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Business of the House

Volume 545: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012

Next week’s business would not take very long, but the business for the week commencing 11 June will be:

Monday 11 June—Second Reading of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Tuesday 12 June—Second Reading of the Defamation Bill, followed by motion on a European document relating to the proceeds of crime.

Wednesday 13 June—Opposition Day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 14 June—There will be a debate on mental health. The subject for this debate was previously suggested by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for Thursday 14 June will be:

Thursday 14 June—Debate on piracy off the coast of Somalia.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Twenty four years ago today, Parliament passed legislation introducing section 28 into law. It was a nasty, discriminatory law that caused a lot of bullying and misery. After a fierce three-year battle, in the teeth of Tory opposition, we repealed it in government. Last week, I asked the right hon. Gentleman about the Government’s position on equal marriage. In reply, he spoke eloquently about the importance of equality, but by an unfortunate oversight—I am sure it was an oversight—he omitted to answer my question. This morning, the Government’s position has become clear. Lacking the courage of the Prime Minister’s convictions and threatened with a growing revolt in the Cabinet, they have decided to grant those opposed to equal marriage a free vote, meaning that the Government’s flagship policy on equal rights will become law only with Labour support. Will he arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement to say when legislation will be introduced, because there was no sign of it in the Queen’s Speech?

The Prime Minister was no doubt delighted to receive from Steve Hilton his leaving gift, a copy of the Beecroft report, which is the worst attack on workplace protection in a generation. His gratitude was clearly short lived, because only a few days later No. 10 was briefing The Daily Telegraph:

“No one really has any idea what went on with this report, it was very much Steve Hilton’s project. The whole thing is a bit dodgy and we wish it had never happened”.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative Ministers have spent the last few days fighting over it, and the shambles has continued with the report’s author attacking the Business Secretary by calling him a “socialist”. Only a hedge fund boss and Tory donor could call someone who voted for a tax cut for the richest 1% a socialist. Where was the Business Secretary today, by the way? He was in Berlin. Will the Leader of the House prevent Secretaries of State from being out of the country when there are questions to answer in the House? It is perfectly reasonable for them to arrange their trips at other times of the week.

Yesterday, the Government published the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The Leader of the House announced a moment ago that the Bill will be the first thing we consider on our return. The Bill contains a small section on employment law. Will he reassure the House that the Government will not bring forward amendments to the Bill to implement more of the Beecroft report?

The senior Liberal Democrat BackBencher, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), introduced a petition this week opposing the Government’s decision to impose a caravan tax. I thought I must have missed him in the Division Lobby when the Opposition tried to prevent the Government from introducing this unfair tax, but according to Hansard he voted for it. The Liberal Democrats voted for the pasty tax and pretended to oppose it in their constituencies, and now they campaign against the caravan tax, which they voted for. Is there any bit of this bungled Budget that they are prepared to support in their constituencies?

These Liberal Democrat tactics are clearly infectious, because four Conservative Back Benchers have started doing the same thing: they have introduced petitions opposing the caravan tax that they voted for. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a statement to remind his Back Benchers that if they want to campaign in their constituencies against Government policy, they should at least vote against it when the matter is before this House? People are beginning to notice.

Ministers have recently been complaining that the country has not been working hard enough. We have to wonder what planet they are on. Families up and down the country are struggling to make ends meet, worried about job security, worried about how they will afford rising fuel and food bills, and angry that the Government are doing nothing to help. Can the Leader of the House confirm that when Ministers complain that the country needs to work harder, they are in fact thinking about the Prime Minister? We learn this week that his aides say that he spends

“a crazy, scary amount of time playing Fruit Ninja”.

We have a Chancellor who is trying to do two jobs—both badly—while the Prime Minister fills his time slicing fruit on his iPad.

On a day when the Office for National Statistics has announced that the double-dip recession is worse than we thought, Liberal Democrats and Conservative Ministers are slugging it out in public. The Conservative party is fighting among itself on equal marriage and House of Lords reform. Government Back Benchers are denouncing in their constituencies the measures that they voted for in Parliament. Does the Leader of the House not think that instead of losing his temper and ranting at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister should just get a grip?

I wait patiently for questions about next week’s business, but they are pretty hard to find. Let me go through the issues that the hon. Lady touched on.

