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House of Commons Hansard
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Business of the House
18 June 2009
Volume 494

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May I invite the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming parliamentary business?

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Before I inform the House of the business for next week, may I add my personal tribute, as Leader of the House, to Speaker Martin? Yesterday, nearly all the tributes to him mentioned his kindness, and it is very important to recognise that he kept order in the House not by pushing people down, but by supporting and encouraging people. Kindness is very much underrated in modern politics, but it is highly rated by Members of this House. A nudge of encouragement can be of great importance, particularly to a new Member. Members never had to fear the Chair when Speaker Martin was in it; they needed only to look to the Chair for advice and support. I hope that whoever succeeds him tries to match that.

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 22 June—The House will meet to elect a Speaker.

Tuesday 23 June—Second Reading of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day [14th allotted day]. There will be a full day’s debate entitled “Iraq Inquiry” on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 25 June—The House will be asked to approve various motions, including the establishment of a London Regional Committee and Regional Grand Committees; a motion relating to Members’ pensions; and motions relating to Select Committees.

Friday 26 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 29 June will include:

Monday 29 June—Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill.

Tuesday 30 June—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 1 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill.

Thursday 2 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day], subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee.

At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Friday 3 July—Private Members’ Bills.

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I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, and may I echo what she said about Mr. Speaker? As a recent addition to the House of Commons Commission, I must say that I found the way in which he chaired and administered it to be far better than the public reputation he was afforded by the press.

Further to the answer given just a moment ago by the Deputy Leader of the House, I think everyone would welcome some urgent clarification from the Leader of the House on the business of the House motions that she announced for next Thursday. On 10 June, the Prime Minister said in his statement on constitutional reform that “a special parliamentary commission” will be established, comprising Members from both sides of the House, to advise on necessary reforms of the procedures of the Commons. He seems to want to set up a new committee very much on a whim when there are already structures in the House for considering these issues. It is pretty disgraceful that the Prime Minister should choose to interfere to gain a headline when no consultation whatever has taken place.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady therefore take this opportunity to confirm whether it is now her intention to abolish the Modernisation Committee? Will this new commission or committee replace it? If so, what is the difference between this new commission or committee and the Procedure Committee, which also deals with the “necessary reforms” of the procedures of this House? Will she confirm that the real difference is not in the functions of the two committees, but in the simple fact that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) would chair the new one, and not my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)?

We were taken by surprise yesterday when Mr. Speaker reported that a new cross-party committee would now be inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and even more surprised that that announcement was said to follow from a discussion with only the Government Chief Whip. We were pleased that the Government appear to have backtracked on their attempt to maintain a majority hold over that committee, but given that I have had nothing more than an unacceptable holding response from the right hon. and learned Lady to my letter of 27 April on this matter, will she now tell the House who will be on this committee, when it is likely to report and what is its exact remit? Will it look, for example, at the issue of privilege that we on the Opposition Benches think should be examined in detail and in parallel by the Committee on Standards and Privileges? In a previous answer to one of my questions, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she could not see any objection to that happening.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady take this opportunity to inform the House when the Government will move the writ for the by-election in Norwich, North? I remind her that the previous Member for that constituency was appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds some days ago and that the writ for the by-election in Crewe and Nantwich was moved much faster.

The House will note that we have chosen to have our Opposition day debate on Iraq and the inquiry, and I hope that the Leader of the House appreciates how strongly we—and many Labour Members—feel that the Iraq inquiry should be much more public and far broader in composition.

May we also have a debate on the way in which some parking enforcement companies are extorting money on utterly vicious grounds from members of the public? Several cases have come to my attention in which, because of unclear signs in a car park, people have been unwittingly entrapped and their cars clamped. I have to report that the Co-op appears to be one of the most unjust practitioners—

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Absolute balderdash!

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Will the House have the chance to call them to account and seek a broader change in the law?

