The business of the House for the week commencing 21 May will be as follows:
Monday 21 May—Second Reading of the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords]. There is also expected to be a statement on the planning White Paper.
Tuesday 22 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords Amendments.
Wednesday 23 May—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day], there will be a debate entitled “Independent Inquiry into the Conduct of the Scottish Parliamentary Elections”, followed by a debate entitled “Effectiveness of the DTI”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion. There is also expected to be a statement on the energy White Paper.
Thursday 24 May—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.
Friday 25 May—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 4 June will include:
Monday 4 June—Second Reading of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 5 June—There will be a debate on Darfur on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
I want to make two brief statements. First, I draw Members’ attention to the fact that the House agreed last night the dates appointed for the tabling and answering of written questions and for any written ministerial statements in September. We will remind the House about that in due course, but questions can be tabled on 3, 5 and 10 September for answer on 10, 12 and 17 September respectively.
Last week, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) on freedom of information, I made comments in which I said that
“the way that some journalists and the Information Commissioner are acting means that”
the intention of the Freedom of Information Act
“is not being met in practice”.—[Official Report, 10 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 298.]
Those remarks reflected a general concern that I have about the scope of some of the decisions interpreting the Act, but my comments were ambiguous and could have implied that the Information Commissioner had made rulings on the issue of MPs’ correspondence or that he was acting in some way beyond his statutory responsibilities. He has not done that in any way, and he has made no rulings in respect of MPs’ correspondence.
If I may say so, the commissioner, Richard Thomas, does a difficult job very well. I would like to offer my sincere apologies to him.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business.
I note that the right hon. Gentleman says that a statement on the energy White Paper is expected on Wednesday, the day of an Opposition debate. As he knows, Government statements should not be made in Opposition time, so will he look again at the timing of that statement?
This week, John Howard instructed Australia’s cricket team not to tour Zimbabwe. That firm decision contrasts with the lack of direction from this Government when England’s last tour went ahead. The right hon. Gentleman was then Foreign Secretary. England is due to play Zimbabwe later this year, in 2008 and in 2009. Meanwhile, the appalling crisis in that country is getting worse. Will the Foreign Secretary make a statement to clarify the Government’s position?
On Tuesday, the Department for International Development published its first annual report to include the requirements of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006. Many hon. Members want the report to be debated every year on the Floor of the House, and last week, in response to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), the Leader of the House said that he would give “active consideration” to the idea of a debate. Can he now give a date for the debate?
Can we have a debate on standards in government? The Secretary of State for International Development owns shares in a company that works for his Department. That appears to be in breach of the ministerial code. Almost a month ago, I wrote to the Chancellor—
In that case, can we have a debate on police targets? While more serious crimes go unpunished, Home Office targets are forcing the police to arrest more people. A bride was arrested on her wedding day for criminal damage after crashing into a car park barrier, a child was arrested for throwing buns at a bus, and a man was cautioned for being in possession of an egg with intent to throw—presumably the police were called before the Deputy Prime Minister could get to him.
Can we have a debate on the relationship between the trade unions and Government policy? It is reported today that the trade unions will effectively decide the Labour party leadership and in return, a union official has revealed, they expect a successor to the Warwick agreement. That agreement led to taxpayers’ money being given to unions, which in turn, of course, give money to the Labour party. We need a debate.
The average accident and emergency unit serves 250,000 people, but an NHS report says that an A and E department needs to be supported by between 450,000 and 500,000 people. That would mean the closure of A and E departments across the country. The Health Secretary denies responsibility, but that report was described as national guidance. When it suits her, the Health Secretary says that she is in control of the NHS; when it does not, she says that she is not responsible. Will the right hon. Lady come to the House to clarify the Government’s position, and can we have a debate on the meaning of ministerial responsibility?
