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Business of the House

Volume 546: debated on Thursday 14 June 2012

The business for next week will include:

Monday 18 June—Consideration in Committee of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill (day 1).

Tuesday 19 June—Debate on a motion relating to the application of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, followed by debate on a motion relating to financial services market abuse.

Wednesday 20 June—Opposition day [2nd allotted day]. There will be a debate on disability benefits and social care, followed by a further debate on a subject to be announced. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 21 June—Motion relating to the work of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, followed by a motion relating to the mis-selling of interest rate swap products to small businesses. The subjects of these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 9.30 am on this day.

The provisional business for the week commencing 25 June will include:

Monday 25 June—Consideration in Committee of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill (day 2).

Tuesday 26 June—Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 27 June—Conclusion of consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill (day 3).

Thursday 28 June—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 June will be a debate on social mobility.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We are all particularly looking forward to the visit next Thursday of Aung San Suu Kyi, which is the cause of the change in the start time.

This week the part-time Chancellor has been whingeing to a group of business leaders because they have not been publicly defending his decision to cut taxes for the richest 1%. This, in a week when we learn that FTSE 100 bosses have awarded themselves an extremely generous pay rise of 12% on average, with one in four pocketing staggering pay rises of 40% or more.

How do the Government respond? On Second Reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill on Monday, the Business Secretary announced that he is to water down proposals, which were already inadequate, to give shareholders binding votes on executive pay. Instead of encouraging business leaders to lobby for an even bigger deal for the richest 1%, does the Leader of the House not think that the Chancellor should clamp down on unwarranted and exorbitant rewards for those at the very top?

With the Chancellor disgracefully ducking his own statement on banking reform later today, how are we ever going to get him into this Chamber to explain what has happened to his abandoned slogan: “We’re all in this together”? We have also had an independent report this week on child poverty, which states that the previous, Labour Government cut child poverty at a pace and scale unmatched in any other industrial country. It reveals that measures that Labour introduced in government stopped almost 1 million children growing up in poverty, and it states also that measures introduced by this Government were both “unfair” and “short-sighted”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies expects the number of children growing up in poverty to increase by 600,000 over the next two years, but the Government’s response is to try to redefine poverty, not to deal with the problem. There we have it: a Government who cut taxes for the richest and make the poor poorer while trying to cover it up. Will the Leader of the House finally find time for a debate on fairness? The Chancellor in his Budget made the wrong decision, and he also chose the wrong economic strategy. Britain is in a double-dip recession made in Downing street. Next week the G20 is meeting in Mexico, and this is an opportunity for the Government finally to come up with a plan B, but I fear that Ministers will have trouble even making it to the G20 given that they are constantly U-turning. A holding pattern over Heathrow seems like a more realistic ministerial destination than Mexico.

The Chancellor made good use of the recess to perform mass U-turns on his omnishambles of a Budget, and I now understand why there are so many recesses at the moment: the Government have built time into the parliamentary calendar to allow Ministers to slip out all their U-turns when the House is not sitting. Does the Leader of the House agree that Ministers should have the guts to come to the House to announce their U-turns?

House building is down, homelessness is up, rough sleeping is up and young people find it impossible to get on the housing ladder. What is the response of the Minister for Housing and Local Government? He spends his time spinning figures that are palpable nonsense. In what parallel universe can the Minister for Housing and Local Government describe a year-on-year drop of 68% in the number of affordable housing starts as an “impressive” and “dramatic” increase? He claimed that there was a “net loss” of 45,000 homes between 1997 and 2010, before deciding that that figure was not sufficiently dramatic and press-releasing that we ended up with 200,000 fewer homes.

In fact, the Government’s own statistics show that by May 2010, when compared with May 1997, there were an additional 2 million homes in England. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement explaining the antics of the Housing Minister as well as his flawed understanding of simple mathematics?

The pay of FTSE 100 bosses is spiralling out of control, the number of children growing up in poverty is increasing, house building is down and homelessness is up. What we need from the Prime Minister and this Government are less PR and more delivery. To date, it is a pretty sorry record from an out-of-touch and incompetent Government.

I begin on a consensual note and agree with what the hon. Lady said about next Thursday, when we welcome Aung San Suu Kyi in Westminster Hall.

