Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:31 am on 7th July 2005.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:31 am, 7th July 2005

Although our thoughts are very much elsewhere this morning, will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 11 July—Remaining stages of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

Tuesday 12 JulyOpposition Day [5th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled "The Failure of the Tax Credits System" followed by a debate entitled "The Government's Failure to Deal with Licensing Chaos". Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 13 July—Motions to approve the Membership of Select Committees and other House Motions followed by Motion to take note of the Fourth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC 472, Session 2004–05, and to approve the revised code of conduct.

Thursday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Consumer Credit Bill.

Friday 15 JulyThe House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 18 JulySecond Reading of the Crossrail Bill.

Tuesday 19 JulySecond Reading of the London Olympics Bill.

Wednesday 20 July—Motion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order 2005 followed by remaining stages of the Regulation of Financial Services (Land Transactions) Bill.

Thursday 21 July—Motion on the Summer Recess Adjournment.

Friday 22 July—The House will not be sitting.

For the convenience of Members, the provisional business for the week commencing Monday 10 October will include, on Monday 10 October, the remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill.

The House will already be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making a statement at Gleneagles at noon and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be available to make a statement to the House at the end of business questions. The House will want me to say that our thoughts are with the emergency services and I pay tribute to the excellent work that they do. I have been involved in previous emergency planning preparations and I know how hard and how superbly members of the emergency services work. We should also reflect for a moment on the families and friends of those who have suffered today.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Clearly, as the Leader of the House says, the business of the House is overshadowed by this morning's dreadful events in London. It is obviously too early to know the full details of what has happened, but I know that the whole House will wish to echo the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and send our sympathies to all those caught up in these terrible incidents. We also want to express our gratitude to the emergency services and the medical staff at London hospitals who are currently dealing with the problems and working to help the victims.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House and, indeed, to the Home Secretary for agreeing to come to the House so soon to brief Members about what has happened. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, as matters develop over the rest of today and over the next few days, Members are regularly updated so that we are kept informed of what is happening in relation to these events. Does he agree that it is essential that we do not allow terrorists to undermine the democratic process in this country? They must not be allowed to undermine the fabric of our society and we must resist them with 100 per cent. vigour.

This morning's news has clearly diverted attention away from the Olympic bid, but the Leader of the House and I want to add our voices to the congratulations sent yesterday to Lord Coe and the bid team. Will the Leader give us more information about the timetable that he envisages for the Olympic Bill? How quickly will it be able to pass through the House? Clearly, it needs to be properly scrutinised, but Conservative Members would like to see it pass into law as quickly as possible, subject to that proper scrutiny, to help the bid team migrate into the games team. We can then start the long and hard process of making the games a reality.

Finally, when does the Leader of the House intend to publish the detailed motions for debate next Wednesday?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is important to have up-to-date and accurate information to put before the House. I know that the relevant Ministers are currently meeting, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will provide more detail as and when he can—not only, I hope, at the end of business questions, but throughout the day and as and when necessary. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to demonstrate to those who are trying to disrupt our society and democracy that we will not in any way be intimidated by their threats.

As far as the Olympic Bill is concerned, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for observing that it is important to get the legislation through as quickly as possible. Clearly, the Bill will require appropriate scrutiny, but we have already allotted a day before the summer recess to allow the Bill to make rapid progress thereafter.

Some motions have already been tabled for the House business day next week and I anticipate that further motions will be tabled later today.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 440, on Zimbabwe and asylum seekers.

[That this House recognises that there continues to be a real risk of persecution in Zimbabwe for those who are perceived to be politically active in opposition to the government and the ruling party, and acknowledges that some people such as Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activist and supporters are more at risk than others; further notes that there are an estimated 1,800 Zimbabweans in the UK who have failed in their attempts to win asylum; and based on the recommendations of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, urges the Government to review its policy of returning Zimbabweans who have failed in their efforts to be granted asylum.]

