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The business for next week will be as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. First, I have been asked by the noble Lord Myners, the Minister responsible for the City, to state that contrary to what I said last week in this House he receives no pension from NatWest bank and no entitlement from the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. I am happy to offer that correction today. Yesterday—[Hon. Members: "An apology?"] I am very happy to call it an apology if that is what the House wishes.
"happy to debate the economy at any time in this House".—[ Hansard, 11 March 2009; Vol. 489, c. 292.]
It has taken some time. The embarrassing truth for the Government is that, during this period of national crisis, there have been just two debates in Government time on the economy since October—one after the pre-Budget debate last autumn, which was demanded by the shadow Chancellor and thankfully granted by you, Mr. Speaker, and one, as is customary, after the Queen's Speech. Now, at last, after extensive pressure, the Government have been shamed into holding a debate on
May we have a statement from the Government on the purpose of Select Committees? Yesterday, the Liaison Committee published its annual report into the work of Select Committees, which stated that the already over-stretched state of the Committee machinery was being exacerbated by Committees' being too large and by the establishment of too many Committees. Will the Government once again explain why they have just created a further eight new Committees, at least two of which, as we learned from points of order on Tuesday, did not even manage to hold their first meeting as they were supposed to? Does that not speak eloquently of the total uselessness of regional Select Committees?
May we have an opportunity to debate the issues surrounding protests in a democracy? There is still no indication from the Government about what they plan to do about the vulgar encampment and constant megaphone bellowing in Parliament square, which is a permanent national embarrassment. When can we expect such a debate or statement? Rather more importantly, will the Leader of the House join me and others in condemning the ignorance of those protesters in Luton who did everything they could to spoil what should have been a day dedicated to honouring the British soldiers who have put their lives on their line to do their duty under threat abroad?
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is obstructing the publication of details about where money has been spent on the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund, even though the details were published for last year. Ministers are accountable to Parliament, especially on the spending of money. This appears to be unacceptable behaviour from the Secretary of State and brings her and this place into disrepute. Will the Leader of the House convey to the Secretary of State the displeasure of the House and seek a full apology from her along with the information to which hon. Members are fully entitled?
Does the Leader of the House think that she has given enough time for the Welfare Reform Bill on Report, given the ferocity of the amendments that have been tabled to it by her Back Benchers? On Monday, the Department for Work and Pensions was subjected to the attentions of some furious protesters, including an organisation known as Feminist Fightback. Given that the Leader of the House has been pictured before wearing a T-shirt bearing the inscription "This is what a feminist looks like", might we assume that she, too, took part in that protest?
Even though, perhaps surprisingly, that event was not covered by the Daily Mirror, in the course of this week the Leader of the House has been. May I congratulate her on being the centrefold of that newspaper on Monday? In the past, she has said that she thinks that Prime Ministers' wives ought to buy their clothes at Primark; now, she says that she "loves stilettos" and that she shops in Primark herself. I am more Savile Row, I have to admit— [ Interruption. ] But not stilettos. Might we conclude that this is preparation for her becoming Prime Minister?
When the right hon. and learned Lady was asked what attracts her to other politicians, she answered:
"I prefer men"— that is a very good start—
Could it be that I have found favour with her at last?
Perhaps I may start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for the correction that he has made in respect of Lord Myners. The hon. Gentleman has acted appropriately: he said something, it was pointed out that it was wrong, and he has come to the House at the next opportunity to put it right. I thank him for that, and I think that he has done exactly right.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the debate on the economy. Since the credit crunch began to take effect as a result of the global financial crisis, this House has had the benefit of constant accountability on the economy through oral statements, Bills, questions raised with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister, and topical debates. It is for the Opposition to choose the subject of an Opposition day debate, and for next week's they have chosen the economy. It is for the Government to determine which Minister to put forward.
The Liaison Committee's report pays tribute to, or at least acknowledges, the Government's concern to provide greater accountability to the House. As for regional Committees, we think that it is important that the massive agencies with big regional reach which are making a huge difference in every region by injecting capital and improving skills, are properly accountable to the House. The spate of what I would call misleading points of order implied that there was something untoward about the first set of regional Committee meetings. That is absolutely wrong: the normal process is that, when members of a Committee are selected— [ Interruption. ] It is not the case that they did not turn up. When members of a Committee are selected, it is for the most senior to arrange with the Clerks when the meeting should be held. Most of the meetings have been held this week: some will be held today, and the remaining one or two will be held next week.
