Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 11:33 am on 26th April 2007.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The business for the week commencing 30 April will be:

Monday 30 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 1 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 2 May—A motion to approve a European document relating to the protection of critical infrastructure, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, followed by a debate on Sri Lanka on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 3 May—A debate on policing in London on an Adjournment of the House.

Friday 4 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 7 May will include:

Monday 7 May—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 8 MayOpposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 9 May—Remaining stages of the UK Borders Bill.

Thursday 10 May—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, followed by consideration of a resolution on rating (empty properties)

Friday 11 May—The House will not be sitting.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The website TheyWorkForYou.com has been threatened with legal action for repeating what was printed in Hansard. Will the Leader of the House make a statement about the application of parliamentary privilege to organisations with a licence to reprint Hansard?

This week, it has emerged that lives have been put at risk by leaks about anti-terrorist operations. Peter Clarke of the Metropolitan police said:

"The people who do this...are beneath contempt" and "put lives at risk." Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to guarantee that the leaks did not come from Ministers, civil servants or special advisers, yet he refused to order a full-scale inquiry. Contrary to assurances given by the Home Secretary to my hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General, it is reported today that the source of the leaks is the Home Secretary's special adviser. Why are the Government refusing an independent inquiry? On 6 February, Liberty submitted a freedom of information request in relation to media briefings on the raids. An answer has been delayed by the Home Office not once but twice, and is now due on 3 May. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Home Office will reply on 3 May, and that the Home Secretary will make a statement to the House at the first opportunity?

On Tuesday, Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, said that the split of the Home Office is

"a very big change for our constitution", but that

"There has been no debate. Parliament has not considered this".

Will the Leader of the House commit to a debate in Government time on the restructuring of the Home Office? May we also have a statement from a Minister from the Department for Constitutional Affairs on judicial independence? The changes must not go ahead without our ensuring that proper safeguards are in place.

When people vote in next week's local elections, they will do so without knowing the full extent of the Labour tax bombshell that awaits them. That is because the Chancellor's Lyons review, carried out at a cost of £2.25 million, has been buried, at least until after the local elections, but official Treasury documents show that although the 2007 council tax revaluation in England has been postponed, council tax inspectors are already maintaining and further improving the extensive electronic database of every home in England. That database will include details of home improvements and photographs, and will catalogue the bedrooms, bathrooms and attics of every home. If the Orwellian Chancellor will not make a statement to the House on the future of local government finance, will his campaign manager, the Leader of the House, make one? If voters do not know about Labour's council tax bombshell, they do know that Conservative councils have cheaper council tax, cleaner streets, less litter, less graffiti and less fly-tipping, so may we have a debate on best practice in local government?

The issues that I have mentioned are typical of the Government's attitude to scrutiny; there are sham consultations and policies that nobody wants, and there is no chance for scrutiny by Parliament. Perhaps it is little wonder that the Secretary of State for Wales has said:

"We at the top of the party and government have lost touch with...the country."

If they want to get back in touch with the country, why do they not stop lecturing and start listening?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

That is another wonderful pay-off line—absolutely terrific. [Interruption.] Oh, good; one person on the Opposition Benches says that they think that it was good, too. That is better than usual.

To deal with the serious point that the right hon. Lady made at the beginning of her remarks, I gather that there was a report that the website, TheyWorkForYou.com, is being sued for defamation for repeating what was printed in Hansard. I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of the issue. The position is made very clear and is spelled out in "Erskine May", which says that

"the publication, whether by order of the House or not, of a fair and accurate account of a debate in either House is protected by the same principle as that which protects fair reports of proceedings in courts of justice...This is a matter of common law, rather than of parliamentary privilege."

The matter is privileged, and we will obviously watch that action with great care, but our democracy could not work if fair and accurate reports of our proceedings were subject to attack from people moving defamation proceedings.