I am sorry to return to the subject, but we seem to be getting nowhere. I appreciate that the Home Secretary is particularly busy today, but the question of the large numbers of asylum seekers on hunger strike, two of whom face a particularly serious situation, is an important one. Yesterday Lord Justice Collins asked the Home Secretary not to deport any more Zimbabwean asylum seekers until he considers the matter in more detail on 4 August. Can we have an assurance that this matter will be debated and that we will have some sort of statement over the next two days? Some people's lives are really at risk.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a written statement yesterday on removals. He set out in some detail the basis on which the Home Office approaches these issues and provided information about those currently refusing food. Food is available to all those who are being detained and they are seen daily by a medical practitioner to check their condition. I can tell the House than none has been hospitalised at this stage.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

On a day when it is right that all parties in the House demonstrate how we stand together on such matters, may I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself with the comments made by the Leader of the House and the Conservative spokesman? I also wish to express our thanks to those in the emergency services for their work, which I saw for my own eyes at Aldgate this morning. Their work is extraordinary and very much appreciated.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for both the statement later this morning and his readiness to ensure that the House is kept properly informed. Of course, that statement will necessarily be a very early assessment of the situation, and it will be necessary to come back, perhaps on more than one occasion, to explore the issues involved more fully.

On other matters, is it possible in the near future to hold a debate on the United Kingdom's bilateral relationships with the United States? It seems an entirely appropriate moment to consider both the positive aspects of those relationships and the difficulties that the two nations face jointly. I am very aware of the concerns that have been expressed on Capitol hill, for instance, about the future conduct of our policy in Iraq. It is right that the House should also have the opportunity to discuss those matters and others, such as our arrangements on extradition and other security issues.

Is it possible for the Leader of the House to look again at the way Northern Irish legislation is debated in the House? It is becoming a matter of great concern both to those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and to other hon. Members who have an interest that legislation is passed by virtue of statutory instruments with no capacity for amendment. There is a limit to the extent to which legislation can be properly scrutinised in that way. Is it not appropriate that we now look again at how we approach those issues?

Lastly, we would also wish, of course, to be associated with what should have been a day of celebration on winning the Olympics for London. We look forward to the Bill that the Leader of the House has indicated will be introduced. Perhaps I could just make one suggestion to him. A very large sum of public money will necessarily be involved in setting up the Olympics for 2012, and it will cover a great number of Departments. May I suggest that there might be a role for a special Select Committee of the House to scrutinise overall the arrangements for the Olympics from now until 2012, so that the House can consider what is and is not happening—progress and non-progress—and ensure that the House is properly represented and has the opportunity to make sure that the Government are playing their role to the fullest extent?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations.

On the specific points that he raises, the US-UK bilateral relationship is an excellent, outstanding one. Although I am sure that the Government would welcome a debate emphasising the positive aspects of that relationship, I do not anticipate the need for one, given the quality and strength of the relationship already.

As for Northern Ireland legislation, I have indicated in answer to previous questions on the subject that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is looking at the situation. Obviously, although legislation is enacted for Northern Ireland by statutory instrument, there has generally previously been debate on the primary legislation, as it extends to other parts of the United Kingdom, so it is not as though such legislation is never debated in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

As for public money, obviously, we are confident that an appropriate funding arrangement has been put in place for the Olympic games. Indeed, in my judgment, that is one of the strengths of the bid that proved successful. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about a special Select Committee is something that will be considered through the usual channels—although, obviously, it is ultimately a matter for the House.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The Government will shortly announce the results of their consultation on updating part L of the building regulations, part of the objective being to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent. to comply with legally binding elements of the Kyoto agreement. Will the Leader of the House ask the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to put up a Minister to respond to an urgent debate on those proposals? The model used in them—the notional house—will make the incorporation of chimneys in new houses highly unattractive in future. That will be very damaging to the British flue and chimney manufacturing industry, which involves many thousands of jobs, including at factories in my constituency. Before the consultation results are announced, may we please have a debate? I have bid for a debate in the House but, as yet, have been unsuccessful.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

After that detailed exposition of the issue, I anticipate that my hon. Friend will perhaps not need a debate, but the issue is obviously complex, and I should have thought it suitable for debate in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. Certainly, he can apply for an urgent debate in the normal way, but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is made aware of his concerns and, no doubt, he will write to him in the usual way.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I welcome the debate on Wednesday setting up the Select Committees and debating the revised code of conduct. I think that the Leader of the House also mentioned that we would debate other House business. Could he shed some light on that and indicate how he envisages the debate on Wednesday being structured if we are to debate a number of different issues?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I hope to put a number of issues before the House by Wednesday. There are some consequential changes, following the appointment of the new Select Committees, and there will be a number of other tidying-up aspects, if I may call them that. Some of the orders already appear on the Order Paper. As I indicated earlier, I hope to place others on the Order Paper later today. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will accept that this is an important opportunity for the House to debate a number of issues of great concern to right hon. and hon. Members. I hope therefore that he will allow me a little time in which to table as many orders as appropriate, so that the House can thoroughly consider all aspects of its business. It seems to me—I hope that he agrees—that this is an opportunity for us to debate as much as we can of our Standing Orders and procedures at the start of a new Parliament.

Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt Labour, High Peak

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend recalls a conversation that we had in 1991, when he had the privilege of representing me and a few thousand others in the European Parliament. At that time, we discussed the need to reform the common agricultural policy, and I am sure that there is unanimity in the House about the Prime Minister's initiative to use the European Union presidency to make major reforms to the CAP not just from the point of view of agriculture, but from that of the developing world. Can we look forward at an early stage to the publication of proposals on what changes we hope to get in the CAP?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Of course I recall precisely the specific conversation that my hon. Friend mentions, not least because I was regularly talking about the reform of the CAP at the time, and it is important that we continue the efforts. There has been substantial change in the way in which that policy operates, and I know that that is something that he and other hon. Members have strongly supported over very many years. It is a priority for the Government during our presidency that we should set in motion the process of further reform of the CAP, not least because of the impact that it has on developing nations—a matter that has been much in the public eye in recent times—so I hope that that process will continue successfully. However, we should reflect on the fact that not all farmers in my hon. Friend's constituency—an area that I know well—enjoy enormous financial support from the CAP. I saw a report this week on the plight of hill farmers in places such as the High Peak of Derbyshire, where they certainly often struggle to make ends meet financially. We should not always assume that every farmer benefits enormously from the CAP. That is often far from the case.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give some thought during his busy week to ministerial courtesies. When we in the Opposition were fortunate enough to be Ministers and Members of Parliament—our parliamentary colleagues—asked to see us, we went out of our way to ensure that they did, particularly Opposition MPs, because we were very conscious of the fact that they could not usually nobble us or get to us in the Division Lobby. In the past couple of weeks, I have made written requests on perfectly valid constituency issues—one was on a community hospital, the other on the effect of the closure of a railway line—to see two of his ministerial colleagues that have been dealt with fairly peremptorily by one paragraph letters. The Leader of the House has expressed concern about turnout at general elections. It is not surprising if turnout falls at general elections if Ministers are contemptuous of the perfectly legitimate concerns of Members of Parliament. It is a matter of courtesy that perhaps he could take up with his colleagues.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am concerned to learn that. Since becoming a Minister, I have never refused a request from an hon. Member to see me in my ministerial capacity. That has certainly been my practice, and I would hope that all my other ministerial colleagues adopted the same course. If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to me in confidence, I will look at the matter and take it up with the appropriate Ministers.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester

Sport will have a major boost over the next few years with the Olympic games coming to London, but may I ask my right hon. Friend to do what he can to ensure that non-Olympic sports such as cricket are not excluded from the increased resources and increased participation in which, I hope, this development will result? With that in mind, will he arrange for a debate on the future of state school cricket, so that we can look at ways of making it far more competitive, and put it on an equal footing with the cricket played in the independent sector?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I once tried to demonstrate how cricket is played to my American family, with conspicuous lack of success. It is certainly important that, in providing the extra funding that goes to sport, such funding is associated not only with the Olympic bid, but with the Government's overall programme for supporting sporting excellence in this country and that we do not neglect sports such as cricket, which are clearly hugely important to the people of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Leader of the House may have noticed my Bill, published today, entitled the International Development (Anti-corruption Audit) Bill. He may also have noticed that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee is a signatory to it, and that there is deep concern about whether the public accounts of certain developing countries measure up to the efficiency requirements. Moreover, there is the question of corruption and of where the money is going. Given that this issue will come before the G8 tomorrow, will the Leader of the House draw the attention of the Secretary of State for International Development and of the Prime Minister to this Bill? I hope that the Prime Minister will indeed discuss the issue with the other members of the G8. This Bill is a very important cog in the practical delivery of the prevention of corruption.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing this issue to the House's attention, not least because the National Audit Office has considerable international expertise in this field, which it makes available to countries that might benefit from it. He doubtless knows that the G8 is acutely concerned about the standards of practices in developing countries in respect of financial probity and regularity; indeed, it is likely to attach some conditionality in that direction when it comes to the provision of aid and debt cancellation. I know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development have this important issue at the forefront of their minds.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I know that my right hon. Friend enjoyed, as I did, last week's fantastic fleet review. Did he share my disappointment at the poor quality of the outside broadcasting, particularly by the BBC? Will he organise a debate on outside broadcasting, so that we can determine whether the BBC faced a resource problem or whether what happened was a policy matter? If the latter was the case, it should be condemned.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I was proud to be part of last week's fleet review, on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Ruler. The BBC were not on board, which perhaps explains the problem that my hon. Friend mentions. I am sure that the BBC, which follows our proceedings closely, will have already noted his point. An appropriate BBC official will doubtless write to him immediately.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party

