May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?
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The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the following week will include:
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the Government's plan to whip parts of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill through The Leader of the House said on
"to be fully debated in the House."—[ Hansard, 6 March 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1929.]
Given the interest in the measure, when will she make a statement on how it will be handled?
Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered the Budget. Yet with accident and emergency departments and maternity services under threat and waiting times increasing, there was not a single reference to the national health service. Will the Leader of the House make a statement explaining why no Health Minister is leading any of the debates on the Budget, and why the Chancellor forgot to mention the NHS?
On Tuesday, it was announced that officials of the Crown Prosecution Service in Leeds had made up the results of court cases involving 12 defendants and 27 offences. They did not know the real sentences but they had to have something to put into their computer system, so they made it up. We are used to the Government losing data, but manipulating data and making them up has dangerous implications for individual citizens. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was supposed to be a warning, not a model to be followed. The Justice Secretary has made a written statement, but may we have a debate on the issue?
This week, we found out that nine illegal immigrants were given free train tickets by the police and told to make their own way to a detention centre more than 60 miles away. Amazingly, none turned up. The Government go from the incompetent to the absurd. May we have a debate on their failure to manage deportation?
On Tuesday, the independent Anderson review of last year's foot and mouth crisis, which was mentioned in Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, concluded that the Government's Pirbright laboratory responsible for the leak was "shabby", "dilapidated" and "badly regulated". Last year's outbreak resulted in the loss of thousands of animals and financial loss to farmers. Now we know that Government incompetence was the cause. May we have a debate on the Anderson review?
Yesterday's Budget was supposed to be a green Budget, but perhaps the Chancellor should have told his Cabinet before telling the public what to do. We found out this week that the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families used a Government car to chauffeur him 450 yd down the road to a Labour party function. We found out yesterday that he does not seem to care that the public are suffering from the highest tax burden in our history—a case of "Do as I say, not as I do". Will the Secretary of State come to the House to make a statement on the example that he is setting the nation's children?
Not only is Tony Blair running for EU president, but Peter Mandelson could stay on as EU Commissioner, so the old team of Blair and Mandelson are back in the saddle, this time running Europe. Tony Blair once said that the Labour party will have truly reformed only when it learns to love Peter Mandelson. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that the British Government support that partnership?
The Government have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous: making up court sentences, telling migrants to deport themselves, and showing disdain for the tax burden that they have inflicted on the public. It is little wonder that people now say that it is time for a change.
The right hon. Lady raised the important matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. As she reminded hon. Members, the Leader of the Opposition raised it yesterday with the Prime Minister, who reaffirmed that the Bill is an important Government measure. It offers the prospect of progress in combating devastating diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's, and of improving the treatment for people with life-devastating conditions resulting from spinal injury. As the Prime Minister told the House, the Bill was whipped as Government business in the House of Lords with, of course, free votes on amendments on abortion. The measure arouses strong views among those who are for it as well as those who are against it. We have to respect all those deeply held views and consider how best to ensure that we allow full time for debate in the House. The Bill is a Government Bill, but there are strong feelings in all parts of the House. I will be making announcements on how we will debate the issue in the House, and there will be discussions with all parties.
Shortly. We will ensure that those discussions take place in plenty of time, before the Bill comes to the House, and I can assure the House that there will be plenty of time to discuss it.
"In 10 years, spending on health has almost doubled".—[ Hansard, 12 March 2008; Vol. 473, c. 289.]
That is certainly the case. Far from the NHS being forgotten, spending has doubled. Indeed, this was announced— [ Interruption. ]
So for the future, with a strong economy, a continued ability to invest in public services and a continued priority for public services, which was never shown under the previous Government, we will continue to ensure that our health services improve and that waiting times come down.
