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Business of the House

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 21 June 2007

The business for the coming week will be as follows:

Monday 25 June—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Finance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance Bill (Day 1). It is also expected that the Prime Minister will make a statement following the European Union Council.

Tuesday 26 June—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill, followed by a motion to approve a money resolution on the Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill.

Wednesday 27 June—Remaining stages of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords].

Thursday 28 June—If necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [Lords].

Friday 29 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 2 July will be:

Monday 2 July—Opposition Day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 3 July—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, followed if necessary by consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 4 July—Second Reading of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill.

Thursday 5 July—Remaining stages of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to global navigation systems.

Friday 6 July—The House will not be sitting.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business. This may be the last time that he takes business questions. [Hon. Members: “Ahh!”] I thank him for the way in which he has always treated the House with respect. He will be able to look back on his term of office with satisfaction, because he has introduced many changes that will make parliamentary procedure more effective.

There is dissent on the Labour Back Benches.

According to the Prime Minister,

“if troop commanders want more equipment—for example, more helicopters—that will be provided”,

yet Colonel Bob Stewart has said that the Army

“have been asking for more helicopters forever”.

We now know that last year the Ministry of Defence was given the opportunity to hire military transport helicopters for Afghanistan, but despite the crippling transportation shortage there, Ministers turned down the opportunity. We have a debate later today on armed forces personnel, but can we have a debate on the lack of equipment for our brave and loyal troops?

Ahead of today’s intergovernmental conference, Downing street has said that there is no need for a referendum

“because we will not sign up to anything that breaches our red lines”.

Even if the red lines are not breached, however, we have been told that the Government will surrender the veto in 52 areas of policy and significantly weaken it in a further 10. The Government have no democratic mandate to do that, so can we have a debate on the need for a referendum?

The Public Accounts Committee has said that the Government spend £2 billion a year on consultants, and Ministers have been accused of sacking civil servants and replacing them with more expensive consultants. That is all because of the Gershon review, which the Chancellor set up to show how prudent he is. Can we have a debate on the Chancellor’s “Yes Minister” style of government?

Talking of the Chancellor’s style of government, I wish the Leader of the House all the very best in the forthcoming reshuffle. Indeed, I wish all Labour Members luck in the reshuffle—after all, this is the first reshuffle in history that has had Liberal Democrats sitting by their telephones. At last week’s business questions, the Leader of the House said that the Liberal Democrats try to avoid serious issues of government and always take the easy decisions of a party in permanent opposition. Yet the Labour Benches seem so devoid of talent that the Chancellor is offering Cabinet positions like knocked-off watches. Was the Leader of the House consulted on the decision to bring Liberal Democrats into government? For the benefit of his ministerial colleagues, may we have a debate on coping with redundancy?

Finally, this week we have learned yet more about the Chancellor’s style of government. We know that the current Prime Minister believes the worst of the next Prime Minister, and that when the two met, civil servants would be waiting for a decision and all they could hear

“was the crockery being thrown around the kitchen.”

But the most telling quote of the week was from a former Home Secretary, who said that the Chancellor believes that

“you can pass a law or make an administrative decision in central government and that will change behaviour”—

hardly a new kind of politics. The Chancellor believes in state control; we believe in social responsibility. May we have a debate on the Chancellor’s all-powerful state? Is not that the future with him as Prime Minister: the control freak, the grabbing hand, the clunking fist?

Before I respond to the right hon. Lady, may I first pay my own personal tribute to our dear friend Piara Khabra, who died two days ago? He will be much missed on both sides of the House. It is worth recording that he was the last serving Member of Parliament to have served in the second world war. He joined the colours for the Indian army, which is a reminder not only of his bravery but of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people from the Indian sub-continent—Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—fought, and many died, to save freedom in Europe— [Hon. Members: “And the world.”] And the world.

To respond to the right hon. Lady, I am certainly not speculating on where the future may lead. I love this job; I am ready to go on and on and on in this post. In return, I thank her for her courtesy and good humour. Owing to their responsibilities to the Commons as a whole, as well on behalf of the Government, Leaders of the House cannot do their job without the co-operation of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers and many other hon. Members.

