– in the House of Commons at 11:31 am on 8th July 2010.
Will the Leader of the House give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing
The provisional business for the week commencing
At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for
May I thank the Leader of the House for the business and say how pleased we are to have him back, knowing his commitment to protecting the rights of Members of the House? Although he seems increasingly isolated in that quest, he remains our leading man. I use that term because, as it happens, it is exactly how he was described by The House Magazine, in a marvellous account of his rise to power and his duties as Leader of the House. It includes some fascinating reminiscences about the Thatcher years. For example, he says:
"When we won power in 1979 we were less prepared than today."
Order. This is absolutely fascinating stuff, but it suffers from the notable disadvantage that it bears absolutely no relation whatever to the business of next week or the week after. I know that the right hon. Lady, who is a dextrous performer, will now speedily move on to matters of current interest, namely the business of the House next week and the week after.
I certainly will, Mr Speaker. One of the matters on which I wanted to question the Leader of the House with reference to his duties was the "serious training" that he said shadow Ministers had been given in order for them to be able to move quickly to implement some of the policies in the coalition agreement. I think that that "serious training" explains the speed with which the Thatcherite cuts in public service are being implemented. However, the interview does not tell us whether the duties of the Leader of the House include arranging training for Liberal Democrat Ministers enabling them, for instance, to explain during next week's debate on the police grant report how cutting £125 million from this year's policing budget will not affect police numbers-especially given that the Liberal Democrat manifesto stated that there would be 3,000 extra police on the streets.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Minister for Police explains in next week's debate what statistics the Prime Minister was using yesterday when he said that violent crime had doubled, given that the UK Statistics Authority has said that it is misleading the public to use anything other than the British crime survey as a measure of long-term crime trends? The survey shows that, in fact, there has been a 41% reduction in violent crime since 1997.
May I also ask whether the "serious training" referred to by the Leader of the House involves training in how to make apologies? If so, I am afraid that the Education Secretary needs a refresher course. On Monday, he released his first list of schools that would no longer be refurbished or rebuilt. He released that list to the media. By Tuesday afternoon he had released a third list. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker raised the matter with you, Mr Speaker, and last night the Education Secretary was forced to come to the House to apologise. He arrived with a fourth list, but said he
"would be grateful if hon. Members would ensure that any information they had that pointed to inaccuracies was put to me".-[ Hansard, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 492.]
Naturally, Labour Members rose to the challenge and pointed out that Monkseaton high school in Tynemouth, which was listed as having been cancelled, had in fact been opened last year, and had been visited by the one and only right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) when he launched the Conservative local election campaign. That is completely chaotic, and suggests a hurried and unreliable process.
If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions for the Secretary of State, I am sure that the Secretary of State will listen to them.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Education Secretary to come to the House and, as a minimum, publish the criteria that were used to decide which school building projects would be cancelled, so that parents and teachers can see for themselves whether their school building programme has indeed been cancelled by any kind of reasonable and fair process? That is a minimum; but the fact is that the Education Secretary should simply withdraw the list altogether, and think again about destroying the hopes and aspirations of at least 700 communities around the country. Surely it is obvious that this whole process has become discredited, as has the Education Secretary himself-not least because he keeps telling the House that funding had not been agreed for these schools. He continued to say that in the House even after the permanent secretary had issued a letter saying that it was categorically not the case.
Finally, last week I asked the Deputy Leader of the House to place in the Library the Treasury paper on the 1.3 million people who were going to be thrown out of work because of the Budget. Neither that nor the advice given to the former coalition Chief Secretary on the future jobs fund has appeared. That meant that we had an Opposition day debate yesterday on jobs and unemployment with those two crucial documents withheld from us. How can the Leader of the House possibly justify that when the coalition agreement specifically refers to openness and transparency in government? Will he now place these documents in the Library as a matter of urgency?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her questions, and I hope that the House magazine might one day carry an article entitled "Leading lady", in which she features. I got on very well with Lady Thatcher-so well that she appointed me to her Administration not once, but twice.
