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Business of the House

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 28 June 2007

I am the Leader of the House; it is absolutely true. I said last week that I was ready to go on and on and on, and here I am.

The business for the week commencing 2 July will be as follows:

Monday 2 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2007, followed by a motion to approve a European Document relating to global navigation systems.

Tuesday 3 July—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Access to NHS Services”, followed by a debate entitled “Crisis in Pensions”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 4 July—Second Reading of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 5 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [Lords].

Friday 6 July—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 9 July will include:

Monday 9 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 10 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2007, followed by Second Reading of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 11 July—Opposition day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 12 July—Remaining stages of the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords].

Friday 13 July—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 12 and 19 July will be:

Thursday 12 July—A debate on the report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee on the implementation of the Carter review of legal aid.

Thursday 19 July—A debate on the Government response to the all-party parliamentary group report on anti-Semitism.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business for what I am now confident will be the last time. He has always been courteous in his dealing with me, and he has always been prepared to stand above party politics in the interest of the House. According to the BBC, his successor as Leader of the House is likely to be the deputy leader and chairman of the Labour party. I know that we women can multi-task, but “three-hats Harman” is perhaps taking it a bit too far! The new Prime Minister says that he wants to strengthen Parliament, yet he is appointing a part-time Leader of the House whose two other jobs are party political positions. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is acceptable in the interests of the House?

Picking up on the statement that the Speaker has just made, I should like to thank Sir Philip Mawer for all the work that he has done as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It is an important role. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will not be an interregnum before his successor is appointed, as there has been with the chairmanship of the Committee on Standards in Public Life?

According to Sky News, there will be a ministerial statement to the House on Monday on one of the Prime Minister’s big ideas, yet the Leader of the House did not mention it when he announced the forthcoming business. The Prime Minister says that he will respect Parliament. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the media are not being informed of House business before hon. Members?

This week, the Ministry of Justice published the 54th criminal justice Bill since Labour came to power. With only four weeks until the House rises, the Bill has little chance of proper scrutiny before the end of this Session, and it was published just days before the Home and Justice Secretaries left their jobs. Delivering a Bill written by Lord Falconer must be the ultimate hospital pass. As it appears that the Leader of the House will be the next Justice Secretary, will he make a statement on the Bill’s timetable?

The Government have created 3,000 new criminal offences, but have not expanded prison capacity to match. The criminal justice Bill will therefore introduce greater use of cautions, end suspended sentences in magistrates courts and limit jail terms for repeat offenders. After five Home Secretaries, 54 criminal justice Bills and 3,000 new criminal offences, the Government still do not have a clue. So much for being “tough on crime”. Can we have a debate on the crisis in the criminal justice system?

According to research published this week, Home Office police targets and performance management have increased bureaucracy and stifled innovation. At any one time, one fifth of officers are not available for operational duties. Nearly three quarters of superintendents believe that Home Office reporting requirements have damaged the quality of policing. So much for trusting front-line professionals. Can we have a debate on the role of Home Office targets in policing?

Official figures released this week show that more and more schools are being forced to take back unruly pupils after deciding to exclude them. Almost a quarter of excluded pupils successfully challenged their exclusions. That is a 20 per cent. increase since Labour came to power. So much for trusting teachers. Can we have a debate on school discipline?

The Minister for Schools has said that the Government will raise £80 million by imposing a 5 per cent. levy on schools with budget surpluses. The levy will apply whether or not the money is earmarked for future projects. So much for trusting head teachers. Can we have a debate on trusting schools to run themselves, free from Government interference?

After 10 years of Labour, surely those examples tell their own story. The new Prime Minister might spin that he is a change, that he respects Parliament and that he trusts the people. He still believes, however, that the man in Whitehall knows best. That is not a “new kind of politics”; it is just same old Labour.

No, I think that it might be longer. As I said, I really enjoy this job, so I am happy to go on and on and on. I know enough about reshuffles to know that they are not over till they are over. I shall certainly not comment on any dispositions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is recommending to Her Majesty the Queen.

In the normal ecumenical spirit that I have sought to adopt during these proceedings, may I say that I was looking forward very much to some jokes at the end of the right hon. Lady’s speech? I thought that she had got the jokes up to speed in the previous two business questions. I am really sorry to have missed them on this occasion, but if I come back next week, she can do them then.

