Will the Deputy Leader of the House give the forthcoming business?
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This morning, the Leader of the House issued a written statement on topical debates. Given the importance of those debates, an oral statement would be more appropriate, giving Members an opportunity to question her proposals. This morning the Prime Minister, too, issued a written statement to report on the NATO summit in Bucharest. To date, the Government have come to the House to make an oral statement following such a meeting. Why did we not have an oral statement this time? What is the Prime Minister trying to hide? Yesterday, the Chancellor announced a U-turn on the 10p tax in a letter to the Treasury Committee, instead of making an oral statement to the House. Will the Deputy Leader of the House give Members an assurance that her colleagues will start practising what they preach and treat Parliament with the respect that it deserves?
Last week, the Home Secretary said that police forces under pressure from migrants settling in their areas would get extra funds, but we now know there is to be no additional money, and that the fund had already been announced by the Home Office in February. We need a statement from the Home Secretary apologising for recycling a statement and for trying to gain cheap political advantage during the local election campaign.
On Tuesday, the Work and Pensions Secretary announced that poverty figures, due to be published in March, but then delayed until early May, have been delayed again until June. Given public concern over rising prices, particularly on food and fuel, that procrastination does little to allay people's fears. The Secretary of State needs to explain the impact of soaring prices on Britain's poorest families, and may I suggest that the subject of next week's topical debate should be the cost of living?
On the subject of the cost of living, Ken Livingstone said that he would not put up tube fares, but it is reported that he has done a secret deal to do just that—another reason why the man is not fit to be Mayor of London. Can we have a debate on honesty in politics?
The Public Accounts Committee has said that the Government were "entirely unrealistic" when they made their original estimate of the cost of the 2012 Olympics. The massive rise in the budget was a result of their ignoring basic considerations such as contingency provision, VAT and security measures. The Minister for the Olympics has some serious explaining to do, and she should make a statement about costly incompetence in her Department.
The Office for National Statistics has announced that it will make house visits to interview nearly half a million people every year and ask a range of personal and intimate questions at an annual cost to the taxpayer of £3.5 million. There will be questions on salaries, 35 questions on contraception, and questions on former sexual partners—a subject on which we know the leader of the Lib Dems is more than happy to respond. Those questions are extraordinarily intrusive—
I am raising them because of the Government's incompetence in not allowing questions to be asked in the first place. Those questions are extraordinarily intrusive, and it is widely accepted that such surveys are inaccurate. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government should come to the House and explain this scandalous waste of taxpayers' money.
Yesterday, on St. George's day, we read in the papers that England has been wiped off a map of Europe drawn up by Brussels bureaucrats. The map makes no reference to England, or indeed Britain, and has even renamed the English channel the "Channel Sea". It is all very well the Prime Minister putting up patriotic flags on top of No. 10 Downing street, but he needs to make an urgent statement to tell us what he is doing to protect Britain's interests in Europe and Britain's identity.
So, Mr. Speaker, there you have it. We have a Government who dither, who spend millions on sex surveys while millions of their people worry about the cost of food, and who betray their people by refusing to stand up for them in Europe.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman has gone completely over the top. Every week at business questions we have to listen to wild hyperbole. Last time I looked, England was still on the map.
The public will not be taken in by crocodile tears from a party which, while it claims to be concerned about the low paid, opposed the minimum wage, and which, while it claims to be concerned about economic insecurity, produced 3 million unemployed. I shall not delay the House further. Instead, I shall move on to the substantive points that the hon. Gentleman found time to make.
On topical debates, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have instituted a review. We would be pleased to have the views of hon. Members on the way topical debates are going. Members are welcome to come and see the Leader of the House or to write to us.
With reference to the oral statement relating to the European Council—
On the 10p rate, the hon. Gentleman asked why the Chancellor of the Exchequer had written to the Treasury Committee, rather than producing an oral statement. We have had ample opportunity and we will continue to have ample opportunity to discuss the matter. The Prime Minister answered questions yesterday. As the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire knows, the Chancellor was standing at the Dispatch Box about five minutes ago answering questions on the matter. On Monday there will be a debate on clause 3 of the Finance Bill, when all the issues can be fully aired.
