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30 Nov 2006 : Column 1215

Business of the House

11.35 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming weeks?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.

Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day [1st Allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Government failures on Public Health”, followed by a debate entitled “Failure of Government Transport Strategy and Mounting Capacity Crisis on British Roads and Railways”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 6 December—A debate on European affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 7 December—Estimates [1st Allotted day]. There will be a debate on the provision of affordable housing followed by a debate on occupational pensions.

Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 December will be:

Monday 11 december—Second Reading of the Offender Management Bill, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 12 December—Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Bill.

Wednesday 13 December—Second Reading of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill.

Thursday 14 December—A debate on fisheries on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 15 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 December and 11 January will be:

Thursday 14 December—A debate on changes in medical and clinical practice.

Thursday 11 January—A debate on the future of legal aid.

The information is as follows:

Communities and Local Government: in so far as it relates to the provision of affordable housing (Third Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee entitled “Affordability and the Supply of Housing”, Session 2005-06, (HC703-11).

Work and Pensions: In so far as it relates to assistance for those who have lost their occupational pensions. (Sixth Report of Public Administration Committee entitled The Ombudsman in Question: The Ombudsman’s Report on Pensions and its Constitutional Implications”, Session 2005-06, (HC1081).

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Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

Can we have an urgent statement from the Defence Secretary on the complete mess made by the Ministry of Defence of payments to Royal Marines serving in Afghanistan? I know that the Defence Secretary is making a statement on the NATO summit today, but we need an explanation of why personnel were led to believe that they would receive extra money only to have it clawed back, which will have a major impact on the morale of serving troops in a very difficult and dangerous theatre.

Can we also have an oral statement next week from the Home Secretary on the riot at Harmondsworth and problems in the Prison Service? A written statement has been tabled today, but written statements should not be used by Ministers to avoid having to come before the House to answer questions from Members. One third of the detainees at Harmondsworth were foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation and another 150 illegal immigrants may now be released from other prisons to make room for detainees from Harmondsworth. There was another incident overnight at the Lindholme detention centre. The former chief inspector of prisons, the noble Lord Ramsbotham, has said that the result of all the upheaval in the Home Office

The Home Secretary should make a statement to the House so that hon. Members can call him to account.

Talking of statements to the House, why is the NATO summit statement later today being made by the Defence Secretary, not the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister has made every statement to the House on NATO summits since 1997—in 1997, 1999, 2002 and 2004. Why is he not here today, or was the summit just too embarrassing for him?

The Leader of the House will have just heard in women’s questions a reference to early-day motion 282 on human trafficking, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).

[That this House notes that 25th November is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; further notes the newly published report of the End Violence Against Women campaign, which concludes that the Government is not doing enough to combat the many and varied types of violence suffered by women; notes in particular that thousands of women who are victims of trafficking and organised crime are being forced to work as prostitutes; commends the work of the many charitable organisations providing help to women who are victims of violence; and calls on the Government to take immediate steps to raise public awareness of the problem and of the help and support which is available to victims.]

There are estimated to be 8,500 trafficked prostitutes in London alone, charging £15 a time for sex, each earning their pimps £100,000 a year. That is horrific, but it is happening in the UK in the 21st century. It is a new form of slavery. We need to raise awareness of the problem and of the help available to those caught up in this terrible trade, so can we have a debate on sex trafficking?

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The Leader of the House will know that the Department of Trade and Industry is investigating the collapse of MG Rover. We learned this week that the Phoenix four, the former owners of MG Rover, are going to benefit from a tax rebate of £16 million. Can we have a statement from the Trade and Industry Secretary, and should not the tax rebate be withheld until the investigation is complete?

I have raised the issue of back garden development before. The position is simple: Government targets mean that back gardens are being built on and that family homes are being demolished to make way for flats. What is more, the Government are refusing housing and planning delivery grant to those councils that do not encourage building on brownfield sites—that is, on back gardens. Yet, this week, the housing Minister published planning policy statement 3, which states:

Is it not crazy that the Government encourage councils to build on back gardens while at the same time telling them to keep them? I do not know about “no joined-up government”; this does not even seem to be a joined-up Minister. Can we have a statement from the housing Minister on this?

