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Business of the House

Volume 468: debated on Thursday 29 November 2007

The business for the week commencing 3 December will be as follows:

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

Tuesday 4 December—It is expected that there will be an oral statement on the publication of the board of inquiry report into the Nimrod crash, followed by Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Politicisation of the Civil Service”, followed by a debate on the performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Wednesday 5 December—It is expected that there will be an oral statement on the annual benefit uprating, followed by Estimates [1st allotted day]. There will be a debate on standards of conduct in public life, followed by a debate on benefits simplification. Details will be given in the Official Report. At 7 pm, the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 6 December—It is expected that there will be an oral statement on annual uprating of local authority allocations, followed by a topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill, followed by a general debate on fisheries.

Friday 7 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 10 December will include:

Monday 10 December—Second Reading of the Planning Bill.

[Wednesday 5 December:

Public Administration Committee, “Ethics and Standards: The Regulation of Conduct in Public Life”—Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 121-I.

Work and Pensions Committee, “Benefits Simplification” —Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 436-I.]

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for coming to the House and giving us the future business. I am only sorry that she refused my request that she come to the House earlier this week to make a statement on the sleaze scandal that engulfs her. This afternoon’s topical debate, chosen by the right hon. and learned Lady, is on the prospects for apprenticeships in England. Why are we not debating genuinely topical issues, such as party funding sleaze? [Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Lady—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Lady is still in order, but I caution her that she must stay in order and remember that we are talking about the business of next week.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I shall refer to a number of items of business for next week. On the issue I have just referred to, I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she might be Labour party chairman, but she is also Leader of this House, and her first duty must be to Parliament and not to her party. May we have a statement on the political party funding Bill? During Labour’s deputy leadership campaign, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declined a dodgy donation from Janet Kidd, after being warned by Baroness Jay that the donation was in fact from David Abrahams. At the same time, we now know—

Order. That is nothing to do with the business for next week. [Hon. Members: “It is.”] Order. Let me be the referee. I say that it is nothing to do with the business of next week, and I tell the right hon. Lady that she must move on from this subject. She has made her point. It is possible to overdo it, and she should move on—[Interruption.] Order. It does not help when others shout across the Chamber. I am trying to be the referee. Let us move on.

This morning, the Home Secretary said that the Government are considering changes to legislation as a result of the issues arising from the party funding debacle in the Labour party. If the Home Secretary was prepared to make that statement to the media, she should have been prepared to come to this House and answer our questions.

May we have a debate in Government time on the Government’s internal communications? We have had several issues over the past week in which it was clear that a Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Jay, who sits on the Government Benches, revealed certain information about party funding to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to others. We now have working in the Leader of the House’s office someone who used to administer the 1000 club of donors to the Labour party. However, the Leader of the House says that none of those people ever asked her—

Order. The right hon. Lady may ask about communications, but let us not get into the detail of this matter. There will be other opportunities—[Interruption.] Order. We are talking about business questions. The right hon. Lady is experienced enough to know that she should ask for something to be debated and then move on. She should not go into the detail of this particular matter, because that is for another time.

Thank you for your advice, Mr. Speaker. I try to be as helpful to the House as possible in giving explanations as to why debates on certain matters might be necessary. These matters do drive at the heart of Government—

Order. Do not shout at me, Mr. Stuart. As I have told the House before, I am guided by the rules that the House has given me, and those rules tell me that this is business questions. So do not tell me how to do my job. You would not know where to start.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are already questions about a planning application in Durham, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said that she has initiated a review of the issue of planning applications by third-party intermediaries. When will she make a statement to the House about the outcome of that review?

May we have a debate in Government time on the proper functioning of the ministerial code so that the Leader of the House can explain why, in the middle of September, she declared a donation to her deputy leadership campaign to the permanent secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs? With new questions emerging today about the role of Jon Mendelsohn, such a debate—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Such a debate would enable the Leader of the House to say whether her campaign team was approached by Mr. Mendelsohn about whether they wanted to be put in touch with secret donors. There are several questions to be answered and the Leader of the House must make a full statement.

The Leader of the House, the Prime Minister and the Labour party treasurer are like the three wise monkeys. They see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Quite simply, it won’t wash. The public know sleaze when they see it. The people know spin when they hear it, and the voters will know what to do when they have their say: they will get rid of this sleazy Labour Government.

