The provisional business for next week is as follows:
Monday 1 February–Motion to approve the seventh report 2009-2010 from the Standards and Privileges Committee (HC 310); followed by motion to approve a money resolution on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; followed by motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; followed by Consideration in Committee of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (day 5).
Tuesday 2 February–Remaining stages of the Flood and Water Management Bill.
Wednesday 3 February–Motions relating to police grant, local government finance and council tax.
Thursday 4 February–Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Crime and Security Bill; followed by remaining stages of the Corporation Tax Bill; followed by remaining stages of the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Bill.
Friday 5 February–Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 8 February will include:
Monday 8 February–Opposition day [4th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 February and 4 March will be:
Thursday 25 February–A debate from the Transport Committee entitled “Rail Fares and Franchises”
Thursday 4 March–A debate from the Foreign Affairs Committee entitled “Global Security: Non-Proliferation”.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the forthcoming business but she has not actually been very forthcoming. We already knew the business for next week and she has only given us the business for one day on the following week. Can she share with the House her plans for the week after next?
Will there be a statement next week on today’s conference on Afghanistan? While I am on international matters, may I ask once again for an opportunity to debate Haiti? Last week the right hon. and learned Lady said that she would look for an opportunity “in some form or another, for Haiti to be debated on the Floor of the House next week”.—[Official Report, 21 January 2010; Vol. 504, c. 449.]
Given the huge international effort that will be needed to rebuild that country and the problems of rehousing millions of people who have been left homeless, surely this is an issue for which we should find time in this House.
We are due to debate the Wright report on 23 February. Despite the Prime Minister’s warm words at Prime Minister’s questions last week, there is now widespread suspicion that the Government have adopted an approach that is simply designed to fail. Today’s edition of The Times reports that we will be voting only on an unamendable order, which could be blocked by a single Member. Is that consistent with the spirit of consensus to which the right hon. and learned Lady has constantly referred? The last time a similar package of reforms was debated in the House, in 2002, we had a debate and then we voted on a series of resolutions on the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee. Why is that not an appropriate precedent for the Wright Committee? Will the House be able to vote on the resolutions of which the Government approve as well as on those that they do not? Does the Leader of the House agree with my suggestion that we should postpone the February recess by one day and debate the Wright report earlier than she proposes, given that we are seriously beginning to run out of time? Yesterday she admitted that she was not much good at reversing. Today she risks stalling.
May we have a statement on the release of material to the Chilcot inquiry? When he announced the inquiry, the Prime Minister unequivocally said that
“no British document and no British witness will be beyond the scope of the inquiry.”
Yesterday, Sir John expressed his frustration that key documents relating to the legality of the Iraq war had failed to be declassified. Has the Prime Minister now backtracked on that commitment?
May we adopt the Chinese menu approach to Business questions? When I say “No. 41”, that means I am looking for the date of the Budget; when I say “42”, I am looking for the date of the Easter recess. Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady very helpfully pointed us in the direction of Easter. We are getting warmer, but may I repeat that I am asking this question on behalf of people who work in the House and who can take leave and holidays only when the House is not sitting? Can she provide us with another clue today?
May we have a debate on how Britain is governed? Two reports in as many weeks from senior civil servants who have worked under Labour paint a picture of a dysfunctional Government, with a “strategic gap” at the heart of Downing street that allows Ministers a free rein to produce endless reams of unnecessary and bad legislation.
On behalf of Conservative Members, may I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for one thing and offer her our full support? According to a survey this week from the National Centre for Social Research,
“New Labour has helped ensure that British public opinion now has a more conservative character.”
I am sorry that I unable to announce any business after Monday for the week after next—the reason is as follows. The Supreme Court has made a decision about the freezing of assets of those suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. As hon. Members will know, it is very important that we stop money flowing into organisations that will then use it for terrorist activities. Freezing assets is an important part of the armoury to tackle terrorist activity. The Supreme Court has given a judgment that the methods of freezing are outwith the law. We therefore need to address that issue, because we are absolutely determined that we should be able to freeze assets, but we must do so in a way that is compliant with the substantive law. We have applied to the Court for a stay of implementation of the release of those frozen assets to allow us to consider whether or not we can bring forward legislation before those assets are unfrozen so that we can put the law in order, but prevent the release of assets to those whom we think should not have them.
