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Business of the House

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 7 June 2007

The business for the week commencing 11 June will be as follows:

Monday 11 June—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Iraq inquiry, followed by a debate on carers. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Tuesday 12 June—Second Reading of the Serious Crime Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 13 June—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 14 June—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill, followed by Committee and remaining stages of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill.

Friday 15 June—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 June will include:

Monday 18 June—Remaining stages of the Mental Health Bill [Lords] (Day 1).

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 21 and 28 June and 5 July will be as follows:

Thursday 21 June—A debate on the Shipman inquiry.

Thursday 28 June—A debate on the India country assistance plan.

Thursday 5 July—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on development assistance and the occupied Palestinian territories.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business.

In April, after the British naval personnel were taken hostage by the Iranians, the Secretary of State for Defence ordered two separate reviews—one into the media handling of the incident, and one by Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton into the operational lessons learned. Yesterday, Lord Grayson committed to a debate on the Fulton report in the other place. Can we have a debate on that report in this House in Government time before the summer recess? Can we also have a separate debate on the review of the media handling of the incident?

Last night, Conservative, Liberal and Cross-Bench peers voted to create a lifeboat fund for people whose pensions schemes have collapsed. As happened with the votes in this place, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor ordered Labour peers to vote against the proposals, which would have given fair compensation to the 125,000 people who have lost their pensions under this Government. The proposals could be paid for by using unclaimed assets and a Treasury loan, as we did after the Maxwell fiasco, so can we have a debate on why the Chancellor is refusing to help people who did the right thing and saved for their pensions, but lost out through no fault of their own?

The current Prime Minister is about to negotiate a European treaty that will have to be ratified by the Prime Minister-designate. The Prime Minister wants to revive parts of the failed EU constitution, including the surrender of the veto in the justice and home affairs pillar. The French Presidents says:

“I have spoken to Blair about this and I don’t think that one country will carry the risk of blocking Europe.”

The chairman of the Home Affairs Committee says that there is no evidence to justify

“such a major transfer of power away from member states”

and that it should not be agreed without a full parliamentary debate. May we have such a debate?

Two of Labour's deputy leadership candidates want more taxpayers' money to go to the unions. The Solicitor-General said:

“We should do more to fund the trade unions”

and the Labour party chairman said:

“A Labour Government can expand the Union Modernisation Fund”.

Last year, unions received £3 million of taxpayers' money through that fund. In the rest of the year, those same unions gave £4.3 million to the Labour party. In the next few years, a further £7 million of taxpayers' money will be given to the unions, who will continue to fund the Labour party. May we have a debate on back-door funding of the Labour movement?

Finally, last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced that home information packs would be delayed until August, and then would not be needed for all houses. Imagine the surprise, therefore, for readers of “South West Property Magazine” when they saw an advertisement saying that

“every home put on the market now needs a Home Information Pack.”

Who is the advert from? A confused estate agent? An uninformed property consultant? No; it comes from Her Majesty's Government. Just when homeowners thought that HIPs could not get any more confusing, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Housing and Planning have done it again—the Laurel and Hardy of the property market. May we have a statement on how much taxpayers' money was wasted on those erroneous and misleading advertisements?

I recognise the importance of a debate on the Fulton report and the associated Hall report about the media. I cannot make a promise, but I will consider whether it is possible for there to be an occasion when those can be debated. I will also consider an oral statement on the reports.

On the right hon. Lady’s second point—the decision of the other place yesterday in respect of pensions—if it were as easy and simple as she and her party are suggesting to use the so-called unclaimed assets, I am almost certain that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would have accepted that. The truth, however, is that it is not. It is highly irresponsible to pretend that those assets can be used in that way. As was made clear by Lord Turnbull, a Cross-Bench peer and former permanent secretary at the Treasury and a Cabinet Secretary, if the so-called unclaimed assets were used in the way proposed, that would be a fraud on hundreds of thousands of holders of with-profits schemes who typically have far lower pensions than they will get as a result of the proposals, to which we have already agreed, to bail out the failed pension schemes. What the right hon. Lady proposes is not a wise move, and it is further proof that the Conservative party is still in Opposition mode and has no sense of the sort of decisions that it must make if it is to mount a serious bid to be elected to Government.