The right hon. Lady’s questions give me the opportunity to tell the House what I have already said publicly. In respect of my deputy leadership campaign and donations to it, my campaign team and I acted at all times in good faith. We acted at all times within both the letter and the spirit of the law. We had three very clear rules: we would accept donations only from people we knew personally, whom members of the campaign team knew personally or who were existing donors. We checked every donor to ensure that they were on the electoral register as a permissible donor. When we discovered there was a problem—

Order. I remind the Leader of the House that I told the shadow Leader of the House that at times she was going beyond the business of the House. The right hon. and learned Lady is now going beyond the business of the House. She does not need to say those things—she is not discussing the business of the House.

Mr. Speaker, I am explaining why I am not seeking to give a statement to the House on the deputy leadership campaign finances, because at all times—

Order. The right hon. and learned Lady should not go into the detail of the matter because it is not the business for next week. She has said that she acted in good faith; she should now move on.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Mr. Speaker!”]—Mr. Speaker.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) can huff and puff but she will not blow this Leader of the House down—[Interruption.] I will deal with the business of the House.

The right hon. Lady asked about topical debates. The proposal came from the Modernisation Committee. The Government responded and we brought a Standing Order before the House to change the rules. The first topical debate, which was very well attended, was on immigration and was suggested by the right hon. Lady. The second topical debate was on climate change—a matter we all regard as important and topical. Today, we have a topical debate on apprenticeships. The right hon. Lady is perfectly entitled to propose subjects for topical debates, which we announce on Mondays, and I welcome her and other Members doing so. If they make proposals, I will consider them.

The right hon. Lady talked about the comments of the Home Secretary this morning, when my right hon. Friend was asked about party funding. The shadow Leader of the House and Members know that in the Queen’s Speech we announced our intention to legislate on party funding. The Liberal Democrats were prepared to co-operate in all-party talks, but unfortunately we have not been able to bring our conclusions to the House because the Conservatives walked away from the talks.

The right hon. Lady asked when the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will come to the House to report on her review. My right hon. Friend will do so when the review is concluded.

May we have a debate on the increases in military spending that have been authorised under the Government to assist our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to discuss the remarkable fact that last Tuesday General Sir Richard Dannatt and Colonel Richard Westley came to the House to brief 50 Members of both Houses on what they called the significant increases that had taken place, yet last Friday a group of superannuated military top brass, in a comfortable billet in the other place, opened a huge bombardment on the Government for doing the opposite?

There are Defence questions next Monday and no doubt my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to catch the Speaker’s eye to raise that point, especially as there are topical as well as pre-planned oral questions. As he raises an important point about defence spending, may I point out that the UK spends more on defence than any country in the world except the United States? The Conservatives were cutting defence spending. When we came in we increased it. Were the Defence Secretary to be making a statement on that point, I think he would be saying that while we have increased defence spending, the Tories were cutting it, and although they now say they want it increased they will not say by how much or as what percentage of GDP. They will not say where the money will come from and they will not say what would have to be cut to pay for it.

In recent days, we have had the opportunity to debate why the Government have put at risk millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money as a result of the first run on a bank in 100 years. We have also had a chance, today and previously, to debate why the Government have put millions of benefit recipients at risk of having their personal data lost through the incompetence of Revenue and Customs. However, given that events of recent days show that the interpretation of the law has put the Leader of the House’s own party at risk of being investigated yet again by the police—because of hundreds of thousands of pounds of dodgy donations—will she accept that, whatever her personal view, the topical debate for next week should be the funding of political parties and the restoration of public confidence? That is what the public want us to debate. Her party and ours—and I hope the Tories, as well—should debate that on the Floor of the House next week.

Secondly, although we have had a written statement, may we have an early opportunity to debate the Commonwealth conference and its outcomes? Many people in the House think that the Commonwealth is very important. There was not a prime ministerial statement—in our view, there should have been—but we could at least take the opportunity to hold an early debate on the talks in Uganda and their implications. Linked to that, it is World AIDS day this Saturday. AIDS and HIV are hugely important issues, not just in this country but across the world. Is the Leader of the House willing to take the initiative of holding a regular debate at about this time of year on what we can do both at home and abroad to reduce the incidence of AIDS and HIV, and the suffering of those who have contracted those infections?

