May I invite the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming parliamentary business?
The business for next week will be as follows:
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 House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.
The 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.
The provisional business for the week commencing 19 October will include:
Monday 19 October—Opposition day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Tuesday 20 October—Second Reading of a Bill.
Wednesday 21 October—Opposition day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion, subject to be announced.
Thursday 22 October—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: The 1st to the 6th, the 8th to the 11th, the 13th to the 23rd and the 31st Reports of the Public Accounts Committee of Session 2008-09, and the Treasury Minutes on these reports (Cm 7568, 7622 and 7636)]
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 15 October will be:
Thursday 15 October—A debate on Sure Start progression.
It will also assist the House to confirm that the state opening of Parliament will be on Wednesday 18 November.
Finally, I should like to thank all of the staff of the House for their hard work and commitment since the start of this Session last December.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business of the House. Perhaps she can tell us at what time the House will meet on Tuesday, as it often meets earlier than normal on the last day.
First, will the Leader of the House explain why such an absurd number of written ministerial statements have been published today? There are no fewer than 53 on today’s Order Paper, which means that we have had 90 published this week. Does she agree that we have the right to accuse her of rather taking the mickey? We know full well that the whole process is designed to dump everything on us at the last minute before the recess and so forestall Members’ ability to hold the Government to account.
One of today’s statements is from the Communities Secretary outlining the Government’s flawed and highly unpopular plans on eco-towns. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a full debate on the proposals as soon as the House returns? I can tell her and the House that a delegation from Leicestershire is even now delivering a petition to Downing street with the signatures of 15,000 local people who have registered their implacable opposition to the development of Pennbury eco-town. We are relieved that the Co-op scheme to desecrate green fields will not be on the shortlist, but does she appreciate the depth of anger about the proposals over the past few months?
I note that amidst all these written statements, there is not one on Equitable Life. Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady once again ducked my question about whether we will have a full oral statement, before we rise, on how the Government intend to compensate policyholders. Given that the policyholders have been waiting nine long years for the Government to act on their plight, does she accept that it would be a total insult to them if there were not a full, oral update in this Chamber? Will she confirm that that will definitely happen?
Does the right hon. and learned Lady intend to abide by the spirit of Mr. Speaker’s statement on 2 July that Ministers should
“ensure that the backlog of written questions that remain unanswered is cleared before the recess”?—[Official Report, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 496.]
Does she not agree that it would be completely unacceptable for the Government to pump out a whole raft of new announcements before the recess without properly responding to the scrutiny by Members of previous announcements? Will she guarantee that those questions will be answered?
The right hon. and learned Lady will know that I wrote to her, and all members of the House of Commons Commission, to ask whether we might introduce a new system during the recess of having what has been described as a “virtual statement” from a Minister. The swine flu outbreak is bound to require further comment over the summer. Might we allow the Secretary of State to make a formal statement online and then allow the Opposition to ask questions that are then given a formal response? That could be a very simple and sensible innovation that allows formal scrutiny without the excessive mechanism of recalling Parliament.
May we also have a debate on how the Government intend to pay for their scheme to “build Britain’s future”, as they call it? Last month, the Prime Minister published his grand national plan, but unlike any other major announcement on Government policy, there has been no parallel publication of an impact assessment. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm when it will be published, or is it simply that the whole of the Prime Minister’s so-called future plan is completely uncosted?
The Leader of the House has always been a champion of greater equality, so may I take this opportunity to welcome her reappointment of Sir Treasure—I mean, Sir Trevor Phillips, although “treasure” is perhaps a better description—in his post for a second term as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? However, this week it was briefed from her office that she wants to bring more northerners on to the boards of Government quangos and to break the monopoly of southern, white men. Given her wish to be an equalities role model, that puts her in a slightly difficult situation: she benefited from a private education, she hails from the aristocracy and she is a product of the south. It is a great relief, however, that at least she is a woman—and a champion one at that.
Mr. Speaker, I wish you, the right hon. and learned Lady, all hon. Members and the staff who serve us a restful and revitalising summer break.