May we have a debate on levels of numeracy in Government? This subject may be closer to the heart of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is barracking from his seat. Yesterday, we had the unedifying sight of a Prime Minister denying the truth about his own cuts in public spending that are in the Chancellor’s most recent Budget. Last week, the Leader of the House was—it is fair to say—ticked off by the UK Statistics Authority for using figures on the gender pay gap that it said would be “misleading” and would

“undermine public confidence in official statistics”.

This is not the first time that the Government have been criticised for manipulating figures, but judging by the confusion of Ministers over spending, perhaps it is not so much a case of intentional distortion and more an indication of their deficiencies in basic maths.

Finally, may we agree across the Floor of the House that, when it comes to electing a Speaker on Monday, each Member should do so from the best possible principles for Parliament, and their choice should be on that basis and not for any narrow or party reasons?

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The hon. Gentleman raises the question of the special parliamentary committee. It is important to take the opportunity of the need to rebuild confidence in Parliament, not just to sort out the question of our allowances but to see whether we can make further progress in improving our procedures. We can take the opportunity to allow the public direct access by putting issues on the parliamentary agenda through e-petitions; to strengthen the work of Select Committees; and to allow a wider say in decisions on non-Government business.

The important thing to focus on is the job that needs to be done and on establishing a committee of short-term duration simply to get on with that job. We can either focus on process or on outcome. If we can reach an agreement, we can move forward. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have done a lot of work on these matters over the years and they have not found the opportunity to move forward. I think that this is that opportunity, so, instead of complaining about the process, let us all work together to ensure that we achieve some outcome.

The hon. Gentleman asked why the matter should not be dealt with by the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee does very important work and I refer to what my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said about its important forthcoming report on the answering of written questions. The new committee will have a wider remit than the Procedure Committee, but I am sure that it will draw on the expertise and work of the Committee and of some of its members, including, possibly, its leading member, the Chair.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Speaker’s Committee on the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the search of parliamentary premises. In a resolution of the House some months ago, the House decided that there needed to be a Speaker’s Committee to consider that matter, but that it would not start its work until after any investigation by the criminal justice system had been completed. Now that that investigation has been completed, the Committee needs to get on with its work. The announcement of who will be on the Committee will be a matter for the new Speaker. I hope that the Committee will be able to get on with its work. Once it is established, the terms of reference of the House resolution said that it could consider a number of basic issues and those relating to them.

In relation to the Iraq debate, the Prime Minister—

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And privilege?

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The hon. Gentleman should refer to the resolution of the House that established the Speaker’s Committee. It will work within that remit and deal with related issues.

The Iraq inquiry was the subject of the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on Monday and there will be a debate on the subject next week, which will no doubt focus on the issues that the Prime Minister dealt with and was questioned on, which concerned the composition of the committee and its way of working.

We might well need to have a topical debate on the subject of parking enforcement. It may seem a minor issue, but quite a lot of money changes hands. If someone comes out of a shop with a couple of kids and a buggy and finds their car immobilised, leaving them stranded, it can be very difficult indeed. Perhaps we ought to consider that. The subject involves a number of different Departments, and the fact that responsibility has fallen between the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government has been a problem. Perhaps we might consider that.

In a rather patronising and condescending way, I am sorry to say, the hon. Gentleman cast aspersions on my numeracy. I shall address his point about the UK Statistics Authority. He is referring to the gender pay gap. Previously, the gender pay gap has been reported as two figures. The first is the average gap between the pay of full-time men and full-time women at work. The second is the gap between part-time employees and full-time male employees. One thing that I have said to the Office for National Statistics is that part-time women employees are not a separate breed of second-class citizens. If they are lowly paid, they ought to be considered in the context of the statistics as a whole. We should compare the average pay per hour of men with the average pay per hour of women. I reject any suggestion that it is a question of trying to manipulate the figures. It is about the figures properly representing the valuable contribution that women make to the work force and about stopping pay discrimination, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman regrets asking that question.

