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Business of the House

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 23 November 2006

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 27 November—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech.

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 motion relating to the House of Commons Members’ fund, followed by a debate on rail performance on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 1 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 December will be:

Monday 4 December—Remaining stages of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.

Tuesday 5 December—Opposition day [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject will be announced.

Wednesday 6 December—The regular biannual debate on European Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 7 December—Estimates [1st allotted day]. Subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee.

Friday 8 December—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 30 November and 7 December will be:

Thursday 30 November—A debate on the report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on organised crime in Northern Ireland.

Thursday 7 December—A debate on the report from the Home Affairs Committee on terrorism detention powers and from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on counter-terrorism policy and human rights: prosecution and pre-charge detention.

It may also assist the House if I tell Members that printed calendars giving details of the sitting days and therefore the recess dates until October 2007 are now available in the Vote Office.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the coming weeks and for alerting us to the printed calendar, which will be of interest to all hon. Members.

On another issue that is of personal concern to many hon. Members, the Boundary Commission for England reported to the Department for Constitutional Affairs on new parliamentary boundaries on 31 October. In an answer on 24 October, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) said:

“I would hope to be in a position to lay the draft order early in 2007.”—[Official Report, 24 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1775W.]

The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland is reviewing its proposal and is likely to delay its report. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the delay in Northern Ireland will not be used as an excuse for delaying the process in England and Wales, and that the required order will indeed be laid before the House early in the new year?

I am conscious of the fact that we have just had Education questions, but there was no suitable question on the Order Paper to ask about the Ofsted Report on standards in secondary schools that shows that half of secondary schools are failing to meet the required standards. May we therefore have a statement from the Education Secretary on that Report?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of growing concern about the Government’s response to the threat of pandemic influenza. Earlier this week, the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences accused the Government of failing to listen to expert advice, and of stockpiling a single drug that may not be effective in the doses originally proposed. On 3 July, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Health Secretary, wrote to the Secretary of State for Health about preparations for pandemic influenza and, on 27 July, she replied:

“you mention that many in Parliament would welcome a debate on pandemic influenza in Government time.”

I hope that the Leader of the House is listening, because the letter continues:

“I am copying this letter to Jack Straw, the Leader of the House to bring this to his attention”.

Why has there been no debate on the subject in Government time, and will the Leader of the House undertake to provide such a debate before the Christmas recess? That is, of course, if the Health Secretary can spare the time from her discussions with Yates of the Yard.

Transport is the subject for today’s Queen’s Speech debate, but may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor on the review of Britain’s transport needs over the next 10 years? Will they explain why the business man whom they appointed to conduct the so-called independent review, Sir Rod Eddington, moved back to Australia in the spring and took on numerous other jobs there, and why the review is now being conducted by a team of civil servants in the Department for Transport? It is hardly an independent review if it is being written by the Government. Or have the Government simply accepted that, like the three previous major transport studies—from the Deputy Prime Minister’s 10-year plan onwards—and all the multi-modal studies, the latest review will lead absolutely nowhere?

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the budget for the Olympics and the current status of the London 2012 project? In July 2005, the Leader of the House and I had the privilege of welcoming, in the House, the news that we had won the Olympic bid. However, there is now confusion between figures quoted by the Culture Secretary and statements made by the Mayor of London, who, rather churlishly, complained that the Culture Secretary saw fit to give some figures to Members of Parliament. The Mayor also claimed that any extra costs would be recouped from sales after the Olympics, but he did not say whether the money raised would go back to the lottery and council tax payers. A statement to the House by the Culture Secretary would clarify the position, clear up the confusion, and allow Members to press home the point that although it was a wonderful coup to win the Olympics, and although they will be a great boost for this country and will leave a lasting legacy, that is not an excuse for a blank cheque, signed by Ken Livingstone and drawn on the national lottery and London council tax payers.

To take the points in order, in respect of boundary commissions, I see no reason whatever why the delays experienced by the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland should prejudice our considering the report for England and Wales as early as possible. If there is any change to that, I will, of course, let the right hon. Lady and the House know.

On the Ofsted report, I must tell the right hon. Lady that over the past 10 years there has been increasing rigour in inspections, and an increase in standards overall. Indeed, Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said yesterday:

“International comparisons in recent years show that our pupils can increasingly hold their own alongside their peers in the developed world.”