With the housing Minister giving mixed messages, the Ministry of Defence messing up forces pay and the Prison Service in a state of shambles, this is truly a divided and paralysed Government.

Mr. Straw: On payments to the Royal Marines, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is of course concerned about these reports and I will communicate to him what the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has said. I know that he will be making a statement, either oral or written.

Of course, what has happened at Harmondsworth is serious. Such things can happen under any Government, however, as the right hon. Lady and her colleagues will know. It is extremely important that detainees and offenders do not get the message that if they riot and cause destruction in these institutions, particular attention will be paid to them. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is never slow to come forward with statements—he is already making one today—and he has tabled a written ministerial statement on this issue. He and I will bear in mind what the right hon. Lady has said when deciding whether there should be an oral statement early next week.

The right hon. Lady raised the issue of the NATO summit. The House will wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement in the House on the White Paper on the future of the Trident missile system on Monday. It is entirely appropriate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who was present at the NATO summit with the Prime Minister, should make the statement following the summit.

We all share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) in early-day motion 282 on the importance of action to deal with sex trafficking.

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The right hon. Member for Maidenhead invited me to comment on those who appear to be profiting from the collapse of MG Rover. Of course, we all share her concern about this, but I do not want to comment in any more detail until the inquiry into the collapse has determined who should bear responsibility. I will, however, ensure that her proposal is passed on that the money should not be paid to the directors until the inquiry has been completed.

The right hon. Lady talked about back garden development. I listen to her from time to time during these sessions, and I see a new world that she is presenting for her constituents and for those in the Conservative party. In that new world, there are no difficult decisions for the Government to make, and the moment there is a Conservative Government—should that horrific time ever arrive—there would be no pressure on building land in Maidenhead or anywhere else in the south-east. All would be hunky-dory. It is not fair on the electors to take them for a ride in that way. As she and every other Opposition Member who represents a constituency in the south-east knows, there is pressure on housing land, especially in the south-east. In some respects, we want people to move out to other places—the north-west, for example—but with the changes in family formation, including the increase in small families, there is a need for small dwellings as well as large ones. It is far better to use brownfield land—including, in some cases, large back gardens—than to use greenfield land. I take it from what the right hon. Lady says that she would abandon the use of brownfield land and move instead to ensuring that vast swathes of green belt were used for building. That would be the consequence of what she is saying.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on the state of manufacturing in the United Kingdom following the decision by GE to close its lighting factory in Leicester, which has been in existence for 60 years, putting at risk almost 400 jobs? The proposal is to move the work to Hungary. This important issue is relevant not just to Leicester, but to other constituencies about which decisions are made by people thousands of miles away that will have profound consequences for the local economy.

Mr. Straw: I hope that my right hon. Friend is able to raise that matter and take one of the many opportunities for debate on it. Of course, we understand and share his concern, and I know that the manufacturing advisory service and other Department of Trade and Industry agencies are already seeking to help those who have been affected by the announcement.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I endorse the request for a statement on the position of the Royal Marines, many of whom I had the privilege of meeting as a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme? They are the best of the best, and they do not deserve to be treated in this shameful way.

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary on the information, which emerged obliquely last week, that the anticipated increase in the number of police community support officers will be cut from 24,000 to
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16,000? In my police authority area, Avon and Somerset, that means a reduction from the planned 541 to 346. That is a difficult adjustment to make late in the budgetary process. May we have a statement on the reasons for that change and an opportunity to question the Home Secretary?

I note that we are to have a debate on fisheries. Will we ever have another debate, in Government time, on agriculture? According to Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures, we are losing one dairy farm every day. That is a scandalous position for this country to be in. We might also consider the position of small abattoirs, which face further full-cost recovery on inspection charges. That means that even more of them will be lost.

