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Business of the House

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 17 January 2008

The business for the week commencing 21 January will be as follows:

Monday 21 January—Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Wednesday 23 January—Motion relating to the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General, followed by remaining stages of the Student Loans Bill.

Thursday 24 January—Motions relating to the Senior Salaries Review Body report.

Friday 25 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 28 January will include:

Monday 28 January—Consideration of a procedure motion relating to the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Tuesday 29 January—Consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Wednesday 30 January—Continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Thursday 31 January—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Friday 1 February—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, although I ask her also to give us the business in Westminster Hall.

This week, the whole country has been appalled by the news that one of Garry Newlove’s murderers had been released on bail. I suggest youth crime as the subject for next week’s topical debate.

The Prime Minister has told The Sun that he wants to change the law on organ donations so that consent is assumed, even though his organ donation taskforce has yet to report and he voted against a measure to change the law four years ago. Will he or the Health Secretary come to the House to make a statement on exactly what is Government policy?

Yesterday, the Government finally published the Senior Salaries Review Body report. They have sat on the report since July and spun it to the media for the past month, and they gave it to Members only late yesterday afternoon. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that absurd situation never reoccurs?

One way in which Ministers show disrespect for the House is in their failure to answer written questions properly. Departments are refusing to answer any questions about data security, including factual questions about the past. Instead, they hide behind the ongoing Cabinet Office review. However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Justice have answered questions about past data security. If they can answer the questions, why cannot the other Government Departments do so? Will the Leader of the House remind her ministerial colleagues of the importance of written questions? Every week she tells us that she puts Parliament first; every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

In November the Chancellor announced that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had lost the personal data of 25 million people. It has now been reported that at least 20 more data security breaches have been discovered—that is two incidents each week since the Government said that they would sort it out. May we have a debate on the Government’s chronic mismanagement of people’s data?

Yesterday the Prime Minister evaded specific questions about the cost of the Northern Rock crisis to the taxpayer. Given the supposed commitment of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House to put Parliament first, and given how serious the crisis is, when will the Chancellor make a statement on how much that is costing the British taxpayer?

Finally, I understand that Tony Blair has written to the Prime Minister with a progress report on the Prime Minister’s first six months. In the interests of transparency, would the right hon. and learned Lady place a copy of the letter in the Library?

Talking of Tony Blair, it has been reported that President Sarkozy supports the nomination of Mr. Blair for the EU presidency. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary supports Mr. Blair’s nomination, but may we have a statement from the Prime Minister on whether Mr. Blair is his preferred candidate? In six months, the Prime Minister has abandoned the national interest, ignored the British people and left us on the sidelines in Europe. Having waited so long for the top job, is the Prime Minister going to find that, yet again, he is dancing to Tony Blair’s tune?

The right hon. Lady raised a number of points. I would like to express what I am sure is the feeling of the whole House, and send our sincere condolences to the widow of Mr. Newlove. We all want to learn the lessons of that terrible crime and we continue to determine to take action against serious violent crime.

The right hon. Lady asked about organ donation and about Government policy on organ donation. The policy is clear. We set up a taskforce, which has reported. We want to increase the amount of organs available for donation. That is important to save lives, because all too often at present people die while they are on the waiting list for organ transplant. The proposals arising from the work of the taskforce will be implemented by the Government. As for presumed consent and whether we should move to an opt-out system, that is not Government policy, but a subject on which the Government are keen to see further and wider debate. It is not a party political issue. We all need to think about how policy can ensure that organs are available for donation.

The right hon. Lady made some points about the SSRB and complained that, as she put it, we had “sat” on the report since July. There is a particular context of public sector pay this time around in which we are considering the question of MPs’ pay. We want to be sure that we do what should have been done many years ago: end the system whereby we vote on our own pay. At the same time as we published the SSRB report we issued a written ministerial statement, which states that we will propose that we do not award ourselves more than 2 per cent., and which also proposes a mechanism for ending the system whereby we vote on our own pay. The right hon. Lady mentioned timing in relation to the tabling of the motions. We tabled the motions yesterday and they are to be debated next Thursday. That will ensure that, should they want to, Members have enough time to table amendments to the motions. A number of Members have already done so.