I can tell the House that on Tuesday we will commence our business at the normal time [Hon. Members: “When?”] We will not sit earlier than normal, because one item of business is the consideration of Lords amendments, and we have to give time for their lordships to have their deliberations before the legislation, as amended by them, comes back to this House. That is why, unlike what usually happens on the last day before the House rises, we will sit at the normal time.
In relation to written ministerial statements, obviously it would be better if they could be spread more evenly, but there is something about the summer recess that concentrates Departments’ minds to ensure that, if they have material that they have to make accountable to the House, they do it before the House rises. If they have put out some ministerial statements today—rather than doing it on the last day—that is some time before the House rises, which is important.
The hon. Gentleman asked about eco-towns. We remain strongly committed to the fact that we need more housing for people in this country and high ecological standards for those new homes. We have had many debates in the House about eco-towns. Ministers have remained fully accountable to the House for the policy, and for the individual announcements made. I am disappointed that the Opposition do not welcome the extra eco-homes that will be in those eco-towns.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life; he will know that at Treasury questions earlier this week, there was extensive discussion about it. I would like to emphasise that the ombudsperson, in her report, looked at the generality of the situation, and drew conclusions about the principles of the approach. Sir John Chadwick is taking the matter forward, looking at which individuals have suffered from action for which there is culpability, and which have suffered an injustice. He will have to set up a system of paying money to individuals.
There are nearly a million policyholders, many of whom have lost out, and given that public money is about to be expended, it is important to look at setting up a framework for doing so. Information on who the policyholders are, what their policies were, when they took them out, and whether individuals made any changes to their policies has been forwarded to Sir John Chadwick’s actuarial advisers, Towers Perrin, which is going through that information. Hon. Members, as well as everybody else, have been asked to make their views known to Sir John by this Friday, and he will produce an interim report in August. If we were tipping money out without a proper framework, the Opposition would rightly object and ask us what we were doing. There will be a statement, and there have already been oral questions on the subject.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the backlog of written answers. I look at the issue regularly, but I did so particularly in response to the points raised on the subject by hon. Members at the last business questions. I looked particularly at the Treasury backlog of questions and letters. There is an 80 per cent. standard for responding to correspondence within 15 days, and in the last 12-month period that was reported on, that standard was adhered to. Since then, because of the economic crisis, there has been a doubling of the number of questions and letters, and there needs to be a commensurate response. It has taken a while for that response to be forthcoming. In defence of the Treasury, there has been a doubling of questions and letters, but in defence of the right of the House to hold the Treasury to account, we want to make sure that standards of timeliness do not slip, precisely because the issues are so important at this time.
The hon. Gentleman asked about accountability during the recess, and that, too, is a very important point. He identified the question of swine flu; hon. Members will want to be able to hold the Department of Health to account on how it is dealing with the issue. I also suggest that the issue of Afghanistan will remain of concern to hon. Members throughout the recess. On swine flu, Cobra will meet fortnightly throughout the recess. The Secretary of State for Health hopes to update the House before it rises for the recess, by way of an oral statement. He is considering how he will keep hon. Members informed during the recess. That will include all hon. Members getting a weekly update on figures in their constituency from the strategic health authority and/or primary care trust, so hon. Members will be given the figures as a matter of routine, without their needing to ask for them.
As I say, Cobra will meet every two weeks. If there are issues that need to be communicated to Members in particular areas, those concerned will make sure that they find additional ways of ensuring accountability, while, of course, recognising the particular interest of members of the Health Committee. The Secretary of State is considering how he can ensure that accountability does not suffer during the recess, and any new technology, such as telephone conferencing or the online activity that the shadow Leader of the House suggested, will be used. In fact, last summer, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did exactly that and communicated with those hon. Members who represent areas that were flooded.
There will be a debate on Afghanistan and defence this afternoon, there was a statement this week, the Prime Minister answered oral questions yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence answered oral questions on Monday, and there will be a debate during the week that we return from the recess. That leaves the question about the period over the summer, and, like the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Defence is concerned that there should be specific arrangements, which he will communicate to the House, about how we will ensure that accountability does not slacken when the House rises.