It is now certain that the Chancellor will be the next Prime Minister, but because of Labour party rules we have to wait weeks for him to take office, with the country and the Cabinet in limbo. Who will make prime ministerial statements in this House for the next few weeks? [Hon. Members: “The Prime Minister.”] Which one? The pensions system is in crisis, the NHS is in deficit, and the Prime Minister will negotiate a European treaty that the Chancellor spins he will reject. Is it not time for the Prime Minister to go, and go now?
On the right hon. Lady’s first point about the energy White Paper statement being on the same day as an Opposition day debate, as she knows, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip does her best to avoid such clashes and generally succeeds. The success of Government Chief Whips over the past 10 years in avoiding such clashes compares extremely well with the practice during my 18 years in opposition—
The hon. Gentleman says, “Too short”—but time and again during that period, when we announced Opposition days, additional statements were prepared by the Government to blot out all prospect of any coverage for our business. We have tried to avoid clashes, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) concedes that we now give advance notice of statements so that everybody can prepare for them.
We will have a debate on Zimbabwe—I promised that to the House and it will happen. As for suggestions that the Government should ban a cricket tour, I made it clear in 2004 that we disapproved of the England team touring Zimbabwe and that we would have preferred the England and Wales Cricket Board not to have gone ahead with the tour, but this is a democracy and we do not have any power—[Hon. Members: “So is Australia.”] Australia’s Government obviously have different powers; we do not have any power to direct the behaviour of a separate, voluntary organisation. Not once during our debates in 2004 did I hear any suggestion to the contrary, nor did I hear of any power that I or any other Minister had that could have led to such a ban.
As for holding a debate on the Department for International Development report, of course we will look at that carefully. I simply say that we are the first Government to have such a proud record on international development, and it is only thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) that the requirement for an annual report is now law.
In respect of police targets, there is no requirement on the police to prosecute or arrest trivial offenders and to ignore serious offenders. The Government’s overall record on crime is outstanding. Crime is down 35 per cent., but it doubled under the Conservatives. I say to the right hon. Lady that I have learned, over many years, that it is always rash to go to a newspaper headline for the real truth about any allegation of crime.
No, Mr. Speaker, I was talking about the allegation made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead that the police were chasing trivial criminal acts. I crossed the other matter off my list the moment that you ruled it out of order.
It must be remembered that in one case, a fatal accident involving a bus was caused by a person doing something apparently trivial, namely, throwing something at a bus and distracting the driver. The scare stories that appear in the newspapers are not always as they seem.
On trade unions and Government policy, I am sure that I heard the right hon. Lady say that the trade unions would decide the Labour party leadership. Well, that is wrong—Members of Parliament have, in practice, decided the Labour party leadership, and if I may do so from a position of total independence, I offer my congratulations to our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the overwhelming vote of confidence that he received.
I have two last points, one of which concerns the issue that has been raised about accident and emergency departments. That is a Conservative scare story that has no basis in fact. What the right hon. Lady needs to understand is that accident and emergency provision is changing because medicine is changing. There is more care closer to home, wherever that is safely possible. For example, in emergency care, practitioners from ambulance trusts are treating people at home, rather than those people having to go to accident and emergency departments. Some care takes place in specialist centres, and those centres have a far better record in dealing with people who face serious conditions such as stroke and heart attacks. The question for the whole House is whether we want to freeze the existing confederation of accident and emergency provision services in the knowledge that patients will suffer, or whether we want to ensure more local accident and emergency service provision, but some specialist centres, too. There is no national plan whatever.
Finally, the right hon. Lady said that the Government were now in limbo, and asked who would make decisions and statements as Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is the Prime Minister and will stay Prime Minister until 27 June, when there will be a transfer. The right hon. Lady often leads with her chin; today is not the day to talk about a party being in limbo or disarray, because the disarray caused to the Conservative party by yesterday’s announcement on grammar schools is quite extraordinary. It has been damned as a rehashed announcement by the former Opposition leader, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and damned again by an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who said,
“I have always supported more grammar schools”.