It has been a great delight to me to be able to introduce a number of changes. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) was right to say that it was not enough; in the Labour party, it is never enough. However, I hope that the whole House will by now have read the important report that the Modernisation Committee published yesterday morning, which proposes introducing a much greater degree of topicality into the proceedings of the House and to strengthen the role of the Back Bencher.

On defence, the amount of investment in defence is a result of a greater degree of sustained real growth in defence spending for more than 20 years. We have invested billions of pounds in new defence equipment for our armed forces. Since all equipment has to be used by, and is for the benefit of, our service personnel, I am quite sure that, without even very much imagination, the Opposition will be able to work questions about that into the forthcoming debate.

I have already said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will give a full report on the proceedings of the European Council, which is taking place now. The red lines for the UK have been made very clear indeed; they were discussed and confirmed today in Cabinet. Rather than reacting to any proposal from the European Union like a Pavlovian dog, it would be worth the right hon. Lady reflecting that quite a lot of what appears to be in the draft articles for the amending treaty is to our benefit—not least a much improved voting system that will give us more weight inside Europe than we have at the moment.

What I find so surprising is the synthetic fury of the Opposition, when they have had plenty of opportunities to seek to influence their comrades in arms in the centre-right parties and yet have turned their back on that. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, has refused to go to meet other members of the European People’s party, even though for the time being the Conservative party is still a member of it.

On the Public Accounts Committee and consultants, there is always an opportunity to debate PAC reports and I think the right hon. Lady will have noted that, although that spending is significant, it has been reduced in quite a number of Departments.

The right hon. Lady referred to speculation about conversations that have taken place, apparently, with the leader of the Liberal Democrats. It is not for me to comment on the Chancellor’s private discussions with the leader of the Liberal Democrats; they are private. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made it clear that he wants to lead a Government of all the talents and he is very serious about that. Last night, for example, he established a new National Council for Educational Excellence, which includes Sir Terry Leahy and Sir John Rose, whose party affiliations are certainly unknown to me.

I suggest, if the right hon. Lady is feeling left out of the speculation, that she would have a greater chance of getting into a Cabinet of any kind if she were invited by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—an act of unparalleled generosity. All she has to do is to send me her curriculum vitae and I will pass it on, with a high recommendation that she should be included.

My friend famously described the Liberal Democrats as the scavengers of British politics. Can he give me an assurance that if Liberal Democrats, or in fact members of other political parties, are brought into a Brown Cabinet, there would be a statement to the House beforehand?

In 1984. I think it remains a reasonably accurate description, and I think it is fair to say that it is one of the more charitable things I have said about the Liberal Democrats. We are a very broad church in the Labour party, and we are always open either to sinners or scavengers who repent.

I start by adding my tributes to our former colleague Piara Khabra, who was a decent, quiet, courteous Member of the House and will be much missed.

It is hardly our fault if the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes Cabinet formation into a form of “Britain’s Got Talent”. The Liberal Democrats undoubtedly have the talent; we just do not like the look of the Government. The Leader of the House has made it plain that sometimes he does not like the look of us either, despite the fact that he has been a very good Leader of the House, but can we find ways to help the Government? Here are three ways that we can be of assistance in the business of the next couple of weeks.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for International Development said that a new corruption Bill was needed “as soon as possible”. I have good news for the Leader of the House: we have a Corruption Bill before the House. It has gone through all its stages in another place. It could be put into effect within weeks. Perhaps he will find some parliamentary time for progress on the Corruption Bill, which stands in my name in this House, so that he can satisfy the Secretary of State for International Development.

There is a second piece of good news. The deputy Chief Whip in the Lords says that the Government are committed to tackling the issue of the

“disparity between…financial support…to victims”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 April 2007; Vol. 691, c. 459.]

of terrorism abroad and in this country. The good news is that the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill, which was originally introduced by Lord Brennan, has gone through all its stages in the Lords. So again we have a Bill that the Government can take up in order to make good their commitment.

