The business for next week is as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. We are grateful that in a few moments we will have a further update on the spread of swine flu. I also thank her for acting on my suggestion last week that we should use next Thursday for a full debate on the matter. With some experts warning that the virus could cause the greatest damage next autumn, it is right that the House has an opportunity to discuss all aspects of that serious issue.
May I applaud once again the courage and determination of the parliamentary ombudsman? Yesterday, she published a second, even more damning, report into what she termed the "unremedied injustice" inflicted on the thousands of pensioners who lost their money in the collapse of Equitable Life. It is an extraordinary document that exposes the casual cruelty of a Government who have become so involved with themselves that they have completely lost touch with those whom they are most supposed to serve.
This is the sixth time that I have raised the issue at the Dispatch Box, and the right hon. and learned Lady seems incapable of telling the House how the Government intend to compensate those policyholders who face destitution in their retirement. The ombudsman has demanded compensation, but the Government are insisting on defying her. Many find that dismissive attitude sick and callous. Will the right hon. and learned Lady promise not to shame herself and her Government even further with another fob-off, and instead to grant the House the urgent debate that I and many others Members have sought for so long? Will she also promise to give us a firm and immediate plan for the compensation that justice requires?
When it comes to justice, we should not need a celebrity campaigner to jolt the Government's conscience. We should none the less take the opportunity to congratulate Joanna Lumley, who has worked tirelessly to challenge the Government's shabby treatment of the Gurkhas. Miss Lumley says that she trusts that the Prime Minister will now do the right thing; let me add that the whole country hopes that it can trust the Prime Minister to do the right thing.
There are already fears that the Prime Minister is rowing back from the apparent change of heart that was announced after his meeting with Miss Lumley yesterday. Let us be clear about this. When will we hear the statement that the Prime Minister promised during Prime Minister's questions yesterday, and when will the Government set out how they intend to make good his promises to Miss Lumley?
As well as fair treatment for those who have served their country, there is the fair treatment to which everyone is entitled under our law. One of the great principles that are supposed to govern our claim to be a civilised society is the principle that everyone is innocent until proved guilty, and is properly treated as such. Keeping someone's DNA on record following arrest when no charges are subsequently brought introduces a cloud of permanent suspicion where none is warranted. Will the Leader of the House appreciate that providing a written statement on something so important just will not do, and that the retention of such records should be discussed either in a full debate or following a full oral statement? In the eyes of many, this is another example of the Government's having too little regard for civil liberty and justice.
The news that 77 Chinese children have disappeared from a London care home over the last three years is totally horrific. One can but ask what on earth is going on. How can such a staggering fact be treated so lightly in the centre of government? The Prime Minister said yesterday that the Home Secretary would be investigating, and would report to the House. When will we be given a full statement about what has gone on?
When will we next have a chance to debate health and safety rules? When we do, might we just be given an opportunity to discuss the absurdity of a police constable's refusal to get on a bike because he had not passed his cycling proficiency test? What does the Leader of the House think that Sir Robert Peel would have thought of this PC PC, and might she perhaps speculate on what Lord Tebbit would have to say on the matter?
Will the Leader of the House also take the opportunity to comment on early-day motion 1356, which concerns the pay of House of Commons cleaners?
[ That this House recognises the invaluable contribution made by the House of Commons cleaners; notes that hon. Members depend on the vital services provided by these workers to ensure the smooth running of the House; expresses concern and disappointment that the House of Commons cleaners are receiving an hourly wage below the London Living Wage and that they have been waiting months for an agreed 45 pence rise in their hourly rate; and calls on KGB Cleaning and Support Services, the cleaners' employers, and the House authorities urgently to resolve this unacceptable situation and give these workers the pay they deserve. ]
Does it cause her any concern for the security of this place and, perhaps, the security of our data that the company in question is called KGB Cleaning?
As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, he and all other Members will have an opportunity to hear more about swine flu from the Secretary of State for Health when he updates the House in his statement later today. In response to the hon. Gentleman's request, we have also chosen it as the subject for a general debate next week.
We have agreed that following the mistakes made not just by Equitable Life but by the regulatory regime, financial recompense should be paid. Sir John Chadwick is looking into how the scheme can be put into effect.
He is getting on with it. He will update Ministers, and Ministers will update the House, very shortly. We are concerned about the fact that people have been affected by the mistakes made not only by Equitable Life but by the regulatory regime—for which the Government have apologised—and action will be taken.
