Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 528: debated on Thursday 19 May 2011

The business for next week will be:

Monday 23 May—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate on “Sentencing”, followed by a debate on “Policing and Crime”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 24 May—Motion relating to eurozone financial assistance, followed by a pre-recess Adjournment debate, the format of which has been specified by the Backbench Business Committee. The business for this day has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on this day.

The business for the week commencing 6 June will include:

Monday 6 June—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 7 June—Second Reading of the terrorism prevention and investigation measures Bill.

Wednesday 8 June—There will be a debate on an humble address relating to the Duke of Edinburgh’s 90th birthday, followed by Opposition day (17th allotted day) (half-day). There will be a half-day debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Postal Services Bill, followed by a general debate on the Munro report and its implications for child protection.

Friday 10 June—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 9 June 2011 will be:

Thursday 9 June—A debate on the Scottish Affairs Committee report on postal services in Scotland.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. After the performance we have just witnessed from the Minister at the Dispatch Box it seems pretty clear that DEFRA is a Department in special measures. I begin by asking whether we may have a statement on the improvement plan that the Government plan to put in place to improve its performance?

On the terrorism prevention and investigation measures Bill, assuming that this is the Bill that will provide for an extension in the period for which people may be detained, will the Leader of the House assure us that the promise that there would be full consultation with the Opposition on the drawing up of the Bill has been kept?

On the date of the next Queen’s Speech, following our recent exchanges, will the Leader of the House at least assure us that it will not take place during purdah next April? I ask because it is now becoming increasingly clear that deciding on a date has difficulties for the Government, which might explain why the week before last the Leader of the House decided to answer a question about the date of the Easter recess that I had not asked.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Bill will be introduced to enshrine the commitment to give 0.7% of our national wealth in aid to those living in poverty, and will he explain why the Prime Minister has clearly failed to persuade his Defence Secretary that that is the right policy? Is it a sign of what the Tories really think about development? Will the Leader of the House also join me in condemning the remarks of the former head of the armed forces, Lord Guthrie, who was reported yesterday as calling for aid spending to be switched to defence, adding:

“We have not got time to muck about”.

Helping to save children’s lives is not mucking about.

We see that the other place will have a debate on the proposals for its reform published this week. Are the Government planning to have a debate in this House before the summer recess and in Government time?

May we have a debate on child poverty following the warning given this week that 300,000 children will be pushed below the poverty line in the next three years because of the Government’s spending cuts? The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that after falling to its lowest level in 25 years—that is the difference made by a Labour Government—child poverty is likely to rise sharply owing to the Chancellor’s decision to cut benefits and tax credits.

When will the Justice Secretary clarify the Government’s policy on rape and sentencing following the utter confusion of the past 24 hours? Having toured the TV and radio studios yesterday, offending more and more people with every interview he gave, should he not come to the House to apologise and explain what on earth is going on?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister categorically denied any link with Mark Britnell, the man who last weekend said that the national health service

“will be shown no mercy".

Will the Leader of the House therefore explain why it is reported that Mr Britnell was invited to attend a meeting of senior experts in Downing Street earlier this month by none other than the Prime Minister’s own special adviser on health?

May we have a statement from the Health Secretary following the comments made over the weekend by Professor Steve Field? He was asked by the Prime Minister to review the NHS plans—I take it that does make him an adviser—and his conclusion is damning. Professor Field told The Guardian that the Bill’s proposals are “destabilising”.

When will the Prime Minister clarify exactly who is now deciding the Government’s policy on the Health Bill? This week, the Deputy Prime Minister issued an ultimatum regarding his own Bill—that really is a first. He said that the responsibility of Monitor for competition will have to be dropped. Indeed, in a Lib Dem policy document that he has signed, the Deputy Prime Minister says that

“the decision to establish Monitor as an ‘economic regulator’ was clearly a misjudgement”.