May I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to Sir Philip Mawer, who has conducted himself, in a position of some great challenge, with considerable dignity, integrity and skill? I knew Sir Philip before he took the job on, and he has been a fine person to fulfil the duties. On the issue of the appointment, I will do my best to ensure that there is no interregnum, as the right hon. Lady puts it.

The right hon. Lady made some pejorative remarks about some reports on the television news, which, I am afraid, I have not seen; I was busy preparing for business questions. I, too, have a party card and I, too, am a partisan politician, as is everybody in the House, and successive Leaders of the House, on both sides, have shown that it is perfectly possible to acknowledge and follow the twin duties of Leader of the House—to represent the Government to the House, and the House to the Government, as well as separately fulfilling their other duties. As she well knows, I have had other Government duties, including House of Lords reform, party funding and the chairmanship of many Cabinet Committees, so such things are possible.

On the issue of statements, we will follow the provisions that I have introduced to give as early notice as possible of statements, which is a further indication of the way in which the Government have sought better to respect Parliament and to ensure that the House is the first to know of major, and indeed minor, announcements.

The right hon. Lady then went on to discuss the 54th criminal justice Bill. Well, it is a nice line. We know which Bills the Conservatives rubbished as gimmicks at the time, including the first major criminal justice Bill, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which contained measures that have made a huge difference to constituents, such as the reforms of youth justice, the introduction of antisocial behaviour orders and much else. The question for the Conservative party is whether it would repeal those measures in the unlikely event that it returned to power.

As for our record on crime and disorder, I would be delighted to debate it at any time. We have 14,000 extra police officers and police officer numbers are going up, when they went down under the Conservatives. Crime has fallen by more than 30 per cent. when it doubled under the Conservatives. It is a record of which we shall be proud.

The right hon. Lady asked about exclusions and school discipline. Of course, it is up to her if she wants to have a debate. I have given her a lot of comradely advice about how she can make better use of Opposition days: there is one suggestion.

As for respect for Parliament, let it be said that in the past 10 years we have introduced many measures, some of them recited in the latest Modernisation Committee report, better to strengthen the role of this House. I hope that the Committee’s report will be implemented.

Will my right hon. Friend find time urgently to debate the abuse of the privilege of press passes? He will no doubt be aware that I had to go to the High Court two weeks ago to obtain redress for an article in The Mail on Sunday by Simon Walters, the holder of a press pass. It is an abuse of privilege for a journalist—if one may go so far as to call him that—to use a press pass to get tittle-tattle from security guards, police and other employees in the House to print lies about Members of Parliament.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am aware that he succeeded in an action against Associated Newspapers. If he does have serious complaints about the issue of passes, I suggest that he refers them to the appropriate House Committee.

As a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I also pay tribute to Sir Philip Mawer and the excellent work that he has done in recent years. The Steward of the Chiltern hundreds yesterday said that it was the end, but of course it is only the closing of one chapter and the opening of another, although some of us think that it is odd that we have gone from “Great Expectations” to “Bleak House” in just 10 years.

There are still several items on the agenda, and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) mentioned the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I notice that the Leader of the House did not give us the timetable for that. The right hon. Lady did not mention the scale of the Bill, which has 235 pages, 152 pages of explanatory notes and 14 pages of regulatory impact assessment. How on earth is the House intended to give proper scrutiny to another criminal justice Bill when it will not be introduced until the second half of July for Second Reading? If all of this criminal justice legislation is so good, can the Leader of the House please explain why it needs amending within the year?

I have not finished.

We had a valuable statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on flooding, although since then, he has left for warmer climates. I know that there has been increased investment, but the cuts in flood defence spending have been disastrous. The result for many people has been personal catastrophe. May we have a statement from the new Secretary of State on the implications for the once-in-100-years assessments, because they are clearly not correct and we need to revise our flood defences in the light of recent events?

May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on his position on Iraq? It is important that we know where he stands on that.