“Part-time Chancellor”, the hon. Lady says, which is all very well coming from a shadow Leader of the House who a few weeks ago assumed new responsibilities for heading up her party’s policy unit. I hope that she is not going to be a part-time shadow Leader of the House.

On executive pay, the previous Government had 13 years but did absolutely nothing about it. Since January we have been consulting on the most comprehensive reform of governance on directors’ pay, and greater transparency on what executives are paid; strengthening shareholder rights by legislating so that they can hold companies to account; and calling on responsible business and investors to promote good practice. We will announce the final package shortly and do in two-and-a-half years something that Labour wholly failed to do in 13.

On child poverty, the previous Government’s target was to halve it by 2010. They failed. Although relative child poverty numbers fell over the past year, children were no better off in real terms, as it was largely due to a reduction in median incomes. Absolute poverty also did not change, so there are some perverse incentives in the current system, given that, perversely, in a recession it seems that poverty statistics are getting better. That is why we are consulting on a better range for measuring child poverty, something that looks at the causes as well as the monetary measures. In a report it will be announced that the Government intend to consult in the autumn on new, better measurements of child poverty, and when we introduce universal credits that will lift hundreds of thousands of children and families out of poverty.

The hon. Lady asks for a debate about fairness. I have announced a number of Opposition days, so she is perfectly welcome to choose fairness as the subject of one of them. Indeed, she might have chosen fairness for the debate yesterday; it would have been far better than the one that we had.

As for the sittings of the House, we are now sitting in September, which we did not do at all during the previous Parliament, and sitting like-for-like for more days than the previous Parliament.

As for housing, under the previous Government house building starts fell to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s. The hon. Lady asked what we were planning to do. We have plans for 170,000 affordable homes during the current spending review. We have reformed the planning system and we are making more public land available to house builders. We are taking a range of steps to assist the housing market.

Apparently, we do not deal with our problems in the same way as the Opposition. This morning we discovered an interesting new technique for establishing party discipline from a prominent Labour blogger in the New Statesman, who wrote: “Challenge Labour and you’ll find a horse’s head on your pillow”. It is no wonder that one insider was quoted as saying:

“We’re all being terribly positive at the moment.”

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that there is a statement on banking reform to follow, and then a very heavily subscribed debate on mental health under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. I am keen to accommodate as many colleagues as possible, but if I am to do so I require short questions and short answers.

At this time of year, local groups such as New Forest’s Normandy Veterans Association commemorate the greatest amphibious invasion in history. In two years’ time, it will be the 70th anniversary of that invasion. May we have a statement from a Defence Minister indicating whether there will be Government support for the surviving veterans to revisit the beaches in 2014 for the 70th anniversary commemorations?

Let me begin by commending the fortitude and bravery of those veterans who, 70 years ago, landed on the beaches of Normandy. At this stage, planning for 2014 is in its incipience, but we will mark this important anniversary. The Ministry of Defence plans to work closely with the Normandy Veterans Association, and once planning gets under way, we will discuss with it some key issues, particularly what support we will be able to give to those who want to go to Normandy in person to take part in the commemorative service.

There has recently been much discussion about proposals to change the regulation of child care. Many child minders, child carers and parents in my constituency have approached me with real concerns about what this could mean for quality. Do the Government have any plans to pursue this agenda? Whether or not that is the case, will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on this, because I am sure that many other hon. Members would like to raise their constituents’ concerns about the implications of such action?

There will be an opportunity on Monday for the hon. Lady to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, who has responsibility for this. If she is unable to do that, for whatever reason, I will make inquiries of my right hon. Friend to see whether we plan any changes along the lines that she suggests. We want to drive up the quality of child care, be it provided by child minders, day nurseries, or other settings in which early years assistance is given to young children.

Last week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met his Mauritian counterpart, when I understand that the future of the British Indian ocean territory was discussed. May we have a debate on the importance of the right of self-determination of the Chagos Islanders in deciding the future sovereignty of their islands rather than having those decisions made in London, Port Louis or Washington?

I understand the strength of feeling on the issue that my hon. Friend raises. I sat next to the ambassador for Mauritius at a recent dinner, where we discussed this. Foreign Office questions on Tuesday may provide a forum in which he can pursue these issues in greater detail.

Yesterday the Leader of the House told us that he thought the priorities for this Chamber should be the eurozone and Syria. This morning, two Secretaries of State made key announcements—one on the definition of poverty and the other on snooping. Yet three out of the four days of Government business that the Leader of the House has announced are on electoral registration. Why?

