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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab):
The Deputy Leader of the House will recall that before the recess we made some important decisions on the Standing Orders of the European Scrutiny Committee and its Sub-Committees. May I urge her to look at the account of those decisions, which I have passed to her? As a result of one of them, we held our first public meeting yesterday, in line with the Modernisation Committees recommendation that we
should examine documents and conduct pre and post-Council scrutiny in public.
The Deputy Leader of the House said that she would try to involve Members more in European scrutiny. Five debates are outstanding that are to take place in the new European Committees, but they are not listed on the papers that have been circulated among Members. Will the Deputy Leader of the House undertake to list the debates we have arranged each week and circulate them by some method, so that Members with an interest can let it be known that they wish to take part?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is an excellent Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and he makes a good point. We have made important decisions on improving European scrutiny, and I am glad that the Committee reached agreement yesterday on how that improvement should operate in practice.
As my hon. Friend knows, we promised the House that in the autumn we would review the operation of the new procedures. I will consider his point about the European Standing Committeesor the European Committees as they are now to be calledbut I remind him that during the debate on European scrutiny I said that those debates would be listed on the Order Paper in future.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): Will the Deputy Leader of the House consider arranging an urgent debate on the Environment Agency, which has just announced that in Somerset it will stop cleaning out the waterways and ditches, or reams as we call them? There has been no consultation with anyone, and I do not think even the Government know what is going on. Anyone who knows anything about flooding knows that it is desirable for the water to go into the rivers as quickly as possible so that it flows away. If the waterways and reams are not cleared, we will experience another of the disasters that we have suffered over the past two years, and the situation will get worse.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, and I will ask my colleagues in DEFRA to write to him about it.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): There are about six almost identical local authority private Bills before the House designed to deal with the nuisance that pedlars are causing in many towns and cities throughout the country, and even more such Bills are likely to be presented. Bills of this kind are extremely expensive to promote. Will the Government consider supporting my Pedlars (Street Trading Regulation) Bill? It would save Government time, and an awful lot of public money.
Helen Goodman: As my hon. Friend knows, the Government consider all private Members Bills that are presented to the House. He probably also knows that the matter he has raised was considered in some detail last year when we debated the Bill that became the Charities Act 2006. However, I will draw his remarks to the attention of my colleagues in the Cabinet Office.
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): May I add to the calls for a debate on the post office closure programme? We are seeing savage cuts throughout London: my constituency, for instance, will have lost more than half its post offices since 2003. Given that there is cross-party concern and that post offices are vital community assets, will the Government find time in their programme for a debate?
Helen Goodman: As I have told other Members, I know that there is strong feeling about the matter across the House. I will relay the hon. Ladys concerns to Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The Government frequently say that time for debate in the Chamber is limited. On Thursday 28 February we are to have a one-day debate on Welsh affairs, although many Welsh issues are devolved. The population of my region, the west midlands, is considerably larger than that of Wales, but there is no devolution in the west midlands. When may we have a one-day debate on the west midlands?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is an effective champion of the west midlands and of his constituency, and he has made an important point. I hope he will be encouraged by the establishment of regional Select Committees, in which it will be possible to consider such matters more thoroughly.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House has just announced a further two weeks of unremitting European legislation. At the same time, important domestic Bills are stacked up awaiting Report. The Health and Social Care, Housing and Regeneration, Energy, Education and Skills, and Planning Bills are all out of Committee. Can we not vary this rich European diet with some home-grown roughage?
Helen Goodman: I am sure that many Members are sympathetic to the right hon. Gentlemans concern, but, as he has heard, it is also the case that many Members would like more rather than less discussion of the Lisbon treaty, and I think it important that we complete that process.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May we have a debate on the powers of the police to deal with armed foreign nationals on United Kingdom territory? My question arises from an incident that took place in September 2005, which has just been reported. Apparently, British police were deterred from arresting an alleged war criminal, General Almog, when armed El Al air marshals refused them access although British sovereignty covers planes once they have landed on United Kingdom soil. This is clearly an incredibly important issue, which extends beyond that case to other possible cases.
