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The business for next week will be as follows:
The provisional business for the week commencing
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.
Although we recognise that the Government rather seem to have some other priorities at the moment, may I gently remind the right hon. and learned Lady that a Government are for governing? Will she therefore give us a statement on the whereabouts of the draft legislative programme? Last year it was published on
Similarly, may we have a statement on the Business Secretary's Postal Services Bill? It received a surprise—perhaps we could call it emergency—First Reading in this place on
May we have an urgent statement from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the fate of Vauxhall and the jobs of more than 5,000 workers, which hang in the balance? There was a great flurry of activity on our TV screens earlier this week by the Business Secretary, who assured us about the future of the company. Yet while he has chosen not to give Parliament an update, reports today suggest that the Luton plant has now been classified as "at risk" by trade unions. At the risk of sounding churlish, may I point out that over the past 24 hours the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has seemed rather more interested in saving the Prime Minister's job than the jobs of British car workers. May we have a statement on that delicate situation as it affects the car industry in the United Kingdom?
On the subject of unemployment, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on premium line telephone costs for Jobcentre Plus? As we have all feared, the number of people out of work has been steadily increasing over the past few months, but the Government are not making it any easier for those who are looking for work. They are being charged to dial in, hang on for ages and then often just get cut off. It ends up costing them a lot of money just to have an initial conversation on the phone. How does the right hon. and learned Lady justify charging people who have little income high rates—or even at all—for seeking advice on getting a job, particularly in the depths of one of the deepest recessions the country has seen?
May I request yet again an urgent debate on the Government's handling of compensation for those who lost out from Equitable Life, another group of people whom the Government have so shamefully ignored? Twenty years ago, the then shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, who now happens to be Prime Minister, stood at this very Dispatch Box and spoke about Barlow Clowes and the ombudsman's report on that. He condemned the
"fecklessness, gullibility and incompetence of the Government who, for months and years, ignored all the warnings".—[ Hansard, 19 December 1989; Vol. 164, c. 204-5.]
How can the Government dishonour their obligations to Equitable Life policyholders when their stance in Opposition was so different on such a similar issue?
Will the Leader of the House consider a debate on countries in the middle east and around that region that are at risk of failure, such as Somalia and particularly Yemen? I and many others fear that there is, once again, a danger of Yemen dividing between north and south and spreading instability in the area.
May we also have a debate on educational standards? It is noticeable in the public exchange of letters between Hazel Blears and the Prime Minister that neither makes use of that basic staple of punctuation, the full stop. As one of Tony Blair's former speech writers said in The Times today,
"New Labour began with no verbs and it ends with no punctuation."
Is that another tacit admission that the Government have ground to a complete full stop?
Finally, may I say on this day that whatever our political differences and persuasions—and whatever difficulties Parliament has been experiencing—for the sake of democracy, let us join together across the Chamber in urging everyone to get out and vote, and to do it for positive reasons for a positive agenda for the future of the country?
The hon. Gentleman asked about the draft legislative programme. This will be the third year in which we publish the programme, instead of leaving it until the Queen's Speech, by which time a programme is set in tablets of stone, the ink has dried and there is no opportunity for people to participate in discussions about what should be in it. We intend, for the third year running, to publish the draft legislative programme in advance. The elections on
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Postal Services Bill. I have announced the business for next week, and as he knows, the business for the following weeks is provisional.
The shadow Leader of the House mentioned Vauxhall and the car industry, which is very important. Indeed, the Prime Minister addressed the matter in Prime Minister's questions yesterday, and it has been raised often in the House. We are very concerned about the car industry, particularly the plants at Luton and Ellesmere Port. We are concerned about not only those who work in those important plants but all those who supply the industry and the skill base that it supports. The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been big backing through Government loans under the automotive assistance scheme, in addition to the general help for business, and that the Business Secretary has held discussions to ensure that we do everything we can to secure those jobs, against the changing background for General Motors. It is important to appreciate that we do not believe in the recession taking its course, but in active Government intervention. We do not believe in cutting back, but in borrowing to back up loans to support business that is in difficulty. We also believe in working across Europe to ensure that we do well out of our work in co-operation with other European countries.