On the police grant order, there will still be an increase in the resources available to the police even after that order, which will be debated next Wednesday. The right hon. Lady knows full well the reason for that order: in the words of the Labour Chief Secretary, "There is no money left."
On crime, it is important that the actual crimes recorded by the police are used alongside the statistical analysis of the British crime survey. Indeed, that was the measure most often used by Labour Members when they criticised our record in government. We have quoted the only statistics that are available on recorded crime across the period, but I can tell the right hon. Lady that the Home Secretary has written to the shadow Home Secretary stating that we are reviewing how crime statistics should be collected and published in future, and we will make further announcements in due course.
On the subject of apologies, both the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary have had the decency to come to this House and apologise when things have gone wrong. We have had no apology from the Labour Benches, however, for one in five young people being unemployed, and we have had no apology for Labour selling the gold at the lowest level for some 20 years, or for leaving us with the worst budget deficit in Europe.
The right hon. Lady will have seen the question Ian Mearns asked about the school list, to which my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary replied:
"It is my belief that the list we have placed in the Vote Office is accurate."-[ Hansard, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 492.]
He went on to say that he understood that double-checking was now taking place within the Department. My right hon. Friend also set out the criteria used to make the decisions at some length in his statement on Monday, and he was questioned about them for an hour and a quarter. The right hon. Lady should remember, however, that the reason for the statement was the over-commitment of resources by the outgoing Secretary of State, who acted irresponsibly by over-relying on end-year flexibility when the resources simply were not there.
We had a debate on unemployment yesterday, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, pointed out that over the next few years there will be an increase of 1.5 million in the number of people working.
On Monday the House adjourned at 10.49 pm, on Tuesday at 2.48 am the following morning and on Wednesday at 8.13 pm. That is very good for holding the Government to account, but for Members who, because of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, have up to a two-hour commute home, it is not sustainable. May we have a statement next week on whether IPSA has broken parliamentary privilege by restricting the ability of some hon. Members to carry out their duties?
On the narrow issue of privilege, that is a matter for Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend will know the procedure that needs to be gone through if anyone asserted there had been a breach of privilege, but may I also say the following to my hon. Friend? Earlier this week for the first time we had a seriously late-night sitting against the background of the new constraints imposed on the House by IPSA. I am aware that a large number of hon. Members were seriously inconvenienced by what happened, and that is something that I and others propose to pursue in a dialogue with IPSA.
May we have a debate in Government time on capital allocations following the Building Schools for the Future announcements, and possibly for two days, given how many hon. Members would wish to raise issues relating to their local schools? The list that was published yesterday still contains numerous errors in the Greenwich schools listed. A "Broadoak" school is listed as "Unaffected"-that is hardly surprising, given that it does not exist. The "University Technical College" is linked with Eltham Hill school, but Eltham Hill school is also listed separately. The Business Academy Bexley, which opened six years ago, the St Paul's academy, which opened in January, and Charlton special school, which opened in September 2008, are also all on this list. What criteria were used to produce this list? It is arbitrary. What account has been taken of the capital needs that will have to be met, such as essential repairs and improvements to electrics? If we do not have a debate, how can we get to the detail of what has produced this list?
I will of course raise with the Secretary of State for Education the hon. Gentleman's specific points about the accuracy of the list, but that contrasts with the need for the list. That need was set out in some detail on Monday, and Labour Members have not explained in any way where they would have found the resources necessary if they had wanted to go ahead with the BSF programme.
Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the appalling standards of commuter travel for many rail travellers in my constituency? Will he allow us to have the chance to press for wider local consultation given the upcoming local franchises?
