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Business of the House

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 12 July 2007

The business for next week will be:

Monday 16 July—Opposition day [17th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Overseas Corruption” followed by a debate entitled “Fair Taxation on the Super Rich”. Both debates arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.

Tuesday 17 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Pensions Bill followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by Committee and remaining stages of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 18 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill followed by, if necessary, 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.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 23 July—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.

Tuesday 24 July—Opposition day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 25 July—Consideration of Lords amendments followed by consideration of the draft legislative programme on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, which I will open, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 26 July—Motion on the summer recess Adjournment.

I anticipate making an oral statement to the House on my priorities as Minister for Women before the summer recess. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, we also expect an oral statement next week on the Government’s housing policy.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business. Last week, she offered me a non-aggression pact. Of course I am happy to co-operate with her in the interests of the House, as I did with her two predecessors, but pretending to protect the interests of the House to stop me holding the Government to account is not a peace deal—it is an attempt to use hon. Members as a human shield, not to protect the House, but to protect her from scrutiny.

Talking of scrutiny, there is a backlog of 109 inquests into the deaths of servicemen and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last October, the right hon. and learned Lady was responsible for the inquests. Then, she said that the backlog was “unacceptable” and would be “sorted out”, but that has not happened, and the backlog has caused considerable distress to bereaved families. Will the Secretary of State for Justice come to the House urgently to make a statement on what he will do to sort out that backlog?

The Government are due to respond to the Leitch review of skills, which they commissioned in 2004, and which reported more than six months ago. Will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills comes to the House to make an oral statement when he publishes the Government’s response?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:

“regeneration… may be…better…than the creation of super-casinos”—[Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1438.]

and the media were briefed that the Manchester super-casino was dead in the water. That is no way to announce a change in Government policy. If the Prime Minister respects Parliament, will he order the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to come to the House to make a statement?

On 23 July the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill will take place, but yesterday the Prime Minister said that he would add the recommendations from the Flanagan review to the Bill in the autumn. How can we give the Bill a Second Reading when part of it is not even written? May we have an urgent statement on that Bill?

The conclusions of the Brussels European Council say:

“National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union”.

Presumably, “good functioning” will be determined by the European Court of Justice. That would constitute a fundamental change in the relationship between our sovereign Parliament and the institutions of the European Union, so may we have a debate in Government time on the need for a referendum on the European treaty?

Leaders of the House are, by tradition, Chairmen of the Modernisation Committee, but the Government’s motion to appoint the right hon. and learned Lady as Chairman of the Committee has been withdrawn twice. Why? Failure to move the motion means that the Committee remains in limbo, so may we have a statement on that?

Successive Leaders of the House have briefed the Lobby every Thursday about forthcoming House business. The right hon. and learned Lady has refused to do that, but I understand that she will brief the Lobby in her job as chairman of the Labour party. Will she take time from her duties as Labour party chairman to make a statement to the House on the relationship between Parliament and the media?

Finally, the right hon. and learned Lady has said that the law that she would most like to pass would mean that

“All jobs must be available part-time”,

but as she is unable to take her place as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, and is unable to brief the Lobby, does she not think that being chairman and deputy leader of the Labour party, Minister for Women and Leader of the House is taking part-time working just a little too far?

I look forward to working with the right hon. Lady, and I say to her and to the whole House that it is right for all Members of the House to hold Ministers to account. I expect the House to do that, and as Leader of the House I will protect it in doing exactly that. She asked me about the important issue of inquests for those members of the armed forces who have tragically lost their lives in Iraq. There will be questions to the Secretary of State for Justice before the House rises for the summer recess, and no doubt the issue will be raised then, but I remind the House that we did act to ensure that there were no delays to those inquests.

We gave the Oxfordshire coroner the resources to appoint two assistant deputy coroners to expedite those inquests. On inquests for those whose bodies have been repatriated to RAF Lyneham, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Wiltshire coroner, the Government and I made it clear that we will not allow a backlog to arise in the way that it did in Oxfordshire. If the Wiltshire coroner makes it clear what resources are necessary, those resources will be forthcoming. We are all absolutely clear that we cannot have delays to inquests. Indeed, when I was Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice I wrote to the Wiltshire coroner and asked him whether he would like to have a meeting with my officials so that we could establish what extra resources, if any, he needed, and provide those resources. No backlog has built up since RAF Lyneham took over from Brize Norton, but my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are taking the issue seriously.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Leitch review and asked whether there would be an oral statement on skills. I can say that there might well be.

