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The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the following week will include:
I know that colleagues on all sides of the House want notice of recess dates as early as possible. Until we have made a decision about September sittings, which will be before Prorogation, I cannot give all the dates, but for the convenience of the House let me give the Commons calendar until February 2007. We plan to rise for the Christmas recess on
I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the business for next week and the available recess dates.
On Tuesday, the House debated a motion to refer two statutory instruments to a Standing Committee. The Deputy Leader of the House battled valiantly to respond to the points raised by my hon. Friend Mr. O'Brien, but the debate masked a serious issue about House business. Since 1997, well over 30,000 statutory instruments have been laid before this House. The Government are increasingly changing the law through the use of such secondary legislation, which is rarely debated, and, if it is, usually it is for only about an hour and a half in Committee and often after it has come into force. That smacks of Government arrogance, and it also potentially lays the House open to be a laughing stock. For example, the statutory instrument to set up the new strategic health authorities will be debated next week. It was laid in June and came into force on
"The consequences would be dire."—[ Hansard, 17 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 846.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman review the use of secondary legislation and make a statement to the House?
The Leader of the House has in the past said that he wants to make sure that parliamentary questions are answered in a helpful and timely fashion. [Interruption.] He says "Yes" or "Hear, hear" from a sedentary position. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has been waiting for the answer to no fewer than 43 written questions to the Home Office since
Earlier this week, the chief executive of the NHS said that he does not know how many job cuts there will be in the NHS this year—which, of course, according to the Health Secretary is the best year ever for the NHS. We believe that 20,000 jobs will be lost, and NHS employers say that it could reach 20,000. The only people who do not seem to know are the Government. When will the Health Secretary publish a figure for Members?
Yesterday, a petition of 4 million signatures was handed to No. 10 highlighting the fact that the withdrawal of the Post Office card account will lead to yet more post office closures. It was reported this morning that the Minister with responsibility for employment relations and postal services said that
"it is important that there is a successor to the Post Office card account. And there will be and the DWP are in negotiations. There does need to be a clear statement from Government to give reassurance."
Tomorrow, the House will consider a Bill proposed by my hon. Friend Greg Clark to change the definition of brownfield land and to stop garden-grabbing, which is a problem throughout the country. Will the Government come off the fence and support the Bill, and, if necessary, introduce such a Bill in Government time in the next Session?
Let me deal with those points in turn. Anyone listening to the right hon. Lady would think that the Labour Government had invented secondary legislation. Secondary legislation is a fact of British parliamentary life. More than 50,000 statutory instruments were introduced under the Administration whom she supported, before 1997. I accept that the way in which the House is able to deal with statutory instruments is not as satisfactory as it should be, but there is an inherent problem to do with the management of Government time. There is also the simple truth that we cannot in any legislation—her Government did not do it, and we cannot do it—anticipate every change in ministerial power when the primary legislation is introduced. I am very happy—we all are—to discuss and think about changes in the management of statutory instruments to the benefit of the House and good governance. I suggest that she offer some practical ideas that the Conservatives would be willing to introduce, were they in government.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is very concerned indeed about the huge backlog of parliamentary questions. Ever since he took office in May, he has been working very hard with his colleagues to clear the backlog, which in part arose—I do not complain about this—from the massive increase in the number of questions as a result of the foreign prisoners problem. However, I will of course follow up the issue that the right hon. Lady raises.
We have been up hill and down dale on the issue of control orders, and I have looked at what the Minister in question said on
Let me deal with the two issues that the right hon. Lady raised concerning the national health service and the Post Office. I know that she is running a scare story that 20,000 people in the NHS are going to be sacked. If she looks at the detail, she will see that, so far, the number of redundancies in the health service, particularly compulsory ones, is tiny. She always forgets to acknowledge that since 1997 the number of NHS staff has gone up by 303,000—a huge increase on the very poor start that we inherited in 1997. The implication of what she is now saying about the NHS is that more should be spent on it, and the implication of what she is saying about post offices is that, in addition to the £2 billion in subsidies that we have already spent, more should be spent. The question for her and for the whole of the Tory party is how on earth they can square that with their promise to cut taxes by between £20 billion and £30 billion—
Following the printed and broadcast statements by General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, and President Bush's acknowledgement that the position in Iraq is comparable to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, is it not time that this House debated the situation in which our servicemen and women now find themselves in Iraq?
