The business for next week will be:
Monday 1 March—Opposition day (half-day) (4th allotted day—1st part). There will be a debate on the Government’s record on defence. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by a motion relating to the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1 to 9) Order 2010, followed by a motion relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2010.
Tuesday 2 March—Motion to approve a Money Resolution on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.
Wednesday 3 March—Second Reading of the Bribery Bill [Lords].
Thursday 4 March—Motion to approve a statutory instrument, followed by consideration of a procedural motion, followed by proceedings on House business.
Friday 5 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 8 March will include:
Monday 8 March—Remaining stages of the Crime and Security Bill.
Tuesday 9 March—Opposition day (5th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 10 March—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on alcohol, followed by a debate on taxes and charges on road users. Details will be given in the Official Report.
[The details are as follows: Taxes and charges on road users: 6th Report from the Transport Committee of Session 2008-09, HC 103; and Government response—6th special report of Session 2008-09, HC 995; and Alcohol: 1st Report from the Health Committee, HC 151.]
At 7.00 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Thursday 11 March—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill, followed by Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords].
Friday 12 March—Private Members’ Bills.
The House is grateful for next week’s business.
On oral questions, how satisfied is the right hon. and learned Lady that the shuffle is entirely random? What are the odds, as happened in today’s Question Time, of no Labour Back Benchers being selected for one of the first 16 questions, nor a single topical question to the Energy Secretary? Have Government Back Benchers simply given up?
On the business for next Thursday, can the Leader of the House clarify today what the Deputy Leader of the House refused to clarify on Monday—namely, that all the recommendations in the Wright report that need a decision by the House will be tabled, and that she will do that by Monday at the latest, so that we can table the necessary amendments? Does she agree that it would be desirable for the Back-Bench business committee to be up and running at the beginning of the next Parliament? Would not a clear answer to those questions disperse the “climate of suspicion” to which she referred on Monday? Related to that, will she tell us how she intends to timetable Thursday between debates and votes? The House will want to know that there will be enough time to vote on the remaining resolutions and the selected amendments.
May we have a debate on the Procedure Committee’s final report on the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers? As the right hon. and learned Lady will appreciate, decisions on that need to be made before the beginning of the next Parliament.
On elections, may we have a debate on the by-elections process? This week, the Electoral Commission delivered a stinging report on the Government for their unnecessary delay in scheduling the election in Glasgow, North-East. Given that there is currently a similar delay for voters in North-West Leicestershire, is it not time for the House to consider a mandatory time limit within which by-elections are held, so that we can avoid the Government placing electoral advantage over the constitutional rights of citizens to be represented here?
Turning to next Thursday, may we have an extra day on the remaining stages of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? That is a huge piece of legislation, to which a great deal has been added—more Government amendments are expected—and 28 clauses, which is approximately one third of the Bill, have not been debated at all. Given the right hon. and learned Lady’s commitment to ensure that the House has better powers of scrutiny, would not that be a good place to start?
Where is the annual debate on international development? I raised that with the right hon. and learned Lady at the last business questions and she said there would be one “as soon as possible”. That debate is still not on the radar, and we need it not least so that we can debate the lessons to be learned from the tragedy in Haiti.
Related to that, may we have a debate in Government time on Afghanistan and our overseas commitments? The right hon. and learned Lady has consistently said that the House should have opportunities to debate defence, but we have not had one of the four defence debates to which we are entitled in each Session. Next Monday, the Opposition are having to give up one of their Opposition days to debate defence, at a time when the country is at war. When are the Government going to make time to debate such issues?
What has happened to the debate on international women’s day? Although that falls on 8 March and a debate is scheduled in another place, there is no sign of it in our provisional business. I cannot believe that the Leader of the House plans to overlook that important event.
Finally, it will come as no surprise if I ask again for the dates of the Easter recess. We keep being told that this will be announced in the usual way, but it is rather unusual—with just 26 working days until Good Friday—for us to be kept in the dark. May I repeat my assumption that the House rises on 1 April and does not return, having listened to the Chancellor’s final Budget on 24 March? Or can the right hon. and learned Lady tell us otherwise?