I thank the shadow Leader of the House for welcoming the reappointment of Trevor Phillips as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I was slightly baffled by the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I had said that there should be more northerners on quangos, not because it is not a good idea, but because I cannot remember ever having said it. However, I am sure that if he says that I said it, I must have done. I remember that there was lots of shouting about northerners during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. I wondered what it meant, and I think that I have worked it out: the problem is that there are not enough northerners on the Conservative Benches—and long may that remain.
The Leader of the House gave a commitment that there would be a statement on Equitable Life before the summer recess. Can she confirm that that will take place? Yes or no?
What should we make of the Government’s commitment to cleaning up and reforming Parliament and our democratic system when it appears that the right hon. and learned Lady cannot provide one and a half hours to debate the setting up of the Select Committee on the reform of the House of Commons? The Political Parties and Elections Bill deals with essential matters concerning the conduct of elections and the funding of political parties, but there is no timetable for its return from the House of Lords, and if it does not receive Royal Assent, it will not be operable by the next general election. Mr. Speaker, you said earlier in the week that you did not do irony; I think that there is something deeply ironic about the fact that we cannot set up a Committee to organise the time of this House because the Government will not let us.
I have the honour of representing Royal Naval air station Yeovilton, where the Royal Naval helicopter squadrons and the commando helicopter force are based. There has been a great deal of concern from all parts of the House about the provision of helicopters for our armed forces. The report by the Select Committee on Defence is being published today, and the indications are that, in some respects, it will be extremely critical of helicopter provision. I note that we have a debate about defence on 15 October, but can we be absolutely sure that the Government will provide a full and comprehensive response to the Defence Committee’s report, answering its points in detail and acting on its recommendations during the summer, so that we can be sure in turn that we are not putting our young men and women in the armed forces at risk?
Can we avoid my having to ask, when we return from the recess, for debates about either the so-called rain tax or the levy that was implicit in yesterday’s Green Paper? On the rain tax, we have a holy alliance of bishops, scouts, test match cricketers and international rugby players, all saying that it is quite wrong to impose a levy on charities, community groups and sports clubs for surface water drainage. That issue needs to be sorted out this summer, and the Government must commit to doing so.
The Green Paper’s implicit levy may impose up to £200 a year on people in rural areas who depend on domestic heating oil or liquid petroleum gas for their heating. Those people are most likely to pay the most to heat their houses and least likely to be able to afford it, and it cannot be right that the proposed social tariff includes no provision for them.
Finally, many Members, Officers of the House and those who work in the parliamentary estate will be going on their holidays shortly. Some will no doubt go abroad, and it will be recommended that they take up the European health insurance card, which provides for health service treatment in the rest of Europe. Mr. Speaker, if you apply for that online, the search engine will direct you to two sites: ehic.org, which sounds very official, and ehic.uk.com. One is organised by a company called Portcreek in Gosport and the other by Imap (UK) Ltd in Bolton. Each charges £9.95 for the European health insurance card application. However, if you go on the NHS or Department of Health site, the service is free.
To apply for the card, people will, in ignorance, go through the companies that come up first on the search engine, but those companies are charging nearly £10 for a public document that is free. May we have a written statement—I do not expect an oral one—from the Secretary of State for Health about the practice, giving clear guidance? I want everyone to have an enjoyable holiday, and I do not want them to be ripped off before they go.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. I shall not repeat what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, except to say that there will be a written ministerial statement about Equitable Life before the House rises. Treasury Ministers answered questions from hon. Members about the issue at some length during Treasury questions only this week.
The hon. Gentleman took rather a gloomy view about the prospects of the Committee whose establishment we want the House to support and which will operate under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). It will consider opportunities for members of the public to place matters on the agenda of the House and bring them forward for debate. It will also consider whether we can make progress on how we appoint the Chairs and members of Select Committees and look at the important question of the allocation of both Government and non-Government business.
I urge the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to have faith and confidence that we are determined that the matter should be put before the House before it rises. We will seek an opportunity for such a debate; having made the proposal, we would like the House to have an opportunity to put it through. We have put the matter before the House on a number of occasions. There was all-party agreement and we sought to address the issues put forward in amendments when we first tabled the motion. We accepted all amendments, but that is still not good enough for some Members, who want a debate. Even when their amendments are accepted, that is up to Members: they are perfectly entitled to insist on a debate, however annoying everybody else might find it.
