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Business of the House

Volume 502: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009

The business for the forthcoming week is:

Monday 14 December—Second Reading of the Personal Care at Home Bill, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Tuesday 15 December—Second Reading of the Flood and Water Management Bill, followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to Welsh language.

Wednesday 16 December—Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

The provisional business for the week commencing 4 January will include:

Monday 4 January—The House will not be sitting.

Tuesday 5 January—Second Reading of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill.

Wednesday 6 January—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Video Recordings Bill.

Thursday 7 January—A general debate on the pre-Budget report.

The provisional business for the week commencing 11 January will include:

Monday 11 January—Second Reading of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 7 January will be:

Thursday 7 January—A debate from the Public Administration Committee on “Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall”.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, may I also offer my best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all hon. Members, and on behalf of all hon. Members, may I offer our best wishes for Christmas and the new year to the Clerks of the House, the Officers of the House, catering teams, the cleaners, the police, the doorkeepers, and all who work so hard to keep the House running smoothly? I think that everyone deserves a very good Christmas and new year.

May I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business?

I warmly welcome the change from the right hon. and learned Lady’s initial refusal to allow time for a dedicated debate on the pre-Budget report. The House will want to discuss the issues raised by the Chancellor’s statement of yesterday, and we will particularly welcome the chance to highlight that the Government’s pay freeze will hit the poorest public sector workers, unlike our proposals, which excluded the million lowest paid employees. This debate will also give Ministers the opportunity to explain the cost to the NHS of the rise in national insurance.

If I am on a winning streak in asking for debates, may I repeat my other request, for a debate on Afghanistan? I appreciate the efforts that the right hon. and learned Lady is making to ensure that every week we get an opportunity to question Ministers on Afghanistan, but does she appreciate that Members are looking for a more substantial opportunity to discuss Government policy on Afghanistan, particularly in advance of the proposed London summit at the end of January, so can we have a full day’s debate, in Government time, early in the new year?

I welcome today’s written ministerial statement from the Leader of the House on the Kelly report. We are relieved that the Government have finally accepted our arguments that legislation is needed now to implement Kelly in full. Can the right hon. and learned Lady give an indication of when this proposed legislation will be brought forward and whether it will take the form of a stand-alone Bill or an amendment to existing legislation?

When may we debate the motion on private Members’ Bills, which has been languishing on the Order Paper for more than a week? Unless we debate and resolve the issue soon, we will run the risk of not debating any private Members’ Bills at all in this Session.

May we have a debate on yesterday’s report from the Public Administration Committee on the unsatisfactory handling of the special report from the ombudsman on Equitable Life? As the Committee recommends, a mechanism needs to be found so that we can debate findings from the ombudsman without having to rely on either Government or Opposition motions. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it would be sensible for the Government to respond to that recommendation during the debate on the Wright Committee report on Commons reform?

In the same vein, when will we debate and vote on the Procedure Committee’s report on the election of Deputy Speakers? This is an initiative from you, Mr Speaker, which requires action if we are to get a new system in place before the beginning of the next Parliament. The Procedure Committee has said that it is seeking the endorsement of the House. When might it secure it?

May we have a debate on the Copenhagen agreement early in the new year? This is an historic moment, which we hope will deliver a real and meaningful settlement. Given that, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the House is able to debate the conclusions of Copenhagen in full, and its implications for the UK?

Finally, as the right hon. and learned Lady has made clear, astonishingly, this is the last business question before Christmas, so, despite the fact that many people have yet to send a single Christmas card, I, too, would like to take this opportunity to offer you, Mr. Speaker, and all hon. Members including the right hon. and learned Lady, as well as all the staff and Officers, from the Clerks to the caterers, the cleaners, the police and the doorkeepers, a very happy Christmas and new year.