In her usual way, the right hon. Lady went on to allege that the Prime Minister treats Parliament with contempt. I say to her that in his first six months this Prime Minister has come to the House to give oral statements more times than the last two Prime Ministers did during their whole terms of office. That is about accounting for things. [Interruption.]As I said, in his first six months he has made more oral statements than the last two Prime Ministers did during their whole terms of office. That is treating the House with respect and bringing issues before it.

I will look into the right hon. Lady’s point about the consistency of answers between different Departments on the question of data protection in Departments.

This is the 15th time that the right hon. Lady and I have done business questions together. I see that she is a creature of habit. The pattern is clear: if there is a bandwagon, she will jump on it and if there is a myth, she will peddle it. She has carried on in that vein today.

Further to what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove, is she aware that one of the people who murdered him had previously been let out on bail despite having had a history of previous offences and of ignoring court orders? Can we have a debate on how the bail system operates in this country, and on how we strengthen it to protect ordinary citizens from such violent offenders?

I know that my hon. Friend has raised the issue with the Home Secretary and asked for an inquiry into the case so that lessons—if there are any—can be learned, particularly on the question of the granting of bail. I shall bring the fact that my hon. Friend has raised the matter again in the House today to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I join the expressions of condolence to the Newlove family. On a basis of consensus, I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and support the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). I suggest that we have an early debate, without any motion for substantive decision, on how bail applies to those charged with murder, rape and the other most serious offences—particularly in respect of under-18s or juveniles. Such a debate would be timely and the country would appreciate it.

On the business that the Leader of the House has announced for the next fortnight, I should say that obviously we are about to begin the long march towards the implementation of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, and that is welcome. On Monday week we are to debate a procedure motion. Will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the Government manage that, so that people know in good time when we will debate each substantive part of the Bill? There are environmental issues, constitutional issues and issues to do with home affairs and justice. In that way, people—not only us here, but those outside who have an interest—can see what is coming in good time, inform us and participate in the process.

As one who has always supported the presumption that organs should be given, I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement on that and suggest that we now seek to do something about deciding the matter again here; I realise that legislation is required. I suggest that we have an initial debate, to test the mood of the House and pick up the issues, and go on to implement, or discuss implementing, the change. That would be welcome and I hope that it could be done relatively easily and speedily.

I have two last things to raise. A local government announcement is about to be implemented by a decision on the settlement for the coming year. Before that, may we have a debate on whether local councils will have the resources to implement equal pay for women and men who are local government staff?

On Members’ pay, I welcome the Leader of the House’s motions on the Order Paper in relation to an independent mechanism for determining pay. Can she give an assurance to colleagues that this is not an excuse for putting stuff into the long grass but that we will have decisions not only about the mechanism but about the conclusions by the summer of this year?

Perhaps I could just say, in case I gave the wrong figures last time, that what the Prime Minister has actually done in his first six months is given more oral statements to the House than the other two did in their terms of office. [Interruption.] Sorry—their first six months. We are comparing the first six months.

On the subject of bail for those who have been charged with committing offences, I suggest that we could consider that for a topical debate. A number of cases have just been concluded in the courts that raise the question of criminal offences that have been committed by people who are free because they are out on bail.

On the European Union (Amendment) Bill, I have told the House that on Monday week we will discuss the procedure for conducting the Committee stage. All of that day’s business will be an opportunity to discuss the process by which we debate the Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As well as scrutinising the structure of the Bill, which has only seven clauses and one schedule, we want to enable the House to discuss the importance of Europe in relation to our economy, the global environment, tackling cross-border crime, and the Europe-wide contribution to international development. As I say, the Bill has only seven clauses and one schedule, and the House will have ample time to discuss it.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of transplant policy, as did the shadow Leader of the House. The taskforce has proposed further action, which the Government have committed to take. It has looked particularly at how the transplant rate—the availability of organs for transplant—has been improved in other countries. The country that has made most improvement is Spain, but the taskforce says that the reason for that is not necessarily presumed consent but the other measures that the taskforce is proposing to ensure that organs are made available. This issue concerns both sides of the House, we need a debate, and it needs to come to a conclusion. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman propose it for a Westminster Hall debate. Incidentally, I announced the Westminster Hall business for the following weeks last time, so I have not sought to re-announce it to the House today.

