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Business of the House

Volume 495: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 6 July—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Young People in the Recession”, followed by a debate entitled “ID Cards”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 7 July—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 8 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 2).

Thursday 9 July—Motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, followed by motion to approve the draft Council Tax Limitation (Maximum Amounts) (England) Order 2009, followed by a topical debate, subject to be announced.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 July will include:

Monday 13 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill.

Tuesday 14 July—Remaining stages of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 15 July—Opposition day [16th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 16 July—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on the climate change preparation for the Copenhagen conference.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 16 July will be:

Thursday 16 July—A debate on the report from the Communities and Local Government Committee on housing and the credit crunch.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business, and may I also thank her for at last getting this year’s draft legislative programme published? But will she explain what on earth has happened to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill? The former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), championed it on Second Reading almost exactly a month ago, and resigned three days later. Two new Ministers turned up to steer the Bill through the Committee, one of whom, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry), arrived on the first day from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and left on the last day for the Treasury. Now we learn from the draft legislative programme that there is to be a local democratic renewal consultation. Do the Government plan to run this consultation concurrently with the Bill? If so, what is the point of a Bill that precedes consultation? If not, are Ministers so ashamed of the Bill that they simply plan to junk it altogether?

Will the right hon. and learned Lady tell us what has happened to the motion that she agreed to table to refer the question of privilege raised by the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) to the Committee on Standards and Privileges? We were led to believe that this should have happened this week or even last week. After many months, this delay is not just annoying; it is beginning to get a bit rude. Will she definitely confirm that the motion will be tabled without further delay?

Talking about delays, may we have a statement on the time taken by Treasury Ministers to reply to Members’ letters? Apparently, in some cases, it has taken six months to get a response to what are often urgent constituency cases. That is shameful incompetence. I understand that the Ministers are all very busy trying to explain to the Prime Minister that there is no more money in the kitty, but may I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to remind them that their duty is to this House, and that Members who raise the plight of their constituents with them expect a prompt and full response?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:

“It would be wrong to have a spending review now… Because we are in the midst of a recession”—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 296.]

Yet later that day, No. 10 briefed that the Prime Minister had not confirmed a delay to the spending review. It is impossible to get a straight answer from anyone in the Government. Given that the Chancellor was forced to rebut the noble Lord Mandelson’s suggestion earlier this week that the autumn statement would be binned, will the right hon. and learned Lady tell us who is telling the truth and whether the Government will publish their spending plans before the next election?

May we have an urgent debate on the plight of students from poorer families under this Government? In the Prime Minister’s first week in Downing street, he said that teenagers from less well-off families would be guaranteed greater support at university. Now we learn from a written statement from the higher education Minister that the Government have totally backtracked on that pledge. Student grants are to be frozen, while tuition fees are to be increased. Is that not just a further indication that the Prime Minister is incapable of being straight with people and that his cuts in financial support will undeniably mean that poorer students will struggle to get through their degrees?

I received a letter this morning from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Equitable Life. He says—slightly ambiguously in the manner of writing, I have to say—that there will be a statement before the House rises to update us on the progress of Sir John Chadwick, but will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that this will definitely be a full oral statement, which will allow the House the opportunity to question the Minister on the Government’s plans to compensate those who have lost out? Does she appreciate that a written statement would be an insult to this House?

Finally, may we have a statement on vandalism in this House? Indeed, may we have an inquiry into who has been regularly defacing the Dispatch Box opposite me and in front of the right hon. and learned Lady? It would appear—I can see it from here—that the culprit strikes once a week with a black felt-tipped pen, and detectives have already noted that the gravest occurrence seems to be on a Wednesday each week at around midday? Does the Leader of the House have any inkling of who the culprit might be, and is she prepared to reprimand him in the strongest possible terms?

The hon. Gentleman asked me about privilege and what happened with the office of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). As he will remember, the House decided, following a request from the then Speaker, that a Speaker’s Committee would be established to look into search powers and the arrival of police on House premises. It was decided to set up such a Committee, but not before the police action had concluded, since when the shadow Leader of the House has asked for wider questions relating to privilege and criminal proceedings to be looked at. Discussions are under way on whether a two-pronged approach, involving the Standards and Privileges Committee as well as the Speaker’s Committee, may be necessary.

