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Business of the House

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 3 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on human reproductive technologies and the law followed by a debate on the work of the Electoral Commission. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 4 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 3) Bill, followed by Ways and Means resolution on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, followed by progress on remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 5 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 6 July—A debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 7 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 10 July—A debate on the BBC on a Government motion.

Tuesday 11 July—A debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report 2005-06 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 12 July—Opposition Day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 13 July—Remaining stages of the NHS Redress Bill [Lords].

Friday 14 July—Private Members’ Bills.

Following is the information: In so far as they relate to human reproductive technologies and the law: Fifth report of the Science and Technology Committee, session 2004-05(HC7-1) and the Government response (CM 6641) and the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, A Public Consultation, Department of Health, 2005.

The House may wish to be reminded that, subject to the progress of business, we will rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Tuesday 25 July and return on Monday 9 October.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks. As he announced, on Monday 10 July there will be a debate on the BBC on a Government motion. Because the Government have timed that debate to take place just hours before the BBC publishes its year-end results, Members will not have up-to-date information. What is it about the BBC’s results that Ministers do not want questioned in this House; or is simply that that the debate has been timed for the convenience of ministerial diaries, not the benefit of Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore look again at the timing of that debate?

On 6 July, a debate is to take place on armed forces personnel, and I know that it has already been drawn to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention that the Defence Committee is visiting UK forces abroad during that week. Will he undertake to ensure that in future such debates do not take place when the relevant Select Committee is away on a fact-finding visit? Otherwise—taking this and the previous issue together—the suggestion is that the Government will debate matters only when the facts are not available or when Members who know about the subject are not around.

Over the past few days, we have seen yet further job cuts in the NHS. On Tuesday, 320 job cuts were announced at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, on top of 300 cuts last year. Yesterday, 500 job cuts were announced by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, with the equivalent of two to three ward closures planned. Yesterday also saw the loss of 500 jobs at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust. The local union leader Karen Jennings said:

“Thousands of staff have been taken out of the NHS in the last year, which will lead to permanent reduction of services…Patient care is now being put at risk by trusts desperate to balance the books.”

This week, I received a letter from the chairman of the Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead patient and public involvement in health primary care forum. She has written to the Health Secretary saying:

“We are concerned that, because of the many changes introduced over the last four years, tax-payers’ money is being spent on administrative changes, form-filling and box-ticking exercises instead of being used on the clinical needs of the patients.”

And this, according to the Health Secretary, is the “best year ever” for the NHS. Can we have a debate on the NHS before the recess?

Recently, I have been getting complaints from constituents about train fare increases by First Great Western. As one put it,

“the annual increase is over 5 times the rate of inflation…how do they explain such a dramatic increase in prices twice in a year?”

And that comes at a time when the service is being cut. Today, we read that after a secret deal with the Government, fares on the Thameslink-Great Northern franchise—also run by First—are increasing dramatically. A spokesman for the Department said:

“We accepted that this was a good commercial solution to the problem of overcrowding.”

So the Government are doing just what British Rail used to do—raising the fares if trains get busy, and pricing people off the trains and into their cars. But the Government’s policy is to get people out of their cars and on to the trains. It is not even a different Department that is involved; it is within the same Department. Can we please have a debate on train services and fares?

Yesterday’s judgment on control orders raised yet another problem in the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998. This morning, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said:

“There is a constitutional crisis emerging here”.

We have made our views clear. Ministers have hinted at reviewing the Human Rights Act. When will the Home Secretary come to the House to make a statement on the future of the Human Rights Act?

Debates before the facts are available, Departments contradicting their own policy, Ministers having to rewrite their own legislation, Ministers out of touch—are not those yet more signs of a Government in paralysis? Did not the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) explain all that earlier this week when he said:

“I do think there is a sense of Tony having lost his sense of purpose and direction.”

Is it not the case, however, that the whole Government have lost their sense of purpose and direction, and that time is running out not just for the Prime Minister, but for this Government?

I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Lady, but as a matter of arithmetic, this Government have a couple of weeks less than four years to run. Let me just run through her points.

