The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 24 July—Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill.
Tuesday 25 July—Motion on the retirement of the Clerk of the House, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, followed by motion on the summer recess Adjournment.
The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to any Act.
The business for the week following the summer recess will be as follows:
Monday 9 October—Remaining stages of the Road Safety Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 10 October—Second Reading of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.
Wednesday 11 October—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 12 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by a debate on climate change on a motion for the adjournment of the House.
Friday 13 October—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 16 October will include:
Monday 16 October—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 October and 19 October will be:
Thursday 12 October—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on the WTO Hong Kong ministerial conference and the Doha development agenda.
Thursday 19 October—A debate on the 28th annual House of Commons Commission report.
I should like to remind the House that it agreed to sit from 11.30 am on Tuesday 25 July, and there will be no business next Tuesday in Westminster Hall.
I should also like to tell the House that the state opening of Parliament will be on Wednesday 15 November.
The House will rise at the end of business on 25 July and return on Monday 9 October. I have given serious consideration to the points made by Members on both sides of the House regarding the accountability of Government during the summer recess. I am pleased to inform the House that later today I intend to table a motion and an explanatory memorandum that will allow for the tabling and answering of named day questions and, if there is a need, written ministerial statements on specified days during the first two weeks of September. This information will thereafter be printed in the Official Report.
Before closing, Mr. Speaker, I should like to take the opportunity to wish all Members of the House a productive summer recess in which they are able to see their families for a normal holiday period, and then able, as colleagues on both sides of the House always do, to devote time to their constituencies. I also give my thanks to the staff of the House for their continued support and to staff in Government Departments who provide briefings for my weekly business statement—although of course the answers are entirely my responsibility.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall respond to everything that the Leader of the House set out—the business for next week and after the recess and the statement about recess questions.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s announcement that hon. Members will be able to table written questions during the recess, albeit for a limited period. My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) raised the matter in business questions on 21 July 2005 at column 1415 of Hansard, when he asked for immediate action. It was not quite immediate, but at least something has happened and the Leader of the House is to be congratulated on that. However, will he confirm that the extension for written questions includes those to the Home Office and that the Department will respond fully in the time set out? May I urge him to go further? What plans has he to extend the opportunities to ask written questions during the summer recess in future? He also announced provision for written ministerial statements. In the absence of the Order Paper, what plans has he to alert hon. Members to the statements either when they are made or through advance notice?
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week and the week after the recess. Yesterday, I welcomed his decision to change today’s business to enable the House to debate the growing crisis in the middle east. As that crisis develops, a further statement might well be needed before the recess. Will the Foreign Secretary come to the House next week to update hon. Members on the situation and the Government’s position?
Sadly, today’s debate has meant postponing the debate on international development. We previously had such a debate in Government time a year ago, on Africa. Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that there will be a debate on international development as soon as possible after our return from the recess and certainly before the end of the Session?
On Tuesday, many hon. Members were lobbied by constituents about cuts in physiotherapy services. I met Kate from Twyford, who told me that 2,500 physiotherapists will graduate this year and probably only 250 will get jobs because of cuts in the national health service. Last year, the Government encouraged universities to increase training places for physiotherapists. This year, more than 2,000 graduates will fail to get a job. When we return, may we have a debate on physiotherapy services?
May we also have a debate in the autumn on Britain’s influence in the world? Today’s debate will concentrate on the middle east, but, on our role in world affairs, I was struck by the exchange between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States, which was reported earlier this week at the G8 summit. The Prime Minister offered to visit the middle east to
“try and see what the lie of the land is”.
The reply was:
“I think Condi is going to go pretty soon.”
What did Prime Minister say?
“Well, it’s only if, I mean, you know, if she’s got a, or if she needs the ground prepared, as it were. Because obviously if she goes out, she’s got to succeed, if it were, whereas I can go out and just talk.”
What a revelation. That was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom speaking. First, it tells us what we have always known: the Prime Minister does not do anything, he simply talks. Secondly, what does it say about the UK? My noble Friend Lord Hurd once described Britain as punching above its weight in foreign affairs. Today, the Prime Minister sees himself as the warm-up act for the US Secretary of State. We need a debate on our role in the world.