As my right hon. Friend knows, we have been able to debate the matter on many occasions. For reasons that I think everybody understands, I cannot promise a debate on foreign policy before Prorogation, but five days of debate on the Queen's Speech will be available at the Opposition's discretion, and I should be astonished if one of them was not on foreign policy.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on finding the lost Bills that I drew his attention to last week; he obviously does not expect prolonged debate on the Fraud Bill, which gives me some cause for concern.
May we have a debate on freedom of information and the application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000? Many people are extremely concerned that the good intentions behind the Act are to be undermined by the introduction of new charges, the sole raison d'être of which is to prevent people from having the access to information from Government Departments that they should have.
May we also have a debate on the fiasco of the Rural Payments Agency? It is quite extraordinary that it should have performed so badly, as has now been outlined by the National Audit Office. It has been outperformed by its Scottish and Welsh equivalents and by every European agency; indeed, even the German agency, which uses the same methodology, managed to outperform it considerably. It is probably the worst payments agency in Europe, yet the chief executive, who was sacked, is still on full pay.
May we have a debate on the Government's position on cluster bombs? The UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs has spoken about their use in Lebanon. I recently saw for myself how one still cannot walk on huge areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina—off the roads but only a couple of miles from Sarajevo—because of mines and cluster munitions. Is not it time that we took a lead in removing those appalling weapons from use in warfare?
Finally, what is the position of the legislation anticipated by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? If it is to go ahead, it must do so before
The hon. Gentleman asked about FOI, but I completely reject his contention that the spirit of the legislation and its effect have been undermined by the possibility that charges will be introduced. In case he has forgotten, I remind him that I introduced the Bill when I was Home Secretary, and that it contained a power to allow for charges. I do not recall any Front Benchers objecting to that power. However, a slight anomaly exists at present. If the hon. Gentleman were to apply, under the data protection legislation, to a public authority for information about himself, he would almost certainly be charged, whereas he would not be charged if he applied for information about Simon Hughes, who is sitting next to him. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome may not wish to be burdened with that information, but that is certainly something of an anomaly. The Government are justly proud of the FOI Act, but we must ensure that its provisions do not undermine good administration in other respects.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been determined to sort out the problem with the Rural Payments Agency. The situation is very unsatisfactory, as today's NAO report highlights, but I understand that farmers are now receiving payments in almost every case.
The hon. Gentleman asked about cluster bombs. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and his predecessor, I have always acknowledged that we must be extremely careful in the use of cluster bombs. That has been the British Government's policy.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Northern Ireland legislation, but I simply did not follow his point. We all know about our responsibilities to Northern Ireland, and we have to ensure that the agreement is pinned down. If it is, we will meet the requirement for there to be legislation before
Will my right hon. Friend ask a Minister from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to make a statement clarifying future investment in the courts estate? We are continually modernising and improving the services that our courts provide, but some of the buildings are clearly outdated and are struggling to house those services. For instance, a new court building has been earmarked as a priority for Newport for many years, but it has been held up by a lack of funding.
Today, Sir Hayden Phillips is publishing his interim report on party funding. On Tuesday, the Leader of the House said that he wanted to find a consensus on that important issue, although he then went on to make a number of deeply anti-consensual remarks. Would not both Sir Hayden and the achievement of a consensus be assisted if we were to have a debate, in Government time, on the interim report? That would allow a broader range than is proposed by those who inhabit the two Front Benches.
It is an interim report. I am sorry to tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no time for such a debate before Prorogation, but if there is time afterwards, we will think about that. I am always searching for consensus, but highly partisan points were made by Opposition Members, including Mark Pritchard, who is sitting just in front of the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for The Wrekin led with his chin, because he omitted to mention that although he spent £11,000 within the time limit in April last year, he spent £50,000 outside the time limit, using money from secretive front organisations such as unincorporated associations. When that happens, we are entitled to draw it to wider public attention.
Will my right hon. Friend set aside time for a debate on Farepak, so that we can put on record the anger on the issue felt by Members on both sides of the House? It is a Christmas saving scheme that went into liquidation last week, with the consequence that, for tens of thousands of hard-working families, Christmas is effectively cancelled. The directors should be called to account for their behaviour. Will my right hon. Friend organise a debate on the matter?
I understand my hon. Friend's great concern, and I hope that he can find opportunities to raise the subject, for example in Westminster Hall or in an Adjournment debate. I know from his early-day motion just how terrible the situation is for some of his constituents and for many others. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is profoundly concerned, and I know that he is willing to follow the matter up with my hon. Friend.
