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I have spent my political life condemning unemployment and fighting for more jobs, and, although there are 2.5 million more jobs since 1997, I obviously regret any job losses. No Government have done more than the present Government to ensure that people who do lose jobs, often for structural reasons in the economy, are re-employed, often in skilled jobs, and reskilled.
That has happened time and again in community after community in Britain, so I am happy to ensure that the local Jobcentre Plus works with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents to look at the skills that they have and the opportunities that are available to ensure that that trend, which has given us more people in work than at any time in our history, continues.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I have noticed that the Government have slipped out a U-turn in a written statement today on Sunday trading. Will the Deputy Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make an oral statement or even make time for a debate on the matter, or is the Governments reluctance to debate the subject on the Floor of the House in any way linked to the fact that the constituents of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are able to enjoy the benefits of deregulation of Sunday trading, yet are depriving my constituents and people in England generally of the same opportunity to work and shop, if they want to, on a Sunday?
Nigel Griffiths: It is very important that the Secretary of State has put out a statement in an appropriate manner. He was in the Chamber an hour ago answering questions at the Dispatch Box. The position on Sunday trading is clear. There is no demand. In the consultation of 1,000, the representations were from hon. Members, Church groups and others overwhelmingly for the status quo in England. The Scottish system is quite acceptable to people in Scotland, where there is no demand for change either. Indeed, there are some communities that I could name in the United Kingdom where any opening of a retail outlet on a Sunday is not only frowned on, but does not happen. We live in a pluralistic society. My right hon. Friend, having held a consultation and taken the evidence, has concluded that there is not an overwhelming demand for change. I would be happy for a debate to be held in the House, to see how many hon. Members on the Opposition as well as the Government Benches support change, but the early-day motion demanding the status quo was signed by well over 200 people. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not just Church groups and others that objected to an extension of Sunday trading. The workers, through the shop workers union, USDAW, objected to their hours being extended. I am not sure whether I have an interest to declare in that, since my constituency has had support from USDAW in the past. If so, that is duly noted.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday you intervened on a contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), ruling that he could not discuss the Deputy Prime Ministers links with an American businessman while that is being considered by the Parliamentary Commissioner. All of us in the Chamber naturally accepted your ruling as definitive. Since then, however, the Deputy Prime Minister has broadcast for 25 minutes on the Today programme on the issue. I should be grateful if you now ruled, first, whether in so doing, he was acting within the spirit of your ruling, and secondly, now that he has done so, whether the House should be free to discuss the matter. I raise this because I know that you, like me, believe the Chamber should be the pre-eminent place that holds Ministers to account and discusses issues of concern to our constituents, and it would be bizarre if, as an unintended consequence of the rules of our House, we alone were not able to discuss what the rest of the nation and the broadcasting media are free to debate with the Deputy Prime Minister himself.
Mr. Speaker: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He gave me some notice of the point of order. The Deputy Prime Ministers radio interview has no bearing on my ruling yesterday, which related only to a particular question. Perhaps I can take the opportunity to clarify matters.
The House has established a mechanism for examining complaints relating to the code of conduct for Members. While those procedures are being followed, it is not appropriate for such complaints to be pursued in the House. The ministerial code is a separate matter, for which the Prime Minister is responsible, and questions on the application of the ministerial code in particular cases may be raised. I hope that helps the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suspect that you are a devotee of the Radio 4 Today programme and might well have heard the rather long interview between Mr. John Humphrys and the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope you appreciate our frustration when we listen to such a debate, but cannot take part in it ourselves. Is the way round this for you to persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement so that, like John Humphrys, I and other right hon. and hon. Members can ask him questions?