I can remember when people had to wait up to 24 hours in A and E at my local hospital, King's College hospital. I can remember when people on waiting lists for cardiac surgery at Guy's hospital died. I can remember a consultant surgeon showing me a waiting list for cardiac surgery on his wall, with names and addresses of my constituents, and saying, "One third of them will die before they get to the operating theatre." That does not happen now, because of our investment, so I will take no lectures from the right hon. Lady about our commitment to the NHS.
The right hon. Lady also mentioned the failures in respect of the outcomes of cases in Leeds magistrates court being notified to the police. This is a very serious matter indeed. The Secretary of State for Justice has made a written ministerial statement and disciplinary action is being considered against those involved. Where there is a case, we must ensure not only that the police investigate it, that the prosecutors bring it to court and that the court secures a conviction against an offender, but that those data are entered into the system so that if the person reoffends, it can be known what they did previously and they can be dealt with and sentenced accordingly. We regard what has happened as a serious matter. It has been a failure and the Secretary of State will bring forward further information after the investigation concludes.
The right hon. Lady mentioned deportation and the Border and Immigration Agency. It is not true that the BIA advised the police to tell illegal immigrants in Cambridgeshire to make their own way to Croydon. With new biometric ID for foreign nationals in this country, which the Conservatives are not in favour of, we will be much more able to keep track of people who are in this country and be sure whether they are legally entitled to be here.
The right hon. Lady talked about foot and mouth, and gave a wrong characterisation of what the report on Pirbright said. Action is under way on that matter and has been taken forward by Ministers.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the British Commissioner to the European Commission. I understand that no decision has been made as yet. When a decision is made, no doubt the House will be notified, but there is no further information that I can give her on that.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time to debate early-day motion 1172, which is in my name?
[ That this House deplores the incompetence and lack of concern of Manchester-based Adactus Housing Association which, informed on 15th January by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton of a life-threatening situation affecting a constituent of the right hon. Member, due to the negligence and lassitude of Adactus, and which led to that constituent having to leave his home for his safety, after two months and nine letters from the right hon. Member has still failed to solve the problem and at one time even offered that constituent £25-worth of B&Q vouchers as full compensation for his intolerable predicament; and calls on the Housing Corporation not only to intervene urgently to bring an immediate end to this totally unacceptable situation but to conduct an inquiry into publicly-funded Adactus and its publicly-funded staff. ]
It draws attention to the failure of Adactus housing association in Manchester, for two months, to solve a life-threatening situation affecting constituents of mine, for which it is entirely responsible and for which the only solution it has so far offered is £25 of B&Q vouchers. Will my right hon. Friend not only provide time for debate but ask the Minister for Housing to investigate the matter urgently?
I shall do exactly what my right hon. Friend asks. I shall refer the matter to the Minister for Housing and ask her to look into it urgently. Adactus is a registered social landlord in receipt of public money, and its obligations are not only to its own tenants but to those in private housing nearby. If such people are affected badly by what has happened, Adactus should take responsibility.
I thank the Leader of the House for the announcement that there will be a debate next week on the UK and the Commonwealth. I hope that it will become an annual event. I am still waiting, however, for her to tell us when the debate that we have asked for on the new immigration rules will take place. May we debate the nonsensical procedure whereby the Government lay new rules as secondary legislation, with a start date only weeks away, which means that there is no opportunity to debate them before they come into operation? The pretence of parliamentary scrutiny is maintained, but in reality we have absolutely zero chance of influencing the Executive. Even if we vote against the secondary legislation, we do so retrospectively. That would clearly be nonsense even in "Alice in Wonderland", let alone in the British House of Commons.
