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Business of the House

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 16 May 2013

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 20 May—Remaining stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (Day 1).

Tuesday 21 May—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to Syria.

The business for the week commencing 3 June will be:

Monday 3 June—Remaining stages of the Energy Bill (Day 1).

Tuesday 4 June—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Energy Bill.

Wednesday 5 June—Opposition Day [1st Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 6 June—There will be a debate on a motion relating to student visas, followed by general debate on pollinators and pesticides. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 10 June will include:

Monday 10 June—Second Reading of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 June will be:

Thursday 6 June—Debate on the ninth report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on Drugs: Breaking the Cycle.

May I also take this opportunity to be among the first to congratulate the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee on her re-election?

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week and the business that will follow yet another recess. I also add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her unanimous re-election without an election as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, which is to her enormous credit.

Next week the House will return, albeit briefly, to debate the remaining stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. This will ensure that the historic progress on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality accomplished by the previous Government will be consolidated. I thank the Leader of the House for making two days available for Report and Third Reading. Will he consider doing that for other Bills? After all, his legislative programme is hardly packed.

Back in February, the Prime Minister was triumphant about his EU budget deal. He tweeted:

“Today we agreed the first ever cut in the EU budget and the British rebate is safe. This is a great deal for Britain.”

Three months on, we have learned that the UK will have to pay £770 million extra. May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on the budget, and may we seek an assurance from him that it will not go up again?

Last week, as all the grandeur of the state opening of Parliament unfolded, the Government presented a united front and revealed a mouse of a legislative programme. Before the Cap of Maintenance was even back in the wardrobe, Tory Eurosceptics had tabled a motion regretting their own Government’s Queen’s Speech. No. 10 said that it was “relaxed”.

By the weekend, the Tory rebellion had gathered pace and the Cabinet joined in. Both the Education Secretary and the Defence Secretary announced that they wanted out of the European Union, but that, sadly, the Liberal Democrats would not let them have a vote on it. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) proclaimed that if the rebellion ended the coalition Government, “so be it”. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) pronounced that the Prime Minister’s referendum plan was “not yet believable”. Meanwhile, the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) denounced the rebels as “irresponsible” and “offensive”, and the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said that it would be a catastrophe to quit the EU.

As the Tory party descended into chaos, the Prime Minister shared with us his unique concept of firm leadership. A leader should proclaim that he is “intensely relaxed”, leave the country, blame the Liberal Democrats, panic, and rush to publish an entirely spurious private Member’s Bill that contains no implementation clause and no money resolution.

In 2006, the Prime Minister said that the Conservative party should stop “banging on about Europe”. In 2009, he said that his party’s position on Europe was “settled” and promised that he

“will not have an undisciplined team whoever it is. Full stop.”

However, last night 116 of his Back Benchers voted against him in the 35th Tory rebellion on Europe in this Parliament. If that is not an undisciplined team and a Prime Minister who follows his party rather than leads, will the Leader of the House tell me what is?

In last night’s rebellion, 13 Parliamentary Private Secretaries voted against the Government. I would like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a clause in the ministerial code:

“Parliamentary Private Secretaries are expected to support the Government in important divisions in the House. No Parliamentary Private Secretary who votes against the Government can retain his or her position.”

That seems to be fairly clear. Will the Leader of the House confirm that those PPSs will be sacked, or is the Prime Minister going to rewrite the ministerial code?

In light of the Tories’ panicked Back-Bench EU Bill, I also want to draw the attention of the Leader of House to some comments that he might remember making to the Procedure Committee on private Members’ Bills a few weeks ago. He said that

“if a Government really wants a Bill and it is contentious, it should find time in the legislative programme for it.”

Am I correct, therefore, that the Government do not want this Bill at all?

In “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. With the antics last night, we are firmly in the farcical stage and we have a Conservative party determined to prove that Karl Marx was right.

When the economy is flatlining, living standards are falling, and people up and down Britain are suffering real pain, people will not forgive a Government who are too focused on their own obsessions to address the challenges that the country faces.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the forthcoming business.

On the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, we are providing two days on Report. I remind the hon. Lady that under the last Government, there were Sessions in which virtually no Bills were given two days on Report.

That is not the case. Seventeen Bills were announced in the Gracious Speech last week, which is in line with the single year numbers we saw in a number of Sessions under the last Government, including 2008 and 2009. As part of the reforms of this House, and of improving scrutiny, we gave 14 Bills two days on Report over the last two Sessions, and we are proud that the business I have just announced will give both the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and the Energy Bill two days on Report. The hon. Lady is barking up completely the wrong tree.

