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Business of the House

Volume 470: debated on Thursday 24 January 2008

The business for the week commencing 28 January will be as follows:

Monday 28 January—Consideration of Procedural Motions relating to the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Tuesday 29 January—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to fighting cross-border crime; justice; policing; human trafficking; and asylum and migration policy, followed by consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [1st Allotted Day].

Wednesday 30 January—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to energy, followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [2nd Allotted Day].

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.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 February will include the following:

Monday 4 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports.

Tuesday 5 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to human rights, followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [3rd Allotted Day].

Wednesday 6 February—Debate on the treaty of Lisbon provisions relating to the single market, followed by continuation of consideration in Committee of the European Union (Amendment) Bill [4th Allotted Day].

Thursday 7 February—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by motions relating to European Standing Committees.

I should also inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 31 January will be as follows:

Thursday 31 January—A debate on working in partnership to reduce reoffending and make communities safer.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. Today the House finally sees the motions for Monday’s debate on procedure relating to the European Union (Amendment) Bill and debates on the Lisbon treaty. Labour Back Benchers, however, have had this knowledge for days, courtesy of a document circulated by the Government Chief Whip. The Leader of the House has given us two weeks’ business, but according to the list that I have, Labour Back Benchers know the dates of business until the end of February. If they know, why does the Leader of the House not have the courtesy to tell the whole House?

This morning the Home Secretary appeared on the “Today” programme giving details of the Counter-Terrorism Bill before it was published for Members of the House. Yet again, the Government have put the media before Parliament. Every week the Leader of the House tells us that she puts Parliament first, and every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

Last week I asked the Leader of the House about issues of vital importance to Members and the public. Instead of responding properly, she said,

“if there is a bandwagon, she will jump on it and if there is a myth, she will peddle it.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1079.]

I had raised Northern Rock, organ donation and the security of personal data. Which of those issues does the Leader of the House consider to be a bandwagon or a myth?

In view of the recent downturn in international financial markets, may I suggest the state of the British economy as a subject for a future topical debate? On Monday the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the Ministry of Defence had lost a laptop containing the bank details of 3,700 Army applicants. It lost a further two laptops containing personal data on Tuesday, and yesterday the Ministry of Justice announced that it had lost four CDs containing the restricted data of court defendants, witnesses and victims. When will we have a debate on the Government’s systemic failure to protect our personal information?

Given this record on data management—or mismanagement—it is no surprise that within two weeks, the Prime Minister has changed his mind and delayed the introduction of the identity card scheme; and we have learned today that two companies have pulled out of the procurement process for the scheme, including Accenture, the very company the Minister for Borders and Immigration used to work for. This is a shambles. The scheme is clearly in administration and should be liquidated. When will the Home Secretary come to the House and make a statement on the ID card scheme?

As a London MP, the right hon. and learned Lady will be aware of the concern being raised about the Mayor of London. Does she not find it extraordinary that the Mayor has defended his senior staff using their paid time to run a smear campaign against Trevor Phillips? May we have a debate on the abuse of power by Mayor Livingstone?

The Prime Minister has written a book about courage: it was clearly not an autobiography. He did not have the courage to sign up to the EU reform treaty alongside other leaders, he did not have the courage to vote for the Bill on the treaty on Second Reading, and he has not had the courage to give the British people a referendum. So can we have a debate on courage and leadership?

We have a Prime Minister who dithers, delays and dodges on matters of crucial importance to our country. When will he finally get a grip and start running the country, instead of running away from difficult decisions?

Let me begin by explaining how we intend to deal with the important debate on the European treaty. The European Union (Amendment) Bill is brief—it contains only eight clauses—but we know that the treaty that it would bring into effect is of concern across the House in relation to energy, the economy, international development, the environment and cross-border crime. We have sought to arrange debates so that Members can discuss both the structure of the Bill and any amendments they might wish to make to it, and the substance of the treaty that the Bill brings into effect. The order of business is before the House today. There will be an opportunity next Monday to discuss the procedure, so there will be a full debate on the procedure before we move on to the substance on Tuesday. Of course it is possible for provisional plans to be discussed—as they sometimes are—with the Opposition and with individual Members, but what is of particular importance is that the Government lay their motions before the House early enough for Members to know how the debate is intended to proceed, and for them to be able to amend those motions if they see fit. That is what we have done in our handling of the Bill.