On the European treaty, and as has been made clear time and again, any decisions made in principle in negotiations at the European Council will then be subject to a formal intergovernmental conference—as they must be as it is an international treaty and not just another European Union instrument—and after that to a full parliamentary debate in this House. The German presidency and others have already made it clear that they have no intention of seeking to revive the 300-plus pages version of the EU constitution. They are talking about amending treaties to make the EU more efficient, which is in our interest. If the right hon. Lady had read the Home Affairs Committee report, rather than just a selective quotation, she would know that it says—to paraphrase—that there could be merit in this country being involved in qualified majority voting in certain areas of justice and home affairs. That would be better than the current situation of informal groupings of countries making decisions over which we cannot have any control.

The right hon. Lady’s point about the trade unions was an example of the old Tory party, as it was a wholly unjustifiable attack on the movement—[Interruption.] I am glad to note that the rest of the Tory party is equally unreconstructed, because there are millions of trade unionists who do not pay the Labour party levy but who are keen on their union. To offend those millions of people, as well as those who voluntarily pay the political levy, is an error by the Conservative party. In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was one partisan attack after another on the trade unions. The Conservative party is the only party that has ever sought to change adversely the funding of another party without doing anything about its own funding. I had thought that there was a general consensus to leave things where they were following the 1992 decisions. I am sorry to note that that is not the case.

On a lighter note, I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for drawing to my attention an advertisement in the “South West Property Magazine”. I had not seen it because I live in SE and we do not get that magazine posted through our doors as we are on the wrong side of the tracks—SW starts just down the road.

All the more reason why I have not seen it. Now that the advertisement has been drawn to my attention, I will examine it, and I rather feel that a south-west Member of whatever party might ask a parliamentary question about its cost.

May we have a debate in Government time about protection for temporary and agency workers? Last month, in the pages of my local press, I asked people who believed that they had been discriminated against because of their temporary or agency status to get in touch with me. I have since been contacted by a number of constituents who want and, indeed, need such protection. This is not a small or unimportant issue, and I think that we need a serious debate.

I recognise the importance of the issue, not just to my hon. Friend but to many people, and I will certainly give consideration to whether there should be a debate on the Adjournment in Westminster Hall.

It is a good to have confirmation that for the Government “south-west” means south-west London and no further. I note that a statement by the Home Secretary is to follow. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that means that a terrorism Bill and, probably, a criminal justice Bill will not now be introduced in this Session? Will he give the House an assurance that if they are introduced very late this Session, they will not be subject to the carry-over procedures?

Revelations in The Guardian today and further evidence in “Panorama” next week on the al-Yamamah affair suggest that we need a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on whether his Department connived in breaches, or potential breaches, of corruption legislation and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that statement is made and will he ensure, too, that the extant National Audit Office reports are published?

May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about his current view—I say “current” because it is evolving—of the generous tax relief afforded by taper relief on capital gains tax, which enables private equity entrepreneurs to pay as little as 10 per cent. tax on their very generous income while their cleaners, on little more than the national minimum wage, pay 20 per cent.? Is that really Labour party policy? Lastly, may we have a debate on the Government’s attitude to freedom of information? For once, that does not relate to the private Member’s Bill, but to the decision by the Office of Government Commerce to destroy the gateway review documents on the cost of identity cards and other misdirected and mismanaged IT schemes, in defiance of the Information Commissioner and the information tribunal. One gateway reviewer said that the order to destroy the reports was

“odd and a little sinister”.

That applies to many aspects of government, but we need clarification of precisely whether the Government support their own legislation on freedom of information.

First, I abjectly apologise to the House—[Interruption.]—and to the south-west. I made the error of thinking that because the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) represents a constituency not far from south-west London, but a very long way from south-west England[Interruption.] I used to be expert on the counties of Britain—and I still am—but I am happy to have a geography lesson.

On the second point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about Bills, I am sorry that I cannot give him the precise undertakings for which he asked. Let us wait and see what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has to say. If appropriate, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

On the hon. Gentleman’s third question about BAE and the al-Yamamah contract, I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this morning, namely, that he was

“not going to comment on the individual allegations and a lot of this relates to things that go back to the 1980s”.

I endorse what he went on to say:

“This investigation, if it had gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations and investigation being made of the Saudi royal family and my job is to give advice as to whether that is a sensible thing in circumstances”.

My right hon. Friend explained why he thought that it was not.

I say to the hon. Gentleman—and to the House, too—that it is worth the Liberal Democrat party, in particular, noting the judgment in the administrative court at the end of last week by Mr. Justice Collins, who, in respect of an application for judicial review of the decision to suspend that investigation, said that the application was “wholly unarguable”, and he dismissed it.

