The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 15 March—General debate on defence in the world.
Tuesday 16 March—Opposition Day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “The Government’s Handling of Equitable Life”, followed by a debate on access to higher education. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 17 March—Second Reading of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords].
Thursday 18 March—General debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee (annual report).
Friday 19 March—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 22 March will include:
Monday 22 March—A motion to approve three statutory instruments relating to Northern Ireland devolution, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Child and Poverty Bill.
Tuesday 23 March—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 24 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
Thursday 25 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Friday 26 March—The House will not be sitting.
The House is grateful for next week’s business.
May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on his assertion at Question Time yesterday? He said that under this Government
“the defence budget has been rising every year.”—[Official Report, 10 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 291.]
That is a claim the Prime Minister made repeatedly at the Chilcot inquiry last Friday, but as he should know, spending on the Ministry of Defence was in fact cut in real terms between 2003-04 and 2004-05. The Leader of the House will know that the ministerial code requires Ministers to correct
“any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”
Given that the Prime Minister is at risk of inadvertently misleading Parliament, when will he put the record straight?
May we have a debate on the failures of the system of serious case reviews into child abuse? We all assumed when we read of the Fritzl case in Austria that it could never happen in Britain, but it has, despite the involvement of 100 social workers from more than 28 different agencies. It was a particularly horrifying situation and it is right that we do everything we can to protect the privacy of the victim and their families. However, as Professor Cantrill poignantly noted yesterday, every time a horrific case of child abuse leads to a serious case review the authorities pledge to learn from their mistakes, but we never seem to. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that we need to debate the wider implications of publishing serious case reviews and, indeed, learning the lessons from them?
May I again press the Leader of the House on the mystery surrounding the debate on overseas aid? I have raised it several times but never had an adequate answer. We were supposed to have had that annual debate in November, but it was cancelled. It was rescheduled for February but pulled at the last minute, and now it looks as though we may not get it before Dissolution. It is an important debate, particularly given our involvement in Haiti, and I would not want anyone to get the impression that the Secretary of State for International Development is too busy strategising the election to fulfil his ministerial duties to the House.
Turning to the Wright Committee, may I welcome the enormous progress that the House made last Thursday, particularly in persuading the Government to get the Back-Bench business committee up and running by the beginning of the next Parliament as I had originally hoped? Swift work has been done on turning the resolutions into draft Standing Orders, but, as we heard in relation to Question 21, there is now some issue as to whether the resolutions on the Order Paper will have the support of the Government. Will the right hon. and learned Lady give a commitment that this issue will be debated and resolved before we rise for the Easter recess?
When will we complete the truncated debate on the Procedure Committee’s report into the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers? The right hon. and learned Lady will recognise the sense of dissatisfaction felt across the House about the way in which this matter has been handled. She tabled all the relevant resolutions and remaining orders, but although some were debated, others seem to have got stuck on the Order Paper. The Procedure Committee has asked for a decision to be made, but the Government are standing in the way. Is that not symptomatic of the old way of doing business that the House rejected last Thursday?
Now that we know the date of the Budget, will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that we will have the usual four days of debate thereafter? Finally, given that it was the Prime Minister who chose to announce the date of the Budget, can I now assume that it will be the Prime Minister who will give us the date of the Easter recess? That is a bit of information that I have been seeking in vain from the right hon. and learned Lady since last October.
The Prime Minister gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry last Friday, he answered questions about defence spending in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, and there will be a defence debate on Monday. I strongly refute any suggestion or implication from the shadow Leader of the House that the Prime Minister has in any way misled the House or, indeed, anyone else. He has been absolutely forthright about the defence budget and about this Government’s long-standing and strong commitment to ensuring that our defence forces have the resources they need. They have the full backing of the Government and, indeed, the British people.
As far as serious case reviews are concerned, we publish the findings of such reviews so that lessons can be learned. The serious case review process was itself reviewed in 2006, and I do not remember the Opposition coming forward at that time with any suggestion that background information to such reviews and their conclusions should be published. The important thing is that the findings are published, which indeed they are in what is described as the executive summary, as well as the lessons that have to be learned. I think that we all share the absolute horror about the recent case. The lessons have been published and the Government have accepted the need to act on, and they are acting on, the issues that have arisen out of that case.
