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Business of the House

Volume 473: debated on Thursday 20 March 2008

The business for the week after the Easter recess will be:

Tuesday 25 March—Opposition day [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Iraq Inquiry” on an Opposition motion followed by motion to approve the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 129) (House of Commons Paper No. 256)

Wednesday 26 March—Second Reading of the Local Transport Bill [Lords].

Thursday 27 March—Topical debate: Subject to be announced, followed by motion relating to the parliamentary contributory pension fund, followed by motion relating to the Seventh Report of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Friday 28 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 31 March will include:

Monday 31 March—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Housing and Regeneration Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Housing and Regeneration Bill, followed by motion to consider the Northern Rock plc Transfer Order 2008.

Tuesday 1 April—Second Reading of the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

Wednesday 2 April—Opposition day [9th allotted day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 3 April—Topical debate: subject to be announced followed by motion on the April recess adjournment.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 April and 24 April will be:

Thursday 3 April—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Global Security: Russia

Thursday 24 April— A debate on the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on ticket touting.

The House may wish to be aware that earlier today I issued a written ministerial statement announcing publication of “Post-legislative Scrutiny—The Government’s Approach”. It will provide that three years after this House has passed legislation, there will be a process of scrutiny to enable us to be sure that an Act did what we intended.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business and I look forward to future discussions on the important subject of post-legislative scrutiny and the way in which Government proposals operate.

All hon. Members will have been concerned by recent events in Tibet. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama when he is in London, but many hon. Members still want an opportunity to discuss the issue. Can we have a topical debate on Tibet next week?

This week, the National Audit Office released figures showing that Britain’s climate change emissions are 12 per cent. higher than the levels cited in Government figures. We have also learned that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—the Department responsible for reducing Britain’s CO2 emissions—is the worst performing Department for energy efficiency. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explaining why the Government have made so little progress on cutting CO2 emissions, and why his Department is setting such a bad example?

Last year, we proposed amendments to the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007, which would have significantly reduced the scope for political manipulation of data. The Government rejected them; now we know why. The Statistics Commission has lambasted Government Departments for politically driven misuse of statistics—otherwise known as spin. One of the worst offenders was the Children, Schools and Families Department, and last week it was at it again: hiding school admission figures and attacking schools for demanding money for places based on nothing more than unverified desk research. May we have a debate on the use of Government statistics?

On Monday, Dame Carol Black’s report, “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow”, revealed the shocking true cost to the economy of Labour’s failure to tackle worklessness caused by sickness—£100 billion. After 10 years of a Labour Government, Dame Carol labelled the number of people on incapacity benefit as

“an historic failure of healthcare and employment support”,

so may we have a debate on that historic Government failure?

In 1997, the Government’s pledge card promised smaller class sizes and the Prime Minister is now promising personalised learning for every child, but it seems that no one has told the Schools Minister, who yesterday told a conference that class sizes of 70 were acceptable, so may we have a debate on Government policy on class sizes?

In the past few weeks, a number of hon. Members have called for a debate on London. This week, another scandal has hit the Labour Mayor of London. We have now discovered that Ken Livingstone has not registered a single donation with the Electoral Commission for the past seven years. His campaign team insists that all moneys raised come through the Labour party, so do not have to be declared, but his official website asks for cheques to be made payable to the “Ken Livingstone campaign fund”. What on earth is the Mayor trying to hide? May we have a debate on London?

Last night, 64 Labour MPs voted to support post office closures despite campaigning in their own constituencies to keep post offices open. Are not those double standards the very reason why so many people are turned off politics? Post offices are often the linchpin of local communities, so may we have a debate on sustainable local communities?

Finally, in yesterday’s debate on the Post Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) quoted a poem that had come into his possession from Downing street. I would like to suggest another version of that poem:

At Downing street the other day

I met a man sent on his way.

Close to Gordon for many years,

The PM’s rants brought him to tears.

But for all this he didn’t care,

He was pleased to see his master there.

He’d been important once, you know,

Now Carter told him, “You must go!”.