The whole House can see today on the Order Paper—

The whole House can see the dates on the Order Paper for the days allotted for the business, where it is confirmed. [Interruption.] As the business is confirmed, we put it on the Order Paper.

As for the Home Secretary and the Counter-Terrorism Bill, Members know that there has been a great deal of discussion about how we can ensure that we safeguard people in this country from acts of terrorism, while also safeguarding civil liberties. During the course of that debate, the Home Secretary has given evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, which has discussed her proposals and issued a report, and she has responded to it. It is necessary for the Home Secretary to consult Members, the Opposition Front Benches and outside organisations. The detail of the scheme in the Bill has not been made public, and will not be until it is published to this House.

The right hon. Lady talked about the economy. It is important for us to bear in mind that our economy is in a good position to weather the international economic storm. In such circumstances of international economic turbulence, I do not think the Opposition should talk down economic confidence in the British economy.

On data protection, we have had written ministerial statements from the Ministry of Justice and oral statements from the Ministry of Defence and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Government Departments and agencies collect important data so that they can do their jobs properly, and as the right hon. Lady will know, there is a cross-departmental review of how we ensure that individuals’ details are not put at risk by breaches of data protection rules. When that review is complete, no doubt we will report the conclusions to the House. It is right that we bring the House up to date as and when we discover that there have been breaches of data protection, and we shall continue to do so.

The right hon. Lady raised the identity card scheme and talked about a delay. Let me explain to her that there is a phased introduction of this process: first, biometric data on passports; then biometric data on visas; and it will then include biometric data on cards for some people, such as those who work in the security industry. We have always said that there will be a phased approach and we will learn lessons as the phases roll out. Should we, on the basis of the lessons we learn, want to extend it to make it compulsory for British citizens, it would be brought back to this House for a debate and a vote. That has been the situation, and it remains so.

The right hon. Lady talked about the Mayor of London. As London’s Mayor, Ken Livingstone has revitalised the city. I am sure that Members will agree that London is the greatest capital city in the world. It is on his record, which speaks for itself, that London voters—[Interruption.] The Mayor of London holds an elected post, and Londoners will decide on his record at the ballot box in May.

Order. May I ask for single questions to the Leader of the House and a brief response, as many Members hope to catch my eye?

I missed the Home Secretary on the “Today” programme, as I was recovering from having attended the march protesting against the Government’s decision on police pay. I welcome the fact that, as a result of the anecdotal discussions that have been taking place, the Government have accepted a number of the Home Affairs Committee’s proposals in their counter-terrorism proposals. May we have a debate on the Committee’s proposals over the next few weeks—if not on Second Reading then independently of that—as that would aid a further discussion by Members on how to approach this important subject?

The Committee has produced its report, and the Government have produced their Bill. The next opportunity for the House to debate this important issue will be on Second Reading of the Bill.

The Leader of the House has announced that on Monday week we will debate and vote on motions relating to the police grant and local government finance. There is huge concern in the country about the police needing adequate funding as well as adequate pay. There is also great concern across local government, of all parties, because the settlement means that council tax will have increased by 100 per cent. in 10 years, whereas if education is taken out, the money available for councils for things such as social services will have increased by 14 per cent. in real terms over 10 years. Given those concerns, may we have entirely separate debates and votes on those matters? Can we have a police debate and a local government finance debate? They are separate subjects, separate budgets are involved and the organisations are separate. We always used to take that approach.

Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the five motions on the Order Paper in the name of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government dealing with local government reorganisation in Cornwall, Wiltshire, Shropshire, County Durham and Northumberland will each be the subject of a separate debate, so that they can be properly decided upon, as they deserve to be?

The Leader of the House has announced that at the end of the week after next, we will consider motions on the scrutiny of European Union legislation. That is a matter of considerable interest in the House, and her deputy has consulted colleagues about it. May we see the results of that consultation, and a report on it, in good time before we see motions and are asked to debate the proposals for better scrutiny of European Union matters?