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The right hon. and learned Lady referred to the tributes paid to the Speaker yesterday. I think that all the tributes remarked on his generosity of spirit in personal terms, and I can only go along with that; that generosity of spirit was obvious to everyone who knew him. I welcomed Mr. Speaker pointing out in his statement yesterday the lack of leadership and wrong-headed thinking that led to the House rejecting the sensible proposals for reform of our expenses system last year. It was important that he made that point.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) mentioned the Committee, proposed by Mr. Speaker, which is to look at the issue of the police search of Members’ offices. I have to say that the right hon. and learned Lady has got herself into a bit of a mess on that. If she remembers, we on the Opposition Benches proposed that there should be no Government majority on that Committee, and that it should be chaired by an Opposition Member. That was rejected by her and her party, and in a whipped vote the Labour party pushed through a motion on 8 December that precluded that option. If the Government have backtracked on that, which is extremely helpful, she needs to put a new motion before the House, because she is bound by a resolution of 8 December that does not allow the Committee to have the composition that it is apparently now to have. Will she put such a motion on the Order Paper next week, so that we can vote on it?

In another place last week, during proceedings on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, there was an extremely important vote on an amendment in the name of Lord Campbell-Savours. That amendment will be strongly supported in this House by Liberal Democrat Members—and a great number of Labour Members, too, as was indicated by the fact that the Government could not manage to get a Labour majority in the House of Lords on the matter. May we have confirmation that there will be ample time to debate that amendment in this House, and that there will be no attempt by the Government to reverse the decision made in another place on non-domiciled tax exiles providing funding for political parties?

The Prime Minister yesterday appeared to have a problem understanding how limited his reforms of the banking sector have been, but he was put right in no uncertain terms by the Governor of the Bank of England last night. Given that the Prime Minister does not appear to know what he is doing on banking reform, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to know either, while the Governor of the Bank of England clearly does know, may we have a debate so that we Members of the House can put our ideas on how the banking sector should be regulated in future?

Lastly, when the Lord High Everything took control of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and it was then abolished, one part of the collateral damage was the presumed demise of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills. Before it had that title, the Committee did a superb job in this House as the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In fact, it did a particularly superb job when I was a member of it. There are many people, both in the House and outside, who feel that having a Committee that is committed to the interests of science and technology is no bad thing, including the learned societies led by the Royal Society of Chemistry. When the right hon. and learned Lady brings forward her proposals on Select Committees next Thursday, will she ensure that we re-establish a properly constituted Select Committee on Science and Technology, with a cross-cutting brief, to ensure that those interests are properly represented in this House?

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The hon. Gentleman mentioned the work on expenses. It might help if I remind the House that today there has been progress on transparency, with all expenses claims having gone on the House of Commons website. Shortly, we will bring a Bill before Parliament to create an independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. There is also a reassessment under way of all the past four years’ claims, which is being carried out by Sir Thomas Legg and independent accountants. Every single claim will be looked at, and any money that was paid outwith the rules will have to be paid back. We will be able to strengthen parliamentary processes as a result of the work of the Committee that is to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We will get the results of the independent Kelly committee on our allowances, and then the Parliamentary Standards Authority will start work. We have had a major problem, but all the work to solve it is under way.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Committee examining matters in relation to search and seizure and the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). There will be no need for a further resolution of the House, because the resolution of 8 December provided:

“That the committee consist of seven members appointed by the Speaker reflecting the composition of the House.”

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And now the Government are not doing that.

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Actually, having read that again, I see what the hon. Gentleman means. If we need to do anything, we can do that next Thursday, but that is not a commitment; it is just a maybe.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned cleaning up donations. Important work has been done over the years to ensure that donations to political parties are clean and transparent. We do not want anyone to have influence over politics in this country that is gained from money coming from abroad. We will, of course, review the Lords amendments.