We did take action on the Gurkhas in 1997, but both the public and Parliament want us to do more, and we will. That has been made clear by the Prime Minister, and was also made clear in the statement at the end of the Opposition day debate last week.
Alan Duncan raised the question of the consultation on the keeping of DNA records, and asked whether this was not another example of our having too little regard for justice. I would say quite the opposite: this is us having regard for justice. I will give an example; Abdul Azad was arrested for violent disorder and had his DNA taken in February 2005. He was released without charge, but his DNA was kept. Later, there was a rape in Stafford, 25 miles away from where he lived. It was a stranger rape; the woman had no idea who had raped her, but a man's DNA was under her fingernails. Because his DNA had been kept after arrest for violent disorder, Abdul Azad was arrested and put in prison. I say to hon. Members that this is about justice. The point about rape is that it is often a repeat offence; not only is it important for that woman that justice should be done, but it protects other women. The hon. Gentleman puts himself against justice when he argues against keeping DNA on the database.
On the question of the policeman failing to get on his bike, the only thing I can say is that if the Conservative spending cuts were put into effect, there would be fewer police to get on any bikes in the future.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend look carefully at what is happening on the east coast main line, one of our premier lines? Ever since National Express took over the franchise, it has systematically run down the quality of the line and put up prices. Surely our Government will not bail them out to the tune of £1 billion. Surely we should take the franchise away from National Express and run it as a national concern.
Perhaps I might suggest that my hon. Friend raises that issue at Transport questions next week.
I notice that, on
Perhaps we should have a debate on the wider conduct of the Home Office; the point, quite rightly, has been made about the way in which the Home Office has chosen, effectively, to ignore a court ruling against it on DNA samples. There is an inability to understand what the word "innocent" means; innocent means innocent. It is not a question of an offender or a repeat offence; it is an innocent person. That is the key to the debate that we should have.
Perhaps we could also discuss why figures reveal that the stop-and-search powers under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 were used by the Metropolitan police on an enormous number of occasions; once every three minutes. Can that be justified?
Last week, Lord Laming produced his progress report on the protection of children in England. It is very welcome, but it is simply a review of what has been happening. Can we have a debate on the future of child protection in this country and how we are going to establish proper and long-term measures to improve those areas that are falling lamentably short of what we expect on child protection, so that we can try to avoid the sort of tragedies that have become only too frequent?
Lastly, could we have a debate to help the Government understand and recognise when they owe a debt of honour? I am still very concerned that the Government do not understand the decision of the House last week in respect of the Gurkhas. The Minister for Borders and Immigration said that he respected the will of the House of Commons. Yesterday, the Prime Minister could only say that the Government would listen to the voice of the House. As one of the co-sponsors of the motion that was passed overwhelmingly in this House, I do not know what part of the word "immediately" the Government do not understand, and that is what the motion said.
The ombudsman report, already mentioned, refers to
"an inappropriate attempt to act as judge and jury in its own cause."
Do the Government not understand that their squirming on this issue—albeit it partly involves matters outside their own control—does them no credit at all, and that the ombudsman is right?
Finally, let me turn to the issue of the Iraqi interpreters. I was absolutely against the expedition into Iraq, but I respect the fact that there were people in Iraq who were prepared to help the British forces by acting as interpreters. We now understand that the Government have peremptorily removed the scheme under which they are given protection and assistance to enter this country; that will come to an end on
I have made strong efforts to ensure that we do not overload the Report stage of the Policing and Crime Bill with Government amendments, unless they arise in response to points made in Committee. I will, however, look at how much time is needed for the Bill.
On Equitable Life, as I said earlier, Sir John Chadwick has been asked to look into a number of important questions that will need to be considered for the setting up of a scheme. We hope to have an interim update from him very soon and, after he has reported, we will put in place a scheme that is fair to both policyholders and taxpayers. The complexities involved in this issue are exemplified by the fact that it took about four years for the ombudsman to produce her report. For each individual who has been affected, however, it is not a complex issue; they have lost out, and they need financial recompense. We are very concerned about this, and have taken action.
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge, there was no right to settlement for any Gurkhas before 1997, and we acted. We have listened to public opinion and what the House has said, and we will go further, because that is in line with the public view and the will of the House as expressed in our debate last week.
I will look for an opportunity to debate child protection. As a number of issues come together in this important matter, we might need to have a topical debate on it, and one is available next week.
