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Business of the House

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

The business for the week commencing 8 October will be:

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

Tuesday 9 October—A debate on defence procurement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 10 October—Opposition Day [19th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 11 October—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Friday 12 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 October will include:

Monday 15 October—Remaining stages of the Legal Services Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall on 11 and 18 October will be:

Thursday 11 October—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on human rights.

Thursday 18 October—A debate on the management and services of the House of Commons.

All hon. Members have a right to hold Ministers to account during the summer recess, either by tabling parliamentary questions for answer in September or by writing to the Secretary of State concerned. In addition, hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by flooding need to know that Ministers will keep them updated on a regular basis. I have therefore asked my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Communities and Local Government to write to those Members of Parliament whose constituencies are affected on a regular basis. Both my right hon. Friends will also hold a weekly telephone conference, on a Monday, to enable all those hon. Members whose constituencies have been affected by floods to be kept informed and to question the Minister concerned during the recess.

Finally, I should also like to thank the staff of the House for their continued support to all hon. Members, and the staff in the Departments who provide briefings for the weekly business statement.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the future business. May I take this opportunity to wish you, Mr. Speaker, all right hon. and hon. Members, and officers and staff of the House, a very enjoyable summer recess?

This week, we have had two statements from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the dreadful floods that have hit central and southern England and caused misery for thousands of people. We are grateful that he has kept the House and the relevant Members informed, and I am also grateful for the announcement that the Leader of the House has just made about the provisions for keeping Members whose constituencies are affected, including myself, in touch with developments over the summer recess. There are still questions to be answered, however, on the use of temporary barriers, and on why the Environment Agency has stopped regularly dredging rivers. When Parliament returns from the summer recess, may we have a debate on the flooding and the lessons to be learned from the recent floods?

Last month, the Modernisation Committee produced its report on enhancing the role of the Back Bencher. It contained excellent proposals and, if Parliament is to be strengthened, it should be implemented quickly. When will the right hon. and learned Lady bring those proposals before the House?

Three weeks ago, the Leader of the House said that she would do everything that she could

“to protect the rights of Back Benchers, to hold the Government to account”.—[Official Report, 5 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1091.]

Yesterday, she failed in her pledge when she abandoned parliamentary procedure in order to put the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) on to the Home Affairs Committee. She put the interests—

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but the House has decided on that matter. We are now debating the business for the week after the recess, so that matter should not be raised again.

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Speaker. I was about to ask about a future item of business related to a more general issue. As that was not a matter of putting the interests of the House first, will the right hon. and learned Lady provide the House with a more accurate statement of her interpretation of her role as Leader of the House, and, given that she is also the chairman of the Labour party, will she touch on the duality of her role?

On Monday, the Minister for Housing made a statement on her plans for more housing, but its contents were in the morning’s press and a BBC correspondent even had a copy the previous weekend. On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on the railways, but its contents were debated that very morning on the “Today” programme. Yesterday, the Prime Minister made his statement on the detention of terror suspects, but he had already given the story to The Sun. Will the right hon. and learned Lady take time from her other duties to ensure that all of her ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, live up to his promise to announce policy to the House first?

Also on Monday, the Prime Minister insinuated to the media—not to hon. Members—that he would consider reversing the liberalisation of licensing laws. His spin doctors later confirmed that there would be a review of policy. That comes after a half-announcement to review the classification of cannabis and a half-announcement to reverse the super-casinos policy. This is no way to announce policy, so will the Leader of the House tell the Prime Minister that if he wants to restore Parliament’s powers, he should treat hon. Members with respect?

On that same subject, the Prime Minister yesterday sneaked out 39 written statements and answers to five named day questions from Labour MPs. Those included statements on a £3.5 billion shortfall in Child Support Agency payments, plans for the abolition of 25 councils and the failure of the Youth Justice Board. Today, a further 30 written statements are planned, including one on a breach of data security for visa applications, one on the Government’s climate change target and one on the cost of ministerial cars. So much for the post-spin era. Will the right hon. and learned Lady make a statement on that abuse of written ministerial statements?