May we also have a debate on ministerial responsibilities? A review of four Departments has shown significant failure to deliver. On ability to plan resources, prioritise and deliver value for money, setting aside the Home Office’s poor performance, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Department for Work and Pensions were
“Not well placed to address weaknesses, urgent action needed.”
The Prime Minister’s response was to say that the Departments’ central headquarters would now focus on
“high-level strategy and priority setting, managing performance and tackling failure and building up skills”.
What on earth have they been doing for the past nine years?
Speaking of reviews, when the Government were first elected in 1997, the Prime Minister made much of his commitment to produce an annual report each year. On 18 July 2001, he said:
“In respect of annual reports, it is important that we set out the Government’s achievements and lack of achievements in whichever year we are in power.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2001; Vol. 372, c. 280.]
The last annual report was published in 2000. When will the next one be published? May we have a debate before the end of the Session on the Government’s record over the past year and a half?
As we are approaching the summer recess, I do not want to over-burden civil servants with this task, so I shall offer some suggestions on what the Government’s annual report might cover. It could include U-turns on home information packs, self-assessment tax returns, council tax revaluation, prison building, sentencing policy and police mergers. It could cover abandoned projects such as hospital star ratings, regional assemblies and the abolition of the Lord Chancellor. Further subjects might include the information technology projects left in chaos at the Child Support Agency, the Rural Payments Agency, the Criminal Records Bureau, the Passport Office and the NHS—
I am sure that the Leader of the House will ensure that all those issues will be addressed in the debate that, I hope, he will offer us on what the Government have been doing over the past year and a half. However, of all the areas in which we know that the Government have failed, we need to address the problems with the ID card scheme, the fact that fewer pupils from state schools are going to university, hospital closures, the wider gap between rich and poor, and the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister is a laughing stock, the Prime Minister is a lame duck and the Government are in paralysis. I wish the Leader of the House and all right hon. and hon. Members a very happy and productive summer recess, and I join the Leader of the House in thanking the staff for all that they have done to support us over the past year.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House very much for her remarks and compliments, which I take in the spirit in which they were intended. I hope that one of the things that she does over the recess will be to sack the person who writes her lines. I say that in a spirit of great affection for the right hon. Lady, but, honestly, after putting her up to do that awful number on pop song titles—which turned out to be inaccurate—and now this stuff, he really ought to be sacked.
I shall now deal with the questions that the right hon. Lady raised. She asked whether notice of written ministerial statements would appear in advance, and the answer is yes. Notice will appear in the normal way in the Questions Book—the blues attached to the Order Paper—alongside the notice of questions. I will also talk to the Clerks Office, to the right hon. Lady and to the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), about whether we can arrange for Members to receive electronic notice, particularly of the written ministerial statements, as Members will be at a distance. I want to ensure that this experiment works.
The right hon. Lady asked whether there would be an opportunity for a statement on the crisis in the middle east. The answer is that there are Foreign Office questions next Tuesday, so hon. Members will have every opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and her ministerial colleagues. The right hon. Lady also asked whether there would be a debate on international development before the end of the parliamentary Session. The answer is that we hope so, but, given the other pressures on the parliamentary timetable and the buffers of the Queen’s Speech, I cannot guarantee it. However, we will do our very best to have such a debate either soon or in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech, this side of the year.
The right hon. Lady made some remarks about the health service. I have been looking at the health service in her own constituency. There is greater competition for jobs in health care because we have greatly increased the number of places available. There used to be complaints that we were recruiting so many people from overseas. These days, thanks to the dramatic increase in places for nurses, for doctors, for paramedics and for physiotherapists, most recruitment can take place in the UK. Yes, of course there is competition, but I simply do not believe these statements that thousands of new staff will be unemployed. That is not the case at all. Meanwhile, I note that, in the Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead Primary Care Trust, there has been a 5.2 per cent. increase above inflation in real terms in a single year, and that the trust received three stars for its latest performance. In the same area, waiting lists are down by 10 per cent. since June 2002. It is very odd that that was not mentioned just now.
