The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 10 November—Opposition day [20th allotted day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion on the economy and the future of the Post Office card account.
Tuesday 11 November—If necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments followed by a general debate on adding capacity to Heathrow.
Wednesday 12 November—The House will be asked to approve motions relating to regional committees, European scrutiny, modernisation of the House of Commons and the Speaker’s Conference. The House will also be asked to approve a motion relating to the House of Commons Members’ Fund.
Thursday 13 November—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by a general debate on international aid—transparency.
The provisional business for the week commencing 17 November will include:
Monday 17 November—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Education and Skills Bill followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Education and Skills Bill.
Tuesday 18 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 19 November—Consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 20 November—General debate on fisheries.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 November will be:
Thursday 20 November—A debate on organ donation.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. Today the Home Secretary is making a written statement, understood to be about the cost of the identity card scheme. She is also making a speech today announcing that the Government have backtracked on plans to issue identity cards to workers at all UK airports; it has been heavily trailed in the press. Why has the Home Secretary not come to the House to make an oral statement on the status of the ID card scheme?
Will the Leader of the House give us a date for the pre-Budget report, or at least a date when she will give us a date for that report? Given the current economic climate, and the state of public finances, it will be a very important statement. Given that we have not had a debate on the economy in Government time, will she take up the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) that we should have one or two days’ debate on the pre-Budget report?
On Monday the House of Lords had a debate on the economy. During that debate, my noble Friend Lord Forsyth called for an inquiry on the leaking of information about the banks’ bail-out package. The noble Lord Lea of Crondall suggested a wider public inquiry, including the banks. The City Minister, Lord Myners, said—I quote from Lords Hansard, column 16—“My Lords, I agree”. But yesterday, the Prime Minister said, in Hansard, column 247, that the City Minister “said no such thing”. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister’s statement in the official record is corrected, and when will we have that public inquiry?
Shortly, the Bank of England is expected to cut interest rates, but today it is reported that Northern Rock, the nationalised bank owned by the taxpayer, will instead raise some of its mortgage rates. Businesses and home owners are already struggling, as banks are not passing on interest rate cuts, so may we have a statement from the Chancellor on why a state-run bank is blatantly defying the Government?
Yesterday Labour MEPs voted to abolish the UK’s opt-out on the European working time directive. At a time when businesses across the country are struggling to keep going and families will probably be looking for more work, not less, that just goes to show how out of touch Labour MEPs are. It is time that the Prime Minister got a grip on his party. May we have a statement setting out the official Government position on the working time directive?
In the House of Lords this week, Lord Darzi said that patients have a right to three cycle treatments of IVF. However, guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence only recommends that patients have three full cycles of treatment; it is not mandatory. May we have a statement from the Health Secretary to clarify official Government policy on IVF treatment?
Finally, there has been widespread condemnation of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), for his remarks blaming a commander in the Special Air Service for his choice of vehicle prior to the deaths of three troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that there was no choice. The Minister, when in the House on Monday, refused to apologise to that commander, so will the right hon. and learned Lady assure the House that she will press the Minister to give an unreserved apology to Major Morley and to UK commanders in Afghanistan?
The right hon. Lady raised the question of ID cards and argued that there should be an oral statement, but she is aware, as she said, that there has been a written ministerial statement, which simply updates the House about our progress. As we have previously announced to the House, ID cards with biometrics are being introduced for foreign nationals and piloted at airports, so that people who are airside have biometric ID cards. The written ministerial statement simply announced the progress that we are making with the pilot scheme as we roll it out.
On the date for the pre-Budget report, we have chosen a number of opportunities for the House to debate the important issue of the economy. We have had debates about energy and employment and a statement about small business, in addition to numerous statements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As for the date of the pre-Budget report, we will announce it, as I said last week, in the normal way. I suspect that Donald Rumsfeld would have called it a “known unknown” as far as this week is concerned, and I am not announcing the date this week.
The right hon. Lady asked for a public inquiry into the global financial crisis, but may I take this opportunity to commend the work of the Select Committee on the Treasury? I should have thought that she would take that opportunity too. The Treasury Committee has asked the public to suggest questions for its evidence-gathering sessions, and the Committee is bringing before it not only the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, no doubt, those various people who used to be described as the masters of the universe. I pay tribute to the Committee’s work and look forward to receiving its report.
