The business for the week commencing 26 October will be:
Monday 26 October—Remaining stages of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] (day 1).
Tuesday 27 October—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords], followed by Opposition day (unallotted half-day). There will be a half-day debate on parading in Northern Ireland on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party.
Wednesday 28 October—Opposition Day (20th allotted day). There will be a debate on local spending reports followed by a debate on the future of the Territorial Army. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 29 October—Topical debate (subject to be announced), followed by a general debate on the social care Green Paper.
The provisional business for the week commencing 2 November will include:
Monday 2 November—Remaining stages of the Perpetuities and Accumulations Bill [Lords], followed by a general debate on tackling anti-social behaviour.
Tuesday 3 November—Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 1).
Wednesday 4 November—Further consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 2).
Thursday 5 November—Topical debate (subject to be announced), followed by general debate on climate change: preparation for the climate change conference at Copenhagen.
I can announce the Commons calendar for Parliament until the February recess in 2010. We plan to rise for the Christmas recess on Wednesday 16 December 2009 and return on Tuesday 5 January 2010. For the February recess, the House will rise on Wednesday 10 February and return on Monday 22 February. I will inform the House of the dates for the Easter recess in due course.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 5 November will be:
Thursday 5 November—A debate on the report from the Committee on Arms Export Controls entitled “Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2009): UK Strategic Export Controls Annual report 2007, Quarterly Reports for 2008, Licensing Policy and Review of Export Control Legislation”.
The House is grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.
Last week, when I asked for the parliamentary calendar, the right hon. and learned Lady said she would bring it before the House as soon as she could, but for the first time ever she has announced the Christmas and February recess dates but not the Easter dates. What problems is she encountering over the dates of the Easter recess?
The Leader of the House has just told the House that we are to go into recess over a week before Christmas—that is the earliest the House has risen, as far as I can recall. Back in 1997, we rose on 22 December. That was when the Government had some leadership and some ideas. Our constituents will be working long after the date that she has just announced, and Conservative Members have an unquenched thirst for doing the job we were sent by our constituents to do beyond that date. Is this not further evidence that the Government are running out of steam?
Last week, the Leader of the House refused to answer my question about when the Chancellor would deliver his pre-Budget statement. Can she do so this week?
The Government are committed to replying to a Select Committee report within six weeks. When will the Government respond to the Public Administration Committee report on lobbying, published on 5 January? In March, the Minister for the Cabinet Office wrote to the Chairman of the Committee confirming that the Government would respond very soon. Since then, nothing. When will we get the Government’s reply?
On the related point of courtesies to Select Committees, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Government will not consistently turn down the recommendations and findings of Select Committees on pre-appointment hearings?
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on her Department’s lamentable performance in answering questions over the summer recess? There were three days for tabling during the recess, but well under half of the named-day questions were substantively answered. Given that you, Mr. Speaker, have made it particularly clear that Ministers should respond to questions in a timely manner, is this not somewhat casual?
Today’s topical debate is about securing economic recovery. That is an important issue but, thanks to the Opposition, we had a full day’s debate on it three days ago. In that debate, however, the Labour party fielded only four speakers and ran out of contributors halfway through. Does the Leader of the House not think that today’s time could have been more profitably used by having a debate on the future of Royal Mail or the growing rift between the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor? Will she make more intelligent use of these important opportunities for topical debates next week?
Finally, may we have a statement next week from the Prime Minister on Afghanistan? We have long called for regular updates to Parliament, and we welcomed his statement last week. Since then, however, we have learned that there will be a second round of elections there, and additional troops have been called for. Does the Leader of the House not agree that the House should have the opportunity to cross-examine the Prime Minister next week on the security of our troops and the support that will be extended to them?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman understands this, but it is important that the wider public also realise that the recess is not holidays; it is time when the House is not sitting and Members can take the opportunity to work in their constituency. We are rising earlier than usual in December, but we are returning earlier in January.
I will announce the date of the pre-Budget report shortly, in the customary way. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has in the past argued that there should be opportunities to debate the issues raised in the pre-Budget report on the Floor of the House. I am mindful of that, and I will make absolutely sure that, as well as having the opportunity to discuss the economy in the Queen’s Speech debates, there will be sufficient opportunities after the pre-Budget report for it to be debated on the Floor of the House.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Public Administration Committee’s report on lobbying. The Government’s response has been published and the Committee considered it this morning. He mentioned pre-appointment hearings, no doubt in the context of the appointment of the Children’s Commissioner and the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. Since we introduced this new opportunity for Select Committees to play a part in the appointments process, which gives Select Committees more scope for action, there has been the appointment of the chair of the Statistics Board, as well as hearings on the appointments of the chairs of the Care Quality Commission and the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the chair-elect of Ofcom. There have also been a new Information Commissioner and chair of the Office for Legal Complaints. I have to hand a long list of all the pre-appointments hearings, which I could read out, but the point is that Select Committees are playing their part in pre-appointment hearings. However, it remains the case that under the structure that is in place the final decision is still for the Secretary of State. That is, no doubt, illuminated by the questions asked in the pre-appointment hearings.