The Government are consulting on equal marriage, which the Labour party did not consult on, or indeed do anything about, when it was in government for 13 years. The consultation is under way; it has not finished. Along with other issues that involve matters of conscience, it seems to me perfectly proper that this matter should be subject to a free vote on this side of the House, and that is what we plan to do.

We had a statement on Beecroft on Monday. We have also had BIS questions, a large chunk of which were all about Beecroft, and I am not sure that the Leader of the House can usefully add to what has already been said.

The hon. Lady asked about the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which has been published. The Bill, which will be debated when we come back, sets out the Government’s proposals on the subject. Of course the Government will listen to the House if it proposes amendments to the Bill. For her to ask me to rule out any Government amendments is to say that we should be denied the opportunity of listening to the views of the House, including those of Opposition Members, so of course we will be in listening mode on that issue.

On VAT on static caravans, the Chancellor announced a number of measures in the Budget to address anomalies and loopholes. We extended the consultation period on the measures to 18 May, and we are now considering the consultation responses, including the petitions that hon. Members have presented to the House. The Government will respond on the issue of static caravans later in the summer.

On not supporting in the Division Lobbies that which Members may have supported in early-day motions, I would just remind the hon. Lady of the incident with the post office closures in the last Parliament. We tabled a motion that very closely resembled early-day motions that had been signed by Government Members, and then, miraculously, they were not in the Lobby when the Division was called. I therefore think she needs to be cautious about that.

As for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s temper, I am amazed that the hon. Lady has the audacity to raise that, in the light of the somewhat irrational behaviour at times of the previous Prime Minister.

Order. The House is getting a little over- excited. First, it is seemly if it does not do so. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Procedure Committee, is an extremely senior Member of the House—one might say he was a cerebral and celebrated figure—who should be heard with courtesy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am obliged; I did not realise.

May we have a debate on reducing unnecessary animal suffering? Has the Leader of the House seen the recent remarks made by Professor Bill Reilly, the ex-president of the British Veterinary Association? He said that it was “unacceptable” to slit the throats of cattle, lambs and chickens without first stunning them. Given that this unacceptable practice is rife and is even used in cases when the customer does not require it, when are the Government going to take action?

I refer my right hon. Friend to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) last week. I explained that the Government’s view was that it was much better that an animal be stunned before slaughter, but that there were certain sensitive religious issues involved. There is some evidence that the incidence of non-stunning exceeds that required for religious reasons. I do not recall the exact words that I used a week ago, but I think I am right in saying that I told my hon. Friend that the Government had the matter under review. I will ask the Home Secretary to write to my right hon. Friend to bring him up to date with our proposals.

The Leader of the House will be aware that, while we are not seeking to reduce the hours that the House works, many of us wish to rearrange them. Has he any information on when the Procedure Committee will report on this issue? When it does so, will he ensure that there is a full debate on the matter, with amendable motions, on the Floor of the House?

That question would have been better answered by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight). The Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into our sitting hours, to which the shadow Leader of the House and I have given evidence, and I understand that it is making good progress. I hope that it will produce its report before the summer recess and that the House will find time to debate it. I also hope that the report will be structured in such a way as to enable the House to vote on a series of options, so that Members’ preferences can be indentified before we move on to the next stage.

Good news, Mr Speaker! Since I asked my question last week, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has now put the minutes of many of its board meetings on its website. They reveal a lack of attendance by most of its members. Indeed, at the meetings on 30 January and 8 March, no board members attended, other than the chairman. They participated by telephone instead, and one assumes that that enabled them to qualify for their £400 daily allowance. Given that the meeting of 8 March

“had been convened in order to consider the outcome of the consultation on MPs’ pension contributions and to approve IPSA’s corporate plan for 2012/13”,

does the Leader of the House agree that, at the very least, we as Members should have a debate on what the IPSA board is up to?

IPSA is an independent body set up by the House to adjudicate on our pay and pensions. There might be an opportunity to address the issue of membership when the terms of office of some existing members run out and the question of reappointment, or the appointment of new members, arises. My hon. Friend’s intervention shows the effectiveness of Back-Bench Members in getting results at business questions. I remind him that he had an opportunity, I think earlier this week, to cross-question members of IPSA about their performance. No doubt he took that opportunity when it presented itself.

The Leader of the House might have seen an article in The Daily Telegraph today that contained a leak of written evidence that had been given in confidence to the Public Accounts Committee. All the members of my Committee will be extremely distressed at this, as the evidence was very sensitive and the leak could cause damage to those who provided it and to the companies involved. In the circumstances, will the Leader of the House confirm that he and the officials of the House and the Government will co-operate fully with the leak inquiry that I have instituted on behalf of the Committee?