I am happy to accede to the right hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate on the pre-Budget report, and I have announced that. We are also looking for an opportunity to hold a debate on Afghanistan, and, given the context of the London summit, it is obviously even more important that the House has an opportunity to debate the issue, as well as hearing statements from Ministers, which have been made regularly, and hearing from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time when he answers on the subject.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about the Kelly report and legislation to take forward Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals. We all recognise that the House had to deal with the public anger and concern about the abuse of the allowance system by some Members. The House did not sit back waiting for Kelly. We have already substantially changed the allowance system and legislated for the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. As the right hon. Gentleman recognises, there will be further legislation, particularly to make it the responsibility of IPSA to decide Members of Parliament’s pay and pensions. We had, of course, already voted not to decide our own pay, but we will now bring forward legislation to put that on a statutory footing. I am not yet in a position to tell him and the House whether that legislation will stand alone or be added to existing legislation, but, whatever the vehicle, we are determined, and the whole House is agreed, that we should go forward on that basis. There is, as he said, a motion outstanding for debate on private Members’ business. It is important that that is taken forward, and it will be.

On Equitable Life, as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out in the Opposition day debate on Equitable Life, Sir John Chadwick will produce an interim report by the end of the year, and a final report in the spring. He is hard at work on that very important business.

The election of Deputy Speakers has been considered by the Wright Committee. The Committee has also considered how the House chooses the Chairs and members of Select Committees, how the public can provide input to debates in the House of Commons through petitions and how House business is managed. I have written to Opposition parties about those issues, because how we should make progress on them is a House matter; it is not for Government diktat. We want to achieve consensus and we want to bring forward a motion on which both sides of the House can agree. I have asked Opposition parties to give me their views on all the issues that the Wright Committee has dealt with, so that I can introduce promptly, within the time limit that is expected of the Government, a motion that will achieve consensus, so that we can go forward with that important Committee’s proposals.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s festive comments, did he say that he had not sent a single Christmas card yet?

Well, it could be said that the shadow Leader of the House is not one of the most cheerful Members of the House—[Interruption.] No, he is not. However, this is the time for Christmas parties. Even though it has been a very difficult year for the House and for the economy, we should not ignore the festive season altogether. With that in mind, I have been thinking about what we should all sing if we were to have a karaoke party, and I have allocated to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) the karaoke number, “Remember You’re a Womble”. As the shadow Leader of the House is really the Morrissey of the House, I have chosen for him the Smiths number, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, and for myself, I have taken a Billy Joel number, “Uptown Girl”.

Ho, ho, ho, Mr. Speaker. [Laughter.] May I wish you and all our staff and Officers of the House a Happy Christmas?

I, too, welcome the fact that there is to be a debate on the pre-Budget report. I fear that it is unravelling at such speed that we may have to have an alternative pre-Budget report before the original is even debated to correct some of the errors in the first one. Nevertheless, that debate is welcome.

On private Members’ Bills—here, I declare an interest— I am very keen, obviously, that time should be set aside for private Members’ Bills and that the resolutions should be considered. However, that is one of the matters discussed in the Wright Committee report, which suggests an alternative arrangement for dealing with private Members’ Bills. I cannot for the life of me see what the problem is, given that the Committee has produced a draft resolution, on page 94, to be put before the House. It is not for me, or the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) or the right hon. and learned Lady to decide what is appropriate; it is for the House to decide. The Wright Committee has set out its draft proposals. Why cannot they now be put before the House?

There will be a debate on universities after today’s statements. No doubt, the issue of the fiasco and chaos of the Student Loans Company will be considered, but it would be appropriate to have a statement from the Secretary of State to tell us just what has been happening. More importantly, what is being done about the company’s senior management and chief executive? They have let down students across the country, who now find themselves in extreme difficulty. Will there be a statement to that effect?

May we have a debate on what I can only term abuse of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 by police? It is not satisfactory that people up and down the country are being stopped and told that they cannot take photographs—and if they have taken photographs, they are asked to delete them from their cameras—apparently on the whim of police officers. So far, people have been told that they cannot take a picture of Christ Church in the City, St. Paul’s, railway wagons, Christmas lights—and of Mick’s Plaice, a fish and chip shop in Chatham! Such photography is not prime terrorist activity. I honestly think that the police need some education about the very strong powers that we in this House give them, to make sure that they are not used improperly.

I did, actually.

Lastly, I know that the Leader of the House is committed to the use of plain English in enactments and Government pronouncements. She has said so many times and has gone to great trouble to provide easy-to-read translations of what might otherwise be opaque in the Bills under her own control. However, may I draw her attention to the statement made earlier this week about smarter Government? I shall read out one of the conclusions of the attached paper. It states:

“We will align the different sector-specific performance management frameworks across key local agencies…thereby increasing the focus on indicators relating to joint outcomes.”