The hon. Gentleman talked about banking regulation, which can be addressed during today’s topical debate on the economy. It is important that we work internationally so that we have the highest standards of regulation for our financial services industry, which is international. We need international guidelines so that we can reach international high standards, and Europe plays an important role in that. Obviously, the structure will have to be operationalised at a national level with each nation ensuring that its national machinery works to high international standards. The Chancellor has made it clear that regulation will be toughened. We want to ensure that the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England have clear responsibilities, and there will be further work to get this right.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the staff and community who have been responsible for the opening of a spectacular new children’s centre in Blackthorn in my constituency? When the Child Poverty Bill is considered in Committee—I hope that she will upgrade its Second Reading date of Monday 29 June from provisional to absolutely fixed—will she ensure that there is an evidence session so that the Government’s measures on combating child poverty and the work of children’s centres, which the Opposition criticise, can be clearly set out and may feed into the construction of the Bill?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be evidence sessions. Tackling child poverty is about not only income levels—from work and benefits—but, importantly, the support services that enable children to get on better in their lives. Children’s centres have made a major contribution to equality in this country. There are now more than 3,000 centres, but we want to ensure that there is one in every single neighbourhood. Important discussions about that will take place alongside consideration of the new Child Poverty Bill.

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Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week on British prisoners kept abroad without trial? Failing that, will she ensure that I get a reply to my letter of 21 May to the Foreign Secretary concerning Mr. William Keating, who has been kept in prison without any trial in the Central African Republic since early February? His family are incredibly concerned about what is happening to him.

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I will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman gets the reply to his letter to which he is entitled. Foreign Office questions take place next Tuesday, but I hope that he will receive a reply before then.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into the way in which disabled facilities grants are operated by local authorities? There is an ultimatum that occupational therapists must visit and carry out an evaluation within six months and that the work be done within a year, but it is being stretched by local authorities. There is an additional worry that ring-fenced money is being used for other purposes. Will she mount an investigation into the situation and consider holding a debate?

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That can be considered during debates on the Equality Bill, which puts a duty on public authorities to consider and meet the needs of disabled people.

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If the Leader of the House listened to the “Today” programme this morning, she will have heard the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs giving an interview about climate change projections, on which he is to make a statement after business questions. Although that was deplorable—it is doubly deplorable in the Secretary of State’s case, because he is usually meticulous in upholding the traditions of the House, rather than breaching them in such a way—what really worries me is that it was clear that the BBC had accessed the document, or received briefing on its substance, yet hon. Members will have to face it blind when we hear the statement.

Can we establish a system whereby when Ministers insult the House by giving interviews outside, they release the documents to which they have referred so that all of us may see them in advance of a statement? Alternatively, although perhaps this is a lesser thing, should not all hon. Members, in much the same way as Front Benchers, have access an hour beforehand to documents on which statements are made, as long as we do so in the privacy of the Library? The calibre of debate would be improved if more people could read the relevant documents prior to statements, and that would genuinely improve the scrutiny of documents and legislation in the House.

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I am not sure whether that suggestion has been made before, but it is a good one. It is not just Front Benchers who need a moment to marshal their thoughts so that they can question Ministers properly; Back Benchers on both sides of the House need that too. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that the content of the statement was put out on the “Today” programme before the matter came before the House. It is an important principle that the first people who get a chance to question a Minister about a substantive policy statement should be Members of the House, not journalists, so I will get a transcript of the interview on the “Today” programme and look at the content of the statement.

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I have a registered interest in this question. Has my right hon. and learned Friend had time to read a letter dated 12 June that she received from the executive secretary of the Royal Society, and the chief executives of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Institute of Biology, calling for the reformation of a science and technology Select Committee? Will she give the contents of the letter great consideration, given that this is now a cross-party request?

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I will consider that point very seriously. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and other members of the Science and Technology Committee.

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May we please have a debate next week in Government time on the continuing crisis in Burma? Given that the brutal military dictatorship in that country practises egregious human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, and the use of child soldiers on a scale proportionately greater than in any other country of the world, would it not be good to have a debate in which the Government could explain what action they will take multilaterally to try to bring that regime to book and to give the people of Burma the freedom and justice that we have so long enjoyed and they have so long been denied?

