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Business of the House

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

The business for next week will be:

Monday 23 July—Motion to approve the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, followed by remaining stages of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [Lords]. It is also expected that there will be a statement on housing.

Tuesday 24 July—Opposition day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Government’s Handling of the Penal System” and a debate entitled “Attack on Global Poverty”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Wednesday 25 July—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a motion to approve the appointment of the Chairman to the Statistics Board, followed by motions relating to Select Committee changes, followed by consideration of the draft legislative programme on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 26 July—Motion on the summer recess Adjournment.

I should also like to remind Members that they may table named day questions on 3, 5 and 10 September. They will be for answer on 10, 12 and 17 September. The Government may also issue written ministerial statements on those latter dates.

The provisional business for the week commencing 8 October will include:

Monday 8 October—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.

I should also like to remind the House that the state opening of Parliament will be on Tuesday 6 November.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business.

Yesterday, the BBC suspended all phone-in competitions after it found out that yet more had been rigged. As our national public service broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to restore public trust. May we have a debate in Government time on the BBC?

This week, the Institute for Public Policy Research called for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Such a policy would be wrong in principle and wrong in practice, and would reflect the Government’s failure to get a grip on illegal immigration, yet, during the deputy leadership campaign, when asked about such an amnesty, the right hon. and learned Lady said:

“People who have worked hard here and paid their taxes should be allowed to stay.”

May we have a debate in Government time on the need to secure Britain’s borders?

The right hon. and learned Lady has just announced that the Government’s Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which was due to receive its Second Reading next Monday, has now been deferred until October, just a couple of weeks before the end of the parliamentary Session. We know that that significant piece of legislation will change in the autumn. Its deferral is an abuse of the carry-over procedure and shows disdain for Parliament. Why will the Government not be honest and introduce the Bill in the next parliamentary Session?

Yesterday, in Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that

“the Home Secretary will consult on whether… cannabis should be moved from class C to class B.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 268.]

It was the present Government who reclassified cannabis from B to C in the first place, but we will support their U-turn. For the second week in a row, the Prime Minister has announced a reversal of policy in an answer to a planted question rather than in an oral statement that allows hon. Members to put questions to a Minister. That betrays a disregard for hon. Members. Why was this change not announced properly by the Home Secretary in a statement?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister also confirmed that Parliamentary Private Secretaries can sit on Select Committees. He gave the feeble excuse that they will not sit on Committees that scrutinised their Departments, but he thinks it acceptable for Members who work for Ministers, and therefore for the Executive, to sit on Select Committees whose job it is to scrutinise the Executive. That betrays a disregard for Select Committees, so can we have a debate on the future of such Committees?

Under this Government, 125,000 people have lost their savings because their pension fund went bust. We proposed a lifeboat fund properly to compensate those who lost out through no fault of their own. The Prime Minister had Labour MPs whipped into voting against the lifeboat. Some Labour Members agreed with us and the other place agreed with us. Now, however, Ministers have invoked parliamentary privilege to stop the debate and limit compensation. So much for respecting Parliament and so much for helping those who have lost their pensions. Will the Pensions Secretary make an urgent statement on why he has used parliamentary privilege in this way?

The Prime Minister says that he wants to make Parliament the crucible of our political life, but those examples—from just this last week—show nothing but disrespect for hon. Members, disregard for parliamentary procedure and disdain for parliamentary scrutiny. Is it not clear that putting Parliament first is just a new type of spin?

The paper on the governance of Britain sets out a number of ways in which we were moving forward and working with both sides of the House on ensuring that we strengthen its important role. If the right hon. Lady wishes us to consider any additional individual points, we are happy to so do. Our determination is to strengthen the House’s role, as we believe that strong Government works best when held to account by a strong Parliament.

On the right hon. Lady’s individual issues, she first raised the question of the BBC. Both I and the Government are strong supporters of the BBC—[Interruption.] Absolutely, we are strong supporters. It is important that the BBC retains the trust of all its viewers, but the particular issue that the right hon. Lady raised does not apply only to the BBC; as Michael Grade said, it applies across all broadcasting companies. The matter could be discussed further at Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions on Monday or perhaps debated on the Adjournment.

The right hon. Lady raised the position of those whose immigration status may have expired and of people who have come to this country without proper permission. It has been the policy of successive Governments to look at individual cases and judge whether it would be right to exercise discretion to allow people to stay. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) raised such an individual case in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. As well as having a policy that should be enforced firmly and fairly, we believe it right to look into individual cases. Following the particular case raised yesterday, the Prime Minister has agreed to defer the deportation. As I say, it is right to reflect on individual cases in that way.