I have agreed with the hon. Gentleman that we should look more widely than at questions of search and seizure and take the whole question of privilege into account. What still needs to be finalised is whether we need the two Committees to achieve that or just the one. The shadow Leader of the House rolls his eyes, but I want to get right the number of Committees—not too many or too few—to deal with these issues.

We have agreed on the terms of reference, but we have not quite got there on the question of who should undertake the review. I hope and expect that we will get there in good time—possibly next week. With any luck, and if we can get agreement, we may not need a debate; we can just put it through on agreement, which is what I am aiming for. Sure as hell, if I put it through and get it wrong, there will be lengthy debates about it, which would be problematic. I know that the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members will co-operate fully to achieve consensus so that we will not have to debate it further.

Of course Treasury Ministers are accountable to the House. It is important for there to be full accountability both in relation to parliamentary questions, written and oral, and in relation to letters from constituents. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House keeps a close eye on the issue of responses to questions, and I will look into the position at the Treasury.

Incidentally, what was said about Business Ministers’ reply times confused the issue of letters from the public with that of letters from Members of Parliament. Obviously all letters should be answered promptly and effectively, but Members of Parliament must have priority.

The shadow Leader of the House asked about the spending review. As he will know, we have set out the plans for all Departments’ spending until April 2011. In the past, they were informed of their spending only yearly.

As for students from poorer families, since we came to power we have made increasing access to further and higher education a massive priority, particularly in constituencies such as mine where, in some instances, no member of the student’s family has taken part in it. In my constituency alone, there has been a 300 per cent. increase in the number of young people going into further and higher education. That is due to a combination of increasing investment from the public purse and increasing investment from students—they pay the money back, but only when they obtain jobs—as well as extra grants and loans. I think that our record in helping young people enter further and higher education speaks for itself, and I must point out that the Opposition have never proposed, or even supported, an increase in provision.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will update the House on Equitable Life. I cannot yet say what form the update will take, but I am in no doubt about the keen interest in the issue among constituents of Members in all parts of the House, and I shall make that clear to the Treasury.

Many of our constituents rely on the services of Royal Mail, especially in rural north-east Scotland, and on the services provided by the Post Office. There has been a great deal of uncertainty and upheaval for both the Post Office and Royal Mail. We now hear that the Royal Mail Bill is finally dead, but what will the Government do to sustain the universal service and bring about the promised and much-needed reform of the regulator? Will another Bill be drafted in narrower terms to deal with the regulatory problems facing the Post Office?

The Leader of the House said—and I want to reinforce the point—that there should be an oral statement about Equitable Life from a Treasury Minister. It is rather worrying that it is not yet clear whether that will happen.

I am pleased that there is to be a debate on identity cards. I hope the Leader of the House will ensure that the Minister who responds to it will brief the House on just how much money has been wasted on them to date.

I hope that the Leader of the House has had a chance to study Hansard over the last three days. If so, she will have noted how difficult it was for Parliament to scrutinise the Parliamentary Standards Bill, and the trouble caused by the conflict with Parliament and privilege that resulted from its original drafting. Will she ensure that, when Lords amendments return to the House of Commons, there is plenty of time for them to be debated on the Floor of the House before the recess? It has not yet been announced when that will happen, but it is clear from the state in which the Bill left this House that a great many changes will need to be made in the House of Lords, and we must have time for them to be debated properly.

We will soon have a long recess in which Parliament will not be informed of events of national and major importance. Today, there is a major troop surge in Afghanistan. Will she make sure that the House is given a full briefing before we rise on the situation in Afghanistan and developments with that troop surge?

The hon. Gentleman asks about Royal Mail. We remain concerned that there should be fairer arrangements between Royal Mail and private mail services, and about the unlevel playing field in regulation. That remains a problem, and it will need to be addressed. We are determined that the pension fund liabilities should be met. But, as the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said in the Lords yesterday,

“market conditions have made it impossible to conclude the process to identify a partner for the Royal Mail on terms that we can be confident would secure value for the taxpayer. There is therefore no prospect in current circumstances of achieving the objectives of the Postal Services Bill.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 July 2009; Vol. 712, c. 222.]