We will therefore find time for that debate to take place before the House rises, because the Committee will have work to do during the summer. I detected a note of scepticism in the voice of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome; I do not know whether it is just that he needs a holiday, but he sounded a bit irascible and unlike his normal, avuncular self. I reassure him that we intend to get there on this issue, and we will.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Defence Committee’s report. There will be a general debate this afternoon. As he will know, we originally scheduled the topic of climate change in advance of the Copenhagen conference for the general debate and had planned a shorter, topical debate on defence. However, because of the importance of that issue, particularly given our troops in Afghanistan, we have made defence the topic of the full, general debate this afternoon. Obviously, there can be an initial response to the Select Committee’s report then, and there will be a further opportunity to respond to the Committee’s report not only by action during the summer recess, but in the debate when we get back to the House in October.
The hon. Gentleman talked about water charges. The Deputy Leader of the House has reminded me that there was an all-party group meeting, which many hon. Members attended, including her.
The hon. Gentleman did too. They will know that Ministers are working on the issue and that Ofwat guidance is coming next week.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about unfair charging for information that should be made freely and publicly available. I shall ask the Secretary of State for Health to write to him about that.
Order. Twenty-seven Members are seeking to catch my eye; as ever, I want to include as many as possible. Members will be conscious that there is very important business to follow. I therefore look to each right hon. or hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question. I look to the Leader of the House for characteristically succinct replies.
The Leader of the House has asked us to have confidence that she will schedule the debate, which so many Members on both sides of the House want, on the Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We do have confidence in her, of course, but it is extraordinary that she should announce the business for next week without having announced when that debate is to be scheduled. Does that not emphasise the need for a business committee that can organise these things?
Even a business committee would have to deal with the eventuality that I have faced: finding that there is an objection even when something appeared to have consensus, and needing to find time for a debate in the short period before the House rises. Whatever arrangements result from the Committee’s proposals, such a problem could happen. I certainly hope to deal with the issue before the House rises.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for assuring us that the Committee on the reform of the House will be debated before the summer recess and will be established. That is important. May I draw her attention to one point that she made? There is a tendency for her and her counterparts on the Front Benches of the other two parties to feel that if something has been agreed between them, there is no need for it to be debated. There are far more Back Benchers than Front Benchers in the House, and that tendency underlines the need for a business committee to look into such issues and make sure that Back Benchers get our fair share of input. I disagree with the continued intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), blocking the motion, but it is his right to make it. I hope that we will debate the motion before the House rises.
I have acknowledged that it is the right of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) to make his intervention. We did not consult only Front Benchers; indeed, we had extensive consultation with Back Benchers who showed an interest in the topic by tabling amendments. We have accommodated all the amendments, including those from the hon. Member for Christchurch, but there is still a desire for a debate—so we will have it. I am glad that there is so much support for it, and I hope that all hon. Members will show up and vote for the motion when it comes before the House.
This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Labour’s minimum wage, but non-UK seafarers sailing on British ships and going to British ports are still exempt from the Act. Now that the new Shipping Minister is considering that loophole, and others, what can the Leader of the House do to help amend the Act and bring some fairness into the system?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about when what is sometimes called “red tape” is actually protection for people who could otherwise be vulnerable to exploitation. I shall bring his comments to the attention of the relevant Minister.
(Christchurch): A journalist told me this morning that on Monday the Government were going to give time for a debate of one and a half hours on the setting up of the new Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House confirm that it will indeed be of one and a half hours’ duration and on Monday? Why did she not say that in her initial statement today, and why was the motion taken off the Order Paper last Thursday, when there would have been time for such a debate if the Government had wanted it?
The motion was taken off the Order Paper because we wanted to table it again, having accepted the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. We were trying to be helpful. Whoever gave a briefing to the media about the business of the House has not done so with my authority or that of anybody from my office. I take a very dim view of such briefing. I shall have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman after these questions so that he can grass up the journalist and I can get the journalist to grass up whoever it was who gave out that information. Until information is announced by me at the Dispatch Box, it is not confirmed and is not to be relied on by hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman has brought to my attention something that is extremely annoying, and I shall get on to it.