Finally, the European Council conclusions state:

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

The Labour Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee has said:

“This is a takeover of the rights of this Parliament”.

Parliament’s representative on the former Convention says:

“The case for a referendum is even stronger now”.

The right hon. and learned Lady says that she understands her duty to Parliament, so after the recess, will she make a statement on the consequences of the treaty for this sovereign Parliament?

The right hon. Lady raised the matter of the use of temporary barriers for the floods. That was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in an oral statement. He said that the siting of the equipment for these temporary barriers needed to be looked into further and that when that was done, he would report back to the House. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed that yesterday.

As to the important work of the Modernisation Committee on enhancing the role of the Back Bencher and the House, we will report back on our set of proposals for the Chamber in the autumn.

The right hon. Lady raised a point about the housing statement made by the Minister for Housing. She will know that the question of how an early version of that statement was leaked is to be the subject of a leak inquiry. I strongly believe, however, that policy announcements should be made to the House first. It is very important that Back Benchers come into the Chamber knowing that they are going to hear an announcement, and that they on behalf of their constituents, and the House on behalf of the country, are able to hold Ministers to account. We must ensure that there is both general discussion in the media, in public meetings and in our constituencies, and that specific information is announced to the House first.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the review of the policy on cannabis. Bearing in mind the evidence of the greater strength of cannabis, and new evidence of links between cannabis use and serious mental health problems, especially among the young, it is good that we are reviewing the policy and that the Prime Minister should announce that to Parliament when responding to questions. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister has made two, or three, oral statements already since becoming Prime Minister— [Interruption.]

The right hon. Lady and hon. Members can hardly say that the Prime Minister has not made enough oral statements to the House—he has made two or three. It is important that the House is told that we are going to review the classification of cannabis, and that is what he did.

It will not be news to any Member that a deadlock has been reached between this House and the other place on the super-casino question. In view of that, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was right to say that he is reflecting on the way forward, and that he will use the summer to consider the important question of how areas such as east Manchester and Blackpool should be regenerated.

The right hon. Lady complained about the number of written ministerial statements, but she has not said whether any of those should not have been made. When the summer recess is approaching, Departments must consider whether to look ahead and ensure that a written statement is made to the House, rather than either holding up decisions until October or putting them out to the media during the recess. It is simply a practical matter. If Ministers have reached decisions on important issues, it is right that they do not hold them up until October when the House returns from the recess, and that they get those decisions out through a written statement. Recently, a great many oral statements have been made—two and sometimes three a day—so she cannot be suggesting that more of the written statements should have been turned into oral statements. It is therefore right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to provide the information on the Child Support Agency in that way. I do not accept for one moment that written statements have been abused.

The right hon. Lady also raised the question of European scrutiny. As I said to her last week when she raised the issue, I have met the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we need to consider whether the House can better scrutinise European issues.

May we have a debate on the quality of and access to Jobcentre Plus services? In the last three years, changes in the delivery of welfare benefits have caused significant disruption and hardship to tens of thousands of claimants, with families waiting weeks for benefits to be processed and telephone systems overwhelmed by call volumes. Centralising the work of the Department for Work and Pensions into a tiny number of mega-centres is hitting the most vulnerable in our land very hard, and an urgent review is necessary.

I hear the point that my hon. Friend has raised and I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I reassert and agree with my hon. Friend that the work of Jobcentre Plus is important. Those who can work should be helped into work and the benefits system is important not only to provide support for those who cannot work, but to top up the pay of those in work to ensure that work pays.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and I join her and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in thanking those who work for the House and who serve us in preparing for our business. I also join them in wishing everyone a good break; I will come back to the length of it in a moment.

In relation to the business for the first week back after the summer recess, I repeat my request that the Leader of the House should over the summer reflect on the fact that it is inappropriate to start with the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which we know will get barely any way down the track before we have the end of the parliamentary year, and which will then be amended. I ask her to say that, by agreement over the holiday, that Bill could be taken off the agenda for that Monday. Instead, for example, we could have a debate on the Monday about the consequences of the flooding, because that will be the first opportunity to do so.