That is extraordinary from someone who cleared the Bill, put his name to the Bill and voted for it on Second Reading. Meanwhile, the Health Secretary, who was apparently cheered to the rafters at last night’s meeting of the 1922 Committee, says the very opposite. He told the King’s Fund yesterday that

“real choice, means that providers will be…competing for patients.”

It is now clear that the longer the Government’s pause lasts, the more uncertainty there is about the future of the NHS. Nobody knows who is in charge or what is going on—it is a complete shambles. When is the Prime Minister going to get a grip?

We are committed to legislating on the 0.7%—something that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government never did. We are the first Government in history—and, indeed in the G20—to set out clear, specific plans for achieving that 0.7% from 2013, and that commitment will be enshrined in law. That was the commitment we made and we propose to keep it. We are keeping our word and that has brought us respect throughout the world. I hope that we will have support from the Opposition when we introduce the Bill.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood which Bill we are introducing on our first day back. It is the Bill that replaces control orders with temporary terrorism prevention and investigation measures; it is not the Bill on the period of detention. Of course, we want to consult the Opposition on the Bill. The measure he referred to is in the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is currently going through the House.

I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of the House of Lords. Labour was in office for 13 years but failed to deliver its manifesto commitments. Now that we are doing that, I hope that we will have Labour’s support. We will have a debate in Government time on the proposals and I very much hope that instead of sniping from the sidelines and making cheap political points, the Opposition will engage with the issue and help us to deliver not only our manifesto commitment but Labour’s.

On child poverty, I reject the assertions that the right hon. Gentleman has just made. There will be an opportunity when we debate the Welfare Reform Bill to have a longer discussion on that subject.

On the issue of rape, the right hon. Gentleman will know that his party has chosen the subject of sentencing for debate on Monday. Rape is a very serious crime with appalling consequences for victims. The Justice Secretary did not intend to give the impression otherwise and that is why he has written to the Radio 5 listener to apologise for his comments and to invite her to a meeting. We will set out in the debate on Monday the way in which we are determined to drive up the conviction rate for rapists and the support that we are giving to rape centres throughout the country with an extra grant of £3.5 million annually for the next three years, giving rape support centres the certainty that they need.

On health, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman chose to raise this subject in the week when a National Audit Office report has revealed the systematic waste of money on Labour’s disastrous NHS information technology projects in the previous Parliament—£6.4 billion with very little benefit to patients.

On the other issue of differences between the coalition parties, it is worth reminding the House of the vicious battles that were fought within the Labour party between the former Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, and the then Chancellor, which threatened to destabilise the entire Government and which left the then Health Secretary, according to the extraordinary testimony of one of his Cabinet colleagues, “annihilated”. From a party that annihilates its own Health Ministers, I am not minded to take any advice on the resolution of differences of policy.

Finally, there is growing concern about how comfortably the right hon. Gentleman has taken to the Opposition Benches. In a recent interview with The House Magazine, when he was asked what it was like not being a Minister, he replied:

“You learn to adapt very quickly. I’m not pining.”

Has Labour realised that there is little prospect of any return to office?

Order. As usual, a great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye but I remind the House that there is pressure on time with a further statement to follow and two important and well-subscribed debates under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, so there is a premium on brevity.

On Report of the Localism Bill this week, Back Benchers had about 40 minutes to debate the first group of amendments, in which there were eight new clauses and 156 amendments, and 25 minutes to debate the second group, which contained a similar number of measures. When we were in opposition my right hon. Friend was the first to criticise the Government for allowing such an appalling lack of time for debate on Report. What is he going to do to address the shameful amount of time being allocated to such debates?

I remind my hon. Friend that in the last Session of the previous Parliament, not once did we get two days to debate the remaining stages of a Bill. The Government allocated two days for the remaining stages of the Localism Bill and we are going to do exactly the same with more Bills that are in the pipeline. We are determined to allow the House adequate time. I say to my hon. Friend that I understand that the Public Bill Committee had the opportunity to discuss all the amendments and new clauses and to conclude its deliberations slightly ahead of time.