The right hon. Lady asked about casinos. I remind her that there will be Culture, Media and Sport questions and if there is something to be announced, no doubt there will be a statement, written or oral, from my colleagues in that Department. I remind the right hon. Lady and the House what the position is with respect to casinos. Agreement was not reached between this House and the House of Lords about the substance, or about the process whereby we would try to reach agreement. That being the case and there being deadlock, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House yesterday that the gambling prevalence study is under review, and that he would take the opportunity of the summer to reflect on whether further consideration would be given to how to regenerate areas that are greatly in need of regeneration, including east Manchester. Both the process and the substance are important matters for the House, and I can assure the right hon. Lady that we will do everything we can to make sure that information is brought to the House, following the Prime Minister’s remarks to the House yesterday.

On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the right hon. Lady is aware that the Flanagan review is under way. So long as any proposed amendment is within the scope of the long title, it would be quite normal for the Government to table an amendment. If it met with the support of the House and was within the scope of the Bill, it would be included in the legislation. There would be nothing unusual there.

No, there will not be a debate on the need for a referendum because there is no need for a referendum of the British public. However, there will need to be proper scrutiny by the House of any amending treaty.

With respect to the Modernisation Committee, I hope, like the previous Leader of the House, to be Chair of that Committee. The House will know that the procedure is that a motion is tabled to replace the previous Leader of the House with myself, as Leader of the House, as a member of the Modernisation Committee. That motion has been tabled and will be moved in due course, and I expect to take up my position on the Modernisation Committee. I regard its work as extremely important to the House. It has already made great progress in the years that it has sat, and I congratulate all the Members who have been part of the Committee on the good work that it has done and the difference that it has made in the House.

With reference to the right hon. Lady’s question about the briefing to the Lobby, if I as Leader of the House have something to say about the business of the House, I will seek to say it today in business questions. I will therefore not need to hold a Lobby briefing after business questions in the House. If I have something to say to the House, I will say it in the House. However, as a Member of Parliament I have obviously spoken to journalists for the past 25 years and no doubt I will continue to do so. As the right hon. Lady has asked, I can tell the House that I have no standing arrangement to brief the Lobby in my role as chair of the party. I hope that if I fail in my job as Leader of the House, she and all other Members will call me to account. That is only right. But it does not make sense for her to say that I am not doing my job, when I have just started it with absolute and complete commitment.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take time to consider arranging a debate on civil service dispersals? In my constituency in the past few weeks there has been an announcement about the possible withdrawal of jobs in another of the sectors of civil service, to the detriment of an already serious situation, as there is a dearth of civil service jobs in the constituency.

Perhaps I can suggest to my hon. Friend that he raises that issue with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will answer questions next Tuesday. I am sure that he will have heard the points that my hon. Friend has made about his constituency.

The Leader of the House’s statement is welcome, as is the announcement of the debate on the draft legislative programme announced yesterday which will enable the whole House to make its contribution before we rise for the summer. In that context, may I reinforce the point made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill? It is clearly illogical to start to debate a major Bill when we know that significant changes will be made on the other side of the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House think again, talk to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, and see whether the Bill can be deferred so that it can be introduced in its final form, as the Government want it, rather than in its initial form?

Will the Leader of the House deal with three things that were not in yesterday’s statement but might have been, that are absolutely to do with House business and that I thought were on the Government’s agenda? Will she bring proposals before the House so that we can discuss whether Parliament, rather than the Government, should have control of parliamentary business and decide who chairs its Select Committees, and will we get the promised statement about Lords reform that we were told would happen before the summer but have not heard anything about yet?

On serious matters, one of which was touched on by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, Liberal Democrat Members continue to share the concern about inquests into the deaths of those killed on active service abroad. If necessary, can we have a statement before the end of term? I am grateful for what the Leader of the House said, but there is widespread concern that there should be no delays.

I hope that there will be a statement on the state of the Prison Service, given today’s indication that we have probably the highest suicide levels in our prisons for many years. Given that the Government have taken an initiative, controversial as it may have been, which means that things are slightly more settled, can we have an opportunity for a less heated debate about the future of our prisons this side of the summer so that we can be reassured that things are under control, not out of control?

Lastly, given that we are coming up to the summer holidays, let me say that there are some good things in the Government’s programme about the future of youth provision. The Leader of the House has expressed a great interest in that important matter. Could we have a statement on leisure provision for young people as well as the necessary statement on casinos and possible changes in leisure provision for older people, which are clearly implied in what the Prime Minister said yesterday?

I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and no doubt my ministerial colleagues will reflect on that. However, I am sure that he would agree that if any amendment that is within the scope of the long title wins the support of the House, there is no reason for not tabling it. Like the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), he raised the matter of proportionality—whether there are a great many new amendments that override issues that have been settled on Second Reading. That point will no doubt be clear to my colleagues in the relevant Department.