On the Tuesday, rather than have a limited defence debate on procurement, we could have a more wide-ranging defence debate on Iraq and Afghanistan. The country would expect, if we have been out of this place for some weeks, that the troops serving abroad and what they are doing for us all should be the subject of scrutiny and review at the earliest possible opportunity, given the danger and importance of what they do.

I request that we add another matter to the business when we come back: the implications of the cuts in rail subsidy. People are encouraged to be environmentally responsible. Some will go on holiday by train. They will have heard that train fares are going up even further because the subsidy is being cut. That is not a popular move and, well before the beginning of the next financial year, and ideally in the first week back, we need to look at the way we pay for the rail industry and the amount that we charge people, because out there in the real world that has a huge impact on the budgets of families who often need to use rail services.

On domestic matters, following what happened yesterday and looking ahead, as the Leader of the House is now on the Modernisation Committee will she reflect on the fact that, if we are to have large numbers of written statements, they should at least do what they say they will do? She gave us a written statement today saying that the Government response to the Modernisation Committee report on petitions and early-day motions would be in the Vote Office, but it was not available when we started this exchange.

May we have an early debate on petitions and early-day motions that have more than 300 signatures—there is an important one on illegal logging and another important one on carers—and may we, as a matter of course, debate motions that have huge support in the House? Lastly, may we have a serious discussion again under the right hon. Lady’s leadership as soon as we come back on whether it is justifiable for the House of Commons in the United Kingdom to go away for 10 weeks when the rest of the country, if they are lucky, go away for two or three? We cannot justify it and we need to debate it again. We need to return to the bad decision, in my view, that we made some weeks ago.

On the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir Ronald Flanagan will be giving his interim report in the summer. That Bill will then be considered in the usual way. If any amendments are to be brought forward by the Government or by hon. Members, the question will be whether they are within the remit of the long title, but I have heard the points that the hon. Gentleman has made and no doubt they will be reflected on by the Home Secretary as well.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there could be a debate on flooding when the House returns. I can assure all hon. Members that the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will keep the House updated, possibly by way of written or oral statements, but they have come forward with as much information as they possibly can. If there is a need for a debate over and above the statement, no doubt my right hon. Friends will seek such a debate.

There will be a debate on Tuesday 9 October on defence procurement, and that would be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the important issue of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a full statement on the railways on Tuesday and I am sure that, like all hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman was pleased to hear that more freight is now going by rail, passenger numbers are up and regulation of fares continues. We all want to see the contribution that the railways can make to tackling climate change stepped up. That is the view across Government.

Hon. Members will know of the suggestion to update the antiquated process that means that petitions have to be in a particular form of words, otherwise they cannot be submitted, and simply get put in the bag behind Mr. Speaker’s chair. I thank the Procedure Committee for the important work that it has done on the question of petitioning Parliament. It made many useful suggestions and the Government’s response has been published and will be available from the Vote Office by the end of today.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether early-day motions that have attracted great concern could be the subject of a debate once a certain number of Members had signed them. However, it is always open to hon. Members to apply to debate issues on the Adjournment or to seek a Westminster Hall debate.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the question of the House sitting in September has been the subject of experiment, and the House has voted on the issue. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and—I hope—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) received an advance copy of the document on petitions. It was certainly my intention that they should have an advance copy, but I hope that all hon. Members will be able to obtain a copy from the Vote Office shortly.

When does the Leader of the House expect to be able to publish the report by the Senior Salaries Review Body on pay and allowances for Members of Parliament and when will the House be able to debate it?

When will the Leader of the House produce the proposals on the new regional Select Committees, and can she tell us whether she intends them to be full Select Committees, where the 99 or 100 Members to man them will be found, what arrangements are being made to resource them and whether the Chairmen will be paid?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is important that we strengthen the accountability of the work that the Government do in the different regions of England. That is why we have established Ministers responsible for the regions, but we need to complete the process by ensuring the accountability to the House of Departments and the regional Ministers. The question is how we take that forward and we are considering that. We will undertake discussions and then bring forward proposals. We are clear on the principle that regional accountability is important, but we need to think through and discuss further the exact form that it will take, so that it has credibility in the regions and operates effectively in this House in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Has the Leader of the House made any contingency plans for changing the business when we come back in October in view of all the talk about an early election, given the massive Labour lead and the two brilliant by-election results, which were the best for Labour in office for many years? If we do have an early election, can we fight it on the old parliamentary boundaries, because that would give Labour another 10 seats?

