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Business of the House

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 3 November 2011

The business for the week commencing 7 November will be as follows:

Monday 7 November—Money resolution relating to the Localism Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Localism Bill. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement following the G20 summit.

Tuesday 8 November—Motion to approve a European document relating to European budgets, followed by motion to approve a reasoned opinion relating to credit institutions, followed by Backbench Business Committee [un-allotted half day], which will include the presentation of the 10th report from the Transport Committee on high-speed rail, followed by a motion relating to the cost of motor insurance.

Wednesday 9 November—Opposition day [unallotted day]. There will be a debate on youth unemployment and jobs, followed by a debate on individual voter registration. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 10 November—General debate on armed forces personnel.

The provisional business for the week commencing 14 November will include:

Monday 14 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Tuesday 15 November—Motion relating to fisheries, followed by motion relating to fuel prices. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I would like to inform the House that we will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday 15 November.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 November 2011 will be:

Thursday 24 November—A debate on extradition.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. We meet for business questions in the middle of the first ever Parliament week, which aims to make people more familiar with the vital work that we undertake here. The theme is “Stories of democracy”. From the Levellers to the suffragettes, there are many inspiring stories of the fight for the vote that we should celebrate in this place. It is more important now than ever, in these times of economic upheaval and insecurity, that we cherish and value our democratic traditions.

I am sure that the Leader of the House, like me, is looking forward to welcoming the UK Youth Parliament to these Benches tomorrow. With almost 1 million young people unemployed—the highest level since comparable records began—we certainly need to hear the voices of young people. I look forward to joining them at the start of their debate.

On Monday’s consideration of the Localism Bill, does the Leader of the House feel comfortable with the chaotic way in which the Bill has been handled by the Government? Having resisted our arguments in Committee in this place, they promptly deleted or amended great chunks of the Bill in the other place. Ministers still have a problem with their own side on the national planning policy framework.

Tuesday’s disappointing growth figures confirmed that the UK economy is still bumping along the bottom, when we need strong growth to get unemployment and the deficit down. Thanks to the Chancellor’s rash choice to cut too far and too fast in his spending review last year, we are experiencing the slowest recovery from recession in 100 years. Will the Leader of the House admit that the Government will have to revise down the growth figures and revise up the amount of borrowing for the fourth time in 18 months? How many more times must the Chancellor come to this House and admit that he has got his sums wrong before we get a plan B?

It has been reported in the run-up to today’s G20 meeting that the Treasury is preparing to increase our contribution to the International Monetary Fund bail-out funds, despite the Chancellor giving the impression to this House that there would be no additional contribution from the UK to help solve the eurozone crisis. Has he been entirely frank with the House? Is the attempt to claim that none of this money will end up supporting the eurozone not dancing on the head of a pin?

While nearly 1 million young people are worried about whether they will ever get a pay packet while this Government are in office, one small group of people are doing very well indeed. A report by Income Data Services showed that the total earnings of directors of FTSE 100 companies increased by an eye-watering 49% last year. That comes when public sector workers have a pay freeze and there has been a below inflation increase in the private sector.

In May last year, the Prime Minister trumpeted his creation of the fair pay review led by Will Hutton. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said of out-of-control executive pay:

“It is time to return to planet Earth.”

Yet one year on from those comments and nine months after the Prime Minister received the report, executive pay continues to rocket out of control, unchecked by Government action. When will the Government bring to this House concrete proposals to do something about this matter? Does the Leader of the House not accept that until the Government act, no one will take seriously the Chancellor’s preposterous claim that we are all in this together?

Has the Leader of the House seen today’s damning report from the Fawcett Society, which accuses the Government of being responsible for the greatest risk to women’s financial security in living memory? When will the Government start to listen to the growing chorus of women’s voices that is demanding that they change course?

Finally, the House was shocked to discover that, despite announcements by the Prime Minister’s spin doctors last November that Lord Young of Graffham had resigned, revelations have now surfaced that he never even left the building. We were told that he had resigned for embarrassing the Prime Minister by proclaiming that many people had

“never had it so good”

as since the start of “this so-called recession”. It seems that he has continued to advise the Prime Minister at the heart of the Downing street machine. Can we have a statement from the Leader of the House on this Government’s understanding of the definition of the word “resignation”? Will he please clarify the position of Lord Young—was his resignation a sham or has he somehow been unresigned?