On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, with the interim report of Sir Ronnie Flanagan coming out in the summer, it might be better, as has been suggested, for Second Reading to take place the other side of the recess, if the Government are to be able to bring forward further issues in that Bill.

The right hon. Lady raised the question of the cannabis review. There is new evidence that the cannabis used, particularly by young people, is stronger than it used to be, and therefore more dangerous—[Interruption.]

Order. We must allow the Leader of the House to reply to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). [Interruption.] Order.

As well as the evidence that the cannabis used particularly by young people is stronger than it used to be, there is more evidence of the link between use of that strong cannabis by young people and serious mental health problems. That issue has been raised with me by the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley hospital in my constituency. If new evidence emerges, it is right that the Government listen, look at the evidence and publish a review document.

The right hon. Lady also made a point about Parliamentary Private Secretaries. We need to recognise the important role of Select Committees, and we all support their work. Under the previous Government, PPSs did, from time to time, sit on Select Committees. Nobody in the House would think it right for a PPS to sit on a Select Committee for their own Department. The right hon. Lady will know, however, that PPSs are not members of the Government. She is perhaps asking us to look afresh at a policy introduced by her Government and continued by this Government.

On pensions, we need to remember that those people whose occupational schemes went bust received no help at all under the previous Government. We have gone a long way to set up financial support systems for those who have paid into pension schemes throughout their working life and whose schemes have gone bust. We are putting forward costed proposals, which we know we can afford, to move from a figure of 80 per cent. of the core pension to 90 per cent.

I am not quite sure what point the right hon. Lady is making about parliamentary privilege. If she is talking about the House of Lords overriding the will of the elected House, I do not agree with her. If she is talking about something else, one of my hon. Friends will have to advise me as to what she is getting at. I say to the House, and to the right hon. Lady, that Members of the House should be able to represent the interests of their constituents and to hold the Government to account. As Leader of the House, that is what I am determined to ensure.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1856?

[That this House is concerned at the enormous potential expenditure in taking the academy programme to 400 schools with its heavy subsidies to miscellaneous private sponsors provided on the basis of unproven, possibly unjustified, assumptions about resulting improvements to education in disadvantaged areas; urges the establishment of an independent inquiry to evaluate the performance of academies, compared to modernised state schools to assess whether any improvements are more than a temporary Hawthorne effect, to assess the effects of academies on neighbouring schools, and the overall performance of the education authority, to examine the value for money of academies as opposed to spending the same sums on secondary schools more generally, and to look at ways to merge the two systems, academies and local authority schools in order to ensure the unified development of the system and avoid further divisions in public education.]

May I also draw her attention to early-day motion 605? Those two early-day motions express the growing concern in the House about the apparent headlong rush by the Government into promoting academies, which are now to number 400. The construction of such academies appears to have no ultimate cost, apart from a global figure of £35,000 to £40,000, and there is no real evidence about their efficacy. Will she draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to those important matters, and arrange a debate as early as possible?

I will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend. He will also have an opportunity to raise such issues on Thursday. We are all concerned to see that every area has good local schools, which have proper resources and are properly accountable. I pay tribute to the Peckham academy in my constituency, where standards have been improved for the young people in that school.

The Leader of the House announced that on Monday there would be a debate on what was originally a private Member’s Bill on forced marriages introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill. It is a Bill that we welcome in this House. Will the right hon. and learned Lady use that step as a welcome precedent for making sure that there are other opportunities from Monday to Thursday for private Members’ Bills that start either here or in the other place to be debated so that they have the chance of fair consideration, which has not been the case in the past?

The Leader of the House has announced that we will have a debate on housing. Will it also be an opportunity to debate planning, which is often linked with it? Will we be able to debate whether the Prime Minister has pre-empted the consultation on a new super-quango to take major infrastructure planning decisions? It is a controversial issue and there are still meant to be some weeks of discussion and consultation, yet the Prime Minister indicated last week that he might have come to a final view.

As for Select Committees, in addition to the point made by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) from the Conservative Front Bench, would it not be fair that regional Select Committees reflect the balance of the political representation in each region? That must be the right way of doing it. Will the Leader of the House reflect on whether, if we are to have proper representation, even within the funny system that we have for electing us all to the House, we should have at least that fairness when the new Committees are set up after next week?

