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Business of the House

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 16 November 2006

Mr. Speaker, you have already announced to the House the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days on the Loyal Address. It may assist the House if I repeat the subjects for debate, while making it clear that it is open to Members to speak on any matter within the scope of the Loyal Address on any of the days for debate.

The business for next week will be:

Monday 20 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: communities and local government, and environment, food and rural affairs.

Tuesday 21 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Bill.

Wednesday 22 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: foreign affairs and defence. Followed, if necessary, by consideration of Lords amendments and messages.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received.

Thursday 23 November—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: home affairs and transport.

Friday 24 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 November will include:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Subjects: Treasury, and work and pensions.

Tuesday 28 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses Bill.

Wednesday 29 November—Second Reading of the Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill.

Thursday 30 November—A motion to approve a European document relating to the Hague convention, followed by a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Subject to be announced.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

It may assist the House if I inform Members that I have today issued a written ministerial statement that sets out how Members can submit evidence to the Senior Salaries Review Body on the triennial review of parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances. Written evidence should be submitted before the deadline of 8 December.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced earlier this morning that the pre-Budget report and statement would take place on Wednesday 6 December.

Finally, may I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on his appointment to the Front Bench as shadow Deputy Leader of the House?

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks.

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government published a draft coroners Bill earlier this year. There is a need for reform, particularly of death certification following the Harold Shipman case, yet there is no reference to that in the Queen’s Speech. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government will indeed produce a legal services Bill to reform the coroners system this Session?

Also missing from the Queen’s Speech was any reference to a terrorism Bill. Yesterday, on the “Today” programme, the Home Secretary said that if there was a requirement to extend the period of detention without charge beyond 28 days:

“If such a case is made to me, I will reveal it, probably first on the Today programme Jim, and then take it to Parliament.”

I was rather hoping that it was just an off-the-cuff remark and that the Leader of the House could indeed confirm that any such proposal would be brought first to Parliament and then to the “Today” programme.

It has been revealed that not only the Home Office but the Metropolitan police do not have figures showing how many days terrorist suspects are held before being either released or charged. Will the Leader of the House confirm that any proposal to extend the 28-day period of detention without charge will be based on proper figures, as the Home Secretary promised?

May we have a debate on antisocial behaviour? We have had more than 50 Home Office Bills from the Government—a number of them containing measures on antisocial behaviour—and another one is promised this Session, yet too many communities across the country, like residents in Murrin road, Maidenhead and London road, Twyford, in my constituency, are still disturbed by mindless vandalism, nuisance and petty crime. The Government promised to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. It is time that the House debated the causes of crime and what can be done to stem the tide of crime.

When will the Government lay before the House the money resolution to pay for the Deputy Prime Minister’s new office?

May we have a debate on the criteria used by the Department of Health to decide which maternity units to close? That is needed following figures showing that of the 21 units closed or threatened with closure only four are in Labour-held seats. We need to debate that party political manipulation.

I am sure that, as a former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman understands the need for clarity of roles in the Foreign Office team. At the end of the last Session, Members were surprised that in Foreign Office questions the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), was not allowed to answer questions on Europe. On 18 May, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), whom I welcome to his new post as shadow Deputy Leader of the House, asked the Foreign Secretary if any changes had been made to the role of the Minister for Europe. Six months later, on 7 November, he received the following reply:

“It has not proved possible to respond to the hon. Member in the time available before Prorogation.”

Effectively, it has taken six months for the Foreign Office to say that it does not know what the Minister for Europe does, so may we have a statement on ministerial responsibilities in the Foreign Office?

I am sure that it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Speaker, that the new James Bond film goes on general release today. May we have a debate on the impact of popular culture on our political life? That would enable us to learn from characters in the Bond films. For example, I think that the Health Secretary, who is constantly refusing petitions to keep wards and hospitals open, is none other than Dr. No. Jaws? I suspect that that can only be the Chancellor, particularly after the Prime Minister's comment yesterday about the “big clunking fist”. As for Odd Job, that could only be the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Queen’s Speech yesterday promised us more of the same, whoever is Prime Minister. It showed a Government who have run out of ideas and have no vision—and any good ideas came from us. Therefore, can we have a debate on the challenges facing the country so that we can help the Government and give them the vision and hope that they are so sadly lacking?