I look forward to welcoming the UK Youth Parliament to this Chamber tomorrow and to making a short preliminary address along with you, Mr Speaker, and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I hope that many of those young people will return in due course as Members when the Chamber is sitting, rather than on a non-sitting Friday.

We are to debate youth unemployment on Wednesday on an Opposition day. I remind the hon. Lady that youth unemployment went up by 40% under the previous Government, at a time when the economy was doing better than it is currently. The Opposition therefore have little to lecture us about on that.

The Localism Bill does not actually include the national planning policy framework. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome what is happening on Monday, when we will spend a whole day on localism. There are a number of Government amendments that I hope will be welcomed on both sides of the House because we have listened to the debate on the Bill and made some changes.

On forecasts, the hon. Lady ought to know that the Government do not make economic forecasts. That is done by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Its next report will come out on 29 November when the Chancellor makes his autumn statement. Some of the issues that the hon. Lady raised in relation to the IMF have just been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary.

I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not find time to welcome the news from earlier this week about the revival of Stanley dock in north Liverpool, as a result of the regional growth fund, which will help to reduce unemployment in and around her constituency.

Finally, on executive pay, it is worth reminding the House that the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 company earned 47 times the amount earned by the average employee in 1998 and 115 times that amount in 2009, so the gap actually widened under the last Labour Government. I agree with the hon. Lady that there is an unsustainable disconnect between how our largest listed companies perform and the rewards that are on offer. Concern on that comes not just from Government, but from investors, business groups and others. We are considering ways to reform remuneration committees and to empower shareholders, for example by making shareholder votes on pay binding and ensuring that there is shareholder representation on nomination boards. We are consulting on a number of issues, but at the end of the day, it is up to shareholders rather than the Government to determine executive pay.

May we have a debate on transport funding? A recent survey showed that Bradford was seen as one of the most congested cities in the country. My constituency is probably the most congested part of the Bradford district. I am not asking for extra funding for transport, given the terrible financial legacy that this Government were left by their predecessor. What I am asking for is that Yorkshire gets a fairer slice of the transport cake and that Bradford gets an even fairer slice than that.

I understand my hon. Friend’s anxiety that a larger share of the transport budget should be allocated to his constituency to deal with congestion. There will be an opportunity at Transport questions on 10 November for him to press the case for more funding for his constituency with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, whom I will forewarn that my hon. Friend is on the way.

Does the Leader of the House share my concern, in this important and welcome Parliament week, that increasingly there are organisations and individuals in this country who do not believe in equal rights for women? Many of us put our heads in the sand and ignore this issue. It is something that worries me and my constituents, and this House should start to address it.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome a number of initiatives that we have taken recently. For example, we are extending child care for women who work for fewer than 16 hours a week. Yesterday’s statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on the reform of pensions had much in it for women, who tend to have part-time and less well-paid jobs. They will gain from the reforms that we outlined. The hon. Gentleman makes his comments in a week when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced proposals to change the rule of primogeniture for the monarchy. If one looks across the board, we have taken a number of steps to promote the cause of women.

The Government have allocated a welcome £20 million to support advice agencies following changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. May I press my right hon. Friend for more information on that £20 million so that advice agencies such as mine in Hastings can find out more about when and how it will be allocated?

My hon. Friend is right to say that, in the summer, the Lord Chancellor announced £20 million for those providing advice. Announcements will be made shortly about the allocation of that fund, and I know the anxiety felt by the citizens advice bureaux that are waiting for it. I will remind my right hon. and learned Friend that there is a very strong bid from Hastings.

In a written answer to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), the Cabinet Office said that the public duty costs allowance for former Prime Ministers amounted to £1.7 million in the past five years. May we have a statement on the actual work that these former Prime Ministers have done and whether they have had to provide receipts?