I am sorry that I did not have a chance, because these things are ongoing at the moment, to give that explanation to colleagues. A decision will be made at 12 o’clock in the Supreme Court to say whether it will give a stay of implementation of its judgment such that will allow us to legislate. I did not want to announce the business for the week after next given that it may be subject to decisions relating to information that we will not have until after 12 o’clock.
On Afghanistan, we had a debate led by the Foreign Secretary and closed by the Secretary of State for Defence last week. Obviously, the very important conference is taking place today and I know that the House will want to be updated. Similarly, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for referring to Haiti, which remains an important issue. We will look for opportunities to ensure that the House can be updated, not only about the work that the Government are doing—the doubling of the aid that has gone to Haiti—but about the £50 million that the public has donated and the very important work that our search and rescue teams are doing. I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s request about Haiti, which I know is shared by many hon. Members, and I shall do what I can about it.
On the Wright report, the right hon. Gentleman has talked about “widespread suspicion”. It is fair enough for people to be suspicious if there is something to be suspicious of, but he should not be suspicious because we are trying to be very straightforward about this. The Government have been very positive about reforming and improving how the House of Commons works, and we have a clear record of bringing to the House of Commons reforms that have then been accepted by it. We are keen to continue that reform by taking forward the recommendations in the Wright Committee report. The Government’s preference for reaching decisions on these reforms is that we proceed on the basis of consensus, and proceed as quickly as possible. We would like to recommend to the House no fewer than 21 of the Wright Committee’s recommendations. We thought it would help the House to have a full day’s debate—as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have given a provisional date of 23 February for that—at the end of which we will place all 21 before the House under the Remaining Orders of the Day. I hope that some of them will go through without objection, as I know that there will be consensus in the House. That will probably not be the case for all of them, but let us hope that it will be for as many as possible. If there are objections, we are committed to bringing back to the House those motions that have been objected to. Resolutions will then be tabled that can be amended. At the point at which they are amendable, any recommendation from the Wright Committee’s report can thereby be attached.
It is important for people to understand that there is no consensus on some aspects of the recommendations. The Liaison Committee issued a report yesterday about the election of Chairs of Select Committees, and we are in favour of the Wright Committee’s proposals on that—we want the House to be able to elect those Chairs by secret ballot—but the Liaison Committee was split down the middle. It agreed to support the Wright Committee’s proposals, but only by seven votes to six votes. If the right hon. Gentleman is trying to convey the view that there is consensus and that we are trying to oppose it, that is wrong. There are different views and we are trying to get consensus—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I have had to go on so long about that. I hope that people will understand that we are being completely open about this and are trying to make progress.
On the question of the material for the Chilcot inquiry, the Government will obviously do everything by the rules as laid down. On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about the machinery of Government, we had Cabinet Office questions yesterday and I suggest that he should have put that question to Cabinet Office Ministers.
On the Wright Committee, I do not think that suspicions have been entirely allayed. The Leader of the House might help the process, given that she appears to be seeking unanimity rather than consensus, if she said that if any of the motions were objected to, the matter would be brought back to the House the following week for a decision. I think that that is the appropriate way of dealing with the issue. Will she give that commitment?
The right hon. and learned Lady mentioned Cabinet Office questions. May I ask for a debate arising from Cabinet Office questions yesterday on the subject of the Government Communication Network? My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked, among other things, why 225 people were employed as communications officers in a single Department. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office said that in a typical Department 600 calls a day were made to the communications officers, so, according to my calculations, that is fewer than three a day to those individuals. I am sure that they do a lot of other work, too, but that does not seem to be an over-taxing burden. Perhaps we should have a debate on that.
