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Business of the House

Volume 545: debated on Thursday 17 May 2012

The business for next week will be:

Monday 21 May—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill.

Tuesday 22 May—Remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill, followed by Third Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Wednesday 23 May—Second Reading of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, followed by a European document relating to the proceeds of crime.

Thursday 24 May—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

I thank the Leader of the House for his announcement of next week’s business, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her re-election unopposed to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

Analysis of last week's Queen’s Speech has demonstrated that this Government have already run out of ideas. Of the 19 announced Bills, three are carry-overs from the previous Session, and now we learn that the passage of as many as five of the new Bills might be delayed until the next Session, making this by far the slimmest Queen’s Speech in living memory. Will the Leader of the House tell us why?

Today is the international day against homophobia and transphobia, and it is right that we mark it in this House. There are five countries where people can be sentenced to death for being lesbian or gay, and 76 where it is still illegal. We should pay tribute to all those who are bravely campaigning for equality around the world.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Equalities Minister to make a statement on the Government's proposals for equal marriage? This weekend, the Defence Secretary said that it was “not a priority”, and the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), said that he is “totally opposed”, but across the country there are couples who want to know whether to have a civil partnership, or to wait until the law is changed. What they do not want is to be in limbo while Conservative MPs fight among themselves and the Government prevaricate. The Prime Minister has said it is an important matter of equality. I agree. Will the Government now commit quickly to introducing legislation on equal marriage?

The whole House will be concerned about the eurozone crisis. On Monday, the Chancellor said

“the open speculation from some members in the eurozone about the future of some countries in the eurozone…is doing real damage across the whole European economy”—

only for the Prime Minister to indulge in precisely that speculation two days later. The Government’s plan A has pushed us back into recession. It has failed in Britain and it is now failing across Europe. Instead of manoeuvring to blame Europe for his failed economic policy, the Prime Minister should be pushing for a solution to the eurozone crisis.

At the election, Government Members promised not to cut front-line services, but that is exactly what the Home Secretary has done. More than 5,000 police officer jobs have been cut. When she spoke to the Police Federation conference yesterday, the right hon. Lady insisted the podium be shifted, because she did not want to be filmed in front of a conference slogan opposing police cuts. She can shift the podium and the camera angle, but she cannot shift the responsibility. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement on police numbers so that she can explain what happened to their manifesto promise not to cut front-line staff?

While the Home Secretary is at it, she could also explain the ongoing immigration shambles at Heathrow. Every week we hear reports of thousands of people stuck at immigration and passengers queuing for hours while immigration desks are closed. It takes something when even Joan Collins feels the need to tweet from the queue that the Home Secretary should get a grip. And it is not just the Home Secretary; the Immigration Minister’s justification for the shambles at Heathrow’s border control was that it was the result of the wrong type of wind. What is it about this Government and the weather? First they blamed the economy’s performance on the snow, then the excuse was the wrong type of rain, and now we have the wrong type of wind. May we have a statement on the ministerial code? Does the Leader of the House intend to amend the code to say that Ministers are responsible unless they can blame the weather or, perhaps, their special advisers?

At Justice questions this week neither the Secretary of State nor his deputy were present. The ministerial code states that Ministers are accountable to this House, so they should at least turn up for departmental questions rather than leaving it to junior Ministers and Whips to do their work for them. Will the Leader of the House undertake to make sure that senior Ministers are present for oral questions in future?

Justice Ministers dodge their responsibilities to the House, the Home Secretary refuses to take responsibility for her police cuts, the Immigration Minister refuses to take responsibility for the shambles at Heathrow and the Chancellor refuses to take responsibility for a double-dip recession made in Downing street. What a way to start the new parliamentary Session.

May I begin in a conciliatory way by congratulating the hon. Lady on her promotion to the chair of her party’s national policy forum? We hope that she can do that without becoming a part-time shadow Leader of the House. I know that she will bear in mind what her leader said on 10 January:

“in these times, with less money, spending more on one thing means finding the money from somewhere else.”

That is something her colleagues seem to have forgotten. Her previous job was shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, so she will want to bring some financial discipline to her party’s policies if they are to have any credibility with the electorate.