I note what the hon. Gentleman had to say on taper relief, and I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On freedom of information, my understanding is that the gateway reviews have not been destroyed, but given that the hon. Gentleman and his party supported the Freedom of Information Act 2000, they need to bear in mind that it does not say that anybody who wishes to get information from a public authority may automatically have it made available. The Act provides a whole series of exemptions, which are there, among other things, to ensure the proper functioning of government. In the unlikely event of the Liberal Democrats ever—ever—being in government, they would find the same thing, too.

May we have an urgent debate on funding for training in prisons? When Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons last visited Woodhill prison in my constituency, she was very critical of the lack of training and workshop provision. She is due to visit again this September, but she will find that the new workshops, which were planned for October 2006, are unlikely to be funded until April 2008. That is a wholly unsatisfactory situation and means that prisoners in Woodhill are not receiving the training that they need for rehabilitation.

I will give consideration to such a debate and ensure that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is made fully aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns.

The Leader of the House will be aware that many of our constituents are anxious to visit London and often make an overnight stay, particularly if they are coming to see this place, but the cost of such stays is pretty high. They—and, indeed, Members—may have noticed, however, that a campsite seems to have been established in Parliament square, which now comprises no fewer than nine tents. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether that campsite is authorised by Mayor Livingstone and the Greater London authority, and if so, can he advise on how Members can help their constituents to get permits to camp there and join that happy band of campers? If they are not available, can he arrange for an early debate on the subject?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that is of great concern in most parts of the House with his characteristic light touch. Sadly, I know much too much about the ownership of that land, that piece of grass, opposite Carriage Gates. When I was Home Secretary, the “stop the city” demonstrations took place and the arguments between Westminster city council, the Metropolitan police and others—including, I think, English Heritage—as to who owned not the whole thing but the strip at the front, who was responsible for it and whether the Queen’s writ extended there, almost burnt my brain out. Some would say that the signs are still showing. In any event, the situation is complicated, but, if I may speak for you, Mr. Speaker, I know of your and the House of Commons Commission’s concern that we need some clarity on this issue. It is not about taking away the right to protest, but it is worth pointing out that under previous Sessional Orders, which were always observed, demonstrations within a particular range of Parliament were not permitted for very good reasons when Parliament was sitting.

The Leader of the House will be aware of next Wednesday’s ten-minute Bill, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan), which proposes to extend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to the construction industry. Can we have a debate on that issue as soon as possible, so that Members can highlight the terrible impact that gangmasters are having on the construction industry in the north-east in terms of violence, intimidation, illegal deduction of earnings and dangerous working conditions?

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) will raise that issue in discussing his Bill, and we wish him well. I understand the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) has expressed. I will ensure that Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions and in the construction industry’s sponsoring Departments are informed about it, and I will look for an opportunity to debate it further.

The Leader of the House knows that, on many occasions, I have raised the question of the future of Hemel Hempstead hospital. I and many thousands of my constituents have been given assurances that there were no plans to close it. However, yesterday plans were announced to close it and sell it for redevelopment in 2008, resulting in 750 job losses, including those of nurses, doctors, porters and other very important people who work within the hospital structure. This is not a Victorian hospital but a brand new one, in which huge investment has been made under both the previous Government and this one. How can be it right that my constituents will lose such an important facility, and can the Secretary of State for Health come here and explain these actions?

Because the hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in raising this matter, I have gone into it in some detail. I understand the concerns in his part of Hertfordshire about the reconfiguration of the health service, and I know that such reconfigurations, which happen across the country, can be difficult. However, he will be aware that Professor Graham Ramsay, medical director of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“It’s increasingly clear that if we consolidate key services and bring specialist clinicians together into specialist teams their skills improve and the outcome for patients is better.”

I know that that is not the hon. Gentleman’s view, but it is the view of Professor Ramsay and other senior clinicians. Secondly, any Government, including one that the hon. Gentleman supported, would have to face some quite difficult decisions in his part of Hertfordshire about the configuration of the hospital service. Whether or not it would mean that there would be no hospital in his area is another matter.

May I strike a note of cross-party consensus and raise an issue that Members in all parts of the House are very concerned about, including no less a figure than the Leader of the Opposition? The cost, quality and coverage of services provided by the health service is a really serious issue. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the quality of services provided by the NHS for people who are delusional?

