The business for the week beginning 31 October will be as follows:
Monday 31 October—Instruction relating to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (Day 1).
Tuesday 1 November—Continuation of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (Day 2).
Wednesday 2 November—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (Day 3).
Thursday 3 November—General debate on the Silk commission.
The provisional business for the week commencing 7 November will include the following:
Monday 7 November—Money resolution relating to the Localism Bill, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Localism Bill.
Tuesday 8 November—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to European budgets, followed by motion to approve a reasoned opinion relating to credit institutions, followed by business nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Wednesday 9 November—Opposition day [unallotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 10 November—General debate on armed forces personnel.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 and 10 November 2011 will be as follows:
Thursday 3 November—Debate on shale gas, followed by debate on electricity market reform.
Thursday 10 November—Debate on funding of social care.
Last Monday was the 50th anniversary of the first session of Prime Minister’s questions. I am surprised that the Leader of the House did not mention that. I know how much you enjoy those occasions, Mr Speaker.
When I looked it up, I found that the first such occasion featured an old Etonian Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, fielding questions about his negotiations to get us into the “common market.” Fifty years on, the latest Old Etonian Tory Prime Minister spent the day frantically pleading with his own side not to vote for a referendum to get us out of it. Macmillan was famous for his “little local difficulties”. I think that the current Prime Minister now has 81 “little local difficulties” of his own making, and more in the Cabinet. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether the PM will follow Supermac’s example, and resort to a “night of the long knives” to deal with them?
This Government’s flawed choice to cut too far and too fast before the recovery was secure stalled growth in the economy long before the eurozone crisis. Despite the most ferocious squeeze in living standards for generations, their only plan is to abolish employment rights for millions of people in the workplace. May we have a debate on this week’s leaked report from millionaire financier Adrian Beecroft, which calls for the scrapping of protections against unfair dismissal, and says that creating that insecurity for millions of people at work is “a price worth paying”? Can the Leader of the House tell us why owning four Aston Martins and making lavish donations to the Tory party qualify Mr Beecroft to have a worthwhile opinion on anything?
Last week the Leader of the House told us that rushing forward the debate on EU reform from Thursday to Monday would allow the Foreign Secretary to enrich it with his presence. Can he tell the House how large the Tory rebellion would have been if the Foreign Secretary had not enriched the debate with his presence? And, given that this was the biggest rebellion on Europe in any political party since the dawn of time, can he tell us who is taking the blame? Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie blamed the Prime Minister, accusing him of having a work ethic which is the “opposite of Margaret Thatcher’s”. Apparently our Prime Minister is more interested in the latest box sets than in his red boxes. This week he has obviously been watching too much of “The Sopranos” and not enough “Friends”. [Laughter.]
Indeed. Perhaps I should repeat it.
Is it not clear that the Prime Minister’s plans backfired spectacularly, with half his own Back Benchers defying him? Today we learnt that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has threatened to leave the Cabinet if he is ever forced to vote against his Eurosceptic instincts again, and now we learn that the Justice Secretary has been suddenly pulled out of today’s debate on the Council of Europe, just in case he says something nice about the EU and further alienates the Tory rebels. What has it come to in today’s Tory party when Eurosceptics are bullied and pro-Europeans are gagged?
Given that last night’s welcome agreement in Brussels brings the prospect of a treaty change much closer, can the Leader of the House tell us what the Government’s policy on Europe is now, and may we have a debate about it? While he was getting the Whips to bully them, the Prime Minister was trying to appease his mutinous Back Benchers by promising them reform tomorrow. The next day, his deputy vetoed it. The Prime Minister wants to repatriate powers, whereas the Deputy Prime Minister says that that “won’t work” and is “condemned to failure”. Which is it?
Speaking of the Deputy Prime Minister, his reward for rubbing salt in Eurosceptic wounds this week is being allowed to blow an extra half a million pounds a year on seven new Liberal Democrat special advisers. That is apparently intended to “bolster” Liberal Democrat influence in Whitehall. Perhaps, in the light of all this confusion and contradiction between the Prime Minister and his deputy, we should have a debate about what plans the Government have to repatriate powers from the Liberal Democrats. Is it not the case that the past few days have exposed a weak Prime Minister leading a divided Government, too busy fighting internal battles to fight for Britain’s interests?