On the Department for Work and Pensions written questions, the Deputy Leader of the House will meet DWP Ministers to make sure that there is a prompter response to the House. This is an important issue. All Ministers should respond promptly to Members’ questions about their Department’s responsibilities.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the choice of subjects for topical debates. I have to tell the House that there were no proposals from any party’s Front or Back-Bench teams for the topical debate this week. I encourage both Front and Back-Bench Members to make proposals for the topical debate. The right hon. Gentleman asked why we did not choose to debate the Post Office. We did, of course, have a statement on Royal Mail earlier in the week. If we are to make topical debates work, we need suggestions to be made, and I invite him to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about keeping the House updated on Afghanistan. As he said, there was a statement on that last week. As well as answering questions every week in the House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister appears before the Liaison Committee.
Last week, I drew attention to the activities of the banks and the fact that they are carrying on with blithe indifference to what they have occasioned in the economy of this country. They are going back to paying their big bonuses, they are unreformed and they are not providing a service to local businesses. That view has, again, been shared by the Governor of the Bank of England during the past week, so may we have a debate on the position of the banks and, ideally, on reform of the banks—something that the Government have clearly decided they cannot face?
Before the debate on climate change, may we have a debate on statistics? Sir Michael Scholar, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, is again calling the Government to account for abusing statistics—this time the official figures for greenhouse gas reductions, which he described as exaggerated. Elsewhere, the energy efficiency figures have been described as “grossly” inflated. We must have accurate figures on such issues if we are to do a good job. Perhaps it was the complacency occasioned by this abuse of statistics that allowed so many Members of this House last night to refuse to allow this House—this Parliament—to enter the 10:10 campaign. Will the Leader of the House find an opportunity for this House to debate that again? Perhaps Labour Members will then be able to repent at leisure and decide that they would like this House to join a movement that is crossing the country at the moment.
May I make a bid for one of the topical debates that will take place over the next few weeks? As we approach Remembrance day, it would be entirely appropriate to debate the military covenant. Many colleagues, from all parts of the House, have serious concerns and valuable things to say about the extent to which this Parliament and the country honour our covenant with our armed forces. May we make that the subject of one of our debates over the next couple of weeks?
May we have a debate on police and police community support officer numbers? Although numbers vary around the country and, happily, some forces are still increasing their numbers, other forces are substantially reducing them. The number of police in Avon and Somerset has decreased, and this week we have heard that Somerset county council is, disgracefully, reducing its funding for PCSOs by a quarter. I cannot believe that it is right to cut front-line policing. That flies in the face of what people across the country expect, so may we have a debate on the issue at the earliest opportunity?
Lastly, I am unconvinced by the Leader of the House’s responses on the pre-confirmation hearings. Only one adverse report has come from a Select Committee and it was rejected within hours; unless the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and other Secretaries of State take the process seriously, there is no point in having it.
The hon. Gentleman talked about bank lending practices and bonuses. We take the view that banks must be both building up their capital reserves to make sure they do not pose the risk that they did in the past and ensuring that they lend fairly to help businesses to recover and the economy to start growing again. Lending issues are very important indeed, and the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have made it clear that the Government’s position is that there can be no return to business as usual on bonuses. There will be a debate on the economic recovery later this afternoon and that will provide an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to raise the important issues he has just mentioned.
On greenhouse gas statistics and energy conservation statistics, a climate change debate took place this week and there will a further such debate on 5 November, when the question of Members’ participation in the 10:10 campaign can be raised.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned policing and police community support officer and police numbers. One of the most important things that the Government have done over the past 12 years has been to increase police numbers, to ensure neighbourhood beat policing in every neighbourhood and to ensure that PCSOs work alongside those police to reassure the public and tackle crime. He will be able to ask Ministers directly for more information about that at Home Office questions next week.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the military covenant. We had a full day’s debate on defence last week. I agree that the military covenant is very important, not only for the serving forces and for veterans but for service families. It is difficult at the best of times to be bringing up a family when one’s husband is away from home, but it is even more important if they are in a dangerous situation in Afghanistan. We need to pay tribute not only to our armed services but to their wives and families. That is why I am working with Ministers across Government to ensure that we recognise and support the contribution that armed services wives and families make to the defence forces.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if we care about the low esteem in which our profession is held, one easy win would be to put an end to the 82-day annual recess and sit in September, as we once agreed to do? Will she arrange an early debate on the subject so that we can get the excuses out of the way as early as possible?