The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked for an opportunity for the House to debate equal pay in local government. We are firmly committed to equal pay. It is important that all women are entitled to fair pay, including those who do important work in public services in local government. That is why we have increased the capitalisation available to £500 million to enable back pay. However, there is clearly more work to be done to ensure that we have not only strong public services but fair pay between men and women.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the SSRB and ensuring that we do not set our own pay in future but have a mechanism whereby there is a proper comparison and a way of deciding independently from our having a vote. He asked whether this has been kicked into the long grass. He will see in the written ministerial statement that we issued yesterday that we have asked Sir John Baker—we are very grateful that he has agreed to the Prime Minister’s request to lead this review—to produce his report so that we can come back to the House before the summer recess to resolve the issue.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend take an early opportunity to look at the clamping regulations in force at the moment, to prevent people such as Nicola Platts in Great Barr, Birmingham from suffering at the hands of the sort of unscrupulous people who blocked her in? They made sure that she paid £150 cash there and then. If she had refused to pay that, she would have had to pay an additional £100 clamping charge. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into this matter urgently, and bring legislation to the House so that we can do what the Scottish Parliament has done, and abolish the practice?

My hon. Friend makes an important point on behalf of his constituent. He might take the opportunity to raise it next Tuesday, during Transport questions. We all want good traffic circulation and effective clamping, but we do not want extortion by cowboys, which is what he is concerned about.

May we have a debate on the desirability of an equitable tax system? Has the Leader of the House seen the report by Professor David Newbery of Cambridge university, which states that if motorists were required to pay the true cost of the damage they cause to the environment, they would pay tax at the rate of 20p per litre of fuel? Is she aware that the current tax rate on fuel runs at 60p per litre? We have the highest petrol prices in the European Union. If we cannot have a debate on this matter, will she, at the very least, see her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and tell him that in his next Budget he should lay off the long-suffering British motorist?

I am not clear from the right hon. Gentleman’s point whether he wants higher or lower taxes on motoring—possibly both at the same time. This is obviously something he can raise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in questions. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman therefore supports the Mayor of London’s proposals for a differential rate for gas-guzzling cars in the congestion charge.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 648 on holocaust memorial day?

[That this House notes Holocaust Memorial Day is 27th January, the day the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated; recognises the significance of this day and the importance of remembering and learning from the past especially when there are those who seek to denigrate and deny its significance; observes that the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learnt and racism, anti-semitism and intolerance continue in the UK and abroad; further observes that the international community has failed to prevent the occurrence of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq and now Darfur; thanks the City of Liverpool for hosting the national event and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for organising the day; supports 2008's theme, Imagine, remember, reflect and react; applauds organisations like the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) for their work and in particular recognises the impact the acclaimed HET visits to Auschwitz have had in shaping young minds; further notes that a Book of Commitment will be placed in the corridor between the hon. Members' Cloakroom and hon. Members' Staircase between 1430 and 1630, Monday 21st to Wednesday 23rd January; and encourages all hon. Members to sign it and mark a day that helps to ensure the memory of the Holocaust is kept alive to serve as a warning now and in the future.]

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the Holocaust Educational Trust on its excellent work with young people? I suggest, either next week or the week after, a topical debate in which the House can express its view that such dreadful events should never happen again.

I agree with the point that my right hon. Friend makes through his question. It is very important that we have, as we do, a statutory requirement to teach children in our schools about the holocaust as part of the curriculum. The year before last, the Chancellor announced that the Government were providing a further £1 million to support the Holocaust Educational Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” course, which takes sixth-form students to Auschwitz. The trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust have made a big impact on educating and informing people of all ages and from all walks of life, to make sure that the holocaust is never forgotten.

On Members’ pay, does the Leader of the House agree that if the proposed Lisbon treaty is ratified more powers would be transferred away from this House, and it would therefore be right for our pay to be reduced? Will she ask the Senior Salaries Review Body to recalculate its proposals in view of that reduction of powers? It would obviously be wrong for us to be paid more when our control over legislation and policy is reduced. The same thing should apply to ministerial salaries, particularly those of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.

The right hon. Gentleman will have a chance to raise those points in debate either on Monday, on Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill, or on Thursday, when we debate the SSRB’s recommendations, or he can again synthesise the two points on Monday or Thursday.

One hundred and nine Members have now signed early-day motion 512 on police pay, and next Wednesday thousands of police officers will be marching through Westminster in support of their claim.