Before this morning's dreadful events, this was going to be a second day of great celebrations of London's successful Olympic bid. Those of us who served in the Government Whips Office with Lord Coe were pleased to note that our efforts were not entirely wasted. Will the Leader of the House seriously consider the comments of Mr. Heath? We need a process through which this House can monitor developments between now and when the Olympics take place, be it a Select Committee or appropriate Ministers coming regularly to the Dispatch Box.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

All those who played such an excellent role in securing the Olympics for London and the United Kingdom, including the noble Lord Coe, are to be congratulated on their efforts. I said earlier that I will explore through the usual channels the suggestion that the House be regularly informed not only about developments in the process of the Bill, but about the financial consequences. It is important that we have regular debates and discussions on how the preparations for the games are proceeding.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

The Leader of the House is aware that, this week, the Lord Chancellor published proposals on legal aid that will effectively mean a cut in the criminal legal aid budget. That will have a dramatic effect not just on high street firms, but on the quality of barristers that we get in this area of law. As a former legal aid Minister, the Leader of the House will know that there are difficult judgments to be made on this issue, but it is important that we discuss the whole budget and the proposals before they are implemented.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Having spent two years of my ministerial career grappling with the subtleties of legal aid and its regulations, and with the response of the legal professions when I attempted a modest change—usually, the response was extremely generous—I recognise that this is a sensitive and important issue. I had understood that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor's proposals were essentially concerned with large and expensive criminal cases, but I am certainly willing to look again at them. If they have a more extensive application, I will re-examine this issue. However, I do not see why such large and expensive criminal cases will necessarily have the impact on the high street that my hon. Friend suggests.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

May I associate my hon. Friends, myself and the people of Northern Ireland with the comments of the Leader of the House, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition and the Liberal Democrat spokesman? We in Northern Ireland have passed this way many times. We have walked down the dark road, the bloody road, the road of separation, and we can sympathise. Not one of my members has not been attacked. Fortunately, we have all come out of those attacks, but many people have not. They leave behind them those who sorrow, many of whom do so hopelessly. We have walked this way, and we understand the feelings of the whole country at this time. I welcome the fact that the Government spokesman made it clear that there will be no giving in, no surrender to this matter, and that we will see in this country what we saw in Northern Ireland after the bombings and killings: signs up saying, "business as usual". Let the democrats make it business as usual, and with strength and fortitude walk on to a day when this scourge will be cleansed from this nation.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I could not possibly improve on what the hon. Gentleman has just said, and I agree with him entirely.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Notwithstanding this morning's terrible events, I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that this country's music industry and musicians are very important to us. Does the Department for Culture, Media and Sport intend to respond to early-day motion 270, which is concerned with sound recording copyright for British artists?

[That this House notes that the copyright of performers and recordings made in the United Kingdom and the European Union is limited to 50 years, whereas performers' sound recording copyright continues for 95 years in the USA and for an average of 75 years in most non-EU countries; recognises that UK and EU recording artists are often denied income from the playing of their recordings during their lifetime; and calls on the Government to recognise this as denial of income due to living recording artists for their work and to alter UK and EU copyright laws to correct this injustice.]

As the early-day motion points out, in this country such copyright lasts for only 50 years, whereas in the USA it lasts for 95 years and the world average is 75 years. Does my right hon. Friend realise that, when people play the recorded music of artists such as Dame Vera Lynn, she receives no royalties? The same is true of some of the music of Cliff Richard, Humphrey Lyttleton and many other artists. Is it not time that we treated such people fairly during their lives and allowed them to receive royalties for the playing of their sound recordings in the UK?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

Hon. Members are being unusually kind today in allowing me to range over my previous experience. As a Member of the European Parliament, I dealt routinely with several copyright directives that affected sound and music. I certainly share my hon. Friend's concern about the lack of protection for some of our performers. I know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is considering the problem as a matter of urgency and with great seriousness, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State writes to my hon. Friend when she returns from her successful visit to Singapore.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