Does that make any sense at all? I do not believe that it does. This management-speak is nonsense, so will the Leader of the House eradicate it from Government business?

Again, happy Christmas!

On the pre-Budget report, there will be a debate when the House returns in the new year, but there is also Treasury questions next week and hon. Members can ask questions and raise issues then.

On the Wright Committee report, I think that it is perverse of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to object to being consulted. I will bring the proceedings before the House, but I am consulting the Opposition Front-Bench teams. Of course it is a matter for the whole House, and for Back Benchers on all sides as well as for those on the Front Benches, but it is not unreasonable to give the Front-Bench teams an opportunity to give their views as to what should be brought to the House. However, if they do not want to be consulted, they do not need to respond. I have given them until 16 December.

The debate this afternoon on students and universities will provide an opportunity to discuss the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about terrorism, and I can tell him that there are Home Office questions next week when they could be discussed. He also made a point about the smarter Government publication and plain English. If he could pass me a copy of what he read out, I shall work out a translation for him before the end of business questions this morning.

Order. No fewer than 23 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I would like to get everybody in. Members will be conscious that there is a ministerial statement to follow, and that underlines the importance of short questions and answers.

May I add my voice to those hon. Members calling for a debate on the parliamentary reform Select Committee, of which I was a member? I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to read the minority report submitted by myself and the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), which at least indicates that there was no consensus on the Committee. I think that a debate would show that, although we were a minority on the Committee, we would be in the majority in the House.

I thank my hon. Friend for her work on the Committee. The issues that she teased out in her minority report show that although the principles and objectives are clear and shared by everyone, how we put them into practice is far from straightforward and needs proper consideration.

Given that the country is bust and there is now no money for anything, that the recent local government reorganisation in Cornwall trebled in cost from £20 million to £60 million and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) has said that any legislation enacted by this Government to reorganise local government, particularly in Devon, would be changed by legislation by an incoming Tory Government, will the Leader of the House have a word with her colleague the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and ask him to come to the House before Christmas to make a statement to end the uncertainties surrounding local government reorganisation in Devon and elsewhere?

We have had a debate on local government this week, but I shall ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that we have an early debate on defence procurement, so that Britain’s world-class defence industrial base will get the full benefit in these difficult economic times of the Ministry of Defence’s substantial budget?

This is of importance to not only the MOD, but the regions from which our procurement is obtained and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I shall raise my hon. Friend’s comments with the Ministers concerned.

Would the Leader of the House ensure that the Wright report and the minority report are debated side by side with the report on the election of Deputy Speakers? Could we have a full day for that, not one that is delayed by statements, so that many people can take part in the debate?

I take note of those points, which are seriously made. I should say that we often decide that we really want to protect a day, and on such days, for example, Opposition days, we never want to put on Government statements. That is because our doing so encroaches on the Opposition’s time for the subject that they have chosen for debate. Sometimes statements are made because of a genuine emergency and we have to bring them to the House. Obviously, I want to ensure that there is a full day’s debate on the Wright report, but I cannot guarantee that a statement will not need to be made to the House.

People from Toyoda Gosei, the Japanese car parts factory in my constituency, wrote to me recently saying that they had 30 different nationalities employed there. Could we have a debate on hiring practices, because although I am sure that its hiring practices are completely non-discriminatory, there is widespread concern in south Yorkshire that employers are perhaps not giving a fair crack to local Yorkshiremen and women, and we need to discuss with employers how to bring more of the local work force into active work?

It is important not only that we have training, high skill levels and the appropriate skill levels in the local community for the jobs that are available, but that those jobs are made available through the jobcentres and that the regional development agencies work with employers to make sure that agencies that do not just choose workers from abroad are used. My right hon. Friend makes an important point and it is being taken forward.

May I welcome the Leader of the House’s assurance that the debate on the Wright Committee’s proposals will not be delayed by Front-Bench discussions? Does she intend that debate to take place before the end of January?

