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Business of the House

Volume 510: debated on Thursday 27 May 2010

Mr Speaker, you informed the House on Tuesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be:

Tuesday 1 June—The House will not be sitting.

Wednesday 2 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subjects for debate, as you announced, Mr Speaker, will be education and health.

Thursday 3 June—A general debate on European affairs.

The business for the week commencing 7 June will include:

Monday 7 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Constitution and home affairs will be debated.

Tuesday 8 June—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Economic affairs and work and pensions will be debated.

Wednesday 9 June—Second Reading of the Identity Documents Bill.

Thursday 10 June—General debate: subject to be announced.

In accordance with the Standing Orders, the House will meet at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 2 June.

As previously announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the Budget will be on 22 June.

Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the end of business on Thursday 29 July and, subject to the will of the House, return on Monday 6 September for two weeks.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for setting out the forthcoming business and I would like once again to congratulate him on his appointment as Leader of the House. As I said yesterday, he has served as shadow Leader of the House for some years, so he brings a wealth of experience to his position. Indeed, he brings such a wealth of experience that it is rather a poor show that he has not been made a full member of the Cabinet. Some say he would have brought a touch of class to the table. I am confident that, had he been a full member, there would have been an element of common sense and consideration for the House in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s handling of the £6 billion cuts announcement and the leaking of the Queen’s Speech.

The fact that we read about the contents of the Queen’s Speech in newspapers at the weekend before it was announced to Parliament displayed a disturbing lack of courtesy to the House. The response from Downing street is that although they are disappointed, there will be no leak inquiry. That demonstrates extremely poor judgment from the Government, and I ask the Leader of the House to explain why no investigation will be carried out.

It was also extremely disturbing that the Government chose to announce £6 billion of spending cuts while the House was not sitting. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, recognised that that was not the way to treat the House when you granted the urgent question tabled by the Opposition yesterday. We thank you for that. In effect, we saw the Chief Secretary to the Treasury being virtually dragged to the House so that Members could question him on the cuts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the other hand, did not even bother to turn up. I understand that he was spotted walking around Whitehall—but clearly in the opposite direction from the House so that Members could not question him on the cuts.

I think the Chancellor refused to give details of his cuts announcement to the “Today” programme because he did not want to be discourteous to the journalists who were assembling for him at 10 o’clock. I have to say that it is a shame he did not have the same worries about showing discourtesy to the House.

Rumour has it that the Chancellor might be popping in for the Budget statement, which we on the Opposition Benches are obviously quite excited about. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will actually be there in person, and not his new friend?

I am sure the Leader of the House is more than aware of the concern among not only the Opposition but his own Back Benchers about the proposal providing for the Dissolution of Parliament only if 55% or more of the House votes in favour. The new Government have no mandate for this change, which could theoretically allow a Government to rule without the confidence of Parliament. That would weaken Parliament and strengthen the hand of the Executive considerably. Given that the Deputy Leader of the House told us on Tuesday that there will be a full process for considering the Bill in question, with no guillotine, and acknowledged that there is a strong case for pre-legislative scrutiny, will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill?

The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Government intend to abolish Regional Select Committees and the important scrutiny function they provide. Do the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government intend to keep Regional Grand Committees, given the importance of scrutinising the regional effect of the cuts that have been announced?

Finally, I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of early-day motion 105, which followed concerns raised by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday about proposed changes in prosecuting rape cases that could grant anonymity to rape defendants.

[That this House believes that the Government's proposal to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases sends a message to juries and rape victims that the victim is not to be believed; fears that this could inhibit the effective prosecution of serial rapists; is further concerned that this will reverse the progress made on the prosecution of rape cases noted in the independent Stern Review; is further concerned that the Government has put forward the proposal without any research, evidence or examination of these issues; and calls on the Government to withdraw its proposal.]

As the Leader of the Opposition has said, that could turn the clock back on rape cases, and I ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on this serious issue.