May I deal with the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised? First, she made some wholly unsubstantiated allegations about the leaks of advance counter-terrorism operations, which we all wholly deprecate and deplore. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, contrary to what she said, said that as far as he was aware, he was able to give a guarantee that the leaks did not come from any Minister, civil servant or special adviser. The Leader of the Opposition asked exactly that, and the Prime Minister said:

"The only guarantee that I can give is that as far as I am aware, they did not".—[ Hansard, 25 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 931.]

That, I should have thought, was pretty categorical. Secondly, those are very serious allegations, and I agree with those who say that if they are that serious, they should be investigated by the police, not by a conventional inquiry. The right hon. Lady's third point was about the split in the Home Office

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

It was Liberty's freedom of information request.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I shall follow up Liberty's FOI request, but I can say no more about it, as I do not have any particular knowledge of it.

The right hon. Lady asked about the division of the Home Office and the establishment from 9 May of a Ministry of justice. There was indeed a statement about the establishment by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and a parallel statement in the other place by the Lord Chancellor. I cannot give a guarantee, but I shall certainly give consideration to the question of whether a debate is possible. As for judicial independence, the right hon. Lady is tilting at windmills, because she may remember the supreme court Act—if that is not correct, it is an Act that was passed in 2003—which provided for the establishment of the Department for Constitutional Affairs and of a supreme court. The independence of the judiciary, which in practice has always been guaranteed by our constitution, is now clearly and categorically enshrined in statute. The duties of the Lord Chancellor and of the proposed Secretary of State for Justice are enhanced and set out, too.

On the right hon. Lady's final point, in seeking to curry favour with Conservative candidates, she resorted to fantasy. She said that Lyons was buried: Lyons has been published—it was published on the day of the Budget. I have a copy, and I have already read most of it, so I am sorry that she has not entertained herself as I have done. She invited me to have a debate—it is not my responsibility any more, but I am delighted to have a debate any time at all about local government finance. Many of us were Members of Parliament when the Conservatives rammed through the poll tax, first, in Scotland, before the 1987 general election, and then in England and Wales, leading to mounting panic among Conservative Members of Parliament as well as incredible opposition from Labour Members of Parliament. That brought down the then Margaret Thatcher and led to the collapse of the Conservative party.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I should have said, "Baroness Thatcher".

On value for money, the figures show year after year after year that council tax costs people less with Labour authorities. The average council tax is much lower under Labour. We provide better value for money, and if I were Leader of the House —[ Laughter. ] I am the Leader of the House, so I am going to mention it, but if I were shadow Leader of the House, I would be more concerned about the antics of the Leader of the Opposition. The Daily Mail headline on page 28 says: "Another day, another... stunt for Cameron". Mr. Cameron travelled 100 miles to paint an already white wall in a desperate effort to get some votes for the Conservatives.

Photo of Fraser Kemp Fraser Kemp Labour, Houghton and Washington East

Wearside Women in Need, an outstanding project in my constituency, has recently won a substantial grant from the Treasury Invest to Save programme to build a hostel for the perpetrators of domestic violence. I invite the Leader of the House to add his support to that of Northumbria police, the city council and other organisations for the project. It is probably the first of its kind in the world, and certainly the first in the United Kingdom, and will enable perpetrators of domestic violence to be given help so that we can try and deal with the root causes. When we can evaluate its impact, will he provide an opportunity for all Members of the House to benefit from the scheme and its objectives?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The project sounds to me like a very important one. I am happy to wish it the best. I accept that for all such projects, effective evaluation is needed, including by the House.

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

The Leader of the House said that he deprecates and deplores the leaks about anti-terrorism operations. Will the Home Secretary come to the House on Monday to confirm that a police investigation has been launched along the lines that the Leader of the House described?

Further on the Home Office, may we have a debate on printing facilities in the Home Office and whether they are fit for purpose? The Home Office is obliged by law to lay before the House at six-monthly intervals a report on the costs of ID cards. That has not been done. The deadline has been missed. In addition, a commitment was made by the Home Secretary on 10 January that 27,500 files on offences committed abroad would be added to the police national computer within three months. That is another deadline that has passed. Will the Home Secretary report on both issues on Monday?