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about help for the unemployed through phone lines, so that they can call jobcentres. I will raise that with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, but let me say two things now. If we are to help the unemployed who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs as a result of the global financial crisis, it is important that we put extra investment into jobcentres. That is why we have put £1.2 billion extra into jobcentres to help people. The extra resources going into jobcentres, which the hon. Gentleman's party has opposed, should ensure that we can provide a good service, not only face to face but on telephone lines.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. He will know that the Economic Secretary to the Treasury updated the House in the debate in Westminster Hall on
The hon. Gentleman also raised an important point about the destabilisation in Yemen and Somalia. I will discuss that with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and see whether there will be an opportunity to update the House, whether by written or oral statement, or by way of a debate.
Can we have a debate on the responsibilities of householders when planting trees in their gardens which subsequently cause damage to the drains and foundations of neighbouring properties? I have talked to hon. Members across the House, and there seems to be a problem across the country, particularly when people plant ornamental trees such as ornamental eucalyptus. Insurance companies are increasingly including clauses that exclude householders from claiming when their properties suffer damage, yet those who plant the trees can walk away scot-free. Can we look into that, please?
I think that that matter comes under the auspices of the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is obviously a concern to my hon. Friend's constituents, and it has also been raised with other hon. Members by their constituents, so it might be a matter on which she should seek a Westminster Hall debate.
I associate my party with the right hon. and learned Lady's important remarks about everyone getting out there to vote today, both in the European elections and in the local elections—for people who live where those are taking place—and about the importance of taking part in our democracy.
The Leader of the House has given us the business for almost three weeks, which is a welcome new development that I hope will continue in future. The more the House can be informed of business far ahead of time, the more people outside this House will know how to influence that business. However, she also said that everything beyond next week was very provisional. Is that subject to the vote next Wednesday on the Dissolution of Parliament?
On the subject of that debate on the Dissolution, Prime Minister's questions has been the only opportunity that the Prime Minister has had to deal with the question of why he does not want to have an election now. Often his answer seems to be because he would lose it, but he has not had the chance to expand on his reasons for not responding to the country's wish for an election. To that end, will the Leader of the House ensure that the appropriate Minister replies to the debate next Wednesday—and obviously the Prime Minister would be the most appropriate Minister to reply to such a debate, so will she ensure that he comes and gives a full explanation, both to the House and to the country, of his views on that Dissolution motion?
Perhaps the reason why the Leader of the House said that the business was provisional is that she was tantalising us with the prospect of the Postal Services Bill appearing in the provisional business for the following week. It is vital for the future of the Post Office and Royal Mail that the Government should come forward with proper and effective means of getting investment into those companies. However, we also need a Bill that protects the Post Office and ensures that after all the upheaval in the post office network, it is not further damaged by the Government.
In engaging with the public, the Government are quite keen on the use of petitions in local government. Last year the Government agreed with the Procedure Committee that we should have a modern e-petitioning system for Parliament. When will the Government ensure that that agreement is delivered, so that Parliament can have a functioning e-petitioning system?
Finally, President Obama is making a major statement in the middle east today on relations with the Islamic world. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Foreign Secretary comes to the House to make a statement on the implications for the UK's policy in the middle east of what President Obama says today?
The question of who responds to the Opposition day debate next week is a matter for the Government—
Quite so, but it is not a matter of House business. Therefore the Government will decide, and put forward the appropriate person.
Sir Robert Smith made a big point about the business for next week being announced whereas the business for the following weeks was provisional. Because he is standing in for Mr. Heath, and because he is new to business questions, perhaps he does not realise that we always announce the business for the next week firmly, and the business for any subsequent weeks is always provisional. In order to help the House we try, whenever possible, to give as much notice of the business as we can, and to announce the provisional business as far ahead as possible. None the less, the hon. Gentleman has raised an important point: if people outside the House know what the business is going to be, it enables them to engage in the debate.
One of the good outcomes of the awful scandal about the abuse of MPs' allowances will be that we have an opportunity to look afresh at all the processes in the House. Included in that will be how, and how far ahead, we announce the business, what mechanism we use to decide on the business, and what we should do about e-petitions. This will be a good moment for us to look afresh at all those issues on a cross-party basis.
The hon. Gentleman asked how the House could be updated on the middle east. I will include that matter when I discuss the points raised by the shadow Leader of the House on Yemen and Somalia. He also asked about the Royal Mail. Of course we are determined to protect the Royal Mail, and to invest in and protect the post office network.