Given that the Leader of the House has clearly accepted that it would be inappropriate to consider the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill before the summer recess, may I strongly back the request to accept the fact that it would be illogical to bring it back in October when the Government intend to amend it in November? We ought to consider the Bill in November in its final form so that we can debate what the Government are proposing.

On the matters that are not in the right hon. and learned Lady’s statement, we receive a welcome indication now of what statements are to be made to the House. Today, for example, we have a statement on Lords reform. I gather that there are to be further statements before we break. Could we hear from the Leader of the House what they are to be about so that people can plan and everyone knows what is coming? If we are to have Government statements, may we have maximum notice rather than wake up in the morning and only then know what is coming in the afternoon? May we have statements rather than just veiled hints on changes of policy such as on casinos and drugs? Can they be absolutely backed up by guarantees that the policies will be evidence-based rather than prejudice-based?

I am sad to say that probably many more people take part in interactive programmes and phone-ins on broadcast media shows than watch Question Time in this place on their televisions. I hope that that will change. May we have a debate about all media and all programmes, as the Leader of the House said? It is probably the case that there has been fiddling of the system by all those who broadcast such programmes. We really need to clean it up once and for all.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the important provisions in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill. He was right to say that the Bill came from a private Member of the House of Lords. There is always the opportunity for the Government to take forward private Member’s business on that basis. We will keep under review the points that he made about finding time to do so.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned planning and housing. I said in my business statement that there would be a statement on housing on Monday. We all recognise that planning is integral to our ability to provide to rent and to buy at affordable prices the homes that local people need. There will be an opportunity for him to raise that point on Monday.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Select Committees. Obviously, their membership will be decided in the usual way. I think that it makes sense for the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to be considered the other side of the recess. It does not make sense to withdraw it from the House and reintroduce it. The Bill contains important measures that we need to get on with. I responded to points made on that last week, and they were part of our consideration about moving the Bill to the other side of the recess.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about advance information to be given to the House in relation to statements. Obviously, we do not want to announce firmly the day that a statement is to be made and then find that for other reasons it is subject to change, but it would be helpful for hon. Members to have some idea what issues are likely to form the basis of statements, so I will see what we can do on that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the concern about the BBC and recognised rightly that this is a serious matter for all the broadcast media. Ofcom is also involved and I have no doubt that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which has looked at the issue in the past, will reconsider it.

When can we have a debate about arms exports? I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the report published by Amnesty and other organisations this week about the possibility of India supplying Burma with advanced light helicopters, which are built containing components made in the EU and the UK, despite the EU arms embargo as a result of the appalling history of human rights in Burma. I have been contacted this week by a number of my constituents about this issue. How can we take it forward?

First, I pay tribute to Amnesty for the work that it has done on this report and for all the important work that it does. The House may be aware that the Indian Government have denied that they have sold the helicopters to Burma, but it is something that we are concerned about and that we have raised with our partners in the European Union. We are all appalled at the human rights abuses in Burma, and want to work as hard as we can to put pressure on it.

Could the Leader of the House please arrange for an early statement by the Secretary of State for Justice, beyond that which he is going to make this afternoon, so that he can give rather wider publicity to the contents of a letter that he seems to have written only to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) about the Government’s policy on the provision and commissioning of probation services? In his letter of 17 July he said:

“The Bill transfers the statutory duty for making arrangements for the provision of probation services to the Secretary of State. This does not mean that the Secretary of State will commission everything directly. … The Bill also enables the Secretary of State to delegate this responsibility to the probation trust, or another lead provider, and this is what will happen in practice.”

That did not come out very clearly in yesterday’s debate. It ought to be in the Bill. Could the right hon. and learned Lady invite the Secretary of State for Justice, the former Leader of the House, to come here and put on record what he said in the letter that he sent only to the hon. Member for Walthamstow?

I think that that was exactly the subject of the debate on the Offender Management Bill. It seems to me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has set that position out. So, as I see it, he is not giving new information on a selective basis to one hon. Member. It is the position as it is in the Bill.

I perhaps failed to answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead about parliamentary privilege in relation to pensions. It is of course the case that this House, as the elected House, rightly reserves to itself decisions on financial matters. No hon. Member in this House would think it right for us to allow the House of Lords to make decisions on financial matters. If that is the parliamentary privilege that the right hon. Lady was talking about, I think that we should stand by it.