The shuffle for oral questions is of course completely random, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not suggesting otherwise. He can see the figures: Labour Members tabled questions, but they did not get called up first and that is the way that these things sometimes work. I am sure he would not wish to cast any aspersions on those who do the selections.
This afternoon, I hope that the Government will re-table the remaining motions on the Wright Committee recommendations that did not get passed on Monday. They will all be on the Order Paper as substantive motions for hon. Members to vote on next Thursday 4 March. Hon. Members will also be able to table amendments to those motions. I have looked at the proposals in the Committee’s report and I am satisfied that should Members wish to table amendments to any of the remaining recommendations, they will be able to vote on them next Thursday. It does not matter how an issue comes to the House for a vote, whether it is through Government motion or an amendment tabled by an hon. Member that is selected by Mr. Speaker. The issue is whether, if hon. Members wish to vote on a Wright Committee proposal, they will have the opportunity to do so. I am satisfied that if hon. Members wish to vote on any recommendation from the Wright Committee, all that they have to do is table an amendment to the motions that we will table this afternoon and they will have that vote. I hope that that lays hon. Members’ fears to rest.
I mentioned the climate of suspicion in order to say that it was unwarranted. Sometimes, people like to prove their struggle by struggling against something. If they have to feel that they are struggling against me to make these changes, they can go ahead, but that is not the reality of the situation. I can assure hon. Members that the reality is that all the recommendations by the Wright Committee will be available to be voted on, if hon. Members wish to do so, because all that they have to do is table amendments to them—[Interruption.] I can hear hon. Members muttering, and I understand their concern, because they are worried that the amendments will not be selected. There will be an opportunity for Mr. Speaker to reassure the House on that basis, so that hon. Members know what will be selected and that they will have the opportunity to vote. Am I really likely to say this week in and week out and then suddenly discover, on 4 March, that—[Interruption.] Well, as I have asked that question and got the wrong answer, I shall answer it myself. I would not be standing here saying what will happen if I thought that there was any chance that it would not. It is all going to be fine, and hon. Members just need to turn up and vote for it—[Interruption.] The position is clear.
On the question of the Back-Bench business committee, the shadow Leader of the House said that he would like it to be ready to be up and running after the general election. In fact, the Wright Committee proposes that we should agree in principle and refer it to the Procedure Committee, so that it can work out all the Standing Orders, so that the committee is ready to be implemented immediately by the new Parliament. Indeed, we picked up that Wright Committee proposal—it forms the basis of our substantive motion—and the committee will be ready to be up and running if, next Thursday, we pass the resolution that I have tabled. It will then go to the Procedure Committee, which will no doubt do its work in its admirable and prompt way.
On the timetabling of business next Thursday, we have had many hours of debate on the substance of the Wright Committee report: we had a full day’s debate on Monday; we have had two Adjournment debates; I have spoken about it often; and we have discussed it at business questions. We have had more than eight hours in debating time alone. In my view, we have debated the Wright Committee report enough—what we need is some voting and decision making. As I set out, we debated it on Monday, and the voting will be next Thursday.
We will have a procedural motion. When I table it, Members will see that they can spend their time either debating it or having a further discussion on the Wright Committee proposals—I am not bothered either way. [Interruption.] No, I think that we have had enough debate. I am not bothered, but I am concerned that we actually get to the voting. About 90 minutes after we start the debate on the procedural motion, we shall start voting, so that we conclude all the votes on the Wright Committee substantive motions and the amendments at a reasonable time on Thursday. Then hon. Members can return to their constituencies knowing—I hope—that they have improved how the House works.
It is very likely that we will be tabling motions arising out of the Wright Committee proposals for the election of Deputy Speakers—that issue has been in the pipeline for some time.