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend raises a significant point, and I will ensure that her remarks are drawn to the Home Secretarys attention.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): As the Deputy Leader of the House might be aware, next week has been designated national eating disorders awareness week. There are currently two early-day motions on the subject, one of them in my name: early-day motion 973.
[ That this House, recognising that 25th February to 2nd March has been designated Eating Disorders Awareness Week, notes with growing dismay the increasing number of young people, especially female, suffering from eating disorders; further notes with concern the number of websites encouraging millions of vulnerable young people to become anorexic or bulimic, falsely promoting eating disorders as a lifestyle choice and supplying tips on how to maintain their disorder in secret; believes that these sites should act responsibly towards young people; and calls on the Government to promote awareness of the dangers of these sites and provide support for those affected by eating disorders and their families. ]
According to official estimates, up to 1 million people a year now suffer from eating disorders and up to 90,000 are actively seeking help. May we have a debate on these important issues, with particular reference to the poisonous influence of websites that actively encourage vulnerable young people, particularly young women, to choose anorexia or bulimia almost as a lifestyle choice?
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and important issue to do with young womens health, and I will draw his remarks to the attention of not only the Department for Children, Schools and Families, but the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which has responsibility for the regulation of the internet.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) have touched on this matter, but may we have a debate on increases in the winter fuel payment, which are necessary as it is not keeping pace with the cost of keeping warm? I must declare an interest in that. May we look, too, at the massive increases in the profits of British Gas?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend makes a surprising revelation in her question on the winter fuel allowance. The Department for Work and Pensions keeps the level of benefits under constant review and, as she knows, Ofgem is looking at competition in the energy market.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): May I offer my support to calls for a debate on Commonwealth issues? It would give us an opportunity to find out what discussions the Government have had, particularly with African Commonwealth countries about what they are doing to help influence change in Zimbabwe. As President Mugabe tucks into his birthday cake todayit is his 84th birthdayhe will do so safe in the knowledge that many of the other inhabitants of his country are starving because of a lack of food and an inflation rate running at 100,000 per cent. African Commonwealth countries must do more to influence change in Zimbabwe.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the serious situation in Zimbabwe. I know that Foreign Office Ministers do pay attention to it, and that they raise it with colleagues at international meetings.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): During last weeks recess, we learned that the security of this building was badly compromised: an illegal immigrant who ran away from security guards at Heathrow in December 2004 was found to have been working here for almost two months on a false pass. Home Office Ministers tried to cover that up, but failed to do so as the information was leaked to a Sunday newspaper. Will the Home Secretarywho, happily, has just arrived in the Chamberbe asked to make a statement on this issue, which is clearly of huge importance to the security of all of us?
Helen Goodman: I think that what the hon. Gentleman has been led to believe from reading the newspapers is inaccurate. I will ask the Home Secretary to write to him.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): Kent has several ports of entry, and in recent years it has taken delivery of a number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. The cost of providing the support they need has now risen to just over £10 million, and Kent county council is having considerable trouble reclaiming that money from the Home Office and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Will the Deputy Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on this important subject?
Helen Goodman: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the general policy on these issues was discussed yesterday following the Home Secretarys oral statement. If he has further concerns, he should write to Home Office Ministers.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the Deputy Leader arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House next week to make a statement justifying the changes to the regulations governing the granting to supermarkets of licences to run pharmacies. I want the Secretary of State to explain why the Government have changed the rules, which will tie the hands of primary care trusts so they have to grant any application to any supermarket that promises to stay open for 100 hours or more. That will put out of business many small, family-run pharmacies that have served their customers well over many years.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Obviously, the first consideration is the safety and well-being of patients, but I will draw his remarks to the attention of Health Ministers.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): May I draw the Deputy Leaders attention to early-day motion 987 on tandoori and curry chefs?