The hon. Gentleman has also raised the issue of the DNA database, and he has said that "innocent means innocent". Well, let me tell him about another case. [Interruption.]
Order. The Leader of the House made that case in a previous answer. As the point has been made, I think that we should leave it at that, because I am concerned about the business of the day; our earlier oral questions ran over their allotted time, and I want to be able to call Back Benchers to speak.
Does the Leader of the House accept that the views expressed by Mr. Heath about the scrutiny of legislation on Report are shared and sympathised with across the whole House? Large chunks of major Bills—such as the Policing and Crime Bill, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Coroners and Justice Bill—are passing unscrutinised, and they often include Government new clauses and amendments. Is it not time that we returned to having programme motions by cross-party agreement in advance? We are sent here to scrutinise legislation, but if there is insufficient time on Report, it is impossible for us to do that job.
This year, we have given two days for the Report stage of two Bills. No Bill passes through this House without scrutiny both on the Floor of the House on Report and upstairs in Committee. Therefore, although there might be an argument about the amount of scrutiny, Bills do not pass without scrutiny, and I would not want my hon. Friend to make that point. We have to balance the need for debate and scrutiny on Report with the need for general debates, topical debates that the House asks for, and regular debates, such as on issues involving Select Committees and defence. We are always looking to ensure that we get the balance right.
Will the Leader of the House please do something about the falling standards of ministerial replies to hon. Members? This morning, I have signed eight letters chasing Ministers. The Treasury is the worst offender—my correspondence with it dates back to January. For letters from hon. Members to go unanswered for that length of time is simply unacceptable. While the Leader of the House is addressing this matter, will she also try to put a stop to another trend, which is that ministerial replies are increasingly being signed not by Ministers, but by officials? That is simply not good enough.
As I said last week, I think we would all agree that it is all right for letters from Ministers to hon. Members to be dictated by the Minister but signed in their absence. However, I think there is an issue to do with what is being delegated to agencies, and I will look into that. There should be no official answers to Members of this House from departmental staff; if a Member writes to a Minister, the Minister should reply, because that is part of the nature of accountability. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to copy in the Deputy Leader of the House on this issue, and we will then follow up all the answers he has mentioned. This is not only a question of who answers; there must also be prompt answers. It is very important that information is given at the time that it is asked for; that is a basic, bottom-standard performance indicator for Ministers.
May we have a debate about the state of railway stations throughout the UK? I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that, for many visitors, railway stations form the first and last impression of a location. Unfortunately, however, the railway station in my Dundee constituency is both an eyesore and unwelcoming—unlike the people of Dundee, who love welcoming visitors to the city. Such a debate would at least allow me to determine who exactly is responsible for the railway station, as National Express, Network Rail, First ScotRail, the Scottish Executive and the separatist Scottish National party-led local council keep passing the buck to each other.
My hon. Friend makes that point forcefully on behalf of his Dundee constituency, and I suggest that he starts exploring the matter by asking an oral question at Transport questions next week.
Under this Government, we have witnessed the gradual decay of parliamentary democracy, with Opposition Members arrested for embarrassing the Government, constituents banned from speaking to MPs, and insufficient time allocated to important Bills such as the Policing and Crime Bill. Will the Leader of the House give Government time for the consideration of how we can get matters reported to the Standards and Privileges Committee? I have written to her previously about this.
I do not accept the argument that parliamentary democracy has been eroded. It is a matter for this House to ensure that all hon. Members do their job and hold the Government to account, and it is our responsibility to be accountable to this House.
Members of this House are extremely concerned about this week's shocking report on children who have gone missing from what should have been a place of safety. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for us to have a thorough debate, in order to make sure that we are protecting children who go missing and are exploited—and, indeed, that we are doing everything possible to ensure that they do not go missing in the first place—and protecting children who are being targeted by predatory adults?
I know that this has been a long-standing concern of my hon. Friend, and that she has campaigned on protecting children in care. I will look for an opportunity to debate a number of such issues, including child trafficking, child protection and missing children; we might be able to have a debate on all those issues together.
May I request that we use next week's topical debate slot to have a debate on prison sentences? The Magistrates Association recently called for the end-of-custody licence scheme to be withdrawn and for early release from a custodial sentence to be earned rather than automatic. Many of my constituents are sick to the back teeth of people being let out of prison, not because they deserve to be released or are no longer a threat to the public, but simply because there are not enough prison places. May we have a debate on this subject, which is a great concern to many people throughout the country?