That would be extremely helpful. The legislative programme is tight, but we are going to give active consideration to that matter. Usually, we are representing our constituents and talking about the problems that they face, but on this occasion we have the word, no less, of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that many of his own Members are themselves delusional, so they can be exhibits in this regard. Moreover, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), has just published an extremely interesting, if highly controversial, pamphlet, in which he says,

“It is time to get rid of this Stalinist system”—

the NHS, and that—

“the way forward is compulsory insurance”.

I hope that we can debate that issue, too. It may well then become clear whether he is one of these “delusional” Conservative Members of Parliament.

Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to make a statement to this House on exactly what “rural affairs” means within that Department’s definition, and on what it is doing to work with other Departments? Other Departments are not providing transport to or social housing in rural areas, and are about to cut more post offices in rural areas. By and large, such areas get a fairly short deal from the Government.

What the hon. Gentleman suggests is simply not the case. He is as well aware as anybody else of the definition of “rural”, which is perfectly obvious, and he knows very well of our commitment to rural areas. For example, we have pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into rural post offices. The problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they are never willing to face up to any decision that is remotely to do with their going into government; theirs is simply a party of protest.

Will the Leader of the House join me and Sunderland city council in welcoming the regional transport board’s recent decision to approve the new central route in my constituency? It is a major transport corridor that will have a big impact in relieving congestion and opening up access to the Rainton Bridge industrial site, where thousands of new jobs will be created. Will he use his good offices with the Department for Transport to ensure its full co-operation and the early completion of that major route, especially in former coal mining areas?

Yes, I will. Of course, I can say from my constituency experience that I have seen for myself the economic benefits to the whole area of east Lancashire from opening up such routes.

I apologise for my earlier outburst on the EU constitution, but the people should be consulted.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his personal intervention which led to children’s hospices receiving interim funding of £27 million and the commissioning of an excellent report on palliative care services for children. I know that the Leader of the House is a great supporter of children’s hospices, so may we have an early debate to encourage the Government to publish their response to the report so that we may better co-ordinate palliative services for children, including hospices, and provide better funding for them?

I know of the hon. Gentleman’s longstanding concern about that issue, and I will follow up what he has requested and write to him.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members will be disappointed that he has not agreed to my previous request for a debate on the future of grammar schools? That debate will not go away and we would be grateful for a debate in Government time. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) could also have his own debate.

This is the second time that I have to apologise to the House—first I had to apologise for the confusion over the south-west and now because I have not arranged a debate on grammar schools. Although the Conservative party occasionally uses its Opposition days for important issues—as it will do next Monday—it often chooses worthy but rather dull subjects, made worse by Opposition Members’ speeches. The result is that the debates get no coverage. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is talking about making Parliament more central today, but I guarantee that if the Opposition were to use their day for a debate on grammar schools, the Press Gallery would be packed, as would their Benches. If they will not do that, we will certainly consider doing it ourselves.

May we have a debate on the costs of Government and the number of Ministers? For the past month, a fifth of the Cabinet has been away from their desks promoting their candidacy for the deputy leadership of the Labour party and the Prime Minister has been largely absent on a world tour. The Leader of the House seems to be running the country on his own, but can he assure the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to run a more streamlined and economical Administration?

I am sorry to disabuse the right hon. Gentleman, but after my hour of glory I have turned back into a pumpkin, and so I will doubtless remain. The British Government give good value for money in terms of ministerial work load. For example, at least twice, if not three times, as many written questions are dealt with by the same number of Ministers as under the Conservative Administration, of which the right hon. Gentleman was an adornment.

The Government this week published “Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century: The way forward”, their response to the consultation document on the issue. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on that subject? Unless we make it a duty on local authorities to provide facilities to bury the dead locally, my constituents will have to bury members of their families in adjacent local authorities at double the cost that the council tax payers of those authorities pay. That will mean an extra charge for residents of those local authorities that are not doing their duty.

I understand the concern that my hon. Friend raises. The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has rightly published that consultative document and will certainly give consideration as to when and whether that can be debated.

May I bring the Leader of the House back to the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about the BAE situation? Is not the trouble with what the Leader of the House said the fact that the Government called off the prosecution for reasons of national security, but it now turns out that the threat to national security was the threat of the withdrawal of co-operation from the very same quarter that was subject to the investigation for corruption? Is it not simply shameful and dishonourable to give way to that sort of pressure?