Misusing Government figures, wasting taxpayers’ money, reneging on promises, Ministers campaigning against their own Government, chaos at No. 10: is not that why no one trusts this Government on anything any more?

I do not know about the right hon. Lady’s constituents, but I know mine are more interested in sound money than in soundbites, and they would prefer competence to her version of comedy.

The right hon. Lady asked about Tibet, and she acknowledged that the issue was raised with the Prime Minister by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. It is a matter of continuing concern to the Prime Minister and to the Foreign Secretary, and no doubt hon. Members will have further opportunities to raise questions with the Prime Minister—and, indeed, with the Foreign Secretary in oral questions next week. I note the right hon. Lady’s proposal to make Tibet a subject for a topical debate.

The right hon. Lady asked about the Government’s approach to climate change, and I would remind her that the Government are taking unprecedented action to tackle carbon emissions. Through the Climate Change Bill, which will come before the House for debate shortly, we propose to set in law a ceiling on carbon emissions, which is unprecedented in the world. As well as Government Departments scrutinising their carbon emissions, we in the House also need to ensure that we reduce waste and energy use. My hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is to work with the House authorities on that, so I invite hon. Members to put to her their proposals on how the House can become greener and more energy-efficient. We, too, can make a contribution and lead by example.

The right hon. Lady talked about statistics. Public confidence in the independence of statistics is very important. The Government have made changes in that respect. The Statistics Board will be overseen by the Public Administration Committee, which will reassure her and the House.

The right hon. Lady talked about school admissions and class sizes. May I reminder her and the House that a third of children in primary school were in classes of more than 30 when we came into government? That number is now down to 2 per cent. We now have 30,000 extra teachers and 130,000 extra teaching assistants. We have the best ratio ever between teachers and children in classes. The Schools Minister did not say that he thought that there should be 70 in a class.

He did not say that; he just remarked on an innovatory way of dealing with—[Interruption.] Well, I am just telling the right hon. Lady and the House what he said. He has been misquoted. Government policy is to have more teachers and teaching assistants, smaller class sizes and more investment in education, and we have been getting on with providing that.

The right hon. Lady mentioned worklessness. We have been concerned to ensure that we have a strong and stable economy with more jobs, and I am glad to report to the House that the figures published yesterday show a record number of jobs in the economy. In the last quarter, the number of jobs in the economy went up again, but there is a problem in terms of those who are on incapacity benefit, who perhaps want to and could work. For many years, when her party was in government, people were encouraged to go on to incapacity benefit to conceal rising unemployment. Although the number going on to incapacity benefit is reducing, a large number have been on that benefit for a long time. Therefore, through jobcentres and private and voluntary organisations, we must look to every individual, ask what their capacity is and see whether the many programmes available can help them into work.

The right hon. Lady threw around some allegations about the Labour Mayor of London, which gives me the opportunity to say that I am confident that all the declarations have been properly made. I seem to remember that the Tory candidate for Mayor of London—despite the fact that he represents an Oxfordshire constituency—was on one of the Electoral Commission lists of people who had not made declarations and had to make them late. I might be wrong, but that is my recollection.

The right hon. Lady mentioned post offices. As she will know, we had an extensive debate on that subject yesterday on an Opposition motion, which gave everybody an opportunity to discuss the issue. Were we to follow her Government’s policy of not providing a subsidy to the Post Office, we would not have 11,500 post offices continuing in business as will now be the case; we would have only 4,000. If the country is to have 11,500 post offices, it is important that the right ones stay open. That is why the consultation is so important, and that is why I have put forward the case to the Post Office that the Gibbon road post office in Nunhead should be one of the 11,500 that remain open.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that although investigations and decisions are already taking place on party political expenditure and many suggestions are being made about curtailing Members’ expenses, there is one big gap in the programme? It is high time we took the opportunity, possibly through a statement, to make sure that Members of Parliament have one job and one job only. There are more than 100 Tory MPs lining their pockets on the side, including some on the Front Bench. It should be one Member of Parliament, one job, with no conflict of interests. The climate is right and the press will deal with it, so let us get on with it.