I had the hope during the short recess that the right hon. Lady would sack her speechwriter so that she would not embarrass herself each week with these awful gags. Sadly, my hopes, which are based on an entirely selfless interest in her preservation, have not been fulfilled. I will return to her point about popular culture in a moment.

It remains our commitment to bring a coroners Bill before Parliament as soon as time allows, and in advance we shall take whatever steps we can to bring about important interim improvements.

On the terrorism Bill, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well known as a tease, and I am quite clear that he was speaking through the airwaves courtesy of the “Today” programme to wind up the right hon. Lady. I will offer him some comradely advice, to the effect that he ought to make any announcement about a new terrorism Bill to the House. He of course accepts, being serious, the need for that to be evidence-based. That is why, although we strongly supported the principle of 90 days, if we are to bring that proposal back, the House having decided that it should be 28 days, it will be based on evidence, following the current review of terrorism.

The right hon. Lady talks about our running out of ideas. Now, apparently, we have failed to respond to challenges—and any good ideas in the Queen’s Speech were hers. Would that that were the case. Let us just take the issue of antisocial behaviour. When I was sitting on the Opposition Benches as shadow Home Secretary, I put forward proposals for antisocial behaviour orders, for what later became dispersal orders, for greater powers for the police to deal with disorder, and for reform of the juvenile justice system. Each of those was dismissed as a gimmick by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), and it was the Conservative party that was unquestionably running out of ideas, ignoring the scale of the problems of antisocial behaviour afflicting our communities.

I hope that the right hon. Lady is not saying that in the nearly Labour-free area of Maidenhead it is the Labour party that is to blame for the antisocial behaviour of young people, from reasonable homes, who are out of control. She must look to those parents and to her own local authority. [Interruption.] Oh, it is the Liberal Democrats; that explains everything. But the truth is that in her area, as in every other area, the powers available to the police and local communities better to control antisocial behaviour have been dramatically improved, and that is why, in my area as across the country, the incidence of antisocial behaviour has greatly reduced.

The right hon. Lady asked me about my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. He has performed a brilliant job as Minister for Europe—[Interruption.] And so did my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). I point out to the right hon. Lady that one genuine triumph of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is the settlement over Gibraltar, about which the Conservatives were scoffing when I began the negotiations four years ago—a settlement with the Spanish Government—

The hon. Gentleman says that it is a sell-out—it is certainly not a sell-out, and that is not the view, I believe, of the Chief Minister in Gibraltar. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) says that it was a sell-out four years ago. Well, if it was, under me, that just goes to show how much better my right hon. Friend the current Minister for Europe has performed his task.

I noted that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) did not go through the list of Bills in the Queen’s Speech and say whether the Conservatives welcomed them. However, there has come into my hands—I have a copy for greater accuracy—the Conservatives’ briefing on the Queen’s Speech. I note that they disapprove of just two Bills. Despite their apparent synthetic scorn of the Queen’s Speech, they welcome 23 Bills. We look forward to them proving their welcome in the Lobby as we deal with each of those Bills.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on winning the Fenner Brockway medal for 2006. It is well deserved.

When can we have a debate on the operation of the Judicial Appointments Commission? It has been in existence for six months. We were told that the new commission would be independent of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, but from replies to parliamentary questions that I have tabled, it appears that the vast majority of staff have been seconded from the DCA. Recently, advertisements have gone out for new High Court judges. It is important that we review the operation of the JAC. May we have a debate on that as soon as possible?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his congratulations on my award on Tuesday of the Fenner Brockway medal.

What did I get it for? For being a good friend of India. [Interruption.] Whoever said “quite right,” I will pass his approbation on to the organisers of the event.

On the Judicial Appointments Commission, I understand the concerns because there have also been other concerns about, for example, delays in the appointment of fee-paid immigration judges. I will communicate my right hon. Friend’s concern to the Lord Chancellor and if there is an opportunity for a debate, I will ensure that one happens.