The regional Committees will go ahead with their work of holding regional agencies to account for the hundreds of millions of pounds that they spend, and I suggest to Opposition Members that they join that work. They too should be concerned about the Highways Agency, the Learning and Skills Council and the strategic health authorities, all of whose actions should be scrutinised at regional level as well as on the Floor of the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the encampment in Parliament square. There will be Justice questions next week, and I suggest that he raise the matter then, when will hear what the plans are to deal with it.
The hon. Gentleman raised the point about the shameful demonstrations in Luton, something that I think everyone in the House is concerned about. The local people wanted to welcome the troops back, and I think that we all agree that the counter-demonstrations were deplorable. I think that we all feel struck by the contrast between the freedom of speech that allows people to demonstrate and the conditions in those countries where our soldiers are fighting for democracy, freedom of speech, peace and security, both in the region and in the world.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the accountability of the Department for Communities and Local Government for local spending. Obviously, the Department wants to answer parliamentary questions and be accountable for its spending. There is no attempt not to be open about what we regard a very important programme of ensuring that the police work for greater security. We also work with local communities to ensure that we prevent radicalism and extremism.
The hon. Gentleman asked for my view on the Welfare Reform Bill. I have always thought that it is a bad thing for a child to be brought up in a house where no one works. That is not just a question of income: it is important for children to see their parents getting up and going out to work every day. That is how children learn that they, too, will be in the world of work when they grow up, not simply expecting to live off benefits. So not only is the work that arose originally from the new deal for lone parents—which involves more help, more child care and more training for lone parents to get into work—good for their household budgets, but it is good for the children to see that people go out to work, rather than live off benefits.
The hon. Gentleman made some sideways remarks about me and the rumours of suggested manoeuvrings and all the points made by the shadow Foreign Secretary. When hon. Members stand at the Dispatch Box, it is important that they speak honestly and truthfully and that they do not mislead the House. The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue for a number of consecutive weeks, but there is not one shred of truth—not one iota of truth—in any of the suggestions that have been circulated in the newspapers. Although we cannot stop the newspapers reporting them, he can at least respect what I tell him about that and not continue to make those accusations from the Dispatch Box. And, yes, I am wearing my stilettos today.
To honour the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq and to remind us of the true costs of war, when can we debate early-day motion 846, as well as early-day motions 847 to 853 and 924 to 933?
[That this House salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and records with sorrow the deaths of Lance Corporal Jake Alderton of 36 Engineer Regiment, Major Alexis Roberts, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, aged 32 from Kent, Colour Sergeant Phillip Newman, 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 36, Private Brian Tunnicliffe, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), aged 33 from Ilkeston, Corporal Ivano Violino from 36 Engineer Regiment, aged 29 from Salford, Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 25 from Nottingham, Private Johan Botha, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment from South Africa, Private Damian Wright, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 23 from Mansfield, Private Ben Ford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 18 from Chesterfield, Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bridge from C flight, 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, aged 20, from Sheffield, Private Aaron James McClure, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Ipswich, Private Robert Graham Foster, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Harlow, Private John Thrumble, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 21 from Chelmsford, Captain David Hicks of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 26 from Surrey, Private Tony Rawson of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 27 from Dagenham, Essex, Lance Corporal Michael Jones, Royal Marines aged 26 from Newbald, Yorkshire, Sergeant Barry Keen of 14 Signal Regiment, aged 34 from Gateshead and Guardsman David Atherton from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, aged 25 from Manchester.]
We debated Afghanistan earlier this year, and our thoughts are always on future progress in Iraq. As my hon. Friend has brought to my attention his early-day motion, I will look at it and write to him.
May I lend weight to the points made by Alan Duncan about the protesters in Luton? I have been very strongly against many of the Government's military expeditions, but that is not the way to make a protest; it was inappropriate.
I am glad that the Leader of the House mentioned that one of the functions of the regional Select Committees is to monitor the work of the Department for Transport. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will be quaking in his boots at the thought that the Labour party quasi-Committee for the south-west will be chaired by his own Parliamentary Private Secretary. That is true parliamentary scrutiny.
I am pleased to say that the Coroners and Justice Bill will be given two days' consideration on Report—23 and
Can we have a debate on the efficacy of face-to-face passport interviews in which our constituents have to engage, at great personal expense very often and at great personal inconvenience? The figures until July 2008 were that 216,000 of those interviews had taken place at a cost of £115 million. Of those 216,000, not a single person was rejected. Are we entitled to ask whether that is worth that money and inconvenience to our constituents?
I do not know whether the Leader of the House noticed the comments made by Sir Tim Berners-Lee—who, of course, is the inventor of the world wide web—at a meeting in the House yesterday with my noble Friend Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, at which he drew attention to the dangers of so-called behavioural targeting technology, which is the way that people's personal attributes are taken from their activities on the web and used for advertising purposes. He said:
"We must not snoop on the internet. What is at stake is the integrity of the internet as a communications medium."