Before I reply to the right hon. Lady’s questions, may I welcome her to her new post as shadow Leader of the House? She was a respected Minister in the last Government and she has always been a popular Member of the House; I look forward to working with her to further the interests of the House. May I also pay tribute to my predecessor, the right honourable and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the now acting leader of the Labour party? She took her responsibilities seriously and although she did not go quite as far as many of us had hoped on parliamentary reform, many reforms to the way in which the House works did take place while she was the Leader of the House.

There is a vital task ahead in rejuvenating parliamentary life and reconnecting it with the people we serve. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath)—I welcome him to his post—and I want Parliament to be strengthened and to be more effective and relevant, and it is the Government’s intention to allow that to happen. Of course, that will be challenging, but this is an opportunity for a fresh start.

On the questions that the right hon. Lady poses, my role as attending Cabinet makes no difference whatever to what I say or do; there is an abundance of common sense in the Cabinet without any need for it to be reinforced by me. I deplore the leak to which she referred. It was a discourtesy to the House and to Her Majesty, and steps will be taken to minimise the risk of such leaks occurring again.

On the statement about cuts, I was surprised to hear the right hon. Lady’s comments, because she was a Member of the House in 1997 when the then Chancellor announced the independence of the Bank of England four days after the election, before the House was sitting, and that was not even in the party’s manifesto. The right hon. Lady will have seen the relish with which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury dealt with questions yesterday—a bravura performance—and no doubt the Opposition will think again before they ask to put another urgent question to him. Of course, the Chancellor will deliver the Budget.

On the 55% issue, we had a very useful debate on Tuesday, during which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome was able to allay some of the concerns that were raised by Members. The Bill will be a constitutional Bill, all stages will be taken on the Floor of the House and there will be adequate opportunity for the House to debate it.

We have no intention of reintroducing Regional Select Committees as they were not a great success and were opposed by the Liberal Democrats and my party. We will announce our decision on Regional Grand Committees, which are a different proposition, in due course.

The right hon. Lady has raised a serious issue about rape and anonymity. I recognise the concern about this issue, and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about this Government’s determination to tackle rape and sexual offences and to ensure that those who commit such offences are convicted and properly sentenced. No quarter will be given to those convicted of rape. However, the House will also be aware that some people’s lives have been wrecked by being falsely and maliciously accused of rape. That is why we have said that we will undertake a careful and sensitive analysis of the options and implications before we bring any proposals to Parliament. Of course, any proposals to change the law will have to go through this House and the other House.

Order. A large number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. As Members from the last Parliament will know, I have always sought to accommodate everyone if it is at all feasible to do so, but I need a single short supplementary question and a typically pithy reply from the Front Bench.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Front Bench and his commitment to a sweeping redistribution of powers from the Government to Parliament. May I urge on him rather speedier action for the setting up of the House business committee, which the coalition document talks about being set up within three years? Surely, it could and should be set up this year.

I can reassure my hon. Friend that we propose, in the week after the week for which I have announced the business, to introduce the proposals of the Wright Committee to establish a Back-Bench business committee—which the last Administration singularly failed to achieve before Parliament was dissolved. The three-year period refers not to the Back-Bench business committee but to the House business committee, which is a different proposition. I am as anxious as anyone else to get the Back-Bench business committee up and running. We will table the appropriate motions before the House in good time for the debate, which I anticipate will take place in the week after the week for which I have already announced the business.

As someone who argued in the last Parliament strongly for full and total transparency over Members’ claims and opposed the Tory private Member’s Bill that would have exempted Parliament from freedom of information legislation, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he is aware that the new system that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has established is deeply bureaucratic and complex, and that it undermines both the work we have been elected to do and that of our staff? Do the chair and chief executive of IPSA not bear a heavy responsibility for discrediting what we all hoped, and certainly the public hoped, would be a new start to end the scandal of what occurred in the previous Parliament?

I recognise the concern on this issue. I attended a meeting between returning Members and members of IPSA a few days ago, and it was a lively meeting. No one wants to go back to the old, discredited system whereby the House fixed its allowances and they were administered by the House, and it was absolutely right to hand them over to an independent body. None the less, I recognise the legitimate concerns that have been expressed by Members.