Thirdly, we can help the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has clearly cottoned on to the concern across the country that some of the richest people pay the least tax. I think that I even heard the Prime Minister, in a somewhat incoherent way, lending his support yesterday to the need for something to be done. If that is true, may we have an extra day’s debate on the Finance Bill, so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can bring forward proposals for the end of taper relief on capital gains tax, which Liberal Democrats have proposed for some time, and therefore do something about the richest people paying less tax than those who clean their offices?

I should add to what I have just said by saying that some of my best friends are Liberal Democrats, but sometimes we must put our sense of friendship on one side when we are making decisions about what is good for the country. The hon. Gentleman says that it is not their fault that certain discussions have taken place. The problem with the Liberal Democrats is that it is never their fault because they never have to make decisions. It is an attractive offer to the Liberal Democrats, because it would give them a taste of government—I make no predictions; apparently, it is causing some minor discussion among them—and of decision making, if they found that comfortable. One of the difficulties that I have with the Liberal Democrats is that they seem to be people who volunteered for a lifetime in opposition. I spent 18 years in opposition, as did you, Mr. Speaker, but being in government is a lot better, and we can do things for the country.

On a new corruption Bill and the Victims of Overseas Terrorism Bill, our approach to all private Members’ Bills, as we showed with the Sustainable Communities Bill last week, is to look at them on their merits, regardless of who is their promoter, and that we will continue to do.

The ending of taper relief on capital gains tax is under consideration and the hon. Gentleman will know, as the House does, of the Treasury Committee’s considerable and spirited evidence session yesterday.

I note that the business for yesterday and today has no votes and that that coincides with Royal Ascot. For the convenience of Members in future, would my right hon. Friend say which sporting events the usual channels regard as sufficiently important to influence the business of the House?

Yes, of course we will. My bid to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary is to ensure that all games played by Blackburn Rovers during the week are high on the list.

When does the Government expect to receive the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body on Members’ pay and allowances?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise answer now, but it is due soon. I have certainly not seen it, but if I get better information than I have at the moment, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and table a written ministerial statement.

I join in the tributes to Piara Khabra. He was a member of the International Development Committee, on which I served for many years alongside him, as did the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). We all feel very strongly about his contribution to international development and the fact that he continued to be interested right up to his recent illness.

While one might debate the merits or demerits of the Iraq war—I still hold to the same view—there is a humanitarian crisis among the displaced people of Iraq, both inside and outside the country, and I would ask for an urgent debate on that subject. The Government have been severely criticised by those who deal with refugee problems owing to our meanness in allowing Iraqis who are in danger in their own country because they helped the coalition, to come to this country. If one looks at the list of countries into which Iraqis have been allowed, this is one of the meanest. I am sorry to use this opportunity to make that point, but I am afraid that it is the only way open to me, and I should like an early debate on that subject.

I understand the concern of my right hon. Friend and pay tribute to her for all her work to help those people. As she will know, we have made major contributions to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. On the specific issue that she raises, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is made fully aware of her concerns. We will look for an opportunity for the matter to be raised more fully on the Floor of the House.

May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate in Government time on the adequacy of ministerial answers to written parliamentary questions? I am not complaining about the length of time that the Minister concerned took to answer the question, but the content of her answer.

Early in May, I tabled a written parliamentary question asking for the dates of meetings between the Lord Chancellor and officials at the Department for Constitutional Affairs—and the names of those who took part—to discuss the formation of the new Ministry of Justice and the relationship between the judiciary and the Executive. The answer that I received from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), simply said that there had been eight meetings, which were not dated. I was not given the names of those who had attended the meetings, on the basis that to do so would inhibit the frankness and candour of discussion. I wrote back saying that that was not really an answer. After consultation with eight civil servants, she said that the answer remained the same.

Can we have an early debate about that? It is not good enough for Ministers to try to brush us off—

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, you will make me redundant shortly. I shall certainly follow up the matter. I am normally sympathetic to Members on both sides of the House who raise with me issues in relation to inadequate answers, and I usually get a better response for them. I am not particularly sympathetic, however, in the case of the hon. and learned Gentleman, because normal practice in giving information on the number of meetings—including mine—is not to say precisely who has attended them, as that could have a genuinely inhibiting effect on discussion.