The Education Service in the House of Commons offers subsidised travel to schools wishing to visit Parliament. This is very popular with schools in Stockport, but the service is heavily oversubscribed, with the subsidy being allocated almost immediately on the day when applications open. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into this to see whether more subsidy could be made available, so that schools such as Lark Hill and Alexandra Park can visit Parliament and enjoy the excellent educational tours offered in the House of Commons?
The opportunities for other people to come into the House and see the work that we do have improved massively over recent years, but there is an opportunity for us to review the situation. The more people understand about the work that their constituency MP does in the House of Commons the better, and providing schoolchildren with a better understanding of the House helps them to understand history as well as the modern processes of government. Enabling people from all parts of the United Kingdom not to be debarred from coming to the House on the ground of cost is something that we can look at on a cross-party basis.
The Prime Minister has been making much of his proposals for constitutional reform and for a code of conduct for hon. Members—but in forums other than this one. Are we to be favoured with a statement about these proposals, so that we can scrutinise them?
I made a statement about the proposals that came out of the meeting of the three party leaders, at which the Prime Minister suggested that we have a parliamentary standards authority to regulate the question of expenses. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the House should have an opportunity, sooner rather than later, to engage in the debate on how we review and improve the processes of the House, as well as considering the wider constitutional questions. He will know that there is a Constitutional Renewal Bill in the legislative programme. It has already been considered in draft by a Committee of both Houses, and it will provide a vehicle for further debate and discussion. No doubt more issues will come before the House shortly.
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend—who is one of the calmer voices in the House—will be aware of calls from outside and within the House for a shorter summer recess this year. I hope that she will not mind my adding my voice to those calls. I would like to suggest that we come back here in September to hear an early Queen's Speech proposing the Government's next legislative programme—including a proportional representation Bill to be enacted in time for the next general election.
It is right that we have the opportunity to debate again our democracy and all the processes that underpin it. My hon. Friend talks about changing the dates to shorten the summer recess, but I think that it is very important that any changes we make in the House do nothing to undermine the constituency link—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I am talking about the rootedness of Members of Parliament in their own constituencies. We need to scotch the idea—I am not saying that my hon. Friend was suggesting this; I know that he was not—that when we are not in the House, working in Committees or in the Chamber, we are all on holiday. At those times there is an opportunity—I would say an obligation—for Members to be in their constituencies working with their constituents. If we had shorter summer recesses, we would have more time in the House and less time in our constituencies. One of the things that we need to do is to make this clearer across the piece, so that our constituents can see the work that we do in our constituencies, as well as the work that we do in the House.
May I associate myself with the request that Colin Challen has just made?
Car parking charges at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport, which serves my constituency and those of several other Members, have been dramatically increased, suddenly and without warning. They have gone up from £1.50 for three hours to £2 for two hours, £3 for two to four hours, and £5 for more than four hours. This is a problem not only for those who have to pay the charges; it is also bad news for those who live in the surrounding area, who are now suffering even more as people look for an alternative to those parking arrangements at the hospital. Is it not about time we had a debate on the scandal of car parking charges at our hospitals?
The hon. Gentleman has given an example of how a constituency Member of Parliament dealing with a foundation hospital can have a big impact through representing local people who want changes in the car park charging policy. I suggest that he take up this matter directly with the foundation hospital. He will no doubt be supported by other hon. Members whose constituents use the hospital.
Can we have a debate about the rise of the far right in Europe, and of those on the newly emerging fruitcake right who seem to believe that climate change is a myth, and homosexuality an illness? I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would have no truck with those parties, but the official Opposition seem determined to become a new ingredient in the fruitcake.
We will be having a debate prior to the European Council, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will take that opportunity to catch the Speaker's eye and participate in that debate, and to make the point that we all need to work together in the interests of Britain's economy, of the environment and of protecting ourselves against international crime. We have to work together in Europe, and siding with what my hon. Friend describes as a few fruitcake parties from the far right would not be in the interests of the people of this country.
May I warmly congratulate the Leader of the House on her remarks about the link between Members of Parliament and their respective constituencies? That link is vital to the parliamentary system in this country. Is she also aware that there have been calls today, not only from the Conservatives, for the more meaningful involvement of Back Benchers in the business of the House?