On Northern Rock, the right hon. Lady rightly said that there will be an interest rate announcement from the Bank of England shortly, and, subsequent to that, other banks and building societies will make it clear how they intend to respond to it. She will know that Northern Rock is managed at arm’s length, as we would rightfully expect it to be, but the business Minister will make it clear to chief executives of building societies and banks in a meeting this afternoon that the Government have put in a considerable amount of public money directly, with £37 billion of capitalisation for banks, and made available through guarantees a further £250 billion, and that we expect from them some response to ensure that the interest rate cut is passed on not only to mortgage holders but to small businesses. I am sure that that is the view of the whole House, and the Minister will make it very clear.
The right hon. Lady asked about the European working time directive, and we have always been clear that it is right to give employees legal protections at work. The Opposition have not been in favour of such protections, whether the minimum wage or the working time directive, but we are in favour of people not being forced to work long hours that they do not want to work, or that can impede health and safety. That is why, when we came into government after many years of Tory rule, we introduced a legal prohibition on requiring people to work very long hours. Following a European Court judgment there have been some changes, to which other Governments across the piece are now agreeing, about how on-call time is calculated for the purposes of the working time directive. [Interruption.] I must say that I would be interested to hear whether the Opposition, who are chuntering away about working time, are now in favour of guaranteeing minimum standards and the protection of working hours. Our position is clear, and we are getting on with things.
I will look into the right hon. Lady’s point about Lord Darzi’s comments in the House of Lords about IVF provision and write to her.
As for our troops in Afghanistan, I should say that Remembrance day offers us all the opportunity to remember not only those who lost their lives in the great wars, but those who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will continue to increase investment in equipment for our troops and to work with the other countries around the world who share the important work that our troops are carrying out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement that next week the Government intend to bring forward proposals to amend temporarily Standing Orders to enable the establishment of regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees. Does she agree that in responding to the Modernisation Committee, the Government are recognising the overwhelming weight of evidence that that Committee received, which showed the accountability gap at the regional level? In bringing forward the recommendations for regional Select Committees and regional Grand Committees, are the Government not also reflecting the difference of opinion on the Modernisation Committee on how best to meet that accountability gap?
I look forward to my hon. Friend’s contribution to our debate next week. In case hon. Members have not yet seen them, I should say that the motions for that debate which set out the framework for the regional Committees have already been tabled and are available for Members to scrutinise. We have also tabled a business motion that will show how they will be debated. My hon. Friend makes an important point, not least that we need proper scrutiny of the important work of the regional development agencies, particularly at a time when we are concerned to support the economy in every region of the country.
I have regularly raised with the Leader of the House the question of time for the consideration of Back-Bench and Opposition new clauses and amendments. She has announced three items of business for the next couple of weeks that will certainly have amendments from both sides of the House.
In the Employment Bill debate two days ago there was, yet again, no opportunity to complete consideration of the Opposition and Back-Bench new clauses and amendments—indeed, more than half of them were not debated. Yesterday was our 20th sitting day since the House came back following the summer. On nine of those days, there have been no votes at all, and the House has risen early on nearly a third of them. Will the Leader of the House honour her undertaking to me and others that she will review the business of the House to make sure that there is time for Back-Bench and Opposition new clauses and amendments when the Government come forward with their business? Otherwise Parliament will not be doing its job properly, and she will not be honouring the obligation to make sure that we hold the Executive to account.
In the light of the very welcome election result in the United States yesterday, may we have the opportunity of a debate on relations between this country and the USA, before the end of this term and before the Prime Minister meets the President-elect, as we hope he will before long? There have been tense issues between our two countries and many hope that the new regime will mean a much better relationship; I am sure that that view is widely felt in the House and the country. It would be helpful and much appreciated if the House had the opportunity to discuss matters that could lead to a huge improvement in relations between us and the United States.
