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Business of the House

Volume 464: debated on Thursday 18 October 2007

Before announcing the business I can tell the House that the Commons calendar, from November this year until October 2008, was published earlier today and is available in the Vote Office. I am sure that hon. Members will be interested to know that we plan to rise for the Christmas recess on Tuesday 18 December.

The business for the week commencing 22 October will be:

Monday 22 October—Statement by the Prime Minister following the European Council meeting. Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Serious Crime Bill [Lords]. Remaining stages of the Serious Crime Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 23 October—Carry-over motion for the Crossrail Bill followed by motions relating to the House of Commons Members’ Fund and a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Wednesday 24 October—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Thursday 25 October—Motions relating to House business, including the report from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and from the Procedure Committee.

It may assist the House if I tell hon. Members that I have today published the Government’s response to the Modernisation Committee’s first report of the 2006-07 Session, “Revitalising the Chamber: the role of the back bench Member”. It is now available to all hon. Members from the Vote Office. I intend to table the relevant motions in due course.

Friday 26 October—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 October will be:

Monday 29 October—Consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a debate on Burma on a motion for the Adjournment of the House followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Tuesday 30 October—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.

I hope that it will be possible to prorogue no later than Tuesday 30 October. The House will understand that that is subject to the progress of business in both Houses, but that looks the most likely date at the moment.

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

Thursday 25 October—A debate on the report from the Environmental Audit Committee on the EU emissions trading scheme.

I am today bringing forward measures that will allow for corrections to be made in Hansard and for letters from non-departmental public body chairs to be published in Hansard for the first time. Full details are available in written ministerial statements. I am grateful to the Select Committee on Procedure for its advice on both points.

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

In the current cycle of oral questions, important issues such as local government and justice are squeezed into 30-minute sessions. Will the Government introduce a new cycle of questions to change that in the new Session of Parliament?

Yesterday, the Health Secretary told the House that the report on obesity “deserves discussion in Parliament”. Will the Leader of the House commit to such a debate in Government time? Will she also confirm that there will be no single equalities Bill in the Queen’s Speech? Will she tell the House why she announced that not to Parliament but to guests at a drinks party at the Labour party conference?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady explain why the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which was given its Second Reading last week, amends the Legal Services Bill, which has not even passed through Parliament yet? Amending a Bill before it becomes law is incompetent even by this Government’s standards. On the subject of criminal justice, according to a leaked Ministry of Justice document Labour’s flagship scheme of open-ended sentences for violent criminals could be scrapped. Whether from the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice, Labour’s answer to violent crime is always the same: let the perpetrators out of prison early. May we have a debate on crime and punishment?

This week, the Committee on Standards in Public Life revealed that nearly 400 Labour party donors, candidates, and election agents have been given jobs on Government quangos in the past year. May we have a debate in Government time on public appointments so that we can discuss Labour’s government by stealth?

In the latest Government flip-flop, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said:

“It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise…marriage”,

and that there is a

“metropolitan myth that Labour people are all a bit liberal”.

As one of those metropolitan liberals, will the right hon. and learned Lady commit to a debate in Government time on how to support families in the tax system?

We have just had Treasury questions, but groups representing large and small businesses say that the new Chancellor’s changes to capital gains tax risk

“serious damage to this country’s entrepreneurial culture”.

The Business Secretary is apparently going to lobby the Treasury on this, and I understand that, in Treasury questions, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) raised the issue of the lack of consultation on the measure. May we have a debate in Government time so that the House can consider in full the consequences of that crippling tax change?

Two and a half years ago, the EU referendum Bill—the European Union Bill—was introduced to Parliament, yet the Prime Minister will go to Lisbon today to agree the renamed constitution without a referendum. The Government’s representative on the convention says that he has

“copped out from a specific promise made to voters”.

Last week the Leader of the House could not even bring herself to defend the Prime Minister’s decision not to hold a referendum, so perhaps she, too, thinks that he has copped out of his promise. After his tantrum before the European Scrutiny Committee, will the Foreign Secretary make a separate statement on the Floor of the House on why the Government are depriving the British people of their say?

We have no plan to change the questions rota.