I know that the Liberal Democrats live in a dream world, but the world is not perfect. The Government faced the prospect of co-operation on national security being withdrawn, and rightly made the judgment—and I am glad to say that the Conservative Opposition accepted the explanation—that that had to override other considerations. That is leaving aside the fact that, to paraphrase the comments by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on 16 December last year, in his judgment the evidential tests would be unlikely to be fulfilled. The hon. Gentleman needs to read the full judgment by Mr. Justice Collins, who said that the case being put forward was unarguable. He also said that

“it is clear that national security must always prevail, and no State could be expected to take action which jeopardises the security of the State or the lives of its citizens.”

The Liberal Democrats have to understand that there are difficult choices to be made, but we face a serious terrorist threat. We vitally need—and have received—co-operation from, among others, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to seek not to jeopardise that, and he has the endorsement of a senior High Court judge for that decision.

My right hon. Friend has answered two questions already on the role of trade unions and their lobbying through Labour MPs to protect workers subject to gangmasters and the abuses of temporary and agency working. He will know that there is a profound case for democratic trade unions in Britain and throughout the world. Given that he has faced what can only be described as a malign slight from Opposition Members on trade unions, would it not be a good idea to have a debate on modern trade unions in Britain, so that people can learn whether the Tory party is still viscerally anti-trade union?

The Leader of the House will be aware that Edinburgh university has decided to remove an honorary degree from Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe. American universities are about to take similar action. Is it not a pity that more action was not sought by the Prime Minister in his recent visit to South Africa, because the people of Zimbabwe are starving and brutalised and the economy is deteriorating rapidly? After all the assurances that the Leader of the House has given me in recent months, can he now tell me that we will have a debate on the issue on the Floor of the House so that we can explore what can be done about the tragedy in what was one of the most prosperous and improving countries in central southern Africa?

The whole House shares the profound concern about Zimbabwe and the horror at what is now happening. I do not wish to make this a partisan issue, although the hon. Gentleman started to go that way, so it would be unseemly to remind the House that it was a previous Conservative Administration who awarded Robert Mugabe an honorary knighthood—[Interruption.] Well, it is not possible to take it away, otherwise that would have been done. We are indeed promising to have a debate and I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly.

Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the local government code of conduct, especially on the duties of council officers towards Members of Parliament who raise issues on behalf of constituents? I ask because I have experience with the new chief executive of Warrington borough council, who has failed to reply to several letters that I have sent her on behalf of constituents or has sent replies that were not worth the paper they were written on. She now claims never to have received some letters about very serious antisocial behaviour in my constituency. The suspicion is that she is backed to the hilt by the council’s Liberal leader, that she is not interested in issues in my constituency and that she feels that she is under no duty to treat Members of Parliament with the same impartiality that she shows to different groups in the council. For the sake of all hon. Members, is not it time that we had a debate on this matter? We need to be sure that the concerns of constituents will be treated seriously by all local authorities, regardless of their political colour.

My hon. Friend raises a matter of very serious concern, and the simple fact is that all chief executives—who often are returning officers as well—are expected to be impartial and to offer to MPs the same high level of services as they do to councillors. We will certainly look for an opportunity to hold a debate on the matter.

Further to the Leader of the House’s comments about the al-Yamamah deal, many of our constituents will be feeling great uncertainty about the deal as a result of the impending “Panorama” programme and of the exposé in today’s edition of The Guardian. Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to arrange for a statement to be made clarifying what was legitimate under the first, Government-to-Government al-Yamamah arrangement, which did not directly involve BAE Systems as the company soliciting business? Secondly, may we have a statement about when the Serious Fraud Office will come to some conclusions, one way or the other, about the remaining investigations into the activities of BAE Systems?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House about the history of the al-Yamamah deal. It was a Government-to-Government deal, negotiated originally by Margaret Thatcher, with support from both sides of the House. I am unapologetic in saying that it has greatly benefited the country, and Lancashire too. On his second point, we will of course look for an opportunity to give the clarification that he seeks. However, as he will know—although others may not—the Attorney-General in the House of Lords and my right hon. Friend the Solicitor-General in this House made statements on 16 December that set out the facts with great clarity. There was no dubiety—and I direct this at the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth)—about what was said, and there is no inconsistency between what was said then and what is being said now. It may be sensible if I bring to the attention of the whole House the judgment that was made by Mr. Justice Collins on 29 May this year, and issued earlier this week.