[That this House is disappointed by the failure of the Government to accept in full the recommendations of the Police Arbitration Tribunal police pay award; believes that the pay settlement should be backdated to 1st September; notes that the police are the front line in the fight against organised crime, terrorism and anti-social behaviour; recognises that their work puts them at great personal risk; further believes that this dispute over 0.6 per cent. difference is petty and needless; and calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision.]

Given that the Leader of the House says that this is a listening Government, should not Parliament vote on this issue? Instead of a topical debate, may we have a topical vote on police pay?

The situation in law is that it is for the Home Secretary to determine the pay of police officers, having considered any recommendations from the police officers’ negotiating machinery, which is what she has done. I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work that the police have done, which we all support. However, we also recognise that we are in a difficult situation as regards the question of public sector pay. We have to ensure that inflation is low so that the cost of living remains low, and so that interest rates can be low, allowing the economy to remain strong, and allowing us to continue to invest in important public services, such as the police. That includes the provision of higher numbers of police and ensuring that higher pay rates can be sustained, year by year.

Oh! Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I was on another planet, too.

Given the full answer given by the Prime Minister to the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) on the question of Darfur, may we have a debate in Government time on the plight of those people?

I will consider the question of Darfur for a forthcoming topical debate. The House is always very concerned about Africa, and we are discussing Kenya this afternoon. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman’s question as a request for a further topical debate.

On the subject of pay, I would like to raise the issue of the national minimum wage, and the fact that employers are able to abuse it, particularly in the case of the lowest paid workers who work in restaurants and hotels. If they are given a tip when someone pays by credit card, that is used to supplement the national minimum wage. Could we have a debate to rectify that ridiculous anomaly?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that before this House introduced the national minimum wage by statute, she was a champion in her union for its implementation. She has now come to this House and said that it is important that we do more to enforce it. I will bring her points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, because he is presiding over a taskforce at the moment to ensure that we have tougher enforcement of that important law.

May we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on special educational needs? Given the immense power of local authorities as the bodies that assess, decide on, pay for and, more often than not—through their in-house services—provide for children’s special needs, but that the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families has considered the question of assessment and funding and argued for a number of mechanisms by which that link could be broken, is it not now timely that the House should have an opportunity to consider the issue? There are very large numbers of vulnerable children who are not getting what they need, for whom we have to cater.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the children’s plan, which was announced to the House by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, places great importance on the provision for children with special educational needs. Indeed, it is drawing on the work of the hon. Gentleman in taking the matter forward. He raises an important point. It is not just a question of getting the right policy but of ensuring that it is implemented throughout every part of the country. There should not be a postcode lottery, but every family in which there is a child with special needs should have the right services and support, for both the child and the family.

I welcome yesterday’s statement by the Leader of the House on the SSRB report, particularly the intention to end once and for all the invidious practice of allowing MPs to vote on their own salaries. Will she clarify for the House the exact timetable for implementing the future framework for MPs salaries, and for the ending of our ability to vote ourselves a pay rise? It is important.

I shall set out the procedure and the timetable. Next Thursday, the House will be able to debate our proposals for the pay rate that will apply to us as Members of Parliament from April 2007 to April 2008. The House will also have before it a motion that the Government have tabled to establish the process of the review by Sir John Baker. It expresses the intent to come back to the House before it rises for the summer recess with the mechanics and procedure whereby we will never again have to do what is unacceptable both to Members and to members of the public—vote for our own pay increases.

May we have a short debate or statement on applying the EU emission trading scheme to lifeline flights to remote and peripheral communities? Everyone appears to agree that different rules should apply to lifeline flights, but the Government and the Commission do not seem able to agree about how that should be done. The matter is of great concern to my constituents, and it is becoming time-critical. May we have it discussed properly, in the open?

I know that that matter is of concern, and under discussion, in Government. I will bring it to the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State.

May I suggest that the topical debate on 31 January should be about prosecuting rape cases? Successful prosecution for rape is scandalously low, and women are frightened by rape, especially when they see the sort of articles that appear in the newspapers today. May the House debate the matter? I believe that we can introduce proposals to increase the successful prosecution of rape cases.

My hon. Friend raises an issue on which she has campaigned. It is a matter of concern for hon. Members of all parties. We have had a debate on rape in the past month or so, but of course we will consider it again as a topic for a future debate. Too many men still evade justice. However, we have made progress in the past 10 years. Since 1997, the number of convictions of men for rape has increased by 30 per cent. That has happened because we have toughened the law, improved protection for victims and witnesses and have a special team of prosecutors now backing the important work, especially of the Metropolitan police, on rape. However, I take my hon. Friend’s point, and we will consider this as a subject for a future topical debate.