Yesterday, the OECD produced a report on energy prices across the European Union. It said that gas and electricity bills had increased more than twice as quickly in our country as they had in France and Germany and that in Europe only Norway had suffered higher energy price inflation. It said that prices here had increased by nearly 30 per cent. in the past year. The Leader of the House knows that energy prices are the major driver of fuel poverty. May we have a statement from the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about what he will do to ensure that our energy price rises are kept roughly in line with those of the rest of the continent and why our energy price increases are hugely higher than those in our competitor countries across the channel?
We are about to have a debate on the Congo, which is very welcome. However, figures revealed in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) show that since 2003 more than 5,000 Congolese asylum applications and more than 7,000 Zimbabwean asylum applications have been turned down. May we have a debate on whether we are honouring our international obligations to ensure that people who cannot go home because of the dreadful political climate in their country are given the right to stay here for the period for which they need safety? I understood that we had all signed up to that arrangement.
There are increasingly common rumours around the House that the Government have made a decision that the Post Office card account will be given to PayPoint, not to the Post Office. I am choosing my words very carefully: can the Leader of the House give us an absolute, unqualified assurance that the statement on this matter will be made first in this House by the Secretary of State, and that no announcement will be made outside the House tomorrow or over the weekend, so that if the decision has been made, we can have the chance to deal with it here? If it has not been made by Monday, my party has chosen the subject for an Opposition Supply day debate on that day. If the rumours are right, we look forward to testing a very dangerous Government decision.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the consideration of amendments on Report. Our concern is that there should be as few as possible Government amendments on Report unless they relate to issues that have been raised by hon. Members and it is the wish of the House to deal with them. As Members representing our constituents, we must strike a balance between the amount of time that we spend working in this Chamber and in Committees scrutinising legislation and the time that we spend working in our constituencies. All the reviews of parliamentary work have shown that our constituents increasingly expect us both to do our work of scrutinising legislation in this House and to be in our constituencies mingling with them and listening to their concerns. Report stage is important, but important opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny are being introduced, as well as the opportunity for post-legislative scrutiny, which we are introducing for the first time.
The hon. Gentleman sent his congratulations to President-elect Obama. I take this opportunity to celebrate, as so many other people in this country are celebrating, that historic election. It was historic not only because of the victory of President-elect Obama but because it marked a rejection of conservatism. In that respect, it is a very big change that Labour Members warmly welcome.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of gas and electricity prices. We are very concerned about the global impact that increases in commodity prices, particularly for oil, have had on domestic and business energy bills. He mentioned other countries, but it is only fair for him to recognise also that although there have been increases, which we do not want, historically, we have had lower energy prices than other countries in Europe. It is important that we press forward with increasing the supply of energy through renewables and other means to ensure that we have energy independence, and that we continue to provide the winter fuel payments, which have been increased, and to run the insulation programme, which will not only help people with their fuel costs but help to deal with the pressing problem of climate change.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether we are honouring our international commitments to those who seek asylum in this country. Of course, we regard those commitments as very important and, as he will know, there are no forced deportations to Zimbabwe. All applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. As he has acknowledged, we have chosen the Congo as the subject of this afternoon’s topical debate.
The hon. Gentleman said that he will choose the Post Office card account as the subject of his Opposition day debate. All that I can say in response to his questions is that we are all very aware of the House’s interest in that contract.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider an early debate on Lloyds TSB’s proposed takeover of Halifax Bank of Scotland? That bank employs many thousands of people in Yorkshire, most of them in west Yorkshire in the area that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Riordan) and I represent. We know that good things are happening, and we do not want HBOS to fail, but there is a feeling among parliamentarians in Yorkshire that we are not being kept in the loop. We need assurances that the many thousands of jobs in Yorkshire will be maintained under the new structure when it emerges.
I understand only too well my hon. Friend’s commitment to his constituents and his concern for his constituency and the region in terms of the effect on jobs at Halifax Bank of Scotland. I understand that the regional Minister for that area is liaising with its MPs. The regional development agency also has a strong focus on the matter, and the regional council met for the first time yesterday. However, I will raise his point with the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
May I ask the right hon. and learned Lady a question that I asked the Deputy Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago? Will she make the strongest representations to the Prime Minister that he should come to this House himself to make a statement on the progress of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is she aware that he has not made a statement to this House on the Afghan war since 12 December 2007? Is she further aware that during the second world war the Prime Minister came to this House on 13 occasions in the Parliament of 1939-1940 and on 25 occasions in the Parliament of 1940-1941 to keep it properly informed of the progress of the war? Many young men and women have died in our name and for us in Afghanistan, and it is a disgrace—a real disgrace—that ahead of Remembrance Sunday the Prime Minister has not been to this House to update us on the progress of this terrible war.
