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Business of the House

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

Order. Leave the Secretary alone. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) was not pleased about not being called. There is other business, including Back-Bench business. Do not complain if you do not get called, because you do well.

The business of the House for the week commencing 4 June will be as follows:

Monday 4 June—Second Reading of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 5 June—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, followed by a debate on Darfur on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 6 June—Opposition Day [13th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 7 June—Second Reading of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.

Friday 8 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 June will include:

Monday 11 June—Opposition Day [14th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 7 and 14 June will be:

Thursday 7 June—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on coastal towns.

Thursday 14 June—A debate on the report from the Science and Technology Committee on drug classification.

I should like to make two other brief announcements. I have issued a written ministerial statement today regarding oral statements and notice being given on the Order Paper. It widens the criteria for giving notice of oral statements. I am grateful for the agreement of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), the shadow Leader of the House, and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). We aim to ensure that notice on the Order Paper is given wherever possible, following my office’s notification to the House. The Government retain the freedom to make statements without prior notice.

Lastly, following the Modernisation Committee’s recommendations on the legislative process, which the House accepted, the Legal Services Bill has been selected for a pilot to evaluate the impact of tabling explanatory statements to amendments in Public Bill Committees. Guidelines for Members wishing to table explanatory statements with their amendments are available from the Public Bill Office.

I thank the Leader of the House for providing the future business and for his other announcements.

The Home Secretary has just told us that the Government will introduce a new counter-terrorism Bill, but we were told in the Queen’s Speech that there would be a criminal justice Bill. None has been forthcoming, so will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Prime Minister designate has dropped the Bill?

In response to the urgent question, the Home Secretary just reported that three terror suspects subject to control orders had absconded, which means that a third of those under control orders are now missing. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) asked the Home Secretary a number of very specific questions about control orders legislation and related matters, but the Home Secretary did not answer a single one of them, preferring to talk about where the blame lies for the particular problems that the Government face. I acknowledge that the Home Secretary said that the debate on the counter-terrorism Bill would be wide ranging, but I believe that it would be beneficial to have a full debate in Government time before that Bill—in other words, a debate not on a Bill, but on the operation of control orders. May we have such a debate?

That is not the only problem to which the Home Secretary has admitted this week. The number of Britons with serious overseas convictions that the Department has failed to process is four times higher than the Home Secretary previously admitted to Parliament. They include people convicted of murder, manslaughter and sexual offences, some of whom have since worked with children. May we have a debate on the protection of the public?

A year ago, the Home Secretary took up his new position. He described his new Department as “not fit for purpose”, said that he would fix it in 100 days, harassed the Prime Minister to make him security supremo, divided the Department into two and then announced his resignation two days before the division came into effect. Following this week’s latest fiascos, may we have a debate on whether the Home Secretary will leave his Department “fit for purpose”?

It is reported that the first the Lord Chief Justice heard about the division of the Department and the creation of the Ministry of Justice was when he read a newspaper article by the Home Secretary. Lord Phillips says that the judiciary could rule that the Lord Chancellor is in breach of his statutory duty to protect the independence of the courts and that we need “a fundamental review”. The Justice and Home Secretaries might soon be on the Back Benches, but may we have a debate on the Ministry of Justice?

On Tuesday, the Government announced a two-month delay in the introduction of home information packs, which will start in August, before the “consultation” ends. Only a quarter of the required assessors have been trained, four-bedroom houses are being sold as three-bedroom houses with a games room and one in 10 people think a HIP is a sexually transmitted disease—[Laughter.] Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Minister for Housing and Planning cannot agree on whose fault it is, so may we have a debate on ministerial responsibility for this farce?

Five out of six of Labour’s deputy leadership candidates want to be Deputy Prime Minister, but I read that the Leader of the House has his eyes on the job. I understand, however, that the Education Secretary says that that will happen “over my… dead body”—that is the censored version of the quote. The Chancellor’s camp says that there might not be a Deputy Prime Minister

“because Prescott has made such a mess of it”.

May we have a debate on the Deputy Prime Minister’s role?

Amidst all this mess, the Prime Minister is clinging to his job like David Brent, saying that there are

“things I am right in the middle of”.