Lastly, may we have an early debate on human rights abroad, particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where we now learn that a woman who has been gang-raped is likely to be imprisoned and subject to the lash by a Government we entertained only the other day with a state visit to this country? That is not acceptable by any definition. This country needs the opportunity to debate the matter, when other countries that are meant to be our allies clearly do not understand what human rights really are.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of Northern Rock. He knows that the Chancellor has made many statements on Northern Rock and has kept the House fully informed. He was answering questions at the Dispatch Box only a few moments ago. He will have emphasised, and I will re-emphasise, that our first consideration is the financial security of the banking system and its importance for this country. We must also have at the forefront of our mind the question of the financial security of those who have deposited savings in Northern Rock, and we must remember the many thousands of people who work for Northern Rock, which is an important institution. The hon. Gentleman can raise his concerns, but we have the right priorities at the front of our mind and we are keeping the House informed at all times, as we are in relation to the Revenue and Customs issue that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman raised a question about the interpretation of the law. It has been made clear to the House that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, there was a wrong registration, for which the general secretary of the Labour party has taken responsibility. He has resigned and we have established our own Labour party inquiry. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that, as I said to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, I have acted in good faith and within the letter and spirit of the law at all times. However, I will take what he says as a representation for a topical debate next week.

The hon. Gentleman raised the serious question of floggings and whippings in Saudi Arabia. We are very clear in this country that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the international community in believing that floggings and whippings are in breach of human rights. They are a violation of human rights and we deplore them wherever they happen in the world.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important question of World AIDS day. Given the importance of international development and of tackling poor health and poverty throughout the world, the House, in addition to International Development questions, has regular debates on international development in not only this Chamber, but Westminster Hall. We will continue to do so.

In any discussions that we have on rules and regulations surrounding planning applications, may we take account of the terms of early-day motion 313, which I tabled on 19 November and has been signed by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson)?

[That this House congratulates the North East Chamber of Commerce, The Journal newspaper, local politicians and all involved in the successful Go for Jobs campaign; thanks those transport Ministers who listened to the campaign and acted to bring about an end to restrictions on economic growth in the region caused by Article 14 Orders; and calls upon the Government to recognise that the excellent economic progress in the North East over the past 10 years will only be sustained and improved with a clear and comprehensive plan for the improvement of the region's major road and transport infrastructure.]

The early-day motion draws attention to the fact that a large part of the responsibility for convincing the Highways Agency to lift article 14 orders in the north-east, including in Durham, lies with The Journal newspaper and the North East chamber of commerce.

I will draw my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

When it comes to selecting the topical debate for next week and subsequent weeks, will the right hon. and learned Lady consider either delegating that choice to Mr. Speaker, or making the choice by ballot, because it really is not appropriate that she herself should decide what is topical and what is not?

What is appropriate is for me, as Leader of the House, to do what the House has asked me to do under its Standing Orders. That is what I will do. The House will be aware that the Modernisation Committee, in its report “Revitalising the Chamber”, proposed topical debates and suggested that they should be

“announced by the Leader of the House”.

The Government responded to the report by saying that they would be

“announced by the Leader of the House following discussions”.

We are only—[Interruption.] Bear with me on this. This is the third week in which we have had a topical debate. We are genuinely concerned to make the debate in this House what Back Benchers want to debate and for it to be topical. This is only the third week, and we will review the system early in the new year. The House agreed, through the passing of its Standing Order, to the decision being made by the Leader of the House. The very first debate that I selected was on immigration, which was a subject chosen by not my ministerial colleagues, but the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, so I have been fair at all times. We will have to review the situation as it goes forward. I hope to be able to show that the House can be confident in the way in which I choose topical debates. However, if the House wants any amendments to the Standing Order, Members will have to propose them and we will have to reconsider the matter.

May we have an early debate on the way in which different agencies work together to tackle crime? The 101 service, which is based in Pontprennau in my constituency of Cardiff, North, is losing its grant from the Home Office next spring. The service has been an excellent example of the local authority, the police and other agencies working together. May we have a debate to discuss how such initiatives can continue?

I congratulate the 101 service on its important work. I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Can the Leader of the House explain why she chose today’s topical debate, given that no one made representations for that subject? Will she ensure that next week’s topical debate deals with the loss of public confidence arising from what is happening in government at the moment, and the loss of confidence in parliamentary democracy as a result of what is going on in the Labour party, in particular?