On overseas aid, the Government feel very committed to and proud of our record. Before we came into government, there was no Department for International Development. We now have DFID and we have doubled our aid budget, so we are strongly committed to overseas aid, to keeping the House informed of the Government’s work on international development and to listening to Members’ concerns. There is obviously an opportunity to raise questions with the Secretary of State and Ministers in DFID questions, and there have been numerous statements. I have not been able to announce a debate on overseas aid within the next two weeks, but the shadow Leader of the House will see that there is a general debate on defence. However, there will be the usual opportunity to raise issues of international development in the debate following the Budget statement.
As far as the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, the Wright Committee, is concerned, as my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said in answer to an earlier question, we should all be gratified with the progress that was made last week. We have agreed a major programme of reforms—the election of Select Committees Chairs by secret ballot, the election of Deputy Speakers by secret ballot, the election of Select Committee members, the ability of private Members to table motions that can be debated and voted on, and a new way of deciding the business of the House, whereby it will not be done by the Leader of the House at the Dispatch Box after a process of private discussions among the usual channels, but by a Committee of the whole House.
As my hon. Friend said, it is gratifying that there were very big majorities in the House last week to resolve this matter and move forward. We have the resolutions of the House. My task now is to make sure that the House is given an opportunity to endorse the Standing Orders that will give effect to them. My mandate is the will of the House as expressed in the resolutions. We need Standing Orders to give effect to them—nothing less. There is no suggestion that we should try to do anything less than what the House agreed to in the resolutions, because that would not be right.
It is helpful that a resolution has been tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and others. We have that as a basis, and we will see whether the advice to us is that it is in exact compliance and that it does no less—but probably no more—than the resolutions of the House. Whether or not that is the case, I can assure the House that we will bring forward the Standing Orders, and there will be an opportunity for the House to endorse them before the next election.
The problem of course is that there are not many days left now to do these things. I am waiting in particular for the motion to dissolve Parliament. I have asked for it for the last two weeks and got no reply. I hope that the motion will be tabled very soon now.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Lady answered the point raised by the shadow Leader of the House about whether there would be four days for the Budget debate. I hope that we will have four full days, because no one would want to suggest that the Government are attempting to cut and run after the Budget. Let us have four days, therefore, with one devoted to the position of manufacturing industry. This week’s trade figures were absolutely disastrous, especially given the weakness of sterling. That ought to be a boost to exports and manufacturing industry, but in fact we are seeing the reverse, so may we have a debate on that?
A fund-raising appeal was launched this morning at Clarence house for veterans suffering from combat stress. This is a very important issue, and I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel very strongly about it. May we have a statement from the Ministry of Defence about the arrangements for mental health facilities for those who have fought in wars on our behalf? Their symptoms often express themselves a long time after the episodes in which they were involved. We must make sure that we make proper provision for our veterans.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when she expects to have the Second Reading of the Digital Economy Bill? That very controversial Bill was introduced into another place in November last year. It has had three months of detailed scrutiny and it completes its proceedings there next week. We must surely give that Bill at least a Second Reading here before dissolution. Will the right hon. and learned Lady tell us when?
May we have a brief debate on nuclear power? Planning permissions are being forced through by the new procedures, on the assumption that nuclear is the right answer for our energy needs. Many people feel that it is not, and we should establish a commission to look at these matters in depth.
My last point would warm the heart of the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), if he were in the Chamber. May we have a debate on jargon? I notice that the Local Government Association this week issued a book on banned jargon, saying that the public sector
“should not hide behind impenetrable jargon and phrases”.
One of the key exhibits in the book is the word “wellderly”, which I believe was coined by the right hon. and learned Lady. It is now banned from use in local government, so may we have a debate on the use of jargon?