It has been condemned by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who said that the announcement was unforgivable—
I am about to offer the Conservatives a debate in Government time on the disarray in the Conservative party. [Hon. Members: “Very generous.”] Yes, we are very generous.
May I make two final points? The hon. Member for North Thanet asked a very important question of Conservative members of the shadow Cabinet that should be included in this debate. He said:
“I ask every Conservative member of the shadow Cabinet who has endorsed Mr. Willetts’ view whether they will give a clear undertaking that they are not sending and will not send their own children or grandchildren to public schools.”
That is a very important question. No wonder The Spectator—the house magazine of the Conservative party—is saying in this week’s edition that the Conservative party is now “in the grip of” Tory “toffs”.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on early-day motion 1466, which stands in my name and those of other Members, so that this House can debate the crooked activities of SCS, unit 2, the Peel Centre, Stockport, in cheating a constituent of mine out of £2,000 and failing to honour a warranty that does not expire until 2009? It states:
[That this House warns potential customers to steer clear of S.C.S., Unit 2, the Peel Centre, Stockport, and Valspar Industries, Abingdon, which crooked traders have between them cheated a constituent of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton who bought furniture costing 1,998 from S.C.S., found it damaged, and has been refused recompense from Valspar Industries even though she spent another 200 on a five-year warranty which is not due to expire until 6th March 2009; believes that such cheats should not be allowed to be in business; and calls on the Office of Fair Trading to investigate their activities with a view to providing justice for the right hon. Member's constituent.]
Will my right hon. Friend also refer the matter to the director general of fair trading?
In the light of what the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said about cricketers going to Zimbabwe, will my right hon. Friend also provide time for a debate on a previous Conservative Government’s record in allowing a rogue English cricket team to go to apartheid South Africa, in refusing to impose any sanctions on that country, and in the then Prime Minister calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist?
I have always wished to accept the advice of my right hon. Friend and on the latter point, I am warming to two debates in Government time: one on the Conservative party’s disarray and another on the record of previous Conservative Governments. That would be to the benefit of the whole House, and especially to the preparation of the Opposition party for government, because it is not very far down that road at the moment.
I accept that the matter dealt with in early-day motion 1466 is very serious, and I will certainly refer my right hon. Friend’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, so that he can consider a reference to the Office of Fair Trading. We will of course look for an opportunity for the matter to be debated.
I suppose that it is appropriate to offer congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, in his role as campaign manager, on finally winning the “marginal seat” through the vote of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), which, as I understand it, secured victory.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for notice of the statements on the planning and energy reviews, consistent with what he said earlier. It is however a great shame that we were not given proper notice of the statement following business questions today on the Post Office review. We all knew that it would happen some time this week, but Members, who have a great interest in this matter, were not given proper notice of it. Is it not therefore inevitable that we need a debate on the Post Office review, as well as the statement? Apparently, the review will involve the closure of 2,500 post offices, a disproportionate number of which are located in rural areas such as mine. We want our opportunity to have a proper debate on the consequences.
If the Leader of the House had been here earlier for questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he would have heard a lively exchange on excess packaging. May we have a debate on that issue, and not only on the absurdities that we hear about such as coconuts and swedes being wrapped in plastic and a melon being labelled as “produce of more than one country”? Is there not at least a suspicion that a lot of such excess packaging is based on a commercial imperative of making people purchase more of a product than they actually need? That being the case, may we have a debate, and will the right hon. Gentleman give parliamentary time for the Retail Packaging (Recycling) Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), which will give us the parliamentary opportunity to do something about it?
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I was disappointed that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) did not ask for a debate on education, but as the right hon. Gentleman rather did the subject to death, I shall not pursue it. However, we ought to give an opportunity to Conservative Back Benchers to have their say about the change in the policy on grammar schools.