The right hon. Lady’s first point was about a debate on a Government motion. There has been no conspiracy, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ask the BBC whether its results can be made available earlier. In the case of quoted companies it is important for the times at which results are announced to be kept to exactly, but as the BBC is a public corporation with no share price to worry about, I see no particular reason why the information should not be available to the House in advance. I will do my best.

The right hon. Lady’s second point concerned the debate on armed forces personnel. First, there are, quite properly, five debates a year on different aspects of the armed forces. Secondly, a problem for the Chamber, with which we all have to deal, is the intensive activity of Select Committees, which means that their members are often abroad. I do not honestly think it is possible to programme debates to take account at all times of whether Select Committee members are abroad. I experienced the same problem with foreign affairs debates. I should have preferred members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to be present for those debates, but sometimes it simply was not possible.

Let me say parenthetically that we shall have to do something about the fact that Select Committees are increasingly meeting exclusively on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. That is affecting attendance in the Chamber, and putting disproportionate pressure on the facilities of the House. I hope that the Chairman of the Liaison Committee will be prepared to talk to me about it.

As for job cuts in the national health service, the right hon. Lady knows that, in a context in which spending on the health service has more than doubled, there are some temporary difficulties in the management of budgets. I wish that she and her colleagues would stop scaring patients in their constituencies, and implying that a golden age existed when the Conservatives were in power. She knows that to be completely untrue.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead health forum. That is fine, but why did she not mention that in her area, which is covered as a whole by Thames Valley strategic health authority, there has been an increase of 2,700—22 per cent.—in the number of nurses and a 40 per cent. increase in the number of doctors? There is no way in which marginal, temporary reductions in the overall level of spending will take away from patients in the right hon. Lady’s area, and in every other area in the country, that dramatic increase in the number of doctors and nurses, and the huge increase in levels of health care for the right hon. Lady’s constituents.

The right hon. Lady went on to talk about rail fares. Although her comments were rather opaque, I understood her to be complaining, root and branch, about the consequences of rail privatisation. I know that she was not in the House when the Railways Act 1993 was passed, but I gather that she would have supported railway privatisation. [Interruption.] I can read too, and what the right hon. Lady’s newspaper says is wrong.

It is true that in the case of one or two privatisations we may not have got things entirely right, but we were absolutely right when it came to the method of railway privatisation. The fares have been changed as a result of decisions by the train operating companies, which the right hon. Lady and her colleagues set up under the rail privatisation deal. Let her explain that to her constituents, along with the fact that since 2001 we have more than doubled spending on the railways.

The right hon. Lady’s last point concerned the Human Rights Act and the decision on control orders. I do not intend to comment on that, as it will go before the Court of Appeal shortly. All I will say is that I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), a former Chancellor of the Exchequer who now chairs the Conservatives’ democracy group, was probably correct in describing the Leader of the Opposition’s proposals in respect of the Human Rights Act as “xenophobic” and wrong-headed. [Interruption.] What is the Government’s view? We have set it out.

Vernon Bogdanor was even more correct to say that, as the Leader of the Opposition’s former tutor, he would have sent his most recent speech back to him had it been an essay, and asked him to rewrite it.

If the current World cup competition has confirmed anything for us, it is that the position of the ticket tout is stronger than ever. Ticket touting robs many people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, of the opportunity to experience live music and sporting events and to witness their heroes in action. Could we have a debate to formulate a strategy with a view to eradicating ticket touting completely, whether it takes place via the internet or people skulking around theatres and football grounds?

We would all like to see greater action on that issue. There are clear offences on the statute book, but the difficulty is getting them enforced properly, not only here, but across the world. I share my hon. Friend’s great concern about ticket touts.

May I congratulate the Leader of the House on the signal distinction of being the answer to 10-across in the crossword in The Daily Telegraph yesterday? The clue however was

“Foreign Secretary no longer clutches at it”,

which may be a description of his performance.

