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Business of the House

Volume 555: debated on Thursday 20 December 2012

The business for the week commencing 7 January 2013 will be:

Monday 7 January—Remaining stages of the Trust (Capital and Income) Bill [Lords], followed by all stages of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure, followed by debate on a motion to take note of a European document relating to the Commission work programme 2013, followed by debate on a reasoned opinion relating to the gender balance on corporate boards, followed by general debate on corporate tax avoidance. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 8 January—Second Reading of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.

Wednesday 9 January—Opposition Day [13th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the statutory code of practice for pub companies, followed by a further debate on a subject to be announced.

Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 10 January—General debate on dementia. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

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

Monday 14 January—Second Reading of the Crime and Courts Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 15 January—Motion to approve the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 5) Order 2013.

Wednesday 16 January—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 17 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 18 January—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 10 and 17 January will be:

Thursday 10 January—Debate on the third report of the Select Committee on Transport on competition in the local bus market.

Thursday 17 January—Debate on the fourth report of the Select Committee on International Development on tax in developing countries, followed by debate on the sixth report of the Select Committee on International Development on Afghanistan.

May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr Speaker, and all right hon. and hon. Members a very merry Christmas? On behalf of the whole House, I should like to thank all the staff of the House who have kept the House and ourselves running smoothly: the Doorkeepers, the cleaners, the Clerks, the Officers and all the staff of the House and the House service. We wish a merry and peaceful Christmas to one and all.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the next parliamentary week, even though it is not the next chronological week. I join the Leader of the House in wishing you, Mr Speaker, the staff who work here and have served us so well throughout the year, and all right hon. and hon. Members a happy and enjoyable Christmas.

Unfortunately, food banks had to feed almost 250,000 people this year. Independent figures from the Trussell Trust show that, in my own constituency, 295 children have been fed from food banks. Across the country, thousands of volunteers are helping hard-pressed families who are struggling to put any food on the table, and I pay tribute to their efforts. People are really struggling to make ends meet. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that in 21st century Britain people should not be struggling to feed their children because they have no money? At Christmas, that should be a particular source of shame, but yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister boasted that this showed the big society was working. How out of touch is he? When the coalition was formed, Ministers could barely complete a sentence without mentioning the big society. This year, as the idea has unravelled and been revealed to be little more than a PR gimmick, they have gone pretty quiet on the subject. May we have a debate on the big society, to give Government Members the chance to explain why, when 250,000 people have had to rely on food banks to be able to eat, the Government are giving a huge tax cut to a few thousand millionaires?

I welcome yesterday’s written statement from the Home Secretary on the Hillsborough investigation and the overturning of the unjust inquest verdicts on the 96 who died. I also warmly welcome the Government’s decision that the Hillsborough single will not be subject to VAT. I welcome the court’s decision this week, but it does mean that the families of the victims, who have fought so hard for so many years, will now have to meet expensive legal costs to ensure that they are adequately represented at the new inquests. Given the exceptional circumstances, will the Leader of the House ask the Justice Secretary to look at whether the Government could meet the families’ costs?

On Tuesday, Her Majesty the Queen made an historic visit to No. 10 to attend the Cabinet, to observe, not to participate in proceedings—much like the Deputy Prime Minister, in fact. Does the Leader of the House agree that it was a sign of Her Majesty’s tireless devotion to her duties that she was willing to put herself through such an experience? I have to admit that the photograph of the Cabinet meeting from the Evening Standard worried me. Where was the Leader of the House? I looked very carefully, but the right hon. Gentleman just was not there. What on earth is going on? I thought perhaps he was a closet republican, as he is from Cambridgeshire, but surely that cannot be the case. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the Prime Minister has simply had enough of him. May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have now started a campaign to save him from the chop?

To honour Her Majesty’s Cabinet visit, the Government have very generously named a tract of Antarctic wilderness after her and given her 60 place mats—both of which will no doubt be very useful. As it is Christmas, I have been looking for gifts for the Cabinet. Given the miraculous resurrection of the Government Chief Whip’s ministerial career, I thought he might like a copy of the Australian ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s autobiography, “Lazarus Rising”. We would all be grateful if the Chancellor spent his Christmas reading “Macro-economics for Beginners”. Given that every announcement from the Department for Education inevitably finds its way into the media before the Education Secretary has had a chance to make a statement to this House, I think he would benefit from a copy of “How Parliament Works”, which is an excellent book. I thought you, Mr Speaker, might enjoy a manual written for classroom teachers, “Managing Very Challenging Behaviour”. The Leader of the House might benefit from a copy of the railway timetable, and just about all his ministerial colleagues might benefit from a copy of the book by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), “How to be a Minister”.