In relation to the Home Office capability review, the right hon. Lady did not mention an increase of 440 in the number of police officers in her area and, of course, a big drop in crime. She did mention the DFES. Astonishing additional resources have been devoted to education, with primary school and secondary school results both up. She criticised the DWP’s capability review, as a result of which unemployment in her area has been cut by more than half in nine years and long-term unemployment by two thirds.
Lastly, the right hon. Lady asked about a debate on Britain’s influence in the world, which I would be absolutely delighted to have. I make no criticism of one of my distinguished predecessors, both as Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary, Lord Hurd, but it is impossible to survey the past nine years without recognising that Britain’s influence in Europe, the middle east and across the world has greatly extended and increased compared with the previous 18 years.
Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2601, tabled in my name and that of many other Members?
[That this House calls on insurance companies to take action to reduce the travel insurance premiums charged to people who have suffered from serious diseases such as cancer; notes that premiums for people in such a position can be many times higher than otherwise quoted; and calls for action to be taken to lower premiums so that insurance costs do not prohibit former patients from travelling abroad.]
The early-day motion concerns the excessive charges that insurance companies make to clients who want to go abroad and who have had serious illnesses but are in remission. For example, James Timmons in my constituency, whose case is highlighted in the Daily Record today, received a minimum quote of £350 for insurance cover to go on holiday. That is more than the price of the holiday. May we have a debate on this issue?
I commend my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. The truth is that it is our poorer constituents who get ripped off in this way. I am glad that he has raised the matter, and I will be pleased to draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who has responsibility for regulating the insurance industry.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. I am delighted that, even at this stage in the Session, it is not too late to introduce a new Home Office Bill, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, on Tuesday 10 October.
I think that the Government intend to move a carry-over motion for the Welfare Reform Bill on 24 July. Carry-over is normally by agreement between all parties, so some discussions are necessary before the motion is moved. Before we get to that point, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Committee stage of that very important Bill is not truncated by Prorogation or for any other reason? Secondly, can it be ensured that the Committee has the necessary draft orders, which form a large part of the substance of the Bill, from the start of its proceedings?
I welcome the Leader of the House’s comments about questions during this over-long recess. The ability to put questions is important, and the ability of the Government to answer them equally so. Their record is not good over recent years. I put a named day question to the Home Office, inevitably, for 3 May, and did not receive a reply, which said that it was not prepared to answer me, until 13 July. The Treasury is even worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) tabled 15 questions for answer on the very important matter of fraud in the tax credits system, and received a single reply on Wednesday that did not answer the specific points raised. This is a key issue. If we are to hold the Government to account, there must be an understanding among Ministers and civil servants about what comprises an adequate response to a parliamentary question. Will he speak to his Cabinet colleagues and the head of the home civil service to ensure that proper answers are given?
I welcome this afternoon’s debate on foreign affairs. It is essential that we debate the grave situation in the middle east.
Let me say in response to what was said by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that there has been a change of emphasis in Foreign Office policy even since Monday, when the Minister for the Middle East, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), made what I thought was an extremely well-balanced statement to the House. We heard the Prime Minister’s replies on the same subject yesterday. As I have said in a speech on home affairs, we are not a wholly owned subsidiary of the United States, and our foreign policy must not appear to be dictated by the White House. That is an important issue, and I hope the debate will explore it.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman will spend the recess on his soap box in Blackburn; I will spend it undertaking my usual tour of the 120 or so villages in my constituency. I know already that the questions I will be asked will be about closures of sub-post offices, the state of agriculture, police amalgamations, and the fact that although record amounts are being spent on the health service, hospital wards are still being closed.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that on our return we debate all those important issues, so that I can tell my constituents “Fear not, your concerns will be raised as soon as Parliament resumes in October”?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. It has been a difficult Bill to get right. I began the process back in 1997, after the Southall train crash. I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind his welcome for the Bill when his colleagues next start delivering cheap shots about the number of Home Office Bills that have appeared over the past nine years. They say that there have been 54 of them, and indeed there have. The question is, which of those Bills should not have been passed?