The Prime Minister was told by the Labour party that he would not deliver a reduction in the EU budget, but he did deliver one. As a consequence, our rebate is protected and we will have the opportunity to debate that in due course. Once the decision is through the Council, we will be able to bring forward a Bill to ratify the EU own resources decision.

The legislative programme is not a mouse. Not only was it a full programme, but we are making good progress with it in a way that is, I think, exemplary. Ten Bills have been published in the week since the Gracious Speech: the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which is important as it tackles an area of reform that has not been tackled previously; the Care Bill, which is important and cannot be called an insignificant piece of legislation; the Intellectual Property Bill; the Local Audit and Accountability Bill; the Mesothelioma Bill; the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill; the Pensions Bill; the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill; and the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill. All have been published within a week of the Gracious Speech and that is a substantial programme of legislation.

The hon. Lady’s final points were all, in one way or another, about the vote last night, which in all respects proceeded from a complete misapprehension. The point is that the Government did not have a policy on whether there should be an EU referendum Bill, and so voting for the amendment last night—which many of my colleagues in the Conservative party did, as did Labour Members and a Liberal Democrat Member—was not voting against Government policy because the Government did not have a policy on that. Therefore, the rest of the hon. Lady’s argument does not follow. The simple point is that what is in the Queen’s Speech is agreed Government policy. There may be no Government policy on something that was not in the Queen’s Speech, so of course Ministers could not vote for it, but everybody else was able to vote as they saw fit, which is precisely what they did last night.

May we have a debate on the potential misuse of money by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? IPSA appears to have employed incredibly expensive lawyers from Matrix Chambers in pursuing what looks like a county court action. That can be explained only if it is trying to intimidate the Members involved, which would be quite improper. May we have a response on that from those on the Front Benches?

If I may, I will say to my right hon. Friend that because this matter relates to a particular case, I do not want to talk about it in any detail from the Dispatch Box. For his convenience, and that of the House, I note that there is scope for the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, of which I am a member, to ask questions about how IPSA undertakes its activities and the value for money it achieves. We held public evidence sessions last Tuesday, which of course affords an opportunity for IPSA to be held accountable.

Does the Leader of the House recall that a few weeks ago after the fire at Daw Mill colliery I asked him for a statement on the coal industry, with particular reference to UK Coal, which owns another two pits—Thoresby and Kellingley? I drew his attention specifically to the fact that because Daw Mill was the big money pit owned by UK Coal, the other two pits could be in serious jeopardy. More importantly, it could cost the Government up to £450 million to pay out for the pensions and redundancies if UK Coal goes under. Would it make a lot of sense for this Government, this coalition, to say to the coal authority that they should be allowed to take over the remaining assets of UK Coal and save what remains of the coal industry—in other words, to nationalise it?

I do remember the questions the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have asked on that subject. I repeat that I cannot, in the House, remotely enter a discussion of the commercial prospects of UK Coal. However, I again say that the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), is closely engaged. I will encourage him to correspond with the hon. Gentleman and other Members who are directly involved.

My right hon. Friend is aware that the Foreign Office is undertaking an initiative on preventing sexual violence. The Department for International Development has a four-pillar programme to help women and girls worldwide, which is encouraging, particularly in conflict areas, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women and girls are particularly vulnerable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will shortly chair the G8. May we have a statement on how he will produce his initiatives? Preventing sexual violence is important for the world. Will the Prime Minister also ensure that we do not forget that boys and men also need education to stop sexual violence?

My hon. Friend will recall that specific mention was made in the Gracious Speech of the priority that the Government give to the prevention of sexual violence in conflict worldwide. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary recently updated the House from the Dispatch Box on the wide range of measures that have been taken in that respect, as has the Secretary of State for International Development. If I may, I will see what opportunities there might be for the House to be given further updates, particularly in anticipation of the fact that the matter will be part of the agenda we put forward for the G8.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 79, which is in my name and the names of other hon. Members, on Contour Homes and the Ferguson Court lift in my constituency?

[That this House condemns Contour Homes for its culpable negligence with regard to Ferguson Court in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton; regards it as inexcusable that its failure in its duty has meant that the lift at Ferguson Court has been out of order since October 2012; understands that, due to its incompetence and lack of concern, the lift will not be repaired or replaced until 30 July at the earliest, a period of nine months in which elderly and disabled tenants have been unable to cope to the extent that some of them have been unable to leave their homes; takes the view that Contour Homes has failed in its duty and role as social landlords; and calls on the relevant authorities to consider actively whether Contour Homes should be allowed to continue as social landlords.]

