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Business of the House

Volume 481: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 27 October—Remaining stages of the Local Transport Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 28 October—Remaining stages of the Climate Change Bill [Lords]. Followed by a motion to establish a Select Committee of the House.

Wednesday 29 October—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day] (Second Part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled Olympic legacy, after which the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Thursday 30 October—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on defence policy.

The provisional business for the week commencing 3 November will include:

Monday 3 November—Remaining stages of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 4 November—Remaining stages of the Employment Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 5 November—General debate: subject to be announced.

Thursday 6 November—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by general debate on public engagement on fighting crime.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 November will be:

Thursday 6 November—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on the supply of rented housing.

I am sure all Members would like to wish the Leader of the House a healthy recovery as she has been struck down by the lurgy.

I assure the Deputy Leader of the House that Conservative Members send their best wishes to the Leader of the House and hope that she makes a speedy recovery.

The Home Office announced today that several police forces have been under-reporting the figures for violent crime. The Home Secretary has been trawling through the TV studios, but may we have an urgent statement from her in the House about that serious matter so that hon. Members can question her on it?

Yesterday, the Government deliberately restricted the time available for debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, contrary to assurances that the Leader of the House gave last week. That meant that dozens of new clauses and amendments were not debated. Not only did the Government schedule a statement, which could easily have been made 24 hours earlier, but they ignored the conventions of the House to ensure that the clauses on abortion were not debated. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that she recognises her responsibilities to the whole House and that, in future, she will ensure that the timetabling of debates is dictated by the interests of the House rather than by the Government’s convenience?

On Monday, we will debate the remaining the stages of the Local Transport Bill. At this late stage, the Government have tabled 162 amendments and 11 new clauses, and effectively rewritten part of the Bill. Yet again, the Government will railroad a Bill through without proper scrutiny. May we have more time for Report stage of that measure? More generally, when will the Government implement the Modernisation Committee’s call for more time for debate on Report?

In the past three weeks, the House has debated the Government’s fiscal rules, unemployment and small business—all on Conservative motions in Opposition time. Given that tomorrow’s GDP figures are expected to show negative growth, that the Governor of the Bank of England has said that the UK now seems likely to be entering a recession, and that even the Prime Minister has allowed the R-word to pass his lips, when will we have a full debate in Government time on the state of the economy?

There is a report today that the Office of Rail Regulation has ordered Network Rail to correct a design flaw in thousands of points on our rail network. Network Rail has challenged that, but may we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Transport so that concerned Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), in whose constituency the Potters Bar crash occurred, can question the Government on that serious matter?

May we have a debate on Government communications? On 15 October, the Government announced £100 million to help unemployed people retrain. That was not new money—it had already been announced. On Tuesday, the Government announced £350 million for small businesses. That was not new money—it had already been announced. On 13 October, the Government announced that bank lending would return to 2007 levels, but we now know that that was not a commitment but an aspiration. When people are facing the loss of their jobs and their homes, and small businesses face going under because they cannot get bank loans, what sort of a Government give people false promises of hope? They are a Government who believe more in political convenience than proper scrutiny, who are more interested in spin than effective action and who have taken this country from boom to bust.

Well, it is very nice, as usual, to hear from the right hon. Lady as she comes out with some of her usual lines, especially the last bit. She talks about the Government re-announcing things, but I think that I have heard her peroration perhaps 25 times in the past year. It is good that she is on her usual form.

First, the right hon. Lady mentioned crime statistics, but she failed to say that the latest crime statistics show that crime again has fallen by 6 per cent. That means that crime has fallen by 39 per cent. since 1997. [Interruption.]

The right hon. Lady is mouthing things at me, and she is right to point out that there is a significant issue about how we tackle violent crime. Crimes of violence against the person are also down by 7 per cent., but we all know, in each of our constituencies, of our constituents’ genuine concern about violent crime. There is an issue in that some police authorities this year have chosen, following advice, to report some violent crimes in a slightly different way. However, it is important to acknowledge that all the statistics for homicide and burglary are down.

The right hon. Lady’s second point was about the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill. The Government are glad that the Bill passed its Third Reading yesterday with a very significant majority of more than two thirds—355 to 129 votes. There were many free votes yesterday and I think that the House reached its settled mind on the Bill, which I believe will make a significant difference, ensuring that in future scientific innovation can make a difference to people’s lives.