I think that we would all agree that the House is right to expect to be kept informed of the situation in Afghanistan. We have had a number of statements from the Defence Secretary on Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister has on several occasions responded to questions about it at Prime Minister’s Question Time. In addition, we have had a number of defence debates that have allowed the House the opportunity to hear from Ministers, make speeches and debate the issue of Afghanistan. However, I will bear in mind the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Has my right hon. and learned Friend had the opportunity to look at early-day motion 2416?
[That this House condemns the creation of the online computer game Kaboom which asks the player to replicate the actions of suicide bombers; believes that this game is offensive to the families of those killed by suicide bombers and devalues all human life; further believes that this game depicts an unnecessary level of violence; is deeply concerned that vulnerable people under the age of 18 are able to access and play this game; calls upon the game's creator to show sensitivity and responsibility by removing it from the internet; welcomes the findings of a new study from Iowa State University which recognises the link between violent video games and aggressive behaviour; and calls on the Government to revise its regulation of violent video games.]
It refers to an online computer game called “Kaboom”, which asks players to replicate the actions of a suicide bomber. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that is offensive to the families of the victims of suicide bombings and that it devalues human life? I have raised this matter on several occasions at business questions and in other debates. What action are the Government taking to remove such material from the internet or, at the very least, to approach service providers to ensure that they take appropriate action? Children and young people will be able to have access to those games. Could we have a debate on this important matter?
The Government are concerned about the effect on children of violent internet and video games, which is why we commissioned the Byron review. That set out how we need action from parents, from the industry itself and from the Government to ensure that there is proper control of content and clear labelling to protect young children. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s long-standing interest in these issues, which he had even before he became Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Under his leadership, the Committee has taken a strong interest in such matters. I bring to his attention the fact that on Thursday 13 November, in Westminster Hall, there will be a debate on the question of harmful content on the internet and in video games.
Can the House find time to debate the increasingly topical issue of pub closures, particularly the supply tie and the power and conduct of huge pub companies. Last year alone, bankruptcies among pub landlords increased sevenfold—and that was before the current economic difficulties. The treatment of some licensees is quite disgraceful, as was visibly demonstrated by the excellent front-page story in the Wharfedale and Airedale Observer today about Enterprise Inns quite scandalous and shameful treatment of my constituent Wendy Prangell. Can this important matter, which is of relevance to every Member, be debated so that hon. Members can contribute and give their own experiences?
Postwatch merged with the National Consumer Council and Energywatch on 1 October to create Consumer Focus. However, may we have a debate on whether it was an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money for Postwatch to spend £2,910 on the production of, and a further £2,483 on the distribution of, 2,000 copies of something commemorating its seven years of existence?
Further to the announcement by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, that a future Conservative Government will reform the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to allow it to consider the wider social costs of denying treatment to patients when assessing its value or benefit, may we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the criteria used by NICE when making its recommendations?
There has been a lot of concern about the work of NICE, and the Secretary of State for Health announced that there will a review to ensure that it speeds up its consideration of whether it will recommend new treatments developed by the pharmaceutical industry to make them available on the national health service. The availability of new medicines that can help to save lives as well as alleviate suffering is a question not only of NICE getting on with its business quickly and efficiently, but of extra investment in the NHS. It is important that the Government sustain investment in the NHS in the way that we are committed to.
I shall just take this opportunity, because I know the House is concerned about this matter, to say that an interest rate cut of 1.5 per cent. has been announced by the Bank of England. I am sure that that will be widely welcomed, and there will be an equally strong expectation that that interest rate cut should be passed on to those who have mortgages, and those who are running small businesses.