The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. There is nothing surprising about my not yet being able to tell the House about the form of a statement that will be made to the House. It would be quite unusual to announce a week or so in advance whether something will be made by way of a written or oral statement. Obviously, I will convey to the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers the strength of feeling in the House. I raised the issue with the Chancellor this morning and keep him well aware of the concerns expressed by Members on both sides each and every week.

On ID cards, it is not a question of wasting money. Money has not been wasted on biometric passports, because the people who take out such passports have to pay for them. Public money is not wasted on biometric ID cards for foreign nationals; they are a thoroughly good thing that will help us to have secure borders. We can be clear with people that once their identity is established, they will be entitled to a visa and to come here without any problems. Airside ID cards will be proceeded with if Manchester and City airports choose to proceed on a consultative and voluntary basis, instead of the Government laying down how it should be done. We do expect that to proceed, so there will be no waste of money. If the hon. Gentleman is not clear, he can ask about it at Home Office questions next week. It is not too complicated to understand, even for him, challenged though he is on these issues. We are going ahead with the proposal on foreign nationals and his party has now, reluctantly, agreed with it. We are having biometric passports anyway and we are rolling out on a voluntary basis—[Interruption.] I will not repeat it, as the Speaker will rightly stop me. It is clear.

We had a programme motion on the Parliamentary Standards Bill. It is always difficult if we have to take action to deal with an issue of public concern. If we do not conclude the Bill by the time the House rises, we will not be able to return to it until October. We should use the summer recess to set up the authority, to recruit to it and to get it up and running, so that in the autumn we will no longer set or administer our own allowances, which will be done independently. There will be further time to discuss the Bill in this House if there are further amendments.

The hon. Gentleman makes important points about Afghanistan and I will look at the opportunities to have the discussions for which he has asked.

Order. I have a list of 27 Members seeking to catch my eye and I am keen to accommodate as many as possible, so, once again, I appeal to each hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question, and, of course, to the Leader of the House to provide us with a pithy reply.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating Katrina London, Jason Addy and Paul Glanville on undertaking the mesothelioma awareness ride? It will cover 12,000 miles from Glasgow to Southampton, and today they arrive in London. The intention, of course, is to raise awareness of mesothelioma cancer, which is caused by exposure to asbestos, and at the same time to raise funds for the victims and to support the establishment of a national centre for asbestos-related diseases. Will my right hon. and learned Friend support the setting up of that centre?

I congratulate Katrina, Jason and Paul on their mesothelioma awareness ride, and I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has probably done more than anybody in this House to raise awareness of this cruel disease, which mostly affects people through their workplace.

May I take the right hon. and learned Lady back to a point made by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), which I fully support? The right hon. and learned Lady is meant to be the defender of this House, yet, rather shamefully, yesterday and the day before we allowed an unfinished and very untidy Bill to go through to an unelected Chamber with no further debate here at that point. As she will have seen when clause 10 was knocked out, some of us on both sides of the House were ashamed of what this House was presenting to an unelected Chamber for it to make decisions on our part. On that basis, will she ensure that when the Bill returns we do not have this guillotine, and we have one final chance to debate the measure in full with time to get it right?

I make no apologies for what I hope—and expect, and will take action to ensure—for this Bill. It sets up an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority so that our allowances are set independently rather than by ourselves, which is what the public want and expect and we all in principle agreed to. The Bill needs to be in and out of this House by the time the House rises. We listened to all the points made in the debate yesterday, and, indeed, acceded to many of them and voted on many others. The Bill was, therefore, changed as it progressed.

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for those of us who disagree with the Justice Secretary’s decision to overrule the Parole Board on the Ronnie Biggs case to discuss that, given that we allowed hundreds of terrorists and murderers to go free in Northern Ireland, and we also allow murderers who have done much worse things than Ronnie Biggs to go free? The Justice Secretary overruled the Parole Board, which he could not do under today’s law. Will the Leader of the House find a way for us to discuss this matter and bring it to the House’s attention?