On the Local Transport Bill, the right hon. Lady referred to the large number of amendments tabled for next week’s debate. As she knows full well, many of the Government amendments are often technical and many are a response to Committee debates. One much misunderstood aspect of the political process—it is never reported by the media—is the importance of the Committee stage in improving our legislative work.

The right hon. Lady made various statements about the economy. I make no bones about the fact that we are facing difficult times, which is why we need to be absolutely focused on the needs of home owners, on jobs and on ensuring that if people are going to lose their jobs, they have the skills necessary to find a new one and additional support for paying their mortgage. We have provided the ability to debate these issues in various ways—through regular statements, for example—and when I speak to the Leader of the House later, I will ensure that she understands the House’s requirement to be kept up to date throughout the process.

On Network Rail and last year’s crash, which very unfortunately led to the death of an elderly lady, we of course send our sympathies to those involved. We want to make sure that any lessons that can possibly be learned will be learned. The right hon. Lady could bring the matter up at Transport questions. If a statement needs to be made, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will want to come to the House.

Finally, the right hon. Lady spoke about Government communications. I make absolutely no apology for Government communications over the last few weeks, because we have made it absolutely clear that we will stand by ordinary families as they face the difficult international situation that we all face. I know that sometimes the right hon. Lady would like to pretend that this is just some home-grown situation and that we in little Britain can simply manufacture our own way out it. The truth is that the issues we need to address are international and some of the solutions are international—

Order. It is not the international issues, but those of next week, that we should be addressing.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box and on the combative way in which he disposed of the stream of consciousness that we always receive from those on the Opposition Front Bench?

I refer my hon. Friend to early-day motion 2327.

[That this House declares Richard Kay, 287 Middleton Road, Crumpsall, Manchester M8 4LY, to be unfit to be a property owner, since on 30th June 2007 he bought 64 Sandown Street, Manchester M18 8SA from Places for People with a covenant put into the contract of sale that the property be brought back into occupation within nine months of being sold but has flouted that covenant, leaving 64 Sandown Lane virtually derelict, not only making the area unsightly but causing considerable expense to a neighbour; and calls on Manchester City Council to take immediate action against this irresponsible person to require him to conform to the covenant without further delay or face condign consequences.]

It is headed “Richard Kay, Manchester property owner”, referring to a man who, in breach of legal agreements and commitments, is turning an area of my constituency into a slum. Will my hon. Friend refer it to our right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing so that she may assist Manchester city council to get this slum provoker dealt with in the most condign way?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his kind comments. He was a fine Chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—indeed, he can probably never be bettered in that capacity.

On the issue that my right hon. Friend raises, I know from my constituency that unscrupulous landlords can create slums in a way that we would have hoped had been abolished in the 1920s, let alone today. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing will want to take up the issues precisely as my right hon. Friend outlined them.

I, too, welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his stand-in role, and ask him to pass our best wishes to the Leader of the House for a speedy recovery.

May I join in the strongest protests that have been made about yesterday’s business? Every objective listener to last week’s business questions would have taken what the Leader of the House of the House said then to mean that the business would follow its normal course: that new clauses would be taken first and amendments next. It was not until this week that the Government tabled a programme motion to change the normal procedure. It is not acceptable for that to be done in any circumstances, but it is even less acceptable given that we were led to believe, literally a week earlier, that it would not be done.

We have been given plenty of reassurances that the Government will consider how we deal with Report stages. Four Government Bills are to be dealt with in the next two weeks, and amendments and new clauses are likely to be tabled. Can the Deputy Leader of the House assure us that there will be time for Opposition Members and Labour Back Benchers to debate those amendments and new clauses, and for a proper Third Reading debate to take place? If he cannot, he and the Leader of the House are not doing their job properly in regard to the most serious parliamentary matter.

May I link that with a question about the timetable for next year’s sittings, which was announced last week in a written statement by the Leader of the House? It was announced that the House would sit for 128 days, fewer by far than in any other non-election year since at least 1979.

Yes, it was an election year. No Government have announced such a small number of sitting days for nearly 30 years.

When people are going to lose their jobs, for us to give ourselves holidays—an extended Christmas and new year holiday, for instance—[Hon. Members: “It is not a holiday.”] It is a break from this place. For the House of Commons not to come back to work between July and October gives it the most adverse reputation out there.