My hon. Friend has made a good point. Being a Member of Parliament is an important job, and our constituents expect us to give it our committed attention. I expect my hon. Friend’s point to be the subject of debate in the House, and I am glad that he has raised it.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. A Bill is about to be presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) calling for an inquiry into what happened in Iraq, and next week a debate using Opposition time will raise the need for such an inquiry. Will the Leader of the House talk to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that after next Tuesday’s debate it will be announced, in the light of the views expressed by Parliament, that we can have—in a way that will meet the wishes of Parliament—the sort of inquiry into the events of five years ago and since that I think the country deserves and needs?

May we also have a debate on a separate but linked issue, that of coroners’ inquests generally and inquests into the deaths of service personnel in particular—not least in order to ensure, on behalf of the families of people like the late Private Jason Smith, that the Government do not seek to intervene to prevent coroners from speaking as they find, and that the relatives of the victims of events such as the 7 July bombings do not discover that the inquests into their loved ones’ deaths took place behind closed doors without the possibility of public and general knowledge of how their relatives died?

Yesterday we had what I thought was an excellent debate on post offices to which 83 Members contributed, and since the Queen’s speech there have been six Adjournment debates, more than 70 oral parliamentary questions and nearly 250 written questions on the subject. As Members are still hugely concerned about the failure of their local consultation processes to deliver the right results, will the Leader of the House establish whether the topical debate the week after next could deal with post office closures? The time allowed for yesterday’s debate was clearly not sufficient. Given that the Government lost 19 of their supporters, who voted with the Opposition, and that the majority is now down to 20, will she also establish whether they can come up with a more satisfactory response to the widespread concern that exists through the House?

I support the request from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for next week’s topical debate to deal with Tibet, but may we have a debate on China generally before long? In this of all years there is a huge interest in relations between the United Kingdom and China, which really ought to be aired on the Floor of the House.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Peter Viggers) confirmed earlier that according to the best available figures, one elector in 10 in England and up to one in five in London may not be registered. Six weeks before the elections in England and Wales, we also know from the judge who disqualified a Conservative councillor in Slough on Tuesday that the postal vote system is

“lethal to the democratic process”.

May we please have an urgent debate in the next couple of weeks so that, once and for all, we can not only encourage people who should be on the electoral register to put their names on it, but change a system that allows widespread abuse because we do not have individual voter registration in this country?

The hon. Gentleman asked about Iraq. As I announced, there will be a debate on Iraq next week, in which Members will be able to put their points about inquiries. I remind Members, however, that we have already had four inquiries into the events leading up to the use of force in Iraq, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that an inquiry will be held when we have completed the process—which is well under way—of withdrawing from Iraq, on the basis that its security forces and police are able to provide security for the people of Iraq. As well as bearing in mind the very regrettable loss of life, I ask Members to remember the sight of people queuing to vote in elections, which were made possible by Saddam Hussein’s removal. Members should also recall that there was a 70 per cent. turnout, showing the enthusiasm of the Iraqi people for their new democracy.

The hon. Gentleman asked about coroners’ inquests. It will be possible to raise questions about how inquests deal with material that has national security implications in the Second Reading debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill on 1 April.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned post offices. That will remain an important issue right up until the end of the consultation process when the Post Office announces its decision. As he reminded us, there was a full day’s debate on the matter yesterday, so I cannot say that there will be further parliamentary time to discuss it, especially as there are a number of important Bills coming forward that the House must be able to scrutinise.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Tibet and China. He will have heard that the shadow Leader of the House suggested it as a subject for a topical debate, and we will consider that.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important point of the number of people who are eligible to vote but who are unable to do so because they are not on the electoral register—he mentioned the statistics that show that one in 10 electors outside London and as many as one in five in London may not be registered. He will know that we passed the Electoral Administration Act 2006 to place a duty on electoral registration officers to do everything they can, including using data that they hold, to ensure that everybody in their area is properly on the electoral register. The question he raised, however, was whether enough has been done to ensure that everybody is entitled to vote. I know that he shares my concern that the people who are least likely to be on the electoral register are those who are young, those who are black, and people who live in rented accommodation or in inner cities. We cannot have the continuing unfairness in our democracy that people are more likely to be on the electoral register and able to vote if they are over 50, live in a non-metropolitan area, own their own home and are white. That is a problem.