We have heard a lot of talk from the Prime Minister and others about a decision on a referendum on alternative voting systems. However, I have searched the amendment papers for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill and no amendment seems to have been tabled. I assume from that—of course, the Prime Minister would not indulge in idle talk—that a discrete Bill must be coming forward to implement that. Will she confirm that that will be the case? Perhaps it will be discussed in the week for which she has not yet given all the business.
We read, surprisingly, this week that Pas-de-Calais wishes to be considered part of London and the south-east for the purposes of the 2012 Olympics. This is a novelty that I do not think we have seen since the days of Mary Tudor. Lots of parts of this country would like to be considered part of London and the south-east for the purposes of the 2012 Olympics, so may we have a debate on the Olympics legacy? Two thirds of the Olympic contracts are going to London and the south-east, sports participation figures show hardly any rise—and, indeed, they record a reduction in women’s participation— and tourism benefits will be affected by cuts to the VisitBritain budget. May we have a debate on the Olympics legacy?
May we have a debate on the impending clearance of the radio spectrum and its effect on radio microphones? This is crucial to a lot of theatres and music performance venues around the country that will have to replace expensive equipment wholesale. For some, the cost will be prohibitive and I think that we could usefully have a debate on that.
Lastly, after what the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said, I guess that I just have to say, “41, with no black bean sauce.” I simply want to know when the Budget is. The Leader of the House did not answer me last week, or the right hon. Gentleman this week. Please, let us have an answer.
The hon. Gentleman asked me for an undertaking to bring back to the House the following week those motions that are objected to. I cannot give an undertaking for the following week, but obviously we will want to bring them back as soon as possible. The view that the Government will advance to the House is that we will have a full debate on all the matters arising from the Wright report, but that we should not have to have that debate all over again if motions are objected to and have to be brought back. However, that argument would be undermined if too much time were to pass before we come back to consider the motions that are not agreed. I therefore hope that colleagues will recognise that the chance for the substantive debate on matters that the House might wish to amend will arise before we get to Remaining Orders of the Day.
I am sorry if that is not terribly clear, but I hope that the House will not be suspicious. It is quite complicated, and we should recognise that there are disagreements on this matter. We take the view that we want to make as much progress as possible on reform.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked about the Government Communication Network. The job of people working in Government Departments on communication and information goes beyond just picking up the phone and answering calls, as they also have the very important task of providing information. Their job is about making Government transparent and accountable to the public, so they have to look up and give out the information that people ask for. The Liberal Democrats regard themselves as supporters of openness, transparency and freedom of information, so I am sure that they will agree that someone has to provide that information. That is an important part of Government accountability.
As for the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, all the issues to be discussed in Monday’s debate are already on the Order Paper. An extra day would be needed if any further substantive matters were brought forward.
On the Olympics, I strongly support the motivation behind the question from the hon. Gentleman. We want to make sure that the money spent secures a legacy after the Olympics, and that that legacy is not just for London but for all the UK. No doubt he can put that point to my right hon. Friend the Olympics Minister and get the information that he requires.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the radio spectrum. I shall look into whether there should be a topical debate on the matter. [Hon. Members: “And the Budget?”] As far as the date for the Budget is concerned, we are still a little way away from arranging it. [Laughter.] It is not next week. My job is to announce the business for next week and the week after so that the House can know what is happening, and the answer is that the Budget will not be held in either.
Will the Leader of the House give us an early debate on pleural plaques? We need to be able to lay down a marker on any Government proposal that might allow future victims of pleural plaques in Scotland to be compensated by the British taxpayer, when future English victims will get nothing at all.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We are aware of the strength of feeling on this matter, and are firmly committed to ensuring that people suffering from asbestos-related diseases receive the help and support that they need. We hope to be in a position to give the Government’s response on pleural plaques soon.
The Leader of the House has said that the Youth Parliament sitting that was held here in the Chamber was a great success, so what requests has she had from other organisations? Would it be possible to have a pensioners’ Parliament? If so, what would the procedure be? Would any such proposal be debated in the House, and who would take the decision about other such occasions?