Lastly, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman noticed the perplexing comment by the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday—[Interruption.] Indeed, there were many, and let us hope that we never have another session quite like that. He said at one point that he was hoping to delay time. That opens up a new future for him as a time lord.
If the Government are in the process of delaying time during the interregnum when we have two Prime Ministers, one in office and one waiting, is it not an opportunity for the Leader of the House to clear the decks and enact some of the thoughts that he has been putting forward to improve the performance of Parliament, in addition to the U-turn on the royal prerogative that he announced last week? One of the interesting things about U-turns is what is left washed up on the beach when the tide comes in. In this case it was the Lord Chancellor who was left washed up. Can the Leader of the House find time for a review of parliamentary procedures on a wider scale, so that we can make this Parliament more effective and more relevant? He has the time to do it. Will he make sure that it happens?
In respect of the Post Office, we are doing our best to give advance notice of statements. Sometimes that is not possible. It has been well known that there would be a statement about the Post Office at some stage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make it shortly. The issue is one for the whole House, not just the Government, because it reflects changes in the circumstances in which the Post Office has to trade.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on excess packaging. To some extent I thought I had already announced a debate—my offer of a debate on the disarray in the Conservative party. Part of the Conservatives’ problem is an excess of packaging of their policies and an insufficiency of content. We are also working on a statement on waste strategy. There will be one shortly.
On education, the hon. Gentleman said he thought that I had exhausted the subject of education with reference to the Conservative party. That is quite wrong. Had I had the opportunity, I would have drawn attention to the astonishing number of improvements that have taken place in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead since 1997—203 additional or refurbished classrooms, three schools where 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. of the area has been refurbished and one where more than 80 per cent. has been refurbished.
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point about delaying time, I shall let him into a secret. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister had in mind that interesting discussion in Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time”, about how, the further one goes from an area of gravity, the more slowly time goes.
Will my right hon. Friend heed the call from 216 Members of the House who signed early-day motion 866 in my name to find time to debate and give a Second Reading to my Safeguarding Runaway and Missing Children Bill?
[That this House believes that protecting vulnerable children is core business of Government; notes research by the Children’s Society indicates that 100,000 children each year runaway or go missing from home or care, of whom 12 per cent. are running from abuse and around eight per cent. are hurt or harmed while away; further notes the contents of the Ten minute Rule Bill which would safeguard runaway or missing children; and calls on the Government to seek a legislative opportunity for the House to consider the Bill at an early date.]
The Bill comes before the House tomorrow in its second attempt to get a Second Reading. I hope my right hon. Friend will look carefully to find time, so that we can achieve essential progress on the Bill and protect vulnerable children who need us to be professional and speedy in response to their needs.
First, I put on the record our appreciation of all the work that my hon. Friend has been doing over many years in respect of missing children and the need to provide better safeguards. I know that she is to meet our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education shortly. I will take full account, as will my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, of what she has just said.
On a serious note, the Leader of the House knows that on 11 December 2005 my constituency in southern England was rocked by the explosions at Buncefield. The following day the Deputy Prime Minister kindly came to the House and gave a full statement. He promised to keep the House fully informed. We are 18 months on. An inquiry is going on behind closed doors. While that is happening, my community is suffering with blight, yet the Government have proposed 18,000 new homes around the Buncefield site, whether it is rebuilt or not. We have a water shortage and our hospital is about to close. May we have a statement on Buncefield to tell us exactly what is happening?
All of us understand the horrific nature of that fire. I remember flying very close to it. It was appalling. I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s remarks and look at whether a statement—perhaps a written statement—could be provided to the House to update him and the House as a whole on progress.
May we have a debate on the increased teaching and use of British Sign Language? Last week I visited Archdeacon John Lewis primary school in my constituency and was pleased to see children as young as three and up to the age of 11 not only singing in English and Welsh, but using British Sign Language, along with all their teachers. As there are two profoundly deaf children in the school, all at the school have taken responsibility for learning British Sign Language. Is that not a subject that we should be rolling out throughout our schools?