In announcing the business, the Leader of the House mentioned that we would discuss the remaining stages of the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill. May we have a wider debate on bus services? The bus service between my constituency and James Cook hospital has been cut by its operator, Stagecoach, because the subsidy is not big enough. The links between North Tees and Hartlepool hospitals are also being cut because the subsidy is not big enough. Last year, Stagecoach made revenues of £1.5 billion, so it is aptly named, because its examples of highway robbery would make Dick Turpin blush. Can we therefore have a debate on bus services, the vital links that they provide to health services, and the risk to those from the gross profiteering of private operators?

We will certainly consider that issue. My hon. Friend will know of my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary’s draft legislative proposals to provide better regulation of bus services outside London.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that changes in voting weights, and all the other matters to which he referred today, were included in the original European constitution, on which both the Prime Minister and the last Labour manifesto promised this country a referendum? Surely all the clever spin in the world about carefully constructed red lines cannot wipe away that commitment. If we are going to restore the trust that has been lost in the past 10 years, would not a full and open debate on the constitution and the constitutional treaty be a good place to start?

Throughout our discussions, I never thought that that very large constitution would change significantly the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. Notwithstanding that, because it was called a constitution and was a weighty document, we accepted the case that had been made for a referendum. The hon. Gentleman, and the whole Conservative party, must consider the fact that when the Conservatives were in office, they brought before the House the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, which, on any basis, provide for major and significant changes and shifts in the balance of power between the United Kingdom and Brussels. On those occasions, the Conservative Government refused any suggestion of a referendum—[Interruption.] It does not matter how long ago it was; the principle is the same. As for the voting system, it seems curious that the hon. Gentleman proposes an elaborate procedure for something that everybody in the House wants, and everybody in the country would support once they knew the details.

May I join the shadow Leader of the House in her kind remarks about the role of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has earned the respect of everybody in the House? May I draw to his attention one of the great successes of this Government: the renaissance in the regions programme money for art galleries and museums? In cities such as mine, many people—who would never have had access to museums previously, other than free ones—have gone to art galleries and museums for the first time in their lives because of that finance. If the Government accepted the proposal that seems to have been made to charge for museums and art galleries, would that make those museums and art galleries safe for the people whom I represent—or perhaps for the Etonians who inhabit the Conservative Front Bench?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We are celebrating a renaissance not just in museum attendance but in the life of cities, including the great city of Manchester. One reason for that renaissance is that we have opened up cultural institutions in those great cities. The proposal from part of the Conservative party to charge for museum entrance, which was first introduced by a previous Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, would undermine not only the renaissance of the cities but the education and cultural enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of our constituents.

Given the successful meeting between the leaders of Scotland’s Government and Northern Ireland’s leaders at Stormont on Monday, would not it be sensible to have a debate in the House to start to facilitate the inevitable further transfer of powers that are needed to govern both Scotland and Northern Ireland better for their respective peoples?

The devolution settlement for Scotland has been settled, and appears to be working well. It was always anticipated that it would lead at some stage to a change of control in Edinburgh, and so it has. As for Northern Ireland, it seems curious that even before the ink is dry on the new arrangements in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman, from Scotland, should propose changes.

May we have a statement on the Communication Workers Union dispute? I know that it is not Government practice to get involved in disputes between employers and workers, but in this case we are a major stakeholder. Surely meaningful negotiation is the only way forward. It is unfortunate that the employers are deliberately misleading the public by saying that the postal workers are seeking a 27 per cent. increase, which is not the fact. Can we do something to get them round the table and talking meaningfully?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. It would not assist, however, if the Government were to go back to the time of beer and sandwiches and attempt a resolution of this industrial dispute. The Government and the Royal Mail management have a constitutional relationship, and we are encouraging a negotiated settlement, which will be in the interests of the work force, the Post Office and, above all, customers.