May we have a debate on the code of admissions for secondary schools in England? The Leader of the House will know that just over 50 per cent. of people in London are getting the school of their first preference. That is the case in her borough and mine. One in 10 families do not get any of the schools that they list as preferences. Is it not about time to review the old Greenwich formula and the rules in London, and to examine the problem that has now arisen of people buying their way into secondary schools? That is clearly unacceptable, and I hope that the Government will want to close that loophole as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on Lord Goldsmith's citizenship review, which was published the other day? It refers to changing the law on treason, and from the general response it sounded as though Lord Goldsmith was likely to be the last candidate for hanging, drawing and quartering. However, there are serious proposals in the review, as there are in the Government's Home Office paper on citizenship. There are also serious concerns. For example, Commonwealth and Irish citizens who have been here for decades could lose rights, such as the right to vote, in the country that has become their home. May we have a full debate in Government time on that important matter? We have not had a proper debate on it for a long time.
Finally, later this year there will be the usual G8 meeting, which this time will be in Japan. I gather that Development Ministers will soon have a pre-meeting about how we are doing in meeting our millennium development goals, not least on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, for which the figures are getting dramatically worse, not dramatically better. May we have an early debate on that matter, so that the Government can be clear about Parliament's opinion before Ministers go off and negotiate with their G8 colleagues?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the long-standing process by which the House deals with orders that are subject to a negative resolution. He said that the debate, and any action, comes retrospectively. That has always been the case, but I will look at him—no, not at him, but at it. I see quite a lot of him already, as he is my constituency neighbour. I shall examine the matter, consider whether a change is needed and consult hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the citizenship review, and I would like to thank Lord Goldsmith for his comprehensive and thought-provoking report. I especially welcome his focus on volunteering as part of people's common bond and commitment to society. There are many sensible proposals there, which we will need to consider, discuss and take forward.
As I understand it, there is no suggestion that those who currently have the right to vote should lose that right. Indeed, our preoccupation is to ensure that all who are entitled to vote should be registered to vote, which many are not, and that those who are registered but do not vote should be encouraged to do so. It is the other way round from what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the G8 meeting in Japan and the millennium development goals. I would ask him and the House to accept that, under this Government, our Ministers have led the way in making international development and tackling poverty in Africa an issue for all the wealthier countries of the world and have really put it at the centre of the international agenda. The prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria are other issues that they have highlighted. We not only set up the Department for International Development, which did not exist before we came into government, but we doubled the aid budget and put the issue on the international agenda, as I said. We had International Development questions and related topical questions yesterday, and there are Westminster Hall debates next week in which the hon. Gentleman may wish to discuss these issues further.
On school choice, it is important that all schools are good schools and that if preferences are being expressed, they should be expressed against that background. We have cut by half the number of failing schools, and an additional £200 million was announced yesterday to improve schools that should be doing better. We need a fair system of admissions. The current code recently put into effect must be complied with and the Secretary of State is on to it.
Recognising the need to ensure public confidence in the way in which MPs can claim expenses, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the first report, which recommended reducing from £250 to £25 the sum for which receipts are necessary, is a welcome step in the right direction? Hopefully, further recommendations will restore public trust in the manner in which we carry out our work and claim public money.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I think we all recognise that the announcements from Mr. Speaker are necessary to maintain public confidence, but that it is also important for MPs to be able to manage their offices in a sensible and proper way. As my hon. Friend said, further announcements will be made after the root and branch review, which is being led by Mr. Speaker and will be brought back before the House for discussion and decision in July.
Last week, the Leader of the House dismissed calls from many right hon. and hon. Members for a debate on the cuts in maternity services. May I reiterate that call, and at the same time ask for a debate on the cuts to acute general hospitals, such as the excellent Hemel Hempstead hospital, which is a modern acute general hospital where all acute services will close in October this year?
I think the hon. Gentleman is painting a completely misleading picture. I think we recognise that the way we provide services for—
I think that Mike Penning has given the House a completely wrong impression about health spending, including in his own constituency. Since 1997, the number of people waiting more than 26 weeks for in-patient treatment in NHS East of England has fallen from 31,000 down to 394. The hon. Gentleman may not be able to remember, because he was not a Member then, but there were real problems in the health service when his party was in government. Of course there has to be discussion at local level about the configuration of services, but we need to take into account the fact that a reconfiguration of services is taking place against a background of increasing investment and improving outcomes. It is fair enough for the hon. Gentleman to champion the views of his constituents, but let us not misrepresent the situation, as he has done. [ Interruption.] Oh, sorry, that might have been unparliamentary. I should say, "Let him not give the wrong impression."