On Parliament taking control of business, what is important is that we agree through the usual channels the business that comes to this House and that I, as Leader of the House, put it to the House in a statement on Thursdays. There are no plans to change that. As for Parliament deciding who chairs Select Committees, Parliament does exactly that. Proposals are made and it is then for Parliament to decide whether it approves and supports them. On our side of the House, Members of Parliament actually vote on who should be nominated on to Select Committees. On the Lords reform statement, yes, it was promised that it would happen before the House rises, and that will be the case.

As regards the very important question of inquests for those in our armed services who have tragically lost their lives in Iraq, we have the Coroners Bill in the legislative programme that we will debate before the House rises. The problems that arose in Oxfordshire that caused so much heartache to bereaved relatives and were very difficult to sort out would not have arisen in such a way if the coroners legislation were already in force. The Bill is an important one that will do much to remedy the situation. I reaffirm that there is not a backlog of inquests in Wiltshire arising from the fact that bodies are now repatriated to RAF Lyneham. Officials in the Justice Department will discuss with the Wiltshire coroner how they can keep up to date and ensure that he has the resources he needs.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the state of the Prison Service. The suicide rate is actually down from the level it reached in 1997, but any suicide is one too many, and it is a matter of concern that there has been an increase in the suicide rate compared with last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is addressing that matter, and the hon. Gentleman can no doubt ask about it during Justice questions next week.

Is there going to be a very strong protest from the Government against the insistence of the Iranian regime again to start stoning people to death, in order to raise the issue internationally? Is it not totally undesirable that in the 21st century such a barbaric practice should be encouraged and carried out by the Iranian regime? One hopes that efforts will be made by the Government to make it an international issue.

My hon. Friend has made a very important point indeed. This country, along with our counterparts in Europe, and working internationally through the United Nations, wants to be sure that we not only protect the human rights of people in this country, but that we are a strong force for the defence of human rights internationally. No doubt we shall raise that matter through the international institutions.

Can the Leader of the House explain why it has been comprehensively leaked that the Government are proposing to abolish regional assemblies? Yesterday the media carried stories that the Prime Minister wished to undo the handiwork of the former Deputy Prime Minister. It is quite wrong that such important decisions are made in this way. We were promised a document or a Green Paper today, but it has not appeared because of some last-minute hitch. It is vital that Parliament is kept up to date and told what the Government intend to do about this important matter.

I cannot comment on what the hon. Gentleman says about reports in the newspapers, but I agree that the question of local governance and regional assemblies is an important issue that concerns Members throughout the House. If any policy is to be announced, or change to be made, it should be done in this House, and no doubt it will be.

May I first say how delighted I am with the appointment of the new Leader of the House, and welcome her to her position? I am particularly pleased with her promise to protect the rights of Back Benchers.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Scottish Grand Committee has not met at all during this Parliament? Will she have a word with the new Secretary of State for Scotland and ask him to discuss the matter with the usual channels in order to call a Scottish Grand Committee as soon as possible? It is long overdue and if she wants to protect the rights of Back Benchers, a Scottish Grand Committee would be the best way to do that.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to my attention. I will do as he suggests and raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Hon. Members can raise issues during this question time, and it provides an important opportunity for them to do so, but if issues arise between Thursdays, they are all welcome to come to talk to me in my office, which is outside, behind the Speaker’s Chair—turn left, and it is the second on the right.

Presumably the new Foreign Secretary will open next Thursday’s debate on Zimbabwe. If so, will the Leader of the House ensure that he says in the simplest and clearest terms that it is totally unacceptable for Mugabe to come to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon? That summit will achieve a lot and it should go ahead, but it should not do so if Mugabe comes. If we are to protect human rights in Zimbabwe and stand up for the people there, it is essential that the Foreign Secretary makes our position absolutely clear. He would have support for that from all parts of the House.

That position has already been made clear by the Government and no doubt it will be reinforced. There will be a debate on Zimbabwe next week. There is a great strength of feeling throughout the House on this matter, and a great deal of frustration and concern for those who are suffering in Zimbabwe.

The reputation and success of British companies abroad, particularly in the United States, rests largely on their responsible behaviour and support for international labour laws. Will the Leader of the House give us time before the House rises for the summer to debate the behaviour of bus companies operating abroad, and whether they are supporting sensible and important trade union rights that are fundamental to any Member of this House?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but I cannot immediately say where this point could be taken further so that hon. Members could follow it up. On this side of the House, we all believe it is very important that individuals at work have the right to join a trade union and to have it recognised. We also believe that the standards British companies operate with workers in this country should not be double standards; the same ones should apply to companies abroad. That is why we included a responsibility to report on such matters in the Companies Act 2006. The hon. Lady raises an important point; I will ascertain which Minister is responsible for taking the matter forward and write to them.

