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Business of the House

Volume 551: debated on Thursday 25 October 2012

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 29 October—Second Reading of the Public Service Pensions Bill.

Tuesday 30 October—Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

Wednesday 31 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to EU budget simplification and the multi-annual financial framework.

Thursday 1 November—A debate on a motion relating to the beer duty escalator, followed by a debate on a motion relating to air passenger duty. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 2 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 November will include:

Monday 5 November—Second Reading of the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill.

Tuesday 6 November—Second Reading of the HGV Road User Levy Bill, followed by a motion to approve European documents relating to banking union and economic and monetary union.

Wednesday 7 November—Opposition Day [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. The subject is to be announced.

Thursday 8 November—A debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons administration and savings programme. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 9 November—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 8 November will be:

Thursday 8 November—A debate on regulation of claims management companies.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. We welcome the fact that Britain has finally emerged from recession, but we should never have been in a double-dip recession in the first place. It was a recession created in Downing street by a part-time Chancellor who cut too far, too fast.

The Jimmy Savile case has rightly caused widespread disgust. There are serious questions for the BBC to answer, questions that were not answered during the director-general’s unsatisfactory appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, but the issue goes much further. As happened in the Rochdale scandal only this year, it appears that in the Jimmy Savile case victims’ complaints were not taken seriously. We need to learn these lessons and, for the sake of the victims, uncover the truth. An independent inquiry is needed, so may we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary?

I have been keeping a list of the occasions when Ministers blame the weather for the omnishambles. So far, the Government have blamed the poor performance of the economy on the snow, before deciding that the reason was in fact too much rain. Then the Immigration Minister blamed the chaos at Heathrow border control on the wrong type of wind. Now the Environment Minister has blamed too much rain for the U-turn on the badger cull. We have seen the badger U-turn, the Energy Bill shambles, the west coast main line fiasco, plebgate, and only today it appears that Ministers have got their sums wrong on tuition fees. It is not the weather that is to blame; it is the Government’s incompetence. Ministers need to get a grip, so may we have an urgent statement on what has gone wrong from the man who is meant to be in charge of Government competence: the Deputy Prime Minister?

The abolition of child benefit for higher earning taxpayers was one of the Government’s first shambles. The complex rules introduced by the Chancellor mean that from January an estimated half a million households will have to complete self-assessment tax forms for the first time. Many people have raised concerns that, weeks away from this change, Revenue and Customs has not written to families to warn them. There are those who have suggested that the Government’s reluctance to send out those letters might have something to do with the upcoming elections for police and crime commissioners. May we have an urgent statement from the Chancellor setting out how his Department will let families know of impending child benefit changes?

Only a few weeks ago, following the Prime Minister’s botched reshuffle, at business questions I paid tribute to the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), saying:

“Over the years, he has surprised political pundits with his Lazarus-style tendencies, and perhaps even this time he is merely on a sabbatical and will be back.”—[Official Report, 6 September 2012; Vol. 549, c. 383.]

And he is back! It is a miracle. Given my predictive powers, the House might be interested to know that my tip for the 4.25 at Doncaster tomorrow is Flashman. I also predict that there will be another omnishambles along soon.

May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on fare dodgers? Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the conductor on the Virgin train service who refused to let the Chancellor have a free ride? The hapless part-time Chancellor was bundled out of the goods exit at Euston to avoid the waiting media, and it was left to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) to bat for the Government. His explanation was that “train tickets are so confusing it is easy to get into the wrong carriage.” No wonder this Government have gone off the rails.

This week the man in charge of crisis management in No. 10 emerged from the bunker, blinking into the light of day, to offer his own explanation for the shambles. In a bizarre interview, he said that

“you’ll get surprised by what’s going on”

and that he was

“surprised on a day-to-day basis”.

But Government Back Benchers will be pleased to know that Mr Dowden—for it is he—has a strategy:

“the first thing I do in the morning”,

he said, is to

“turn on the Today programme and hear what’s going on”.

So two and a half years into office, the Government are divided, Back Benchers are in revolt, and Government policies are unravelling daily, and the best strategy that No. 10 has come up with is to listen to the “Today” programme. We just can’t go on like this.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House; I enjoyed that. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would never bet against my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young)—that’s for sure. It is a pleasure to have him back among our colleagues, although I have always valued my right hon. Friend the former Chief Whip as a colleague and pay tribute to his time in Government. We should all reflect on what a tremendous contribution he has made around the world as International Development Secretary.