Lastly, I tried to co-operate with the Government last week—I always do, and I am still mulling over the offer of the Wales Office—but does the Leader of the House seriously believe that it is sensible to ignore the request from the outgoing Secretary of State for International Development for a corruption Bill, when the outgoing Attorney-General has said that there is a need for a change in the offences and when we have one on the Order Paper tomorrow? The Corruption Bill is No. 17 on the list of private Members’ Bills, has come through the House of Lords and would satisfy the Government’s intentions. Will the Leader of the House instruct his colleagues and the Whips not to shout “Object” tomorrow so that we can make progress on enacting proper anti-corruption legislation in this country?

And I’ll plead guilty—I was worried about my hon. Friend for a second—because I think the hon. Gentleman may be after a job. I made it clear last week that we are a broad church, and I am always happy to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman or anyone else on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I look forward to their seeing the light in due course—[Interruption.] I am trying to be nice to them.

I apologise to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for not responding to her question about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. She should stop worrying about it. It is a large Bill. It will be properly examined by the House. If it gets its Second Reading, it will go upstairs to be subject to the full Public Bill scrutiny procedure that the House agreed following the Modernisation Committee report—in other words, it has a Select Committee-style hearing for its opening stages. It is also a carry-over Bill. There has been no suggestion whatever within the Government that we are trying to get it through by Prorogation in late October or early November.

On flooding, I put on the record again our condolences and sorrow in respect of those people who have lost their lives as a result of the flooding, and our huge admiration for those in the fire and rescue services, the armed forces and the police, and the many, many local government and public sector civilian workers, as well as citizens in those areas, who have been working fantastically hard to alleviate the effect of the floods. These floods were literally a once in a century or more event. We do our very best to ensure that there is proper preparation for such events. That has been part of the work of the upgraded civil contingencies secretariat, which was set up a few years ago by one of my successor Home Secretaries.

Let me deal with funding. Yes, there was a reduction for 2006-07 of £15 million in the Environment Agency’s overall flood-risk budget. That was applied to the agency’s resource budget, which funds such items as staff costs, operational activities and maintenance. I have been assured that the agency capital budget was not cut, that funding for capital projects for new and improved defences to reduce risk was not affected, and that no current or planned improvement projects were delayed as a result. The reduction has been more than reinstated in the agency’s funding for 2007.

On the Corruption Bill, we have already strengthened anti-corruption measures. We always consider private Members’ Bills on their merits, but it does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman on the one hand to criticise the fact that we have now reached a 54th Bill on criminal law and on the other hand to propose a 55th.

May we have an urgent debate on the railways, with particular reference to rail safety and continuity? Despite the best efforts of the British Transport police, the east coast main line, on which Wakefield station sits, has been plagued by theft of copper cable. I have now been contacted by constituents in the Bell Vue area who have a defunct railway bridge—scheduled for demolition in 2015—that is a magnet for antisocial behaviour both from the train-spotters, who gather there to look at trains and who urinate in people’s back gardens, and from thieves, who use it as an escape route; I have seen pictures of patio heaters being taken down the railway track. We need to get that sorted out as quickly as possible and to see action from Network Rail.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s campaign to improve rail safety and protect her constituents, railway staff and passengers. I understand the force of her point—indeed, I share it—and I will ensure that the chief executive of Network Rail is made fully aware of her concerns and the need urgently to consider the earlier demolition of that railway bridge.

I very much doubt that. The report has not yet been received by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We are not entirely clear when it will be, but I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman, as chairman of the 1922 committee, and those who represent other parties in the House are kept informed about progress.

May we have a debate on the operation of the Judicial Appointments Commission? When the chief executive gave evidence to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, she was unable to tell the Committee how many recommendations had been made to the Lord Chancellor for new judges. There is also a very large number of former civil servants from the Department for Constitutional Affairs now working at that body. It is very important that we have an independent Judicial Appointments Commission. May we have either a statement from the next Justice Secretary or a debate in the House about this important matter?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern and will pass on his representations to whoever will be the next Justice Secretary.

In your statement, Mr. Speaker, you indicated that there would be an opportunity at a later date to pay tribute to Sir Philip Mawer. As the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I would like to do that in a handsome way at the appropriate time.

