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House of Commons Hansard
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Business of the House
09 July 2009
Volume 495

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

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The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 13 July—Consideration of a carry-over motion for the Political Parties and Elections Bill, followed by 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 NHS dentistry, followed by a debate on caring for elderly. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

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

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 July will include:

Monday 20 July—Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Tuesday 21 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion on the summer recess Adjournment, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 October will include:

Monday 12 October—Remaining stages of the Health Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 13 October—Remaining stages of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 14 October—Opposition day [17th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 15 October—General debate on defence policy.

Friday 16 October—Private Members’ Bills.

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I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business. Last week, I raised the issue of the length of time that the Treasury has taken to respond to some MPs’ correspondence. We should perhaps be grateful that it replies at all. May I ask the right hon. and learned Lady for a further statement on what appears to have become common practice in the Department of Work and Pensions? Ministers there are passing MPs’ correspondence to their various agencies for a response, even when the matter concerns Government policy.

If the issue is administrative, of course it is right for the relevant body to reply, but I am aware of a number of cases in which a Member has sought clarification from a Minister on departmental policy, only to receive a totally inadequate response that did not come from the Minister, who had passed the buck to the Child Support Agency, which in turn stated that it was unable to comment on the issues raised in the letter as it could respond only to operational matters. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it is highly disrespectful to this House, and perhaps also incompetent, for Ministers to delegate correspondence in this way? Will she endeavour to inform the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that, when a Member writes to a Minister, it is the Minister who should reply?

May we also have a statement from the Work and Pensions Secretary on the abject failure of the Government’s flagship welfare reform policy, Pathways to Work? This scheme was established—at a cost of £129 million this year alone—to help people get off incapacity benefit and find employment. However, statistics released by the Department yesterday show that fewer than one in 10 people who have started on the programme have actually managed to find work. How on earth do the Government plan to deal with the grim rise in unemployment that we are facing, and which has been caused by the recession, when the track record of what they have tried to do already seems such a dismal failure?

May we also have a debate on the Government’s strategy for reducing the alarming rate of teenage pregnancies? Yesterday, it was revealed that young people who took part in a £5 million Government scheme that aimed to help tackle the problem by encouraging 13 to 15-year-olds to talk to each other about sex were twice as likely to become pregnant as a similar group. That is a sad indictment of the Government’s failure to develop a coherent strategy. The fact is that Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe: more and more young girls are seeking an abortion, and the higher rate of sexual activity is leading to an alarming increase in sexually transmitted infections among teenagers. May we have a full day’s debate on this serious national issue so that we can help to develop a much more thoughtful response to the underlying problems and encourage young people to be more careful with their body and their life?

May I once again seek from the Leader of the House the guarantee that I have not yet received, even though I have asked for it many times, that the House will be comprehensively updated on how the Government intend to compensate those who lost out from the collapse of Equitable Life? We need that before we rise for the summer. Her response at Question Time yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) revealed a perhaps wilful, misunderstanding of the difference between proper compensation and ex gratia payments. They are not the same thing, and the ombudsman called for compensation.

The right hon. and learned Lady will note that 307 Members have now signed EDM 1423.

[That this House notes the Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of using powers under the 1967 Act to present Parliament with a further and final report on Equitable Life; also notes that the Public Administration Select Committee's second report on Equitable Life, Justice denied? concluded that the Government response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report was inadequate as a remedy for injustice; recognises the vital role the Ombudsman plays in public life; reaffirms the duty of Parliament to support the office of the Ombudsman; believes the Government should accept the recommendations of the Ombudsman on compensating policyholders who have suffered loss; welcomes the formation of the All-Party Group on Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders; and notes with regret its necessary formation and the fact that over 30,000 people have already died waiting for a just resolution to this saga.]

Given the scale of the concern about the Government’s reaction to the ombudsman’s report and her subsequent damning second report, will the Leader of the House confirm that the matter has been discussed at Cabinet level? Will she give us an assurance today that the House will have an opportunity to cross-examine the Chief Secretary to the Treasury next week? She keeps declining to confirm whether the promised statement will be an oral or a written one. The House requires an oral statement, and will she now give an absolute guarantee that that is what it will be?

