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Business of the House

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 5 July 2007

With permission, before I give the business of the House, may I say that, having been a Member of the House for 25 years, it is an enormous privilege to be its leader—a member of the Government, of course, but leader of the whole House. I will always want to see, of course, that the Government are able to get through the laws that we have promised, but I and my ministerial team will do everything that we can to protect the rights of Back Benchers, to hold the Government to account, to ensure proper and timely scrutiny of legislation, and to enable the House to hold the most open, effective and best informed democratic debates in the world.

The business for next week will be:

Monday 9 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on scientific advice, risk and evidence-based policy making, followed by a debate on the Rural Payments Agency, the implementation of the single payment scheme and the UK Government’s “Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy”.

Details will be given in the Official Report.

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 a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisation) (Amendment) Order 2007, followed by Second Reading of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [Lords].

It is also expected that there will be a statement on children, schools and families.

Wednesday 11 July—Opposition day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Stroke Services” and a debate entitled “Mending the Broken Society”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion, followed by if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 12 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by 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 provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 16 July—Opposition day [17th allotted day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion, subject to be announced.

Tuesday 17 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by remaining stages of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 18 July—Consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 19 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a debate on Zimbabwe on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 20 July—The House will not be sitting.

It is the Government’s intention to make an oral statement on the content of the draft legislative programme to the House before it rises.

Following are the relevant documents:

The Seventh Report from the Science and Technology Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 900, Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence-Based Policy Making, and the Government Response thereto, First Special Report, Session 2005-06, HC 307.

Third Report, from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, HC 107, on the Rural Payments Agency and the implementation of the Single Payment Scheme; and

Fourth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, HC 546, on the UK Government’s “Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy”.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business. I was able to welcome her to her new role on Monday in questions to the Leader of the House, but I take this opportunity of welcoming the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), to her new role.

I thank the Leader of the House for the commitment that she has given for the Government to make an oral statement on the draft legislative programme before the House rises for the recess. Will she also give a commitment that the House will have an opportunity for a full debate on that programme before we rise?

Last week, just four weeks before the summer recess, the Ministry of Justice published the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The right hon. and learned Lady’s predecessor said last week:

“It is also a carry-over Bill.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 479.]

I believe that at no point did the Government consult the Opposition parties about whether the Bill should be carried over. So will the part-time Leader of the House make a statement on that issue?

Order. I must say that there are courtesies that we are entitled to in the House. The right hon. and learned Lady is the Leader of the House, and if the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) uses the term “part-time Leader of the House” during the business question, I will stop her.

On 25 September the right hon. and learned Lady said that we need to

“Stop these excessive, ridiculous city bonuses”

but the Treasury, then run by the current Prime Minister, replied:

“If the City is doing well, the country is doing well. When it prospers, we all prosper.”

May we have a statement from the right hon. and learned Lady on city bonuses?

In May, the right hon. and learned Lady, who is now also chairman of the Labour party, said that the Government

“should do more to fund the development of trade unions”,

but the Prime Minister claims that he wants to curb the power of the trade unions within the Labour party. May we have a debate on party funding?

On 24 May, the right hon. and learned Lady said that we would have to keep Trident under review; but the Government’s policy, rightly, is that we should maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. The new Prime Minister says that we must remain

“strong in defence…retaining our independent nuclear deterrent”.

May we have a debate on Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent?

May we also have a debate on social responsibility? On 28 May, the right hon. and learned Lady said that Labour should learn from previous campaigns when it told people, “You don’t need that money, we’ve got much better ideas about what to do with that money”, so may we have a debate on who knows best—the people themselves or the woman in Whitehall?

May we have a debate on honesty in government? On 29 May, on “Newsnight”, the right hon. and learned Lady agreed that the Government should apologise for the Iraq war. Subsequently, she said:

“I’ve never said the Government should apologise”

over the Iraq war. When I raised that point in the House on Monday, she was careful not to repeat her denial on the Floor of the House, so will she now make a statement clarifying her position? Does she stand by what she originally said, or does she rebut it?