Another year, another Queen’s Speech. As usual, 140 pages of briefing material were provided to the press in advance of the Queen’s Speech, but was not made available to the Opposition parties—or certainly not to Back Benchers. We also have another raft of legislation, all of which we are told is urgent and essential, but much of which we know will not be brought into effect, and some of which will be repealed before it is implemented.

May we have a debate on the fixtures and fittings of the House? I spend quite a lot of time in the No Lobby and I have noticed that there is not enough room for the statutes if this year’s programme goes through. There will not be enough room to fit all of the laws that this Government have brought in on to the shelves. Indeed, the laws that this Government have brought in exceed in width those that were made between 1235 and 1947. There is a full yard’s worth of Home Office legislation alone. To save printing costs, can we mark the Bills “Provisional until the next the Queen’s Speech”? Then we can avoid an awful lot of damage to the environment.

Talking of the environment, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on marine conservation? As the House knows, there has been a great expectation that work would begin on improving marine conservation measures, but that was not covered in the Queen’s Speech. Presumably, it has been driven out by the latest criminal justice Bill. There is a need to address marine conservation and I hope that the Government will make a statement.

Lastly, may we have a statement from the Leader of the House himself—this is an important matter—on parliamentary questions? A senior civil servant made it known this week that there were instructions within the Department for Work and Pensions to mark parliamentary questions under a traffic light system of either red, amber or green. The civil servant said:

“Embarrassing issues are marked in red and replies are either distorted or delayed. The most embarrassing questions are simply thrown in the bin.”

That is very serious, if substantiated, and I would like the Leader of the House to make a statement on that.

It is all very amusing to discover that legislation made between 1235 and 1947 fits into less shelf space than that made in the past 10 years. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that we should go back to the conditions for people in 1947, let alone 1235? He needs to explain what his point is. Much of the legislation that has been passed since 1947—[Hon. Members: “Too much legislation.”] The Conservatives say that, but they have welcomed all but two of the proposed Bills, so they need to be clear about this.

It is also time for the Liberal Democrats to spell out which pieces of legislation they do not like. Did they object to the National Health Service Act 1946 or to many of the other major social changes that were encapsulated in very large Acts? Are they saying that we should get rid of those? Are they saying that we should get rid of the minimum wage legislation or the other major improvements that have followed as a result of legislation?

The Liberal Democrats say that they would repeal some legislation, but the total volume proposed would fill a tiny amount of shelf space as they are proposing to repeal not whole Acts, but sections. For example, they are proposing to repeal 10 sections of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and sections 9 and 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

I hope that every voter whose support the Liberal Democrats are seeking will receive a leaflet through their door explaining the terrible consequences that would arise from the Liberal Democrat commitment to remove the power to hold DNA samples taken at the time of arrest. That power has led to the conviction of dangerous criminals, including rapists. The consequence of the Liberal Democrat proposal would be that such people would end up going free.

On the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the marine conservation Bill—

I shall be quick. We are proposing a draft Bill on marine conservation.

On parliamentary questions, I wholly refute what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) says about the system of traffic lights used in the Department for Work and Pensions. The system was introduced so that the Department could better cope with the huge increase in written and oral questions, and to ensure that difficult questions requiring a full answer received one on time.

Will my right hon. Friend consider granting a debate on local government capital financing? Although the Labour Government have given local councils, on average, 33 per cent. extra since 1997, Swindon borough council still claims that it needs to sell off much-loved capital assets, such as Lower Shaw farm, which is a community resource that local people value. May we debate that so that we can get the truth out into the open?

There will be an opportunity for such a debate, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to catch your eye in it, Mr. Speaker. As she says, we have put a huge amount of extra capital the way of local authorities, and we have eased the rules on their spending and raising of capital. It sounds to me as though there is no need for her local authority to sell off those assets.

A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister publicly said that our troops in Afghanistan would have whatever equipment they needed. There was an immediate call from a brigadier for more helicopters. We understand that there have been requests for Warrior armoured cars. I make no comment on the tactics, but will the Leader of the House get the Prime Minister to come here to make a statement on what equipment is being asked for, what equipment is needed and what equipment he will provide? At the moment, we can get no answers out of the Ministry of Defence.