As I told the House at last week’s business questions, there is a time period within which it is expected that the Government would respond to Select Committee reports, and we expect to respond within that time period. In this case, I believe that that more or less finishes at the end of January, but we are not waiting until the last moment and we will respond when we can, after we are satisfied that there is a reasonable consensus as a basis on which we can then debate the report and reach agreement.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the report that was published today about the health needs of children in immigration detention centres. I know that the Government have improved the situation, but recently a child in my constituency was badly emotionally damaged by the experience of going into a detention centre. When can we have a debate in which we can consider ending the practice of families with children being put into immigration detention centres?

We want to make absolutely sure that children do not suffer just because their parents have not abided by the immigration rules and regulations. Perhaps my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to raise her question during Home Office questions next week.

The Leader of the House is wrong in her choice of karaoke song—surely the appropriate Smiths song for my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House is “This Charming Man”.

Could the Leader of the House organise a debate in Government time on immigration policy, specifically so that the House can debate the Home Secretary’s interesting remarks last night? He said that the Conservative policy of an immigration cap was a “legitimate option” within the debate. I am glad that the Home Secretary is coming to recognise the wisdom of Conservative immigration policy, as all reasonable people do. If he is going to do a U-turn, the whole House would want him to do so in this place so that we could welcome it warmly.

That question was, frankly, too long, albeit that it was amusing in parts. I hope that others will not seek to imitate the Green model.

The Home Secretary has certainly not done a U-turn. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise that point with the Home Secretary in Home Office questions next week. I am going to look at the hon. Gentleman in a different light after he has shown himself to be a true Smiths fan.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that in this very rich city of London this Christmas will be a hard one for many people. Is she aware that the centre for runaway children run by the St. Christopher’s charity is in danger of closing down? Could we have a debate on this? The fact is that we should keep this precious resource going and that St. Christopher’s does a wonderful job for runaway children—not only those from London, but those from all our constituencies up and down the country.

Obviously everybody is concerned at all times of the year, but particularly at Christmas, about children who are not with their family and about whom their family are desperately concerned, and about what provision exists for such children. I shall raise the point about St. Christopher’s with the relevant Minister.

The future integrity, independence and authority of this House depends upon the implementation of the proposals of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee and the Procedure Committee. Will the Leader of the House give me and the House a firm commitment that these proposals will be decided on a genuine free vote, unencumbered by the Whips on either side of the House?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should foster any sense of apocalypse about this. We should all seek to work together to maintain the integrity, independence and authority of the House. Of course we will have a debate on the Wright Committee report, and it will be on a free vote. Members should jealously guard their free vote on House issues.

On the Wright report, may I point out that it is important to remember that this is a political institution, that political parties exist for a reason and that this House would never ever survive a day’s business without the workings of the usual channels and the Whips Offices? Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear that in mind in her deliberations?

It is also worth our reminding ourselves that we are all elected on a manifesto, whereby we make promises to our constituents that if we get elected we will strive to keep our promises. One thing that would undermine our democracy is if we got elected to this House and then did not deliver on our manifesto commitments. That is why we have a majority Government, rather than a minority Government, and why it is the job of the Government to deliver their business in order to keep their manifesto promises.

On environmental protection, is the Leader of the House aware that today the Flood Risk Regulations 2009, statutory instrument No. 3042, come into force? They have not been consulted on or scrutinised by this House or issued to all the relevant parties. Will she issue an apology to the House? Will she castigate the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for this? Will she assure us that these regulations will not come into force today, and that they will be properly scrutinised and properly consulted upon? They form part of the Flood and Water Management Bill—she just announced that it will have its Second Reading next week. The DEFRA Whip on the Treasury Bench—

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I think that there was a request for a statement next week somewhere in her remarks, but I did not readily identify it. I call the Leader of the House.

We have just had DEFRA questions. I can reassure the hon. Lady, if she did not manage to raise her question with DEFRA Ministers, that all procedures were followed. Anyway, there is a debate on flood and water management next week, in which she might seek to catch Mr. Speaker’s eye and to make her comments.

Will the Leader of the House pass on my thanks to the Chancellor for making a statement on getting serious about tax avoidance? One can hear the breaking of glass in News Corporation and the Telegraph Media Group. With that in mind, there is no better place to start than media groups to ensure that they pay an appropriate amount of tax in this country. Will she ensure that that is taken forward?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important for companies and corporations to pay their taxes in this country and for individuals to do so, too. There is a particular issue for us in the House of Commons and for people who seek to come into the House of Commons. It used to be said that there should be no taxation without representation. We raise the taxes—we pass the Finance Acts—and so we should turn it around and say that there should be no representation without taxation. The idea that someone should purport to come into this House to make other people pay taxes while saying for tax purposes that they do not live in this country is bizarre.