Members are concerned about the staff whom they employed during the last Parliament—they want to go on employing them—and about their ability to retain offices in their constituency. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the communication, which we all received, that indicated some flexibility from IPSA on both issues and said that there is no need to make staff redundant or, indeed, to give up one’s constituency office. IPSA hopes to come to an arrangement whereby, later this year, funds will be made available for that to continue.

A large number of other issues need to be resolved. I am in the foothills of the technological mountain of making a claim. We need an intelligent conversation between the House and IPSA to resolve these issues. It needs to exhibit some flexibility in the rules it has set out. There needs to be a more thorough review of the regime in the very near future. To the extent that I have any responsibility, I should like to play my part. It is absolutely crucial that the allowance regime enable Members to do their jobs and the House to hold the Government to account, and we cannot have an allowance regime that gets in the way of that process.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find time for a debate to follow up the excellent question asked by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). In his opening remarks, the Leader of the House mentioned Parliament reconnecting with the people. May I suggest that a debate on IPSA would be useful, so that we could share best practice? Perhaps hon. Members could visit IPSA, so that we could see its working conditions and how it operates. By the same token, perhaps members of IPSA could come to constituency offices to see how we work.

The chairman and the acting chief executive of IPSA will have heard the generous invitation that the hon. Gentleman has extended to them. I go back to what I said a moment ago: we need intelligent and serious discussion between the House and IPSA to resolve the real issues that he raises. Together with the usual channels and perhaps the political parties, I would like there to be a channel of communication that can resolve such issues without the sort of shouting matches that we have heard in recent days.

I share the concerns about the fact that the coalition agreement included a commitment—to my mind it was a firm commitment—to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials. May we have an urgent debate on that, and will the Leader of the House confirm that the issue is so controversial that it should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and considered in the round, along with the issue of the number of rapes that go unreported, and the number of reported rapes that do not result in a prosecution?

The hon. Lady will know that no legislation on the issue has been proposed in this Session. In the debate on home affairs on Monday 7 June, there will be an opportunity for the real concerns that exist on the issue to be ventilated. Of course we need to have adequate discussion. The proposal is that we go back to the regime that existed until, I think, 1988, in which there was anonymity. In her recent report, Baroness Stern did not come out on either side, but she said there should be full debate on this very sensitive issue, and that is what I want to promote.

May we have a debate on the 2008 report from the Procedure Committee on electronic petitioning, an opportunity that the previous Government denied this House? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a system of e-petitions would make this House more accessible for many, and would also mean that there would be no need to maintain the rather useless system on the No. 10 website?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he and his Committee did in the previous Parliament on e-petitions. We are anxious to take the matter forward. He will have seen in the coalition agreement specific commitments on the issues he has raised, so the answer is yes, of course I want to take forward the Procedure Committee’s recommendations. I would also like that Committee to look at the commitments given by the coalition in the agreement to make even faster progress on this important issue.

May I ask the Leader of the House when more information will be available about the £1.1 billion-worth of cuts to local government? In Lewisham, 18,000 homes are due for improvement under the decent homes programme. The previous Government indicated that £154 million would be made available for that work. Will the new Government honour that commitment, and when will the House have a proper opportunity to debate the future funding of social housing?

I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday about the additional resources that were found for investment in affordable housing. I hope that some of that money will go to her constituency. Frankly, the previous Government’s record on building social housing was deplorable.

Will the Leader of the House give us a debate on the awarding of jubilee medals? I have been approached by immigration officers who live in and around my constituency, who are understandably upset that immigration officers were not awarded the golden jubilee medal, unlike other important public servants such as police and prison officers. Immigration officers are on the front line against terrorism. Will the Leader of the House agree to speak to the relevant new Minister, so that we can recognise the good work of immigration officers, retrospectively award them the golden jubilee medal, and consider them for the diamond jubilee medal?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. He may want to seek an opportunity for a wider debate on the subject, either in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. Of course I will pass on to my ministerial colleagues the forceful case that he makes.

This morning, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made a major speech on welfare reform. Not only did he not come first to this House; he made the speech at half-past 9, and as a result it was too late to table an urgent question. When will the Leader of the House assert himself and require his colleagues to make announcements to this House?