Reverting to the subject of next week’s business, I seek an assurance from the Leader of the House about next Thursday’s business statement. By tradition, the Leader of the House has been less partisan and more broad-minded than his colleagues because of his responsibilities to the House as a whole. Apart from the occasional lapse, the current Leader of the House has performed that responsibility with enormous distinction. Does he agree that it will be far more difficult for that convention to be upheld if his successor is also chairman of the Labour party?

I am not going to speculate until a formal announcement is approved by Her Majesty the Queen. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has occasional lapses from the distinguished all-party positions that he holds in the House to being a partisan politician. [Hon. Members: “Never.”] I hope he does, and I applaud him for that, because we combine a variety of roles. It is perfectly possible for anyone filling these shoes to combine the very important role of Leader of the House, representing this House inside the Government and ensuring that it is paid proper respect in a practical way, with the fact that all of us here, bar, I think, one Member, came into the House because we were members of a political party and support the partisan causes of that party.

Rats! Will my right hon. Friend take action in respect of the water company in Luton which has been responsible for a persistent plague of rats in the Stopsley ward over many years, despite representations from myself and Luton borough council, with which it has failed to co-operate? It refuses to take action to deal with the matter. Will he allow an urgent debate on the responsibilities of water companies on this serious issue?

I certainly understand the real anxiety and even anger about this problem among my hon. Friend’s constituents. She has expressed it today, and I shall look for an opportunity for her to raise the matter in debate, either here or in Westminster Hall. I shall also ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the head of Ofwat are made fully conscious of her concerns.

I very much share—[Hon. Members: “En francais! Auf deutsch, bitte!”] I very much share the view expressed by the shadow Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, that there must be some doubt about how the roles of Labour party chairman, deputy party leader and Leader of the House can be balanced. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the Leader of the House should represent the House as a whole—and all of its Members, not just Labour members? As an associated point, is he prepared to make a statement at this time about the possible merging of the Procedure and Modernisation Committees?

Je ne sais pas; peut-être. The specific matter that the hon. Gentleman raises is something that must be considered by both the Government and the House. My view is that it may be unusual for the Leader of the House to be a Select Committee Chairman, but that the arrangement has many advantages as well as disadvantages.

I shall let the House into a secret. The hon. and distinguished Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will know that we have been trying to spot potential defectors—and over the past year in particular, I have found myself in a great deal of agreement with him, and I know that he shares almost entirely the forensic and incendiary views of his former hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) about the leadership of the Conservative party. I therefore hope very much that he might come over and join us in a closer union.

It is fair to say that my right hon. Friend has never been in the Leninist vanguard of the movement to modernise the House’s creaking and archaic procedures. I hope that the recent report from the Modernisation Committee will be debated shortly, if not next week, as it shows promising signs that he may have embarked on a political journey. Is that the case?

I have been on a journey all my political life—and I regard it as a slur to suggest that I was never in a Leninist vanguard, as I cut my political teeth at the front of one.

May we have a debate, led by whoever is the leader of the proposed new department for business and enterprise, about the future of the motor industry, especially in the west midlands? Ford is considering selling Land Rover and Jaguar, two world-class marques. What will the Government do to ensure that those brands do not suffer the fate that Rover suffered at the hands of the Phoenix four?

Of course I understand the anxiety felt by many people about the future of the car industry in the west midlands, not least in the constituencies represented by the Deputy Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who has the Longbridge plant in his area. However, the Government have been working extraordinarily hard: after the Rover collapse, for example, we pumped millions of pounds of investment into skills and training for people in the area. I understand that 85 per cent. of those who lost their jobs now have gainful employment.

The picture in respect of the motor industry is very mixed. Question marks hang over some parts of it, but I very much hope that that is not true of Jaguar, as it produces very fine world-beating motor cars. At the same time, at well over 1.5 million units, British motor industry production as a whole is almost at the level that it was in the 1970s. In addition, 75 per cent, of that production is exported.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent debate in Government time to discuss the need for new legislation on the way in which English Heritage confers simple grade II listings on buildings, and on the agency’s relationship with climate change? The listing of the Plymouth civic building is incomprehensible, as most of my constituents consider it an eyesore. Moreover, its carbon footprint must be one of the biggest in the city, and in the whole south-west of England.