On the question of by-elections, I think that we have an excellent new Member for Glasgow, North-East. He is very often in his place in the House—he is not in it today, but he is an active Member of the House, as well as an active constituency MP. I think, therefore, that we had a really excellent result in that by-election. We also had the tragic loss of the Member for North-West Leicestershire. Let us bear in mind that there will be a general election shortly. [Interruption.] Surely the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) is not suggesting that we go through the expense of a by-election immediately in advance of a general election—[Interruption.] Well, if he is, I do not agree with him. If that is what he really believes, why does he not come forward with an amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill? He has not tabled any amendments at any stage of that Bill to give effect to what he says he is so passionate about. Suddenly he has discovered that he is passionately in favour of it, but he has never done anything about it in the past, so I take that to be hot air.
On an international women’s day debate, I welcome the commitment that the shadow Leader of the House has expressed to such a day, and I think that he will find that it might be topical come next week. [Interruption.] That was a hint, but I shall leave hon. Members to work it out.
On international development, there will be a debate shortly on that—I have not overlooked it. We have had many days’ debate on defence—they run throughout the year—and if Conservative Members choose to table an additional day’s debate on that for their Opposition day, that is entirely a matter for them.
On my announcements for House business, I announced the firm business today for next week and the provisional business for the week after, and that is the usual way of doing things.
I have a terrible memory, so I am sure that I have simply forgotten the point in the Wright Committee report suggesting that the Back-Bench business committee should be referred first to the Procedure Committee for consideration. However, given that the Leader of the House has asserted that it is the case, she will be able to remind me of exactly where that suggestion comes in the report.
May we have a statement from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Equitable Life? We had an extraordinarily well attended meeting on the subject yesterday, at which we learned some things to the benefit of Equitable Life policyholders—that there would be no means test and that it is likely that estates will benefit—but we failed to get any sense of a clear timetable on the Government finally resolving this important issue. What is more, we also heard from the current chief executive of Equitable Life, Chris Wiscarson, that he has repeatedly sought a meeting with the Treasury, but has received no response. That really is an extraordinary state of affairs, so I hope that the Chief Secretary will come to the House and explain himself.
While the Chief Secretary is here, I wonder whether we might have, not so much a statement or a debate, but probably more of a seminar, for those of us who are rather slow on such matters, because I simply cannot understand how the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 84 per cent. owned by the UK taxpayer, can announce, simultaneously, losses of £3.6 billion and bonuses to its staff of £1.3 billion. That is the sort of arithmetic that I simply cannot understand. Perhaps we can have it explained why the Government are such a poor safeguarder of the national interest as not to force a wholly owned subsidiary—the Royal Bank of Scotland—to do what we want it to do, which is to be fair to people across the country.
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on our relations with Latin America? We are also concerned about the heightening of tension with Argentina and the support for the Argentine position expressed by many south American countries. We ought to be made aware of the Government’s current view.
The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the shadow Leader of the House, mentioned the Report stage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Every time we point out the difficulties of Report stages, the Leader of the House tells us that everything is fine. We have had two Report stages of Bills this week—on the Children, Schools and Families Bill and the Energy Bill—when 18 new clauses and 49 amendments, of which 29 were Government amendments, went completely undebated in the Chamber and were passed, unheard and unseen, to another place. That is not how we should be doing business. How many times do we have to say that?
Lastly, let me refer the Leader of the House to that seminal document “The Governance of Britain”, the Green Paper that was going to introduce substantial reforms to how this House works. Let me take her back to the recommendation in paragraph 35:
“The Government believes that the convention should be changed so that the Prime Minister is required to seek the approval of the House of Commons before asking the Monarch for a dissolution.”
Can we know when that motion will be tabled, and will she confirm that we shall have a debate before a request for a dissolution is passed by the Commons?
As for the Back-Bench business committee, let me remind the House that our motion, which has been on the Order Paper for some weeks and which will be voted on next Thursday, says that
“this House approves recommendation 17 of the First Report of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons…and looks forward to the House being offered the opportunity within 10 sitting weeks of the beginning of the next session of Parliament”—
so it is not time unlimited—
“to establish a backbench business committee and a new category of backbench business, in the light of further consideration by the Procedure Committee.”