May I join the tributes to the late Piara Khabra? He was a kind and caring man and will certainly be missed in the House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that an important delegation from Zimbabwe is currently in London representing a number of political parties, the Churches, youth and students? Before he leaves his current position—I congratulate him on the work that he has done since he was appointed Leader of the House—will he announce today that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House, in Government time, on the crisis in Zimbabwe, a country that is important to the future of central southern Africa?

Even if I am back next week in the same role, may I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is a distinguished and senior Member of the House, for all his co-operation with me, on the Floor of the House and especially in the Modernisation Committee. On the issue of Zimbabwe, we understand the concern. Subject to the usual caveats, we plan a full day’s debate on Zimbabwe on 19 July. I am sorry that that has taken some time, but it is now on the schedule.

May I, too, join in the tributes to Piara Khabra? He was the first person of the Sikh faith to be elected to this House and is therefore someone who will be remembered very fondly not only by his constituents but by the House.

This week, the British Board of Film Classification banned the video game, “Manhunt 2”, but on the same day there was rightly controversy about a new video game that shows footage of the abduction of James Bulger. There is a clear need for better regulation of the video games industry. Will the Leader of the House please tell us when he expects a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or by the Minister with responsibility for the creative industries, or when we may have a debate on the social responsibilities of those who make a huge amount of money out of these video games?

As Home Secretary, I had responsibility for the British Board of Film Classification, which covered such videos and games. My right hon. Friend raises a very important issue, and I think that the concern he expresses is shared across the House. We do not see sufficient social responsibility and understanding by the creators and purveyors of such games. I will of course ensure that my hon. Friend the Minister is made fully aware of my right hon. Friend’s concerns.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to the fact that the Government have invested considerable funds in a new GP surgery in Dedham in my constituency, for which I thank them? However, will he find time for us to debate the surgery’s future, as the primary care trust has decided in its wisdom that it should never be opened and that the people of Dedham do not deserve their own GP practice despite the investment of all that money? Is it not an outrage that the health service should be wasting money in this way, and should not we have a debate to pressure the PCT and instruct the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that the surgery does eventually open?

I am grateful for hon. Gentleman’s thanks in the first part of his question. He illustrates how the doubling in real terms of spending on the health service has had benefits right across the country and potentially in his constituency as well. [Interruption.] I said “potentially”. I will of course draw to the full attention of my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary the apparent anomaly, to put it mildly, that he raises.

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to our colleague and comrade Piara Khabra.

Today the Department for Communities and Local Government has published a statement on hot water safety in building regulations. Each year, 20 people die as a result of falls into and burns from scalding hot water, and more than 450 children under the age of five suffer third degree burns. That is about the same level of death and injury as is caused by house fires. May we have a cross-departmental debate in the House on accident prevention so that we can get across to people that if they wash their clothes at 40° C, they should also wash their children at the same temperature?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done on this important issue, including the ten-minute Bill she introduced last year. There has been a written ministerial statement today, but I will certainly try to ensure that she has an opportunity to raise the subject on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall.

I am sure that the Leader of the House, representing as he does Blackburn and Darwen, is aware of the concern in the Muslim community about the award of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie. May we have a debate on the honours system, and how that decision was arrived at?

I am aware of that concern. Let me offer a personal view. I am afraid that I have found Salman Rushdie’s books rather difficult and have never managed to get to the end of any of them, despite my basic rule that if one starts a book one has to finish it. I am afraid that his writing defeated me. Of course I understand the concerns and sensitivity in the community. That said—I am sure that this would meet with the approval of the whole House—there can be no justification whatever for suggestions that as a result of this a further fatwa should be placed on Mr. Rushdie’s life.

On a topical subject, does my right hon. Friend accept that the British Library and other museums in London see themselves as the main, if not the only, custodians of British culture, and that as a consequence thousands of children and their families in the northern region lack the opportunity to experience the greatness of some of the artefacts that represent their culture? I refer to the Lindisfarne Gospels, which are stored in the British Library, are regularly resting and are usually seen by five people a year, but when exhibited in the northern region invariably get more than 100,000 people looking at them. Is it not time that the House debated the greatness of British culture, but more particularly the importance of returning to their homes the artefacts of the regions of England so that the people of Great Britain can experience that greatness, as opposed to the five people a year in London who are doing so currently?