The hon. Lady is right: this is the 50th anniversary of the first session of Prime Minister’s questions. I think that the Prime Minister enjoys the event more than the Leader of the Opposition.
I remind the hon. Lady that Supermac never lost an election. As for rebellions, she seems to think that they have happened only under the coalition Government, but the last Government endured much bigger rebellions. In March 2007, 94 Labour MPs voted to delay Trident, and even the hon. Lady has a history of dabbling in rebellions on issues such as foundation trusts.
Let me deal briefly with some of the other issues that the hon. Lady raised. We are committed to reforming employment law, supporting business and encouraging growth, while—crucially—ensuring that we do not weaken the employment rights of workers up and down the country; and we do not comment on leaked reports such as the one to which the hon. Lady referred.
We have just heard a statement on Europe, in which the Chancellor addressed the issue of treaty change. My party is united behind the Prime Minister’s vision for reform in the European Union, and indeed that is an aspiration shared by many across the continent. I agree with Lord Ashdown, who said in an interview yesterday:
“I don’t think Europe needs to be as intrusive as it is and so does Nick Clegg.”
As for the treaty, the hon. Lady will know what the coalition agreement says:
“We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences”.
That remains the position. The coalition parties are in total harmony on the issue.
May we have a debate on happiness? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Is the Leader of the House aware that from this weekend onwards, for several months, many millions of people will be less happy than they could be as Britain is plunged into darkness by early afternoon after we have put our clocks back? If we cannot have a debate, may we have action in future to end this unnecessary and depressing ritual?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has campaigned long and hard on this important issue. He will know that a private Member’s Bill has been tabled on the specific subject that he has raised. It has received a Second Reading, and the Government are considering their position and consulting the devolved Assemblies which have an interest in the issue. We want to reach a consensus and make progress.
May we have an informed debate about the right of public service workers to be appropriately represented at their workplace? Unfortunately, the sponsor of last night’s Adjournment debate was ill-informed and perpetuated the myth that trade unions are “the enemy within.” He represents the same party that heaps praise on our emergency service workers, but seeks to deny them proper representation at their workplace, which is utter hypocrisy.
As the hon. Gentleman said, we had an Adjournment debate on this subject last night. I am sure that the Minister replying to that debate made an informed contribution and dealt seriously with the issues raised. I cannot promise another such debate in Government time in the near future.
May we have a debate on freedom of speech? Mr Peter Tatchell—a gentleman for whom I have some admiration—has today attacked the Trafford Housing Trust for its despicable decision to downgrade the position and cut the salary of Mr Adrian Smith, a Christian, for posting private comments on his own private Facebook account on the subject of gay marriage. Should we be putting public money into an organisation that is, effectively, propagating state-sponsored intolerance?
I am a firm believer in freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Of course people should obey the law of the country. I will draw this incident to the attention of the Minister for Housing and Local Government, to see whether there is any action to be taken either by him or the Housing Corporation.
The Backbench Business Committee has experienced a large increase in demand for debate time as a direct result of the introduction of e-petitions. As it is in the Leader of the House’s gift to give debate time to the Backbench Business Committee, will he recognise that his introduction of e-petitions and assigning the Backbench Business Committee to deal with them has led to this enormous increase in demand on time, and therefore allocate extra time, ring-fenced specifically for e-petitions?
May I begin by commending the work of the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Lady in chairing it? Three petitions have passed the threshold. Her Committee has found time for one in Westminster Hall and one in the Chamber, and the third is before her at the moment. I commend the way in which the Committee has handled those petitions. There will be an opportunity to review both the e-petition regime and the work of the Backbench Business Committee, and the Procedure Committee will conduct a broader review of the calendar, which is the context in which we should address the hon. Lady’s concern about how we might find more headroom for the Committee to respond to the many demands on its time.
On the question of happiness, the Leader of the House may be interested to know that 50 years ago this very week Helen Shapiro was top of the hit parade with “Walking Back to Happiness”.
I welcome the upcoming armed forces debate, but will the Leader of the House ensure that Ministers are well briefed on the future of the Ministry of Defence police and on housing for the families of military personnel?