Do we not need to take that issue seriously if we are to maintain the privacy of the individual?
Lastly, I have asked for debates on satnavs before, and for debates on local authority spending. Could we bring the two together, and have a debate on council priorities in Leicestershire? I notice that Conservative-controlled Leicestershire county council is fitting satnavs to 14 lawnmowers because it claims that there has been an
"unprecedented amount of growth", and that gardeners
"kept getting lost in long grass"
It would be funny if people were not losing their jobs, and if there were not people who needed the help of council services. I wonder whether the story puts a whole new complexion on the term "county council cuts".
Instead of just complaining about the south-west regional Committee, the hon. Gentleman should be encouraging colleagues from his party who represent seats in the south-west to play their part in holding important regional agencies to account.
I thought that when the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Coroners and Justice Bill he would say how much he welcomed the fact that, unusually, we have given two days for the remaining stages, so that there can be detailed consideration of all the issues that need to taken forward, even after Committee. Obviously, all the amendments will be ready for debate and discussion, and as much notice as possible will be given.
The Home Office keeps issues such as face-to-face passport interviews under review. We need to strike the right balance between the ability to use the internet for administrative convenience and for the convenience of those who are applying, and making sure that there is human, face-to-face activity, so that we can ensure that the system is on track. No doubt the Home Office keeps the matter under review. As far as the behavioural targeting technologies are concerned, we all agree that the advance of the internet and digital technology will be very important for our economy in future, particularly post-recession. The digital contribution to the economy will be ever more important. That is very much a priority for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, but obviously we have to make sure that such advances are properly regulated.
I imagine that the hon. Gentleman read about the satnavs on lawnmowers in the newspapers—
The hon. Gentleman says that, but he will have to raise the matter with Tory colleagues on Leicestershire county council— [Interruption]—yes, having grassed them up.
Nikita is 17 years old and profoundly deaf. She moved to my constituency in September with her Gurkha family. Despite having been allocated a Connexions adviser and a social worker, and having had assessments and meetings, she still does not have the one thing that she wants: a college place. May we find the time for a debate on how effective the Connexions service actually is, and how it interfaces with social services departments?
I suggest that my hon. Friend considers seeking a meeting with the relevant Minister about her constituent, whom she is backing so actively. She may also consider making the general issue the subject of a Westminster Hall debate.
Could I ask the Leader of the House and the self-proclaimed president of the court of public opinion whether when the Chancellor of the Exchequer addresses the House on
I have told the House that the Budget will be on
May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to early-day motion 1020, which is in my name?
[ That this House is alarmed and concerned to learn from the Information Commissioner's report that the blacklisting of trade union members is widespread in the construction industry; condemns the major construction contractors who subscribed to the Consulting Association and also provided it with information about workers and employees; notes that many of the companies who donated to the Consulting Association are currently engaged on publicly-procured work projects worth billions of pounds; considers that there may be legal implications where for example an employee or worker believes they were dismissed because they were on the list and requests that the Information Commissioner gives a reasonable time for people to make the appropriate checks; and calls on the Government to enact immediately legislation to prohibit the compilation of a blacklist containing the details of workers and employees with a view to them being used by employers or employment agencies to discriminate in relation to employment and to make it a criminal offence for an employer to commission such information. ]
The early-day motion expresses concern about the fact that the Information Commissioner's report showed that there was blacklisting in the construction industry. We thought that the practice had come to an end some time ago. My right hon. and learned Friend will recall that section 3 of the Employment Relations Act 1999 made provision for
"regulations prohibiting the compilation of lists", and made it a criminal offence for construction or other companies to make such information available. Will she raise with Justice Ministers the need to bring forward regulations under section 3, and will she consider whether the Information Commissioner should give people whose names are likely to be on such a list more time to check whether that is so, because of the legal implications? Any person who thinks that they have lost their job as a result of discrimination because their name was on such a list will have a claim for unfair dismissal, so the Information Commissioner should give much more time for people to check the list. Does she also agree—
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has indeed held an Adjournment debate on this important issue, and I congratulate the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and The Guardian, whose work led to an investigation. I thank the Information Commissioner for the work that he has done, which has effectively stopped the company concerned from operating in the way that it did. No trade union health and safety representative should find that, as a result of speaking up on behalf of their colleagues, they are on a blacklist and are never able to work again. The Government are totally opposed to that, and want to make sure that there is most effective enforcement when that happens. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 introduced extra, tougher penalties for those who misuse information in such a way. The trade union—UCATT—the Information Commissioner and the Government have to work together to make sure that people have the right to work, and that such scurrilous activity is ended. I thank my hon. Friend for the role that he has played in the matter.