He is obviously looking to his legacy, but right now, is not his legacy a property market in confusion, a Home Office in shambles and the Department of Health in crisis?

It seems that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) is surprised as well. If I have achieved anything over the past year, it is to raise the standard of humour that we get from the right hon. Lady.

The criminal justice Bill is in hand. As for specific questions on control orders, I usually have a lot of time for the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), but I thought that he gave a lamentable performance in which he could not bring himself to make any constructive points. Presumably, he had been ordered by the powers-that-be in his leader’s office to try to mix it. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is rarely accused of brevity, answered all the questions put to him. There will be every opportunity to put those questions again when the counter-terrorism Bill is debated.

There has been a significant improvement in the performance of the Home Office over the past year. Inevitably, the Opposition have to make these points, particularly when they get to the mid-way sag—having enjoyed a boost in the polls, they discover that it is all running away, as I recall from when we were in that position—but I can provide the right hon. Lady with some therapy for that feeling. She has many more Opposition days left. I have already criticised her side for wasting good Opposition time, but if she wants to table debates and motions criticising particular Ministers, she is welcome to do so. On both occasions when the Opposition have done so, they have not proved very successful, but that does not mean that the right hon. Lady should not try again.

As for the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 lays specific duties on the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the protection of the judiciary. The current Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has that as his highest priority. Frankly, I do not see the right hon. Lady’s difficulty.

On the right hon. Lady’s peroration, which was not quite as good as her joke, I would say that once again the Conservative party is not quite where the public is. The Conservatives have been trying to make an awful lot of hay about what I regard as the sensible handover period. Meanwhile, it seems that 55 per cent. of the public today—I cite opinion polls only where they are to our advantage, and I do not wish to depart from that practice—believe that the Prime Minister is “absolutely right” to stay on until 27 June, while fewer than a third believe that he should not. The truth is that, as well as the things that often happen in government, we have shown great energy this week, with a new planning policy—applauded by many, including the CBI—announced on Monday; an energy policy essential to safeguarding our energy supplies, about which Conservative Members cannot make up their minds; and, very shortly, an excellent waste strategy, which includes dealing with waste by the Opposition, to be announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

If my right hon. Friend had been in the Chamber last Friday, he would know that I had four minutes to introduce my private Member’s Bill, which would have guaranteed a package of measures for young people aged between 16 and 18. Of course, at the end of the four minutes, the Government Whip shouted “Object”—[Hon. Members: “Ah”.] May we have a debate on how best to support young people aged 16 to 18 and on what we should do about the large number who are not in employment, education or training—the NEETs? It should be a priority: the Government have done so many good things in education and skills, but we really need some urgent action on this issue.

I understand my hon. Friend’s great frustration. I have to say, quite separately, that, having thought about it, I do not think it is possible to change the basic procedure for dealing with private Members’ motions. I am looking at whether there is a better way of responding to the major issues raised in private Members’ Bills from both sides of the House, whether or not the text of the Bill can be fitted into legislation. There will be an opportunity for a wide-ranging debate in the next Session when we introduce our proposals to raise the education leaving age to 18. Meanwhile, I will certainly look for opportunities of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests.

On the urgent question that we just heard, the Leader of the House will know that the Serious Crime Bill contains provisions introduced by the noble and learned Lord Lloyd of Berwick to allow for the admissibility of intercept evidence. I know that the Leader of the House is strongly against that, and that the security services have expressed serious reservations. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however, that senior police officers and the prosecuting authorities support the admissibility of such evidence. May I ask him in all seriousness not to introduce the Bill in this House until there has been an opportunity for serious talks between the parties and with others on how we can create a regime under which that evidence is admissible, so that we can get more successful prosecutions? It should be used not in every case but in those where it is appropriate.

Has the Leader of the House seen the evidence submitted by the Lord Chief Justice to the Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday, revealing the depth of disquiet among the judiciary about the introduction of the Ministry of Justice, and opening the possibility that the Lord Chief Justice might make a formal statement to Parliament under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005? How would such an occasion be managed in this House? When we return, may we in any case have a statement from the Ministry of Justice about its relationship with the judiciary?

