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Business of the House

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

The business for the week commencing 26 November will be—

Monday 26 November—Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Tuesday 27 November—Second Reading of the Housing and Regeneration Bill.

Wednesday 28 November—Opposition Day [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “Prisons Crisis”, followed by a debate on the performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Thursday 29 November—Topical debate—subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to asylum, followed by a general debate on the Government consultation on convicting rapists and protecting victims.

Friday 30 November—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 3 December will include—

Monday 3 December—Remaining stages of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall in December will be—

Thursday 6 December—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on Department for International Development assistance to Burmese internally displaced people and refugees on the Thai-Burma border.

Thursday 13 December—A debate on the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the treatment on asylum seekers.

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

This morning, the Secretary of State for Transport made a written statement about the expansion of Heathrow. She was happy to make a statement to business leaders yesterday and to spin it to the “Today” programme this morning, so why has she not been to the House to make an oral statement? That would enable hon. Members who, like me, have constituency interests, to question her. Every week, the Leader of the House tells us that she puts Parliament first; every week, her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

On Monday, we discovered that the Government have no idea how much taxpayers’ money might be paid out after the £24 billion bail-out of Northern Rock. The Chancellor told the Treasury Committee:

“we fully expect to be able to get that money back.”

Now he refuses to say for certain that the money will ever be paid back. There are many questions still to be answered. What is the total Government liability? What arrangements are in place if the Government need a supplementary estimate to cover their liabilities? How are they accounting for the liabilities, and are those liabilities on or off balance sheet? What estimate has been made of the effect on the public sector borrowing requirement? Will the Chancellor make another Northern Rock statement, so that he can answer those questions?

On Tuesday we discovered that the Government had lost the personal details of 25 million men, women and children. The Prime Minister says that he “profoundly” regrets what has happened, but that is not much consolation to the millions of families who have been left to follow the Chancellor’s advice to check their bank statements. According to a written answer given just three weeks ago, there were 2,111 security breaches by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs last year alone. Reports today suggest that at least two further CDs are missing. How can the Prime Minister deny that the fiasco is anything but the result of systemic failure? Can we therefore have a debate in Government time on the systemic failure in HMRC—a department set up by the Prime Minister?

In his statement on Tuesday, the Chancellor said that the reason why he had not told the House immediately was that he needed to put appropriate safeguards in place. He said that

“the banks were adamant that they wanted as much time as possible to prepare for this announcement.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1102.]

However, the British Bankers Association has said:

“The BBA did not ask for any more time…None of our members asked for any extra time.”

That directly contradicts what the Chancellor told hon. Members. He must come to the House and set the record straight. The Chancellor also said repeatedly that the decisions were taken by junior officials. However, we know that it was a senior business manager who took the decision to put the information on to the discs and that that was done with the knowledge of the director of HMRC, process owner for tax credits and child benefits. Yet another thing that the Chancellor told the House has been contradicted, so will he come to the House to make an urgent statement and tell us the true version of events?

The Northern Rock fiasco and the HMRC scandal tell us everything that we need to know about the Government: they are incompetent, insincere and in deep trouble. Is it not time that somebody just got a grip?

The right hon. Lady raised the matter of Heathrow. The point is that there is a process of consultation. If she wants to put her views into the consultation on behalf of her constituents, I suggest that she do so. A written ministerial statement has been made to the House on the subject of the consultation. When conclusions are reached as a result of hearing from all those who put in their views to the consultation, including hon. Members, and when there are firm proposals for action, no doubt the Secretary of State for Transport will bring those matters to the House. Hon. Members will know the difference between launching a consultation and having firm proposals. When there are firm proposals, they must be brought to the House for announcement.