The time that the Government have in the House is for their legislative programme. That is why we are spending time on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill and why we had the Second Reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill on Monday. I was referring yesterday to Opposition days, when the Opposition can choose the subject. I suggested that instead of choosing the subject they chose yesterday, they could have chosen the eurozone or some other subject. I am delighted to see that they have chosen a serious subject for next week’s debate, and my right hon. and hon. Friends will engage in that. It is for the Opposition to choose subjects on which to hold Ministers to account; Government time is available for Government Bills.

The summer of 2014 will mark the centenary of the start of the great war. In view of the Leader of the House’s earlier answer, may we have a debate so that the whole House can discuss how we can join in to commemorate the great war?

My hon. Friend makes a helpful suggestion. He will know that the Backbench Business Committee is the forum for bidding for such debates. I can only suggest that he presents himself to the newly established Backbench Business Committee and puts forward his proposal, which I am sure will have a lot of support on both sides of the House.

Following the unacceptable comments made by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), may we have a debate on the snobbishness and elitism that are demonstrated on the Government Front Bench and were clearly demonstrated by the Prime Minister yesterday?

I am not sure that any discourtesy was extended by my right hon. Friend. Speaking from memory, I think he called the hon. Gentleman a poet; I am not sure that that is a form of abuse.

My right hon. Friend, like me, is a keen cyclist. May we have a debate on the benefits of bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2016, for which a bid has gone in that has been supported by Welcome to Yorkshire, the county’s tourism body? I am particularly looking forward to one of the legs being held at Holme Moss in my constituency.

I bicycled to work, as did my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House.

On Tuesday, I saw a picture in the paper of my hon. Friend taking part in Bike to Work day, and I am sorry that he got as wet as he obviously did. As regards the Tour de France, I encourage Yorkshire to engage with the umbrella body, UK Sport, which would take the bid forward. In respect of the UK as a whole, I think that Scotland has put in a bid for the subsequent year. It is important that Yorkshire puts its bid through the appropriate sporting organisation.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we might next be able to debate the benefit cap in Government time? Rent levels in London mean that that policy will have disproportionate effects on many families, and particularly children. Jobcentre Plus tells me that it has written to 900 families in my constituency saying that their benefits are to be cut by an average of £200. This could lead to many thousands of children having to leave their homes in inner London. Mayor Boris Johnson has said that he is opposed to it. Will the Government give us some time to debate it?

This issue was debated substantially when the appropriate Bill went through the House. My understanding was that Labour supports a cap on benefits in principle. In response to the hon. Gentleman—I hope that this will be helpful—a substantial amount of money is available in a transitional fund designed precisely to stop families having to move house at short notice. I hope that his local authority, Tower Hamlets, can apply to the Department for Communities and Local Government for the relevant funds in order to avoid any unnecessary hardship such as that which he has implied.

The car manufacturing industry is delivering some outstanding results. On top of Bentley, Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover announcing 3,500 jobs, Aston Martin in Gaydon has announced 150 jobs in bringing back a model to be manufactured in the UK. May we have a debate about how we can support that industry and the supply chain around it?

I am sure that all Members of the House will have heard with sadness of the death of my hon. Friend’s predecessor as Member for Stratford, John Maples, who died over the weekend. We send our condolences to Jane and his children. I hope that the contribution that he made to politics encouraged my party to encourage a broader range of candidates to come forward for selection. I am sure that that helped enormously at the last election.

My hon. Friend may have seen some figures that came out this morning indicating a very substantial increase in car manufacturing output, which is one of our success stories. I was delighted to hear of the investment and jobs in the area that he represents. Car manufacturing in the UK grew by 5.8% in 2011. We are clearly very competitive in world markets.

As the Leader of the House knows, the Home Secretary published her draft Communications Bill today. May we have a statement on the way in which Government Departments, and particularly the Home Office, communicate with Committees of this House? I have been waiting for five weeks for a response from the Home Secretary on a number of very important questions. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with her, or may we have a statement on the matter of providing timely replies?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her team do their best to respond promptly to questions from the right hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee. I understand that there is a high volume of correspondence between the Home Department and his Committee, and that, on occasions, responses are sought within very short deadlines. None the less, we will try to raise our game and give the right hon. Gentleman and his Select Committee the quality of service to which they are entitled.