I refer particularly to the establishment of a business Committee, which could go much wider in representing the House than the current rather informal business committee. Will she give serious thought to that suggestion? Is it not an appropriate subject for an important debate? Could we not consider merging the Modernisation Committee, which she leads, with the Procedure Committee, which could achieve so many of the things that both she and the Prime Minister have talked about to improve democracy?
As I said in response to my hon. Friend Colin Challen, we should take the opportunity to look again at the mechanism for arranging House business. As Leader of the House, I would welcome the views of all parties on the matter.
Given the recent media interest in how public money is spent on the pay and allowances of those in public life, may we have a debate on the pay and other remuneration of BBC superstars and on the irony of the corporation's use of the familiar pretext of the Data Protection Act to seek to prevent openness and transparency in public life? In such a debate, may we have the chance to say to the BBC, on the basis of some recent experience, that resisting the public's legitimate right to know how their money is being used to remunerate all those in public life is likely to end in tears?
When public money is spent, the public are entitled to know about it, and salaries for presenters at the BBC are paid for out of public money. Now I have heard it argued that it would be invidious to publish those salaries because it would prompt competition from commercial organisations that might try to head-hunt those presenters. However, that risk applies to everyone in public service—the salaries of permanent secretaries, for example, are published and they, too, could be head-hunted by the private sector. However, many people work in the public sector because they believe in public service broadcasting or the important work of the public sector more widely. I do not buy the argument that salaries cannot be published because of commercial confidentiality because it seems to me that the issue goes further than the Data Protection Act. I believe that gagging clauses are drawn up to prevent BBC presenters from disclosing the salaries that they have negotiated, but the Equality Bill contains a clause to ban such gagging clauses because we do not think it appropriate for employers and employees to be bound not to reveal information about pay—not least because that might provide an opportunity for pay discrimination between men and women.
May we have a debate in Government time about "phoenixism"—in other words, going out of business one day and going back into business a few days later, doing almost exactly the same thing, leaving creditors unpaid and customers without the goods and services they have paid for? Does the Leader of the House agree that the House should discuss this matter particularly now, when this pernicious practice is resulting in many of our constituents being unable to recover money they can ill afford to lose?
When someone goes out of business, that affects other businesses in the supply chain, as the hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps he could raise this matter again in the debate immediately after business questions, which is about supporting business through these difficult times.
I return to President Obama's highly significant speech in Cairo this morning. Bearing in mind that our country is still probably America's closest ally and has huge interests in the middle east, and given that the Leader of the House has said that the topical debate for Thursday has not yet been decided, may I suggest that there could not be anything more topical than a debate on the middle east, particularly in view of the American President's speech, and that it should be led by the Foreign Secretary, if he is available?
I will certainly take that as a constructive suggestion for next week's topical debate.
May I push the Leader of the House again on the question of the timing of the Postal Services Bill? If the Government are intent on proceeding with the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, they need to get on with it because the private sector partners cannot tolerate the uncertainty. If, on the other hand and as well-informed sources suggest, the Government have abandoned those plans, the Bill is still necessary in other respects, particularly to deal with regulatory issues surrounding the winding up of Postcomm and its merger into Ofcom. We still need the Bill and we need to get on with it very quickly.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Bill introduced in the other place has completed its passage there, so it is available to be brought before the House. It is not in next week's business, so I am afraid that he will have to wait until next week's business statement to see whether it is part of business for the future. I appreciate him making those comments—by saying that I may seem to be breaking the spirit of what I said to Sir Robert Smith. I am aware of that paradox.
I have previously asked the right hon. and learned Lady whether we could have a debate on the impact assessment, or the cost-benefit analysis, of the Climate Change Act 2008. It showed that costs had doubled to £400 billion since the Act came into force and that the Secretary of State had accidentally mislaid £1 trillion of benefits. Thanks perhaps to the intervention of the Leader of the House, for which I am grateful, the Secretary of State has written to me saying that we could debate these issues in connection with statutory instruments on carbon budgets. Those have been debated in the other place, so will she tell us when they are going to be debated in this place? Can she assure us that they will be debated on the Floor of the House and can she tell us whether they result from the Climate Change Act 2008—and are therefore something that the House could reject in principle if it so wished—or, as the text of the statutory instrument suggests, they come instead from the European Union Climate and Energy Package? If so, the Government have produced a separate cost-benefit analysis for this package on that basis, which therefore means that although we could go through the charade of debating them, we could never reject them.