I will continue my discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice to see whether we can tackle the twin problems of under-registration and bogus registration, and whether measures can be put in place to use the data that Government and local government hold. I know there is a lot of concern about the cross-use of data, but it can be used for good purposes, such as to ensure that those who are entitled to be registered are registered, and that nobody who is not entitled to be registered gets themselves on the register for the purposes of electoral fraud.

May we have a wider debate on the Coroner Service? A draft Bill on the subject was presented in the last Parliament, followed by a Select Committee report on that Bill. The issue is high on the political agenda, particularly for many military families who are suffering long delays in getting the answers they need. Those delays are the result of an archaic system that is long overdue for reform.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to improve the Coroner Service so that bereaved relatives can get answers to their questions, particularly when those relatives have died abroad. I also agree that improving the Coroner Service is part of our military covenant. We will publish our draft legislative programme at the end of May setting out what will be in this year’s Queen’s Speech, and I know that my hon. Friend will be hoping and expecting that a coroners Bill will be included in that draft legislative programme.

The 100th anniversary of the formation of the Territorial Army falls on 1 April. I for one am very proud to serve in the TA and would resist any efforts by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to make me leave it. May we have a debate to celebrate its 100th anniversary, because this House has a long association with it—not least, for example, through Colonel Macnamara, to whom there is a memorial on the wall here, and who was the commanding officer of the Royal Irish? May we have such a debate to send a clear message to the TA that the House of Commons supports it?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister paying a heartfelt tribute to the Territorial Army in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s proposal for a debate on the TA, and I will consider it as a subject for a topical debate.

Will the Leader of the House consider making time available for a discussion of the recently published Network Rail document on the rail utilisation strategy, so the House can welcome the inclusion in that document of the Leamside line, recognising the social and economic benefits that that line, as part of an expanding UK rail network, would bring to the constituencies of many Members representing the north-east?

My hon. Friend underlines the importance of the economic regeneration of the region in which his constituency lies. Transport links are crucial to that regeneration. He has mentioned one of them, and I will raise that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. He might also apply for an Adjournment debate on the issue.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker; I am very small and insignificant—who am I?

On Monday, a group of six non-governmental organisations launched a document relating to grandparents’ rights and how they tend to be excluded from family proceedings by the rules in both private and public law. May we have a debate on the operation of family law, and specifically on the role of grandparents and members of the extended family, such as great-grandparents, uncles and aunts?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman might ask his parliamentary colleagues to put that forward as a subject for an Opposition day debate, as his party has one coming up. I strongly agree with what he says, and we should recognise that many families could not cope without grandmum and granddad pitching in. When in the past we have provided support for families with children, we have been criticised by some as the “nanny state”; as we are putting much greater emphasis on, and giving more recognition to, the role of grandparents, I hope we are subsequently called the “granny state” and I would be proud if that were to happen.

Instead of having a debate solely on Tibet, may we have a wider debate on UK relations with China, which would of course cover Tibet, but also how we might engage constructively with the Chinese on a range of issues from climate change to their activities in Africa and their support for the Burmese regime?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I will see whether there is an opportunity for such a discussion. As he says, UK relations with China are very important in many contexts such as our concern about Darfur, the global economy, climate change and our relations with it as an emerging and strongly growing economy. I will raise this matter with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on the future of Operation Stack, the wretched and ill-conceived system that parks thousands of lorries on the M20 whenever there are problems at the channel ports, not only thereby causing huge misery to my constituents and everyone else in Kent, but blocking one of the principal freight routes into this country? Kent county council has made a suggestion for a new lorry park, which would help alleviate the situation, but that will not happen unless the Department for Transport takes a positive view. Therefore, it is important that we hear that the Secretary of State will get behind the idea, and for once take some effective action to get the traffic flowing.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman table a written or oral question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, if he has not already done so. In any event, I shall raise the matter with her and ask her to write to him.