My hon. Friend makes a forceful case for a debate, and I see the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee in her place. May I also say to my hon. Friend that he will have the opportunity to raise the matter with Transport Ministers at Transport questions on
The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member and he has been a Select Committee Chairman. Can he explain to the House what the delay has been in getting the right order before us in respect of the Select Committee on Science and Technology? I understand that there is still a Conservative vacancy, and at least one Conservative Member from the new intake has come to me to ask how to get on the Committee. I directed him to the Whips. Can the Leader of the House ensure that the Committee is established as quickly as possible, so that we can have our first meeting next Wednesday?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, and I congratulate him on his post as Chairman of that Committee. If he looks at today's Order Paper, he will see that a large number of Select Committees have been nominated by the Committee of Selection. However, it was not able yesterday to make progress with five or six Committees. I have been in touch with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and I understand that he hopes to make very swift progress with the remaining Committees. I am sure that he will take on board the very helpful suggestion that the hon. Gentleman has made about a vacancy.
I very much welcome the coalition Government and think they stand a good chance of putting right some of the mistakes of the previous Government. I am a great believer in evidence-based policy making. It seems to me that the Deputy Prime Minister often asserts the "great demand" for constitutional change, so could we have a debate about the evidence base for those statements so that we can examine the root of them?
Looking ahead, I have to say that the House will be doing very little but debate constitutional change in the weeks ahead. There will be a debate on the Report stage of the Bill to which my hon. Friend has alluded, and there will be ample opportunity to debate constitutional change and reform in the weeks ahead. I hope that I have correctly understood his question.
May we have an urgent debate-I stress the need for it to be urgent-on Building Schools for the Future? Following on from the question posed by Adam Afriyie on the necessity for evidence-based decisions, may I say that what has become increasingly clear is that the Secretary of State for Education has never presented to this House, either in debate on in a statement, any kind of proof that his decisions were based on evidence, either of the economic need or of the educational need? Absolutely no detail has been provided, so one is left with the feeling that there is no Building Schools for the Future programme. This has caused enormous disquiet across the whole country, not least in my constituency. May I just point out to the Leader of the House that the people who are suffering most for the inequity and incompetence of the Secretary of State are our children? Our children are this country's future, so it behoves this Government to afford proper time to this House to examine whether there is indeed a Building Schools for the Future programme, because the Secretary of State has markedly failed to convince any of us.
I do not agree with the assertion at the beginning of the hon. Lady's question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education set out very clearly in his statement on Monday the criteria that we used for deciding which projects would go ahead and which would not. He then answered questions for an hour and a quarter on those criteria. However, the hon. Lady will have a further opportunity next Monday, in Education questions, to pursue the matter.
May we have a debate on empty property business rates? In my constituency, Asda, having been denied building permission more than 10 years ago, has allowed the property to go to rack and ruin. It is a total eyesore for local residents, yet the Revenue apparently, I am told, owes Asda £2 million in back rates that Asda is allowed to claw back. That surely cannot be right. May we have a debate on that, please?
I understand the anxiety that the hon. Lady expresses. On
This morning, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning, slipped out that the merchant shipping regulations on ship-to-ship transfers of oil carried as cargo will be delayed until next year following lobbying by Lib Dem and Tory MPs. This announcement has been met with horror by organisations in Scotland such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Fife council and communities on both sides of the Forth. Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall next week or the week after so that Members have an opportunity properly to debate this matter rather than having it simply slipped out on a Thursday?
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. On
This week, Toyota announced 750 job losses at its plant in Burnaston. That will have a devastating impact on families in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Heather Wheeler. I have already met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss what we can do to get those people back into work, but given that we have seen a 10% decrease in the output of manufacturing since 1997 and given that that decline has been three times faster than the decline under the Conservative Government of the 1980s, may we have an urgent debate on support for the manufacturing industries?
We shall debate the Finance Bill in the coming week, but I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that, against the background of the very disappointing news that he has outlined, some of the measures in the Budget are designed to help manufacturing industry, such as the reduction in corporation tax over the next few years, which is designed to promote inward investment. I hope that those policies will result in a turnaround in the unemployment position in his constituency.