May we have a debate on coroners? That is a subject which causes concern to many people around the country, not just in the context of the inquest into Princess Diana's death, but the deplorable backlog in military inquests, which still persists and causes enormous distress to many families. May I add to that another instance of malfunction in the coroners system—the after-effects of the awful train crash at Ufton Nervet, which the right hon. Gentleman will recall? Families in Devon who lost family members in that train crash went to the High Court to secure legal aid for representation at the inquiry, and have now been told that the Government intend, disgracefully, to appeal against that grant of legal aid. One family which lost a mother and a daughter in that crash will not be represented, if the Government have their way.

Lastly, may we have a debate on engineering and innovation, this being science and engineering week? Many right hon. and hon. Members had the opportunity last night to visit the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and saw an excellent exhibition, including my constituent, Andy Green, exhibiting a remarkable vehicle that does 5,353 miles per gallon, which ain't bad. We often fail to recognise the critical role that engineers and scientists play in our society, dealing with problems that face us in the future. May we have a debate on the way that we encourage engineering in this country and encourage people to follow that career path?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I cannot give any undertaking that the Home Secretary will be able to make a statement on Monday. He has always been assiduous in responding to requests from the House, but I can make no promise about that. On printing and the six-monthly report, I will follow that up. Either I or the Home Secretary will write to the hon. Gentleman.

On coroners, the Lord Chancellor is well aware of the backlog of inquests, particularly military inquests dealing with deaths in action. It is partly for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made arrangements to shift the site of the incoming flights carrying the coffins of those who have been killed in action from Brize Norton to Lyneham. We hope that that is working better, but all of us are extremely anxious to ensure that, first, there are prompt inquests and, secondly, that they are thorough and that, when they take place, they show proper respect to the young man or woman who was killed in action and to their families and comrades.

I am afraid that I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman about the train crash in Devon—[Hon. Members: "In Berkshire."] I am sorry; that is why I knew nothing about a train crash in Devon. The train crash in Berkshire is a different matter. I will take it up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and the Lord Chancellor.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about engineering and innovation. We will have to look to see whether there is an opportunity for a debate, but all of us need to understand and appreciate the extraordinary role that science and engineering have made in the development of our society. I recognised that last Friday when I was privileged to open the new exhibition on Blackburn's textile heritage. As everyone in the House should know—I think that most do—the industrial revolution and therefore Britain's greatness began in Blackburn.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

May I agree with Mrs. May that we should have a debate on local authority best practice so that, in particular, I can raise the issue of recycling by local authorities to bring to people's attention the fact that Ellesmere Port and Neston borough council is the most improved council in England in respect of its recycling targets? That is a good reason why people should consider voting Labour next week.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I agree with both things that my hon. Friend has said. The council has had an extraordinary improvement in its recycling rate. I also point out to him and the House that, 10 years ago, just 7 per cent. of waste was recycled; now it is more than four times that amount.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

Last year, I asked the Leader of the House if we could have a debate on leniency in sentencing guidelines. This followed a case in which a gentleman—I call him a "gentleman"—raped a 12-week-old baby and will serve less than four years in prison. On Friday in Plymouth, a mother, a grandmother and two aunts were sentenced to 100 days' community service and a one-year suspended sentence after they filmed their forcing their children to fight each other. One child was in nappies and in tears throughout the event. May we have a debate on this sort of sentencing?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

First, I said last week that I would write to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General about what had been said. I have done exactly that, and either the Attorney-General or I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Secondly, all of us understand and, to a degree, share the concern about such reports, but we must also bear it in mind that it is fundamental to our constitution that judicial decisions in trial at the point of sentence are made independently. We cannot get into a position of second-guessing those decisions simply on the basis of newspaper reports. Members are right to echo concerns and raise their own concerns about such cases, and I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman for what he has done. However, ensuring that there is a proper separation is vital for everybody. Of course, I will ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is again made aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I know that my right hon. Friend is doing everything he can to consider a debate on Darfur, so will he consider extending the remit of that debate so that we can discuss genocide education in the United Kingdom? Does he share my astonishment that a motion supported by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party on Sandwell council this week in favour a holocaust memorial day in Sandwell was not supported by the British National party? Does he think that holocaust denial in the UK is a great threat to our democracy and peace and that we should do everything that we can to educate our young people?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Yes, I do. I share my hon. Friend's concern about the issue, but I am afraid that I am not surprised by the circumstances, because the BNP is a fascist party.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The BNP is, as the hon. Gentleman said, a neo-Nazi party. When people read through its sedulous literature, they need to be very careful to appreciate and understand exactly what it is that they might be voting for and not vote for it.