To pursue the hon. Lady’s analogy, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, the Government are on the right track. The figures published this morning for quarter 3 growth, to which she referred for about 12 seconds, are a reflection of the right approach being taken by this Government. I understood her to say that we should not have been in this position; indeed we should not. We were in this position because we inherited an economy that was close to bankruptcy from a Government who had spent without thought and put us into enormous debt. The debt has been at the heart of this, and Labour Members seem never to learn. They never seem to understand that the answer to this country’s problems in resolving the deficit and the debts is not more borrowing.

What the shadow Leader of the House said was entertaining, but, when it comes down to it, it was, frankly, trivia. What really matters is what is actually happening in this country, and she neglected that. This morning’s growth statistics are very encouraging and illustrative of the progress that is being made. The Chancellor said at an early stage that the recovery would be choppy, and indeed it has been, but these figures illustrate where we are going.

Another illustration of our being on the right track is that the employment situation is so much improved. The latest statistics show that there are over 1 million more people in private sector employment since the election, that youth employment is improving, that the number of people on out-of-work benefits is down, that inflation is down, and that new company creation in 2011 was the best ever, with over 1,230 new companies being created per day.

Beyond the economic sphere, the latest figures show that crime rates are down by 6%. In the NHS, which is of course closest to my heart, waiting times are among the very best we have ever seen, including a reduction in the number of those waiting over a year for their treatment in the NHS, which was some 18,000-plus at the time of the last election and is now down to nearly 2,000. I hope that the shadow Leader of the House will reflect on the realities across the country rather than on Westminster trivia.

The hon. Lady made an important point about the investigations relating to Jimmy Savile. Independent inquiries are being undertaken by the police, as a criminal investigation, and by Kate Lampard on behalf of the NHS, and there are two BBC inquiries led by Nick Pollard and by Dame Janet Smith. All those inquiries are independent and I see no reason at this stage for us to think that there would be any merit in seeking to overturn those inquiries, which are making progress. We must simply make sure that, as I know they will, they all respect and understand the fact that the police’s criminal investigation must take precedence.

The shadow Leader of the House also asked about business relating to—[Interruption.] Actually, perhaps she did not ask any other questions, so I will leave it there.

Order. A very large number of hon. and right hon. Members are, as usual on this occasion, seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee will follow. There are two pieces of such business, both of which are of intense topical interest. The second piece is a debate and I can tell the House—because I have the list—that it is extremely heavily subscribed. If I am to accommodate colleagues now, within a limited time frame, brevity from Members on the Back and Front Benches alike is essential. We will be led in that by Caroline Nokes.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the announcement by Ford today of the closure of the Transit factory in Swaythling in my constituency, with the loss of 500 manufacturing jobs and potential further losses in the supply chain. Will he please find time for a debate on this serious matter, which affects not just my constituency, but the surrounding constituencies of many right hon. and hon. Members?

I am sure that the whole House will share my hon. Friend’s regret at the loss of any jobs, particularly those in a major plant in her constituency. She will know that Ministers will be focused, as they have been elsewhere, on trying to provide whatever help and support they can. She will also know that this is in the context of many very positive announcements in recent months by the motor vehicle industry, including that this country is a net exporter of cars for the first time in many years, and of investments at Honda, Nissan, BMW and Jaguar; but that does not take away at all from the distress that today’s announcement will no doubt have caused in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I undertake that Ministers will respond and keep the House informed on action to support the staff affected.

May we have a debate on early-day motion 607?

[That this House notes that Ministers have recently repeated the claim that the lives of British soldiers should be put at risk in Afghanistan to counter the alleged Afghan Taliban terrorist threat to the UK; believes that there is no truth in this claim and that the lives of British soldiers should not be sacrificed when no threat to the UK exists; and calls on the Coalition Government to adopt an independent foreign policy.]

Canadian and Dutch soldiers have returned to their own countries from Afghanistan with their heads held high after large sacrifices in blood and treasure. We have heard today the dreadful news of two further deaths of British soldiers. There will be many tributes to them that will be sincere and heartfelt, but will not history judge that their epitaph should be, “They died to protect the reputation of cowardly Ministers”?