Further to the assurance that I gave to the shadow Leader of the House that the House will be given an opportunity to make a decision on the Standing Orders giving effect to the resolutions following the House’s decisions on the Wright Committee recommendations, because we will simply be giving effect to decisions that the House has made already, it should be possible to deal with those Standing Orders as part of the remaining orders of the day. Pursuant to what was raised earlier, however, I will obviously have to make sure that everybody agrees that the Standing Orders give effect as the House intended; I shall send drafts to everybody who has shown interest in the issue so that people can look at the Standing Orders, which will run to a number of pages. We simply want to get the science right. The House’s position is clear. I am committed to getting the Standing Orders that give effect to the House’s decision, and it ought to be possible for that to be done as part of remaining orders of the day.
As far as the days for Budget debate are concerned, I have announced the business for next week and the provisional business for the week after. Of course, there is no attempt to curtail any debate on the economic situation, on our determination to secure the recovery rather than putting it at risk, on making sure that we protect front-line services rather than cut them, as the Conservatives would, and on making sure that we have a fair tax system rather than an unfair one that would help a few people at the top, which is the Tories’ proposal.
We look forward to having good debates that focus on all those issues, as well as the important issue of manufacturing in this country. Obviously, it is important that we support that, including through tax relief for business investment, which we want to keep going. We want to work to support not only manufacturing in this country but the expansion of the global economy. We are a trading nation and need to make sure that we work internationally, particularly with our partners in Europe, with whom most of our trade is, to ensure that there is growth across Europe. That will help our trade position.
As far as veterans are concerned, I completely agree with what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said about combat stress. We have already given priority in primary care to veterans, but there is a whole range of other things that need to be addressed. We shall have an opportunity to revisit those important issues in the defence debate next Monday.
As far as nuclear power is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will have been involved in and seen the statements about our wanting energy independence and a balanced energy policy. He will be familiar with the proceedings on the Energy Bill, which has been through the House recently. He will also know about the framework laid out by the Planning Act 2008. It allows for national policy statements and then for the issues to be looked at locally. We now have a much better framework for making sure that we have energy independence while reducing our carbon emissions.
As far as jargon is concerned, the hon. Gentleman brings me extremely bad news: the word “wellderly” had hardly got off the ground before being banned. I thought I was supposed to be the person who bans things all the time, but now I discover that I am the victim of an unfair banning order. The point about the wellderly is that we rightly spend a lot of time in the House talking about frail elderly people and our national care service that is needed to support people in their own homes and to ensure that people can have residential care if they need it. However, we need to recognise that most elderly people are fit, well and active. They contribute to their families, often go out to work and play a big part in the community. They are the well elderly—the wellderly. That is one banning order that I am not submitting to.
Order. At least 24 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement to follow, as well as a topical debate and an important Second Reading debate, of interest notably, but not exclusively, to Northern Irish Members. There is much business to accomplish, so short questions and answers are required.
May we have a debate about the role and independence of the excellent researchers in the House of Commons Library? This week, the shadow Home Secretary, who is a serial reoffender when it comes to dodgy crime statistics, embroiled the Library in controversy by quoting selectively from research. Would it not be better if, when using research from the House of Commons Library, all of us undertook to publish all that research, rather than selectively quoting for political advantage?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who played a very big part in getting crime down in this country. As she says, the British crime survey, which is the best survey because it does not depend on reporting vagaries, shows that all crime—particularly violent crime—has gone down over the past 10 years.
May I repeat to the Leader of the House the question about when we can expect the Second Reading of the Digital Economy Bill? Does she accept that it is a substantial, complex and controversial piece of legislation, and that it would be deeply unsatisfactory if the House were not able to give it proper scrutiny?
As some form of peace process starts again in the middle east, my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that 1.5 million Palestinians remain trapped, blockaded and increasingly destitute in Gaza. Will she find time in the course of the next two weeks or before Dissolution for the House to debate that continuing atrocity?
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the Opposition held a debate about the deeply unpopular plans for unitary councils in Norwich and Exeter, and literally the next day, on Wednesday, the statutory instruments to bring the plans into force were withdrawn. That is a complete shambles, and residents in those communities need to know where they stand, so may we have a statement about what on earth is going on with the Government’s plans?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider holding a general debate on the Floor of the House about the training opportunities that have been presented to young people? Under this Administration we have seen a fantastic rise in the number of apprenticeship programmes, in stark contrast to the Opposition’s days in government, so I really would like the opportunity for a general debate to ensure that the benefits associated with those programmes are fully understood by all.
