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4 Mar 2010 : Column 1013

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Some of my constituents work for the engineering company, Firth Rixson, in Darley Dale, one of only three plants in the world making rings for aeroplane jet engines. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to help resolve its dispute with Tory-controlled Derbyshire Dales council? It has put in place a noise abatement order that could close down the company, which has been there for 70 years and employs 160 people.

Mr. McFadden: My hon. Friend draws attention to the UK's strength in aerospace-not only in her constituency, but in many others, too. Aerospace is one sector that has been strongly supported by the strategic investment fund that we have set up. Sadly, that support has been described as disgraceful by Conservative Members, but we believe that it is valuable and important.

T7. [320223] Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): During these tough economic times, what is the Minister doing to support traditional English market towns, such as my own of Romford?

Mr. McFadden: Traditional English market towns are very important for the economy. A couple of years ago, when the west midlands suffered floods, the regional development agency's marketing of the area was important in saying that we were open for business. That is why the hon. Gentleman's party's policy of abolishing RDAs would be so damaging to the market towns that he supports.

T10. [320226] John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland cardholders are unable to use their cards at the people's bank. When will we make the people's bank exactly that-a bank for all the people-and make those companies in which we have invested a lot of money allow their customers to use their cards in that way?

Mr. McFadden: My hon. Friend raises a similar point to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) a few minutes ago. He is right that accessibility for account holders of other banks is important to the future of the Post Office. Some banks have stepped up to the plate and ensured that, and some 20 million accounts are available in that way. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) that more should do the same, and I assure him that we are working on that with other banks.

T9. [320225] John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): In Birmingham, far too often companies such as LDV have gone into administration and ended with no jobs and a fire sale of the assets. Have the Government looked into a review of chapter 11 so that when a company gets into difficulty it can come out with a business and jobs remaining?

Ian Lucas: We have introduced to our insolvency system several different alternatives to formal insolvency and bankruptcy proceedings, such as debt management plans and debt relief orders. The range of options now being put forward by the Government are an effective way to deal with problems for individuals and businesses that enter financial difficulties.

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Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the motor sport industry in the UK is a world leader. However, it is 10 years since the Government commissioned any research on the industry. Will he consider an up-to-date survey to ensure that the UK keeps its lead in the motor sport industry?

Ian Lucas: Yesterday, I returned from the Geneva motor show, where I met superb British companies such as Lotus that are making excellent, innovative, world-beating progress in their part of the industry. The world renowned UK Automotive Council is leading our approach to investment and research in the automotive sector, of which the automotive sport sector is an important part.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Department accept that manufacturing industry is the only source of non-inflationary, sustainable economic growth, and that, in bank lending, priority should be given in all cases to manufacturing industry?

Mr. McFadden: I share entirely the hon. Gentleman's support for manufacturing. With my constituency being Wolverhampton, South-East, I see the value of manufacturing day in, day out. It is therefore important to support investment in manufacturing through the tax system. I hope that he will make representations to those on his Front Bench that they should desist from their policy of withdrawing £3.5 billion of tax support for investment in manufacturing-

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have had that point before.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): But on that point, has the Minister seen the front page of today's Libération, which refers to the sickness of French industry under a Conservative Government and contrasts that with the more robust health of British manufacturing industry? Does it help our firms to have the shadow Chancellor and shadow Business Secretary touring meetings and studios talking down the British economy?

Ian Lucas: In Geneva, I met a French manufacturing company that is considering investment in the UK because it recognises the UK Government's commitment to innovation, manufacturing and industry-a commitment sadly lacking from the Conservative party.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the excellent work of the staff at Telford college of arts and technology, who do a great job providing skills and training for the long-term unemployed? Is he aware that the Skills Funding Agency is seeking to reduce next year's budget, despite unemployment in the west midlands being at record levels? Will he intervene to ensure that funding is forthcoming to help those who are on the dole?

The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): Overall funding for the sector will increase by about 3 per cent. next year. I shall be happy to look into the individual case of the college to which the hon. Gentleman has referred if there is anything untoward, but I should point out that
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we have invested in further education, and it would not help if we had to make an extra £1 billion of cuts this year.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As the Minister will know, the science learning centres at York university and in nine university towns in the regions are the result of a magnificent effort by the Government, with the Wellcome Trust. However, they will not work unless teachers are able and willing to go to them for their courses in CPD-continuing professional development-and they need funds if they are to do so.

The Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property (Mr. David Lammy): I recognise the need for teachers to be able to gain access to those courses. I
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shall be happy to discuss any problems with my colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Next week the board of the Payments Council, which represents all the major high street banks, will meet to rubber-stamp its decision to phase out the use of the cheque, despite the opposition of the Federation of Small Businesses and many other groups. Will the Minister, even at this late stage, make representations to the board and ask for a rethink?

Mr. McFadden: I have made this confession before: I am a cheque user. I do not know whether that makes me a luddite, but I believe that cheques still provide people with a valuable payment mechanism, and I hope that the banks will think long and hard before abolishing them.

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Business of the House

11.36 am

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows.

Monday 8 March-Remaining stages of the Crime and Security Bill.

Tuesday 9 March-Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on NHS London, followed by a debate on access to higher education. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 10 March-Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on alcohol, followed by a debate on taxes-

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Taxes or taxis?