I apologise if I sound like a cracked record when I ask the Leader of the House yet again whether we can have a debate on post office closures—but that would allow me to raise the behaviour of Post Office Ltd, which has told a village shop owner in my constituency who is due to lose a post office in the shop, and wishes to replace it with a paypoint, that they will lose their compensation under the post office closure scheme.

Post offices have been debated recently in Westminster Hall, and the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity only half an hour ago to raise the subject in oral questions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the way in which she dealt with my previous question about 25 per cent. cuts in physics departments in our universities and the implications for the Daresbury laboratory in the north-west. This week, documents were published under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which suggest that Ministers have been told by the Science and Technology Facilities Research Council about the implications of their financial allocation. May we have a statement on the true position, and on how the current problem will be rectified?

My hon. Friend is a real champion of important science research facilities in Liverpool, and she has raised this matter several times in the House. I have been in touch with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills about the point that she made previously in business questions—and I know that she raised it with the Prime Minister, too. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has written to her. If any further points arise from the extensive letter that he sent her, I know that she will have the opportunity to raise them directly with him again.

Would it be possible to have a debate on the Floor of the House about Departments’ interaction with local football clubs? Many of the supporters of Luton Town football club, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), have put together a bid, called 2020 Ltd, to save the club. Unfortunately, the bid may fail because of requirements by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and I know that other football clubs, such as Leeds, have suffered similar problems in the past. So will the right hon. and learned Lady consider a debate on football and Departments’ interaction with local football clubs?

Perhaps I can best respond by suggesting that the hon. Lady raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make a statement on proposals to deny future Members of Parliament the same pension entitlement as the rest of us? Will she resist those oppositional—or opportunistic—proposals, and perhaps remind colleagues, especially those who are registered millionaires, that there is no compulsion to accept the pension entitlement, or, indeed, the salary?

My hon. Friend has raised a point that will not be lost on Opposition Members—[Interruption.] The statements that the Leader of the Opposition makes for the sake of a quick headline grab might not necessarily get the support of Conservative Members. We shall see.

The European Union (Amendment) Bill is of huge constitutional importance to the country. Why has the Leader of the House not permitted two days’ debate on Second Reading, so that more Back Benchers can be called?

On topical debates, when will the Leader of the House allow a meaningful contribution from all parties so that there is more transparency about the choice of subjects for topical debate?

I think that the House can rest assured: my response to the question about the business for the following week will look pretty repetitive in the next few weeks, because we will have many hours of debating the European Union (Amendment) Bill on the Floor of the House. A whole day’s debate for Second Reading of a Bill that has seven clauses and one schedule is perfectly adequate. We then have a day’s debate on the procedure, followed by many days of discussion and clause-by-clause examination in Committee of the whole House. I assure hon. Members that we have ample time for debating the Bill.

On the choice of topical debates, the hon. Gentleman knows that the process is new and we will review it in due course to ascertain how it has worked. The review will include the way in which we choose the subject. In the meantime, I encourage hon. Members to make more proposals for topical debates by e-mail or letter.

My right hon. and learned Friend knows that Lebanon has been without a president since 23 November—nearly two months. During that time, there have been 12 postponements of a parliamentary vote for the president. The recent Arab League initiative has failed once again, so we are left with an unstable and dangerous position, which could easily spill over into the rest of the middle east. It is a critical issue. Will my right hon. and learned Friend make time for a debate so that we can ask Ministers not only what they are doing but—perhaps more important—what more they will do to bring the matter to a swift conclusion?

Instability in Lebanon and the wider middle east, which my hon. Friend raises, is of concern to the whole House. There will be a debate on the middle east next Thursday in Westminster Hall, and Ministers will be answering. That debate will be important, but it is by no means the last occasion on which we expect to discuss the matter in the House.

Could the Leader of the House provide for a debate in Government time in the near future about the Government’s policy on the creation of new towns? There is a proposal for the siting of 10 large new towns—a figure that has been reduced from 57 candidate spots—and one of those sites is in my constituency, where it is proposed that a town of some 50,000 people should be plonked down. There has been no local input, and the issue is not one that can be decided upon by the local planning authority, still less the county council. It is a matter for the Government. It would be useful to have a debate in the House before February, when the decision will be made, at least so that my constituents could feel that they had had some democratic input into the decision.