As Members of Parliament, we probably all regularly visit schools in our constituencies, but is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we will now personally need Criminal Records Bureau checks and certificates to do so? I have been informed that we cannot apply individually—our place of work needs to sponsor and reference us. I know that locally elected councillors, for example, are automatically put through and get certificates. Will she and the House authorities sort this matter out for us, preferably before September?
This is something about which my officials and I need to have discussions with officials from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We should all agree that if people are going to be on their own with very young children, whether they are councillors or Members of Parliament, we need to ensure that that does not put at risk the safety of those children. I am afraid that in the past there have been cases where people have been elected as local authority councillors and then child protection issues have been raised. I do not think that we should turn away from the idea that we want to ensure that children are protected. This must obviously apply only where there is unsupervised access: somebody who speaks to an assembly of 600 sixth-formers will not need to go through a vetting process. It will have to proceed on the basis of common sense. If people are to be left alone with children at a sports event, the parents need to have the reassurance of knowing that those who are in a responsible position with vulnerable children are properly vetted. I will ensure that my officials liaise with the appropriate DCSF Minister and we get a common-sense, workable solution.
The House will know about the capital funding crisis in further education colleges, with 150 colleges being encouraged by the Learning and Skills Council to devise expensive schemes. The House may not know, however, that tomorrow a Select Committee report on that subject is to be published. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement or debate on that report? Members will want to know where the buck stops. Was there insufficient scrutiny, oversight and risk management by those on the Treasury Bench as well as at the LSC?
The buck stopped at 11.30 am when Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had answered questions specifically on that point.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1886, which stands in my name?
[That this House considers that the Donaghy report on the construction industry, entitled One Death is Too Many, sets out in its 28 recommendations the necessary structure required to improve health and safety; and calls on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to accept and implement the report's recommendations as the basis for putting in place a durable health and safety architecture for the industry to drive down numbers of fatal accidents and serious injuries.]
The motion draws attention to the Donaghy report that was produced for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The report is about the construction industry and contains 28 recommendations that would put in place a health and safety architecture to help to end the increasing fatalities and serious injuries in that industry. Will the Leader of the House consider making that report an item for a topical debate when we come back after the recess?
It would be good to find time to debate the Donaghy report. I should like to place on record my thanks to Rita Donaghy for the good work that she has done. This is another example of where Government action is not red tape but provides protection to people who might otherwise be exploited or find that their safety, or indeed their life, is at risk. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has helped to protect vulnerable migrant workers and others in spheres such as agriculture. Donaghy’s suggestion that it should be extended to the construction industry would ensure not only that taxpayers do not lose out through tax avoidance in that industry but that, importantly, the safety of workers can be protected. It would be a good subject for a debate in the autumn.
Much has been said about the importance of the recent allegations about the tapping of answerphone messages. I note that it is not just celebrities with huge amounts of money or politicians like yours truly who are the victims, but our constituents who are much less able to defend themselves in public or likely to have the resources to challenge journalists who break the law. Could the Leader of the House ensure that in the first week after the recess a Home Office Minister comes to the House to report on the three inquiries that have now started—by Committees of this House, by the Director of Public Prosecutions and by the Information Commissioner—so that if the law is not tight enough, it is tightened, and if people ought to be prosecuted, they are prosecuted?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We should not just wring our hands and say, “It’s just one of those things. We expect powerful newspapers to be able to evade the law, and we’ll just put up with it.” People should not think that they cannot challenge the newspapers because they are so powerful. The work being done by the Information Commissioner, the DPP and the Select Committees is very important, and the House will want to see the results when we return in the autumn.
Does the Leader of the House welcome, as I do, the news that Nissan of Sunderland is to move into the mass production of electric vehicles? Is she aware of the wider involvement in this field of north-east companies, not least Sevcon in my constituency, which produces the control systems that make electric vehicles an attractive and practical proposition? May we have an early debate on how these developments might contribute to Building Britain’s Future and the fight against climate change?