On the question of elections, I remind the House that it is the anniversary today of the great election triumph of 1945. I also wish to take this opportunity to welcome my two new hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma) and for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson). So many years on from 1945, we are still winning elections.

The Vote Office is helpfully making me a copy of the draft European constitutional treaty, but I understand that it is not readily available and I shall have to read it in French—I shall do my best. It is scandalous that the treaty will be considered by the Government before the autumn, but that it is not available in our own language to Members of Parliament. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the document is translated, printed and made available to all hon. Members immediately?

The negotiations having been concluded and our negotiating objectives having been achieved, the treaty is still in draft as yet, because detailed work is still under way. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman already has problems with translation, because it is not a constitutional treaty as he suggests. A translation will be available and there will be an opportunity for the House to discuss it.

May we have a debate about security measures? Last week I applied for a pass for new member of staff and was informed in writing by the Serjeant at Arms that such an application could take longer to process if the applicant had Irish associations. As far as I know, the only Irish association that the applicant might have is with me, as I, like many other hon. Members, am of Irish extraction. Surely security measures should focus on the current potential threat rather than a threat that may have existed in a previous century.

I know that the Serjeant at Arms, who has responsibility for issuing security passes, tries to ensure that they are made available at the request of hon. Members as quickly as possible. I can remember a time when there was no pass system for the House. The level of threat was so low that people could come in and out of the House without needing a pass, but all hon. Members understand that we now—I regret to say—need effective security measures. As for the point about country of origin, I understand that the Serjeant at Arms undertakes security checks in this country and that foreign nationals also have a security check in their country of origin.

Yesterday’s statement on local government reform included proposals for a stronger tier of government in Cornwall. During the process, Cornwall’s MPs were assured that such a structure would be the best way to achieve the longstanding ambition of Cornwall to obtain devolved powers for planning, economic development and other public services that are currently run by unelected agencies in the Government zone of the south-west. As we are now entering the long summer recess, what can the Leader of the House do to ensure that Departments work together to provide Cornwall with a clear document setting out the extent, route map and timetable for devolved powers before irreversible decisions are taken by local authorities?

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government tells me that his Department will work with local authorities in Cornwall to take the matter forward. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) is right to recognise that we have tried to devolve power from the centre to local authorities, communities and regions. Strong regional economic development is one of the reasons why we have had steady, sustained economic growth.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time during the long summer recess to talk to the organisers of the three main parties’ annual autumn conferences with a view to trying to break up the three-week block of conferences so that the House can have a more even pattern of sittings and thus a shorter summer recess?

As I told the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), the House has from time to time changed its September procedures. When conferences are held is not a matter for the House, but for discussion between the parties.

After 10 years of Labour Government, the latest figures show that burglary in the city of Peterborough has risen by 36 per cent. and robbery by 44 per cent. Cambridgeshire has the fastest growing population of any county in England and our crime rate is above the English average. When can we have a proper debate in Government time on police authority grants that properly reflect population changes year on year, so that we can get more police on the beat to tackle crime?

In all areas, including the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, there are more police officers, more civilian staff to back them up and more community support officers. No doubt he will join me in thanking all of them for their work in his constituency. The grants have been increased to make that possible.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I said that the Government response on petitions would be in the Vote Office later today. May I put the record straight? In fact, the document has been available in the Vote Office since 11 am.

Several weeks ago, I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend’s predecessor as Leader of the House Britain’s serious and growing alcohol problems. I expressed concern about the health problems, especially foetal alcohol syndrome, which is a growing problem as more young women drink a lot more. My right hon. Friend, now the Lord Chancellor, expressed some sympathy with my request for a full debate on the Floor of the House about the whole range of Britain’s alcohol problems. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is a possibility?