Finally, the Prime Minister pleaded yesterday that he had been in the job only for five days. Given that the last Prime Minister resigned seven days previously, may we have a statement on who was Prime Minister for the other two days?

Ms Harman: I join the right hon. Lady in her welcome to the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman).

The right hon. Lady asked about an opportunity for the House to debate our draft legislative programme, which is part of the changes announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. Not only will there be a statement to the House setting out the draft content of the legislative programme, but there will be an opportunity to debate it. When I open the summer recess Adjournment debate there will be an opportunity for Back Benchers to discuss the contents of the draft legislative programme as well as raising important constituency matters. There will be a statement and then the summer recess debate.

The right hon. Lady asked whether there was consultation about the carry-over of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I am afraid I cannot answer her question, but I will discuss it with my colleague the Chief Whip and Ministers at the Ministry of Justice and get back to her in writing.

I thank the right hon. Lady for welcoming me to my new position. After 25 years in the House, I know that if she wants a debate on City bonuses, an additional debate on Trident, a debate about trade unions or a debate about honesty in government, she can use Opposition days to bring those issues to the House.

On party funding, we await further outcomes from the cross-party work of Sir Hayden Phillips, but perhaps I could offer the right hon. Lady a non-aggression pact. It is not in the interests of the House for her to try to give me a hand-bagging every Thursday, so I hope we can get over this and actually hear from Back Benchers on both sides of the House about the important issues they want to raise.

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her role; I look forward to the coming months under her leadership of the House.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on youth crime? As she is aware, in the last few months alone, two teenagers in my constituency have died of stab wounds, so it is absolutely essential that in addition to debating deterrent sentencing and effective policing we discuss how we can prevent the crisis that is gripping some of our young people, particularly in London and our cities, so that we can build on the success of Sure Start. Will she find time for us to discuss how we can provide effective support services for teenagers and young people, and may we have that debate in time for the comprehensive spending review?

My hon. Friend is one of the foremost Members of the House in putting forward the questions of how we tackle and prevent youth crime. I know that she has raised the issue, and it is a matter of concern with my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Home Office and in education. We need a cross-government approach, and there are Home Office questions on Monday. I am sure that the issue will be raised again then.

I very much welcome the right hon. and learned Lady to her new responsibilities—and her friend with her.

I welcome the announcements that the right hon. and learned Lady has made about the Government’s intention to follow up on what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday in taking forward constitutional reform as it affects this place. She will understand that it is important that not only MPs but the public have a participatory role in what the legislation should be. So could she tell us whether there will be a role for the public to have a say, as well as politicians? Is she willing to accept, and to put on the record her view, that much more power should be transferred to the House? In particular, is she willing now to say that responsibility for the business of this place should be driven by this place in co-operation with the Government, not by the Government alone, and that it should be this place that chooses the Select Committee Chairs to scrutinise the Executive? It would be very helpful if she could indicate that that is in her plan too.

On national matters of importance, will she make sure before we break for the summer recess that there is an opportunity for a full debate on the implications of the flooding in the north, the midlands and other parts of the country? Many places—Hull, Sheffield and Worcestershire—have been severely affected, and I am sure that colleagues and those whom they represent would hugely appreciate the chance to learn that they have not been forgotten and that they will be much more supported in the days and weeks ahead than they have felt on some days in recent weeks.

If possible, will the right hon. and learned Lady make sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes to the House? Whatever happens to interest rates in the next few minutes, they have gone up four times in the last year. Debt is £1.3 trillion, mortgages are sky high and house prices are sky high. To continue the analogy from last week, many people still feel that they are in very hard times, and in places such as her constituency and mine, many people sense that it is a tale of two cities.

Last week, the Corruption Bill was objected by those on the Treasury Bench. When are we going to have either permission for an Opposition Member to introduce a corruption Bill, supported by the Government, or a corruption Bill introduced by the Government to deal with the fact that we still have a very lax regime in this country?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post as shadow Leader of the House. We are well used to working together as he is my next-door neighbour in the London borough of Southwark. He too has been in the House for something like 25 years.