Will the Leader of the House press the Health Secretary and other Ministers responsible to come to the House and create a debate on the strategy to deal with obesity in this country? This is not just a question for England, because when I go around my constituency I am shocked by the amount of obesity that I see. We are all being abandoned by the Health Secretary and BIS, because they will not ban trans fats from processed food. They appear to have abandoned us to the processed food industry by abandoning the strategy against obesity in England. It is a very important matter because it is damaging the health of our constituents' children and bringing early death to our constituents.
Obesity is an important issue, although, happily, it is not one that either the hon. Gentleman or I would appear to suffer from. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made it clear that, where possible, he wants to work with the industry rather than against it. That is the background to the announcements that he has just made. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, however, that this is an issue that, if possible, we should find time to debate. If we cannot, there will be an opportunity to raise it during Health questions.
I hope that I have not been called with reference to the last question, Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House worked his magic when asked for a full day's debate on the strategic defence and security review and supplied one about a week later. Will he work his magic again, following yesterday's statement on Afghanistan, and arrange a full day's debate on strategy in Afghanistan? Will he have a word with his counterparts in the other place, where there are many experts on this subject, so that they too might express their views on this extremely important subject?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is the Government's intention that the House should be kept regularly up to date on the position in Afghanistan and, as he knows, there was a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday. It is our intention to carry on with that process and to have statements and, where appropriate, debates. I am sure that my colleagues in the other place will have heard my hon. Friend's request for business there-that is happily a responsibility that does not currently rest with me.
The right hon. Gentleman may have had time to read the Law Commission report on the reform of ombudsmen. Will he tell the House his view of the MP filter, whereby referrals are made to the parliamentary ombudsman only through Members of Parliament? Does he support that situation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Whether our constituents should have to go through us to have access to the ombudsman or whether they should have direct access has been an issue for some time. There is a Select Committee of this House that has responsibility for the ombudsman. Before I opine, it would be very helpful if the Public Administration Committee, which is the right Committee, were to have another look at this and see whether we need to retain the MP filter.
Despite the record amount of money spent on our national health service in recent years, there are wards in Crewe and Nantwich where the life expectancy of men and women is still up to 10 years less than in neighbouring wards. May we have a debate on the issue of health inequalities so that these unacceptable disparities can be discussed and debated?
My hon. Friend has brought to the attention of the House a very important issue, namely the very wide discrepancies in life expectancy according to where people live and their socio-economic background, and which this Government want to reduce. I am not sure whether I can find time for a debate in the near future, but the Chair of the newly appointed Backbench Business Committee will have heard his plea. I will raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and see whether we can get a response for my hon. Friend.
I was recently approached by the chamber of commerce in my constituency and told it was expecting a loss of 17,000 construction jobs as a result of public sector cuts. That was before what happened with BSF. May we have an urgent debate on the loss of public sector construction jobs as a result of what has happened with BSF?
I am sure the hon. Lady knows that under the last Administration there was a forecast reduction in public sector jobs. So far as employment is concerned, as I said a moment ago we had a debate about this yesterday and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, pointed out that it was forecast that there would be an increase of 1.5 million jobs over the next few years. I hope that some of those will be in the construction industry. In the first statement that we made on public expenditure, we put back in a sum of money for social housing. Housing is an important ingredient in our programme. I hope that as the economy recovers there will be more work in the construction industry, building the houses that our constituents need.
Following the excellent comments by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about the need to abolish council non-jobs, may I urge my right hon. Friend to grant a debate on this subject so that we can all give our suggestions as to which politically correct council non-jobs should be abolished? Will he ensure that it is a full day's debate, because I think that he will find that there are plenty of them?
It would be very sad if we had to wait for a full day's debate before my hon. Friend could supply the House with his list of jobs that could be reduced. My hon. Friend is an ingenious person and I am sure he will find an outlet for the long list that he apparently has detailing how money might be saved.
Following my hon. Friends' questions, may I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 399 in my name and that of my hon. Friend Stella Creasy?