That social housing organisation has been so negligent in its duties towards tenants of that block of flats, many of whom are elderly and disabled, that they have had no lift since last October. Despite the way in which I have pushed Contour Homes, they will definitely not have a lift before 30 July. Contour Homes is a social landlord. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an opportunity to consider the matter, and ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to look into whether such an organisation—if it can be blessed with such a word—is fit to run social housing?

I had an opportunity to look at that early-day motion as the right hon. Gentleman asked his question. He once again commendably raises the interests of his constituents. I can see how distressing the problem must be for them. Social landlords in that sense should be accountable not least through their contract with social services in respect of many of those residents. Ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government will answer questions in the House on Monday 3 June, which might afford the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to ask a question. The relevant authorities and Contour Homes will have taken note of what he has said in the House. Perhaps the situation will have been rectified by Monday 3 June, but if not, he can ask another question of my hon. Friends.

Those who work in schools who suspect or witness abuse are guided, but not required by law, to report their concerns via local procedures to a school’s designated senior member of staff, his or her deputy, or another senior member of staff. It is easy to see that the potential for damage to a school’s reputation might cause any senior member of staff to be conflicted, and not to pass such concerns on to the police or local authority. Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the merits of introducing a legal obligation on all teachers and other staff in schools to report directly to the police or a local authority designated officer?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Education to respond directly to her, but from my recollection—I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Protection of Children Act 1999—the barring scheme applies not simply to acts of negligence or abuse, but to omissions in relation to acts of abuse. In that sense, the guidance is quite strong. People who are in positions of responsibility for children should act if they see evidence of abuse or they will risk being barred from working in a responsible position.

The Leader of the House will share my concern that I did not come high up in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. I will content myself with an early debate, if he could arrange it, on the accountancy and auditing profession. Is he not concerned by the increasing evidence that the auditors of great banks have failed us? They never blew the whistle and they never did the auditing job properly. We are now in a situation where KPMG’s senior partner is the chair of the new Financial Conduct Authority. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate so that the House can scrutinise this scandal?

Given the range of aspects involved, the hon. Gentleman may find that this is a suitable subject not only for an Adjournment debate but for consideration by the Backbench Business Committee, given its reconstitution. Members across the House with a range of interests in the auditing process would then have the opportunity to air them.

This week, on the anniversary of President Hollande’s presidency, it was announced that France has entered a triple-dip recession. Can we therefore please have a debate on the impact on UK exporters of the economic policies currently being pursued in France, such as increased Government spending, increased Government borrowing and the implementation of a 75% top rate of tax—an economic approach consistently and repeatedly supported by the Opposition?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Of course, it is a little early for the Opposition to decide the subject of their Opposition day debate on 5 June. Given what my hon. Friend says, they might like to have a debate on the policies they wish to pursue. A year ago, the Leader of the Opposition said, “What President Hollande is seeking to do in France, I want to do in Britain.” Would that not be a suitable subject?

The Leader of the House will know that last Friday, at a Special Immigration Appeals Commission hearing, Abu Qatada made an offer to leave the country voluntarily if the treaty with Jordan was ratified by the Jordanians. Given that it has taken seven years and successive Home Secretaries to remove Abu Qatada, can he tell the House whether that offer has been accepted? When can the House have an opportunity to debate the treaty before it is ratified?

I fear that I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the answer he is looking for, but I will of course be in contact with the Home Secretary to see if I can procure an answer for him.

Over the last decade, transport capital spending in London has been about 10 times that of the regions. Much, but not all of that, has been caused by spending on Crossrail. Recent comments by the Mayor of London imply that he has momentum and Government support for Crossrail 2. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be no money spent on even preparatory work for Crossrail 2 without a full debate in this House?

My hon. Friend refers to the momentum of the Mayor of London, which is, frankly, unstoppable. On his point about infrastructure investment, I hope he knows that, in addition to the investment in London, which is vital to the economy of the country as a whole, we are proceeding with many important investments in other parts of the country, including £1.8 million for local authority major schemes, and the pinchpoint fund, which provides £317 million for 123 projects across the country. Of course, the benefits from the biggest item of infrastructure planning, High Speed 2, will assist major cities right across the country, including those in the north-west.

This is export week. If the Government are serious about promoting exports, why did they not arrange for a debate on them in the House during export week, and may we have one soon?

The hon. Gentleman will know that matters relating to growth were entirely relevant to yesterday’s Queen’s Speech debate on growth and the economy and that jobs and business, including export matters, were debated last Friday—I am sure he was in his place for that debate—so the subject of exports has been relevant to debates in the past week. He is right, though, that exports are essential. If we are to get growth, we cannot rely, as has been the case in the past, on debt-fuelled growth, whether Government debt or consumer debt. We need more balanced and sustainable growth, not least by winning in the global race, and that is what we have set out to do.