I thank the Leader of the House for his response on the BBC debate and I hope that that is a successful initiative. I ask him again for a debate on the national health service, although not in the expectation of hearing a long list of the extra investment, because we acknowledge that. If I acknowledge that, I hope that he will acknowledge that many parts of the country are seeing the closure of community health facilities, such as cottage hospitals and maternity units. The great concern is that those closures are taking place on the basis not of strategic planning, but of short-term financial expediency. A debate could discover whether the Government intend to have a quasi-market approach to provision, which would greatly disadvantage many parts of the country—not least rural areas such as my own—or a planned national health service, providing facilities for all of our constituents.

May we have a debate on the ombudsman? The Leader of the House will be aware of the battle over the refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions to accept the ombudsman’s verdict on the payment of compensation to those who have lost their pensions. He will also be aware of the memorandum sent by Ann Abraham yesterday to the Public Administration Committee, which accused the Government of failing to address the basis on which she found that maladministration had occurred, making selective use of the evidence in her report and providing an unbalanced view of the role of Government. She said:

“I am concerned that the government’s response to my report, together with what appears to me to be an emerging attitude amongst government officials and ministers in relation to my findings of maladministration, has serious implications for the constitutional position of my office.”

That is a very serious matter, which requires debate.

Finally, what has happened to cross-cutting questions? I have asked this before and had no reply. We had a very good initiative of cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall, which allowed hon. Members to ask questions on subjects that crossed several different departmental areas. Can that be reinstated? It would be easy to do so, because we would not need a range of Ministers when we could just have the cross-cutting Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer questions on everybody’s behalf.

I am not good enough at crosswords to do the one in The Daily Telegraph, so I am grateful to learn that I was the answer to 10-across, which is much better than being the answer to 1-down. [Laughter.]

It wasn’t bad, either.

On the national health service, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that there have been improvements—and there is a long list of them—and I note that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) agrees. It would be good if the Liberal Democrats’ recognition of the improvement in services in the NHS were accepted, even ungraciously, by members of the Conservative party. I do not accept that the short-term financial difficulties are a result of privatisation, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) alleges: they are the result of trying to get a grip on total spending in the NHS in the context of substantial rises. I appreciate that there is great anxiety in areas where community hospitals are to close. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is very alive to that, and there are many opportunities—more than there used to be—to raise such matters on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall. Moreover, let us not forget that we recently had a full day’s debate on the health service.

The ombudsman issue was raised in a debate of only two days ago on pensions. We do not accept what the ombudsman says about her constitutional position; we are acting with full respect for it. We have committed more than £2 billion to the financial assistance scheme to help those closest to retirement who have been worst affected, to cover the lifetime of the scheme.

On cross-cutting questions, I just say that I am happy to look at that again, and to consult the Chairmen of the Modernisation and the Procedure Committees.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an urgent debate on the increasingly dangerous situation in the middle east, following the deplorable and despicable kidnapping of the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, and the massive, and so far futile, Israeli response, which has, among other things, wiped out a power station, and which the Government have condemned? In view of the fact that the situation could reach a point of serious explosion, can we find time for a debate in which the Government can say what they are doing to put the road map back on course?

I understand the very serious concerns on this matter of my right hon. Friend and many other Members on both sides of the House. As I said at business questions last week, I hope—I continue to work on this—that it will be possible to find a slot for a foreign affairs debate before the summer recess.

If the Leader of the House is lucky enough to come to Hemel Hempstead, he will see that there is a fantastic general and acute hospital, which I freely admit has received a great deal of investment in the last few years; it has a new cardiac unit, stroke unit and maternity birthing unit, and there has been a great deal of expenditure on new staff and facilities. Sadly however, that is now all wasted because the hospital is going to be knocked down as a consequence of Hertfordshire’s deficit problem. Can we have a debate in which the Secretary of State for Health is brought before the House to explain to my constituents why this is the worst year ever for the health service in Hemel Hempstead?