There was a statement on prison places last week. We always take the views of the Magistrates Association very seriously, and I pay tribute to the many thousands of lay magistrates throughout the country. I will ask the Secretary of State for Justice to write to the hon. Gentleman and say what our response is to the Magistrates Association on this issue.
May we have a debate consequent on the great events of last Monday, when thousands of migrant workers packed Westminster cathedral and then marched to Trafalgar square, as part of their campaign—supported by many Christian organisations—to advance from strangers to citizens? Part of the problem is the chaos at Lunar house, Croydon, and the inability of the Home Office to regularise the status of people who are entitled to become citizens, so that people are left languishing while they wait for their status to be determined. It is time that the Government got on top of the issue to overcome the anxiety, frustration and poverty that accompany this problem. Thousands of people demand justice and a resolution of their status, as reflected in the events on Monday.
I agree that tens of thousands of people marched in London on Monday, organised by the Churches and many other faith groups. Migrant workers play an important part in the life of this city. I do not accept that there is chaos at Lunar house. My constituency probably has more immigration cases than any other, and I can say that Lunar house is now making determinations much more quickly and fairly than it used to do.
I issued a written ministerial statement on the question of parliamentary pensions. I obviously keep in close touch with the chair of the parliamentary pension scheme and we will shortly bring the matter to the House for decision. We have made it clear that we do not think that there should be an increase in the Exchequer contribution, and we therefore propose an increase in contributions from Members to protect the Exchequer from having to put more money into our pension fund. That proposal will require the view of the House and a statutory instrument, and we will debate it shortly so that it can be backdated to
Of course I have the greatest respect for my right hon. and learned Friend's views on the legal matters concerning the DNA database and I welcome the Government's decision to remove the names of some innocent people from it. However, that is not an adequate response to the judgment of the court, which found specifically that the Government were acting unlawfully. The database is growing at the rate of 15,000 names a week, and it is now the largest in the world. May we have a statement or a debate on the issue or, at the least, an extra day to discuss it during consideration of the Policing and Crime Bill? An extra day will not add greatly to the burden of the Government, but will provide us with an opportunity to explain why their position is wrong.
As I understand it, the issue is not included in the Policing and Crime Bill as it is to do with earlier legislation. The court case to which my right hon. Friend refers deals with the question of what is proportionate and what individuals should have to be prepared to tolerate in the interests of justice and protecting future victims. In the case of Kensley Larrier, it was proportionate to keep his DNA on the database after he was arrested for possessing a weapon. The proceedings were discontinued in 2002, but his DNA was kept and, after a rape many years later, it was available and he could be sent to prison. The database provides a major opportunity to bring rapists to justice that previously was not available. All those who argue against the DNA database have to answer to the victims of repeat offences, and we are not prepared to fail to use that tool as a weapon in the fight against rape.
Later today a Manchester Evening News petition, signed by more than 100,000 people and urging the Government to ensure that the Financial Services Compensation Scheme fully compensates the Christie hospital for the £6.5 million loss in a UK-regulated Icelandic bank, will be submitted to Downing street and Parliament. Will the Speaker arrange for time for a debate on how the Government will fully compensate—
Order. The hon. Gentleman means the Leader of the House. I have a different union card.
We are concerned about the Christie's charity and about all the other charities doing important work that has been put at risk because they had reserves in Icelandic banks. We are working on getting the money back to ensure that creditors are protected. Ministers have met the Christie charity's representatives, and we will respond early next month to the Treasury Committee's report on this issue.
May we have a debate in Government time on the pensions of the bankers retiring from the banks in which we have a financial interest? I know that the Leader of the House shares my concern about Sir Fred Goodwin walking away with more than £700,000 a year, but yesterday we learned that Mr. Pell, another of the bankers who drove the Royal Bank of Scotland into the ground, will walk away with a pension of more than £500,000 a year. It would take the average nurse 20 years to earn that much. It is a scandal. Those bankers should have been sacked instead of getting pensions totalling £1.2 million.
As part of the review by the Financial Services Authority of the financial services industry, it is considering questions of corporate governance including financial remuneration at the top, which has in the past rewarded risk-taking, not to mention greed. The particular RBS pensions that my hon. Friend mentions were decided by the RBS board before the Government became a shareholder, but we have now made it clear that there are to be no excessive pensions or rewards for failure.