Until recently, Back Benchers have been allocated roughly one day a week of time in the Chamber, which has almost always been on a Thursday, but I will leave that for another day. In the past couple of months, for various reasons, we have had nothing like one day a week and as a result quite a long list of interesting debates is stacking up. I know that the Government will be as keen as we are to hold those debates on the Floor of the House, so will the Leader of the House tell us what allocation will be made available to Back Benchers for debates in the Chamber between now and the summer recess and how he plans to let us catch up a little on Back-Bench time in the Chamber?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question and for her work in chairing the Backbench Business Committee. I remind the House that the coalition Government introduced that Committee—something that the previous Government failed to do. I stand by the commitment we made to implement Wright in full and allow 35 days a Session, which works out at roughly one day a week. That remains my intention and that will apply to the longer Session, so there will continue to be roughly one day a week. There may be a few weeks of famine but there may then be a few weeks of flood to compensate. She mentioned Thursdays, but we have allocated her a Tuesday next week.

May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that Back-Bench time is not taken up by any more debates about MPs’ pay and expenses? However, I would welcome further clarification from him about the written statement he made today about Members’ pay. Will he urge the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to be mindful of the point that we have voted for a freeze in MPs pay to put us in line with millions of public sector workers across the country? That must be at the centre of any determination of discussions going forward.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The background is that had we not had that debate back in March, we would automatically have received an increase. The House voted unanimously to reject that and to resolve that it should have no pay increase for the next two years. We have now implemented that part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and have handed over responsibility to IPSA. I have no doubt that it will have in mind the strong view of the House that our pay should be frozen for two years.

The finance director of AssetCo resigned on Tuesday, its share price has dropped by 90% to 5p and the general view is that it is going into administration. AssetCo owns the engines of the London fire service and is also part of the consortium bidding to train firefighters. What is happening could put fire safety in London at risk, so may we have a ministerial statement urgently to see what Government measures are being put in place to protect Londoners?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serous issue that I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. One of his top priorities, in relation to the London fire service, will be maintaining safety.

May we have a debate on the Cultural Olympiad arts festival, which the brilliant IF festival in Milton Keynes is supposed to be part of? There are concerns that the Olympiad festival will be increasingly based in London. Does the Leader of the House not agree that such a festival should be open to the whole United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a forceful point and might like to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who will respond to him.

It is reported this week that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former adviser to Tony Blair during the Iraq war, has taken up an advisory consultancy post with the oil industry in Iraq. He was advised to delay doing so for six months but started work after three, in clear breach of the rules governing former civil servants taking up business interests. A number of former Ministers have also taken up lucrative jobs in industries for which they used to be responsible in government. May we have a full debate on the revolving door and how we can stop it revolving?

On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, the ministerial code was tightened last May. Former Ministers are not allowed to lobby for two years and are bound to accept the advice of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the remarks about Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Last night, with fellow Warwickshire MPs, I met members of the Coventry and Warwickshire chamber of commerce. One of the overriding issues discussed was business regulation and red tape. Although the business people were extremely heartened by the proposals put forward in the Budget to reduce regulation and red tape, they were dismayed by the current proposals to extend paternity rights. If we are to continue to drive new job creation through businesses, is it not time for tangible reductions in business regulation and red tape and will the Leader of the House consider a debate on reducing business regulation?

On the question of paternity rights, there will be legislation in due course to change provision and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to comment at that stage. We are reducing the stock of regulation through the red tape challenge. I was interested to hear about his meeting with the Coventry and Warwickshire chamber of commerce. We have an ambitious programme to reduce the flow of new regulation and are inviting the public to suggest existing regulations that could be scrapped or improved and then Government Departments will have to review their entire set of regulations.