I will not get the Prime Minister here—[Hon. Members: “Why not?”] Because the matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, I shall communicate the hon. Gentleman’s concern to my right hon. Friend and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman and to place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable public outrage at the proposals by First Direct bank to levy a charge on the poorest of its customers for their accounts? Is he also aware of the considerable concern of Post Office card account customers, first, about being able to access their money and secondly, about the prospect of being charged heavily by the banks in the event of being transferred to a bank account? May we have an early statement from the Department for Work and Pensions on how it will resolve the matter, so that my constituents and people across the country will be able to get their money and not be ripped of by the greedy banks when doing so?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. The last day of the Queen’s Speech debate, on Monday week, will focus on work and pensions. I hope very much that he will be able to raise those matters with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

What has happened to the Bill that the Labour party promised in its 2001 election manifesto to introduce a more accountable second Chamber? How many of the Bills that were announced yesterday will be completed in this Session, and how many will the Government have to carry over?

Contrary to a nonsensical press notice from Conservative central office, which stated that half of the 30 Bills promised in last year’s Queen’s Speech have been scrapped, delayed and so on, we have a good record of getting almost all the Bills through. The Conservative party is complaining that Bills have been changed, but I am proud that they have been because it shows that Parliament—both this Chamber and the other place—is doing its job of revising the measures that the Government put before it.

As for the proposals for reform of the second Chamber, the right hon. Gentleman knows that it has fallen to my party already to have made greater reforms than have been effected since 1958, with the end of the automatic right of hereditaries to sit and vote in the House of Lords and the establishment of a situation in which no one party has an automatic majority in that House. I am engaged in active consultation with the other two main political parties, the bishops and the Cross Benchers in an effort to secure a consensus on the next stages.

Can we have an early debate on the scandal of Farepak, which becomes more intriguing every day? On the “Today” programme on Monday, Sir Clive Thompson said that the company was negotiating a rescue package with Halifax Bank of Scotland in March. At the same time, Farepak was sending out letters to my constituents telling them that they were going to have the best Christmas ever. Hundreds of thousands of decent, ordinary people want to know why, if there were problems in March, they were not notified. Why did the company and HBOS wait until the final payments had been made? More importantly, where has the money gone? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Sir Clive Thompson is the unacceptable face of capitalism and does not deserve to be a knight of the realm?

I listened to Clive Thompson’s comments on the radio on Monday and I thought that they were shameless. I hope that my hon. Friend puts that type of evidence before the inquiry that has now been established under section 447 of the Companies Act 1985. It appears that Farepak and its directors, including Clive Thompson, were well aware of the difficulties that the company faced at precisely the same time as they were encouraging many more people, including some of the poorest in the land, to continue to pay their contributions towards the Farepak hampers. I note that Clive Thompson made the following comment on social justice:

“People rarely get what they deserve”,

and that while taking home £1.25 million, he was actively and vitriolically opposed to any proposal that there should be a minimum wage for the poorest in the land.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister—perhaps the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Health—to come to this House to explain why the hard-pressed taxpayer has to pay compensation to prisoners who were not able to get drugs in prison? It was my understanding that the taking of drugs is illegal. Since when should people get compensation for being denied, when they take or seek to take an illegal substance? It would help if a statement were made in the House.

May I also express my support for my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House in her call for a debate specifically on the threat to in-patient paediatric departments in hospitals? I have been told by a constituent that a Department of Health official has said that because East Cheshire declared a far greater number of people in the consultation, their representations are considered much less important than that of one person in central Manchester who ticked a box. Is that the proper way to deal with consultation? I thought that everyone’s views were of equal importance.

On the first point, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is well aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Having been in my right hon. Friend’s position, I simply say that there are occasions when we are presented with powerful legal advice, and sometimes we have to make unpalatable decisions. My right hon. Friend will speak in the debate on home affairs in a week’s time, on 23 November, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman can raise the matter then.

On consultation in the NHS, if the hon. Gentleman is correct about what is happening, it is obviously not acceptable, but I hope that he accepts that, overall, investment in Cheshire, as in Lancashire, has greatly increased. The Conservatives are not proposing to spend any more money on the health service than we are, unless the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has a surprise to give us in a couple of minutes. As patterns of health care change, there are bound to be changes in the provision of health care. That is the problem facing us all, but it is a problem resulting from success, not failure.