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In respect of Treasury Ministers’ responses to letters from hon. Members, this issue has been followed up. I am not yet in a position to reply to the hon. Gentleman, but I will make sure that I come to the House next Thursday with all the facts and figures about the response time. Of course, there has been a great increase in the number of letters from hon. Members to the Treasury, and that is a response to constituents’ concerns at this time of economic crisis. However, that does not mean that people should have to wait longer—far from it: they should get a prompt reply to the concerns and anxieties of their constituents. I will make sure that I have an up-to-date answer ready for the House next Thursday.

The shadow Leader of the House is absolutely right in what he said about ministerial responses and agencies. Responses on policy are a matter for Ministers, and should not be delegated for explanation by an agency. Agencies have to account for their administration of policies, but they do not have to account for the policies themselves. That remains a matter for Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman gave me some examples, that would assist me in following the matter up on behalf of Members of the House.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Pathways to Work. It is very important indeed that we help everybody who wants to get into work to find their way back to the world of work. He will know that the pathways programme deals with those who have the greatest problems. They may have had a problem of alcohol or drug abuse in their past. They may have mental illness problems or they may have been in prison. They may have a range of problems or a combination of them all. The pathways programme says that there is nobody we write off. We do not say, “That’s it. You’re written off, you can’t ever play your part in the world of work.” We should recognise that it is sometimes very difficult to help those people back into work and we will not have a 90 per cent. success rate, but that does not mean that it is not important for those programmes to go ahead and help people into work.

The hon. Gentleman is right that teenage pregnancy is a complex and difficult issue. We all agree that we want to see a fall in the number of teenage pregnancies. That has to do with good sex education, contraception and girls having aspirations to something other than early pregnancy. Their opportunities in life need to be more than that. The responsibility of boys is also involved—mentioning that is often forgotten.

The hon. Gentleman was talking about a pilot scheme—an experiment that was tried out. The whole point of a pilot scheme is to find out whether something works. There is no dishonour in piloting something to see whether it works, and if it does not work, acknowledging that while pressing forward to try to find out what does work. If there was a magic answer to the question of teenage pregnancy, it would have been found before now.

On the question about Equitable Life, there is absolutely no need for the hon. Gentleman to patronise me over not knowing the difference between ex gratia payments and compensation. I do indeed know the difference. The Government’s position is that there is not a legal obligation to pay compensation, but there is a moral obligation to make ex gratia payments, and that is what Sir John Chadwick is working on. I have said there will be a statement before the House rises; there will be Treasury questions next week, so the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to ask the Chancellor in person during oral questions next week.

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Dealing first with the urgent question we have just discussed, we heard a deplorably weak performance from the shadow Home Secretary, and it was not mentioned at all by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan). As the question clearly raises potential issues of privilege, may I ask the right hon. and learned Lady to consider those issues and report to the House? Will she also ask of her Cabinet colleague, the Attorney-General, about the prosecution policy that was adopted previously? Perhaps the Solicitor-General could make a statement to the House.

A useful innovation recently was for notice to be given to the House when it was known that a statement was to be made by a Minister. Last week, two White Papers were published and oral statements were made to the House. One of the White Papers was about banking, where I accept that there may have been market-sensitive material, but the one on Monday was about international development and I cannot quite accept that it was not known last Thursday that a White Paper was to be published on Monday. Will the Leader of the House look at the matter again and give Members of the House proper notice when a statement is to be made, particularly on the publication of a White Paper? Will she also make good the promise of the Secretary of State for International Development that we will soon have a debate on international development issues?

May we have a debate on the case of Gary McKinnon, the Asperger’s syndrome sufferer who is being cynically handed over to the United States authorities, possibly to serve 60 years in an American jail? The Home Secretary, somewhat disingenuously, says he cannot instruct prosecution. That is absolutely right, but what he can do is stop the extradition and allow the circumstances in which that unfortunate gentleman could be tried in this country. Many of us felt that the one-sided extradition treaty was a disgrace to Britain. This use of that disgraceful treaty is a further disgrace and a shame, and I hope we will have the opportunity to debate it.