Of course, some schools are not up to standard, and that is why we have been so rigorous in pushing standards, as well as levels of inspection. However, overall, the result set out in her report is that schools, and the children in them, are doing better than they have ever done. It really is not appropriate given her party’s record on education when in government for the right hon. Lady to try to minimise the progress that has been made by teachers, parents and, above all, children.

The number of flu vaccines available to GPs has increased from 7 million in 1997 to more than 13 million in 2006. I do not think that there is any particular need for a debate, but there will be Health questions next week.

There will indeed be a debate on transport—I have just announced it. Next Thursday, there will be a debate on rail performance when there will be every opportunity to raise the issues to which the right hon. Lady referred. Everybody knew that Rod Eddington—a distinguished business man who led British Airways brilliantly for five years—would return to his native Australia, but that did not stop him coming back to the UK to conduct his study, which he has been doing to great effect. Moreover, his proposals will be against the background of huge improvements in the numbers of passengers travelling on the railways in the past 10 years. Given that under the Conservatives there was inexorable decline and continued disruption in the railways and for the passengers carried, for there to have been a 40 per cent.—[Interruption.] Even the shadow Secretary of State for Transport now accepts that privatisation was a disaster, in the way it went forward. For there to have been an increase of 40 per cent. under Labour is astonishing.

On the Olympics, Ken Livingstone is a loyal member of the Labour party—[Laughter.] From time to time, he has always been loyal. He was elected by the populace in London and we all have high regard for him. However, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics, I have to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was right, and not wrong, to publish detailed figures so that a judgment could be made.

I am glad that the shadow Leader of the House accepts that.

Ken can write as many blank cheques as he wants, but they will not be banked, or paid, because it is for the Government to decide. One of the key decisions we made in pushing for the Olympics was that the Government had to stand behind the bid, so we will make decisions about the overall cost.

I know that is not what Ken is saying, but it does not alter the fact that what I am saying is the truth—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] Ken will not mind that, because he has always been fairly imaginative in his language. Before I get pulled up by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for going on too long, I can tell the right hon. Lady that I, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee, my right hon. Friends the Culture Secretary, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and indeed all those involved in delivery, are assiduous in bearing down on the costs. Progress is being made. Costs are being pushed down. Of course, we are right to be worried about cost overruns, but we are two years further ahead compared to the equivalent Olympics in Athens or Sydney.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing tendency of Departments in answers to Members of Parliament to refer them, when information is required, to websites? Is he also aware that often the websites are inaccessible, not only to Members, which might be understandable, but to their more computer-literate staff and, indeed, when that fails, even to the Library? Will he give a direction to Departments that when they provide websites in their answers they should also lay the information in the Library, so that it is readily accessible?

I am well aware of my right hon. Friend’s concern; indeed, this morning I signed a letter to him, which said that I was ready to revise the guidance we issue. When I answered many more written questions than I do nowadays, my approach was to excise references to websites and to provide the information, when that could be done in reasonable form, in the body of the answer. I believe that all Ministers and Departments should follow that practice. On occasions, information should be made available by reference to a website, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that that should be only when the information can be, and has been, accessed in hard copy that has been made available both to the Member asking the question and in the Library.

May I ask yet again for a debate in Government time on Iraq? Before the Leader of the House tells us that we had a debate yesterday in the context of the Queen’s Speech, may I say that that is no substitute for a structured debate on the Government’s strategy in Iraq? There is a debate in another place on 5 December, notwithstanding the Queen’s Speech debate. May we have such a debate as a matter of urgency?

I ask in passing whether the Leader of the House will confirm what the Prime Minister said yesterday: that the White Paper on Trident will be published before the end of the year and that we will have a statement on it?

On a matter that is of great importance to the scientific and medical community, David Cooksey’s report on the future of the Medical Research Council and NHS research is to be published shortly. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on the basis of that report? I would imagine that that would come from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was he who originally announced the merger of the two research bodies. However, given that the announcement will please some and upset others, and knowing the Chancellor’s allergy to anything that might be construed as bad news, perhaps it will come from the newly appointed Minister for Science and Innovation.

The Attorney-General has a duty to give advice not only to the Government but to the House. Will the Leader of the House find a way for the Attorney-General to share with the House what he shared with a press conference this week: his opinions on future measures to deal with terrorism? He has supported views that have been expressed from the Liberal Democrat Benches and others over recent years on the use of intercept evidence and the possibility of qualified interview after charge. He has also rejected the view that we need to extend the 28-day detention period, saying that on

“extending it any further we need evidence to demonstrate that that is needed.”

When asked if there was such evidence, he replied:

“Well, I haven’t seen it yet.”