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I will consider that as a suggestion for a topical debate.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Bill to set up the parliamentary standards committee will be published in draft and subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny? I am sure that she agrees that it is better that we do not legislate in haste and repent at leisure.

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There is not an intention to publish the Bill in draft and subject it to full pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that we have a narrow Bill on which there can be complete consensus. If we then want to expand on the Bill’s provisions, we can do so following consideration of draft clauses and further discussion. The narrow point is that just as we are no longer going to set and vote on our own pay—we have agreed a system so that we do not have to do that—we should not in future set our allowances or administer the system that pays those allowances. To be honest, if we subject a draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny, the public will feel that we have not got the point and we have put the matter into the long grass. I know that it is usually good to spend an awfully long time thinking about things, but if there is a straightforward, narrow and practical proposition, we should just get on with it.

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First, I thank the Leader of the House for considering carefully the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) raised about the resurrection of the Science and Technology Committee. When the machinery of government changes took place in 2007, perhaps she was unaware of the strength of feeling not only inside the House but outside it about the need to scrutinise science, engineering and technology effectively. Despite the valiant efforts over the past two years of my Committee’s members, to whom I pay tribute, in reality, if a very large Committee—and the Select Committee covering the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be even larger—is not able to get to grips with science and technology not only in government but throughout all the Departments, it will be a huge mistake. I hope that on Thursday, when she brings forward her recommendations, she will bear that in mind and recognise that organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering et al are incredibly interested in supporting the Government in their drive to put science at the heart of Government policy.

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There is a lot of force in the hon. Gentleman’s points, and I thank him for placing them on the record.

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I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police on its recent successes in reducing violent crime. Could she find time in the next week or so for a debate to discuss the ways in which those successes have been achieved and how to promulgate them more widely?

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I shall look for an opportunity for a further debate about something that is always high on the Government’s and the public’s agenda—further reductions in violent crime.

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The Leader of the House knows that there are urgent ongoing discussions about the imposition on Members of a statutory code of conduct. In the light of recent breaches of the ministerial code, is it not right that we should discuss a similar approach to the ministerial code?

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Members of this House are already covered by a code of conduct, and the question is whether we should consider at some future date putting it on a statutory footing.

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May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), on the tributes that they paid to the Speaker? Some of us could not make a tribute to him, but we loved him dearly, and will miss him as Speaker. I still feel very strongly about the campaign that was waged against him by Quentin Letts and other people in the press.

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend not to leave out universities from the debate about how we scrutinise science and technology? Under the present arrangements, it looks as if it will be very difficult to give that important sector, in terms of both our communities and our economy, the proper attention that it deserves.

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It is very important not only that the work of my hon. Friend’s Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, which he chairs so ably, is carried through into further and higher education, but that we have a proper Select Committee with responsibility for science and innovation which relates to the business Department and trade and industry. I take his points on board, and will consider them before we come back to the House.

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Will the Leader of the House think again about the business for next Thursday? On reflection, would not it be better to abandon plans for a parliamentary reform committee and, instead, abolish the Modernisation Committee and refer all issues of outstanding concern to the Procedure Committee? That would then give us time on Thursday to debate the Procedure Committee’s excellent report on e-petitions, which, if implemented, really would reconnect the public with Parliament.

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I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have done on e-petitions, and hope that it will be taken forward. However, his Committee’s terms of reference do not allow it to address the question of how non-Government business is allocated—at least, I do not think that it does. It is important for us not to make an argument about process, when we are trying to deliver on what is probably a consensus on improving how the House conducts its business. We should move on to the many demands for the Government to cede some of their control and their right to dictate Government and non-Government business. Many Members have argued for that. Should we not all work together to bring that into practice, rather than argue about which Committee does so?

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As someone who does not in any way renounce the 2003 vote on the Iraq war or blame the former Prime Minister, but justifies the vote, in all the circumstances at the time, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, regarding Wednesday’s debate, whether the Government will reflect further on the committee of inquiry on the Iraq war? I, for one, do not believe that its proceedings should be totally in private. There is undoubtedly an argument that some of the evidence should be taken in private, but not the entirety. The inquiry’s credibility is very much at stake, so I do hope that Ministers at the most senior level will have given further consideration to the matter by Wednesday’s debate.