Given that this is the last business statement of the year, and provided that the predictions of the Mayan apocalypse are wrong, I look forward to seeing everyone back in the new year.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, not least for her concern about my whereabouts at the Cabinet meeting. I felt like a reverse Forrest Gump: instead of being always in the picture, I was suddenly out of it. The hon. Lady’s reference to the railway timetable is correct. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) that I have an insufferable knowledge of Letchworth Garden City railway station, where I spent an hour and three quarters. If anyone were to ask me for a debate on recent failings in performance on the east coast main line or by First Capital Connect, I would be very sympathetic to that request.

The hon. Lady will recall that there was a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday on food banks in Scotland and, indeed, that reference was made to the subject at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. I think the availability of food banks is an illustration of how we care for each other in our communities. We do not want people to need them, but as discussed in Business, Innovation and Skills questions earlier, there are many reasons why people access them—including money problems, debt management, the ability to manage their resources and so forth. As the shadow Leader of the House says, the Trussell Trust has rightly been working across the country to establish better awareness of, and access to, food banks, and we should recognise and support that.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for what she said about the Home Secretary’s written ministerial statement on a further investigation into Hillsborough and about what the Prime Minister said yesterday about VAT. She asked about legal aid. I can tell her and the House that the Government will provide funding for the legal representation of the bereaved Hillsborough families at the fresh inquests.

At Christmas time, we look back at the past year and forward to the next one. After a year in which we have had the diamond jubilee, the Olympics and the Paralympic games, 2012 will be a year to remember for many positive reasons. At this time, however, we also need to think about the people who might be looking on 2012 with less happy memories—people who are bereaved, people who are lonely, people who are in trouble or in pain and, indeed, people who are in poverty. There may not be such great events next year as there were this year, but I hope that in 2013 we will have many smaller positive events that will enable us as a country to live in greater peace and progress.

When do we expect to consider the amendments made in the other place to the Bill on individual electoral registration. Did my right hon. Friend see the circular from the Electoral Commission yesterday, warning that if the Bill does not reach the statute book by the end of January, it will not be possible for the Electoral Commission to guarantee the introduction of individual electoral registration in time for the 2015 general election? Will he assure me and the House that the Bill will be in a fit state to achieve Royal Assent before the end of January?

I did indeed see the Electoral Commission statement to which my hon. Friend refers. It is not for me to refer to business in the other place, but he will be reassured to know that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, which has to complete its Committee and remaining stages in the other place, will be considered in mid-January.

May I join the Leader and shadow Leader of the House in wishing you, Mr Speaker, and all the staff of the House, especially the Doorkeepers, a very merry Christmas?

Yes, and the Hansard writers, of course; we must not forget them. I also wish a merry Christmas to all the Back Benchers who have been so supportive of the Backbench Business Committee, by making representations to us to hold what have proved to be some of the most excellent debates held in the House this year. I thank them for their continued support for, and use of, the Backbench Business Committee.

I seek clarification on a minor technical point about e-petitions. The House has now opened Westminster Hall on Monday afternoons for debates about e-petitions with 100,000 or more signatures. Are the slots exclusively for e-petitions generated from the Government website, or do they include any e-petitions that reach 100,000 signatures?

I can confirm that the House opened Westminster Hall for debates on e-petitions through the Government’s website, on the basis that that gives us a degree of validation in relation to the petitions.

Although there was an 8% increase in organ donations last year, 7,500 people are still waiting for an organ transplant. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this important topic?

Although I cannot promise a prompt debate, it is an important subject, and my hon. Friend might, I hope, seek a debate through the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. We have made considerable progress in this area, however. Working on the January 2008 recommendations of the organ donation taskforce, over the last four years there has been a 40% increase in organ donor rates across the United Kingdom, and through the work of NHS Blood and Transplant—an organisation I know well—including its extension of transplant nursing support, I hope we can improve that record still further.

May I add my voice to those of the shadow Leader and Leader of the House in wishing a happy Christmas to everyone, including—to the ire of the Prime Minister, no doubt—you, Mr Speaker? I also wish all the staff of these Houses of Parliament a happy Christmas, and let us hope that this coming year we look after them better than we did in the past year, which has been a very stressful time for them.