To give the House a break from the Leader of the House’s colleagues’ obsessing about Europe, may we have, before the summer break, a serious debate about the Commonwealth countries and south Asia? There is a controversial Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka, there has been a recent terrible tragedy with wider implications and civil disorder in Bangladesh, there is a new Government of Pakistan, there are difficulties in the Maldives and there is an Indian Government with issues of civil disorder and the death penalty. I think that many colleagues would appreciate an extended debate on those countries and their policies.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making an important point, not least in referring to the tragic events in Dhaka, by which many of us have been deeply shocked. All those issues, including the elections in Pakistan, demonstrate the importance of good governance and democracy in many of these countries. In Pakistan, we have seen for the first time the democratic election of a new Government following a full term from a previous democratically elected Government, which is positive. I hope that there will be an opportunity for a debate on all these countries, but it might be appropriate if he or others were to seek such a debate from the Backbench Business Committee. The prospect of the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting would be a good basis for an application.

I think I recall the Leader of the House saying on a previous occasion that he is a regular train traveller, so he will be aware that, at least according to train announcements now, trains do not stop at stations anymore. Instead, they have “calling points” and “embarkation stops”, and apparently some trains now “platform”. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about the adoption of a universal term for station stops, because as well as irritating regular travellers, the other terms used confuse tourists? Perhaps I could make a bid for a simple term: could we call them “stations”?

It is a good question. I will ask my hon. Friends in the Department for Transport about it, although they might be loth to standardise everything in the railways. I must say I agree with the hon. Gentleman, though, about the announcements. I particularly liked the announcement made one morning when we arrived late at King’s Cross: “We apologise to our customers”—not passengers, of course—“for the delay to the service this morning. This was due to the late running of trains.” It was a statement of the obvious.

Parliament has been at the centre of political debate this week, partly thanks to you, Mr Speaker, for selecting yesterday’s amendment. What has gone unnoticed about the vote, however, is that 117 coalition MPs, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, voted for the amendment, but only 36 voted against. May we have a statement next week from the appropriate Minister to explain how we get Government legislation introduced? Does the Deputy Prime Minister have a complete veto, despite what coalition MPs voted for?

I do not think we need a statement, because I can give my hon. Friend an explanation now. Government Bills are introduced on the basis of agreed Government policy and the relative priority of the various measures. In this case, the issue is that where two parties are in a coalition Government, it requires the agreement of the two parties. It is a simple matter; it is a necessity of coalition. Coalition gives rise to its own particular requirements, and that is one of them.

When can we have a debate on who runs Tory Britain? The Queen’s Speech did not contain a Bill to reduce the effects of smoking or excessive drinking. The promised Bill on lobbying is again not included, despite the Prime Minister saying in an impassioned speech a fortnight before the general election that this would be the next scandal. Is not the answer to “Who runs Tory Britain?” the lobbyists, who are red in tooth and claw, in greater numbers and with greater power than ever, and running the country in the interests of their greedy paymasters?

I am sorry, but that is completely wrong. The simple fact of the matter is that certain measures were not included in this Queen’s Speech because policy had not been finalised and consultations were continuing. That is not a consequence of lobbying; it is a consequence of the processes that are necessary to finalise policy.

Will my right hon. Friend allow time during Government business to debate the 111 out-of-hours emergency number? He will recall that when he was Secretary of State for Health and I had cause through family experience to use that number, I drew to his attention some simple remedies that could be effected. A debate at the earliest opportunity would be very useful.

My hon. Friend will recall that the Opposition chose health and care as the subject of Monday’s debate, when these issues were quite properly raised. There have clearly been operational difficulties associated with aspects of 111, in particular with the three new providers in the south-west, the south-east and Oxfordshire during its introduction in April. Equally, we could go back much further. For example, 10 areas of the country were running NHS 111 on a pilot basis when I left the Department of Health in September last year, and in many places it is operating successfully. What Members throughout the House need to understand is that the 111 service provides something that everybody has a right to expect, which is a straightforward non-emergency mechanism for accessing all aspects of the NHS.

I am sure the Leader of the House will agree that the security staff in this building do a very good job in a very efficient and friendly way, that we rely on them and that we work with them very well indeed. He will also be aware that negotiations are ongoing on a new roster arrangement for them. Unfortunately, the new rosters were imposed without the agreement of the staff, despite ongoing negotiations, which resulted in industrial action being taken on Tuesday. Will he convey to the House of Commons Commission and the Metropolitan police the fact that many Members of this House find it quite unacceptable that a new system should be imposed while negotiations are ongoing? Will he also urge them to continue with negotiations rather than imposing a new arrangement and to recognise the value of the co-operation and good will of those staff, which all Members enjoy at present?