The Deputy Leader of the House has written to the hon. Lady and, like her, I strongly support the suggestion. I believe that, as happens in Scotland, many other organisations and not just those representing the elderly could use the Chamber when we are not sitting. It would bring people into the House of Commons and would be all to the good.
May we have a debate on London government? We were promised three rape crisis centres, but none has been delivered. We were promised low fares, and some are going up by more than 20 per cent. We were promised more police, and the latest proposal is to cut police numbers in London by up to 500. This man cannot even be bothered to chair the Metropolitan Police Authority but still takes £250,000 from The Daily Telegraph. Is not it the case that London has stopped laughing at this clown?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. We get precious little support from the Mayor of London, whether it be on housing and transport for Londoners, the important local responsibility to provide help and support for rape victims or our initiative to get neighbourhood police in every area. However, the Government will do everything that we can to support Londoners.
Is the Leader of the House aware that next week is salt awareness week? If we cannot have debate on that, will she tell the House what recent representations Ministers have made to the food industry about the desirability of reducing salt levels in its products? Does she agree that this country would be a far better place if we had less salt in our food and more on our roads?
I totally agree. I think that salt awareness is very important indeed. We want to make sure that there is less fat, sugar and salt in our food. This is an important public health issue, and something on which the Government and the health authorities need to take action. That is not the nanny state, just good public health policy.
May we have an early debate on how different local education authorities are implementing the Building Schools for the Future programme? I am particularly concerned about the way that Birmingham city council and Catalyst are imposing charges on the use of schools outside core school hours. Other LEAs seem to be able to charge much lower rates, thereby allowing communities to continue to be able to use school buildings.
This is a very contentious issue, and justifiably so. Public money has gone into state-of-the-art school buildings that are very important for pupils but which also should be available for the wider community. I shall raise the matter with Ministers in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and ask them to liaise directly with my hon. Friend in support of her efforts to ensure that her community can use newly built local schools.
The British Government have always played a very important role in the middle east peace process, so is the Leader of the House aware that it is now commonly held that the Government of Israel’s treatment of the people of Gaza puts them in breach of the fourth Geneva convention, and that their illegal blockade of Gaza now amounts to collective punishment? Does she agree that it is essential for this House to have a debate to express its views, and to give our Government a stronger mandate to try and persuade the Government of Israel that it is not in their interests to proceed in this way?
The Government are in no doubt about this issue. We are strongly committed to the course of action that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, but there are many hon. Members on all sides of the House who also have strong views and who would like to have an opportunity to take part in a debate. I shall therefore look for an opportunity for such a debate.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give consideration to holding a debate on the benefits to Scotland and the United Kingdom of the Union? Has she had an opportunity in the last week to see the helpful figures from the Scotland Office that put the fiscal benefit of the Union to Scotland at £75.7 billion since 1999? In her view, would that have happened if we had followed the advice of the Opposition parties?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he may find an opportunity to raise the matter at Treasury questions next week. The benefit goes beyond just the fiscal benefit to Scotland, because the Union allows us to stand and work together to tackle the recession and to bring the UK economy into recovery. Without that protection, the situation would have been very perilous for Scotland. He may therefore like to consider raising the point in Treasury questions, when he will be able to get further information.
As I have said, we are going to table 21 recommendations, which is a substantial number, in four key areas that I have identified along with other recommendations. If there are further issues that hon. Members believe would secure the support of the House, they can do so by tabling amendments to other recommendations when we deal with those that are not agreed on the initial day.
Tomorrow, Friday 29 January, is SOS day, on which the Royal National Lifeboat Institution will celebrate the work of our lifeboats and their crews. I declare an interest as a member of its council. The year 2009 was the busiest year for the RNLI crews, as more than 8,000 people were rescued. Can we have a debate on their efforts and the work that they do, and on the linkage with search and rescue teams and other maritime services, as that would raise awareness of safety incidents and the perils of the sea?