The right hon. Lady made a number of points about Northern Rock and about Revenue and Customs. Of course, when sudden problems arise the duty of the Government is clear. First, it is to ensure that individuals are protected from any personal damage or any potential problems. Secondly, our duty is to ensure that there is an investigation to discover what actually happened and why. I do not intend to pre-empt any of those investigations by answering the questions that are subject to them. Thirdly, it is our duty to take steps to ensure that those problems do not happen again. That is the duty of the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is doing exactly that.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend and other Members will agree that, since last week’s business questions, we have had a hectic week. As far as I am aware, however, in the space of that week, no one has lost their home or their savings from Northern Rock, and the banks have guaranteed that anyone who has a bank account will be protected against computer fraud. In the meantime, more than 3 million people have lost their homes—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr. Ellwood, you should not be shouting. You are usually a very quiet Member, and I do not expect this from you.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In the meantime, last week, more than 3,000 people have lost their lives and more than 3 million have lost their homes, livelihoods and families. Can we therefore have a debate on Bangladesh, and give some support to the emergency aid programme in the next week?

In response to my right hon. Friend’s point, I reiterate that the first duty of the Government is to ensure that people are protected from actual or potential damage, and that is what the Chancellor is doing. My right hon. Friend mentioned the cyclone in Bangladesh. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has issued a written ministerial statement on that subject. It is a matter of great concern, and I am sure that he will report back to the House on it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (John Battle) might also wish to propose the matter as the subject for a topical debate.

Given that the biggest domestic issue has been the failure of the Government to ensure that one of their agencies looked after a huge amount of personal information, will the Leader of the House accept a formal request on behalf of my colleagues and myself for next Thursday’s topical debate to be on the subject of the failure of the Government to protect data across the Government and all their agencies? Will she also ensure that Ministers come to the House to explain their accountability for the failures of civil servants in Government Departments and agencies?

When we have had that debate, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the implications of this week’s serious news for the debate that the Government want us to have on the implementation of identity cards? That proposal must be called into question by the failures of this week, and we need to assess the stupidity of the proposal early, so that we do not waste any more public money by going down that completely unhelpful road.

Yesterday, Ministers joined the Director of Public Prosecutions in saying that they were opposed to an increase in the 28-day limit on detention. May we have an early opportunity to question Ministers on the state of the Government’s negotiations on any change in the balance between liberty and security that would put the traditional liberties of the British people at risk?

The Government were represented yesterday by a very junior Minister—I am not being disrespectful—at what was meant to be a high-level conference in Rome to mark the 10th anniversary of the international anti-bribery convention. Will Ministers come to the House to explain what the benefit or disbenefit has been to this country of the decision not to continue the investigation into alleged corruption between BAE Systems and the Saudi Government, while we are trying to persuade other countries around the world to adopt strong anti-corruption regimes?

Mr. Speaker, you were kind enough to allow me to withdraw my debate on Sri Lanka for family reasons last week. However, the Commonwealth conference is taking place this week, and there are clearly important issues to be discussed, including Pakistan and the terrible civil war in Sri Lanka. Can we be assured that the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister will make a statement on the Commonwealth conference, to allow us to ask questions about those two very troubled parts of the Commonwealth, which are a matter of great concern to people in this country?

As the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday, 22 of the 25 European countries have ID cards. One of the best ways of protecting against identity fraud is secure, checkable identity verification via biometric data, and that is what ID cards would provide. The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise the issue in Home Office questions next Monday.

The hon. Gentleman suggested a subject for a topical debate next week. I shall accept that as a representation. He also raised the question of the 28 days’ detention, and the Government’s discussion of whether the period should be extended. He will be able to raise that issue during Monday’s Home Office questions as well. However, I remind him that if we are advised by the head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, by the Government’s independent reviewer Lord Carlile and by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that there is a case for extension, and if we can be satisfied that there are sufficient safeguards, it will be right for us proceed. I hope that we shall be able to reach all-party agreement. Perhaps the House recalls that although the Conservative party wants to abolish it, we introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that whatever proposals the House may come up with, people’s human rights and civil liberties are protected.

The hon. Gentleman asked about BAE Systems and the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. On numerous occasions the House has been given information about the cessation of one particular inquiry in that respect.

No doubt the Foreign Secretary will make a report following the Commonwealth conference.