The Home Secretary's announcement about policing was perfectly in accordance with the rules because it related to national, not local, issues. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows if he has read properly the written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the delay to the publication of the statistics about households on low incomes is due to a technical difficulty with the statisticians. The decision was taken by officials and had nothing to do with Ministers.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion for a topical debate for next week. We will accept that alongside all the other suggestions that we receive.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about the candidates for the mayoralty of London. He failed to take account of the fact that Ken Livingstone has been at the forefront of developing public transport in London, unlike the candidate whom the hon. Gentleman supports, who did not even have time to make a speech when his own colleagues had given him an opportunity to do so yesterday in a debate on crime in London.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the costings for the Olympic games. He should be aware that the costings were established not in the most recent National Audit Office report, but more than a year ago, in January 2007. The fact that we have a full NAO report and that the PAC has an opportunity to consider it shows that there is adequate parliamentary scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Office for National Statistics has now been set up as an independent body and that it is undertaking those surveys to produce statistics. However, I am sure that the head of statistics will read his remarks in Hansard.
Before I sit down, I should like to pay tribute to Gwyneth Dunwoody, who was a regular at business questions. More than that, she was a remarkable woman, a great parliamentarian and a formidable Chair of the Transport Committee. I am sure that the whole House will miss her greatly.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the massive concern across the House about the situation in Zimbabwe. There is to be a Westminster Hall debate on the issue next week, but will my hon. Friend make sure that there is also a statement to the House about it next week, so that we get information on a fast-moving situation and so that we can press for measures such as tighter sanctions on Zimbabwe? In that way, we can try to get the regime to release the election results and let Zimbabwe move on to a renewed democracy.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She has taken a long-standing interest in the affairs of Zimbabwe. The Prime Minister made clear everybody's total disgust at Mugabe's treatment of the election results and the importance of standing by a proper democratic outcome that respects the will of the people of Zimbabwe.
As my hon. Friend says, there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Zimbabwe next Tuesday. I do not know whether she is aware that the arms shipment, about which many people were concerned, has been turned away from South Africa. I am sure that the whole House will welcome that news. She may be aware that the European Union has an arms embargo on Zimbabwe. The Government believe that it would be excellent if as many other countries as possible joined that embargo.
May I associate myself and my colleagues with the tributes made by the hon. Lady—and you, Mr. Speaker, earlier this week—to Gwyneth Dunwoody? She was a formidable, doughty and relentless parliamentarian, and by being so gained huge respect across the House and outside it. She also broke two great records. She was the woman who served for the longest continuous period in Parliament, a record previously held by Barbara Castle, and the woman who served for the longest period overall, a record previously held by Irene Ward. She was a phenomenal parliamentary contributor, and we send our condolences through the Deputy Leader of the House to her family and friends and her constituents in Crewe and Nantwich.
Through the Deputy Leader of the House, I should like to thank the Leader of the House for her letter explaining why she is not here today. She is at the funeral of Gloria Taylor, Damilola Taylor's mother. We send our love and sympathy to the Taylor family, who have suffered two terrible blows in far too short a time.
May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House three questions about business, all of which are about the economy and matters about which we heard the Chancellor and colleagues speaking earlier? First, will the hon. Lady assure me that, on Monday and Tuesday, when we debate the Finance Bill, there will be time to debate adequately the working tax credit? In particular, if the Government are determined to use the credit as the method of giving back to the poor, may we debate how we can change a situation in which under a quarter of those eligible as working couples with no children obtain working tax credit, and under a third of those who earn less than £10,000 obtain it?
There is also the fact that 2 million people get working tax credit repayments that they should not get, and 1 million do not get the ones that they should. It is no good having a reliance on this system if it works so badly for so many people. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can assure us that on Monday or Tuesday there will be time to debate that issue instead of just saying that that is the mechanism for dealing with the Government's recent difficulties.
On Wednesday, we have the debate that the Deputy Leader of the House announced on the remaining stages of the Energy Bill. She has heard before the exchanges about giving enough time for Opposition new clauses and amendments. May I ask specifically that we have time to debate why someone who pays their energy bills by direct debit may have fuel bills on average £400 lower than people who have prepayment meters? People who pay by prepayment meter are the poorest and those who pay by direct debit have the most stable incomes, bank accounts and the rest. If we are going to deal with the poor and energy bills we need to be able to help those people, who are clobbered most and can afford least.