While any change about recalling Parliament is to be welcomed—I remember what the Prime Minister said—may I ask the question that the Opposition parties are not willing to put to my right hon. and learned Friend? Why is Parliament closing down next week for 11 weeks? Is there real justification for such a long break, even though constituency work is obviously undertaken? A shorter break would certainly be much appreciated.

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want to convey the impression that there is not a great deal of constituency work going on while the House is not sitting. There is a constant balance between hon. Members working in their constituencies and properly holding the Government to account. We need to do both. My hon. Friend will know that we have tried different ways to get around this. We have to accommodate the party conferences, but we have introduced the opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the Executive by asking questions during the recess. That is a welcome step forward.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1952?

[That this House acknowledges the distinguished service of the hon. Member for Calder Valley to the Council of Europe over nine years; applauds her contribution to the work of the Social Health and Family Affairs Committee, often acting as rapporteur on key human rights issues; recognises her pioneering work on the Equal Opportunities Committee and on the Sub Committee on Children and Sub Committee on Violence Against Women; pays tribute to her abilities in her role as Chair of the Labour Group; and wishes her well in the forthcoming election for Leader of the Labour Group on the UK Delegation to the Council of Europe.]

It refers to the position of leader of the UK delegation to the Council of Europe. The motion states that there is to be a contest for the position between the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty). I understand that the election is to take place next week. As the Leader of the House will know, the Council of Europe is a guardian of democracy and, as she will also know, the UK delegation is an all-party delegation. Will she assure the House that in the interests of democracy every member of the delegation will be entitled to vote in that election next week?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the role of contractors in the building industry, such as Lovell, which has done a considerable amount of valuable regeneration work in my constituency, paid for mainly out of the public purse? However, those large contractors are impervious to looking after the individuals who take on the homes that they have constructed. Lovell has an appalling record on rectifying the faults in those homes. Given that public money goes into making Lovell large profits, should we not have a debate about public control of those large contractors and how they fulfil their obligations to the people that we want to help?

We want more homes, and more affordable homes, to rent and to buy, and to make sure that they are of the highest quality, including to the highest environmental standards. My hon. Friend has raised an important point that I shall bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing.

The Government have caused some confusion with the announcement about changes to public service agreement targets. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement on the issue of adoption targets and whether they are to be cancelled? Roughly between 15 and 20 children are wrongfully adopted every week and it would be useful to clarify the situation before the recess.

We want to ensure that those children who cannot be with their parents because of the risk of neglect or abuse are properly taken into care. If a permanent placement can be found for such children with a family by way of adoption, we would all agree that that is much better than leaving them in a children’s home or moving them from one foster carer to another. On targets, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is reviewing targets. We want to make sure that we do not have more than are necessary and that they are mutually consistent, but we must not lose sight of the fact that people want the Government and public services to do important things. If a target is able to focus work in that respect, that is what we should do. One example is cutting waiting times for hospital treatment.

May I congratulate the Government on scrapping regional assemblies, on introducing regional Select Committees and on the proposals for regional questions and a regional Minister? Those are welcome changes, and something for which many Members have called for a long time. Can I ask about the time scales? When will the regional Select Committees be up and running? How will regional questions operate? Will they be held in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall?

As I announced, the motions relating to Select Committee changes will be discussed on Wednesday. I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome for the work of the Government in focusing on the regions. One of the reasons why we have seen consistent and sustained economic growth is that we have focused on concerns region by region. That is what we continue to do to make the work of the Government in each region more accountable.

May we have an early debate on the Government’s strategic objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan? Many of us believe that the cost in terms of lives and casualties in Iraq outweighs any political or military objective that we can reasonably obtain and, in Helmand province in Afghanistan, we have taken to ourselves objectives on which we cannot succeed, given the existing troop levels, and the casualties are too high.

As we are nearly into the recess, I cannot offer the right hon. and learned Gentleman a debate next week. Obviously it is too late to apply for a debate on the Adjournment, on which he could raise this issue. I will bring his points to the attention of ministerial colleagues; this is something to which we will no doubt return in the autumn.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend urge the relevant Department to undertake to commission some work to determine the extent of international cold-calling, whereby UK businesses using overseas call centres escape the telephone preference scheme and cause significant distress to our constituents?

I will draw this to the attention of my ministerial colleague. This is a matter for Ofcom, but it is also a question of social and public responsibility. British companies need to act responsibly in this country and abroad and certainly should not be able to get around any provision designed to help consumers and the public.