The Justice Secretary was acting in compliance with the law as it relates to people who were sentenced at the time of the Ronald Biggs case. My hon. Friend is right that the system has changed for future cases, but it has not changed for cases of that age. The Justice Secretary made his decision based on the evidence in, and facts of, the case, and on legal advice and his own judgment acting in a quasi-judicial capacity. This is not a question of policy; it is a quasi-judicial judgment in the public interest on a particular case, so I do not think it is an appropriate issue for debate in the House.

Bedford unitary council is preparing a bid for the improvement of its schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme while not knowing what the financial future of the programme will be because of the failure to provide a spending review. Crucial decisions that have to be made about the structure of schools are being made in the dark because of the absence of these figures. Will the Leader of the House use her position to convey to the Chancellor how important it is to have a spending review, so that these crucial decisions can be made in the full light of what the spending by the Department will be, as opposed to there just being empty political rhetoric about the future of schools’ spending?

As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, not only has there been unprecedented investment in schools over the past 10 years, but that investment is continuing this year and next year despite the fact that his own party has said it wants to cut spending this year and next year. He will also be aware that we are bringing forward capital spending across the two-year period up to April 2011. That is not only important for schools. It is also important for the construction industry to have that injection of public investment at a time when private sector construction has ground to a halt. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman can look forward to improving schools in his constituency.

May I, with great respect, take my right hon. and learned Friend back to the question of ID cards? It is a scheme that will cost £4.9 billion, and this week the Home Secretary announced a shift in policy. Would it not have been better for the Home Secretary to have made an oral statement to the House, rather than relying on the Opposition providing some of their time to discuss what is a very important issue that requires consideration not just by a Select Committee and individual Members during Home Office questions, but by the whole House?

I have to say to my right hon. Friend, with respect—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] Well, he was respectful to me, and I am returning the favour. The situation is that we are proceeding with biometric passports and with ID cards for foreign nationals. The only change, which I would not call a shift in policy, is for airside staff at two airports; instead of the Government putting a requirement on airside staff in this respect, it should be dealt with airport by airport in consultation with the people who work there and those running the airport. Therefore, the figure my right hon. Friend announced is not right at all, and we have always said that if we want to make them compulsory for people aside from foreign nationals, we will have to bring primary legislation before this House. Therefore, as my right hon. Friend can see, there is a small change in one part of the policy, but there is not a fundamental shift in the policy at all.

I rise to request a debate in this House on behalf of the farmers of Exmoor on the digital mapping system that the Rural Payments Agency uses to allocate money to farmers. The agency has got it wrong for the third year running. This is now becoming beyond a joke. Why can we not get this mapping correct? We can read papers from space, so why can we not get field outlines right? Farmers are getting sick to the back teeth of this. Please may we have a debate on it? It is a disaster across the United Kingdom, but especially in places such as Exmoor where fields are not openly defined.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman tried to ask that question in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, but if he was not able to be present for them I shall draw his comments to the attention of Ministers.

My Friend told us that we can expect to have the Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill on Monday 13 July. When will Third Reading be held in the Lords, and will the Government seek to reverse the amendment that would stop tax exiles bankrolling political parties?

When the Bill returns to this House on Monday 13 July, the Justice Secretary will set out the Government position on amendments made by the Lords.

I want to thank the Leader of the House for the answer she gave me at last week’s business questions, when she said my point about the scrutiny of Government Bills being House business was valid; I am grateful for that. She also said she would do two things that I asked of her. First, she said she would consult proposed members of the Wright Committee about the terms of reference before re-tabling. As I understand it, agreement has been reached, and it would be useful if she indicated when she is likely to do this. It would also be good if she could go through the motions of consulting those of us who are on the Committee, although I do not think there is a controversy. Secondly, she said she would consult people about her plans—

Order. May I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who is an extremely experienced and assiduous parliamentarian, that this in danger of becoming an essay question, rather than a question?

The other thing that the right hon. and learned Lady said she would do was consult on how she would handle the Report stage of the Equality Bill, to ensure that we fully debate all the matters that the House would wish to debate.

For the Wright Committee, the House will recall that we put forward terms of reference and amendments were tabled by those in all parts of the House expressing the view that those terms should be wider. As we wanted to go about this business in a consensual way, we withdrew the resolution and we have drawn up some new terms of reference that incorporate the spirit of the amendments. We will not be going through the motions of consulting those who will play an important part in this process by serving on the Committee—we will actually consult them. As with the question of privileges, I hope that we will be able to reach agreement and not need a debate on this. I am also aware that once it is established, the hon. Members on the Committee will want it to sit in September, and will want to get the work under way before the House rises, so I shall get my skates on.