Finally, may I express my condolences to the hon. Gentleman for the loss of his mother?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a wider debate on aviation? At present the focus is on airports that may be expanding. Will she ensure that we can consider airports such as Gatwick, which play an important role in our airport network and supply many good jobs for people, to ensure that they do not shrink in the light of the expansion of other airports?

I shall take that as a suggestion for a topical debate on an issue that is important in relation to transport issues, jobs and the environment.

As the next statement is to be on pandemic influenza, may we be reassured that the Government will not be announcing that they have mislaid their stockpile of Tamiflu?

If the hon. Gentleman has a question in respect of the next statement, I suggest that he wait until the next statement to ask it.

There is a convention that the Government respond to Select Committee reports within two months. The Public Administration Committee recently had to wait 16 months for a Government response, and it is quite common for responses to be received after more than two months. In the circumstances, can it be a matter of policy to timetable debates on Select Committee reports when the Government have not responded?

Obviously it is important for Departments to respond promptly to departmental Select Committee reports. I shall take my hon. Friend’s question as a prompt for me to check the state of play on all the outstanding Select Committee reports that have yet to receive a Government response. The question of which reports are debated is also important, and I shall look into that as well.

While the Leader of the House is considering questions of data management, may I request a debate on one aspect of data, namely the Government’s awareness of where local elections are taking place? A postmaster in my constituency reports that she has received a letter saying that she cannot be told when her post office will be—or may be—closed because of forthcoming local elections and political sensitivity. However, we shall not be having any local elections in West Dorset in the coming year.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the time, but this matter was raised earlier today in questions to my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and the House was reminded that the usual rules are being applied. I will look into the particular point that he raises.

While the Government were absolutely right to apologise unreservedly for the loss of data records at the child benefit centre, does the Leader of the House agree that this issue should not be used as an opportunity to condemn all staff who work at the centre, and who deliver year in and year out an important and much-needed benefit to millions of families? Will she provide an opportunity for the support of staff to be included in any reviews that are conducted?

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point about the work of some of his constituents, and I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Obviously, lessons have to be learned, but we also recognise that Revenue and Customs employees are getting on with the important work of paying out child benefits and tax credits, which are vital to millions of families. Under this Government, child benefit has increased by more than 50 per cent.

The ward of Norcross in my constituency hosts the Department for Work and Pensions computer databases and the Ministry of Defence pensions databases. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to make a statement giving assurances that none of the data from those databases has been leaked? It is important that we know why information has gone astray, and whether the Government have got a grip on the situation across Whitehall.

Members will know that, together with the Information Commissioner, Mark Walport is looking into the question of data security in both the public and the private sector. No doubt a report will be brought before this House at the appropriate time, when further questions can be asked.

Will it be possible to have a debate next week on the non-implementation of low pay legislation provisions in respect of home workers? Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton) met a number of home workers—all of them women, and many of them Asian women—who are clearly not being dealt with in a fair manner by their so-called employers. I strongly feel that this matter ought to be looked at. The employers are dodging minimum pay legislation by saying that the women are self-employed; they are not.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Despite the extra protection this Government have introduced for people at work—in particular, vulnerable employees—there is still exploitation. A forthcoming Bill will seek to address that, and my hon. Friend can raise such points in discussions on it.

Eighty-five per cent. of dentists surveyed by the British Dental Association say they do not believe that the new dental contract offers sufficient access to care, and 95 per cent. say they have less confidence now than two years ago in the future of NHS dentistry. Will the Leader of the House secure an early debate on the future of NHS dentistry?

The Government remain very concerned to increase access to, and the quality of, dental services. The hon. Gentleman might consider applying for an Adjournment debate in this Chamber on the matter, or a Westminster Hall debate.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the prime concern of all us in Britain today should be British manufacturing? It is a wealth-creating sector that provides good employment, and its products are value-added. The House should be discussing how we can support the sector in order to minimise risk. The investment required is colossal and the profit from it comes slowly. We need to look into this issue and ensure that Government policies on research and development and product development and innovation do not have a disincentivising effect in the sector, which accounts for 30 per cent. of the north-east’s GDP.