I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend is happy, as he usually intervenes on matters relating to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, when he is far from happy. I thank him for his welcome for the armed forces debate. As he knows, there used to be regular armed forces debates in Government time, but responsibility for finding time then passed to the Backbench Business Committee. It has not so far been able to find time for such a debate—we understand why as we have just heard from the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) about the time pressures facing the Committee—so the Government have provided a debate in the run-up to Armistice day. We think that that is an appropriate time for the House to remember those who serve in the armed forces, especially as it will now also be held against the backdrop of the ending of action in Libya. We think it is appropriate that the House should have a debate on this subject, which it has not discussed for a year.
I understand that the Secretary of State for Health is due to make a statement of some kind at 1 o’clock today on the Government’s response to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel findings on the future of health services in north-east London, including King George hospital in my constituency. This morning, the Care Quality Commission published a damning report on the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, criticising poor management and some poor staff attitudes, and saying that the attempt to cut the deficit had led to reductions in the quality of care and that the transfer of services from King George hospital to the Queen’s hospital had not led to efficiency savings. May we have an early debate on these matters? I understand from the Secretary of State’s private office that he is due to make a statement in six minutes’ time, but neither I nor any of the other eight MPs representing the area—all of whom have been campaigning hard to save services at the hospital—have yet been informed of what is in that statement.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about health service provision in his constituency. My understanding is that the Secretary of State for Health will shortly make a decision on this issue, which arises from the work of the panel on reconfiguration of services. When the Secretary of State has made his decisions, the Members concerned will be informed in the usual way, and I am sure he will take into account all relevant information, including any from the CQC.
When I served as a church warden, I was advised that it was an offence to prevent any worshippers from attending divine service, and that as a church warden I had the power of arrest within the churchyard. I never had to test that, but given the confusion at St Paul’s cathedral, may we have a statement on the legal position?
I commend my hon. Friend on his work as a church warden for the Church of England. As I understand it, there has been a resignation at St Paul’s. So far as I know, the protestors have not closed a bank or caused a single banker to resign, but they have closed St Paul’s and caused the resignation of a cleric who was committed to their cause. The legal situation is complex, as there is a variety of land ownership surrounding St Paul’s. My understanding is that the City of London Corporation is in touch with the Church authorities to see if they can reach agreement on the way forward. In the meantime, I hope that the protestors will heed the advice from a number of sources, not least the Bishop of London, that they should stop their protest and allow free access to St Paul’s.
Domestic violence costs the economy more than £6 billion, and research shows that it is three times more likely to occur when couples are under financial strain. On Monday, the Prime Minister was unable to tell me three ways in which his Government have helped women’s contribution to the economy. In view of that and the fact that the Bill we will start discussing next Monday will reduce access to legal aid for women victims of domestic violence, may we have a statement from the Government on what they have done to protect women from domestic violence?
Only a few days ago, we had a debate in which we assisted women by changing the pension age arrangements, and there will be opportunities to discuss domestic violence in the three days next week that we debate the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. The hon. Lady will also know that on Tuesday of this week the Home Secretary started a consultation on Clare’s law, which will bring real help to those suffering from domestic violence by giving people the right to know, or a right to ask, whether they are with a partner who has a history of violence. We have, therefore, taken a number of steps to protect women liable to domestic violence, and next week there will be an opportunity to pursue the agenda further.
My hon. Friend is right that small and medium-sized enterprises are the drivers of economic growth, and he may have an opportunity to raise the topic when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor makes his autumn statement in November. In the meantime, my hon. Friend will know that we have extended the small business rate relief holiday for a year, we are working to abolish 43 tax reliefs in the system to come up with a better regime, and we are cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G7. I hope that will help small businesses in Spelthorne.
Ealing recently held its first public scrutiny meeting on the aftermath of the riots. One of the main concerns was the slowness with which insurance companies have been responding to claims from riot victims. If that is the case, it is totally unacceptable. Will my right hon. Friend raise the matter with the Business Secretary and perhaps ask for a statement to be made to the House?
It would be quite wrong of insurance companies to penalise the victims of the riots by withholding the compensation to which they are entitled. I say in passing that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has extended the period during which businesses can claim for compensation. I will certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who may want to raise it with the Association of British Insurers. I am sure that individual Members of Parliament will take up any case where an injustice has been done to their constituents, and pursue it directly and vigorously with the insurance company concerned.