The Leader of the House might be aware that in Scotland more than 65 per cent. of children who leave care aged under five return to their parents. In England, more than 60 per cent. of children taken into care aged under five are adopted. The children in care Bill will be debated later this year, but will the Leader of the House ensure that Government time is given to debate such issues before the draft Bill is published?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We need to be absolutely sure that children at risk of neglect or abuse are put in a place of safety and well cared for. We also want to ensure that if parents can care for their own children, they are supported in doing so. For too long, the family justice system has been a poor relation to the criminal justice system. What it does affects people’s lives for ever, and it is a big priority for the Ministry of Justice. The Secretary of State for Justice will answer questions next week, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can raise the matter then.

Yesterday the media were briefed that the Manchester super-casino was dead in the water. It has profound constitutional implications for our relationship with the other place if we are to kowtow to its decisions. If the super-casino does not go ahead, we also need to know how we will replace the 3,500 jobs that will be lost. Can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange a debate on these matters that are very important to the people of Manchester?

We recognise that there was a difficult situation and a deadlock was reached. Therefore, the question is one of how to take matters forward. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that while we await the gambling prevalence study, further consideration will be given to the question of the regeneration of east Manchester. I know that my hon. Friend will play a big role in the discussion, along with the local authority, about how needed regeneration is brought to Manchester.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in the near future in Government time on FRES—the future rapid effect system, which is the biggest procurement project by the Army, with costs that started at £6 billion but now stand at £16 billion? It will fix the Army’s military direction for the next 30 years. I secured a half-hour Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall some considerable time ago, but the issue is far too important for just Back Benchers. Will she speak to the Secretary of State for Defence and ensure that we have that debate?

I will draw the hon. Lady’s point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will answer Defence questions on Monday. All hon. Members would agree that the way in which we effect the procurement of the Ministry of Defence is important for supporting our armed services and their work. It is also important for our manufacturing industry.

I am concerned that we are facing another postal strike today after Royal Mail’s refusal to enter into meaningful negotiations with the Communication Workers Union. However, the root cause of Royal Mail’s problems appears to be the damaging impact of unfair competition, which could easily jeopardise the universal service obligation if it is allowed to continue. That worries me because I have a large rural constituency, and I therefore ask the Leader of the House to my pass on my concerns to the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and to arrange an urgent debate on the matter.

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. We all want that dispute to be settled as soon as possible by negotiation. She also questioned the structure of and framework in which the negotiations are taking place. I will do as she asks and draw it to my right hon. Friend’s attention.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Lady’s announcement that we are to have nearly a full day’s debate on the draft legislative programme—that is an enormous improvement on her proposal of last week. Does not the new process, which I welcome, have two consequences? First, might not the Loyal Address be a little shorter since so many details of the Bills will already be in the public domain? Secondly, are there implications for the traditional five or six-day debate that we normally hold after the Queen’s Speech?

If the right hon. Gentleman is asking about the length of what the Queen reads out in the Gracious Speech, I do not anticipate its being shorter. Her Majesty will announce the legislative programme; we will simply be able to debate it before it is done and dusted and set in stone. People will have an opportunity to discuss what should be in the Gracious Speech. I do not expect the debate after the Queen’s Speech to be shortened, unless that appears to be acceptable.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that the recently published White Paper on planning has generated considerable debate outside this place, especially about public involvement in the planning process. Will she arrange an early debate in the House so that hon. Members can express their views on the White Paper proposals before they are drafted into a Bill?

There will of course be many further opportunities for discussing the important and difficult question of planning. We need to ensure that necessary developments that are in the public and local interest are effected as swiftly as possible, with as little expense and effort as possible for those who implement them, and that local people who are likely to be affected have an opportunity to respond. The debate is important and will doubtless continue in the House.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Lady to her new job. Today, The Scotsman published a story that cited a report by Scottish Widows, which suggests that some 41 per cent. of people in Scotland—39 per cent. throughout the UK—save nothing for the near future. That is worrying. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of Exchequer to make a statement on the Government’s attitude to savings, their plans to encourage people to save more, and especially their view of one of Scottish Widows’ recommendations, which is to increase the annual contribution limit for those with individual savings accounts?

The hon. Gentleman could raise ISAs with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I thank him for his words of welcome to me in my new position. The Government’s approach to pensions has been to offer people the possibility of saving more for their retirement safely, with the amount being topped up by their employers. I also draw attention to safe savings for those on low incomes—for example, the regulation that we introduced to protect people and support those who invest in credit unions.