As, at last night’s deputy leadership hustings, all six candidates, five of whom are senior Ministers, pledged an inquiry into the war in Iraq, is it not time next week for the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and tell us when that will happen?
Today is the international day against homophobia. Will my right hon. Friend find Government time for us to debate the great progress that we have made in restoring and giving civil rights to gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the past 10 years, and also to debate the fact that in 75 countries being gay is illegal, and that in nine countries the penalty is death?
I should be delighted to do so and will look for an opportunity. My hon. Friend may be aware that some of us were at a private function earlier in the week at which Mr. Stephen Fry spoke with fantastic eloquence of what we, in the past 10 years, have been able to achieve on behalf of gay and lesbian people. It is one of the great prides that I have in the record of this Government.
Order. I see that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) is standing, but I noticed that she was not in the Chamber for the statement. Even though she is my own Member of Parliament, I cannot do her any favours. She must hear the statement. I call the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Is the Leader of the House aware that last Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the Potters Bar derailment, which took place in my constituency? Is he aware that since then there has been no public inquiry? A coroner’s inquest is still awaited and some of the families have experienced grave difficulty in obtaining proper compensation. We have had a number of Adjournment debates on the subject. Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a fuller debate on the Floor of the House on railway safety and the compensation system?
I am well aware, not least because of the representations that were made to me a few weeks ago about legal aid in respect of a rail crash elsewhere, of the problems that have arisen with the inquests in Potters Bar and the delays, which are extremely distressing to the bereaved relatives. I shall take up the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about the case for a debate, and in any event I will draw his concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport.
May we have an urgent debate in Government time about the current state of the manufacturing sector? In the past couple of weeks in my constituency another 50 jobs have been lost due to a local employer deciding to relocate to Hungary. Such a debate would allow us to discuss how best we can safeguard the jobs that remain and how we can maximise the assistance we give to people who lose their jobs as a result of this worrying trend.
We will look for an opportunity to debate that; it may have to be in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. All of us who have a manufacturing base in our constituencies know that our constituents sometimes suffer from redundancies, which we do all that we can to avoid. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) raised this the other day in her Standing Order No. 24 application. Although there has been a fall of 54,000 in manufacturing employment in the year to February 2007, which is greatly to be regretted, that is very much lower than the drops in manufacturing jobs of the 1980s and 1990s. For example, there were 673,000 redundancies in 1981 and 422,000 10 years later.
In a spirit of magnanimity, will the Leader of the House agree that when a truly great occupant of No. 10 Downing street has ceased to be Prime Minister, broadcasting the legacy is important? May we therefore have a debate on early-day motion 1367, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and 24 other MPs from all parties?
[That this House welcomes the recent transmission by the BBC on Radio 4 of the outstanding Falklands Play by Ian Curteis; and calls on the BBC to transmit the film version of the play on BBC1 at prime time on 14th June to mark the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands and as a tribute to those, both military and civilian, who worked to restore freedom to the Islanders and uphold British sovereignty.]
The EDM calls on the BBC at last to broadcast in prime time in June on BBC1 its excellent “The Falklands Play” as a tribute not only to those who fought in the campaign but to the great Prime Minister who initiated it?
I would like it to be re-broadcast. I backed the military action against the Argentines in the debate on 3 April 1982, and that was my consistent position throughout the conflict. I applaud the courage and fortitude of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
In 41 days’ time, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will drive to the palace with the seals of office and a letter of resignation—not, I hope, including an honours list associated with that resignation, on lavender paper or otherwise. Has No. 10 asked for an opportunity, as an alternative, to make a statement in this place to express gratitude and to describe the special contributions that people have made to the 3,708 days of this Administration? Would not that be a more economical and satisfactory way of acknowledging their special contribution?
The Leader of the House has already mentioned Zimbabwe, with particular reference to a possible cricket tour at some time in the future. Will he give me an assurance, here and now, that while he is Leader of the House there will be a full debate on Zimbabwe in Government time on the Floor of the House?