I hope that my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members will find an opportunity in the Budget debate to raise the issues of protecting young people from the scarring effects that people suffered in previous recessions and of ensuring that they have a good part to play in a prosperous future. The guarantee that no person under 24 years old will have to go any longer than six months before they obtain a job and training is very important, as is the future jobs fund. I know that my hon. Friend is strongly committed to that measure, which is important in her constituency and her region, and I hope that it will be raised in the Budget debate.
May we have a debate about community health services and the undue haste with which the Government are attempting to force through changes before the general election? Milton Keynes council has been given just 12 days to decide whether it wishes to be a provider. Given the impact of the changes on vulnerable people in my constituency, why are we forcing them through so quickly? They are complex issues, so can we not have more time?
Dover Harbour Board’s plans to sell off the port of Dover to the highest bidder have been thrown into chaos and confusion this morning, following the announcement by P&O and the other major port operators that the board may have been misappropriating revenue funds, and that T2, the new terminal, might not go ahead. Will the Leader of the House consider an urgent debate about the issue so that we can look at the most inappropriate and improper present and past actions of the port of Dover, which only last year laid off 200 workers and privatised their jobs?
I know that my hon. Friend, as a real champion of his constituents and, particularly, the Dover port and all the people who work there and whose jobs depend on it, has close contact with the relevant Ministers, but I shall ensure that I, too, draw the issue to their attention. Perhaps they could have a meeting with him at this particularly important point.
The Leader of the House missed an excellent 30-minute debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, which was called by her hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), about the Royal Bank of Scotland’s lending practices. Attendance was good for a short debate, and that is clear evidence of the need for a bigger debate in this Chamber, so that Members can question Treasury Ministers about how those banks, for which we have paid, can be made to work for our communities and constituents.
One reason why we ensured that we had lending agreements with banks was that it was very important for banks to lend out into the economy, to individuals for mortgages and to businesses. More money is being lent. The reason why the overall lending figures appear to be lower is that more money is being paid back, so the net lending figure is smaller than the gross lending figure. That is a good sign, and it has come about because interest rates are still low. However, we keep a hawk eye on the lending practices of the banks. They are there not to pay bonuses to the fat cats at the top, but to lend out to businesses and the housing market, which need finance.
When the debate takes place next Thursday about the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee, will my right hon. and learned Friend try to persuade whoever is the Minister to give us information arising from the speech of the former director-general of MI5? When was any protest made to the United States about the torture carried out by that country? When did MI5 officers know? Although I may be the only Member interested in the subject, I believe it crucial that Members of Parliament know precisely what went on, bearing in mind the speech made by the former director-general of that organisation.
The sentiments that my hon. Friend raises are shared by many hon. Members. All of us are concerned and, rightly, the Government’s position is that we totally abhor the use of torture. We would never condone or support its use by our security services, and we would never condone or support its use by anybody else. The very points that my hon. Friend makes were raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday, and the Prime Minister answered them.
May we have an early debate about the role, performance and policies of the Driving Standards Agency? It has already closed more than 60 local test centres, and another 45 closures are in the pipeline. May I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1002 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main)?
[That this House notes that, following the introduction of a new motorcycle test on 27 April 2009, Driving Standards Agency figures show that 50,000 fewer people took the motorcycle test in the period to 31 January 2010 than in the same period in 2008; further notes that 45 learners crashed attempting the new test during its first nine weeks, resulting in 12 hospitalisations; further notes that the majority of crashes occurred during the new swerve and stop exercise, which has been combined into one exercise in Module One of the new test; further notes that this is not obligatory under the European directive which prompted the introduction of the new test; further notes that the new test has resulted in a reduction in test centres, requiring longer journeys for inexperienced riders to access test facilities; is concerned that inaction to tackle this lack of test centres and combined swerve and stop exercise could lead to a decline in the overall number of motorcyclists and the motorcycle industry as a whole; congratulates Motorcycle News and the Motorcycle Action Group on their campaign to have these issues addressed; and calls on the Government to consider separating the two elements of the swerve and stop exercise and to investigate how the availability of test centres could be addressed.]