I think we are all probably heartily sick of the press attention being given to our expenses, and particularly of the impression given in much of the media that all this money is for our own personal benefit. We all know it is not, and our staff allowances in particular are absolutely essential if we are to provide the proper service that our constituents look to us to provide. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please give me an update on exactly what is going to happen to our staffing allowances?
Following a decision in the House on
I very much welcome the statement that the Leader of the House has just made. Last Thursday in her business statement, the right hon. and learned Lady announced that there would be a topical debate next Thursday. In her statement today, that topical debate has mysteriously disappeared. There is no topical debate today and there was no topical debate last week. When they started, we had one topical debate a week, but we are now down to one a month. Has March really been so uneventful that the Leader of the House cannot think of one single subject to bring to the House for a topical debate?
We wanted to have an extensive debate on international women's day. We thought that the subject of women was topical on international women's day, so we rolled up the topical debate with the international women's day debate. Crowds of Members wanted to contribute to that debate, which was a very good one. That explains last week.
This week, we have had the Budget, and many hon. Members thought that it was topical and did not want to cut into that debate by having another topical debate. We have deemed the Budget to be topical this week, which is why there is no topical debate today. As for next week, we have had a number of representations—not least from Simon Hughes, among others—to have a debate on the Commonwealth. Next Thursday provides an opportunity for a debate on the UK and the Commonwealth, so we have deemed that to be the topical subject for next week.
We are going to review the matter of topical debates. We have no axe to grind; this is Government time, and we want to allot Government time to enable the House to debate what is topical. As I say, we are reviewing the matter, and if anyone wants to make representations, will they please do so?
In response to my hon. Friend Dr. Turner, I should add that a letter is being sent by the finance and administration department, reminding Members that the resolution passed on
My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that we used to have an annual debate on the Floor of the House about the budget for the Metropolitan police. Given the national importance of the Metropolitan police, will she consider arranging an urgent debate on the Floor of the House, particularly in the light of the threats made to its budget by Mr. Johnson in the mayoral election campaign? Perhaps he will actually turn up for that debate in relation to London.
I accept my hon. Friend's suggestion that we should have a topical debate on policing in London. Those of us who are London Members have campaigned long and hard to improve policing in London and the provision of police community support officers. Does he remember Mr. Johnson, who represents a constituency in Oxfordshire, joining the campaigns for more police and police community support officers in London? He was nowhere to be seen. Lately, he has joined in—and his contribution to the debate is to say that there is "too much spending". My hon. Friend's suggestion may well be topical, and I will add it to the list.
May we have a debate, finally, on Heathrow expansion? According to reports in the Sunday newspapers, the Environment Agency says that the expansion could lead to increased morbidity and mortality rates around the airport. Papers that I have obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show possible collusion between BAA and the Department for Transport. Is it not time that the Secretary of State for Transport had the guts to come to the Chamber and debate the matter with Members of the House?
The accusations of collusion are utter nonsense. The Government's position is to support a third runway at Heathrow in principle, provided that strict local environmental and noise conditions are met. If the hon. Lady was at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions half an hour or so ago, she will have heard the issue being raised and the House being reminded that all decisions on adding capacity at Heathrow will be taken independently by BAA.
May we have a debate on transport in London, to allow us to consider the improvements in buses, the modernisation of the tube, the threat to the freedom pass that still comes from some London boroughs, and the threat from the buffoon from Oxfordshire to the improvements made in London's transport over the past eight years.