One of the effects of the credit crunch appears now to be impacting on housing associations, which have to borrow in the private sector for the house building that they contribute to social housing. The Government have an ambitious target of 3 million extra homes by 2020, and an affordable housing target of approaching 100,000 homes a year by 2010-11. May we soon have a debate about achieving the objective of building the affordable homes that we need in London and across Britain? At the moment, the banks are less willing to lend, the housing associations therefore have less money to spend, and the risk is that the ambitious targets turn to nothing and people have additional housing problems in addition to all the other ones that we know about.
The Leader of the House will be most pleased when she reads what the hon. Gentleman said. She particularly asked me to mention the excellent work that is being done by the Damilola Taylor Trust for deprived young people in London, and I am sure that she will be pleased to see his remarks about that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the handling of the Finance Bill in Committee of the whole House on Monday and Tuesday. As he knows, we voted last Monday to devote two days to those proceedings. As he also knows, the selection of amendments is a matter for the Speaker, not for the Leader of the House. I am sure that we will balance the importance of this issue against the other important tax measures that we are to discuss. I do not, however, fully accept his characterisation of working tax credits, which, in truth, have helped and continue to help 6 million households and 10 million children.
Turning to the hon. Gentleman's questions about the Energy Bill, fuel poverty is of course one of the issues that can be raised in the debate next Wednesday. I am not sure from his remarks whether he is fully aware that the energy companies are now putting in £100 million, £125 million and £150 million to support vulnerable customers over the next three years. That has to be set alongside the perfectly legitimate questions that he raised.
I will take the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the importance of affordable house building as a suggestion for a topical debate, if I may. I am not sure whether he knows that the target for building 200,000 houses includes 70,000 per year that should be affordable.
Does my hon. Friend agree that given the strong emotions, fears and opinions expressed by some about a few controversial aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, additional time should be allocated to debate those matters on the Floor of this House, not just in Committee?
I do understand the importance of the issues in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. That importance is the reason why all parties have agreed to give their Members free votes on the ethical issues that are contained within it. We will take account of my hon. Friend's point when we come to the timetabling, which will be announced in the business statement of the preceding week.
When Sir John Baker reports to the House in the next few weeks on Members' pay, will that be the last word that will be said on the next settlement, or will it merely be part of a report on the process for the future?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the last word will be had by this House when it debates the Baker report, which will, as I am sure he also knows, examine two things—not only the comparator and the settlement in the current year but how to establish an independent mechanism, which the whole House voted for in January. He can rest assured that he and all hon. Members will have an opportunity to come back before the summer recess to discuss that important issue.
Will my hon. Friend allow the House an early opportunity for an oral statement or a debate on the effectiveness of British humanitarian aid to Gaza? Those of us who were in that sad territory last week found that apart from food aid, no aid at all is being effective in that area because of the complete closure of the territory's borders that Israel has imposed. That territory is on the verge of total collapse, and I do not believe the aid that we have promised is getting through and doing what it should, whether it is bilateral, European or United Nations aid.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I will pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development and ask him to respond.
May I revert to the question asked by the shadow Deputy Leader of the House as to whether there is to be an oral statement on the NATO summit, to which I am afraid we heard no answer? It seems irrefutable that on Sunday Russia shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle owned and flown by Georgia. Last week, Russia appeared to take legal steps to recognise separatists in Georgia. The Defence Committee has just produced a major report about NATO suggesting that there is a crisis of political will in NATO. What is happening in Afghanistan at the moment requires an oral statement on the Floor of the House. Why on earth is this the first time for decades that there has not been one?
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will consider his request. However, I just announced that a week on Thursday there will be a general debate on defence in the world, and he will be able to raise those issues then.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that it was a matter of public debate as to whether St. George's day should become a bank holiday, so as part of and in the spirit of that, may we have a debate in this House so that Members can express their support for that long overdue measure?
I will take that as another request for a topical debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that under this Labour Government people's entitlement to take bank holidays has already been increased by four days, and in a year's time they will get a further four days' guaranteed bank holidays.