As a former Chairman of a Select Committee, I know just how damaging leaks can be to those Committees’ cohesiveness and effectiveness. The right hon. Lady will know the process that can be instituted to conduct a leak inquiry. It is initially a matter for her Committee, but if I remember rightly, the matter can then be taken to the Liaison Committee. Of course the Government would co-operate if any leak inquiry then took place.

I am sure I am not alone in having my postbag filled with correspondence from constituents concerned about planning decisions. In Staffordshire Moorlands, in particular, there is great concern about some changes to roads in Leek that involve the removal of a roundabout. This planning decision was taken in December 2010 under Labour’s failed planning laws, so will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Localism Act 2012 and the national planning policy framework and on how, as a localist document, it will help to ensure local people feel that their voice is being heard in future planning decisions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for a good example of the improvements that I believe will be derived from our new localism agenda. I think we debated this back in March. For the first time, local people can produce neighbourhood plans, which will become a formal part of the planning system. Although I cannot promise another debate, there will be an opportunity later today, if my hon. Friend so wishes, to participate in the Whitsun recess debate to raise this matter. Our reforms strengthen local planning and we want local people to decide what they need and how their needs should be matched.

There is growing bewilderment in Europe and concern among the Danish presidency that the UK is dragging its feet on proposals for Rio+20 that the Government had previously advocated. Will the Leader of the House obtain a clear commitment—perhaps from No. 10 or the Cabinet Office—that no instruction to that effect has been given to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so that the Prime Minister, who has been appointed by Ban Ki-moon to do the follow-on from Rio, might look extra good afterwards by ensuring that expectations of the outcomes from Rio are dampened?

I doubt whether there is any substance in the hon. Gentleman’s allegations about a somewhat sinister conspiracy to dampen expectations in the hope that the outcome might then look better. I will seek the necessary assurances and convey them to him.

I know the Leader of the House is a keen cyclist—possibly the most celebrated cyclist in the House. May we have a statement on what support the Government can give to Yorkshire’s bid to bring the grand départ of the Tour de France to our great county?

Modesty forbids me from endorsing the claim that I am the most famous cyclist in the House. I enjoy seeing many of my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members at the bicycle shed after the last Division of an evening. I applaud my hon. Friend, who I believe is in touch with the all-party cycling group, which, under the guidance of its chairman, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), has decided to endorse the Yorkshire bid. As a Government Minister, I have to be a little cautious in case a rival bid should come forward from another county—possibly Hampshire. Although the Government are neutral, I commend my hon. Friend’s initiative.

The membership of the Backbench Business Committee has now been elected and waits to be endorsed by the House when we return on Monday 11 June. We hope to have our doors open for business as usual on the following day, Tuesday 12 June, at 1 pm. Will the Leader of the House suggest a way by which I could make such a public service announcement in a business question?

I think that, in a sense, that question contained its own answer. I am delighted that all the parties co-operated—and I include you, Mr Speaker —in ensuring that the Backbench Business Committee was established pretty quickly at the beginning of the new Session. I am delighted that it is up and running. Any Members with bids should indeed turn up at 1 o’clock on Tuesday 12 June in order to put their submissions to the hon. Lady’s Committee.

I was pleased to see that unemployment in Vale of Glamorgan fell during the last quarter. I know that the Leader of the House will be more than familiar with Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of the rock group Iron Maiden, who has committed to creating 1,000 jobs in my constituency in the St Athan enterprise zone over the next 18 months. May we have a debate on enterprise zones and their success or otherwise in creating new employment opportunities so that best practice can be shared across the whole United Kingdom?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and delighted to hear of the initiative to which he has referred. On our first Monday back, there might be an opportunity to develop this further in the context of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. One thing we wanted to do with enterprise zones was to encourage investment and employment growth in those parts of the country that had suffered from the recession. I am pleased to hear that that initiative is now having success, with companies locating in enterprise zones, taking advantage of the tax breaks and other incentives available there.

Given that my hospital trust has still not been allocated its budget despite the fact that the Government have carried out three financial appraisals of the hospital, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, may we have a debate on the incompetence of Health Ministers?

There will be an opportunity on Tuesday 12 June, shortly after the House returns, to put questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. In the meantime, I will make some inquiries to see why the hospital trust in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has not apparently had its allocation for the current year.

