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Business of the House

Volume 474: debated on Thursday 27 March 2008

The business for the week commencing 31 March will be:

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 a 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 entitled, “The Economy, Repossessions and the Housing Market”, followed by a debate entitled, “The Government’s Flawed Policy on Heathrow”. Both debates arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.

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

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 April will include:

Monday 21 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 22 April—Remaining stages of the Pensions Bill, followed by a motion relating to the statement of changes in immigration rules.

Wednesday 23 April—Opposition day [10th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 24 April—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate, subject to be announced.

Friday 25 April—Private Members’ Bills.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. As she will be aware, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has caused huge controversy, but six weeks after First Reading we have still not been told how it will be handled in the House. When will she make a statement on that?

This week, the Justice Secretary announced that the Government would be consulting on changes to the method of electing Members to this House. As Leader of this House, will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that no changes to the voting system will be imposed or introduced without cross-party consent?

On Monday, we will be debating the remaining stages of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. The Bill received pre-legislative scrutiny last summer and finished its Committee stage at the end of January, but this week, only three sitting days before debate on Report, the Government have tabled 136 amendments and new clauses, on top of the 300 amendments they had already tabled in the past two months. The right hon. and learned Lady is responsible for managing Government business. She also has a responsibility to ensure that Members can scrutinise Bills properly. As Leader of the House, does she really believe that that is the right way to manage business and scrutinise important legislation?

Last week, it was reported that the Transport for London commissioner has asked his communications team to set up an “anti-Boris unit”. Transport for London has also told taxi drivers that they cannot issue receipts with “Back Boris” on them, and has threatened to withdraw funding from the Metropolitan police if its road traffic officers continue to criticise the safety record of bendy buses. Is that not a flagrant abuse of power? May we have debate on Transport for London?

It has emerged this week that almost half our hospitals have turned away women in labour because they did not have the space for them. That lack of care for pregnant women has put their health and the health of their babies at risk, yet this Government still plan to close more local maternity services. May we have a debate in Government time on cuts in maternity service?

Last year, the Government introduced passport interviews designed to weed out bogus candidates, but 38,000 checks and £93 million later not a single applicant has been rejected under the scheme. Is that not another example of the Government wasting taxpayers’ money? May we have a debate on the procedures for issuing passports?

This week, the National Union of Teachers voted to forbid military officers giving careers advice to schools because they would glorify war. That is on top of the decision that the Government made last year to abolish the Ministry of Defence’s defence schools presentation team. Why are lawyers, accountants and doctors allowed to promote their profession to schools, but soldiers are not allowed to talk about defending our country? May we have a debate on the careers advice being given to our young people in schools?

The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), has published a doomsday list of Labour MPs who are at risk of losing their seats, which shows the results depending on a mere 7,500 voters. The former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers), recently criticised the Government’s tax policy. I wonder whether that is why both of them were put on the list for a Delegated Legislation Committee starting at 8.55 am today. Even the Leader of the House is reported as having criticised the Prime Minister’s communication skills and as having said to him:

“When you talk about opportunity, nobody knows what you’re talking about”.

Do not all those examples show that the Government are incompetent, that they waste taxpayers’ money, that they have no vision for this country and that there is only one man to blame—the Prime Minister?

The right hon. Lady asked about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Obviously, there is concern that it is properly handled and that proper scrutiny is given by this House. We will make the arrangements for handling it clear in good time before it comes to this House, following discussions with all parties.

The right hon. Lady made a point about the voting system. She will be aware that we have introduced a number of different voting systems in different parts of the country and that there was no provision in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill for reforming the voting system. We have said in our manifestos that there would not be any change to the voting system for this House without its having been voted on by the people of this country in a referendum.