What is going on in government at the moment is that the Government are getting on with running the country—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to suggest that we change the process by which we choose topical debates, or to make a proposal on what he considers to be topical, I suggest that he does so.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate next week in which the acting leader of the Lib Dems and the two candidates for the Lib Dem leadership can tell the House and the country when they are going to pay back the dodgy 2 million quid that they got from Michael Brown?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his point. We appreciate the fact that the Liberal Democrats have been prepared to engage in party talks about how we agree a consensus on the legislation for party funding reform that we proposed in our Queen’s Speech.

I seek to work closely and constructively with the right hon. and learned Lady in her capacity as Leader of the House. Will she give further consideration to the request from Conservative Members that the way in which topical debates are chosen be more transparent and democratic? If it is necessary for the Modernisation Committee to consider amendments to the current Standing Order, will she be willing to have such a discussion in the Modernisation Committee so that the Standing Order can be changed to ensure that the topical debate is just that—current and topical?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I understand the House’s concern and that it wants to get the process right to ensure that topical debates serve the purpose for which they were intended. However, the proposal was brought to the House only a few weeks ago. The House made a decision and I am carrying out my duties under the Standing Order. If hon. Members want to reconsider the situation and think that the Standing Order should be drawn differently and the process should be different, they can make a proposal. No one made such a proposal in the debate in which we considered the Standing Order, but if hon. Members want to reflect on the matter, they can bring a proposal forward. My only interest is ensuring that the House gets what it wants: topical debates.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be well aware of the case of Mrs. Gibbons, who is about to appear in court in Khartoum. This is a dreadful case and I hope that the Foreign Office is doing everything possible to get her early release. However, will my right hon. and learned Friend also reflect on the fact that it is absolutely vital that we go ahead with peace talks regarding the situation in Darfur? We must recognise that there are no representatives from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement on the Government of national unity. These are difficult times in Sudan, so will the Government ensure that they continue to play a real part in trying to bring peace to that bedevilled land?

I pay tribute my hon. Friend’s role in the all-party group on Sudan. Let me first respond to his point on Gillian Gibbons. I can tell the House that the Foreign Secretary will be seeing the Sudanese ambassador this afternoon. The Government—and everyone, I am sure—want her free and back home, where she belongs, as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend mentioned the need for peace in Darfur. The Foreign Office wants to work with all the international community to ensure that we have peace in that terrible conflict situation.

Once we have had our proper topical debate on party funding, can some time be made available for a short debate on the operation of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? The Leader of the House will be aware that agency staff have been in dispute with the management over pay since the earlier part of this year. The chief executive has now announced a major reorganisation aimed at cutting costs. There is real concern in the shipping industry that the agency will try to walk away from some of its responsibilities, such as ship inspection and seafarer certification. These are matters of concern to not only island and coastal communities, but the shipping industry, which earns something in the region of £322 a second for the UK. Surely that is something to which we can give some time.

I shall take that as a representation for a topical debate next week. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a debate on fisheries on Thursday. I know that that is not entirely on the point that he mentioned, but some of the issues that he is concerned about could be raised in that debate.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that in a previous Session, the Gambling Act 2005 went through the House, and part of that Act concerned the creation of 16 new casinos, large and small. My constituency was to have one of the large ones, but unfortunately that plan was scuppered in the other place by the Opposition. It would have meant significant regeneration for parts of Great Yarmouth and the 15 other areas. Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us when the proposal will come back before the House, so that we can get on with the fantastic job that has been done over the past 10 years to regenerate one of the most deprived areas of the country?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in support of the regeneration of the seaside town of Great Yarmouth. I will bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House will provide an early statement on the role of the permanent secretary as the recipient of information. I understand that the right hon. and learned Lady told the Justice permanent secretary of a donation that she had received. It is not clear to me what permanent secretaries should do with such information, particularly when it is about party funding issues, and not general matters for Government.

The position on registration is as follows. There is a requirement to register donations above a certain limit with the Electoral Commission. Under the ministerial code, Ministers have to register any donations with the Cabinet Office. There is also the requirement to register in the Register of Members’ Interests. I registered all donations fully in accordance with all those three authorities. The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the permanent secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, as did the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May)—I am sorry that I did not get a chance to reply to her point earlier. It is custom and practice for a Minister to make declarations to the permanent secretary in the Department in which they are—[Interruption]—or were. That was the Department in which I was at the time. In addition, I made full declarations in the Register of Members’ Interests, and to the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office. During the course of the campaign I had been at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, so I provided the full information to the permanent secretary.