The Chancellor wisely established the Office of Tax Simplification in order to try to deal with the extraordinary, infamously long and complex tax code handed to us by the previous Government. My right hon. Friend may know that, this week, the 2020 Tax Commission launched an excellent report, brought forward by the Institute of Directors and the TaxPayers Alliance. May we have a debate on this report, on tax simplification and, overwhelmingly, on the performance of the Office of Tax Simplification?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the imperative of simplifying the tax system. He will know some of the initiatives that we have already taken. The Finance Bill is before the House, so there may be an opportunity to table amendments to introduce some of the initiatives recommended in the publication he mentioned. There may be an opportunity for a further debate when the Finance Bill returns to the Floor of the House. I applaud the work of the Office of Tax Simplification, and I hope that in future Budgets, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be able to make further progress in making the tax code easier to understand.

The Leader of the House will be aware of early-day motion 55, which strongly opposes the concept of regional pay for public sector workers:

[That this House notes the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s decision to give Government departments freedom to localise public sector pay; believes this will undermine pay review bodies by shifting wholesale to local bargaining in the public sector; further believes pay review bodies nationally are a better way of delivering flexibility while keeping a lid on costs; considers the Government’s plans will set hospital against hospital and school against school; opposes unfair discrimination against nurses, teachers and civil servants according to where they live when they are doing the same job; recognises that many successful large national companies use national pay bargaining for their staff pay; further recognises that with record unemployment and more than five jobseekers per job vacancy across the UK there is little evidence the public sector is crowding out the private sector; further believes this policy will offer nothing to private sector workers in low pay regions; fears this policy will instead remove substantial sums from the regions and devolved nations with the least, and reduce spending power and harm local economies as a consequence; and calls on the Government to suspend this policy until a full and independent assessment takes place on the economic impact of the policy and to engage meaningfully with all stakeholders affected by this policy across the UK prior to implementation.]

He will also be aware that a significant number of those sitting on the coalition Benches have signed up to it. May we soon have a debate—in Government time, but on a free vote—so that we can work out whether the Cable tendency in the coalition is going to oppose regional pay, which would be of enormous advantage to the nation?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have asked a commission to look at the whole issue of regional pay, so I think it would be premature to have a debate before that work is completed, which I believe is expected in the autumn. Thereafter it might be worth while to have a debate on the issue. So far as tensions within the Government are concerned, let me remind the hon. Gentleman that he was a member of a Government where the tensions within a one-party Administration were far greater than any tensions in the present two-party Administration.

May we have a debate on freedom of speech, following on from the news that the Law Society in its conference arm last week banned the session on marriage that was to be addressed by the distinguished judge Sir Paul Coleridge and the Marriage Foundation? Does my right hon. Friend, like me, deprecate this suppression of debate on an area of great public policy importance?

I am not sure that it is the responsibility of a Minister to comment on that, although I understand my hon. Friend’s views. I will share his concern with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—just to see whether there is a role for Government to play in this.

The Leader of the House will be aware that British Airways won the contract to buy British Midland Airways. Many of us have concerns about that, but little did we know that in Northern Ireland, the east midlands and Scotland, hundreds and hundreds of people are being made redundant because TUPE does not apply. Will the Leader of the House allow us a debate so that Members affected can put their views to the appropriate Department—whether it be the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or the Department for Transport? If that cannot happen, will he arrange a meeting between appropriate Members, British Airways and the appropriate Department?

I will certainly use whatever influence I have to promote a meeting along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. Of course I understand his concern that TUPE does not apply in the particular circumstances that he outlined. I will share his concern with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether there is a role for her to play in bringing this to a satisfactory conclusion.

May we have a debate on the positive impact that the Government are having on Merseyside, given the delivery of the Cruise terminal in Liverpool, the Government’s role in securing the future of Vauxhall at Ellesmere Port, and the historic signing in China this week of an agreement on significant investment in the Wirral enterprise zone?

I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House did not mention some of the good news for Merseyside, given her interest in the area. This is an example of our attempts to redirect growth away from, for example, the City of London, and to ensure that parts of the country that have had a rough time get the benefit of growth. I am delighted to learn of the success that my hon. Friend has described.