Today, the written statement by the Secretary of State for Justice on the Government’s long-promised review of electoral systems has been published. One of my friends said that it was more like an A-level piece of work or an undergraduate thesis than a great Government study. Irrespective of that, may we have an opportunity to debate across the board the way in which electoral systems have worked well or badly at different levels of government, so that the Government can honour their manifesto commitment in reality, rather than just in word?

Today, we learned that eight Russell group universities have underspent significantly—by hundreds of thousands of pounds—the money allocated for bursaries to improve access among the poorest and most disadvantaged families, and that four others have not even disclosed their figures. Can we have either a statement from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills or a debate to ensure that a policy on which we all agree—ensuring that people get to university irrespective of their background or means—is delivered? We do not want to find, as is happening at the moment, that people are not taking it up because the money is sitting in the bank.

Lastly, terrible prevarication has taken place over whether the war veterans entitled to disability pensions who have been paid the wrong amounts will have to repay the sums, which are sometimes in the order of thousands of pounds. The Ministry of Defence said that it would repay them and would write the money off, then it said that it could not do that because the Treasury had to be consulted, and now the people involved are told that they must wait for another couple of months before those two Departments get their act together. Can we please have an announcement on this, either from the Chancellor or from the Secretary of State for Defence? I hope that such an announcement will say that war veterans who have served their country and been disabled in that cause will not have huge debts that have to be repaid because of a Government mess.

On the question of the universities and bursaries, which is an important issue for hon. Members across the House, I shall ask the relevant Secretary of State to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s point in writing and place a copy in the Library. I shall do the same in respect of the overpayments made to war veterans and how the MOD is proposing to handle the matter. All of us are concerned that our war veterans should be treated in the most careful sensitive way, commensurate with the duty that they have done for their country, which we all respect and admire.

The hon. Gentleman proposed a debate on the electoral systems review that has been published by the Ministry of Justice. I suggest that if he thinks fit, he could propose that subject for an Opposition day debate, or he could seek a Westminster Hall debate on it. He also mentioned this House’s scrutiny of European legislation. As he said, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has consulted widely on how we can ensure that this House gives more effective scrutiny to legislation that comes from Europe. The hon. Gentleman makes a good suggestion, so I shall consider, with my hon. Friend, whether we could issue forthwith a written ministerial statement so that people could see how we intend that the House should deal with this matter before we table the resolutions that would give effect to the determination that we have made.

Sufficient time will be given to discuss the local government situation in relation to the counties that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. There will also be sufficient time to debate both police matters—how we increase police numbers as well as increasing their pay—and how we handle council tax. We have put those issues on one day, and we think that there will be adequate time for debate.

May I let the Leader of the House know that there is growing disquiet among some Labour Members about the compressed timetable and the arbitrary selection of themes that we will be discussing in relation to the European treaty? Does she agree that our opting out of the charter of fundamental rights, as it affects working people, is at least worthy of one full day’s debate? That would give the Government a wonderful opportunity to prove people such as me, who feel that the EU is heading in an increasingly neo-liberal direction, wrong.

On the fourth day of debate, which starts next Tuesday, we will propose to the House that there be four and a half hours’ debate on the very important issue of how our membership of the European Union helps our economy, and how we should ensure that everyone working in the European Union and in this country has good minimum standards of terms and conditions.

Can we have a debate in Government time on early-day motion 512, or a similar motion, that would give us a chance to vote on the Government’s decision to dishonour the police pay agreement ?

[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.]

Does she agree that we owe it to the 22,000 people who came to Westminster yesterday—those of us who went to the rally saw how passionately they feel about this breach of trust—to have a debate and a vote in this House about such an important matter? That agreement has lasted 28 years, and it is a disgrace for the Government to break it in this way.

I pay tribute to the work of the police. Their pay has increased ahead of inflation since we came into government. The Prime Minister has said that we would like to pay them even more, and I think we would all agree with that. However, we must ensure that there is no risk of inflation. We hope in future to secure an agreement with the police on a three-year pay settlement—but legally, police pay is a matter to be determined by the Home Secretary.

Can we have a topical debate on the cross-party campaign to secure a medal decoration for military personnel injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, similar to the American purple heart medal? Such a measure has cross-party support, and we need to discuss it in the House.