I have always enjoyed my visits to Hemel Hempstead. The other day, I drove through the town that the hon. Gentleman represents and reflected on what a nice place it is. It used to be Labour, too, so it was even better in those days.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but in respect of the area he represents, I just say that Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority has had an increase of 2,500—30 per cent.-plus—in nurses and a 30 per cent. increase in doctors. Comparing the situation today with that of 10 years ago—as the hon. Gentleman seeks to do—it is the case that, despite the difficulties, health care is significantly better than it was.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 76-day summer recess brings this place and us into discredit with our constituents and that, as a matter of principle, it is not acceptable in a democracy to give a Government an almost three-month holiday from scrutiny? Does he recall that when our friend, the late Robin Cook, announced reforms to the parliamentary calendar, he promised that there would be September sittings? Indeed, they were introduced for a year, but the following year we were given the excuse that the security screen needed to be set up, and they disappeared. What is the excuse this year for not sitting in September, and does my right hon. Friend have any plans to do something about that?

When I inquired into the matter, the excuse that was given was that it was too late to do anything because the maintenance had already been planned for this year—that may or may not be correct. Personally, I am in favour of September sittings—which puts me in a minority among some colleagues, so it is a risky career move—but we are too late to do anything for this year; that is understood. However, it is my hope that there will be a vote of all Members early next Session on whether the House wishes there to be September sittings.

If we continue not to have September sittings, we will have to increase the number of sitting days in the rest of the year, because the deal that the late Robin Cook agreed with the House was that we would get half terms in return for sitting in September. However, folk are getting half terms and not sitting in September, which is certainly unacceptable to our constituents and active Members of this House.

I have not said a word. May I thank the Leader of the House for introducing debates on a substantive Government motion on important issues? We have had a debate on pensions, and we are about to have a debate on the BBC, both of which are very important subjects. Will he continue with this experimental initiative, but perhaps have a feed-in to the subject that will be available for debate on a substantive motion from Back Benchers as well as the usual channels, so that the House can be more involved in business, and issues of current importance can be debated at the initiative of Back-Bench Members?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that approbation, and, indeed, I am seeking to ensure that there are more debates on motions that can be voted on. In respect of the one on Tuesday, both sides agreed. In my judgment, the quality of debate is in general higher if there are motions that Members can vote in favour of or against. That is what this Chamber is for, so I hope that we can continue doing that.

On the issue of substantive motions at reasonable times of the parliamentary week balloted for by Back Benchers, the hon. Gentleman knows that we are considering that in the context of Modernisation Committee reports. That was available to Members until 1994; it was abolished as what was in my view an inadvertent consequence of the implementation of some of the Jopling recommendations. I think that it worked well, but I obviously must get others to agree.

My right hon. Friend will know that in just a few minutes’ time the report will be published of the public inquiry into the death of my constituent, Zahid Mubarak, in Feltham young offenders institution, and that that report is likely to have major implications for the Prison Service—it might be as serious for the Prison Service as the report of the Lawrence inquiry was for the police service. In that context, I must say that I am surprised that there is no statement today to the House on this matter from a Home Office Minister, and that it is being dealt with by a written statement. When my right hon. Friend takes a look at that report, I hope that he will agree that it is of sufficient importance that it ought to be debated and that Members ought to be able to question Ministers on its recommendations and on their intentions of implementing them.

I hope that I have the approval of the whole House in expressing our deep sorrow to the family of Mr. Mubarak, who was murdered in his cell some years ago, for his death and all the anxiety that they have suffered since then as the inquiries have ground through. A preliminary response by the Government is to be issued today by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow that the recommendations will have to be the subject of debate in this Chamber or Westminster Hall. I cannot promise a debate in this Chamber before the summer recess, although it may be possible for there to be one in Westminster Hall. But in any event, those recommendations will have to be followed through.

Will the Leader of the House provide for a debate in Government time on the iniquities of the Extradition Act 2003, which stands to allow the extradition of the so-called “NatWest three”? Would he also observe that at present the United States can apply for the extradition of UK citizens without prima facie evidence, and yet a reciprocal arrangement with the US, whereby the UK can apply for the extradition of US citizens, does not yet exist?

I am not going to comment on that case, Mr. Speaker, if you will excuse me. I do not, however, believe that the Extradition Act is iniquitous; it is sensible and proportionate in dealing with a situation in which much greater movement of people occurs than ever did when previous such Acts were introduced.