The hon. Gentleman’s sedentary comment may or may not be correct.

I fully understand my hon. Friend’s sentiments. I will certainly ensure that the director of the British Library, as well as the director of the British Museum, is made aware of her views. As so much of our cultural and political life is centred on London, I hope that we may at some stage be able to develop a scheme similar to those that apply in some other countries, whereby at least once in a child’s school career they are able, paid for, to come to London to visit this House and some of the principal museums of the capital.

As one of the many attributes that make the Leader of the House an outstanding holder of his high office has been his realistic assessment of the merits of the Liberal Democrats, oft repeated at the Dispatch Box, how come, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s campaign manager, he did not manage to prevent the Chancellor from having a red face this morning?

I return the right hon. Gentleman’s compliment. I have already given the explanation. Of course, any sensible party leader has discussions with leaders of the other parties, as do I with my opposite numbers: I always have done and always shall, in whatever capacity I serve. The right hon. Gentleman has been a very distinguished adornment on the Conservative Back Benches, but if he too wishes to send me a curriculum vitae, I will see what we can do.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the important decision made yesterday by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation that the HPV vaccine should be routinely introduced for girls aged 12 to 13. That is a very welcome decision, and I applaud organisations such as Jo’s Trust which have campaigned for it to be made. May we have a debate on that decision, given the other important issues involved, such as whether older girls should have the vaccine and the importance of stressing that regular cervical screening should continue?

That is a very important issue, because cervical cancer is the second most common cancer of women worldwide. In the United Kingdom alone, the lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer is one in 116, which is a high, not a low, risk. Of course we will look for an opportunity for a debate, perhaps on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. Meanwhile, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is fully aware of my hon. Friend’s remarks.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his refusal last week to allow a debate on the Scottish block vote in order that we can discuss the particular discrimination against English students attending Scottish universities, who will be the only students in the entire European Union to have to pay the full fee, with the cost of abolishing it for everybody else being borne by English taxpayers?

The nature of the devolution settlement is, first, that it is asymmetrical and, secondly, that it admits that different parts of the United Kingdom will come to different decisions. That is also true—I am not, of course, making a direct comparison with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—of local authorities, even those controlled by the same party.

Let me say two more things to the hon. Gentleman. First, notwithstanding the differential in fees, applications for English universities, where the fees are on a similar basis to those for English students in Scottish universities, are increasing. They are up 6 per cent., with no evidence—far from it—that those from lower socio-economic groups are disadvantaged.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman made a point that I keep making to Conservative Members: it is rightly a fact of devolution, which I celebrate, that the Scots can make their own, different decisions in Scotland, and that is different from the previous position, whereby the decisions were also different but made in London. Time and again, he and I sat in the House in the 1980s and early 1990s, when separate policy was agreed for Scotland in London. That is inappropriate for what are now devolved matters. He should also remember that the money that is available to spend in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is wholly determined by English Members of Parliament. Far from being excluded from those decisions, English members have 84 per cent. of the votes in this House. That is another reason for the asymmetrical, but in my judgment balanced arrangement.

I welcome the recent publication of the Home Office document on alcohol issues, but evidence suggests that alcohol problems in Britain, especially liver damage, are much worse than we imagined. It is also highly likely that instances of foetal alcohol syndrome are rising, given the amount of alcohol that young women consume, and given that some young women are possibly getting pregnant partly as a result of drinking to excess. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the Floor of the House about all such alcohol issues, given Britain’s growing and alarmingly serious problem?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about what appears to be increasing alcohol abuse, especially by young people. Even when he and I were young, youngsters sometimes drank to excess, but evidence suggests that that has now gone much further. Of course, I will do my best to ascertain whether we can find time for a debate on the matter.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am one of the last people in the world to intrude on private grief. Provided it does not harm, my case may I join the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) in calling for an urgent statement early next week by the Chancellor and Prime Minister-designate, so that we can warn and remind him of the sheer horror, which the Scottish Labour party had to tolerate for four or so years, of working with the Liberal Democrats? He needs to be reminded before he makes the mistake of a lifetime. They are a nightmare to work with because they cannot be trusted.