I of course endorse what the hon. Gentleman said in the early part of his question, but I would remind him that we are, as I understand it, in the midst of negotiations between the House service and the Metropolitan police, as contractors, about security. That is not a matter for me, but as a member of the House of Commons Commission, I know that its members will have listened to what he has said. It is always our objective in the House of Commons Commission to work with staff to create something that not only is the best possible service, but shows the House as an exemplary employer.

May we have a debate on drug rehab centres? They play a vital role in our community, but the industry is largely unregulated and standards vary greatly across the country. In Bournemouth we are witnessing a worrying trend, whereby a number of London-based councils are sending some of their residents who require drug rehab to programmes in Bournemouth, without informing the council. That practice needs to stop.

What my hon. Friend says is interesting. I will of course raise with my hon. Friends at the Home Office, how the system is working, but from our point of view we need to ensure proper regulation where required and move increasingly towards payment by results, a mechanism that I hope will enable us to deliver more effective drug rehabilitation.

May we have a debate in Government time on the reforms to legal aid and judicial review? Judges are now having to support litigants in person instead of hearing reasoned argument, which is seriously undermining the rule of law and weakening one of the checks and balances on the state. May we please have an urgent debate on that issue?

The hon. Lady will have noticed that the Ministry of Justice will be answering questions on Tuesday, and she might wish to raise this matter at that time. I cannot offer Government time, but such issues may also be raised on the Adjournment or, collectively with other Members, through the Backbench Business Committee. Many days in this Session have been provided for the Backbench Business Committee. I am happy to listen to applications for Government time for general debates, but the intention was for Back-Bench Members collectively to decide where their priorities lie.

Figures last week show that the massive growth in payday loans, which started under the last Government, is continuing and the debt charity StepChange has given an example of a couple who had 36 payday loans between them. May we have a debate on the problem of high-cost debt and on how to encourage responsible lending?

The statistics from StepChange to which my hon. Friend refers serve to confirm the Government’s view that there are serious problems within that market that need to be addressed. That is why we announced an action plan on 6 March. My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Office of Fair Trading is prioritising enforcement and compliance. It will also announce in the next few months whether it will be referring the industry to the Competition Commission in the light of concerns over the way in which the market operates.

May I press the Leader of the House further on the issue of a register of lobbyists? We have already had one lengthy consultation, myriad answers from the Dispatch Box and two private Members’ Bills, including a particularly brilliant one in my name. If the Government had got behind that Bill, it would now be on the statute book.

I will of course look—as Ministers regularly do—at how we can secure progress in relation to our commitment to this, but it is a complex area, as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) has explained to Members at this Dispatch Box. I am sure that she will have a further opportunity to discuss this matter with Members.

In May 1904, in front of a crowd of 10,000 people, the international philanthropist Andrew Carnegie opened Kettering library, having provided £8,000 for its construction. Last Sunday, a smaller but no less select crowd celebrated the refurbishment of the library and the reopening of the main entrance, thanks to the good work of the Friends of Kettering Library and of Northamptonshire county council. May we have a debate in Government time on libraries and their importance to local communities?

My hon. Friend makes a good point on behalf of the library in his constituency, and I am pleased to hear about its refurbishment. He and Members across the House will be aware of the importance of libraries. I remember that, during the last Government, many libraries were the subject of local authority reductions of support. Many libraries are now working much more effectively, however, often through charitable and voluntary contributions. The library sector has made considerable progress in recent years. I cannot promise time for a debate, but I am sure that my hon. Friend’s words will have been heard.

The level of business rates is a cause of great concern for many small businesses. Of particular concern is the delay in assessing appeals to the Valuation Office Agency. May we please have a debate in Government time on the important question of business rates and the way in which the VOA is operating?

I fear that I cannot immediately offer time for a debate of that kind, but I will of course raise the issue with my hon. Friends. I do not have with me the details of the Valuation Office Agency’s performance in relation to its targets, but I will explore that too, and ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives details of the progress it is making.

Please may we have a debate about women in the workplace, and about what support is being provided to help more women to work? Such a debate would highlight the fact that more women than men are starting apprenticeships, that more women are starting businesses than ever before, and that more women are in senior positions in business than ever before. However, it would also highlight the fact that there is still a very long way to go before women are equally represented on company boards.