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on police service reorganisation? Earlier this week, Humberside police authority backed its chief constable’s plan in the next few years to reduce the number of police officers by 300 and to increase the number of support staff by 400, thus, he says, releasing 20,000 hours of extra policing on to the streets. That is clearly a complex formula, and I shall be meeting the chief constable to discuss it. He says that it results from the Flanagan review, which the Home Office undertook earlier in the year, so I think that the formula will go to other police forces around the country. All hon. Members would find a debate on it most opportune, so can the Leader of the House arrange one?

I shall bring my hon. Friend’s point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. A great deal more has been invested in the police, with the sole purpose and intention that neighbourhood policing should be rolled out from 1 April in every community in this country. Obviously, we want good police community support and good civilian back-up in police stations, but that is no substitute for good neighbourhood policing, and I shall bring the matter to my right hon. Friend’s attention.

Earlier this week, stung by well-argued and widespread criticism, the Government announced by means of a written statement and a White Paper that they intended to abolish the Learning and Skills Council. They are to replace it with a series of other quangos and bureaucrats. That has not been debated in the House, but it certainly should be, so that the case can be made for a deregulated system of further education that can raise skill levels in this country, elevate practical learning and give better life chances to millions of the people whom we represent.

Obviously, we are concerned to ensure that every young person—and, indeed, every adult who wants the opportunity to continue their education—in every part of the country is given the opportunities that they have not necessarily had in the past. That is why we are increasing the education leaving age to 18—I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that—and why we are dramatically increasing the number of apprenticeships. I shall look into the specific points that he made and ask the relevant Secretary of State to write to him.

The Leader of the House will be aware that in excess of £8 million has been spent on upgrading the press facilities in this House. Will she inform the House what evidence there is to suggest that taxpayers are getting value for money?

The amount spent by this House on facilities for the Lobby is published on an annual basis, so on the basis of that transparency, it is for the public to judge whether they are getting good value for money.

May I tempt the Leader of the House to be a bit more enthusiastic about having a debate on Tibet? She merely says that she notes that it might be a subject for a topical debate, but that is not very enthusiastic. Can she tell me any subject that is likely to be more topical next Thursday than what is going on in Tibet?

The important thing is to give the House the opportunity to debate something that is of absolute topicality in the week in which it is to be debated. It would not be right for me to announce today the subject of next week’s topical debate. I deal with the question of Tibet with absolute seriousness, and the Prime Minister set out the approach yesterday. I note that the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) has joined the other hon. Members who have expressed their concern and proposed it as the subject of a topical debate.

May I follow up the point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about electoral fraud? We have heard about the case involving the Conservatives in Slough, but this affects all political parties, including the Liberal Democrats and even the Labour party. I make a plea that we urgently address the concerns of the Electoral Commission and Sir Christopher Kelly, the newly-appointed chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, because the issue will not go away. May I also make a plea for individual voter registration?

Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary. It is fundamental to our democracy—both our local democracy and the legitimacy of this House—that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so because they are on the register and that nobody who is not entitled to vote is on the register and thus able to corrupt the system.

On 24 October last year, a special debate took place in Westminster Hall on illegal immigration. The Home Office Minister present in that debate made a commitment that the Border and Immigration Agency was liaising with chief constables to ensure that when illegal immigrants jumped off the back of a lorry they were not simply asked to make their own way to Croydon to get their claims processed. Yet in recent weeks incidents have taken place in both Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire in which illegal immigrants have been set free. Can we have a Home Office statement about what the Government policy is on these lorry-drop immigrants?

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman and place a copy of her letter in the House of Commons Library. As I said last week, the allegations made about the Cambridgeshire case were simply not true; I do not know about the Bedfordshire case, and shall raise it with my right hon. Friend, but those other allegations, which were so concerning, were simply not based in fact.