The hon. Lady is tempting me out of my comfort zone. I am not sure that the Government have responsibility for these particular payments. Those concerned are, by definition, no longer Members of Parliament—at least many of them are no longer Members. I will make some inquiries with the relevant authorities to see whether any further light can be shed on her question.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for providing a day to debate armed forces personnel shortly before Remembrance day? However, does he agree that the arrangements between the House and the Backbench Business Committee in relation to defence matters are not working? Although I would sometimes like to blame that Committee, on this occasion I really cannot do so. Will he enter into negotiations with the Chair of that Committee, who is doing as good a job as she possibly can in the circumstances?

I certainly endorse the last remark. Now is not the time to go into the theology of the Wright Committee and the division of responsibilities between the Government and the Backbench Business Committee. My right hon. Friend will know that the four days for defence debates that were traditionally provided by the Government were transferred to the Backbench Business Committee. I understand why it has not been able to find time for them and, in recognition of that pressure, as he has said, we have now found a day for a debate on armed forces personnel. The Government will continue to do what they can to make sure that we do have adequate time for defence debates, and in the review of the Backbench Business Committee, I will see, in conjunction with the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), whether we can move towards a different regime that meets the aspirations of my right hon. Friend and the responsibilities of the Backbench Business Committee.

Yesterday, in the Chamber, the Prime Minister roundly and rightly denounced metal theft. But he then went on to say:

“We are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to put in place an action plan to deal with this, which will involve looking again at the whole regulation of scrap metal dealers.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2011; Vol. 534, c. 918.]

That is totally unsatisfactory. Everyone knows the answer—it is to license the dealers and to prevent them from dealing in cash. So can the Leader of the House arrange for a debate when that can be explored or, better still, could he use the two spare days he has created in the week after next to put it through and stop what the Prime Minister rightly called “this appalling crime”?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. It is an appalling crime and the current legislation is basically unenforceable. Dealers are meant to register with their local authority but there are no penalties if they do not do so. The Government are consulting on a range of measures, including the ones he has mentioned—the banning of cash payments, with everything being done by cheque, and having a much tougher regime. We are consulting to see whether we can have a better regime that reduces the damage done by all these thefts.

Mr Speaker, I am sure that you and the whole House will rejoice at the announcement that today a contract will be signed to build an airport on the island of St Helena, and I would like to extend the House’s thanks to all involved. This will bring to an end five centuries of isolation for British people who are proud to live on this overseas territory. With that in mind, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate so that we can discuss how the overseas territories are an important part of this country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. It is indeed the case that, after protracted negotiations, the Department for International Development has now agreed to fund the airport in St Helena. I would welcome such a debate, and he might like to put in for a debate on the Adjournment so that we can discuss this issue at more length.

Exeter city council and the energy company E.ON have spent considerable time and money preparing to install 500 solar panels on council homes in my constituency, thus reducing tenants’ bills by £120 on average and helping to reduce carbon emissions. That excellent scheme is now threatened with cancellation because of the Government’s decision to more than halve the feed-in tariff. May we have an urgent debate in Government time about this incredible incompetence?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) made a statement on this matter on Monday, explaining why the scheme had to be changed. If we did not do this, all the money would have been mopped up by those few people who are currently eligible; the lower the tariff, the more people that can benefit. We had that exchange on Monday. We are now consulting on how we take the scheme forward and I will take the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on board.

On Monday, we heard that the Government will provide £9 million to reopen the Todmorden curve, cutting journey times between Burnley and Manchester. We also heard about an additional £7.5 million in business support for local manufacturing small and medium-sized enterprises being made available through Regenerate Pennine Lancashire. Both those projects were funded by the Government’s regional growth fund which, it is estimated, will create or safeguard more than 55,000 jobs in the north-west of England. May we have a debate on the huge beneficial impact of the fund on the north-west of England?

I am sorry that some hon. Members have taken a rather dismissive view of the regional growth fund, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for identifying a number of projects that will go ahead. We announced £950 million of funding in round 2, supporting 119 businesses and creating or protecting 201,000 jobs. There may be an opportunity on Wednesday for him to come in on that debate, amplify the benefit to many constituencies from the regional growth fund and perhaps encourage those who have been less than generous about it to change their mind.

This week, Merseyside police announced that it is having to cut 250 officers over the course of the next two years because of the Government’s slashing of its budget. Deputy Chief Constable Bernard Lawson has admitted that there will be an impact on the service that the force is able to provide for my constituents and all the people of Merseyside. May we have an urgent debate on the impact that the Government’s spending cuts are having on front-line policing?