A full statement was made to the House on the question of obesity, which is a continuing concern. I have no doubt that, as and when there is new information to be given to the House, further statements will be made, and it is always possible for Members to raise the matter on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. We all want good facilities for exercise, proper labelling and prevention of excessive advertising to children of foods with fat, sugar and salt; we all share that important desire and want to work together across government and across the political parties on it.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the question of the equalities legislation. There has been no change to whether there will be a Bill on equalities, to which we are committed. We were not committed to an equalities Bill for the Queen’s Speech this November; we had committed to a draft Bill before the 2008 Queen’s Speech. However, I can tell the right hon. Lady that we issued a consultation paper and received many responses, some of which suggested major changes in policy. We are considering the response to the consultation paper and therefore a draft Bill will not be possible if there is a change of policy that needs consideration and discussion. I welcome the fact that she supports the quest for equality and I hope that she will work with us to bring about a strong equality Bill for the 21st century. There is certainly no question of backing down on equality issues; she might find that it is quite the opposite—which I hope she will welcome if it proves possible.

The right hon. Lady mentioned that the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is being amended by the Legal Services Bill, but I understand that that is not the case. She also mentioned leaked documents, allegedly from the Ministry of Justice. I am not going to comment on leaked documents, but I simply do not accept the suggestion that the Government have somehow focused insufficiently on rape and other sexual offences. We have toughened the law on rape; we have ensured that the police and prosecutors strengthen their work on rape; and we provide good support for victims. There will, of course, be a debate on crime on Monday.

The right hon. Lady raises the question of public appointments. If she is concerned about any individual appointments, she can always bring them to my attention. She will know that the public appointments system is transparent and independent. [Interruption.] In fact, any hon. Member who has a complaint about a public appointment can bring it to my attention.

The right hon. Lady mentioned family and marriage. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, who was in his place a few moments ago, assured me that he is not planning to become the House of Commons marriage guidance counsellor. His comments were made in a rather wider context than appeared and the Government’s position remains this: we recognise that families come in all shapes and sizes; we recognise that no Government policy can make men and women happy together in their marriages. If there is such a policy, please tell us what it is and we will adopt it. Meanwhile, it is the job of Government to get on and support families with children and families with older relatives.

The right hon. Lady also mentioned capital gains tax. It is, of course, the case that when any tax is under discussion, consideration will be given to the questions of simplicity, fairness, international competitiveness and revenue raising. They will all have been considered across the piece by the Chancellor. Our record is one of sustained growth in the economy and high employment.

The right hon. Lady raised a question on the handling of the EU treaty. As I have said, there will be a statement in the House on Monday. I remind Members that this country has greatly benefited from our membership of the European Union. [Interruption.] I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about that, because we should debate EU issues in the context of the importance of our membership to the economy, the climate and to tackling—[Interruption.]

Order. It would be nice if I could hear what the Leader of the House is saying. I cannot do so if other Members are talking across the Floor.

As I said last week, if the Government agree to a treaty, it will come before this House to be ratified and there will be debate in this House. As Leader of the House I will ensure that there is sufficient time properly to discuss it and to hear the views of all Members.

I agree with the following comments in a letter printed today in The Times:

“The measures contained in the treaty…are in the UK’s…interests…As a result of the treaty, the UK’s share of voting in the Council increases by 45 per cent…the EU is crucial to the UK’s long-term interests.”

Those are the words not of the Foreign Secretary, but of the former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Leon Brittan, and I strongly agree with him.

Two people die every week on Tyneside as a result of an asbestos-related injury contracted through their life in work. Does the Leader of the House agree that pleural plaques—scarring of the lungs through exposure to asbestos—is a workplace injury? Will she therefore join me in condemning those out-of-touch Law Lords who are stopping working-class people getting their rightful compensation, and will she tell me—either now, or later in the day after she has had time to consider it—when we can get this matter before the House? We must do so as soon as possible so that we can legislate to right this terrible wrong.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important issue, and I am aware of the work that he and other Members have done to bring to the attention of the House and the Government the devastating effect of asbestos-related lung disease. The Government have a good record on ensuring that there is compensation for those whose lives are devastated by this range of terrible diseases. My hon. Friend raises the question of the House of Lords judgment, which was delivered only yesterday. It is being considered. The Law Lords’ responsibility is to decide what the law is and how to apply it, but it is for this House to consider whether the law is right and adequate, and we will make that consideration after we have had a chance to study the judgment.