First, may I tell the right hon. and learned Lady how well she did yesterday? Has she considered a job swap? Returning to a question asked by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), after 450 years, the good citizens of Calais have come to their senses and want to become part of the United Kingdom. What steps has the right hon. and learned Lady taken in that regard, and when we open up her heart, will she have “Calais” carved on it?
There appears to be some ambiguity surrounding the implementation of temporary and agency workers legislation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore arrange for the appropriate Minister to come to the House and clarify the position and the impact on hundreds of thousands of workers in the UK?
I will ask Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to write to my hon. Friend and place a copy of their correspondence in the House of Commons Library. The protection of temporary and agency workers is important not only to protect those workers against exploitation but to prevent other people from having their terms and conditions undermined by those who would exploit workers. This is an important issue, and I will make sure that he receives a letter.
I am very suspicious about No. 42. The dates of the Easter recess are not important to MPs, because I doubt whether many MPs will take a holiday over Easter, for obvious reasons. However, they are important to all the staff of the House, as they would allow them to take a family-friendly holiday. Will the Leader of the House speak to her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and tell him to stop dithering and call an election now? Afterwards, Deo volente, the shadow Leader of the House will sit in her position and can determine the date of the Easter recess.
We are entering an era in which the mark of an open society is the way in which it guarantees access to open knowledge through the internet. It is therefore vital that liberal democracies do not send mixed signals to closed societies that seek to restrict internet freedoms for their citizens. The anti-counterfeiting trade agreement that is being discussed in Mexico might inadvertently do that, so may we have a debate in the House so that hon. Members can test that notion and find out more about our negotiating position?
I will look for an opportunity to debate that issue, which may benefit from a debate in Westminster Hall. We believe that it would be helpful if there were more transparency on the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement negotiations. As is common practice in trade negotiations, the ACTA negotiations are taking place in confidence, and working documents are not disclosed without the consent of all the negotiating parties. Our officials have been asked to press for more transparency at every opportunity, and have consistently argued for that in the ACTA negotiations, and in bilaterals with our partners. We will raise the issue, as my hon. Friend requests, in Mexico where the negotiations are under way.
The Leader of the House said it would be good if Scotland and England stood together. May we have a statement or debate on the Student Loans Company, as Glasgow will suffer as a result of the SLC redundancies? Jobs are being transferred from Glasgow to England, which suggests that the Government are anti-Scotland and anti-Glasgow.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider a debate on the leniency shown by magistrates courts to celebrities? Rock star Pete Doherty recently appeared in Gloucester magistrates court on drug and driving offences. While he was there, a sack of heroin fell out of his pocket, and 13 others were found on his person in court. Yesterday, he was given a £750 fine. Does she agree that we need to encourage courts to take a firmer grip on this?
I know these issues concern the public very much, but my hon. Friend will recognise that it is not right for the House to second-guess magistrates in any particular case or, indeed, in any part of the criminal justice system, which must operate independently of our elected representatives.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week entitled, “Treasury interference in helicopter procurement”, which would enable previous Defence Secretaries to make the point that they made to the Chilcot inquiry: that the Prime Minister interfered with requests from the Ministry of Defence for funding, with the result that helicopters that would otherwise be available in Afghanistan are not available, and lives have been lost as a direct consequence?
Gloucestershire county council is conducting a review of schools that are part of the national challenge arrangements. In my constituency, that involves the closure of the Vale of Berkeley college. There are two questions relating to that on the consultation document, which can largely be accessed on the internet. One is about closure, and the other is about a “hard” federation. The second suggestion is not viable, so we need a third question about whether the school could become a co-operative trust school. Will my right hon. and learned Friend do something to make sure that we get a fair consultation in the county?
When Robin Cook was Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, it produced a unanimous report on the election of Members to Select Committees. Unfortunately, although the measure was supposed to be decided on a free vote, the Government opposed it. Can the Leader of the House give us a firm assurance that when matters relating to the Wright report come before the House, not only for debate but for voting purposes, there will be a genuine free vote on the part of the Government and the Government Whips Office?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing commitment to these issues and, indeed, his work over many years on the Modernisation Committee. I can assure him that when the Wright issues come before the House, that will be House business and it will be subject to a free vote.
