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Commons Chamber

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

House of Commons

Thursday 19 July 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Food Production

DEFRA launched a regional food strategy in December 2002. Since then we have helped to encourage a flourishing quality regional and local food sector and given £20 million of support.

I thank the Under-Secretary for her reply and welcome her to her post. Britain should be growing more of its own food and importing less. Does she agree that it is not acceptable for supermarkets to describe as “local” food that may have been grown hundreds of miles away and transported through central processing and packaging points?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and his kind words. I am disappointed that he has not raised the Colchester native oyster application, as he has done so often and on which I understand DEFRA is waiting for more information before sending to the EU.

Of course it is essential that labelling is accurate and that consumers are well informed about the produce that they purchase. However, there needs to be a life cycle analysis to determine which food is more or less environmentally friendly in its growing, production, packaging and dispatch. Food that comes from a distance does not always have more environmental impact than food grown locally with very high inputs. It is a complicated science. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good point and we need to make sure that consumers are aware and can make appropriate choices.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her post; it is well deserved and I am sure that we look forward to working with each other for many years.

Community agriculture is beginning to grow in various parts of the country, Stroud being a wonderful example. It involves people taking food production into their own hands, which it is necessary to support. One way in which that can be done is by making sure that community agriculture links in with the county farm estates, of which I have been a supporter for many years. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at that and ensure that we get local food for local people that is grown by local people.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and pay tribute to his interest in the environment, particularly local food and its quality. Food from Britain is a programme that has the support of DEFRA in which we are endeavouring to give assistance to farmers to improve their production, quality, labelling and marketing. This is very important to us and the Department will continue to give appropriate support to the food industry, including farmers.

From her time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Under-Secretary will recall the importance of the rural development programme. Is she aware that her Department is spending some £260 million on consultants but only £300 million of its own money to top up the rural development programme? In her new role, will she look at reducing expenditure on consultants and spending more on the rural development programme for the benefit of local food producers?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and for his reference to my record. Consultants are an easy target for suggesting that they are not worth their money. I would judge each case on its own merits, and would want to know what the consultants were engaged to do and whether they helped the people they were advising to achieve their objectives. That is the way in which these judgments have to be made, but I am very happy to look at his specific points.

May I formally welcome the Under-Secretary to what I think is her first paid Front-Bench position? I recall that she was one of the unpaid Ministers earlier in the Government’s lifetime. I congratulate her on her appointment.

The hon. Lady rightly mentioned food labelling in answer to the first question. Has she had time to realise just what a shambles we have in our food labelling legislation? It is very confusing. Why do we have a system where some food is required to be labelled with its country of origin but not others: beef, but not pork or lamb; chicken from Brazil, but not from Belgium; honey, but not jam; olive oil, but not sunflower oil? We have complete confusion about our labelling legislation. If she really wants to promote local food—I believe from her record that she does—will she get a grip of our labelling rules and change them as soon as possible?

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I agree that we need more transparency and clarity. The purpose of labelling is to put the consumer in the driving seat so that they can make appropriate choices and, where appropriate, put pressure on producers and suppliers. Like him, I am keen for there to be improvements; I take the matter he raises seriously, and I and my colleagues will do all we can to enhance the regime.

Does the Minister agree that increasing oil prices will push up the cost of buying produce from abroad? The Totnes pound, with which she might be familiar, offers a 5 per cent. discount on locally produced goods, and 70 local producers are offering it. Does not that initiative provide a good way of proceeding? There will be a stick and a local carrot; the stick will be rising oil prices and the local carrot will be an inducement to people to buy local goods. Is the Minister familiar with the Transition Town Totnes project?

I think that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not yet being familiar with that project, but I intend to become familiar with it very soon. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it was grown and the circumstances of the people who produce it. It is good for both business and consumers if more local produce is made available, if it is appropriately described, and if, as is the case where there are markets, people can meet the producers. If the product is right, it is good for our health, too.

Sea Defences (East Coast)

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of sea defences on the east coast; and if he will make a statement. (150586)

The level of protection provided by sea defences along the east coast of England varies, depending on the level of risk and the type of land use which would be affected by any flooding. However, the indicative standard of protection for urban areas against sea flooding, as set out in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs guidance, is typically to protect against a once in 200 years-type event. It is for the Environment Agency and other operating authorities to assess the risk and fully consider improvements to defences.

Is the Minister aware that the Environment Agency map shows some 2,600 properties around Maldon alone to be at risk from flooding, not to mention the Secretary of State’s ancestral home? Does the Minister agree that the risk he describes is increasing, owing to rising sea levels, greater storm pressure and a subsiding land mass? Does he accept that much more money needs to be spent on sea defences and that if money is spent now the sums needed are likely to be far less than the catastrophic losses that would be incurred if a flood were to occur?

It is of course recognised that there is a growing risk and threat, which is why the Government have provided extra resources for defences—I know that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we have done so. One cannot provide against all eventualities, but extra resources have been provided for his region and the area he represents.

I welcome the Minister’s comments and the fact that the Government have substantially increased the amount of money invested in coastal and flood defences. However, will the Minister consider providing compensation for home owners and businesses who might lose their properties as they are in areas where there will be a managed retreat because it is no longer affordable to defend the coastline?

It is no coincidence that such questions have been raised by Members of both main parties representing constituencies in the eastern region. The Government are fully aware of the risks and the future decisions that will have to be taken. My hon. Friend’s request will certainly be considered, but he would not expect me to give any pledges today.

Will the new ministerial team urgently look at the need to strengthen or replace the Thames barrier at some point in the next decade, as current predictions are that its design-life probably will not extend beyond 2020 at the latest? Given the pressures from flooding risks and the Government’s worries about global warming, is there not an urgent need to manage the consequences of such developments, and could we not link a new barrier to reclaiming land from the estuary so that we create valuable land for building?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the defences, and that is being considered. All those issues are a question of balance. Judgments have to be made on the types of defences and where they should be. We should not confuse—I know that he is not doing so—the need to protect against floods and the various causes of floods and coastal erosion, which has already been mentioned as it affects the eastern region.

After the events in Sheffield, Doncaster and Hull, the last of which was well protected against coastal flooding but not against surface water flooding, do the Government still agree with their response to the autumn 2004 “Making Space for Water” consultation, which said that

“to facilitate an holistic approach that is risk-driven, the Government will work towards giving the Environment Agency an overarching strategic overview across all flooding and coastal erosion risks”?