I have received, as have other right hon. and hon. Members, correspondence from constituents regarding the Free Our Bills campaign. They are asking for changes to be made to the way in which Bills are published on the parliamentary internet, and they are making some valid points. For example, when Bills have been amended in their progress through both Houses, it is sometimes difficult to understand their content when they reach their final stages. Would my right hon. and learned Friend look into that matter to see what improvements can be made to ensure better public scrutiny of our proceedings?
My hon. Friend, as a long-standing member of the Modernisation Committee, makes an important point. It is important that Members, let alone the public, can decipher the situation. The House authorities are looking at how we can make the business of the House more readily understandable in the House, and on the House website—so information is available to the public. The Deputy Leader of the House is working closely with them to take those matters forward.
In the St. Andrews agreement, the Government indicated that they would take action if any party defaulted on its commitments to ensure that the rest were not disadvantaged. As Sinn Fein is refusing to allow Executive meetings to take place in the Northern Ireland Assembly, can the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to this House and tell us how he intends to make good on this commitment?
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on inequality? She will be aware of the OECD report that says that inequality in Britain is reducing, but we remain one of the most unequal societies. In the present economic situation, those who will be hardest hit are those who are already finding things hard. I would like a debate on that subject so that we can hear what Members believe the Government can do for their constituents.
I, too, very much welcome the report that shows finally, after many years of a growing gap between rich and poor and decreasing social mobility, that that situation is beginning to turn around, following the actions that the Government have taken since 1997. Provision for children has been particularly important, such as Sure Start centres. My hon. Friend will know that the House will shortly receive a Green Paper on social mobility, and the Queen’s Speech will include an important equality Bill.
May I reinforce the message of the shadow Leader of the House to the effect that we should have an early and full debate on the economy? I suggest that we entitle it, “Boom and bust: the Prime Minister’s competence and credibility.” That will enable us to ask whether, when he said that he had abolished boom and bust, he believed what he was saying, in which case he was economically illiterate, or whether he did not believe it, in which case we can ask whether his moral compass is a reliable instrument.
This is a serious issue. The economy faces a big challenge, and we are concerned to protect homeowners, small businesses and jobs, and to ensure that we keep energy costs as low as possible. Those are the issues we remain concerned about. The Prime Minister made it clear only yesterday that it is fortunate that we face this economic challenge against a background of relatively high levels of employment and relatively low levels of unemployment. Having paid off debt over the past 10 years, as well as investing in the NHS and education, we are in as good a position as we could be to face those difficult economic circumstances. [Interruption.] Hon. Members have questioned the point about debt, and let me remind them—[Interruption.] They challenged my point about us paying off debt. When we came to government in 1997, debt was 43 per cent. as a percentage of GDP, and while still investing in hospitals and schools, we brought that down to 37 per cent.
Could we please have a debate on the Government’s role in regional spatial strategy? In Solihull, after the strategy had been agreed, the Government commissioned an outside consultant—Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners—to produce a report that suggests that we should triple the number of homes that we had agreed to build. I am sure that this matter concerns all hon. Members, so could we have a debate on the role that the Government should be playing in regional spatial strategy?
Further to that answer—and we are, indeed, to debate regional accountability next Wednesday—I see from the Order Paper that the right hon. and learned Lady proposes to restrict to 90 minutes the debate on that highly controversial and divisive motion, which was carried on her casting vote in a Select Committee. Between now and then, will she reflect on whether we should have more time to debate the matter? When she introduces the motion, will she make it clear that anybody who votes for a regional Committee should be prepared to serve on it and attend all its meetings?
The Modernisation Committee has conducted extensive scrutiny, including several important evidence sessions. Its report and the minutes of the evidence sessions are available for hon. Members to read. The issues are clear. Some of us believe that there should be stronger, proper accountability to the House for the billions of pounds that make an enormous difference at regional level, and some believe that the current structures should not be changed. Others believe that there is a democratic deficit, but have different ideas from us about how we should change that. The issues are clear, and an hour and a half should be enough to discuss them. It will then be up to the House to make up its mind and vote.
May we have a debate on the rate of value added tax levied on housing repairs? It is currently 17.5 per cent., compared with 5 per cent. for new build. Housing repairs are much more important than new build in Wales because we have a large stock of old, unfit and substandard housing, and the differential tax rate is a significant burden.