I think that that would be a good subject for a topical debate, and I shall consider it. I think that the whole House would want the opportunity to show the admiration and support in this House, and in the country as a whole, for our troops fighting bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. My hon. Friend makes a proposal about recognition and war medals. He will know that that is a matter for the armed services to propose to the MOD, but an expression of this House’s opinion would assist in that process. I will take his proposal forward.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that in real terms, the pay of Members of Parliament has decreased in recent years?

I will confirm that point—and we will debate this subject for a number of hours at the conclusion of business questions.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady arrange for the Justice Secretary to come to this House next week to make a statement on low copy number DNA? She will be aware of the judgment made at the back end of last year on the Omagh bombing, as a result of which there is considerable anxiety about the evidential value of such DNA both in past cases and in prospective cases. We need to know where we stand. May I declare an interest? I am a criminal barrister too, and I have a professional interest in one such case.

On the question of low copy number DNA evidence being material to past convictions, there is a procedure for any defendant or offender who has been convicted who wants their case to be reopened or who has yet to finish the appeal process. In future, prosecution authorities will have looked carefully at that judgment and will consider how to go forward.

When can we have a debate about the performance of the train operating companies? I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the problems related to First Great Western, which provides the service from Paddington to south Wales. I commend the company for its efforts on Monday, when I was on the first train to go through the floods around Swindon—at 5 mph. Everyone rallied together and the managers and staff produced tea and coffee. Today, the Passenger Focus report shows that First Great Western is at the bottom of the customer satisfaction league. There are particular concerns about prices and delays. Can we have a debate on that?

Members of the Select Committee on Transport will have the opportunity to raise my hon. Friend’s important point with the Secretary of State when she appears before the Committee next Wednesday.

On Monday afternoon, Jessica Knight, a 14-year-old girl who is a constituent of mine, was subjected to the most sickening, horrendous and frenzied knife attack in Astley park, Chorley. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend would agree that that case highlights the threat faced by members of the public from those carrying knives. Will she assure me that the plans laid out by the Prime Minister to impose stricter sentences on those found carrying knives—as well as on those who carry out such sickening attacks—in order to tackle knife crime will be implemented as a matter of urgency? I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House are with my constituent. She is in a critical stage, hanging on and fighting for her life.

I am sure that the whole House will support and agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend about his constituent, Jessica Knight, who was subjected to that horrendous attack. Of course, the Government must take serious and violent crime seriously. We must ensure that we have the right penalty, the right prevention and greater support for victims.

May I take this opportunity to wish you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the House and all hon. Members a very happy Burns nicht tomorrow? Can we have a look at tomorrow’s business to see whether it might be possible to have a short examination of the growing concern about the possible shortage of haggis, which is of course essential to every good Burns supper? The problem was highlighted by Improve, the independent sector skills council. It is concerned that the withdrawal of European social fund support for training in the calf butchery industry will have an impact and will lead to a lack of skilled butchers who are able to produce this finest of foods. Will the Government act to protect the

“chieftain o’ the puddin’-race”

or will they each just be a

“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie”?

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman’s question to the attention of the relevant Minister. I am sure that we all wish everybody a happy Burns night; I seem to be going to a Burns night dinner not tomorrow but next Friday.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend organise a debate on town and parish councils? That would allow me to celebrate the work of so many town and parish councils in my area and, in particular, to condemn the irresponsible action of the independent group in Featherstone, which has gone for a tax increase that would get into the Guinness book of records—an 800 per cent. increase in the precept—despite the fight put up by the local Labour party. That will substantially damage pensions, in particular, as it will take most of the increase. Such a debate would allow us to explore the mysterious decision to put half of the increase—

We all pay tribute to the important work that is done in town and parish councils. It is disappointing if groups such as the Featherstone independent group bring that independent civic work into disrepute by behaving in the way that my hon. Friend has described.

Given the importance of how the Mayor of London is running his office and how he is spending taxpayers’ money in London, can we have a topical debate to find out why the Greater London Authority Act 2007 will give the role even more powers, especially as there are problems with the checks and balances on it? In the light of the recent statement made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, does the Leader of the House think that the Mayor of London should resign to clear his name, too?