That was meant to happen by the end of 2006, according to the timeline at the back of the Government’s response. Will Ministers now tell the devastated householders of Hull, Sheffield and Doncaster when the Government will deliver on their promised flooding overview?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the strategy set out in “Making Space for Water”. I have to point out to the House that the floods, especially in the east Yorkshire and Hull area, were exceptional and would not have been prevented by an implementation of the policy that he raises. Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that that is the Government’s policy. Decisions and announcements in that area will be made by the Environment Agency, which is today publishing its consultation document on the specific aspects of the issue, and by the Government later in the year.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Will he join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) in commiserating with the people of Filey, who suffered overnight from unprecedented rainfall, which led to major evacuations? The effect of the rainfall was compounded by recent development and inadequate drainage, but the clear message is that more has to be spent on flood defences. Is the Minister aware that the chairman of the Yorkshire and Humber region flood defence committee has written to him, calling his attention to the fact that flood spending in the region will fall next year from £15.2 million to only £11.7 million? That is not the right message to send to people who have lost their homes and possessions in those unprecedented floods.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I know that she has great expertise on these issues, not least because of her constituency experience in Vale of York. I am, of course, aware of the events in Filey, which were similar in cause to those at Boscastle a few years ago. Anyone who knows Filey will be shocked to learn of the floods there.

On the resources that have been made available, we have to caution against taking too specific a view, because we have to consider the trend which in flood defence spending has been one of significant increases over the years. The time scales for all capital projects, and especially flood defence spending, mean that the wrong impression can be given by taking a figure out of context. However, I will of course reply to the chairman in full detail.

Renewable Energy

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Minister for Energy on the development of renewable energy. (150587)

Support for renewable energy is an essential part of the Government’s climate change programme and energy policy. I will continue to work closely with my ministerial colleagues to increase the share of UK electricity generated from renewables.

In Germany, 12 per cent. of energy is produced from renewable sources. Will my hon. Friend look closely at the success of the renewable energy Act in Germany and its proposals for revenue support, and will he discuss with the Energy Minister whether a similar system could be adopted in the UK, so that we can use the big house-building programme to advance renewable energy in this country?

The answers to the questions are yes and yes. My hon. Friend has a strong record of campaigning on this matter, and his constituency shows the economic as well as environmental benefits that renewables can bring. On 9 March, the Council of Europe agreed a binding target of having 20 per cent. of the EU’s overall energy consumption coming from renewables by 2020. We are working towards that, but a step change is coming, not least because of the new homes being built and the campaigning work being done by my hon. Friend and others.

Does the Minister agree that wind turbines are such a good idea that we should have hundreds, not to say thousands, of them offshore? That would allow us to take advantage of the higher wind velocity of some of the world’s stormiest seas, achieve greater economies of scale and implement our leading-edge offshore technology. On top of that, we would not have to look at them, which would be preferable to spending large amounts of taxpayers’ money on subsidising the despoiling of south Norfolk’s gentle landscape with industrial wind turbines, each of which is taller than Norwich cathedral.

I acknowledge the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but it would be wrong of me to give blanket approval for all such schemes, given the arguments from the shipping industry and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. On the whole, however, he makes a convincing case: our nation is blessed with offshore wind resources, and it would be wrong not to take advantage of them. Indeed, the Government’s energy and environment policy is pushing in the direction that he outlines.

May I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to what may be one of the most important positions in the Government? Has he had a chance to read the “Draft Options Paper on Renewable Targets” that has been circulated to Ministers? It deals with the 20 per cent. renewables target for the EU agreed at the spring Council, and speaks rather approvingly of what it describes as “scenario 1”. However, by 2020 that would result in the UK delivering only 9 per cent. of renewable energy across all sectors, at a cost of £4 billion. That is less than half of the 20 per cent. by 2020 that the 2006 White Paper suggested was the Government’s aspiration, and less than half of the EU target for that date. Will my hon. Friend speak to the Energy Minister at the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and put some backbone into what used to be known as the Department of Trade and Industry?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. He said that mine was one of the most important jobs, but another word for it would be “challenging”. I represent Oldham, where rainfall is significant, so I am clearly in a lose-lose situation in that regard, but I will look at the points that my hon. Friend makes. The “Draft Options Paper On Renewable Targets” is an important document: the two Departments responsible for energy and the environment work very closely together on Government policy, and it is important that we speak with one voice.

Given the impact on food prices of the diversion of production to ethanol, and the damage to the environment that the expansion of crops for ethanol can have in the developing world, will the Government consider drawing up a balance sheet of the pluses and minuses of biofuels? That will enable us to know clearly whether they will save the planet or damage it and cause undue suffering to its poorest inhabitants.

As ever, the right hon. Gentleman speaks with common sense. What he suggests seems very sensible, so I think we should do it. All such decisions are a question of balancing the pros and cons, so the idea of balance sheet will be given consideration. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) made a similar point about food: such matters are not always as straightforward as they appear. We will do as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. On the question of encouraging microgeneration in renewables, does he agree that it does not make sense that those who can export electricity to the grid are paid less per unit than they spend when they buy electricity? That needs to be looked at. Also, the importance of energy and the environment has been mentioned already, so does he agree that there is a real logic in having those two crucial sectors covered by one Ministry?

The machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister, and I am not going there. Having said that, I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. The whole House acknowledges the depth of his experience, so his suggestions—particularly when they are made with the force of logic that he has just displayed—will be looked at. Clearly, microgeneration has a huge part to play and, in the next five to 10 years, we as a country will see a revolution in how we approach it. Getting the market right is an essential prerequisite for that revolution.

Following on from the previous question, my constituency is well placed for microgeneration in both hydroelectric and wind power. One of the problems that potential microgenerators face is that the local electricity transmission company, Scottish Power, is less than enthusiastic about assisting them. There is one particular scheme on which I would like the Minister’s advice at some point, if I cannot get the company to see reason. All the money has been spent, the scheme has been put together, but the company has turned round and said, “The grid here won’t take that amount of power.” That is absolutely nonsensical. It cuts across everything the Government are trying to do and goes against common sense. If I cannot get the company to see reason, will the Minister look at the problem if I send him the papers?

Yes, of course I will be happy to help if I can. We have a huge, £750 million programme involving the energy supply companies to encourage the diversification that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, so I will certainly look at the matter.

The Government have proposed building a barrage across the River Severn to harness the second largest tidal range in the world. In welcoming my hon. Friend to his post and recognising the importance of tackling climate change and finding alternative sources of energy, may I also ask him to bear in mind the fact that the Severn is one of the most important sites in the UK for its mudflats, sandbanks and reefs and that environmental protection is also a major issue for the Government?