I will do a deal with the hon. Gentleman. I will pass on his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor if he will pass them on to the Blackburn Conservative association, which has just entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

May we have a debate on the unfairness of the airport duty tax? It is especially unfair to those of us who live north of the Watford gap. My right hon. Friend may know that the travelling public, including young families, who wish to go to America or elsewhere abroad have no option but to go through the hub airports of London. They therefore have to pay the tax twice. He knows that I have had extensive, unsuccessful discussions with the Treasury on the matter. Will he use his good offices to encourage the Treasury and the travel industry to get together and devise some solution to that discriminatory measure?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but his continuing campaign is having an effect on the Treasury. I have a copy of a letter to him from the Financial Secretary, who states says that airlines can provide through-ticketing—if they do that, only one airline tax is payable, rather than two or more—and that the Treasury is keeping the structure of air passenger duty under review and taking account of my hon. Friend’s concerns.

Many months ago, Lord Leitch published his report, which the Government commissioned, on the nation’s skills. It made several important recommendations, in response to which the official Opposition, in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), published a paper on economic competitiveness and, in my name, published our policy on apprenticeships. However, there has been a deafening silence from the Government. The response to the Leitch report has been delayed; meanwhile, 1.3 million of our young people are not in education, employment or training. Will the Leader of the House assure the House that the response to the Leitch report will be speedy and comprehensive, and that it will be made here so that all hon. Members can contribute to the discussion about it?

My memory may be defective, but I recall my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Chancellor making many comments about the Leitch report. We are also planning legislation on it, and we take account of sensible proposals, from wherever they come.

Today is midsummer’s day—the summer solstice. Had the Leader of the House been in my constituency this morning, celebrating the dawn of a new era at Stonehenge, he would understand why I am asking him for an urgent debate on the future of Stonehenge. It would enable us to consider the outcome of the meeting this weekend of the UNESCO world heritage committee in New Zealand, where Stonehenge is on the agenda because of the Government’s neglect of world heritage sites in this country, including the Westminster and Tower of London world heritage sites. Can the debate be held not with Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who are blameless and embarrassed, or Transport Ministers, who wish the road to be upgraded, but with Treasury Ministers, who have blocked progress on the project under two Governments for 21 years?

That was uncharacteristically ungenerous of the hon. Gentleman, although I understand his concern for Stonehenge, which is certainly a world heritage site, in his constituency. I gently remind him that the Government have put huge additional sums of money into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Transport. The Conservative party, including him, voted against those additional sums.

As the Leader of the House contemplates his well-deserved and highly skilled migration to either No. 11 Downing street or even Dorneywood, will he spare a thought for my constituent, Mr. Sreekumar Nair and his family, who came to this country under the highly skilled migrant programme, have made a massive contribution to the community in Dibden in my constituency, but find themselves caught by a rigid new points system, which means that fulfilment of the promises that they were given about getting British nationality will now be much delayed, if it happens at all?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his compliments. I take them in the spirit in which they were intended, which I think was a fine one. I obviously do not have the details of the constituency case that he raises. If he gives me more details that will assist, I will take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about why the Department for Transport has cut £1.7 million from the roads maintenance budget for Northamptonshire? If, on the way back to his Blackburn constituency, the Leader of the House would care to drive through Northamptonshire, he will experience for himself the £60 million backlog in road maintenance expenditure in the past 12 years. The current administration is putting that right with an investment programme, but central Government have consequently seen fit to cut its grant allocation.

It is the duty of all of us to represent our constituents, but the hon. Gentleman needs to be a bit careful. Current investment in road schemes—I bet this is true of his constituency—far exceeds that in previous years. Other places are competing for much needed funds, not least my constituency, where famously 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire were identified 40 years ago. Not all of them have subsequently been filled in.