The right hon. Lady mentioned that a large number of amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill have been tabled. I must say to her that it is desirable and it is best—it facilitates the best scrutiny in this House—if all the technical, drafting and policy issues are sorted out in advance of a Bill’s publication, so that it can make progress and the Government’s position is clear. Sometimes it is necessary to table late amendments if a response is being made to proposals from hon. Members and if the Government agree to table amendments. Generally speaking, I agree that we do not want large rafts of amendments to be tabled, because it is difficult for hon. Members to scrutinise on that basis. I shall remind all my ministerial colleagues of the point that she makes, with which I think the whole House would agree.

The right hon. Lady went on to highlight a number of issues about London. She raised issues about the Metropolitan police in London and she will know that, following proposals from a number of hon. Members from all parties, that is the subject of today’s topical debate, so all those issues can be discussed then. I shall consider her suggestions for a topical debate on the subject of Transport for London.

The right hon. Lady mentioned what she alleged was a lack of care for pregnant women. She should know that since we came to government there are more midwives than there were under the Conservative Government, that each midwife deals with fewer births and can therefore give greater care to pregnant women, and that there is a lower number of deaths of women and babies at birth. I suggest that she focus on the quality of care and the outcome for the mother and the baby, which is what really matters. The outcomes for mothers and babies are improving. Of course, no one wants the uncertainty that comes when a woman who expects to give birth in a particular place has to be moved to a different hospital, but sometimes, such as when there is a question about intensive care facilities, there has to be a transfer. By and large, I would not want the right hon. Lady to give the impression that midwifery services are deteriorating. They are not; they are improving. Of course, they could always be improved further, and the Government will endeavour to ensure that that happens.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the question of careers advice in schools in relation to our armed forces. The Government strongly back the single services team, which goes into about 1,000 schools at the invitation of those schools and tells children about the work that goes on in the Army. Schools have a number of visits from people from all walks of life, and it is obviously right that the forces should be part of that, at the invitation of the school.

The right hon. Lady’s last issues were a basket of party political point scoring, so I will not respond to them.

When can we have a debate on the excellent Byron review, which was published this morning? It accepts finally, and for the first time, that children can be affected by violent video games and access to the internet, that that process needs to be monitored carefully, and that we need a new partnership between parents and the industry. Will the Government accept the recommendations in full? If they are prepared to accept them, when can the House debate the matter, as so many Members on both sides are keen to do so?

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his long-standing work on and concern about these issues. That would be a good subject for a topical debate, and I accept what he says as a proposal for such a debate. I thank Tanya Byron for her work. It is common sense that there should be clear labelling so that we can understand the different levels of videos and games. She is absolutely right that there needs to be joint work and that responsibility lies with the Government, the industry and parents, who all need to take action and work together on this.

I want, too, to acknowledge the work of the Internet Watch Foundation, which works with the industry and provides a hotline for parents. The Government accept the findings of the Byron report. We will produce an action plan, but before that it would be a good idea to have a debate in the House.

May I follow the last exchange by joining the tribute to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee? I support the call for a debate on the labelling of videos and also on the management of amusement arcade machines, which often have equally violent scenes. It is obvious nonsense that we have never managed to get a grip on the sort of violence youngsters can see in places to which they have easy access. If we can debate that soon, it would be welcome.

On the Housing and Regeneration Bill, may I couple the protest that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made with a reminder to the Leader of the House that she said on the Floor of the House that, when the Government tabled a large number of new clauses or amendments, she would consider providing extra time so that that did not eat into the time for consideration of Opposition new clauses and amendments? May I ask that, as a matter of urgency, she seeks to apply that to next week, so that all the Government business has the time that it needs, but that the amendments that the Opposition table also have the proper time? May we also have the time that the Bill really needs for Report, not the nonsense of trying to fit a quart into a pint pot on Monday?

Later on Monday night, we will have the welcome debate on the transfer order on Northern Rock. I shall leave the substance of that issue to one side, but given the absolutely damning report on the Financial Services Authority’s four major and many minor failures of scrutiny, may we have an early debate on why we have an authority that is meant to regulate but is clearly not up to regulating the banking industry?