We obviously keep under review the balance between the work that Members of Parliament do in the House of Commons and the work that they do in their constituencies. We should not go along with the view that the sole preoccupation of a Member of Parliament once they are elected is to be in Westminster, sitting in the Chamber or working in our Committees. We must recognise, acknowledge and support the work that is done in constituencies. In this day and age, it is no longer good enough for people to be elected and to say to their constituents, “See you again in five years.” They expect us to be working in our local communities and that is why we need to have recess time as well as times when the House is in session.
Should there not be a debate next week on joined-up government following the Chancellor’s statement that it is a very good time to sell state assets such as the Dartford crossing, the student loan book and the Tote, whereas the Prime Minister said yesterday that it was inappropriate to go ahead with the part-privatisation of Royal Mail because there was nobody to buy it? That is not joined-up government.
Further to the request for a debate on bank lending, could we have a debate specifically on mortgage lending? One of my constituents had the offer of a mortgage withdrawn by NatWest within two working days of completion on the basis that the vendors had not owned the property for more than six months. When it was pointed out that that was not even in the mortgage application, NatWest told my constituents that it was in the process of adding it. A debate on mortgage lending in particular and on the banks’ practices in general would be welcome.
I shall draw my hon. Friend’s point to the attention of Treasury Ministers. It is important that there is no reckless lending by the banks, but nor should banks and building societies be turning off the taps for the housing market. It is important that we rebuild confidence and activity in the housing market.
The Leader of the House is well aware that the Government want to get as much renewable energy as they can and wind turbines are one way of doing that, but they are being introduced in areas where they should not be. Nine turbines will be applied for on the levels in Somerset—an area of outstanding importance to the United Kingdom. Under the current Government proposals, the application will be put through. Please may we have a debate to discuss where these turbines should go so that their placing is not to the detriment of the heritage of this country?
It is no good saying that we all want more renewable energy if, whenever there is a proposal to ensure that renewables can be used, Opposition Members immediately raise objections. In the Planning Act 2008, we set out a new framework that ensured we can both protect areas of outstanding natural beauty and get a move on with renewables so that we have energy independence and help with tackling climate change.
The dispute in Royal Mail is damaging to the industry, families, communities and businesses and to the Government’s reputation. I cannot think of a single more topical subject for a topical debate than the future of Royal Mail, so will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for one in next week’s business?
We have to pick the subject for the topical debate on Monday and we knew that we were having a statement on Tuesday on the Royal Mail dispute, so we did not pick it for the topical debate this afternoon. I remind the House of what the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said. In this situation, it is important that both sides get round the table, talk and keep talking until all matters in dispute are resolved. If they cannot find a resolution, they should look to ACAS to help them to do so. Both sides within Royal Mail need to resolve this—they know what the issues are and they know what has to be resolved, and I continue to urge them to do that. I think that that is the right approach.
When may we have a debate on agriculture? I am sure that we are long overdue one. It tends to get crowded out of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions. Might it be a subject for next Thursday’s topical debate?
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House—and, of course, the real deputy leader of the Labour party—whether we can have a date on the implementation date for the temporary and agency workers directive? Fairer treatment for vulnerable workers has been the subject of two private Members’ Bills in this House as well as of a joint declaration from the TUC, the Government and the CBI that it would be implemented in this Parliament. May we have an urgent debate on what is going on with the directive? There is considerable anger among Labour Members at reports that it might be put off until 2011.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the unions that he has worked with on their work on the important issue of protecting agency workers, not only to protect them from exploitation but to ensure that they are not used to undercut the terms and conditions of permanent workers. The Government have issued a consultation paper on the substance of the implementation of the temporary agency workers directive and on the timing of that implementation. We remain committed to it and it will be implemented.
Has the Leader of the House had a bid from the Home Secretary or the Welsh Secretary for a Bill to proscribe the British National party? I hope not, but is not Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, quite right to say that it is for Parliament to make that decision and that people, including Ministers, should not seek to outsource censorship to the BBC?