Ms Harman: Taxes-and charges on road users. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows:

Department of Health in so far as it relates to alcohol: 1 st Report from the Health Committee, HC 151.]

At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 11 March-A topical debate on International Women's Day-Women's Representation, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords].

Friday 12 March-Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 March will include:

Monday 15 March-General debate on defence in the world.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady.

May I begin by adding my own voice to the many tributes that have been paid to Michael Foot? He was a former Leader of the House, and one of our greatest parliamentarians. I remember him as the man whose brief it was, during my second Parliament, to hold together a legislative programme in a Government with no majority, which he handled with tact and ingenuity-although one day he had to introduce five guillotine motions. As an orator, he was one of the few who could fill the Chamber. He was a brilliant and at times unpredictable force, instilling terror in his civil servants by speaking on industrial relations legislation without notes for 30 minutes, and, equally memorably, winding up the motion of no confidence in the Labour Government in 1979. On that occasion, even his flights of rhetoric were not enough to save them from defeat by one vote. He was a man of great courage, courtesy and integrity, and from these Benches we salute him.

I note that although the Leader of the House said that later we would debate motions relating to the Procedure Committee's report on the election of the
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Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, only one of those motions appears on today's Order Paper. What has happened to the others, and when will they be debated?

May we have a statement from the Justice Secretary on the decision to return one of the killers of Jamie Bulger to jail? Does the Leader of the House agree with me-and, apparently, the Home Secretary-that unless there are very good reasons for keeping the information secret, it is in the public interest to know why Jon Venables has been sent back to prison?

Last week I was rebuffed by the right hon. and learned Lady when I asked for two days on Report for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. As I predicted, the Bill has now been sent to the other place with many groups of amendments not debated. Given that the Bill will not receive its Second Reading in the Lords until 24 March, what hope does she have that the Government's flagship constitutional Bill will make it on to the statute book before the election?

Can we have a debate on the devastating report from the Public Accounts Committee today on the establishment of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission? Given that the right hon. and learned Lady was responsible for this, I hope she will find the time to explain the situation to the House.

Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady gave what she called a "strong hint" that next week's topical debate would be on international women's day. Does not she think it somewhat illogical to announce a topical debate two weeks in advance, and is she not in fact using a topical debate to escape from the Government's commitment to give the House one set-piece debate on this subject?

On timings, can the right hon. and learned Lady explain why the business in the Lords up until 26 March has been announced and published on the internet, but today she has given us the business only until 15 March? It would be unfortunate if the business question were added to that long list of questions the Government are unable to answer.

On the date of the Budget, the Prime Minister's spokesman said on Tuesday that it would be announced

Will the right hon. and learned Lady clarify whether there will be a Budget, or have relations between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor now rendered that impossible?

Finally, can the right hon. and learned Lady give us the dates of the Easter recess? Last week the Leader of the House of Lords said that there were four and a half weeks before the Easter recess. If the Leader of the Lords can announce it in another place, why cannot MPs be told-or are we second-class citizens?

Ms Harman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his tribute to Michael Foot, who was, as he said, a great parliamentarian, orator and Leader of the House between 1976 and 1979. He was a passionate socialist. Everyone has commented that he was not only incredibly clever, but highly principled. I have very warm personal memories of him joining me in my by-election campaign in 1982. He went down a storm on the Walworth road, where he is fondly remembered to this day. We all miss him. His intelligence and commitment remained sharp right up until his death.

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On the motions relating to the Deputy Speaker and Speaker, I have made it clear that Mr. Speaker has asked that we look into having elections for Deputy Speakers. I have made that undertaking and we can debate the motions on that subject this afternoon.

On the killers of Jamie Bulger, the court order requires anonymity and the processes have to be in compliance with that order.

If the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill goes into the wash-up and does not complete its stages in the House of Lords, it will be for the Opposition parties to negotiate with the Government so that we can get through a great deal of what was in the Bill, much of which arose out of the Kelly proposals and pertain to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. There are many things in the Bill that the House wants to see get through. If the Bill cannot find its way through the Lords, we will make sure at the wash-up that the provisions that the public want get through.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Equality and Human Rights Commission. That subject could be raised during the debate next week on international women's day. As it turns out, I was correct in anticipating that that would be a topical debate; it is going to be topical.

On the business of the House, I announce the business for the following week each Thursday; that is all I do. [Interruption.] No, anything after that is provisional. The business for next week is firm, so hon. Members can be clear and know what they are doing next week, but after that it is only provisional.

The Leader of the House- [Interruption.] Oh dear, I am going to have to get this right: the shadow Leader of the House made a point about the relations between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. I would like to raise a point about the relations between the shadow Leader of the House and his party leader, however, because how on earth is he still prepared to serve under a leader of his party who, when he spoke the truth about Lord Ashcroft's tax status-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must ask the Leader of the House to focus her remarks exclusively on the business for next week. [Interruption.] As she is indicating that she has finished her answer, I call the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath).

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The entire Government are sounding a little provisional at the moment.

May I join in the tributes to Michael Foot? He was a member of a west-country radical family of some note, and came from a political age when it was felt important that Members of Parliament might have read a few books, as well as be able to grin inanely at a camera. He will be remembered with great affection.

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