If the Leader of the House would rather have a wider debate, may I suggest that we have a whole-day debate in Government time on the regulation not just of the banking industry but of the water industry—people in many parts of England do not think that they are getting very good value for money—of the public utilities, for which people think that they are paying huge amounts for relatively poor service, and of the railway industry? Last weekend, we had what was called the Easter improvement programme, whereby many people did not get any rail services and many were not able to book in advance. Looking at regulation would be welcome, because it is not working in Britain. The whole idea was that regulators would be effective, not toothless watchdogs.

I welcome the announcement that we will have a debate on Russia in Westminster Hall on 3 April. I remind the Leader of the House that she said she would look sympathetically on a debate on UK-China relations, which is no less urgent now than it was when bids were made for it in the past couple of weeks.

The draft Constitutional Renewal Bill was published the other day, which was very welcome. Before the pre-legislative Committee starts its work, may we have a debate about the proposed role of Law Officers? It is a ring-fenced issue, and there is now a clear proposal that there should be no interference with decisions except in matters of national security, however that is defined. Some of us think that what happened over the BAE Systems prosecution brought this country into severe disrepute. We need to get out of a system in which there is clear political interference in an inquiry into whether criminal offences have been committed.

Finally, we have had an announcement today that five police authorities—Lincolnshire, Cheshire, Leicestershire, Cleveland and Warwickshire—are to have their budgets capped, even though Lincolnshire police authority, for example, is asking for only £2 a week on council tax so that it can police Lincolnshire properly. May we have a debate urgently about these issues, so that the public can realise what nonsense the council tax system is, and that it is even more of a nonsense when councils are not allowed to raise and spend the council tax that they want? Police authorities, like councils, want to be able to get on with the job, and the Government’s system is preventing them from doing so.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raise his final points about resources for police authorities and local government spending with my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government in the statement to follow.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the Byron review and the report that has come out of it. I notice that the official Opposition jeer every time the Prime Minister announces that he is setting up a review. This was a review that he set up that has actually enabled people to put forward their views, so I hope the Opposition will think better next time they jeer at reviews. Obviously everybody in the House thinks that this review was a good idea.

The hon. Gentleman reinforced the point that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made about Housing and Regeneration Bill amendments. I will consider it, but it is difficult to make promises because I do not want to create unrealistic expectations having already announced the business. Because of the lengthy debate that we had on Europe, there is a queue of important Second Readings that we need to get to. I sympathise with his point, but I cannot promise that I will be able to do anything about it. I shall certainly consider it.

On Northern Rock, as the hon. Gentleman said, there will be a debate next week on the order. I think that the FSA has produced a frank report, and lessons need to be and will be learned. The Treasury Committee has also produced a report and the Government are considering its recommendations. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not write off all regulators, as regulation is very important.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of UK-China relations. He will know that there is a debate on the subject of Tibet in Westminster Hall next week and I am sure that several hon. Members will seek to use that opportunity.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the role of the Law Officers, and that will be addressed in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. During the course of our debate on that Bill, he will no doubt be able to repeat the points that he has just made, only even more fully and at greater length.

The issue of children has rightly come up already in business questions. Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the importance of play? The excellent children’s plan published earlier this month demonstrates that organised play for children is a key part of their development. I want this debate to put off local authorities that are short-sightedly thinking of closing play centres on financial grounds alone. I want the issues properly explored to stop them doing so.

No local authority should cut play services. The Government have put an extra £250 million into children’s play services and I know that my hon. Friend has been a great champion of children’s services in Crawley. If the Conservative council in Crawley is cutting children’s play services, it should not do so, and I suggest that my hon. Friend applies for an Adjournment debate.

Would the right hon. and learned Lady remind her ministerial colleagues of the importance of timely and full responses to parliamentary questions? Will she also tell them that it is unacceptable to reply to Members by merely pointing out to them that the answer may be found in a departmental annual report or some other obscure document? If a parliamentary question is asked, it should receive a reply in full. [Interruption.]