This is a very important part of our manufacturing agenda. More jobs are going to be green jobs. The automotive industry has a strong future, especially with environmentally friendly cars. I strongly endorse the points that my hon. Friend has made and will look for an opportunity for us to consider the matter in the autumn.
May we have a debate on the BBC as we try to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and on public sector pay? We are now told that its viewers are going to be consulted on whether its so-called top talent are worth the money they get. The only way that viewers can really come to a judgment on that is if they are told exactly how much those people are earning, but the BBC refuses to tell us. We are told that transparency may now lead to a 40 per cent. cut in Jonathan Ross’s £6 million-a-year pay; how he can possibly survive on £3.5 million we will never know. Surely we need transparency on top talent pay at the BBC.
I share the concern that there should not be lavish spending at the top of the BBC, whether it is on managers, governors or celebrities. However, I am slightly concerned that while we hold the BBC to account for licence payers’ money, we should not tip over into BBC bashing, which has started to colour some of the Opposition’s comments.
I would also like to place it on record that I think it absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is no longer going to be a judge on “Strictly Come Dancing”. As the Minister for Women and Equality, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there, so I should like to take this opportunity to say to the BBC that it is not too late—we want to see Arlene Phillips in the next edition of “Strictly Come Dancing”.
My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Stockline inquiry report is due to be published today. May we therefore have a debate as soon as possible on this terrible disaster, as the families of the victims who lost their lives or were seriously injured are extremely anxious to find out what lessons, if any, have been learned from it?
The bereaved families do of course have our sincerest sympathy, as do the injured survivors. The Government hope that that report will provide some comfort to the families seeking answers to questions about this terrible accident. We thank Lord Gill for the recommendations in his report and for the very thorough inquiry that he has undertaken. We have taken his recommendations very seriously; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently met him to discuss them. In particular, we support the recommendation to develop a sharper, clearer safety regime. We will now fully assess the implications of the recommendations and how we can take them forward. We intend both Houses to have an update in October, with a full response to the report in January next year.
The Leader of the House knows that I strongly support her Equality Bill, but I support even more the need of Members to scrutinise it—those who support it and those who have concerns about it. Given the widespread concern about the treatment of Report stages, including the lack of time and the number of groups of amendments not reached, and given that she said three weeks ago that she recognised that the Equality Bill needed full scrutiny, will she explain to the House how she proposes to take forward the discussions that she promised with Front Benchers and beyond on how we will deal with that Bill so that it is not added to the list of Bills not properly scrutinised on Report?
My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who has taken the Bill through Committee, will discuss with Members such as the hon. Gentleman who were on the Committee how we should handle it on Report. She will discuss that with me, as Leader of the House, and we will want to ensure that we make the Bill an exemplar of how the House should scrutinise Bills on Report, especially as the hon. Gentleman is so assiduous on that point as well as being supportive of the Bill.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time for a debate on Lord Archer’s report on the contaminated blood and blood products disaster, as a result of which 2,000 people died and thousands more were infected with hepatitis C and HIV? There is huge concern about that in my constituency, and we would like a debate on it.
This has been discussed on a number of occasions, including in a statement to the House about the increased compensation levels available and the wider remit for people to get compensation on the basis of having suffered from contaminated blood. This is one of those awful situations in which we need to do as much as we possibly can for people whose lives have been blighted and who need to be helped to get on with their lives, having suffered through no fault of their own. I will raise my right hon. Friend’s points with the relevant Minister.
Will the Leader of the House give me and the House an assurance today that the motion on the reform of the House of Commons, which is to be debated on Monday or Tuesday—we do not know which—would give the House and the new Committee an opportunity to ensure that responsibility for Standing Orders was handed over from the Executive to a Committee of this House?
Responsibility for Standing Orders is for the House. The Executive do not lay down what the Standing Orders of the House are. That is a matter for the House to decide.
You draft them; you put them on the Order Paper.
Order. May I make the point, I think for the fourth time this week—I expect it to be heeded by all Members—that I do not want loud, sedentary heckling from hon. or right hon. Members? That is not a request, that is a ruling, and I say to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that that is the end of the matter.