Recently, a female constituent of mine came to a surgery very concerned that she could not get access to a life-saving cancer drug, Femara. This is not to do with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, as the drug is available and regularly prescribed. What she could not do is access it in her chemist, and this is now happening throughout the United Kingdom. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate in Government time on access to prescribed drugs and on the merits or otherwise of a public service obligation, as every other European country has, to make sure that not only do wholesalers provide these vital life-saving drugs and they are distributed, but every chemist holds stocks of them?
I understand the force of the hon. Gentleman’s argument. We debated health provision yesterday, although I am not sure whether he had the opportunity to raise the matter then. I will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman, reacting to the strong case that he has just made.
May we have a debate on Government transparency? Hard-working taxpayers are learning today that the previous Government spent hundreds of pounds in an Australian casino. We do not know whether they put all the money on red, we do not know whether they blew it all and we do not know what they did with any winnings, but that is just one example of the misuse of Government procurement cards. Can the Leader of the House also tell us what the Government are doing to crack down on such excesses?
The Government strongly believe in transparency. My hon. Friend will know that our right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is today publishing details of all credit card expenditure of more than £500 made in recent months. We have borne down on the use of credit cards within the public sector, but we believe that transparency has a key role to play. I commend my right hon. Friend for publishing details of spending on Whitehall procurement cards which, as my hon. Friend indicated, has a number of interesting avenues that I am sure the media will want to explore.
This has been a good week for the Backbench Business Committee. A few months ago, we had a debate in this Chamber about the use of wild animals in circuses, in which the view of the House was very clear. May we have a statement to the House on the progress the Government are making in addressing what they perceive are the legal obstacles to carrying out the will of the House in that respect?
The Backbench Business Committee exists because the coalition Government set it up; the previous Administration failed to do that. I will certainly make inquiries about any legal obstacles that impede the will of the House, as expressed in that debate, being carried forward, and I will ask the Minister concerned to write to the hon. Gentleman.
I welcome the announcement of the decision to hold a debate on the Silk commission in Government time, and I warmly welcome the opportunity to debate that important issue of highlighting the fiscal responsibility of the Welsh Assembly. What assurances can the Leader of the House give me regarding the time that will be allocated for that debate, to ensure that the subject is fully discussed in this House?
My hon. Friend will know that traditionally there has been a St David’s day debate on Welsh affairs and that in this Parliament we have not had a debate on Wales. Given the pressure on the Backbench Business Committee, we felt that it was right to debate the Silk commission, which addresses issues of the governance of Wales. The Secretary of State for Wales and, indeed, the commission will want to know the views of the House, and we have provisionally allocated a whole day’s debate for that important matter.
Hundreds of my recently unemployed constituents have heard about job vacancies in the Palace. These are jobs working with charities, offering first-class travel and 40 lavish overseas trips. If the job application forms were made available in Accrington jobcentre, I am sure that we would get a high calibre of applicant. May we have a statement on why those job application details are not available in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
Jobs within the Palace come from a variety of sources: some are from individual Members and some are from the House of Commons Commission. The House of Commons Commission, as an equal opportunities employer, advertises jobs in the normal way, and I am sure that we would welcome applications from the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
May we have an urgent debate about the incompetence and inefficiencies of the Child Support Agency? Three constituents of mine, David Kidd, Rodney Zuna and Mark Lavery, have been very poorly treated by that organisation. In the case of Mr David Kidd, the CSA is refusing to pay money that is rightfully owed to him after he was found not to be the father of a child, and the situation is causing him immense hardship. Will the Leader of the House raise this issue with Ministers?
I will certainly contact Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions and ask them to pursue the individual case raised by my hon. Friend. We all know from our own casework that the CSA generates a fantastic amount of work. The Government are in the process of reforming the child maintenance system by putting the child first, encouraging parents to come to an agreement about financial support and then providing statutory back-up where that is impossible. We believe that that will be a better system than the one we have at the moment.
The Government are committed to the provision of free school meals with appropriate nutritional content. I would personally welcome such a debate. I cannot provide Government time for one but I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee or you, Mr Speaker, might respond to an application for a debate on the Adjournment.
At the Quest academy in my constituency 41% of pupils got five good GCSEs, including English and maths, this year. That was an increase from the 23% figure that the previous school, Selsdon high, got just a year ago, making the Quest academy one of the most improved schools in the country. Other neighbouring schools—Edenham high school, Shirley high school and the Oasis academy—also saw big improvements. May we have a debate on how the Government’s education reforms are transforming the life chances of deprived children in my constituency?