The policy of closing local test centres is putting hundreds of thousands of extra car miles on the road, and the new centres that are down for motorcycle testing are costing a fortune.
All hon. Members will hope for the very speedy return of the young lad of five who has been abducted in Pakistan. My hon. Friend has long campaigned for the safety of children in her constituency who were born abroad, and I shall consider the relevant Minister with whom to raise that issue.
Representatives of the care home industry have told me of the regulatory difficulties that they face, which get in the way of prioritising care for those people who, in the words of the Leader of the House, are not wellderly. Those representatives criticise the Government and say that they could do more to help. In the light of that, and because of the debate about the future care of those non-wellderly people, will the Leader of the House, as a priority, bring the matter forward for a debate before the general election?
It is very important that we have really tough regulation for private residential care homes. I can remember when there was almost no regulation at all, and we had to bring it in to protect people. There were protests from Conservatives, saying that it was red tape, but protecting vulnerable people in residential care is an absolute priority and we want to ensure that the regulations do that proportionately and effectively.
May I reinforce the concerns of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), about the Digital Economy Bill? It contains fiendishly complex copyright infringement measures that will have lasting repercussions, and I cannot be the only hon. Member who is concerned that to deal with it in a wash-up would be bad form at best.
I know that my hon. Friend has put a lot of effort into, and is extremely knowledgeable about, all these issues. We want to ensure that we have fast-speed broadband in all parts of the country that can be accessed by business and individuals, and that we have a modernised copyright system. I will report his views to the Ministers responsible.
Can the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister opens Monday’s defence debate from the Dispatch Box? It is now quite plain that the Government committed British forces to two wars without adequate funding. As a result, necessary equipment was lacking, particularly helicopters, armed vehicles, bomb detection kits and body armour. As a consequence of that lack, service personnel have died. The Prime Minister has a responsibility for that and needs to be brought to book in that debate.
The Prime Minister gave evidence to Chilcot last week. He answers questions every week in the House of Commons. He is strongly committed to supporting the armed forces, and always has been. There will be a defence debate on Monday, and it will be opened by the Minister who is assigned by the Government to do that.
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, as will my right hon. and learned Friend, of the excellent event that took place a few months ago when we invited youths from all over the country to come and sit in this place. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore accommodate some of our elderly folk to enable them to come here and organise a similar event in this House, so that we can get the views of some of our “wellderly” people on the issues that matter to them?
We could take further the very good precedent that was set by the UK Youth Parliament when, at a time when this House was not sitting, we allowed it to be here. All the Benches were absolutely packed, with half young men and half young women, and a great many wheelchair users; it was ethnically diverse and it was a fantastic debate. I think that we could do more of that. Perhaps the next thing that we could do would be to have the National Pensioners Convention here, with pensioners and retired people from all over the country coming to sit and debate and have their voices heard in this Parliament. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this; it is an exceptionally good idea, and I sense a great deal of support for it.
May we have an early debate on the inadequacies of the UK Border Agency? Last week, one of my constituents complained to the agency; he was effectively doing a whistleblowing job on some illegal immigrants—people who had overstayed and were working illegally. He had an appointment with the agency that was then cancelled, and it said that it was indifferent to his concerns. Surely this is thoroughly unsatisfactory. People should be encouraged to blow the whistle on illegal immigrants, rather than not.
Yes, I think that people should be encouraged to give information if they think that illegal activity is going on. I ask the hon. Gentleman to write to the relevant Minister. I will draw his comments to the attention of the Minister so that we can ensure that they are looked into. If he will provide the information, it is not too late for the matter to be taken up. Nobody wants information that is given by people in good faith not to be acted on.
Hypocrisy—the “do as I say, not as I do” approach—annoys the electorate. Covered bicycle racks in the courtyard outside the Members’ Cloakroom have been removed and replaced with parking for Ministers’ cars. All winter, Ministers’ lovely hybrid cars have frequently been parked in the courtyard outside your house, Mr. Speaker, with their petrol engines running, presumably to keep the chauffeurs warm. May I make my annual plea to the Leader of the House for the provision of a warm room in which chauffeurs can wait, to avoid these unnecessary CO2 emissions?