I support the view already expressed about Equitable Life. The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right to make the distinction between an ex gratia payment and compensation, but she ignores the findings of the ombudsman. The early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), which has attracted 307 signatures, shows the strength of feeling across the House. If we can get 16 more signatures, there will be an absolute majority of Members who want something to be done. May we have a proper debate and an oral statement on the issue?

The House rises for the summer recess on 22 July. Will the Leader of the House ring round all the Government offices to make sure that we do not have what we have every year, which is a profusion—a plethora—of written statements in the last days before the House rises, so that people cannot examine the statements and ask questions in the House? Last year, we had 63 written statements in the last two days. The worst offender, incidentally, was the Prime Minister, with no fewer than 10 written statements on the last day. That is unacceptable. The Leader of the House has time at least to phase the statements over the next week. Will she do so?

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The hon. Gentleman made further points about Equitable Life. I think 100 per cent. of Members want justice for Equitable Life policyholders who have lost out. We all agree with that, and a process is under way to make sure that ex gratia payments are made.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the custom and practice whereby loads of written ministerial statements are put out in the final days. I am already raising that with ministerial colleagues, to encourage them not to leave things until the last moment. If every Department does that, the difficulty is that there is an unmanageable amount of statements for colleagues to respond to. I shall remind all colleagues that the matter has already been raised by the House and that this time we have to try to break the habit of a lifetime—of tipping them all out before the summer recess. I will do my best, and so will my deputy and the Chief Whip—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] So it is sure to be all right.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) mentioned the case of Gary McKinnon. As I understand it, the matter is not for the Home Secretary’s decision; it was for decision by the courts, which have decided that this man should be extradited. It is not at the discretion of the Home Secretary, but a decision by the courts.

The hon. Gentleman made the point that when a White Paper is to be produced there should be an indication to the House—perhaps the previous week—even if the particular day was not specified, so that Members at least know that something is coming up. In order not to give a date that then turns out to be wrong—because something else happens that moves the date a day or two, and everybody says, “Aha, something’s gone wrong”—we have been deterred from announcing oral statements in advance, but actually the outcome is perverse. We are planning something and we know about it within a day or so, but we do not inform the House. When we come back, I think that perhaps for an experimental period, we will try to give a business statement indicating when oral statements about major documents are likely to be coming up. That is a good suggestion.

On the question about the revelations in The Guardian, the hon. Gentleman will have heard the responses given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism to the urgent question. A number of Members have already raised with me whether there is a question of privilege. It certainly does raise issues of grave concern. We are elected to represent our constituents and, to do our duty in that respect, to hold the Executive to account. We must not be impeded in that work by interference through the interception of our communications. That would constitute contempt of Parliament and a breach of parliamentary privilege, and it is something I shall have to consider.

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rose

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Order. Thirty-seven Members are seeking to catch my eye and, as always, I am keen to get in as many as possible, so I must ask each hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question and, of course, I look to the Leader of the House, as always, to provide a pithy reply.

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There was a very short but excellent debate in Westminster Hall last week on the Government’s response to the Archer inquiry. Given the huge importance of the issue to those affected, may I join calls made by other Members for a much longer debate on the Floor of the House on that important issue?

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I know that despite the increase in compensation for the victims of contaminated blood supply, there is still a great deal of concern for people who have, unfortunately, been contaminated through no fault of their own. I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of Ministers in the Department of Health.

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One of my local papers, the Keighley News, recently reported that a judge who had sentenced people involved in gang violence to prison had complained that he had to give “extraordinarily lenient sentences” to those people

“Because he was hidebound by the law”.

He went on to criticise a system in which people who have spent time on bail subject to a curfew receive a reduction in sentence. Given that judges are complaining about the lenient sentences being handed out, may we have a debate on the subject? It causes a great deal of concern in my constituency.