As diesel in my constituency costs up to £1.33 per litre, the Chancellor is probably getting more of that sort of revenue from my constituents than from anybody else. Could we have a debate on looking to introduce a system of fuel duty taxation in rural Scotland and the Scottish islands similar to that in rural France, where duty is cut by 3 per cent.? I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will make time for such a debate. If such a measure were introduced, the Chancellor would still be getting more fuel duty from my constituency than anywhere else.
If the hon. Gentleman had serious proposals on the taxation of fuel, he should have tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill, and he could have had the opportunity to debate it properly next week. What he is saying is absolutely typical of the irresponsible approach his party takes to this matter.
Will my hon. Friend organise an early debate on the use—or possible misuse—of health service records? I am raising this issue because my constituents, Mr. Wood and Mr. Womble of Handsworth, Sheffield, received a survey asking for their views on the NHS. There is nothing strange about that, except that no one else in the area received it, and they had both recently had hospital appointments. My colleagues who are also Sheffield Members of Parliament have constituents who received the same survey, all of whom had recently had hospital appointments. I am asking for a debate and an inquiry by the Secretary of State because the surveys were produced not by any organisation connected with the health service, but by the Lib Dems in conjunction with their local election campaign.
My hon. Friend has raised an issue of huge concern. I know that the Department of Health is looking into the matter. It is absolutely vital that people's personal information remain personal and that they can trust the NHS to look after it properly.
Has the Deputy Leader of the House or her right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House yet had time to reflect fully on the latest report from the Procedure Committee, which recommends that the House introduce a system of electronic petitioning? Does she agree that in order better to look after those whom we serve, we need to recognise that the internet is here to stay, and to amend some of our procedures accordingly? When can we expect a Government response?
I am not exactly going to give in to it, but I will respond to the helpful report from the Procedure Committee on this important question. Of course, it is vital that we maintain and strengthen connections between citizens and Parliament. Petitioning is clearly an important channel for doing that. We will study the matter seriously and come back with a response soon.
I would like to draw the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House to early-day motion 1391.
[That this House is alarmed by the proposal of INEOS to reduce the pension rights of the workforce at the former BP oil refinery and chemicals complex at Grangemouth, Scotland, from that which had been part of the terms and conditions of employment of the workforce when INEOS bought the BP site; acknowledges that the INEOS proposal is to create a two-tier workforce with all new employees being denied a final salary pension; notes that as a result of the new proposal 97 per cent. of trade union members in an 86 per cent. ballot return voted for strike action after exhaustive negotiations; expresses concern at the aggressive tactics of INEOS senior management in undermining the agreed consultative processes; and supports the efforts of the INEOS workforce and their trade union UNITE to sustain existing pension arrangements on this very profitable complex for the benefit of all current and future employees.]
I thank the House authorities for organising a statement on the situation at Grangemouth after this Question Time, but could my hon. Friend ask the Scotland Office to co-operate with the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to set up an inquiry into the promises made when BP sold the facility to INEOS, including the pensions now being attacked, and into the closures that have taken place on that site since INEOS bought the plant? We need to compare the promises made with the reality of that company's behaviour in Scotland.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but he might produce a more significant result if he made it after the statement by the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which is to follow. Perhaps he would like to do that.
The hon. Lady has been very helpful with regard to the ongoing situation of Southwest One in the county of Somerset. I have subsequently learned something about it, so could we have a debate on the matter? The Government's consultancy body, 4ps, was brought in to sort out the deal in Somerset. It was fired, and another company was brought in. That company made it clear that it was accredited by the Government's consultants, 4ps, which is a blatant lie put out by the county council and the chief executive of the county. This matter has now cost the county of Somerset more than half a billion pounds and 1,400 jobs. Unless the situation is sorted out rapidly, through a debate in this House so that we can get to the bottom of the deal, it will rebound badly not only on the Government but on the taxpayers of Somerset.
I took up the matter when the hon. Gentleman raised it before, and I thought we had agreed that it was not a political matter. I do not know whether he has been in touch with the National Audit Office, as I suggested—I see that he has. To get to the bottom of the matter, we need to use the institutions available to us, and the NAO is excellent in such situations.