We have tabled—[Interruption.] Indeed, it is our motion. We have therefore tabled a motion for the approval of recommendation 17, on setting up the committee, as well as for a timetable for that, so it is not as though the proposal is being kicked into the long grass.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is not the right way to frame the proposal, he can table an amendment. He does not need to look to me for any further progress; he can do something himself. That is the whole point about House business. We have tabled a substantive motion. I think that it is a good substantive motion, but if he wants to amend it, he can amend it however he likes. He does not need to worry about what my view is: there is a free vote, and, whatever he tables, hon. Members will look at it and decide whether they support it.
On the second point, I think that the hon. Gentleman is right: what I said was wrong, but I am still right as to the general—[Interruption.] There was a technical error in what I said, but overall I am still right. However, he might well be right that the House wants to firm it up; and if it does, he can go ahead.
Equitable Life remains an important issue—there was a meeting in the House yesterday—and work on it is ongoing.
As for the RBS bonuses, the hon. Gentleman will know that, following the international credit crisis, we are concerned to ensure, first, that all the public money that we put in—and that had to be put in—to shore up the banks and stop them collapsing, as well as stopping the disastrous effect that that would have had on depositors and wider confidence in the economy, should be paid back. Ultimately, of course, the money should all be paid back, which is why we are opposed to selling off discount shares. Secondly, those institutions should ensure that they lend to businesses and approve mortgages—that is a priority, as well as paying back—and that they have a remuneration scheme that discourages short-termism and risk.
That is why we have worked through the Financial Services Authority regime and, internationally, through the G20 and the European Union, for an international system that ensures a more long-termist approach, rather than a short-term, risk-taking approach, as well as to help with the deficit, which has been caused by the financial crisis. The deficit is not the cause of the financial problems in the economy; it is the result of them. In order to help pay that back, we have had to increase taxes, which we have done in two ways. First, all income over £150,000 will be subject to a 50 per cent. tax rate. Secondly, all banks thinking of paying bonuses will have to pay a 50 per cent. tax on that bonus pool before they pay out a single penny on bonuses. That is our approach, and it has been set out by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
As for the Report stages of Bills, again I say to the hon. Gentleman that he has been concerned—he has expressed those concerns consistently over the months and years—but he and his hon. Friends are in a position to table amendments to our resolutions; and, if the House approves a different way of dealing with things, that will be how we deal with them in future.
As for the Falkland Islands, we are absolutely clear: there is self-determination for the people of the Falklands. Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions are next week, when the hon. Gentleman can ask more questions about the issue of the Foreign Secretary, if he would like to.
Returning to the mundane, will the Leader of the House consider setting time aside for a debate on the gritting performance of local authorities? Lancashire county council, which failed to grit bus routes, contrasts with Westminster council, which I understand wants to know from its residents whether their pavements were gritted quickly enough. People throughout the country are bemused that, in the 21st century, snow should bring their communities to a standstill and that their lives should be put at risk on roads that are ungritted.
As the weather is still bad, there is concern not only about what happened in the depth of the winter, but about what might continue to happen to businesses and to all road users. I will raise the matter with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Transport, which are working together on this, and get my hon. Friend an answer to what is no doubt a frustrating issue for all the constituents whom she so excellently represents—namely, the really poor performance of Lancashire county council.
Will the Leader of the House be prepared to tell us whether she would support an amendment that would prevent the programming of amendments and new clauses debated on Report? Also, as chairman of the United Kingdom-Falkland Islands all-party parliamentary group, may I request that a Minister appear before the House next week to update us on the tensions in the south Atlantic?
There will be Foreign Office questions next week, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman put his question about the Falkland Islands to the Foreign Secretary at that time. As far as the—oh God! I can’t remember what his first question was. [Interruption.] Oh, yes; amendments. Some hon. Members want more programming because they want to be sure that the House will reach—[Interruption.] Well, if hon. Members have a solution to this, they need do no more than table amendments to the resolutions that will be before the House next Thursday.