It is a very good Queen’s Speech for our constituents, but in view of the continued terrorist threat from religious fanatics—there is no division in the House about that—I urge my right hon. Friend to be careful about any proposals made about detention without charge. I am pleased that the Government have not rushed in with further 90-day proposals. Is there not good reason to maintain our unity against terrorism and to try to reach consensus on the issue? I believe that 28 days should be that consensus.

I agree about the need to reach consensus, but I say to my hon. Friend that although 28 days is now the consensus, it was not the consensus when I introduced the Terrorism Act 2000, when it was extraordinarily difficult to secure just a seven-day period. We have to take account of the evidence: if the evidence is that 28 days is satisfactory, not withstanding our original desire for 90 days, so be it, but if the evidence points to a longer period, the whole House must take account of that.

The enjoyment of breakfast this morning was ruined, for many people, by reports that eggs purchased under the description of free range were produced under more intensive conditions, and that eggs imported from Spain had high levels of salmonella infection. Those are important issues affecting consumer confidence and public health. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to come to the House and make a statement about what his Department is doing about those matters, so that hon. Members and the public can once again enjoy the Great British breakfast?

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns because I have been worrying about the subject since last Thursday, when, late at night, I bought a dozen eggs from a garage in Blackburn for 78p, which is extraordinarily cheap. I was reassured that they were not out of date, and I ate one, and I am now worrying about the potential consequences, so of course I will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement that any request for a longer period of detention will be evidence-based. Will he confirm that it is not the role of Parliament to roll over and have its tummy tickled every time that the police or security services make a demand on our liberties? Bearing in mind that the measure providing for a period of 28 days is less than a year old, would it not be an idea to allow the evidence to accumulate before we revisited the issue in Parliament? Does he recall that, last time around, the measure was so friendless that not even the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Condon, voted for it in the House of Lords?

I certainly recall the difficulties that the measure faced. It is never Parliament’s role to roll over and be tickled by Ministers or their advisers. Indeed, the role of Parliament—both sides of the House as well as the other place—is to scrutinise Government proposals and to make its own decisions about the way in which matters are handled. My hon. Friend will recall from the time when he was Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and I was Home Secretary that, although it was sometimes uncomfortable, there was not a Bill that was not improved as a result of scrutiny. On the issue of timing, the situation that we face in respect of the terrorist threat can be fast moving, and we must take account of that and of any evidence that the police and the security services provide for the case, if there is one, to extend the 28-day period.

May I suggest that next week we hold a debate entitled, “This House has confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’s policy in and towards Iraq”? It would be interesting to see whether the Government have the courage to lay such a motion, which would enable those of us who opposed the war at its inception to repeat our view that it was foolish, probably immoral, certainly illegal, profoundly dangerous and wholly unnecessary. It would enable us to say that we think that inadequate provision was made for the post-war settlement, and to demand a strategy for an early and phased withdrawal.

May I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that a debate on foreign affairs and defence will be held in six days’ time, on 22 November? I have told the House enough times that it will be a general debate, but it will be dominated by Iraq and Afghanistan. His position on Iraq, although I disagree with it, has been consistent, and I am sure he will have an opportunity to make the points he wishes to make in that debate.

Will the Leader of the House find time in the coming year for a full debate on the replacement of Trident before any decision is made?

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 29?

[That this House notes the National Audit Office report on delays in administering the 2005 Single Payment Scheme in England, which lays bare the full extent of the Government’s incompetence and the financial hardship it has caused English farmers; believes that English farmers were treated in a deplorable manner; regrets that errors and procedural mistakes in administering the Single Payment Scheme could end up costing each taxpayer £4.30; and calls on the Government to give all English farmers at least 80 per cent. of their due payment by 25th December 2006, helping them to have the financial certainty they need to continue producing the best food in the world.]

I draw attention, too, to early-day motions 57, 50 and 53. May we have a statement as early as possible on the financial failings of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which have hurt many people in my constituency; the incompetence of the single payment scheme for farmers; the postponement of the rural development programme; and the serious funding cuts for waterways such as the Oxford canal, which passes through my constituency? Why is DEFRA such a shambles, and will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs come to the House to explain how the Department will sort out its budget for the coming year?