In this country, we are very proud of our commitment to free speech but we are also proud of our commitment to a diverse community and to being anti-racist. The fact remains that the British National party is a racist and divisive party. Its constitution prohibits from membership anyone who is not indigenously Caucasian. That is an apartheid constitution and has no place in British politics. The BBC has made its decision about “Question Time” and no doubt it will reflect on it once it sees the outcome tonight.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Yvonne Hossack, the heroic lawyer who fought off efforts to get her struck off, is now facing her fourth audit in five years and action from Wolverhampton council to get a civil restraint order and costs against her for standing up for a 106-year-old woman? Will my right hon. and learned Friend organise a debate on the supervision of solicitors so that we can talk about this appalling vendetta against a woman who has championed many of the most vulnerable people in this country, including some of my constituents?
May I ask the Leader of the House for a debate entitled “The Recording of Pecuniary Interests by Members Voting”? She will have read Mr. Speaker’s statement and will know that I, for example, have a pecuniary interest in Equitable Life. There is no way in which Members who are voting can declare that pecuniary interest. It is very unsatisfactory and the public will not understand it. May we look again at how we can record the fact that we have a pecuniary interest in matters on which we have to vote?
At its press conference yesterday, the postal workers union made serious accusations that Ministers were part of the external forces interfering in the negotiations over this unfortunate dispute. Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for any future statement by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to address those accusations?
I think the Secretary of State has addressed the question of his personal role in the matter. He has said that the position he and the Government had taken was that both sides within Royal Mail itself need to resolve this. This is an industrial dispute that needs to be solved by the management and the unions. That is important for those who work in Royal Mail and for its customers and the organisation’s future.
May we have a debate on early-day motion 2067 on Territorial Army training cuts?
[That this House salutes the service of members of the Territorial Army (TA); deplores the freezing of TA training; notes the adverse impact this will have on generic war fighting capability, morale, recruitment and retention; further notes that the measure conflicts with the Cottam Strategic Review of Reserves published in April 2009 which the Government accepted in full; and calls on the Government to reverse its decision immediately.]
The cuts are having a very detrimental effect. In the early hours of this morning, a bomb was discovered to have been planted at the TA base in my constituency. Reserve forces are of great value to the communities that they serve, especially in Northern Ireland. More than 1,000 men and women from Northern Ireland have served on operational duties overseas. May we have a debate on this important subject, to reinforce the importance of the TA to the Army and our country?
I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said about the importance of the TA, both overseas—and especially in Afghanistan—and in all aspects of the work of the armed services. Next week’s Opposition day on Wednesday 28 October will give the House an opportunity to debate the Territorial Army.
There have been numerous debates and questions on the matter in the House of Commons. The mission in Afghanistan is a multilateral effort that is important for the people of that country. It is also important for making sure that we prevent Afghanistan and Pakistan from becoming areas that breed terrorism that could threaten security in this country.
Could the Secretary of State for Defence be asked to come to this House to give an urgent statement assuring us that members of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers and other TA units being called up to go to Afghanistan will continue to be paid for their drill nights?
A debate on the social impact of the internet and on digital rights would allow hon. Members to consider the profound changes to how UK citizens access goods and services online. For many people, the internet is now an essential service. Does my right hon. and learned Friend consider proposals to cut people off from their internet connection a challenge for the Government? Should the people who are threatened with being cut off not have the right to prove their innocence in a court of law?
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on these issues. Increasingly, we recognise that internet communication is a vital and basic service. I note that it is one of the subjects that could be raised in this afternoon’s debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee.
Back Benchers in all parts of the House are sick and tired of not being consulted more about the business of the House. A business Committee would go a long way towards solving the problem. If the Committee considering the reform of the House were to bring forward a proposal for such a Committee, would the Government support it?
We have proposed the establishment of the Wright Committee to the House, and we expect a response shortly. It would be rather odd for the Government to explain their position on a House issue before the Committee involved has even reported, let alone before we have had an opportunity to consult widely across the House. The Committee will make an important contribution: we will consult and, if need be, bring forward resolutions for the House to debate and decide on.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Royal Mail’s decision to bring in 30,000 extra staff in the current dispute is an act of provocation? May I renew the call for a debate on the matter next week, and will she assure the House that the Government are doing everything possible to assist in securing an early resolution of the dispute?
Does the right hon. and learned Lady recall that she welcomed the Procedure Committee’s report of July 2008 recommending the introduction of a system of electronic petitioning? A debate was anticipated that autumn, so is it not an absolute disgrace that, 12 months on, we have still not had it? Does she accept that this should be a matter for the House, not the Executive, and can we have the debate soon?
I pay tribute to work that the right hon. Gentleman, as Chair of the Procedure Committee, has done on this matter. It is important that we take forward the option of e-petitioning. I know that people get exasperated by multiplicities of Committees and great descriptions of process, but the terms of reference set by the House for the Wright Committee include giving the public the opportunity to choose the subjects for parliamentary debates. That could be done by means of e-petitions, so the work that the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee has done will no doubt be considered by the Wright Committee. Ultimately, and I hope sooner rather than later, the matter will find its way to the Floor of the House. I understand his concerns, but assure him that he will not have too long to wait.