My hon. Friend puts her finger on exactly the sorts of dilemmas and paradoxes that have been raised in previous questions. For the record, the Government are not proposing the barrier at the moment; we are looking at the matter and expect a report shortly. It is a question of balance. The protection of the environment at the expense of damaging the environment is one of the most difficult choices that we face in politics, which is why we must give the decision proper consideration.

May I warmly welcome the new team to their positions? We can all agree that the UK has huge untapped potential for renewable energy, but, sadly, as some Members have already commented, the renewables obligation, for all the billions that it has taken from consumers in recent years, has failed to deliver large-scale investment in a host of new technologies, such as wave and tidal power. At the other end of the spectrum, the low-carbon buildings programme to support micro-renewables is a complete shambles. However, the new energy efficiency commitment—EEC—that will replace the low-carbon buildings programme is set to be even more problematic. Can the Minister name a single innovative renewable technology that will be better supported under EEC3?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s kind words in welcoming the new team. We reciprocate and welcome his new team. It is uncharitable of him to describe the scheme in the way that he has. There are many examples of improvements in the area of the low-carbon buildings programme—I have a document giving examples that runs to three pages. I do not propose to read them out, Mr. Speaker, because you would not let me, but I am more than happy to put the document on the website for hon. Members who are interested in reading in it.

Climate Change (Food Security)

In 2006, DEFRA published a study on food security that concluded that the UK, as a rich and open economy, has a very robust and diverse food supply. However, the study also recognised the need to manage the various risks, including climate change, that are associated with modern food chains, as well as the food security challenges facing developing countries.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Front Bench. Corn prices have started to rise because land is being used for biofuels, although that might be a welcome development. However, climate change could lead not only to an increase in food prices, but to a reduction in the world’s food stocks. In that context, is she satisfied that the models on which DEFRA is working are robust enough to allow us to cope with whatever climate change produces globally?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Nothing is absolutely certain when it comes to climate change, although we believe that our models are robust enough. Global self-sufficiency should not be taken for granted. We will continue to monitor trends, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s analysis of trends on global food production and demand. Climate change is certainly making patterns of world food production more volatile. In those circumstances, international trade can help us to pool risks and enhance food security.

I remind my hon. Friend that the UK sources food from 34 countries, with no more than 13 per cent. of imports coming from any one of them, so our risk is carefully balanced. He would be right in thinking that the risks are at their most acute in developing countries. I am delighted that DEFRA is working in both India and China to try to increase the capacity to mitigate and adapt to the impact of climate change on agriculture.

It is estimated that 600,000 people in the world today are either underfed or undernourished. By 2050, there will be another 3 billion people—a 50 per cent. increase in the world’s population. Given that the stocks of wheat and other food commodities are low, certainly compared with those in recent years, will the new Minister undertake to examine DEFRA’s approach to food security and to ensure that UK farmers play their full part in feeding not only this nation, but the world? A hungry nation is not a happy nation.

Indeed. We have to make a distinction between this country’s food security and global food security. Given what I said in answer to the previous question, I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that we are pretty confident about the position here because of the diversity of sources from which we draw our food supplies and our very effective international trade. Europe as a whole is 90 per cent. self-sufficient in food. However, he is right to point out the plight of people in developing countries. The Government’s record, through the Department for International Development, is second to none in giving support to developing countries, especially on agriculture, water and other ways in which we can help them to secure their future food supplies. He will know that the provision of food and the periods of hunger in developing countries are not always directly linked to food production—poverty is an enormous factor. It is for other Ministers to discuss the complexities of the situation, but we must play our part, as I believe DEFRA is doing.

It is a pleasure to see that my hon. Friend, an environmental campaigner, is now an Environment Minister. Does she agree that, whether we are considering food security or the G8 and World Bank meeting today and tomorrow in Paris on deforestation, there is a feeling that although climate change is very important, the response is fragmented? There is no cohesive and focused response globally, internationally, or even in this country. Will she work with her colleagues in her new job to ensure that we have an overarching and focused response to climate change?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Through the Climate Change Bill, which the Government expect to introduce in the autumn, we will attempt to take a comprehensive approach for the first time, at least in this country. It will concentrate primarily on mitigation, but of course we will also consider adaptation. This country has played a leading role in the international community, but my hon. Friend is right to point to the fact that many people have still not grasped the absolute urgency of the issue and the fact that it is global, that we are all in this together, that the blame game does not work, and that we have to work internationally. We must put our own house in order; otherwise, we cannot possibly expect to get the international agreements that we seek.

Does the Minister accept that it is an ill-conceived policy to subsidise the production of biofuels, as that forces up the price of agricultural land and so forces up the cost of food at home? That requires us to import more food from overseas. Is it not a ludicrous policy, and is it not based on a failure to understand that climate change is essentially a natural phenomenon?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman completely ruined his case with his final remark. He must know that the vast majority of the world scientific community is now united in believing that the effects of climate change are primarily man-made. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has said repeatedly, it is a question of balance: we need biofuels until we can, for example, move to a new generation of vehicles that allow us to bypass the use of fossil fuels. There is a need for biofuels, and we will have to act in a sustainable way. Under the renewable transport fuel obligation, we will require obligated companies to report publicly on the life-cycle carbon savings and wider sustainability impacts of their biofuels, taking into account biodiversity and previous land use. In this country, we will ensure that we take account of all the effects of biofuels. Of course, many biofuels, such as those derived from forestry, are not alternatives to food crops. The issue is complex and it is a matter of balance, but we do need both biofuels and food crops.

I sincerely welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities. We look forward to her future ministerial pronouncements on issues such as genetically modified food and nuclear power, on which she has a track record of robust opinion. I detect that her heart was not entirely in the line on food security that she read out at the beginning of her answer to the question. In 2003, her Department issued a statement that said:

“National food security is neither necessary nor is it desirable”.