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It is best if we leave the judges to get on with sentencing, which is their job, not ours, and the judges leave us to get on with legislating, which is our job, not theirs.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect, with her colleagues, on the mechanisms to be used to inform the House and me, the constituency MP, when it is known how the Serious Fraud Office intends to proceed with the MG Rover inquiry? Will she confirm today that it remains the Government’s intention to publish the inquiry report as soon as possible, and that the Government will do everything that they can to ensure that the former workers of MG Rover receive the money that is their due from the trust fund that has been set up?

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The Government agree very much with my hon. Friend that those who are owed money should be paid as quickly as possible by the trust; my hon. Friend has championed his constituents in that regard. As far as the publication of the report is concerned, as he said, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has referred the question of whether there should be a criminal investigation to the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO has undertaken to decide whether the matter warrants a full investigation within, I think, 20 days of the matter being referred to it. If there is not to be any further criminal investigation, the report will be published. Obviously, if there is to be a criminal investigation, nothing must be done that would prejudice it, but the report will be published once any criminal investigations have been concluded.

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May we have a debate on the effectiveness of Jobcentre Plus in helping people to get back into work? In 2002, my London borough of Wandsworth had five jobcentres; now we have just one. Local people are concerned about the resource ability of Jobcentre Plus to give them meaningful help to find employment again. May we have a topical debate on that?

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I would like to pay tribute to those who work in jobcentres and Jobcentre Plus. They do an incredibly important job. The service has been transformed from what it was during the last recession, when people sat behind grilles and paid out unemployment benefit, or signed people off on to incapacity benefit, but did not help them to get back into work. There is a whole range of work and training now available to people who face the awful fact of unemployment. I hope that the hon. Lady will support the extra investment that we put into Jobcentre Plus to make sure that it can work even better on behalf of those who face unemployment.

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May we have a debate on health and safety for those employed in the construction industry? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of a report recently produced by the Department for Work and Pensions on the issue. Its author, Rita Donaghy, a senior employment expert, made a number of recommendations, foremost among them the extension of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to the construction industry. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that those recommendations will be given serious consideration?

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The Rita Donaghy report is very important, and I should like to thank her for her work. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which my hon. Friend was instrumental in setting up, has ensured that workers are not undercut by exploited labour and has protected migrant labourers from being exploited. It has saved the taxpayer money by reducing the evasion of tax, and above all, it has helped with health and safety. Rita Donaghy’s suggestion that the 2004 Act be extended to the construction industry is well worth considering.

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Given that a clear majority of those who can sign early-day motions have signed the motion on Equitable Life, why does not the Leader of the House simply list it as the subject of the topical debate next week? Or does she think that 307 Members of this House can be persistently and consistently ignored?

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Everyone—all Members of the House—are concerned that there should be justice for the Equitable Life policyholders. There has been a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall and a statement in this House. We all agree that the policyholders should receive ex gratia payments, and the Government are setting about enabling that to take place.

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The House will be grateful for the statement made by the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism on the serious allegations made against News Group Newspapers today. I remind the Leader of the House that the allegations are serious. There are allegations of hacking into Cabinet Ministers’ private telephone numbers and the numbers of Members of Parliament from three major parties, and allegations that a parliamentary Select Committee was misled. Given all those serious breaches of our privileges and sovereignty, I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to lay a motion before the House next week, referring those matters to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

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Those are issues of grave concern. It is absolutely fundamental that once we are elected to this House, we are able to get on with our job without let or hindrance. Certainly, if unlawful interception of telephone communications, voicemails and texts had taken place, it would be contempt of Parliament and a breach of parliamentary privilege. Those matters are of grave concern, and I will certainly consider what issues have arisen and what would be the appropriate action for me to propose to the House.

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Transport bosses from Manchester are meeting the Minister with responsibility for rail later this afternoon to discuss their concerns about the Government reneging on their promises on the number of railway carriages for Greater Manchester. May we have an oral statement to the House to assure hon. Members about the number of railway carriages that we are getting, and about when we will get them, so that we can start dealing with congestion on our railways in Greater Manchester?