The Leader of the House will recall that, last week, hon. Members of all parties raised the subject of the workers at APW Electronics, whose pension fund was wound up in circumstances that meant that they will be eligible for only 20 per cent. of their pensions. Will he impress on the Minister for Pensions Reform the necessity of coming to the House and explaining why financially prudent people who have done everything that successive Governments have asked of them are not being considered for any sort of compensation, when the numbers involved are small and the money could make a lot of difference to many people's lives?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

As the hon. Lady said, the issue has been raised previously. There are obviously rules that affect whether the Government are in a position to provide appropriate compensation. The Government have provided significant sums for assistance to employees whose pension scheme has failed, but one of the conditions is that the principal employer should be insolvent. I understand that that is not the position in the case that she mentions. The Government believe that solvent employers have a duty to support their schemes and provide the benefits that members were expecting. That is the Government's position on the case.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

May I revert to the successful Olympic bid? When the Leader of the House is considering how Parliament will scrutinise the Bill, it is important to ensure that the benefits extend to the whole country, especially construction services throughout the country. Given the increase that we will need in construction skills, regeneration and building, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate in the House to consider adequate funding throughout the country for the construction skills that are needed for regeneration? We especially do not want a cut in local budgets for further education colleges.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the bid's strength was its concentration in a specific area of London, benefits will clearly flow to the whole country. People throughout the country were delighted by the bid's success. She is right that there should be some consideration of the national benefits that will flow from the bid's success. I am sure that that can properly be raised in the Second Reading debate that I previously announced. I am also aware that it is already anticipated that some of the facilities that will be provided in that narrow and focused area for the games will be used elsewhere in the country. There will be national benefits through opportunities for, as my hon. Friend suggests, construction companies, and some of the tangible results of those efforts will be spread around the country.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

May we have a debate entitled "Should Civil Servants be able to Speak Out Freely?", in the context of the inspirational comments of Louise Casey, a civil servant who is apparently close to the Prime Minister? She said, among other things, in the context of advice to Ministers, who should listen:

"Turn up in the morning pissed. You might cope a bit better, love."

She said of her experience of meetings with Ministers:

"The most powerful person in that room is Betsy who brings the tea round."

Does the Leader of the House agree with those comments by a senior civil servant; and is he proud that she is close to the Prime Minister and gives him advice?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman took the same view of civil servants speaking out when he was a distinguished Minister. I do not recall his advocating from the Government Benches the right of his civil servants to speak out publicly. Whether he did or not, there is a code that conditions circumstances in which civil servants may speak out. I am sure that it will be properly applied in the case that he mentions.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

May we have an early debate on the movement of civil service jobs? Does my right hon. Friend know of the plan to close the Export Credits Guarantee Department in Llanishen in my constituency, thus moving 30 jobs back to London? Does he also know that, in the 1970s, a Labour Government moved those jobs from London to Cardiff and that the proposals appear to contradict the Government's policy? Will he arrange an early debate on that, given that there are some very aggrieved people in Cardiff?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am not familiar with the specific circumstances that my hon. Friend raises, but I shall ensure that the relevant Department contacts her and explains matters. She is right that the Government's overall approach is to try to ensure that jobs are transferred from London and the south-east. We acknowledge the extra housing and travel costs in a part of the country that is generally more overcrowded than elsewhere. I will ensure that the matter is examined and that the appropriate Minister contacts my hon. Friend.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Bearing in mind the fact that the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland do not have the opportunity to discuss openly and debate properly many serious issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House find time to debate the nitrates directive, which could put many farmers in Northern Ireland out of business?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I have already told hon. Members about the Government's concern to ensure proper debate on Northern Irish matters. It is important to find the right way of allowing the citizens of Northern Ireland to communicate their views and their elected representatives to speak on their behalf. The directive is an EU matter and the House must resolve—I hope it will happen next week—the creation of appropriate European scrutiny arrangements that will allow European directives to be fully and properly considered.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

My right hon. Friend may know that his predecessor scheduled a debate in Westminster Hall last Session about the work of the House of Commons Commission, thus enabling hon. Members to discuss its work in a way that had not previously been possible. The previous Leader of the House suggested that the debate might become a regular feature of the House's business. Will my right hon. Friend schedule a debate on the Commission's work before the end of the Session or early in the autumn when Parliament reconvenes?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

That is an excellent and helpful suggestion. It is important that the work of the House of Commons Commission, in which I am proud to play a small part, is properly understood and discussed by hon. Members. I will examine when it will be possible to schedule such a debate. It will probably not happen before the summer recess, but I shall consider as a matter of some urgency finding an appropriate date some time in the autumn.

Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The Leader of the House knows that the Department for Transport has recently completed a consultation on public service obligations for air services in the UK. That is especially important to my constituents, given their wish to protect flights between Inverness and London Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Will he ensure that the results of the consultation are subject to a debate in the House before their implementation so that concerns can be fully expressed?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Gentleman has identified an important issue for his constituents and, indeed, for a wider group of people in Scotland. I shall certainly ensure that the issue is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I will encourage him to write to the hon. Gentleman. That may be a more expeditious means of discussing the issue than waiting for a possible debate.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

Recently, my right hon. Friend responded positively to a request from hon. Members for a debate on Africa. Could I suggest that it might be an appropriate time to have a similar debate on the middle east? Clearly, events in Palestine are at an important juncture. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is either the first step towards a general withdrawal from the west bank and a viable two-state solution leading to security throughout the middle east, or the Israelis may regard withdrawal from Gaza as a final step, leaving a non-viable Palestinian territory and the annexation of the west bank by Israel, which could lead to long-term insecurity, not just in the middle east but in the wider area.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members who made the recent debate on Africa such a success, and he is right to draw the analogy between Africa and current developments in the middle east. There have certainly been some positive steps in the middle east peace process in the past few months—my hon. Friend suggested that there is renewed high-level contact between the parties and a dramatic fall in the level of violence and in the number of casualties. We must all recognise, however, that the situation remains fragile.

I emphasise that the United Kingdom Government remain energetically engaged. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited the region on 7 and 8 June to offer UK support for both sides, and to encourage them to do all that they can to take advantage of the opportunities for progress. As part of our EU presidency, the UK Government will represent the European Union, including at the Quartet, and we will work closely with other international partners.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

The Leader of the House has announced that the House will consider the Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order 2005. Can he assure us that there will be adequate time to debate the eight local authorities involved? I say that with some passion, because his former ministerial colleague, Mr. Raynsford, invited hon. Members and their local authorities to discuss this with him when he was Local Government Minister. Unfortunately, he is no longer in office so I went for a discussion with his ministerial replacement. We had no discussion at all—we were treated to "Good morning" and "Thank you very much". There was no engagement with the local authority budget, where things might be going wrong and where they could improve. We therefore need an adequate debate.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I am confident that detailed information will have been made available to the local authorities on the list, and there will be a number of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to raise his concerns about overspending by particular local authorities. It is important that they accept the guidelines set out by the Government, not least to ensure proper protection for people paying council taxes in those areas. He will be aware that since 1997, the Government have increased funding in real terms to local authorities by 33 per cent. Given that that is by far the majority of the money available to local authorities, it is unfortunate that those particular local authorities could not remain within their spending guidelines as planned. That is precisely why the Government have taken action.

I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman has meetings with Ministers on this question, they are willing to engage in discussions with him, but he should bear in mind the fact that there is a difference between having a discussion whose conclusions he agrees with and simply having a discussion. I am confident that he will have had a discussion with Ministers, although he may not have liked what they said to him.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

In the next few weeks, many hundreds of thousands of parents and children will turn their thoughts to the process of leaving primary school and going to a new secondary school. My right hon. Friend will know what a stressful experience that is for families, not least because they are torn between the rhetoric of parental choice and the reality of growing numbers of secondary schools being able to choose which children to admit. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the whole question of fair admissions to schools, not least because the Government will shortly publish proposals for a new admissions code of practice?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I recognise that this is an extremely sensitive and important subject for parents and children at this time of the year. I know from constituency experience that this is the time of year when parents approach their Member of Parliament if they are dissatisfied with the allocation arrangements. I will certainly ensure that my hon. Friend is contacted by the relevant Minister and that appropriate details are supplied.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Further to the question of Mr. Heath about the way in which Northern Ireland business is dealt with, the Leader of the House will have heard points of order in the House yesterday. This is a serious issue, because five Orders-in-Council are going through the House this week. Three further Orders-in-Council relating to Northern Ireland will be introduced next week. None of them can be amended—it is a straight yes or no vote—which is clearly an intolerable situation. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to discussions with other parties, but can he ensure that the Northern Ireland parties are included in those discussions?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I have already said that I take this very seriously and it is something that the Government would want to address in due course. I am readily available, should the hon. Gentleman wish to discuss the matters in detail with me, and I certainly wish to meet all the parties represented in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