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I thank my hon. Friend for making those points, and will draw them to the attention of those who are responsible for arranging the Government’s response.

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Further to the question from the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) about the imminent Bill to set up a Parliamentary Standards Authority, I must note there will be disappointment at the Bill not being published in draft. If the Government proceed with a Bill, will the Leader of the House at least give an undertaking that any controversial aspects will not be subject to a guillotine, and may even be taken on the Floor of the House?

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I think that it would be good idea if all the Bill’s stages were taken on the Floor of the House—and although there has been no formal publication of the draft Bill, a Bill in draft is being developed. If any Members would like to have a look at what might be in it, they should just come to my room and I shall show it to them. I do not want to go through the palaver of the publication of a draft Bill, but it is no secret that a Bill is being drafted, it has some clauses in it, and the more people who feed their contribution in before it is brought to the House on Second Reading, the better.

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May we have a debate or a statement on the position of British citizens who are the victims of crime abroad and wish to claim compensation? My constituent Luke Laurent was subjected to a vicious stabbing and attack in Cyprus, and has been trying for the past year to claim compensation. After the Tampere discussions and Hague 2, it should be much easier for British citizens to claim compensation in EU countries. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the matter to see whether we can have a debate or statement on this important issue?

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Perhaps my right hon. Friend could raise the matter at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions, which is not next week, as I said earlier, but the week after next.

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All of us have constituents who have studied hard for years only to leave education this summer with very uncertain job prospects. Graduate unemployment is projected to double, and some estimates are that the number of jobless under-25-year-olds could rise to more than 1 million, so may we have a debate on youth unemployment and what the Government are doing to tackle the problem?

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Members could raise the issue later this afternoon in the debate about the economy. It is absolutely at the centre of the Government’s concerns that we should protect people from unemployment and from being thrown out of work, which is a tragedy for every individual. It is even worse when that individual is a young person who left full-time education full of hope, only to feel that they have been thrown on the scrap heap before they have even begun. To avoid that, we have injected billions of pounds of extra funds into jobcentres and are providing apprenticeships, training guarantees and internships. We are definitely working to address those issues, and there will, no doubt, be more discussion this afternoon in the debate about the economy.

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I am not sure whether the Leader of the House is aware of this, but the courageous Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, will visit the United Kingdom—and, in fact, the House of Commons—next Tuesday. Would it not be possible—and I ask her please not to tell me to put a question next Tuesday to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—for a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement, indicating the contact that the Government have with South Africa, the African Union and Zimbabwe’s other neighbouring states to monitor the progress towards better forms of democracy in that country, so that we might help the people with meaningful aid, as we are currently unable to? Would she ask for a statement to be made on the Floor of the House?

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I shall ask the Foreign Secretary to consider whether, on the occasion of Morgan Tsvangirai’s visit, there could be a written ministerial statement setting out the Government’s extensive international and bilateral contact in support of the Zimbabwean people, and the extensive aid development programme going into that country.

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May we have a debate on the proposed changes to how furnished lettings are treated for tax purposes? Many of my constituents rent out property, and for tax purposes they are considered to be trading. The proposed changes will alter that, at enormous cost to some people, especially farmers. As the recession continues to bite, is it right that the changes are being brought in now?

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If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about farmers—

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Farmers are an example.

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If the point was about farmers, the hon. Gentleman could raise it in this afternoon’s general debate on farming. Otherwise, I shall bring his points to the attention of Treasury Ministers and work out the most appropriate way of dealing with the concerns that he has raised.

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May we have a debate about the treatment of prisoners on remand—who, of course, have not been found guilty of any offence? I should like to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Mohammed Mudhir, who was subject to extraordinarily inhumane treatment in Armley jail. A few weeks ago, the inquest jury talked of systematic failures, a culture of complacency and a lack of training. Mr. Mudhir’s family have been wronged; he committed suicide as a result of the incredible catalogue of failures that he suffered in custody. Will the right hon. and learned Lady allow a debate in the House about this important matter?