The hon. Lady will remember that, before the last election, the then Home Secretary made it clear that if he and his party were re-elected, they would not be able to guarantee that there would be no reductions in the number of front-line officers. It is the view of the Government that it is possible for police authorities to cope with the budgets they have been allocated and protect the effectiveness and visibility of front-line policing.

In response to a question from a Labour Member, the Leader of the House mentioned the Commonwealth discussions that the Prime Minister has had about the royal succession. May I urge the Leader of the House to tell us when we might expect a debate on the royal succession Bill and what that Bill might include?

When we have a Bill there will, of course, be a debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. In his statement, the Prime Minister said that we are intending to legislate

“to end the system of male preference primogeniture and the provision that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic would be ineligible to succeed to the Crown.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 31WS.]

Any legislation that we bring before the House has to work for 16 countries, and to that end a group of senior officials from across those countries is working urgently to agree the necessary legislation. When that has been done, it will be brought before the House.

Further to that answer, may I say that the Prime Minister needs to be praised for making his announcement in Perth, which was of course supported by the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Prime Minister? Further to what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) has said, I have a Bill before the House, which is to have its Second Reading on 25 November, that deals with this very point. I am happy to give that Bill to the Leader of the House so that, instead of drafting new legislation, he can use it and introduce the measures as soon as possible, because when it happens here first, it will then happen in the other 16 countries.

That is an enormously generous offer from the right hon. Gentleman, but he will have heard what I said a moment ago about a working group that is preparing the necessary legislation. He may well have anticipated the output of this hard-working team of people and perfectly drafted his piece of legislation to anticipate what they will recommend, but I am afraid that the Government do not have that total confidence and it might be best to await the output of the working group before we look again at his Bill.

Given the excellent news that Jaguar Land Rover is opening a new engine plant—a £355 million investment, which will create up to 750 new skilled jobs—just outside my constituency, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the skills gap, as this can provide a platform and a legacy for learners in Wolverhampton?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for balancing the news. There is good news in parts of the country and he has just reminded the House of that particular piece of good news. I understand that Jaguar Land Rover is working with the National Apprenticeship Service, the Skills Funding Agency and the black country local enterprise partnership on the whole issue of skills for the new plant. I hope it will be possible to train those who are currently unemployed to give them the skills that they need to work in this new investment—this new engine plant. We are supporting this particular project through the grant for business investment scheme, which is providing up to £10 million.

Given the fuss last week about the FairFuel petition, does the Leader of the House accept that No. 10 and the Government may have misled the public into thinking that e-petitions that achieved 100,000 signatures would automatically be debated here? Does he agree that they may also have misled Back Benchers into thinking that the Backbench Business Committee would be there to represent our interests? I know that he would not mislead anyone, but is not the solution to reserve some additional days exclusively for e-petition debates so that the Backbench Business Committee can do the job it was set up to do?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. If he looks at the coalition agreement, he will see that we made it absolutely clear that once an e-petition got 100,000 signatures it would be “eligible for debate”—I think that is the wording—so there is no question of my or anyone else’s misleading anyone about that. His suggestion that there should be extra time specifically for e-petitions is a helpful one. He will know that the Procedure Committee is reviewing the parliamentary calendar and that we are committed to reviewing the work of the Backbench Business Committee. It may be that those two reviews work together in tandem and that we are able to find extra space within the calendar to debate e-petitions. I know that this is an issue on which the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee has strong views.

The Government’s cancer strategy for England recognises that access to radiotherapy is critical to improving outcomes. Radiotherapy takes only 5% of the estimated total NHS spend on cancer care but 50% of patients can benefit from it. May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has seen and supports Cancer Research UK’s “A voice for radiotherapy” petition, which has been signed by more than 36,000 people and will be handed in to Downing street this afternoon? As 2011 is the year of radiotherapy, may we have an urgent debate this year on better and fairer access to radiotherapy in England?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the profile of Cancer Research UK’s petition. I agree that it would be helpful to have a debate and to see what more we can do to reduce any delays in the use of radiotherapy or, indeed, chemotherapy once people have had their operation. There will be an opportunity at Health questions to raise this issue quite soon but, in the meantime, she might like to put in for a Westminster Hall debate so that we can do justice to the important issue she has just touched on.