I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the reasons why London has taken such strides forward is the improved transport infrastructure—not just buses, but the tube. The hon. Member for Henley, who represents a seat in Oxfordshire, did not turn up to vote on Crossrail, so it is no wonder that he does not understand the figures, and that his proposals for London transport are short of the required funding by £100 million.
Will the Leader of the House tell us how likely it is that we will have a statement next week on the future role of the Attorney-General? That would allow us not only to clear up the general issue, with stories circulating about the Government offering extra powers to direct prosecutions to the Law Officers, as well as specific cases such as the Serbian utilities fraud case, in which it appears that the Law Officers are yet again sitting on a foreign corruption investigation.
In "The Governance of Britain", the Prime Minister said that the role of the Law Officers is one of the constitutional issues on which he wants us to consider proposals for change. Discussion is under way, and a constitutional reform Bill will come out in draft. If legislative proposals arise out of the discussions on the Law Officers, those can be contained in that Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and other Members want to make proposals about how the Law Officers should operate, they should direct their suggestions to the Secretary of State for Justice— [Interruption.] I am glad that he has already done so.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate in Government time on the ring-fencing of moneys sent to devolved areas? It has been brought to my attention by many groups that money, such as that for disabled children, is not getting to those for whom it is intended, and is falling into the current Administration's black holes. Such minority groups cannot speak up for themselves in numbers in the way in which the devolved Governments do.
I will consider my hon. Friend's proposal. As a Government, we regarded it as important to get to all parts of the United Kingdom sufficient public investment, so that all those with particular needs had those needs met by the public authorities. Obviously, it is of great concern indeed if those for whom resources are supposed to be made available do not get them, perhaps because the matter is not being handled properly. We must make sure that the money actually gets to the most vulnerable, as everyone in the country agrees that it should.
The 57th seminar on parliamentary practice and procedures at Westminster, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch, ends tomorrow. It has been an outstanding success and the Speaker himself has contributed to that success. I fully support the announcement by the Leader of the House of a debate on the UK and the Commonwealth, but why, after all this time and many requests from both sides of the House, has she not found time for a debate on Zimbabwe, where elections will occur in the near future? The future of that country, and its prosperity and peace, depends on the outcome of those elections.
It is not for me—it is for the Speaker—to decide what will be in order within that debate, but it may be possible to raise those points in the debate on the Commonwealth on Thursday. I pay tribute to the CPA UK branch and to all hon. Members who participate in that important work. We will keep the matters raised at the forefront of our minds.
May we have a debate on the future economy of the highlands and islands? My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Convention of the Highlands and Islands met for years even before devolution, but I have been informed by the local MSP, David Stewart, that UK Ministers will no longer be welcome at that convention. That decision was taken by the minority-led Scottish National party Administration. Will she therefore raise the matter with the appropriate UK Minister, to make sure that the highlands and islands do not become a plaything of the SNP?
I will certainly raise the matter, as will people in the communities of the highlands and islands, who know that questions of tax policy, benefits policy and energy policy are all crucial. Highlands and islands people want to have a say, so UK Ministers need to be involved. It is disappointing and disreputable if politics is played with devolution, instead of local people in the highlands and islands being allowed to have a proper say in decisions that will affect them.
May I press the Leader of the House on when we can expect a Second Reading debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill? Will she bear in mind that the Joint Committee report on which the Prime Minister relied so heavily yesterday recommends free votes on both the use of hybrid embryos and the so-called "need for a father" provision?
I recognise that there has been a great deal of debate and discussion within the Select Committee system, as has been acknowledged in the House of Lords. The points raised by the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be raised when the Bill comes to this House for scrutiny.
Am I the only person to be concerned about the fact that the royal courts of justice are being hired out to commercial organisations for after-hours parties and other corporate functions? I wonder what the judges, who may be burning the midnight oil working on judgments, think about that. May I invite the Leader of the House to bring the Secretary of State for Justice to the House to explain the policy on hiring our courts to commercial organisations?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to write to my hon. Friend informing him of the position, but I am sure that, whatever is happening, parties are not being held in the judges' corridor.