May we have a debate in Government time on the performance and behaviour of Greenbelt, a factoring company, which charges homeowners up to £400 a year and provides little or no service? It is Farepak for homeowners. Yesterday, its lawyers wrote a threatening letter not only to me but to my constituent, Paula Hoogerbrugge. Paula has been monitoring the company’s performance nationally. She is a single mum, yet it not only sent her a threatening letter, but its representatives contacted her employers with a clear view to having her silenced or sacked. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in condemning that despicable behaviour?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter in the House. The behaviour that he describes is worrying and I will raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Important financial sectors must have proper methods of probity.

The Wycombe rape crisis centre in my constituency supports approximately 200 victims of rape, sexual assault and childhood abuse a year. According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, it faces closure because

“it was only given a matter of weeks’ notice that it wouldn’t receive funding in the coming year”.

I know that the right hon. and learned Lady, as Minister for Women, takes such issues seriously. I gather that up to 190 other projects are affected. May we have a debate in the near future on sexual assault and rape?

I pay tribute to the important work that the voluntary sector contributes to supporting women and men who have been the victims of serious sexual offences. The rape crisis centre movement does important work, which is funded by a combination of national and local finance from health and social services budgets. Wearing my hat as Minister for Women, I undertake to look into the position in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The Government have invested a great deal in developing a network of sexual assault referral centres to ensure that women who suffer violent sexual assaults are properly supported. That is important not only to help them with the aftermath of that terrible crime but to support them to give evidence in a prosecution so that perpetrators can be brought to justice. Rape is a repeat offence; until perpetrators are brought to justice, they continue offending.

May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend’s attention to early-day motion 1872, about the Holocaust Educational Trust?

[That this House commends the Holocaust Educational Trust for its tremendous work in educating about the horrors of the past, reaching thousands of students across the country; congratulates the Trust for its flagship Lessons from Auschwitz Project which has seen over 4000 sixth-form students and teachers visit the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau; notes that the project provides participants with a unique insight into the catastrophic results of what can happen when racism spirals out of control; further notes that the project encourages young people to use their rights as citizens and contribute positively to a future free from discrimination, racism and hatred; further notes Government support for the project which now enables the Trust to facilitate these visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau for two 16 to 18 year old students from every school and further education college in the UK; recognises the far reaching impact this funding has on young people across the UK; and calls upon the Government to continue this vital support of this project and its commitment to ensure Holocaust education remains an integral component of school teaching in the UK.]

The motion commends the trust’s work and the Government for their funding, which allows visits to Auschwitz for two 16 to 19-year-old students from every school and further education college in the UK. May we find time to debate the trust’s work so that we can encourage the Government to continue the funding in future and ensure that holocaust education remains an integral component of school teaching in the UK?

It is important to recognise and support the work in schools to remember and understand the terrible events of the holocaust. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Holocaust Educational Trust on its work. The Government’s financial support is important but I know that its work is mostly done by volunteers. I pay tribute to the volunteers who keep that important work going. We must never forget.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware that, as a progressive but traditional moderniser in the House, I would be very happy indeed to chair the Modernisation Committee if elected, if she has some difficulty in that. But seriously, I have very much appreciated the private conversations that she and I have had about her job and modernisation. Will the right hon. and learned Lady be more specific about when the motion on her appointment to the Committee will come before the House, so that I can be there personally, as the veteran member of the Committee, to support her appointment as Chairman?

I thank the hon. Gentleman in two respects. First, I thank him for all the work that he has done over the years on the Modernisation Committee, which has made a difference to the House. As a Member for 25 years, I can see the difference that the Committee has made to how Members can do their work here. I thank him for being the backbone of the Committee, along with colleagues on my side of the House. Secondly, I thank him for the sentiments behind his offer to nominate me to chair the Committee, were the House to see fit to put me on it. I assure him that he will not regret that offer and the trust that he has placed in me. I undertake to do my job properly as Leader of the House and, if I am chosen, as the Chair of the Modernisation Committee.

I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend could find time for a debate on support for working carers, and on the operation of the carers allowance in particular. It discriminates against those on low pay who are trying to keep themselves in work, particularly those whose hours fluctuate. Before the Government’s review of the national carers strategy is complete, will she ensure that the House has a proper opportunity to debate how financial support for carers should operate to keep in work those who wish to work?

There will be an opportunity to debate those issues in the Health and Social Care Bill, but my hon. Friend raises a very important point indeed. There are a growing number of older people in this country, and the front line for the support and care of those people is the family. That is what most older people want and what most families want. We do not want to have to make people choose between their job and the care and support that they want to give older members of the family.