The last time the Minister for Universities and Science, whom I hold in very high regard, appeared before the Select Committee on Science and Technology, he made a statement that affected the science budget stemming from the break-up of the regional development agencies and the redistribution of moneys. That has subsequently been the subject of a series of exchanges about what he actually said versus what he meant to say. Coincidentally, over the summer a very good paper has been published by the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK showing that the Government’s science budget is affected by smoke and mirrors. May we have an urgent debate in Government time about the truth around the science budget?

On 8 December, which is some time away, there will be an opportunity to raise the issue. In the meantime, I should like to raise with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science the issue that the hon. Gentleman has just touched on to see whether there is any gap between what my right hon. Friend said and what he meant to say—I am sure there was not—and to deal with the allegation that there are smoke and mirrors in the science budget.

It sounded as though the hon. Gentleman was blaming him. None the less, I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a debate on the impact of the VAT threshold on micro-businesses and their growth potential? In my constituency, many small businesses involved in the tourism sector are in the process of closing for the winter period. They are closing not because they are scared of work or because there is no opportunity for them to create a market and carry on working, but because the current VAT threshold creates a cliff edge that penalises them for being successful.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and of course we will take on board what he says. The current VAT threshold, at £73,000, is one of the highest in the EU. It is the case that some traders would like it to be raised so that they are outwith it, but others would like it to be reduced to avoid unfair competition from those who are exempt. I believe that we have got the balance about right, but in the light of his comments I am sure that Treasury Ministers will want to keep this under review.

We have just passed the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Farepak, but my constituent Deb Harvey, who was a Farepak agent, and her customers have not received any compensation and are still waiting for justice to be done in relation to the people who caused the collapse of the company. Does the Leader of the House feel that we should find time to revisit this issue, not least to ensure that it never happens again?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. I think we have had debates on Farepak in the past—possibly in the last Parliament. I will raise this with appropriate Ministers to see where we have got to in the process of getting funds for those who lost money. I would welcome a debate on this matter and she might like to apply to you, Mr Speaker, for a debate on the Adjournment.

May we have a debate on student visas? I am conscious that the Government have already barred 470 colleges from accepting new students as part of their immigration crackdown, but a debate would enable us to explore the extent of the abuse that has been going on and to understand what the Government are doing to stop it.

I understand that there is an e-petition on the slightly broader issue of immigration and if that got through the 100,000 threshold, there would indeed be a debate in which it would be relevant for my hon. Friend to raise this issue. [Interruption.] There might be a debate—indeed. In addition to the 470 colleges that my hon. Friend has touched on, 302 have had their licence revoked and a further 172 have been allowed to continue to teach current students but may not sponsor any new ones from the EU. I hope that he is assured that Ministers at the Home Office have this matter under serious consideration.

The Leader of the House has previously told us that he is not keen on having any debate that involves the expenditure of additional resources. However, I wonder whether we might prevail upon him to persuade the Health Secretary to have a debate on NHS procurement, not least because we desperately need a credible plan for jobs and growth, and NHS procurement could provide a way of securing such a commitment.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think I am right in saying that the Select Committee on Health, or possibly the Public Accounts Committee, has recently produced a report on NHS procurement—I think it was the PAC—in which case the Government will want to respond to that in due course. If there are lessons to be learned in order to procure more efficiently, get better value for money and, indeed, create jobs by so doing, of course the Government would like to pursue that.

Ilkley business forum in my constituency has established a new scheme to protect local independent traders and to save the town centre. May we have a statement making clear the Government’s support for small traders and outlining what they are doing to protect such traders from national chains and internet shopping?

I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend’s local authority has done. I believe that our planning proposals will give more weight to local authorities to take the sort of initiative that he has just touched on to protect independent stores and local traders. As for protecting them from unfair, predatory trading from some of the giant chains, the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill may give some protection. Of course, the Government have in the pipeline the broader agenda of deregulation, which I hope will help all the small shopkeepers in his constituency.