In 2005, the joint DEFRA-Treasury document “A Vision for the CAP” stated:

“domestic production is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for food security”,

implying that if we run out of British-produced food, we can simply import it from abroad. A couple of months ago, the former Secretary of State reiterated that position, but in the light of the fact that around the world deserts are growing, droughts are increasing, food crops are being replaced by fuel crops, and the global population is rising sharply, does she not think it is time to have another look at whether Departments should be so casual about our ability to feed ourselves?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks; they were a bit mixed, but I can handle that. He spoke about food security, but food security is about ensuring that consumers have access to a stable and adequate supply of food. The issue of where that food comes from is not necessarily the key to food security. I accept entirely what he says about risks; as I said in previous answers, we are conscious of risks, and we must always be conscious of them. We are evaluating risks, and we remain in touch with the Food and Agriculture Organisation, but the point on UK food production is that self-sufficiency is best seen as a broad indicator of UK agricultural competitiveness, which he knows is actually extremely good. In criticising the Department, the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong foot. Food security is about ensuring that consumers have a supply. We are confident that that is the case, as I explained in my previous answers.

Supermarkets

5. What recent discussions he has had with supermarkets on the prices of foodstuffs provided by suppliers. (150591)

Ministers have held a number of meetings with supermarkets, but not specifically on prices paid to suppliers. Supermarkets’ relations with their suppliers are currently being looked at by the Competition Commission as part of its inquiry into the grocery market.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s elevation from the Whips Office to the Front Bench. The next time he goes shopping in Tesco, will he reflect on the anecdotal evidence that a large number of suppliers are very concerned about the fact that the big supermarkets, Tesco included, are using their monopoly power to force down the prices of foodstuffs offered by suppliers? I know that an inquiry is under way, but will he see what he can do, as the Minister, to check on the evidence?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. We need to get to the heart of the matter. There is a widely held belief that large supermarkets have a stranglehold on suppliers. That has been said with respect to dairy farmers particularly. We should support the investigation by the Competition Commission and welcome the fact that it will focus on dairy farming. My noble Friend Lord Rooker has written to the Competition Commission—we have made a submission. We will not comment on the outcome at this stage, but when the investigation is complete, we will. We look forward to the evidence that the commission presents.

I welcome the new Minister to his position and I wish him well. I am delighted that he has mentioned dairy farming. It is a matter that I raised in the House only a few days ago. The dairy industry is in crisis. In my constituency, in the years that I have represented it, more than 50 per cent. of the dairy farms it once had are no longer in existence. One village which was all dairy, North Rode, now has no dairy farms. Will the Minister talk to the superstores and supermarkets—not just with their suppliers, but about the producers, and the prices that the producers get? We have a wonderful country for both dairying and the production of food. Let us use it to the advantage of this country and of people in other countries who are starving.

Order. I must appeal to hon. Members. They should put a supplementary question. When they speak for too long, it puts other Back Benchers at a disadvantage. That should go on the record.

I thank the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) for that question. When any business collapses, it is painful, but when a farm collapses it affects all of us, because farmers are the stewards of our countryside. We have seen a decrease in the dairy industry of about 6 per cent. over the past five years, but that is not specific to Britain. It has happened in Greece, Spain and Portugal. However, we are seeing price rises now at the farm gate. The dairy industry needs to move into other products, such as cheeses and organic yoghurts, as happens in Northern Ireland, where the industry relies more on the export market and prices are rising higher. We should eat British cheese—there are 750 varieties, more than in France—followed by British strawberries, preferably from the garden of England.

Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am about the hype of so-called organic foods by the supermarkets, which is obviously resulting in higher profits for them, but not necessarily for the growers here in Britain or in faraway places such as Kenya?

I welcome the point that my hon. Friend makes. We want a fair deal for farmers in Britain and for farmers in developing countries as well, so that they can profit. It is vital that labelling, particularly of organic products, is accurate. Supermarkets should be clear that when they tell the consumer that their product is organic, it should indeed be organic.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that we live in a capitalist system? Does he recognise that some of these supermarkets produce the most efficient delivery systems for foodstuffs in the world? Does he recognise that to try to change that philosophy is probably a bit more than he and his Department are capable of? Does he recognise that free trade—

I always recognise my hon. Friend. I take on board his points, but I think it is important that we get the balance right in the relationship between the supplier and the supermarket, as both require certainty and flexibility in today’s world.

Equine Welfare

6. When he expects to introduce (a) licensing of livery yards and (b) regulations on tethering as provided for by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. (150593)

It is the Government’s intention to introduce secondary legislation on livery yards, and a code of practice will be introduced as soon as possible and in line with resources.

That was not a terribly illuminating response, I am afraid. May I point out to the Minister that as many riding establishments are licensed, it seems correct that livery yards should be licensed in the same way? Does he intend that those approved by the British Horse Society should still require a licence from the local authority? With regard to tethering, is it his intention that the travelling population should comply with the rules that he introduces? Would he be prepared to attend the all-party group on the horse, which I have the honour of chairing, to discuss these matters?

To answer the last question first—yes. Also, we are considering the code for tethering. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s points about the travelling community. We do not want horses to endure tethering for long periods. As for introducing licensing, he knows that we had to make a decision during the passage of the Animal Welfare Bill, and we chose to deal with circuses and greyhounds. We are committed to introducing legislation for livery yards, but there are always competing demands on time.

When the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence on the draft Animal Welfare Bill, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told us that there were several thousand complaints a year about incorrect tethering, illegal grazing and subsequent straying, which has caused significant problems in counties such as mine. Will the Minister consider the RSPCA’s recommendation that the Government work much more closely with local authorities, particularly, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said, in areas where there are significant encampments of the travelling community?

Flooding

7. What steps he is taking to draw lessons from the recent severe flooding; and if he will make a statement. (150594)

We have set up a wide-ranging review to identify lessons to be learned from the recent flooding to help us to manage and respond to such events in future. We aim to publish initial findings by the end of the year and subsequently a formal Government report.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent appointment and on the high-quality nature of his team?

Will my right hon. Friend report to the House any discussions that he has been having with representatives of British insurers regarding the recent flooding? I have in mind the difficulties that I experienced in my constituency in 2002, when one elderly lady was rendered homeless for 12 months because a big insurance company forced her to accept the lowest bid, which meant bringing in cowboys, and she had a very unhappy time.

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. I join her in welcoming the new ministerial team at DEFRA. I am greatly looking forward to working with my colleagues.

I have already spoken to the Association of British Insurers on the issues that my hon. Friend raises, and I know of the efforts that insurance companies are making to get round to visiting people and processing claims as quickly as possible, including changing some of the arrangements whereby they would usually require more than one quote. There will be big demands on the building and repairs industry to deal with the problems that people have experienced. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, who is leading the recovery group, is also talking to the ABI about these issues.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Will he commit to ensuring that farmers such as Peter Vaughan in my constituency, who has lost 150 acres of potatoes, are guaranteed at least a large percentage of their single farm payment by Christmas? Many other members of the rural community have lost crops because of flooding, and constituents of mine in Tenbury Wells were flooded again this week. What can he do for Andrea Harrison and Mike Button of Phaze Computer Services who, despite the fact that they are not located in the rural community but in the more urban parts of my constituency, are very worried about their business?