Gallay Ltd is a successful manufacturing company in my constituency. In February this year, it applied for a licence to export 88 specialised air conditioning units to a previously approved company. Unfortunately, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has still not approved the export licence, and the company is likely to lose the order to an American company. May we have a statement next week on why BIS is acting in this manner?

I commend what Gallay has been doing in my hon. Friend’s constituency, in winning exports for air conditioning equipment in a very competitive market. I understand that the order to which he refers involves Egypt, where the internal security situation is giving rise for concern. I will ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and BIS process the application for a licence as quickly as they can, consistent with their obligation to ensure that such equipment is not put to the wrong use.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that, for at least 200 years, local newspapers have provided a vital communication link between those elected to this House and our constituents. In today’s Culture, Media and Sport questions, I was disappointed by the complacency of the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) in his response to two questions on the subject. Papers such as The Huddersfield Daily Examiner are crucial to the democratic process, yet many of them are under threat. This month, for example, the Halifax Courier changed to weekly and online publication only. This decline in our local newspapers represents a real threat to our democratic process.

I am sure that every hon. Member would agree about the importance of his or her local newspaper. The Andover Advertiser is certainly an important publication. I am sure that there was no complacency at all in the reply from the Minister who replied to those questions a few minutes ago, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, there are trends throughout the country—and, indeed, throughout the world—that are making local newspapers less viable. I will get back to my hon. Friend and see whether there are any further steps that we can take, but hon. Members can also play their own part in making local newspapers readworthy by writing columns in them that make compelling reading.

Unemployment in my constituency has fallen since the general election to 5.4%. Despite that good news, however, it is still far too high. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and I are trying to help the situation by holding a local job fair on 28 June. Will my right hon. Friend welcome that initiative, and the similar work that Conservative Members are doing across the country? Will he also grant a debate in Government time on getting unemployed people back into work?

I am delighted to hear about the job fair in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that many hon. Members have helped to set up job clubs in their constituencies—[Hon. Members: “Of all parties.”] Of all parties. They have given support in that way, and I pay tribute to the work that job clubs do in raising morale, enabling networking and finding suitable jobs for their members. I cannot promise an early debate on employment, but there might be an opportunity in some of the debates chosen by the Opposition or the Backbench Business Committee in the days to come to talk about the important subject of unemployment and the steps that the Government are taking to reduce it.

Later this month, it will be the fifth anniversary of the devastating floods in Hull in 2007. Given the uncertainty over the statement of principles, and over the Government’s plans to provide reasonable house insurance for my constituents and others around the country, please may we have a debate in Government time on what they are going to do to protect householders?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that there has been a dialogue between Ministers and the Association of British Insurers to ensure that adequate household insurance is available to those who live on flood plains. I will ask the appropriate Minister—I think that it will be a Treasury Minister—to write to the hon. Lady to bring her up to date with the discussions that are taking place, which I think are related in some way to the investment that the Government are making in flood protection measures in the areas concerned.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Coryton oil refinery in my constituency has failed to find a buyer yet. May we therefore have an urgent debate on the importance of the refining industry to the UK economy? During that debate, may we explore what further support the Government could give to the industry, and the possibility of offering it some form of financial assistance —as we did to the banks—so that Coryton can remain open?

I understand my hon. Friend’s disappointment at the plans to close the Coryton oil refinery. It is disappointing that, so far, an alternative buyer has not been found. I understand that inquiries are still being made by the administrators, who are looking at a range of options for the future of the facility. I am not sure that keeping the refinery open indefinitely at public expense would be the best use of resources, but we are working with Thurrock council’s taskforce, which was set up in the light of the announcement, and I will ensure that my ministerial colleague at the Department of Energy and Climate Change does all that he can to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Of course I understand the concern of those who are losing their jobs.

May we have a debate on the activities of the so-called private benefit check firms? Those companies operate on a no win, no fee basis, and they advise people on how best to claim welfare benefits. They can, however, subsequently claim up to 50% of the benefits back from the most vulnerable people in our society. The Leader of the House will be aware that the citizens advice bureaux already carry out that excellent work, and it would be helpful if the Government could promote the work that the CABs are doing in that area.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to Atos, the company that does the medical assessments to find out whether someone is entitled to benefit. There is of course an appeal against the initial decision in those cases. I think I am right in saying that Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions have asked for an independent review of the whole assessment process and, so far, they have implemented the recommendations of that review. I will make inquiries of the DWP to see what further steps are being taken to ensure that benefit claimants who are entitled to benefit get the appropriate support.