The hon. Lady asserted that there were not enough Bills in the Queen’s Speech. If she looks at earlier Queen’s Speeches, she will find that the number of Bills introduced in this Session is not dissimilar to the number introduced in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 Sessions. She will also find that three Bills are being carried over from the previous Session. We are not going to do what the previous Government did, which was to bring so much legislation to the House that they were unable to process it properly. As I have said before, the House is not simply a legislation factory. We are not going to make their mistake of imposing too many ill-considered and ill-drafted Bills on the House.

The hon. Lady mentioned that today is a day to celebrate equality. Had Mr Speaker been in the Chair, I would have commended the article he wrote for today’s copy of The Independent. Today is international day against homophobia and transphobia. The Government are strongly committed to advancing equality and want to ensure that public services are accessible to all and free from discrimination. She will know that we have lifted the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises and are currently consulting on how to implement equal civil marriage. We are continuing to remove barriers and tackle prejudice.

On the economy, the hon. Lady will know that we are about to debate economic matters on an amendment tabled by the Opposition, but I have to say that her policies would increase this country’s debt and provide no solution to its problems whatsoever.

On policing, I remind the hon. Lady that before the election the then Home Secretary was asked whether he could guarantee police numbers, and he said “No.” I remind her also that the Labour party has now endorsed cuts of £2.1 billion to the police budget, and the official Association of Chief Police Officers response, from Chief Constable Peter Fahy, stated that

“the effectiveness of policing cannot be measured by the number of officers alone but by reductions in crime and increases in public confidence.”

It is an inconvenient truth for the hon. Lady that, although she might suggest that crime is going up, official figures show that police-recorded crime has fallen by 3%.

Turning to immigration, I note that we inherited a shambles at the UK Border Agency, which we are putting right. The hon. Lady will welcome the Immigration Minister’s announcement before the Home Affairs Committee of an additional mobile unit at Heathrow to cope with the delays to which she refers.

I am astonished that the hon. Lady mentions the absence of the Lord Chancellor from oral questions. She was a Minister herself, and she will know that occasionally Ministers have responsibilities other than in the House. The Lord Chancellor, in line with precedent, wrote to Mr Speaker and to the shadow Lord Chancellor to explain that he would not be at oral questions but at an international legal forum in Russia. I am sure that he would have preferred to have been here, because he enjoys his time at the Dispatch Box, but I commend the performance of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), who was an understudy for the Lord Chancellor and not only kept the balls away from the wicket but swept many of them to the boundary.

Finally, I say to the hon. Lady that it is a fortnight since the Labour party candidate was defeated in the election for Mayor of London, and less than two months since the hon. Lady’s party lost Bradford West, so any triumphalism on her part is very premature.

A new report by a former president of the British Veterinary Association states that more than 25% of meat sold in our shops comes from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter. That figure exceeds easily the needs of our communities with special religious requirements, and it suggests that some abattoirs are cutting corners and costs. May we please have a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the measures in place to protect our animal welfare laws, and on whether any new measures are needed to ensure that we enforce them properly?

My hon. Friend raises an important and sensitive issue. Obviously, ideally, all animals should be stunned before slaughter, but she will recognise that there are religious issues here and that people have a preference to have their meat presented differently. We will, however, consult on measures to improve the welfare of animals slaughtered in accordance with religious rites when we consult on measures to implement regulation 1099/2009, which comes into effect on 1 January next year. The regulation deals specifically with the protection of animals at the time of killing, so there will be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to influence the decision-making process later this year.

Order. Mr Bryant, please, can we just calm down a little? Both sides get irritated and no one wants to see anyone irritated. Can we offer the hon. Lady our congratulations as well?

Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Leader of the House for the announcement of the pre-recess Adjournment debate next Thursday. Had the Backbench Business Committee been in existence at that point, I am sure we would have looked at scheduling a pre-recess Adjournment debate on that day, given that the previous pre-recess Adjournment debate was on assisted suicide. I am therefore grateful to the Leader of the House for doing that.

I pay tribute to the outgoing members of the Backbench Business Committee: the hon. Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and, especially, for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Without them, the Committee would not be what it is today, and I am sad to see them leave, but I welcome the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—and indeed the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who is the greatest champion in the House of the pre-recess Adjournment debate, so next week’s will be a fitting start for him. Given that the Committee is still entirely English in composition, I hope that by the end of the Session we can look at having membership from the minority parties in order that we can become a UK Backbench Business Committee instead of being solely English.