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has some specific policy proposals to put before the House, he will of course make them. He made a general speech about his approach to welfare reform. He is committed to abolishing the root causes of poverty; and I hope the whole House will join him in expressing that ambition.

The Leader of the House will be well aware that before the general election, there was strong cross-party support for the creation of a supermarket ombudsman—yet there was no mention of that in the Queen’s Speech. We know, however, that the measure needs to be implemented soon in order to enforce the regulation that the Competition Commission brought forward on 4 February, so will the Leader of the House reassure the House that the Government will find time to introduce the necessary primary legislation in order to bring forward that important measure?

I would be misleading my hon. Friend if I said that we could find time. That specific measure was not in the Queen’s Speech, as he will have seen; nor, from memory, was it in the coalition agreement. For that reason I cannot give the immediate commitment he has asked for. None the less, I shall raise with my right hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the important point he has made, in order to clarify the coalition Government’s approach to supermarkets and competition.

During the general election, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said in the north-west that he questioned the legitimacy of some of the grants and financial support that had gone to industry in the recent past. Given the importance of protecting the manufacturing base, can we have an urgent debate on whether there is any truth in some of the stories that have been running, such as the Government’s seeking to claw back the loan guarantee given to Vauxhall Motors and the moneys given to Sheffield Forgemasters?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s constituency interests, and he might have an opportunity to raise those either in further debates on the Queen’s Speech or, when the time comes, through direct questions to the Ministers concerned.

I have now refreshed my memory of the coalition agreement, which does in fact refer to an

“Ombudsman in the Office of Fair Trading who can proactively enforce the Grocery Supply Code of Practice and curb abuses of power”,

so I hope my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) is reassured by that.

In opposition, my right hon. Friend, now the Leader of the House, expressed himself robustly against the permanent colonisation of Parliament square, and against the guillotining of Bills as they went through the House. Will he make a statement to the House on what we propose to do about those two matters now that we are in government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking such an interest in the speeches I have made in the past. It is certainly the Government’s intention not to guillotine Bills automatically in the way that the previous Government did, and to allow adequate opportunity for debate.

On Parliament square, we need to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the right to protest and, on the other, the conservation of a very important site, right in the middle of the capital, next to Westminster abbey and the Houses of Parliament. In my view, the balance at the moment is not right. The House will know that the Mayor of London is seeking to enforce the byelaw under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, under which it is an offence to erect tents or other paraphernalia without permission of the Mayor, so I hope we can come up with the right balance. People should protest there but they do not have to live there all the time and create what is becoming a shanty town, which does not do credit to the environment in which Parliament square is located.

May we have a debate to define “affordable” or “social” housing? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the right hon. Gentleman referred to a commitment to build social housing, but he was asked specifically about council house building, so can we have some answers from the Government on whether they will renege on the commitment to build council housing?

Those in housing need do not mind whether it is the council or a registered social landlord who provides their home. What they want is a home, and it is a fact that, for a given amount of money, one can build more homes if the money goes through registered social landlords than if it goes to the local authority. So, I would not go along with the hon. Gentleman in endorsing the idea that such housing has to be council housing. What is needed is affordable, social housing, whoever provides it.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the working of IPSA? Other Members have commented on that, but for staff who have been told they will have to wait until to November to know whether their employment will continue, the position is frankly unacceptable. That needs to be sorted out earlier rather than later.

Of course, my hon. Friend can apply for a debate about IPSA. It is important to recall that IPSA is an independent body, and the House has decided that it will not get directly involved in fixing or paying the allowances. None the less, I agree that there is a need for a sensible debate between the House and IPSA to ensure that Members of Parliament can effectively do their job. If my hon. Friend wants to apply for a debate, he is free to do so.

The Government have announced that they intend to review all contracts signed by the previous Government. That obviously creates much uncertainty and concern, particularly in respect of the A400M military transport aircraft, which will create thousands of jobs in the UK. May we have an early debate to try to end the uncertainty?