As the hon. Gentleman will have seen from the resolution that defines the new Committee’s remit, it will have quite wide powers to examine whatever it feels is necessary in the interests of the House. I hope that he will be among the Members who vote in support of setting up that Committee, so that it can get its work under way in the summer and throughout September.
Did the Leader of the House notice that many of our Scottish colleagues, in solidarity for which I am very grateful, voted so that I could attend the East of England Grand Committee in Bedford? When will I be able to reciprocate and vote for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet—maybe in West Lothian—bearing in mind that it has not met since 13 November 2003? Why has it not met? Are things so wonderful in the kingdom of Scotland, like the Garden of Eden, that it does not need to meet?
There are different governance arrangements in Scotland following devolution, but there have been representations made to me by Members representing Scottish constituencies that there needs to be an opportunity for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet, and I will look for an opportunity.
May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a statement on the vetting and barring scheme, including on why prominent authors are not looking to visit schools even though they would be accompanied the whole time they were there? If the scheme is to apply, can we be sure that it will apply to all hon. Members, whether they are Back Benchers, Cabinet Ministers or the Prime Minister, and that Members will not be able to claim the £64 fee on their expenses?
I think hon. Members have raised a number of points today that will be important and worth while for those who are drawing up the final recommendations to consider. Those recommendations need to be practical and sensible.
The Leader of the House was extremely helpful earlier in the year in facilitating a number of debates on the conflict in Sri Lanka. I know that she will share the concern of many hon. Members that the Sri Lankan Government have recently asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to scale back its operations in the detention camps. Will she arrange for an early debate after the recess, so that the House can examine the transparency of those camps and the facilities being made available to those detained there?
My hon. Friend has been an assiduous supporter of the Tamil community in his constituency and in this country more generally, and he has been consistently concerned about what is happening to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. I will bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development.
The debate on the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons has to be on either Monday or Tuesday. The Leader of the House has declined to confirm that it will be on Monday, but she has also announced that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on Tuesday. If the motion were to be debated on Tuesday, it would make far more sense for it to be the first business, with the House meeting at 11.30 am or 10.30 am. Why does she not just get it over with and announce that the debate will be on Monday, to give us all proper notice of it?
Without having confirmed it 100 per cent., I do not want to keep hon. Members guessing. As there are only two days left and one is Monday and the other Tuesday, there is a 50 per cent. chance of its being on either. However, I think I can encourage Members that if they want to be around to either support or vote against the motion, Monday is probably the better day for them to be here.
May I put to my right hon. and learned Friend what is the biggest issue at my constituency surgeries, and which was the subject of my Adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago and was raised by Members on both sides of the Chamber earlier today? It is the banks and their lending policies. Can we make it clear to them before the recess that much as we supported the Government’s attitude to them and the extra resources that were provided, we do not expect small businesses and young people looking for mortgages to come to tell us that the banks are completely inflexible and irresponsible?
This has been of great concern to small businesses. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and no doubt he is listening carefully to businesses in his constituency. It was obviously right to recapitalise the banks and insist on lending agreements, and it is therefore exasperating that the lending agreements do not yet appear to be being fully honoured. We have tried to help businesses with cash-flow problems by allowing them to defer their tax payments, but it is nevertheless important that banks do not drag their feet but get lending again.
Given that this has been the most dreadful year yet for this Government, the Prime Minister clearly needs a holiday, and most of the country needs a holiday from him. May we therefore have a Government statement next week about which Minister will take over his responsibilities when he does go on holiday or if he is unfortunately laid low by swine flu? Will it be her good self, the First Secretary of State or the Lord High Chancellor?
It has been a most difficult year because of the economic circumstances that have faced this country, which have caused apprehension and concern among people who have built up their businesses over many years, those who are coming into the world of work as they leave education, and those who are worried that if they lose their job they will lose their home. That is why it has been a difficult year. That has been a major challenge, which the Government have faced. We have been determined to take action to support people as they face that challenge.
The arrangements for this summer will be the same as they were for last summer. The Prime Minister of course remains in charge, but he will be ably supported by a team of Ministers, including my good self.