Now that Commander Ali Dizaei has been convicted and jailed, may we have a statement as soon as possible on how senior police officers in the Met are selected and appointed, and on whether the commissioner should not have a much greater role in that?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has a team in which he has full confidence, and the whole team needs to be properly accountable to the people of London. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the team of police and prosecutors who made sure that justice was done in the case of Ali Dizaei.
The Leader of the House will know that the schools funding formula discriminates seriously against counties such as Worcestershire. May we have an urgent statement on the reasons for the delay in the publication of the consultation document on the funding formula review, which was expected last month?
May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend, in her role as Leader of the House, to take a close look at the mptweets website, which has been set up by a group called The Year of Collaboration? It has set up an individual Twitter account in the names of every MP in the north-west, so our constituents now believe that they are twittering with us when, in fact, we have nothing whatever to do with the site.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to public attention. This is a real problem, and I will see what Ministers might be able to do about it. In fact, my own Twitter account was hacked into this week—my hon. Friend did not know this; hers was not a planted question—and a tweet purportedly sent by me was widely circulated. I can assure everyone that it was not from me. I got a response to that bogus tweet from the former shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who is now the shadow Prisons Minister. I need to get back to him and tell him that the tweet was not from me. I would never send a tweet like that. There is a real issue here, and we need to sort it out.
We already know what too many twitters make, don’t we? Moving swiftly on, may we have a debate on the future of community hospitals? At the end of 2008, the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust promised a new hospital for Clitheroe and, last May, found £15.5 million to spend on it. I am therefore baffled as to why it announced in November that the project was frozen because it did not have the money. Community hospitals are vital to this country, and Clitheroe deserves its hospital. Please may we have a debate on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we remain committed to improving health care, because we believe that investment in public services is not a millstone round the neck of the economy, and that it actually provides vital public services such as health care. We will ensure that we pay down the deficit, halving it over the next four years, without harming vital front-line services such as his community hospital. I do not think that he could be reassured in that way by the position taken by his own Front Benchers.
In 2004, Robin Singh applied for asylum, and I made vigorous representations on his behalf. However, he was deported. He has now been kidnapped by people in Pakistan associated with the Taliban, and they are demanding a ransom of £100,000. What can the Government do to help?
I will ask the Foreign Secretary to look into this matter right away, and to contact my right hon. Friend. May I also express every sympathy to the Singh family, who must be beside themselves with anxiety? I will ask the Foreign Office to do everything that it can to help.
Will the Leader of the House urge her ministerial colleagues in the Department for Transport to bring forward the statement on rolling stock provision? Northern Rail was originally promised up to 200 new carriages, but there is now great uncertainty about how many it will get and when it will get them.
In April this year, there will be elections in Sudan if all goes according to plan. Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on Sudan as those elections lead up to the referendum in 2011 on whether the south should secede? The all-party parliamentary group on Sudan has just conducted an inquiry into how the elections are going, and into all the possible repercussions involved, and the subject would be well worth a debate, given all the time, effort and money that the British Government have invested in Sudan.
Before Parliament is dissolved for the general election, will the Leader of the House find Government time in which we can debate the embarrassing infringement procedures being taken against the Government of the United Kingdom by the European Commission in respect of the Government’s failure to pay sick and elderly UK citizens the disability living allowance to which the European Court of Justice says they are entitled?
My right hon. and learned Friend might well have heard of the recent tragic murder of a Sikh shopkeeper in my constituency. He was a much-loved and respected member of our community and of the Sikh community. Would it be appropriate to have a debate in the House on the value of small shops and shopkeepers, and of small shopping centres? Is it not about time we stood up for small shops and shopkeepers against the Tescos and the Asdas that want to drive them all out of business?
First, may I express my sincere condolences to the family on that tragic loss of life? I know that it has been felt not only by the man’s immediate family but by the whole neighbourhood. I pay tribute to the people from the local pub who went to his aid. This is obviously a matter for the police authorities to investigate, but on the question of support for small shopkeepers, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Communities and Local Government take every possible step to support the amenity provided by small corner shops in local communities and neighbourhoods.