The Deputy Leader of the House and his colleagues have indicated that they are interested in constitutional reform. Will the Deputy Leader now say whether the Government are serious about handing over control of the business of the House from the Government to Parliament? If he does not tell us that, I will table a motion for us to debate, proposing that Parliament should be in charge of Parliament’s business, not the Government, who are clearly rigging it to their own party political advantage.

We heard today of the continuing difficulties of establishing a political settlement in Zimbabwe. May we have an early debate about whether asylum seekers from Zimbabwe who cannot go home should be allowed to work in this country while they wait for their cases to be decided? I gather that there are Ministers who share that view, and it is the logical view. I ask for us to be able to debate the matter, so that those poor people who cannot go back to their own country, who want to work here, pay taxes and contribute, and with whom Britain has the strongest links, can have an opportunity to participate in this country while their future is determined.

Finally, yesterday we received a major lobby on pensions. May we have a debate on the state pension before the uprating statement, so that we can quiz the Government on whether the level of the pension will be what pensioners need and demand, and whether it can be what pensioners who have worked believe, honestly, that they deserve?

It is good to see the hon. Gentleman in his place. I am sure that the real reason why he wants that debate on pensions is that he will be able to bring along the leader of his party, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), so that the right hon. Gentleman can understand precisely how much the state pension is. It is not £30 a week.

The hon. Gentleman made an interesting and important point about Zimbabwe. I will pass his comments to the relevant Ministers, and will also take what he said as a suggestion for a possible topical debate.

As for whether the business of the House should be run by Parliament or Government, the fact is that, last year, 59 of the 155 days on which Parliament sat were determined not by the Government but by the official Opposition, the smaller parties or Back Benchers. I will only add that it is not right to compare this House, and our constitutional settlement, with arrangements in other countries. In our case, the Government are the Government only because they have a majority in the House. I therefore think that the hon. Gentleman makes a constitutional faux pas.

On next year’s sittings, the dates of the party conferences are an issue, as that has made it difficult for us to start earlier in October than we did this year. There is also an issue in that next year’s Session will finish earlier than this year’s; this year it will finish late in November and the state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is not until December, but next year they will be considerably earlier. It is therefore wrong to compare too precisely next year’s dates with this year’s. I should also add that although the hon. Gentleman says that we are on holiday when we are in recess, that is certainly not my experience. Since I was elected to the House in 2001, my experience of parliamentary life is that I work just as hard during the recess as I do when I am sitting here, and I find that my constituents expect me to do so because the job of the constituency MP has completely changed over the last 20 years.

On yesterday’s events, there was a programme motion before the House, which it voted for, so we decided to go forward with the business, and we had a series of votes. In the end, the main issue is that it is absolutely right and proper that we should have an appropriate amount of time to scrutinise all proposed legislation that passes through this House. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was debated in total, on the Floor of both Houses, for 86 hours, with 10 sessions in the Lords and, so far, eight sessions in the Commons. I think that that is an adequate amount of time for us to be able to do our work, not least because there was also substantial pre-legislative scrutiny.

Will my hon. Friend allow the House time to explore the welcome news, announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, about helping people facing the repossession of their home? I understand, however, that these welcome measures do not apply to Scotland, and given that the whole country is experiencing difficulties during this economic downturn, can my hon. Friend say what support, if any, this House could give to the Scottish people, or, indeed, what the Scottish Parliament could do to help them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must make sure that repossession is the last possible outcome when people are having difficulties in paying their mortgage. That is why the Master of the Rolls yesterday approved the Civil Justice Council’s new protocol, which will make sure that every other avenue is pursued first. It would be extraordinary if the same were not to apply in Scotland, and I urge the Scottish Executive to ensure that home owners get that protection in Scotland. That is what is already making a difference in Britain, as opposed to the United States of America.

As the Deputy Leader of the House will be aware, it is now established that the people of the British overseas territories have the right to self-determination, as is the case for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the House on the Lords’ decision regarding the British Indian Ocean Territory and the appalling fate of the people of the Chagos islands, who were forcibly removed from their homes in the 1960s by a Labour Government, and who are now, against their wishes, living in a foreign land? Will the Deputy Leader of the House make a statement to the House and arrange for a debate to take place, so that justice can be done to those British people who have been so appallingly treated?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the House of Lords has already found in the Government’s favour on this issue, but that is not to say that we do not want to do everything we can to support those people. I know the hon. Gentleman has led—admirably, although I often disagree with him—many debates on overseas territories in Westminster Hall, and I would have thought this was a suitable subject for debate there.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on why it is taking so long to renew the Post Office card account? People are very worried about this issue. The Deputy Leader of the House is a great supporter of the European Union, and he well knows that if this were happening in France, Germany or any other European country, the decision would have been made ages ago, despite all the rigmarole. It is time that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions came here to explain again why this is taking so long.