My hon. Friend makes a good point well, and it is one that the Government completely recognise and support. The coalition Government are now introducing measures that will make a big difference to families and to women wanting to choose whether and when to return to work—in particular, tax free child care support meeting 20% of child care costs for working families with children under 12, starting from the autumn of 2015. That will be worth £1,200 per child and it will benefit 2.5 million families.

Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or time for a debate on the decision by the Isle of Man Government to introduce for the first time licence fees for United Kingdom and Northern Ireland boats, while retaining fishing grounds for their own Isle of Man fishermen? Northern Ireland fishermen have been fishing there for hundreds of years. This is an important matter, which impacts on me and the businesses of Northern Ireland fishermen. We need a debate in this House on this issue.

I agree that this is an important matter, of which I confess I was not previously aware, and I will talk to my hon. Friends about it. I cannot promise time for a debate, but given the interest of this particular matter to a number of Members, it might be a suitable topic for an Adjournment debate application.

I am very concerned about the scandal surrounding Connaught Asset Management and the impact it is having on a number of my constituents. I am particularly concerned about the reluctance of the Financial Conduct Authority to take specific and appropriate responsibility for regulating the fund operator and investigating irregularities surrounding Tiuta plc. May we have a statement on this matter, particularly concerning how the FCA operates in dealing with these sorts of scandals?

My hon. Friend makes a point on behalf of his constituents. There are many issues in respect of which we want to make sure that we have the right procedures in place to deal with misconduct. In this particular instance, I will, if I may, take advice from my hon. Friends and provide a response. There are a number of routes by which directors responsible for misconduct can be tackled through the companies legislation or, indeed, insolvency practitioners through their professional bodies. I will look at the issue in greater detail and ensure that we respond to my hon. Friend.

I would like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the issue of modern-day slavery, which is mentioned in early-day motions 40 and 54.

[That this House sends its condolences to the families of the more than 600 people killed and to the many more injured in the collapse of the garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh; notes that this factory supplies clothes to some of the big name companies on Britain’s high streets; further notes that the factory managers and owners are alleged to have ignored signs of cracking in the building reported days before the collapse in a building that had had five more storeys added than it should have; further notes that factories in developing countries like Bangladesh are under enormous pressure to minimise costs from the western multinational companies buying from them; believes that western multinationals buying from developing countries have a responsibility to ensure that the factories producing these goods provide a safe environment for their workers to work in and for workers’ rights to be fully recognised and respected; further believes that the western multinationals that bought clothes from this factory should provide compensation to the bereaved families and the injured survivors; calls on the Government to work with the Bangladeshi government to secure safe working conditions for Bangladeshi workers supplying British markets; and further calls on the Government to enact laws that will provide for sanctions if western multinationals selling goods in this country fail to fulfil their responsibilities to ensure safe and decent working conditions for those working in their supply chain.]

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is as shocked as I am to see the death toll in the New Wave Style factory near Dhaka, which now stands at more than 1,200. This means that the garments sold by Monsoon, Gap, Bonmarché, Primark, Walmart, Matalan and Kik are contaminated by modern-day slavery. May I ask that the promised regulation on narrative reporting of quoted companies be brought by the Business Secretary to the Floor of the House for debate, so that we can extend it to ensure that the “human rights reporting” that is talked about will include the eradication of modern-day slavery from company supply chains?

Yes, I am aware of that issue. As mentioned at business questions previously, I thought it very important to have the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall, which drew the attention of Members to the issue in this country. We also need to be aware, however, of the extent of the impact of corruption on other countries. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan) takes the issue very seriously. I will raise the matter of company reporting with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as the hon. Gentleman requested, and try to secure a reply for him.

May we have a debate on job provision and particularly the role that job clubs can play in helping people to find work? We have three job clubs in Tamworth, and I have no doubt that they have played their part in helping people find work and reducing local unemployment—down by 314 over the last 12 months to the benefit of local families and households.

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I am glad that he and other Members have been actively involved in job clubs in their constituencies, helping people to find work. That is tremendously important. There are more vacancies in the economy, and we want to match people to jobs as best we can. As my hon. Friend knows, it is also important for this Government to support job creation. Since the election, we have seen an increase of one and a quarter million in the number of private sector jobs. We knew when we came to office that we could not sustain the number of public sector jobs, which has been reduced. Happily, though, the private sector jobs are increasing at a rate several times greater than the loss of jobs in the public sector.

Tomorrow, the Furness poverty commission will produce its report on the hidden levels of deprivation in my constituency. I am sure that the whole House will share my gratitude to the commissioners for their work and my shock at the grinding hardship that they have catalogued. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should find time to debate the important recommendations of this report and those of other local poverty commissions set up by concerned Members and citizens up and down the country?