May we have a debate in the House on policing and security in London? The Mayor of London was elected on a promise to provide strong leadership for the Metropolitan Police Authority, and some of us would like to scrutinise exactly what he thinks he has achieved that makes him believe he can break his promise to the people of London and not give up his £250,000-a-year job with The Daily Telegraph.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is a trail of broken promises. First, the Mayor said that he would respect the autonomy—the operational independence—of the Metropolitan police, but then he decided to grab it and try to run it himself from City hall. Now, he is saying he is too busy to do so, although my hon. Friends have rightly pointed out that he does not seem to be too busy to earn a lot of money writing for the newspapers. I will ask Ministers at the Home Office to look into the issue.
Can the Leader of the House find time in the week after next for a debate on “An Anatomy of the Economic Inequality in the UK,” a report of the National Equality Panel, produced by the Government Equalities Office, which was available to the media on Tuesday but was still not available today to Members in the Vote Office? Will she link that with votes on early-day motion 343, on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation audit on poverty?
[That this House registers its dismay that an audit undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that poverty is at the same level as it was in 2000, with two million children in low-income households, unemployment at a 12-year high and repossessions at six times the level of 2004; and urges the Government to pursue policies to eradicate poverty and promote equality.]
Will she also link it with early-day motion 297, on the Fabian Society study on poverty? Those three reports all point out the failures of the Labour Government.
As the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to read the extensive summary, at least, that has been published, he will recognise that the report shows that we have narrowed the gap between rich and poor, which was growing under the Conservative Administration in the 1980s, and that we have halted the growth in inequality, but that we need to do more to narrow it. We have already had a debate in the House on improving social mobility in accessing the professions, following the Milburn report. This is a constant theme in Children, Schools and Families questions and in Treasury questions as we seek to tackle unemployment. It will also be a subject in considering health issues when we get the Marmot report on health inequalities. There will not be a single debate. The topic will be a running theme of how we make sure that this country is fair, and as we do more to tackle the historic inequality that the hon. Gentleman knows has been handed down from generation to generation.
Why has the Leader of the House yet again, this time in replying to the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), failed to give a guarantee that the Prime Minister is coming to make an important statement next week? Clearly, it is in the interests of the House that there be a statement from the Prime Minister on the Afghanistan conference, probably on the Yemen conference and probably, if matters develop, on the Northern Ireland peace process negotiations.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Prime Minister was in Northern Ireland in those very important talks; that is why he was unable to be back in the House yesterday. He is engaged in the talks relating to Afghanistan, and he seeks to do all the very important work as Prime Minister of this country and internationally, and also to keep the House updated. I will look up the figures—I think he has given an unprecedented number of statements to the House. In his “Governance of Britain” statement in July 2007, he said that he would make it a priority to give statements to the House and keep the House informed, and he has done that. I cannot announce in advance what statements any Minister is to make, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister regards it as a priority to keep the House informed.
May we have a debate on the desirability of prisoners having Sky TV in their cells? When I asked in 2006 how many prisoners had Sky TV in their cells, the answer was 1,500. When I asked the same question again just before Christmas, the figure had risen to 4,070. Many of my constituents—law-abiding people—would love to be able to afford to have Sky TV, but cannot. Why should prisoners be able to have Sky TV in their cells? May we have a debate so that we can find out how the Government justify that?
The hon. Gentleman can ask a question in Home Office questions. We have been clear in our approach to prison policy, but we have been baffled by the prison policy of the official Opposition. Last week they announced their policy on prison ships. The policy sailed on Wednesday, but it seemed to have sunk by Thursday.
I am sure the Leader of the House will share my concern about the recent crackdown on press freedom and the imprisonment of human rights activists in Kazakhstan. That is all the more ironic because this year, Kazakhstan chairs the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which of course promotes democracy. May we have a debate to discuss this worrying situation and what influence the Government might be able to bring to bear to get Kazakhstan to take its international responsibilities as chair of the OSCE more seriously?