May I repeat what I said last night in congratulating the hon. Lady on her re-election? I am grateful to her for endorsing our decision to have a conventional pre-recess Adjournment debate next Thursday, to which my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will respond. She paid tribute to the outgoing members of the Backbench Business Committee. I am not sure whether it would enhance her reputation if I endorsed that, because the whole point of the Committee is to choose subjects that the Government would not normally have chosen, and it certainly did that under the previous regime. I look forward to working with her and newly elected colleagues during this Session, and to taking forward some of the ideas that we have shared about how we get some certainty into some of our conventional debates. I think she will understand that her party is slightly better placed than mine in being able to put Scottish Members on to the Committee. However, we have changed the Standing Orders to enable other Members to attend, and I hope that that is a move in the right direction.

In a written parliamentary answer dated 8 March, I was told by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority:

“Under our publication scheme, we proactively publish the minutes of meetings of IPSA’s Board.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2012; Vol. 541, c. 839W.]

Thirty minutes ago, under the heading “Transparency—Minutes of board meetings”, the IPSA website revealed that the last recorded publicly accessible minutes were for its meeting on 30 January. Knowing how keen IPSA is on every i being dotted and every t being crossed, either it has not met for three months or it is not honouring what it should. Bearing in mind that a public consultation is going on as to what the public feel is the role of an MP, should we, as MPs, not have a debate on this?

My hon. Friend is a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and he will know that on Tuesday morning there is a meeting between SCIPSA and IPSA—I am sorry about all these initials—where he will have an opportunity to put to the chairman of IPSA the question he has put to me. The chairman of IPSA will now have notice of what is coming and will have in his breast pocket the answer to the question, with specific details of when his board last met.

Whatever happened to the Tory announcement of the school building programme? Several months ago, the Secretary of State for Education, in an answer to me about Tibshelf school in my constituency, said that the statement would be made and that Tibshelf would almost certainly be one of the schools selected. Several months have passed and nothing has happened. Is this programme in the long grass with the equality programme, care of the elderly, building houses, the green deal, and all the rest of it?

We intend to announce this month which schools will be rebuilt through the priority school building programme. It has been necessary to make specific checks, with site visits, on the condition of all the schools that applied, and we want to get it right. An announcement will be made shortly, and the first schools that are rebuilt through this programme will open as scheduled in 2014.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the 44th meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly took place in Dublin on two days this week, attended by many right hon. and hon. Members from this House and another place, and from the Irish Parliament, including the Taoiseach? Today the Dáil is debating that meeting and hearing reports of our discussions on trade, transport, Northern Ireland, and environmental policies. Would it be helpful to this House, and perhaps to another place, if time were made available for us to report on the proceedings of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly?

I applaud the work that my hon. Friend does as Chair of the Northern Ireland Committee and his involvement in the group he mentions. If the Committee did a report on these issues it could provide a route for their finding their way into a debate through the Liaison Committee. Alternatively, he could apply to the newly established Backbench Business Committee for a debate on the subject, or he might find it possible to speak about it at next Thursday’s pre-recess Adjournment debate and get a response from my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that good communications between Members and their constituents are important. For the past three days, the telephone in my constituency office has been out of action. I do not know whether anybody else has faced the exasperation of trying to contact BT recently. I spent three quarters of an hour on the telephone yesterday, trying to get hold of somebody to talk to about the problem. My office has spent three days trying to get hold of a person to correct the fault. BT was privatised by the Conservative Government in 1984. It made a profit last year of £2.4 billion. Surely somebody can look at this problem, given the difficulties it is causing Members and their constituents.

I am sorry to hear of the problems that the right hon. Lady faces in her constituency office. I have always found Clova Fyfe, who works for BT, enormously helpful in solving constituency problems. I will bring to her attention the difficulties that the right hon. Lady faces in her constituency office and see whether they can quickly be put right.

A lot of Members want to catch my eye and I want to call them all, so speedy questions and shorter answers are required.

I am sure that I am not alone in having a significant amount of constituency casework concerning the family courts system and the failings that my constituents find in dealing with that service. Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate to reassure my constituents that all that can be done is being done to reform that system?

My hon. Friend will know that we will introduce a children and families Bill that will address some of the issues about which she is rightly concerned. It will, we hope, create a time limit of six months for the completion of care cases, and will focus on issues that are essential in deciding whether a court order is made. There will be other issues in the Bill, but I would be testing your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, if I read them out. This matter is a priority for the Government and it was in the Queen’s Speech.