Will the Leader of the House refer his colleagues in the Department of Health to the situation of Southern Cross Healthcare, a company that owns care homes for the elderly, as 30,000 elderly people now face a very uncertain future? The company is in a parlous financial condition. It would be intolerable to see 30,000 elderly people put out on the streets. We need to know that the Health Ministers know about this situation and have a plan B.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The top priority must be the continuing welfare of the residents in the homes to which he refers. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary and his Ministers are in contact with Southern Cross Healthcare. He will continue to keep in close touch with the situation and will work with local authorities, the Care Quality Commission and other providers to ensure an effective response that delivers protection to everyone involved. We know that the speculation in recent days has been stressful for those in the homes concerned and their relatives. We will do all we can to maintain the quality of care to which they are entitled.

I warmly welcome the confirmation from the Leader of House that the House will have a debate on the draft Bill on House of Lords reform. Given the Bill’s enormous constitutional importance, will he please confirm that when we come to debate it we will consider it in all its stages on the Floor of the House without any guillotine?

It will certainly be constitutional legislation and it will certainly be taken on the Floor of the House, so I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. He has not been in the House quite as long as I have, but he will know that at times debate can be protracted and that on certain occasions it is necessary to curtail debate in order to make progress with the rest of a Bill, so I cannot guarantee that at no stage in the process of scrutiny of constitutional legislation will the House be invited to come to a decision. I rest on what I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). We are determined that the House should have adequate time to consider serious legislation and believe that we are already performing far better than our predecessors in that respect.

Following two damning reports from the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, may we have an urgent debate in Government time on the unsatisfactory situation facing S4C, the Welsh language TV broadcaster?

The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to develop the argument further when considering the Public Bodies Bill. Debates on Select Committee reports are now the province of the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, so he may like to present himself at 1 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon at her salon.

Will the Leader of the House give time to discuss the important matter of the process of recruiting a new Clerk of the House of Commons? As a member of the Administration Committee, I received a copy of the advert for that post yesterday. At a time when the Government are bearing down so hard on salaries and bonuses in the public and private sectors, when there are job losses and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to approve all salaries in excess of that of the Prime Minister, I wonder whether the appropriate assessment has taken place of the roles involved in the Clerk’s job and whether, in fact, the residence, the uniform allowance and the £200,000 salary should be subject to some sort of discussion, along with an assessment of the criteria, rather than there being an automatic assumption about that.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have now seen the advertisement to which she refers, which I understand was approved by you, Mr Speaker. The salary of the Clerk of the House and chief executive is linked to judicial salaries and is in the permanent secretary band, which reflects the Clerk’s position as independent constitutional adviser to the Speaker and the House. The Clerk is appointed by the Crown, by Letters Patent, and is not an employee of the House of Commons Commission. However, it is right that all public bodies, including the House of Commons, should take robust decisions on their expenditure at the current time and I support any steps to do that.

Further to the earlier question on Backbench Business Committee debates, on 4 February the House stated clearly that it wanted the Government to consider action on legal loan sharking. On 14 February, 20 Members from across the House wrote to the Ministers responsible to ask for a meeting to make progress on the matter and to look at how we could clarify the intention. Despite repeated requests and letters, nearly three months later no response at all has been received from the Department responsible. I know that I cannot ask the Leader of the House for help to get Wonga-man to account for his actions or to get the Wellcome Trust to account for its actions in investing in this high-cost credit industry and the impact it has on my constituents in Walthamstow and those in communities across the country, but I hope I can ask him for a new debate on holding Ministers accountable for their behaviour towards MPs on such matters and their continued refusal to protect the poorest consumers in Britain.

If the hon. Lady, along with other MPs, has asked for a meeting with a ministerial colleague, my view is that she is entitled to have it. I will convey that view to the ministerial colleague concerned, the identity of whom she very tactfully withheld.