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I am assured by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, who represents a seat in Greater Manchester, that there has been no reneging on any commitments on important transport infrastructure in Manchester.

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Corus in Scunthorpe has today announced a further 360 job cuts. That comes on top of 500 job cuts that were announced recently. Given the severe impact on the steel industry in Scunthorpe, and indeed nationally, will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the Business Secretary to have urgent talks with Corus about its plans, to bring some stability to the company? While I am grateful for the regional development agency taskforce, which is being sent into Corus to help staff, may we have a debate about how we can use selective regional aid to help areas such as mine, which are being hit so badly by the global downturn in manufacturing?

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My right hon. Friend makes important points on behalf of his constituents. There will be a Minister from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills at the Dispatch Box later this afternoon, responding to the topical debate on manufacturing in Britain.

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May we have a debate on access for international observers to Gaza, in the light of the apprehension of a boat in Gazan waters recently?

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I will raise the matter that the right hon. Gentleman has brought to the attention of the House with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

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Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Business Secretary to make a statement on the operation of the guidelines on the recently passed amendment to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998? That amendment forbids the use of tips, gratuities, service charges and cover charges to pay the minimum wage. She will know, because I gave her a copy, that it is almost the sixth anniversary of my ten-minute Bill on the subject. My proposal resulted in a change to the law recently. Confusion has reigned since the regulations have been in place, because it is not clear how one can prevent people from taking and keeping payments made by customers, so can the guidelines be published soon, as the regulations will come into force in October—

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Order. I think we have got the drift.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done, which began even before we came into government and brought into effect a statutory national minimum wage. I congratulate him on his private Member’s Bill, which he introduced in 2003 and which amended the national minimum wage in respect of tips. We are very proud that we introduced the national minimum wage. It has helped millions of people. Secondary legislation will go through Parliament to address the points that he has been raising, including in his Bill, and there will be consultation.

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Sadly, the motion on the setting up of a Select Committee for the reform of the House did not go through last night. It is therefore future business. In order to facilitate the passage of a measure that the Leader of the House clearly wants, will she give me an assurance that she would look very sympathetically at the transfer of the drawing up of Standing Orders from the Executive of the day to the House of Commons as a whole? That would provide the House of Commons with the independence and integrity that it deserves.

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I did commit to bringing a motion to the House to establish a Committee that could look at a number of important issues to strengthen the role of the House, including the way in which we select Chairs of Select Committees and the role of the House in arranging the business of the House. I tabled a motion which was not regarded as broad enough. Having seen the amendments, I withdrew the original motion and tabled one that incorporated the spirit of the amendments. Unfortunately, an hon. Member objected to it when it was brought to the House last night, but I hope that they will withdraw their objection and that the House will have another chance next week to make sure that the motion goes through.

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I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend is aware that the Ashes is taking place in Cardiff for the first time ever. Does she agree that this is a good move? When may we have a debate about spreading major sporting events around the UK?

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Cardiff has shown how, with the Welsh Assembly and great leadership by the First Minister of Wales, it can be made the centre of a range of international events, and I am sure the Ashes will be very successful.

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Will the statement on Equitable Life be in oral form?

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I cannot say now whether there will be an oral or a written statement, but the Chancellor will be responding to oral questions next week.

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My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families rightly reviewed the progress that Haringey council had made in improving children’s services following the terrible killing of baby Peter, but there are eight authorities whose services were found wanting by Ofsted, including West Sussex county council. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for us to debate these important matters on the Floor of the House?

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I will raise these matters with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and look for an opportunity for further accounting to the House. My hon. Friend will know that the Secretary of State is today taking part in a programme of encouraging more highly qualified people to go into the important job of social work so that whether for old people, people with mental health problems or, above all, children, there are proper social services to take care of them.

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An unsuccessful independent candidate at the recent local elections in Cornwall has accused the Conservative party of targeting the second-home vote in particular at elections. If that were true, the Conservative party would be acting entirely legally because those people are on the electoral register, but it has stimulated a debate locally about whether it is right for people with multiple houses around the country to have votes in different places. Will there be an opportunity for the House to debate that?