There will be every opportunity to do so on Monday, when one of the two subjects proposed for debate is the environment, food and rural affairs.

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he asked for opportunity to question the Secretary of State.

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency, sadly, is not the only one affected by those problems. The Oxford canal, as beautiful as it is, passes through his constituency and through others, too.

The Leader of the House understands the importance of post offices to our communities—in fact, I am surprised he did not buy his eggs from a local rural post office. I acknowledge the additional financial support that the Government have given post offices over a difficult few years, but does he acknowledge that the withdrawal of various kinds of Government business from post offices is in part the cause of their demise? Will he provide a dedicated debate in the House so that we can discuss the withdrawal of the Post Office card account in 2010, and change the Government’s mind?

I do not think that any post offices have been open at 10 pm, which is when I bought my eggs. [Interruption.] I thought that I had thought ahead, but it turned out that I had not done so.

It is not the Government’s fault that there has been a serious reduction in post office business, and it is not as though we have made gratuitous changes. Indeed, we have provided more than £2 billion of subsidy to support post offices, and much of that has gone to rural post offices. Notwithstanding that support, 800 post offices in the most rural areas have fewer than 20 customers a week, which is extraordinary. The reason for the change, which, in many ways, is regrettable, given the role that post offices have played, is the advent of the internet and the fact that people choose to perform their financial transactions differently, thus bypassing the post office. That is something with which we all have to deal, and which any Government would have to face.

I was a little disappointed with the response from the Leader of the House regarding the marine Bill, which he said the Government proposed. It was promised last year. The proposed Bill is a draft Bill, so it will take a considerable time for it to become law, if the Government indeed put their money where their mouth is. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a timetable for the introduction of the Bill, and in the meantime arrange for a debate so that Ministers can hear how strongly hon. Members feel about the matter?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his continuing interest. It was his Bill that first got the issue moving some time ago. There has been a great deal of consultation. We must get the Bill right. I hope he will be able to raise his concern in next Monday’s debate, which will be on, among other things, environment, food and rural affairs.

How long does the Leader of the House estimate the pre-legislative scrutiny process on the congestion Bill will take, and when does he think the Bill will come to the House for Second Reading?

I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific answer about when we plan to bring the Bill before the House or on the length of time that the pre-legislative scrutiny will take. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the impact that NHS budget deficits are having on health services across the country? Milton Keynes primary care trust is facing cuts of some £18 million. The right hon. Lady, who is in her place, may be interested to know that since her visit in the summer, the Fraser day hospital has been closed, we have had cuts in mental health services, and only this week the surgical assessment unit has been closed with the loss of 22 beds. I hope she does not come to Milton Keynes again, but will the Leader of the House at least explain why the Government are forcing Milton Keynes to expand and our health service to contract?

The Conservative party cannot have it both ways, which it is trying to do, to mounting incredulity from the British public. The hon. Gentleman knows that in Milton Keynes, as well as everywhere else in the country, health spending has trebled in cash terms and doubled in real terms since 1997. That has had a direct and beneficial effect on health care in his area and in every other area in the country. He also knows that that level of spending was never achieved, and never would be, under a Conservative Government. Moreover, he should have the honesty to tell his constituents that should there ever be a Conservative Government, under the policies being followed by the shadow Chancellor there will be no increase whatever in health spending, simply cuts.

May I echo the call for a debate on Afghanistan? I have just returned from the country, where I had the opportunity to meet General Fraser, the ISAF commander in charge of the southern region, which includes Helmand province. He has made repeated requests to British chiefs for Warrior and mechanised infantry, yet that is in stark contrast to what we heard in the Chamber from the Secretary of State for Defence, who said that no such requests had been made. May we have an urgent debate so that we can clarify the breakdown in communication and ensure that our troops get the equipment that they so need?

If I may, I shall give the same answer as I gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). I appreciate the interest of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and his expertise in the matter. There will be a debate next week, effectively on Afghanistan and Iraq. I keep under active review the possibility of further earmarked days for debate on both issues. Meanwhile, I shall write to the hon. Members for Bournemouth, East and for Blaby, or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will write to them and place a copy in the Library.