I am sure the Leader of the House was as shocked as I was to hear Lord Patten’s remarks on the “Today” programme. Following the recent disturbing time for the BBC and its reputation, he described the Public Accounts Committee report as “unfair” and “shabby”. There is something seriously wrong in that. Our constituents have legitimate concerns about the running of the BBC. My own view is that this merits his resignation.

On the first point, we in this House have a responsibility to look after the House staff, and I think we discharge it properly. Speaking as a recent addition to the membership of the House of Commons Commission, I know that it takes that responsibility immensely seriously, and ensures the staff who look after us are employed, and looked after, on the best and most favourable conditions.

The PAC report into the BBC is a matter for the BBC Trust and the BBC itself, not for me or Ministers directly. Such reports are important, however. As I know as a former head of a Department, when the PAC issues reports and recommendations, they must be responded to and taken very seriously.

May I wish the Leader of the House a happy Christmas—and, as it is Christmas, thank the Whips for looking after us, because that has not been said yet? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Bill on the redefinition of marriage will have its Second Reading on 28 January, and that there is no truth in the outrageous suggestion that Whips are slipping Members who do not want to support that measure and calling people back from overseas trips who want to support it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I cannot confirm the timing of business beyond what I have announced to the House, and it is not my place to comment on the characteristics of any whipping operation. However, we have made it clear, as I believe all parties have, that votes on the equal civil marriage Bill will be free votes.

May we have a debate about accurate reporting of the autumn statement? The Conservative party website currently states:

“Anyone in work and receiving benefits will gain more from paying less tax, than what they lose from benefits not increasing in real terms.”

I thought about asking for a debate on declining standards of grammar. As analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that lone parents and working couples with children will be net losers from the changes in the autumn statement, may we have a debate in order to get the right figures on the record?

The hon. Lady will recall that she will have an opportunity to debate this with my colleagues on Second Reading of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, on the House’s second day back. I point out to her that benefits are intended to be limited—an increase limited to 1%—but this follows five years during which benefits rose by 20%, whereas average earnings rose by 10%. We cannot ignore the simple fact that those on the lowest incomes are among those who will obtain the greatest proportionate benefit from the increase in the personal tax allowance. In April, that will increase to £9,440, which will more than halve the income tax bill of someone working full-time on the minimum wage.

In 2011, the leadership of Somerset county council announced that Somerset would be the first county to introduce partial closure and charging for the use of recycling facilities. The public expressed their concern that that would lead to increased fly-tipping. The resulting costs, which are £303,615 this year, have to be picked up by the taxpayer through the district councils. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on how Ministers might be empowered to intervene to protect the environment and stop this irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money?

I am very interested in what my hon. Friend has to say, and I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond to her specifically. Where county councils and district authorities sit down to discuss these things together—I know they do that as they do it with us as Members of Parliament; we do it all together—we have a better basis on which to consider matters, rather than simply shifting costs between tiers of authorities.

May I inform the Leader of the House that the insulation companies in my constituency, large and small alike, wrote to the Department of Energy and Climate Change four months ago expressing their concern about the Government’s green deal? I chased that up two months ago to get a response, but to date that Department has not responded to me or to the companies, which have legitimate concerns. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State on what he is going to do to sort out his dysfunctional Department?

I will, of course, talk to my colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change about this, but I would hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the green deal. It is going to have a positive impact on up to 8 million homes over the next eight years and create up to 60,000 jobs in the insulation sector over the next three years. The further roll-out of the green deal is going to take place over the months and years ahead, but I hope that early in the new year we will have an opportunity for him and others to see how the green deal will be having a positive impact.

When I visited Kyson primary school in Woodbridge for a belated Parliament week question and answer session with year 5 and year 6 students, I was struck by how often the issue of the Belfast riots came up among 10 and 11-year-olds. Given that these events are still continuing, with some disgraceful things occurring, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State to make another statement early in the new year?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows how our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has come to the House and, quite rightly, made statements. Of course, I have no doubt that in the new year, if need be, she will do so again. We all condemn the lawlessness and thuggery we have seen. It is not in defence of the flag; it is a disgrace to the flag, frankly, and to Britain that this is happening. We want to see it stop. In particular, the threat to our elected representatives and the threat to and attacks on the police are attacks on democracy. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is working with the Executive to ensure that local solutions, led in Northern Ireland, are leading the approach. We all support that, as we respect the devolution settlement, but I know that as a House we are very concerned and that the Government will take seriously their responsibility to report to us.