It is helpful to have that on the record. Many of the Bills that the hon. Gentleman voted against are the ones that are protecting our citizens and helping us to reduce crime. I am glad to have secured that admission from him.
The Welfare Reform Bill is one of two measures that we intend to carry over. I hope that that can be agreed, but if it cannot, it cannot. The purpose of carry-over has been accepted by the House, and it is very sensible. It should be borne in mind that it does not make it any easier for Government to pass legislation, because we have to ensure that it is passed within 12 months of the date of its introduction; and of course the Bill will have a normal Committee stage.
I recall hearing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions say that he would do his best to ensure that the principal draft orders were presented to the House, but I do not think he said that all of them would be. I will pass on to him what the hon. Gentleman has said.
As for Home Office questions, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is present to make his daily statement or speech to the House. I am sure we all welcome that, but only those of us who have held my right hon. Friend’s portfolio quite understand how it feels to wake up each morning and hear five stories about the Home Office, one of which you may know about, four of which you have not the first idea about, and all five of which you must answer for during the rest of the day. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the backlog of questions, and I can say on his behalf that he and his colleagues have made every effort to clear it.
Ministers and officials must recognise the need for questions to be answered, but Members must recognise—and I am pleased to say that it has been recognised in all parts of the House—that if the Order Paper is overloaded with questions in industrial quantities, tabled by researchers and in some instances unseen by the Members concerned, there are bound to be logjams. It is a real problem. I am glad to see that Members agree with that.
I am assiduous, as are all my colleagues, in ensuring that questions are answered whenever possible, but we have a problem in the House with researchers trying to prove a point, and with the TheyWorkForYou.com website, which seems to measure Members’ work in quantitative rather than qualitative terms. That is an issue for the whole House, not just for Ministers.
As for my soap box in Blackburn, I was indeed on it on Saturday and, I am pleased to say, received approbation—as ever—for what had happened on 8 July, after 18 years of my campaigning and being given the raspberry. In 1998 my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), then Secretary of State for Health, announced that there would be a new hospital in Blackburn. It has now been built, £140 million has been spent on it, and on 8 July it opened for business. That was a great day for a Labour Government and the people of Blackburn.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. It will be warmly welcomed, particularly in the workplace. I am especially pleased to learn that Scottish measures will be included, because I believe that in Scotland we have one of the highest rates of industrial death and injury. It is important for the Bill to complete its passage. My right hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of a carry-over; it is clear from the timetable that he has announced today that that will be necessary, and I hope that he will make every effort to ensure that it happens.
I guarantee that the Bill will be carried over, and I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes it. I should explain that while many aspects of criminal law are devolved, the Bill involves health and safety, and the House decided in the Scotland Act 1998 that those matters were reserved. There has, however, been substantial consultation with the Scottish Executive.
The Government’s avowed intention is to create further rail freight interchanges. I have met 400-odd constituents who are extremely concerned about the possibility of a 3.5 million sq ft interchange in the constituency. I would welcome an urgent debate on the future of rail freight and the positioning of rail freight interchanges, and I hope very much that the Government will have time to provide one.
The hon. Lady raises a legitimate point, but it underlines the conflicts with which we must all deal. I have been in the House for quite a long time, and year after year there are debates in which Members call for more freight to be carried by rail. We are all up for that, but of course it means that there must be interchanges with roads, and those facilities must go somewhere.
I will convey the hon. Lady’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who deals with planning, but I hope she believes that in principle it is a good idea for more freight to be carried by rail. The amount of rail freight has increased considerably during the past nine years, and, as I have said, the interchanges must go somewhere.
As chair of the all-party group on poverty, I wish to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2529, entitled “Lunch expenses for unemployed volunteers”.