My hon. Friend makes an important point on manufacturing, which some Members also emphatically made in this morning’s questions to Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, who expressed their total commitment to British manufacturing and the future of manufacturing in this country. I will draw my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families as he takes forward the diploma programme so that we make sure that the country has the skills to underpin our manufacturing industry, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, because of the important apprenticeship programme. Not only are the Government well aware of the importance of manufacturing, but we are doing everything we can to underpin its success in the future.

May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Transport on Heathrow expansion? My constituents have no information in the consultation document launched today that they trust, on which to base their decisions on what to say in response to that consultation. I have been trying for five months to get hold of the detailed environmental analysis that BAA has had and that the Department for Transport has been modelling to. Why are the Government unwilling to be accountable in any way whatsoever to the people whom they exist to serve?

My hon. Friends are reminding me that there will be a Westminster Hall debate on Heathrow next week, which the hon. Lady could no doubt contribute to. Since she has taken the opportunity of—[Hon. Members: “It is half an hour.”] Okay, sorry about that; the hon. Lady might apply for a Westminster Hall debate on Heathrow. Nevertheless, since she has taken the opportunity to ask me a question this week, perhaps I can remind her of a question she asked me last week, on which she challenged me and said that I had given the wrong answer in respect of police numbers in her constituency. I have checked the numbers, and I gave the right answer.

May I draw my right hon. and learned Friend’s attention to an all-party thrombosis group report published on Monday that showed that fewer than a third of acute hospitals in England undertake a mandatory risk assessment of patients for venous thromboembolism—VTE? As more than seven months have passed since the chief medical officer recommended universal mandatory assessments, and since as many as 11,000 patients might have died from this hospital-acquired disease, will she find time for a debate on the subject?

I will draw my hon. Friend’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It is important that we do all we can to prevent thrombosis and to improve the treatment for it, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work of his all-party group.

Will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to come before the House and explain how he is unravelling the Prime Minister’s bizarre decision to disband the Defence Export Services Organisation and to put some rump of it in UK Trade and Investment, which is in his Department?

The hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), was a bit premature in asking me a question about the statement that is about to be made, but the hon. Gentleman’s question is a bit late, as the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform was in the House standing at the Dispatch Box a few minutes ago to answer topical questions. Let me make a suggestion: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but I would say that this is an important issue for topical questions.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we are approaching the end of the bicentenary of the legislation on the abolition of the slave trade, and there has been plenty of talk in the House about having an annual remembrance day for slavery, in line with the holocaust memorial day. Will she inform the House whether there is need for further debate, or are we in agreement that that should take place?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that important point. Obviously, I am pleased that the slavery question and understanding its history is now part of the national curriculum. Whether to have a memorial day is under consideration, and rightly so.

It is perfectly proper to have an inquiry into the breach of security at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but surely that should not be an excuse to avoid parliamentary accountability. I hope that the Leader of the House will agree to hold a topical debate next week, not least because the Public Accounts Committee has been informed that rather than this just being about a junior clerk putting the wrong disc in the wrong envelope, it went up, or was copied through, to assistant secretary level—we have been given the name of the official. Parliament should know about this. What is more topical than 25 million people’s personal bank details going out into the ether?

It is important that this House has the correct and full information, and the Chancellor will, at all stages, be concerned to provide that. Sometimes there will be conflicting information about what happened. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, will agree that we want full, reliable information, and not speculation.

May we have a debate on the ever-increasing problem of human trafficking into this country? Young women in particular are encouraged to come to this country under the pretence of legitimate employment, only to find themselves locked into prostitution, drugs and crime. Perhaps we can follow the Swedish Government’s example of focusing on reducing demand for prostitution rather than on criminalising vulnerable young women.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the demand side of human trafficking. I met the Newspaper Society recently to discuss the problem of local newspapers advertising foreign women in their classified ads and the concern that such newspapers might unwittingly be advertising women who have been abducted and trafficked for sexual purposes. It will report back to me on the action that will be taken. My hon. Friend will also know that we need to work with our counterparts in the European Union on this, and that Ministers are doing so.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we can support primary care trusts such as Kingston PCT that are struggling with large historical debts when, as we have heard today, the national health service as a whole is recording a large surplus? How can it make sense for the health service in some parts of the country to experience painful cuts when relatively small one-off debt write-offs, or even a minor rescheduling of debt repayments, can be easily afforded?