On the specific issue in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, perhaps he will consider applying for an Adjournment debate. It is very important that we have more housing in this country, so that people’s wish for a better home—a home that they can afford or that their children can move into when they grow up—can be fulfilled. Very many local authorities have applied for new towns, and for eco-towns in particular, to be developed in their areas. There is no question of a top-down approach having been taken, and of course there is widespread consultation. However, we must ensure that we have that extra housing, which is needed not by those who are already comfortably housed and well off, but by those who seek to improve their housing situation.

My right hon. and learned Friend will have read today’s Hansard report of yesterday’s excellent debate in Westminster Hall on children with disabilities. The debate highlighted the fact that the £34 million allocated to Scotland as its share of the UK-wide allocation seems to have disappeared without trace into the Scottish Executive’s coffers, presumably to fund some of the Scottish National party’s pet policies, rather than being used for the purposes for which it was intended. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask one of her colleagues to raise the issue with the First Minister and to report back to the House on what has happened to the money?

I shall raise that issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. We all want to ensure—I have already adverted to this—that there is proper support for every child with a disability and for their family, wherever the child lives. National resources should be available in all parts of the United Kingdom, and I shall ask my right hon. Friend to look into the issue.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on early-day motion 690, on the collapse of the trial against Derek Pasquill?

[That this House notes the collapse of the case against Derek Pasquill; believes that the law about official secrets should be based on preventing damage to the public interest rather than preventing embarrassment for the leading party; and calls for an enquiry into the case of Derek Pasquill and for a review of the Official Secrets Act 1989.]

In particular, will she make time for a debate on the proposal for an inquiry into how the Foreign Office pursued Mr. Pasquill under the Official Secrets Act 1989, while all along holding documents that exonerated him? Does that not show the need for a thoroughgoing review of the official secrets legislation?

With regard to any individual case under the Official Secrets Act, the question whether a prosecution should be brought is initially for the Attorney-General to determine in the public interest. Thereafter, the prosecution is conducted independently by the Crown Prosecution Service. Whether to proceed with the prosecution is a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service or the court to decide—[Interruption.] As for whether there should be a debate in the House on the case that the hon. Gentleman raised, I understand that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office still has to consider whether disciplinary proceedings are necessary. It would therefore not be appropriate to discuss it in the House now.

When can we have a debate on lowering the voting age? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of my private Member’s Bill, which aims to bring the voting age down to 16? Does she not agree that if we can engage young people at an earlier age, when they are still in schools and youth clubs, there is more likelihood that they will engage with politics—an engagement that will remain throughout their lives?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We cannot have a situation in which our democracy has dwindling legitimacy because voting is increasingly the preoccupation only of older people, with younger people having turned their backs on our democratic process. Too many young people are not registered to vote, and too many do not go out to vote even though they are registered to do so. The issue is of major concern to my ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, who I know will consider the proposals that my hon. Friend has put forward in her Bill.

The right hon. and learned Lady was the midwife of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, which makes provision for a one-stop registration of MPs’ interests. That provision can be activated only when the Government lay the relevant order. When do they plan to do so?

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to write to the right hon. Gentleman in respect of that question, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Last week Milton Keynes council voted to support proposals for a wind farm. Conservative councillors voted en bloc against the proposals, Labour councillors voted for them and, unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats split. Given the recent national report by the Socialist Environment and Resources Association—SERA—that found that Tory-controlled councils have an 82 per cent. rejection rate on wind farms, that Liberal Democrat authorities have a rate of 75 per cent. and that Labour authorities have a rate of just 36 per cent., will the Leader of the House consider making time for a debate specifically on wind power, so that the country can see who really supports renewable energy and who is just full of hot air?

That is a good suggestion for a topical debate. It is important that more of our energy be provided by renewable resources. We shall of course be considering the Energy Bill next week, although the question is not just what the words are, but what the actions are. I have noticed another habit developing, which is that the Leader of the Opposition says one thing, but his party in local councils does something completely different. The environment is a classic case in point.

Next week, Mr. Speaker, you have selected a one and a half hour debate in Westminster Hall on the highly contentious issue of the regional spatial strategy for the south-west. Can the Leader of the House say what role she envisages the Minister for the South West playing in that debate next Tuesday, and what other opportunities there will be for a debate in Government time about that contentious document?