May I emphasise the request from Conservative Members for a major debate in Government time on the economic situation? I personally believe that it should be a two-day debate because the matter is so important and so many people will want to speak. I would want to represent the position of savers and those who invest because, currently, all who invest make a loss on every pound that they invest because of the marginal rate of tax and the rate of inflation. Should not the Government take account of those who are responsible, provide for their pension, invest and save?
Protecting the economy and people in this country in these difficult economic times and seeing the economy through is the Government’s No. 1 priority. We have no intention of restricting the opportunity for the House to call Ministers to account and debate the effect in their constituencies and regions. I will therefore look again to ascertain whether there are further opportunities for a more general debate as well as the specific debates about energy, small businesses, jobs and training. I hear the point that people want a general economic debate.
May I associate myself with the point that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) made about the need regularly to update the House about the two conflicts that are being waged in our name and about which we have had little information recently?
May I make a more general point, as we approach Remembrance day? We should have a debate on the legal status of, and the responsibility for, war memorials, first, to establish that they will be maintained appropriately, and, secondly, to ensure that there is no doubt that communities that wish to commemorate those who have lost their lives in conflicts since the first and second world wars, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, are entitled to do that.
Obviously, we want to ensure that war memorials are properly maintained in all the cities, towns and villages where they provide such an important reminder.
The hon. Gentleman adds his voice to concerns that the Secretary of State for Defence should make a statement about Afghanistan, and I will raise the issue with my right hon. Friend.
May I reinforce the call of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for an early debate in Government time on ID cards? The Home Secretary is announcing today that, despite the constant stream of private, personal data that companies working for the Government have lost, she proposes to hand over the job of taking and storing the fingerprints of every adult in this country to outside contractors. It is bad enough if someone loses one’s bank account details, but at least one can set up a new bank account. If somebody loses one’s fingerprint details, one’s identity is compromised for ever. The House needs to debate that potentially disastrous idea.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 2008 about the Post Office card account?
[That this House notes with concern the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions has written to Post Office card account holders informing them that the Post Office card account contract ends in 2010; further notes that Post Office card account holders, many of whom have made a conscious decision to support the Post Office by retaining their card account, are being instructed to take out bank accounts in order to receive benefits beyond 2010; expresses its dismay at the fact that the letter does not mention the fact that a replacement for the current card account is currently out to tender, or make any mention of other Post Office products or services; believes that this is a deliberate attempt to encourage people to switch payment to direct debit and remove the role of the Post Office; notes the additional damage inflicted on the Post Office by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, who are currently sending out licence renewal reminders as part of a communications campaign which makes no mention of the Post Office; calls on Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to encourage Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions to consider the impact on communities across the country if the Post Office card account is not renewed; and encourages all Government departments to make their services available through post offices in order to ensure that they have a viable future.]
The early-day motion has been signed by 80 hon. Members from all parties, and expresses concern about the impact of the loss of the card account business to the Post Office’s bottom line and the consequential impact on local communities. Will the Leader of the House answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who asked for a clear assurance that there will be no pre-announcement of the matter, and that the decision will be announced in a statement to the House so that hon. Members can ask questions of the Secretary of State?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman, as I reassured the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), that I understand the importance of the Post Office card account contract to hon. Members of all parties. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman can make any further points in the Liberal Democrat Opposition day debate on Monday.
Following the bovine remarks of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), and his woefully incomplete apology in Defence questions on Monday, will the Leader of the House let us know on which day next week he will return to the House to apologise from the Dispatch Box for the slur that he cast on commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially Major Morley?
All our Defence Ministers are strongly committed to supporting our armed services—I am sure that that applies to all hon. Members—and ensuring that they have the right equipment as they do their important and dangerous work. There has been record investment in equipment for the armed services.
You, Mr. Speaker, will have noticed that the Leader of the House failed to respond to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the Prime Minister’s comments about Lord Myners. It is an important matter, about which the Prime Minister should make a statement, because either Lords Hansard is wrong or the excellent, highly paid and professional civil servants failed to brief the Prime Minister correctly—none of us can believe that the Prime Minister, with his moral compass, could possibly have misled the House.