Perhaps as Minister for Women I could tell my hon. Friend that one of our three priorities will be supporting those families who are supporting older relatives. That includes not only rights at work to flexibility, but financial support. We have gone a long way to give financial support to families with young children. We need to do more to give financial support to those doing the incredibly important work of caring for older relatives. I shall bring my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of the relevant colleagues with whom we are working.

May we have a debate on the Floor of the House and in Government time on sexual health and reproductive rights? Given that the UK still has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in western Europe and that many young women understand neither how their bodies work nor how to access contraception, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that we need dramatically to improve the quality of sex education in this country, not least in schools, in order both that children can acquire the biological facts and that they have the opportunity to discuss their views, their values and their relationships?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which was discussed in the debate on the Opposition motion yesterday. It is important that we recognise that it is a crucial issue not only for young women and girls, but for young men and boys. There is still much too high a rate of sexually transmitted diseases, although progress is being made on that, and although the rate of teenage pregnancy is falling, it is still much too high. One of the things that will affect that in future is the issues that my hon. Friends concerned with education have raised. The issue is about ensuring not only that young people receive the right advice and information, but that they have aspirations and want to make absolutely sure that they get on with their lives and not have early, unwanted and unintended pregnancies.

When can we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s impressive proposals for constitutional reform? It looks as though we are reaching a position where we might have a written constitution or a new Bill of Rights. Before any decision is taken on who should be drafting such important documents, will my right hon. and learned Friend undertake to ensure that we have a discussion in the House on the proposals, so that we can have an input into who is selected?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has said that if there is further information, he will give it in a statement to the House. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when he introduced the paper on constitutional reform, there will be a number of proposals to improve the accountability of the Government to Parliament and to improve and strengthen the relationship between Parliament and the people. A number of proposals will come forward, and we shall obviously want the fullest possible debate and engagement of hon. Members.

I need to mention to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that I perhaps did not respond to his point about timing. I hope that the motion will be moved early next week, but since I have unfortunately not given him quite the right information twice on this matter, let us hope that I get it right third time lucky.

Members in all parts of the House agree on the need to curb CO2 emissions. However, given that the international activities of UK companies account for some 12 to 15 per cent. of global CO2 emissions, could the Leader of the House please find time for a debate on the impact of climate change on people in developing countries?

The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is a big concern not only to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The people who contribute least to the problem of global warming, but who are first to suffer its effects, are those in poor countries. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is one of the main motivations behind the Climate Change (Effects) Bill and is embedded in our international development programme. As for British companies, one of the important things in the Companies Act 2006 is the openness that they are required to have about their corporate responsibility, not only when they are doing things in this country, but in their operations abroad.

In view of the comments made by the new Minister for Trade and Investment—that trade unions are a backward-looking irrelevance with no place on today’s agenda—and of his past campaigns to curb maternity leave, freeze the minimum wage, frustrate environmental law and block corporate killing legislation, could the Leader of House find time in this place to hold a pilot confirmation hearing for the former Digby Jones, as a precursor to all such appointments to the House of Lords in future years?

My hon. Friend will know that we believe strongly in good minimum standards for all people at work, including in respect of health and safety and the minimum wage, and that we think that the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill is important. Nobody should go to work and lose their life as a result of a business trying to cut costs. I can further say to him that it is for the Prime Minister to choose his Ministers and that all Ministers are collectively accountable for Government policy, including me.

On 14 June, I raised with the right hon. and learned Lady’s predecessor my concern that the Department for Transport’s high-level output specification for the railways would be kicked into the long grass over the summer recess. I am pleased to have received a letter from the former Secretary of State for Transport, which states:

“I agree that a debate on the HLOS would be useful.”

He also felt that it would be welcomed by Members of the House. With just two weeks left before the House rises, will the Leader of the House tell us what progress has been made on the publication of the report and a subsequent debate on it?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this matter to my attention. I am not able to give him an answer, but I undertake to look into it. I would say to him and other hon. Members that, if they need an answer on an important issue that relates to undertakings that Ministers have given the House, it is a good idea to let me know in advance. I can then investigate the situation with my ministerial colleagues and report substantively to the House. Twenty-four hours’ notice would be good.

Following the sub-national review and the appointment of regional Ministers, which I welcome—especially the appointment of the Minister for the North East, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) to my very own region—may I ask the Leader of the House for more details of how Parliament will have democratic oversight of regional issues? Does she agree that new structures should include social partners, such as Northern TUC and the trade unions, to ensure that we get the best possible public policy delivery for all our regions?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. She is a champion for her region, both in the House and back in her home town. I join her in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend, who will be the Minister accountable for the north-east. Accountability for work in the regions will be established not only through the regional Ministers at the Dispatch Box but through the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and all other Departments with an important regional impact.