We heard today that house building fell to an all-time record low of 121,000 and that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government has produced a report that condemns the Government’s regeneration policy. Areas such as Woodnook in my constituency are really suffering. Last week, Shelter revealed that in 55% of local authorities people are being priced out. When will the Housing Minister come to the Floor of the House and debate the debacle that is the Government’s housing policy? Let us get to the bottom of this because it is a disgrace.

There was an exchange on housing on Monday when we had Communities and Local Government questions. We have taken a number of initiatives to promote housing. There is the new homes bonus to encourage local authorities, there is our streamlining of the planning system to remove unnecessary delays and, crucially, as we heard in the previous statement, there are low interest rates, which are crucial to enable first-time buyers to get on to the housing ladder. I hope that a combination of those measures will lead to a revival in house building, and it is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman that we had the lowest output in peacetime since the 1920s under the previous Government.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his sympathetic tone about the lack of defence debates that we have had so far in this Parliament. We are still waiting for debates on procurement and defence policy, for example, and we are also still waiting for the annual debate on the civil service. Is not the right answer that we should move swiftly towards having a fully fledged business Committee so that we can end the division of responsibility that has led to these problems?

The proposal in the coalition agreement envisages, certainly in the short term, two Committees: a BackBench Business Committee dealing with Back-Bench time, and a House business Committee dealing with Government time. In the longer term, we may move to a single, integrated Committee, but the initial proposal was that there should be two, side by side. Whether that would resolve the dilemma on which my hon. Friend touched, I am not sure because there would still be tension between, on the one hand, providing more time for Back-Bench business and, on the other, providing adequate time to scrutinise Government legislation. [Interruption.] We are sitting longer in the first two years of this Parliament than in the first two years of the previous Parliament. In the remaining days of this Session, I will see whether there is headroom to provide for more debates on defence, which is what prompted my hon. Friend’s initial question.

This week, the Government announced a review of feed-in tariffs, which will put at risk jobs across the country, not least at Romag in my constituency which, among other things, is responsible for the security screen in the Commons. At the same time, the Government have provided a regional growth fund so that companies can import solar panels from China for assembly in the UK, so that the onward sale is British. May we have an urgent statement on that piece of economic insanity?

We have had a statement on this enlightened policy, if I may phrase it slightly differently. I am sure that the hon. Lady was in the House when the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) replied to that question. The return on solar panel investment will be roughly what it was when the Labour Government began the scheme. We have recalibrated it to take account of the falling costs of solar panel installation. We are consulting on what replaces the regime after 12 December, and her thoughts will be welcome.

May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chair of the Select Committee on Defence, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) have said? I am quite shocked, as a new Member, that while we are fighting what looks increasingly like a guerrilla war in Afghanistan and are taking casualties, the House has not spent time generally looking at what we are doing in defence.

I detect the serious mobilisation of the armed forces on the Benches behind me, pressing for a further defence debate. As my hon. Friend knows, we have provided one day and, as I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), between now and the end of the Session, now that most of the major Bills have gone through the House, there may be headroom to provide some of the debates that were provided in Government time in the previous Parliament but which, for whatever reason, have not been forthcoming so far in this one.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I apologised to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury for my patronising tone in my question to her on Monday, but will he ask her to come back and apologise to the House for misleading it when she claimed that unemployment under the previous Government reached 30%?

Let us hear the response from the Leader of the House, but I must say, while I note what the hon. Lady has said, that we need to be very careful about accusing Members of misleading the House. She may wish to insert the word, “inadvertently”.

I am sure that it was inadvertent. Perhaps the Economic Secretary would come to the House and explain how she arrived at that figure.

In fairness to the hon. Lady, I welcomed what she said at the outset of her remarks about apologising for any offence that she may have caused my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary. I will draw my hon. Friend’s attention to this exchange, and ask her to write to the hon. Lady clarifying the use of the figures and, I am sure, justifying any figure that she used in the Chamber.