Yes, I can answer the hon. Gentleman’s question about whether the public will be able to engage with the question of what the Government’s legislative priorities should be. As well as having a statement to the House and a debate in the House, we intend to issue a document to the public that sets out what the Government’s priorities are for new laws, so that the public can see it. All these things previously would have happened behind closed doors and engaged the machinery of government, but would have been hidden to the outside world.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s point on decisions about business, the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he sees having a strong Parliament as part of strengthening government. The Government do better when they have a strong Parliament holding them to account. However, I am not able to make any announcement about making changes as to how we do business at this point.

On the hon. Gentleman’s points about interest rates, the new Chancellor will be answering Treasury questions next Thursday. I have no doubt that he will want to continue the work of the previous Chancellor, in having a strong and stable economy, low inflation and high employment. For all the problems that remain in our two constituencies in inner city London, the hon. Gentleman will know that people are much better off than they were under the Tories because of the economic management of the Prime Minister when he was Chancellor.

On the question of flooding, I too would like to add my condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives and my sympathy to those who still have problems, particularly those in Hull. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend for Wentworth (John Healey), is in Hull today and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will be there tomorrow. The work on the floods must go on—both preventing them and supporting those who have already been affected by them.

My right hon. and learned Friend, and all hon. Members, will be aware of the need to improve services for people with mental health needs and their families, who are often their carers. An ongoing review in the Goole part of my constituency is trying to achieve that, but it would be boosted enormously if the local primary care trust provided funding at the level that the Department of Health says that it should. Will she find time for a debate on mental health services so that all hon. Members can make a contribution to stopping those services being the Cinderella of the NHS?

My hon. Friend represents a concern that is felt across the House. He will know that although there has been a great increase in spending on mental health, and increases in the number of consultants and the number of hours that people from local authorities work with people with dementia and mental health problems, there is still a great deal of unmet need. I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to the points that my hon. Friend has made, and of course there will be Health questions on 24 July.

In congratulating the right hon. and learned Lady, wishing her well in her post and welcoming her opening words, may I ask her to consider that the change that she has proposed to the summer Adjournment debate could totally alter its character? Members on both sides of the House—I speak as one who has replied to many of these debates—welcome the opportunity to bring up individual and constituency matters. If the debate is subsumed in a debate on the Government’s proposed legislative programme, its present form will be distorted and destroyed. Will she please reconsider that particular point in her statement?

I will take any issue that the hon. Gentleman raises with me very seriously. He is one of the most experienced Members of the House. I say to him, and to all Members, that my office is just down the corridor and the door is open. If hon. Members want to raise issues, they do not have to wait for business questions, they can just come in and see me. It is not my intention to interfere with what is an important opportunity for debate before the House rises in the summer. It is a time when Members of Parliament can raise wide-ranging issues of particular concern to their constituencies. I hoped that we might be able to offer Members an opportunity to raise not only their constituents’ concerns, but if they want to, the question of the draft contents of the Queen’s Speech. The debate could be divided into two slots of three hours, or we could weave both themes through the six hours. Perhaps I will talk to the hon. Gentleman afterwards and take soundings on the best way of dealing with the matter.

May I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her new post and wish her well? Will she hold urgent talks with the House authorities on smoking in the Palace of Westminster, and in particular, on the way in which the system is already being abused? I would be happy to show her the locations.

The smoking ban in public places is important for public health and we all want to play our part in ensuring that the ban is effective. On my way here this morning, I saw somebody wearing a “smoking ban enforcement” high visibility jacket. So those people are out on the streets. The point that my hon. Friend raises should probably be raised with the Serjeant at Arms. I would suggest that she do that.

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

I think that in the normal course of events it is received in July, but I cannot give any assurances as to when it will be received or published. I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I can tell him anything further, and I will place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.

I add my congratulations to those of my colleagues and also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who was a particularly inspired appointment. I was encouraged and stimulated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s statement on Tuesday, and particularly by what he said about devolving more powers back to Parliament. Will my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House expand on the issue of the Queen’s Speech, which I found quite interesting, and the possibility of involving Select Committees and individual Members in that debate?