Is the Leader of the House aware that Sheikh Hasina Wajid, a former Prime Minister of Bangladesh and leader of the Bangladeshi Awami League, has been languishing in jail for the past eight months on trumped-up charges without the prospect of any kind of trial? In addition, she is seriously ill and has been refused hospital treatment. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the British Government make appropriate representations to the Government of Bangladesh and get Sheikh Hasina Wajid released as soon as possible?

The issue that my hon. Friend raises is a matter of concern to the Foreign Office and it is being kept under consideration. I believe that it has been raised with the Bangladeshi authorities by this Government.

I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that we will have a topical debate next Thursday, but it is the first one for some time. Last Thursday, I was told that we could not have one because of the Budget debate, which ended early, and that we could not have one today because of the Commonwealth debate, which I hope will run until 6 pm. Should the question whether or not we have a topical debate really rest on the whim of the Leader of the House?

Topical debates take place in Government time, so this is not about a whim. We did not have a topical debate on the day when the other business was the Budget because the Opposition, and indeed a number of other hon. Members, said that they would rather the Budget be the subject of the whole day’s debate and that we should not take an hour and a half out of it for a topical debate. The right hon. Gentleman points out that that debate went short, but it is not always possible to predict these things. When the Opposition ask us not to have a topical debate and instead to devote the time to the Budget debate, we take the suggestion seriously.

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned international women’s day, when we did not have a topical debate. We did not want to take one and a half hours out of the debate on international women’s day, in which many speakers contributed to a very good debate. Many hon. Members have asked for issues associated with Commonwealth countries to be the subject of a topical debate, so it would seem counter-productive to cut into the Commonwealth debate with a topical debate lasting an hour and a half.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am reviewing the question of topical debates. If we decide to suggest any change, we will make the proposals before the summer. This is not an exact science, but I assure him that my concern is to do what the House wants in respect of ensuring that there is an opportunity to debate something topical that the House has not had the opportunity to debate in a given week.

May we have a debate on the oleaginous and supine approach of BBC news editors to BBC management? Did my right hon. and learned Friend notice this morning, in bulletin after bulletin, how they went on about Formula 1 being won by the BBC? The question that they did not ask was how much the licence payer would have to pay for something that could and should be provided on commercial television, with the licence money being diverted to promoting real, competitive sports, rather than the wealthy industry that is Formula 1. Is it not time that BBC news editors were brought to book? They should be probing BBC management rather than crawling to it.

I will raise the points that my hon. Friend makes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I am sure that the top brass will have heard those comments loud and clear.

Perhaps I should observe that hon. Members should make some effort to relate their question to next week’s business.

Local shops and businesses produce a huge amount of waste that usually does not get recycled. Local councils, including Haringey, are not taking up that issue. The Government have not considered it since 2003, and it might be useful if the House had a debate about how we support local councillors in addressing the huge swathe of business recycling that is not being done.

Many local councils, and certainly Labour councils, have been working very hard, with the support of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to increase recycling rates, but I will raise the points that the hon. Lady makes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement about Tibet yesterday, and I am especially pleased that he will meet the Dalai Lama when he comes to the UK in May. I had the honour of meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala towards the end of last year, and I am sure that we all admire the peaceful lead that he provides in this difficult situation. I echo calls for a debate, but will my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House have any role in helping to arrange for the Dalai Lama to address both Houses of Parliament when he comes to this country?

I will look into the point that my hon. Friend makes, because I am sure that it will be of interest to many hon. Members. If there is any outcome, I will write to her and place a copy in the Library so that all hon. Members can see what the arrangements are.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the grave concern across the House about the expansion of Heathrow and the third runway. It certainly has great implications, both good and bad, for my constituents. An interesting independent report, which was published this week, questions the economic assumptions made by the Department for Transport, and environmental groups have also expressed grave concerns about the detailed evidence that the Government are using. I raised this issue with the Leader of the House about three weeks ago, when she said that there had been a large number of responses to the consultation. Can she give us an assurance today that there will be a debate in Government time about this important issue?

I cannot make an announcement at this point about how the response to the consultation will be dealt with, but as I said there have been a very large number of responses to this consultation, and they are being carefully reviewed by Departments.