Last week in north Northamptonshire, a series of health cuts was announced including, in the Labour marginal constituency of Corby, the closure of the minor injuries unit. Yesterday, that decision was reversed, and we learned that the cuts would occur in the Wellingborough and Kettering constituencies—two Conservative marginal seats. Is the Leader of the House able to investigate the matter?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the minor injuries department in Corby is remaining open. This stuff about there being some kind of political list is absolute nonsense. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be perfectly happy to go through the whole list. It is complete nonsense. Moreover, the minor injuries unit in Corby does not have a rule that it can treat only people from Corby. The hon. Gentleman knows that very well. It shows the poverty of policy of the Conservative party that it has to resort to this kind of rubbish.

Following the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) for a debate on rural issues and farming, the problem is that the debate on the Queen’s Speech on environment, food and rural affairs will be so focused on the environment and climate change that our British farmers will not get a look in. We need a separate debate on dairy farmers and the crisis in dairy farming. I have dairy farmers in my constituency who are awaiting their payments from last year, which is absolutely unacceptable. If we do not do something about that, our country will not have a dairy industry in five years’ time.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I have farmers in my constituency—dairy farmers and sheep farmers. Of course I am aware of the concerns of farmers across the country, and so, more particularly, is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He has been very forthcoming in making statements to the House. He made one just before prorogation and he will be here for the debate on Monday next. The debate may be dominated by concern about climate change, but that will not be the exclusive cover of the debate, and there is every reason why, if the hon. Gentleman feels strongly, as he does on this issue, he should question my right hon. Friend during the course of that debate.

Order. I am usually very keen to call the hon. Gentleman, but hon. Members must be in the Chamber to hear the Leader of the House’s statement in order to be called.


Welfare Reform

Mr. Secretary Hutton, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Alexander, Mr. Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Secretary Hain, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Straw, Ms Harman, Mr. Jim Murphy and Mrs. McGuire, presented a Bill to make provision about social security; to amend the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First and Second time, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) and Order [24 July], and stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 34 to 69 and schedules 3 and 5 to 8. Bill to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 1].


Mr. Secretary Alexander, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Straw, Mr. Secretary Darling, Secretary Jowell, Secretary Miliband and Mr. Tom Harris, presented a Bill to make provision for a railway transport system running from Maidenhead, in the County of Berkshire, and Heathrow Airport, in the London Borough of Hillingdon, through central London to Shenfield, in the County of Essex, and Abbey Wood, in the London Borough of Greenwich; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First and Second time, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) and Order [31 October], and stood committed to a Select Committee. Bill to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 2].

Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information)

Secretary Jowell, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Hain, Secretary Kelly, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Mr. Secretary Alexander, Ms Harman, Mr. Woodward and Margaret Hodge, presented a Bill to make provision about the disclosure of certain information for purposes connected with digital switchover: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next; and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 3].

Investment Exchanges and Clearing Houses

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Hain, Mr. Secretary Alexander, Mr. Timms, Dawn Primarolo, John Healey, Ed Balls and Margaret Hodge, presented a Bill to confer power on the Financial Services Authority to disallow excessive regulatory provision by recognised investment exchanges and clearing houses; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 4].

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill

Secretary John Reid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Hazel Blears and Mr. Sutcliffe, presented a Bill to create a new offence that, in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, is to be called corporate manslaughter and, in Scotland, is to be called corporate homicide; and to make provision in connection with that offence: And the same was read the First and Second time pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) and Order [10 October], and to be considered on Monday next. Bill to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 5].

Fraud (Trials without A Jury)

Secretary John Reid, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Beckett, Ms Secretary Hewitt, the Solicitor-General and Joan Ryan, presented a Bill to make amendments of and in relation to section 43 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 6].

Northern Ireland (st Andrews Agreement)

Mr. Secretary Hain, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary John Reid, Secretary Des Browne, Mr. Hanson and Ms Harman, presented a Bill to make provision for preparations for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement; to make provision as to the consequences of compliance, or non-compliance, with the St Andrews Agreement timetable; to amend the Northern Ireland Act 1998; to make provision about district policing partnerships; to amend the Education (Northern Ireland) Orders 1997 and 2006; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday next, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 7].