I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who will doubtless take the opportunity to remind him that the financial resources available in both primary and hospital care in Kingston have hugely increased since 1997 to ensure that his constituents, like all others, receive constantly improving health services. He will be able to table a written question on this, should he choose to do so.

The Deputy Leader of the House is consulting the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee about how we can improve this House’s scrutiny of European matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) will know, we agreed to bring new proposals on how to scrutinise European legislation more effectively to the House before 24 January. Any hon. Member who wants to contribute to those proposals should take the opportunity to raise this with the Deputy Leader of the House.

At 10 am, I attended a conference at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre across the road, at which the Minister with responsibility for road safety, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), gave an excellent speech on road safety. At the end of it, he apologised for his having to leave because of the important announcement on Heathrow. Why is it an important announcement on Radio 4 and on the other side of the road, yet does not even warrant a junior Minister giving a statement to this House?

Perhaps I should remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that the announcement is of a consultation. Ministers are concerned to ensure that everybody knows that a consultation to which they can contribute is taking place. That is doubtless what the Under-Secretary of State for Transport was talking about. The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be able to contribute to the consultation. If firm proposals arise from it, they will be brought to this House and not trailed on the “Today” programme.

In view of the serious implications and damage to every Member of this House, may we have an early opportunity to debate the report of the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC94, which upheld the complaints against the hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams)? I informed them last night by letter that I was going to raise this matter today.

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. It is important that Members of this House keep in touch with constituents not only at election time, but all the time. The communication allowance is provided for that purpose. The Committee on Standards and Privileges rightly takes abuse of the allowance seriously, because it brings our honest use of it, and the reputation of the House, into disrepute.

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill), surely the consultation exercise on the expansion of this country’s largest airport should begin with a statement in the House of Commons, as has happened with other Government consultation exercises. Is there any reason why the Secretary of State for Transport should not come to the House on Monday to make an oral statement?

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Early-day motions 241 to 244 inclusive and 247 to 255 inclusive salute the bravery of Britain’s military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and record with sadness those who have been killed in those conflicts.

[That this House salutes the bravery of the armed forces serving in Afghanistan and records with sorrow the deaths of Lance Corporal Jake Alderton of 36 Engineer Regiment, Major Alexis Roberts, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, aged 32 from Kent, Colour Sergeant Phillip Newman, 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 36, Private Brian Tunnicliffe, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), aged 33 from Ilkeston, Corporal Ivano Violino from 36 Engineer Regiment, aged 29 from Salford, Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 25 from Nottingham, Private Johan Botha, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment from South Africa, Private Damian Wright, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 23 from Mansfield, Private Ben Ford, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, aged 18 from Chesterfield, Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bridge from C flight, 51 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, aged 20, from Sheffield, Private Aaron James McClure, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Ipswich, Private Robert Graham Foster, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 19 from Harlow, Private John Thrumble, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 21 from Chelmsford, Captain David Hicks of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 26 from Surrey, Private Tony Rawson of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, aged 27 from Dagenham, Essex, Lance Corporal Michael Jones, Royal Marines aged 26 from Newbald, Yorkshire, Sergeant Barry Keen of 14 Signal Regiment, aged 34 from Gateshead and Guardsman David Atherton from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, aged 25 from Manchester.]

May we have an early debate on the Daily Mirror campaign that seeks to provide a medal to all who are killed or seriously injured in military conflict on behalf of this country?

I also raise that issue because I would like the House to pass on our good wishes to the tabler of the early-day motions, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). He was taken seriously ill in the Palace of Westminster a night or two ago. May we express to him our wish to see him restored to good health and back here very early so that the House can benefit from his characteristic bravery, persistence and independence, which underpin his tireless campaigning in this place?