May we have a statement on the position of the Tibetan community in Nepal? Following anti-Chinese demonstrations, many in the community face extradition to China because India has said that they cannot move there. Given our relations with India, our past history with Nepal and the fact that we occupied Tibet for nearly 40 years, may we have a statement about what the Government will do to help that community?
The right hon. and learned Lady will be only too aware of the enormous sacrifices that loyal British citizens of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories made during conflicts. Will she explain why, yet again, on Remembrance Sunday, they will not be allowed to lay a wreath in their own right at the Cenotaph in Whitehall? Will she arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement about the overseas territories and for the Lord Chancellor to explain why the Crown dependencies are not represented?
The Leader of the House will recognise the widespread eagerness to see the Government’s national dementia strategy for England, so may we have a ministerial statement on when it will be published? The original Government indication was for it to be ready in the autumn, although I accept that that is becoming a relatively flexible concept. Can she also ask that that ministerial statement include confirmation that an immediate review into the prescribing and use of anti-psychotic drugs to treat sufferers of dementia will be completed before the publication of the strategy?
Rural areas, including my constituency of Beverley and Holderness, have large numbers of elderly people and infrequent buses. Can the Leader of the House tell the hundreds of constituents who have written to me about the pharmacy White Paper when the House will be informed of whether the Government are going to press ahead with proposals that could lead to the closure of dispensaries and GP practices serving elderly people in rural areas, who will then have to leave their GP’s surgery in the rain and snow and go across to a local chemist, before perhaps missing a bus back to their village?
I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with the Secretary of State for Health. An important point is not only the availability of pharmacies, but public transport in rural areas, the commitment to free travel for elderly people and the increasing availability of rural transport.
Is the right hon. and learned Lady aware that the Land Registry has stated that later this month it will destroy up to 17 million original documents and deeds? Is she aware that those manuscript documents do not belong to the Land Registry? They belong to our constituents and are held on trust. Can we have an urgent statement on the matter? Have the public been properly consulted on the proposed move?
I will raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who is responsible for the Land Registry. Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate the Land Registry on how massively it has improved over the past decade or so.
I just want to press the right hon. and learned Lady on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and others have raised. It seems clear that the Prime Minister was not well briefed at questions yesterday in his answer about the City Minister, Lord Myners. A facility has been introduced in Hansard whereby ministerial corrections can be made. If the record is not correct—and I believe that it is not—the Prime Minister should take steps immediately to put matters right.
I think that the Prime Minister and all the Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and across the Government are rightly focused on protecting jobs and small businesses and ensuring that we have a proper financial services industry and proper accountability to this House.
Last Thursday, the excellent Conservative candidate Ben Lewis was elected as a councillor in my constituency. At the same time, however, a Minister visited the constituency without letting me know in advance. I have not received a personal apology yet, but I understand that one might be in the post. My point to the Leader of the House, however, is this. It seems to be a trend that Ministers do not let Members know that they are coming or they let them know just before. Will she provide a written statement next week on the advice that she gives to Ministers on this matter?
It is imperative that Ministers on ministerial visits give information to the local Member of Parliament well in advance of their visit and not just at the last minute. As far as party visits are concerned, my visit to meet friends and colleagues in the Labour party in St. Austell was a party visit. It had nothing to do with my ministerial responsibilities, but I very much enjoyed it.
May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of cheap alcohol sales in supermarkets on the local licensed pub trade? There are 25 pubs and clubs in Kettering that are members of Kettering Pubwatch and they have contacted me to say that they are suffering financially from those deeply discounted sales. There are also law and order problems, because people are arriving in Kettering town centre for a night out already tanked up and ready to cause trouble.
This House, as part of the Palace of Westminster, acts as a welcoming host to 1.2 million visitors a year. As part of the newer version of security, many people are given their ID cards with cords. I was very grateful to an Officer of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House for taking an interest in what happens to those cords after they are disposed of. Can the Leader of the House’s office do something to ensure that they are fully recycled?
The issue has been raised by a number of hon. Members and the House authorities are aware of it. There is a concern about whether straightforward re-use, which would mean people wearing a lanyard that had been worn by a number of other people, would be right. There is also the question of how they could be recycled. However, they are not being thrown away while the issues are being considered, but kept until the big decision about what to do with them is made.