As the Leader of the House will know, tonight there is to be a jubilee party for all who work in the House. Does it concern him that members of staff here are increasingly worried about their inability to deliver a first-class service to Members of Parliament who represent the people in their constituencies because of cuts, including job cuts, and the fact that this place is being run as though it were a business rather than a service in a democracy? Indeed, the very security of the Palace of Westminster is of concern to the people who work here. It is about time we woke up and did something about this. May we have a debate on it?

I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those who work for the House. I am aware of their concerns, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that my fellow members of the Commission are aware of them as well. Earlier this week I had a meeting with a staff representative, who shared some of those concerns with me.

We want to keep our staff on side. Genuine discussions are taking place between the management board and representatives of those who work in the House, so that they can be aware of what we are planning and have an opportunity to influence decisions before they are made. Ultimately this will be a matter for the Commission, but we share the hon. Gentleman’s interest in maintaining a good relationship with those who work here.

Boxley’s Butchers, based in Wombourne, has won many prizes over the years for its fantastic produce, including, most recently, the diamond jubilee pork pie. May we have a debate on how we can encourage the supply and sale of more local produce from all our constituencies, including Boxley’s pork pies, here in the House of Commons?

Boxley the Butcher could be straight from Happy Families.

I congratulate Boxley’s on what is obviously a high-quality product, and congratulate my hon. Friend on promoting it. The House is a good showcase for food and drink. My hon. Friend may know that last October all nine Members representing Norfolk constituencies held a celebration of Norfolk food and drink in the Palace of Westminster. He and fellow Members representing his county may wish to follow Norfolk’s initiative.

I shall be working hard in Dudley next week, but given that we are back in recession, and given the other huge challenges facing the country, is it not completely wrong that the House is not sitting then? That may suit our chillaxing—whatever that means—Prime Minister, and it may suit the part-timers and moonlighters on the Government Benches who prefer to line their pockets as barristers and business men instead of doing the full-time job that their constituents sent them here to do, but I think that it reflects really badly on the standing of the House that we shall not be here for another week. And while we are on the subject, is it not about time—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying “Is it not about time that we sat next week?” I have got the gist, and I think that the Leader of the House has as well.

The House decided without a Division that it would not sit next week or the week after. I am not quite sure where the hon. Gentleman was when we made that decision; perhaps he was not here. Let me make a serious point, however. When the House is not sitting, Members of Parliament are working. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman compares the first three years of this Parliament with the first three years of the last Parliament, he will see that this Parliament will be sitting for longer.

High-cost debt has been a huge problem for many families for years, and now payday lending is growing fast as well. May we have a debate on the new feasibility study by the Department for Work and Pensions on helping credit unions to upscale and modernise so that they can offer a real, reasonably priced alternative?

My hon. Friend is right: credit unions and community finance organisations have a key role to play in helping those on low incomes to balance their books, particularly when they do not have access to bank accounts. I believe that a week ago a written ministerial statement announced a feasibility study setting out the way forward for credit unions. We are listening to representations made on the basis of that, and will announce our decisions shortly thereafter.

May we have a statement on gun law? It is some time since the Home Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), issued a report on firearms control. There were some terrible events in my constituency on new year’s day, and I think it is time that we had an opportunity to question the Home Secretary on the Government’s intentions and on how we can best protect public safety.

The Government would normally respond to a Select Committee report within a given number of weeks—I think that it is eight weeks—and I hope that we responded in time to that report. However, I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s concern about gun law with the Home Secretary, and will ask her to write to him setting out our proposals in that important area.

One of my hon. Friends has already raised the issue of animal welfare. May we have a debate on animal cruelty, and, in particular, on the sentences given to those who wilfully seek to kill domestic pets? A case was brought to me by Mrs Angela McDowell of St Anne’s, whose pet had been deliberately poisoned with anti-freeze in milk. The person who was found guilty received a lenient sentence.

I understand my hon. Friend’s strong views. I do not know whether he will be able to raise the issue of animal cruelty at greater length during the debate on the Adjournment later today, when my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be in a position to respond. If he cannot do that, I will raise the issue again with the Home Secretary. There is an outstanding commitment in respect of circus animals, which the Government will want to honour in due course, and that legislation may provide an opportunity for the House to deal with other issues involving animal cruelty.

On a day on which we have discovered that the double-dip recession is worse than it was expected to be, may I ask whether we can have a debate on the two great challenges with which the Prime Minister has been wrestling over the last 12 months, so that we can learn which of them he found more daunting—Angry Birds or Fruit Ninjas?