Will the Leader of the House, in her busy schedule before Christmas, take the time to draw the Foreign Secretary’s attention to early-day motions on the situation in Kurdistan, and particularly the adversely altered imprisonment arrangements for Abdullah Ocalan? If he were to pass away in Turkish custody, the security of us all would be greatly compromised.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter. There will be an opportunity next week in the pre-recess Adjournment debate, if he thinks that it is appropriate, for him to set out those points in more detail.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the wonderful Christmas party in your apartments yesterday. It was much appreciated by my granddaughter.

May I ask for an early debate based on early-day motion 346, on organ donors?

[That this House notes that 10-year-old George Higginson, who was tragically killed in a road traffic accident, donated his organs as gifts of life to five other people; wishes to pay tribute to the courage and selflessness of his parents who continue to support and promote organ donation; and supports Mr Higginsons suggestion that arrangements be made at polling stations to give people an opportunity to register as an organ donor whilst voting at the forthcoming general election.]

It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith). The final sentence reads that

“arrangements be made at polling stations to give people an opportunity to register as an organ donor whilst voting at the forthcoming general election.”

From my experience of bereavement because of a sudden accidental death, I know that it would certainly have helped me to have known that my late husband’s organs had been used to save the lives of other people.

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I said to the House last week that we would look into whether information about signing up to the register of organ donors could be made available at polling stations. I am interested in my hon. Friend’s comments about the Christmas party. Did they have karaoke at it, I wonder?

This is not a politically sexy subject, but it is an essential one that underpins freedom of speech, innovation and research, and societal change. Scientists and academics have a duty to criticise publicly the poor research and unsubstantiated claims of others in the public domain, but it seems to me that they are often silenced through fear and threat of lengthy and costly libel actions. May I urge the right hon. and learned Lady to hold a debate as soon as possible on UK libel laws?

The shadow Leader of the House’s song should, of course, be “Young Love”.

May we have a debate on the private finance initiative? As each successive report comes out, it appears that it is prohibitive in cost, flawed in concept and intolerable in consequence for our nation. With hundreds of billions of pounds stored up over the generations, it would help if we were to reform or abolish it. It would certainly assist the Chancellor in bridging the various financial gaps that he described to the House yesterday.

The private finance initiative is massively changed from when it was originally embarked on. The reality is that in every constituency throughout the country we have really important capital projects—hospitals, schools and housing—that have been brought forward earlier because of the PFI system.

The question gives me an opportunity to reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who asked me to translate “Putting the Frontline First”. On his point—I will not read it all out again—the quotation basically concerned the fact that performance management indicators should be common across the different Departments, rather than each Department having a different performance management indicator, pulling in different directions. It is really about partnership working towards common objectives, which is probably gobbledegook in itself.

During the holocaust, a Foreign Office official infamously wrote a minute in which he referred to the time being wasted by what he called “wailing Jews”. When Mr. Rowan Laxton, the head of the south Asia desk at the Foreign Office, was convicted in September of an outburst in which he referred to “f— Jews” and was fined £350, his barrister said that that was

“going to have very grave and long-term consequences”

and that

“whatever happens in court is secondary to the effect it will have on his career and reputation”.

Given that he has been reinstated in the Foreign Office and appointed to a new job and that that job has not been revealed, may we have a statement confirming that the job will have nothing whatsoever to do with the middle east?

In the sort of situation that the hon. Gentleman has raised, which concerns an individual employee of the civil service, I am not in a position to answer the question. However, as regards his overall point about the horror of anti-Semitism, I know that I can look to him to support the measures that we will introduce in the Equality Bill to give proper, strong legal protection so that people are not discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of their religion.

Is the Leader of the House aware that every day this week, thanks to your good offices, Mr. Speaker, school choirs have been able to sing in Portcullis House? At 1 o’clock today, Priory school from my constituency will be singing. Will my right hon. and learned Friend be able to join me in the audience and encourage other Members to be there, too?