In view of all the good wishes that have been expressed today—I join others in expressing them—is the Leader of the House aware that one of the best wishes we could have for 2013 would be for a statement early in the year that this wretched Government will resign?

I know that my right hon. Friend will agree that we should commend Her Majesty’s Government for everything that has been done this year to make the diamond jubilee anniversary such a magnificent celebration for our whole nation. Will he arrange for the Government to make an early statement in 2013 about preparations for a possible blue sapphire jubilee to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 65th anniversary in 2017?

At this precise moment, I will simply join my hon. Friend and the whole House in remarking on what a wonderful diamond jubilee year it has been and on how the example of Her Majesty over 60 years as our sovereign has taken the monarchy to the highest levels of respect, admiration and, indeed, affection that this country has ever seen.

The Government initiated a 10-year diabetes strategy for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 2003, but there has been a 30% increase in the number of people with diabetes in my constituency and a 20% increase across the whole United Kingdom. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate on this vital issue?

I know the hon. Gentleman is assiduous in finding opportunities, and there will no doubt be early opportunities for a debate on diabetes care. His point is important, as we need not only to improve the quality of care so that best practice is achieved—the Public Accounts Committee identified in its report the quality of life and the number of lives saved that could be gained by implementing best practice in diabetes care, and although we are doing that we have more to do—but to use measures such as the health check system in the NHS and the preventive health strategies that are now being developed between the NHS and local authorities to reduce the rising prevalence of diabetes.

I extend my best wishes to you, Mr Speaker, and to the whole House. I pay particular thanks to colleagues on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and especially to the staff, who have enabled us to achieve all that we have this year. It looks as though there is very little chance of a white Christmas this year, but there will be flooding in many parts of the country. Many people have already been displaced. Will my right hon. Friend look favourably on my request for an early debate in the new year on flooding and on what more we, local authorities and other agencies can do between floods, as well as on the question of insurance to replace the statement of principles that expires at the end of May?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, she has rightly raised an issue that will concern many of us in many constituencies across the country. We feel deeply for those in the west country and elsewhere who are at risk at Christmas of flooding, with all the horrible consequences that flow from that. The House will be aware that the Environment Agency, local authorities, fire and rescue services and others have been forewarned by the Flood Forecasting Centre and stand ready to deal with any emergencies. I know that Ministers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will actively monitor that and will intervene and report to the House whenever necessary.

Flood insurance is a priority. Discussions with the Association of British Insurers are continuing. I cannot comment on the detail of that negotiation, but we are continuing to seek a new approach that is better than the statement of principles—one that genuinely secures affordable flood insurance without placing unsustainable costs on other policyholders or the taxpayer.

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating IPSA—[Hon. Members: “No.”] Sarcasm alert—not only on concocting a generous tax avoidance scheme for its acting chief executive, Paula Higson, but on trying to protect our staff from those unwanted and pesky tax bills? That is the excuse it gives for insisting that staff expenses are paid into our accounts, not their own. The last time MPs accepted other people’s money into our bank accounts, it did not end well. Can the Leader of the House sort it out?

If I may, I will draw what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of the chairman of IPSA so that IPSA can respond to him. I know that the Speaker’s Committee on IPSA takes very seriously the views of Members on the administration of IPSA’s responsibilities, so I am sure we will have occasion to discuss the matter there.

Would the Lord Privy Seal be willing to investigate the behaviour of Cosalt plc, which has big problems with minority shareholding? We need answers to some legitimate questions, and 28 Members of Parliament are concerned about the matter.

I cannot promise to investigate in detail myself, but I can undertake to be in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. The issue clearly relates to corporate governance so I will ask him to look into it and respond to my hon. Friend.

May I add my thanks and best wishes to all the staff of the House, including all the staff of the Speaker’s Office?

Some 3,900 people in my constituency claim in-work benefits but will be worse off next year as a result of the autumn statement. May we have an urgent debate next year on the fairness of hitting the people who do the right thing while millionaires get a massive tax cut?