I see that the Leader of the House is struggling to identify a governmental responsibility, and I must say that I share his struggle. I think that we will move on.

May we have a debate on the Government’s support for Serbia’s plans to accede to the European Union, given its lamentable record on human rights? That record is exemplified by article 359 of its penal code, which has been used to incarcerate my constituent Mr Nick Djivanovic since 28 March 2011. A country that continues to use a measure crafted by Marshal Tito to incarcerate political prisoners has no place in the European Union which it aspires to join.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As he will know, any country applying to join the European Union must meet certain standards on human rights and other related matters, and there can be no question of an accession when those basic standards have not been met. I cannot promise an early debate, but I will pass on to the Foreign Secretary my hon. Friend’s deep concern about the issues that he has raised.

May we have a debate on how many Liberal Democrat Ministers it takes to represent this country abroad? Things are surely getting a little bit shoddy when a whole string of Ministers do not turn up for their questions in the House. The Police Minister, the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary, the Culture Secretary and the Business Secretary have all not turned up for questions. It is just not good enough. This is the priority: they should be answering questions here, because otherwise we cannot do our job.

The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in, I believe, the Foreign Office, and he will know that in order to represent this country’s best interests, Ministers occasionally have to go abroad. The Business Secretary is fighting for British industry in Germany and helping to win jobs for this country. It is perfectly appropriate for Ministers to represent this country abroad occasionally, even if it means being absent from the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman went abroad occasionally when he was a Foreign Office Minister.

Last night I learned that the plaque marking my father’s grave has been stolen, along with a huge number of other plaques in Beckenham cemetery. I am sure that all Members share my utter contempt for people who would steal, and trade in, such memorials. The Government have taken some action in relation to the scrap metal industry, but may we have a debate on what other measures might be needed, and in particular the proposal raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s question on whether this should be an aggravating factor in sentencing?

I am very sorry to hear of what happened to my hon. Friend’s father’s tombstone; I understand how distressing that must be. He will know what the Prime Minister said at yesterday’s PMQs. We have already taken some steps in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but we recognise that other measures may well be needed. The Government are actively considering what further steps we might take, such as increasing the penalties and having a better regulatory regime for scrap metal, in order to avoid distressing incidents such as that which my hon. Friend described.

Please may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Wales on why this week, out of the blue, she published a Green Paper on redrawing the Welsh Assembly boundaries, even though the Prime Minister assured the Welsh First Minister that there would be no change in the electoral arrangements without the agreement of the Welsh Assembly?

A Green Paper is a Green Paper; it is a consultation. If the hon. Lady has views on this matter, I am sure she would be able to respond to the Secretary of State for Wales, but I will draw her concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and ask her to write to her.

Following the question from the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the Leader of the House now knows that matters that were before the PAC in private have been leaked to a national newspaper. They were taken in private on the advice of both the Speaker’s Counsel and the Clerk of Committees, and they were not able to be verified. Will the Leader of the House confirm that an inquiry could be conducted by either the Clerk of the Committee or the Chairman, and will he also confirm the penalties available for those found guilty of a breach of parliamentary privilege?

On the latter point, I can, because I was Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which has taken action against Members who have leaked Select Committee documents. Members have been suspended from the House for doing so. The other issues are more a matter for the House than for the Leader of the House. I am sure that the Chair of the PAC has noted what my hon. Friend has said about the process of instituting a leak inquiry.

Members across the House are growing increasingly concerned about the evidence of interest rate swap mis-selling by banks. Members are hearing about firms in their constituencies that are being put out of business because of such hedge fund products. May we have an urgent debate on this issue, and ensure that banks do not foreclose on businesses while investigating whether mis-selling took place only then to have to go back and make compensatory payments after that business has collapsed?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Earlier this week we had a debate on the Financial Services Bill before it went to the other place, and in the Queen’s Speech there is a commitment to legislate on banking reform, so there may be an opportunity in the near future to address these issues.

Great Yarmouth has inherited historically high unemployment rates, so it is pleasing to see that since March unemployment in Great Yarmouth has fallen by 3%. Schemes such as enterprise zones, the youth contract, apprenticeships and work experience are clearly having a positive impact in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate to discuss how we might take such schemes even further, so as to have higher falls in unemployment in the future?

I am pleased to hear of the drop in unemployment in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The youth contract kicked in last month; hopefully, it will provide half a million new opportunities for 18 to 24-year-olds to find work through subsidies to employers. On the Monday when we return, there may be an opportunity to develop this theme further in the context of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. Like my hon. Friend, I am heartened by the recent fall in unemployment, the increase in employment and the progress that is being made in regenerating his part of the country.