When can we have an educational debate in the House to inform the Conservatives about one of this Government's best reforms? Probably one of the most serious reforms to go through this House in the past 10 years is the establishment of the UK Statistics Authority, which in its compilation and publication of statistics will be free from interference from political parties or any political narrative. Is it not disappointing that less than a month after it was set up, the Conservative party is trying to interfere with the work of the authority—
Order. That is a bit wide of next week's business.
My hon. Friend is right in that the new independent Statistics Authority that we set up under legislation earlier this month will firmly guarantee the independence of statistics. He may also be aware that scrutiny of the authority will be carried out by the Public Administration Committee. I hope that it will be able to consider the authority's work. As he knows, all Select Committee reports may be debated in Westminster Hall.
May we have an urgent debate on the activities of the Driving Standards Agency and its attitude to public service? The agency is about to close the driving test centre in Trowbridge, which means that my constituents will have to make a 46-mile round trip to Chippenham, not only to take a test but to practise for one. When the new enhanced motorcycle test begins later this year, they will have to go to Exeter. To put that into context for people who do not know the geography of the west country, that journey is equivalent to someone from central London having to go to Maidstone for a car test and to Eastbourne for a motorcycle test. Is that an acceptable standard of public service?
I have tabled early-day motion 1363.
[That this House calls for an investigation into Newcastle-under-Lyme's Conservative- and Liberal Democrat-led Council's handling of the writing off of business rates owed by companies co-owned by Peter Whieldon, a Conservative councillor for the Seabridge ward; notes that on 28th March 2007, the Borough Cabinet agreed to write off amounts of £16,618 and £13,300 in business rates owed by two of Mr Whieldon's insolvent companies in respect of the Albion Pub in Newcastle; notes, too, that on 26th March 2008 the Cabinet agreed to write off a further £13,441 owed by another insolvent company, also co-owned by Mr Whieldon; recognises further that Mr Whieldon is still trading through new companies at several licensed premises in Newcastle and Stoke-on-Trent, including the Albion; notes that the Conservative and Liberal Democratic leadership of Newcastle Council has so far kept these write-offs confidential, notwithstanding his status as a councillor; regrets, therefore, the shameful failure of the council to bring this to the attention of council tax and business rate payers in the borough, and electors in Seabridge ward, through a public statement; believes that this failure exhibits a gross error of judgment by the Council, which also is to the detriment of local businesses that compete fairly for trade, pay their business rates and settle all their debts; and further calls, therefore, for an explanation in the public interest by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leadership of the Council of its handling of this affair.]
May we have a debate on that motion and early-day motions 1364 and 1365, which I tabled this week? They concern the conduct of Newcastle-under-Lyme borough councillor, Peter Whieldon, whose companies have left a trail of debt across north Staffordshire, including more than £100,000 in business rates owed to Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent councils.
Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that it would be entirely proper to have a debate in this place on what constitutes unethical behaviour by councillors, and on the importance of strong political leadership in exposing such conduct in the public interest, which has been sadly lacking in the case of Newcastle-under-Lyme borough council in this case? It knew about his conduct, and wrote off his business debts behind closed doors, making no public statement. Disgracefully, Mr. Whieldon is again standing as a Conservative council candidate in these elections.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that serious matter of quite disgraceful behaviour by the individual in question and the council. I will take his proposal as a suggestion for a topical debate.
Most of our constituents and most of us accept that we will need more houses in our country over the next 20 years. My democratically elected district council decided that we would need about 6,000 in Salisbury. The South West regional assembly said that we might need 8,000. The Government then imposed 12,400 without consultation. Last night, there was a meeting of 1,000 of my constituents in Salisbury city hall to express their outrage at this top-down planning imposition. May we have a debate on the local development framework and preferred housing options to see whether the Government really believe that housing problems can be dealt with by imposition from Whitehall, rather than by organic, sustainable growth from the bottom up?
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that there is a serious housing shortage in this country and that, if we are to alleviate it, houses must be built. The Government's targets for house building are designed to ensure that everybody can live in decent homes. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly free to apply for an Adjournment debate.