We have a Prime Minister who is committed to the health service, a Health Secretary who is the most experienced Member of the House on health matters and a Bill before the House that has been approved by the Cabinet, yet we have Ministers who seem to be opposing what they originally supported. May we have a statement on collective responsibility and whether it applies only to Conservative Ministers?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that very helpful question. In my response to the shadow Leader of the House I drew attention to discussions on a health Bill that took place within a one-party Government. I think that it is entirely legitimate when there is a coalition for the two parties to have a discussion. There is a pause in the legislation. The Bill will be going ahead on Report once that consultation is concluded. We will adhere to the broad principles set out in the coalition agreement on the future of the health legislation. I remind my hon. Friend that we have decided to put more money into the NHS—there are now 2,500 more doctors in the NHS—whereas the Labour party is cutting the NHS in Wales.

Further to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) about the inadequate time made available on Report of the Localism Bill, may we have a debate in Government time about the financial cost and the implications for democracy of the Secretary of State’s appalling plans to impose a non-elected executive mayor on the people of Birmingham without a shred of evidence that they support such a form of dictatorship?

That particular issue was debated on Report, so the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to discuss it.

Yesterday the associate parliamentary group on manufacturing held a discussion with the Skills Commission on how we can reduce the skills gap in the sector. In my constituency we have access to an excellent apprenticeship scheme through Warwickshire college, and we have two world-class universities nearby, Warwick and Coventry, but we need to do more, so will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate about how we can close the skills gap and encourage young people to take up careers in manufacturing in order to bring about sustainable economic growth?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and very encouraged to hear what is happening in his constituency. Manufacturing is vital to economic growth, and the Government are taking a number of steps to support that growth, including, for example, through apprenticeships, with 250,000 more available over the next few years. We are also funding an organisation called STEMNET, which provides resources for students, teachers and professionals. We are determined to rebalance the economy, to drive up the role of manufacturing and to build on the measures that we have already announced.

Professor Steve Field is carrying out an independent listening exercise on the NHS and reporting to the Prime Minister. The Health Committee, of which I am a member, would like Professor Field to come to give evidence, but I understand that that has been fiercely resisted if not vetoed by the Department of Health, so I should be grateful for the help of the Leader of the House in resolving the issue and answering the question of whether Professor Field acts independently and is therefore able to come to the Select Committee, or whether he is an agent of the Department—which then calls into question the independence of the listening exercise. We really need to get to the bottom of this.

The normal routine is for Ministers to appear before Select Committees, because they are ultimately responsible for policy. There were certainly occasions when the previous Government asked Ministers to appear before a Committee despite the Committee asking for somebody else, but I will make some inquiries about the issue to which the hon. Lady refers, contact my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and draw her concern to his attention.

Following the tragic death of my constituent Ricky Burlton, aged 20, at the hands of a driver who had no legal right to be in the country and no driving licence, but who was able to procure insurance without the insurance company undertaking or being able to undertake any checks for a licence, will the Leader of the House please find time so that we can debate the matter and see what steps we can take to resolve this rather fatal flaw in process?

I am sorry to hear about the loophole to which my hon. Friend refers and of the death of his constituent. I will draw my hon. Friend’s remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to write to him. I cannot provide time for an immediate debate, but he may like to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall to explore the issue further.

The Finucane family have spent the past 22 years in unbearable grief, not knowing why Pat Finucane was shot 14 times in front of them. Given the historic visit of the Queen to the Republic of Ireland, would it be possible for a statement to be made to the House on when there will be an independent inquiry into Pat Finucane’s murder?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and understand her concern. I will pass her question on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and ask him to write to her.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the widespread concern throughout the UK about the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s proposals to modernise the coastguard service, and today we have seen a lot of speculation in the press. Will he invite the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House to make a statement?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and, indeed, other Members’ concern about the future of the coastguard service, something that has been debated on several occasions. The Transport Committee is currently visiting Stornoway, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will want to reflect on its report. The review of the service started under the previous Administration, and the Government are understandably reluctant to comment on the speculation in the press. We will respond in due course, have another look at the reorganisation proposals and reveal our conclusions to the House before the summer recess.