Some of my colleagues invite me to say that the hon. Gentleman should read the departmental report, but I sympathise with him. If the report is available, it is not much more trouble to give a full answer. Parliamentary answers should be full and helpful. The House is holding Government Departments and agencies to account and replies should not be provided grudgingly—

Since the introduction of the congestion charge in London, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of pedal cyclists using the roads. Many of them unfortunately commit offences, such as going down one-way streets the wrong way, ignoring keep-left bollards and proceeding through red traffic lights. [Interruption.] May we have a debate next week on road safety for pedal cyclists?

I will raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Obviously, we want more people to use green methods of transport, such as public transport, buses, tubes, trains, walking and cycling, but we do not want cyclists to break the law and put other people at risk. I know that the issue has been treated as a bit of a laughing matter by some Opposition Members, but it puts pedestrians and other road users at risk when people think that there is one rule for them and another for everyone else. I am waiting for Opposition Members to agree with me on that point as well.

May we have a debate in Government time on prison over-crowding and the effect on sentencing? The National Association of Probation Officers tells me that 80 per cent. of the 42 probation areas have reported great problems in providing the supervisory service that the courts require. It gives examples:

“Restrictions involve the non-availability of unpaid work; cancellation of one-to-one programmes; and major problems of delays with domestic violence programmes, substance abuse programmes, and community and internet sex offender programmes.”

In some areas of south Wales staff have been told not actively to recommend supervision for foreign nationals, because they need interpreters, and they cost money.

The hon. Gentleman may know that there has been a 67 per cent. increase in resources for the very important work of the probation service since we came into government. We want to see more coming out of that. The public are entitled to expect good supervision for those serving non-custodial sentences and we want to see less prison over-crowding and more people appropriately given non-custodial sentences. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consider applying for an Adjournment debate to discuss the situation in Wales, which I know is of concern.

I also welcome the excellent report by Dr. Tanya Byron. In supporting the request for a debate, I would ask that we also consider the work carried out by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and how we can co-ordinate our response to both the review and the centre.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on the report. She makes the important point that the Byron report offers an opportunity to bring together and learn from all the other good services that exist to help parents and the industry to make progress. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is one example.

Will there be votes before the summer recess on the Baker report on pay and the Members Estimate Committee’s report on Members’ allowances?

Yes, there will. The House resolved on 24 January to refer the question of setting Members’ pay—including a comparator and a mechanism so that we do not have to vote on our own pay—to Sir John Baker for a review. It also agreed that his review should report back with proposals for the House to vote on before it rises for the summer recess. At the same time, the House agreed that all the questions of allowances should be referred to the Members Estimate Committee, chaired by the Speaker, for a root and branch review. Proposals in that regard will also come back to the House to be voted on before the summer recess, so that the whole situation in relation to pay and allowances can be sorted out, the House can work properly, and the public can have confidence in the system.

May we have an early debate on the standards of care in residential and nursing homes for elderly people? I understand that the Human Rights Act 1998, which already applies to local authority homes, will be extended to private homes if residents are sponsored by local authorities, and I welcome that. However, I still have deep and abiding concerns about neglect of the elderly in some of those establishments.

I will draw the points that my hon. Friend makes to the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State. The work of the inspectorates is very important, and I will take up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice the point that my hon. Friend made about the extension of the Human Rights Act to services that are not provided directly by public authorities, but on their behalf.

Why is the Leader of the House bypassing Committees of this House, including the Justice Committee, the Public Administration Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee, by tabling a motion for a Joint Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill? Does she realise that that will lead to duplication of work for members of the Committee and for witnesses? Like other recent cases when Joint Committees have been set up without consultation, it has given rise to strong objections from other Committee Chairmen.

There is certainly no intention to bypass any processes in this House; far from it. However, it is not unprecedented for the Government to propose to the House—I tabled such a proposal today—that there be a Joint Committee of both Houses to scrutinise important legislation. That is what we are proposing—subject to the consideration and agreement of this House—in respect of the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. Much of the Justice Committee’s important work fed into that Bill, and I am sure that it and other Committees of the House will provide their own scrutiny and will contribute to the Bill.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my concern about the fact that clauses relating to prostitution were among the many clauses dumped from the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill while it was being considered in the other place? As she is aware, a team of Ministers is considering how the issue is dealt with in other countries. Will she ensure that when they report, an early opportunity is taken to legislate, including getting rid of fines for women in prostitution?