The Leader of the House is to be thanked for her statements, not only about the business but about other matters. May we as soon as possible—ideally next week—have a wide-ranging debate on the diary of the parliamentary year, so that we might end up with a saner arrangement than at present? We could, for example, have a regular start to the Session every year in October; we could have a small carry-over at the beginning of September finishing before the party conferences, and then make a clean start afterwards. That would give us a much more orderly annual programme.

In that context, I also hope that we will be allowed to address the allocation of time for questioning Departments, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked. It is nonsense that so little time is set aside for colleagues to question major Departments such as the Ministry of Justice—in which the Leader of the House so respectably served.

I anticipate that next week we will get some written statements, as well as the Prime Minister’s oral statement on the Lisbon meeting on Monday. I ask the Leader of the House to tell her colleagues that it will not be helpful if there is, as usual, a raft of written statements in the last two days of the parliamentary year when Members have no chance to ask questions and follow them up. May we therefore have those statements earlier next week, so that they can be dealt with when all Members are present?

The Leader of the House announced that there would be a debate on Public Accounts Committee reports next week—although, enigmatically, we were told that the reports themselves would be available elsewhere and that people could look them up. We really need a system allowing Select Committee reports to be debated on a much more routine basis, Department by Department. Some excellent work is done by colleagues in all Select Committees, and I know that there is a system of selecting some reports for debate, but I am sure that the House and the country would welcome regular non-partisan debates on, for instance, Health Committee and Education Committee reports.

Some important reports on immigration were published this week by the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury. Because the issue is always emotive and because there is so much misinformation and distortion of information, may we have a proper debate on immigration early in the new year on a motion for the Adjournment of the House? The nation thinks that it is important, and opinion polls show that it is important. A debate that is not prompted by a partisan motion must be the best way of proceeding. It is important that we get the facts out, and not the prejudice.

The hon. Gentleman makes some important points about the parliamentary year and about opportunities to debate Select Committee reports. The Modernisation Committee will be examining the way in which debates on particular topics are allocated over the year, including annual departmental debates. That can also be discussed on Thursday, when we will debate the Modernisation Committee’s report.

I am sure that there was discussion between the usual channels before it was decided not to make any changes in the current rota of oral questions. It is always difficult to achieve the right balance, but if Members have any proposals about how the system should be changed—especially in view of the departmental changes that have taken place—I ask them to convey them to me. If there has been no consultation I am sorry, but we will undertake to examine any proposals that Members present.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of shed loads of written statements arriving at once just before the rising of the House. I think that Ministers’ minds are focused by the fact that the House is about to rise and time is running out, but I undertake to write to my colleagues and remind them not to leave all the statements until the last day. I realise that the cumulative effect makes things difficult for Members.

I note that on 24 October a debate on the control of illegal immigrants will take place in Westminster Hall. It should be borne in mind that Britain has been built on waves of immigration, that the economy has grown steadily and that unemployment has fallen over the past 10 years, but we must get the balance right in Britain’s interests, which is why there will be a points-based system from next year. All those matters are considered by the migration impact forum and obviously they are kept under review. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s proposals for a debate in Government time to the attention of my colleagues.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the BBC’s recent announcement about the future of its news-gathering services comes hot on the heels of ITV’s proposals to slash its commitment to regional news, which includes doing away with a dedicated news service in the east midlands. May we have a debate on the future of radio and television news services, and may we also have an opportunity to press both providers to ensure that their news services are well resourced and able to provide adequate coverage in each of our regions?

Members will have an opportunity to raise those important issues on Monday 29 October, during questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

I am aware of great concern in the regions about the changes in ITV regional news coverage, and there have of course been announcements about the BBC today. The Government’s position is that the BBC is very important indeed, which is why they have allowed a steady increase in the licence fee above inflation over the past 10 years, but I have sympathy—as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend—for those who complain that against a background of an increased licence fee the BBC chooses to pay some presenters millions of pounds a year while at the same time making thousands of BBC programme makers face redundancy.