Last week, I was privileged to lead the Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Israel and the occupied territories, to which my hon. Friend Tom Levitt has already referred. The seriousness of the crisis is demonstrated by Shifa hospital—the main trauma hospital for the Gaza strip—which already regularly generates its own electricity. It pointed out that if its electricity supply failed, it would lose 80 patients in 30 minutes, and that if electricity failed for a week, an additional 250 dialysis patients would also die. The Quartet meets next week in London, where another important meeting will also take place of those who donate money to help Gazans and others in the occupied territories. May I echo my hon. Friend's request for at least a statement after those two meetings, the week after next?
I will convey my hon. Friends' requests to the Foreign Secretary because the position is about not only aid but political developments. It is important that some shift in the political situation occurs. I will therefore draw the matter to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as to that of the Department for International Development.
May I observe to you, Mr. Speaker, that more than 20 minutes of business questions, which are important to the House, has been taken up by Front Benchers? I wonder whether that is normal and whether you might give advice.
My question to the Deputy Leader of the House is in support of that asked by Ms Keeble. Although there may be a debate on Zimbabwe and sanctions in Westminster Hall, the whole House should have an opportunity—as the Government have promised on so many occasions—to debate the uniquely disastrous situation in Zimbabwe, where an election has been held but, three weeks later, no one knows the result. Surely we want to support the view of a growing number of African countries and hold a debate so that we can influence what happens.
I think the hon. Gentleman speaks for the House when he says how appalled he is by the position in Zimbabwe. I will take his request as a suggestion for a topical debate next week.
Yesterday afternoon, in the Attlee suite in Portcullis House, the all-party group on sustainable aviation, of which I am an officer, was pleased to receive a report from Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation, which exposed the distortions, inaccuracies and heroic assumptions that underpin official policy on aviation and its impact on the environment and climate change. In the light of his startling figures and conclusions, may I make a submission to the Deputy Leader of the House for an urgent debate in the Chamber to examine that crucial matter, which affects so many people, especially those who live around the nation's regional airports, including East Midlands airport in north-west Leicestershire?
My hon. Friend is right. Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. That is why a more sustainable aviation industry is important. It is also why the Government have made negotiating an EU emissions trading scheme, which incorporates aviation, a priority. I will pass on his remarks to the relevant Department.
This week is national depression awareness week. It is an important fact that one in five people in this country will suffer from depression at some point in their lives. May we have a debate on what the Government are doing to tackle the problem and the wider issue of how good mental health can be positively promoted, just as we promote good physical health?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Mental health is important, and that is why the Secretary of State for Health announced a programme to increase the amount of psychotherapy that people can get on the national health service. I will consider her suggestion.
May we have a debate in Government time on the behaviour of HSBC? The bank has made a profit of £35 billion in the past three years, but it is closing its facility in my constituency and transferring the bulk of 164 jobs to Malaysia. That is not the only outrageous way in which the management has treated the staff: it has brought them in, one by one, and told them that they cannot speak publicly about the issue. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that behaving like 19th century pit owners is unacceptable.
My hon. Friend describes unacceptable employment practices. The House knows that he is a doughty campaigner for his constituents, and I am sure that HSBC management will hear his remarks about their handling of the matter.
May I tell the Deputy Leader of the House that on Monday No. 10 suggested that the Prime Minister would make an oral statement to the House on Wednesday about the outcome of the NATO summit? Clearly, he was blown off course by this week's events. It is still not too late for an oral statement on that important summit. It is unprecedented for a Prime Minister not to make a statement to the House after a Heads of Government meeting at NATO. The Government regularly acclaim NATO as the cornerstone of our defence. The Prime Minister's failure to make a statement on the summit's outcome sends the wrong signal about the importance that the Government attach to NATO.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman should have any doubts about the Government's commitment to NATO. I have heard his remarks and those of other hon. Members today, and I have said that I will reflect on them.
The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that Monday is international workers memorial day, which commemorates those who have died as a result of work. Does she agree that it would be fitting for the House to mark that in some way, and to have a debate on what further can be done to prevent incidents at work that lead to fatalities?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that we continue to make progress in reducing serious injuries and deaths at work. I will consider her suggestion.