I am acutely conscious of, and have discussed, the problems facing farmers in many constituencies, not least at last week’s Great Yorkshire show. Two issues were raised with me of which the hon. Gentleman will be aware: the cross-compliance arrangements, which normally prevent farmers from going on to waterlogged land, and the use of set-aside land for grazing and foraging. I went away to consider them, and within 24 hours we lifted the rules on cross-compliance and waterlogged land until the end of this month to enable farmers to get on to the land and do what they can to rescue their crops. By notifying the Rural Payments Agency, they are able to use set-aside land for grazing and foraging—unless the agency says there is a difficulty—in recognition of the fact that the land they would otherwise use is currently underwater.

We made those changes in direct response to representations made to me. We set the RPA a target for 2007—it having achieved the target of paying 96 per cent. of the money due by 30 June by reaching a figure of 98 per cent.—of paying 75 per cent. of the amount due by the end of March and 90 per cent. by the end of May. We shall look further at the position in the autumn.

I met the agency’s chief executive yesterday; I recognise that the service it has provided has not been acceptable, but things are improving. I am determined that we shall maintain that improvement and I am grateful to agency staff for their efforts.

Single Farm Payment Scheme

I reported to the House on 2 July that, as at 30 June, the Rural Payments Agency had paid out 98 per cent. of the estimated total funds, thus meeting its target for this year. The agency continues to work on the remaining single payment scheme claims, including cases where entitlements may need to be adjusted.

The Secretary of State has acknowledged the mind-boggling incompetence of the RPA in the past, and we look forward to dramatic improvements. Is he aware of increased problems for those who farm on both sides of the Welsh border, owing to a failure to think through the implications of devolved agriculture for cross-border farms? Why are English farmers further disadvantaged by the fact that modulation is much higher in England, and in Scotland too, amounting to almost 10 per cent. of entitlement?

On top of compulsory modulation under the common agricultural policy, we have decided to have a greater degree of voluntary modulation. I think that that is the right policy. I shall go away and consider the specific issue the hon. Lady raises about farmers farming on both sides of the border.

Every Member recognises that this has not been a happy episode for the RPA, but I hope that the hon. Lady will acknowledge the steps that have been taken to try to improve the service. We should encourage agency staff to continue that work, and my noble Friend Lord Rooker has been holding surgeries at which Members can talk to him about individual cases. Those are continuing. I say to all hon. Members whose farmer constituents are experiencing difficulties, that they can talk to us about individual cases, and we shall do our best to sort them out.

Solicitor-General

The Solicitor-General was asked—

Domestic Violence

14. What steps she is taking to raise awareness of Crown Prosecution Service measures to tackle domestic violence, with particular reference to Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. (150577)

Yesterday, we published the Crown Prosecution Service’s annual snapshot survey of domestic violence cases, which shows that convictions are 66 per cent.—up by 20 per cent. since 2003, with 6 per cent. fewer cases being discontinued—and the number of cases recorded has doubled since 2002. There has been some success, and the latest figure suggests that complainants are starting to believe that they will be made safe and helped if they complain, and are therefore coming forward more. That should help to raise awareness in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and elsewhere.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply and commend her and the Department on the success that they are achieving. The local Crown Prosecution Service in Blackpool—and, indeed, across Lancashire—is working closely with a variety of agencies to support the victims of domestic violence. However, some people still do not realise that changes have taken place and remain worried that perhaps they will not receive the sympathetic hearing that my hon. and learned Friend mentioned. What further steps can she take, working through a variety of agencies, to offer reassurances so that victims come forward and are heard, and that prosecutions take place?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a lack of confidence among complainants, approximately 94 per cent. of whom are women because, historically when they have come forward, they have not been taken seriously. My hon. Friend is doing a good job of publicising the changes at the moment. The fact that we label courts as domestic violence specialist courts makes it clear that they are places to which people have recourse.

However, the CPS has in recent years worked overwhelmingly with local non-governmental organisations and told them the sort of services it can offer. They are likely to be the place of first resort for domestic violence complainants if they come forward and I therefore hope that there is a continuum of information through that mechanism.

Female genital mutilation is one of the most grievous forms of domestic violence in this country. Does it not shock and concern the Solicitor-General that, despite legislation that was passed in 2003 to prevent it, only one person has been investigated? As far I can discover through freedom of information requests, not one person has been prosecuted for that most grievous and wicked crime.

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman’s support in our attempts to tackle that grievous and often hidden crime. It is not easy to tackle—it is not easy to bring complainants forward or deal with them when they do come forward. However, we have no lack of political will to do that. If the hon. Gentleman can help us, I would be pleased to meet him and discuss the matter further. It will be a priority for my noble Friend the Attorney-General and me.

Disclosure (Offenders)

16. If she will discuss with the senior presiding judge the guidance on disclosure to courts of information on prolific and priority offenders. (150580)

I do not currently have plans to discuss the guidance, which has recently been reviewed, with the senior presiding judge. It is not the label “prolific and priority offender” that is important to the court when it sentences, but its function in ensuring that the defendant’s full offending history and the risks of reoffending are before the court so that it can sentence appropriately.

I urge the Solicitor-General to reconsider speaking to the presiding judge because the problem in Kettering and north Northamptonshire is that the police catch the prolific and priority offenders, bring them before the courts, but all too often they are let back out on the streets on bail, only to reoffend immediately. The police are tearing their hair out, and I suggest that it is up to her to ascertain whether she can persuade the Crown Prosecution Service and the Courts Service to do something about that.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to tell me that such a problem was certainly perceived in his constituency. A “premium service” has been set up in the criminal justice system generally to deal with PPOs. Like many criminal justice issues, it is intended to be co-ordinated through the local criminal justice boards. The intention is that the police and the CPS share the targets for tackling PPOs, and the premium service consists of getting people to court more quickly, increasing multi-agency co-operation and listing cases quickly so that the sort of problem that the hon. Gentleman raises should not arise. We can only do our utmost to ensure that all the evidence of the local harm that PPOs cause is before the courts so that they can be rigorously sentenced.