May we have a debate on housing provision for the disabled? Last week, I opened an excellent house that had been retrofitted by the charity Aspire. Two important points were made to me at the time. First, there is a shortfall of 300,000 homes for the disabled in the UK at the moment. Secondly, most of the considerable cost of retrofitting could be avoided if only developers were more mindful of the disabled when designing houses.
Indeed. The Equality Bill, which is currently being considered by the House of Lords, includes a legal duty, as part of the public sector’s combined legal duty, to ensure that it tackles discrimination against, and promotes equality of opportunity for, disabled people. Therefore, when making planning decisions and giving planning approval, that must be at the forefront of the minds of those concerned. I hope I can count on the hon. Gentleman’s support the next time I am criticised for political correctness because of my support for the Equality Bill. I also hope I can count on his support in relation to public spending, because provision for disabled people and for their housing costs money. Although we must get the deficit down, we must keep ensuring that we make progress towards equality of opportunity for disabled people.
May we have an early debate on parliamentary staff? If I hired someone who had worked with an ex-convict to carry out criminal activities, including bribing police officers, breaking into bank accounts and obtaining secret telephone conversations, any such gentleman would quickly have his pass taken off him, yet Mr. Andy Coulson stands accused in The Guardian today of all those activities. Surely it is time to remove the parliamentary pass from that gentleman, so that he cannot roam around the Westminster precincts.
All hon. Members, on both sides of the House, ought to be very concerned about the issues raised in the report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, to which I assume my right hon. Friend refers. The issues raised certainly reflect quite sharply on those involved, including Andy Coulson, the Leader of the Opposition’s press secretary.
As the Leader of the House has made the extraordinary proposition that Members should be urged to table amendments, which she herself has decided will not be debated, will she explain the extraordinary logic of wanting to remove the title of Chairman but keep the title of Chairman of Ways and Means, as well as, presumably, her own name?
Contrary to popular myth, the issue of the change from Chairman to Chair came out of the Wright Committee, of which I was not a member. It was not my proposal, but made in the Wright Committee report. We have tabled it for the House to vote on, and I would certainly vote for it. As for recommendations that the hon. Gentleman says I have decided will not be available to be voted on, there are none. I have explained the process: we have tabled the motion; he can table an amendment, as can any other Member, and if it relates to the Wright Committee report, it will no doubt be selectable and able to be voted on. Come next Thursday, we will all be able to vote on the matter.
Many jobs have been created and protected in my constituency, with a great deal of partnership working. One of the key partners has been the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which is working with me on a project to rescue Bowater from administration. Can we have a debate on the future of regional development agencies and their importance in helping to create and develop jobs in our communities?
My hon. Friend will be able to raise the issue of the Northwest Regional Development Agency in Business, Innovation and Skills questions next week, and he will no doubt receive the answer from the Minister concerned that we greatly value the work of regional development agencies, particularly in the north-west. We remain strongly committed to them, and are determined that they will be protected from the Opposition’s threat of abolition.
May we have a statement next week on the security situation in Northern Ireland, in view of the very serious recent incident in Newry and other incidents that demonstrate the growing threat from so-called dissident republican terrorists? Such a statement would allow us to explore what the Government are doing to meet what is a threat not only to life and limb but to political stability in the Province.
We all understand the concern felt across all political parties in Northern Ireland, and above all in all parts of every community in Northern Ireland, where people want a continuation of peace and prosperity and of more control over their own affairs. They do not want that to be derailed by a small number of criminals through terrorism. I pay tribute to all those who worked hard to protect people and to ensure the minimum loss of life. However, we cannot be complacent, and I know that the hon. Gentleman, all colleagues in the House and those in the Northern Ireland authorities will play their part to ensure that peace and prosperity continue.