I will raise this issue with my colleagues in the relevant Department. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the matter on a previous occasion. It might be necessary for him to meet the Deputy Leader of the House and the appropriate departmental Minister in order to sort out the process issues. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to ensure that the processes are right for dealing with the matter.
Whatever the turbulence in this place, 20 years ago in Tiananmen Square, according to the Chinese Red Cross, 2.500 young people had their lives snuffed out. Even this morning, journalists trying to enter Tiananmen Square were manhandled by the Chinese police. May we have a debate about human rights in China and how we can encourage the Chinese, who wish to become a modern country and a part of our modern society, to revise their internal policing and freedom policies?
Given that there are major human rights concerns that go beyond the roughly 30 people who, 20 years after the tragic events in Tiananmen Square, still remain in detention, it might be appropriate for a topical debate in the near future. Given the major human rights issues also arising in Burma, we might be able to combine the two and debate them together.
I will raise the issue with Ministers in the Department for Transport and try to find out whether they believe a written ministerial statement or a letter to the hon. Gentleman would be the most appropriate means to deal with his request.
May we have a statement from the Leader of the House on the selection of topics to be debated on days when major elections, such as the European and county council elections today, are going on? She knows that I am a great admirer of the way she discharges her duty as Leader of the House and I cannot believe that she would have wanted the "Defence in the World" debate—the most important defence debate of the year—to be scheduled on a day like today. If she cannot resolve the problem herself, will she have a word with the leader of her party, whoever that may be, in the next few days?
All of us in the House believe in the importance of democracy, and we believe in it not just for the election of Members of the House, but for the election of local councillors and Members of the European Parliament. That is why there are so few Members in the House when local elections or elections to the European Parliament take place. Traditionally, that has been responded to by an effort to ensure that there is no controversial business and no need for a vote at the end of business. That means that we will be debating the important subject of the economy when few Members are in the House. There is an opportunity to look afresh at a lot of issues. If we think that there is no opportunity for serious debate in the House on election days such as this, perhaps the House should not be sitting. We need to consider that.
May we have a debate about Gibraltar following worrying news that Brussels has begun to recognise Spanish claims to the Rock in assigning to Spain territorial waters around Gibraltar as an environmental protection zone that Spain is apparently to police? This has already caused a stand-off—between the British patrol vessel HMS Sabre and the Spanish corvette Tarifa earlier this month. Some urgency is involved in the matter, yet we have heard nothing from the Government.
In the provisional business, I announced for
Amidst the furore over parliamentary expenses and allowances during the past four weeks, it has perhaps been forgotten that each and every day the Government are borrowing—not spending, but borrowing—£450 million.
May we have a debate in Government time on this country's interdependence with a number of other nations, especially China, which my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant referred to, and several nations in the middle east? We have such tremendous interdependence to ensure that our bonds and gilts can be sold in the international markets, and that borrowing is being funded by other nations that have an important ongoing economic relationship with us. Will the Government hold a debate in their own time on that important economic phenomenon?
The Prime Minister and other Ministers have led the way in recognising that the response to the global financial crisis needs to be global. That is why the G20 summit, which the Prime Minister hosted in London, was called. In support of the extra borrowing, I would say that it has been necessary for the purposes of backing up the car industry and providing extra investment to help those who are going to jobcentres, and to protect many of the issues that hon. Members have raised.
May we have a debate on organisations within the police force that undermine cohesion? We already have the deeply divisive National Black Police Association and West Yorkshire police has just announced that it is forming an association of Muslim police. I suggest to the Leader of the House that those organisations are extremely unhelpful, deeply divisive and do nothing to promote community cohesion and the principle of integration. May we have a debate on that issue, because many of my constituents and many people in my part of the world find such things entirely unacceptable?
It is important to ensure that there is proper policing that is as effective as it possibly can be, and that the public have confidence in and work in support of the police. That is only helped by having a police force that reflects and is part of the communities that it serves, which is why it is important to have more black, Asian and Muslim police. Therefore, those associations are important for increasing recruitment and diversity in our police services, whether in Yorkshire or in London.