Does the Leader of the House accept that it makes complete nonsense of the role and responsibilities of this House for large tranches of important public Bills to go through to the other House without being adequately debated in this House? Does she further accept that one way to stop this stupid practice is to change Standing Orders to prevent guillotines—programme motions—on the remaining stages of legislation in this House?
The hon. Gentleman is very concerned about this, but his concerns have been addressed. He has been part of the argument that there should be a House business committee that can deal with some of these issues. In the next Parliament, which he will not be in, these matters will be done differently, and I hope that the situation will be improved.
May we have an early debate on the issue of hospital waiting lists, so that we can examine why waiting times have been reduced from more than 18 months in 1997 to less than 18 weeks today? It is particularly important to examine what we could do to bring waiting lists down further.
My hon. Friend looks back at the situation that there used to be in relation to hospital waiting lists. We should always remember that setting a target for bringing down hospital waiting lists has really made a difference. The Opposition decried targets; they may well have felt that if their constituents needed to get an operation, they should simply pay to go private. I can remember my constituents literally weeping in my advice surgeries when they had been told that they would have to wait two years for a hip replacement. This Labour Government’s targets mean that people do not have to borrow money from relatives who cannot afford it in order to go private or else have to wait in pain for months and years. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that massive progress has made. We are going to bring in further guarantees so that, for example, people will have to wait only a week before they get referred to a cancer specialist. These issues, too, can be debated in the Budget debates, because they include questions of resourcing.
May I refer the Leader of the House to motion 61 on today’s Order Paper and take her back to the Wright Committee debates that we had a few days ago? During those exchanges, she agreed with me that there was a need for the Back-Bench business committee to protect the interests of minority parties as well. May I respectfully ask her to ensure that the Standing Orders that are produced will reflect the need to protect minority party interests, as well as those of everybody else?
I will ensure that I send the hon. Gentleman a draft of the Standing Orders before they are tabled in front of the House. We obviously want to ensure that the main parties in the House have their say, but it is very important not to overlook the smaller parties and the independents.
Keeping children safe in an increasingly complex digital world is an issue that should be high on our agenda in this House. I recently held a meeting with Microsoft and CEOP—Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—ambassadors from South Wales police for parents from across my constituency. Should not this House be debating how we can ensure that Facebook uses the CEOP alert so that children who are afraid or fear that they are being targeted can highlight their concerns directly to CEOP? They are currently unable to do so, and are therefore placed at risk.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I think that this is the view of Ministers as well, not least the Home Secretary, and action is being taken in this respect. The technology is changing all the time. Compared with just a few years ago, communication among young people has been transformed. We cannot have public policy, or the policy of those in the industry, lagging behind if that means that in the meantime children are at risk. We need swift action on this, and we need to keep it closely under review all the time so that as the technology and methods of communication change, we ensure that protection keeps up to date.
For the past seven years, I have been trying to establish how Cheryl James, the daughter of Des and Doreen James, died at Deepcut Army barracks in 1995. So far, my efforts have basically failed. I failed to get disclosure of key facts and reports, and there has been a persistent culture of secrecy and obfuscation. I believe that that is because those facts show that she was murdered. May we have a debate before this Parliament ends to disclose those facts and establish whether I am right or wrong?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seeks to intervene in the defence debate on that point. In advance of that debate, perhaps he could tell the Minister responsible which issues he would like addressed, so that the Minister has been put on notice and knows that he needs to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s points.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for us to have a debate in the near future on the latest political utterances from Lord Guthrie, particularly the ones in which he has called for the scrapping of the aircraft carrier contracts—views that I understand are shared by the Opposition?
Those are among the many issues that will be debated in Monday’s defence debate, and we recognise that the question of procurement is very important for our industry. We are very proud of the skills base that has been able to be part of that procurement programme.