My right hon. and learned Friend is a supporter of the music industry, so she may share concerns about the slow progress of the Digital Economy Bill in the other place. Will she use her good offices to ensure that the House gets the opportunity to debate the matter, and that the Bill is given every opportunity to get on to the statute book before the election? I am only too aware that I must again declare my interest as a member of MP4, the world’s only parliamentary rock band. I know that you are aware, Mr. Speaker, that the excellent charity Help for Heroes will be the beneficiaries of proceeds from our album “Cross Party”, which will be released on 18 March.
I think MP4 is a fantastic group with a great future, and I agree with my hon. Friend that the Digital Economy Bill is very important. The Prime Minister has spoken about the great prospects for our digital and creative industries, green technologies, advanced manufacturing and new information technology. We must invest in those new industries and jobs, so we will provide every support. He can raise the matter at Culture, Media and Sport questions next week, and, if he wants, in Business, Innovation and Skills questions, too.
We could debate for a long time whether this morning’s clarification of the guidelines on assisted suicide amount to a change in the law—in my opinion, they do. None the less, if they are to command widespread respect and confidence, would it not be appropriate to table a substantive motion on the guidelines to ascertain the will of the House on that change in the law?
It is not appropriate for the will of the House to be stated on that matter, because we have an independent prosecutorial system. It is for the Crown Prosecution Service, not the House, to decide who is to be prosecuted, on the basis of the evidence in each individual case. To assist the prosecutorial decision whether to bring a charge and whether the case passes the threshold for prosecution—sufficiency of evidence and whether it is in the public interest—there are guidelines, which the Director of Public Prosecutions and the CPS draw up, having engaged in the necessary consultation. The DPP and the CPS have done the consultation and are drawing up the guidelines, and a copy will no doubt be laid in the House of Commons Library. It is not for us to investigate crime or to decide whom to prosecute. It is for us to decide the law. We have decided the law, and the law has not changed.
Arising from that point, is it not the case that the DPP has been acting on instructions from the court, which has had a number of cases before it and has therefore decided that guidelines should be drawn up. Although I take a somewhat different position from the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway), would it not be useful to have a debate on the subject nevertheless? The last one was in Westminster Hall on 11 November 2008. In view of the controversy about assisted suicide, we should have a debate in the Chamber in the near future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the DPP took the action to draw up the guidelines because he was instructed to do so by a judicial decision. There has been recent extensive debate in the House of Lords on the matter. It is some time since we debated the matter in this House. We have no plans to change the law, but it is open to hon. Members to seek opportunities to debate the matter further, either on the Adjournment in Westminster Hall or on Opposition days.
I am glad that the Leader of the House has urged people who care about whether our legislation is properly scrutinised to vote next Thursday for the amendment calling for the establishment of a House business committee, which would provide for such scrutiny. That, however, does not help us in respect of business that is before us now. What assurance can the Leader of the House give that all new clauses tabled to the Constitutional Renewal and Governance Bill will be debated next week, and would I be right to suspect—although she always says that we should not be suspicious—that the new clause that I have tabled to end discrimination against women in the royal succession, which I thought she supported, might not see the light of debate?
We have said on a number of occasions that the ending of discrimination in the succession is being discussed with other Commonwealth countries. The Queen is, of course, not only the Head of State of this country, but Queen of the Commonwealth countries.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman discuss the timing of clauses and new proposals in relation to the remaining stages of the Constitutional Renewal and Governance Bill with the ministerial team at the Ministry of Justice.
May we have an early debate on the failure of the regulators in the health service to pick up serious failings in hospitals? That has happened on a number of occasions in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, for instance. It is plain that the system is not sufficiently sensitive to detect problems. The statement was not enough; we now need a full debate.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, a statement was made about the matter on Wednesday, and the Prime Minister responded to questions about it during Prime Minister’s Question Time. A great deal of action is being taken as a result of the lessons learned from the tragic Staffordshire hospital case. I add my sympathy to all who have suffered as a result of bad treatment at the hospital, and send my condolences to the families of those who have died as a result of bad treatment. It is hard enough to face a family tragedy, without feeling that it was unnecessary. Nothing can bring back the loved ones of all the people who have suffered so badly, but it may be of some comfort to them if they can be absolutely confident that lessons have really been learned so that this can never happen again.