On far too many occasions when the Prime Minister is at the Dispatch Box, he finds it necessary to express condolences on the death of another British man or woman serving overseas. He says that a debt of gratitude is owed to those people and their families, but unfortunately that debt does not yet translate itself into funding for families' legal representation at inquests.
The Ministry of Justice continues to say that inquests are not trials and that therefore no legal representation is necessary, but this week the Department told me in a written answer that so far it had spent more than £1.5 million of taxpayers' money defending its own backside at inquests, while the families must grovel for legal aid which very few of them receive. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House—not in Westminster Hall—so that we can discuss the Government's failure to implement the spirit of the undertaking given by Prime Minister Blair in December 2006?
I sympathise with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are all aware that if someone appears before a criminal court, not only the prosecution but the defence is legally represented, and if someone is brought before a civil court, not only is the claimant represented but the defendant can access legal aid. However, owing to the unique and ancient structure of the coroners' courts and their inquisitorial basis, they have been within the purview of legal aid only on exceptional occasions.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if bereaved relatives with no legal representation turn up on the steps of a coroner's court and find that the Ministry of Defence and the Army have a great battery of solicitors and QCs, they cannot help but feel that the position is unfair. The MOD is very concerned about the issue, which will be considered during debate on the Coroners Bill. We need to give bereaved relatives at inquests a real sense of fairness and support.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of an excellent report produced by the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the use of restraint on children, and of a campaign launched by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, INQUEST and others on the same subject? May we have a debate on the terrible use of techniques that deliberately inflict pain on children in secure accommodation throughout the country?
Ministers in the Ministry of Justice are considering the law and practice relating to restraint, particularly as it applies to children. A case in my hon. Friend's constituency and the findings reported by the coroner have highlighted the issue, and the Ministers will doubtless report to the House when their consideration is completed.
What is it going to take to get the Secretary of State for Transport to come to the House and make a statement about the situation in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? Last week the coastguards, who constitute an emergency service, went on strike. There was no statement in the House, and the Secretary of State did not even issue a press release. Would the Leader of the House tolerate such ministerial indifference if this were one of the emergency services—the fire brigades, the police or the ambulance service—that serve her constituents?
I know that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue yesterday during Prime Minister's questions. We all agree that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency provides very important services, not only in saving lives but in protecting the environment. This is a matter of concern, which is why the agency has implemented contingency plans to prevent any threat to shipping or life during the strike.
We hope that this dispute will be settled, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to consider whether she needs to give the House further information, and how such information should be provided.
May we have a debate or a statement on the Government's policy on removal of individuals to Iran, following the case of Mehdi Kazemi? He was refused asylum in this country; his application for asylum has now been refused in Holland, and he says that he will go to his death because of his sexual orientation. Surely discretion should be exercised in such cases. May we have a debate on such issues, which directly affect the lives of individuals?
My right hon. Friend is, of course, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. It is possible for him and other hon. Members to make representations on that or any other individual case, but meanwhile he should be assured of our total opposition to the death penalty in any country in the world. We are in favour of the full human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. No doubt the case that he has raised will be examined carefully in the light of representations and evidence.
May I echo the call from my hon. Friend Justine Greening for a debate on Heathrow in Government time? Serious allegations were made in The Sunday Times about collusion with Department for Transport officials and, possibly, Ministers. If the Leader of the House is so confident that they are rubbish, is it not about time that the Secretary of State for Transport came to the House and we were allowed a proper debate, or even an oral statement? So far we have had nothing.
Will the Leader of the House also confirm what I think she said a few moments ago—that the responses will be examined independently by BAA?
I can save my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the necessity of coming to the House by reaffirming to the hon. Gentleman that the accusations of collusion are utter nonsense, and that that is the Government's position.