On a second very important point, the Leader of the House referred, in an apology to the House, to freedom of information. Does he accept that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is not working, that private confidential correspondence between Members of Parliament and Ministers is being released, and that we need some assurances if we are to carry out our job as people expect us to?
On the first point, let me make it clear that I have said, on behalf of the Government, that there will be a debate on Zimbabwe before the summer recess. I am happy to tell him that I have been discussing this with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade to ensure a date that is acceptable and convenient to the House and to him.
On the second matter, I am aware of the profound concerns of many right hon. and hon. Members about the risk that their correspondence might be disclosed, thereby compromising their relationship with their constituents. That will of course be the subject of debate tomorrow.
It is characteristic of the Leader of the House to apologise whenever he considers it appropriate, and I welcome what he said at the beginning of his statement. However, is it not rather strange that the Government are doing all that they can—including three-line Whips, “unofficial” though they may be, to get Parliamentary Private Secretaries to come in—to support a Tory Member’s Bill that is completely inappropriate, given that MPs’ correspondence is already well protected? [Hon. Members: “It is not.”] I suggest that hon. Members who disagree read the Data Protection Act 1998 and today’s edition of The Times. Does my right hon. Friend really believe that the reputation of this House would be enhanced by our taking special privileges to exempt ourselves from a law that applies, and will continue to apply, to every other public body? It is a grubby little Bill, and it should be thrown out.
First, I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. Secondly, there is no whipping, official or unofficial, on either side of the House, in respect of the Bill, which is a private Member’s Bill. There is an issue here. My hon. Friend has expressed one point of view; many Members on both sides of the House have expressed a contrary point of view. I simply put it on the record that the matter was first raised with me by two Members—they happened to be Conservative Members, but they could have been from any other part of the House—who wrote to me, in my capacity as Leader of the House, to express their profound concern about the possible imminent release of correspondence in such circumstances.
Given that a majority in the Scottish Parliament now supports further powers for the Scottish Parliament, may we have a debate on the advantages of devolving to the Scottish Parliament more, or indeed everything, pertaining to Scotland, with the aim of ensuring that Scotland can catch up with nations such as Norway, Iceland and Ireland? They are smaller than Scotland but have greater gross domestic products per capita than the UK.
The Scottish Parliament and Executive have certain functions in respect of the economy; that is a matter for them. The United Kingdom Parliament and Government have other functions. It might help if I state that the terms of the devolution settlement have been altered neither by the election results in Scotland or Wales nor by the election of a new First Minister in Scotland yesterday. It has always been recognised in the devolution settlement, not least because of proportional representation, that parties different from the Westminster Government can and will hold office. For example, over recent years mechanisms have allowed Liberal Democrat shadow Ministers to work effectively with their Labour counterparts at Westminster.
The Leader of the House has just heard that opponents of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill are claiming that MPs’ correspondence on behalf of constituents is not subject to disclosure thanks to the Data Protection Act 1998. Will he confirm that that is wrong? In fact, Members on both sides of the House have already found that their correspondence to a public authority has been revealed to a third party, which is completely unacceptable.
In his answer to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about our having two Prime Ministers, the Leader of the House gave a technical, black-letter lawyer’s answer, which I am sure was procedurally absolutely correct. Does he accept, however, that there is a wider constitutional question about what may happen, for example, if during the next six weeks there is some kind of crisis—national or international—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister disagree on what must be done? Who will be in charge, and how are we to avoid paralysis?
I do not accept that for a moment. There have often been such transitions. There has been a change of Prime Minister between general elections on five previous occasions, four of which happened to take place under Conservative Administrations. [Interruption.] The period was shorter, but it was not non-existent. No problems arose then, and I do not anticipate any problems arising this time.
May we have a debate on the non-implementation of electoral law? I refer specifically to Bradford metropolitan district council and to early-day motion 1435.