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

Can we have an early statement from the Leader of the House and then a debate on the report by Sir Hayden Phillips on party funding, which was published last month? The Prime Minister has charged the Leader of the House with finding a resolution to that vexed problem and we need to know whether he will discharge that responsibility before he moves on to pastures new.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Whether I do, in fact, discharge those responsibilities remains to be seen. However, we do not need a debate, because I can give the right hon. Gentleman an answer straight away.

I am currently doing my best to discharge those responsibilities. I have already had a preliminary meeting with representatives of the other two main parties and Sir Hayden Phillips has written to the three parties proposing a series of meetings to try to seek all-party agreement. They will take place very rapidly and, I think, without question while I am in this post.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

Leaving aside a particular case on which I have written to you, Mr. Speaker, and on which you have given me advice to refer the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether we can have a debate on the new communications allowance? It appears that there is a lack of understanding by individuals and political parties about the permitted use of their logo. I have informed the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) that I am raising the matter today with you, Mr. Speaker.

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

Order. The hon. Lady should not refer to any hon. Member regarding this case. Just in case other Members think that I am giving such advice, I also say to her that I have not advised her to take the matter up with the parliamentary commissioner. I said that the matter that she brought before me was not for me, but for the parliamentary commissioner. However, it is entirely a matter for her or any other hon. Member whether they make a complaint to the commissioner. The Speaker will never invite hon. Members to do that.

I have written to the hon. Lady about this matter, and I know that she is aware of the contents of my letter. She will do best to wait until she receives the letter. I do not wish the Leader of the House to respond to her point.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Senior Parliamentary & Political Advisor To David Cameron

As the head of Scotland Yard's counter-terrorist unit has made it absolutely clear that a leak could have put lives at risk and as The Guardian this morning has alleged that the Home Secretary's special adviser could have been the person who caused the leak, is it not strange and unfortunate that the director of Liberty's request under the Freedom of Information Act dated 6 February has not been dealt with by the Home Office? Will the Leader of the House assure us that he will not only look into the matter, as he has promised he will, but make a statement very soon indeed—in the next few days—on what the outcome is? It is unacceptable that this Freedom of Information Act request is being delayed; it is harming good government.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I have already given an answer to that. However, I point out that under the Freedom of Information Act members of the public, including the director of Liberty, have clear rights to seek information, but public authorities—in this case, the Home Secretary—have rights to consider the application and, in appropriate circumstances, to resist it. I do not know anything in particular about this case, but that is the Act that this House and the other place agreed to.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Chair, Parliamentary Labour Party

The Leader of the House will no doubt have followed the story of the proposed takeover of Boots by KKR, which would be another private equity financing deal. Although he will know that KKR has made certain guarantees about job security—they are very welcome—does he recognise that there is disquiet about private equity companies because the work force, suppliers and customers have much less certainty about the future strategy of such companies? Is it not time that we had a debate in this place to discuss the impact of these companies on the British economy?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Of course I recognise the anxiety that a work force always feel when there is a change in ownership. However, private equity companies say that their record in terms of job creation is better than that in the economy as a whole, and that needs to be weighed in the balance. I cannot promise a specific debate on the issue, but with ingenuity and the agreement of the Chairman of Ways and Means, my hon. Friend might be able to find an opportunity to raise these concerns during the consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill at the beginning of next week.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Conservative, Hertsmere

May I support the request for a debate on the splitting up of the Home Office? No doubt the Leader of the House will loyally defend that, but is he aware that he is alone among former occupants of the post of Home Secretary in advocating it? The unlikely alliance of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard and the right hon. Members for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is far from alone in questioning the wisdom of changes that will lead to one Department, the Home Office, being in charge of reducing offending, and another Department, a Ministry of justice, being in charge of reducing reoffending.