May we have a debate about this country’s ability to respond effectively in the event of a major terrorist incident? On Tuesday I called a debate in Westminster Hall about the future of Forensic Science Service, something the Leader of the House may remember me raising at previous business questions. MPs from all parts of the House who attended the debate raised many serious concerns about the Government’s plans to wind down the FSS, plans that I believe would leave the country without the capacity to deal effectively with the aftermath of a major terrorist incident and would weaken the fight against crime. The Government simply need to look again at the issue.

The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity on the first day back, when I have announced a debate on the Second Reading of a terrorism Bill, to raise his concerns, or he may be able to raise them in a debate on Monday dealing with police and crime. I hope that he will have an opportunity to share those concerns with the House quite soon.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to clear Parliament square? Is he aware that the lawn there is now completely clear of demonstrators for the first time in 10 years, so when does he expect the square to be open to the general public and what is happening about the pavement?

I applaud my hon. Friend’s continuing concern about Parliament square. He will know that the Greater London authority was successful in clearing the green, which is now being restored, and that Westminster council is now taking action to remove the encampment along the pavement, which I hope produces some results. The real answer, however, is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is now in another place and provides for the necessary powers to achieve a better balance between freedom of expression on the one hand and the right to protect Parliament square on the other. I very much regret that it is becoming increasingly like a shanty town, and I hope it will not be too long before we can restore its iconic value.

Will the Leader of the House urgently consider more attention and debates on China? China has—many people think—a malign influence on the world economy, treats its citizens barbarically and locks up even artists. Is it not about time that we took China, and its implications for world order, seriously?

The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity at Foreign Office questions on 14 June to raise his concerns. The Government are concerned about the treatment of Weiwei: we think his detention without charge is unacceptable, and we have made representations through the Foreign Secretary. It is important that China observes the proper standards of human rights to which all civilised countries ought to be signed up.

The Oasis Academy Shirley Park in my constituency is one of the most improved schools in the country. May we have a debate about the extension of the academies programme under this Government, in line with Tony Blair’s original vision, as it is improving the life chances of young people from deprived backgrounds in all our constituencies?

I welcome the progress being made with the establishment of academies, following the legislation that we put on to the statute book. I should personally welcome such a debate, which I hope would have cross-party support, given that many people who were in the Labour party strongly support our academies programme. I hope also that all hon. Members will support those schools in their constituencies that are in the process of becoming academies.

May we have a debate in Government time about Government policy on singing “Jerusalem” at weddings? If a heterosexual couple get married in church, many clergy will refuse to allow it to be sung, because it is not a hymn addressed to God; if a straight couple get married in a civil wedding, they are point blank not allowed it, because it is a religious song; if, however, a gay couple have a civil partnership, under Government plans they will be allowed to sing it. So can we make sure that “Jerusalem” is not just reserved for homosexuals?

How do you follow that?

May we have a statement about the future of the NHS Blood and Transplant service in view of the campaign to suggest that the Government are looking to privatise it? As I suspect that this is yet another myth that is being pushed out about the NHS, it would be helpful to have a statement to put it firmly back in its box.

My hon. Friend is right. This is a myth, as there are no plans to privatise the NHS Blood and Transplant service, which will remain in the public sector.

McMillan nursery in Hull, which has been rated outstanding by Ofsted, will close on 10 June because of the cuts to children’s centres by the Lib Dems. Can we have a debate in Government time on the reality of the policy that the Government keep talking about—early investment in our young people and children—and what it is doing for our poorer communities around the country?

The Government have put in enough money to maintain the network of Sure Start centres. I understand that the hon. Lady’s party is now in control of Hull city council, so perhaps she would like to address her remarks to that council.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the Olympic legacy? This week it was announced that the Olympic torch will travel through the country and stay in many cities and towns overnight. Alas, the county of Northamptonshire is missing from that list. We are feeling a bit sorry for ourselves because not too much of the Olympic legacy is flowing our way, and I would very much like to debate that in this place.

I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment that the proposed route does not go through his constituency or, apparently, his county. I will draw his remarks to the attention of the Olympic committee that is responsible for the route and see whether there is any chance, at this late stage, of amending it.