I take my hon. Friend’s point seriously, and she has done as much work as anybody, if not more work than most, on tackling the problems of prostitution. Originally I greatly regretted the fact that the Government had had to withdraw the clauses on prostitution because of time constraints on the Bill, but on reflection it was no bad thing, because as my hon. Friend says, there is an ongoing review of prostitution, which will take six months. At the end of it, we can look again at the whole system for dealing with prostitution. I agree with her that women in prostitution are victims and should be protected, and it is the men who use and abuse prostitutes who should be treated as offenders. They are the problem, not women who are prostitutes.

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform made an important speech yesterday advocating the opportunities for the United Kingdom nuclear industry that would result from an expanded number of nuclear power stations. Today, the Prime Minister and President Sarkozy are coming to some form of agreement about Britain and France and the future of our nuclear industry. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made to clarify the fact that any agreement reached between President Sarkozy and the Prime Minister will not in any way inhibit the opportunity for all players—including companies such as Toshiba Westinghouse, in my constituency—to offer solutions for the future of our nuclear power industry?

It certainly will not be precluded in the way that the right hon. Gentleman fears that it will be. Obviously, there is a lot of discussion on the new generation of nuclear power to be had between us and other countries in Europe, particularly France, on issues such as tackling waste and dealing with technical skills. I hope that his fears will not be realised, but I will bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 1113, in my name?

[That this House welcomes the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommendation of November 2007 that the prescribed disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease be extended to include those exposed to coal dust during screen work on the colliery surface for a minimum period of 40 years to 1983; and calls on the Department of Work and Pensions to complete its assessment of the recommendation as soon as possible so that the few survivors who are eligible to claim an industrial injuries disablement benefit award can do so and discussions can begin with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform for a full and final compensation payment.]

The early-day motion draws attention to the fact that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council recommended in November that the definition of the prescribed disease COPD be extended to cover a group of workers who worked on the colliery surface, with screens, for 40 years up to 1983. That decision has been with the Department for Work and Pensions for more than four months. Given that the group of workers concerned are very elderly, will she urge that a decision be made quickly, so that men who are eligible can claim industrial injuries disablement benefit, and can explore whether there is the possibility of reaching a full and final compensation settlement similar to that paid to their colleagues who worked underground?

Thanks to my hon. Friend’s work and the work done by a number of other hon. Members, since this Government came to power we have had the biggest compensation programme in the world. However, he raises a further important point, and I will write to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to remind him that he needs to get on with making the decision, because the tragic truth is that time is not on the side of people who suffer from such terrible diseases.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the laws on succession to the Crown discriminate on the grounds both of religion and of sex. I was disappointed that the Government did not take the opportunity offered by the Constitutional Renewal Bill to address that discrimination, which I am sure she will agree is unacceptable in modern society. May we have an early statement of the Government’s intentions on the matter?

Unless it is outwith the scope of the Bill, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could propose an amendment on the subject; then the House could debate it.

May I strongly endorse the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and urge the Leader of the House to reconsider the decision to refer the draft constitutional Bill to a Joint Committee?

On Monday we are to debate a Ways and Means resolution on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. The Leader of the House may know that it completed its Public Bill Committee stage eight weeks ago. The Department for Communities and Local Government waited until virtually the last day, and then tabled 37 pages of amendments. Will she ensure that when the Minister opens the debate on the Ways and Means resolution, he or she begins with a contrite apology to the House for that cavalier treatment?

I think that the majority of the amendments are drafting amendments, tidying-up measures and responses to concerns raised in Committee. As for the time that elapsed before the Bill came back to the House, it is partly owing to the fact that we spent an awful lot of time discussing Europe in the meantime; it also afforded the opportunity to draft measures, which will come before the House. However, I take the point that hon. Members have made, and I will raise it with the Secretary of State concerned.