We would welcome such a debate, and I hope that the Opposition, who have an Opposition day or two in the weeks ahead, might choose education as a subject for debate. We heard yesterday their somewhat confused position whereby they are in favour of free schools individually, but oppose the policy that generates them.
Given the fact that the Prime Minister on three separate occasions refused to list the powers that he wants to bring back from Brussels, may we have an urgent statement on the matter so that he can spell out clearly to the British people which powers he wants to bring back from Brussels? Is he afraid to do so?
The Prime Minister answered questions on this matter for an hour on Monday and he answered questions yesterday. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the coalition agreement, he will find a specific example of where we want to get powers back—it concerns the working time directive.
When I was born, the global population was 3 billion. It is about to breach 7 billion, and although I can say that I have modestly added to that, it is not all my fault. Such increase is unsustainable, as it will put undue pressures on water, food and even jobs. May I invite the Leader of the House to enable us to debate that very difficult subject, which we need to embrace in the future?
We are all in this together. The figures that I saw, which I believe were published yesterday, showed that two thirds of the increase in the UK’s population was due to immigration, with the rest being due to increased longevity. On immigration, my hon. Friend will know the steps being taken by the Home Secretary to reduce net migration down to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands. The steps we have taken regarding students, spouses and workers will all have a downward impact on the future UK population, which I hope he will welcome.
I wonder if the Leader of the House will encourage the Government to have an investigation and make a statement or create a debate on the operation of the 2002 commercial debts Act? I have found, through the wonderful scheme of being a business buddy for the federation of private business, that small businesses find that many bigger companies still write into their contracts a 90-day payment period, even though the Act states 30 days, and even SELECT, the electrical engineering group, says the same. The big businesses are bullying small businesses out of their rights under the Act, and I want to know what the Government are going to do to enforce that Act.
We have just had Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to raise this issue then. I shall draw the matter to the attention of the Business Secretary to see whether there is abuse of that piece of legislation and, if so, what action we can take to stop it.
Monday’s historic debate was a great success for Parliament. The mother of Parliaments was watched by our nation and we had 90-odd Members participating in the debate. They spoke from their hearts and when the Division came Members from all three major parties voted differently. One point that has not been established, though, is that that debate could not have taken place had the Leader of the House not personally driven through the e-petitions process, and I do not think the Prime Minister has given him the credit for Monday’s debate that he deserves. Could we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on ensuring that we have more such debates?
May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his first-class winding-up speech to that debate, which I am sure had an important impact on the subsequent Division? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a firm believer in empowering the House of Commons: he signed up to the e-petition process and the Backbench Business Committee. We are committed to a minimum of 35 days a year for the Backbench Business Committee, and although it is sometimes inconvenient for the Government, we firmly believe that it is right that the House of Commons should have some control of its agenda, at times choosing subjects that the Government perhaps would not have chosen.
Speaking in Australia this week, President Kikwete of Tanzania urged investors in his country to reinvest the profits from their companies in his country. Unfortunately, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office well knows, he is the same President Kikwete who is in thrall to the media baron Reginald Mengi and who has done nothing to give satisfaction to my constituents Sarah and Stewart Hermitage, whose farm in Tanzania was stolen from them by Mr Mengi’s brother. Could we have a debate in Government time to discuss not only the joys but the dangers of investing in Tanzania?
I am sorry to hear about that loss of property on the part of my hon. Friend’s constituents. I shall certainly raise the issue with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the FCO Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), is in his place at the moment—and see whether there are any representations it can make to get justice for the people whose property was confiscated.
I am sorry that the shadow Leader of the House feels that there is something wrong with owning four Aston Martins. After all, if one can own two Jags, why not four Aston Martins? Certainly, my constituents who work at the Heritage Aston Martin works in Newport Pagnell will be hoping that Mr Beecroft will own a few more. May we have a debate on the future of the British motor manufacturing industry?