The Secretary of State was here earlier this week and answered many questions. [Interruption.] Well, I read what he said, and he said that he hated to sound like a broken record, but the truth is that a commercial tender is currently going on, and it would be wrong of me or him to affect that process. I do, however, know from my own constituency that post offices are essential to many communities, and I am sure that that will be borne in mind in this process.

Will the hon. Gentleman convey to the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister is negligent in his duties to this House in respect of not coming here on a regular basis to make a statement about the war in Afghanistan? British troops are engaged every day in situations of great danger. There is a constantly shifting strategic scene. General Petraeus has recently been here to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister, and NATO members are at odds with each other. This is a very dangerous situation and the Prime Minister should come before this House regularly—as all former Prime Ministers have done when Britain has been at war—to account for the actions of the Government in the administration of the war.

The hon. Gentleman, who is a former Defence Minister, speaks wisely in that it is important that the House receives regular updates on what is happening, because we all know from our constituencies that people are in some cases laying down their lives on an entirely honourable basis in Afghanistan, to protect the people of Afghanistan, to bring peace there and to protect security in the world. There will be a debate on defence next Thursday afternoon, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to take part in it. I should just say, however, that this Prime Minister has appeared very regularly in the House and made statements on a wide range of issues, and I know that he takes very seriously his responsibility of making sure that the House is updated on these important issues.

The House takes identity fraud and its prevention very seriously, and we have passed legislation on it, but may we have a debate to look at whether some of the relevant agencies are properly implementing the measures we have provided, because if the experience of a constituent of mine is anything to go by, it would appear that it is possible to go to post office depots and ask for post to be delayed without the proper identification requirements? That gives fraudsters a window of two or three weeks in which they can use an identity before its use is even discovered by the people affected.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. It is clearly a significant issue, and I have never spotted it before. I will raise it with the Department for Work and Pensions, and I will take it as a suggestion for a topical debate. Ensuring that people’s identities are not stolen is an issue we have to deal with now, and it is one that we would never have thought of 20 years ago.

I think the House will agree that it is as important that we show as great an interest in small businesses as in the situation of the people in the City. Notwithstanding yesterday’s statement on this matter, may we therefore have a debate in Government time on small businesses, in order to answer some of the questions about which Ministers only waffle, such as how we can provide proper access to the small firms loan guarantee scheme, how we can avoid the arbitrary call-in of overdraft facilities by banks and how we can create flexibility on the part of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and discuss the malign effects of the empty property tax?

The hon. Gentleman raises important issues, which, as he admits, have already been raised this week. The Government are very keen to make sure that the House is updated in what is a fast-moving environment in terms of the general economy. The most important thing we have done for small and medium-sized enterprises is recapitalise the banks, and I think the eyes of all Members of the House, and all taxpayers in the country, will be on the banks, making sure that they are not paying themselves bonuses and then failing to make loans available to small enterprises. If the money is not circulating to the SMEs, the heart may be beating but the blood will not be circulating around our economy.

Will the Government prepare the ground for the next time that the House considers our 40-year-old abortion law, by commissioning an independent study into the operation of the law to date?

Obviously, that is a matter for the Secretary of State for Health, and I will pass on that suggestion to him. However, it also falls within the remit of the Health Committee, and if it were to choose to conduct a further report on the issue of abortion—how it operates, and how people have access to termination services—that would be within its power.

May we please have a debate in Government time next week, on the Floor of the House, on the proposed changes to the special educational needs and disability tribunal procedure, regulations concerning which were laid before the House by the Ministry of Justice on 15 October? On 16 October, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition tabled early-day motion 2273.

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Health, Education and Social Care Chamber) Rules 2008 (S.I., 2008, No. 2699), dated 9th October 2008, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th October, be annulled.]

The motion requested that those regulations be annulled because of genuine and widespread concerns that they advantage local authorities against the interest of parents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the issue be fully aired sooner rather than later?