The Leader of the House may be aware of a petition presented at No. 10 yesterday by myself and others, entitled “Homeopathy worked for me” and signed by 25,000 people. Given that, and given the controversial report published this week by the Select Committee on Science and Technology—which had failed to call as witnesses members of the Society of Homeopaths, doctors who practise homeopathy, and primary care trusts which commission it—may we have an urgent debate on the subject?
May I return the Leader of the House to the issue of the growing tensions in the south Atlantic? Surely it is not sufficient to depend on the vagaries of Foreign Office questions next week in order to hear what Ministers have to say. Will the Leader of the House think again, and agree that the Foreign Secretary should make a statement to the House? She knows as well as anyone else what can happen when a desperate leader who is likely to lose the next election—such as President Kirchner—can do in desperate circumstances.
I shall leave aside the rather stupid ending to the right hon. Gentleman’s question. The UK Government’s position in relation to the Falklands has remained that of successive UK Governments, and I am sure that it will not change in the future. Our view is that the sovereignty of the Falklands is simply not an issue. How many times does that have to be said? The Foreign Secretary has made the position absolutely clear, and I cannot imagine that any further light would be shed on the matter if he made an oral or written statement. I shall look through the statements that have been made recently and send copies to the right hon. Gentleman, but he should not do anyone a disservice by implying that there will be some sort of change of approach, because there will not be.
Notwithstanding her earlier protestations, will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on assisted dying? It is Parliament that writes laws, and it is for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts to interpret those laws. There is real concern out in the community that the House is not having a say about the change in the law. People are very concerned about the possibility that it represents a new back door to euthanasia in the United Kingdom.
It is clearly our view that there has been no change in the law, and the Government have no proposals to introduce a change in the law. I will look into when the House last had an opportunity to debate the issue, and will consider, with my colleagues, whether there is an opportunity for a further debate on it. Even if such a debate takes place, however, I do not think that there will be any question of the Government’s proposing legislation. We have new guidelines under an order of the court issued by the DPP, and I think that the position is clear. Nevertheless, the House may well wish to debate the issue, and I shall have another look at it.
May we have an urgent statement on the financial fiasco surrounding the Learning and Skills Council before it is wound up and replaced next month by the Skills Funding Agency? It is of great concern throughout the House—not least to the Leader of the House’s Cabinet colleague, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), and to me—that there is to be the first “hard” federation between Exeter college and Bicton college in my constituency. The LSC has been told that it will have to borrow £3 million and make a loan of £1 million, and it will withdraw its support for Bicton by the end of March unless that happens. May we have an urgent statement to clarify what is going on?
May we have a debate on tertiary and sixth-form colleges? The Government recently cut the support grant for capital projects, which was roughly 15 per cent. That means that the colleges cannot reclaim VAT, and it is affecting capital programmes at all sixth-form and tertiary colleges throughout the United Kingdom. If the situation continues, the training of younger people will be stymied, because the colleges cannot spend the capital.
Can the Leader of the House tell me where it would be best to raise the issue of the report published this week by members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, headed by Dr. Adrienne Key? Dr. Key claims that there is a real link between anorexia and the size of models depicted in the media, and has suggested the establishment of a body consisting of the Government, physicians, media representatives and advertisers to consider possible guidelines on this important issue.
We take an interest in the matter, because it involves serious public health issues. It chiefly concerns the Department of Health, but it is covered to some extent by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise it, and it has also been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). I will let the hon. Gentleman know whether it will be possible for him to make any further progress, in collaboration with other Members and the Government.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In relation to next week’s business, will the even-tempered and tranquil Deputy Prime Minister recommend to the Prime Minister that he attend an important meeting of an all-party parliamentary group entitled “Preventing workplace harassment and violence”, or might that just ruin her life?
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman’s question was not worth waiting for. He is such a disappointment sometimes. I still have not given up hope: I am sure that somewhere inside him is what we all want to hear. However, I am afraid we were not able to hear it today.