Is the Leader of the House as excited as I am about the prospects of Leicester’s singing sensation, Engelbert Humperdinck, at this week’s Eurovision song contest? Will he find time for a debate—or, perhaps, some other parliamentary procedure—so that Members who are fans of “the Hump” can express their support not only for his singing, but also for his extensive charity work?

I applaud his extensive charity work. There is an opportunity to raise this topic later today: in the upcoming debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment almost any issue may be discussed with my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who is in his place. So if the hon. Gentleman stays on in the Chamber for just a little longer, he can develop that theme at greater length—and perhaps even put it to song.

I believe that this House has not had a dedicated European affairs Question Time since 1985. As what emanates from Europe affects our national life and economy so greatly, will consideration be given to reintroducing that?

If we were to do that, it would displace the Question Time of another Department. At present, Question Time is focused on departmental responsibilities, but responsibilities for Europe stretch across various Departments. In the last Parliament, there were cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall, at which Ministers from a range of Departments answered questions on cross-cutting issues. I have to say that I think that was a failure, which is why it was discontinued. Against that rather unpromising background, I am not sure I can give much encouragement to my hon. Friend.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is being all but annihilated, and the Government now intend to repeal significant sections of the Equality Act 2010. How will this be done? Will it be the subject of a debate on the Floor of the House, and will we have the chance to vote on it?

I think I am right in saying that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill contains clauses on the EHRC, so there will be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to say a few words about this matter when we debate that Bill on the first Monday when we return.

Please may we have a debate on the progress being made in tackling the deficit, and has the Leader of the House found time to review the International Monetary Fund scorecard given to the UK in the late 1970s?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. In my first Parliament, the IMF visited this country and the report it produced then sharply contrasts with the report it has just produced. Speaking from memory, the then Chancellor, Denis Healey, had to put to his Cabinet colleagues a freeze on all public sector capital investment that was not already committed, a freeze on all uprating of benefits and substantial reductions in capital expenditure. One simply has to contrast what the IMF said then, two years into the term of a Labour Government, with the benediction it gave to the policies we have been adopting when it came here this week.

May we have a debate on one of this country’s treasures from the era of the industrial revolution: our network of canals and waterways? Unfortunately, litter and debris can be a considerable problem in our canals, but I am pleased to be able to say that in Stalybridge we have agreed a regular monthly clean-up, paid for by the local supermarket. By putting in place similar arrangements, we can open up these assets to an even wider group of our fellow countrymen.

This is the big society in action. I commend what is happening in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and I hope other groups will also do what they can to improve the environment in our canals and rivers. I cannot promise an early debate on this topic, but there will be an opportunity to raise it later today in the debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment.

The overwhelming majority of the British public will have been delighted with the Prime Minister’s response to the question about votes for prisoners from the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) during yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, as far as the Government are concerned, this matter is closed and that the Government will accept the verdict of this House in its vote in the previous Session and will not introduce any further legislation or proposals to give prisoners the right to vote?

As my hon. Friend said, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a robust response yesterday to the question he was asked on prisoner voting. We welcome the fact that the Court has accepted our arguments that each state should have a wide discretion on implementation. We will be considering the judgment carefully and its implication for the issue of prisoner voting in the UK.

As a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I was concerned to learn this morning that the Government have plans to waste thousands of pounds on destroying buzzards’ nests in an attempt to protect game birds. Will the Leader of the House investigate the possibility of a debate on how the Government are protecting and preserving the UK’s native wildlife species?

Like the hon. Lady, I saw those reports in the press today, and I understand her concern about the implications for the buzzard. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ask her to write to the hon. Lady.

The 177,000 additional apprenticeships delivered by this Government—an increase of 63%—have been a real benefit to young people in Pendle, where unemployment fell again last month. May we therefore have a debate on the importance of apprenticeships and giving all our young people the best possible start in life?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I believe that he asked a question on roughly the same lines in Department for Business, Innovation and Skills questions, but it is a question worth putting twice. I say to him, and to all hon. Members, that we should do all we can to promote apprenticeships in our own constituencies and remind employers of the extensive help available to firms that want to take on apprentices. He mentioned the rise of 177,000 or 63%, which is a huge achievement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues at BIS.