Considering that there has to be a cap on the travel expenditure of Select Committees of this House, but that for at least three of those Committees travel is essential to the proper evaluation of Government policy, could we have a debate on the Liaison Committee's decision to make a 30 per cent. cut across the board on all future travel this year?
It is for the Liaison Committee to make those proposals; I am not sure that it is a matter for the Government. I will consider the issue and write to the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, it is important that Select Committees travel in the way that they need to, but that they keep a close eye on the amount of money being spent.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in praising the work of the UK Youth Parliament in providing young people with the opportunity to learn about, and engage in, the political process? Does she share my disappointment that a handful of Tory backwoodsmen have shamefully blocked the motion that would allow the UK Youth Parliament and its young people to have their annual debate on the Floor of this House? When will the House have an opportunity to resolve the matter, to defeat Cameron's cavemen, and to open the doors of this place to the next generation of citizens?
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows the traditions of this House. A right hon. Member has been referred to by his surname, and that is not acceptable.
The motion about the UK Youth Parliament is on the Order Paper for debate today. I agree with my hon. Friend Martin Salter: we want to encourage young people to see democracy as important, and to see the House of Commons as relevant to their lives and the future. It is perverse for us not to let young people use the Chamber when we are not using it, at a weekend or when the House is in recess. It is perverse for us to say that the doors should remain closed and locked, and that those young people should remain outside them.
May we have a debate about the dramatically revised estimates by the Government of the costs and benefits of the Climate Change Act 2008, which were sneaked out this week, even though the changes are greater than the cost of bailing out several failed banks? The Leader of the House will remember that the Government were forced to revise their original figures, when I pointed out that they showed that the potential costs were twice the maximum benefits—the first time that the Government have ever urged us to do something which, on their own figures, would make matters worse. As so often on climate change, where the facts are out of line with the theory, they change the facts, and after five months of revision, the figures have emerged from the massage parlour with the costs doubled to £400 billion, but to ensure that this time the benefits are in excess, the Government have increased their estimate of the benefits by a factor of 10, from £100 billion to £1 trillion. May we have a debate about such a flaky figure, which only promotes scepticism about the whole issue of climate change?
On the detailed figures, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman writes to my right hon. Friend Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. As for generating scepticism about the climate change agenda, that is the opposite of what we are determined to do. We are determined to make sure that we have a much greener economy for the future, that we use green technology, and that we help people insulate their homes, reduce their fuel bills and save money. We are taking action to tackle climate change across a range of Departments. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the estimates, I suggest that he writes to the Secretary of State.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know of the worsening situation in Sri Lanka and the fact that thousands are losing their lives. We have referred to that in the Chamber as a crisis and a catastrophe, and we are running out of words with which to describe the situation. This week, the International Crisis Group described what is happening to the Tamil community as annihilation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House and give us an urgent statement on the situation?
Earlier this year, we had a debate in the Chamber about Sri Lanka. My right hon. Friend is right—the situation remains very grave, and we remain concerned about it. Foreign Office Ministers raised it at the Commonwealth meeting, and we continue to work with the international community to press for a democratic resolution to the problem in Sri Lanka.
I return to the preventing violent extremism pathfinder fund, which I raised yesterday on a point of order and my hon. Friend Alan Duncan raised today from the Front Bench. I have in my hands details of where every single penny from the fund went last year, which were placed in the Library. The Department for Communities and Local Government is refusing to place in the Library the equivalent details for this year. It must follow either, as was suggested to me yesterday by the Secretary of State's private office, that the Department no longer holds details of the fund, in which case there is no guarantee that money is not falling into the hands of extremists and violent extremists, or that it is refusing to put the information in the Library, which is a discourtesy to Members in all parts of the House and involves withholding information that the public have a right to know. Will the Leader of the House use her good offices to get the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement from the Dispatch Box about the matter, which is of exceptional seriousness?
There is no intention to withhold any information about public money being spent. We are proud of the Prevent programme, which is designed to combat extremism. I suggest that I write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask her to meet the hon. Gentleman in order to resolve the issue amicably. I look to hon. Members to support the idea that Government take a role and take responsibility—
Order. When the hon. Gentleman asks for a reply from the Leader of the House, he should calm down and listen. It may not be to his liking, but he must calm down.
It is right that the Government should put into the hands of local authorities funds so that they can work with community groups in their area to help divert young people from extremism and to support community organisations that are trying to tackle extremism. I deplore the idea of some sort of hue and cry to smear this important programme. If the Opposition want information, the Secretary of State will give them the relevant information and ask for their support for the programme in their areas.