The BBC used to be, and should be, a cherished and trusted national institution. May we have a debate about the recent disappointments and, in particular, the BBC’s pro-European bias, which flies in the face of the fact that 70 per cent. of the British public want looser ties with Europe?

The BBC has recognised the need to rebuild trust and is still a very much cherished institution. On Europe, we all recognise that there are some issues on which we cannot work individually as a country. We cannot do as much as we need to do on climate change acting on our own; we cannot do as much as we want to do on international development and the menace of human trafficking acting on our own. Therefore, in the interests of this country and the world, we have to act with our European colleagues.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) has secured a timely debate in Westminster Hall next Wednesday on UK relations with Russia. May we have a written statement before then about the extraordinary circumstances in which a man was arrested by the Metropolitan police and accused of conspiracy to prepare the murder of Mr. Berezovsky? The Metropolitan police took the man to Heathrow, put him on a plane and said, “Shoo, shoo, go away.” Against the backdrop of last Monday’s events, that is an extraordinary situation and Parliament should be told what is going on. It seems that Berezovsky is running this country, rather than being a visitor. It is now time for a degree of candour in advance of the debate next Wednesday. Why was this man put on an aeroplane after we had heard all the nonsense on Monday about the rule of law? Discuss.

I am here to explain the business of the House. My hon. Friend has raised the question of the debate in Westminster Hall next week, which Members can attend if they want. Allegations of criminal activity are independently investigated by the police. I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that the police exercise their powers independently, and not only would nobody try to lean on them—it would be wrong if they did—but they would protest and resist if they were lent on. If there were sufficient evidence for a prosecution, it would be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, which would decide—again independently—whether a prosecution should be pursued. If a non-British national is involved and the CPS wants to bring them to justice in this country, it will notify the immigration authorities that it wishes a stay on any deportation proceedings. I am confident that that is what happened in this case. Allegations have been made, but I can assure the House that the independence of the police and the prosecution service obtain.

We need a statement on the Government’s drugs strategy, especially after this morning’s events—Ministers were falling over themselves to admit to past cannabis indiscretions. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that no one cares about what we MPs got up to when we were students, and that such events only serve to take us further away from having a grown-up, sensible debate about drugs in our community?

A grown-up, sensible debate is exactly what we should have, and the Home Secretary is taking that goal forward. We must look at the evidence and examine how best to use the considerable additional resources that we have made available for dealing with drug abuse problems. I pay tribute to those who do the difficult work of helping drug addicts and abusers. We cannot have a grown-up, sensible debate if it involves party political point-scoring. We will issue a consultation document, and any proposals that arise from it will be brought before the House.

You, Mr. Speaker, more than anyone will know how long the House has waited for a debate in Government time on Zimbabwe. We will have such a debate this afternoon, but is the Leader of the House aware that the Foreign Secretary will not attend it despite the fact that it has been in his diary since before the last reshuffle and he is not away from London? As there is no Minister for Africa, his absence insults Parliament and the people of Zimbabwe.

I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend has done in raising the terrible situation in Zimbabwe. I know that she will wish to contribute to the debate, and it is important that it is taking place. Members should come to the Chamber and listen to the speech of the Minister who attends it, as what is important is what they say and whether it addresses the key problems.

May I refer to a question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on the Pensions Bill? The Leader of the House has announced the consideration of Lords amendments for next week. Many Members were hoping to have another opportunity to vote on Lords amendments relating to the lifeboat funds. I understand that that will not now be possible because at a late stage in the progress of the Bill and after the Government have been much criticised, they have precluded any further discussion by invoking financial privilege. How does the Leader of the House reconcile that with all the warm words that have been uttered about restoring power to Parliament?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a great champion of the parliamentary process and of the right of this House to hold the Executive to account, so I am not sure what he is suggesting. Is he suggesting that we allow a decision to be made in the other place that should rightly be made in this House? We must ensure that this House has supremacy when there is disagreement.

I wish to ask the Leader of the House about the dagging of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions. She will be aware that DEFRA has a wide range of responsibilities. I have listened carefully to what she has said about transparency and holding Departments to account, but if she looks at today’s Order Paper she will see that DEFRA questions have been docked of at least 10 minutes. Will she use the recess time to think of a way in which big Departments might receive proper scrutiny and a full amount of Question Time—if possible even more than the hour that we used to get?

Yes, we will look into the allocation of time for departmental questions; as there have been machinery of government changes, we must look again at that. We will bring forward proposals on it when the House returns in the autumn.