I welcome the steps that the Solicitor-General and her predecessors have taken, but it is important that the information is accurate. Will she assure hon. Members that, when multi agencies approach the subject, the information gathering is done efficiently and the information is accurate and disclosed to the defendant?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. One reliable way of ensuring that the information that comes before the court is accurate is to ensure that it is agreed, as it were, by both parties to the case. As I have said, the CPS has been marked over the past few years by its ability to work closely with, and to enlist the support of, NGOs and other public sector and criminal agencies, to ensure that it makes progress in priority areas such as PPOs. Of course the CPS has a duty to try to ensure that the information that comes from those outside sources is accurate before it puts it before the courts.

The Solicitor-General will be aware that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) raised is about concrete examples brought to him of what one sometimes hears anecdotally from elsewhere. Is not the basic problem, if it exists in this form, nothing to do with whether there are prolific or priority offenders, but simply failures by the CPS in presenting cases in court to bring to the court’s attention previous convictions and previous breaches of bail? It is difficult to gauge the extent to which that might be happening, but will the Solicitor-General consider whether the Crown Prosecution Service should conduct a review of how such information is presented to the court? If my hon. Friend is right, something that can be easily rectified is not being addressed, but if it were, it would go a long way towards dealing with such cases much better.

I take from that what I hope and expect is support from the hon. Gentleman for saying that it would not help to put the label “PPO” before the court. What is imperative is to ensure that the full history of offending is put before the court. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) has raised an important point. We will look across the board at how well we are doing that work. If I found deficits, I would have no hesitation in asking the inspectorate to look at the position.

The debate so far illustrates how well the system can work when there are guidelines in place for which the Solicitor-General is accountable to the House. Does she accept that there is a case for maintaining that system, with the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General on one side and the prosecution service on the other, so that instead of discussions and instructions on specific individual prosecutions, the relationship is always one where the Law Officers give guidelines to prosecutors?

The hon. Gentleman and I were both involved in a debate about the roles of the prosecutors and the Law Officers respectively as recently as Monday. I believe that the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee is due to publish a report on the issue imminently, or that it has just published one. We shall publish a consultation document, I hope next week, which will look at the role of the Law Officers in that and a number of other regards. That is consonant with “The Governance of Britain”, which the Prime Minister announced a few weeks ago. We intend to encourage all sorts of participation throughout the House of Commons and elsewhere to ensure that we get the model for the Law Officers right for the 21st century.

Targets (Police and CPS)

17. What steps she has taken to ensure that targets set for the Crown Prosecution Service do not conflict with targets set for police forces in England and Wales. (150581)

The Law Officers agree public service agreement performance targets for the criminal justice system with the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor. Common performance targets help to ensure that there are no conflicts between the targets for the police and those for the Crown Prosecution Service, or at least minimum ones.

With respect to the Solicitor-General, I beg to differ on that point. Does she share my concern that often, and mysteriously, the targets set for the police require a higher evidence threshold than those set for the Crown Prosecution Service? Police forces such as West Mercia work hard to bring criminals before the courts, only to find that they are put at the bottom of the pile because the CPS has another target to meet, and that, whatever the evidence produced by the police, it is not brought before to court, meaning that criminals go free.

Quite honestly, I do not think so. The levels of evidence required before the Crown Prosecution Service will bring a prosecution are extremely well known. They have been in place in the code for Crown prosecutors for many years and were very clear even before that was drafted. They are well known to the police. There can be no real difference in the standards required of the two organisations. Local criminal justice boards ought to ensure that there is good co-ordination between police and prosecutors across a whole range of issues—indeed, across all issues. If there are specific difficulties in the hon. Gentleman’s area that he wants to draw to my attention, I hope that he will do so. I will ensure that they are forwarded.

ROYAL ASSENT

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007

Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2007

Finance Act 2007

Mental Health Act 2007

Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007

Vehicle Registration Marks Act 2007

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007

Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007

Whitehaven Harbour Act 2007

London Local Authorities Act 2007

Business of the House

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.

House of Lords Reform

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the way forward on reform of the House of Lords.

On 7 March 2007, after the free votes in both Houses, I said that I would make arrangements to reconvene the cross-party working group and that, after discussions with that group, I would return to the House to make a statement outlining the Government’s plans. Those free votes marked the fulfilment of the specific terms of one of our manifesto commitments on Lords reform. While the votes were an important milestone, we must not now lose the opportunity to make further and more fundamental reform happen.

In March, this House voted overwhelmingly—indeed, by a majority of 113—for a wholly elected House of Lords. It backed by a margin of 38 a substantially elected House based on an 80 per cent. elected and a 20 per cent. appointed element. It also voted by a majority of 280 to remove the remaining hereditary peers. As part of a comprehensive package of reforms, the Government are committed to removing the anomaly of the remaining hereditary peers, in line with the will of this House.

As this House will be aware, at the same time the other place voted for a wholly appointed House by a majority of 240. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement of 3 July that we should proceed in line with the wishes of this House, which all accept is the primary Chamber. That approach was underlined in the Green Paper on constitutional reform, “The Governance of Britain”, which I published on the same day. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are committed by their 2005 manifestos to a substantially elected House of Lords. [Interruption.] There was no commitment in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos to a free vote.

Tomorrow in the other place Lord Steel’s private Member’s Bill on Lords reform will have its Second Reading. My noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will expand on our response when he speaks in that debate; suffice it now to say that the Bill does not contain the comprehensive reform that is the clear will of this House.

The cross-party talks before the free votes were successful in building up a significant degree of consensus on a range of issues, as reflected in the White Paper on House of Lords reform, which I published in February. I believe that this is the best way of proceeding. I shall continue to lead the cross-party talks, and since the free votes, we have held two further meetings. Given that all three main parties are committed by their manifestos to further reform of the House of Lords, it is right that the group should consist of Front-Bench representatives of the parties, as well as representatives from the Cross Benchers and the Lords Spiritual, but of course we want the widest possible consensus, and I intend to make arrangements so that we can take proper account of the views of all parliamentarians, including non-party independent Members, and interest groups and the public.

The White Paper adumbrated the view that the consensus was for a hybrid House involving a 50 per cent. elected and a 50 per cent. appointed element. However, since both Houses rejected that option—notwithstanding my advocacy of it, or perhaps because of my advocacy of it—we will have to proceed with remodelling our work based on an 80 per cent. or 100 per cent. elected House of Lords.