As that view is an important counterweight to the frequently expressed views of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, may it be shared with the House?

Lastly, may we have a debate and a statement on the future of the sub-post office network? We are told that decisions are imminent, but we have still not had that debate. When we do have it, will a suitable Minister explain what has happened to Postwatch, the body that was set up to monitor and express the views of the consumer? It tells me that it cannot do its duty in respect of attending protest meetings about sub-post office closures, or even getting around the MPs in its area, because its time is limited and it is not given the opportunity to do its job. If Postwatch cannot express the views of the community, and if we cannot, how can we defend our sub-post office network?

I accept entirely that Iraq is a profoundly important issue that needs to be the subject of regular debates, but it is slightly odd to demand a debate on Iraq the day after we have had a debate on Iraq, in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made some important announcements. However, I promise the hon. Gentleman that, of course, we will keep that under review.

Our hope is to have a White Paper on Trident before the end of the year. A statement should accompany it.

Sir David Cooksey’s report is not ready for publication and I have not seen it, but I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman’s request that there should be a statement. There will certainly be a written ministerial statement. Whether an oral statement is appropriate remains to be seen.

On the Attorney-General, it is not unheard of for current practice to apply, when the Attorney-General is in the other place and the Solicitor-General is in this place. We have just had questions to the Solicitor-General, who answers for the Attorney-General in this House. Of course, I note what my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General has said on a variety of issues. What he has said in respect of extending the 28-day detention period is no different from what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said, which is that we await evidence. Of course, we would not propose to move unless and until there was good evidence in favour of moving. That is without question.

On the Post Office, in due course there will be an oral statement on the future of sub-post offices, but we have already had a number of debates on that matter. It is a proper matter to raise in business questions, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman, as I do other hon. Members, that I have yet to hear any serious understanding of what he and they know to be true: that the introduction of electronic banking and the availability of broadband internet in many and increasing numbers of homes, especially in rural areas, has profoundly and adversely affected the business of post offices. That is simply the case. We have put more than £2 billion to support post offices, and rural post offices have benefited by £500 million. Furthermore, contrary to the nonsense that we often hear, particularly in Conservative and Liberal Democrat areas, without any fear or favour for their constituents, it cannot be a sensible use of public money—even in a Liberal Democrat world—continually to subsidise rural post offices at such a level when 800 of them have on average only 15 to 20 customers a week.

Order. May I remind the House that in this afternoon’s debate Back-Bench speeches are limited to 12 minutes, so there is pressure on time? I ask Back Benchers to put just one supplementary question to the Leader of the House. A brief question and a brief answer would help.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland this morning issued a declaration, which must accompany the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006? That order is scheduled for consideration in Committee next Tuesday, which does not give much time for parliamentarians to assess the implications of the declaration. Will the Leader of the House take steps to have that consideration deferred, given that the judge draws attention to the fact that a Grand Committee debate that was to take place never happened? Will he also ensure that copies of the judgment behind the declaration are placed in the Library for Members and that the European Commission letter of formal notice that was issued in respect of this legislation is also available to Members?

I will get the judgment put in the Library of the House. As to whether a debate can be delayed, I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

A campaign that started in my constituency to seek better protection for the fabric and artefacts of ancient churches from the ravages of bats is gaining support from parishes across the country. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on an issue that is causing distress, anger and frustration among the custodians of churches across the land?

I will do my best. I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman correctly raises about the effect of bats—[Interruption.] People may mock, but it is a very important issue for those concerned about the preservation of our ancient churches.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Paymaster General to make a statement about the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on 14 November 2006, which may have implications for decisions about the overpayment of tax credits? At the moment, the decision is made by a group of civil servants with no independent appeal and the only recourse is judicial review. As I understand it, the ruling would make that inadequate under article 6. Will my right hon. Friend look at that matter?

Yes, I will. I know that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is studying the court judgment and its implications with care and I will invite her to make her response to the House in due course.

Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to congratulate members of the Press Gallery, who appeared to notice an announcement made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary in her speech that every single participant in the debate seemed to miss—namely, that British forces are going to be withdrawn from Iraq in the spring? I have read what the Foreign Secretary actually said and I can see how a complexion can be placed on her words, but it was not the characteristically honest announcement for which this Government have become famed. Would it not be a good idea to have a properly structured debate on the matter of Iraq, so that we can hold the Government properly to account?