We are going through a major crisis in the media. The BBC may end up with a monopoly. Surely we believe in true competition. What will we do to ensure that ITV survives? I cannot understand why we had an announcement that product placement would not go ahead. That would have provided the much-needed funding to ensure that ITV will be there to compete against the BBC. Also, local and regional newspapers and local radio are in dire straits. What can we do to ensure that they survive? May we have a topical debate on the subject? Also, I am still waiting for a debate on the future of pensioner travel on trains and young people's bus passes.
My hon. Friend is right. I am still looking for an opportunity to debate a range of issues affecting older people, of which concessionary travel is one. On the BBC, ITV and regional media, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform are working through their Digital Britain programme. Because a number of hon. Members have raised the question, in particular about regional news coverage, we might look for a topical debate on that.
Will the Leader of the House look at early-day motion 1044, which records the concerns of right hon. and hon. Members about the decision of Guardian Media Group to cut its local press in the north-west?
[That this House notes with regret and concern the decision by the Guardian Media Group to announce further job losses at the Manchester Evening News and within its weekly newspaper group; believes that the proposed cuts in editorial, advertising, distribution and information technology can only be damaging to the future prospects of the titles concerned; recognises that many people have worked extremely hard over the years to build these newspapers up; further believes that local newspapers have an absolutely central role at the heart of local communities; recognises an unwelcome trend to centralise their services and people; deplores the move to close down all of the individual weekly newspaper offices which currently serve the Greater Manchester conurbation; understands that this could be the first time in its proud history that the Manchester Evening News implements compulsory redundancies; upholds strongly the values of quality, independent journalism relevant to local communities; further believes that the founding fathers of the Guardian, particularly CP Scott, would be appalled and saddened by these developments; and calls on Guardian Media Group to rethink its proposals.]
The motion is supported by Ann Coffey and my hon. Friend Mark Hunter, with the Stockport Express a particular victim of the cuts. That newspaper will in future be produced not in Stockport, but in Manchester, and the journalist posts are to be halved. That is characteristic of the crisis in the local and regional media, which Mr. Hoyle raised a moment ago. Can the Leader of the House find time for the House to discuss early-day motion 1044 and the serious matters with which it deals? Will she take particular note that Guardian Media Group has instructed journalists on those papers not to publish reports of the redundancies in their own newspapers?
Regional newspapers are very important indeed. Local and regional newspapers are trusted to provide useful information for people locally—yes, including the South London Press. Like Guardian Media Group, they have been hit by a change in the way in which people get information, with more people getting information over the internet, and by a fall in business advertising. The matter has been raised with me by my hon. Friend Ann Coffey. It is important that the local and regional media do not jump the gun, diminish their capacity, and close down important newspaper titles which are well respected and very important in local areas. If they have immediate cash-flow problems, they know that they can go to HMRC and defer their taxes. The Government can provide other help. We do not want them to make short-term decisions that result in the long-term loss of important local news media.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the National Union of Labour and Socialist Clubs is meeting this weekend for its annual conference? That is timely, because of the tax on beer that is affecting our pubs, clubs and communities throughout the country. May we have a debate on the matter?
The closure of pubs and fewer people going to clubs is a cause for concern. It is happening not only in this country, but around Europe, where similar patterns can be seen. I suggest that my hon. Friend looks for an opportunity to debate the matter on the Adjournment.
I fully support the views expressed by Andrew Stunell. There is a crisis in local radio and local newspapers. Last week, inadvertently, I associated Silk FM with Guardian Media Group, which was inaccurate. I had been ill-informed, and I have apologised to Guardian Media Group. This week, Guardian Media Group announced the closure of all its local newspaper offices in Wilmslow, Accrington, Salford and Macclesfield, making a very large number of journalists redundant and taking local news away from an area where that newspaper has been printed for 198 years. That shows the seriousness of the issue. May we have a debate in this place not only so the Government can say from the Dispatch Box what they might do—as the right hon. and learned Lady has—but so we can have the opportunity to express our concern about local newspapers and local radio?
The hon. Gentleman has added to the important points that have been made, and I will consider where we might find an opportunity for a debate.
Possibly a topical debate.
In 2007, I had the privilege of going to Afghanistan during the Royal Anglian Regiment's operational tour. I was also at Pirbright barracks when one of its companies returned from tour. It is truly a great regiment, which has shown outstanding bravery and professionalism over the years. So I was appalled at the demonstration in Luton this week; we will not, of course, see those same demonstrators protesting about the many thousands of Muslims who have been killed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Do not such demonstrations only give succour to the racists and bigots out there who are anti-Muslim?