It was clear during Tuesday’s excellent pensions debate that we are moving toward consensus in the House, but it was also clear that there is some way to go on certain issues. Will my right hon. Friend look at dividing up that debate so that we can examine specific issues, and particularly how pensions affect women? Given their broken work record and the caring responsibilities that they have to take on, if we can get the pensions issue right for them, all the other people with broken work records will also be helped.

Yes, I will do that. All of us are aware of the real concern that women have about a broken work record affecting their pension entitlement.

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on audiology services in the NHS? Literally thousands of my constituents—and, I am sure, those of many other Members—are waiting up to two years for an appointment for a hearing aid. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that that is totally unacceptable and merits this House’s further attention.

I certainly acknowledge that some audiology waiting list times are unacceptable, and I will follow the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts to find time for a debate on the Israel-Palestine issue, for which, as he knows, Members in all parts of the House have been pushing for some weeks. The situation is becoming urgent, particularly this week, when we should perhaps be celebrating the opportunity for Hamas and Fatah to reach an agreement on a two-state solution. Instead, we are dealing with the appalling kidnapping of a soldier, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) mentioned, and the appalling abduction of 20 Palestinian parliamentarians and seven Cabinet Ministers overnight. May I ask my right hon. Friend to make all possible efforts to have that debate at the earliest opportunity, and, if possible, to arrange a statement by the Foreign Secretary?

As I said, I fully understand the deep concern felt about this issue, and I am doing my best to ensure that a foreign policy debate covering the middle east takes place before the recess.

May I echo the call of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for fuller discussion in this House of the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998? I put it to the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister might be rather disappointed with today’s business announcement, given that yesterday he said the following about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:

“He finally announced a domestic policy—his own Bill of Rights…Come on….I am happy to debate the right hon. Gentleman’s policies”.—[Official Report, 28 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 254.]

When is the Prime Minister, or indeed the Leader of the House, going to provide time for a debate, which we earnestly want, on that Act—or is he too terrified about the mess that it is in?

We are providing the time: the 18th allotted day for the Opposition is in just 10 days’ time. The hon. Gentleman is a man of very great influence in his party—let us have a debate, in Opposition time, on the Human Rights Act.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but the last question—about the possibility of a debate on the Human Rights Act and its merits, or otherwise—was the one that I was going to ask. However, I also think it important to consider some of the claims that have been made publicly about a Bill of Rights without further consideration having been given to the wider legislative framework within which such a Bill would have to operate.

I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is supporting Opposition Members—some Opposition Members—in putting pressure on their Front Benchers to use their Opposition time sensibly. I have to say that they have squandered some Opposition days on the most eccentric subjects—

Such subjects certainly would not—and did not when we were in opposition— rank in my order of suitable subjects for debate on Supply days.

As we approach the anniversary of 7/7, may we have a debate in Government time on a subject that I know is dear to the heart of the Leader of the House—how we can build a secure and tolerant multi-ethnic society? The need for a review of Government policy is urgent. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that a recent freedom of information inquiry, which was passed to me, reveals that the Government have given a grant of £150,000 to the Muslim Council of Britain. He may not be aware, however, that its new chairman, Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, recently invited to Britain a Saudi cleric who called Jews “pigs and monkeys”, and who also said that Hindus were idol worshippers to whom it would be wrong to talk sweetly. Dr. Bari was also involved in inviting a Bangladeshi cleric who has called for American troops to return from Iraq in coffins if they do not convert to Islam. May we have an opportunity to examine where Ministers have gone wrong in tackling extremism?

I of course wholly deplore the remarks attributed to those two clerics, as does the whole House. That said, I defend the Government’s decision to provide some modest financial aid to the Muslim Council of Britain. I, as Home Secretary, was the Minister who first did that, and I accept my responsibility in that regard. It is a sensible organisation that faces its own difficulties in trying to hold together a very diverse community that is itself under pressure. As for a debate on communities, there will be a debate on aspects of that issue. A debate is coming up—I am not being disingenuous in pointing this out—on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report, which covers aspects of 7/7. That is an opportunity to raise some but not all of the matters that the hon. Gentleman referred to.