May we have an urgent debate on Somalia? Is it not the case that a small minority of Somalis are leaving the United Kingdom, travelling to Somalia, trying to undermine the transitional Government in Mogadishu, which the Government support, training in terror camps, and coming back to this country trained up and possibly posing a threat to our national security?
The Leader of the House will have seen in the press recently the fruits of the labours of the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) in trying to sell their eleventh-hour improvements to veterans health care. Given that the matter is of enormous importance to veterans and to Members of the House, will the right hon. and learned Lady try to encourage her colleagues, if it is not too much trouble, to come to the House to explain what they plan so that that can be subject to proper scrutiny here?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong to talk about eleventh-hour improvements to veterans health care. There has been a sustained focus on the improvement to veterans health care, whether that is primary care, with new arrangements with the NHS, hospital care or mental health services. If he looks at the Command Paper that was issued by the Secretary of State for Defence a couple of years ago and all the work that has transpired following that, he will realise that his comments are ill-judged. If he wants to suggest anything specific that would contribute to the improvements that are under way, I am sure the Secretary of State for Defence, working with the Health Secretary, would look at that positively.
As the Leader of the House knows, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is being debated next week. Being formidably well briefed, she will also know that my new clause 1 would remove section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which discriminates against Members of Parliament who have a mental health problem. She will also know that Mr. Speaker’s Conference on parliamentary representation recommended that that provision of the Mental Health Act be abolished as soon as possible and a Select Committee report on it. She will know, too, that a Minister in the Justice Department committed the Government to that course of action this Tuesday. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, to ask his Committee to look at the matter at the earliest opportunity. If he does so and brings his recommendations forward, will the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that the House gets an early opportunity to make a decision so that people in this country with a mental health problem recognise that Members of the House treat mental health and physical disabilities in exactly the same way and do not discriminate against one or the other?
I strongly support the work that the hon. Gentleman is doing on that and the principles that lie behind it. It has, as he says, been taken up by work underlying the Speaker’s Conference. The matter is still under consideration, but I will make sure that we get back to him as soon as possible to let him know how we intend to respond to the situation when the CRAG Bill returns to the House.
I am sure the Leader of the House and all colleagues in the House will pay tribute to our armed forces in Afghanistan, whom I had the pleasure of visiting last week. What was very sad and very annoying was that when we went through Brize Norton, Commonwealth soldiers who are fighting for this country, for our armed forces, were segregated and not allowed to fly with the rest of the British soldiers because they did not have a British passport. I can see that the right hon. and learned Lady is somewhat bemused by that. Will she contact the Ministry of Defence and find out why Commonwealth soldiers, particularly South African soldiers, are not allowed to go through the United Arab Emirates into theatre and why such segregation takes place, and come back to the House to explain why they are treated in such an appalling way?
On the Wright report, I agree that we cannot go on like this, with suspicious minds. To allay suspicions, given what the Leader of the House said, could she reply to the Wright Committee setting out which of the 21 Wright report recommendations she plans to put, thereby helping everyone to identify which recommendations do not currently find favour with the Government? That would be open and straightforward. I commend that action to her.
The issue is not just about those recommendations that do or do not find favour with the Government, but about those on which we think there is a good prospect of achieving a consensus. I ask all hon. Members, when they talk about the issue, at least to be fair and recognise that there is no House unanimity against which the Government are standing; there are different views, and we have to work out where there is a consensus. It is not just a question of what we do not find favour with; it is a question of the recommendations with which we think the House is able to move forward. All the motions will be tabled in good time so that hon. Members can consider them, and I have told the House about the four big-ticket areas where we want to make changes. They are the election of Select Committee Chairmen; the election of Select Committee members; the ability to introduce private Members’ motions to the House and vote on them; and a business Committee for Back-Benchers’ issues. Those are important areas, and I hope that we can move forward on them.