May we have an urgent debate on the situation facing British citizens in the Greek justice system, and on the inadequate support they receive from Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff? My constituent, Fran Prenga, is currently languishing in custody in Greece—having apparently not even been interviewed, never mind charged—in conditions that appear to fall below EU acceptable standards. May we have a statement from a Minister and a debate on this matter?

First, I might have misunderstood the question from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan). If I did, and if I got the organisation wrong, I will write to him.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) about Greece. I also have a constituent who is tied up with the Greek judicial system. I know that the FCO often does all that it can to help, but the Greek judicial system is somewhat obscure and difficult to penetrate, and one often needs to employ a local interpreter. There will be questions to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on Tuesday, and my hon. Friend might have an opportunity to raise this matter again at that time. I will warn FCO Ministers that he is on the case.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 196, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell)?

[That this House is greatly concerned by the Written Ministerial Statement of 24 May 2012 on the future of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and the proposal to reduce the scope of the authority as well as change the licensing agreements from six months to two years with no inspections on application for a licence; understands that the GLA is a Government body which is fully supported by employers including Marks and Spencer; recognises the invaluable work which is carried out by its officers and staff to ensure the safety of workers across the UK; further notes that the GLA was established after the cockle-pickers tragedy which occurred in Morecambe Bay in 2004, yet understands that the Government plans to remove this area of regulation from the remit of the GLA; asks the Government to recognise that any cut to the remit of the GLA will have entirely negative consequences; and calls on the Government to rethink its proposals which will put vulnerable workers at serious risk of exploitation, injury and death.]

The motion refers to a written statement sneaked out on 24 May, just before the recess, which heralds cuts to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The House will remember that the GLA was introduced after the tragedy involving the Morecambe bay cockle pickers. The cuts will result in an increased rate of death and injury in certain industries. Surely that merits a statement or even a debate.

I cannot promise an early debate. I have now seen the early-day motion, to which seven hon. Members have appended their names. I will write to the appropriate Minister and get a response to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. I am sure that the last thing the Government want to do is to

“put vulnerable workers at serious risk of exploitation, injury and death”,

as the motion suggests.

The majority of employment in my constituency is provided by small businesses. I am contacted regularly by such businesses that have concerns about what support they might receive from the Government and other agencies. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the support that is available to small businesses to reassure them and their employees that there is a great future ahead, and that they can grow and help us out of the recession?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course the Government want to support small and medium-sized enterprises. As she will know, a range of measures has been introduced to promote apprenticeships and encourage bank lending. I would welcome a debate on the matter, but cannot promise one in the immediate future. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is currently in Committee. I am not sure whether she is a member of that Committee, but that would be an opportunity to take the matter further.

The Public Administration Committee, with its Conservative majority, decided unanimously that Sir Alex Allan was not a fit person to be the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. His collaboration yesterday with a political stunt robbed him of any claim to be independent. When can the House look at why the previous holder of the office resigned, and how the office—a very good reform—has been degraded and politicised by Sir Alex Allan?

I reject the hon. Gentleman’s description of Sir Alex Allan. The Committee on which the hon. Gentleman sat in the last Parliament, on which there was an in-built Labour majority, produced the same recommendation about an independent adviser, and the last Government rejected it. A similar recommendation was made in the report that was published in March, to which the Government will respond in due course.

I have genuine concerns about the way in which the BBC covered the jubilee celebrations, the sky-rocket salaries of senior executives at the BBC, the bias of the BBC and the licence fee of £145.50. When can we have a debate on the sustainability of this out-of-date and bloated organisation?

The BBC is an independent body and is answerable for how it covers events such as the jubilee and the pageant. I understand what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that the House would welcome a debate on the BBC. I can only suggest that he presents himself at 1 o’clock on a Tuesday to the Backbench Business Committee to solicit a debate on the BBC. I am sure that he would be supported by Members from both sides of the House.

A few moments ago, when the Leader of the House cantered through his statistics on child poverty, he accidentally forgot to report to the House that today’s figures show that the last Labour Government lifted more than 1 million children out of poverty. Given that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is today talking about shifting the goalposts—a change from the position that the Prime Minister took in opposition—and that much academic research expresses concern about levels of child poverty in the future, can we have an urgent debate on child poverty in this House?