If I recall correctly, we were promised a debate on the Government's statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan last week, but that has been understandably replaced by the debate on swine flu next Thursday. When will we have the debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan? We may be short of parliamentary time for many of these debates, but we are not sitting for very many days this Session. We could always sit beyond
We had a statement from the Prime Minister last week on Afghanistan, and we had a statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year. We know that the House wants the opportunity to hear statements and hold debates on this issue, and we will continue to look for opportunities to do so.
My constituency has the misfortune of hosting Dr. Philip Nitschke tomorrow and many of us will be outside demonstrating against him. Given the debate on who should be allowed to enter this country, will my right hon. and learned Friend consult the Home Secretary on whether that individual should be added to the list, given that he openly encourages people to break the law and his views are abhorrent?
The Home Secretary exercises her discretion on whether to allow people to come into this country and Parliament has laid down the terms of reference for the exercise of that discretion. They include the people who would incite violence or breaches of the law, but it is not intended to stop people coming here to engage in public policy debates. I will ask the Home Secretary to write to my hon. Friend to explain her decision in that case.
Is the Leader of the House aware that her answer to Mark Fisher was totally unacceptable and unsatisfactory? Bills are going to the other place with large tranches of them undebated in this place. Programming was not designed to prevent discussion on Report. If she receives a request for a second day's debate on Report for a major Bill, will she give it her most sympathetic consideration?
I have said that I will consider that specific point. However, Bills are scrutinised through the debates on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and in the House of Lords. Although I think that it is perfectly reasonable for hon. Members to identify particular Bills and to argue that there should be greater scrutiny, it is also important that they should not imply that this House is just rubber-stamping Bills. The public should understand the many hours that Members put into Bills, the hard work that goes into Committees and the difference that that makes as well as hearing that hon. Members want more time.
It is absolutely right that we deal urgently with any failings in child protection, as highlighted recently by the baby P case. I recently met a group of front-line children's social workers from Halton social services, which is a highly regarded social services department, and I was struck by their commitment, professionalism and determination to do their job. One thing that concerned them was the fact that the many good stories—the children whom they protect and the lives that are saved—are never highlighted. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House to highlight the importance of social work in child protection and to encourage people to join the profession, which is very important given the need for more recruits?
I agree with my hon. Friend. If we find the opportunity to debate the protection of children and children in care, perhaps it will be possible for the important work of front-line social workers to be highlighted. I also think that the opening of the family courts undertaken by the Ministry of Justice will allow people to see the important work that social workers do as they ask the courts to take children into care in order to protect them.
Police reform, prostitution—buying and selling—lap dancing, alcohol and disorder, rendition, extradition, proceeds of crime and police accountability were all issues raised on Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill by hon. Members who were not going to be members of the Public Bill Committee. The Government added, too late for amendments to be tabled, gang injunctions and the DNA database—clauses 95 to 97 on pages 116 and 117. It is necessary that time to scrutinise the Bill should be available for Select Committee Chairmen and other hon. Members who were not on the Public Bill Committee. I am delighted that the Leader of the House will carefully consider this request and, if she agrees, she will fulfil the Prime Minister's pledge for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive and we will all have our fair say on these important matters.
I underline to the hon. Gentleman and the House that there are discussions between the parties about the time allocated to Bills. It is true that agreement can not always be reached, but there are discussions. It is not as if we sit there and make a unilateral decision. There are discussions and we try to accommodate the Opposition's views and to strike the right balance. Sometimes the Back Benchers do not agree with the Front Benchers, and sometimes that happens on the Government's side as well as on the Opposition's.
Is the Leader of the House aware that under the European Union marine habitats directive the Spanish Government have designated as such a habitat waters including some of the territorial waters around Gibraltar? Will she arrange for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to tell us what he intends to do to reassert British sovereignty over British territorial waters around Gibraltar?
It has been a bad week for Education Ministers. On Tuesday, on Report on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill we had a brief opportunity—because of the proper strictures of the Chair—to debate the capital funding crisis in further education colleges, which has seen 144 college programmes frozen. Yesterday, in Westminster Hall, due to the good work of my hon. Friend Mike Penning, we had the opportunity to discuss a similar crisis in sixth-form funding. This all comes down to the relationship between the Learning and Skills Council and Ministers, as Sir Andrew Foster's report on the subject, which was commissioned by the right hon. and learned Lady's Government, said. However, there has been no chance to debate Andrew Foster's report and no oral statement to the House. Will she facilitate one with urgency?