May we have a debate on the regulation of financial services? The financial ombudsman is apparently receiving 1,000 complaints a week from the public about bank charging, there is clear evidence of high street banks bullying those who complain, and there has still been no action on the Cruickshank report. Such a debate could also cover the monopoly position of a small number of accountancy firms undertaking corporate audit—another serious issue.

Lastly, may we have a statement on bonuses? If the Home Office feels that the shambles that it has created over the past year is worth £3.6 million in bonus payments to staff, perhaps we should have a statement on what bonuses have been paid in the Department of Health, given the requirement for the Secretary of State to apologise to the House sometimes once and sometimes twice a week, or in the Department for Communities and Local Government, given the fiasco on HIPs, or in the Treasury, given the introduction of a tax credit system that has cost more than £9 billion in fraud and administrative failure. What exactly are we paying bonuses for?

Intercept evidence is an important issue, and I am happy to pass on the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion about talks between the parties. Indeed, confidential discussions on the issue have already taken place with the other parties. No one who wants to see more criminals, especially terrorist suspects, convicted of crimes of which they are guilty wants to see good evidence unnecessarily excluded from the courts. There is no ideological issue about the reluctance of the Government and the intelligence agencies to have intercept evidence adduced in court. Indeed, we supported the previous Conservative Government’s arrangements to ensure that evidence from planted microphones—intrusive surveillance arrangements—could be adduced in court. The problem is to determine whether the disadvantages, which I promise the hon. Gentleman are huge, outweigh the advantages.

I have discussed this matter endlessly with Lord Lloyd, ever since he recommended a separate regime for terrorist suspects seven or eight years ago. I do not happen to think that his proposals are workable, but I am as open minded about this as anyone else, as are my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Attorney-General. If we could find a way through this, we would. I am not saying that I know best because I was responsible for the agencies involved. I promise the hon. Gentleman that, having examined the issue with enormous care, I have yet to find a safe way through that would not threaten our security in many other ways. I am not saying that that is the best judgment; it is currently my judgment, and I am open to arguments to the contrary. Either Opposition party could be in government at some stage, and it is important that they should not impale themselves on promises that they cannot deliver.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Lord Chief Justice. My noble Friend Lord Falconer and I, and all of us who know the noble Lord Phillips and his colleagues in the judiciary, have the highest regard for them, and for the importance of maintaining their independence. If a statement is made under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act—I hope that there will not be—I will consider urgently with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip the ways in which it could be replicated here.

I note the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate on bank charges. He also mentioned bonuses. Home Office staff do one of the most difficult jobs in the civil service. It is the nature of what might laughingly be called its customers—prisoners, asylum seekers and others—that they do not actually want to be its customers. We should not have a go at its staff, who are doing a very difficult job. If bonuses help to raise the morale of people who have volunteered to do that difficult work, so much the better. Sadly, Ministers are not eligible for bonuses; otherwise, we would all be putting in for them. This is not a proposal for the Chancellor of the Exchequer; it would not have his support. Patient satisfaction with the health service has never been higher, and the United Kingdom now ranks top overall in relation to the comparative health care systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States.

May we have a debate in Government time on the role of the management of Tesco? In my constituency today, Tesco drivers are on strike for the first time ever because the company has unilaterally tried to reduce their terms and conditions and derecognised their trade union. On Monday evening, it sent taxis scuttling round my constituency issuing redundancy notices to its own staff. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying to the fair-minded people of Britain that, when they go shopping tomorrow, they should boycott Tesco and support—

Order. A question should be about the business of the week after the recess. Hon. Members should not make statements like that against any organisation.

I take full note of my hon. Friend’s great concern about this matter, and I will look for an opportunity for him to debate it.

Yesterday, BP pulled out of a £500 million project to develop a carbon capture and storage system at Peterhead. It was to have been based on what would have been the world’s first hydrogen refinery, with the waste carbon dioxide being pumped into the decommissioned Miller field. BP has pulled out because of the delay in the Government-sponsored competition to decide who should build the project. At Scottish questions on 27 February this year, the Secretary of State for Scotland said on behalf of the Government:

“We will reach a decision within months—in the course of the year.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 749.]