I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome. I have suggested to my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), the Chair of the Liaison Committee, that the consultation with Members and the scrutiny of the draft legislative programme—the programme will be announced by way of a statement of the House—should be undertaken by the Liaison Committee, and he has been good enough to agree that that is what he will do.

Since the terrible events of 7/7, I think that there has been only one debate in the House on integration and cohesion. Given recent events in Glasgow and London, will the Government find time, in their own time, for a substantial debate on integration and cohesion in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and perhaps he will allow me to reflect on it. We have had running-through debates on Bills, statements and oral questions. The issue of community cohesion has been a big preoccupation—rightly so—for the House. It was mentioned by the Prime Minister in his statement on the constitution and the question of Britishness. However, I will reflect on whether we should seek time for a whole debate focused on the question of how different Departments, local authorities and voluntary organisations are contributing to the question of cohesion. It is Communities and Local Government questions next Tuesday, so perhaps he could prompt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the matter then.

I add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend on her new role and commend her on the adult and measured way in which she responded to the traditional yah-boo politics offered by the Conservative shadow Leader of the House. With regard to the bids for unitary status that are being assessed by the Government, she will know that the Government intend to make a decision later this month, hopefully in the House. Does she believe that due weight will be given to the fact that, in Bedfordshire, more than 200 local employers are backing Bedford borough’s bid and that 20,000 people have supported petitions on the Bedford borough and central Bedfordshire bids?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. As he has acknowledged, the question of unitary status will be the subject of a Government decision and announcement in due course. I know that it is an area of great concern, not just in Bedfordshire, but throughout the country. I will draw his comments about his constituency to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, I congratulate the Leader of the House on her appointment. There is grave concern in Northern Ireland over the role of the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and especially over how the office has dealt with inquiries into former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Pending arrests have been published to the media and have taken place in a blaze of publicity. Officers who have been detained have sometimes been denied drugs and medication while in custody. In the past, the office tried to bury a report that showed that 50 per cent. of police officers have no confidence in it. Will she allow a debate on the Floor of the House to discuss the concerns about the Office of the Police Ombudsman and to consider how some degree of accountability might be built into the office to ensure that those with grievances have some way of airing them?

There will be an opportunity during Northern Ireland questions on 25 July for the hon. Gentleman to raise those points. I am sure that the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will note his points and, especially, his concern that there should be greater confidence in the important work that it does. Let me take this opportunity to express my support for the very difficult work that is still ongoing to build confidence on all sides in Northern Ireland following the important strides that have been made. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could seek a meeting with the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, if he has not already done so.

May I add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend? I am sure that she will have some sympathy with my request for a debate on the women’s land army, given her role as Minister for Women. Its members are the forgotten veterans of the first and second world wars. While we welcomed what happened with the Bevin boys last week, we should also honour those women, who worked very hard.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. She was a long-standing champion of women at work in the trade union movement, and she is thinking about the important contribution that women made to this country in times gone by. I will take up her point and get back to her. As Minister for Women, I will liaise with my ministerial colleague. We should take a bit of action.

During the deputy leadership campaign, the Leader of the House called on her Government to renegotiate the Chicago convention, which has a loophole that permits extraordinary rendition: the process through which many people have been kidnapped from around the world and, in some cases, taken to places where they might be tortured. She said that we need to be

“absolutely certain we don’t have a situation where we are complicit in torture because our airspace is being used or planes are landing in our country and then taking off again.”

Will she secure a debate to clarify whether the Government will indeed act on her recommendation that we should reform the Chicago convention to bring extraordinary rendition to an end?

May I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman’s record on raising such important issues? I remind him that when I was in the Department for Constitutional Affairs—now the Ministry of Justice—I gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and dealt with the question of how we can find out what is travelling through our airspace. Many people think that it is anomalous that while one must declare whether an aircraft is carrying a VIP or a dangerous substance, there is no requirement under the Chicago convention to declare whether prisoners are being carried. No doubt my ministerial colleagues will note the hon. Gentleman’s point. They are already concerned about the matter and will be looking further at the possibilities.