May we have a debate on the good proposal that Aung San Suu Kyi addresses us all in Westminster Hall? But could we make that a day to reflect on all the other political prisoners, perhaps by putting up their portraits and showing a video of them. I am thinking of Leyla Zana, a Turkish parliamentarian—one of us; a Member of Parliament—who has been condemned to 10 years in prison because she speaks up for Kurdish issues. I am thinking of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel peace prize laureate, who is in the gulag. I am thinking of Dau Van Duong, a Catholic pro-democracy activist who is with his friends in the Vietnamese communist gulag. Interestingly, neither the Prime Minister, nor the Foreign Secretary has had the guts to speak out for these people in recent trips to China and Vietnam. Can we get their portraits up and show a video, so that the whole world knows that, whatever the Government do on human rights, we as MPs believe in these people, support them and want to give them maximum publicity during this great lady’s visit?

I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman said, as did you, Mr Speaker, because many of these issues are more issues for the House—in fact, for both Houses—than for the Government. All I can say to him is that his suggestions have clearly been heard by the Speaker, and it lies more with the Speaker than with the Government to take them forward.

Unemployment in Tamworth fell by 3.3% last month and, pleasingly, youth unemployment is at a 12-month low. So may I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) in calling for a debate on job creation, so that we can explore what further measures the Government can take to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises, such as Forensic Pathways in my constituency, to recruit still further?

I am delighted to hear that unemployment has fallen in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As I said in response to an earlier question, there may be an opportunity to discuss the issue further when we debate the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which contains a number of measures to promote employment. He will know that we have a national loan guarantee scheme to get cheaper loans, that we have the most competitive business tax system in the developed world by cutting corporation tax and that we are cutting red tape. He will have heard in the exchange with BIS Ministers the other steps we are taking to promote employment in all parts of the country.

I understand that private assurances have been given to coalition Members by Treasury Ministers that the caravan tax issue will return to the Floor of the House. Can the Leader of the House confirm that that is correct? A number of coalition MPs who voted for the caravan tax presented petitions against it on Tuesday this week, and I would like them to be given the opportunity to vote against it on the Floor of the House.

A large number of hon. Members presented petitions on behalf of their constituents, which is a perfectly proper thing to do. It is a matter for the House authorities what amendments are selected when the Finance Bill comes back to the Floor of the House and, indeed, what amendments are proposed in Committee. On the hon. Lady’s direct question, I have no knowledge of any private undertakings that may have been given on this subject.

Following the theme of caravans, a company in my constituency lost a day’s production because a mobile home and two caravans turned up and camped on its premises. The people involved told my constituents that they needed £500 in cash or more vehicles would be coming to join them. The police were sympathetic to my constituents’ case, but said that this was a civil matter. May we have a debate about the sanctions against intentional trespass?

I am not a lawyer, but what my hon. Friend has described sounded to me a little bit like criminal behaviour—trespassing on someone’s land and then demanding money to go away. I would like to share this issue with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to see whether there is a combination of civil or criminal penalties available to cover the circumstances that my hon. Friend has described. I understand how disruptive it must have been to have that presence in an industrial estate.

A number of my constituents have had visitor’s visas refused—they are from India and Pakistan—with alarming regularity. They are missing important family occasions such as funerals and weddings, and they cannot appeal because that takes too long. They have been running up costs of up to £1,000, despite cast-iron guarantees that they will return. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an urgent debate on whether the policy is being applied in the same way throughout or perhaps even an explanation from the Minister for Immigration?

This is a matter for the Home Office, but I am sure we have all had constituents who have had their applications turned down and then found that the process of appeal is somewhat lengthy. In some cases, the best thing to do is simply to reapply, having taken on board the reason why the refusal was given and sought to overcome it the second time around. I will share the hon. Lady’s concern with the Minister for Immigration and ask him to write to her.

We in this House enjoyed the Humble Address presented to Her Majesty the Queen, but we should recognise that when we are away from Parliament we will be celebrating her diamond jubilee and that that is something we hold in common with a quarter of the world’s population, through the Commonwealth. May we have a debate in Government time when we return about the United Kingdom’s special relationship with the Commonwealth?

My hon. Friend makes a very positive suggestion. It may be that in the first instance it is appropriate to approach the Backbench Business Committee to see whether it can organise a debate on the Commonwealth, as I would be misleading her if I said that in the very near future the Government will be able to find time for such a debate.