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Surely for this goverment to allow debate would mean that this country was democratic.more and more we see that not to be so.. More and more the erosion of that said democracy is obvious, highlighted by the fact that the English have no say in their own fate. Parliament has become a machine where members vote for the party line, as opposed to the wishes of the people that give them the job and pay them to serve, Proof being the 67% who ask for self governence and are...

Submitted by sheila white Continue reading

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I saw that comment too. I do not feel lonely, but I am always grateful for the consideration that the hon. Gentleman shows for my welfare. If we examine experience elsewhere in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, we see that the exact dividing line between interior and justice Ministries varies. In some countries, the prison and probation services and the lead on criminal justice are with the Ministry of the Interior; in most countries, however, it is with the Ministry of Justice. That is what is to happen here. I do not believe that it is an earth-shattering change. Of course, there were bound to be some transitional issues, which are being worked through carefully. This has happened with considerable notice—unlike, if I may say so, many changes to the machinery of Government that happened under the Conservative Administration whom he will recall, which happened just like that.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Labour, Leicester East

Although I completely support the creation of a Ministry of justice, I also support the call by the shadow Leader of the House and Mr. Clappison for a debate on the matter, bearing it in mind that this week Lord Woolf said that in his view Britain's unwritten constitution was being changed without consultation. Clearly, we need to modernise the system and to have a separate ministry of justice, but it is important that the House debates these issues before, in the words of the Home Secretary, they are fully embedded by the end of June and beginning of July—although the change will take place on 9 May. Please may we have that debate as soon as possible?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

As my right hon. Friend will understand, I cannot promise a debate, but I certainly take note of the view expressed on both sides of the House about the need for one.

Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon Conservative, Newbury

On a point of clarification, the point that Mr. Heath made about the Upton Nervet rail crash concerned my constituent, David Main, who received an assurance from the Legal Services Commission that he should receive public funds to cover his time at the inquest. That was opposed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. We need a debate into the increasingly bizarre decisions being taken by that cash-strapped Department. It has taken the matter to judicial review and lost, and is now appealing, which is costing it much more than it would cost to give Mr. Main the money. Meanwhile, the inquest is being held up for all the victims of the rail crash. Will the Leader of the House make that point in his communication to the Lord Chancellor?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I understand, of course, the concerns that the hon. Gentleman raises and the distress to his constituents. I promise to raise the matter with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. Before doing so, it would be convenient for me to have a word with the hon. Gentleman at the end of this session.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Secretary of State), Department of Trade and Industry

Next Thursday, I will visit Larkhill primary school in my constituency, where the children are having a mock election, to talk to them about their manifestos. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an excellent example of the practical application of the citizenship agenda in schools, which encourages children to be engaged in the democratic process at an early age; and will he make time for a debate on citizenship in the House?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Yes, I do agree. The earlier that we are able to provide children with good teaching stimulation about being good citizens, the better it is for this country. I am of a generation—my hon. Friend is not quite of that generation, but approaching it— [ Interruption . ] I was trying to be helpful, but I withdraw that outrageous slur. I put my foot in it, and then did so again. I shall just speak for myself. My hon. Friend will not remember this, but in the 1950s, following the terrible divisions of the war, there was a very intense view about the importance of citizenship. I remember that it was a subject that was given the highest priority at the primary and secondary schools that I attended. We want to get back to that.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Can we have a debate on open government? Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust has set up two working parties, one to look at the future of maternity services and the other to look at the future of children's services at Horton general hospital in my constituency. It refuses to publish the names or professional qualifications of the members of those working parties, or even to acknowledge a request for that information under the Freedom of Information Act. Can the Leader of the House think of any conceivable justification for my constituents not knowing the names and qualifications of the members of those working parties, who are going to determine the future configuration of health and hospital services in the general hospital in my constituency?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

No, I cannot. It may well be that the health trust or the health authority has a good explanation, in which case it is up it to give it. The Act is there to ensure that such information is made available; it certainly has been in my area.