I very much associate myself with the points that my hon. Friend has made. I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House agrees with those points and the way in which he made them.
Nearly two years ago, as part of the campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour party, the right hon. and learned Lady said that we need to be
"absolutely certain we don't have a situation where we are complicit in torture".
Since then, there has been a raft of further allegations, some of them later substantiated in ministerial statements. Given that the Leader of the Opposition and Lord Carlile, the Government's watchdog on terrorism, have both called for a judicial inquiry into further allegations of British complicity, may we at least have a debate on why the Government continue to refuse to set that inquiry up?
The Prime Minister made it clear that the Government will have nothing to do with torture. We would never use it and never condone it; if any allegations are made, we want to see them investigated. Torture is a criminal activity, and anybody who engages in it needs to be brought to justice. Our position on that is absolutely clear, and, following through on that position, we need to make sure that any individual allegations are properly investigated. As the Prime Minister told the House yesterday, the Attorney-General is looking at whether the matter needs to be referred to the police so that they can investigate the allegations made by Binyam Mohamed.
We also need to make sure that the intelligence and security services are properly accountable for their methods and how they operate generally. We all agree on that, which we regard, first and foremost, as the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has looked into the matter. I do not think that there is any point in Mr. Tyrie or anybody else trying to make a point of in-principle difference on this issue—we all deplore the use of torture. None of us condones it or would have anything to do with covering it up.
We need to have a sensible discussion about how we investigate the allegations and make sure that the security services are properly accountable. There is something about the tone of the question that I do not like—it somehow implies that we are less against torture than the Conservatives. That is reprehensible, and we should not have to put up with it.
The Leader of the House has announced the return to this place of the Coroners and Justice Bill on next Monday and Tuesday week. I remind her that in this Chamber the Secretary of State for Justice was confused about the ramifications of that legislation for Northern Ireland. I was right and he was wrong; he had to write to me saying that the Bill covers Northern Ireland. I drew attention to the Bill's implications for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, a statutory body that opposes it.
May we have clarification before next Monday week on whether the Government themselves will amend the legislation to exclude Northern Ireland, to take cognisance of the legacy issues, or will the issue be bounced on us? Is this not a case of the architecture of a Bill being flawed and of the Government's having to say so early on and having to recognise the representations that have been made?
If my hon. Friend is raising further points that he has not yet raised with the Secretary of State for Justice, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to respond to my hon. Friend's points. If there are any substantive points that would be not only of concern to my hon. Friend but of interest to Members more widely as we head into the debate on the remaining stages, I will ask my right hon. Friend to place a copy of his response in the House of Commons Library.
Further to the reply that the Leader of the House gave my hon. Friend Alan Duncan about Select Committees, has not the time come to review the role of the Modernisation Committee, which she chairs? It has not met since the summer recess last year, and that implies that it does not have an active agenda. Should it not be quietly buried and its residual responsibilities transferred to the Procedure Committee?
The Procedure Committee is doing important work; the Deputy Leader of the House gave evidence to it yesterday, so it is clearly forging a way forward. There is no point in Committees meeting for the sake of it if their work is being carried through. The Modernisation Committee carried out an inquiry on regional Committees; that has now been brought to the House and is going forward. The Procedure Committee is looking at further matters. None of us wants Committees to meet for the sake of it, but all of us want to see the House being modernised. One modernisation issue that should be right at the top of our agenda is allowing the UK Youth Parliament to meet in this place.
Although I absolutely applaud the tone of my right hon. and learned Friend's response to Mr. Tyrie, there is an issue that the House should consider. Will she make available an early opportunity to debate the recently published Intelligence and Security Committee report, which fails to deal in any way with the concerns raised about UK security officers' actions leading to torture?
My hon. Friend has a long record of concern about these issues. We all want to make sure that there is full accountability and proper openness on those concerns so that we know that things are being done as we and everyone in this country would expect them to be done. I will ask the Home Secretary to write to my hon. Friend on the matter.
The atrocities that took place in Luton this week should not simply end with expressions of disappointment in the House. A small group of Muslim extremists held placards with phrases such as "Child murderers" and "Murderers from Basra" on them. The point is that the group, which intended deliberately to incite public disorder, was allowed to form and was not removed from the scene. It was therefore successful.
More homecoming parades are planned in areas such as Watford and Bolton. Should we not have a debate in the House to discuss the protocol for handling those parades? The Royal Anglians live and train in my constituency. They deserved a good homecoming, but it was spoiled by behaviour that, had the police taken action, could have been prevented and stopped. We urgently need a debate on the issue.