The regional development agencies provided an effective and timely response to sudden localised challenges in the economy. With the demise of the RDAs, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to spell out how the Government will respond to such challenges in future?

We have debated on several occasions the Government’s plans to replace the RDAs with local enterprise partnerships, so there have been opportunities to have that discussion. I hope that the LEPs will respond with enthusiasm to projects in his constituency that deserve support and that they will be more nimble-minded and flexible bodies than the RDAs.

May we have a debate on falling unemployment? In Harlow in the past three months, 200 more jobs have been created and unemployment has fallen to 2,400 from a peak, under Labour, of well over 3,000. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to bring jobs back to Harlow and elsewhere is by boosting apprenticeships and cutting taxes for businesses, rather than the policies of Labour Members?

I agree. I am sure the whole House will welcome the drop in unemployment that was reported yesterday, and I am pleased to hear what is happening in Harlow. We have undertaken a number of measures to reduce youth unemployment, in particular. We have announced a new innovation fund with £10 million a year to fund organisations working with young people through social finance models and a package of additional support for 16 to 17-year-olds’ jobseeker’s allowance, including more adviser support, access to work clubs and work experience. I hope that we can build on these measures and make much more progress in Harlow and other constituencies.

I should like to ask a further question regarding Baroness Warsi. Business before pleasure, however, and I must ask about the impact of compulsory water metering on gardeners—the water tax. Last Thursday, I asked the hapless Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs why she was even considering compulsory water metering, and her reply completely avoided the subject. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week—the week, incidentally, of the Chelsea flower show—in which the Secretary of State can categorically rule out compulsory domestic water metering?

I will draw the right hon. Gentleman’s concern to my right hon. Friend’s attention and ask her to write to him about our policy on compulsory water metering. I am sure that he shares the concern of Members on both sides of the House about doing all we can to drive down water consumption and conserve water, and I hope that he will not rule out measures such as the one that he has touched on.

Last weekend, my youngest son went on his first cubs camp, and I went along as a helper. However, I was not able to stay at the camp overnight because I do not have an up-to-date Criminal Records Bureau check for the cubs. That is a pity, as I have helped out at the same Cheshire cubs branch, which my older son went to, for the past seven years. May we have a debate on the over-the-top CRB requirements that can be such a disincentive to volunteering?

I would like to find time for such a debate, and perhaps the Backbench Business Committee could provide it. One of the unforeseen consequences of trying to protect children by introducing CRB checks is that fewer people are then able to help children through voluntary organisations such as the scouts. We have to try to get the right balance that gives children the protection to which they are entitled but does not discourage volunteers such as my hon. Friend from playing an active part in their activities.

If the Government are to help to make substantial progress at the United Nations framework convention on climate change in December, they will have to get their submissions in before the summer recess. May we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House before the recess to discuss the UK’s contribution to Durban?

We have just had Energy and Climate Change questions; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to ask that question then. I will certainly undertake to ensure that any submission is made in good time, and I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

May we have a debate on the role of the private sector in job creation—an issue that goes to the heart of the Government’s strategy for sustainable growth? Given that the Office for National Statistics has announced 77,000 more jobs in the private sector, it seems a timely moment to discuss the progress being made to rebalance the economy.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Private sector employment increased by 449,000 between December 2009-10, and public sector employment fell by 132,000, so that rebalancing is beginning to take shape. If my hon. Friend looks at the Office for Budget Responsibility report, he will see that it forecasts an increase of 900,000 jobs over the next four years, with 1.4 million in the private sector, which more than counterbalances the fall in employment in the public sector. Rebalancing is on its way.

An answer to a recent parliamentary question highlighted the fact that more than 1,200 young people under the age of 18 serving in our armed forces had sustained some form of injury during a 12-month period. In the light of this and other concerns about the recruitment of under-18s, can we find time to have a debate on this, either in the context of the Armed Forces Bill or in another way?