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The Political Parties and Elections Bill is going through Parliament. It has just gone through the House of Lords and will come back to the Commons following the debate on amendments in the other place. I am not yet clear whether there would be an opportunity for that point to be raised when the Bill comes back to this House, but the hon. Gentleman can have a look to see whether there is one.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a topical debate on the success of the Freedom pass for pensioners? We should be able to extend it to young people. People spend a lot of money sending their children to school and college, and we are now coming to the summer holidays, so can we introduce a Freedom pass for young people? That would make an excellent subject for a topical debate, which my right hon. and learned Friend has promised in the past, but it has failed to reach the House.

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My hon. Friend is right: the Freedom pass has been incredibly important in providing opportunities for older people to be out and about all over the country. It was led by the Government and we are extremely proud of it. The extension of such passes to young people was made by Mayor Ken Livingstone in London, and other authorities can no doubt consider doing the same.

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The Leader of the House will be aware that the closing date for the consultation on the Building Britain’s Future White Paper is 21 September so, rather perversely, we will clearly not get the debate in the House as promised on page 113 of that White Paper before the closure of the consultation period. However, is there not a broader point here? When the Government bring forward White Papers, their provisions are either otiose, in which case they are just ministerial window dressing, or they are significant. If White Papers have significant proposals, such as the Department for International Development White Paper earlier this week, it is right that we should have an opportunity to debate them properly at some stage. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that, following a reasonable period after the publication of a White Paper, the House will have the opportunity to debate the proposals in that White Paper before we get to the point when legislation is brought to the House?

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The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is an opportunity in the debate on 21 July on the motion on the summer recess Adjournment for hon. Members to make contributions exactly to that effect.

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My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that at the last business questions I asked a question, and I shall ask it again because we need clarity. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the issue of Secretaries of State in the other place not being able to make statements to this House and not being answerable to this House? There is great concern among Members in this place that those Secretaries of State are not answerable to the House of Commons.

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I can say no more to my hon. Friend than I said last week, which is that there are Ministers from every Department accountable to hon. Members in this House.

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The acting Prime Minister was quite right when she said it would be a contempt of Parliament for hon. Members’ phones to be tapped, so when the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism makes a statement later, could we have an assurance that no hon. Member’s phone has been tapped by the Government since 1997?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that the Wilson doctrine stipulates that the work of hon. Members should not be impeded by any interception by way of the security services. What my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism said in response to the urgent question is that if there was anything further to report, he would make sure that he kept the House informed. I do not think he promised to make an oral statement to update the House this afternoon, but he will make sure that the House is kept informed if there is any further action or any outcome.

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On Tuesday, in response to a question from the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), the Minister for Housing announced that he would make a statement on Pennbury and other proposed eco-towns before the summer recess. Given that the Pennbury proposal will have a devastating effect on my constituency and the regeneration of the city of Leicester, and indeed on the constituencies of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and many others, may we have an assurance that that statement will be made at such a time and in such a way that we can have a full debate on its content?

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I will bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of the Housing Minister and make sure he realises that my hon. Friend’s comments are supported by a number of Members across the House.

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In the light of the newspaper articles this morning about Cabinet Ministers possibly having their phones tapped, which shows that the Government are incompetent even at protecting the Government and their people from intercept, may we have a debate on information security which, as the Leader of the House knows, is the responsibility of the Cabinet, so that before we rise for the recess we can hold the Government to account for the function of national security, in which they have failed?

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On national security, accountability is not only to Ministers but to the Intelligence and Security Committee. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism informing the House of the actions that the Metropolitan police are taking, when he responded to the urgent question this morning.

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Gary McKinnon should be tried in the United Kingdom. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, and to remove him forcibly from the UK would be a brutal act. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that people will rightly be angry that one man involved in hacking is forcibly removed from this country, while another has a security pass to the parliamentary estate?