According to the Campaign to Protect Rural England, 48 per cent. of people admit to dropping litter, one third of drivers admit to throwing litter while they are driving along the road and littering has increased by five times across the country in the past 50 years. May we have a debate in Government time about littering and its antisocial effects?
May we have a debate about the bidding war that is currently going on between the Government and the Conservative Front Benchers over who can set the highest standards for secondary school results and tackle the issue of secondary attainment? It would give me an opportunity to point out that in my constituency, I have seen secondary standards transformed in recent years. For the first time on the poorest estates in my constituency, I am meeting kids who talk about becoming doctors, scientists or even, heaven help them, lawyers. The problem that their schools face is that they have to climb a mountain caused by Kent’s selective system of education. If we are going to set thresholds for schools, that problem has to be tackled, and so far neither side is doing so.
There is not a bidding war in relation to educational standards, because we won that war long ago through, as my hon. Friend says, the massive improvement shown not only in secondary school results but in the massive increase in the number of young people going into further and higher education. In my constituency, the number of such young people, most of them from families in which they are the first generation to go into further or higher education, has more than doubled. We will continue our commitment to education both at school level and in HE.
As a member of the Wright Committee, I welcome what the Leader of the House has said about circulating a draft of the appropriate Standing Order and her declared intention to bring it forward. However, given that the historic votes last Thursday were overwhelming on everything that the Wright Committee proposed, and even on some proposals that went further than what the Committee proposed—in the case of the Back-Bench business committee, it went against her advice and that of the shadow Leader of the House—does she agree that she would be well advised to accept the recommendation on a Back-Bench business committee in motion 61, which was agreed nem com in the Committee, unless there are simply drafting problems with it? Does she also recognise that there may still be opposition, and that she therefore cannot rely on remaining orders approval to get the matter through?
People were sceptical about our trying to proceed on the basis of remaining orders on that first Monday, but out of 16 motions in the remaining orders of the day, 11 went through, so that has been tried and tested. The question is not what I supported, what the shadow Leader of the House supported or what we both supported; what matters is what the House decided. The Standing Orders that I will bring forward in draft and consult the hon. Gentleman about will be to bring into effect the will of the House, not to create fresh policy that is either ahead of what the House decided or behind it. They will put into effect what the House has decided, so remaining orders of the day are exactly the way to deal with them.
I do not think I put it in those terms. I think I said that Ministers, from the Prime Minister to the Defence Secretary, the International Development Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, were concerned to ensure that the House is kept fully up to date with Government action and is able to hold the Government to account, and that we have regular debates so that Members can air their views. Indeed, there will be a further opportunity to raise these issues on Monday in the defence debate.
May we have a debate on today’s report published by the chief inspector of constabulary, Denis O’Connor, which highlights the fact that very low-level crime has an impact on people’s attitudes to their local police force? My experience is that our safer neighbourhood teams want to tackle that sort of crime, but quite often response teams are not aware of the history and do not prioritise such crime. Sometimes they do not even turn up. That debate would also offer us the opportunity to highlight the fact that our safer neighbourhood teams in London face being cut by the Mayor.
The safer neighbourhood teams in London are massively valued by my hon. Friend’s constituents and those of all London Members. We are strongly committed to them and are very concerned indeed that the Mayor does not understand how important they are to local communities.
The Conservative Mayor, as my hon. Friend rightly points out.
On antisocial behaviour, it was this Government who identified that it was something that should concern the police and local councils, working together with local communities. We have taken forward the whole antisocial behaviour order regime and we need to improve it so that it really responds to people’s concerns, most recently about dogs. I look forward to the fact that the ASBO can be joined by the DOGBO.
I returned with a delegation from Gaza earlier this week. If you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, I should like to inform the House that while waiting to be called, I have learned that the British journalist Paul Martin, who has been held in custody for several weeks, has today been released following a meeting with the Justice Minister by the delegation last Sunday. I think we would all welcome that move.
In Gaza, I observed the effect of four years of the blockade by the Israeli occupation forces. It is clear that the occupiers’ tactic is working, in that isolating the Palestinian population is hiding their collective punishment from the outside world. May I echo what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) said and welcome the Leader of the House’s saying that there would be a debate on the situation in Gaza before Dissolution?