Why have the Government not published the Senior Salaries Review Body’s report on Members’ salaries, which they received in July?

The usual process is that the Government publish their response and then allow a debate shortly thereafter in which all Members can participate. That will happen shortly.

Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the future of bus services in Preston? The present situation is terrible. A bus company, Stagecoach, is using underhand methods and dirty tactics to try to push the Preston bus company off the road. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would examine the position in some detail.

I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport what my hon. Friend has said about the important issue of public transport in Preston. My hon. Friend will, of course, have an opportunity to raise it at Transport questions next Tuesday.

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Justice, and invite him to give the House an update on the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme? I have tabled an all-party motion, early-day motion 2146, to draw attention to the problem that currently exists.

That this House believes that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme should be amended to reflect the true cost to the lives of those injured in terrorist attacks in mainland Britain; notes that some victims of the 7th July 2005 bombings in London have yet to receive full compensation or have received minimal offers of compensation by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority; and calls on the Government to respond to the Green Paper ‘Rebuilding Lives' and uprate the limit of £500,000 and tariffs set in 1996.

The problem is that under the current scheme those who suffer as a result of terrorist outrages such as bombings cannot obtain enough money to take them through the rest of their lives in any way that is tolerable. The tariffs were set back in 1996, and do not cover the terrible injuries that people suffer. I am about to meet the family of one of those victims, and I should very much like the Secretary of State for Justice to update the House on his thinking.

I am sure the whole House agrees with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of ensuring that those who suffer the devastating effects of injury caused by crime are properly compensated and properly treated by the system. I will draw his points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice, whom he will of course have an opportunity to question next week.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will want to congratulate His Holiness the Dalai Lama on receiving the congressional gold medal from President Bush in Washington last night. I had the privilege of meeting the Dalai Lama earlier this month when I went to northern India with the all-party Tibet group. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate in which we can highlight the peaceful struggle of the Tibetan people for autonomy?

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and her colleagues in the all-party group on Tibet. She will know that we consistently urge China to engage in serious negotiations with the Dalai Lama’s representatives in order to build a peaceful, sustainable and legitimate solution for Tibet. Embassy officials visit Tibet regularly, and work closely with the relevant non-governmental organisations. We also regularly raise the need to respect the Tibetan culture and language as well as ensuring economic advance there. I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

May we have a statement on when the Government intend to implement their manifesto commitment to review the Postal Services Act 2000? Later this month Sunday collections will be withdrawn, and mail deliveries are occurring later and later in the day. We need to strengthen the universal service obligation in order to stop our postal services from simply getting worse and worse. When will the promised review take place?

I will find out about that. As I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the information that he needs, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to write to him, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library. We all hope that the Royal Mail dispute will be settled soon.

Mark Glover, the distinguished animal welfare campaigner who is chair of the organisation Respect for Animals, goes on trial today in Canada for the dreadful crime of filming a seal hunt. Given the widespread aversion to seal clubbing among hon. Members of all parties, will the Leader of the House agree to an early debate on a ban on seal product imports into Britain?

I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of the relevant Minister. Although Canada’s criminal law is a matter for that country, the Government are strong supporters of animal welfare.

Does the Leader of the House agree that there are far too many fat Members of Parliament? Speaking as one of them—I feel that I should declare my interest—I welcome the recent report in the Financial Times about proposals to refurbish the House, which include replacing the shooting range with a swimming pool. Will she consider the matter soon, and make a statement?

I am sorry; I got the first bit about us all being fat but missed the hon. Gentleman’s final question.

I am suggesting that too many MPs are fat, including me. We could replace the shooting range with a swimming pool, a proposal that has been commented on in the newspapers, and I wanted to know what the Leader of the House thought about it.

All hon. Members will have an opportunity to comment on the proposal, as there will be a debate in Westminster Hall later this afternoon on issues that come within the purview of the House of Commons Commission. We want to make sure that all workplaces and neighbourhoods have good exercise and healthy eating facilities. We in the Palace of Westminster are really rather ahead of the game in that respect.