The Minister for the South West is my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw). We are developing the role of the regional Ministers—[Laughter.] Regional Ministers are a recent innovation. I think that they are doing a very good job on behalf of their regions and that we can build on that role. What we need to do next—we are looking at this in the Modernisation Committee—is to consider how to develop a system for regional accountability to the House. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will contribute to that inquiry.

This week a company based in Thanet called Grupo Antolin has closed its doors, with a significant loss of jobs. Since 1997 we have more than halved unemployment in Thanet, which is an incredible achievement. However, unemployment in Thanet stubbornly remains much higher than the national average. It is clear from yesterday’s figures that there are about two dozen hot spots in the country where unemployment is a significantly worse problem than in other areas. Can we have a debate about how we can improve our ability to attract jobs to those unemployment hot spots?

My hon. Friend has made an important point about the pockets of deprivation that can stubbornly remain, even in areas where the economy is going from strength to strength. He has also identified the fact that unemployment is often connected with a lack of skills. I know that he supports the work that the Government are doing both to bring more opportunities for training and apprenticeships into his region, and to raise the educational attainment of all children, by ensuring that no young person leaves school at 16, having already experienced the last moment when they will ever receive any education or training. I know that that is why my hon. Friend supports raising the education leaving age to 18.

May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motions 702 and 707, regarding Arts Council funding? Early-day motion 702 states:

[That this House condemns plans by the Arts Council to cut funding to Queer Up North; recognises the excellent work that organisation has done, including tackling homophobic bullying through performances of F.I.T. at local schools; notes with concern that funding cuts will lead to the cancellation of the 2008 festival in Manchester and all future touring plans, end its unique programme of work for young people and result in the immediate closure of the organisation; and therefore calls on the Arts Council to overturn its decision.]

Will the Leader of the House bring forward a debate on the funding cuts by the Arts Council to a large number of organisations throughout the country, including LipService and Queer Up North in Manchester, which threaten the existence of those organisations?

I shall bring those points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. With regard to the Arts Council, the arts budget under this Government has increased consistently year on year and is set to increase again. In the latest Arts Council announcement, 80 new projects are to be funded. We cannot have a situation in which once something has been funded by the Arts Council, it is funded in perpetuity at the expense of any new projects. It is always difficult for projects that lose their funding, but that is happening not because of cuts in funding to the Arts Council but because of a determination to fund new projects. However, I will raise the points that the hon. Gentleman has made with the Secretary of State.

I associate myself with those who have called for a debate on Darfur.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that much of my constituency is again under water or threatened by floods. May we have a debate to consider whether the planning system could be changed so that planning permissions could be rescinded where there was a considerable threat of flooding? The Planning Bill is now going through the House. Will the Government take note of the fact—of which we need to take notice—that we are now facing very difficult circumstances, and living in a different world?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be answering the questions of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee next Wednesday. I am sure that all those points will be under consideration, including those that my hon. Friend has just raised on behalf of his constituents, and those raised by other hon. Members whose constituents have suffered from floods and are still recovering from them, and want to ensure that they are protected from flooding in the future.

On 15 November last year, the Public Accounts Committee published a highly critical report on the handling by the Department for Communities and Local Government of the Thames Gateway project. To date, there has been no oral or written statement by the Government in response—and in early December, the Minister for Housing sacked the chief executive of the Thames Gateway, whom she herself had appointed barely a year before. May we have a debate on the mishandling of the Thames Gateway project by the DCLG—and can that debate also cover the shameful scapegoating of a public servant by the Minister responsible?

The Government will consider their response to the Select Committee’s report, and will publish that response in due course.

The most successful Government policy for pensioners has been the free bus pass for local travel. My right hon. and learned Friend will know that millions of pensioners are eagerly anticipating the fact that that scheme will go nationwide in April. Will she find time for a debate on free bus travel for young people? In the context of the extension of the education participation age, and the increasing number of young people who will need to travel as a result, does she agree that we need to review the very variable arrangements for concessionary travel that apply around the country? In London, it is free, but in Manchester—