The shadow Leader of the House referred earlier to yesterday’s exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about occupational pensions. Given that that is such an important subject, does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agree that it deserves a reasoned and mature debate? If one is held, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the wording of the motion dispels the myth that everything was hunky dory before 1997? In fact, the Pensions Act 1995, which was pushed through by senior members of the current shadow Cabinet, singularly failed to provide pensioners with adequate protection when the companies that employed then went bust—something that seemed to happen quite a lot when the Tories were in power.

It would be great to have the debate that my hon. Friend seeks, but unfortunately there is little chance, given the readiness of Conservative Members simply to make partisan points and to suffer amnesia about what happened before 1997. He is right to say that the 1995 Act did not give people adequate protection, but I remind him that the Conservatives encouraged people to opt out of public and state-funded schemes. That was a scandal, and it caused large reductions in the pensions to which people were entitled.

Could the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry to make a statement next week about what is becoming a very unsatisfactory consultation process in respect of closing or moving Crown post offices, such as the one in Chelmsford? That Minister should explain why the consultation is not about decisions to close or move an office, but only about the services that any new office will offer, and where it will be sited in a building. Such decisions will affect a great many people, in my constituency and elsewhere, who believe that they should have an input into the siting of new offices, as well as into the services that are offered.

There have been plenty of opportunities to debate post office changes, including during the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and during yesterday’s Opposition day debate about the DTI. All hon. Members are affected by the changes, but they have not been occasioned by either the Government or the Post Office: rather, they have been caused by changes in people’s practices, and above all by the increasing use of the internet. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues must answer the following question: what better alternative is there to the policy being pursued by the Government, which has cost £2 billion already? In addition, he and his party must decide whether they want the Post Office to be controlled directly by Ministers, or whether it should be given a degree of commercial freedom.

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1644:

[That this House condemns the actions of Greenbelt Group Ltd with regards to the customers it serves, whilst recognising that it provides over 750 estates across the UK with open space maintenance, serving some 50,000 homes; notes that it is frequently failing to meet the standards as set out in the title deeds of each property it serves; further notes that whenever a customer contacts the company to lodge a complaint - including on health and safety issues - that customer service is consistently unsatisfactory; and believes that charging each household up to 180 per year is an abuse of customer trust.]

May we have a debate about the actions of Greenbelt Group Ltd? It is a factoring company that purchases common land when builders have completed an estate. It charges a nominal fee of £40 to £50, but very quickly raises that to £180 to £200. The company provides a very poor service to 750 estates and nearly 50,000 houses throughout the UK. A lot of money is involved, and we need a debate on this subject.

My hon. Friend has been assiduous about raising this matter, which is of great concern to his constituents and many other people. We shall certainly look for an opportunity to debate it.

Returning to the subject of President Mugabe, is the Leader of the House absolutely certain that honorary knighthoods cannot be taken away? If so, perhaps I should put my ordinary one on the transfer list pretty quickly.

No, I am not absolutely certain about that. My remark was met with much head shaking among people I trust, even on the Conservative Front Bench. I shall have to look at the matter again.

May we have an urgent statement from the appropriate Minister about the Olympic logo? The visuals in the advertisement have had a major impact on people who suffer from epilepsy. In Great Britain alone, the advert has adversely affected 15 people already. Surely that is unacceptable, given how much we want to be proud of the games.

I was told this morning that discussions are under way with the British Epilepsy Association about this problem, and the part of the logo that featured in a film has been withdrawn. I understand that the logo has not received universal approbation, and that it will continue to be the subject of some discussion.

Given the answer that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), will he acknowledge the growing consensus among colleagues that we made a dreadful mistake when we accepted the Procedure Committee’s daft recommendation to replace the Sessional Orders with a dismal homily from you, Mr. Speaker? It would meet with everyone’s approval if one of next week’s Order Papers contained a motion to reverse that decision.

May I, Mr. Speaker, from a position of total sycophancy say that you are absolutely right? However, I can tell the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) that I wish that the matter was that simple. The truth is that all the problems that I faced when I was Home Secretary arose—[Hon. Members: “Look behind you!”] I see that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary has arrived, but the difficulties that I faced when I was in that post arose even though the Sessional Orders were still being passed. The problem is deeply frustrating for all of us: we all want an end to it, but the question is how we find a way through.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the past three years local government workers have been trying to negotiate their future pensions with no success? Can we have a statement about exactly where the Government stand on this?

I am aware of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and a number of trade unions, particularly Unison. As he knows, discussions are continuing, involving my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, local government associations and trade unions on what we hope is a more positive way forward.