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am always happy to toady to the Press Gallery and congratulate Britain’s finest journalists there. [Hon. Members: “Name names. Where are they?”] My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out the Government’s position, which has been set out in those terms on a number of previous occasions, so it was a matter of surprise to members of the Government as much as to others that that interpretation was put on it.

My right hon. Friend has a long reputation for protecting the interests of Parliament and the electorate, so will he ask the Cabinet Office either to direct private offices to stop using 0870 numbers for people to approach them by telephone or to give a full statement of the amount of money raised by that method in order that the House may take a view?

Yes, I will. My hon. Friend has raised the matter with me, and it is completely unacceptable for Members of Parliament to be fobbed off with 0870 numbers as the only available number for contacting the private office. I am making that clear to my ministerial colleagues.

May we please have a debate on the need for the development of a sustainable community in Aylesbury vale? Given that my area of the country is expected to absorb an additional 1,000 houses every year for each of the next 20 years, does the Leader of the House accept that it is vital for the Government to explain how we shall have the adequate transport infrastructure, sufficient NHS provision and adequate supply of school places in order that my constituents can look forward to an improvement in their quality of life, and not to a deterioration?

I accept that the demand for housing and the increase in family formation, particularly in areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s in the south-east, is very intense. We have sought to modify that demand—for example, through the Thames Gateway and efforts to move jobs right out of London and the south-east. Of course, Ministers and local authorities have to take account of the impact not just of building new houses, but on all other services. The hon. Gentleman is a very serious Member of the House, and I say to him that there is no easy answer. Certainly, pulling up the drawbridge and suggesting that there should be no further development—I know that he accepts this—is not part of that approach. Getting a proper balance is part of it. It is difficult, but it is achievable.

When will the decision of this morning’s Cabinet on Trident replacement come before Parliament? Bearing in mind the concerns of the Quakers that the Government have not conducted “a proper threat assessment” or explained

“the purpose and relevance of ‘nuclear deterrence’ in relation to current security threats”,

will the White Paper properly address those issues or will it be a new dodgy dossier? Did the Government take those assessments into account in their decision?

I have great respect for the Religious Society of Friends, but with the best will in the world, it will not be possible to please everybody on all sides of the debate. I doubt whether, whatever we say, we will please most people from the Society of Friends.

On the process, our intention, which we hope to achieve, is to publish a White Paper, hopefully before the end of this calendar year. Of course there will be a statement on the White Paper, whose purpose is to set out the Government’s judgments about the future of Trident, including, fundamentally, the issue of threat as we see it. Then, as I have already made clear on a number of occasions, there will be a debate in the House in Government time and a vote on the Government’s proposition.

May we have a full debate on further constitutional change within the UK? That would allow Labour Members to continue their incoherent attacks on independence and continue to suggest that the Scottish people—seemingly uniquely—cannot make a success of their independence. In fact, it has been so successful that support for independence is at an all-time high. Today, we have opened up a seven-point lead over Labour in the opinion polls for Holyrood. Will the Leader of the House therefore encourage the Prime Minister, his colleagues and all his Scottish Labour colleagues to continue what they are doing? They are doing it so well.

The hon. Gentleman should not pay too much attention to mid-term election polls. I sat on the Opposition Benches comforting myself month by month between elections, not about 7 per cent. leads in polls but about 25 per cent. leads, and we still lost continually. On any serious test, the Scottish National party’s position, which is to weaken Scotland’s economy and society and the United Kingdom as a whole, will be rejected again and again by the Scottish people.

As our present Trident weapon can be operated effectively until 2024 at least—nearly 20 years—should not we debate the timing of the recent announcement? Is not it vital that we have the right decision and not a rushed decision?

It is not remotely a rushed decision. If my hon. Friend looks at the time scale from the original decision on Trident in the early 1980s and how long it took to be implemented, or at earlier decisions, he will see that very long lead-in times are involved. There may be an argument as to whether we need to take a decision now, but the Government believe that we need to take one in the next few months, and everything that I have seen confirms that it would be prudent to do so. There is no suggestion of the decision being rushed or of it not being made by the House.

Sir Hayden Phillips will shortly submit his final report on party funding. The Leader of the House was unable to accede to my earlier request for a debate on the interim report. Will he therefore give an assurance today that there will be an early debate in Government time on Sir Hayden’s final report to establish whether we can move forward from the present position, which even the Government recognise is very unsatisfactory?

I shall have to discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, but I hope that we can have a debate on it.

Will my right hon. Friend intercede and ask the Government seriously to consider the recommendation of the Alzheimer’s Society that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should broaden its remit so that the second-class citizens in England who are about to be denied drugs such as Aricept for mild dementia can be provided with those drugs, as patients in Scotland are? The Government’s remit for NICE appears to be more about money than medical science.