It certainly is a possibility. The problem concerns Members on both sides of the House, not only because of the health issues relating to alcohol—my hon. Friend mentioned foetal alcohol syndrome—but also because of crime and disorder. One of the biggest precipitators of domestic violence is excessive drinking. My ministerial colleagues are working seriously on those issues and will no doubt account to the House if they have something to report and want to debate it.

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will allow me to raise two quick matters. The first is in respect of written statements. I shall not use the word abuse, but there is an over-use of written ministerial statements. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a written statement yesterday about the restructuring of local government in many important parts of the country, not least Cheshire. That should have been subject to a statement in the House to enable Members to question the Secretary of State.

On the responsibilities of the Leader of the House, does not the right hon. and learned Lady think it is time for her to make a statement in the House about the responsibilities of the Modernisation Committee, which she will chair in due course, and the Procedure Committee? There appears to be a blurring of responsibilities and an assumption that the Modernisation Committee should take over matters that I consider are the duties of the Procedure Committee.

I think it is important that we recognise the different roles of the Modernisation and Procedure Committees although they often work closely together, and I pay tribute to the work of both Committees in making suggestions that have improved the way the House operates. I hope that will continue to be the case.

The hon. Gentleman questioned there being a written statement yesterday on local government issues by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is the usual practice for such issues to be dealt with in written statements. Yesterday, we had important oral statements on terrorism and the commissioning of aircraft carriers and it was right that they were oral statements to the House. There is a hierarchy: oral statements and then, if something is not appropriate for an oral statement, written statements. Above all, however, information should be given to the House first.

I am clear in my own mind that it is important for information to be given to the House. It is strange that some Members seem to say that we are having too many written ministerial statements, or indeed too many oral statements. It is a challenge for the business of the House when we want to make important oral and written statements before the House rises, but the most important thing is accountability to the House.

May we have a debate, or even better a Bill, as soon as the House resumes on allowing the House to stop unlimited spending by parliamentary candidates long before an election is called? That was never permissible before 2000 and is permissible now only due to a loophole in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was exploited by Lord Ashcroft and many others in the run-up to the 2005 election and is already being exploited in the run-up to the next election. It is urgent that we close the loophole, rather than waiting for a magical consensus on other party funding issues that may never come.

My hon. Friend raises a very important point indeed. The British people want elections to be fair, not bought by unfair funding arrangements. I hope that the work being undertaken between the parties by Sir Hayden Phillips will reach a speedy conclusion. I reassure my hon. Friend that despite the fact that there was a great deal of spending by the Conservatives in the Ealing, Southall election, we won the argument and, therefore, the vote, but his point about party funding is important and I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.

Does the Leader of the House think there would be value in a statement, or perhaps an Adjournment debate, on the sensitive and difficult issue the Government face in relation to 60 Sri Lankan citizens awaiting deportation who are on hunger strike? They are clearly concerned about what their treatment will be on return to that country.

If the hon. Gentleman would like to write to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with specific details of the case I am sure she will look at it as soon as possible. There is also the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise it, if he so wishes, in the debate on the Adjournment of the House later today.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the concern felt by many Members about the erratic sitting hours of the House? Does she agree that it is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and, given that Members elected post-’97 have never had an opportunity to debate the issue, will she find time for such a debate in the autumn?

The sitting hours of the House are important. Obviously, we need to ensure—especially on Mondays—that Members of Parliament in far-flung constituencies can travel to the House in time for the start of business. I can remember when the House regularly sat throughout the night and I assure Members that it did not enhance scrutiny or opposition one bit. My view on sitting hours is a matter of record. No doubt, they will continue to be a matter for discussion and my hon. Friend rightly raises that point.

Just in case that, when the House returns in October, the most unfortunate prisoner early release scheme is still in place, can the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Justice comes to the Dispatch Box and makes a further statement on it? He might well wish to address a constituent of mine, a serving police officer who, while off duty, was viciously assaulted in one of our local medical centres, only to find that the person who committed that horrible crime had just been released early. I do not think that that police officer, who risks his life day in, day out, quite understands what is going on.