I should like to join my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in pressing for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Justice. I listened carefully to what the Leader of the House said in her reply to my right hon. Friend. I understand from reports that Wiltshire’s coroner, county council and chief constable have all requested a meeting with the Justice Secretary or representatives of his Department to discuss more funds for inquests. They have been told that they will have to make their case in the autumn. The backlog of inquests into the deaths of our service personnel has been increasing rather than declining, and our brave men and women are, unfortunately, being killed in theatre faster than we can carry out the inquests. It is unacceptable for their families that the backlog is increasing, and I ask the Leader of the House to urge her colleague to meet the Wiltshire coroner as soon as possible to ensure that the backlog increases no further during the summer.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I have spoken to my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary this morning. He is going to have a meeting with the Wiltshire coroner, and it will not be in the autumn—it will be much sooner than that. On 17 June, when I was Justice Minister, I wrote to the Wiltshire coroner to invite him to meet officials in the Justice Department in order to ensure that delays did not build up. We had very bad delays building up in Oxfordshire, and when I was Justice Minister I took action with the Oxfordshire coroner to sort out that very bad problem. I said at the time that I was not prepared to see a similar problem arise in Wiltshire, and that remains the Government position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice will not allow delays to arise.

Hon. and right hon. Members are right to raise this issue, but I want to reassure the House that we will not let a backlog build up. So far as a statement is concerned, when I first raised this issue, I offered statements on a regular updating basis so that people could see all the inquests that were waiting to be heard. I updated that information at the end of last month. The situation has not changed materially since then, so I will not suggest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he issue another written statement. He will, however, meet the coroner in Wiltshire to assure himself that no more delays will build up.

In warmly welcoming my right hon. and learned Friend to all her new posts, may I venture to suggest that she might not—at least, not yet—have had time to read the proceedings of the third international congress of the Asia Pacific Society of Infection Control in Kuala Lumpur this week? If she had read it, her eye might have been caught by the paper entitled “Ultraviolet sterilised bedroom air protects patients from MRSA”. Will she take the opportunity to congratulate Dr. Peder Nielsen, the consultant microbiologist who is the director of infection prevention and control at Northwick Park hospital, where a significant trial on MRSA control has just taken place with great success? Might the Leader of the House enable a debate—

Order. I am trying to do my best to get every hon. Member in at the tail end of business questions. That is not easy when hon. Members seek to congratulate constituents. There are other ways of handling these matters.

I join my hon. Friend in his congratulations to Peder Nielsen. Infection control at Northwick Park hospital, and in hospitals throughout the country and world wide, is a big challenge that we want to take forward. The matter will no doubt be raised in Health questions.

May we have an early debate on the Government’s proposals to change the national curriculum? It is disappointing that an announcement was made, yet again, to the BBC before being made to the House. There has been no oral or written statement on the matter today. I see the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, the hon. Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), in his place, and it would have been nice to hear the announcement in the House first. When we have that debate, may we discuss the need for any global theories on climate change to be taught in a balanced way, looking not just at man-made issues but at atmospheric factors, so that climate and global changes are not presented as a quasi-religion or as pantheism?

This matter has been under consideration by the Select Committees, and it has also been discussed on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls), has already made an oral statement on it. In addition, he will answer oral questions on Thursday week. No doubt, these questions will be put to him then.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a statement on what progress has been made on reviewing the security at UK airports? She may be aware of the public statement by Conservative Members that people standing in queues at airports could be targets for terrorists. I am sure that she will agree that it does not fall within the remit of hon. Members to advise terrorists. Travelling through airports is frustrating, but the security measures that are in place are there to safeguard all of us.

I know that my hon. Friend is working with all who work at Glasgow airport, which serves his constituency. That is important work, and I support the points that he has raised.

Following the changes to the machinery of government, there will no doubt be an oral or written statement on the changes to the Select Committees. Does the Leader of the House accept that the Government have a good reputation in the science community, and that the science community at large, as well as Members on both sides of the House, wish to see the continuation of the Science and Technology Committee, which is able to scrutinise science across government, leaving the scrutiny of individual Departments to the appropriate departmental Select Committees? Will she pass that message on to the usual channels or to those who decide these matters?

There is discussion on the future of the Science and Technology Select Committee in the light of the changes to the machinery of government affecting schools, children and universities. Those discussions are ongoing and, should there be any change, an announcement would no doubt have to be made to the House and voted on, if necessary.

Council tax in the constituency of Monmouthshire have risen by 184 per cent. over the past 10 years. Will the Leader of the House ask a Minister to make an urgent statement to the pensioners of Monmouthshire to explain how they can possibly deal with these exorbitant rises while keeping a roof over their heads?