May I raise another weighty matter? May we have a debate on how the Conservatives and Liberals on Leeds city council are attempting to undermine democracy in their latest review of polling stations in the city? The plan to close 16 polling stations in my constituency alone will make voting harder for more than 10,000 people. That flies in the face of electoral guidelines, and smells of gerrymandering. At the very least, will the Leader of the House have a meeting with me so that I can express my concerns?

My hon. Friend raises a very important question. As well as taking it up with Ministers in the Ministry of Justice, he should seek a meeting with the chairman of the Electoral Commission. We must make sure that people have access to polling stations, as that is especially important for elderly people who may not want to vote by post and who prefer to put their ballot papers in the ballot box. I am concerned about the proposal to close 16 polling stations in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as we want to encourage people to vote, and not deter them from doing so. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend about whether he has been able to stop the proposal.

Does the Leader of the House accept that not all Members of Parliament are fat? In his first statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister launched the document “The Governance of Britain”. In paragraph 104, it states that the House of Commons scrutinises the Treasury’s plans and objectives in its pre-Budget report debate. What has happened to that debate? Why are we debating the House of Commons Members’ fund next Tuesday, instead of the comprehensive spending review and the PBR?

The debate on the reports from the Modernisation Committee will give us an opportunity to discuss how we allocate the days set aside for debating defence, for example, or the Queen’s Speech, or the Budget. We need to step back and take an overview of the year so that as many matters as possible can be debated. The PBR has not always been followed by days of debate, but the right hon. Gentleman has raised this matter with me before and we can discuss it further on Thursday.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on domestic violence and intimate-partner murder? I recently visited the family justice centre in Croydon, at the request of a victim of stalking who believes that the centre saved her life. The only one of its kind in the country, the centre is breaking new ground and achieving magnificent results—as is shown by the fact that there were zero murders in Croydon in the past year. I should really like to see how such provision can be extended across the country.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend’s comments about Croydon’s family justice centre, which is doing very good work. Domestic violence should have no place in the 21st century. No matter what is going on in a relationship, there is no justification for resorting to violence. Domestic violence can be prevented if police, prosecutors, local authorities and local voluntary organisations work closely together, and it is a scandal that it still accounts for a quarter of all reported violent crime, with two homicides every year. Certain reviews are under way in the Ministry of Justice with a view to toughening the law so that perpetrators of domestic homicide can no longer give the excuse, “It’s not my fault I killed her, it’s her fault for provoking me.”

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 2113?

That this House is concerned at the changes to the guidance on business rates for public houses; notes that changes to the Non-Domestic Rating Reference Manual will mean the levy will be raised for pubs with quizzes, televisions, pool tables, dart boards or a football team; believes this could result in an increase of £440 a year in their business rates which for some remote pubs paying £1,000 a year in rates could see their tax bill increase by almost half under new rules; further believes that this would have a devastating impact for some pubs with the Campaign for Real Ale already estimating that 56 pubs are already closing permanently each month; and calls on the Government to amend the guidance for inspectors so that business rates do not rise further for pubs in 2010 but instead they are allowed to remain thriving at the heart of many communities.

Even by the standards of this Government’s stealth taxes, hammering pubs that organise quizzes or have a football team with extra business rates seems pretty crazy. Many villages have lost their shops or are threatened with losing their post offices. For them, the village pub is very often the most important community facility left, so hammering the ones that are successful and doing community work with higher business rates is crazy.

The settled communities of Snibston, Sinope, Coalville, Castle Donington, Ibstock and Battram in North-West Leicestershire are being driven to distraction by the amount of unauthorised camping by the Travelling community, and by the associated social and environmental problems. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in the near future about the workings of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to see how they can be altered to improve the co-operation and speed of action of the relevant authorities as they tackle those very serious problems, and especially the provision of transit sites in the county of Leicestershire?

I will do as my hon. Friend suggests. Another question that no doubt will be raised has to do with whether the current legislation is being enforced effectively and in the way that local communities want. That is a matter for police, prosecutors and local authorities, and might be an appropriate subject for discussion by the local criminal justice board.