Comrade Leader of the House, will the defence debate be sufficiently wide to allow those parties that have not already committed themselves to supporting the two aircraft carriers to do so?
It certainly will. Everybody in constituencies that depend on the work that will come from those contracts will be looking to hear the answer.
The Leader of the House has already mentioned ways in which Government accountability to the House and hon. Members will be maintained over the recess. Will she consider the question of Sri Lanka and refer it to Foreign Office Ministers? More than 300,000 men, women and children are crammed into camps, where they do not have freedom of movement, there are inadequate water and other supplies and they live in fear of what will happen to them. It is important that Members who have taken an interest in those issues are kept informed of the initiatives that the Government are taking to ensure that the end of the war becomes real peace.
Following my discussions with the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Defence, I think I will have a further discussion with the Secretary of State for International Development so that Members who, throughout the year, have raised concerns about various humanitarian problems can be kept informed during the summer, and so that, if new issues arise, those who are likely to be most concerned are contacted and the Government make themselves accountable.
The motion on the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, which is in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend, says that the Committee should report to this House in November. That would be impossible if the Committee were not established before the recess. I hear clearly from my right hon. and learned Friend that she and the Government are committed to the House’s having sufficient time to make the decision before we go into recess. There is extremely strong feeling among all parties, and I urge her as strongly as I can to make the time available on Monday so that we do not have scrappy exchanges in the last couple of days.
This morning has been an opportunity for the House to make its views clear and I welcome that. I am sure that we can reach a successful conclusion.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her help throughout the year and praise her for the occasions she has stepped in as acting Prime Minister. I woke up in a terrible sweat after having a nightmare last night—I dreamed that Lord Mandelson had been running the country. Can we get it quite clear that when the Prime Minister packs his Speedos, picks up his bucket and spade and goes on holiday, we will know who is running the country? The public have the right to know: is it Harriet or Mandy?
The Prime Minister will be running the country.
On Tuesday this week, a baby died in my constituency in transit to hospital. The ambulance drove past the local district hospital because there was no A and E department for children in Southport. Following the resignation this week of Lord Darzi, the leading advocate of gutting district general hospitals, can the Leader of the House be encouraged to ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the future of district general hospitals and the implications for patient safety?
We want to ensure ever improving patient safety. Obviously, we convey our sympathies to the family in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who have suffered a bereavement.
I say to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that if they look at the figures, they will see that the specialisation and bringing together of services have meant that many lives that would have been lost have been saved. Patient safety has been at the forefront of those changes at a time of massive investment—so it is not a question of cutting back resources; far from it. There has been massive investment year after year, continuing last year and this year. Specialisation of services, where it has happened, has also contributed to saving lives.
I rebut the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that Lord Darzi gutted services. I thank Lord Darzi for the great part that he has played in the improvements in the national health service. We all owe him a great tribute.
There is real concern about the “No Secrets” guidance on safeguarding vulnerable adults. The process seems to be neither transparent nor acceptable and is actually damaging the project’s credibility. Department of Health officials have said that they will publish responses tomorrow or early next week, yet the programme board has not sat for nine months or had the chance to review them. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Health Minister makes an oral statement in the House before publication? May we have a debate in Government time on that important initiative, which appears to be stalling?
I am sure that the initiative is not stalling. I will ask whether it is appropriate for the House to be updated in some way before it rises. If not, a letter will no doubt be sent to the hon. Gentleman.
Parliament (Disclosure of Information)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr. David Drew presented a Bill to require members of both Houses of Parliament and candidates for election to the House of Commons to publish financial and other information; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 139).
Media Owners (Residency Requirement)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr. David Drew presented a Bill to prohibit from national media ownership persons not resident in the United Kingdom for tax purposes; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 140).
Common Land and Repeal of Inclosure Acts
Mr. Barry Sheerman, supported by David Taylor, Hugh Bayley, Joan Walley, Derek Twigg, Kali Mountford, Stephen Pound, Meg Munn, Mr. Gordon Marsden and Mr. Terry Rooney, presented a Bill to reinstate rights of common and to reopen common land; to repeal the Inclosure Acts; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 138).