On the same day, the Minister for Science and Innovation, when warned of the risks of delay, said that the Government’s plans were

“not incompatible with the Miller field decommissioning time scale.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 27 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 247WH.]

It would appear that that is not now the case. With the announcement in the White Paper that the competition will not now be launched until November, BP has pulled out of the project. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time, with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry here to explain why the Government have effectively sabotaged this project, and the 1,000 construction jobs that went with it, why they took no heed of the warnings about the dangers of delay, and what might yet be salvaged from this mess?

There has been no sabotage, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, of the project: none whatever. Carbon capture remains an important part of the Government’s overall strategy, as it does that of industry. On his basic point, I shall certainly look at whether we can have a debate on the matter.

It is now four years since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 came into force. Has the Leader of the House seen the annual report of the Assets Recovery Agency for 2006-07, which reveals that £125 million was recovered last year—Lamborghinis, racehorses, luxury mansions and so on? May we have a debate after the recess on how we can move further and faster with the ARA to deprive career criminals of their millionaire lifestyles?

I will certainly look at that. I would like to applaud the agency for its work. Inevitably, there were birth pains, but now it is doing extremely well in recovering assets.

May we have a debate on surveillance and camera use in the United Kingdom? Is the Leader of the House aware of the recent comments from Ian Redhead, the deputy chief constable of Hampshire, who has questioned the installation of CCTV cameras in areas of low crime and called for a full review of the rules surrounding the use of speed cameras? At a time when these concerns are increasing, why are the Government relaxing the rule concerning the deployment of speed cameras? Could it be that this has more to do with revenue-raising than road safety?

The right hon. Gentleman’s last point is wrong. All of us who have been caught by speed cameras—that includes me, in 1993—are jolly irritated at the time.

I was doing 48 mph. I was irritated about it at the time. Nonetheless, we have to recognise that the introduction of speed cameras has greatly helped road safety and reduced deaths. On the wider issue, the matter is the subject of an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman put forward evidence.

May we have a debate as a matter of urgency on the report that has just been published by the regulator into the allegations of racism on Channel 4 during “Big Brother”? My right hon. Friend will have noted the comments of Channel 4, which offered no apology, no condemnation of racism and no resignations. Does he agree that this is a very serious issue—the first time that the regulator has applied this sanction to a public sector broadcaster—and that it is very important that we have a debate on the issue?

It is. Given the fact that this is the first time that the regulator has found in this way, the board of Channel 4 needs to consider the overall implications of allowing such material to be broadcast and what that does for its reputation and that of the UK.

Does the Leader of the House agree that the Whitsun recess gives him an ideal opportunity to get his toolbox out and to carry out the much awaited repairs to the roof of Portcullis House, to ensure that the flag of our country can fly there for the first time? Does he agree that 2 June, the anniversary of Her Majesty’s coronation, would be an ideal time for the flag to fly for the first time?

Yes, I agree and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter again. I am promised that I will not need to get my toolbox out, as the work has already taken place. I threatened the powers-that-be here that the hon. Gentleman and I would go up there and put up the flag. I am also promised that the first occasion on which the flag will be flown is on the 54th anniversary of Her Majesty’s coronation on 2 June.

May I ask for an early debate on the rules that local authorities must follow when disposing of shares? This is in relation to the decision of the Liberal Democrat-controlled council to sever any links it has with Kingston Communications, after 100 years, without public discussion, debate or consultation.

I find the approach of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Hull city council quite extraordinary. I know for certain that were the Liberal Democrats in opposition there and a Conservative council had done that, they would be raising Cain about this. It is utterly irresponsible and takes no proper cognisance of heritage and the unique contribution that Hull Telecommunications —now Kingston Communications—has made to the city of Hull.

I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), but may I turn the attention of the Leader of the House to this House and the way in which it operates? He will be aware that the Committee that he chairs with some panache is to report shortly on the role of the Back Bencher and the use of non-legislative time. Will he give me and the House an assurance that a debate on the subject will take place in this House while he is Leader of the House? As the right hon. Gentleman chairs the Committee, it is important that he should lead off the debate and guide the House in terms of making it more relevant to the people of this country and to Back Benchers.