That is well worth consideration. The trail has been blazed by the Mayor of London, who is about to extend to pensioners free travel passes that are valid not only for off-peak times but throughout the day, having already extended that facility to young people. It is a pity that when the opportunity for such arrangements exists, some councils drag their feet. It is important for older people to get out and socialise, but it is also important for younger people to get out and extend their training opportunities. I will raise my hon. Friend’s point with the Secretary of State for Transport.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for, at the very least, a written statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the reappointment, or otherwise, of the official verderer of the New Forest, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and I fear that there has been some skulduggery?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman work out what the official parliamentary term is, and then table a written question.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to join me and the long-suffering fans of Luton Town football club in supporting the successful bid by a fans-based company to get the club out of administration? There is, however, a continuing threat to the club, largely as a result of the rules of the football league in respect of the repayment of debts. The matter has been referred to the Minister for Sport, but may I press my right hon. Friend for a debate on behalf of those of us who have the long-term interests of Luton Town football club at heart, and on behalf of the many other ailing clubs in this situation—

I know that my hon. Friend is a real champion of Luton Town football club, and I will bring her comments to the attention of my ministerial colleagues.

The Leader of the House failed—inadvertently, I am sure—to answer the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about Northern Rock. May I give her the opportunity to do so now? I am sure that she will agree that the House has an obligation to taxpayers, and that when billions of pounds of their money are floating around, we need to have figures and answers. May we have a statement next week from the Chancellor—or better still, from the Prime Minister, who evaded these questions yesterday?

The Prime Minister answered questions in the House yesterday on Northern Rock—[Hon. Members: “No!”] He answered questions yesterday on Northern Rock. But there is one question that remains unanswered. Our position remains absolutely clear—[Interruption.] I have stated this in business questions before. We have to make sure that we have a stable economy, and that the instability that came out of the American sub-prime market did not, through Northern Rock, infect the rest of the financial services industry in this country. So far, that has certainly not happened. We have said what we are doing about this—but what the Opposition have done is to say that they approve of what we are doing one day, and that they disapprove of it the next.

May we have a debate on the plight of NEETs—young people not in education, employment or training? Their number has soared since 1997 to more than 1 million. Such a debate would give Members the opportunity to decide whether the principal reason for that increase is unrestricted immigration, which means that more than half of all new jobs go to foreigners, or the difficulties in the apprenticeship system, illustrated by figures published in December which show that the number of apprentices at levels 2 and 3 has gone down.

There are 600,000 vacancies in the economy. The problem for young people who are not in education, employment or training is usually that they do not have the right training and skills to get into those jobs. We want to continue our programme of expansion for apprenticeships and for further and higher education, but we also recognise that we need to start early. That is why we launched the Sure Start and pre-school programmes, so that entrenched intergenerational deprivation can be tackled.

Further to the Minister’s response about a one-stop shop for Members’ declarable interests, would it be possible to have a statement on the workings of the declaration of Members’ interests, with particular regard to whether there would be any benefit in trying to resolve the contradictions that Members are sometimes told, or in having a system of pro forma forms that would make it easier for Members and their staff to ensure that Members submit their declarations in good time?

The registrar and officials who work on the Register of Members’ Interests do all they can when their advice is sought to explain to Members how they should go about registration. There is a question about the overlapping rules relating to the Register of Members’ Interests, electoral administration and, indeed, the ministerial code, which is under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice.

When the Government insisted on setting up a national park authority for the New Forest, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and I articulated the concern of many locally that the authority of the court of verderers as protectors of the forest would be undermined. The fact that that has not yet happened has been largely due to the fine performance of the official verderer, Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre. May we have a statement by the appropriate Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the reappointment of the official verderer, who is willing to be reappointed but whom we gather may not be reappointed for reasons not unconnected with the existence of the national park authority?

If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise questions about the New Forest national park authority or verderers, I suggest he table a written question to the relevant Minister.

I want to take the Leader of the House back to the question and answer about organ donation and putting the House first. Given that the Government published the first report of the organ donation taskforce this week, would it not have been better if the Health Secretary or the Prime Minister had made an oral statement to the House, in which they could have set out their views about presumed consent, rather than brief a newspaper earlier in the week?

As I said in my answer to the earlier question, the Government have not changed their policy about presumed consent, although Ministers and I agree that there should be further debate on the issue. We have set up the taskforce and informed the House about it. We have also made it clear that we accept the taskforce’s recommendations, particularly those relating to organisational change to ensure that consent for organ donation is put sensitively to relatives so that those who want their relatives’ organs to be donated have the opportunity to say so. We have not changed our policy on presumed consent, but we all agree that there should be a debate on the way forward.