I did not announce the business for the rest of June, but I anticipate that we will take the remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, when there will be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to make her point.

Small parish councils remain very concerned about the decision by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to force them to pay their parish clerks through the pay-as-you-earn system. May we have a debate about how we can exempt small parish councils from this legislation?

Like my hon. Friend, I have a large number of small parish councils in my constituency. It is very important that they are not discouraged in any way by unnecessary bureaucracy. I will share his concern with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and ask him to write to my hon. Friend outlining our policy on PAYE and parish clerks.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the concern about the activities in protest groups of undercover police officers such as Mark Kennedy. A review is being carried out by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a statement to the House once that report becomes available?

I will give my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice who is replying to Monday’s debate on the police notice that the hon. Lady has raised this issue and see whether we can deal with it in the opening or closing speeches.

On Monday, the Government published the long-awaited report on the process of compensation for Equitable Life policyholders, thereby honouring another part of our pledge properly to compensate those people who were so scandalously treated by Labour. However, that weighty tome has given rise to several concerns among MPs in all parts of the House, and I wonder whether there will be an opportunity for a statement or a debate in the House so that the Minister can respond on the record to those concerns for the benefit of the wider public.

I understand the concern of policyholders to which my hon. Friend refers. I cannot find time for a debate, but it strikes me that he could raise the issue at the next round of Treasury questions or put in for a debate in Westminster Hall, where there have been several debates on Equitable Life. I am sure that several other colleagues would like to attend such a debate.

Further to the right hon. Gentleman’s answer to the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) on the coastguard review, the consultation closed earlier this month, but was extended by the Secretary of State for Transport to allow the Transport Committee to carry out its investigation, which is very positive. However, it is clear from speculation in The Times this morning and from the reassuring statements in Westminster Hall from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for shipping, that the proposals will not proceed in the form in which they were consulted on. May we have an updated ministerial statement on what conclusions have already been drawn and an assurance that the original decision to report back to the House before the summer recess will be adhered to?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for the coastguard service, will be giving evidence to the Transport Committee in the relatively near future. That will be an opportunity for such questions to be answered.

Will Her Majesty’s Government table their amendments to the Armed Forces Bill in good time, and will the Leader of the House confirm that those amendments will enshrine the military covenant in law, as the Prime Minister wishes, and not simply beef up the report on the covenant, as the Ministry of Defence is seeking to do?

We had a statement on that matter this week, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will have read that exchange. Of course the Government will want to table any necessary amendments in good time for the House to see them and, if necessary, for Members to table their own amendments.

Given the poor response to the Deputy Prime Minister’s puny reforms of the House of Lords, may we have a debate on whether it would be better to pass this matter to another Minister who can make more progress?

May we have an urgent debate on trends in employment, as it is clear from the latest figures that the overall situation is far more complex than the headlines might suggest? In my constituency of North West Leicestershire, there are currently 1,513 claimants, who make up 3.3% of the economically active population. There has been a welcome fall of 10% in that figure over the last year. It would be helpful if the debate compared the overall fall in unemployment in the quarter to March this year with the number of people on jobseeker’s allowance.

My hon. Friend is right to say that one has to drill down into the figures to get a truer picture. The rise in JSA payments, to which he referred, was due in part to new measures to move single parents whose children are attending school off employment and support allowance and on to JSA. The important figures are the continuing fall in unemployment and the continuing rise in employment.

A 19-year-old constituent of mine, Paul Lawrence, has been on remand since February. He is autistic and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s. He has tried to hang himself and has taken an overdose while in prison, and yet he has been kept locked in his cell, until recently in isolation, and is only let out for meals. His mother is constantly worried about his safety. May we have a debate about how vulnerable people are treated while on remand?

There will be a debate on sentencing on Monday, during which the hon. Lady may have an opportunity to debate that matter. Some of the decisions on whether somebody should be on remand are decisions for the courts, and it is important that they retain their independence.