I cannot give him that assurance because, like lunatics in prison in days of old, Ministers of the Crown serve entirely at Her Majesty’s pleasure and we have no idea when that pleasure is going to come to an end.

Yes. Last week, I promised the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)—I am sorry that she did not return to the matter—an opportunity in Government time to debate Conservative policy. We will do anything we can to facilitate wider debate by the Conservatives and we will lay on Government time. I remind the right hon. Lady that, in 2001, she spoke out in this House against “a vendetta” against grammar schools. I hope that she is applying the same strong language that she used back in 2001 to her own leader, who seems to have adopted quite gratuitously a vendetta against grammar schools.

Network Rail has confirmed recently that serving prisoners are carrying out maintenance work on Britain’s railways. My constituents use the railway line that goes through Potters Bar, the scene of the devastating crash in 2002, so railway safety is a key concern to them. Will the Leader of the House give time for a debate on this important policy because we need reassurance that safety standards are being maintained and respected on all our railway lines?

I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Notwithstanding the fact that there have been some terrible railways accidents, including the one at Potters Bar, we heard yesterday from Ian McAllister, the chairman of Railtrack, that the recent period has been one of the safest on record; so it should be. Railtrack and everybody else—

Apologies. Network Rail and all the others working in the industry have safety as their first priority.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 1540:

[That this House notes that the House of Commons guidance note Freedom of Information and Members' Correspondence with Public Authorities published in December 2005 makes it clear that a public authority may be required to release a copy of hon. Members' correspondence if it receives a relevant request even though constituents may not be aware of the risk of material being disclosed; believes that it is absolutely essential that constituents are able to contact their hon. Member on a confidential basis; supports measures to protect from disclosure correspondence from constituents and their representatives to hon. Members and from hon. Members on behalf of constituents and their representatives to public authorities but believes that all other matters relating to the administration of the House, including hon. Members' allowances, budgets, use of contractors, purchasing policy and other matters, should be subject to public disclosure on an annual basis; and calls upon the Leader of the House to table a motion to this end to be voted upon by hon. and right hon. Members.]

It supports the protection of constituents’ correspondence with their MP from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, but also calls for the annual publication of all matters relating to the administration of this House, including MPs’ allowances. Will he table a motion at the earliest opportunity, enabling hon. Members to vote on this matter?

I certainly recognise my hon. Friend’s wish, which is shared by the whole House, to ensure that whatever happens in respect of the protection of MPs’ correspondence, the publication scheme in respect of Members’ allowances and expenses continues. I shall give serious consideration to his suggestion and consult the Opposition parties about the matter.

Is not the reason why 55 per cent. of the country wants the Prime Minister to stay that they do not want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take over? Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Chancellor has said that when he is transubstantiated into Prime Minister, he wants to strengthen Parliament, which I welcome. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House, who is also the Chancellor’s campaign manager, that there will be no unilateral changes? Will he also assure us that any plans for strengthening Parliament will be fully debated and that the next Prime Minister will not do what the last one did and introduce unilateral changes that had the effect of weakening Parliament?

I do not think that the changes that have been made have weakened Parliament, but we can debate this matter. Meanwhile I will send to the right hon. Gentleman transcripts of a series of lectures that I have given on the subject, in an attempt to introduce some balance. [Interruption.] They are entertaining reading on balmy summer nights with a drink.

Being consistent with my policy of quoting opinion polls only when they are in our favour, may I draw to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention a survey which showed not only that 55 per cent. of the public wish the Prime Minister to stay on until 27 June but increasing support for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s takeover of that post—which will be not a transubstantiation, but a translation?

Regarding the possible future progress of the private Member’s Bill debated last Friday, did my right hon. Friend hear the Information Commissioner say on the radio today that his office has not received a single complaint from Members of Parliament about correspondence? Bearing in mind the fact that the amendment that has since been tabled to the Bill will not satisfy opponents of it such as me, may I suggest that the best possible way forward is for the Bill which, unfortunately, was agreed to last Friday should not be further debated but be buried? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the decision taken last Friday was a collective blow to the reputation of this House?