May we have a debate in Government time about military procurement, and in particular about how robust the tendering process is and how due diligence is progressed? In part, this request was prompted by the experience of a company in my constituency that makes military garments. It tendered a significantly lower contract price than a Spanish company called Iturri. Iturri won the contract and then offered to subcontract the entire business to the company in my constituency at the significantly lower price.

I will raise the issue with the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether there has been any irregularity, and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a debate on trade? For 13 years under the previous Government, the automotive sector was in a trade deficit. In just two years, that has become a trade surplus. Given the good news today of Vauxhall Motors’ further investment in UK manufacturing, it is important that the House holds such a debate so that it understands how we are rebalancing the economy.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I notice that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) did not mention the good news at Ellesmere Port, which has secured 2,100 jobs and paves the way for another 700 as the plant moves from two shifts to three. My hon. Friend makes a good point that emphasises our success in rebalancing the economy away from an over-reliance on financial services, back to manufacturing. He makes the point that a number of major motor manufacturers are investing in this country. Crucially, some of the components suppliers are also moving back to the UK, so we are getting the benefit of the whole supply chain.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to listen to the catalogue of disasters that has affected my constituent, Mr Garnett Smith. He has a problem with HMRC, which keeps taking money from two separate employer relationships that he has. On 31 January, I wrote to HMRC and the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. By 18 April, there was no reply so I chased it up. I was told that I would have a reply on 20 April, but there was no such reply. I contacted the Exchequer Secretary again on 8 May and was told that an electronic copy was coming. On 16 May, there was still no response. My constituent is still having money withdrawn from his account. Will the Leader of the House please ask a Treasury Minister to come to the House to explain whether his Department is incompetent or just does not care about my constituent?

Of course Treasury Ministers care about the hon. Lady’s constituents. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will be at this Dispatch Box in a few moments’ time. Rather than waiting for a debate, if she lets me have her constituent’s details I will see that the appropriate Treasury Minister gets on to the case. If there is an injustice and money is being wrongly withdrawn from an account, we will see that it is stopped straight away.

The Government are investing heavily in rail infrastructure across the north, with the electrification of the trans-Pennine route. The big decision is coming up on the funding of the northern hub rail investment programme, which would stimulate 20,000 to 30,000 jobs across the north. May we have yet another debate on the fully funded northern hub project, focusing in particular on the support that the scheme is getting from local enterprise partnerships and the private sector?

That is an important project. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport spoke in the debate yesterday on transport-related issues. I cannot promise another debate in the near future. My hon. Friend will know that we have agreed to fund Network Rail up to a maximum of £130 million to implement the package to which he refers. The investments to increase capacity and speeds on the Sheffield to Manchester line, and to increase speeds on the Manchester to Bradford via Rochdale and Halifax line and the Manchester to Preston via Bolton line are subject to value for money being confirmed, but they are a demonstration of our commitment to infrastructure, particularly in my hon. Friend’s part of the country.

On 15 March, the Government tabled a series of changes to the immigration rules. Some of them are perfectly sensible, but some of us fear that others of them will lead to a new generation of domestic workers living in virtual servitude. They will come into force if, after 40 days, no motion has been tabled in this House to oppose them. We have prayed against them. I know that the Government have difficulty working out when 40 days will lapse, but they will lapse tomorrow. The Government have therefore failed to provide an opportunity for us to debate the matter. Will the Minister for Immigration delay the implementation of the changes until we have had a proper debate?

The procedure that we have adopted is exactly the same as that which the hon. Gentleman adopted when he was Deputy Leader of the House.

The decision of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) to reorder his priorities may or may not be a welcome development for the Leader of the Opposition, but it is a welcome development for those of us who are concerned about making the best use of tidal and hydro energy schemes. Will the Government make time for a debate in the House on the need for investment, both private and public, in tidal and hydro barrage schemes, not just in the Severn estuary, but at Morecambe bay, so that we can create clean, green energy on a massive scale, as well as thousands of jobs?

Those are important issues and are part of our agenda to diversify the supply of electricity generation. We had a debate yesterday on Department of Energy and Climate Change-related issues and we have just had questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his team of Ministers, so I cannot promise another immediate opportunity to address these issues. Later in the Session, there will be a Bill on electricity market reform, which may be an opportunity for my hon. Friend to develop his theme.

The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House have noted that today is the international day against homophobia and transphobia. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on tackling homophobic bullying in schools, because my constituents report that it remains a significant problem?