[That this House congratulates the individuals and organisations, secular and religious, who have over many years worked assiduously towards community cohesion and integration in Keighley; but condemns in the strongest terms the behaviour of certain Keighley Conservatives who, under the direction of their candidate Zafar Ali, used the tactics of intimidation, threatening and discriminatory propaganda to secure electoral victory in Keighley Central ward on 3rd May 2007; further condemns the failure of officers of Bradford Metropolitan District Council to take action against such activities; expresses the hope that no authority in future will allow such activity to take place; and urges the Government to review electoral law as it applies in these circumstances with a view to tightening up regulations and providing for sanctions in future.]
It raises complaints about the Conservative campaign in Keighley Central ward on and before 3 May, and mentions
“intimidation, threatening and discriminatory propaganda”,
in which the electorate were invited to vote for their “Muslim brother.” Would it be appropriate for my right hon. Friend and me to invite our electorates to vote for their “Christian sister or brother”? I believe it would be inappropriate.
I know of my hon. Friend’s serious concern and I hope that all parties in the House treat such practices as unacceptable. We are making arrangements to draw to the Electoral Commission’s attention the unacceptable practices that took place in her constituency and several others.
May we have a statement from the Transport Secretary on the future of the driving test centre in Kettering? I wrote to the chief executive of the Driving Standards Agency but have yet to receive a substantive reply. I have written to the Minister of State for Transport this week. I raised the matter with the Leader of the House on 26 April, when he kindly said that he would draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, but I have heard nothing.
As my right hon. Friend knows, discussions about the German presidency’s final summit are well advanced. Hon. Members are finding out what is going on in them through leaks to newspapers—yesterday’s Financial Times had a long article about the justice and home affairs section. Should we not have an earlier debate before the summit, so that hon. Members can be informed of the Government’s proposals, instead of the usual debate that takes place the day before the summit? That does not genuinely give us an opportunity to know the Government’s position in advance and to inform them of the House’s position on those important issues.
I note my right hon. Friend’s point. There is always a debate before the biannual European Councils. I accept that it normally happens on a Wednesday and the meetings start on the Thursday. I cannot make promises, but we will consider whether we can bring the debate forward.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the increasing concern in the construction industry—in my constituency and elsewhere—about the Department of Trade and Industry’s continued delay on late payments? The House was promised an answer, and proposals, in September, then December, then January and then March. I now have a written answer, which says, “Well we haven’t got a date, but we’ll have a second consultation on the previous consultation.” Does the Leader of the House agree that the construction industry deserves far better? Will he undertake to speak directly to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—preferably before that title and office are abolished by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown)?
There is a big, continuing problem, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—[Interruption.] Here he is, bearing good news as ever. The matter is not directly the Government’s responsibility but, of course, we will follow it up.
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) and other members of the Parliament Choir on being in great voice at yesterday’s performance of Mozart’s “Requiem”, and say how well he delivered the bouquet to one of the fine singers at the front?
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the system whereby pubs are tied to a specific company or brewer? Under the tied system, Marston’s is stopping pubs in my constituency selling a locally brewed beer, Cameron’s Strongarm, which happens to be the best beer in the world. The tied system restricts choice for consumers and limits access to markets. Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate that feudal system?
Will the Leader of the House reconsider the request of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on policing priorities? The right hon. Gentleman told the House that there is no requirement for the police to arrest for trivial offences, and he is right about that, but does he none the less accept that there is pressure on them to do so because of targets that the Government impose? As perhaps a future—certainly a former—Home Secretary, the Leader of the House knows that the police do their job only with the public’s consent. Does he accept that that consent may be damaged by the perception that I have described? That is why we need a debate.