To clarify matters, Mrs. Martin is a devotee of GMTV, and upstairs she is the boss. Seriously, I think I have clarified matters. On the code of conduct for Members, it must be borne in mind that I am seeking to protect every hon. Member, whether it be the Deputy Prime Minister or the two new Members who came into the House only a few days ago. If there is a complaint against them, we, the House, have set up the procedure of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I seek to protect everyone so that they at least get a fair
hearing before the Parliamentary Commissioner. During that period, the matter is not pursued on the Floor of the House. As I said to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on the ministerial code, questions can be asked and there is nothing to prevent hon. Members from putting down questions at the Table Office, and I understand that that has already been done. There is no problem in seeking answers from any Minister of the Crown if they have a responsibility under the ministerial code.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad the Secretary of State for Defence is present while I raise this point of order. I know that you have previously advised disgruntled Members on a number of occasions that the Chair is not responsible for the adequacy or otherwise of ministerial replies. Nevertheless, I draw your attention to the reply that I received yesterday to a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, asking
whether he was informed of the proposed content relating to retention of the nuclear deterrent in the long-term of the Chancellor of the Exchequers Mansion House speech, prior to its delivery.
I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a range of issues.[ Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1107W.]
Do you agree that that does not even attempt to answer the question? In asking the question, I was well aware of the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence has those discussions. If he does not wish to answer the question, it would perhaps be more courteous to state that he refuses to do so.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the issue of answers to parliamentary questions. On Wednesday 29 March, I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Health
how many and what percentage of people were registered with an NHS dentist on 31 March 2006 in each constituency in England.
The number of people registered with a national health service dentist by constituency as at 31 December 2005 has been placed in the Library.[ Official Report, 18 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 209W.]
This information is not collected in the form requested.
I believe that the information is not collected in the form requested because new contracts came into force on 1 April. Ministers are trying to avoid responsibility for the fact that many people are not registered with NHS dentists. How can I get the Minister to respond to the same question that I tabled six months earlier, even if the response is embarrassing?
Mr. Nick Clegg, supported by Mark Hunter, Lynne Featherstone, Mr. David Heath, Simon Hughes and Tim Farron, presented a Bill to require the presentation of prima facie evidence to a judge before a person can be extradited to the United States of America: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 July, and to be printed. [Bill 211].
The Secretary of State for Defence (Des Browne): I know that both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the soldier who was killed yesterday in Afghanistan, who was on patrol in northern Helmand. I would like to take this opportunity to offer our condolences to his family and friends. I have no doubt that hon. Members will add their condolences at the appropriate time, if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
I regret that on Monday my constituency arrangements, which were designed to make up for recent absences from my constituency on Government business, meant that I was unable to be in the House at 3.30 pm, when an Opposition urgent question was due to be answered. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who was the duty Minister of the day, dealt with the question on the Governments behalf, and I thank him for doing soI think that he did a very good job.
I also regret that I was consequently unable to correct immediately in the House the impression emerging in the media about a possible increase in our deployment to Afghanistan. It is, of course, entirely right that the Opposition should raise their concerns about troop numbers, and I understand that. However, I reassure the House that their concern was wrongly placed on two countsfirst, on the detail of requests from theatre, and secondly, in suggesting that those requests had got to the point in the process when recommendations were being considered by Ministers. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for correcting those points on Monday.
I have made it clear on a number of occasions that there would be lessons to learn from the first months of our deployment in Afghanistan and that commanders on the ground would review their force package in that light. Indeed, that process had started before last weekend, and it is ongoing. All those involved in it are taking it forward as fast as they possibly can, but there is a great deal of detail that must be got right to ensure that our troops are properly prepared to carry on and carry out their mission.
I confirm that today I have received advice on an additional deployment, which I am considering as a matter of urgency with the chiefs of staff, and I will announce my decision and the details of it to the House as soon as possible. This House will be the first to know. However, the House will also understand that there is a proper process to those decisions and that it would be entirely inappropriate and unhelpful, particularly to those who are in theatre, for me further to discuss the detail until that process is complete and until an announcement can be made. I have given this outline here today because I know that this is a matter of concern for hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, I hope that hon. Members will respect the process that I have described, that they will await the decision, which I repeat will be made very soon, and that they will concentrate on the subject of todays debate, in which I know they take a keen interest.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): There is indeed a process, which the House understands and accepts. I am sure that the Secretary of State wants to reach a speedy conclusion, but is he not being slightly disingenuous? The recommendation that has landed on his desk will probably have been staffed for longer than was necessary by the Ministry of Defence through the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the chiefs of staff in conclave. Surely the decision that he needs to take can be taken immediately.