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rose

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Order. May I just say to the Leader of the House that the hon. Gentleman has made his point and it is clearly on the record, but that the case is, I am advised, sub judice? I know that the Leader of the House will want to be very cautious about the way in which she responds.

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The Extradition Act 2003 provides for extradition to the United States in respect of a number of serious offences. If the courts decide that there is a case to answer, the case will go before the courts and be considered on its evidence. There is also an appeal mechanism.

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At the time of the most recent Health questions, there had been only one fatality from swine flu. Now, there have been seven deaths and thousands more cases have been brought to light. Given the dramatic escalation in the number of cases, and with the parliamentary recess almost upon us, will the Leader of the House agree to press the Secretary of State for Health on the need for a further debate in Government time on the UK’s preparations for dealing with the swine flu epidemic?

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The Secretary of State for Health has kept the House regularly updated on action both to protect people from swine flu and to work internationally to tackle the pandemic. If any further announcements are to be made, he can make them while the House is sitting. If the House is in recess, he will obviously make sure that all hon. Members are kept informed.

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In response to two questions from hon. Members yesterday, the Leader of the House became the latest in a long list of Ministers to support the case for compensation for pleural plaque sufferers. However, she did not answer the question whether there would be a statement in the next two weeks. Will there will be a statement in the next six days, before any more suffering takes place?

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I am afraid I cannot give an exact answer to my hon. Friend, but I shall discuss the issue further with the Justice Secretary.

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Following on directly from the issue that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) raises, I think the House will be aware of the excellent statement made in Northern Ireland, recommending a change in the law which would overturn the House of Lords decision on compensation for pleural plaque sufferers. The law has already been changed in Scotland. Is it not time that we had a statement, before the summer recess, ensuring that there is consistency throughout the country so that all sufferers can benefit from a change in the law and access compensation?

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I shall bring that point to the attention of the Justice Secretary.

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It is normal practice in many workplaces for an employee who is accused of a serious criminal offence to be suspended from that workplace, irrespective of where the alleged offence took place. Is it therefore not appropriate to have Mr. Coulson’s parliamentary pass withdrawn?

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I think that there is an established procedure, which the House authorities and the Speaker operate, for the consideration of any suggestions that a House of Commons pass be withdrawn.

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With discussions on reform of the House under way, will the Leader of the House reflect on answers given during Work and Pensions questions, showing that, between 1997 and 2000, each page of primary legislation received 14 minutes of scrutiny in this place, and the most recent figures, showing that that time has halved to seven minutes? May I suggest to her that if this place is to do its job properly, either we must have more time to scrutinise legislation or we must introduce less but more effective legislation?

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The balance between the scrutiny of Government Bills and all other non-Bill debates, such as Opposition day debates, debates chosen by the Liaison Committee, general debates, topical debates and Budget debates, will be considered by the Committee that I hope the House will set up next week, with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) as Chairman. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) raises an important matter, and senior Members are prepared to get on and look at it on behalf of the whole House, so I hope that the friends of the hon. Member who last night objected to the Committee and prevented its being set up, will prevail upon him. I suggest that to the hon. Member for Billericay, and I shall talk to him afterwards.

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Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is a strange legal system that allows an out-of-court settlement to gag somebody from giving information that may lead to a criminal investigation? Does she think it a matter worthy of further investigation? Mr. Gordon Taylor, who is head of the Professional Footballers Association, signed such a settlement with the News of the World, and he may have been implicated in covering up criminal activity. He may also have compromised his representation of the players whom he is paid to represent, because it has now been revealed that the News of the World may have investigated the private lives of some of those people, too. Does my right hon. and learned Friend not think it a curious situation and something worthy of examination on the Floor of the House?

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There are a number of issues of concern. There are issues that concern the Press Complaints Commission and the operation of the press, which are the responsibility of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. There is the issue of the potentially criminal actions, which is a matter for the police and, ultimately, Home Office accountability. Of course, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism answered an urgent question today. There are also the serious allegations of interference with hon. Members as we have gone about our responsibilities to represent our constituents, and that is a matter for the House. All those matters must be looked into, and we must have clear answers.