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to look at early-day motion 1949, asking for support for the report of the cross-party group on childhood leukaemia and electric and magnetic fields, which has over the past year been ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate)?

[That this House welcomes the launch of the July 2007 Report of the Cross-party Inquiry into Childhood Leukaemia and Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (ELF EMF); supports the recommendations of the inquiry which includes a moratorium on the building of new homes and schools within 60 metres of existing high voltage overhead transmission lines, increased funding for research into the link between childhood leukaemia and EMF, the implementation of the Government's SAGE report recommendations, and the protection of homeowners by providing them with information about the levels of EMF in any property; and calls upon the Government to take into account the dangers of EMF in transmission and distribution in its Energy Review and on the Department for Communities and Local Government to take all the inquiry's recommendations into consideration in planning for all new homes and schools.]

Will the Leader of the House find time to get Ministers in the appropriate Department to look at our recommendations, some of which are pressing? We are calling for a moratorium on the building of houses within 60 m of pylons. Will she also ensure that there is dialogue with the Scottish Executive, which is considering the proposal for the Beauly to Denny supergrid? It will be a 400 kW grid and we are calling for a zone around it of 200 m in which schools and houses should not be built. That is a pressing matter. Many children have died from childhood leukaemia that is clearly linked to the proximity of their homes to pylons.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does as part of the cross-party group on childhood leukaemia, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) on his chairmanship of that group. It is a difficult subject on which the science is advancing. I will draw this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Government figures released this week show that robbery offences in Norfolk have risen by a shocking 24 per cent., which is the highest increase in the country. I have consistently called on the Government to provide adequate funding for the Norfolk constabulary. Do not these figures show that the Government have failed to provide Norfolk with sufficient resources for us to have enough of a police presence on our streets? Because of the figures, will the right hon. and learned Lady give time for a debate after the summer recess on rural policing?

I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the fact that there will be a statement on crime reduction in about an hour’s time, when he might raise his point. Under this Government there have been considerably more resources for the Norfolk constabulary than under the previous Administration, and I pay tribute to the work it does along with local councils and voluntary organisations.

May we have a debate on child protection? The Labour Government should be given credit for some wonderful achievements over the past 10 years, and there have also been some encouraging statements over the last two weeks about child protection and joined-up thinking between Government Departments. There will, however, be challenges in the future and we need to debate them soon if we are to improve the lot of children and their safety.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to my attention. The subject of the family justice system has already been raised. I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. It is important that we do not allow the family justice system to be the poor relation of the criminal justice system. The work it does in ensuring that children can be taken into care can save children’s lives, but if it gets things wrong, that can ruin the lives of both parents and children. I take on board his suggestion that we in this House should give greater consideration to that important work.

The Leader of the House has made an announcement about motions relating to Select Committees, including the Modernisation Committee, which will be debated next Wednesday. In respect of the regional Select Committees, can she advise the House of who will be appointed to those Committees—there are a lot of them—who will staff them, whether the Chairmen of the new Committees will be on the Liaison Committee, and whether they will be paid? A substantial announcement has been made without thought being given to those important questions.

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the intention is to increase accountability and scrutiny of work done by public authorities in the regions. Further thinking is under way and motions will be tabled on Monday to be debated on Wednesday.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that yesterday the judge who presided over the inquest on the death of Gareth Myatt wrote to the Government with 34 recommendations for action? Will she therefore ensure that we have a debate on early-day motion 1714, which prays for the annulment of statutory instrument No. 1709, which would make it even easier to restrain young people in secure training centres?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 (S.I., 2007, No. 1709), dated 13th June 2007, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th June, be annulled.]

The question of restraint of young people in young offenders institutions, which is a very difficult issue, is under discussion in the Ministry of Justice. If there are any further points to be made, they will be brought to the House. I wish to express my condolences to the family of the young man who died, and the important lessons that arise from the coroner’s inquest in that case must be learned.

Does the Leader of the House agree that there is increasing parliamentary and public interest in the policy areas covered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and will she therefore assure the House that the cut in its time for questions will be restored?

I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said to another hon. Member, which was that we will take the opportunity of the recess to review the arrangements for questions. He is right that DEFRA is an important Department and we will ensure that proper time is available to ensure its accountability to this House.