As sympathetic as I am to the comments of the hon. Gentleman, whom I think of as an hon. Friend—[Interruption.] Well, I think that the Leader of the House referred to him as an honorary member of the sisterhood. In all honesty I cannot offer him the assurance that he seeks about next week, because I have already declared the business of the House for that week.

I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House to his stand-in role, in which he has done an excellent job. He will be aware of the importance of seaports to the economy of the British isles and of the Valuation Office Agency’s re-rating of ports, which will be backdated to 2005 and will double the rate in many cases. That will have an impact not only on the owners or authorities that run the ports, but on the small businesses located in them. May we have an urgent debate on the matter? Competitiveness and small businesses will suffer as a consequence, and ask that we reconsider the decision.

I will raise those issues with the Treasury on my hon. Friend’s behalf. I know that he has raised them elsewhere and been a doughty defender of small businesses in his constituency. The Government can do several things to alleviate the problems of small businesses in ports and elsewhere, notably by paying bills more swiftly, bringing forward capital projects so that small businesses have the opportunity to gain Government funding, and ensuring that there is a significant training package so that businesses are as efficient and effective as they can be in an economic environment that will be difficult for all of us.

Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that he has a duty to take into account the interests of the House as a whole, not just the interests of his Government? Will he therefore take more seriously and respond to the point made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and the Liberal Democrat spokesman that more time should be allowed on the Floor of the House for a Bill on Report? Any programme motion that the Government table should be fully discussed with and agreed by the Opposition parties and should take account of the number of amendments that have been tabled.

I would actually prefer there to be fewer Government amendments clogging up the system. The honest truth is that by the time Bills come to this House, they should be in better nick and should not need the large number of the Government amendments that are often necessary. I know that the Leader of the House is working on trying to ensure that that is true of every new Bill that comes before us. The process of pre-legislative scrutiny that we have introduced should make that easier. In fact, the Bills that have had pre-legislative scrutiny have tended to suffer less Government amendment, although obviously they may still be subject to amendments from others.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, and I know that the Procedure Committee has been considering how we can structure debates on Report in a way that makes it possible to deal with more issues. Yes, I would have preferred it yesterday if it had been possible for us to debate more fully all the issues on which amendments were tabled. However, there had also been a request for a statement on small businesses, and it was important that we had that.

May we have a debate, perhaps in Westminster Hall, about the situation of UK nationals who have lost money in Isle of Man bank accounts? Such people include my constituent Katy Watts, who had just sold her house after spending four years as a youth worker on the Isle of Man and saw its value disappear overnight when Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander was taken into administration. Constituents of Derbyshire Members, where part of the building society was sent off to the Isle of Man, have also lost everything.

My hon. Friend raises important issues, and I am sure that she will want to do so again in the House when the relevant Ministers are here. I shall pass her comments on to Treasury Ministers, and I am sure that they will want to get back to her.

I congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on the skill with which he is defending the indefensible on issues such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

On Monday I raised the issue of oil with the Prime Minister, at columns 33 to 34 of Hansard, and he said that we needed a constantly increasing supply. I find that rather strange, because if we are going to do something about climate change we need to reduce the consumption of oil. May we have a debate about the pressures on Ministers? The Prime Minister has clearly lost the plot, and perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House, standing in for his boss, who is standing in for her boss, would do a better job.

I confess that I have not the faintest idea what point the hon. Gentleman was trying to make towards the end. Perhaps he can elucidate it to me later.

There is a real difficulty when considering climate change. My constituency is quite isolated from most of the labour market in south Wales, and historically people came to live in the Rhondda because there was coal there. Now there are no coal mines. A car is therefore absolutely essential for people to be able to get to work. We must balance the needs of people who need to drive their cars with the need to cut emissions.

The Eliasch report, published last week, made clear the importance of carbon markets in a post-Kyoto settlement incorporating reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation. Will my hon. Friend consider making time for a debate about the way in which deforestation contributes 19 per cent. of all global emissions each year?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to raise that issue in the debate on the Climate Change Bill on Tuesday. Labour Members are proud not only that this will be the first Government in the world to ensure that an emissions reduction is written into statute, but that we are increasing the target from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent. Many of us have had constituents write to us about that.

I welcome the Deputy Leader of the House, and I am most relieved that his great talents have been kept well away from his preferred area of Europe.