May we have a debate on the treatment for wet macular degeneration? I particularly want the Secretary of State for Health to explain why my constituent Mrs. Wilson, who has lost almost all sight in one eye, is unable to get treatment for her other eye until its sight has degenerated to 6/12. When that happens, she will lose her independence and her ability to drive.
I will draw that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I know that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence approved very important treatment for wet macular degeneration, but I am not familiar with the criteria, under the NICE regulations, that govern the availability of medication. I shall ask Ministers to look into the matter.
May we have a topical debate on global food security? If the current harvests in the horn of Africa and east Africa fail, what is a crisis now will become a catastrophe in 2010. It would be sensible to have a debate to consider how the international community can ensure that the World Food Programme and other agencies have the contingency to prepare for what could well be an extremely difficult situation next year.
That is another matter that can be discussed when the House debates climate change. It is one reason why it is very important that we make progress in Copenhagen, and the hon. Gentleman might find an opportunity to raise the issue in the debate on 5 November.
Like other colleagues, I was lobbied by yesterday by firefighters in my constituency who are concerned about the regionalisation of control centres. Not only has the fire control project gone hundreds of millions of pounds over budget, but the Fire Brigades Union has said that financial resources have been stripped away from front-line services. Will the Leader of the House find time in the House for this much-needed debate which, according to her criteria, is more than topical?
May we have an early statement from Treasury Ministers to explain to the House what they intend to do to resolve the current dispute between the directors of Lloyds TSB and the directors of the bank’s charitable arm, the TSB Foundation? The foundation’s chief executive reckons that if the dispute is not resolved, there are seven weeks to go before she has to wind up the organisation, with a massive loss to charitable and voluntary organisations across the country. Surely that is not what Ministers had in mind when they put £20 billion of taxpayer’s money into Lloyds TSB.
I shall reflect on which ministerial team should look into that question. I am not sure whether it should be Cabinet Office Ministers, who are responsible for charities and the Charity Commission, or Treasury Ministers, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and let him know.
May we have an urgent debate on the direct payment of housing benefit? Although it is right for some, for a few people who, through no fault of their own, are disorganised, it is causing chaotic finances, which is especially problematic in the centre of a recession.
I know that the issue is directly connected with the availability of privately rented accommodation for those on benefits. It has been suggested that it has caused a decrease in the quantity of private sector properties available for rent by those on benefits. We have Department for Communities and Local Government questions next week; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to raise the matter then.
In the light of the Office for National Statistics figures showing that this country’s population will grow by 10 million in the next 25 years, and that two thirds of the increase will be the result of immigration, may we have an urgent topical debate on immigration? It is not the BBC’s fault that the BNP is on “Question Time” tonight; it is the fault of this Government, who have allowed uncontrolled immigration and will not even debate the subject.
We have not allowed uncontrolled immigration. We have implemented new border controls through the work of the UK Border Agency and introduced a points system and new biometric visa processes. It is the case that between now and 2035 the UK population is set to grow by 16 per cent., but that compares with world population growth of 24 per cent., so our population growth rate will be lower than the global rate. People are living longer and the context is that of global migration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in recognising the major contribution to this country that immigrants have made over the centuries and are making now. He can ask his question again during Home Office questions next Monday.
This is the time of year when all three emergency services and local accident and emergency units prepare themselves for the thousands of cases of harassment, alarm, distress and physical injury caused by the sale and inappropriate use of fireworks. May we have a debate in Government time on fireworks nuisance? If not, will the right hon. and learned Lady support my application for an Adjournment debate on that very subject?
May I take the Leader of the House back to her answer to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) about the BNP? I am sure that every Member of this House shares her dislike of that party, but the fact is that it managed to get nearly 1 million people in this country to vote for it. If we are to change that and defeat the BNP, do we not have to take on its representatives, deal with their arguments and beat them in debate? Is not that the democratic way to defeat that evil party?
We must make sure that the criminal law that protects people from racial attack and racial hatred is properly enforced, that we tackle the myths and lies about immigration put out by the BNP, and that we celebrate the role that immigrants have played in this country. We have to reassure those communities who feel that they are not listened to that their concerns, particularly about jobs and housing, are on our agenda.
May we have a debate on education and the impact of retrospective funding arrangements on areas of high growth, such as Milton Keynes? This year, record numbers of parents have contacted me about being unable to get their child into a local school. Is it right that children should have to travel across a whole city just to go school?