[That this House believes that volunteers play an important role in building and empowering communities and that volunteering should be encouraged for all; supports job seekers and the unemployed who make time to volunteer whilst also seeking employment; notes with dismay the recent Department for Work and Pensions booklet that states that volunteers on Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance will not normally be entitled to claim lunch as an expense; is concerned that the long-standing reimbursement of volunteers as a way of appreciating and recognising their input may be undermined; is further concerned that those least able to afford volunteering are more likely to be discouraged from doing so if reasonable expenses are not provided; notes that volunteering should not be considered ‘basic needs'; and calls on the Department for Work and Pensions to promote volunteering as a benefit to job seekers and their communities, for which volunteers should have the right to claim reasonable and essential expenses.]
This may seem a small matter. The motion refers to a booklet produced by the Department for Work and Pensions, “A Guide to Volunteering While on Benefits”. The booklet is welcome, but buried in it is a small change in the guidance: the withdrawal of lunch expenses as a legitimate reimbursable claim. That will prevent many people on benefits from being able to volunteer.
I think all Members will agree that volunteering is a route back to contact and work. The matter is urgent, because the Government are introducing changes in incapacity benefit—which I hope we all support, because they will encourage people to return to work. If that small change in the guidelines were amended during the summer, while we are away, it would open up opportunities rather than closing them down.
When the House returns, will the Leader of the House provide Government time, as a matter of urgency, for us to discuss the ramifications of the Government’s decision to allow civil partnership couples in Northern Ireland to apply to adopt children in care, and the serious impact that it will have on the children in particular and on society as a whole?
I note the hon. Lady’s point of view, and I know that there are strong opinions on all sides. On the basis of my knowledge of the working of the adoption system, at least in Great Britain, I can say that the adoption authorities have the strictest duties—and in any event take the strictest care—not to permit adoptions unless they are satisfied that they are in the interests of the children concerned, and the courts would not do so either.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of looking at early-day motion 2595?
[That this House congratulates Amitabh Bachchan on being awarded an honorary degree from De Montfort University, Leicester; notes his towering contribution to Indian cinema having received 10 Filmfare awards and being named BBC Star of the Millennium; recognises his work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and as former member of the Lok Sabha, lower house of the Indian Parliament; and hopes that the award will continue to strengthen ties between the UK and India.]
Will he join me in congratulating Amitabh Bachchan on getting his honorary degree from De Montfort university? Can we have a debate on the creative industries and the importance of links between Britain and India—not just in respect of the film industry, but in respect of the exchange of overseas students, which the degree personifies?
I have indeed seen that early-day motion and I had the pleasure of meeting Amitabh Bachchan earlier today. I congratulate my hon. Friend on what he has done for the creative industries both in India and in this country. If we could find the time, I would look forward to a debate on the creative industries, which are a major part of our export effort these days. It was interesting to learn from my hon. Friend that the Indian film industry, Bollywood, now uses many UK facilities because of their world-class excellence.
I wish the Leader of the House and the whole House a good summer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is enjoying the weather and that people will make good use of sun creams, because 60,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer and 1,700 die from it every year, with most of the damage done in childhood. However, sun creams are not classed as health products, which they should be, so they attract VAT. Can we have a debate in order to exercise the Chancellor on this matter and get VAT removed from these essential health care products?
Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman’s serious point first. It is extremely important for people to use proper sun cream or other sun blocks. It is not for me to speak on our VAT policy, but I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s point. Secondly, reference was made earlier to my soap box sessions in Blackburn, which depend on good weather—indeed, they take place only in good weather. My constituents have often heard me refer to the sunshine and to the fact that there has been a lot more sunshine since people voted Labour in 1997.
May I once again refer to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill? It will be strongly welcomed by the many people who have lost family members in workplace deaths, particularly when caused by reckless employers from the Herald of Free Enterprise to the railway disasters, although they can sometimes be caused by the smallest firms in the backstreets of our towns and cities. In view of the wise decision on mesothelioma in the Compensation Bill and the progress made on the Warwick agreement, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate between now and next Tuesday on the rights of employees at work and the role of the trade unions and the Government in working together to produce a better Britain?
I would like to have a debate on that but, sadly, I do not think that we have the time between now and next Tuesday, which is a shame. I should have said earlier to several hon. Members who raised the issue that the summer recess Adjournment debate on Tuesday offers the opportunity to raise these important matters. I am grateful for the welcome for the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The ultimate test of its success will not be the number of convictions that follow it, but whether it changes the behaviour of business managers, resulting in far fewer deaths from the sort of major accidents that we have seen in the past.