[ That this House notes the concern of Asian restaurateurs that new immigration regulations are causing a shortage of tandoori and curry chefs; further notes that this shortage is threatening the viability of
many restaurants that have contributed both financially and culturally to the UK; and calls on the Government to review the regulations, such as the need to speak good English before arrival, so as to ensure an adequate supply of temporary work visas for tandoori and curry chefs. ]
The Deputy Leader will no doubt be aware of the contribution Asian businesses have made to this country, both financially and culturallyindeed, chicken tikka masala was voted this countrys favourite dish. Such businesses are struggling to recruit new chefs, however, because of immigration regulations. May we have a statement on the workings of the regulations so that we can look at how such businesses can continue to prosper for this country?
Helen Goodman: It is, of course, important that Indian restaurants in this country retain their high standards. However, I do not think that anyone can seriously suggest that different immigration regulations should apply to the sector. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there was a debate yesterday on this matter following the Home Secretarys statement, and he can raise his detailed point in Home Office questions on Monday.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I see that I am now down to my Thursday regulars. I will take them all, but I must have one supplementary and one alone. I am sure that Mr. Mackay will lead the way.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
Does the Deputy Leader of the House share the concern felt by me and many taxpayers in my constituency about the huge costs of certain inquests, particularly those involving juries? May we have a debate on that next week?
Helen Goodman: As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, coroners courts are, like all civil and criminal courts, run independently; the processes are under the control of the judiciary, which is totally independent. He will also, however, be aware that we have published a draft Coroners Bill, which we hope to introduce at some point, and which would modernise the coroner service.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Given our current foreign policy and defence commitments, would it not show this House in a bad light if we did not have proper line-by-line scrutiny of the Lisbon treaty, not least because it contains new provisions with possible new defence commitments, including a contingent commitment to European common defence? I ask for more time, please, to save the honour of this House.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentlemans point has been raised by several other Members. I have answered it, and I do not have anything further to add.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con):
Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren are currently choosing their A-level options, yet the Government are
reducing the number of modules at A-level from six to four. Many schools think that, as a consequence, A-levels are being devalued and that, therefore, children should take more A-levels than they otherwise would have. May we have a clear response to that, which we failed to get earlier in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne)?
Helen Goodman: I do not think there is any truth in the suggestion that A-levels are being devalued, and I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with my hon. Friends earlier answer, but they are in control of that situation.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May we have a debate on teaching culture in schools? The subject is close to the Governments heart. Indeed, last week when the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced the Government initiative, he said he felt that it would be, among other things, the
chance to perform on a stage, to learn a musical instrument.
Does the Deputy Leader of the House share my concern about the news that funding for Milton Keynes music service will be cut by £113,000, meaning that many of the 5,000 students currently receiving the service will no longer do so? How does that square with this Government commitment?
Helen Goodman: The truth is that spending on schoolchildren has doubled in the past 10 years, and that has included significant improvements to music teaching and the music service across the country.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): May we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the serial abuse of human rights in Burma and the continuing political crisis in that country? Given that only last week the vice-chairman of the Karen National Union, Padoh Mahn Sha, was assassinated at the instigation of the sadistic military dictatorship, would not such a debate allow us to expose in detail the systematic abuse of human rights, to highlight for the sham that it is the proposed political reform in that country and to chart the way to salvation with freedom, peace and justice for the long-suffering people of Burma?
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner for the people of Burma. His concerns were shared across the House when we had a debate on the issue only a few months ago, but I understand that the situation is changing and I shall raise the matter in the Foreign Office.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The Foreign Office replied today to my written questions on the role and duties, and terms and conditions, of the new president of the European Council. It stated:
Discussions on these issues have not yet started.
We are therefore handing an open cheque to the EU. May we have a debate on this absurd and irresponsible neglect of our national interest?
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