This Christmas in my constituency, the Ryhope allotment holders and pigeon men face eviction from their site by a mysterious company called Worktalent Ltd. The site contains the world’s only listed pigeon cree, or loft, as others may know it. It provides local families and children with education opportunities. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making time available to debate early-day motion 239, which is supported by Members on both sides of the House, so that the House can consider supporting the Ryhope pigeon men and getting the facilities back into the ownership of the community, where they belong?

[That this House supports the campaign by the Ryhope Allotment Holders to maintain and protect their environment which includes the world's only listed pigeon cree; calls upon the owners of Worktalent Ltd to withdraw their notice to terminate the lease; and believes that these historic allotments should be held in trust by the community and provide facilities for local children to enjoy and understand horticulture and the care of pigeons.]

The Government have a clear strong position on pigeon-fancying: we are wholly in favour of it. As Leader of the House, may I take the opportunity to congratulate and support the work of the Ryhope pigeon-fanciers?

I want to raise a point relating to the business of the House on the Order Paper. You know, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday, in answer to a question that I put, the Prime Minister said:

“There is not an iota of evidence to suggest that at any time until Saturday the Leader of the House knew that the donation was being given by a third party.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2007; Vol. 468, c. 281.]

That question related specifically to donations made not to the right hon. and learned Lady but to the Government party. There is a topical debate today. The right hon. and learned Lady told the Modernisation Committee yesterday that there was no request whatever from anyone in the House that we discuss the question of apprenticeships. As the right hon. Lady is now at the Dispatch Box, will she take the decision to dump today’s business and remain at the Dispatch Box, and let us test the veracity of what the Prime Minister said?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so contemptuous of the important issue of apprenticeships. There are something like 600,000 vacancies in the economy, and if any person in the country cannot be employed, it is largely because they lack the skills that would enable them to fill those vacancies. I absolutely do not accept his argument that it is not topical and important to discuss apprenticeship, the manufacturing industry and apprenticeship in the House this afternoon. If he wants to make proposals on how we change the system of choosing topical debates, let him make them.

May we have an early debate on the future of zoos, particularly Edinburgh zoo, which is threatened by the Liberal Democrat council’s disgraceful decision to prevent the zoo from selling some land for development purposes—a decision that puts its future in jeopardy?

Edinburgh zoo is world-famous, and zoos are not only an important family day out, but important educational facilities. I know that my hon. Friend’s view is that it is typical of the Lib Dem council to be so out of touch with voters that it does not realise that.

In this place, we are all honourable Members, and the Leader of the House, above all, is meant to epitomise that. For the purposes of the business of the House next week, will she tell us her definition of the word “honour”?

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen early-day motion 426, which I was asked to table by the European Scrutiny Committee, and which members of the Committee and I have signed? It asks for a specific debate on the European reform treaty before it is signed.

[That this House notes the recommendations from the European Scrutiny Committee of the House for a debate on the EU Reform Treaty before it is ratified; and calls for that debate to be arranged by the Government to allow the House to focus specifically on the Treaty.]

Our Prime Minister will sign the treaty on 19 December, but we have not had a debate in the House on a substantive motion relating to the reform treaty. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to realise that it is possible for the Government to lance the boil of the accusation that we are somehow signing the treaty in secret.

I do not think that there is anything secret about what the Government are doing on the European reform treaty. There was a report after the summit that agreed the treaty. There will be many days—days aplenty—of debate on the Floor of the House when we debate the EU reform treaty Bill referred to in the Queen’s Speech. My hon. Friend will know that under the guidance of the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, a review was held of how the House will undertake European scrutiny, to ensure that the good work that he does with his Committee can be improved.

During a recent statement on Northern Rock, the Chancellor published a consultation document called “Banking reform—protecting depositors”. The deadline for replies is 5 December, next week. However, as the Northern Rock problems have continued—not least because of the failure to disclose the letters from the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority—there is now concern that the tripartite arrangement between the FSA, the Bank and the Treasury may not be the best model for overseeing and regulating the banking industry in this country. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor to make an early statement specifically on the tripartite arrangement between the Bank, the FSA and the Treasury, and will she ask him to put back the deadline for responses to the consultation, so that information in that statement can be fully considered and fed back in any replies?

The hon. Gentleman needs to come to the House a bit earlier if he wants to make that point, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer was just dealing with the issues that he mentions under topical questions. If the hon. Gentleman had caught the Speaker’s eye, no doubt he could have raised that point. The Chancellor has been very forthcoming, and will continue to be so.