That is an important issue. I wonder whether it would be appropriate for the hon. Lady to make an early application to the Backbench Business Committee to see whether we could have a debate on bullying in schools and the particular type of bullying to which she has referred. We can be proud that the UK has been recognised as the No. 1 country in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

May we have a statement on how this Government are helping hard-pressed households by freezing council tax? That is something that the last Labour Government completely failed to do. Indeed, council tax more than doubled during their time in office. I am pleased that it is not only the Government who are delivering on council tax pledges, but my district council of North West Leicestershire, which is freezing council tax for the third successive year.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that the compounded saving of two years’ freeze is worth up to £147. I pay tribute to those local authorities that have been able to make sometimes difficult decisions to pass those benefits through. He also contrasts the record of the coalition Government in our first two years with the record of the previous Labour Government, under whom, as he said, council tax doubled.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report by three independent housing organisations on the emerging housing crisis? The report confirms that, last year, only 109,000 homes were completed, which is much less than the 140,000 homes completed on average under the previous Government, and less than half the number that the Government know would meet demand. Homelessness is also on the increase—it is up 27%—and more than 600,000 are affected by overcrowding. Home building, therefore, is a win-win situation: it will increase growth, which the Prime Minister will talk about today. Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on housing and how we achieve better economic growth?

As a former Housing Minister, I take a close interest in this matter and have seen the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We inherited a not very positive record from the previous Government: the lowest peacetime house building since the 1920s. I am sure he will welcome our affordable homes programme, which is set to exceed expectations and deliver up to 170,000 affordable homes and a £1.3 billion investment to get Britain building. I hope he will also welcome what we have done to enable planning decisions to be made more quickly, to make public land available to house builders, and to help first-time buyers. I hope, too, that he will welcome our fiscal decisions, which, crucially, enable interest rates to remain low, helping first-time home buyers.

Earlier this week, the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who has responsibility for children and families, responded to the Green Paper on special educational needs, which is an area of policy that has been ignored for far too long. Parents must battle for their children’s rights to receive the education they need. May we have a debate on this important area of policy so that we can push progress much more quickly?

I would welcome such a debate. The Government are committed to a draft Bill on that matter, so there will be an opportunity to take things forward. We want to ensure that services for disabled children and young people, and those with special educational needs, are planned and commissioned jointly by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. We want to give children who have challenges a much squarer deal than they have at the moment. When the Bill is introduced, there will be an opportunity to outline Government policy.

I am sure all hon. Members would like to join me in congratulating the Glasgow Labour party on its success in the Glasgow city council elections last week, which helped to crash the Scottish National party separatist juggernaut into the ditch. One reason for that success was the innovative policies that Glasgow Labour introduced, including a £25 million jobs guarantee scheme. Given the ongoing crisis of youth unemployment, may we have an urgent debate in the House on that issue?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the amendment to the Queen’s Speech that has been tabled, which we are about to debate, he will see that unemployment is specifically mentioned. The answer—this is probably the first time I have been able to say this—is that yes, I can grant a debate on the subject to which he just referred, and it will start in about 20 minutes’ time.

Please may we have a debate on encouraging entrepreneurialism in young people in schools and colleges? Last week, I was a dragon at a “Dragon’s Den” event at Harrogate college and was impressed by the ability, pitches and enthusiasm of the young people I met. Across our country, young people just need the opportunity in our education system to understand the excitement and rewards of a career in business.

I commend what my hon. Friend has done, but I cannot think of anyone less like a dragon than him. It is important that schools do more to prepare children for the financial challenges in life. Some schools have started schemes whereby pupils are given a relatively small sum of money and challenged to grow it—there have been real successes from that, and there is an encouraging increase in self-employment among young people. I applaud my hon. Friend’s initiative in encouraging young people in his constituency to become attuned to financial matters, and I hope that many of them turn out to be budding entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) raised the issue of how the principles of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 are being undermined by Criminal Records Bureau checks, because people’s lives are being blighted for ever by offences or even cautions that took place years and sometimes decades earlier, often in people’s unruly youth. In view of the utterly complacent reply my right hon. Friend received from the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), who was answering as a Minister, may we have a debate to expose and hopefully remedy this ongoing injustice?

The rehabilitation of offenders legislation has, I believe, recently been reviewed, but I will take on board the point the right hon. Gentleman makes and see whether further tweaks are needed to ensure that people are not unjustly penalised, when they seek employment, for relatively trivial offences that happened some time ago. I will raise the matter with the Home Secretary.