I express my sympathy to that victim of crime from the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I ask him to bear in mind, though, that one of the things that militates against the rehabilitation of offenders, and which therefore makes it more difficult to prevent reoffending is if the prison regime is not able to do the work with those offenders while they are in prison because there is a problem of overcrowding. I think that all Members in the House would understand that. The early release scheme is only available for prisoners who are serving less than four years and who are within 18 days of release anyway. [Interuption.] I have said that there are certain categories of serious violent crime, such as grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and homicide, where even if the person is serving a sentence of less than four years, they would not be eligible for the early release scheme; otherwise, if the courts have seen fit to give a person a sentence of less than four years and that person is within 18 days of release, they can be released 18 days early.

I hope that hon. Members think sensibly about this. Obviously we want lower repeat offending and that means that we must focus as much as we can on rehabilitating those who have been sent to prison.

In the United States of America increasing sums are being spent on higher education, and that is not just from the Government but from private sources. In the developing world, places like India and China are also spending huge sums on higher education. May we have an early debate on how the British Government can support UK universities in the competing global economy, to ensure that our universities remain as successful as they have always been?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Education is important for individuals' personal development and it is absolutely essential to our success in a globalised economy, so I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

May we have an urgent statement on the postal workers’ dispute? The strike is causing great damage not only to Royal Mail but to small businesses and other people who are heavily dependent on Royal Mail. Management and the unions are not even talking to one another. Will the Government, as a matter of urgency, intervene in the dispute and get both sides round the negotiating table in meaningful talks? Perhaps it is time for a return to beer and sandwiches at No. 10.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the Government’s position on that yesterday. We hope that there will be a successful conclusion to this dispute, to save further damaging consequences not only for residential users of the mail but for small businesses.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on occupational health and safety? She may be aware that the Health and Safety Executive will today release its figures for last year on occupational health and safety, which are expected to show an increase in deaths; in fact the construction industry is expecting that they will show that deaths in construction have increased by about 30 per cent. She will also be aware that since 2000 there have been 200 fewer inspectors, and if the comprehensive spending review imposition is accepted by the Department for Work and Pensions, it follows that year on year we could lose another 700 inspectors. It is important that we have an early debate on health and safety.

I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the all-party group on occupational health and safety, which my hon. Friend chairs, and to recognise the contribution that he, as a Member of the House, has made to bringing before the House, and soon into legislation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. I recognise the important work that still needs to be done on safety in the construction industry.

May we have an early debate on the freedom of expression? We all uphold the right of protest, which is an integral part of our democracy, but under cover of the right of protest, 100 yd from here, we now have a permanent disfigurement, right in the heart of our capital, in the form of an encampment of tents. Is this not an abuse of the right of protest?

It is a difficult balance to protect important heritage sites—which is what Parliament square is; an important tourist location—and the ability of the House to go about its business not unduly disturbed by a great deal of noise and shouting through loudspeakers, while at the same time allow the right to protest. It is a subject that is regularly considered by the House.

I am the proud honorary unpaid adviser to the Port of Tilbury Police Federation, of which I think there are 16 members. I raise that in the context of yesterday’s welcomed announcement that we are going to have a uniformed border force. May I urge the Leader of the House, before the legislation comes before the House, to use her good offices to ensure that the Port of Tilbury police and the other small police forces, which were privatised by a Conservative Government, are consulted, not just about their individual futures, because they could guide this new force on best practice? I also counsel caution that successive Home Secretaries, including the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) who rejected the idea originally, and my right hon. Friends the Members for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), all rejected this idea, because the police advisers said that it was not a good idea. Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to listen to those in the House who, for the past 15 years, have said that it is a very good idea, and could we have some consultation?

My hon. Friend has a track record of making arguments for a long time and finally getting there. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State writes to him specifically about the Port of Tilbury police.

We heard earlier in the House that almost 1 billion adult learning places have been lost over the last five years. That is causing concern in my Lincolnshire constituency, but it is part of a deeper fear about the access to opportunities and the provision of services in rural areas, fuelled by concern about post office closures, inadequate police funding, fire brigades and the centralisation of health services. May we have a debate about the quality of life in rural Britain, because there is a widespread fear in Lincolnshire, and I suspect elsewhere, that this Government have a careless disregard for the countryside?