As chair of the all-party Scottish football group, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether we could have a debate on how genuine fans can access the people’s game. She may be aware that next year the European championship will not be shown in Scotland, but will be shown in England. Will she use her good offices and her influence with the appropriate Minister and Department to carry out an investigation into why the Scottish people are denied the opportunity to watch football, unless they have satellite television?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue that will be of concern to millions of people, and I will bring it to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

In support of the remarks of the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the report produced by the Committee is unprecedented since 1972, because it is a unanimous expression of grave dissatisfaction with the way in which the Government have conducted themselves. With reference to the answer that the Leader of the House gave to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), I regret to say that she is wrong. Under the requirements of the House, including Standing Orders, if the European Scrutiny Committee keeps a document under reserve, there is an obligation on the Government to hold a debate before that document is signed. Therefore it is imperative, and it is an obligation on the Government, to hold that debate before the Prime Minister signs the treaty.

The hon. Gentleman is a member of the European Scrutiny Committee. I hope he will make his proposals about how we can reform and improve the way in which we carry out European scrutiny in the House. Everybody would agree that it is important that the public have confidence that the House is scrutinising European legislation properly. We do not think that that is the case at present, and in the next couple of months we will introduce proposals, which we will discuss with all parties, to reform and improve European scrutiny.

We do not have points of order at this stage. After the statement the hon. Gentleman can raise a point of order.

Does the Leader of the House recall that the Foreign Secretary promised in July, both in the House and in writing, that there would be a debate on Zimbabwe in this Session before Christmas? Given that next weekend Mugabe is coming to a European Union-African Union conference—our Prime Minister should be congratulated on saying firmly that he will not be there—is this not an opportunity for us to debate why the European Union seems to be cancelling the sanction that refused Mugabe travel in order to allow him to attend the conference? Would that not be a wonderful subject for the topical debate next Thursday?

I will take my hon. Friend’s proposal as the subject of a topical debate. She has a long-standing concern about the matter and has raised it many times. I know that it is of concern to all Members of the House.

Will the Leader of the House find time to debate the situation in Bangladesh, where not only have 3,000 people died, but with rising sea levels and climate change, up to 30 million people could be at risk in future? The debate would be appreciated by the House and by the Bangladeshi community. There was a 30-minute debate last night, for which no Department for International Development Minister was available. I should like to see the Secretary of State for International Development taking his place in that debate.

As the hon. Gentleman says, there was a debate in the House last night on the important subject of Bangladesh, and I know that many hon. Members attended and intervened. We will keep under review whether adequate time is being made available or whether information should be provided on Government action and the situation in Bangladesh.

Reverting to next Thursday’s business and the topical debate that she announced, the right hon. and learned Lady might have noticed a growing appetite among those on the Opposition Benches for a more transparent process for selection. She explained that if we are to change the process, we will have to vote so to do, but in the meantime would it not enhance confidence in the selection process if she published the list of topics from which she made her choice?

I would like to knock on the head the idea that somehow we have come up with a proposal about how this should be dealt with, and the Opposition have an alternative agenda, which we are trying to suppress. That is not the case. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make proposals about how the debates should change, of course we will listen to them. These are early days for topical debates. We want to make sure that they go well.

It is almost a year and a half since Farepak went into liquidation, and people are facing a second Christmas without a resolution. My understanding is that a report has been prepared by the Government. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that it will be published quickly, and that we will have a proper debate in the House about the recommendations in the report?

I am sure the whole House would wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) on his award. He makes a serious point about Farepak. He will know that it is being investigated under the Companies Act. We are very concerned that the situation should never occur again. He has done important work by continually raising the subject.

How on earth can we, or the public, have confidence in debates in the House and in European scrutiny unless there is a full and appropriate debate in the House before the Prime Minister goes to sign the treaty? Never mind the proposals for much-needed improvements in European scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House deal with the point that it would be a breach of the existing arrangements for scrutiny unless we have a debate in the House before the Prime Minister takes that action?

We have numerous debates on European issues and numerous opportunities to raise them. If the hon. Gentleman wants to propose that as a subject to be debated on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall, to add to all the hours that are available to discuss Europe, he is welcome to do so. As I have made clear to the House, and make clear again for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Maidenhead, we will reform the way in which the European Scrutiny Committee works.

The hon. Gentleman cannot raise a point of order until after the statement. He has been here a while, has he not?