Ensuring public order is an operational matter for the police, who I am sure will be looking at their operational activity in respect of the important homecoming parades. I can say no better than what Mr. Heath said: even those who did not agree with the war, including those who marched in protest at the outset of the war, agree that nobody should take part in such demonstrations and that that is not the right way to treat our armed forces.
Will the debate on
Those are important points for my hon. Friend to draw to the Chancellor's attention. We need to help people now and stabilise the economy, and all the things that my hon. Friend mentioned, such as investment in education and in our transport infrastructure, are important for the future. We have an agenda of care and concern for those in retirement and carers. We have to make sure that there is real help for the future, as well as practical help now.
May we have an urgent debate on the car manufacturing sector? In January, to much fanfare, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform launched a so-called auto manufacturing rescue package. Since then, hundreds of auto manufacturing jobs have been lost, including 150 at GKN in my constituency. Ogihara, Denso and Shimizu in my constituency are also suffering. When are we going to see the end of talk, talk, talk about saving jobs and actually see some action to save them?
As my hon. Friend Andrew Miller has just reminded me, the £2.3 billion fund to help the automotive sector is available as from yesterday. That will be important, and we are working to ensure that those who need loans to buy cars can get that finance. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we are taking every action that we possibly can to ensure that we assist the automotive industry with new technology for the new generation of greener cars. We must not simply cut back on public investment. There has been action to stabilise the banks, quantitative easing, a VAT cut and extra money going into people's pockets through tax cuts. All those things, which he opposed, help the economy. Ultimately that, as well as specific programmes, will help the car industry.
Next Thursday's business comes about as a result of a difference of opinion on a matter of detail between the Select Committee on Regulatory Reform and the Government. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look closely at when that debate will take place and reflect on whether we need to refine the Standing Orders governing Select Committees to enable time to be built in to avoid such matters of detail coming to the House instead of the matters of substance that really ought to take up our time?
I know that my hon. Friend has made an important contribution to trying to get that matter sorted out, and hopefully there will be further discussions between him and the relevant Ministers before Thursday so that we will not be distracted by any important but minor points of detail and can instead get on to the main substance.
As the Leader of the House rather skilfully avoided answering a specific question asked by my hon. Friend Alan Duncan, may I try again? Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer respond to the Opposition's Supply day debate next week on the economy? While we are about it, following what the Prime Minister said during Question Time yesterday, can we assume that the Prime Minister will be winding up the debate on the economy on
I have announced to the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will open the debate on
We accept the Court's ruling in respect of the DNA database, and we will consider how to implement and comply with it. I say to my right hon. Friend and all Members—particularly the Opposition, who seem to have an in-principle objection to the DNA database—that we need every tool available for the police to investigate crime and bring offenders to justice. The scientific advances on DNA have enabled murderers and rapists to be held to account for their crimes. I believe that we should thank everybody who is involved in the DNA database and support it. It is a solution to problems, not a problem in itself. Of course we need it to be properly regulated, but I do not hold truck with any of the scaremongering about it. It is a thoroughly good thing.
May we have a debate next week on the merger of Lloyds TSB and Halifax Bank of Scotland? Will the Prime Minister please speak in that debate, so that he can explain his own contribution to the destruction of a solvent bank and billions of pounds of debt being loaded on the taxpayer? Might I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that holding the Prime Minister to account might further her own ill-concealed and patently ridiculous ambitions?
I regard the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments about myself as totally objectionable, and therefore I am not going to answer his question.
Last week, I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the situation in the Sudan. We now know that what was initially a removal by a small number of non-governmental organisations is now a virtually wholesale removal of all NGOs from the country. That will lead to a humanitarian disaster. It would be right and proper for the House to discuss that in advance, so that we can see what we could do as a country. Millions of people's lives are now being put at risk, so is it not right that the House has the opportunity to discuss that, to see how we may help?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The International Criminal Court is independent, and there is no way that the Government of Sudan should be taking it out on aid agencies at the expense of people who desperately need support. I can tell him that before the House rises for the Easter recess, we will have a full day's debate about Africa on the Floor of the House, when there will be an opportunity to debate in detail the question of Darfur, and indeed that of Zimbabwe.
I have raised the issue of access to prostate cancer treatment many times in the House. As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Speaker, this is prostate cancer awareness month. Men living with prostate cancer report the worst NHS treatment of all common cancers. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate in the Chamber on that very important subject?
We do need to step up work on screening, early identification and treatment, and we have been doing so. The many billions of pounds extra that has gone into the NHS will play an important role in that.