I happen to know the building, and I entirely share my hon. Friend’s surprise—to say the least—that it should have been listed. When I was chairman of Pimlico school, a glass and concrete monstrosity that failed to work about a year after it was erected, I found myself on the same side as Westminster city council. We had the most extraordinary battle with English Heritage, which wanted to list the building rather than allow it to be knocked down. I am on my hon. Friend’s side, and think that she has raised a really important issue. I shall do my best to ensure that there is a debate about it.

Yesterday, former Prime Minister Blair said that the Government had invested a huge amount of money on flood alleviation measures in coastal areas, but what about inland areas such as Shropshire? Is the Leader of the House aware that last week’s flooding in places such as Shifnal, Wellington and Kettley has blighted hundreds of lives? May we have a statement in the House covering inland counties, and not just coastal areas?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I happen to know a little about the fine county that he represents, and we are well aware that the flooding damage has mainly been to inland rather than coastal areas. It is the responsibility of the Government and the Environment Agency to ensure that there are adequate defences across the country, and we are seeking to fulfil that duty. Of course I appreciate the request for a further statement, and promise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will come to the House as soon as there is a need to do so. I suspect that that may be next week.

Last week, the Law Lords ruled that the protections in the Human Rights Act 1998 did not apply to residents of private care homes who had been placed there by local authorities. The Human Rights Act 1998 (Meaning of Local Authority) Bill would put right that appalling decision, and it resumes its Second Reading tomorrow. If the rumours about my right hon. Friend’s future position turn out to be true, will he have a word with himself later this afternoon to see whether he can consider allowing the Bill to go through to Committee stage, so that it might have an opportunity to put right that appalling decision?

As my hon. Friend knows—and as I know from the very lengthy discussions in 1997 and 1998 about the construction of the Human Rights Act—this is a very complicated area. I commend him on his assiduity in bringing his Bill forward, and I have been involved for some weeks in discussions with him about whether it is an appropriate or adequate vehicle for progress on this matter. The problem is not to do with the Bill’s fundamental principle, but with its construction, and for the moment we are not convinced that it is suitable. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I will of course be ready to discuss the matter further, whatever capacity I am in.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his refusal last week to allow an early debate on the Scottish block vote? A Minister needs to answer questions about the fact that, from next year, English students will be the only ones in the entire EU who will have to pay the graduate tax if they attend Scottish universities. The right hon. Gentleman did not offer a response last week, but the decision is based on discrimination.

Without sounding entirely self-serving, I must say that thought that I gave a more than adequate answer last week. The Conservative party opposed devolution in 1997 and 1998, but seems now to have accepted the settlement. Devolution means difference, which I celebrate. Plenty of services delivered in England may be considered to be different and more beneficial than their equivalents in Scotland. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman must remember that Scotland used to be run from London by a proconsul called the Secretary of State for Scotland. Things were done differently then too, but usually worse. The Scottish poll tax is an example: before the 1987 election, the Government of the day refused to impose it in England, but were willing to impose it on Scotland.

Will the Leader of the House give us an indication of how soon we can have a substantial debate on foreign affairs so that policy on Iraq, the continuing crisis in the middle east and the plight of the Palestinian people can be discussed, and the new Foreign Secretary can tell us in what direction the Government intend to take foreign policy?

There is, as the House knows, a debate scheduled on 19 July in respect of Zimbabwe. I will certainly ensure that we look for another opportunity to discuss the obviously very important issues that my hon. Friend raises.

May we have an early statement about the future of the joint ministerial committees of the devolved Parliament and Assemblies of the United Kingdom? Unbelievably, these powerful bodies have not met since 2002, and we now find ourselves with new dynamic Governments in each and every Parliament and Assembly in the United Kingdom. Can those moribund committees be reconvened to allow for a free and frank discussion and dialogue between the national Parliaments and Assemblies in the interests of each and every nation of the United Kingdom?

I will certainly ensure that what the hon. Gentleman says is given full consideration within the British Government. We are anxious to make the devolution settlement protocols work in practice. To my personal knowledge, the joint ministerial committee on Europe was working until May 2006, and I am almost certain that it has been working since. That included representatives from the Scottish Administration and the Welsh Administration, and often included representatives of other parties. It was my duty as chairman of that committee to ensure that we worked co-operatively with such representatives, who were democratically elected within their nations, and I believe that we succeeded.