Given the recent publication of the Justice and Security Green Paper, which includes proposals on the reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and covers the protection of sensitive material, which is especially relevant to my constituents in Gloucester who work at GCHQ, will the Leader of the House consider providing time in the near future for the annual debate on the ISC?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I recognise his constituency interest. We have both seen the ISC annual report, as well as the consultation exercise announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor a few days ago and the recently published Justice and Security Green Paper. I shall reply in similar terms to the reply that I have given on an earlier occasion. I hope that it will be possible to find time to debate this important matter during the remainder of the Session, but whether in Government or in Backbench Business Committee time is something that needs to be resolved.

In Ashington in my constituency, 20.7% of 16 to 18-year-olds are classified as NEETs—not in education, employment or training. Will the Leader of the House make time to discuss the bleak future faced by hundreds of thousands of young people as a result of the Government’s policies?

I announced in the business statement that there would be a debate in Opposition time on youth unemployment on Wednesday, so the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise those issues. There will also be an opportunity for Ministers to explain the initiatives that they have taken, including the Work programme, investment in apprenticeships, and universal credit, which were all introduced to try to help the people in his constituency who hope to get into work.

May we have a debate on the appalling human rights situation in Iran, made worse by the spectre of 3,250 Iranian citizens who are in Camp Ashraf and who will be forcibly removed in 57 days, probably back to Iran, potentially with catastrophic consequences?

I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. I will contact the Foreign Secretary and ask him to write to him outlining what representations the British ambassador and the Foreign Office have made on this issue.

A report by the Fawcett Society shows that women are affected worst by Government cuts. Notwithstanding the earlier comments by the Leader of the House, may we have a clear statement from the Government about what they are going to do to ease that pressure on women’s lives?

Women have an interest in the Government’s economic policies, which lay the foundations for sustainable growth, enabling the country to remain competitive. They have an interest in the success of the action that we have taken to get the deficit down and rebuild confidence in the country. Women have much to gain from the success of that policy.

At the start of Parliament week, and with a leading Parliamentarian at the Dispatch Box, one thing that the Government could do very quickly is move towards the establishment of a business of the House Committee, so that Parliament timetables everything? The commitment, I accept, is not to go beyond 5 May 2013, but could we have it earlier, and may we have a statement from the Chief Whip welcoming that measure?

I know that my hon. Friend has a good working relationship with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, particularly in the light of the private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend introduced to abolish the Whips Office.

The Wright Committee recommended the measure but, at the end of the previous Parliament, the outgoing Government failed to accept that recommendation. We remain committed to doing it in the third year of this Parliament. Whether it makes sense to bring it forward before the review of the Backbench Business Committee is complete, I am not certain. However, we are committed to further reform of the way in which the House manages itself, and we are committed to the establishment of a House Committee to work alongside the Backbench Business Committee so that there is a slightly broader basis on which Government business is decided.

Will the Leader of the House take a careful look at the timing of consultations? Many Members have long believed that consultations are not necessarily the most effective way of changing Government policy, but the consultation on the feed-in tariff is the first occasion on which that which is being consulted on has been announced to come into effect 12 days before the end of the consultation. Considering that point would help the Government, if only to avoid judicial review.

That seems to be a repetition of a question that the hon. Gentleman put on Monday to the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle. We had to have a cut-off point to stop the erosion of funds under the current scheme. We are now consulting on what should replace that scheme, which is a sensible way forward.

May we please have a statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting? Apart from the agreement in principle that was reached to amend the rules relating to royal succession, many other matters were discussed. The Prime Minister routinely makes oral statements to the House after European Council meetings, and it would help reflect the great importance of the Commonwealth if it became routine for oral statements to be made following Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in the future.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his recognition that the present Prime Minister regularly makes statements to the House. He has made 23 so far this Session—a higher average strike rate than his predecessors. With statements after Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, we have followed the procedure adopted after earlier such meetings. There was a written statement to the House in 2005, in 2007 and in 2009, and we have simply carried that procedure forward.

I have been contacted by Mr Les Bennett, a small businessman in Hull. Seven weeks ago he took to market a new software application that would assist the solar panels industry. His business is now in ruins because of Monday’s announcement about the feed-in tariff. May we please have a debate on the Government’s commitment to small businesses and the renewables industry?

Obviously, I am sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent. I am not quite sure why a software application should not continue to be relevant even though the tariffs have changed. I hope Mr Bennett can recalibrate whatever product he has, in order to cope with the new regime.