The Leader of the House will have heard yesterday’s exchanges at Prime Minister’s Question Time on Trident and its possible replacement, and on the legality of replacement within the terms of the non-proliferation treaty. Is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us when the relevant Select Committee reports will be available, and when the Government will make a statement on the cost and legality of replacing Trident, and on their strategy for fulfilling our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty? When, moreover, will there be a vote in this House, on a clear substantive motion, on whether we are to continue down the nuclear armament road?

The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that such a debate will be on an Opposition day. No, it will not; it will be on a Government motion. I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that there is no issue of legality. I am happy to give him a seminar outside this Chamber—or inside it—on our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, but of the five nuclear weapon states that are under that treaty, we are the one that has made the most progress in meeting our obligations. We have reduced our nuclear warhead systems from three to one. I led for the British Government at last May’s revision conference, which sought to get an international consensus in order to make further progress. However, we were thwarted by other member states.

There will be a debate on this issue. As I told the House last week, I cannot anticipate at this stage the most appropriate form for that debate, but it will be one that shows proper respect for the House. My hon. Friend will excuse me if I remind him that he, as well as I, stood on Labour’s manifesto at the last election, which said:

“We are…committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent”.

Given the unsustainability of the imbalance of representation between England and Scotland and the worrying democratic deficit that that creates, may we have an urgent debate on the future shape of the constitutional settlement currently in place between these two great countries?

We have had plenty of debates on that issue. I shall just say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, he and his party—which, as I reminded the House last week, was once called the Conservative and Unionist party—need to be extremely careful in pursuing the populist but wrong-headed line of suggesting that there is a contradiction between devolution to Scotland and the integrity of the Union. The second point that he needs to be aware of is that English MPs, of whom I am one, have overwhelming power over the Scottish Parliament in respect of one thing that is fundamental to all its operations: the allocation of money to it.

May I follow on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) and ask for a debate in Government time on carers and the White Paper’s good recommendations on pensions? Carers were rather sidelined during this week’s pensions debate, and in fact we have a good strong message for carers.

I certainly understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I hope that there might be an opportunity to pursue this matter before the recess in Westminster Hall or in an Adjournment debate, and after the recess, on the Floor of the House.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in condemning the sickening hate mail received by Scottish tennis ace Andy Murray simply because he favours one football team over another. Do we not need a statement to remind fans, the media, commentators and pundits that football is just a game? Good-natured rivalry is what makes it so special around the world, so should we not make an appeal to stop all the cajoling and browbeating about who should support whom?

Everyone needs a sense of proportion about football. Bill Shankly famously said that some people believed that football was a matter of life and death, but that in fact it was much more important than that.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that we might get cross-party support to try to change the ridiculously undemocratic system of Orders in Council? This is an urgent matter. Yesterday afternoon, the whole of the Northern Ireland education system was changed radically—and in my view, detrimentally—by the vote of a Committee. No amendments were allowed, and no costings were brought forward. That is outrageous. The Order in Council procedure will apply until the Assembly returns, and it must be changed.

I shall certainly pursue those concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but at the end of her question my hon. Friend acknowledged that the fundamental problem is that the Assembly has been suspended. If it had not been, the matter to which she refers would be one for the democratic representatives in Northern Ireland.

May we have an urgent and early debate on our country’s chaotic immigration system? Yesterday, the Minister for Local Government, who has responsibility for community cohesion, said that of course we needed to debate it, and two examples from my constituency prove that. In the first, a person who has applied for indefinite leave to remain received a letter from the Home Office saying that his name appeared on the UN list of individuals belonging to or associated with the al-Qaeda organisation, but then apologised for “any delay or anxiety” caused by consideration of his application. My other constituent works for the European Bank for Research and Development, and is one of thousands of other Bulgarian nationals here on business visas who have been asked to produce 16 sets of additional documents within 28 days in order to prolong their stay. Surely our priorities are wrong if we are apologising to alleged al-Qaeda members yet harassing people with rare skills who are doing important jobs in this country in sectors such as international development?