The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has made a statement about the Learning and Skills Council in relation to capital funding in further education. The Prime Minister has answered questions on this subject and on sixth-form funding, and so have I. I will consider the suggestion that we should have a topical debate on the subject, along with the other suggestions that have been made today.
The Home Secretary announced this week that Greater Manchester, which includes my constituency, would pilot the Government's flawed and expensive plan for identity cards. Given the estimated £5 billion cost of the scheme and the deteriorating economic outlook since the plans for ID cards were first announced, does the Leader of the House agree that a debate to reassess the proposals, at the very least, would be appropriate before the people of Greater Manchester are once again asked to be guinea pigs?
The people of Greater Manchester are not being asked to be guinea pigs. The pilot project is entirely voluntary and if nobody wants to avail themselves of the opportunity to prove their identity on a biometric basis, they do not have to do so. As far as compulsion is concerned, there is a requirement that foreign nationals should give biometric details. [Interruption.] I would say that that is working very well and it is very important. It speeds up people's ability to get visas, because there can be no doubt about identity fraud when the biometrics are there. That has been a thoroughly good thing; it has helped people to get their visas quickly and has stopped people from obtaining visas under a false identity.
I know that airport security is being debated with Manchester airport, just as it is with airports in London. Airport travellers would want to be sure that we use all the available weapons—perhaps that is the wrong word. We should use all the available means at our disposal to ensure that air travel is safe. If biometrics can contribute to the safety of air travel, then that is something on which we should press forward.
Can we go back to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend Alan Duncan about Equitable Life? A serious constitutional issue needs to be addressed. In her report, "Injustice unremedied", the ombudsman said yesterday:
"I therefore see no basis on which it can be said that Parliament has approved the approach adopted by the Government."
Is it not therefore incumbent on the Government to provide not just a debate but a debate and a vote to see whether the House supports the Government or, as I suspect that it will, the ombudsman and the Select Committee?
The Government have accepted responsibility for putting in place a scheme that will provide financial recompense from the public purse for those on whose behalf mistakes were made by the management of Equitable Life and in the regulatory regime. We hope to have an interim update soon. Rather than considering this as a constitutional issue, we should consider it as an issue of people who have lost their money after having put it into Equitable Life in good faith. There were failures that go back to the 1980s. The Government are taking action. We have said that Sir John Chadwick will set up the scheme and there will be an interim update from him very soon. It took the ombudsman four years to produce her report because of the massive complexity of the case. We cannot just snap our fingers and work out what the compensation scheme should be. We are working on it, because we want to get financial recompense out to people as quickly as possible.
It is not far off a year since the right hon. and learned Lady last convened the Modernisation Committee, when it was halfway through its investigation into the governance of Britain and we were poised to consider the Prime Minister's suggestions about dissolution and the powers of Parliament in respect of that. Does she propose to continue with the Modernisation Committee or has she just abandoned it? May we have a statement next week and an amendment to Standing Orders if that is now her position?
I have no proposal to amend Standing Orders. If the hon. Gentleman wants to suggest issues that he thinks should be taken by the Modernisation Committee, which cannot be taken forward by the Procedure Committee, I would be happy to discuss them with him.
The report on Equitable Life raises a constitutional issue, in that it was compiled by the parliamentary ombudsman, not the Government ombudsman. The parliamentary ombudsman reports to Parliament, so surely Parliament should have the right to decide the matter. Why will the Government not put their proposals to Parliament so that Parliament can vote on them? If Parliament rejects them, the Government must bring forward proposals that are acceptable to it.
I have nothing to add to what I have already said, at length, to other hon. Members. We are concerned about the matter, and we are getting on with it.
The Government have made it clear that they wish to safeguard manufacturing jobs, but recent reports in the Financial Times and The Times suggest that the Treasury is trying to frustrate the efforts of the Ministry of Defence to secure agreement with the partners and companies participating in the Eurofighter project on the size and timing of the tranche 3 element of the proposal. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to the House about precisely what is going on with tranche 3, so as to remove the uncertainty about the matter felt by thousands of aerospace workers in the north-west?
The Government place a high priority on supporting our manufacturing base. Obviously, there was an opportunity this morning to ask Ministers from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform about this matter. However, I will ask the Ministry of Defence to write to the right hon. Gentleman about his specific question on tranche 3 of the Eurofighter project.