The Prime Minister has launched a national debate on the future of our democracy, which will involve people and institutions throughout the land. As usual, one institution is a little off the pace and oblivious to those opportunities. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that proper pre-legislative scrutiny of the Green Paper “The Governance of Britain” takes place across the relevant Committees of this House before the summer, so that the public can start to get involved in the process of remaking our democracy?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have issued the draft legislative programme for consultation. We want to have more Bills notified in advance and more of their provisions published in draft form, and we need to have more discussion before we debate them in this House. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, that is just the start of the process of ensuring more accountability of the Government to the House, and greater topicality for the debates in the House, so that the public can see that we are debating topical issues. We will be able to make progress in many other areas, and I know that my hon. Friend, who has a longstanding interest in such matters, will play an important part in that debate.

Will the Government now withdraw their objection to my Bill on the reclassification of cannabis, which could then reach the statute book quickly? Can the Leader of the House update us on the position of home information packs, following the humiliation of the Government in the House of Lords yesterday?

The home information packs for larger properties will go ahead as previously announced to the House. As for the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, the Government have announced a review. We will consult and consider the evidence, and if any changes to legislation are proposed they will be brought to the House as Government business.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the actions of some insurance companies following the recent flooding? A few days ago I met a family from my constituency who were flooded. They do not live on a flood plain, but the combination of the extreme weather and a burst water main near their property led to a one-off flood. The response of their insurance company has been to say that their premium may be hiked and their excess—currently £50—raised to £7,500. Surely that is a disproportionate response to a one-off event caused by freakish weather and a coincidental burst water main? Can we find time to debate such outrages?

It is important that the insurance industry operates fairly towards those people who have bought insurance policies. I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and I suggest that he write to her with the details of that bad sounding case.

The crime figures out today show a sharp rise in violence against the person in the Thames valley and a 110 per cent. rise in common assault in the Reading area. Can the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on crime and the fear of crime, because many of my constituents are increasingly concerned by violent crime?

There will be a statement in about an hour’s time, and the hon. Gentleman will also have an opportunity to raise issues of concern to his constituents on the Adjournment next week. I take this opportunity to remind him that the increase in reported crime is to be welcomed in some aspects. For example, we know that rape has traditionally been under-reported, so that when we see an increase in the reports of rape it might mean not an increase in the incidence of rape, but women’s greater confidence in the criminal justice system. We know that we see only the tip of the iceberg in the reporting of domestic violence, so that when those figures increase it is to be welcomed. We need to have a sophisticated and in-depth understanding of the figures and recognise that overall the likelihood of being a victim of crime has fallen under this Government.

Will the Leader of the House make time for hon. Members on both sides of the House to debate the utter failure of some police forces and local authorities to use the powers that we in Parliament have given them to remove unauthorised Traveller encampments, such as the one in Theale in my constituency? Local people have seen their recreation ground invaded, squatted on and used as a public toilet and rubbish tip, while the police fail to use the section 61 public order powers that we made available to them.

I will draw the issue to the attention of colleagues. It is important that the police and local authorities use the powers that they have to stop unauthorised Travellers’ sites, which can make people’s lives such a misery.

May we have an early debate on the future of general hospitals, especially given Lord Darzi’s comments last week that the days of district general hospitals providing services to a high level are over? Such comments cause great concern to those who are campaigning to maintain the integrity of general hospitals, such as the Horton hospital in my constituency. Does the Leader of the House agree with Nye Bevan, who said that the NHS will last only while there are still enough folk willing to fight for it?

The NHS will last while we have a Labour Government determined to increase investment in it. I was not aware that the hon. Gentleman’s constituency was in London, because Lord Darzi’s quotes relate to the review in London. As a London Member of Parliament, I know that my constituents want the very best specialist services, as well as good local services as near as possible to where they live. As change in medical practice proceeds, we have to ensure that the way in which services are delivered also changes.

Order. There are 12 hon. Members left who wish to contribute. Many of them are the usual ones—I shall not say that they are the usual suspects. I can seek to take them all, but they must ask only one brief supplementary question.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on corporate responsibility? Last Monday, The Guardian carried a very damning report exposing well known companies and retailers in this country and accusing them of driving down costs at the expense of working conditions, for profit. Is it not time to regulate or legislate to ensure that UK-based companies are held to account?

That is exactly how the Companies Act 2006 should work. We need to hold companies to account for their corporate social responsibility in this country, and we also need to monitor how British companies act overseas. I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and for International Development.

The response of the Leader of the House to concerns about the reduction in time for DEFRA questions seemed to improve as she considered the matter. Will she therefore consider extending the time available for those questions, given the interest in climate change, single farm payments, flooding and other issues?