I deny that this Government have a disregard for the quality of life in rural Britain and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we have seen big increases in investment in education for under-fives and school-age children and in further and higher education, and will continue to do so.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2009?

That this House fully supports the IraqChild appeal launched by the UK-based Iraqi Association to raise £250,000 for emergency protection for children through the Andalus Medical Clinic in Baghdad; notes that children in Baghdad will suffer disproportionately this summer through sweltering heat, electricity shortages and lack of air conditioning in addition to the violence and sectarian strife which has led to the displacement of thousands of children and many orphans having to fend for themselves; further notes that terrorists are using children as decoys for sadistic killings, that one in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching their fifth birthday in 2005, and that there are worryingly high levels of malnourishment; believes that this non-sectarian project, which was developed through a lengthy consultation process with concerned medical personnel in Baghdad and local non-governmental organizations, is credible; points out that, for example, £22 can buy a child’s clothing pack, £48 can treat a child for diarrhoea and ear infection, £60 can pay for a qualified nurse to care for 10 children every week, £650 can pay for a medical doctor for a month to visit 10 families with children every week, and £1,580 can maintain running a children’s clinic for a month for eight children everyday; and urges widespread moral and material assistance for this vital humanitarian initiative.

It refers to the appeal for the children of Baghdad, wherein the Iraqi Association in this country is launching an appeal for £250,000 to raise money to develop a clinic in Baghdad to help with the one in eight children who will die this summer. I would ask that this be debated at the next sitting of the House, but there will not be a sitting over the summer and thousands of children will die. Can the Minister ensure that this motion gets to the relevant Departments, to see whether they can help to pay?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the appeal to my attention. I know that he has worked alongside the trade union movement in Iraq and he raises another very good cause, which I will bring to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

I was very pleased to receive a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), telling me:

“The future use of Llandrindod Wells courthouse has been reviewed and it will remain open for the next few years.”

No reasons were given for the change of decision—no indication of what “the next few years” may be. But earlier in the letter, it said:

“Her Majesty’s Courts Service is committed to putting the public first in the delivery of justice”.

I think this must be a radical change of policy, so will the Leader of the House make an opportunity to have a debate on the future of the magistrates courts, particularly in rural areas, so that witnesses, victims and professionals can have ready access to justice?

Perhaps that is an issue that the hon. Gentleman could return to in the Adjournment debate this afternoon. The important thing is to have court systems that are accessible to people locally and to have disabled access and good provision for victims and witnesses.

Following on from the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a statement to the House about the increased fatalities in the construction industry? She will be aware from yesterday’s statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that there have been significant increases in the deaths of those deemed to be self-employed and indeed vulnerable. Migrant workers are being compelled by illegal gangmasters on to a false classification of self-employment and as a consequence, the safety imperative that is delivered through PAYE is lost. Rather than reinventing the wheel, can she use her good offices to influence the Government to extend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 into the construction industry?

I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will be considering this question. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing, by way of a private Member’s Bill, what became the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 and I remind the House that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is, as we all are, concerned about too many deaths in the construction industry and has set up a forum to work with the construction industry to improve health and safety.

May I renew the request that I made to the Leader of the House last week for an early debate on Iran and Afghanistan? Many of us believe that our policies in Iraq are deeply flawed and many of us believe that, with the available forces, we will not be able to achieve in Afghanistan any of the objectives that we have set ourselves. We must debate those matters urgently and frequently.

We have regular debates on Afghanistan and Iraq for Members to participate in. In the meantime, I take the opportunity to express my strong support for the work that our armed forces do in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Is the Leader of the House aware of any plans that the Department for Transport has to change the Aviation Minister’s title to the Minister for BAA? Despite the right hon. and learned Lady’s help, BAA still continues to have the environmental data relating to the expansion of Heathrow whereas they have not been made available to me. Following her assistance, I received a response from the Minister, but he told me that he does not think that it is in the public’s interest to release this data. How can it possibly be in the public’s interest not to release the data to the public while, at the same time, sharing that data with the operator of Heathrow, BAA? Can she investigate this issue further during the recess and, if necessary, have a debate on it when we return in October?