This week has seen the world day for osteoporosis, a disease that is causing increased bone fragility and a greater number of fractures. There are quarter of a million fractures a year in this country—one a day in each of our constituencies. May we have a debate on the condition, not least to discuss the National Osteoporosis Society’s report, “Your bones and osteoporosis: What every man, woman and child should know”? It highlights the importance of diet and activity in heading off the distressing human cost, and indeed the economic cost to the NHS, of something that is largely avoidable.

I know that my hon. Friend, whom one day I will manage to persuade on Europe, has pursued this issue for some years. All of us will know from our own constituencies that many people who suffer from osteoporosis would have been able to avoid it if they had been given wiser advice in younger years. I am proud of the investment that we have made in the NHS, which has made it possible for us to open 100 brand-new hospitals. It was shameful for this country that when we came to power in 1997, 50 per cent. of the hospitals had been built before 1948.

The Deputy Leader of the House has on three occasions very elegantly sidestepped the main issue that arose from the Government’s handling of yesterday’s business, so may I have another shot? Can we have the assurance that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) sought—that in future, when we reach the remaining stages of a Bill, the Government will not, in defiance of the normal conventions of the House, table a timetable motion simply to avoid debate on matters that the Government find inconvenient?

I cannot give entirely that assurance. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) gave the game away a bit when he said that he wanted us to take not the amendments but other things first. When a Bill is being discussed, it is important to deal with the issues on which Members have tabled amendments to clauses that are already in it. However, I know that the Procedure Committee is considering the matter, and if we need to amend the way in which we do our business, I am sure that the Leader of the House will seek to do so.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. A series of contracts was awarded in respect of the Scottish renewables obligation in the 1990s. The SRO output is now eligible for renewables obligation certificates, and sales have accrued £120 million, which is sitting in an Ofgem bank account. That money is accessible only by Scotland and can be spent only by the Scottish Government. However, if it were to be accessed and spent, the departmental expenditure limit rules would effectively result in a pound-for-pound clawback from existing spending. Can we have a statement from a Treasury Minister to explain the idiocy of those rules and, more importantly, to tell us when they will be changed?

If the facts are precisely as the hon. Gentleman says, the position does appear curious. However, I am cautious, because I have sometimes heard him present facts that I have subsequently investigated and found not to be quite as I would have presented them. We have Treasury questions next week, and I am sure that he will take that opportunity to raise this matter. If he wants to do so, he can, of course, apply for a Westminster Hall debate on it.

On rail safety, is there not a case for a statement if it is true that the Office of Rail Regulation has concluded that a design flaw in track up and down the country is exposing passengers to a risk of derailment? Is it not amazing that this is all being conducted in secret, not least given the fact that the situation is highly relevant to the Potters Bar crash, which took place six and a half years ago and in respect of which there has still not been a coroner’s inquest or a public inquiry?

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will be interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say; I know that he has raised this issue on several occasions. There is no desire to keep anything secret. If there are facts that can help us to prevent other situations from occurring in future, obviously we have to learn from them. We will also ensure that the House is informed of them, so that everybody can take part in the debate.

Can we have a debate on the Severn barrage situation? I strongly believe that the Government want the project to happen, as do local people, within reason. It is a massive civil engineering project that will take years to come to fruition. Local people are concerned, because the plans are moving and mixed signals that we are receiving from Departments are not helping local people to engage in the debate. Can we have a debate in the House to decide exactly what will happen in respect of this project, to discuss the effect of the Welsh Assembly on it and, more importantly, to ensure that local people have a say?

This could well be a subject for a topical debate, not least because I know that many Welsh MPs would like to take part in such a debate and to inform the one that has already been going on, to some degree, in the Welsh Assembly. If the Severn barrage were to go ahead, although some environmental issues and issues of relevance to people on either side of the Severn would clearly have to be debated, it is probable that significant jobs would be involved, and we would like them to go to local people.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that it is not a trivial matter when the Government announce outside Parliament that there has been a considerable under-reporting of violent crime in a number of police areas, and that that has led to a 22 per cent. increase in violent crime this year? Does he also accept that the situation confirms to members of the public, who know that crime is rising, that the Government have been hiding these facts? Should not a statement be made today, or at the very least on Monday, by the Home Secretary about this very serious issue?