The previous Government abolished the Greater London council, the authority that was democratically elected to run London. We set up a Mayor of London in order to allow people in the hon. Lady’s constituency, in mine and throughout London to have their say. I pay tribute to the work of the Mayor, who was elected democratically by the people of all of London. Next May, it will be the responsibility of the electors to have their say on how he has done his work. We have full confidence in him. We cannot tell whether we are fully confident in the work done in this House by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), because we never see him.

May I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that the subject of next week’s topical debate should be the situation in Gaza, which gets worse by the day? I ask her and the Government to agree that the Israeli Government should lift their blockade of Gaza, which is holding an entire population to ransom. That is against all principles of civilised behaviour and is clearly in breach of international law.

There is a debate this afternoon in Westminster Hall on the middle east. I think that everybody will be concerned by the developments that have been reported overnight.

The Leader of House will know that today the Secretary of State for Justice has published a document about the review of voting systems. He said that it remained the Government’s view that, as a change to the voting system used for this House would have significant effects on the way in which democracy works, it would come into effect only if it were endorsed by a referendum. What confidence should the public have that that promise of a referendum on any change to the voting system will mean any more than the promise of one on a European constitution?

We have made it clear that any decision to change the way in which Members of this House are elected, by going from first past the post to a proportional system, would not be for us to make and that we would ask for support for the decision through a referendum. We have no proposal with which to come forward; we do not propose that following the review there should be a change in the voting system for the House of Commons.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill contains a number of controversial clauses, including those on hybrid embryos, the deletion of the need for a father and new powers for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to apply the law in new cases without reference to ethical guidelines. The Bill has almost completed its passage in the House of Lords. Will the Leader of the House let us know whether it will come to this House before the Easter recess, so that we can plan our campaign? It is an important issue. A lot of people are making submissions to their MPs and they want to contact them at the appropriate time.

I know that the Bill will be subject in this House to a great deal of intense scrutiny and debate, as it has been in the House of Lords. I cannot give a specific time frame for when it will leave the House of Lords. Of course, the House of Lords needs to be allowed to complete its deliberations in as much time as it regards to be necessary.

What has happened to today’s topical debate? Does the Leader of the House really believe that there is nothing to debate today apart from our salaries?

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. The topical issue for debate today is Members’ pay.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the importance of holocaust memorial day? I draw her attention to early-day motion 648, which has been signed by 145 hon. Members.

[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; 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.]

The motion notes that memorial day is this Sunday and praises the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for using her good offices to allow the book of commitment to be placed in the House this week. It has been signed by many hon. Members of all parties. May I encourage hon. Members to attend local memorial events and to sign the early-day motion?

I shall take my hon. Friend’s suggestion as a proposal for next week’s topical debate. The need to remember and learn from the holocaust is raised regularly at business questions by hon. Members of all parties. The fact that Sunday is holocaust memorial day could make it an appropriate subject for next Thursday’s topical debate.

There is no confidence in the Northern Ireland community that policing and justice will be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly—and certainly not in the lifetime of the present Assembly. In addition, there seems to be some confusion in the mind of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the devolution of those powers. Will the Leader of the House therefore find time for a debate on that very important and topical subject?

I do not accept that there is confusion in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about that matter, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman’s comments to his attention. I shall ask my right hon. Friend to write to him, and to place a copy of the letter in the House of Commons Library.

May we have a debate on the economy, to be led by the Prime Minister? That would give him an opportunity to explain why he said to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) yesterday that he had

“inherited a very difficult economic situation from him in 1997”—[Official Report, 23 January 1997; Vol. 470, c. 1493.]

How is that remark consistent with the fact that the economy at that time was moving into considerable surplus, with the best pensions provision in Europe, a savings ratio of more than 10 per cent., trade in balance and inflation under control at 2.5 per cent? Treasury officials described those figures as “fantastically good”. How is that consistent with the description given by the Prime Minister yesterday?

The House has the opportunity every Wednesday to ask the Prime Minister questions about the economy. My right hon. Friend has shown that he is very willing to respond to such questions at length. He considers it to be of the utmost importance that our economy remains strong and stable, with high levels of employment and low inflation and interest rates, and that it stays strong against a background of international financial turbulence.