Given the significance of General Sir Richard Dannatt's comments on Iraq, and given that he felt that he had to vent his frustration by speaking to the media—despite all the qualifications made since the original interview, the Prime Minister now seems to agree that, in certain parts of Iraq, the presence of British troops exacerbates the problems, yet troop deployments continue—will the Leader of the House further consider allowing the House a proper debate on the specific issues, which are of great importance to the country, and to the 8,000 British troops in Iraq?
We always make statements on Iraq as and when required. As I said earlier, there will be a five-day debate on the Queen's Speech. It is a matter for the Opposition, and not for us, but I hope very much that one of those days will be used for foreign policy. I would like a better balance in the subject days in this House, so that we have scheduled debates on foreign policy, just as we have on Europe and defence. However, we must sort that out through the usual channels.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a debate is taking place in the country about our military presence in Iraq? In order to clear the air, would it not be useful to hold a debate on the subject in the Chamber, as many Members would like? It seems odd that the country and the media are discussing the subject, which is of great importance, but that we are not. I therefore suggest an early debate.
I entirely understand what my hon. Friend says and it echoes what Mr. Baron said a moment ago. We will look carefully to see whether time can be found, but as my hon. Friend will understand, given the pressures on time in the closing weeks of a parliamentary Session, that will be difficult to do. I reiterate that there will be an opportunity to discuss the subject in the debate on the Queen's Speech, which is only three weeks away.
Will the Leader of the House advise the Home Office that police authorities in Wales are concerned about the £1.3 million that they spent, at its behest, on the botched plans for the amalgamation of Welsh police forces? They were promised repayment six weeks ago, but nothing has happened since. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pass that on. In addition, may we have a debate on the police funding formula as it applies to Wales, as there are serious disparities within Wales?
I shall certainly pass the first point on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. On police funding, I can say, wearing my hat as a former Home Secretary, that there are always questions about the police funding formula, the policing of rural roads and all sorts of other things. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there are serious anomalies and justifiable concerns, I suggest that he follow the matter up with the police Minister.
May we have an urgent debate on the future of the steel industry in the UK? Steel remains a strategically important industry and a major employer in many parts of the UK, but further moves and speculation about possible takeover bids for Corus can only lead to uncertainty in the sector, so may we have an early debate?
I accept my hon. Friend's concerns. The steel industry is one of the great successes of British manufacturing, and that is often forgotten, given the background of news of some major closures. I will certainly pass my hon. Friend's concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I hope that my hon. Friend is able to ensure that the matter is raised, either in an Adjournment debate or in Westminster Hall.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the Chamber next week to make a statement, so that he can clear up confusion and reassure the country that he lives in the real world, rather than cloud cuckoo land? On the day that the Prime Minister made his statement at No. 10 that only a few hundred jobs would be lost in the health service, the local hospital in my constituency announced 250 redundancies, which reaffirmed the belief of normal people outside the House that up to 20,000 jobs have been lost in the health service.
My right hon. Friend will be here, as usual, at Prime Minister's questions next Wednesday. He always enjoys the occasion, and, after yesterday, it will be the Leader of the Opposition who absents himself next week, given the appalling notices that he received this morning. I have two things to say to the hon. Gentleman. First, there have been endless stories about compulsory redundancies in the health service, but in most cases those redundancies have not been made, and any adjustments in head count have been due to natural wastage or voluntary redundancy—mainly natural wastage, in fact. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman holds out to the good people of Chelmsford the prospect of more spending on the health service under a Conservative Government—
It does absolutely no good to do that, because we know that, under a Conservative Government, less would be spent—
My right hon. Friend is currently contemplating legislation on the reform of the upper Chamber. Will he reassure Labour Members and Members from other parties who are unicameralists that we will have an opportunity, under any legislation that he introduces, to vote for the abolition of the House of Lords?
Yes, I can certainly tell my right hon. Friend that it is my plan that, in any debate on the future composition of the Lords, the first vote would be on the question of whether there ought to be a second Chamber; only if that was defeated would we come to issues about its composition.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Modernisation Committee has taken a great interest in the citizenship curriculum in schools, believing that it is important to increase knowledge and understanding of Parliament and the democratic process from an early age. Does he therefore share my concern, and that of other colleagues, that Ofsted has reported poor standards of teaching in citizenship, and will he make time for an urgent debate on that important matter?
First, may I commend my hon. Friend's continuing interest in, and pushing of, the subject? Secondly, I certainly share her worry; the matter is of concern across the House. The introduction of a compulsory element of citizenship in the national curriculum was welcome, but it is no good if it is squashed in with PE or religious education, as it has been in too many cases. There must be an elevation of the teaching of citizenship as a serious subject that is respected in the staffroom, as well as in the classroom. I shall certainly pass my hon. Friend's concerns on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. I hope that, at some stage, it will be possible to have a debate on the matter.