I want to take the Leader of the House back to the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the debates on the two Iran inquiries. Lord Drayson has already said in the other place that the Government will make an announcement to Parliament—I presume to both Houses—later this month. He made the point that the Secretary of State for Defence took full responsibility for the event. I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that it is an oral statement to give Members the opportunity to question him. It is important, as my right hon. Friend said, that the debates on those inquiries are separate because they raise different issues about media handling and operational issues. It would be for the benefit of the House if we could discuss those matters separately.

As I said to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), I am sympathetic to those points. I am giving active consideration to the announcement being by oral statement, which is appropriate. I do, however, have a disagreement with him. As the two inquiries arose from exactly the same incident, albeit with different implications, it would be for the benefit of the House for them to be debated at the same time. Many colleagues on both sides of the House will wish to make comments about the operational aspects as well as the media handling.

May we have a debate on mobile telephone communication systems for our brave young men fighting in Iraq? Two weeks before going to Iraq, Private Jones, one of my constituents, took out a mobile phone contract with 3, only to find that it did not operate in Iraq. Nevertheless he is expected to pay a standing charge, despite not being able to communicate with his family at a time of great stress and difficulty. Can we look at how we can support our young people and make sure that companies sell them products that are fit for purpose in Iraq?

My hon. Friend raises an important matter and I shall certainly pursue it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence as well as with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who could perhaps talk to the telecommunications companies concerned.

Yesterday from the Dispatch Box the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health claimed that over 3 per cent. of the NHS budget in 2005-06 was spent on IT, but on 5 March his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) said in a written answer that the figure was 2.02 per cent. comparing like for like. The difference, which is getting on for £1 billion, may be a mere trifle to Ministers, but could the Leader of the House ask both of his hon. Friends to attend the House and say which of them is correct?

That is probably not necessary. Often the answer to these apparent inconsistencies is found to be different definitions and different questions. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take up the matter with me, I will follow it up and write to him.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have been concerned about the use of restraint in secure training centres following the death of a boy in Northamptonshire. Is he also aware of concerns that the Youth Justice Board might shortly be considering changing the rules on the use of restraint? If so, will he ensure that a ministerial statement, either written or oral, is made to the House about the rules, the changes and the reasons for them so that we can apply proper scrutiny and understand exactly what is going on in secure training centres?

I know that my hon. Friend has been very concerned indeed about this tragic case and its implications. I will certainly follow it up. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is in his place as we speak and has taken note of this. We will give consideration to a written ministerial statement on the matter.

Returning to next week’s business, can the Leader of the House ensure that there are no deputy leadership hustings outside London on Monday so that each of the candidates for the deputy leadership of his party can be here to vote for our motion which they have been supporting during the hustings, namely to have an inquiry into the war in Iraq? Their absence might be misconstrued by Members of his party who have to vote for a deputy leader.

I will draw the right hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of those who are standing for this position. I am happy to say that I am responsible for many things, but not for the release of members of the parliamentary Labour party for other duties.

May we have a debate on the double standards of the BBC? [Hon. Members: “ Hear, hear.”] My right hon. Friend will be aware of the recent criticism of the Deputy Prime Minister’s trip to the Caribbean by the BBC and, indeed, others, yet that same organisation agreed to send one of its favourite political daughters to the Caribbean to retrace her roots and teach her to play the piano. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is not a proper use of taxpayers’ money? If rich, middle class yuppies want to learn the piano, they should pay for it themselves. I have written to the BBC on this issue, but have yet to receive a reply.

As we all know, the BBC is a special kind of public corporation at arm’s length from Government, but all of us who are responsible for spending public money, including the BBC, must do so wisely. I will certainly draw to the attention of the director-general what my hon. Friend has just said.

Following today’s announcement of 225 job losses at the Faslane naval base in my constituency, can we have an urgent debate on how the Government allocate work to naval bases? Although there is a gap in the work load at the moment, in a few years’ time the work load will increase when the new Astute class submarines require maintenance work. These job losses are short sighted because they will lead to a shortage of skilled workers when that work needs to be done. An even flow of work is required, so may we please have an urgent debate?

I obviously understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman and any hon. Member when there are job losses in their constituency. I hope that he takes into account the fact that the defence budget has increased considerably, including in terms of building warships, ancillary vessels and like equipment. I hope that relatively shortly there will be an opportunity to debate defence generally, in which he can take part.