[That this House condemns the Government's decision to cancel the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme for a number of schools in the London Borough of Waltham Forest; notes that parents, pupils, governors, teachers and other staff have often worked hard and valiantly under difficult conditions over many years; further notes that the BSF programme promised new buildings and vastly improved conditions for staff and students; and considers that this announcement will be a serious setback for education in Waltham Forest.]
Aside from the issue of the veracity of the announcements in the various lists that have been released, another problem is the fact that this matter will affect some of the poorest and relatively poorest communities in Britain who have been looking forward to having new school buildings for many decades and who are now going to be let down. Rather than just receiving a statement from the Secretary of State for Education, we really need a full day's debate on this.
It is always open to the Opposition to use one of their Opposition days for a debate on this subject, but I repeat that the reason for Monday's statement was that, as the former Chief Secretary said, there is no money left and steps had to be taken to restore confidence in the public finances.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Tenant Services Authority? Councillor Lee Dangerfield, the chairman of housing in my constituency, has received a letter from the TSA asking him to waste more money on needless inspection regimes and plans costing £70,000. Is that not an obscene waste of taxpayers' money when we need to cut our cloth according to the situation and give Harlow taxpayers value for money?
My hon. Friend might know that the role and functions of the TSA and the framework for social housing regulation are being reviewed. The review is informed by our commitment to reduce the number and cost of quangos and to cut unnecessary regulation and inspection, and it will conclude as quickly as possible.
The Leader of the House might not have had time to read the report by the independent Work Foundation on the geography of the recovery and on coalition policies, but it clearly says that although current coalition policies might lead to some recovery in the south and in the services sector, they will not support job creation in the regions. Can we have an urgent debate on how job creation in the regions is to be supported and on what the coalition's policies for that should be?
That issue was covered yesterday to some extent. It was precisely to redress the imbalance between north and south that we set up a £1 billion regional development fund. I hope that the hon. Lady will encourage her constituents to apply for resources under that fund.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the development of high-speed rail services is vital for our national economy, depending on which route is chosen, there will be a significant impact on many local communities, including Hints, Weeford and Drayton Bassett in my constituency? Does he agree that we should discuss in the House the best mechanism, depending on the method and route chosen, by which to maximise the use of existing infrastructure and brownfield sites to minimise the impact on green spaces?
As a former Secretary of State for Transport with a real commitment to the railways, I agree that where it is practical so to do we should use existing track and routes rather than new ones. Where a new route is necessary, there should be the fullest consultation before that route is finally decided on.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is adequate time in the debates on the Academies Bill to discuss the way in which the Secretary of State for Education proposes to shower money on so-called free schools while drastically cutting money to schools in Sandwell, particularly Perryfields and Bristnall Hall in my constituency? There is also a question mark over Shireland. Is that proposal not an insult to the children, teachers and communities concerned and is it not a gross misdirection of resources?
I would not describe the academies programme in exactly the terms used by the right hon. Gentleman. The answer to his question is yes, there will be lots of time during the debate on the Academies Bill for him to make his case and for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State robustly to reject it.
Will the Leader of the House please find time for a debate on the unfairness arising from the fact that Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in Scotland can vote on matters such as education and schools that affect my constituents, but that I and other Members who represent seats in England have no reciprocal right to vote on matters affecting education in Scotland?
My hon. Friend might be familiar with a document that was published in the last Parliament by the Democracy Taskforce, of which I was a member, which addressed the West Lothian question. If he looks at the coalition agreement, he will see that our proposal to deal with this anomaly is to set up a commission to look into the issue and to report back with proposals.
Following on from questions regarding Building Schools for the Future, is the Leader of the House aware that the list referred to the fact that Tibshelf school in my constituency would not go ahead but did not mention that Deincourt school in the neighbouring constituency of North East Derbyshire is due to be closed because the Tibshelf school was expected to go ahead? So, two constituencies are involved, there were plans for a Deincourt school replacement and the net result is that the ripples are still travelling as far as the Tory county council. What are the Government going to do about this? When are they going to sort it out? Why can Tibshelf not have that school?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be in his place on Monday for Education questions when he can ask that precise question.