I give a warm welcome to the consumer White Paper, which contains proposals on consumer credit and debt that are very important to our constituents. Can my right hon. and learned Friend understand the frustration that some of us feel at the fact that the lead Minister on this important subject is in another place? When will this House get an opportunity to question Ministers about these important proposals that affect our constituents so closely?

A written ministerial statement on that matter was tabled in the House this morning, and I thank my hon. Friend for her words of welcome. Of course, there are Ministers responsible to this House as well as Ministers responsible to the other place, so I will draw her points to their attention.

Would the Leader of the House find it helpful to invite her Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to make a statement next week about her policy on equality, bearing in mind the speech that he gave to the Fabian Society yesterday?

The Equality Bill is in Committee, and what it will do is very important indeed. It will ensure that we tackle age discrimination—discrimination against older people on the grounds of their age will be outlawed—and pay discrimination against women. It will ensure that we make progress on a range of other issues, and it will also ensure that all public authorities, be they local government authorities, health authorities or Departments, and indeed Ministers, play their part in ensuring that this country is a more fair and equal society. That Bill has the support of the whole Government, albeit not the support of the whole House. Unfortunately there is a division on the Bill—[Interruption.] It is not between those of us in the Cabinet; it is between us and the Conservatives, who declined to give the Bill a Second Reading.

In the light of the Government’s welcome announcement yesterday about the National Express east coast franchise, will the Leader of the House make time for this House to debate and reflect on the many issues arising out of that decision, which I believe have relevance to the national railway network as a whole?

I know that this is an important issue for my hon. Friend and his constituents. A statement was made on it yesterday, and no doubt the House will be kept informed of any further changes.

The “Building Britain’s Future” White Paper, which was published earlier this week, states in terms that

“the Government hopes that time will also be available in each House to debate this document.”

As responses have to be in by 21 September, can the Leader of the House tell us when we will have an opportunity to debate the White Paper? We were promised such a debate in the White Paper itself. That substantive document contains a lot of detail and I hope that we will have a two-day debate on it. If not, all we shall get is, as it says,

“Ministers…taking part in regional events”.

That would, in effect, be a pre-general election publicity stunt, with Ministers going around the country, rather than providing us with an opportunity to debate what is proposed.

The Prime Minister made an oral statement on this, and thus provided at least an opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions not only on the broader document, but on the draft legislative programme. I believe that this is the third year running that instead of keeping the Queen’s Speech completely under wraps and springing it on people towards the end of the year, we have set the contents of it out so that people can join in the debate, respond and give their comments. As for discussion of the White Paper in the House, if there is anything further to be announced I shall bring it forward when we next have business questions.

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether she will find time for a debate on changing the procedures of this House? Can we have a debate on allowing Secretaries of State who are Members of the House of Lords to come to this Dispatch Box to make statements and answer questions? Yesterday, a statement was made in the House of Lords about the east coast main line and four hours later it was made in the Commons by a very able but junior Minister—that cannot be right.

The timing of that statement was dictated not only by the difference between the Lords and the Commons timing and scheduling of business on Wednesdays, but by market sensitivity and the need to say something before either the House of Lords or this House was sitting, because of market information. Obviously we try to ensure that we bring information to the House as soon as possible. This was a question of balancing the need to ensure that very important and controversial House business was not interrupted by the need to ensure that the House had an opportunity to question the transport Minister. I understand the concerns, but I do not think that there was any easy solution to the situation yesterday.

Havering sixth-form college has received the devastating news that it will not receive any Learning and Skills Council funding for its capital project, on which it has already spent £6 million on enabling works. Could we have an urgent debate on how Havering’s college and the many others up and down the country can be helped to reverse the enabling works and to be able to operate efficiently from the beginning of the autumn term?

Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been keeping the House up to date with the concerns about the LSC’s administration of issues relating to sixth-form colleges and further education colleges. Despite a substantial increase in capital investment, there has been uncertainty where there should not have been any, and some plans have been interrupted. Work is under way to ensure that we can take forward the important higher education programme as speedily as possible; no doubt that will apply to Havering college too.