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I shall bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice.

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Some corporate groups force solvent companies into liquidation because of their pension liabilities, and then repurchase the assets for pennies in the pound. Business men enriched by such shameful behaviour then use their wealth to cosy up to those in power. May we please have a debate on the implementation of the Pensions Act 2004, so that we can ensure that pensioners are not ruined by the behaviour of companies such as the Caparo group, which is owned by the Prime Minister’s close confidant Lord Paul of Marylebone?

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It is for the Chair rather than me as Leader of the House to say so, but I really think that it is too easy to use business questions to take a pot shot at, and make allegations about, people who are unable to respond. If the hon. Gentleman had given me notice I might have been able to give a substantive response. He has not, so I cannot challenge what he has said. Will he please, however, regard it as challenged, even though I do not know what he is talking about? I shall raise with the Treasury the point about solvent companies being pushed into liquidation.

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Order. It so happens that I did know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. There was a debate, and during it I made a ruling about the use of the name of a Member of the other place; I hoped that the matter might have rested at that.

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Following the brilliant speech in the other place by Lord Campbell-Savours last night, the measures taken by this House to protect the security of MPs’ and election candidates’ home addresses were finally endorsed and passed the last hurdle. There will be no more questions on that subject from me. May I instead ask for a debate in Government time on the unpredictability of future conflicts? That would enable the Government and the Opposition to say why it is important to keep a strategic nuclear deterrent between 2025 and 2055—unlike the Liberal Democrats, who seem to think that because we are fighting counter-insurgencies now, there could be no nuclear threat to this country half a century into the future.

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I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to make those points to Defence Ministers at the next Defence questions.

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I draw the right hon. and learned Lady’s attention to early-day motion 640.

[That this House notes with concern the findings of a University College London study into the prevalence of abuse by family carers of people with dementia that as many as half of carers reporting some abusive behaviour; further notes the finding of the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People 2007 that as many as 342,000 people aged over 66 years are victims of abuse in the community, often committed by family members; welcomes the Government's review of its current safeguarding vulnerable people guidance, No Secrets; is concerned that the review concentrates on abuse by paid carers; believes that guidance issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 does not carry the same status as legislation; calls on the Government to introduce legislation that provides a statutory basis for the construction and work of adult protection committees (APCs); and imposes a duty on agencies to collaborate, share information, actively participate at a senior level in APCs and work together to establish a right to access the adult at risk without hindrance or coercion and provide powers to protect the welfare of a person found to be the victim of abuse.]

It states the case for placing on a statutory basis issues of elder abuse and the protection of vulnerable adults.

Furthermore, I should like to mention early-day motion 1296, which deals with the case of Margaret Haywood, who—scandalously—was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for blowing the whistle on the poor treatment and neglect of older people in another institution. May we have a debate on those two issues? The House has legislated to protect children and punish those who commit domestic violence. Is it not time to make sure that these other vulnerable people in our society get the same sort of protection?

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Obviously, we need tough, enforceable measures in criminal law and a proper regulatory framework to protect those in residential care. The number of people over 85 is set to double in the next two decades, so the issue is of growing importance. Last week we had a debate on carers, and Health questions will be taken next week. A number of hon. Members have raised the point; it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. We will look further for an opportunity to take the issue forward.

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May we have a debate on the procedure used for early-day motions? There are now 1,700 of them on the Order Paper, and there is no evidence that they are ever read by Ministers or officials. Unlike what happens with petitions, there is never a ministerial response to them unless they are specifically raised in business questions. Outside groups, however, set great store by them.

Could we not have a system whereby an early-day motion that attracted sufficient signatures got at least a ministerial response? If an early-day motion attracted a large number of signatures, there could be the possibility of a debate on it. I do not think that there is a recorded instance of any of those 1,700 early-day motions ever getting debated, unless one happens to be adopted by the Opposition as a basis for a debate in Opposition time.