Heathrow and Gatwick are operating at 99% capacity, leaving little scope for the UK economy to take advantage of the growth opportunities in the BRIC economies—those of Brazil, Russia, India and China. After the debate on the airstrip on the island of St Helena, in which the Leader of the House expressed such interest, might we perhaps find time for a further debate on UK aviation strategy and proposals for a new hub airport for London, so that such important opportunities do not go begging for a moment longer than necessary?

There will be an opportunity at the next Transport questions for my hon. Friend to raise that issue. He raises a serious point about the future of aviation policy. I would welcome such a debate in Westminster Hall, either according to the guidance of Mr Speaker or in Backbench Business Committee time, so that the Government can set out their current aviation policy and those who are in favour of alternative provision can make their case.

Could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the future of local and regional newspapers, many of which have been under some strain recently? Is the right hon. Gentleman as delighted as I am that following my representations, the Leicester Mercury is now available in the Library?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman—but I hope that he is not going to start a bidding war in which all hon. Members seek to catch Mr Deputy Speaker’s eye and raise the fortunes of their local newspaper. We have just had Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place, but I am sure that the Leicester Mercury will adequately record this exchange.

There is concern in my constituency over the intention to close Birch ward, at the hospital of St Cross in Rugby, later this month. That action arises because of the need to reduce the deficit within the hospital trust, which includes a large private finance initiative hospital based at Coventry. May we have a debate to consider the consequences of PFI funding, which was so favoured by Labour in the delivery of health care?

I am sorry to hear of the problems that confront my hon. Friend’s local hospital as a result of the private finance initiative scheme. We have done a review of PFI schemes that has produced annual savings of about 5% on NHS PFI schemes. I will draw the case of my hon. Friend’s hospital to the attention of the Treasury to see whether that scheme is one of those under review. Twenty-two NHS trusts have identified their PFI payments as an issue in terms of being financially sustainable, and plans have now been agreed for most of those at local health economy level, to ensure that that does not undermine their sustainability.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in wishing Hindus everywhere a belated happy Diwali last week? As well as welcoming that important festival, will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the Department for Education to grant initial approval to St Chaitanya’s school, a new Hindu free school for the borough of Harrow that will provide 1,470 young people with a faith-based education as part of this Government’s excellent free schools programme?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that initiative. I am glad the Government are taking it forward. It is the second scheme in this country sponsored by I-Foundation. It will be a free school, but like all schools that have a broad, balanced curriculum, it will build its ethos on the faith values of integrity, respect, courage, empathy, self-restraint and humility. I wish the school and its promoters every good fortune in the future.

Recently a constituent came to me concerned that in the space of five days she had received seven separate letters, almost identical, from the Child Support Agency, each envelope containing an identical large booklet. Can we find time for a debate on the efficiency of the Child Support Agency?

I think we all know from our advice bureaux that the current child maintenance system is not working properly. We have in mind a major child-centred reform promoting, where possible, agreement between the parents on the financial regime. I very much hope that once this new maintenance system is up and running, my hon. Friend will have fewer problems such as the one he has just described.

One of our great concerns is the low number of organ donations in the United Kingdom compared with other European countries, which has led to discussion about possibly introducing presumed consent, which I personally oppose. May we programme a debate in the Chamber to consider how we might increase that number, taking as an example what has happened in other European countries?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I have here my own donor card—which I hope will not be activated in the very near future. We have taken a number of initiatives. For example, when people renew their driving licence they are encouraged to take out a donor card. The issue of presumed consent raises a whole lot of ethical questions, and I am sure they should be debated, but at present the Government’s energy is devoted to encouraging the take-up of donor cards.

royal assent

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

Coinage (Measurement) Act 2011

Armed Forces Act 2011

Pensions Act 2011

Bill Presented

Household Safety (Carbon Monoxide Detectors) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Barry Sheerman, supported by Jason McCartney, Meg Munn, Julian Sturdy, Steve Baker, Andrew Percy, Laura Sandys, Dr Hywel Francis, Karl MᶜCartney, Andrew Stephenson, Chris White and Heidi Alexander, presented a Bill to introduce a requirement that a functioning carbon monoxide detector must be installed in residential properties; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November, and to be printed (Bill 245).