The hon. Gentleman is out of touch with the public’s feelings about so-called trivial offences, which might explain Conservative Members’ reluctance to back the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and their pouring scorn on antisocial behaviour orders. All the evidence—from the United States, here and other countries—shows that so-called low-level crime must be nipped in the bud. What might be trivial to the hon. Gentleman, living away from estates, can be serious for the people who suffer from those crimes. Police officers make the judgments and, far from their making decisions without the public’s consent, pressure from the public to deal with low-level disorder is typically the reason nowadays why the police, properly, arrest people. The offences might seem “trivial” to an out-of-touch Conservative Member of Parliament, but they are important to those who have to live with that stuff.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on finding time for a debate on Darfur when we come back after the Whitsun recess. Sadly, in all the months that it has taken to arrange to hold the debate, the position has got worse. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development can give some positive news on what the British Government are doing to try to bring about an effective peace settlement, given that the existing one is not worth the paper it was written on.
I express my appreciation to my hon. Friend for all his work on Darfur and the expertise that he has developed through several visits to that benighted area of the Sudan. I visited in August 2004 and again when I attended the negotiations in Abuja in January 2006, and it was bad then but there was hope for improvements. Sadly, they have not happened. My right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development will make a full report to the House when the debate is held.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to give some thought to the media handling of individual service deployments? It is surely wrong that the deployment of any young serviceman or woman to Iraq should become a matter of public debate. If one thing emerges from the sorry events of recent months, it should be that they never happen again.
May we have an early debate on relations with Russia? Many hon. Members, and the Leader of the House, will have seen the front page of The Guardian, which reports Russia’s declaration of cyber war on an EU member state. That country has already declared economic war by not allowing trade in food products with EU member states. Energy wars have been talked about—perhaps even polonium wars, with the as yet unresolved problem of the death of Mr. Litvinenko here. I have a letter from the Duma that was sent to all hon. Members who serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which meets in 10 days. Frankly, its language of hostility to the western democracies takes us back to 1939 and 1940. I want good relations with Russia; we want open trade with Russia—my right hon. Friend worked hard as Foreign Secretary for such good relations—but something bad and sad is happening. We need to discuss it and send a clear message that good relations with Russia must be two-way.
I accept entirely the comments of my right hon. Friend, who as Minister for Europe worked hard for good relations with Russia. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), there will be a debate in Government time on the European Council at the end of June and I hope that will be a good time to raise those concerns.
Last week, my father passed on. For many years, he was a distinguished public servant who frowned upon politics. A few years ago, he displayed early signs of Alzheimer’s and was given a drug that reversed—well, certainly halted—the condition. He had no problems in his last few years. I understand that the drug has, unfortunately, been withdrawn and is not available to people showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. Will the Government reconsider the matter?
First, I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I express my condolences to the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, we are all aware of the difficult issues associated with whether new or experimental drugs should be made generally available within the health service. My understanding is that patients who have already been prescribed this drug will continue to receive it. I do not know of any system better than the establishment of an independent clinical body, whose acronym is NICE, to make these judgments, removing them from politicians who are inappropriate to make them. Such judgments are now made on clinical grounds. They are very difficult to make and I accept that in some cases they can cause distress, but they have to be made to ensure that the drugs available to patients in the national health service—and, indeed, elsewhere—are efficacious.
I will raise a pint of Thwaites to the Leader of the House to mark his great success in the leadership election campaign, but he should clarify who now really speaks for this country. Prime Minister A will go to Germany to discuss the EU constitutional treaty, which will be handed as a fait accompli to Prime Minister B, who, we understand, might not hold the same views on European matters as Prime Minister A. Perhaps the best way to resolve the problem would be for Prime Minister B to announce that the British people will be given a referendum, as Prime Minister A promised in the first place.
The whole Cabinet promised a referendum and I was pleased to make that promise myself when the appropriate moment came—Easter 2004, I recall. The proposition is not yet clear, however, and the Government will have to take a decision on it as a whole. I reassure the hon. Gentleman, who is a constituency neighbour and has some good opinions on some things—[Interruption.]