I, too, pay tribute to all the schools who have come to Portcullis House, to you, Mr. Speaker, for initiating this, and to those hon. Members who have brought their schools here. I thank my hon. Friend for the invitation and I shall go.

Chorley school was excellent yesterday—I heard them.

Is it possible to have an early debate on the importance of community hospitals? Clitheroe hospital in my constituency provides a tremendous service to local people. A lot of rural villages use it and, as the Leader of the House knows, we do not have the same bus service as everyone else and a lot of people do not have access to cars to be able to go to the main hospitals. It was due to be replaced with a £12 million new hospital, but that has now been frozen while the trust considers the availability and provision of new services. Please may we have a debate on this subject? It is supposed to be a national health service that also includes rural areas.

Absolutely it should. People locally, through the local health service organisations in consultation with hon. Members, patients’ organisations and the local community should decide where those services are put. I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman is not happy with the proposals, he should write to the Secretary of State and ask to meet him to discuss this.

May we have a debate on sentencing so that we can discuss the case of Gregory Davis, who killed my constituent, Dorothy Rogers, by stabbing her 31 times and then chased her son, Michael, into the school playground and killed him, too? Does the Leader of the House at least understand the anger of my constituents at the news that after just six years, Mr. Davis is now enjoying unsupervised day visits to Oxford and could be released within weeks?

Everyone will have absolute heartfelt sympathy for the relatives of Dorothy Rogers and her son Michael and will appreciate the concerns that have been raised by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituents about the situation as regards Gregory Davis. Because the hon. Gentleman was able to give me notice of his question, I have already talked about this matter with the Justice Secretary, who has been looking into it this morning. He is happy to invite the hon. Gentleman to a meeting on this subject. The sentence was handed down by the courts but Gregory Davis was then transferred to a psychiatric facility. I think that we can all understand the concerns and a meeting with the Justice Secretary will be very important.

Under Standing Order No. 14, the Government are required to bring forward 13 days for private Members’ business. Private Members’ Bills will be presented next Wednesday, and unless by then the Government have nominated dates on which their Second Readings may be taken, the system will collapse. Will the Leader of the House name those 13 days, or provide a debate on changing the Standing Order?

A motion has been tabled to amend the Standing Orders to provide for private Members’ business in a Session that will inevitably be shorter than usual. However, the system will certainly not fall into chaos; it will proceed in an orderly and democratic way.

May we have a debate on winter fuel payments and the need for regular review and uprating of those payments to pensioners? In that debate, we could also address the issue highlighted in early-day motion 407, which points out that those who reach the age of 80 after 27 September will not qualify for payments in the following year.

[That this House congratulates the Government on the provision of winter fuel payments for those aged 60 and over; further congratulates the Government on providing an increase in the payment for those aged 80 and over; notes with concern, however, that those people who turn 80 after the arbitrary date of 27 September are not eligible for the increased payments throughout the following winter; and therefore calls on the Government to change the qualifying date to ensure that those aged 80 on or before 31 December receive the increased payment in the year they are 80.]

There will be a benefits uprating statement this afternoon, and the Prime Minister spoke about the matter during yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions. If there is anything further that the hon. Gentleman would like to raise, perhaps he will write to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and keep the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland informed about his concerns.

The Leader of the House was asked whether we could have a debate—or a statement at least—about the fiasco involving the Student Loans Company. It is not good enough for her to say that there is, coincidentally, a general debate on higher education this afternoon. There is a damning report about the Student Loans Company and ministerial involvement in it. It might be just one of those things for the right hon. and learned Lady, but students are suffering fear and hardship, night and day, and we want a statement in the House.

Hon. Members will have an opportunity to ask their questions and to get them answered by a Minister during this afternoon’s estimates debate. I would have thought that the point for Members is whether it is possible for them to raise the issue and get a response, whether that is as part of a topical debate, an estimates day or any other business. The question is whether there is an opportunity, and the answer is yes.

As this is meant to be the season of good will, is it not extremely mean-spirited and Scrooge-like of the Leader of the House to try to restrict debate on private Members’ business in the new year to just eight days, instead of the statutory 13, especially when most of the Bills at the top of the list are being promoted by Labour Members?

If we have a shorter Session, there are fewer days for private Members’ business, so this is just proportionality—there is nothing unusual at all.