It is estimated that musculoskeletal problems cost the economy some £12 billion a year in lost working days, national health service treatment and benefit payments. GPs typically prescribe bed rest and painkillers when osteopathic treatment and diagnosis might be more helpful, and, indeed, could make a great contribution to solving the problems. Sadly, however, osteopathy is generally available only to those who can pay. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider allowing a debate on what osteopathy can do for patients, and how it can be provided more generally in the NHS?
Last week the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Margaret Hodge, attacked that wonderful British institution, the last night of the proms, on the grounds that it did not make everyone feel at ease. I have received many letters from constituents who enjoyed the BBC's presentation of the event last year in Carrickfergus in my constituency, when people from all walks of life and of all ages experienced a magnificent night against the background of Carrickfergus castle. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that the Minister can explain her remarks, which seem to be at variance with the views of the Prime Minister, the House and millions of people?
Order. Before the Leader of the House responds, I should point out that a number of Members wish to ask questions, and I can only allow them to do so if they ask brief questions rather than making speeches.
I shall try to make my answer very brief, Mr. Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State answered questions on this issue in the House on Monday. On the previous Thursday, I paid tribute to the last night of the proms in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in Hyde park. We all agree that all our great cultural institutions are important, but that they should work together to ensure that they become more inclusive.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, may I ask the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the sale of tobacco products to under-age children, and on licensing measures to protect them? My noble Friend Lord Faulkner has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill requiring the Secretary of State for Justice to report to Parliament on the effectiveness of the existing measures to prevent under-age sales. A debate on a positive licensing system for tobacco retailers would be a step towards tackling our present difficulties.
Important light has been shed on that matter, because national no smoking day has fallen during this week. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has led, which has fed into Government policy and is saving lives. I will bring his further points to the attention of Ministers.
[That this House is concerned by the case of Iranian teenager Mehdi Kazemi who is currently living in Holland; notes reports that Mr Kazemi's boyfriend was forced by Iranian authorities to denounce other gay men, including Mr Kazemi himself; is appalled at reports that Mr Kazemi's boyfriend was then hanged for the offence of homosexuality; believes that Mr Kazemi's life is in serious danger if he were returned to Iran; further notes that the Dutch authorities have rejected Mr Kazemi's appeal for asylum in Holland and are likely to deport him to the UK; believes that the Home Office view that Iran is safe for homosexuals as long as they hide their sexuality is contrary to human rights standards on sexual freedom; and calls on the Government to uphold its asserted position as a supporter of human rights by refraining from sending Mr Kazemi back to Iran and near-certain human rights abuses.]
Last year, an Iranian MP told me that if gays practise in private, nobody knows, but that if they do not, they face torture. I reminded him that they face not torture but execution—perhaps with torture prior to that. Since the ayatollahs took control in Iran, more than 4,000 gay men and women have been executed, some of them publicly. Surely we are not even thinking of sending a gay Iranian back to Iran, where he would face humiliation, torture and execution?
No one will be deported to face execution or violation of their human rights. Such matters are addressed on a case-by-case basis taking account of the individual concerned and the circumstances in their country of origin.
Two weeks ago, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend for a debate on school admissions, and I therefore support the call made by Simon Hughes. Last week, the allocation letters were sent out to parents, and a large proportion of them got their first choices. This week, however, the Secretary of State issued a written statement documenting some abuses of the new code of admissions by individual schools. Does my right hon. and learned Friend therefore agree that that would be an ideal topic for a topical debate?
My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to ask a topical question on Monday, when school admissions can be raised with the Department for Children, Schools and Families ministerial team. We must ensure that the new processes governing fair admissions are effectively enforced.
May we have an urgent debate on the future of medical general practice? Private sector polyclinics may or may not be right for urban areas, but they are certainly no substitute for an NHS general practice clinic in rural areas such as mine.