Although there is agreement on some of the areas outlined in the White Paper, there is still some way to go on some other issues. The group will discuss the outstanding elements of the reform package, including powers, electoral systems, financial packages, and the balance and size of the House, including diversity and gender issues. We will also need to discuss the transition towards a reformed House in detail, including the position of the existing life peers and the need for action to avoid gratuitously cutting Conservative party representation in the Lords when and if the remaining hereditary peers are removed.

Let me turn to the powers of a reformed House. The Government have always said that the balance of powers between the two Houses described by the excellent and recent Cunningham report should apply to a reformed House. Those powers are currently underpinned by some statutory provisions, standing orders and conventions. We undertook to look further at whether the current conventions were adequate to ensure the desired relationship with a reformed House, following the free votes.

Over the coming months, we will look at how best to deliver a substantially or wholly elected second Chamber, based on the principle that this House is the primary Chamber and that an elected House of Lords should complement the House of Commons and not be a rival to it. As part of that programme of work it is vital that the relative powers of a reformed House be made clear. We will therefore look at ways to enshrine in a constitutional settlement the current balance of powers and the different roles of the two Houses.

The Government are determined to proceed with this programme of reform with a view to its completion. In dealing with such a central element of the constitution, it is right that there be as much all-party agreement as possible. I accept that there may well not be total agreement, but the constitution does not belong to any one party and it should not be used as a partisan tool.

The immediate next steps are that I hope to be able to publish a further White Paper around the turn of the year setting out where we have got to in the cross-party talks—possibly accompanied by draft clauses that would form elements of the final reform Bill. Our intention through the work of the cross-party group is to formulate a comprehensive reform package that we would put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election and which hopefully the other main parties would include in their manifestos. [Interruption.] There may of course be areas on which each party takes a different view—and we have heard some of them already. However, there is the potential to reach a degree of cross-party consensus that will lead to the completion of Lords reform. The free votes in the Commons in March gave us a clear direction of travel on an issue that has dogged the country for decades. We now have a chance finally to finish the job.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement and for his courtesy in letting me have sight of it in advance. At the outset, may I pay tribute to his considerable efforts to move forwards on the issue of Lords reform and the way in which he is attempting to do so by consensus? It has not always been an easy journey for him and he has gracefully departed from his own preferred option of a hybrid half-elected, half-appointed Lords—or rather, that option departed from him. It is dead. In fact, it was never alive. In March, this House voted for a substantially elected second Chamber. I welcome the Lord High Chancellor to the ranks of those of us—the majority—who voted for the democratic option.

Following the votes in March, does the Lord Chancellor remember saying on the “Today” programme:

“There’s now a momentum behind change…Members of Parliament want a wholly or predominantly elected House of Lords. It’s now our duty to deliver that”?

But how much momentum is there? Today he said that the Government are determined to complete Lords reform—but when? It seems that his new ambition is to secure a manifesto commitment for reform at the next election, but that election may not be held for another two or three years and the Labour party first had a manifesto commitment on the issue in 1992. Is not the real message in his statement that Lords reform is on ice until after the next election?

There will be another White Paper and possibly draft clauses, but can the Lord Chancellor confirm that he has no plans to introduce legislation to deliver a substantially elected upper House in this Parliament?

It is now eight years since Parliament embarked on stage 1 of reform. Does the Lord Chancellor—

Order. It would be very helpful if hon. Members waited for the initial statement and response to be completed before making their contributions.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is now eight years since Parliament embarked on stage 1 of reform. Does the Lord Chancellor recall that when the Government agreed that 92 hereditary peers would remain in the House of Lords pending further reform, his predecessor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, told the Lords that the retention of those peers reflected

“a compromise negotiated between Privy Councillors on Privy Council terms and binding in honour on all those who have come to give it their assent”?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 March 1999; Vol. 599, c. 207.]

As one of those Privy Councillors, will the Lord Chancellor confirm that he remains bound in honour, that the promise made then holds good, and that, although he repeats the Government’s commitment to remove the remaining hereditary peers, that will not happen unless and until stage 2 of the reforms is complete?

In 1924, Winston Churchill said:

“if we are to leave the venerable if somewhat crumbled rock on which the House of Lords now stands, there is no safe foothold until we come to an elected chamber.”

Will the Lord Chancellor clarify the Government’s stance on the Bill introduced by Lord Steel, which will be debated in the other place tomorrow? The Bill would gradually remove hereditary peers, eventually leaving an all-appointed Lords. The Lord Chancellor merely said that “the Bill does not contain the comprehensive reform that is the clear will of this House,” but given that the Bill breaches Lord Irvine’s undertaking and is clearly incompatible with a predominantly elected Lords, surely the Government should oppose it. If they do not, what conclusion can we draw about their seriousness in taking reform forward?

The whole House will agree with the Lord Chancellor that the Commons must be the primary Chamber and that an elected Lords should complement the Commons and not be a rival to it, but after the Cunningham report on parliamentary conventions, the powers of the upper House are more closely defined than ever before. This House has the purse strings and the Parliament Acts, while the upper House has the power to delay. When the Lord Chancellor says that he wishes to look again at the adequacy of the conventions governing the relationship between the two Houses, does he accept that maintaining the primacy of this House should not mean weakening the Lords? It should mean strengthening Parliament as a whole so that the Executive can be held properly to account.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s comment that the constitution does not belong to any one party and that it should not be used as a party tool. It is important that we move forward on the basis of consensus—[Interruption.] Does he understand the profound concern among Conservative Members about the existing White Paper’s proposals for electoral systems and constituencies? An electoral system that is based on closed lists and large, artificial, multi-member constituencies would keep power in the hands of party bosses. We cannot accept the removal of the independence and authority of the present Lords unless real democratic accountability is put in its place. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that we should aim for a strong revising second Chamber with democratic legitimacy, not a House of party placemen? [Interruption.]

We want to build a second Chamber with legitimacy, authority and the ability to play a full part in holding the Executive to account. We will work constructively with the Government in their search for consensus to that end. However, the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 said:

“it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation”.

Does not the Lord Chancellor’s statement indicate that far from being able “finally to finish the job”, as he said, we remain, nearly a century later, in precisely the same position: intending reform, but still waiting?

That was all very interesting. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on trying to have it both ways. One understands why he did so, given the extent of the division on the issue in his party. He did very well to get through his contribution, notwithstanding the noises directly behind him that punctuated his speech. I was reminded of the late Iain Macleod’s commentary that when one is speaking from the Front Bench, while one might have the opposition in front of one, one always has the enemy behind—[Interruption.] On this occasion, I look behind me and see nothing but friends. One or two still need re-education, but that is another matter.