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the exchange that I had with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). One must take into account the fact that people are in work and are receiving in-work benefits. Those benefits will not necessarily rise by inflation but by 1%. The pay of many people in work is not rising or is rising by a very small amount indeed, but one must also take into account that in recognition of that and because we want those who are in work to feel that work really pays and that the more hours they work, the more benefit they get, this Government are reducing the tax on the lowest paid. The personal tax allowance is going up to £9,440. That will make a significant difference to the tax bill of lower paid workers.

From his visits to my constituency, my right hon. Friend will be aware what a wonderful tourism destination Bournemouth is. Tourism is the biggest industry in Bournemouth. May we have a debate or a statement on proposals allowing a change of use of hotels, whereby they would be converted into flats, without the approval of the town hall? I hope my right hon. Friend would agree that such a policy would be devastating for tourism destinations such as Bournemouth.

My hon. Friend is right about the attractions of Bournemouth. I can remember being in Bournemouth on a number of occasions and having the benefit of the sun on our face and a beautiful bay in front of us to enjoy while we were there. The simple fact of the large number of hotel bedrooms in Bournemouth makes an enormous difference to its attractiveness to conferences, for example. I will talk to my ministerial colleagues and ask them to respond to my hon. Friend about the change of use regulations. Equally, in order to support economic growth, we should create as flexible a structure as we can for people who own property to allow them to develop that property and exploit it.

Is the Leader of the House aware that over the past few weeks people in Corby and east Northamptonshire have been peeping out of their windows in amazement at festive lights illuminating their roads, because they were plunged into darkness for a long time as a result of a decision by the Tory-controlled county council? That is just one reason why some of his hon. Friends were stumbling around in my constituency having lost their way. This matters so much for the safety and well-being of people across Corby and east Northamptonshire, so may we please have a debate on street lights?

I must confess that I was not aware of the street light situation in Corby—[Hon. Members: “Why not?”] Street lights are a matter for individual local authorities. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is discovering, if a Member wishes to raise that sort of constituency matter, applying for an Adjournment debate is a good tactic.

Youth unemployment in Harrogate and Knaresborough currently stands at 2.6%, having halved in the past year, and we have obviously seen some good progress nationally. Please may we have a debate on the growth of apprenticeships and the role they are playing in cutting youth unemployment?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Since the general election more than 1 million people have started an apprenticeship and the budget has been increased to £1.5 billion. In addition, I know that he will share my optimism about the development of the Youth Contract, especially the 250,000 extra work experience places or sector-based work academy places, the wage incentive to support 18 to 24-year-olds getting into work and the extra incentives for young apprentices in particular. That is all contributing, I hope. For example, the most recent data show that the unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is down 1.3 points this quarter.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said that local councils had record levels of reserves that they should use to plug the hole left by his record levels of cuts. May we have a debate on how the Government could make better use of their own reserves and get their own house in order before lecturing others on how to run their affairs?

I am slightly at a loss to discover what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, especially given the circumstances in which the Labour Government, whom he supported, left this country and the unprecedentedly large debts they left this country. That is the situation we are dealing with. We are not dealing with a Government who came into office and found that they had reserves; we are dealing with a Government who found that they were borrowing £1 in every £4 they were spending.

During the past few days the Beacon of Hope, a hospice that has premises in my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams), has gone into voluntary receivership. Although hospices are a devolved issue, we know that charities, including hospices, are under huge pressure right across the UK, and it is especially poignant for hospices. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an opportunity, whether by statement or debate, so that we can discuss the financial arrangements under which hospices operate?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter and share his concern, and that of his constituents, about the financial situation the local hospice is in. As he says, it is a devolved matter, but I will of course talk with my hon. Friend about it. We might not be able to offer an immediate opportunity for debate, but I hope that we can discuss the hospice movement at an early date. From my point of view, I have listened on the issues relating to regulation and know that we do not have to impose additional regulation on the hospice movement. At the same time, in England the Government are supporting the hospice movement by conducting pilot projects for per-patient funding, which would make an enormous difference for hospices, and indeed those with life-limiting illnesses, because they would be able to choose the provider and location of their care and the resources the NHS and social services give to support them would be used directly to support the provider of their choice, including hospices.

May we have a debate on the new Governor of the Bank of England’s financial package? We learn from today’s newspapers that on top of his salary of three times that of the Prime Minister’s, he will have to manage on a London accommodation allowance of a mere £250,000 a year. In that debate, would it be possible to ascertain whether, if that is used for a mortgage, any capital gain made on the property would be repayable to the taxpayer?