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to put that point in topical questions during oral questions to the Department of Health ministerial team on Tuesday. There is no suggestion that polyclinics provide a one-size-fits-all solution. They arose as a response to concerns about how to improve primary care in London, and they will certainly not be imposed unilaterally without local support.
Turning to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and bearing in mind that the Leader of the House and I have been veterans of much similar legislation over the years and that we have usually been on the same side of the argument, may I put it to her that it is in the interests of this House that when there are issues of conscience, as there are in respect of this proposed legislation, there should be free votes on both sides? The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats are having a free vote; why are the Government party not doing so?
It is for each party to decide their whipping arrangements—and, indeed, whether there will be whipping. I should also say that strong beliefs and conscience are not the sole preserves of those whose views are rooted in religious concerns; I have strongly held views, as does the right hon. Gentleman. We must take all these issues into account, and ensure we make progress on this important Government Bill.
In response to representations on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill from many Members over a period of several weeks, the right hon. and learned Lady has indicated a willingness to be flexible on time allocation; that is moderately welcome although decidedly unspecific, and greater specificity soon would be appreciated. As there is a principle that we should have plenty of time to debate controversial matters, may I invite the right hon. and learned Lady to make a statement next week informing the House when we will address the much delayed Counter-Terrorism Bill, and to confirm that there will be generous consideration of its more controversial provisions in a Committee of the whole House?
We might well have got on to the Counter-Terrorism Bill—and, indeed, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill—sooner had we not been having hours and hours of debate over weeks and weeks on Europe. [Interruption.]
Order. Let the Leader of the House speak. [Interruption.] Well, she is entitled to criticise herself, if that is what she is doing.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; it was a big error even to mention Europe, and I will be grateful if Members ignore the fact that I did so. Many Members mentioned the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill not only last week, but this week as well, and I reassure the House that it has certainly registered higher on the Richter scale as a result of their mentioning it.
Somerset county council has recently signed up to an organisation called Southwest One, along with Taunton Deane borough council. It has cost us in Somerset £400 million, with IBM as the lead contractor, but Avon and Somerset police have had to be bribed to join because nobody else wants to do so. That is a colossal waste of public money, which will be a long-term problem for the taxpayers of Somerset. It is being led with no consultation with local people or with other councils. How will it work? May we have a debate on how such organisations can make any sense at all?
I am not entirely clear about the hon. Gentleman's point, but he clearly regards it as very important to his constituents and his region. I ask him to pop in to see me after questions to explain it, so we can work out what needs to be done about it.
Last weekend in my constituency, I visited pensioners living in council accommodation who have switched off their heat supply because they depend on liquefied petroleum gas, which is much more expensive than mains gas. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to make a statement on fuel poverty and the Government's failure to reach their targets, so that Members can raise the specific issue of those households that depend on LPG and heating oil for their heating?
Fuel poverty and insulation are important priorities for the Government. We are concerned that the least well-off who use meters have been paying a higher amount per unit for their fuel and heating, and we will sort that out. In the Budget, we have increased the winter fuel payments by £50 for those over 60 and £100 for those over 80. We are also stepping up our insulation programmes. I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, and I will bring it to the attention of my hon. Friends.
May we have a debate on fairness in parking charges? As a result of a freedom of information request by the Peterborough Evening Telegraph this week, we learned that 1,436 penalty charge notices to non-UK registered vehicles have been written off, which is more than 80 per cent. of the total. By contrast, 63 per cent. of UK-registered vehicles' penalty charges have been paid. This is evidently an example of great unfairness, and my constituents are right to raise the issue with me. When can we regularise that situation and have fairness in the payment of parking tickets?
I will bring that to the attention of my hon. Friends in the relevant Departments.
Today is world kidney day, and the Northamptonshire Kidney Patients Association is supporting it with a display stand in the Newlands centre in Kettering to promote public awareness of renal failure and of the groups of people who are most at risk. While applauding the association for its endeavours, will the Leader of the House also arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House about what is being done to promote renal treatment in this country?