Could we have a debate on how best we can improve sporting facilities for constituents throughout the country? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we have just had a very successful Olympics, but many of the successful athletes were dependent on private finance and private facilities. The same can be said of Andy Murray, who had to travel abroad to develop his skills—and I am sure that the whole House wishes him every success. Although we have made progress, there remains ample room for improvement.

My hon. Friend will know that there has been a big increase in capital investment in sporting facilities and a big sports improvement programme in schools throughout the country and in specific sporting facilities in after-school clubs and generally in leisure centres provided by councils and others. I am sure that the whole House agrees with him about sending our best wishes and good luck to Andrew Murray.

I was dismayed to hear the Leader of the House say earlier that her response to the police incursion into my office without a warrant, and with the apparent connivance of the House authorities, was to continue to dither. I was cleared three months ago, and the previous Speaker said that he now wanted the Speaker’s Committee provided for by a motion of the House to be set up, because he wanted to give evidence to it about what had been said to him at the time. Can she at least give us a commitment that by next week she will have come to a conclusion about this matter? Frankly, this delay is disgraceful for this House.

I can say to the hon. Gentleman that there would not have been a delay but for the fact that his hon. Friend, the shadow Leader of the House, asked me to include some extra issues—

He actually asked me to make a reference to the Standards and Privileges Committee about the privilege issues surrounding the case of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green); that was in addition. Had we gone ahead with the initial issue that the House resolved upon at the former Speaker’s request, we could have been in there, this could have been sorted out and we could have been doing it, but I wanted to listen to what the shadow Leader of the House had to say.

I responded to what the hon. Gentleman had to say, so I have been considering whether we should have two committees. There would not be any point in setting up one Committee and then needing a further House resolution to add to its terms of reference. [Interruption.] I have to say that my inclination to listen to the shadow Leader of the House in good faith is dwindling. I am trying to get this Committee set up in the terms that he wants. It was his suggestion and I acquiesced, although I did not think that it had massive merit. Because I am a forbearing and generous person, I agreed to it, but we are still trying to sort it out.

In that generous spirit, will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on the impact that the recession is having on the UK tourist industry? Although it is a resilient and important industry, employment levels are suffering, and it needs support to deliver the quality product that visitors expect.

I agree that that is a concern for my hon. Friend’s constituency and for the tourist section of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and I will bring his comments to the attention of Ministers.

May we have a debate on how current immigration policy impacts on widows and widowers? My constituent Nidhi Singh recently had to return to India from Perth with her two small children following the tragic and untimely death of her husband, just a few months short of securing permanent right to remain in the UK. Surely the right hon. and learned Lady finds that discriminatory and unfair. The Obama Administration recently issued an order to stop all deportation action against widows. When may we expect something similar here in the UK?

Cases such as that of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Hon. Members can ask Ministers to intervene and exercise their discretion if the legal process has not produced a result that they consider fair. As far as the policy is concerned, the hon. Gentleman can raise it at Home Office questions on Monday. If his constituent remains in the country, he can seek a meeting with the relevant Minister to raise the issue personally.

I, for one, welcome the demise of the Bill to privatise Royal Mail. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to talk to the Business Secretary about some of the work practices now operating among our glorious postmen and women. It would be a pyrrhic victory indeed if they were worked to death by changes to rounds, a ban on overtime and the other vindictive practices being introduced.

Obviously we want to ensure good relations between management and the work force in all areas of the Post Office and Royal Mail, as well as investment and modernisation to enable them to do their work.

I am afraid that I omitted to answer the part of the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, which came out of Committee on 18 June. The Report stage will be held later in this Session, but there has been pressure on dates because of the three days that we had to spend on the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has shown great leadership in strengthening the role of Back Benchers by allowing Conservative Back Benchers in Committee to vote against the Whip. Yesterday, more than 20 Labour Members voted against the Whip in Committee of the whole House and defeated the Government. May we have a statement on whether the Government are following my right hon. Friend’s lead?