The House knows not only that we will pay heartfelt tribute to service personnel, including the two who it was announced yesterday have tragically died in Afghanistan, but that the people of this country and this House will take the view that they have died in defence of the interests of this country and to protect this country and that we are in Afghanistan to combat a terrorist threat and, alongside that, to help put in place in Afghanistan a sustainable and more democratic country for the future. That is why they are there and we should honour and value the contribution that service personnel make.

May we have a debate on the £1 billion-plus of losses in derivative trading by Network Rail? Some of us would like that money spent on trains and bridges over railway lines instead of in a second-grade investment bank.

I do not have an immediate opportunity for a debate on that subject, but if I contact my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, he may well be able to give a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood).

After nearly 11 years of being held without charge or trial, British resident Shaker Aamer is still in Guantanamo Bay, in spite of the fact that both US and UK authorities have said that he can be released. May we have an urgent debate to try to understand what the obstacles are to getting this man released and make that a real priority?

I know that hon. Members of all parties have taken a close interest in the situation of those who are at Guantanamo Bay. The hon. Lady may care to consider raising the matter at Foreign Office questions next Tuesday, but it also seems to me to be a subject on which she might like to seek a debate on the Adjournment.

May we have a debate on the independence of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in February I established through a written question that Ministers had met IPSA on nine occasions in the previous four months. I suspect the dead hand of the Treasury, because I asked a question in September, and the answer given this Monday at column 636 of Hansard refused to give information on the number of occasions on which the Treasury and Treasury Ministers had had discussions with IPSA.

I can tell the House that I have met IPSA since becoming Leader of the House, and nobody at that meeting would have regarded it as in any way compromising IPSA’s independence. I regard it as my responsibility to be fully informed, not least as a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, so that we can express views to IPSA. Members have rightly taken the view that there should be independent scrutiny of their pay, pensions and terms and conditions through IPSA. It is important that having established that independence, we make it real.

The Government’s council grant cuts, housing benefit cuts, welfare benefit cuts and health funding cuts are having the worst effect on the poorest families and individuals. May we have a debate on the overall impact that all the Government’s cuts are having on the poorest families and communities?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that our policy is about the reform of the benefits system. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is making clear today, if we can encourage people into work, that is the best route out of poverty. The benefit reforms will change the culture for good.

May we have a debate on university technical colleges? They have been a great success story, and Members have not had an opportunity to examine what drives that success so that we might see more and more of them.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Many Members might envy the position that I am in, because a university technical college is being established in Cambridge, which is enabling many young people to come forward and acquire training in skills that will support the life sciences industry. That is a tremendous step forward, and I pay tribute to the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and those who have taken the initiative forward. I hope that many Members, like my hon. Friend, will encourage UTCs in their area. She might like to raise the matter with our colleagues at Education questions on Monday.

In 2010, the Government decided to defer a decision about sport on free-to-air television, because they were waiting until digital TV came fully into operation. It is now fully operational, but Culture Ministers have told us that there will not be a discussion on the matter. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate? After all, top sport should be for the masses, not the few.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I must say, I was struck last week at business questions—perhaps it will be true again this week—that there is a lot of interest in sport, from governance through to the Olympic and Paralympic legacy and on the point that he raises. That might make it appropriate for issues related to sport to be debated in the House at some point. Perhaps those of us who timetable business can discuss that.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a question in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner? The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill will soon have its Third Reading debate. It has had two years of hard work put into it, with consultation with Home Office officials and other Departments, and there is support for it throughout the House. If it is frustrated and talked out on Report or Third Reading by just one Member, will he undertake to find Government time for it to complete its passage through the House? Churches, communities and the transport system up and down the country cannot allow Back-Bench filibustering to prevent the Bill from passing into law.

I heard what my hon. Friend said when he responded to questions on that matter on behalf of the Church Commissioners. He knows that the Government fully support the Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). Members throughout the House will know, as I do from my constituency, of the damage, distress and expense caused by metal theft. That is true not only in relation to churches but perhaps particularly in relation to the theft of metal from memorials in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday. I cannot give him the undertaking that he seeks, not least because I am hopeful that the Bill will attract the House’s support on the day in question.

Has the new Leader of the House seen the Chartered Management Institute’s commissioned report on the quality of management in Britain, which shows that 38% of managers—public and private sector—are awful, and that only 40% of managers in our country have any training at all? Does he find it worrying that very few of those GPs who will be running clinical commissioning groups have any management training?