I know that my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this matter, as do some Opposition Members. I have read the record of the debate. The issue of MPs’ expenses, which has attracted a lot of attention in the newspapers, has been the subject of further consideration by the Bill’s promoters and supporters. The Bill has now passed to another place, and what it does about it is entirely a matter for it. I note the Information Commissioner’s remarks, but all I can say is that, as people who follow business questions will be aware, last October or November the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and one of his Kent colleagues drew the House’s attention to the matter of the possible publication of confidential correspondence issued on behalf of constituents.

I see that the Secretary of State for Health is present, and I am glad about that as I wish to ask for a debate on the postcode lottery. The Leader of the House knows that I have used business questions as an opportunity to raise the issue that some of my constituents have not been able to access certain cancer drugs although they are made available in other health trusts. Today, The Sun reports the story of Corporal Nick Lock who, sadly, has stomach and liver cancer. His health trust says that he cannot have access to the cancer drugs that he needs in order to give him at least a chance of survival, yet the same drug is made available in Scotland. Why are drugs being made available in one part of the United Kingdom yet being denied to people in other parts of the UK?

All of us have personal contact with people suffering from cancer so all of us understand how distressing the issue of the availability of such drugs is. However, I have two points to make. First, the differences between Scotland and England and Wales are not to do with a postcode lottery. It is a consequence of devolving power over health matters to Scotland, which is bound to do some things differently; otherwise, there would have been no point to devolution. We do other things that are then quoted against Scottish politicians. That is part of the nature of devolution.

Secondly, I cannot comment on the case the hon. Gentleman raises except to offer the greatest sympathy to the patient, but I can say that, overall, the effectiveness of cancer treatments and the likelihood of survival have greatly increased in England and Wales because of investment and improvements in medical science here.

May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 690 on the regulation of private military security companies?

[That this House welcomes the recent War on Want report entitled Corporate Mercenaries which examines the role of mercenaries and private military security companies (PMSCs) in conflict zones around the world; shares its concerns over the exponential growth of PMSCs since the invasion of Iraq; notes that PMSCs work alongside regular soldiers providing combat support in conflict situations, yet remain unregulated and unaccountable leaving open the potential for human rights violations; further notes that problems posed by proliferation of PMSCs were highlighted in a Green Paper in February 2002 that originated in a request from the Foreign Affairs Committee but that almost five years later there is still no United Kingdom legislation regulating PMSCs; believes that self-regulation by the industry is not appropriate in this instance; and urges the Government to move towards binding legislation to control the PMSC sector as an urgent priority.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in Iraq, for every British soldier there are six private soldiers? Is it not now time for there to be a Foreign Office statement—an update of the Green Paper of 2002—on whether we will ever regulate these people?

The Leader of the House will recall that I recently asked in business questions for a debate on young people and social mobility. I subsequently applied for a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate on that topic, but I seek his advice—I was unable to secure it, because the topic of social mobility cuts across several Government Departments and therefore also cuts across ministerial remits. Additionally, no ministerial remit has a specific responsibility for social mobility. Eventually, the best I could do was to have a debate entitled, “Young People and Social Exclusion”, which was handled by the Cabinet Office. Can the Leader of the House give me any advice on how we can debate in this place this important topic which cuts across several Departments?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I will arrange to meet her to talk about how we can have more effective so-called cross-cutting debates, and I will make an announcement to the House.

May we have a debate on the Human Rights Act 1998, which after the latest Home Office debacle seems to be nothing more than a charter for criminals, terrorists and lawyers of sybaritic tastes, many of whom appear to be well connected with members of the establishment?

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate on the Human Rights Act, but I would like to arrange a debate in order to explain a few things to him. First, that Act was welcomed by the Opposition on Third Reading after I, as Home Secretary at that time, had secured a number of amendments to it. Secondly, the problems that have now arisen, which are often labelled Human Rights Act problems, relate to our being signatories to the European convention on human rights, and nobody proposes that we should abrogate our signature to that. To disabuse the hon. Gentleman still further, let me tell him that it was drafted by a Conservative lawyer, David Maxwell-Fyffe, who later became Lord Kilmuir, a distinguished Conservative Lord Chancellor. It was Britain under a Conservative Government which, quite correctly, led the way in getting every country of the Council of Europe signed up to that.

Order. We have two statements this afternoon and other business, so we must now move on.