May we have an urgent debate in Government time on British tourism? It is Britain’s fifth largest industry, and it has been heavily affected by regulation. VisitBritain’s budget has remained at the same level for 12 years, and in today’s newspapers the organisation warns that the UK tourism industry could lose about £2 billion if the Government do not do more to invest. More people are choosing to holiday abroad, and we are missing out on overseas visitors coming to the UK. That does not bode well in the lead-up to the Olympics, when we should be harnessing our tourist potential.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman could raise that point during next week’s Culture, Media and Sport questions. He is suggesting that there should be more investment. The Government have invested a great deal to support businesses involved in tourism, especially, but not only, in our seaside towns. If he believes that there should be extra public investment, he should back the revenue-raising measures that the Government have put in place. We seem to be hearing alternate points: one Conservative Member says that tax should be cut, but immediately after, another Conservative Member asks for extra spending. Perhaps Conservative Members could get their act together and work out which it is.

I listened with interest to the Leader of the House’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn). I know that she has not had time to study the judgment, but, having looked at it, I can tell her that it recognises that pleural plaques cause a physiological change, but cruelly decides that the people affected should not be compensated. Will she therefore ask the Secretary of State for Justice to consider bringing forth legislation quickly to overturn the Lords decision because it is quite clear that this group of workers will not get justice in the courts?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need to ensure that if justice is not done in a way that accords with our public policy commitment, we consider what action to take, and take it swiftly, so that people do not lose out. The problem with such matters is that people’s lives are the issue. This is not just a technical matter that can be discussed in the fullness of time. People want this considered promptly, and I know that his all-party group will give the matter full consideration and offer the Government its views, which I am sure will be welcomed.

Is there not an overwhelming case this year for the Prime Minister to fulfil his promise to hold a debate on the pre-Budget report when we see that the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the chambers of commerce and the TUC all oppose the new capital gains tax proposals? The right hon. and learned Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), says that there has been insufficient time for consultation. May we have a debate as soon as possible, preferably straight after the Queen’s Speech?

I recognise hon. Members’ concern about the lack of opportunity to debate the pre-Budget report in Government time. I will give the matter serious consideration. As far as capital gains tax is concerned, all I can say is that the Chancellor has to take a view across the piece. The range of rates from 10 per cent. to 40 per cent. was certainly good for the profits of the accountants and lawyers who had to help businesses to work out their liability. We have a beneficial regime for business across the tax system as a whole. Of course, the tax threshold is such that no tax is imposed at all unless the gain is above £9,000.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that too many autistic children in Kent—and probably elsewhere, too—are not getting either the education or educational support that their parents think they need and deserve? I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) will be carrying out a review of educational support for children with communications difficulties. However, in the meantime, may we have a debate in the House so that we can contribute our personal experiences of this serious problem to inform that review?

I know that that is a matter of real concern throughout the country and on both sides of the House. Perhaps we will give consideration to whether we can have such a debate in Government time, although whether we await the report on which the hon. Member for Buckingham is leading will be a question of timing. I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and undertake to ensure that we have a debate as soon as possible on autism and the response that all services need to give to support families dealing with autistic children.

May we have a debate in the House about the targeting of the deprived area fund? Roehampton ward—this concerns my constituents living on the Alton and Lennox estates especially—does not receive any support from the fund, even though Putney jobcentre was closed earlier this year. Part of the problem in London is that because we have the most affluent parts of society living next to the most deprived, the assessment at a ward level often creates an average picture that means that the neediest communities do not receive the support from the fund that was intended. May we have a debate in Government time so that we can resolve these problems?

Overall, I think that the hon. Lady would recognise that we have massively increased investment in deprived areas in a range of ways, including through Sure Start and the new deal for communities. Such public investment has been very important, so I take it that she supports our revenue proposals to ensure that we can put investment in all deprived areas, including that in her constituency.

Does the Leader of the House accept that the top concern for many people is health-care-acquired infection? Businesses in Stafford—and, no doubt, throughout the country—are offering the NHS solutions on how to make hospitals and other places of treatment cleaner. May we have a debate in which the Department of Health can be urged to give more urgency to the evaluation of those offers?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point about the science of tackling infection control and improving the processes of screening, isolation, hand cleaning and deep cleaning. We all recognise that this is something that needs to be improved. I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who has already responded to an urgent question this week.