The hon. Gentleman may like to look at the composition of clinical commissioning groups with great care. They combine managerial and clinical expertise, and he should not diminish the importance of clinicians being directly involved in the commissioning process. Securing the right medical and clinical services for patients in an area is not simply a managerial task; it is both managerial and clinical.

May we have a debate on equal pay for women? That request arises first out of yesterday’s landmark decision on the issue by the Supreme Court, but also because county councils up and down the country are facing a problem caused by a failure to pay the women they have employed over the years. In Northumberland, for example, hundreds of my constituents face a five-year delay to be paid.

The Government very much support equal pay—yesterday’s decision seemed a bit of a “Made in Dagenham” moment, did it not? Although the circumstances of that case are particular to it and relate to time limits and jurisdiction, I hope that it conveys a message about how to ensure equality and equal pay in every work force, which should be in every employer’s mind.

May we have a debate on plans by the NHS in south-west England to introduce regional pay? Those plans are opposed by south-west MPs from all political parties, and we are still waiting for a delegation to see the Minister. I have asked for a debate several times, and we need to have one urgently.

I attended Health questions earlier in the week, and thought that that issue was ably responded to by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). What he said is clear: the Government support the “Agenda for Change” framework and, like NHS employers, we support the reform of that agenda to provide the flexibility that employers are looking for, so that it can be achieved within a national framework. That is what we are looking for.

Given today’s excellent GDP figures, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on whether plan B is now redundant?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, the debate scheduled for next week on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will no doubt afford an opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are on the right track, as demonstrated by the GDP figures. Quarterly figures have been, and will be, choppy, but it is important to establish the right framework for the longer term. That is about achieving investment in infrastructure, and instilling confidence so that we can see that investment coming through. It is about deregulation and ensuring that business has a lower-cost environment, and recognising that we are in a global race and must ensure we are competitive in terms of tax, regulation and skills. The Government are making positive progress on all those things.

The children and families Bill will be a significant piece of legislation in a complex area, and I fully support its aims. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when it reaches Report, sufficient time will be made available so that hon. Members who may not have been on the Bill Committee have a full opportunity to discuss the legislation’s complex provisions?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, since the election we have been able to timetable more opportunities for debate on Report, and I pay tribute to my predecessor and the Whips for ensuring that. Often, not just one but two days have been allocated for the Report stage of major Bills. As the hon. Lady says, the children and families Bill is very important. It has not yet been introduced, although we look forward to that.

May we have a debate on the issues faced by older people who are seeking to save money for retirement? The all-party group for ageing and older people has just launched a report on older savers which shows that £13 billion is lost through poor advice and a failure by banks to switch accounts.

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. People feel strongly about that very important issue. We will of course look at the business, and no doubt the Opposition and the Backbench Business Committee will also consider the matter. It could be considered in the context of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the approach taken by banks to their customers.

Will the Leader of the House investigate the delay in publishing the results of the pilot scheme on recording Atos assessments, and ensure that they are published as soon as possible?

I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question at this moment, but I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to respond to her.

With the economy growing, inflation lower than expected, public borrowing lower than expected and more people in work than at any time in our history, I am sure the Opposition will use the next Opposition day to talk about the economy, but if for some inconceivable reason they do not, will the Leader of the House ensure that Government time is made available?

Yes; I reiterate my hon. Friend’s extremely good point and commend it to the shadow Leader of the House when she considers the business on—I believe— 7 November, when the Opposition will no doubt take the opportunity to debate the latest positive figures on growth, employment and the reduction of inflation, and the simple fact that since the Government came to office, we have cut the deficit we inherited by a quarter.

I understand the Leader of the House used to have an interest in health. In that case, will he use his influence with the current Health Secretary to persuade him either to have a debate, or at least to make an oral statement, on access to radiotherapy? There was an announcement at the Tory party conference, which the Health Secretary mentioned in question time, but it would be a courtesy to the House if we were allowed to understand the detail. The issue is about not just capital, but revenue.

The hon. Gentleman might like to know that the Leader of the House still has an interest in health, and I was at Health questions this week. He is right that the Health Secretary made it clear that he has made an announcement relating to a new radiotherapy innovation fund, which will support hospitals to ensure that patients have intensity-modulated radiotherapy if it is appropriate for them and that there is more access to stereotactic ablative therapy, both of which the hon. Gentleman has asked for and both of which this Government are now supporting.