I am certainly happy to consider this issue, but it is not fair to say that the Government’s remit for NICE is just about money. NICE has decided in favour of providing some drugs that are proving very costly to the NHS, but it is entirely proper that it made those recommendations on medical and not cost grounds, and that those decisions are being implemented. The arrangements in Scotland are slightly different, but that is one of the benefits of devolution. The Labour party did not push devolution so that our colleagues in Scotland and Wales would do things in the same way as us. We pushed it so that they could take their own decisions.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Government to make a statement on their housing policy for key workers and what progress there has been? The crisis that key workers face is not confined to the south-east; it also affects the south-west. For example, in Teignbridge, the multiplier between earnings and house prices is greater than anywhere in Surrey.

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is great variability in house prices across the country. If he wants a debate about the situation in his constituency, he should request an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the treatment of Nadia Eweida and British Airways’ decision to ban its staff from wearing crosses while allowing other staff to wear other faith symbols such as turbans or hijabs? He will be aware that many of our constituents are very angry about that decision, that religious leaders such as the Archbishop of York have condemned the company for its decision, and that more than 100 MPs have signed parliamentary motions asking BA to reconsider.

I hope that my hon. Friend is successful in raising this matter in Westminster Hall or in an Adjournment debate here. The Government do not take a position on this case, but I share his concerns about it. I have great admiration for BA as an airline, but I find its position on this quite inexplicable. Like the rest of the House, I have strongly supported the right of Sikhs in private companies and public services such as the police and the Army to wear turbans. I have also strongly supported the right of women of the Muslim faith to wear the hijab in all circumstances, and therefore find the ban on wearing a cross or Star of David in equivalent circumstances wholly inexplicable.

The Prime Minister was quoted as telling our troops in Afghanistan that the future of 21st century civilisation is being worked out in that extraordinary piece of desert. May we have a debate on why we have only half a brigade in Afghanistan trying to cover an area the size of Wales?

As I said to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), we keep under review the question of whether we should have debates on such key issues. I cannot promise that there will be a debate on Afghanistan in the next few weeks, but there was every opportunity to make that point yesterday. As for our troop contribution, we have 5,000 troops there and are the largest single troop contributor to the NATO force. Given other pressures on the British forces and the obligations and responsibilities of other NATO members, any increase in force levels should fall first on other NATO members. I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will raise this issue at the NATO summit early next week.

The national lottery living landmarks fund has shortlisted 29 schemes for consideration, not one of which is in the north-east but eight of which are in the south-west. May we have an early debate on the fund’s operation to explain why no schemes in the north-east were considered to be good enough or to meet the criteria, particularly bearing in mind the spend on lottery tickets in the region?

That is an interesting point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is also concerned that there should be a proper spread across the regions, not least bearing in mind the different levels of spend on the lottery by my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine, for example. I will draw her attention to my hon. Friend’s comments.

Does the Leader of the House anticipate that the promised debate and vote on the future of Trident will take place under this caretaker Government or after a new Prime Minister has been appointed?

Nice try! We intend to have the debate fairly shortly under the brilliant Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

May we have a debate about the need for an immediate grant of planning consent so that a young constituent of mine can receive medical treatment at home? A mobile kidney dialysis unit is to be placed in the proposed building in the garden of his parents’ house, but that opportunity might be lost because of the length of time required to gain planning permission.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern on this important issue, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I shall also consider whether there might be an opportunity for this to be raised as a general policy issue during our debates on the Bill on planning gain later this Session.

The declaration that the High Court in Belfast says should accompany the Water and Sewerage Services (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 was based on the view that the Government have not conscientiously considered this important matter. Will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that there is no further parliamentary progress on this order until the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which is meeting in Belfast on 12 December, has had the opportunity to debate the order fully?

As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), I will draw to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

On 12 September the directors of Farepak wrote to their customers telling them that they had to pay their bill by 6 October to enjoy the biggest, best Christmas ever. The company went into liquidation seven days later. We now know that the parent company asset-stripped Farepak of £35 million, Halifax Bank of Scotland got its cut, and Sir Clive Thompson, the chairman of the company, effectively robbed hundreds of thousands of decent people of Christmas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although Halifax Bank of Scotland may not have a legal responsibility to those individuals, it has a moral responsibility to them?