Last week the security forces in Northern Ireland were on high alert for a Real IRA offensive. At the same time, four BBC journalists were arrested in the presence of leading Real IRA activists on their way to a promotion of a show of strength. Given that the BBC is a publicly funded body, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate, so that the House can join the Chief Constable in expressing outrage at the BBC promoting terrorism at a time when we are trying to bury it in Northern Ireland, and at its pursuing sensational stories instead of pursuing stability in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman has made a heartfelt point, and although it is not for Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make editorial decisions about the BBC, I will certainly raise his point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who I am sure will share the hon. Gentleman’s views.

Might I suggest to the Leader of the House that we have a debate next week on the legislative process? That would enable many of us to suggest that the explanatory memoranda published should try to set out the reasons for a Bill and identify the problems that it is intended to address. At the moment, an explanatory memorandum simply spells out the detail of a Bill, and does not give people sufficient notice of why the Bill has been introduced in the first place.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point, and we have tried to make progress in that respect. When we publish the Government’s draft legislative programme, we set out all the Bills that we propose to include in it, together with an explanation of the problem that the Bill is supposed to solve. We try to do that, and put Bills out for consultation, too. In addition, last week I put forward our proposals for post-legislative scrutiny, which would allow us to see whether legislation matches up with the intentions behind it. It is a reality check to see whether an Act has done what it was intended to do.

Guidelines from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs relating to tax credits, which I believe are a wrong interpretation of the law, imply that people whose annual return is sent in late have to pay back all their tax credit. May we have a debate on the merits of that rather silly rule, which means that if an annual return is lost in the post, people have to repay all their tax credits?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could apply for an Adjournment debate on that. I know that it is a subject of concern to many hon. Members.

As the Leader of the House seems to be in a responsive mood, may I refer her to next Monday’s business? The House faces the problem of considerable congestion, because the Housing and Regeneration Bill, with all those Government amendments—and Opposition amendments as well—is likely to take the whole day, yet we also have an important order on Northern Rock to debate. Will she reflect and come back to us to let us know how that can all be properly resolved?

As I said, I have sympathy with the points raised on that matter. I also recognise that although the Government may say that the amendments are technical and drafting, until hon. Members have had time to read through them all and work out what they mean, they cannot necessarily be satisfied that that is the case. It is not desirable, obviously, for there to be large numbers of amendments, but as I have announced the business, and as we are tight for time, with a queue of important Bills awaiting Second Reading, I am not sure whether it will be possible to make extra time at this stage. I will consider it.

May we have an early debate on the report published today by the Independent Asylum Commission, which concludes that our asylum system operates with a “culture of disbelief” and comes often to “perverse and unjust decisions”? If that is true of our system, that system has probably been shaped by the tenor of debate on the issue in recent years. A debate on the report would offer us an opportunity in the House to begin a new sort of debate on the subject of asylum, and perhaps give us a system that would no longer be described as a “blemish” on our international reputation.

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make those points at greater length on 22 April, when there will be a debate on the immigration rules. I note that the Independent Asylum Commission said that the system was “improved and improving”. Certainly, we would all agree that it needs to improve further.

May I reiterate the request just made for a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House, not on immigration policy but on asylum policy? Even if the right hon. and learned Lady does not agree with the verdict of the Independent Asylum Commission that the Government’s current policy

“falls seriously below the standards to be expected of a humane and civilised society”,

does she at least accept that in respect of Sudan, Zimbabwe and Iran there is a growing body of evidence that people being returned to those places are at risk—because of their tribal allegiance, their political views or their sexual orientation—of imprisonment, torture, death, or a grisly combination of all three?

I will look at the points that the hon. Gentleman raises and consider whether the best response from the Government is to give some time—but the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members could also raise those points in the April recess Adjournment debate next Thursday. That is one opportunity, but I will reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s points.