Northern Lincolnshire has had some promising announcements recently to boost the local economy, but yesterday Kimberly-Clark announced the closure of its factory at Barton-upon-Humber in my constituency with the loss of 378 permanent jobs and 120 others. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to give details of additional Government support that might be made available to benefit the local economy?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), that is further evidence of the choppy waters through which the economy is moving, which are a consequence of global competition. The investment that is coming to this country, which is positive, and contrary announcements that cause us considerable regret, are both a consequence of global competition. Our job is to ensure that, whenever we can, this country is the best possible place for investment. This is about rebalancing the economy, which is bringing additional investment into manufacturing. Rebalancing is important, but I entirely take my hon. Friend’s point that it will also mean that we ensure we give support to individual businesses to maximise their activity in this country—as we are doing, through, for example, the regional growth fund and local enterprise partnerships. I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to respond on the issues my hon. Friend raises.

May we have an early debate on the emergence of two-nation Britain, because, although the figures are good for London and the south, according to House of Commons figures given to me today, in Barnsley unemployment is up 6% on last year, in Bradford 9%, in Leeds 3% and in my own constituency 1%? We are now seeing an emerging disconnect between the north and the Tory and Liberal Democrat shires of the south. We need a one-nation Government, not this Government of the south, by the south, for the south.

As a one-nation Conservative, I believe that we are a one-nation Government. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted any more evidence of that, he would have paid more attention to the announcements made by the Deputy Prime Minister last Friday, I think, on regional growth 3, which will support the kind of innovative investment in the north of England that is integral to its economic development.

Not only has the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Stafford fallen by 14% since April 2010, but we have just had the welcome news that a record 272 new companies were formed in the first six months. May we have a debate on how to support these new companies, so that they create the jobs and pay the taxes we need?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am happy to say that those figures are reflected in many constituencies across the country. Stafford is clearly working well, and I applaud what they are doing there. Yes, I hope we will have the opportunity, not least in the debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, to see how we are creating that kind of environment. I would draw particular attention to the work being done through the youth contract and apprenticeships to ensure that young people are finding the kinds of jobs with skills training attached that will enable them to support industrial development in the future.

May we have an urgent debate or statement from a Minister to explain why the Minister with responsibility for welfare reform, Lord Freud, has agreed that in Northern Ireland payment of housing benefit directly to landlords will continue, while in the rest of the country payment must be made directly to tenants—despite all the problems, highlighted by many people, with that—and to explain the unique circumstances for this decision?

I will of course talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions, so that they reply specifically to the hon. Gentleman, but my understanding is not that the changes to universal credit rule out the possibility of direct payment, but merely that it is important that they be assessed and examined to ensure they are appropriate. Wherever possible, we want those in receipt of universal credit to feel like they are in work. We do not want to change the sense of that, so that they get their pay and it is their responsibility to live within their means.

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Glasgow. One issue discussed was that of marine and renewable energy. It appeared that few people were aware of the role that the south-west was playing in delivering that. May we have a debate on this important issue, so that we can promote the south-west and its contribution in this area?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for attending the BIPA, which I know is valued on both sides of the Irish sea. I hope that we will have the opportunity for that debate. He might want to look to have it when we consider the Energy Bill. The Government attach considerable importance to this matter and have invested more than £17 million in testing and academic facilities for marine energy in the south-west, and are encouraging the region to become the first UK marine energy park. I am sure he will want to illustrate that contribution to our future energy requirements and security during our debate on the Energy Bill.

Last week, the quiet rituals of Friday afternoon in west Cardiff were shattered by a series of hit-and-run incidents that left a young mother dead, her three children motherless and many more injured and traumatised by the events. Will the Leader of the House find a slot where I can put on the record my thanks to the emergency services—the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and the NHS—whose swift and well-co-ordinated actions undoubtedly saved many lives?

I am sure that the House will join me in expressing our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the young lady who died and in extending our best wishes to those who were injured. We were all shocked by what happened. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to express appreciation for the emergency services. We in this House should do so every time we have the opportunity, because these terrible, shocking moments illustrate how much we depend on their prompt and effective action.