Of course we can, if his party chooses it as the subject for an Opposition day. I have announced two Opposition days for the next two weeks. The subject has not been announced for the second half of the debate next week. I am sure that the shadow Leader of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s request, which would have been better directed to her than to me. The Government are anxious to see whether there is a better way of measuring child poverty than the way we have at the moment, which has a number of perverse consequences, one of which is that in a recession child poverty rates appear to improve because they are measured in relation to median incomes.

Will the Leader of the House allow us a debate in Government time on stillbirth certification? I have been after a Westminster Hall debate on this subject for some time. Such a certificate would help parents who have a stillbirth to come to terms with the death of their child, and give recognition to the fact that the birth has taken place. Following a previous question in business questions, the Leader of the House kindly got a letter sent to me from the Department of Health. It seems that the only reason we maintain the current system of stillbirth certification is to help the Department of Health and other Departments in the collection of statistics.

I understand the concerns of those who have lost a child in the tragic circumstances that my hon. Friend has described. I will certainly pursue with the Department of Health whether a certificate can be issued in such circumstances. I will ask the Secretary of State to respond to my hon. Friend as sympathetically as he can.

The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, the Welsh cavalry, are in Westminster today lobbying about the future of their regiment because of the concern that the Government will cut it. May we have a debate on the future of the Welsh regiments, with particular reference to the undermining of support for the Union that any further weakening of them would engender?

I was at Defence questions on Monday, where the future of the regiments was raised. Speaking from memory, I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that work was still under way on the appropriate configuration. There is a Westminster Hall debate on Armed Forces day next Tuesday, which may be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter when a Defence Minister will be responding.

The previous Government left Wales as the only nation in the UK without a single mile of electrified railway. Many Government Members are lobbying the Secretary of State for Transport about the electrification of the railways. May we have a statement on the matter to find out her latest thinking?

If I remember rightly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has announced the electrification of the Great Western line to Cardiff. I am sure that that has been well received in Wales. There will be an opportunity the next time we have Transport questions to press the Government on their plans to invest further in the railways in Wales. Alternatively, my hon. Friend could seek a debate on the matter in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment of the House.

May we have a statement on the performance of the Child Support Agency, and in particular on the effectiveness of its support for the children of absent parents who are self-employed?

There will be an opportunity to put question to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Monday week. We all know from our advice bureau that the CSA is raised with us as a regular issue. If there is a particular instance that concerns the hon. Gentleman, I suggest that he writes to the Secretary of State to see whether he can usefully intervene and put matters right.

Some small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency still report difficulties in accessing finance. Although I welcome the Government’s national loan guarantee scheme and the business finance partnership, may we have a debate on what else can be done to ensure that companies can access the working capital that they need to drive growth and create jobs?

The Government have introduced a range of initiatives, including the StartUp Loans scheme and the GrowthAccelerator programme. The £82.5 million StartUp Loans scheme is aimed at younger people who want to set up their own businesses. The £200 million GrowthAccelerator programme is for 26,000 of England’s most ambitious small businesses, some of which I am sure are located in Croydon.

Recently, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned a report from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust on banning lead shot for wildfowlers and on wildfowling shooting grounds. That has caused consternation among members of the Countryside Alliance and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate in the House on that matter?

I cannot promise an early debate, but it is an issue that the hon. Gentleman might raise on the Adjournment of the House or in Westminster Hall. I am sure that Members from both sides of the House would be interested in taking the matter further.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 167, which campaigns for Rachel’s law?

[That this House deeply regrets the fact that Mrs Annette Courtney, a mother from Harlow, has had to sell her family home to enable her daughter to live independently; notes that her daughter Rachel is 20 and has cerebral palsy and high functioning autism, but that she has achieved five GCSEs and is on target to gain a BTEC Level 3 in IT and an AS level in business studies; further notes that Mrs Courtney has recently said that “Social Services have been involved in our lives for the last two and a half years and we have been completely disempowered by the system… Having stated that Rachel wishes to leave home when she leaves residential college and having experienced life away from home for the last two years, no accommodation has been found to rent. Every avenue that I have explored has been closed down and I am now in the process of selling my home to buy her a flat which will leave me homeless”; concludes that Rachel is one of thousands of young adults with disabilities who are sent home with no opportunity to develop their skills, or enter the workplace; and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward proposals for Rachel’s Law, so that all post-19-year olds with a disability, or disabilities, should they choose to leave home, would have adapted accommodation available to them to rent.]