May I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to her job? As someone who has rekindled his interest in Back-Bench rights in recent days, I am delighted that she will be protecting them for us. When will we debate the Prime Minister’s ideas on constitutional reform? My constituents are not interested in anything that would damage the Union and they are certainly not interested in creating two-tier MPs, but they are interested in our developing a structure that will allow the challenges that we face in England to be thoroughly debated in this place.

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome. Many of us felt that he did very good work as a Transport Minister, and I always thought of him as our version of Jeremy Clarkson, albeit more progressive and green. I say to all who are rekindling their interest in being on the Back Benches that Back Benchers can quite often do a great deal, while sometimes not all Ministers can do as much as they want. I will strongly support the work that my hon. Friend will no doubt do as a Back Bencher.

The House will have heard the Prime Minister talking about regional Ministers. We will have to discuss how we make them appropriately accountable to the House so that their work can be scrutinised. He has also raised the question of regional Select Committees, on which the whole House will need to work together to ensure that we have an appropriate structure that works well.

Given that UK laws and traditions specifically forbid Parliament from binding its successors, may we have a debate on the retained clause in the proposed new EU constitution that effectively gives the EU the permanent right to seize more powers from this country without any further agreement? We must address the EU democratic deficit.

There is strong concern that the House should carry out proper scrutiny of EU issues, and I will shortly meet the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. There is no question of a referendum because there is no new constitution or constitutional treaty. Any amendments to an existing treaty will be subject to the proper scrutiny of the House, which is what we would all want.

May I join the chorus of welcomes to the new Leader of the House? Is she aware of the recent collapse of First Solution Money Transfer Ltd? The company specialised in taking remittances from Bangladeshis to Bangladesh, but its collapse means that some 20,000 people have lost money that might amount to millions of pounds. I suggest that the matter is too important to be left to an Adjournment debate, so I hope that the Leader of the House will speak to her ministerial colleagues to ensure that we have a statement or, preferably, a debate in the House, about how it was possible for the company to collapse leaving such debts, the role of the regulators, and what the Government are doing to ensure that our constituents get their money back.

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important issue. The situation involving First Solution Money Transfer is heartbreaking for not only the people who put money in, but those who were expecting the vital remittances that form an important, albeit largely unseen, part of the international development effort. People who come to this country to work hard—sometimes they have two or three jobs—and send money back to their country of origin are the hidden heroes of international development. My hon. Friend’s point is important for my ministerial colleagues in not only the Department for International Development, but the Treasury. I will consult them on how we can ensure that we take up the issue and report back to the House.

I warmly congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on her appointment. I hope that she will indeed prove to be the House’s representative in the Government at least as much as—of course she is—the Government’s representative in the House.

As a matter of urgency, may we please have on the Floor of the House in Government time a debate on the Modernisation Committee report on the role of the Back Bencher and the use of non-legislative time? Given that the issue was sufficiently salient to merit a reference by the Prime Minister in his statement to the House on Tuesday and that, when I asked this question of the right hon. and learned Lady’s predecessor three weeks ago, he gave me a reply that was encouraging but unspecific, may I appeal to the Leader of the House to give me a reply that is at least as encouraging and rather more specific, perhaps by guaranteeing that the debate will take place on the Floor of the House before the summer recess?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He is assiduous in pursuing the question of the role of Back Benchers in the House. I suspect that he has not only welcomed me to my position, but set me my first test. I thank him for drawing the matter to my attention and I will get on it.

May I add my voice to the welcome that we want to give to my right hon. and learned Friend in her new post—it is great to see her there? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House on the important subject of the plight of leaseholders with social landlords when major works are initiated? The Government’s policy of ensuring that the decent homes standard is met in all our affordable housing is fully supported, given its importance, but it means that those who have bought their council flats are facing huge bills.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend’s constituency work on the plight of leaseholders, who, as such, rather than as tenants, did not realise that when their flats were improved—as a result of the investment made by this Labour Government—they would have to pay capital charges; many of them were wholly unprepared for that. She has worked with me in my capacity as a constituency MP to try to ensure that the Government do all they can to ensure fairness for leaseholders, and she will know that under the new Prime Minister, the Government are focusing increasingly on the issues facing those in affordable housing, including the lack of it.