Given that elected politicians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have rejected £790 million of UK aid, claiming that it is a guilt payment so that British companies can secure access to offshore mining interests, may we have a debate on the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross domestic product on overseas aid?

The commitment to international aid spending was discussed at some length by hon. Members on both sides of the House on Tuesday, in a debate to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development responded. On the specific issue my hon. Friend mentions, I am not sure it would be right to withhold support to the DRC—the aid we give reaches very poor people, who would be deprived of the assistance they need—but I will draw his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

The Leader of the House will be aware that small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency are eager to respond to the Government challenge to export more to Brazil, Russia, India and China, but has he also seen Lord Digby Jones’s remarks that UK Trade & Investment, which is an arm of the Foreign Office, has been devastated? What help can we give small and medium-sized businesses in constituencies such as mine to help them to export to BRIC countries?

UKTI has not been “devastated”. I was in touch with it recently when it held a seminar specifically for small and medium-sized enterprises that wanted to export. The seminar was well attended and found to be of great value by those who came along. I could not praise more highly the input of UKTI to that initiative. I would encourage hon. Members who have not already done so to contact UKTI and have a similar seminar in their constituencies.

Another hidden and scandalous form of discrimination in this country is the reluctance of businesses—often small businesses—to hire women of child-bearing age because they fear that they will take maternity leave. May we therefore have a debate on shared parental leave and the importance it will have in ensuring that that form of hidden discrimination ends?

I applaud what my hon. Friend says. It is indeed the Government’s policy to move towards more flexible parental leave so that parents can share caring responsibilities. We are working with businesses to create a more flexible system of parental leave. Under our proposals, parents will be given the choice to determine how they take leave for child care. They will be able to divide the majority of the leave into blocks to suit their work needs, and to split leave between them. I hope that will remove some of the barriers to which my hon. Friend refers.

Last year, I raised with the Leader of the House the tragic case of Joe Arthur, my constituent who was killed while on holiday in Greece in 2006, and the family’s fight for justice. This week, the family have again been out to Greece, and yet again the trial has stalled. Will the Leader of the House arrange for me to meet urgently a Foreign Office Minister to discuss what further assistance can be offered to the family, because that situation simply cannot be allowed to continue?

I am very sorry to hear of the problems that confront the hon. Lady’s constituents. It so happens that a constituent of mine was killed in Greece last year, and their family is having exactly the same problems of finding out when the trial is to be held and what status and role they will have in the proceedings. I will raise the matter with a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister and ask him to contact her and see what assistance we can give to the family in the tragic circumstances she has just mentioned.

I very much support the Government in putting public sector pensions on an affordable and sustainable footing. In that spirit, may we have a debate on the pension contributions of judges? Judges are being asked to make a contribution of just 2% towards their pension, which is neither affordable nor sustainable. Surely my right hon. Friend agrees that it is wrong that judges pay less in total towards their pensions than other public sector workers, who are being asked to pay increased contributions?

There will be an opportunity to debate this matter. We are committed to introducing legislation on public service pensions, which will certainly embrace judges, and my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to propose the necessary amendments to the legislation, if he finds we have not responded. We are aware of this issue, however, and there will be a Bill designed to address it.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was asked about the cut in the number of front-line police officers but answered by talking about the proportion. Will the Leader of the House impress on his colleagues the importance of answering the question asked, not the one they would rather have been asked? Next time, therefore, the Prime Minister might give the right answer, which, to clarify, is more than 5,000.

With respect, that is a game that we can play as well, having listened to previous Prime Ministers for 13 years. One of my colleagues actually wrote a book compiling not only the failures to answer questions but the inaccurate answers that a previous Prime Minister gave. The Prime Minister always answers questions as accurately, honestly and openly as he can, and I would rebut any criticism of his performance at the Dispatch Box.

Despite having the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, we continue to have Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland questions in the House, which are often dominated by English MPs asking questions provided by the Whips Office. If we are to continue with this, is it not time to have English questions, too, so that English MPs can raise questions important to the English people?

The principle of oral questions is that the House should have the opportunity to hold Secretaries of State and Ministers to account. That is why there are separate Northern Ireland, Scotland and Welsh questions. English Ministers, of course, have to answer for English-related matters when at the Dispatch Box. If the House wants to hold the Government to account, the best way to do it is by a series of departmental questions, which is what we have now.