This question relates to a devolved matter, but I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Communities and Local Government.

May we have an urgent debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on the accountability of the Health and Safety Executive? On 11 December 2005, my constituency was rocked by the Buncefield explosion. Safety at that depot was the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, but we have now been informed that Crown immunity will be claimed, should—I stress should—any action, civil or criminal, be brought against the HSE. In the 21st century, how can it be right for Government agencies to have Crown immunity, rendering my constituents unable to receive any due compensation?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an immediate answer on accountability, but I will raise the matter with the relevant Secretary of State, as health and safety is a very important issue.

May I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 813, which stands in my name and is supported by 53 hon. Members, about the nomination of the Antonine wall for world heritage site status?

[That this House welcomes the nomination of the Antonine Wall for UNESCO World Heritage Site status; notes the historical significance of the Wall as denoting the true north-western frontier of the Roman Empire; further notes that the Wall's distance slabs form one of the most important groups of preserved Roman military sculptures; further notes the importance both of preserving the Wall and educating the public about its historical significance; and supports the ongoing work in other countries to denote more extensively the borders of the Roman Empire as World Heritage sites.]

This summer, UNESCO inspectors will visit my constituency in Dunbartonshire and several others through which the wall runs in order to evaluate the bid. Can we have a debate on the Antonine wall and the contribution that the UK’s world heritage sites make to our local communities, economies and cultural life?

Bearing in mind the fact that one of the Bills included in the draft Queen’s Speech is a heritage Bill, there might be an opportunity for the hon. Lady to raise the issue there.

Can we have a debate on early-day motion 1761, on the future of the Territorial Army?

[That this House is concerned at the impact of the 5 million saving required to be made by the Territorial Army (TA) over the next two financial years; acknowledges that the proposed implementation plan put forward by Commander Regional Forces will stop all recruiting in TA units that are not making a significant contribution to current operations, delay the establishment of six squadron size units until April 2009, cancel Cambrian Patrol, cancel all TA involvement in the Nijmegen marches, cancel divisional skill at arms meetings and freeze the recruitment of 244 non-regular permanent staff; and, given the disproportionate impact this will have on the morale and effectiveness of the Territorial Army, urges the Government to reconsider the requirement to implement these savings.]

Only yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he had “nothing but praise” for those in the Territorial Army and continued by saying that he believed that the whole House would want to say that we owe them “a debt of gratitude”. What he did not say was that the Government are cutting the TA budget by £5 million. Given the likely effect, is it right for Ministers to praise the Territorial Army from the Dispatch Box only to cut its budgets?

We would all agree with what the Prime Minister said about the important work of the Territorial Army. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to Defence questions next Monday, when he will have an opportunity to raise the matter with the Secretary of State for Defence.

Will the Leader of the House join me in pressing the Department for Transport to make publicly available the environmental modelling results currently being passed to BAE in relation to Heathrow expansion, but not to me as an MP? I have tabled a parliamentary question about this and made a freedom of information request, but so far these results have not been made available to me. It is a matter of great concern to my constituents. Will the Leader of the House find out from the Department for Transport when it plans to make these results publicly available?

I will draw the hon. Lady’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. There are some exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act and the hon. Lady’s question may fall under the commercial confidentiality exclusion. I am not aware of the detail on that, but I will find out and ask my right hon. Friend to respond directly to the hon. Lady.

Last week, I drew the House’s attention to Mrs. Ruby Waterer, who was going blind, but was denied treatment on the NHS and would have had to go privately. Immediately after the Leader of the House’s reply, she was granted treatment on the NHS, so I would like to thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her involvement. Unfortunately, four more people in my local area contacted me yesterday, as they had been told that they would have to go blind because the NHS would not treat them. Their only option is to go privately and pay up to £8,000. Would it not be appropriate for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on what is clearly a very important issue?

I will bring, again, the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. The case raised at business questions last week was a heart-rending but quite complex one, involving questions of referral and the appropriateness of diagnosis. It raises important concerns. If the hon. Gentleman would like to give the details of the four other cases to the Secretary of State, I am sure they will be looked into.

The future of sub-post offices in the Kettering constituency, across Northamptonshire and, indeed, across the whole country hangs in the balance, awaiting the Government’s announcement of its detailed closure programme. Will the Leader of the House confirm when the details of which post offices are to be closed will be announced, and when they are, will the Minister responsible for the Post Office make an oral statement to the House and respond to hon. Members’ questions?

Consultation and discussion are under way, led by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. All hon. Members recognise the important role for sub-post offices. We want to ensure that we have the right level of public subsidy and the right services provided to local people.