According to credible estimates, there have been more than 100 knife-related incidents in our schools since children returned for the autumn term just last month. Does the Leader of the House agree that an urgent debate is required on that pressing matter, and that more needs to be done to make schools safe and secure environments in which our youngsters can learn?
I am almost dumbstruck. More does need to be done in respect of violent crime, and it would be extremely helpful if the Liberal Democrats voted for such proposals. They have failed to vote for almost every measure that would help to control crime in the past 10 years— [Interruption.]
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for time for a debate on YouTube? I am aware that several hon. Members have found and used that website, but I am more concerned about a posting from my constituency. Entitled "Milton Road Fight Club", it shows a man being attacked in the street and kicked in the face until he is unconscious. I am worried that acts of violence and instances of happy slapping recorded on mobile phones are being transferred to the web for wider consumption. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have a debate in this House so that we can discuss how to stop this?
I am glad that my hon. Friend mentions that. We will discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill during the next week, and I hope that he raises the matter in relation to an appropriate amendment. There is a very serious issue about how such videos should better be controlled.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford has disappeared from the Chamber, presumably because he was shamefaced about asking the question on the very day that the Conservatives are proposing between £20 billion and £30 billion of tax cuts and announcing the most reckless public spending and economic policy that we have seen.
On the other matter, the Conservatives need to be clear about what they are arguing—
Order. I have expressed my disapproval to the Leader of the House on these matters. This is not about the business for next week. These things can be talked about in the Tea Room, but not here at this hour.
May we have an early debate on taxation policy? In my constituency, we have benefited hugely from policies such as the working families tax credit, which has radically changed the life chances of the 20 per cent. of my constituents who live in the lowest quintile of economic activity. They would be hugely disadvantaged if we adopted a taxation policy that took money away from them. It is enormously important that the House has a serious debate about taxation policy to reassure those people that future Governments will support their needs.
I will try to stay in order, Mr. Speaker.
I very much hope that we can find time for a debate on tax policy in which we consider all the available alternatives. Perhaps the Conservatives will decide to use one of their days on the Queen's Speech to discuss tax policy—they would show great courage were they to do so. If not, we will certainly find an occasion. It would make for a good and timely debate following yesterday's and this morning's reports of their "cut tax, spend more" policy and given that the shadow Chancellor has said:
"the framework of our tax policy is now set."
Last week, it emerged that 1,649 dentists quit the service in the first three months of the Government's disastrous new dental contract. Given that chaos, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Health Secretary to attend the House to explain the debacle over which she has presided and to tell us what remedial measures she will put in place?
I do not think that I can promise that. The truth is that we have been trying to sort out a long-term problem that goes back to much earlier changes in dentists' contracts in 1991 and 1992, which were the mother and father of all the difficulties that we have faced subsequently. I know that some dentists have refused to accept the contract. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I looked at them last week. Overall, however, I think that going back to the base of 1997 there are more NHS dentists doing more NHS treatments.
May I press the Leader of the House again on a debate about Iraq and Afghanistan? It seems absolutely extraordinary to many people outside this House that we should have had the report by The Lancet, rumours of policy changes in the USA, and the general's comments about the presence in Iraq, and yet no debate in this House. May I press him, seriously, to have an urgent debate on the presence of British and American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we can debate the alternatives, which I believe should be withdrawal from those places?
I note what my hon. Friend says and fully accept the importance of this. I hope that he accepts, too, that there is pressure from legislation at this time of year. Without making promises, I will discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. Let me also say, at the risk of repetition, that I want to see more regular debates on foreign policy. We have regular debates on all sorts of things, but there have never been scheduled debates on foreign policy. I hope that that will require us to have slightly fewer debates on other subjects that are much less well-attended than they should be.
Could we have a debate on the efficacy of the immigration service? One of my constituents, who was born in this country, whose parents were born in this country, and who is married to someone born in Turkey, is now expecting their second child since they first applied for what ought to be perfectly proper permission to live and work here. Many decent people are unable to work for more than 20 hours a week and to keep their families although they have, in every sense, a right to be here. They have been told that it will be another two years before this incompetent service provides them with an answer to a very simple question.
I have a very heavy immigration caseload myself. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that in such a case, which in my experience is rather unusual, he asks to see the Home Secretary or the Minister responsible for immigration to try to sort out the matter. If the facts are as he stated, as I am sure they are, a decision should have been made long ago.