May I set the right hon. and learned Lady another test? On Tuesday, the Prime Minister launched “The Governance of Britain”, a document proposing an ambitious programme of constitutional reform that has enormous implications for the House of Commons. Should not the Government be interested in the response of the House to that document, and should we not have a two-day debate, in Government time, so that the Executive can reflect on the views of the House?

The document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers sets out work for a number of Departments—on local government, on the relationship with the judiciary and on House issues. I suggest we ensure that each responsible Department, and I as Leader of the House, take forward the proposals outlined in the document, ensuring as much consultation as possible, and, on the journey on which the Prime Minister has set us, keeping in mind the overall picture. My right hon. Friend has said that we need not only to take individual measures forward, but to take an overview. We will have to consider how we do that without losing sight of the overall programme.

May I also congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and her wonderful deputy on being appointed to their new roles? They are modernisers and great feminists, which is a great treat for us.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making time available on the Floor of the House to discuss Darfur and the recent UN resolutions? There have been many resolutions on Darfur, and it has now been acknowledged that there should be a peacekeeping force. The matter is of huge interest to Mr. David Moorhead, head of religious education in one of my local schools, Sacred Heart, and to hundreds of his pupils and of my constituents. We would like something to be done, and we want to send a clear signal from the House that we take the matter very seriously and want the action that has been promised.

I thank my hon. Friend for her warm words of welcome to me and to my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. She raises an issue of concern not only to her, but, as she rightly says, across the House, and among the public. We debated in the House the progress that needs to be made in Darfur through the United Nations, supporting the African Union and the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. I think that her point is that we need to hear more from the Government, so perhaps she could make the issue the subject of an Adjournment debate.

Yesterday in the House I highlighted the case of a constituent who was going blind, but who had to have private treatment because it was not available on the NHS. Yesterday evening, another constituent rang me to say that exactly the same thing had happened to her: she could not get NHS treatment and the only way to save her sight was to go private. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate or statement on access to NHS treatment in north Northamptonshire for blindness?

I will consider the points that he makes and will raise them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman says, it is important that we tackle as early as possible illnesses and diseases that can lead to blindness, so that people can continue to lead a full life.

May I join in the praise recognising the popularity of both appointments to the Office of the Leader of the House? Seeing women promoted to such positions is a joy to all of us. The Parliamentary Information and Communication Technology team recently sold HTC mobile communication devices to a number of hon. Members, but the phones have proved faulty, unreliable and extremely expensive. PICT will not take them back or replace them with things that operate correctly. Given that many Members were forced into buying them because of the faulty equipment available to Members who have distant offices in the Palace system, and who cannot use the Library computers because they are not working, may we have a debate in the Chamber on the quality of services available to Members, so that we can actually communicate with our constituents and the support teams in offices at some distance from the Chamber?

I thank my hon. Friend for her warm welcomes, and I hope that we will live up to the House’s aspirations, and ours.

Electronic communication is very important if Members of Parliament are to do their work properly and keep closely in touch with their constituents, so it is not a technical point that she raises but a point of real substance on how we fulfil our responsibilities as constituency MPs. I raised the issue with the Clerk of the House yesterday after my hon. Friend mentioned it to me—in the Lady Members Room, actually—and the Clerk told me that Kevin Tebbit is undertaking work on the provision of services to Members, so that there is a clear line of accountability and a management structure. When things go wrong, Members thereby know who to hold accountable and where to take their concerns, and something is done about them.

May I join those who have congratulated the new Leader of the House on her appointment, and wish her well in her new job? Will she find time for an urgent debate on the proper and appropriate use of the facilities of the House, and the activities of right hon. and hon. Members in relation to the constituents of other right hon. and hon. Members? I raise the matter having discovered that an event for the Cheadle Business and Professional Group was held—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made the general point that he wanted to make, to which I think it is reasonable for the Leader of the House to respond. If he wishes to take the matter further, there are channels through which he can do so.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman follow the proper channels, as advised by Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important that we make sure that we do not cross the line in using publicly funded House of Commons facilities for anything that might be party political.