I cannot comment on those individual cases, save to say that Bulgaria is one of those countries whose nationals need work permits in Britain. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members would be the first to complain if we did not conduct proper checks of people seeking work permits.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2456, in my name?

[That this House notes with concern that representatives of Overseas Territories based in the UK are not invited to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday; recognises the huge contribution made by Overseas Territories to supporting the UK military both during war time and during peace time and the number of lives lost whilst serving on behalf of British forces; pays tribute to the residents of the UK's Overseas Territories for their loyalty to the British Crown; and calls upon the Government to allow one representative from an overseas territory to lay a wreath on behalf of all the Overseas Territories at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.]

It is supported by hon. Members of all parties, and deals with the recognition of overseas territories. It proposes allowing representatives from those territories to place wreaths at the Cenotaph, whereas at present, that is done on their behalf by a Minister. It is absurd that London representatives of those territories are not allowed to recognise their war dead. Those representatives, in rotation, should be allowed to place wreaths at the Cenotaph themselves.

I commend my hon. Friend on raising this important issue. I shall pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, and to the Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for the Cenotaph ceremony.

Can we have a statement next week from the Home Secretary about his intended treatment of Rwandan genocide suspects? A number of such individuals currently reside in the UK, and at least one has been granted indefinite leave to remain. A statement by the Home Secretary would enable him to make it clear to the House whether he intends to deal with such people by extradition or by domestic prosecution. In particular, he would be able to underline the important point that asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution, and not to those seeking to evade responsibility for their suspected persecution of others.

I do not think that a statement is necessary. I cannot comment on the cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, as I do not have the facts. However, the fact that people have been granted asylum is not a bar to their being extradited. Article 1F of the 1951 refugee convention provides that asylum status can be withdrawn if there is evidence that the person involved has committed a serious crime—which, plainly, genocide is.

I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2447.

[That this House calls for a Government-led detailed inquiry into the pricing policies of the private utility companies to ensure that the consumer can make informed decisions on the provider and that the process for changing provider is simplified, which should create a truly transparent and competitive market.]

The motion has cross-party support, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will draw it to the attention of his Cabinet colleagues. Does he agree that it is wrong that energy companies are allowed to make significant price increases that have a devastating effect on all our communities?

I agree that prices for energy and other utilities have risen very significantly. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I shall certainly raise them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

I commend the Leader of the House for adding, in a speech outside the House, to the debate on party political funding and on the democratic deficit illustrated by very low election turnouts. Does he agree that there needs to be a debate in the House on the matter quite soon? That would enable those of us with doubts about parts of his policy to cross-examine him about them. I am referring to the fact that trade unions are excluded from funding restrictions, yet the restrictions apply to political parties outside election times. That policy seems to benefit the Government, whichever party is power.

Of course there should be a debate on party funding. Whether it will be held before we get the report from Sir Hayden Phillips is a matter for consideration, but I accept the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. Meanwhile, I invite him to read the chapter on donations in the Neill committee report published in 1998.

May I offer an additional reason for a debate on the middle east? Other hon. Members have mentioned the high-profile issues, but every day the Israeli Government continue to annexe Palestinian land and expel Palestinians from Jerusalem. Effectively, Israel is closing off the possibility of a two-state solution in the area.

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concern and great knowledge of these matters. As I have said to other hon. Members today, I understand that concern and want there to be a debate, and I am doing my best to ensure that there will be one.

I ask the Leader of the House, for the third time in six weeks, when he will put on the Order Paper a motion to allow the European Scrutiny Committee to meet in public. Last time he said:

“we must not embarrass ourselves by setting up systems that subsequently fall into disrepute”.—[Official Report, 8 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 414.]

There is nothing more embarrassing than the idea of that critically important Committee meeting in secret. Nothing would do it more good than the fresh air of public scrutiny.

Well, that depends. The other point of view has to do with the Committee’s effectiveness in scrutinising documents that have otherwise not yet been made public.

The hon. Gentleman says that I suffer from the disadvantage of being wrong—but that is often the case. However, I do not think that I am wrong on this occasion.