When are we going to have a debate on the Strategic Rail Authority, particularly on the lack of investment in the Coventry-Nuneaton line and the need for a new station once the Coventry arena has opened?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

It is obviously important that we continue to increase the funding available for the railway network. Network Rail has taken significant steps in recent times to stabilise the financial situation. Indeed, reports that I have received demonstrate that that has been remarkable successful. After a long period of difficulty it appears to be on a sensible track for the future. As for the particular local question, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport writes to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Wellingborough is a large and expanding constituency where many thousands of new homes are being built, but it does not have a hospital with accident and emergency facilities. Can the Leader of the House help a new Member by saying whether it is possible to debate that matter and other health services in Northamptonshire?


He appears very concerned about his constituents yet I still await a reply from Mr Bone on the email I sent through your medium the day after he was elected.

Submitted by John Jenkins

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

May I make two points clear to the hon. Gentleman? First, the Government have invested more money in the national health service since we came to power than any Government in history. That money is being used to provide new hospitals and new hospital facilities across the country, and I know that Government Members are extremely proud of that. I doubt that the hon. Gentleman could produce statistics on NHS funding by any previous Government that compare in any way with our investment. Secondly, on his observations about new housing and related planning issues, unlike our predecessors, especially a number of Conservative Administrations, the Government have sought to ensure that new housing permissions are granted only where there is appropriate infrastructure and support for the population. Many of the difficulties caused by new housing in the late 1980s and early 1990s were the result of the then Government's enthusiasm to build housing without considering the need for accompanying infrastructure. That was a serious planning mistake, and we do not intend to repeat it.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

When will the House be afforded the opportunity in Government time to debate the continuing insurgency in Iraq? Bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the United States, to which my right hon. Friend referred, may indeed be very close, but there is a clear difference of opinion within the US Executive, with one Secretary of State saying that the insurgency is in its death throes, and another saying that it might last for at least another decade. Surely that highlights something rather more important than a difference of opinion: the fact that a clearly thought out and well planned approach is needed to tackle the insurgency, which is rather broader than mere military attacks? Will the House be given the chance in Government time to offer its opinions on how the insurgency could be ended?


It is very sad and concerning to see that while oil is comapatively more safe now, the life and peace in the world is not!

Submitted by Harrow Council for Justice (HCJ)

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I suspect that my hon. Friend will have precisely that opportunity later today, during the debate entitled "Defence in the world", which is one of our regular scheduled defence debates. Having been present during previous debates, I know that my hon. Friend has assiduously raised such questions in relation to the insurgency in Iraq. I assure her that no member of the Government, I perhaps least of all, takes lightly the situation in Iraq and the appalling insurgency that is responsible for so many deaths, not only of coalition forces, but of thousands of Iraqi citizens and civilians who have been targeted deliberately by terrorist organisations in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

Is the Leader of the House aware that more than 12 million homes in Britain benefit from having an affectionate pet living with them? Will he take note of the concerns voiced by organisations such as the Dogs Trust and the Cats Protection League and many other worthy animal charities about the progress of the animal welfare Bill? Will that excellent Bill be introduced in the House of Commons by October?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I know how seriously the hon. Gentleman takes such issues and I am grateful to him for having raised the subject as he has. The Bill has been widely welcomed by animal welfare charities. It is an important measure on a subject that concerns hon. Members, not least because we all have a regular postbag on animal welfare matters. As a constituency MP, I know how frequently constituents write to me on such matters—an experience that I am sure is shared by other right hon. and hon. Members. I anticipate the Bill being introduced in due course, but I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Gentleman a precise date.

Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

Given the priority that MPs and, indeed, the nation now give to international development, will my right hon. Friend consider extending International Development questions to one hour in the new Session, so that development issues can be fully scrutinised and debated by the House?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I recognise the important of development issues to the House. That is why we recently scheduled the excellent debate on Africa, in which right hon. and hon. Members had significant opportunities to debate current developments. The time given to departmental questions is dealt with through the usual channels, but I undertake to consider the allocation of time to the various departmental questions and I shall respond to my hon. Friend in due course.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In the light of yesterday's lobby by the Fire Brigades Union, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the regionalisation of fire control units, so that hon. Members can bring home to Ministers just how unpopular that penny-pinching and mistaken policy is?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I assure the hon. Gentleman the policy is not about penny pinching. It is about ensuring that the latest and best technology is made available in support of the excellent work done by the fire services. It is also important that the approach taken concentrates effort and time in the way that provides best value for money for council tax payers. I have received representations from both the fire service and the FBU and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government consider the matter extremely carefully and seriously. We must achieve best value for taxpayers but at the same time ensure that we do not compromise the safety of the public, who depend on the tremendous work done by the fire service and the other emergency services.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has had time to read the early-day motion that I tabled this week congratulating Whizz-kidz—an organisation that provides wheelchairs for disabled children—on its work. Problems with the supply of such equipment persist, so will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the whole issue of the supply of equipment for disabled people?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I have seen the early-day motion and I congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling it and other hon. Members on supporting it. The initiative is an excellent one, which is strongly supported by members of the Government.