Clear, well established rules have been agreed by the House on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that was introduced by this Government and they make available information that was previously kept secret. I suggest that the hon. Lady refer to those rules. Then she will understand why in this case there is obviously an exception to that Act.

Equality of access to the NHS requires access. Today the Horton hospital is having to admit patients from Oxford because the John Radcliffe cannot cope. That is not because of the flooding; it is a regular fortnightly occurrence. By a cruel twist of irony, today is the day when the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust is considering proposals that will severely undermine the viability of the Horton as a general hospital. So can the Leader of the House join me in thanking Mr. Speaker for providing a debate in Westminster Hall on 10 October on the future of smaller general hospitals? If the Government continue to undermine general hospitals, they will be undermining a fundamental principle of the NHS.

The fundamental principle of the NHS is that it should treat patients according to need. The greatly increased investment in the NHS has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as throughout the country, but I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

May I reiterate the plea that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made for a proper debate in the autumn not just on flooding but on the protection of our critical national infrastructure? The Leader of the House will know how near we came earlier this week to losing power in the whole county of Gloucestershire; that was avoided only through the marvellous work of our emergency services and armed forces. However, that and the loss of water supplies in huge parts of Gloucestershire, including some areas of my constituency, highlighted a critical problem that it would be sensible to debate when we return in the autumn.

These issues will be covered in detail in the review that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced. I take this opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman did, to pay tribute to the work undertaken by local authorities employees, Environment Agency employees, the police and the armed services who are all working together to protect people during these very difficult floods.

May we please have a debate in Government on time on the Floor of the House on the continuing crisis in Burma? Given that the illegal military dictatorship there is guilty of extra-judicial killings, rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, the use of child soldiers, the use of human minesweepers and the bestial destruction of villages throughout eastern Burma on virtually a daily basis and given that this week the report of the Select Committee on International Development calls for significant changes in Government policy towards the internally displaced people and refugees in the area, does the right hon. and learned Lady not agree that it is about time that we had the first ever debate here in this Chamber on how, through concerted action, we can force the Government of Burma to stop slaughtering their people and to start liberating them?

The whole House will identify with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has expressed about the Government of Burma. As I have announced, there will be on a debate on Thursday 11 October on the report on human rights from the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope that will give him and other hon. Members the opportunity to raise the issue of the appalling breaches of human rights in Burma.

Yesterday in Kettering, a man with a knife threatened staff in three separate shops in the town centre. When the House returns in October, may we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Floor of the House about what on earth this country is going to do about the growing problem of knife crime?

Last week, we had a statement from the Home Secretary about her plans for crime reduction. I am sure that the local authority, the police and community organisations in the hon. Gentleman’s area will work with my right hon. Friend and her Department to make that a reality in his constituency.

May we have a debate on special educational needs funding? Many schools in my constituency find that they are getting less funding for children with special educational needs than other schools in less affluent and more deprived areas are getting for children with exactly the same educational needs. Surely funding for special educational needs should be given on the basis of need and not on the affluence of the surrounding area. May we have a debate on this important issue for parents, children and teachers in many of my local schools?

The allocation of funding between different schools is obviously a matter for the local education authority to address and no doubt the hon. Gentleman speaks to it about it. However, when he talks about the importance of the right level of funding for special educational needs, I wholly identify with the comments. In fact, one of the reasons that I joined the Labour party was that I thought it would be better to have really good investment in public services for the people in greatest need rather than tax cuts for the wealthy.

Following on from what the right hon. and learned Lady has just said, could she therefore explain why my constituent, Mrs. Kruger, who is going blind will not receive NHS treatment but if she moved to Scotland, she would receive NHS treatment and her sight would be saved? Square that.

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions, he should raise the case of individual constituents with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I will bring the issue to his attention, but the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence considers what should be available and at what stage for different disorders.