Following the publication of the BBC Trust’s latest savings plans, will the House have an opportunity to debate the plans, particularly the plans for local radio? I ask because there are many excellent local services, including Radio Humberside in my constituency, and this week, the radio show, “Beryl and Betty”, with Beryl Renwick, aged 86, and Betty Smith, aged 90, won the Sony gold award for excellence.

The BBC is an independent organisation and is responsible for allocating its funds and finding savings. If the hon. Lady wants to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on how the BBC is organised, I am sure she will get a warm reception from its newly elected members.

Earlier this week, the all-party group on pharmacy published a report after a six-month inquiry into prescription medicine shortages. The difficulty is that patients cannot always get them. May we have a debate, or at least a ministerial statement, to find out what the Government propose to do about this awful situation?

I applaud my hon. Friend’s work as vice-chairman of the all-party group, which I understand was founded by the Deputy Leader of the House. About 900 million prescriptions are issued each year for about 16,000 medicines, some of which, as my hon. Friend said, are in short supply. The Government will want to respond to the report. Contingency arrangements are in place whereby if a pharmacy cannot get a medicine from the wholesaler, it can go direct to the supplier. We do all that we can to prevent shortages, but as I said, we will want to respond to the suggestions in his report.

Please may we have a chance to debate the Government’s thoughts on regional pay? Last week, the Welsh Government produced an excellent response to the Government’s consultation, and it would be fantastic to have an early opportunity to articulate just how unfair, divisive and damaging these proposals will be for areas such as Newport in my constituency.

It might be in order for the hon. Lady to raise that issue on the amendment that her party has tabled to today’s debate. The Government are consulting on the matter, and I welcome the contribution to that process to which she referred. I think that the consultation ends later this year, at which point it might be sensible to have a debate to indicate where the Government are going, having initiated the consultation process, and to see whether there is a case for differential rates of pay in the public sector to reflect regional cost variances.

There is an encouraging increase in the number of organs being made available for transplant, particularly organs such as kidneys, from live donors. Today, an 83-year-old man made a successful kidney donation. Will the Leader of the House ensure an early opportunity for us to discuss this matter and build on the willingness of these wonderful people to donate during their lifetimes?

It so happens that Nicholas Crace, the man to whom my hon. Friend refers, is a constituent of mine living in Overton, and I applaud what he has done. I hope that all hon. Members carry a donor card so that if any accident did befall them, they might be of some help to others. I cannot promise an early debate on this important issue, but again it might be a subject for a Backbench Business Committee or Adjournment debate.

May we have a debate on consumer protection? The Leader of the House will be aware that many of our constituents the length and breadth of the country would like to come to the capital to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee, but the costs are prohibitive—nowhere more so than on Dolphin square, where many hon. Members reside, where people are now charging £275 for one night’s accommodation. That is double what they normally charge. It is exploitation and should be condemned from the highest level of Government.

I understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, who find they might be priced out of coming to London for some of the jubilee celebrations or Olympics. There will be an opportunity next Thursday to cross-question Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who have responsibility for consumer protection, on this issue. I will, however, raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to see what action we can take to help.

Grahame Maxwell, chief constable of North Yorkshire police, was only the second chief constable in British policing history to be found guilty of gross misconduct. This week, he walked away with a payout of £250,000. As part of the Government’s excellent policing reforms, may we have a new rule—if a police chief is found guilty of gross misconduct, he should be kicked out and receive no money?

I shall raise that with the Home Secretary. Whether people should lose, in some cases, pension entitlement for committing a crime is an issue across the public sector. I will raise this specific issue with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, however, and see whether we have any plans to change the regime.

On Monday, the Defence Secretary confirmed that the number of British troops would fall from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020. A decision on where the axe will fall is expected soon. The people of Wales are rightly alarmed at the prospect of losing 1st the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—the Welsh cavalry—which is the UK’s most senior front-line force. May we have an urgent debate so that all Members can feed into this review?

The Secretary of State indicated, I think, that the total Army numbers would be about 120,000, of which about 80,000 would be regulars and 40,000 reserves. The exercise of configuring individual units and regiments is under way, and I know that my right hon. Friend will want to keep the House informed. There are regular debates on defence, and a set-piece debate is sometimes provided by the Backbench Business Committee, so there might be an opportunity to discuss the matter on one of those occasions.