Will my right hon. Friend support the planting of a Red Windsor apple tree in honour of the Queen’s diamond jubilee by Mr Speaker on Speaker’s Green next Wednesday at half-past 2? Will he attend the planting and will he encourage Members on both sides of the House to do so too, to support the Woodland Trust, among others, which is planting 6 million trees for the environment of this country this year?

Yes, I do indeed support that. I and the Deputy Leader of the House look forward to being there, and I think the shadow Leader of the House hopes to be there too. I am sure that that is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House and look forward to the Speaker joining us in expressing our appreciation to Her Majesty on her diamond jubilee.

Will the Leader of the House find time to remember Noor Inayat Khan who was an operative in Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive? May I express my thanks to the Speaker for helping in the campaign and to Members of the House who signed early-day motion 109?

[That this House congratulates the Memorial Trust of Noor Inayat Khan set up to honour and to recognise her extraordinary bravery; notes that Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross as one of only three women in Winston Churchill's Special Operations Executive and was also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France; recalls that under the code name Madeleine she was the first female radio operator in occupied France in 1943; further notes that despite being tortured she remained silent and her last word was Liberté; further notes that she was executed in Dachau at the age of 30; welcomes the permission given by the Vice Chancellor of the University of London for a bust to be installed in Gordon Square, near the house where Noor lived and from where she left on her fatal mission; further notes that the majority of the funds needed to fund the statue has already been raised by the Trust; congratulates the donors; encourages further donations to the Fund; and looks forward to the unveiling of the first memorial to a British Asian woman when the sculpture by Karen Newman is completed in Autumn 2012.]

May I also thank the university of London, which agreed to my request to place a memorial to Noor on its land in Gordon square? The sculpture by Karen Newman will be unveiled on 8 November. Noor was executed in Dachau concentration camp; this will be an opportunity for us to remember a true British heroine.

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Lady, especially at this time of year, for drawing attention to the courage and example of the men and women of the Special Operations Executive, and of Noor Inayat Khan in particular. The House will also recall early-day motion 109 in that respect. I hope that the memorial to her—the sculpture to which the hon. Lady referred—will constantly remind people of the remarkable courage of those in the Special Operations Executive and the contribution they made.

The leader of Cambridgeshire county council recently wrote that global warming “may not exist” and that if it does, it is

“not caused by human activity”.

He described it as a theory espoused by “bourgeois left-wing academics”. Does the Leader of the House join me in condemning this irresponsible and anti-scientific position, and will he find time for a debate about evidence-informed policy?

I will not join my hon. Friend in that respect, although that does not mean that I agree with the leader of Cambridgeshire county council. We are all allowed our views, and he is allowed his. My hon. Friend and I will have talked to many of the scientists at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. When one does so, it amply illustrates the character of climate change, what is really going on and the threat it poses.

Will the Leader of the House offer a helping hand to Scotland’s First Minister, who recently mislaid some important legal advice on the future of an independent Scotland in the EU? We have searched everywhere for it. It may be under the sofa; the First Minister may have left it on a bus; his dog may have eaten it—we just do not know. It could have been mislaid in the Foreign Office—and it is the Foreign Office, not the Scottish Government, that has responsibility for external relations with the European Union. Will the right hon. Gentleman implement a cross-departmental hunt for the advice? It must exist; the First Minister says so and the only alternative is that he is a liar, and that would be unthinkable.

To be honest, in this context I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would be better to instigate a search for the credibility of the First Minister in Scotland, because as far as I can see, earlier in the year he was saying that he had legal advice, but then it turned out that he had not even asked for it. As the Prime Minister quite rightly said yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, that just exposes the lack of credibility of the arguments being presented by the Scottish National party for the break-up of the Union.

My Twitter feed is often packed with comments from Opposition Members whenever there is negative economic news, but today it is remarkably empty. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the economy so that we can discuss today’s data as well as recent positive data?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Although parliamentary time is tight, it is awfully tempting to arrange a debate on the economic figures—on growth, employment, inflation and borrowing. I fear, however, that we might not be able to do so. I reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell): as the Opposition have time available in the week after next, perhaps they might like to debate the issues.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Clerks and staff of the House, including Hansard, on their enabling us to make a smooth transition to our earlier sitting hours? Will he quash the ugly rumours that this is a mere experiment and confirm there are no plans to review the earlier hours?