I do not know whether we have any immediate opportunity for such a debate. I recall that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came here and made a statement announcing that appointment, it was welcomed right across the House, including by the hon. Gentleman’s Front Benchers. The truth of the matter, as the Chancellor clearly stated, is that if we want to get the very best person in the world for this job, we have to be prepared to put in place the contract to make that happen.

There has been a great deal of speculation in the press that the Government are going to review the inflation target that they set for the Bank of England. Indeed, the Bank of England has failed for some while now to hit that target. May we kindly have a debate or a statement on the criteria that the Treasury will use to work out the inflation target that the Bank of England should be trying to hit?

My hon. Friend knows, I hope, that we have no plans to change the inflation targeting framework that was set out in the Bank of England Act 1998. As he rightly says, for a significant period that target was not being met, but the framework makes that transparent because it requires the Governor of the Bank of England to write to the Chancellor to explain why it has not happened. Inflation has substantially reduced in the past year or so. Alongside the fiscal credibility of the Government, that gives international markets and businesses confidence in the credibility of our monetary policy too.

Season’s greetings to everyone. In particular, I want to wish British industry a happy new year, but I fear that it might not be so. Britain has a visible trade deficit with the rest of the European Union of, typically, £1 billion a week. Britain’s manufacturing sector is half the size of Germany’s as a proportion of GDP. Britain’s industry has been damaged time and again over many decades by an over-valuation of our currency, and over the past 18 months or so we have seen a substantial weakening of the euro, which is again forcing up the value of sterling, with the result that our trade deficit will be even more difficult to overcome. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on exchange rate policy and its implications for British industry?

The hon. Gentleman is describing a situation that relates to the decline in British manufacturing that occurred dramatically over the life of the previous Labour Government. I entirely absolve him of responsibility for some of that Government’s policies, which he did not necessarily support, although he supported that Government. We are very clear that we must achieve for the future a rebalancing of our economy. That is why British manufacturing has substantially improved its trade in and exports of goods to some of the new and emerging markets such as China, India, Russia and Brazil. It is not a matter of losing markets in Europe; we have to win them as well. In 2011, we exported £300 billion in goods, up 12.5% on the year before, and we need to sustain that progress.

The Leader of the House will know that group B streptococcus is the most common cause of life-threatening infection in newborn babies, and that each year, very sadly, some 100 newborn babies suffer either death or disability as a result. In countries that have routine screening, infection rates are falling, yet in this country infection rates have risen by a quarter in the past 10 years. The UK National Screening Committee has just announced, after a review, that it will not be introducing routine screening. May we have an oral statement from a Health Minister on the Floor of the House so that Members can question this very distressing decision?

My hon. Friend and I, and, indeed, other Members, have discussed this subject. He is right that it is the responsibility of the National Screening Committee, independently, to offer advice about the relative effectiveness of national screening programmes. I will, of course, ask my colleagues at the Department of Health to respond directly to my hon. Friend, but he might like to note that there may be a further opportunity to raise this important issue at Health questions on Tuesday 15 January.

Last week, Mr Levesconte, the landlord of the Royal Oak pub in Shrewton, left the country with £29,000 that had been saved in the local thrift fund by 60 families. This week, due to the generosity of the people of Shrewton, south Wiltshire and beyond, the full sum has been acquired through donations. Will the Leader of the House comment on the vibrancy of the big society in south Wiltshire and make a statement on the safety of investing and saving in banks, building societies and credit unions, as opposed to thrift funds?

I think that what the hon. Gentleman wants is not so much a comment but, in conformity with House procedures, a full statement.

Ah! I neglected to follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic right through. We are all deeply indebted to him.

I cannot offer a statement at this time, but I can say that I share my hon. Friend’s concern that people recognise the intrinsic merits of saving in institutions, not least guaranteed institutions such as banks, building societies and credit unions. On a positive note, those in Wiltshire are, as my hon. Friend has said, clearly a generous community who care for each other. That is a central part of not only the big society, but the kind of society that we all want to live in. I was equally touched by the way in which so many people have responded, in like fashion, after the wickedness of thefts from Great Ormond Street hospital by recognising that they want to contribute to look after others.

I thank the Leader of the House and colleagues, and wish him and all hon. and right hon. Members a merry Christmas.