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The setting up of a business committee is to be considered by the Committee that we hope to establish, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). If the House is minded to move control of non-Government business from the Leader of the House to such a Committee, the question of enabling early-day motions with a certain number of signatures to be debated on the Floor of the House on a substantive motion will be very much a possibility. The Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend could look into the idea and come up with proposals promptly.

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I hope that the Leader of the House accepts that scrutiny of legislation on Report is House business, not Government business. Obviously, I welcome the establishment of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Within its remit should be the issue of how we as a House handle the scrutiny of legislation on Report. It would be ridiculous to set up that Committee and have an election for the speakership that involved consideration of reforms to scrutiny on Report, while Bills such as the Health Bill—and the right hon. and learned Lady’s own Equality Bill—come back during that time and yet again receive what is felt, regardless of what the Government think, to be inadequate scrutiny by the House. Will she clearly specify how she proposes to do things differently in respect of the Equality Bill this time, as an example of how we want the scrutiny of all legislation on Report to be?

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Timetabling on Report is an attempt to make sure that all aspects of the Bill receive scrutiny, and that the House does not spend so much time on a couple of clauses that some are not scrutinised. However, I readily acknowledge that that has not always been the result. We want to be flexible so that if issues arise in Committee and Government amendments can be brought forward, that should be done. However, we should not find ourselves in a situation where those amendments are not properly scrutinised. There is a lot of justification for the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and they can be within the remit of the Committee that I hope will be established, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. However, I would say that the Report stage of a Government Bill is Government business, however we look at it.

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Tomorrow the House will further consider the commendable provisions in the Autism Bill, which deserve full support. However, may we have a debate about autism in the context of the criminal justice system? My constituent Gary McKinnon, the computer hacker, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, yet the Home Secretary—or at least the previous Home Secretary—chose to disregard the impact of his condition and approved his extradition to the United States.

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I am sure that all aspects in relation to that individual would have been taken into account when considering an extradition process. As for the work on autism, the Government believe that the strategy across the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health goes even further than the points raised in the Autism Bill, although that Bill offers a welcome opportunity for further discussion.

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The “Digital Britain” report caused great concern in the highlands in relation to radio, because it proposes that all national broadcast radio stations should move from analogue to DAB by 2015 and that all car radios are to be converted. However, the presence of DAB in the highlands and islands is almost non-existent. I hope that if the Government are switching from analogue to DAB they will ensure that everywhere in the country that can currently get the analogue radio signal will get DAB. May we have an urgent debate so that those issues can be raised?

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Earlier this week we had a statement in the House, and precisely those issues were raised. The whole approach of the Government is that just as it is expected that everywhere in the UK where people live there should be a supply of water and electricity, there should also be broadband working to a high degree, and digital inclusion. I am therefore sure that the hon. Gentleman’s points have already been taken on board.

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Given that topical debates are meant to be topical, and given the strategic importance of the tumultuous and dramatic events in Iran, could we have a topical debate on that country next Thursday?

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While the Foreign Secretary is, as he has made clear, working very closely with other countries to ensure that the will of the Iranian people is recognised, it is important to say that this is a matter for the Iranian people and the Iranian electoral authorities. Obviously, however, we want to be absolutely sure that everyone has the right to demonstrate and no one suffers as a result of the demonstrations.

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Following the revelation in today’s Guardian that Tony Blair approved policy guidance to British intelligence officers on interviewing detainees overseas that probably led to Britain being in breach of our international obligations under the UN convention against torture, may we have a debate on how this House scrutinises such policy guidance? Could the Leader of the House ensure that such a debate is led by the Secretary of State for Justice—not least because he was Foreign Secretary at the time when that guidance was approved and, along with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), must surely also have been responsible for approving such policy guidance for our intelligence services?

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I am confident that we would not have broken any international obligations prohibiting torture, not just because we have entered into international obligations but because we abhor torture and would never have anything to do with it.