May we have a debate on entry clearance operations? Many hon. Members make detailed representations to the UK Border Agency so that refusals of visas can be reviewed. There is a growing tendency for Members to be told simply that refusals have been upheld, without any attempt to address the arguments that they have made. In some cases, MPs’ representations have not even been passed on to the post for entry clearance officers to consider. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that that abuse is stopped?

That would be an important point for my hon. Friend to raise in Home Office questions next week.

May we have a statement, or at least something in writing, from a Culture, Media and Sport Minister on the question of what duties journalists have to disclose their credentials when challenged? That would help three of my nearest neighbours, who yesterday were surprised to encounter a person purporting to be a journalist who was trying to find out information about my constituency home. That person refused to give their identity or the name of their newspaper. When asked why they were trying to contact me at home when I must be up in Parliament, they turned tail and ran from the scene. Such harassment of our neighbours, if not of ourselves, needs some attention.

The hon. Gentleman may wish to draw that issue to the attention of the Press Complaints Commission. If that was indeed a journalist, the media organisation for which they work will be subject to regulation by the PCC, and it should be prepared to look into the matter and take action.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Prime Minister’s proposal to give extra housing points for years on the waiting list? In my constituency—perhaps also in hers—sons and daughters can almost never afford to rent or buy anywhere near their parents. They may never get enough points for a transfer or a move into social housing, no matter how overcrowded their homes are. This proposal would give hope to many people who have been told time and again that they have no chance of a place of their own.

Despite the billions of pounds of investment over the years, which has helped council and social housing tenants in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine live in homes of a decent standard, and despite more building of homes, there is still a great shortage across the country. That is why the programme in “Building Britain’s Future” for building more council and housing association homes is so important. As for the management of those applying for council or social housing, my hon. Friend will know of the House of Lords decision that clarified the fact that it was possible for councils to take into account not only need but length of residence in an area and time on the list. New guidance will be issued to make it clear to councils that they can do that.

Will the Leader of the House read the Hansard report of yesterday’s 30-minute debate in Westminster Hall on the Government’s response to the Archer inquiry and the victims of contaminated blood products? A substantial number of hon. Members attended the debate, notwithstanding its short duration. Will she take that as evidence of the need for a proper debate in this Chamber that can be attended by other hon. Members, such as myself, who would have attended that debate yesterday if we had not been here dealing with the Parliamentary Standards Bill? The victims of contaminated blood have been treated shabbily, and if we do not allow them the opportunity to ventilate their concerns fully we risk becoming complicit in that shabby treatment.

There has been an increase in compensation for those who have had the great misfortune to be infected by contaminated blood. I will certainly read the Hansard report, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and consider how the issue can be further debated in the House.

My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that on Tuesday the issue of the boat carrying emergency supplies to Gaza that was seized by the Israeli forces was raised. One of my constituents was on that boat and I raised the issue with a Foreign Office Minister later that day. A total of six Britons are believed to have been on the boat when it was seized. Can she arrange for a Minister to give an update to the House, or at least to the Members concerned?

I will ask the Foreign Secretary to write to my hon. Friend with an update, and to place a copy of the letter in the Library so that other hon. Members can see it.

Further to the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), may we have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House entitled “The Government’s alienation of the middle classes”? Perhaps it could be opened by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, so that he could expand on his reported thesis that the Government’s approach to egalitarianism is badly out of step with the majority of the population.

I think that the majority of the population believe that it is better to have a fairer and more equal society—one in which people’s lives are not blighted and marred by bigotry and discrimination, whether on grounds of sexual orientation or reflecting unfairness towards women at work, unfairness on grounds of race or unfairness caused by the different start that people have by virtue of where they were born. We make no apologies for that agenda. We have put it in the Equality Bill, and it is disappointing that the Opposition declined to support the Bill on Second Reading. We are pressing on with it.

As one of 30 Co-operative MPs in this place, may I draw my right hon. and learned Friend’s attention to the fact that this Saturday, 4 July, is the United Nations international day of co-operatives? May we have a statement, or perhaps a short debate, on the value of the co-operative movement, whose objectives include international solidarity, economic efficiency, equality and world peace? The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is a prominent Co-operative MP in this place. May we have a debate on this issue, which is important to many people, not only in this country but internationally too?

I will look and see what opportunities there might be; that could be a subject for a Westminster Hall debate.