On behalf of the House, I commend my hon. Friend for his efforts on behalf of Farepak customers and employees. The situation is truly scandalous. The more we find out about it, the more it stinks. I hope the inquiry that has been set up under section 447 of the Companies Act 1985 gets to the full truth of all that happened. Meanwhile, I agree that whatever legal obligations Halifax Bank of Scotland may have, it certainly has strong moral obligations in the situation.

Further to his remarks about trying to clear up the confusion surrounding the London Olympics, will the Leader of the House also clear up the matter of VAT payments that might be attracted by the London Olympics? He is aware that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has suggested that there will not be a VAT liability and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has begged to differ. Given that London taxpayers may end up picking up the bill if there is an overrun, they will not be very impressed if that payment goes straight to the Treasury’s taxation coffers. When will Ministers clear up this important issue?

It is an important issue, but it will not delay the building of the Olympic infrastructure or detract from the success of the games. As the hon. Lady would expect, it remains a matter for detailed discussion between my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Against the background of the dirty dealings going on in Farepak, does my right hon. Friend understand the frustration of those who have lost their occupational pensions, and who will suffer not just this Christmas, but every Christmas? Will he use the same energy to get a satisfactory conclusion for those people?

Yes, I will. I will raise my hon. Friend’s concerns, which are shared across the House, with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Reverting to the subject of Trident, may I suggest to the Leader of the House that we should debate early-day motion 239, which is in my name, next week?

[That this House, noting that it is the intention of the Government to ask it to consider the replacement of the Trident missile system with an enhanced system for the delivery of nuclear weapons, believes that, before it is asked to consider such a policy, a committee of at least seven right hon. Members should be appointed by Mr Speaker to consider the desirability and the cost of replacing Trident with an enhanced delivery system together with alternatives to such a policy; considers that the Government should furnish to that Committee such information and documents they require; further requires the Committee to report not later than 12 months from the date that it is established; and further requires that until its report shall have been received, the House shall not be asked to consider any motion for the replacement of Trident.]

Early-day motion 239 provides a mechanism for addressing the Trident issue: that Mr. Speaker should appoint a Committee of at least seven right hon. Members, not necessarily Members of this House, to receive evidence from the Government on the cost of replacing Trident and on the alternatives, that we would therefore have an independent assessment of the need, and that we should not vote on the issue until we have received a report from that Committee.

That is an interesting idea but not one that will find favour with the Government. It would never find favour with any Government. That was not the approach adopted, for example, by the Thatcher Government when there was a vote on the existing Trident system in March 1981. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was in the House and supported that decision in those days. That seems an appropriate way to proceed. It is a decision for Government. We will provide as much information as we can and put it in the public domain in the White Paper. There will then be a period of reflection on the White Paper, followed by a debate in Government time and a vote. That seems to me to be the way to proceed.

On Trident, can the Leader of the House give us any information on the nature of the question to be put to the House? What weight does he give to the views of General Sir Patrick Cordingley, who was on the “Today” programme this morning, and the views of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales?

I listened to Patrick Cordingley and found him less convincing than he usually is. His argument did not add up to much. As regards the question, there is no great surprise about that. If there is a Government recommendation in favour of a replacement for Trident, the motion will be, roughly speaking, in those terms. It is then for right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the House to table amendments to the motion if they wish, and it is a matter for Mr. Speaker whether those amendments are called for a vote.

Although reasonable progress is being made on the miners’ compensation scheme, two classes of workers remain without compensation and without the likelihood of compensation. Yesterday the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) raised with the Prime Minister the case of surface workers and he was offered a meeting with the Prime Minister. I am concerned also about those who worked in small privately run mines for at least a part of their time. That seems a very difficult matter. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House, or whether a responsible Minister can set up a meeting with hon. Members who have an interest in the matter to see whether progress can be made?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have made substantial progress, with over £3 billion in compensation paid to over half a million disabled miners or their widows. I accept, however, that there are some who have so far missed out. I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns and see whether a meeting can be set up with the relevant Minister.

The current public consultation on the draft code of school admissions policies comes to an end next week. My right hon. Friend will recall that during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill earlier this year, school admissions policies became an extremely important part of the debate. At that stage the Government, to their credit, decided to withdraw the former draft code, pending further debate and consideration. In view of the importance of the matter, is it possible, once the Department for Education and Skills, has assessed the responses to the public debate, to find time for a debate in the House? Would that not give us an opportunity—

I shall certainly give consideration to a debate. There will be plenty of opportunities on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall, and I will also draw to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills the concerns of my hon. Friend.