Many of us in the trade union and labour movement have campaigned long and hard for the introduction of a robust corporate manslaughter Act. The sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise, a cross-Channel ferry based in Dover, 20 years ago gave extra impetus to that campaign. Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House confident that the Bill that is being considered again this afternoon will go through all its stages before the end of this Session? Will he talk to his successor to ensure that she does all that she can to make sure that the Bill does not fall?

As my hon. Friend knows, consideration of a Lords message on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill is next on the Order Paper straight after this business. He will also know that provisions have been put into the Bill by the other place, particularly in respect of circumstances in which the offences would apply to deaths in custody. Those issues are being considered. Of course we are committed to the legislation; it is our Bill. We are the people who introduced a Bill in respect of corporate manslaughter, and corporate homicide in Scotland.

The Leader of the House cannot have failed to notice that another three soldiers have been murdered and several others injured this morning in Iraq. I do not know whether it is the case, but a device such as that which has killed those young men and injured others probably has the hand of Iran behind it. May we have a full and clear debate on Iran’s murderous interventions in Iraq and a clear statement of Government policy towards Iran for the future?

May I first pay tribute on behalf of the Government and the House to the soldiers who lost their lives in southern Iraq in the small hours of this morning, and send our deep condolences to their families, friends and comrades in arms? Yesterday in this House my right hon. Friend Tony Blair paid his own tribute to the British forces. They are indeed the best and the bravest, as those such as the hon. Gentleman and many others in the House who have personal dealings, friendships and families in the forces have every reason to know. On the issue of policy that the hon. Gentleman raises, let me say that I know of that concern and I will consider, not least in the context of the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), when we can have a debate.

Will my right hon. Friend consider looking at security provision for Members of Parliament in their constituencies? Within the last year, I have received death threats, my office has been broken into, and as recently as last week I had a death threat spray-painted over my home. The job is hard enough, without having to go through this kind of thing. Does my right hon. Friend think that there should be some mechanism whereby Members who are subjected to such awful behaviour get some support?

Yes is the answer. First, my hon. Friend should receive extra support from the local police. I will certainly assist her in ensuring that if they are not already doing so, as I hope they are, the local police take the matter very seriously. Secondly, it is in the discretion of the House authorities to make grants to Members for special security measures, taking account of the specific risk. I know of a number of Members who have benefited from that grant arrangement.

After 25 years of failed housing policy, it has been reported that the new Prime Minister is to introduce a programme to resume the building of council houses, especially for families. The council house waiting list has increased by more than 600,000 since Labour came to power, and hundreds of thousands of children live in accommodation deemed inadequate for their needs. Can the Leader of the House indicate when that council house building programme will commence?

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make an announcement on that, as well as much else. We have done a huge amount in respect of house building, home creation and home ownership. Home ownership is at record levels. House building is at its highest level since 1990. There has been substantial investment, not least in suburban Essex and Kent—not far from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—to increase the number of affordable homes. The problem that the Government and the country face is that the demand for homes and the formation of families is rising at an ever faster pace. We have to meet that challenge, which is one reason why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken so much in recent days about the need for an upgrading of our response to the demand for affordable homes, as indeed will happen.

Will my right hon. Friend assist me in obtaining a debate on the Floor of the House and perhaps talking to the relevant Minister about introducing a Bill to stop ticket touting? It was announced this morning that Wimbledon innovatively put 500 tickets on the internet, only to find that most of them had been bought up by ticket touts and were reappearing on the internet at grossly inflated prices. Is it not time that we protected the ordinary fan in this country?

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns and those of many other hon. Members about ticket touting. He may also be aware that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is currently holding an inquiry into ticket touting. The whole House will be looking forward to its conclusions.

A few weeks ago it was revealed that the European Union had suspended payment under its European regional development fund programme to most English regions because of failures in Government accounting policy. This week it was revealed to me in a written parliamentary answer that a further £269 million had been withheld from earlier programmes. Why has a Minister not come to the Dispatch Box to talk about this? Can the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate so that that can be remedied?