My right hon. Friend may have seen the report prepared for the TUC by tax expert Richard Murphy, setting out the case that £33 billion is lost through tax fiddles. She may also have seen a report by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, showing that VAT losses from fraud are £14 billion and that losses from tobacco smuggling alone are £3.5 billion. Could we have a full debate on all the losses to the Treasury and how the public purse is being ripped off, so that we can address ways to counter that?

I know that this issue was raised in the Budget debate earlier this week. The Treasury is very concerned to make sure that taxes are fairly applied and that those people who are in a good position to pay them do not avoid doing so.

May we please have an early debate in Government time on night flights into and out of East Midlands airport in Leicestershire? Last year, there were 20,000 night flights, between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am, and that figure will increase to 27,000 by 2016. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) not to hold his breath, because there has been a marked lack of interest from the Government and the Department for Transport in that issue, despite the fact that there has been huge public disquiet about the activities of East Midlands airport and the disturbance and environmental damage caused by night flights there.

There is certainly no lack of interest in the Department for Transport in the question of noise from airports. If the hon. Gentleman requires further responses from the Minister concerned and the opportunity to debate further, he can apply for an Adjournment debate on the subject.

Next week is the last week in the Government’s financial year, and it looks as if the York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will end the year by clearing its deficit and the North Yorkshire and York primary care trust will have reduced its deficit and achieved a recurrent balance. However, I remain concerned that the financial pressures in the NHS mean that some treatments will be less available to NHS patients in York and North Yorkshire than in other parts of Yorkshire and the Humber. May we have a debate at the end of the financial year to consider the financing of the NHS in Yorkshire?

Perhaps I could suggest to my hon. Friend that he too apply for an Adjournment debate. He will be well aware, as will the whole House, that we have more than doubled the investment in the national health service. We want to ensure that not only are the finances well run but services are continuously improved for people, wherever they live.

May we have a debate on tourism, given that this is Easter weekend, when roads are clogged and people are going on their holidays? There is an enormous differential in funding between Scotland, England and Wales for tourism, but there is also a problem with funding all the way up. Every level of local authority except parish councils has funding for tourism. If we want to encourage more tourists—we have the Olympics coming in a few years’ time—we should discuss the best way to provide what people want, which is an experience of Britain. We need to provide that in a proper and sensible manner.

I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman is focusing on the tourist industry in this country and, in particular, his welcome for the increased investment that the Government have put into the tourist industry and our focus on seaside towns. I will raise the points that he has made with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Leader of the House will be aware that today is the fifth anniversary of the commencement of the invasion of Iraq, and that this year it will be seven years since the war started in Afghanistan. I appreciate that we will have a debate next week on the inquiry into the events leading up to the war in Iraq, but will the Leader of the House make Government time available for a serious debate on our foreign policy objectives as a whole, including the war in Afghanistan, given that the Ministry of Defence predict that we will be there for another 30 years? Have we not taken a wrong turn with both those conflicts, and should we not be looking for a more peaceful, just world in the future, instead of one of eternal wars led by Bush?

I point out to my hon. Friend that there will be a debate on Tuesday 25 March in Westminster Hall on our mission in Helmand province. Perhaps that might provide an opportunity to develop his points further.

May we have a debate on policing? The great improvements in police performance in Gravesham are largely due to the outstanding leadership of the area command team, but the bar for serious crime and antisocial behaviour is rising. For example, police are often unavailable to deal with shoplifting incidents.

I shall take on board the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should make policing the subject of a topical debate, but he will know that police numbers have been increased, in Gravesham and elsewhere. Local government and the police have been focusing on antisocial behaviour, which is something that all local authorities and agencies are working together to tackle. However, I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.


Iraq War Inquiry

Mr. Edward Davey, supported by Mr. Nick Clegg, Nick Harvey, Willie Rennie, Sir Robert Smith, Mr. Don Foster, Paul Holmes, Mr. Paul Keetch, Mr. Michael Moore, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Alan Reid and Sir Menzies Campbell, presented a Bill to make provision for the establishment of an inquiry into the war on Iraq; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 May, and to be printed [Bill 91].