I of course share the right hon. Lady’s appreciation of the way in which the Clerk and staff of the House assist us in our business. The House was invited to make a decision and a decision was made.

May we have a debate on the creation of the excellent new Blue Collar Conservatives group last week? As the Labour party has abandoned the working classes and appears to want to stand up only for people who do not want to work and appears to believe in suppression rather than aspiration, would not such a debate show that the natural political home for anyone in the working classes is the Conservative party?

Yes, I share my hon. Friend’s view. We are now in a coalition Government, but the Conservative party has always been most successful when it has reached out to all the nation. That is why I am a one-nation Conservative and why in the 1980s more trade unionists voted Conservative than voted Labour. They were right to do so and our country has consequently been transformed. It continues to be my ambition and that of my party that we continue to be a home for people of aspiration, wherever they come from.

On the theme of aspiration and working people, may we have a debate and statement on why the Government regard people doing unpaid work experience as being in employment?

I shall gladly ask my friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to reply on how the statistics are calculated. The latest figures show an increase of more than 50,000 in the number of young people in employment and a decrease in the number of people on out-of-work benefits, and he should celebrate that.

My local council, Kirklees, is going through the latest stage of its consultation on the local development framework. May we have a debate on the five-year land supply and the scrapping of the regional spatial strategy housing targets to ensure that development is sustainable?

I know from my own circumstances of the importance that was attached to abolishing top-down housing targets set under the regional spatial strategy, and why the local development framework is so important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said that the local development framework must meet the test of providing locations for sustainable housing sufficient to meet an area’s need for a number of years ahead. To help my hon. Friend, I shall ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.

The Foreign Office is due to publish its landmark strategy on business and human rights any day now. Will the Leader of the House talk to Ministers about exactly when the strategy will be published and ensure that time is found for a ministerial statement to the House to accompany its much-awaited publication?

I know that my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are well aware of the hon. Lady’s points, but I shall draw their attention to them. She might like to bear it in mind that an opportunity to ask that question will arise at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday.

E-petitions have garnered considerable public interest and attention, so may we have a debate on their impact?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. It is worth our making the point in our constituencies and to our constituents that Parliament is connecting with the public in a way that has never happened before. Fourteen e-petitions have crossed the 100,000-signature threshold, and we and the Backbench Business Committee have enabled debate to be held on all of them. In addition, the Government will respond to every petition that passes the 10,000-signature threshold. On behalf of the Government I am putting the responses on the website, and some 20 will have gone up by now. I hope to complete the process of responding to all those that have passed the 10,000-signature threshold in the next few days.

Improving home energy efficiency is essential to combat fuel poverty. The Insulation Industry Forum has just told me that there will be 16,000 job losses in its sector soon. May we have an urgent debate to help prevent this loss of key skills, given that investment in energy efficiency is so important?

It is tremendously important, and it is the green deal, which began its implementation at the beginning of October, that will make such a difference in enabling that to happen. The green deal support, the largest such programme we have ever seen, is specifically designed to support some of the measures, such as insulation, that will make the biggest difference to energy efficiency. I hope that exactly that will happen as we get behind this programme.

Unemployment in my constituency is now at a lower level than it was at the general election. May we have a debate about how the Government can make it easier for small charities, such as Black Country Foodbank and Loaves and Fishes in my constituency, to take on jobseekers on work experience without those jobseekers fearing that they will lose their benefits?

I share with my hon. Friend the feeling of encouragement that we get from the employment figures, as they show the number of people in work and reflect the support we are giving them. I will, of course, ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions to address the specific point he raises.

In the Harrogate area, this year is on track to be the record year for the opening of new business bank accounts. Last year saw a record half a million new businesses created in the UK. Before coming to this place, I was involved in starting businesses, and I am sure they play an important role in our economic recovery. May we have a debate to recognise the progress made and to explore what more could be done to make the UK the best place to start a business?

As my hon. Friend says, the progress is tremendously encouraging. The rate of new business creation in 2011 was the highest ever at more than 1,230 a day. Along with my colleagues, I will try to encourage debate on this issue and take advantage of whatever opportunities we can. New business formation is vital. As we know, the support we can give for small business—including finance for lending and small business lending—and the initiatives we have announced will make a considerable difference, but we are looking tirelessly at how we can stimulate effective lending to businesses to enable those businesses that are being created at an unprecedented rate to go on to grow and expand.