I shall certainly take the matter up with the relevant Secretaries of State. The hon. Gentleman raises what, on the face of it, is an important matter. I will hope for a proper response.

Hitherto, climate change debates in the House have centred on dealing with the causes—emissions—rather than the effects of climate change. For more than a year I have been ploughing a somewhat lonely furrow on the adaptation side of the equation, which is little debated. Adaptation is a cross-departmental issue. In the light of the terrible flooding in this country particularly in the past fortnight, which, sadly, looks as if it will continue for a few days, may we have an early debate on measures to adapt to the effects of climate change?

Yesterday there was a written statement on the altered memorandum of understanding on the funding of the Olympics. When does the Leader of the House expect legislation to permit that, as suggested in the memorandum of understanding? It would give us an opportunity to discuss the poor deal for London in the new arrangements, with £300 million to be cut from London’s services in the run-up to the Olympics, when there will be additional pressures on London’s services to fulfil the needs of the Olympics.

We will come back to the hon. Gentleman on the specific issue about legislation, but I simply do not accept what he says. I am chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics so I have been paying great attention to that matter—still fulfilling my role as Leader of the House, I might point out to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). The Olympics are hugely welcomed by Londoners, as well as by the rest of the country. The money has to come from somewhere, but I believe the benefits of the legacy of the Olympics for London, the south-east and the nation as a whole will in the end be seen far to outweigh the cost.

May we have an early debate on the role of the House of Commons? That will enable the Prime Minister to describe his proposals to enhance this place, but it will also enable people such as me to say that unless Members of Parliament recover their independence, and in particular, loosen the grip of the Whips—on both sides of the House—the changes will be of little relevance.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to make his own remarks, as I am sure there will be plenty of occasions for such debates. However, I think that the Conservative party is showing every sign that its Members are leaving the grip of the Whips Office, which is why we welcomed his constituency neighbour, his former hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford—and we look forward to the right hon. and learned Gentleman crossing the Floor, too.

May I wish the Leader of the House every success? I thank him for the courtesy he has always shown when I put questions to him, and in particular, for always answering them. However, will he reflect on the answer he gave earlier when he said that there had been no cuts in flood defence schemes? I draw his attention to the schemes for Shaldon and Teignmouth in my constituency, which, I am advised, have been delayed by at least two years because of the changes in the budget of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Either I am being misled or the Leader of the House has been misled.

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, in a similar spirit, on having asked a rather more comprehensible question than the one he put to the former Prime Minister yesterday? He may like to know that almost the whole of the 1874 Session was spent debating relations between Church and state, and he may want to go back to that; it would be a good new Liberal Democrat project.

I accepted, and put on the record, that there had been a reduction in the overall flood risk budget by £15 million, but I then went on to say that I had been advised that the capital budget had not been cut, and that funding for capital projects for new and improved defences to reduce risk was not affected, so no current or planned capital improvement projects were delayed as a result. The amount of spending on flood risk management overall has doubled since 1997. Of course, there is always more that we can do and should do, and we take account of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but I think the answer I have given him is accurate. If it is not, of course we shall correct it.

Returning to the topic raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)—the death of three servicemen and the wounding of a fourth—it had appeared that the Ministry of Defence and the broadcasters had got their act together by not broadcasting details until they could say in the broadcast that next of kin had already been informed. This morning, however, it was clear from the broadcasting of the news that next of kin had not already been informed, or if they had it was not said in the broadcast, which must have sent a thrill of horror through everybody who has family members serving in Basra. May we have a definitive statement from a Defence Minister to make it absolutely clear that such broadcasts should never be made until it can be said that next of kin have been informed? Whether or not the news creeps out on the internet or anywhere else is irrelevant, because the majority of families probably will not see that, but they will hear the broadcasts.