I warmly congratulate the Leader of the House on his announcement of the tabling of named-day written questions during the recess, which partly meets the recommendations of the Procedure Committee a year or two ago. Will he give an assurance that that facility can be extended in future years?
I am happy to join in the House’s general euphoria about the approaching recess and to add my good wishes to those of others. I also warmly thank the Government for the announcement made at Farnborough air show about the award to BAE Systems of a contract for 12 Nimrod MRA4 aircraft. On behalf of the management and work force, I am most grateful to the Government. However, that leads me to my real question. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on manufacturing industry and the different sectors of manufacturing that are of strategic importance to this country? Having such a debate at the earliest opportunity is vital. Manufacturing is in difficulty and we must maintain the strategic sectors for the benefit of this country’s security.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the introduction of new arrangements for parliamentary questions. I intend that when we return in October, we have the opportunity to debate the summer recess, which is a matter for the House rather than the Government. The experience of the new arrangements for parliamentary questions and written ministerial statements can be taken into account in those debates. I thank the hon. Gentleman for being one of those people who have prodded me on the issue.
On BAE Systems, I also declare an interest in that many of my constituents work for the organisation and I am glad about the announcement. I am also happy to pass on the request for a debate on manufacturing, which faces a paradoxical situation. For example, car production is not quite at its peak level, but at 1.6 million units, it is well above the trough of 900,000 to which it fell in the early 1980s, and we are exporting cars around the world. Aerospace is a world beater and both the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are well seized of the importance of maintaining manufacturing’s output, albeit in a context in which employment levels may well reduce. One of the key challenges is to see increases in productivity beyond the trend rate.
I believe that the Department of Health is about to publish its review of communications systems in hospitals, which includes looking into the exorbitant cost—up to 49p a minute—of telephone calls from patients in hospitals. That greatly concerns my constituents, so will my right hon. Friend make time for a ministerial statement when the report is published?
In a recent parliamentary answer, it was stated that in 2004 there were 103,000 prescriptions for diamorphine hydrochloride, falling to 61,000 in 2005 due to a shortage of supplies. That has led to seriously and terminally ill patients not being able to receive the pain relief that they so desperately require, resulting in unnecessary suffering. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement before the summer recess?
I welcome the announcement that we will be able to table some written questions during the recess and that some statements will be made in September, but I put it to the Leader of the House that the ability to table written questions is no substitute for the House actually sitting. Does he share my hope that this will be the last of 75 to 80-day recesses, which bring us into such discredit with our constituents? Can we revert to the system that, after all, the House agreed to previously?
I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about that matter. May I say that, since I uttered some words in his support, I have rather felt that a fine career was about to go down the tubes as a result? It is absolutely clear that as the House took the original decision in 2002, any change to it must be made by the House. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not expect his view to receive unanimous support.
Has the Leader of the House seen the opinion poll in Scotland’s largest selling Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Mail, which showed that one third of English people now want independence for England? They join the more than half of Scots who want Scottish independence. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that represents a seismic shift in the relationship and arrangements between our two nations? Does he also recognise the frustration felt in England about the current constitutional arrangements between Scotland and the rest of the UK? Given that the Conservatives chickened out of a debate on that matter, will the Government hold a debate as soon as we return after the recess?
We have had loads of debates on that, but I am always happy to debate it. What I find, not least on my soap box in Blackburn, is that people understand how profoundly damaging such changes in the way this House operates would be, with a two-tier system of Members of Parliament and extraordinary legal arguments about whether a matter was English or Scottish. Scotland benefits from the Union, and so does England, and it would be to the detriment of the whole of the United Kingdom if we were to follow the irresponsible path proposed by the Leader of the Opposition last month—but not this month—for a two-tier system of Members of Parliament.
As I go around my constituency, I note with great pride the improvements in education. Regrettably, I spot a cloud on the horizon, although it is no bigger than a man’s hand at present. Can we bring my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to the House to deal with reports that suggest that the Government, through officials, are telling local authorities with school building programmes that they will not be successful unless that programme includes a commitment to an academy? Does my right hon. Friend realise that such a stand-off between the Government and local authorities condemns some of our children to schools such as those in my constituency that badly need replacing—for example, Heath Park—and perhaps delivers us into the hands of religious bigots, from whom children will not benefit, or indeed those who have £2 million to buy a school and whose egos need assuaging?
I know of no case in which an academy has been established and religious bigots have been involved. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, however, and I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is fully apprised of it.
I know that the Leader of the House does not have a photographic memory, and he is probably unable to recall precisely the length of time it took for written parliamentary questions to be returned by his Department when he was Home Secretary. I appreciate what he said a few moments ago about the improvements that the Home Secretary is trying to engineer with regard to the length of time taken, but increasingly the Home Office is answering written parliamentary questions by saying that the information is not kept centrally and could not be provided without incurring disproportionate cost. Will the Leader of the House investigate that rubric to see whether it is simply a way of avoiding responsibility for answering the question and keeping proper information? Could he also assure me that the named-day system with which he will experiment in September does not lead to a named day in October? Will he also encourage—
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in his place and he takes the same approach to parliamentary questions as I do: if the information is available or can be extracted from the Department, it should be provided. The last accusation that can be made against my right hon. Friend—or against me five years ago—is that he is keeping bad news from the House. He is presiding not over cover up, but an open up in the Home Office.
On named-day questions, the idea is that three days will be named—Monday, Wednesday and Friday—in the first week of September for tabling the questions and the corresponding three days in the following week for answering them. I hope very much that they are all answered. My right hon. Friend will also confirm that I make myself unpopular with Cabinet colleagues if they do not answer questions on time.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the Express and Star and its superb campaign to highlight the noise, nuisance and danger caused by the illegal and antisocial use of motorbikes and mini motorbikes? Will he consider arranging a debate on the issue so that we could discuss how we can impose restrictions on their sale or a proper registration system, so that we can clamp down on those teenage Evel Knievels who disturb my constituents’ peace and quiet and put at risk people using parks and open spaces for recreation or to walk their dogs?
The Leader of the House will be aware of the appalling decision by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to deny support services to deaf candidates taking exams in English and foreign languages, in many cases automatically depriving them of up to 20 per cent. of their marks, as drawn to the attention of the House in early-day motion 2615.
[That this House expresses concern that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority will be removing certificate indications and exemptions from the aural section of GCSEs and A-Levels in foreign languages and GCSE English examination for deaf students in the United Kingdom; notes that the facility to use an oral communicator will be withdrawn in examinations for deaf students who use an oral/aural approach, meaning that those children will immediately risk losing at least 20 per cent, of their marks; regrets that these changes have been introduced with little understanding of the impact they will have on deaf and hard of hearing young people; believes that these changes discriminate against the country’s 35,000 deaf children and that the current skills and training gap between deaf and non-deaf people will increase resulting in lower employment rates or lower grade work for disabled people; and calls on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to re-instate certificate indications for deaf candidates and human aids to communication for those that need them, to conduct a time-bound formal review into competence standards including how disabled candidates can demonstrate their competence using reasonable adjustments and to fulfil future legal obligations under the Disability Equality Duty to consult with disabled people and organisations representing disabled people before carrying out any further changes to examination arrangements for deaf and other disabled children.]
Given that that decision will influence the choices that many of those students make about which exams to take, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills makes a statement to the House before the recess, reversing that decision or otherwise restating the Government’s policy on it?
I am very sympathetic to the points raised because, as the hon. Gentleman may know, I suffer from deafness. Indeed, I could not hear part of his question because it came from the wrong side, so I understand the problems. There will be an opportunity to raise the matter in the debate on the summer Adjournment on Tuesday, and I hope that he does so.
My Friend the Prime Minister hinted a couple of weeks ago that there may be some fresh thinking on how the Government would consult the House on Trident. May I remind him of what we are demanding? We want a Green Paper setting out the options and we want a vote in this House.
On the issue of timing, my hon. Friend, who is never impatient, will know that I cannot serve up a Green or White Paper now, but there will be a statement in advance of any debate. The position was set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister two weeks ago, when he pointed out—as my hon. Friend will recall—that we were the first Government to give the House a vote on a decision to go to war. Of course, we should involve the House fully in a decision as important as the renewal of our nuclear deterrent and in practical terms it is inevitable that there will therefore be a chance for the House to express its view on that important matter in a vote.
I call on the Leader of the House to arrange an urgent debate on the issue of permitted development rights and, in particular, how they relate to utility companies. The National Grid Company is planning a significant development of an electricity substation in an area of my constituency called Bramley Frith. Because of permitted development rights, the company does not have to make the details of the development known to the local community. The area is an important conservation area and the plans have already led to the closure of the only environmental education centre in north Hampshire, but no one can be held to account because the local community knows nothing about the plans. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on the matter so that we may review the existing rules and try to make them more transparent?
The hon. Lady makes a strong case. Although the powers of public authorities in respect of permitted developments are limited, I am surprised that information has not been made available to her constituents. I will refer the matter that she raises to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and the hon. Lady may wish to raise the issue in the debate on the summer Adjournment on Tuesday.
One of the reasons why people in the north-east of England did not support regional government was that they did not wish to see an extra layer of politicians. However, there is a need for more regional accountability, especially with so many quangos in operation. Will my right hon. Friend consider the idea—perhaps over the summer—of having Grand Committees of the regions or perhaps regional questions, or both?
I wish to raise with the Leader of the House the tragic case of my constituent, Mr. Roy Harward, who is suffering from mesothelioma and to ask whether we may have a debate on the treatment of—not compensation for—that disease. One drug, Alimta, is licensed in this country to treat the symptoms and pain caused by mesothelioma. It can prolong life by two to three months, possibly more, but it is prescribed under a postcode lottery. If my constituent lived in Scotland, or the north-east or north-west of England, he could be prescribed that drug, but he has just had funding for treatment with Alimta refused by the local primary care trust. May we debate this issue in the House or have an urgent statement by the Secretary of State for Health, because it is unthinkable and unethical that my constituent is dying but cannot get the treatment he needs to alleviate his pain and prolong his life. There is no point—
Such situations are tragic, and I commend the hon. Lady on the way in which she has raised the issue in the House. On this particular case, I understand that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence—which, of course, covers England and Wales but not Scotland—has not until now approved the drug in question. I promise to write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and give her a full account of my exchange with the hon. Lady in order to draw this matter to her attention, and I shall ask her to look into it and to get back in touch with the hon. Lady. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady might wish to raise the matter in the debate on the summer recess on Tuesday.
I tabled early-day motion 2591.
[That this House is exasperated at the four-year delay in depositing information in the Library despite an assurance on Afghan poppy eradication by a Foreign Office Minister on 14th May 2002 (volume 385, column 625) that ‘details of the eradication programme, maps and a video of what has been done will be placed in the Library'; notes that, despite repeated requests by the hon. Member for Newport West and Library staff since 2nd May 2006, none of the material has been placed in the Library; further notes that 21 million compensation money appears to have been paid to the Afghan government but did not reach the farmers whom it was intended to compensate; and believes that absence of the programme, maps and videos will result in a further provocative injustice that will thwart the farmers' continuing efforts to obtain compensation.]
I tabled that EDM to persuade the Foreign Office to publish essential information required by Afghan farmers in a current compensation claim that they have against the British Government. In May 2002, a promise was made in an oral answer in this House that that information—videos and maps—would be placed in the Library. Despite the efforts of the Library and others, that information is still not there. Those farmers have been robbed: their crops were destroyed, and although £21 million of British taxpayers’ money was paid to the corrupt Karzai Government, none of it has reached the farmers.
That happened under my watch as Foreign Secretary. I do not have all the details in my head, but I recall that the matter is slightly more complicated than my hon. Friend suggests. However, I will look into it with my right hon. Friend the current Foreign Secretary and ensure that either she or I get back in touch with him.