May we have a debate on the operation of the Criminal Records Bureau? The problem is not just the long delays in dealing with constituents' mail. My right hon. and learned Friend might not have heard the recent "File on 4" programme, which revealed that up to 2,500 teachers who have had allegations made against them and been totally cleared still have the details on their CRB file. People in certain occupations are open to vexatious complaints, and when they are totally cleared, surely that stain should be removed from their file.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could seek a Westminster Hall debate on that. It is important that the records are in place so that those who are working with children can be properly checked out, but it is important also that the information is correct and that people's lives are not blighted. Perhaps other hon. Members might wish to join my hon. Friend in a Westminster Hall debate.
Following the earlier comments about the publication of information by the Department for Communities and Local Government, will the Leader of the House give us a debate on the implementation of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007? When it was a Bill, the Minister responsible promised me in Committee that there would be a full and detailed breakdown of expenditure by central Government and their agencies in the localities. That has not been published. Instead, information already in the public domain has been published. May we debate that statement?
I have suggested that it might be a good idea for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to meet Members, and I will put the right hon. Gentleman's name on the list of those seeking a meeting.
I feel strongly that I wish to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend Martin Salter in calling for a debate on the motion to allow the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber for one day to hold its annual meeting. That motion appears on the Order Paper every day and is shamefully opposed by some of the backward-looking Opposition Members who bear no relation to the face of the modern Conservative party that their leader would like to portray to the world. What message about the sort of democracy that we have is sent to our young elected representatives who are members of the UK Parliament if we are so precious about this place that we will not even let them meet here for one day?
My hon. Friend is right—the so-called modern Conservative party wants to keep the House in the 19th century. I know that she is an assiduous Member of Parliament for her constituents in the north, but if she sticks around, she might have an opportunity to vote on the matter later this afternoon.
I endorse wholeheartedly the comments made by Mrs. Hodgson.
In the light of the statement that the right hon. and learned Lady made on
Order. A few hon. Members are left who wish to ask a question, and I should have stopped at half-past the hour. The Deputy Speaker can take the questions, but I ask that they be brief. That is only fair.
There is no delay in the equality Bill; we will introduce it as I said.
The national service framework for coronary heart disease finishes this year. It has achieved much, but cardio-vascular disease remains one of the biggest killers in Britain. Is not it time to discuss national service frameworks and make a policy in the House to ensure that they remain part of the delivery of the national health service?
I agree with my hon. Friend's points, which I will bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health, who shares her views on and commitment to the matter.
To revert to the Youth Parliament and the use of the Chamber, what would the Leader of the House say to an organisation that uses all the parliamentary tricks to try to force the business through at the end of business every day without proper debate? What does not having a proper debate on the motion say to our young parliamentarians?
What does it say to our young future parliamentarians when Members call for a vote simply as a device to delay matters and do not even go through the Lobby? The Prime Minister included the matter in "The Governance of Britain". He has asked the Chamber to consider allowing the Youth Parliament to sit here, and I think that we should just get over it and agree the matter.
The Government's initiative to assist the car manufacturing industry is welcome, but may we have a debate on the car retail sector? The Treasury's recent decision to deny car dealers the ability to claim rebates for the tax revenue on tax discs—a practice that has existed for approximately 30 years—could have a serious impact on the car retail industry, with the potential loss of thousands of jobs. If we do not have a vehicle for selling cars, it could have an impact on car manufacturing.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a point that is important not only for his constituency and Scotland, but throughout the UK. I will raise the matter with the Chancellor, and my hon. Friend might also be able to raise it in the debate on
That is another question that is not worthy of an answer.
As someone who spent nearly the first 40 years of my life in Luton and knows the Muslim community well, I think that I can say with some authority that the actions of those who took part in the protests the other day are not representative of the wider Muslim community there. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to bear that in mind when she considers whether it is worth stoking up matters by holding a debate.
Next Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of our pledge to abolish child poverty. May we have a topical debate on the subject?
Abolishing child poverty can be raised in the full-day debate on the economy on
May I tell Mr. Heath, who queried the decision of my county council, Leicestershire, to put satnav on roadside mowers, that its activities often verge on the ridiculous?
May I add my support to the comments of Christopher Fraser about prostate cancer? It is prostate cancer awareness month and the Prostate Cancer Charity has launched the "Prostate cancer—it matters!" campaign, which draws attention to the fact that 100 men a day are diagnosed with prostate cancer and that one man an hour dies of it. Of all the common cancers, it is the worst in terms of patient experience of the NHS. We urgently need a better, new generation test to differentiate between aggressive cancers and more slow-growing ones. May we have a debate on the matter, which is important for many people in every constituency throughout the nation?
On satnav on lawn mowers, as a former Back Bencher of the year, my hon. Friend has often mown down his parliamentary opponents.