades. It is important to ensure that we recognise the contributions of immigrants, and that we have a fair society in which everyone feels that they get a fair crack of the whip.
I want to take the Leader of the House back to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about terrorist asset freezing. Given that the Government had ample warning of the potential loophole in the law but took no steps to plug it, and given the amount of time that will have elapsed before it is eventually plugged, how much money belonging to terrorists or terrorist organisations does she think will be left in the country to be captured by the retrospective legislation that she is introducing next week?
Obviously, work was under way in the Treasury to ensure that contingency plans would be in place to bring forward arrangements, should the Court not allow a stay of execution of its judgment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would have been odd for the Government to introduce legislative provisions to deal with a situation that had not yet been decided on in the Supreme Court. Planning and preparation have been under way, and now that the Court has made its decision, which it did yesterday, we have told the House how we are going to deal with this matter. We are going to publish to the House the specific provisions; we are going to publish the Bill tomorrow, and on Monday it will complete all its stages in this House. It will be clear that it will be retrospective. The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is none.