Des Browne: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He knows that the process to which I have made general reference involves communication from the MOD back to theatre, and I shall have more to say about that when I explain my decision to the House. Today, that process has been completed up to the point where it can come to me. The decision must be a Government decision, because we have collective responsibility. I ask the House and the hon. Gentleman in particular, who has recently expressed his frustration about me personally in very candid ways both inside and outside the House, to be patient. The decision will be made in the proper time with the proper urgency, and it will be reported to this House appropriately.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I understand what the Secretary of State has said. He knows as well as I that familiesit does not matter where they are, but he knowsare waiting on tenterhooks to know whether their husbands, fathers and brothers are going to be deployed to Afghanistan to support the brave men of 3 Para. I beg him to put them out of their misery.
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman has personally expressed to me both inside and outside this House his support for our troops and for what our troops are doing in Afghanistan. I am grateful to him for that, and I discount entirely the fact that he could not resist the opportunity during the course of last week to express that support in some colourful language in relation to my absence from the HouseI understand what politics is all about. I am conscious of my responsibility not only to the troops who serve in theatre, but to their families, and I am also conscious of my responsibility to this House. When the decision is madeit will be made very soonI will report it to the House. I will ensure that the information is communicated as quickly as possible to those who need it to provide certainty in their family life.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of States announcement and hope that he will take the decision quickly and smoothly. However, the Secretary of State needs to address one important point of process: on Monday mornings Today programme, the brigade commander in Afghanistan, who must have done this intentionallyI do not intend to get him into troubleannounced that he had requested extra resources in terms of men. The Under-Secretary then came to this House and said that no such request had been received. It was odd, to say the least, to hear the brigade commander say one thing and to hear the Under-Secretary deny it two or three hours later.
Des Browne: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep and constant interest in these matters. I say to him and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) that my Ministers, the Department and I are not responsible for any of the speculation, which may have fed the anxiety of familiesI meant to make that point in response to the earlier intervention by the hon. Member for Newark.
I have tried to be as clear and open as possible about this process. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary answered the urgent question, he did so on behalf of Ministers. When I was able to get back to London, I made it clear in long and detailed interviews, which were freely available to everybody, that I was aware that the commander had asked for additional engineering resources and enablers. That was part of the iterative process that was going on. That is in the public domain, and that is what Brigadier Ed Butler was referring to when he was interviewed.
Since then, a further process has been going on between the Department and theatre which has culminated in the request that has come to me today, the details of which I am not prepared to go into for obvious reasons that I think that everybody understands and accepts. I give a clear undertaking to the House that I will make the decision and announce it to the House as quickly as possible.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will that imminent decision include the immediate review to which the Minister referred on Monday in this House concerning armoured vehicles in Iraq and in Afghanistan? Will Warrior armoured vehicles be supplied to the front line, where there is a demand for them, thereby reducing casualties resulting from Snatch Land Rover use?
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman expands the debate from one theatre to another. In the early part of the debate, I wanted to restrict my observations in order to keep the House informed about Afghanistan. He now wishes me to turn my attention to Iraq. [ Interruption. ] That is exactly what he asked me to do, and I am prepared to do it. I will deal with it specifically in a later stage of my speech, because it is relevant to the issue of personnel. The hon. Gentleman should not expect, nor should the House, that I will deal with an Iraq-specific issue in the context of a statement in relation to Afghanistan, although I understand that it has implications for the use of resources, particularly vehicles in other theatres. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Warrior armoured vehicles are available to those in Iraq. The shadow Secretary of State has raised this issue with me during Defence questions. As I understand it, we identified a deficiency in capability as regards Snatch Land Rovers and the fully armoured vehicles and thought that it needed to be addressed. Because of changing circumstances in Iraq, I have accepted that I need to conduct a review, which is ongoing and will be concluded as quickly as possible.
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