There are 25,000 more people in work in the west midlands than there were a year ago, but one of the key problems for people getting into employment is affordable and accessible child care. May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to improve accessibility to child care so that people in families can get back into work?

This is an important issue. My hon. Friend will know that we have increased the entitlement to free education and care for three and four-year-olds to 15 hours a week and extended it to disadvantaged two-year-olds. He will also know that under universal credit—I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions here—there will be greater support for child care when we remove the so-called 16-hour rule and enable those working less than 16 hours a week to access child care.

In a few weeks’ time, London will play host to the Olympics and Paralympics, which we will all celebrate. During the games, it will be the 40th anniversary of the Olympics’ darkest hour when, in 1972, 11 members of the Israeli team were brutally murdered. So far, the Olympic movement has failed to honour their memory or provide closure for their families. Will my right hon. Friend allow a statement to be made to the House on this matter? There is widespread support across the House for a one-minute silence to be held during the games to commemorate those who were murdered.

My hon. Friend raises an important matter in reminding us of the tragedy that took place 40 years ago. I would like to raise his suggestion with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport and, possibly, with Lord Coe, who is in charge of the arrangements. Any commemoration involving a period of silence in the House would be a matter for Mr Speaker, who I am sure will read the record of what my hon. Friend has just said.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on saving our historic lidos and on involving our communities in that process? I should very much like to see such activity taking place in relation to the Saltdean lido in my constituency.

I commend my hon. Friend’s initiative in saving the lido in Brighton. I cannot promise a debate on the matter, but I will ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport whether there is a role for him to play in this movement. My hon. Friend might also like to contact the Backbench Business Committee about holding a debate, as I am sure that there are other hon. Members who share his concern.

May we have a debate on the importance of collaboration between universities and business in supporting growth? Staffordshire university has just been specially commended by the Higher Education Funding Council for England for its work led by Sandra Booth and her team.

I commend what is happening in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is important for universities to be in touch with business so that they can focus their courses on the skills that industry needs, and I am delighted to hear of the collaboration taking place in Staffordshire.

May we please have a statement on the UK system of measurement, to enable the Government to confirm—I hope—that this country will continue to have the freedom to use the traditional imperial system of weights and measures, and not be forced any further down the road of compulsory use of the metric system, which has been recently suggested by a former Leader of the House of Commons, the noble Lord Howe?

In this case, there is no solidarity between the Leaders of the House, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to retaining imperial units in all the areas in which they are currently legal units for trade. This includes retaining imperial units for use in dual labelling for as long as people find them useful.

Having owned several Vauxhall Astras in the past, I am delighted to hear of the commitment by General Motors to retaining and creating jobs in Ellesmere Port. However, with car manufacturing now firmly in the ascendancy, I fear that we might have the potential for a skills gap. May we therefore have a statement from the Education Secretary to tell us what more the Government can do to promote manufacturing in schools so that we can enthuse more young people to take up such careers?

I applaud my hon. Friend’s suggestion that we reawaken in young people an interest in a career in manufacturing. I know that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) will be interested in taking this dialogue forward. I commend the number of Vauxhalls that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) has had, although I am not sure why he needed so many. Today’s announcement by General Motors of the move from two shifts to three is indeed good news for Merseyside, as is the confirmation that the new Astra will be built in the UK.

May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on being returned unopposed to the chairmanship of the Backbench Business Committee? May I also ask the Leader of the House for an early debate in Government time on guidance on how the national planning policy framework is to be applied by local councils? There seems to be a lot of confusion among planning authorities over the circumstances in which a planning application may be called in, and I do not think that the questions of regional and national importance are fully understood. An early debate on this matter would be most helpful.

We had a debate on the national planning policy framework in the last days of the previous Session, so I cannot promise another in the near future, but my hon. Friend raises an important issue which I will share with Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will also ask the Secretary of State to write to her to try to address the particular concern that she has raised.

May I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement from a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions on any ongoing improvements to the work capability assessment and its related appeals process? With official figures showing that only a third of appeals are successful, rising to 70% for those helped by citizens advice bureaux, and with six to 12 months’ delays in receiving the results of appeals, far too many of my constituents are still being left without support, for entirely dubious reasons.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is in his place, and that he will respond to the debate later today. Perhaps he will refer, in his wind-up speech, to the Harrington reviews that are now under way, and that have been set up specifically to address the issues to which my hon. Friend refers. I know that my right hon. Friend will do what he can to allay those concerns.