The right hon. Gentleman asserts that people know that crime is rising. They know no such thing; the truth is that crime is falling. It has fallen by 6 per cent. again this year, and by 39 per cent. since 1997. Violence against the person has fallen by 7 per cent. over the past year. I do not think that he should cast aspersions around in that way. It is obviously important that announcements are made to the House, and I shall look into precisely what arrangements have been made. The Home Secretary was in the House earlier this week on two occasions. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman will restrain himself, I would be happy to look into the matter on his behalf.

Can we have an urgent debate on the role of the media in clarifying Government policy? Such a debate would give the Home Secretary an opportunity to explain to the House why she has barred her immigration Minister from appearing on “Question Time”. An appearance on that programme would have given that Minister the opportunity to clarify a contradiction between his statement in The Times last week that

“It’s been too easy to get into this country”

with the Home Secretary’s statement in the House the following day that UK borders are

“among the most secure in the world”.—[Official Report, 21 October 2008; Vol. 481, c. 173.]

Surely we need that opportunity either in the House or on “Question Time”.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the immigration Minister was in this House, and answered the debate, earlier this week. I recall that it was the shadow Home Secretary who was not prepared to speak in the debate and ended up resorting to bobbing up and down like a man on the wide ocean.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House follow up the progress of two internal reviews that the Department for Transport is carrying out at the moment? They relate to freedom of information requests on Heathrow airport expansion; in one case, it took seven months for a response to be given, and I am sure he will be concerned by that. I want to ensure that the internal reviews are undertaken quickly, because, as he will be aware, his Government are taking an important decision on Heathrow in the next few weeks. If I provide him with the details, will he be prepared to follow things up with the Department for Transport?

If hon. Members want to bring things to me so that I can chase them up with other Ministers, I am always prepared to do so. All the hon. Lady has to do is find me in my room around the corner.

Today, the Royal British Legion celebrates the launch of its poppy appeal. Can we have a topical debate before 11 December to celebrate the work done by the Royal British Legion and the other veterans’ charities, and to celebrate our veterans at this time, when we are all thinking of those who have given so much to our country?

I think that the hon. Gentleman meant 11 November, but yes, that is a very good idea for a topical debate, and I shall pursue the matter. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude; my constituency sends a lot of young men and women into the Army and the other armed forces, and we should pay tribute to them in a much more regular and sustained way in this House.

May we have a statement soon from a Health Minister on the abuse of public money by the South Central strategic health authority and Southampton City national health service primary care trust in relation to a consultation about fluoridation, which is due to affect Southampton and parts of my constituency? The strategic health authority has issued a very one-sided consultation document, and the PCT must have spent thousands of pounds of public money on producing reply postcards where first-class postage is paid. I am holding one of the postcards, which state:

“I support fluoridation as a safe and effective method of reducing high levels of dental decay for children and adults.”

It is clear that those bodies have made up their minds and that this consultation is a sham, and a Health Minister needs to step in quickly.

I do not know whether I want to get my teeth into that issue. [Interruption.] There needs to be one bad joke every week, does there not? The important issue is that although I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, the subject would be very suitable for either a topical debate or an Adjournment debate. Obviously, I shall ensure that his comments are taken into consideration by the Secretary of State for Health.

May we have an urgent debate on the siting of incinerators? My constituents are reasonable people who accept that there is a role for incinerators, but does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that companies such as SITA UK need to accept the view of local people in places such as Muxton, Sheriff Hales and Priorslee in my constituency that incinerators should not be sited close to schools and residential areas?

Obviously, I do not know the details of the precise siting of the incinerator to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I know from historical issues in south Wales that the siting of incinerators can cause many families a great deal of concern and worry, and that if incinerators are placed inappropriately, they can lead to major health concerns. I think it is important that the views of local people are taken into consideration, but I cannot promise him a debate.

May we have a debate on the impact on the housing market of home information packs? Since their introduction, at an average cost of £400, 1.5 million houses have been put on the market for sale, only 500,000 of which have been sold. That means that £400 million has been wasted on HIPs, which buyers do not want, at a time when high street estate agents are struggling to remain viable.

I know that the hon. Lady has always been opposed to the home information packs, which we debated when the legislation went through. I am not sure that now is the right time for another debate on the issue. Obviously she is free to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, where the Minister concerned would be able to provide her with fuller information.

Yesterday was a huge embarrassment for the Leader of the House. The previous week, she had promised plenty of time to discuss the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and that there would not be a statement. That did not happen yesterday; the Leader of the House was lent on by the Prime Minister. I hope that the Leader of the House is in fact unwell and recovers soon, and that the reason she is not present is not that she is considering her position today.