May we have an urgent debate on cowboy and dodgy builders, especially foreign construction companies such as Bovale, which is based in the Republic of Ireland? That company is destroying large parts of Shropshire, not least Priorslee lake which is a designated county wildlife site. Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware of the—at best—dodgy reputation of the company's owners, Tom and Michael Bailey? Is it not time that the Department for Communities and Local Government had a black list of companies so that it could warn local authorities not to deal with those that destroy wildlife and have disreputable financial backgrounds?
The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about the construction industry. He will know about the Office of Fair Trading report on its behaviour. All those matters are under consideration in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that we extend the time on Monday so that Treasury Ministers can explain to the House in detail the way in which they are dealing with the 10p tax shambles? It is crazy that a Labour Back Bencher, however august, can appear on the "Today" programme to tell us about a discussion that he had with the Prime Minister about backdating the claim, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes to the House knowing nothing about it. May we please have sufficient time on Monday to ensure that Treasury Ministers explain to the House how they will fiddle around with the national minimum wage, working family tax credits and the winter fuel allowances? Will they backdate the claim to
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was answering questions about that 45 minutes ago. The hon. Gentleman will have another opportunity to debate it on Monday, but he should not display this hypocritical, if I may say so—
Order. The hon. Lady must withdraw that without qualification.
I withdraw it without qualification. However, it is somewhat difficult to listen to Opposition Members raising the issue as their supposed priority, when they showed no concern about the low-paid and opposed the minimum wage.
Following that totally unacceptable reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend Tony Baldry, may I point out to the Deputy Leader of the House that Mr. Field told the nation on the "Today" programme this morning that he had received absolute guarantees from the Prime Minister that all measures to offset the harm of the abolition of the 10p rate of tax would be backdated to April of this year? The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Chief Secretary had been ill briefed on "Newsnight" last night. However, that was countered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Dispatch Box less than an hour ago. We have no idea whatever what is going to happen. If we are to reach a decision and vote on that aspect of the Finance Bill next Monday, the Deputy Leader of the House must now give us an absolute assurance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make the position completely clear before we do so. Will she do so immediately?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer did make the position clear 45 minutes ago. He referred to his letter that sets out the programme of work that is going to be carried out over the next few months. The Government have been happy to listen to those who are genuinely concerned about poverty, but there seems to be some inconsistency in the position of Opposition Members.
I hope that we can have a full day's debate on Zimbabwe next week. So incompetent is Robert Mugabe that he could not even rig his own election properly and is now trying to steal it. While he is doing that, 4 million people have moved to live in South Africa and millions more are living with hyperinflation and starvation. Some African leaders have shown true leadership. Indeed, even in South Africa Speaker Mbete has spoken out, saying that the election results should be declared. Sadly, President Mbeki has not shown the same leadership. Please can we have an urgent debate next week on the issue?
I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe, as is everybody. Everybody utterly condemns the reports of violence that are coming from that country. I will relay the requests that have been made to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Further to the questions posed by Ms Keeble and, more recently, my hon. Friends the Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), may I reiterate the request that we have a full day's debate on Zimbabwe in Government time on the Floor of the House? Given that under the truly tyrannical and despicable leadership of the mass murderer Mugabe too many people have suffered too much for too long, with too little done to help them, is it not time that we debated on the Floor of the House how the Government will seek to persuade the United Nations to translate its commitment to the responsibility to protect from fine-sounding words into concrete action?
May we have a debate on the Equality and Human Rights Commission? Cultural diversity is one of Milton Keynes's greatest strengths. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of House will join me in commending the work of the Milton Keynes racial equality council. However, does she share my concern at the news this week that all funding for that organisation has been cut by the Government from
I am surprised to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I will pass his concerns on to the relevant Department that oversees the commission.
My three local newspapers, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, the Keighley News and the Ilkley Gazette, have all taken the regrettable decision to remove their "Court in brief" sections, not because they wanted to do so but because HM Courts Service has introduced excessive charges for the information. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will agree that that goes totally against the grain of open justice. I quite understand why the Government are embarrassed about the lenient sentences handed out to criminals in our courts, but surely it is a rather weasel tactic to implement excessive charges to stop newspapers reporting them. Can we have a statement from the Justice Secretary on how the matter will be resolved?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating, if I may say so. It is important that the courts make proper charges for services. I know that colleagues in the Ministry of Justice have considered the issue carefully.