On a not unrelated matter, given the chaos in DEFRA, may we have a debate on the effects of cuts in British Waterways funding? People who use our waterways are not given to demonstrating, but the Leader of the House may have noticed that people in narrow boats are demonstrating up and down the country over the effects of those cuts on British Waterways. May we have an opportunity to discuss them?

Lastly, next week, we face the first Bill—the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill—being considered by that new creation, the Public Bill Committee. Will any guidance be issued on the taking of evidence by Public Bill Committees? What is to be done in terms of written and oral evidence, and is there any provision for the Bills starting their consideration in another place also to benefit from evidential sessions?

Mr. Straw: On the planned number of community support officers, some adjustments were made to CSO numbers, but since 1997 the hon. Gentleman’s own police force area has had 400 extra police officers and 154 CSOs—a very big increase in the forces available to fight for better law and order.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned fisheries. There was indeed an opportunity to discuss aspects of agriculture, which is what he asked about, during last week’s debates on the Queen’s Speech, but we will of course bear in mind his suggestion for a debate in Government time on agriculture.

On waterways, on Wednesday 6 December in Westminster Hall there will be a 90-minute debate about the impact of grant reduction on the work of British Waterways.

On guidance in respect of evidence-taking sessions under the new Public Bill arrangements, which the House agreed on 2 November, the arrangements for the equivalent of Special Standing Committees do not and will not come into force until 1 January. That was part of the decision made by the House to give the House authorities and Members on both sides time to get used to the arrangements and for there to be guidance laid down. While the name of the Committee has changed, that Committee will proceed under the old arrangements rather than the new.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): On 12 September, the directors of Farepak wrote to hundreds of thousands of decent, hard-working families telling them that they had until 6 October to pay up. Seven
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days before, the company went into liquidation. We now know that Halifax Bank of Scotland walked away with more than £30 million of that money. We also know that it made a donation of nearly £2 million, £1.6 million of which was bank charges that it got from Farepak. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that compassionate, caring institutions and individuals, including Government, local authorities and health authorities, reviewed their relationship with Halifax Bank of Scotland, with a view to withdrawing from it?

Mr. Straw: Of course, I understand greatly my hon. Friend’s concern, and I express yet again my appreciation and that of the House for the way in which he has fought for those who lost so much money, both as customers and employees of Farepak. He will understand that I cannot comment on the conduct of particular financial institutions, pending the outcome of the inquiry that is taking place. We accept, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade accepts, that the Government have responsibilities. The House may wish to know that the Government will be meeting Farepak employees’ entitlement to statutory redundancy pay and any arrears of pay, holiday pay and money in lieu of notice within the statutory limits.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, confirmed last night that she was prepared to meet me to discuss problems relating to magistrates courts in Macclesfield. I am grateful to her for that, and we shall meet before Christmas. It appears that the problems that we are encountering, which may be not untypical of other parts of the country, are caused by the underfunding of the Crown Prosecution Service and its inability to service the various courts, particularly in Cheshire and perhaps elsewhere. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister and, if not, a debate in this place about the funding of the Crown Prosecution Service and the need to ensure the continuation of local justice in this country?

Mr. Straw: I do not have detailed figures with me, but I know for certain that Crown Prosecution Service funding has increased substantially, and that its performance has improved considerably, with more offences prosecuted and offenders brought to justice. Under any Government, there will be changes in the configuration of courts, for example, and I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that many Members are concerned that adjustments in minimum targets for community support officers do not interfere with delivery of our commitment to neighbourhood policing. On another subject, does he agree that the deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire’s proposal to divert heroin supply from drug dealers to general practitioners, to take heroin addicts out of the criminal orbit, deserves a serious debate? Bearing in mind the favourable Swiss experience, constituents who have talked to me are extremely positive about the proposal, although I also have colleagues who are more sceptical. The question needs and deserves a serious debate.

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