Photo of Anne Moffat Anne Moffat Labour, East Lothian

May we have a debate on the potential break-up of the United Kingdom? Does my right hon. Friend share the concerns of 150 Scottish business people, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and serious commentators such as the Financial Times that those promoting the break-up of the UK are embarking on a dangerous journey that would be disastrous for the people of Scotland?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

Yes, I hope that we can in time have a debate on exactly that. There is no doubt at all that a break-up of the United Kingdom, the separation of Scotland, or even an Administration in Scotland dominated by a party that is seeking separation would be bad news for Scotland. I note that Mr. Jim Mather, the Scottish National party's enterprise spokesman, as quoted yesterday in the Financial Times, says that he would use "fiscal fairy dust" to help the economy of an independent Scotland. He says:

"There is no orthodoxy we will not challenge" and then raises the possibility of increasing indirect taxes to try to fill the black hole in Scotland's public finances that would occur were there to be an SNP-dominated Administration.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

May I press the Leader of the House again on whether the Home Secretary should make a statement next week about an inquiry into the leak at the Home Office? Yesterday, the Prime Minister pressed Conservative Members for evidence on this matter, but surely we have plenty. We know that a leak to the media took place even before the arrests were undertaken. We know that that leak was not authorised by the police. We know that very few people were in a position to know that sensitive information. We know from other areas of Downing street and Whitehall that it is easy to track communications between individuals using electronic devices. Given the importance of this matter and that lives could have been put at stake, as the police said yesterday, will the Leader of the House press his colleagues to come forward with a leak inquiry?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I do not diminish for a second the seriousness of what took place. It is precisely because I regard it as very serious that I think that the appropriate avenue, if there is any prima facie evidence, is a police inquiry rather than a leak inquiry.

Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

May we have a debate on the exploitation of migrant workers in this country? My right hon. Friend may have seen the recent investigative report by the BBC. Although the Gangmasters Licensing Authority is working hard to eradicate the problems of the exploitation of migrant workers, he will be aware that its remit covers only the agricultural industry. There is now clear evidence that gangmasters are moving into the construction industry, endangering the lives of not only migrant workers but indigenous workers, and are using migrant workers to undermine and undercut the wages and conditions of indigenous workers. It is time that we extended the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to cover those working in the construction industry.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

First, I think that the House will commend my hon. Friend for promoting the Bill that set up the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and for his concern about the issue. Secondly, I have seen the reports and I believe that the House would wish the matter to be debated, albeit perhaps in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment, not necessarily in a full debate here. The issue is important and I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are also concerned about it.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Leader of the House knows that in December last year the Government began a consultation about giving votes in local and general elections to convicted prisoners. That followed an extraordinary judgment by the European Court of Human Rights that we should overturn the Forfeiture Act 1870, which forbids prisoners the vote. Given that the Liberal Democrats are going around the country campaigning for that—they want murderers, paedophiles and rapists to be able to vote—it is a matter of concern.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I hope that we will be told in a statement how long the consultation will last and given a guarantee that the House will have a chance to debate the matter. I also hope that the Leader of the House will give a personal assurance that he opposes the proposal as fiercely as I am sure most hon. Members do. I certainly do, as do my constituents.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I heard from a sedentary position a denial of the Liberal Democrat policy, but it is clear. Kirsty Young asked:

"Lib Dems' policy as I understand it is that criminals should be allowed a vote. Is that right?"

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats replied: "Yes, that's correct." More recently, we heard some wonderful Lib-Demory from the home affairs spokesman:

"Accepting that the bulk of prisoners should retain the right to vote, whilst a minority of serious offenders should not, is a nuanced response to a difficult issue."

It is the usual story from the Lib Dems. They say one thing and want another when it becomes uncomfortable.