When the Leader of the House put the Government's case on the DNA database passionately, repeatedly and at length, did it not occur to her that that was precisely why there needs to be an oral statement from the Home Secretary? Feelings are running very high on the matter, and there is a lot that needs to be said. Should not the Home Secretary have been dragged to that Dispatch Box to make a statement?
It is only a consultation paper. My remarks could be seen as a contribution to the consultation, and we could take the remarks of those hon. Members who flatly disagree with me in the same way.
Can we have a debate on the Cabinet Office guidance to local authorities and regional development agencies on the forthcoming elections? The board of the south-west RDA is meeting on
"must not make announcements or publicise decisions that have the potential to affect voting intentions and therefore election outcomes."
If that is the guidance from the Cabinet Office to the RDA, will it be applied to the Government as a whole?
The Cabinet Office guidance is designed to make sure that Government announcements do not interfere with local and European elections, and it simply draws the situation to the attention of all relevant organisations. The Government have made unprecedented investment in the regions, year on year, and we are proposing to continue to do so this year and next—
The Opposition are proposing cuts. The Government are standing by our investment plans for this year and next, but the Opposition would cut public investment at the height of the recession. We say that that would make it longer and deeper.
Can we find time for a debate on early-day motion 1407 on the Potters Bar rail crash?
[ That this House notes that
Is the Leader of the House aware that next Sunday marks the seventh anniversary of the crash, yet there has still been no form of inquiry? Is not seven years simply too long for bereaved families, surviving victims, members of the travelling public and others to have to wait for answers to their questions?
I think that that is something that the hon. Gentleman could raise at Transport questions next week.
May I reiterate the eloquent pleas from hon. Members on both sides of the House for more time for consideration on Report of the Policing and Crime Bill? It has 10 parts and addresses a welter of contentious issues, which Dr. Harris has already listed. There is a certainty of no fewer than 10 groups of amendments, and a possibility of 20 or such groups. We are at a late stage but there is still time for the right hon. and learned Lady to concede an additional day for consideration. If she does, will she take it from me that her willingness to listen and adapt will be greatly respected?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for adding his views to those of other hon. Members on all sides of the House. I will reflect on them. It was only the provisional business that I announced earlier.
My hon. Friend Tony Baldry has done great work in his constituency by helping to set up a job club, and other Members of this House are looking at establishing similar initiatives. Will there be an opportunity in the reasonably near future for a debate on unemployment and employment, so that hon. Members can consider practical ways to help their constituents during these extremely difficult times?
We have spent a number of days debating the Budget, and one of them was focused on employment and unemployment. We were able to make the point that we hope that all the capital and investment that Government initiatives have put into the economy will mean that fewer jobs will be lost than would otherwise be the case. The investment of £1.2 billion in jobcentres will mean that those who lose their jobs will get prompt help and have a better chance of getting work in the future.
In April 2004, just weeks before European elections and with the Labour party dipping in the polls, Tony Blair had the brainwave of offering a referendum on the constitution. Shamefully, he withdrew the offer shortly before he swanned off, but here we are again—just weeks before European elections and support for the Labour party is haemorrhaging. I know that that has been a huge distraction for the Leader of the House, but could she possibly arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box next week and re-offer the British public the referendum taken away from them so cruelly by Tony Blair?
Will the Leader of the House join me in paying tribute to the British tourism industry? It is our fifth biggest industry, and Britain is the sixth most visited country in the world. Millions of Americans come here, but one—the DJ Michael Savage—has been banned from the UK because of the stupid inflammatory remarks that he has made. He has told his audience of 10 million people not to come to the UK, so does the right hon. and learned Lady have a message for him? Does she have another, more positive message for the many Americans who might be thinking of coming to holiday in the UK?
I do have a message, and I am sure the whole House does, for the many hundreds of thousands of Americans who visit this country every year, and it is that they are very welcome tourists. The tourism industry is very important, and has been made more competitive by the change in the value of the pound, which has meant that holidays in Britain are even better value for money.
The very sad news over the weekend that the Leader of the House had ruled out ever becoming Prime Minister gives rise to a constitutional problem. If the Prime Minister became ill, had an accident or was accidentally stabbed in the back, who would take over? Could we have a statement on that—or will the right hon. and learned Lady reconsider her position, as many Opposition Members would like?
That is not a matter for business questions.