I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) well and I hope that he makes a speedy return to this House. I join my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) in paying tribute to all our armed services who bravely put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he will know—the Prime Minister has spoken about this in the House—the question of recognition and the awarding of medals falls to the armed services, and they make proposals to the Ministry of Defence. Any action will then be reported to this House.

The Leader of the House referred to a question from last week. Will she let us know next week whether she can find a single example of a major consultation on something of the importance of Heathrow airport being announced by any previous Government without an oral statement being made to this House?

I am keeping a count on this; I do not want to encourage any other hon. Members to raise the same point, but I recognise the strength of feeling in the House this morning and will take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. If any other hon. Member is thinking of raising this, they need not do so because I have got the point.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, attended a meeting of the all-party human rights group and the all-party Zimbabwe group earlier this week to discuss the brutality, starvation and total lack of democracy in that country. As the previous Leader of the House, now Secretary of State for Justice, promised a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the subject, will the Leader of the House now provide time for that debate, perhaps as a topical debate, in the very near future?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and I recognise his tireless raising of the important issue of Zimbabwe. We had a debate in the summer, but matters have not improved since. I will take his suggestion for a topical debate, but he will know that the issue is high on the agenda of Foreign Office Ministers and of the Prime Minister as he attends the Commonwealth summit.

Order. I will call the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) if he can assure me that he was in his place for the business statement.

I was indeed, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House will be aware, from Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions, of the widespread concern about the closure of post offices, not only in rural areas but in urban areas such as my constituency. The post offices in Francis street and Walnut street are a vital part of their communities and provide valuable services. May we have a debate in Government time on the value of post offices to rural and urban communities?

My hon. Friend will know that the future of post offices was raised this morning in Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform questions. I will take his suggestion as a proposal for a topical debate, and I will consider what we can do to ensure that the House has full discussions on the issue of post offices, which are—as he says—important not only to Members who represent rural constituencies but to those who represent urban areas.

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster come to the House to make a statement? One of his responsibilities is the Central Sponsor for Information Assurance, which is a team in the Cabinet Office. When the Cabinet Office commissioned an expert report on information security in July, the conclusion was that

“adequate mechanisms are not yet in place”.

Will the Chancellor come to the House to tell us why he failed to act on the recommendations of that report?

I am sure that on many future occasions, in statements, oral questions and topical debates, consideration will given to the issue of data security. As I have said, in response to the immediate issue of HMRC, the Government’s first concern must be to ensure that people are protected from potential damage. We must understand the facts and why the problem arose, and take action to avoid any repetition.

I am afraid that the Leader of the House has not convinced me that it is common practice for Ministers to fail to make an oral statement on consultations. Perhaps she can confirm that the Secretary of State for Transport has not come to the House because thousands of homes will be destroyed and villages wiped off the map as a result of the consultation. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether any Minister has failed to come to the House when launching such a consultation in the past few years?

Perhaps the best approach is not only—[Interruption.] I do not seek to make excuses. The best approach is not always to look at how things have been done in the past—although it is important to be aware of that—but to identify the feelings and concerns of Members and whether they want an early opportunity to debate an issue. As I have said, I get the point on this issue.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider her decision not to grant a topical debate on the loss of data by the Government? I suggest that little is more topical than the loss of the personal details of 25 million people, especially given the concern it has caused in our constituencies.

I have invited all hon. Members to submit their proposals for topical debate subjects. I intend to announce the issue for debate on Monday evening so that hon. Members notice may make plans to attend and participate in the debate. The earlier I make the announcement, the less topical it is likely to be if some intervening issue arises. We will have to keep an eye on the issue and work out whether we should sacrifice giving notice to Members, and Ministers, in order to ensure hot topicality—[Interruption.] We will have to decide whether to have override arrangements so that the subject can be changed at the last minute. We want to ensure that the House has an opportunity to discuss topical issues. That is what the topical debate is for, and I intend to make it work as well as possible for the House.