May I add my congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend? That is how she told me to address her when I first came to the House. May we have a debate on the benefits of the national health service, as reflected in early-day motion 1842?

[That this House pays tribute to Nye Bevan and the radical, reforming Labour governments of 1945 to 1951, for establishing the National Health Service (NHS) on 5th July 1948, thereby removing the fear of ill health from hardworking families; and pays tribute to NHS staff throughout the United Kingdom, who provide health care free at the time of need, 24 hours each day, 365 days of each year.]

On this day in 1948, a radical, reforming Labour Government established the national health service. For the first time ever, the fear of ill-health was taken away from hard-working families. Will she join me in congratulating NHS staff on providing health care free at the point of need? Is she as surprised as I was to learn that there is no hospital in the United Kingdom named after Nye Bevan, the man who created it?

I join in my hon. Friend’s congratulations to NHS staff. He is a great champion of the national health service and he makes an important suggestion, which I will draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health.

Like everyone else, I have rarely been more joyous than on seeing the new leadership team in the Chamber, defending the rights of Back Benchers like myself and our newest addition, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). I add my support to him during his no doubt short respite on the Back Benches to call for a full debate in Government time on the proposed constitutional changes. I do not believe that the regional representatives or spokesmen on behalf of the Government are the answer to the West Lothian question. My constituents are concerned that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, being Scottish Members, can vote on health and education in my constituency, but I cannot do the same with respect to theirs. If English votes for English MPs is not the answer to the West Lothian question, let us have a debate on what is.

I should have thought that as a fellow English Member of Parliament the hon. Gentleman would welcome the notion of regional Ministers appropriately accountable to the House, and the possibility of regional Select Committees to give a greater focus on the English regions. I know that he is a supporter, as I am, of the Union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those of us who support the Union do not see how it could work sensibly for Members elected from constituencies throughout the Union to come into the House, but for some not to be able to vote on some legislation. Having been elected from the various parts of the Union to the House, all Members must be entitled to vote on all legislation, whether they are from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or London.

Order. At the risk of sounding churlish, I think the Leader of the House may not mind too much if we do not have any more congratulations today. Every Member is offering congratulations, which is taking a considerable amount of time out of the time available.

At this week’s Hampton Court Palace flower show, the growing schools garden, which was sponsored by what is now the Department for Children, Schools and Families, won the gold medal. After the flower show the garden will be moved to the Birmingham botanical gardens in my constituency, where it will be accessible to all the schools in Birmingham and the area. May we have a debate in the House on the way in which our schools use outdoor facilities and available allotments, particularly in our big cities, for educational purposes so that such gardens, like outdoor classrooms—[Interruption.]

I congratulate the work of all those involved in the outdoor classroom in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and acknowledge the wider point that she makes about outdoor work between schools and on the land held by schools. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to stop Members congratulating me? It might be the last time they ever do so.

May I congratulate the right hon. and learned Lady on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, and take the opportunity to remind her gently that there are more than three parties in the House when she comes to represent its views. May I ask for a debate on airport security and use the opportunity to pay tribute to John Smeaton, the one-man scourge of international terrorism at Glasgow airport, the hero of Abbotsinch airport. I am sure the Leader of the House would agree that he and other members of the public showed immense courage and bravery in tackling the terrorists at Glasgow airport. Will she use her new office to convince the Prime Minister that honours should be winging their way to Glasgow?

The whole House joins in the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, which were also expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) during Prime Minister’s questions. I send my best wishes to the responsible official whose work the hon. Gentleman brought to the attention of the House, but whose name I did not catch.