Britain’s birth rate is falling, but our divorce rate is rising. May we have a debate on whether the way forward is to offer parents struggling with their work-life balance a card like a loyalty bonus card, worth £20 a week, so that they remain in their marriages?

My hon. Friend is right that our birth rate is falling and that many families find it difficult to combine bringing up children and holding down jobs. We had a statement last week that included families. The Government know that families come in all shapes and sizes and need practical support, whereas the Tories simply sit in moral judgment on them. That is nothing more than “back to basics”, but with an open-necked shirt.

Unfortunately, but inevitably, the British people have lost trust in the state broadcaster, so does the Leader of the House accept that next Monday’s Question Time is quite inadequate for the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to deal with the matter? We have had two statements a day for the past week, most of them pretty irrelevant, so may we have one next week on a matter that directly concerns the British public?

The BBC Trust has moved quickly to address matters that are of significant public concern. We set it up to represent the interests of licence-fee payers and to ensure that the BBC provides high-quality output. It is a longstanding principle that the Government do not interfere in editorial decisions. We know that the BBC is taking action on the matter, and we support that. We will be looking to see what action is taken, but meanwhile we strongly support the BBC.

May we have a debate on the gadarene flight to large-scale outsourcing of Government Departments’ executive agencies? The most recent example involves the Department for Transport’s Vehicle and Operator Service Agency, and the result will be that private profit and road safety are mixed in the most unsatisfactory way, as has happened in mainland Europe and Ireland. What is the rationale for the move, as there is precious little evidence base for improved value for money or for better delivery of Government objectives?

I will bring the matter to the attention of my ministerial colleagues, and I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on winning the Hansard Society award for Back Bencher of the year.

May we have an urgent debate on the ruling that the House of Lords cannot insist on amendments to any Bill that has spending implications? As that would mean that the Lords could not intervene effectively on any Bill, would not it be more honest to abolish it?

There will be a statement on reform of the House of Lords as soon as we finish this business statement.

Under Prime Minister Blair, people could sleep safely at night because they knew that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) would automatically become acting Prime Minister if he were incapacitated. Under the new Prime Minister, it is not clear who would take over. Will the Leader of the House say who would become acting Prime Minister if the new Prime Minister were incapacitated?

The hon. Gentleman can sleep easily in his bed, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not incapacitated.

May we have a full day’s debate on the proposed appointment of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to Select Committees? In all sincerity, I advise the right hon. and learned Lady that it is a bit much for a Government who have spent so much time criticising their predecessor to claim now that they are imitating them and that, in any case, two wrongs do not make a right. We must separate the Executive from the legislature, and it would be outrageous to deprive genuine Labour Back Benchers of the chance to sit on Select Committees and use their time and talents to scrutinise the Government’s work.

I did no more than point out that the outrage expressed by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was feigned, given that the practice was outlawed by the previous Government. I assured the House that this Government would ensure that Parliamentary Private Secretaries would not sit on Committees covering the Departments to which they are responsible. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that they are not members of the Government.

Given the serious allegations of fraud and deception in some parts of the BBC that were described earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and others, does the Leader of the House agree that it is right that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport should make a statement to the House? It is not good enough for her to say that the BBC Trust will look into the matter. The British public expect better: they pay for the organisation, and they need answers quickly.

I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend. If he feels that he needs to make a statement, no doubt he will bring one to the House.

May I point out that there is little parliamentary time between now and the intergovernmental conference in October that will agree the text of the new EU reform treaty? So far, the Government have been singularly unable to explain what is substantially different between the new treaty and the old constitution, for which they granted a referendum. Will she therefore guarantee that there will be a full day’s debate on the subject before Ministers depart for the conference?

There usually is a statement around the time of intergovernmental conferences. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the treaty makes it clear that the constitutional concept has been abandoned.

Following on from that excellent question from my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), may we have an urgent statement on the adequacy of the French and German translation service supplied to No. 10 Downing street? Giscard d’Estaing has said that the changes to the amending treaty are “more cosmetic than real” and that the “treaty remains largely unaltered”, while Chancellor Merkel has said that the

“substance of the constitution is preserved”.

Clearly, the Prime Minister cannot have been furnished with those transcripts, as it would be inconceivable that he would go back on his promise to hold a referendum on changing the constitution of Europe.

There is no going back on any such promise. Obviously, repeating existing treaties and drawing them all together means that a lot of the substance remains unchanged.