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On Sunday, there was an uprising in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang province of north-west China, and its suppression led to more than 150 people being killed and to more than 1,500 being detained. May we have a statement early next week about the action that the Government have taken on the issue? And may we have a guarantee that the Prime Minister will contact Hu Jintao, if he has not already done so, to ensure the human rights of those who are being detained?

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I know that the Foreign Secretary has joined other Foreign Secretaries and the United Nations in calling for the exercise of restraint so that there is a right to demonstrate and there are no more injuries, but I shall ask the Foreign Secretary to write to the hon. Gentleman with further details.

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May we have a full-scale debate about the media in this country—not just about the Coulson illegal phone-tapping affair, but about BBC pay and pensions, which far exceed those of Members, the vile bile that is written about Members and, paradoxically, the need to save local journalists’ jobs? May I put this question to the Government and ask the Leader of the House about Government policy? Self-regulation seems to have failed in the financial sector and in Parliament; why, then, is it all right for self-regulation to persist in the media?

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I shall bring my hon. Friend’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

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The Secretary of State for Health has so far ignored calls for an inquiry into the NHS using independent sector treatment centres, including calls from the family of Dr. John Hubley, who tragically and unnecessarily died at the Eccleshill treatment centre. May I say to the Leader of the House again—this is the second time—that we need a debate? I cannot call for one, because I am my party’s health spokesperson, but this is an important issue, and the NHS National Patient Safety Agency has warned that such treatment should not go ahead without proper procedures in place. May we have a debate on that important issue in Government time?

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Safety for all patients is important, irrespective of where the NHS provides that care. I shall have go back to the question that the hon. Gentleman asked me before, and to his question today, and ask the Health Secretary to write to him.

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A number of my constituents have raised concerns about newspaper reports that Lloyds Banking Group is employing and recruiting overseas IT workers while laying off staff. Should not a so-called British bank, which is supported by British taxpayers’ money, support British workers? May we have a debate on that urgent matter in order to hold Lloyds Banking Group to account?

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Perhaps my hon. Friend could ask Treasury Ministers about that issue during oral questions next week.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend approach the Secretary of State for Health about the postcode lottery as regards drug treatment and the financing of individual health authorities? At the minute, it seems that one health authority has it and the other does not. It really is a dog’s dinner, and the Government need to look at the issue.

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That is an important matter, but it is one for the individual primary care trusts; my hon. Friend will no doubt seek a discussion with his. If he is not satisfied with his PCT’s response, he should raise the issue directly with Health Ministers.

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As the Leader of the House will recall, some months ago I raised the matter of Bolsover district council’s need to replace 108 prefabricated bungalows, which were built after the end of the second world war. We had a meeting with the previous Housing Minister, who has now gone. We need to debate the issue because Bolsover district council had been led to believe that if it did not own its own housing stock, but had an arm’s length management organisation, it would get the money from the Government to replace those bungalows. Their foundations are rotting and we need a debate on the issue.

More importantly, will the Leader of the House convey to the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that we need him to meet Bolsover council representatives, to ensure fair treatment between councils that retain council stock and those that have gone over to ALMOs?

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I shall ask the Minister for Housing to meet the hon. Gentleman and representatives of his council, to sort out how the upgrading of that housing should be dealt with. Perhaps some of the Building Britain’s Future investment of £1.5 billion will find its way to Bolsover.

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Until and unless we can be assured that the Leader of the Opposition’s director of communications has not been involved in the surveillance of Members of Parliament—[Hon. Members:Out of order!”] Until and unless we can be assured that that person has not been involved in these crimes, can the Leader of House not withdraw his parliamentary security pass?

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I have to say to Opposition Members that the question of who has a pass to the House is a matter for the House—not for me, personally, as Leader of the House. All I can suggest is that my hon. Friend raise the matter with the House authorities and ask them to respond on whether it is acceptable for that person to continue having a pass, allowing him to move freely around the House.