When will the House be asked to approve the £25 billion so far spent on Northern Rock and the £25 billion of contingent guarantees? Where did the Treasury and the Bank of England suddenly find £25 billion?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that he can raise those issues at Treasury questions next Thursday. No doubt the Chancellor and his ministerial colleagues will remind him that we are concerned to ensure that no Northern Rock shareholder, employee or saver loses out. The Chancellor has made statements to the House on the issue and, if there is any further information to give, he will do so again.

I return to the debacle at HMRC. The Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly promised that he would return to the House and update us. In the light of the National Audit Office telling us that it was a senior member of staff at director level who allowed the awful problem to arise—rather than a junior member of staff, as suggested by the Chancellor on Tuesday and the Prime Minister yesterday—will the Chancellor come to the House on Monday and give us an update?

Who told what to whom and when they told them will be the subject of Kieran Poynter’s review, which will be carried out expeditiously. The House will want to proceed on the basis of knowing the facts as fully as possible, not by adding speculation to speculation. This is a serious issue and we need to know the full facts. Above all, we want to ensure that nobody loses out as a result.

In the statement that the Chancellor made about the farce at HMRC, no mention was made of child protection. Millions of families will be worried that the details of their children’s names, addresses and dates of birth could have fallen into the wrong hands. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary comes to the House to make a statement on what assessment has been made of the risk to children from the shambles and what measures have been taken to ensure that no children are put at risk?

As I have said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House on Tuesday to make a statement. When a sudden problem arises the foremost duty of the Government is to protect any individual from possible harm. That is the foremost priority of the Government and the Chancellor.

Order. Four Back Benchers are on their feet—I see that Mr. Wiggin has now jumped up—and they may ask one supplementary question each.

Since the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ordered the closure of at least 2,500 post offices in May, the details of which post offices are targeted have been published. There is cross-party concern, as we have seen today, about the impact of that closure programme introduced by the Government and ordered on the Post Office’s much-maligned chief executive. May we have an urgent debate so that we can discuss the impact on areas such as Grovehill road in Beverley, which serves the lowest-income side of, Beverley and is a very busy post office?

I was thinking of suggesting that I could consider that for a topical debate on Thursday, but next Thursday there is a Westminster Hall debate on post offices. One of the criteria for granting a topical debate is that the House does not otherwise have an opportunity to discuss a subject. As the House will have an opportunity to discuss post offices in Westminster Hall, that is the answer to the question. I recognise that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the future of post offices and I will reflect on whether adequate time across the piece is being given to this important issue.

I am the chairman of the ID fraud group in the House of Commons. The loss of the two discs containing the national insurance numbers and bank details of 25 million people is important. We know that ID fraudsters can sit on information for many months and sometimes a year or so before using it. Will the Leader of the House persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House on Monday so that we can further question him, particularly on the advice being given to the 25 million people about what precautions they should take to protect themselves?

It was for the reason that the hon. Gentleman mentions that the Chancellor explained to the House that the ongoing search for the two CDs was important. The Prime Minister said that Revenue and Customs is writing to everyone to explain the situation and the precautions that they might take if they are concerned. If there is any further information, no doubt the Chancellor will come to the House with it.

The Leader of the House will readily acknowledge that this morning millions of people are in despair. Will she arrange a debate on the crisis in English football?

We are all disappointed that none of the home sides has qualified. Some people are feeling beyond disappointment and are downright angry. Questions about football, and particularly about the football coach, are not for the Government primarily, but for football authorities.

In November 2005 Jessica Randall was murdered by her father Andrew Randall, who lived in Kettering. She was just seven weeks old and she had been sexually abused and tortured before being killed. Her father has been sentenced to life in prison. A year ago the local safeguarding children board set up an investigation into the death and promised to publish its report. A year on, local people are still waiting for it. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister next week, announcing new guidelines to local safeguarding children boards that such inquiries should be published with all possible speed and certainly should not take longer than 12 months?

I will bring that point to the attention of ministerial colleagues and suggest that the relevant Minister—this is a cross-ministerial issue—write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy in the Library of the House.