Having managed to lose well over a stone since 1 August without so much as dipping a big toe into a swimming pool, may I express some frustration that the highly successful House of Commons shooting team is continually picked on by politically correct people on both sides of the House whenever they want an easy target, especially as we beat the House of Lords every year?

On a more serious note, may I ask the Leader of the House whether she heard on the news yesterday about the couple who tortured their child to death by holding the toddler’s limbs over a red-hot cooking plate again and again? They have been sentenced respectively to 12 and six years in prison. Does she agree that if the court sees fit to put monsters like that away for 12 and six years, it is quite wrong that they should be released, as they will be under existing Government policy, after only six and three years? May we have a debate on early release schemes?

The House has discussed on numerous occasions the law and practice surrounding the release of prisoners. Of course, sentencing in an individual case is a matter for a judge. If there is a view that a sentence is unduly lenient, the Law Officers can refer the case to the Court of Appeal. The House sets the legislative framework and we debate that at the time at which we pass the relevant laws.

May we have a debate on the long-term future of manufacturing industry in this country, especially regarding the impact of existing employment legislation on this country’s workers? The Leader of the House might be aware that there was a breath of fresh air in this place yesterday when hundreds of manufacturing workers came to make representations to their MPs. While I recognise the significant amount that the Government have put into upskilling such workers, those people are genuinely worried that their jobs could be easily disposed of under existing employment legislation. Will she remind her Cabinet colleagues that manufacturing industry is an important factor in this country?

We are all very well aware of the importance of manufacturing. I recognise—my hon. Friend has brought this to the attention of the House on several occasions—that with all the talk about services and financial services, those working in the important manufacturing sector sometimes feel that they are invisible. The lobby made important points. The Government are determined to do whatever is necessary to help and support this country’s manufacturing industry, including, especially, improving skills and the opportunity for exports.

I hugely welcome what has been said about the needs of autistic children, and the forthcoming debate on Burma, which I have sought strenuously for the past two and a half years. May we please have a debate, in Government time and on the Floor of the House, on housing development in the south-east? The Government have hitherto always accepted that the extra 1,000 houses a year that are to be built in Aylesbury vale in each of the next 20 years would have to be accompanied by adequate infrastructure, but the Government’s panel of inspectors has now publicly stated that it does not think that the development need be contingent on “necessary infrastructure”. Do we not need a debate to resolve the confusion, and to determine how we can go ahead with development in my area in a way that leads to an improvement, not a deterioration, in my constituents’ quality of life?

The hon. Gentleman will know, because we have published the Government’s draft legislative programme, that there will be legislation on housing and planning in the Queen’s Speech. He mentions housing in the south-east. That issue is a classic example of why the proposals in “The Governance of Britain” report on regional accountability are important. Aside from through Westminster Hall, we do not have any way of making the Government accountable, through Members of the House, for actions that affect a region. The regional committees proposed in “The Governance of Britain” would aim to do exactly that. I am grateful for his welcome for my comments about giving him more opportunity to debate support services for autistic children and their families.

I was perhaps not as aware as I should have been that the hon. Gentleman has been asking for a debate on Burma for two years; I have only been Leader of the House since July. He has raised the issue of Burma on a number of occasions, and that is why I arranged for us to have a debate.

Yesterday I secured a 90-minute Westminster Hall debate on the important issue of the Government’s extraordinary decision to axe the Defence Export Services Organisation. The Government did a great discourtesy to not only the House but the hundreds of thousands of people who work in that important sector of the economy by sending along not a Defence Minister, who would perhaps have understood the issue, but the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. Will the Leader of the House correct that discourtesy by allowing a further debate on the Floor of the House, on an issue relating to £5 billion-worth of exports every year?

I will certainly look into the decision about which Minister should handle the debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman got answers that reflected the Government’s concern on the issue. Of course, there are Defence questions next Monday.