I believe that British broadcasters show great responsibility, but I shall of course pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which is shared by all of us, that next of kin should always be the first to know whenever possible. However, I do not think it is practical or realistic to dismiss the fact that others may be broadcasting such news; the problem is that in Iraq, as everywhere else in the world, there are people with mobile phones, cameras and video cameras at all those sites, so the news more than seeps out; it is broadcast in a large way.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) about the three tragic deaths, my regiment is serving in southern Iraq. It has only just been deployed there, yet in the first 48 hours 15 personnel were wounded, and it receives fatalities of about one a week. Those statistics are unacceptable, so I urge the Leader of the House to accept the fact that we require a statement from the new Prime Minister on long-term strategy for Iraq and, more importantly, a statement from the Defence Secretary about whether we have the right size of force and the right equipment to do the job, before we see that country spiral into civil war.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s great concern—not least from his own experience. Many Members on both sides of the House have, have had or will have family serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, so they appreciate the extent of the anxiety caused to families. I shall ensure that both the hon. Gentleman’s points, in respect of a wider statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and a more immediate statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, are communicated to them.

I very much share the concerns expressed by many that the chairman of the Labour party should not also be Leader of the House, but another problem needs to be addressed: we hope that the new Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement next week to explain how he can be the election manager for the Labour party while also carrying out the onerous and difficult tasks of a Secretary of State.

May I just repeat the point that all of us, whichever side of the House we sit on, have to accept what is called in the jargon multi-tasking? For example, all of us are constituency Members; when I was Foreign Secretary, I carried on with constituency surgeries—all Members do that—but we are partisan politicians as well. During my 18 years in opposition, I remember many Conservative Members who held high office and conducted it with great assiduity and integrity but who were also partisan politicians and filled senior positions on behalf of their party at the same time.

May we have an urgent debate on the views of the new Prime Minister on the environment? It was noticeable that yesterday in his speech in Downing street he mentioned neither climate change or the environment, and that he gave the issue short shrift in his speech accepting the leadership of the Labour party—and as the Treasury was hardly a powerhouse of environmentalism under his care, this is starting to look deliberate.

I completely reject what the hon. Gentleman says. He has not been listening to what my right hon. Friend, now the Prime Minister, has been saying. Across the country, in 11 separate hustings—partisan hustings—my right hon. Friend spoke a great deal about climate change. Moreover, in the Treasury it was my right hon. Friend who gave much support, and indeed much leadership, to the Government’s efforts until now, when we have a world position on climate change, and set up the Stern inquiry, which has reported and is providing much policy for the future Government.

I listened to the Leader of the House’s comments about school discipline with great concern. Does he really believe that it is appropriate to compel head teachers to readmit pupils excluded for rude and abusive behaviour towards staff? If he does, would he consider having a word with the new Prime Minister about offering a new Cabinet position to—to choose an entirely random example—a former Home Secretary who called the Prime Minister a delusional control freak, and psychologically flawed?

Discipline is a dangerous topic for the Conservative party to get into, although I am always happy to debate it. However, there is a serious issue about school discipline, which I did not deal with directly in my reply to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead; I am sorry about that. We faced the issue when I chaired the governors of my children’s large and diverse comprehensive school, and I am certain that the new Education Secretary, whoever that may be, will consider it with great care.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the next Home Secretary to make a statement on the operation of section 165A of the Road Traffic 1988, the provision that empowers the police to seize uninsured motor vehicles? Two weeks ago, a car belonging to my constituent, Mrs. Maureen Smith of Rhos-on-Sea, was being driven quite legally by her daughter under the terms of her own insurance when it was seized by the police. Mrs. Smith was obliged to pay a £105 fee to have the car released from the car pound and her daughter received a £200 fixed penalty and six points on her licence.

The difficulty is that the police relied on the motor insurance database, which is of necessity always out of date, because of the number of vehicles that change hands and the number of insurance policies that are changed. On that basis, does the Leader of the House agree that this is a serious issue, and that many other motorists may well be penalised in the manner that I have described? Will he ask the Home Secretary to consider that point?

I am certainly happy to suggest that the matter be looked at. However, I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, things sometimes go wrong in specific cases, and he and his constituents have clear rights to make a complaint against the police. I am sure that they will do so. Secondly, however, the principle behind that section of the 1988 Act, which was introduced by the hon. Gentleman’s party when it was in government, is a good one. Indeed, I think that most of us would want it to be used even more when the police are clear that uninsured vehicles are being driven around. Typically, those who show social irresponsibility in respect of not insuring their vehicles are also much more likely to show social irresponsibility in everything else.