Annette Courtney from my constituency of Harlow has had to sell her home to raise funds to ensure that her adult daughter, who has special needs, gets suitable accommodation. May we have a debate on a level playing field for young people with special needs?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. My understanding is that the disabled facilities grant is aimed specifically at families such as the one that he has mentioned to enable them to stay in their own home. In the last spending review, we sought to ring-fence the DFG money so that the resources were available to ensure that people did not have to move home if their existing home could not cope with a particular disability. I will make inquiries with the Department for Communities and Local Government to see whether there is any action that we can take to help his constituents.

Constituents of mine have been through the considerable distressed of seeing their son’s killer in an area from which he was excluded by bail conditions, yet he was not returned to prison. May we have a debate on the rights of victims in those circumstances?

It sounds as though it was a matter for the court in the first instance, when it discovered that the bail conditions had been broken, to return the offender to jail. However, I understand the concern of my hon. Friend’s constituents, and I will raise the circumstances that he mentions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary to see whether any action ought to be taken to ensure that bail conditions are properly enforced.

The number of new apprenticeship starts has doubled in my constituency in the past two years, and I recently launched an apprenticeship challenge specifically to encourage small local firms to take on an apprentice for the first time. May we have a debate about how we can encourage small firms to take on apprentices, so that we get the skilled and flexible work force that we need?

I welcome what my hon. Friend has done, and more MPs could do the same and remind local employers of the resources that are available if they take on an apprentice. Some £1,500 is available towards the cost of doing so, and we have just made available resources that will support up to 40,000 new apprenticeships. I would welcome such a debate, but I fear that I cannot promise one in Government time in the immediate future.

May we have a statement on security at the Palace of Westminster? Following the theft of two laptops from my locked office in Norman Shaw North during the jubilee recess, I have learned that there have been 39 such thefts in the Palace of Westminster over the past 12 months. Such a statement or debate would enable colleagues to learn about best practice in securing their valuable items.

I very much regret the theft from my hon. Friend of two laptops, which, as she said, were in a locked room. I have had a discussion with the Serjeant at Arms about this matter, and he takes it extremely seriously and is following it up. My hon. Friend reminds us, and indeed our staff, that we should take whatever precautions we can to ensure that we do not leave valuable equipment in unlocked rooms, to reduce the temptation towards such thefts.

I think the hon. Gentleman is referring not to an achievement on the part of my eyesight as such but to the fact that his own appearance has changed notably from that of earlier days. I say that for the edification of people who might be attending to our proceedings. We look forward to hearing him.

All our appearances have changed since earlier days, Mr Speaker, as you and I well know.

Youth unemployment in Tamworth has fallen to a 12-month low, thanks in part to further investment in Jaguar Land Rover and in BMW in Hams Hall. May we have a debate on the steps that the Government are taking and will take to reduce business taxation and regulation further, so that businesses can expand and create more jobs?

My hon. Friend’s beard has been enormously welcomed by the Deputy Leader of the House. In a week or two, he may even be able to match the hirsute nature of the Deputy Leader of the House’s face.

My hon. Friend is right that the investment by Jaguar Land Rover and BMW has had an enormous impact. On what more the Government can do, on Monday we had Second Reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which contains a number of measures to overhaul employment tribunals and create a more enterprise-friendly society. The Government are on the case.

Last week, Trax JH Ltd, a motor components manufacturer in my constituency, announced a £4 million order from Renault, which safeguarded 50 jobs in the constituency. That was a hugely important announcement. Will the Leader of the House provide an early opportunity for us to discuss the importance of the close, pragmatic working relationship between the United Kingdom Government, the devolved Governments and the providers of finance, which underpinned the announcement?

I very much hope that the firm in my hon. Friend’s constituency has the resources that it needs to deliver the order that it has just won. We have close dialogue with Welsh Assembly Ministers to promote the best output for UK Ltd.

I mentioned a moment ago that the recent figures from the motor industry were encouraging. The number of cars built in the UK last month showed an increase of more than 40% on the same time last year, and I am sure Members of all parties will welcome that figure.