One of the Government's major achievements in education policy is the reform of the 14-to-19 curriculum and the planned introduction of vocational diplomas. While some people may have preferred the Government to take on board more of the recommendations of the Tomlinson report, I welcome the fact that the first five vocational diplomas are due to be introduced in 2008. I understand that there are serious concerns about the likelihood of that time scale being achieved and that a considerable amount of work is yet to be done in terms of preparation of the curriculum and materials and of the training of teachers. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is crucial for the credibility of the qualifications system that a time scale is adhered to and that the process is managed effectively; and may we have a debate to ensure that everything is in place?
May we have a debate on the availability of Alimta for the treatment of mesothelioma? I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that a postcode lottery is operating in relation to that drug, which is the only one available for victims of mesothelioma. On
I understand the great concerns in areas where there were asbestos factories. We had a gas mask factory in Blackburn during the war, and the effects of the use of asbestos there are still continuing. It is reasonable to await the decision by NICE. I am glad that there is an increasing consensus that that process is the way forward.
Will my right hon. Friend have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State responsible for the BBC? Given that both the charter and the licence fee are under discussion, is not it fair to have a debate subsequent to the decisions, with substantive votes, so that we can evaluate the role of the BBC properly? There has been continual debate about the change in the licence fee arrangements and the way in which the fee is now collected. That point arose in the debate on Monday. Given that the BBC is a state corporation, it is right and proper for this place to have a proper say in the way that it carries out its duties.
I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend's concern to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, aka the Secretary of State responsible for dealing with the BBC. I accept the need for a debate and understand my hon. Friend's case for it to be on a substantive motion, although I cannot promise to provide that. He will acknowledge that, when possible, I have introduced greater use of substantive motions, because that is the way forward instead of basing subject debates entirely on Adjournment motions.
May we have an urgent debate on why thousands of car drivers in the borough of Telford and Wrekin have their journeys disrupted every day as a result of the decision by the council's Labour leadership to introduce new traffic signals at the Ketley Brook and Trench roundabouts? If the Leader of the House does not believe me, I invite him to come and see for himself.
Of course I believe the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think much of his powers of advocacy if he cannot get the phasing of the traffic lights turned round.
It has already been said that the tax credits system has been a huge success in alleviating poverty and helping low earners. That is certainly true in my constituency. However, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the possibility of amending the law on tax credit appeal rights so that we can consider extending the jurisdiction of the independent appeal tribunal to cover overpayments of tax credits, as happens with other welfare benefits? Tax credits are a huge success but extending the jurisdiction of the independent appeal tribunal would be a fairer system of dealing with overpayments.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall personally draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
I am sure that the Leader of the House well knows that it is a serious matter for a senior service chief to put himself publicly at variance with Government policy. I believe that most hon. Members are more concerned about the unreasonable pressures on the armed forces and the lives of our troops than the pressure of business in the House. May we have a debate on the consequences of General Sir Richard Dannatt's remarks either on a Friday or on the Monday before the state opening of Parliament? The matter is urgent and should not have to wait nearly a month for a day in what is effectively Opposition time, which would have happened anyway, and will be cluttered with many other subjects that people want to raise.
The days of debate on the Queen's Speech do not quintessentially constitute Opposition time. There is a five-day debate on the Government's proposals for legislation. However, by convention, the Opposition determine the priorities for debate, and that is entirely proper. I hope that they use one of the days to debate the important issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. I repeat that I understand the importance of the matter, but we are in difficulties with finding time at this stage of the Session.
My right hon. Friend may not know that, earlier this year, his predecessor promised a debate in the House on the forthcoming energy review. It has since been published and it raises as many questions as it has provided answers and has spawned a series of reviews. However, it is overwhelmingly important, especially in relation to our climate change policy. Will my right hon. Friend facilitate a full debate in the House on the future direction of our energy policy?
As my hon. Friend knows, a big debate on climate change took place last Thursday and was directly related to the matter that he raised. I shall bear his important request in mind and discuss it with the Chief Whip.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the treatment of members of our armed forces who are injured while on operations? Yesterday, the Prime Minister said in answer to a question from my hon. Friend Peter Viggers that the Government had received no complaint. That is not the case. I have a constituent who was discharged from the Army while waiting for an operation after being injured in Iraq. The Government should give us time for a debate and give some support to our troops, who fight on their behalf, but receive shoddy treatment when they return and leave the armed forces.
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we should do everything that we can for injured service personnel and give them every support. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence regards that as a high priority in the Ministry of Defence and throughout the world, as I know not least from a conversation that I had with him yesterday. However, it is not appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to imply that one party has a monopoly of caring about the armed forces.