The hon. Gentleman let himself down towards the end of his question. I am sure that he does not hope that the Leader of the House is ill and that he was not questioning whether what I said earlier was true. As he knows, I was here last week when the Leader of the House said that she would prefer not to have a statement yesterday—

Except in an emergency, as the right hon. Lady says. There was a call for a statement in the House of Lords. I believe that it would be inappropriate for a statement to be made in the House of Lords without its being made in the House of Commons, which I believe to be the primary Chamber.

The Deputy Leader of the House will no doubt be aware of the deeply worrying statistic that 36 pubs in this country are closing every week. Clearly that is bad news not only for those small businesses, but for the communities in which they are based. Bang on cue, the Department of Health has produced a new consultation that threatens considerably to add to the regulation on pubs and brewing companies, causing the chief executive of Shepherd Neame, a family brewer in my constituency, to write to me to say:

“This will increase costs on responsible operators at a time when they can ill afford it and at a time when the Government is still apparently considering implementing the punitive rate of duty in the duty accelerator.”

Can we have a debate on the future of the pub industry because of the effect not only on small businesses, but on the small communities in which they are situated?

There is a complicated balancing act here. Many communities know the problems alcohol abuse, especially by young people and under-age drinkers, many of whom buy alcohol not in pubs but in off-licences. It is right that local authorities have the responsibility to make sure that there are not places where under-age people can get alcohol and that they work closely with the police to close down pubs that enable young people to do that. Yes, there are difficulties for all small businesses, including pubs, at the moment, which is why we have tried to make sure that the banks are recapitalised so that loans are available to small businesses. We have tried to make sure that every small business is—[Interruption.] I can hear the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) chuntering about regulation. I presume that she is now trying to say “Deregulate, deregulate, deregulate.” That is what she said for 11 years until she realised that the banking industry needed a little bit of adult supervision.

Can we have a debate on housing, and in particular on the Government’s failure to provide adequate infrastructure for new housing developments? I campaigned long and hard for “I before E”, or infrastructure before expansion in Milton Keynes, and the Government’s response was to introduce a Milton Keynes tariff, where £18,500 is paid towards local infrastructure for every new house built. Unfortunately, with the economic downturn, not many houses are being built. With hindsight, does the Deputy Leader of the House think that any policy based on economic growth was probably slightly shortsighted?

It strikes me that the hon. Gentleman has probably not looked at the policy of “Sharing the proceeds of growth”, which seemed to be based entirely on the presumption of growth into the future. We want to make sure that the economy continues to grow, but the most important point is the local issue and it relates primarily to local government in his area. That subject would be entirely appropriate for a debate in Westminster Hall.

A coroner yesterday ruled that 10 servicemen including Flight Lieutenant Stead—a talented pilot whose parents live in my constituency—were unlawfully killed and accused the Ministry of Defence of systemic failures, including the failure to fit protective suppressant foam on their Hercules, which was shot down. Will the Deputy Leader of the House arrange for a Defence Minister to come to the House to explain why there were these systemic failures and why the Ministry of Defence is putting at risk the lives of people who should expect top protection from the Government? In an age when the Government have gone for health and safety gone mad in local authorities, why do they have such a cavalier approach to the safety of our servicemen?

Obviously the sympathy of the whole House goes to the families of those who died in the crash and we need to make sure that everything that can possibly be learnt from what the coroner came up with yesterday is learnt. The MOD has made it clear that it pays tribute to the work of the coroner, who it thinks has done a very thorough job in this case, and it intends to do precisely as I said. The hon. Gentleman quite often criticises health and safety legislation. Sometimes health and safety legislation does save lives.

Every year hundreds of children are injured by fireworks, and while there is strong support for organised firework displays, there is growing concern about the antisocial use of fireworks and the distress they cause to both people and animals. With bonfire night approaching, could we have a topical debate or a debate in Westminster Hall on the Government’s legislation with regard to the control of fireworks?

This matter comes up annually and every Member will have large numbers of constituents getting in touch with them to ask whether there should be further legislation on fireworks. When I was elected in 2001, there was practically no legislation on fireworks; it was pretty much an unrestricted market, except for the precise circumstances in which they could be sold. We have moved some considerable way. I find it slightly difficult to be an ardent repressor of fireworks because I rather like them.