As the owner of a very small bicycle, I look at these fast and expensive cars with some envy. My hon. Friend makes a valid point—conspicuous consumption generates jobs in constituencies such as his. I think it was Lord Mandelson, was it not, who said that nothing inconvenienced him about millionaires? I hope that the Labour party will, perhaps, change its view about Aston Martins and Rolls-Royces, many of which are manufactured in constituencies represented by Labour Members of Parliament.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the law on succession to the throne, particularly the current inequality of male primogeniture? I ask that we have this debate soon, in the hope that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that is currently taking place might make some progress on this matter.
My hon. Friend will know that the Prime Minister has made it clear that he finds the present law unsatisfactory. It discriminates against women and against people who marry Roman Catholics. He has made it clear that he has written to the Heads of the Commonwealth to try to get agreement. I can only suggest to my hon. Friend that she awaits the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia and sees what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has to say on this matter at its conclusion.
May we have a debate on the role and responsibilities of Parliamentary Private Secretaries? Is it appropriate in a modern democracy that Members of Parliament who are neither Ministers nor in the Cabinet should be forced to resign if they vote against the Government? Does not that restrict their ability to represent their constituents and disproportionately reduce the power of the House?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am sorry that two Parliamentary Private Secretaries left the Government earlier this week. She will know that when somebody is invited to become a Parliamentary Private Secretary, there is an assumed commitment that they will support the Government in the Division Lobby. If anybody feels unhappy about that, they should not become a Parliamentary Private Secretary. If, having become a PPS, someone feels they cannot support the Government in the Division Lobby, they have to stand down. I think that is set out in the ministerial code and it is a convention that is widely understood on both sides of the House.
We touched on that earlier this week. We are committed to a red tape challenge of scrapping and simplifying regulations that are ineffective and obsolete. We have the one-in, one-out approach and I am sure that BIS Ministers will be happy to respond to detailed questions. We also have Lord Young’s report, which was produced a year ago and made a number of suggestions for relieving the burden on businesses, with the agenda of fostering employment and growth. I would welcome such a debate.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House has had time to see the set of Rolls-Royce Trent engine fan blades on the green in New Palace Yard, which were produced by the Rolls-Royce factory in Barnoldswick in my constituency. That display is part of a series of events to highlight the potential of high-value manufacturing and apprenticeships. May we have a debate at the earliest opportunity on what progress the Government have made on supporting apprenticeships?
Yes, I bicycled past the turbine and contrasted the horsepower that it represented with the horsepower on the bicycle. My hon. Friend might just have been in the House for BIS questions in which we had a very good exchange on apprenticeships. I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning has done. We promised 50,000 extra apprenticeships in 2010-11, but we have actually delivered more than 100,000.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s question, which contained within it the answer, as he outlined a number of measures—child tax credit for struggling families, early years support for vulnerable two-year-olds, more support for child care within universal credit and increasing the number of health visitors. The Government would welcome such a debate; perhaps he would like to initiate one in Westminster Hall.
With reference to the shadow Leader of the House’s box-set collection of TV programmes, I suspect that the shadow Cabinet is currently watching “Lost”. May we please have a debate on empty homes? There is a real paradox in my local council area in that while the council is pushing through its top-down housing targets for tens of thousands of new homes, there are 11,000 empty homes. Local people find that very hard to explain when the countryside is being dug up for new homes.
As a former Housing Minister, I share my hon. Friend’s concern. There are about 350,000 empty houses in this country, which is an affront to those who are waiting for good housing. I commend the work of the Empty Homes Agency. In addition, the new homes bonus will apply also to local authorities that bring back into use homes that are currently empty, and other money is available within the local government budget to encourage local authorities to bring homes back into use. I commend my hon. Friend’s work on this issue, and I hope that all local authorities will do all they can to bring empty homes back into use.
In my Gloucestershire constituency is a huge number of firms that trade with Brazil, but I am very apprehensive about the way in which we are developing trade links with Brazil, Russia, India and China—the so-called BRIC economies—because I sense that other countries are doing better than us. Can we put a spotlight on what the Government are doing to give comfort and support to businesses that wish to develop business in the BRIC economies?
I know that a number of my hon. Friends in BIS and other Departments make export trips abroad with business men to win export orders on behalf of this country, and they have undertaken a number of visits to the markets to which my hon. Friend refers. UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, supported by all the Government, lead on this work. We want to use our network of staff across the globe to showcase UK strengths in sectors where we have world-beating capability and we hope to win more export orders and to provide jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency.