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Business of the House

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 26 October 2006

I shall be pleased to make a business statement, if I may—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady says from a sedentary position that she has not asked for the business, but she will be aware that where we have a business statement rather than business questions, I am expected to stand up without being asked. That is how it works.

Monday 30 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, followed by a debate on security of energy supply on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 31 October—Opposition day [un-allotted half-day]. There will be a debate entitled “Conduct of Government Policy in Relation to the War in Iraq and its Aftermath” on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National parties, followed by motions relating to the Crossrail Bill.

Wednesday 1 November—Business of the House motion relating to proceedings on House of Commons business, followed by motions relating to House of Commons business including September sittings, the legislative process, matters sub judice, Select Committee evidence, shorter speeches and European Standing Committees.

Thursday 2 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Education and Inspections Bill.

Friday 3 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the beginning of the following week will be as follows:

Monday 6 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Animal Welfare Bill, followed by proceedings on the National Health Service Bill [Lords], followed by proceedings on the National Health Service (Consequential Provisions) Bill [Lords], followed by proceedings on the National Health Service (Wales) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, on a subject yet to be decided.

May I also inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:

Thursday 2 November—A debate on the Fifth report of Session 2005-06 for the Home Affairs Committee on Immigration Control (HC 775) and the Government response.

I thank the Leader of the House for his business statement. He read out a list of those subjects that will be included in the business of the House motion on 1 November. Does he expect anything to be added to that list and, if so, what?

Last week, when pressed for a debate on Iraq, the right hon. Gentleman said in so many words that it was up to the Opposition. For example, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), he said:

“there will be a five-day debate on the Queen’s Speech. It is a matter for the Opposition, and not for us, but I hope very much that one of those days will be used for foreign policy.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1022.]

I can confirm to the House that we will indeed be setting aside one whole day of the Queen’s Speech debate for foreign policy and defence matters. So we are playing our part. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Foreign Secretary will be available for that debate?

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was willing to come and make a statement today on her local government White Paper, but inserting that statement into today’s business means that today’s international development debate will be squeezed, possibly to only an hour and a half. I ask the Leader of the House to consider redressing that balance in the future, with a longer debate on international development.

On Tuesday, the Home Secretary issued a written statement about access controls for those coming from Romania and Bulgaria. He did not make an oral statement, which meant that he could not be questioned about the Government’s policy. But then it does seem that the Home Secretary is a little reluctant to answer questions in the House. On Monday, Home Office questions covered prisons, asylum applications, detection of rape, reoffending and police pay. Did the Home Secretary answer any of those questions? No. But he did answer two questions on mini-motorbikes and gopeds. So will the Home Secretary come to the House and make a statement on the operation of the Home Office so that Members of the House can question him on his policies and his running of the Home Office?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will soon make a decision on the use of the new cervical cancer vaccine. When that decision is clear, will the Health Secretary make a statement to the House on the Government’s policy on the use of that vaccine?

May we have a debate on nursery provision? Government guidance means that nurseries cannot charge top-up fees, which means that many private nurseries will probably close, cutting the availability of child care. We need a debate so that the Government can explain how they can claim to be interested in increasing child care when their policies will cut provision?

The Prime Minister has frequently spoken about the need to address climate change. Indeed, recently he told his European Union counterparts:

“We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points.”

On 17 October, the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford university published “Predict and Decide: Aviation, Climate Change and Policy”. The leader of the project, Dr. Brenda Boardman said:

“Unless the rate of growth in flights is curbed, the UK cannot fulfil its commitments on climate change.”

Yet the very next day the Department for Transport issued a document on railway closures, in which it said:

“Where long distance travel might be affected by a closure proposal, domestic air services may also be a relevant alternative.”

May we therefore have a debate in which the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Transport are brought to the House to explain the contradiction that is occurring in Government policy? Or maybe we should simply leave it to the Foreign Secretary, who of course was talking about climate change earlier this week at the very same time as the Deputy Prime Minister was travelling around the far east doing the Foreign Secretary’s job. Today, the Chancellor is doing the Culture Secretary’s job by talking about competitive sport, although, given the drubbing that the Chancellor was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) in Treasury questions this morning, I suspect that the Chancellor will not be quite so interested in competitive sport in the future. So may we have a statement on ministerial responsibilities?

Let me answer the right hon. Lady’s questions in order. She asked whether anything else was to be added to the list that I read out. Yes, very possibly, although I cannot be certain at the moment. It would be in relation to communications allowances. I shall certainly refer to the proposal of which she is aware from her membership of the House of Commons Commission. We may have a resolution on that, but I cannot be certain at the moment and I will of course keep the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats informed.

On Iraq, the right hon. Lady is being slightly disingenuous in pretending that the Queen’s Speech debates are Opposition days. They are quintessentially Government days. It is just that by convention the allocation of subjects between those days is a matter for the Opposition—a convention that I strongly support. It has always been so. Certainly when we were in opposition—and I attended every day of those debates during the 18 years of Labour opposition—we always allocated one day to foreign policy and defence, and I am glad that the practice is being followed under the right hon. Lady’s shadow leadership of the House.

The right hon. Lady asked whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would be available. I know that she will want to be available, and now that we know that there is to be a debate on foreign policy, if we can be told the precise date I shall communicate it to my right hon. Friend.

The right hon. Lady noted that we would have an hour and a half for the international development debate today, but we have had other debates on international development—

I take the right hon. Lady’s point and the comment of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). The right hon. Lady will be aware of my concern about the slightly eccentric allocation of scheduled Adjournment debates on the Floor of the House; some subjects often come up, while others— for example, foreign policy and international development—do not have a regular slot. That will be discussed in the Modernisation Committee and I hope that, within the available time, we shall be able to come to a more rational, sensible and agreed balance on those subject debates.

On access controls in respect of Bulgaria and Romania, I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been forthcoming in making oral statements. The written ministerial statement was listed on the Order Paper, as it had to be, when my right hon. Friend made the announcement about Bulgaria and Romania earlier this week. We introduced the WMS procedure so that Members have far better notice than the old planted parliamentary questions. That is the whole point of written ministerial statements. If Members spot a WMS that they think should be turned into an urgent question, it is open to them to seek the permission of Mr. Speaker.

I shall pass the concerns of the shadow Leader of the House about the vaccination recommendations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to make a statement—probably written, unless she has some other opportunity to do so.

The shadow Leader of the House made some points about child care. If I was a Conservative, I should keep extremely quiet about child care because of the Conservatives’ utterly lamentable record on it when they were in office and their current plans to cut £21 billion from public spending, which would hit child care as much as anything else. I remind the right hon. Lady of something that I am surprised she did not celebrate: over the last nine years, we have introduced 1.2 million new child care places and more than 1,100 new neighbourhood nurseries, with free part-time nursery places for every three and four-year-old. My constituency is typical; there has been a revolution in child care based on that increased investment, Sure Start and, above all, the family tax credits that help mothers to go back to work.

The right hon. Lady made a very eccentric point about railway closures, because we have been opening new railway systems. There has been a 44 per cent. increase in the number of individuals travelling by train and a similar increase in the amount of freight. Only this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced that more than £400 million would be invested in the next stage of the tram system in Nottingham, with extensions to Chilwell, Beeston and Clifton.

Last week, I asked the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on the fiasco of the Rural Payments Agency, so this week I shall ask him whether we can have a debate on the consequences of that fiasco in terms of the £200 million-worth of budget cuts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which will affect flood management, environmental protection, veterinary laboratories, Natural England, British Waterways—a long list of exactly the issues that the Prime Minister says are a priority for the Government. May we have a debate on how that was allowed to happen?

While we are on environmental issues, I echo the view of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that there should be a debate on transport. During the lifetime of the Government, traffic levels have risen by 11 per cent. Since 1990, carbon dioxide emissions from traffic have gone up by 10 per cent. to 32 million tonnes. When the Deputy Prime Minister was in charge of those things, he had a five-year plan, although of course it did not work. Now, he no longer has a five-year plan about anything, but we should have a strategy for dealing with road transport. It is not very obvious what that strategy is at present, so may we have a debate on it?

I return again to the issue of Iraq. As the Leader of the House knows, I have asked regularly—almost every other week during this Parliament—for Government time to debate what is happening in Iraq. It is not good enough to rely on Opposition days for such debates or, indeed, on the day in the Queen’s Speech debates that is normally reserved for foreign affairs and defence matters across the whole world—that offers a panoramic view of our responsibilities rather than a focused debate about what is happening in Iraq. Given that the world view of events in Iraq is changing rapidly, it is simply not acceptable for British policy and strategy to be based on the short-term requirements of the United States mid-term elections rather than a British assessment of our interests and the interests of our armed forces. May we have that debate in Government time and, if necessary, can we delay Prorogation or have an extra day of debate on the Queen’s Speech so that we have an opportunity to do justice to the matter?

Lastly, may we have a debate on the Department of Health’s useful advice to health service chief executives, displayed on its intranet, that they should

“go in and out of different doors of the building every day for a month”


“say hello to three people each time”?

Can we know whether they should do that before or after issuing the press release about the latest hospital closure?

On the Rural Payments Agency, DEFRA questions will be next Thursday. Furthermore, my noble Friend Lord Rooker, who has direct responsibility for sorting out the difficulties in the agency and has been in very close touch with farming representatives, understands the difficulties that are being faced.

Transport rates are indeed up 11 per cent. It is inevitable that some transport levels will rise given the rapid, and record, rate of economic growth that we have experienced in the last nine years. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) should be paying tribute to the transport strategy we have adopted, which has ensured that although the rate of overall growth in our economy is about 30 per cent., the increase in transport—according to his figures—has been only about 11 per cent.

I understand the case that the hon. Gentleman makes for a debate on Iraq and, indeed, on wider foreign policy matters. I have already made clear my personal frustration, which I experienced as Foreign Secretary, that quite a lot of days are allocated for subjects that do not command much interest in the House, but there are undertakings to use them, while there has to be a big argument about other days. However, I must push back the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Queen’s Speech is not an appropriate time to debate those matters. First, as we have heard, a full day will be allocated to foreign affairs, as is normal, and it is ludicrous to suggest that Iraq and Afghanistan would not be the major topics. They are the major foreign policy issues, along with peace in the middle east, which is a related matter.

Secondly, it is the nature of the Queen’s Speech debate that Members on both sides of the House can make a speech on any subject relevant to the Queen’s Speech—Iraq and Afghanistan are two such subjects—at any stage during those debates, whether or not the Opposition have identified it as a subject for debate that day. Far from there being only one day for debate, there will be opportunities, if Members can catch Mr. Speaker’s eye, for points to be raised and good speeches made over the whole five days of the Queen’s Speech debates. I hope that Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and my hon. Friends take those opportunities.

Lastly, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the advice on the website that chief executives should use different doors and say hello to three people each time. When I was running the Home Office and then the Foreign Office, it was my common practice to use different doors and to walk down corridors uninvited and pop in to find out how people were getting on. Once they had recovered from the shock, I learned a great deal—even if they did not.

This morning, the all-party group on town centre management met to discuss the “State of the English Cities” report with its lead author, Professor Michael Parkinson. The consensus that emerged was that the case of cities and towns would be much advanced by a system of strategic unitary councils. Will my right hon. Friend give positive consideration to allowing a debate in the House on the local government White Paper, so that we can properly scrutinise those important matters?

I welcome what my hon. Friend says. I greatly support the Association of Town Centre Management, and the report on the state of cities was significant. This is probably not yet fully Government policy—well, it almost is—but I strongly support unitary authorities. There is no question but that they have made a big difference where they have been introduced. One place where the change has been dramatic happens to be my constituency, which is run by Blackburn with Darwen borough council. First, there will be opportunities to discuss the subject in the five days of the Queen’s Speech debate. Secondly, there will, of course, be opportunity for discussion when a Bill is introduced to implement the White Paper. If we can find time—I am making no promises—for a debate in the meantime, I will make sure that it takes place.

Was the Leader of the House here earlier for the exchange in Treasury questions between the Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor? If he was, he would support our request for an urgent debate on private pension schemes. Is he aware that thousands of occupational pension fund holders have had their pension schemes wiped out? Can he confirm to the House that the total cost of the Chancellor’s 1998 tax changes to pension funds is now a staggering £100 billion?

I was not present, but I understand that the shadow Chancellor was pulled up by Mr. Speaker for using inappropriate language, and as he was properly educated, that is very bad. I think that his performance will be remembered mostly for that rebuke. I had hoped that he would talk about the new plan, so helpfully set out on the Conservative party’s website, of the economic competitiveness policy group, which includes wholesale deregulation of things such as pensions, so that there will, in future, be opportunities under Conservative policy for people to sign away their rights—including, I assume, their pension rights—when they take out loans or insurance. Under the Conservatives’ new plan, there will be a completely deregulated pensions arrangement.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s particular point, the matter has been the subject of significant discussion in the House by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. We understand the great concerns of the individuals involved and we are doing our best for them, but for reasons that we have spelled out, we did not think it appropriate to accept the report of the pensions ombudsman.

May we have a debate on the manner and the content of the Department for Transport’s announcement this week that the toll on the Thurrock-Dartford crossing will increase by 50 per cent.? My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and I learned about the announcement from the press, not from the Minister. That is not only discourteous and bad politics, but unfair, because my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine will pay disproportionately for the roads of others. I hope not only that the Leader of the House will allow us a debate on the subject, but that he will have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about whether that decision could be reviewed, bearing in mind that this House passed an Act of Parliament saying that tolling would cease once the bridge was paid for—and it was paid for four years ago.

I know my hon. Friend’s constituency well, and of course I understand his concern. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be concerned to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and my hon. Friend only heard about the matter from the press. I will take that up with the Secretary of State, as well my hon. Friend’s substantive point.

May we have a full-day debate on business attitudes towards the European Union? An ICM poll of 1,000 UK companies reported by Jeff Randall showed that 52 per cent. of chief executives think that the European Union is failing, while 60 per cent. think that the UK should have a free-trade area agreement with the European Union and nothing else, and 54 per cent. think that over-regulation of the EU outweighs any benefits resulting from the single market. Given that huge shift in businesses’ attitudes towards the European Union, and given the view that it is clearly failing British business, may we have a full-day debate so that we can explore how we would be better off out of the European Union?

I think that things became perfectly clear yesterday, when not a single Conservative MEP voted in favour of an amendment in the European Parliament to protect women in the European Union from violence and slavery. Instead, they joined forces with Jean-Marie Le Pen and the UK Independence party. The hon. Gentleman is sitting on the wrong Benches and is taking the wrong Whip. Unless it is now Conservative party policy to withdraw altogether from the European Union—and I see that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who is a bit wiser than the hon. Gentleman, shakes his head—the hon. Gentleman ought to stick to the Opposition line.

On Saturday afternoon, I am holding a public meeting in my constituency for people affected by the liquidation of Farepak, which went into receivership a few weeks ago. It ran a Christmas saving scheme, so its liquidation effectively means that, for tens of thousands of hard-working families, Christmas is cancelled. I have invited the chief executive to attend—he certainly deserves this year’s “unacceptable face of capitalism” award. At that public meeting, is there any message of hope that I can give my constituents from the Government?

May I begin by expressing the whole House’s appreciation of my hon. Friend’s work in standing up for the interests of the employees of the company’s call centre in his constituency, as well as, much more widely, the interests of the thousands of people disadvantaged by the liquidation? As my hon. Friend says, they must be greatly worried about what gifts they can give their families at Christmas. The key message that my hon. Friend should give those who attend is how hard the Minister with responsibility for consumer issues and trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), is working with the British Retail Consortium on a rescue package—it is not a compensation package—to ensure that at least some measure of the damage done to those customers is put right.

The point that I wish to raise will, I hope, be of concern to Mr. Speaker as well as every other Member of the House, and particularly the Leader of the House. The East Kent health authority has received a request from the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for disclosure of all correspondence between Members of Parliament and the health authority. That is a fishing expedition, but we have now discovered that that correspondence is not covered by parliamentary privilege. It relates, of course, to specific and personal concerns expressed by individual constituents. Every Member of Parliament representing east Kent is most concerned. The reply has to be given by Monday, and the only way to delay it is for the Leader of the House immediately to instigate a review. That would give us time to look into the matter again.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the subject, and of course I will give him every assistance, because the matter touches on parliamentary privilege. I should just say that I was the Minister who had the unenviable task of taking the Freedom of Information Bill through its stages in the House, and we were asked by hon. Members on all sides to go further, rather than to provide what I thought were sensible protections, on requests for information, including requests from Parliament. However, the only people who supported those sensible restrictions were my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), and myself, on the Treasury Bench. I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House now rue the day when the House decided—in the end, we had to accept its wish—that extensive privilege should be given to inquiries, without properly balancing the rights of those who held the information. Of course I will follow the matter up, and I will do so in consultation with Mr. Speaker and the Clerk of the House.

If I had had the opportunity I would have given a warm welcome to the local government White Paper. However, given the interest both inside and outside the House in the future of local government, may I echo the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) for an early debate on the issue? We could contrast the Government’s policy of trusting local government with the policy of the Conservative Government of trying to take over local government. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement confirming that she will introduce a properly joined-up policy on city regions with the Secretaries of State for Transport, and for Education and Skills, to provide city regions with a package of measures and powers? Hopefully, the White Paper will not be the last word on the subject.

I note what my hon. Friend said, and I understand the case that he made for city regions. However, it is a subject of intense debate among all parties represented in the House.

Haringey happily provides statutory support for a high number of asylum seekers, as do other local authorities. However, funding support—for example, for the placement of unaccompanied children—does not remotely meet the actual costs, so may we have a debate on the available Government grant for the provision of statutory services to asylum seekers?

I will pass on the hon. Lady’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. She talks about her constituents in Haringey and concerns about asylum seekers, but it would have been extremely helpful if the Liberal Democrat party had supported our controls on asylum seekers on at least one occasion, rather than giving asylum seekers consistent encouragement.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to provide a debate on the treatment of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Webster, who have severe learning and physical difficulties, by G. E. Money, the US company which, in the last quarter, reported a profit of $5 million? The company is trying to evict my constituents from the home in which they have lived for more than 20 years, because they have fallen behind on a loan that they arranged in 1997—of only £10,000—with an astonishing interest rate of 21.9 per cent. G. E. Money has taken advantage of them, and it should act in accordance with its stated intention on its website of

“working with integrity and values”.

May we have a debate about social responsibility, and what integrity means to big business?

I will certainly do everything I can to facilitate an Adjournment or Westminster Hall debate on that important issue, and I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns, which are widely shared across the House, to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My hon. Friend may wish to invite the company’s chief executive to the House to explain its policies, because G. E. Money claims to be a company of high status and high standing.

May we have an urgent debate on why seven beds have been cut from ward 4—the acute medicines ward—at the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency? Before the Leader of the House says something about human resources at the hospital, may I give him an up-to-date briefing? Some 200 nurses and doctors are due to be cut as well.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to raise that matter on the Adjournment. However, as he has talked about changes in the budgets for the health trusts in his Shropshire constituency, he will wish to draw to public attention the huge increase in those budgets since 1997.

In the light of successive leaks over the past two weeks of the Opposition’s policies on taxation and now public sector vouchers, I am surprised that the Conservatives have not called for a debate on internet security. However, may I raise the question of the Leicestershire charity, Inter Care, which collects surplus medicines, screens them professionally to check that they are not out of date or damaged, and distributes them on request to rural villages, particularly in central Africa? The Environment Agency alleges that there is a technical breach of EU waste disposal regulations, and its threat to sue has resulted in Inter Care closing down. May we have a statement from a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to explain why that ludicrous and over-zealous interpretation of EU waste regulations has denied vital medical supplies to 94 villages in seven African countries that are among the poorest on the planet? Is it not more important to address the health care needs of thousands of African villages than to feed the self-importance of the bloated ranks of EU bureaucrats?

I think that we would all agree with that, and I am sure that the whole House shares my hon. Friend’s concern. Oral questions to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will take place next Thursday. In addition, I will certainly draw my right hon. Friend’s full attention to what my hon. Friend has said about the need for action.

Since last November, the Prime Minister has claimed that no one waits more than six months for an NHS operation. In fact, more than 6,000 people are waiting more than six months for an NHS operation, and that does not include Scotland or Wales. The Prime Minister appears to think that he is above the regulations that apply to other Ministers and Members. Will the Leader of the House investigate the matter, and find a mechanism so that those statements can be corrected in next week’s business?

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman who, I assume, supported the Conservative party when it was in government, should dare to raise the issue of waiting lists, which have dropped by more than 382,600. Virtually no one waits more than six months, and the number of six-month waits has gone down by 284,000 since 1997. Our record is so good that we have no interest whatsoever in putting inaccurate figures before the House. Of course, I will ensure that we provide the most accurate figures available.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on child pornography? I recently received a letter from the PICT union, which is based in Japan. My staff and I were horrified by the hard-core child pornography cartoons and the list of websites that allow access to child porn that it enclosed. I wrote to the Home Office about the matter, and I received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), who provided me with advice and support. The material has been passed to the police, but may we have debate about child pornography so that we can combat the distribution of such material and its accessibility on the internet?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter, which is of profound concern to everyone in the country. The availability of that filth is much greater these days, precisely because of the internet. She was told by our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about the action that has been taken by the Home Office and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Of course, I will do what I can to help her secure a debate, probably on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall, on the matter.

May we have a statement or a debate soon on the decision by the Northern Ireland Office to withdraw planning notices from the three main Northern Ireland newspapers—the Belfast Telegraph, the Belfast News and The Irish News? Ordinary people in Northern Ireland will be deprived of information about forthcoming planning applications, including major applications, that will have an impact on them. That is a scandalous lack of transparency and openness, so the papers have taken legal action. The Government’s approach of preventing the public from finding out about major planning applications is not right, as there should be as much openness and transparency as possible. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have a debate on that important subject?

I am unsighted on the issue, but I suspect that the explanation is slightly more complicated than the hon. Gentleman suggested, and that such information is now available on the internet. In any event, I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and ensure that he writes to the hon. Gentleman.

The Deputy Leader of the House recently visited a dynamic information and communications technology company in my constituency. That company is at the cutting edge of technology and works in close collaboration with Lancaster university, which has received substantial sums of money from the Government to encourage it to work with local businesses. That is good and we need to do much more of that. May we have a debate to look at how we can further encourage universities to work with local businesses?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who is also a near constituency neighbour. The huge increase in developments and in co-operation between universities and business over the past few years, including in Lancashire and by the university of Lancaster, has been impressive. I hope that there is an opportunity for her to raise the matter on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

Will the Leader of the House shed some light on what is going to happen next Wednesday? Exactly how many separate motions relating to the House of Commons will there be on the Order Paper? Does he agree that most of the subjects are totally discrete—September sittings, length of speeches, European scrutiny and the sub judice rule? Does he envisage one mega-debate that will try to embrace all that, or will we have a series of structured debates with votes at the end of each one?

We will have a single opportunity for colleagues to raise issues relating to House of Commons business, on a single debate, with votes at the end. There is no right way of doing this, but that is a better way than having a series of debates, which could mean running out of time for whatever subject is regarded as the most important on the day. I am sure that there will be every opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye and say whatever he wants to on matters relating to the administration of the House.

May we have an urgent debate on freedom of religion in Pakistan and especially the plight of Christians? My friend will be aware of the Karims, who are Catholics and live in my constituency, not far from Blackburn. They face deportation to Pakistan and they fear persecution there.

I am certainly aware of the considerable concern in Pakistan and elsewhere about the treatment of Christians and non-Muslim people, and indeed of some Shi’a Muslims, as well, in certain areas of Pakistan. I will pass on my hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am not equipped to answer my hon. Friend’s particular constituency issue, but I understand the concerns that he has raised.

May I apologise for my lack of voice, Madam Deputy Speaker? May we have a debate next week on a motion to set up a Special Standing or Select Committee to inquire into the handling of the war in Afghanistan? Many of us feel that British forces were deployed without a proper assessment of risk, adequate equipment or proper provision for reinforcements. We need to know who is responsible for those failures and how best to avoid, or reduce, the risk of operational failure in Afghanistan, which Lord Inge recently spoke of.

A large part of that happened when I was Foreign Secretary. There was proper and extensive analysis of the potential risks over many months before we made a decision, in concert with our NATO partners, to increase our strength and to extend our operations to the south of the country. There used to be a need for special Select Committees to be established on matters such as this because there was no system of standing Select Committees, but since 1979 there has been. This matter seems to be a quintessential, obvious issue for inquiry by the Defence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee, or both.

May I welcome the opportunity for a debate on Crossrail on Tuesday and seek some guidance from my right hon. Friend on the scope of that debate? He will know that the Select Committee that is considering the Crossrail Bill has expressed serious concerns about the unprecedented decision of the promoter not to act on the Committee’s recommendations in relation to a station at Woolwich. He will also be aware that the Committee has indicated that it may wish to make a special report to the House. May I ask for his guidance on whether it would be in order for such a report to be considered and debated if it were prepared in advance of Tuesday’s debate? Will the House have an opportunity to express a view on whether the Select Committee was acting entirely within the remit given to it by the House, as I believe that it was, in recommending that there should be provision in the Bill for a station at Woolwich?

My right hon. Friend will excuse me if I say that guidance on what is in order in the House is a matter not for me, but for Mr. Speaker and any Deputy Speakers who are chairing the debate at the time. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will wish to seek the advice of the Clerk on that. We have been involved in discussions outside the Chamber about this important matter and we all understand the strong case that he and others make for Crossrail. He will know of the support in principle of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for this development, but as part of the Government he has to take account of the overall cost of the schemes and balance them against other competing demands for public spending.

May we have a debate on standards of journalism and particularly photo-journalism? Madam Deputy Speaker, you must have been as dismayed as I was to open The Western Mail yesterday and see a picture of the Prime Minister being apprehended by two burly policemen. On closer examination, the photo turns out to be a mock-up. The Prime Minister is portrayed as a fake and a phoney, in this picture at least. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is outrageous for the Prime Minister to be portrayed in the press as something that he is not, and also for the hopes of the Opposition and perhaps some of his hon. Friends to be so improperly raised? May we have a debate so that the Prime Minister can clear his name and assure the House that he has no intention of allowing himself to be arrested?

We have great debates on crime, and law and order, to celebrate the Government’s excellent record. We have 14,000 extra police officers—many of them in Wales—and there have been significant cuts in crime.

Last night, the Deputy Leader of the House heard an impassioned plea from the RSPB, on behalf of its 1 million members, for a marine Bill in the Queen’s Speech. I also hear such pleas from my local Porthcawl environment trust and from the WWF. May I seek the support of the Leader of the House in ensuring that a marine Bill is included in the Queen’s Speech so that we can begin to tackle the issue of our marine biodiversity and the years of neglect of our marine environment?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her strong advocacy of such a Bill. She will know, and will excuse me if I say, that I cannot anticipate what will be in the Queen’s Speech, but we are well aware of the priority that she and many others, on both sides of the House, attach to the measure.

May we please have a debate in Government time on brain tumours? Given that they are the biggest single disease that is killing children and that survival rates have not risen in line with those for childhood leukaemia or other adult cancers, does the Leader of the House agree that it is important to debate the subject next week and, in particular, to debate the need to intensify the search for a cure, the absence of which has caused far too much suffering to far too many people for far too long?

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. He will be aware that it is hard for me to promise a debate in Government time on that matter, but he is a skilled Member of the House and I hope that he will find opportunities to raise it.

May we have a debate on the future of the UK and the consequential strengths of the House? My right hon. Friend may be aware that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) has made a virtue, and a good living, out of arguing that we should break up the UK. That good living will be increased if he is successfully elected to the Scottish Parliament. Has my right hon. Friend heard of the hon. Gentleman’s latest idea? After we break up the UK, we will regroup and call it a partnership of the isles. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that that is utter hypocrisy and a waste of the House’s resources and time, and that it is playing hokey cokey with our constitution?

I certainly accept my hon. Friend’s dire warning about the consequences of breaking up the United Kingdom. The Scottish nationalists in the United Kingdom Parliament now say that they hope to break up the United Kingdom. I simply say to them that they will rue the day if ever that is achieved and the Scottish people, as well as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, will all equally suffer, because in the whole we bring to the Union much more than we do in the parts. A weakened Scotland—a very small nation inside the European Union—would have none of the clout that we are able to wield on behalf of the Scottish people through their membership of the United Kingdom.

May we have a statement from a Defence Minister about the BBC’s decision, at a time when our servicemen are fighting in Afghanistan the most intensive campaign since the Korean war, to broadcast unalloyed Taliban propaganda, and about the likely effect that that will have on the morale of the families of the servicemen and women who are deployed in Afghanistan when they consider that the people being interviewed and given a platform have views that are well known, yet observe no normal, recognised laws or customs of war?

The whole House shares the hon. Gentleman’s support and admiration for our troops in Afghanistan and other theatres. However, I happened, by chance, to see the report on the BBC to which he referred. I thought that the report was good and informative, and it was important to see the nature of those people. The difference is that in Taliban-controlled territory, anyone who steps out of line is killed, but we are a democracy, and we are fighting for democracy in Afghanistan. Although I am happy to pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to the director-general of the BBC, I do so in the context that the strengths of the BBC include its independence of journalism and the fact that it is not influenced directly, especially by Ministers and hon. Members.

Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity for the House to have a early debate on taxation, because we should have the opportunity to debate the choice between investment in public services and the savage cuts in services that are clearly favoured by some hon. Members?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I am surprised that although the Conservatives have well over 15 Supply days each year, they have not so far chosen to use any to debate taxation and all the alternatives—cutting taxation and thus cutting £21 billion in spending, including by slashing investment in the health service—to which they give a wider audience on the internet for just a couple of hours before they suddenly realise their error.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the first private Member’s Bill that is supposed to be debated tomorrow is the St. George’s Day Bill, which I introduced. However, according to the Order Paper, the House is not sitting tomorrow. Will he make time for the Bill to be debated? If he does not, there will be widespread disappointment throughout England, where people want the English national day to be celebrated, and many people may consider that to be a device that is being used by the Labour Government to stop England celebrating its day?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an Essex man. I spent many happy days in his constituency when I was a younger man. I, too, would like a proper celebration—although we have a celebration—on St. George’s day. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the House is not sitting tomorrow, but it was a nice try—[Interruption.] I know that the Bill is on the Order Paper. The Order Paper says:

“The House will not be sitting”,

so the situation is absolutely clear. The hon. Gentleman knows that he will have plenty of opportunities to bring forward such a Bill through the ballot for private Members’ Bills or as a ten-minute Bill. I wish him luck.

Further to my right hon. Friend’s answer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), although the Leader of the House is not in control of the interpretation of the powers of the Select Committee, he is in control of what will be on Tuesday’s Order Paper. May I draw his attention to early-day motion 2835, which 50 hon. Members have signed to support the case for a station at Woolwich?

[That this House notes the interim decision of the Crossrail Select Committee that there is an overwhelmingly strong case on both transport and regeneration grounds for a station at Woolwich, noting that the Woolwich station has a much better benefit/cost ratio than the Crossrail scheme as a whole, and noting the comments of the Select Committee Chairman that it is unprecedented for a Secretary of State to dismiss the view of a Hybrid Bill Select Committee and that in consequence the Select Committee has now suspended its sittings for a week to reflect on the implications; and calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to enter urgently into discussions with the Crossrail promoters, the London Borough of Greenwich and other interested parties to explore the options for delivering a Woolwich station in the most cost-effective manner, so enabling the Crossrail Bill to make further progress through its Committee Stage without further delay. ]

The signatories are reasonable hon. Members because they are asking for more time to look into the merits of the arguments in favour of a station at Woolwich. Will the motions on the Order Paper next Tuesday allow for that?

I have discussed this matter with my hon. Friend outside the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is well aware of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich. The question of what is in order will be a matter for the Chair, not for me, but it is true that what goes on the Order Paper is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary and me. We will consider the matter further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham wishes to make progress—so do I—but it must take place in the context of overall Government spending, which is a matter for Governments, rather than Select Committees. The transport allocations throughout the country must be fair. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent constituencies outside London, such as those in Merseyside, constantly ask for additional funds for transport projects, but they are denied because of investment in London. Balance is needed and I know that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is considering the matter carefully.

Yesterday, the Law Commission produced a report recommending a two-track approach to post-legislative scrutiny. The report arose because of concerns about the quality and quantity of recent legislation. The first stage proposed is a review by the Department that promoted the legislation and the second is the formation of a Joint Committee with powers to take evidence and produce a report. There has seldom been a poorer piece of legislation than the Hunting Act 2004 because of its dire consequences for animal welfare—

Does the Leader of the House think that that Act would be a good pilot for such scrutiny, and when will the Government put in place structures to allow hon. Members to take part in the process?

I do not wish to be tempted down the road of nominating pilots because there is quite a lot of competition for poorly drafted Acts—[Interruption.] Such Acts have been produced under all Governments. I have met the chairman of the Law Commission and I am grateful to him and his colleagues, who include a retired first parliamentary counsel, for their work on the important report, which we are considering carefully. As parliamentary counsel recognise, the quality of legislation can be improved not only by going for more pre-legislative scrutiny, as we have done, but by learning lessons from both elegantly drafted and well thought through legislation, and measures that are not quite in that category.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement to the House on the continuing delays to the Better Healthcare Closer to Home programme in south-west London? The provision of local care and services at the Nelson in my constituency has been delayed owing to the Secretary of State’s erroneous decision of last December, which was retracted in July. She has now asked the chief executive of NHS London to undertake another review, despite a two-year consultation and the presentation of a business case. Will the Leader of the House also ask the Secretary of State to reply to me on behalf of the chief executive for NHS London, who seems incapable of writing me a reply to a letter written more than two months ago? Will he ask the Secretary of State to confirm to me by letter that the Nelson hospital local care provision will be in the first round of funding this December?

I will certainly pass on the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. However, I should say—this is a point for the whole House and ought to be an all-party matter—that there is no doubt that the number of health procedures undertaken by the health service has greatly increased for all sorts of reasons. However, there is also much more day care than there was before and more clinics have been established to carry out specific tasks. When we are improving health care and health delivery, changes need to be made to the configuration. I think that the hon. Gentleman understands that and I will pass on his concerns to my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary.

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of early-day motion 2786, which refers to the recent deal between Pfizer and Unichem.

[That this House expresses deep concern over the decision by Pfizer to award the contract for sole supplying of its pharmaceutical products to one wholesaler Unichem; is alarmed that this has created a de facto monopoly for Unichem in that pharmacies have no choice about who they deal with if they want to purchase Pfizer products; is concerned that whereas choice and competition have kept prices down this action will lead to a worse deal for local pharmacists, the NHS and ultimately the general public; is deeply alarmed that if Unichem had a crisis in its distribution then other wholesalers would be unable to fill the gap left and thus people might not get the pharmaceutical products they absolutely rely on; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading and the Department of Health to investigate this issue with a focus on, respectively, the effect of this decision on unfair business practices and public health.]

The deal effectively excludes all pharmaceutical wholesalers except Unichem from distributing Pfizer’s goods. While the deal is obviously a commercial decision taken by private companies, may we have a debate on how the monopoly might affect the pharmacists who dispense the drugs and, more importantly, the patients who depend on them?

Yes, I understand the concern that my hon. Friend raises. I hope he is able to get a slot for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall. I will pass on his concerns not only to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, with his responsibility for competition policy.

Given the number of recent high profile court cases in Northern Ireland where relatives of victims have justifiably demanded that the scrapping of 50 per cent. remission in sentences where those who are convicted of extremely serious and vicious crime should be reviewed, and given that a Northern Ireland Office Minister is already conducting a review of that, may we have a debate at an early opportunity to discuss the matter, which is causing widespread concern right across Northern Ireland?

I understand the concern. It is probably best if we wait until the outcome of the review before there is necessarily a debate on the matter, but I will pass on his concerns to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Earlier, the Leader of the House said how proud he was of the way the NHS has been handled by the Government. That means that he is happy with the decision that will result in West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust board closing the Hemel Hempstead hospital. All acute services will close and 750 jobs will go, including those of doctors and nurses. May we have a debate in the House entitled “The worst year ever in the NHS”, rather than the laughable comment from the Secretary of State for Health, “the best year ever”?

I do not know the full details of the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises, but it is a verity across the country that directly as a result of improvements in health care, changes in procedures and vast investment made by the Government in the health service—dramatic investment—there must be consequential changes which at any one time may cause difficulties, such as those that the hon. Gentleman describes. In his constituency, as in every other constituency in England and Wales, the number of people being treated in hospital or by clinics or GPs has increased and their health has improved dramatically over the past 10 years.

My constituent, Henry Stableford, is in prison in Italy and two other constituents are prevented from travelling overseas as a result of an international arrest warrant issued by Morocco, on which another constituent, John Packwood, was arrested in Spain and spent almost 12 months in a Spanish jail. It relates to incidents that took place in 1997. Mr. Packwood was graciously pardoned by His Majesty the King of Morocco once he got to Morocco. May we have a debate on worn-out arrest warrants and what help the Foreign Office can give to those who face those warrants preventing them from going about their lawful business internationally?

The hon. Gentleman has opportunities on the Adjournment in the House and in Westminster Hall, and I hope he is able to obtain a debate. From my experience as Foreign Secretary, may I say that the Foreign Office at ministerial and at official level takes very seriously the plight of British citizens who are incarcerated in foreign jails or who are prevented from travelling, especially if they are unconvicted? Of course, I will pass on his concerns.

In a recent poll of 800 of its readers, the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph discovered that 88 per cent. were in favour of a ban on the retail sale of fireworks, given the injuries caused, especially to children, the alarm caused to animals and the use of fireworks in antisocial behaviour. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the possibility of banning the retail sale of fireworks?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, which is a cause of concern across the House. There is the Fireworks Act 2003. I will take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and see what further can be done. I will ensure that I or my right hon. Friend writes to the hon. Gentleman.