I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is ready for him.
There has been considerable speculation in recent days that the Government intend to bring forward legislation to amend the civil service compensation scheme. Given the scale of cuts already envisaged, this is causing considerable additional anxiety to those who work in our public services. Will the Leader of the House arrange for Cabinet Office Ministers to come quickly to the House and set out precisely what the Government intend?
The answer is yes, because we will be introducing legislation to amend the civil service compensation scheme. In doing so, we will be taking forward policies of the outgoing Government that were unable to proceed because, on the application of the Public and Commercial Services Union, the High Court quashed the details of the scheme that was going forward. We need legislation to get around that. Our objectives are not wholly different from those of the outgoing Administration, namely to bring those in the civil service scheme into line with those in the private sector.
The Leader of the House will be aware that this week's second and final report of the Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales called for an immediate Barnett floor to protect Wales from further convergence, the implementation of transition mechanisms towards a needs-based formula for my country and a place at the table for the Welsh Government in discussions on fiscal autonomy for Scotland. Will he ask for a debate in Government time on those proposals?
There will be questions on Wales on
Protecting the most vulnerable in our society should be a basic principle of government, so may I urge the Leader of the House to create the opportunity to debate, in Government time, the statement of
I agree that protecting the most vulnerable is an important objective for any Government. That is why, in the Budget, we took 800,000 people out of tax and increased the rate of capital gains tax and that is why our proposals are designed specifically to protect the most vulnerable from the measures that are necessary in the public interest.
May I earnestly press the Leader of the House on the need for an urgent debate on the impact of the BSF cuts that were announced on Monday? I am not sure that he is fully aware of the concern that is being expressed in constituencies such as mine about the impact of these dreadful cuts not only on our young people but on local construction jobs in an area that greatly needs employment.
I am well aware of the concern, because I sat through the exchange, as I am sure she did, at 7.15 pm yesterday when colleagues made their views known and I have seen the Hansard report of the statement on Monday afternoon. I would be misleading her if I said that I could find time for a debate on this issue. I have outlined the business from now almost until the House rises and I am not sure that I can find time for a debate on it.
A couple of weeks ago, when I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the use of extended travel money by Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons, he told me that they should rely on Short money. The Library has kindly provided some figures from the last Parliament that show the average amount per Member for extended travel was £296 and the average per Conservative shadow Cabinet Member was £1,748.58. Mr Willetts, now the Minister for Universities and Science, spent £3,763 and Mr Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, spent £13,573. I am not criticising them; they were simply doing their job as Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons. The Leader of the House is a fair man, so will he look into this? Is it right to deny us in opposition the opportunities his party had in opposition to do their job?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, in that the regime for extended travel in the last Parliament appears to have been more generous than the new extended travel regime introduced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The issue has already been raised with IPSA by me and by some of the hon. Gentleman's hon. and right hon. Friends, and I shall pursue the matter to see whether we can get some equity of treatment.
I am disappointed by the almost glib way the Leader of the House sought to dismiss our concerns about the Building Schools for the Future fiasco. Do the Government not owe it to the people of this country, including my constituents who send their children to King's Heath Boys, to give us a full debate in Government time so that we can understand what went on? Is it a question of competence on the part of the Secretary of State? Is it a communication problem with his officials? Is it a sign of things to come, as the Government attempt to make cuts left, right and centre? Far from providing stability, we are in for months and years of misery and chaos, and if the Leader of the House is not prepared to let us understand what went on, I suspect he is trying to cover something up.
May I say to the hon. Gentleman that each year 20 days are allotted for Opposition debates? If he and his hon. Friends believe that they have a case against the Administration on incompetence, it is open to them to choose as a subject for an Opposition day exactly the issue he has raised-the handling of Building Schools for the Future.