Mr. Hayes is right: Liberal Democrat policy is to allow not only those who have been convicted but those who are serving a sentence for paedophilia, robbery, burglary and so on to have a vote while they are in prison. It is not a policy that I support.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

May we please have a debate on sex education in schools? Given that a recent online survey of no fewer than 2,200 university students undertaken by the Terrence Higgins Trust in conjunction with the National Union of Students found that 10 per cent. of those students did not know how to put on a condom correctly, 16 per cent. mistakenly thought that wearing two condoms at once was safer than merely wearing one, and almost 25 per cent. wrongly supposed that other forms of contraception would effectively protect them from sexually transmitted diseases, is not it imperative that the House debate the issues and consider the priority given to the subject, the funding provided for it, and whether such education should be made compulsory in all schools?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. We are all concerned about the transmission of such diseases. We have done a lot, as did the previous Government, on education about sexual health. I will consider a debate but I cannot promise one.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

May we have a debate on young people and social mobility? I am sure that the Leader of the House knows about the research that the Centre for Economic Performance, which is part of the London School of Economics, conducted last year, which showed that social mobility in Britain is declining. Clearly, the issue is complex and requires a cross-departmental response, but may we have a debate to flush out the issues and find some consensus on the action that needs to be taken?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I am willing to consider whether we could hold a debate on it, perhaps in Westminster Hall.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Will the Leader of the House be kind enough to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport the chaos surrounding the hastily announced closure of the driving test centre in Kettering on 15 June? Anyone who wants to take a driving test will have to go to the Wellingborough test centre, which clearly does not have the capacity to deal with the thousands of my constituents who want to take their test in the near future. The situation is serious and I would be most grateful for appropriate Government action to tackle it.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am unsighted about the specific issue that he raises, but I am happy to pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

May we have a debate on Government policy on leak inquiries? In recent years, the Government have undertaken leak inquiries into relatively minor matters such as details of the refurbishment of 10 Downing street, but they will not undertake an inquiry to find out, on the balance of probabilities, what happened in the case of the leaks to which Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke referred. Those leaks have put people's lives at risk. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that Government policy on leak inquiries is to hold one if the leak embarrasses the Government but not to hold one if the identity of the leaker would embarrass them?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I do not accept that. I know that it is the standard Tory line because the Conservative brief on the issue came my way, as they often do.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

No, I own up—there is no need for a leak inquiry.

My point is not that the allegations are trivial—they are not—but that it is precisely because they are serious and potentially involve interference with a criminal investigation that, if anyone has prima facie evidence, not simply newspaper reports, it is a matter for a police inquiry.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

May we have a debate on midwifery? Not enough student midwives are being trained and a significant number who are trained have no jobs at the end of their training due to a freeze on midwifery jobs. Given that the Secretary of State for Health made another eye-catching headline a priority over Easter, may we have a debate to find how she will fulfil her promises without tackling the shortfall in midwives?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I accept that there is a problem in some parts of the country. Last time I examined the figures, I noted an increase in the number of midwives in training. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is genuinely concerned to ensure continuing improvement in midwifery services. If the hon. Gentleman has specific problems and lets me have details, I will follow them up.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Co-Chair, Conservative Party

New data out today from all the police forces in the country show that a policeman is being assaulted on Britain's streets every 20 minutes. Given that the Home Office has introduced 50 Acts of Parliament, many of which were designed to help protect our police, perhaps we can have a debate on the extent to which legislation—as opposed to encouraging social responsibility—can be used as a means of preventing the attacks rather than simply a means of protecting the police when they happen.

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Dear Grant I agree strongly with your underlying idea that legislation is a very blunt and ineffective instrument for changing behaviour. It would be much more useful to discover, for instance, places or situaions where police were treated with respect and find out how to have more of them. Much more...

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal

I would be delighted to have a debate comparing our record on reducing crime with that of the previous Administration, under whom crime doubled in 18 years. Any attack on a police officer is deplorable, but the last time I examined the figures, I was struck by the fact that improvements in safety, equipment and training for the police and the much tougher sentences included in the 50 or so criminal justice measures, meant that attacks and assaults on police officers had decreased, as had injuries and days off work.