Harold Wilson was right to say that a week is a long time in politics. There are more important matters than MPs’ pay, and the resignation of Ministers and the conduct of Government are among them. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that today’s breaking news gives the Government an ideal opportunity to look again at the workings of government, and to decide that the responsibilities for Wales and for work and pensions—and indeed for Scotland and defence—should be split? Does not today’s resignation news give the Government an ideal opportunity to carry out a mini-reshuffle?

In light of the breaking news, may we have an urgent statement today on the implications of the resignation of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions?

I know that since I have been answering business questions today there have been media reports about the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who also has responsibility for Wales. I do not have confirmation that his resignation has been received, but my right hon. Friend has worked to improve pensioners’ retirement income and to ensure that more people come off benefits and go into work. That has been important work for people in this country, and I personally consider him to be an excellent colleague and a good friend.

May we have a topical debate on the rules governing community bids to take over post offices? The Government’s response to consultation on the post office network stated:

“The Government wants to encourage more community-run post offices”.

Last Monday, I attended a meeting in my constituency, at which EnviroKirn, a local community group, said that it wanted to take over a post office that is threatened with closure. Post Office representatives were far from encouraging, however, and the rules that they set out made it appear almost impossible for a community group to take over a post office. It is clear that the Post Office is not following Government policy, so may we have an urgent debate on the subject?

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. In the meantime, I suggest that he seeks a meeting with senior Post Office managers, so that he can present his constituents’ concerns about services.

May we have a debate on education so that we can discuss the Government’s plans to impose thousands of new homes on Milton Keynes while at the same time slashing its education budget by some £64.5 million? What would the Leader of the House say to parents with children at Oakgrove school in my constituency? They face the prospect that the final phase of building will not be completed, with the result that pupils will have to leave and go elsewhere. Why exactly is Labour deserting Milton Keynes?

Labour is certainly not deserting Milton Keynes. I know that there is a demand across the country for more housing, especially among people who are finding it difficult to afford to get on to the housing ladder for the first time, or who are finding it hard to rent a good property for themselves and their families.

The hon. Gentleman asked about homes, and I am dealing with that question first. As for education, there has been a big increase in investment in schools in this country, including in Milton Keynes, since this Government took office. The background at that time was that many children were being taught in very large classes, and problems with the roofs of many schools meant that buckets had to be put in place to collect the drips when it rained. The Government have instituted major programmes of capital and revenue investment in education, and I find it hard to believe that Milton Keynes is the only part of the country that has not benefited. Moreover, having made that investment in education, we intend to increase it in future.

The public think that hon. Members are like children with the keys to the sweet shop, and they are astonished that we vote for our own pay rises. Will the Leader of the House programme proposals that our salaries be determined entirely by an independent body, so that we can get rid of that indecent practice before we go off for the summer recess?

This week, the Public Accounts Committee published its findings that 40 per cent. of motorbikes on Britain’s roads are not taxed, and that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has no effective way to ensure that owners of foreign vehicles who are in this country for more than six months pay our road tax. May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the millions of vehicles on Britain’s roads that are both untaxed and uninsured?

Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked the Leader of the House about the progress of the Government’s ID card scheme, but may I press the right hon. and learned Lady to take her reply a little further? Her response was that the Government had always planned to phase in the cards, but the whole point about the question posed by my right hon. Friend was that that phased approach seems to be slipping. Does the Leader of the House agree that that slippage is adding fuel to the fires among Opposition Members, who have said that the scheme is unworkably complex and expensive and that it cannot work? Does not the fact that the scheme is delayed merely prove that point?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot press me further on that, as I have nothing to add to what I said about 15 minutes ago.

This year’s budget deficit is already £44 billion, inflation—not calculated according to the retail prices index—is running at 11 per cent., and every household in the country has been lumbered with a second mortgage as a result of the Northern Rock saga. Is it not time, therefore, for an urgent debate on the Government’s handling of the British economy, given that every household and business is paying more in tax?

I forbore repeating myself in response to the previous question from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), but on this occasion I shall repeat what I said earlier in response to the shadow Leader of the House. The British economy is in a good position to weather the difficult storm arising from international financial turbulence. Opposition Members must think very carefully about whether it is really their job to talk down confidence in the British economy. We think that we remain in a strong position. The hon. Gentleman should support the high levels of employment in his constituency, and the endeavours of businesses there, by not misrepresenting the state of the economy.