I have not had an opportunity to read the report, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government are keen to assist people. We were discussing job creation a moment ago. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the best route out of poverty is finding work, and we need to enable people to do that. The number of workless households has fallen, but people who are in need and people who are unable to work require support. If the hon. Gentleman is able to raise these issues with my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions on Monday, when they will be responding to questions, they will, I know, be anxious to do all that they can to help.

May we have a statement or a debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan, following the election of a new Government in Pakistan whose policy on Afghanistan will be crucial to security in the region?

I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I think my hon. Friend will be aware that we have committed ourselves to providing, and continue to provide, a quarterly statement to Parliament about issues involving Afghanistan. The political situation in Pakistan is, of course, of instrumental importance to the securing of the political future in that part of the world, and, as my hon. Friend has said, the elections on 11 May were important in that regard. As I said a moment ago to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), the democratic transfer of power from one civilian Government to another after a full term is a milestone, and we should recognise it as such.

Benjamin Disraeli said:

“A Conservative Government is an organized hypocrisy.”

I do not know that I would go quite that far, but one element of the way in which we do our business here that is an organised hypocrisy is the private Member’s Bill process. We waste vast quantities of time, and we pretend that we are advancing a legislative process, but we are not. I have been saying this for a couple of years, and I suspect that quite a few Conservative Members may now want changes to be made to the private Member’s Bill process so that it becomes a bit more user-friendly—let us put it that way. Will the Leader of the House promote measures to ensure that the process is no longer an organised hypocrisy?

I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s description. During the Session that has just ended, 10 private Members’ Bills secured Royal Assent.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. The Members concerned chose those Bills. [Interruption.] The first Bill on the list was the one that became the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Act 2013. In no sense was that a handout. It had been promoted previously by Members, and was taken up by a Member in the ballot last year.

The hon. Gentleman asks whether there is scope for improvements in the procedures. The Procedure Committee is discussing that, and I have given evidence to it. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has done so as well, but in any event I look forward to hearing what the Committee has to say.

Seventy years ago this very evening, 133 airmen embarked on the daring “dambusters” raid from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney), my namesake and good friend, will be attending a sunset ceremony in his constituency this evening to pay tribute to those airmen. May we have a debate in the House so that we can pay tribute to the 53 airmen who were killed on that raid on the night of 16 May 1943, and to the 55,573 airmen from Bomber Command who died during the second world war?

As my hon. Friend says, and as our hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) agrees, we have an opportunity to recognise once again the ingenuity that lay behind the bouncing bomb, and the immense bravery and flying skills demonstrated in that raid by 617 squadron under the leadership of Wing Commander Guy Gibson VC; and, in particular, an opportunity to recognise all those in Bomber Command. As we reach the 70th anniversary, it is good to know that, although those events are taking place in Lincolnshire, people throughout the country may have an opportunity to visit the splendid memorial to Bomber Command that was unveiled in London last year.

Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has said, there has been palpable excitement today about the private Member’s Bill draw. Would it not be good modernisation to make that part of the business of the House, and have an FA cup-style draw with a bag of balls at the Table of the House in each Session? I accept that football is different, however, in that football clubs are all looking for a good draw to get into Europe, unlike the Leader of the House’s little Englander party, which wants a good draw in order to get out of Europe.

I cannot pre-empt what subjects the Members selected in that ballot might choose to bring forward in their private Member’s Bill, but if they were to bring forward a Bill the purpose of which was to give the people of this country a decision over our future in relation to Europe, I would be in favour of that. It is not a vote to get out of Europe; it is a vote to decide our future in Europe. We in the Conservative party are in favour of that. What is the view of Opposition Members? Do they deny the people of this country the opportunity to take a decision? I think they may have to make a decision on that themselves.

Last Friday Pendle residents John and Penny Clough were at Buckingham palace to receive the MBE that Penny Clough has been awarded in recognition of the successful Justice for Jane campaign named after their murdered daughter. Their campaign to allow a right of appeal on judge-made bail decisions was the focus of my successful Bail (Amendment) Bill in 2011, which was adopted by the Government as section 90 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Given the success of the Cloughs’ campaign and the news from the Crown Prosecution Service that the new law is being used to help victims, may we have a debate on what more the Government can do to support the victims of rape and domestic violence?

I am pleased my hon. Friend has been able to bring to the House that recognition of his constituents Mr and Mrs Clough, not least because I know how difficult it must be for people who have suffered such a tragic and terrible loss then to use that as a means to try to ensure others do not suffer as they have suffered. It is a difficult thing to do, and it is right that we pay tribute to them for doing it.