In order to get through all the amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill on Monday, we will have to cover one page full of amendments every nine minutes. Even John McCririck cannot speak that quickly. The Leader of the House attempts to reassure us by saying that those are drafting amendments responding to concerns expressed in Committee. It is not for her to say that. Does she agree that we need more time for us to be able to carry out our function of scrutiny, rather than reducing the scrutiny process to a lottery, whereby we will not have a proper chance to consider more than 100 amendments that the Government say are necessary but do not have the time to justify?

I note that the hon. Gentleman is adding to the points that have been made by other hon. Members; I will not take up any further time by repeating what I have already said in response.

I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about maternity and midwifery services. The issue is the quantity, not of the quality, of those services. I hope that the Leader of the House will give some attention to that. On the regulation of supermarkets, the right hon. and learned Lady knows that there have been a plethora of Competition Commission and Office of Fair Trading reports over the past decade or so. Will she ensure that we have a full debate in Government time on all the issues to do with the regulation of supermarkets?

That is a good idea. I am glad if the hon. Gentleman’s party is going to support regulation, which it previously seemed to be wholly against. If the Opposition have seen the point of proper regulation of markets I welcome that, and I will consider his proposal. He also mentioned maternity services. I note that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) will personally sample those maternity services next week, and we will expect a report back to the House. May I wish him and his wife the very best of luck?

May we have a debate on the Rural Payments Agency? We all know about the fiascos of previous years, but I have recently being trying to help one of my constituents, Mrs. Portch of Gilcombe farm near Bruton, and neither she nor anyone in my office can contact anyone in the Rural Payments Agency who has any authority, or even knowledge of their own systems. At least two of the people who answered the helpline indicated that their short-term contracts were about to end, and they did not know whether anyone would be in post this time next month. Is it all going wrong again?

I will raise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and in particular I will ask him to deal with the individual case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and ensure that he writes to him forthwith in respect of that case and the system generally.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Lady’s earlier pledge of a debate on the Byron report. May we have a Government response to the very worrying announcements by a group of former airline pilots yesterday, supported by a growing number of scientists, about the dangers of contamination of the air supply in airliners by organophosphates from the engines? The scientist who most recently joined the supporters of that case is the chief scientific adviser to the Royal Australian Air Force. For months and months the matter has gone from one committee to another, meeting behind closed doors. There has been a refusal to co-operate with the American inquiry by the Federal Aviation Administration. Is it not time we had a full public inquiry?

I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s comments to my colleagues in the Department for Transport. Perhaps the subject is one that Ministers there might consider for a written ministerial statement.

When the Leader of the House has had a chance to check the figures, may we have a statement from her on how much it costs each year to screen letters and packages sent to Ministers and Members of the House for explosive or other hostile devices? Does she agree that it will be possible to save all that money in future if the process becomes redundant—if, for any reason, a comprehensive list of Members’ private addresses is ever published on the internet?

I do not want to say too much on the matter of hon. Members’ addresses because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the question whether there is an obligation under the Freedom of Information Act to publicise hon. Members’ addresses is before the courts, and they will adjudicate on it. However, I recognise the points that he makes about security, and no doubt those points will be made strongly before the court.

Is the Leader of the House aware that in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, part 6—the ominously named “Final Provision”—resurrects a clause that was in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill to give Ministers the power to revoke Acts of Parliament by order? One of the well-known political websites says that, like a vampire, the “Destroy Parliament” clause has returned. Will she take the opportunity today to drive a stake through its heart?

No, I certainly will not. If it is agreed, as I propose, that the Bill should be handled in this way, the Joint Committee, which will have 11 Members of this House and 11 Members of the House of Lords, will have time to scrutinise it in great depth.

Proposals have been advanced to transform two schools in Kettering into academies. The extra investment in local education will be widely welcomed by local residents. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families about when a final announcement about the proposal will be made, and an assurance that it will indeed be two schools that are transformed into academies, not just one?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on that matter.