I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Lady said to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House about the single equality Bill. During the consultation, many disability organisations expressed great concerns about the removal of the disability equality duty, and they would welcome a change of Government policy, if there has indeed been a change. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, if the Bill does not come before the House until after the Queen’s Speech of 2008, she will at least publish a draft Bill at an early stage, as she successfully did with the Coroners Bill, so that the organisations concerned, and Members of the House, get a proper chance to scrutinise it?

I think that it is important that we get the policy right, and we will get the policy right on the basis of full discussion. Once broad policy decisions have been taken, I hope that we can publish draft clauses, even if we cannot publish a full draft Bill. On disability organisations and people who are concerned about discrimination and prejudice on grounds of age, sexual orientation, gender or race, there is no question of weakening current laws that protect people from discrimination and propose equality of opportunity—quite the reverse. We want to make sure that we have strong and effective laws. If we can move the issue out of the zone of dispute, disagreement and political point-scoring, and if we can move to a consensus about the fact that we all benefit from a fair and equal society, it will be a huge change. That would be a basis on which to build radical and progressive legislation, and I will look to the hon. Gentleman for his support.

May we have a debate on funding for new schools? “I before E”, or “infrastructure before expansion”, is vital in communities such as Milton Keynes. We recognise that we will need seven new schools in the next three years to keep pace with Government housing targets, so does the Leader of the House understand the anger felt in Milton Keynes this week at the news that the basic need allocation for the new schools has been slashed from £30 million to just £10 million? That means that four of those seven new schools will not be built. Whatever happened to “Education, education, education”?

I know that the Minister for Schools and Learners is meeting those involved in the Milton Keynes situation, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge that there has been massive investment in new teachers, and in primary and secondary school buildings. Of course, we would always like to see more being done, and I now realise that the hon. Gentleman would give us a great deal of support for extra public spending on education.

May we have an emergency debate on the fact that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs apparently plans to bully and cajole the British public into buying UHT instead of fresh, pasteurised milk? May we learn whether the Government are prepared to stand up for the Great British pinta, or do they not have a lot of bottle?

I do not think that there would be any point in holding such a debate, because DEFRA has no such plans.

At the beginning of business questions, my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House asked an important question about the huge numbers of Labour party members being appointed to quangos. The Leader of the House said that if we knew of any individual case, we could refer it to her, but with all respect, that is not the essence and spirit of the question. The spirit of the question, I believe, concerns the sheer numbers of Labour party members appointed to quangos. With Labour party membership collapsing, why are so many Labour party members being appointed to quangos? We demand a debate on the issue.

My response to the shadow Leader of the House was that there are transparent processes for ensuring that the best person gets any job that is in the public interest. There is a great degree of independence, and I simply asked for evidence that it had been inappropriately exercised. The point is that one cannot simply look at the sheer numbers; one has to ask whether the system is transparent, independent and operated effectively. I am asking for any evidence that shows that it has not been operated effectively.

May we have an urgent debate on Turkey? Will the Leader of the House join me in calling on the Turkish Government to show restraint, to not invade northern Iraq, and to stop shelling northern Iraqi villages? Similarly, will she call on the PKK to stop killing Turkish troops and personnel? Does she agree that if Turkey wants to be a member of the wider European family, this is an opportunity for it to show that it is an international, responsible player in the community of Europe, and should it not show restraint?

I absolutely agree with every point that the hon. Gentleman has made, so I will not repeat what he said to the House. I simply say that he was spot on in all respects.

The Prime Minister said that important announcements would be made to Parliament, so I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the work force manager of Revenue and Customs, who attached a letter from the chairman, in which it was announced that a number of tax offices in West Yorkshire were to be closed, including two in Shipley, Hockney house and Crown house, which were previously earmarked for retention. Given the importance of the issue, not only to the people whose lives will be affected by the decision but to the local economy in Shipley, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Chancellor comes to the House and makes a statement on why those decisions have been made?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman raised the matter at Treasury questions, as the Chancellor was in the House only an hour or so ago—[Interruption.] I take the point. We are concerned to ensure that important ministerial decisions are announced to the House. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will consider writing to the Chancellor with the point about the decisions that have been made locally concerning his tax offices.