In Prime Minister's questions yesterday, the Prime Minister elected to answer a question by, in his words, trying to boost sales of a book that I understand was published by an organisation part-owned by Lord Ashcroft. Can the Leader of the House assure us that rather than questions to the Prime Minister resulting in all Members of Parliament receiving an e-mail from the publishing firm-almost as though it knew what would happen-they are there to provide enlightenment to members of the public and not for the Prime Minister to make a sales pitch on behalf of Conservative party benefactors?
I think that there is some room in our proceedings, at some times, for just an element of humour. I hope that Ministers will not be penalised or discouraged if occasionally, every now and then, they use a sense of humour.
The work of citizens advice bureaux is widely regarded on both sides of the Chamber. Will the Leader of the House make a debate available so that we can discuss the cuts to citizens advice bureaux-approximately £2.5 million this year-which they are finding it extremely difficult to cope with? As all Members know, such cuts increase pressure on their constituency surgeries and on legal advice centres as well.
I pay tribute to the work of citizens advice bureaux, particularly the ones in Andover and Tadley in North West Hampshire. I think it is an appropriate subject for a debate in Westminster Hall, but if the hon. Gentleman is advocating that more funds should go to a particular area of expenditure he owes it to the House to identify some areas of savings to compensate for that.
May I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate on the terms of reference for the review of education capital expenditure announced by the Secretary of State for Education earlier this week? Has the Leader of the House had the chance to see that buried deep in the terms of reference, under the heading "Reducing the burden on schools" are the following words:
"To review and reform the requirement on schools, including the building/School Premises Regulations, design requirements and"
-most important-"playing field regulations". Does that mean not only that we shall see new schools stolen from under the noses of our children but also that their playing fields will be sold off?
If the hon. Gentleman comes along on Monday he can put that question to the Secretary of State for Education and get an answer.
Might we have time to debate the serious and worrying developments-human rights abuses and stories of unlawful killings-in the Srinagar area of Indian-administered Kashmir? There are many ongoing concerns, particularly about the Kashmir question and it is about time that India and Pakistan found a way to move towards a peaceful and democratic future for Kashmir.
I agree. It is a serious issue that ought to be debated and it seems to me an appropriate subject for Westminster Hall.
May I echo the request made by many of my hon. Friends and ask the Leader of the House to find time for an urgent debate on BSF? On a number of occasions, the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the opportunities offered by Opposition day debates, but as far as I am aware an Opposition day debate has not been allocated before the recess. One hundred and ten of the projects slashed were schools in the north-west, and 57 of them were in Merseyside and Cheshire alone. We need to debate the disproportionate impact of those cuts on the life chances of children from across the north-west.
I am sorry to have to give the same answer as I gave a few moments ago. I cannot find time for an urgent debate on that subject. I have outlined the debates that are likely to take place between now and the end of the month. Again, I have to say that the reason for the announcement was the over-commitment of the outgoing Government of funds and the absence of the cover necessary in Departments to meet those commitments.
I have been saving him up-Mr Chris Bryant.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for saving me up.
In answer to the splendid and hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who frankly should have been on the Government Front Bench, the Leader of the House got a bit ahead of himself. He said that we were about to have weeks of debating a constitutional reform Bill, but actually we have not yet been told whether there will be one Bill or two. We have not even been told when the First Reading will be, let alone Second Reading or any other stages. The Bill has not been published yet. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to tell the House when the Bill is to be published, in advance of its being published, and that it will not be on the last day before the recess?
I am not getting ahead of myself at all. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday, he would have heard clearly outlined the legislation that would be introduced on constitutional issues. There will be a Bill on the alternative vote system and boundaries, and there will be a Bill on fixed-term Parliaments. That is likely to take some time for us to discuss and there will be opportunities for the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor to raise the issues that concern them on the Floor of the House.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Lady can raise a point of order, but only after the statement. Perhaps she could hold her horses for a little while.