My constituent Mr. White is currently in a long-running dispute with Ryanair, which I am sure is not unusual. So far Ryanair has not responded to the representations that I have made on my constituent’s behalf, which I am sure is not unusual either. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a debate on enforcing consumer rights for air travellers and does he agree that if airlines repeatedly refuse to respond to customers’ reasonable complaints, we should take measures to ensure that they do?

As my hon. Friend says, this is not unusual, sadly. I note that Ryanair’s results were not good either, which may mean that potential customers have noticed the same. We shall certainly give consideration to a debate on this.

Today every household in the country on average pays £4,280 a year to fund the NHS. That is a staggering 175 per cent. increase since the Government came to power. Yet, the number of patients treated has increased by only 29 per cent. Is it not time that we had a proper debate on this extraordinary and shameful financial mismanagement of the NHS by the Government?

We have had many debates on the health service. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on leading with his chin. He has published a terrific—if that is one’s point of view—pamphlet describing the NHS as a “Stalinist system”. He wants compulsory insurance of the kind which, I suggest, has done so much to collapse health care for millions of people in the United States. What he forgets are the international studies which have just come out showing that the NHS, which he so derides, including the hundreds of thousands of nurses and doctors who work in it, is delivering the highest standards of health care among OECD countries at very good cost indeed.

Early-day motion 1609 draws attention to the Divisions that took place after my private Member’s Bill, Grammar Schools (Ballots and Consultation) Bill, some time ago.

[That this House recalls that in division 368 of the 2003-04 parliamentary session, the hon. Members for Havant and Witney opposed the introduction by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire of his private members' Grammar Schools (Ballots and Consultation) Bill which, among other things, proposed the ending of a grammar school system which the hon. Member described as the ‘response to the needs of a vanished society which required a small educated class and a large number of manual workers'; notes and welcomes the recent public resilement from their original position on this issue by those two hon. Members of Her Majesty's Opposition; and keenly anticipates a similar change of heart by all other Conservative hon. and right hon. Members who spoke or voted against the Bill at that time.]

It welcomes the fact that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) have recanted their original position. Can the Leader of the House find time in a packed parliamentary schedule for perhaps a Minister for truth and reconciliation to open a debate that will allow a solemn and formal recantation by the rest of the Conservative party in Parliament and they can fall behind their new policy?

My hon. Friend raises a very, very important issue. I am certainly, with my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, looking anxiously to find time for a full debate in Government time if necessary on the future of grammar schools and the delusional policies that many Conservative Members have now been subject to. I hope that in the course of the debate we are able to recount, for example, the Daily Mail editorial of a couple of weeks ago, which said that the position of the Leader of the Opposition

“has about it the reek of political positioning, without a whiff of real conviction.

It's all part of an attempt to capture that illusory 'middle ground', and to counter the perception that Mr Cameron's team are a bunch of Etonian elitists.”

The Leader of the House and the Home Secretary may have seen a press report last week following the coroner’s report into the death of a young constituent of mine who was a gifted and bright student but appears to have taken his life after looking at suicide websites. Will the Government bring forward urgent measures to close down websites that encourage or assist suicide and may we have a debate in the House on this evil and disturbing practice?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue in the way that he does. I hope that he is able to obtain a debate on the matter. He will also be aware that closing down websites in a democratic country like ours is very difficult, but of course we will have a look at it.

If the Leader of the House accedes to the request for a debate on extra funding for delusional services, can I make a bid for some of that funding for myself? Like a lot of people, I was deluded into thinking that we were going to get a referendum from the Prime Minister on the European Union constitutional treaty. Everyone knows that Angela Merkel is driving it forward and Nicolas Sarkozy is supporting it. She does not care about the nuancing of language. We understand from leaks that major constitutional issues will be at stake, including home affairs. Surely we do not want a tidying-up exercise or to delude people into thinking that nothing has happened. Surely we should trust the people, and we can do that only if we have a referendum.

The hon. Gentleman is anticipating what may or may not be in any amending treaty. There will be a full opportunity to discuss the forthcoming European Council before it takes place. If proposals have to go through the intergovernmental conference that require changes in legislation, which any change in treaty will do, they will be the subject of the greatest consideration by this House and judgments will be made at that stage. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to anticipate this.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on naming himself as delusional. Indeed, he fits the category exactly, given what he has told the Lancashire Telegraph about his 100 per cent. support for grammar schools, even after Tory party chiefs’ decision to ditch them.