Photo of Christopher Huhne Christopher Huhne Shadow Minister, Treasury

In his reply to my hon. Friend Sandra Gidley, the Leader of the House was kind enough to offer the view that employers who are solvent should stand behind pension schemes. The case to which my hon. Friend referred—the APW Electronics case, which also affects constituents of mine—is one in which the pension fund trustees were threatened by the employer with insolvency. It is important that the House make time to debate the question, because there are four or five schemes in the rather special circumstances that fall between the Government's financial assistance scheme and the Pension Protection Fund.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I do not intend to repeat my answer to Sandra Gidley, but it is important to acknowledge that there have to be limits on the arrangements for providing assistance. In the case in question, those limits affect the issue of the solvency or otherwise of the principal employer. I have nothing further to add to my earlier comments.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West

At the time the Olympics have been awarded to London, may I tell my right hon. Friend that the special Olympics 2005 are taking place at this very moment in the fair city of Glasgow? Will he discuss with our right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and Tourism including people with special needs in the celebrations to be held here in 2012?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I take this opportunity to congratulate all those who have been involved in the organisation of the special Olympics. Having seen such events in previous years, I know what tremendous voluntary efforts go into them. I am sure that all those associated with the successful bid will play their part in supporting such excellent initiatives as the special Olympics.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow is appearing before the General Medical Council in response to allegations of misdiagnosis in certain child death cases. Eighteen months ago, the Minister for Children and the Solicitor-General made statements to the House about the review of cases in the light of the judgment. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for one of those Ministers to update the House on what has happened since then—how the review has progressed and how many people who may have been wrongly accused of and sentenced for murdering their child or children are still in jail?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I understand how sensitive the issue is to those parents, but before we take further action it is important to allow the current proceedings to be concluded, so that we can identify the circumstances as accurately as possible. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the responsible Minister is keeping track of these matters and will write to him when the proceedings have been resolved.

Photo of John Austin John Austin Labour, Erith and Thamesmead

My right hon. Friend will know that the House used to have an annual debate on the Metropolitan police, when the Home Secretary was the police authority. Although we now have a police authority for London, today's tragic events have shown that there is a national dimension to the work of the Metropolitan police. Will he consider reinstating the debate on the role of the Metropolitan police, so that the whole House can discuss the national role that they play?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

I have already paid tribute, but am pleased to do so again, to the emergency services, especially the Metropolitan police. From my previous responsibilities, I know the extent to which the Metropolitan police provide specialist services and activities that are clearly to the wider benefit of the country as a whole, and I pay tribute to those who are involved in that work. I think that it is important that the House regularly debates the work of the police as a whole across the country, but in saying that I do not detract in any way from the excellent work being done by the Metropolitan police service.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

Following the Leader of the House's robust responses to the hon. Members for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) and for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) about the payment of compensation in pension schemes when one of the companies involved is still trading, is he aware that exactly the same circumstances apply at MG Rover, whose pensioners are not receiving any compensation because one of the companies involved is still trading? Will the Leader of the House kindly give me a response to those particular circumstances, and make it clear that those people will eventually receive compensation?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Lady knows better than I do that the financial arrangements at MG Rover are still the subject of investigation. There is still serious consideration of how to take forward the opportunities there, and the question of pensions is obviously of vital concern to many of her constituents and to others who were formerly employed at the company. I hope that she can be patient for long enough to allow the full inquiry to be completed.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The Home Secretary has promised us a statement on the grave situation in London at the moment. I think that it would be more appropriate to suspend the House until the Home Secretary is here. I understand that he is ready, but he must brief his Opposition colleagues, and that is what he is going to do. I shall therefore suspend the House until 10 minutes to the hour. That will be the best course of action.

Sitting suspended.