I am glad that the Conservative party has been engaged in a process of Pauline conversion. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of why the preamble to the 1911 Parliament Act said that the process would take a long time. That was due to the opposition not of the Liberal or Labour parties, but of the Conservative party. It was wonderful that in 2005—at long last—the Conservative party included a commitment on the matter in its manifesto. The Liberals and the Labour party have been promising such change since 1910, although we have had some difficulty delivering it.

There will unquestionably be opposition from the other place, but I want us to get this through without a train wreck. We will do that if each party gives a clear manifesto commitment to going for a wholly or substantially elected second Chamber with the balance of power between the two Chambers as it is described now, although not necessarily in the conventions. I believe that that will be my party’s position and although this is a matter for the Liberal party, I am pretty certain that it will be its position. The question is whether that will be the Conservatives’ position. Is it true, as I am told, that the Leader of the Opposition went to a meeting of Conservative Back Benchers earlier this year—he might not have done this, but it has never been denied when I have put it privately to Conservative Members—and said, to calm a rebellion, that as far as the Conservatives were concerned, if they were elected to government, Lords reform would be a “third-term issue”?

The hon. Gentleman confirms that that was said. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), as a radical in the shadow Cabinet, needs to ensure that he moves the rather backward-leaning Leader of the Opposition towards his position.

The hon. Gentleman asked me whether we would stick to what Lord Irvine of Lairg said in his statement on the compromise that led to the eccentric provision under which 92 hereditary peers were elected by their hereditary peers, with the process perpetuating itself through elections involving those peers. In the end, that is a matter for the House. Let me remind him that Division No. 71 in this Session took place on an amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) to a motion that I moved. My motion stated:

“That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed”,

and the amendment would have added the words

“once elected members have taken their places in a reformed House of Lords.”

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs was one of the 241 Members who voted for the amendment—I happened to vote against it.

After the amendment had been knocked out, there was a Division on the main Question:

“That this House is of the opinion that the remaining retained places for peers whose membership is based on the hereditary principle should be removed”—

full stop, without any qualification. The whole issue was whether the House supported Lord Irvine of Lairg’s position. Guess what, Mr. Deputy Speaker? The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten what happened, but surprisingly, I cannot find his name anywhere in the list of Members who voted No. However, one of the 391 Members who voted in the Aye Lobby was “Herbert, Nick”. It might be that someone else of that name managed to secrete themselves in the Lobby, but I think that it was the hon. Gentleman. He supported the decision that was agreed by a majority of 280, that the hereditary peers should be removed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the adequacy of the conventions and the maintenance of the primacy of this House. I do not think that there is a huge division among the parties on that. My speeches on 6 March and 7 March made it clear that I accept the principle that the question of powers is not a zero-sum game. There is not a quantum of power in the building that can exist only at one end or the other. Throughout my period in the House, I have been committed to making Parliament more effective. I accept that that involves making it more effective at both ends of the building, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that the workings of the Government and Parliament would become impossible if one House did not have primacy. Perhaps he wants to go down the route of bicameral parliaments that just achieve deadlock, but he should consider the fact that some European countries cannot be governed because there is no clarity about which chamber has power.

We do not disagree with the description set out in Cunningham 2 of the balance of powers of the two Chambers. I hope that the totality of power of both Chambers together will grow. However, we take issue with whether the conventions are adequate, and Lord Wakeham supports us in that respect.

My last point—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Well, I always try to give full answers, especially when I am involved in a pedagogical process. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Parliament Act 1911. This has taken a long time, but I hope that he recognises that we have made considerable progress. If the Conservative party makes a commitment in its manifesto, we certainly can, in the first couple of years of the next Parliament, complete this job.

Order. May I say to the House that this is a statement, not a debate? If possible, may we have brief questions and, if the Secretary of State would not mind, brief answers?

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not mind if I say that the implication of his statement is that comprehensive reform of the House of Lords is not an immediate prospect. I hope that he will not set his face against a more limited reform measure that would put the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory basis, separate the honours system from service in the second Chamber, and give the House of Lords the ability to remove people who bring dishonour on it.

I have two quick answers. First, to get to where we want to go, we have to make clear progress, but in the absence of categorical manifesto commitments from the three parties, we would simply find ourselves bogged down in endless debate on the Floor of the House before the next election. I want to make clear progress, so that in the first Session of the next Parliament, we can introduce a final measure. Secondly, on a limited reform measure—that takes us back to Lord Steel’s proposal—let us see what the House of Lords says about it. One thing has to be clear: such a reform cannot be an alternative to the major reform to which the House is now committed.

The Lord Chancellor knows that we welcome his statement, his continuing interest and commitment to the subject, and his willingness to change his position to accommodate the views of the majority in all parties. He knows that the Liberal Democrats have said yes to cross-party talks, to seeking maximum agreement between the parties, to making sure that the Commons is the primary Chamber, and to making sure that we get on with the process.

If the right hon. Gentleman is really committed—and if the new Prime Minister is really committed, as last week’s announcement suggested—to a major new constitutional settlement, in which there is a properly democratic bicameral Parliament, and in which the Executive return more powers to Parliament, would it not be logical to get on with the process, rather than slow it down? That way, the Government can be seen to deliver on a final transformation of the House of Lords into a proper democratic Chamber within 100 years of the original commitment. Otherwise, we will delay the decision for another Parliament, and goodness knows what the result will be, what the balance of Parliament will be, and who will be sitting in his position and taking an interest in the subject.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect again on the fact that if there is no White Paper until the turn of the year, realistically, it will mean legislation in 2008 or 2009 at the earliest? We read reports that there might be a general election before then, and that would obviously put the process in jeopardy. Does he agree absolutely that it would not be acceptable to replace the House of Lords, whether appointed or hereditary, with a second Chamber in which the parties, rather than the people, choose who represents them?

I am grateful for the Liberal Democrats’ categorical and full-hearted support; we have not heard from them any of the cavilling that we sometimes hear from Conservative Front Benchers. The issue is really one of haste and speed. If we are too hasty, the matter will fall, and I want it to reach fulfilment. I am clear that we can get there, but there are many big issues that we have yet to determine. If that is not done, we will simply end up having hours and hours of debate on the Floor of the House without reaching conclusions, including on the electoral systems. I should just say to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs—I am sorry that I did not answer this question earlier—that I am, of course, ready to look again at the whole issue of electoral systems.