Child protection issues have remained prominent in the headlines since the tragic events at Edlington, and, while the Government have been in denial, suppressed reports have been oozing out of Doncaster showing what a basket-case the local authority was. One report that I have seen shows that social workers were not registered, and that children’s services staff were not even Criminal Records Bureau-checked. Can we have a rational debate on that topical and important subject to ensure not only that other serious case reviews that are due to come out are properly authored, but that we learn their lessons properly? We will not do so all the time that they are not published.
That matter was discussed in the House in 2006, when child protection issues such as serious case reviews were reformed and reviewed. I certainly think it right that all the findings from which lessons need to be learned be made public; there is no point in producing a finding and then not sharing it, because all those people who are supposed to act differently will not know and the lessons will not be learned. However, it has been agreed over the years, with the support of children’s organisations and, indeed, the official Opposition, that the investigative background to the findings be not published, so that the investigation can range widely. The Opposition have not made any substantive proposals to change that; they have come forward with lots of fire and brimstone. Therefore, it would be much better to have a sensible discussion about how we bring into the public domain as much information as possible—within the purview of those serious case reviews—and then the findings. We all recognise that there were major problems in Doncaster, and they are being addressed.
May I draw the right hon. and learned Lady’s attention to early-day motion 623, which concerns First Capital Connect’s disastrously—shockingly—bad service to its passengers?
[That this House believes that the ongoing disruption to First Capital Connect services travelling into London needs to stop; deplores the severe reduction in timetabled services due to mismanagement by First Capital Connect, which has not employed enough drivers to cover the shifts needed; is concerned that commuters are having to find alternate routes into work and school, adding considerable time and expense to their daily journeys; notes the petition on the Number 10 website calling on the Prime Minister to act on this matter; calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to recognise this gross lack of competence; further notes that the current disruption is a breach of the franchise; and further calls on the Secretary of State for Transport to serve immediate notice to terminate the franchise agreement with First Capital Connect and to offer the franchise to a more capable organisation.]
Some 4,923 people have signed the petition on the No. 10 website. In Transport questions I asked the Minister of State to set out how soon we could expect the Secretary of State to come to a view about whether First Capital Connect will have its franchise terminated. The Minister did not answer that question, so can we have a statement as soon as possible so that he can answer it and say what else the Government are doing?
Will Her Majesty’s Government support the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, which is scheduled for future business? While ensuring proper scrutiny, will the Leader of the House try to encourage its prompt and efficient passage through both Houses before Dissolution?
The Leader of the House is aware that Croydon’s branch of the Young Christian Workers came to see me in the House this week. It is made up mainly of eloquent young women, although there are some young men in it, too, and they were here to talk about the continuing “Get Fair” campaign. Would it be appropriate, before the general election, to have a debate in the House about the important issue of poverty reduction among young people? It has been at the centre of the Government’s programme of work throughout many Departments, but much more needs to be done, which is why the YCW’s “Get Fair” campaign is so important.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, because it gives me the opportunity to join him in commending the work of Croydon’s Young Christian Workers. Their concerns and his are shared by other young people throughout the country, and during the current economic difficulties the Government have remained committed to tackling poverty and disadvantage. The pre-Budget report committed further support to vulnerable families and set out the key principles that will guide our strategy to eradicate child poverty; and we have of course legislated to frame and enshrine those targets in law.
How does the Leader of the House compare the conduct and behaviour of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned knowing that she was right, with that of senior Ministers, who took us into an illegal war knowing that they were wrong? Can we have a debate in the House about what happens after the Iraq inquiry? If it emerges—as it seems it will—that the Government took us into an illegal war and breached international law, that will not be the end of the matter. Can we therefore have a debate to discuss what action will be taken if that is what emerges?
We do not accept that the use of force in Iraq was unlawful, and the issue was before the House when it voted to support the use of force. The Attorney-General at the time, Lord Goldsmith, gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry yesterday, setting out the processes whereby he, as Attorney-General, was the authoritative adviser to the Government on that issue. What happens after the inquiry has reported is a matter best considered when we have had an opportunity to see its substantive report.