I congratulate the Government on the document “The Governance of Britain”, which is an exciting and ambitious programme. When may we have a debate on the section entitled “Making Parliament more representative”? It is a huge achievement that we now have a woman deputy leader of the Labour party, but we still need more women on these Benches.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the question of all-women shortlists, which was the vehicle by which we have managed to get more Labour women Members of Parliament into the House. When I was first elected to the House 25 years ago, I was one of only 10 Labour women MPs. We now have 97 Labour women MPs. Then, the House of Commons was 97 per cent. men and only 3 per cent. women. We have changed that, but we still have a long way to go. I know that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who is both shadow Leader of the House and shadow Minister for Women, will want to increase the number of Conservative women MPs from only 17 at present.

Yesterday I had the unforgettably sad privilege of attending the military funeral at Dover castle of Corporal John Rigby, who was killed defending his men just outside Basra palace. Having met his parents, Doug and Liz Rigby, and his twin brother Will, I can understand from where he derived his character, his courage and his reputation as one of the finest soldiers in the British Army. Today, on the “Today” programme, I heard a spokesman from Hizb ut-Tahrir saying that it was acceptable for British soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, like Corporal Rigby, to be killed. I do not know if that spokesman is a British citizen or not. If he is a British citizen, may we have a statement from a Home Office Minister explaining why he should not be put on trial for treason? If he is not a British citizen, may we have a statement from a Home Office Minister explaining why he is allowed to reside in this country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing two very important issues to the Floor of the House. I know that he is extremely assiduous as a Back Bencher in the House and a strong protagonist of the rights of Back Benchers, and I look forward to working with him. May I express my sincere condolence and sympathy to the family and friends of Corporal John Rigby. It was a tragic death and we all express our sympathy. I, too, heard the comments of Hizb ut-Tahrir this morning on the “Today” programme. I know that my colleagues in Government are extremely concerned to enforce rigorously the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 in respect of those who promote terrorism. They will have heard what was said. The matter is under continuous review. I had the bizarre experience of Hizb ut-Tahrir coming to see me, as a woman parliamentarian, in my constituency surgery and arguing to me that they would prefer to see a caliphate rather than a parliamentary democracy. They do not believe in women doing anything outside the home. We must be very concerned to make sure that subversion and support for terrorism are not fomented in this country, and my colleagues in Government are very much concerned with that.

May I refer to a matter of business that the Leader of the House has announced—I know that that is an unusual practice during these questions—which is the debate on forced marriages, which is to occur on 10 July? I congratulate the Government on taking over the private Member’s Bill and look forward to legislation to tackle forced marriages. However, because it started as a private Member’s Bill, there has not been the kind of preliminary discussion and debate that we usually try to have about new legislation, and that, following the very welcome statement by the Prime Minister, will clearly happen more in future. Can the Leader of the House use the summer to try to initiate a widespread debate about what is in the legislation and what should be added to it, so that by the time it comes back to the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading we can ensure that all the communities have been properly engaged in a debate on this very important subject?

What my hon. Friend says is important for two reasons. Obviously, the House needs to be sure that we get the legislation right and that there is proper scrutiny. Also, what she proposes is important because it will be part of reinforcing the message that we want to go out to all communities in this country—that forced marriage is not acceptable. Women and men must be able to choose their own partners in marriage and not be forced. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Lester, who introduced the private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords, and my colleague Baroness Cathy Ashton, who took it through. As my hon. Friend said, the legislation has been introduced in a rather unusual way. I will consider how we deal with that, but the Bill, and its principle, is very important.

May I echo the views expressed on both sides of the House that we should have an early debate on the constitution? Bearing in mind that we have Scottish-only votes for Scottish business, Northern Irish-only votes for Irish business, and Welsh-only votes for Welsh business, is it not a constitutional and democratic scandal that Members representing Scottish constituencies, and Ministers too, vote on matters and drive them through when they have no democratic authority and are in no sense accountable?

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is, like me, a supporter of the Union. It is curious, is it not, that when parliamentary colleagues complain about this they always mention Scotland and Wales but never mention London? If he is concerned about the asymmetry of our devolution arrangements, perhaps he can think about London and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland and Wales, and then he will come back to my answer, and my view, which is that I am a strong supporter of devolution and a strong supporter of the Union and this House.