In the context of what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—who has now left us—was saying, my hon. Friend demonstrates how the private Member’s Bill can have considerable benefits, not just because Bills achieve Royal Assent, but because they create the agenda for legislation, which in his case the Government followed up. May I also just say that the Government have now ring-fenced £40 million to fund support services in relation to domestic violence and sexual violence, including national helplines and rape support centres, but we are constantly looking for new ways to protect victims?

Although there have been over 1,000 measles infections in Swansea since November, the number of live cases is in the dozens, not hundreds, because measles only lasts for three weeks. May we have an urgent debate about measles, not only on the case for universal immunisation, but to make the case that places such as Swansea are still open for business now—and for the centenary in 2014 of Dylan Thomas, the second-most translated poet of all time?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I do not know when we might have an opportunity to hold such a debate, but I think it is important for us to have a debate about vaccination. Some new vaccination programmes have recently been announced, which I think will make substantial progress in the prevention of disease. We have restored MMR vaccine uptake to its highest level, but, unfortunately, there is a reservoir of people who were not vaccinated in earlier years, and in many places across the country we are rightly now having to tackle that.

May we have a debate on community football clubs? That would allow me to highlight the success of Chester football club, which since being resurrected as a community-owned club in 2010 has won three successive league titles, regularly attracts over 3,000 fans to home games, has recently been promoted to the Blue Square premier league, and we hope will march on into the Football League next year.

I am glad my hon. Friend has asked that question, as it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the success of Chester FC and all the other supporter-owned or part supporter-owned clubs, such as Portsmouth, Brentford and Exeter City. That shows the loyalty and stability that can be brought to clubs by that happening. In particular, however, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Chester once again.

May we have a debate on the £2.6 million owed in wages to armed forces personnel that was not paid in April 2013, following the 1.5% agreed pay increase, a decision arrived at by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which was applied only from 1 May 2013? That means that the pay increase applies for only 11 months rather than 12—something I have never heard of in the private sector or the public sector. May we have a ministerial statement and a reversal of that decision, to make sure that our armed forces are paid what they are owed?

If I may, I will, first, talk to my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence and establish what the position is. Of course, I will then ensure that the hon. Gentleman has a reply and that, if appropriate, any statement is given to the House.

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 103?

[That this House notes that the Ministry of Justice fully understands the need for tough sentences regarding those who own dangerous dogs; further notes however that the owner of a dog which inflicted a 5 cm flesh wound and a severed artery on a constituent of the hon. Member for Harlow has escaped unpunished whilst the dog’s walker was handed a £250 compensation order; and asks the Secretary of State for Justice if he will consider reviewing the legislation on dog attacks in public areas to help put an end to such sentencing.]

The early-day motion deals with a dangerous dog attack on my 14-year-old constituent Brandon Elston. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that sentences such as a £250 compensation order for the attack are unacceptable? May we have an urgent statement to review the sentencing for dangerous dog attacks? Will he write to the Justice Secretary?

I completely understand why my hon. Friend raises an issue of concern to him and, no doubt, to his constituents. There will be an opportunity in this House to raise issues relating to dangerous dogs, not least in the Second Reading debate on the Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill on Monday 10 June, because that legislation includes further measures relating to the subject. Of course I will raise the issue of sentencing with the Justice Secretary, but my hon. Friend will understand that Ministers should not seek to allow our own views to intrude on the sentencing decisions being made by courts under the guidelines.

Before the G8 summit, may we have a debate on aggressive tax avoidance by multinational companies? Does the Leader of the House share the public’s outrage at this morning’s news that on UK sales last year of £4.2 billion Amazon paid tax of just £3.2 million—almost as much as the company received from Government grants?

The opportunities for debate are there, including in respect of the Finance Bill, as the hon. Gentleman will know. It is this Government who are introducing the general anti-avoidance measures—those were not introduced by the previous Labour Government. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House says that they are not a panacea, and she is right, because this requires enforcement. That is why the Treasury has devoted additional resources specifically to ensuring enforcement against tax evasion, abuses and anti-avoidance schemes that trespass on the tax system.

May I apologise for not being present at the start of business questions? Unfortunately, I was taking a call on the matter I am about to raise. The Kirkby campus of Knowsley community college in my constituency is earmarked by the college for closure, which I am wholly opposed to. Will the Leader of the House urge the relevant Ministers to enter into talks with Knowsley council, the community college and me to try to secure a future for the Kirkby campus?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I had no prior knowledge of the situation he describes, but, recognising his concern, I will of course raise it with my colleagues at the Department for Education, and I hope that they will be in touch with him soon.