Yes, and of course the hon. Gentleman can table questions to the appropriate Minister to get clarification of the important issue he has raised—he might like to follow that route to get a swift response. I understand the concern in his constituency.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, in the Queen’s Speech debate that he announced on constitutional and home affairs, the Government will set out clearly their position on the Human Rights Act 1998? My right hon. Friend and I both stood on a manifesto to repeal the Human Rights Act. Since the election, we have been unable to deport a suspected terrorist because of that Act. It is crucial that action be taken as soon as possible to ensure that the human rights of terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants are not put before those of decent, law-abiding people.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I assure him that the specific questions he has raised about human rights will be addressed in the debate on home and constitutional affairs.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 75?

[That this House applauds the work of One North East in promoting sustainable economic growth across the North East of England since 1999; recognises the role One North East has played in regeneration and job creation in the region over the last 11 years; understands the importance of the support it gave over 4,000 businesses during the recent recession; supports its vision for a future North East economy that ensures the people of the region benefit from improved prosperity; and calls on the Government to strengthen the support given to the North East economy through One North East.]

One NorthEast, the regional development agency based in my constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne North, has brought great benefits throughout the north-east region. In the light of the recent announcement of cuts to regional development agencies, and the concern that that is causing throughout the region, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on that extremely important issue?

The hon. Lady puts forcefully the concern in her constituency. May I suggest that she apply for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall, where the issues she has raised can be tackled in more detail and she can get a response from Ministers? She may have heard what the Chief Secretary announced yesterday, when he outlined his commitment to laying the foundations for recovery by getting the deficit under control—a huge deficit, which we inherited from the outgoing Government.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the prayer of St. Augustine, which can be paraphrased as, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet”? In that context, will he explain why it will take three years to establish a business committee, a principle for which I welcome his commendation?

The Wright Committee made several propositions and it suggested that they should be implemented in stages. The early recommendation dealt with the Back-Bench business committee—the one on which we plan to make immediate progress. There was a much broader recommendation about a House committee, and it was always envisaged that that would be set up towards the end of the process of implementing the Wright recommendations. We have given a commitment, which did not exist previously, to do that within three years. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome the progress that has been made on that—it is an advance on the position at the end of the previous Parliament.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 85?

[That this House expresses concern that speculation over the future of the new hospital at Wynyard is causing anxiety for staff, patients and the community; and seeks an assurance from Government that the existing commitment to build a new acute general hospital at Wynyard to replace Hartlepool University and North Tees University Hospitals will be honoured; and recognises that the new facilities will help to address issues of health inequalities that are a feature of many communities within the catchment area.]

In view of the £6 billion cuts package, will the right hon. Gentleman make time for a debate about the NHS capital programme and, in particular, grant an opportunity to clarify the Government’s position on the new hospital at Wynyard?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Chief Secretary said yesterday about exempting the health service from the cuts.

Presumably and hopefully during this Parliament we will continue the practice of holding topical debates. Therefore, may I put in an early bid for a topical debate in the week beginning 14 June, which is carers’ week, to support early-day motion 14, which commands the support of colleagues on both sides of the House?

[That this House expresses its respect for the six million people of all ages in the UK who provide unpaid help, care and support to a relative or friend who, because of frailty, illness or disability, would not otherwise be able to manage; notes that despite the huge contribution carers make to society, many carers continue to remain unsupported in their caring roles without the chance of a break or respite; is concerned that many carers are hidden, unheard and unable to access relevant and practical advice, information and services; further notes that Carers Week, a partnership of national charities, takes place this year from 14 to 20 June, with the theme A life of my own; and believes that without significant reform of the care and support system carers will not be able to access support at times of crisis, will not be able to work, which has a lasting impact on the economy, and will not have the chance of a life of their own that they deserve.]

Such a debate will be a good opportunity for the House to commend and celebrate the work of some 6 million carers throughout the UK who give invaluable support.

My hon. Friend’s bid is in pole position, because it is the only bid that we have received so far for a topical debate, and it would be appropriate. Of course, once we get a Back-Bench business committee up and running, it will decide the subjects for topical debates.

To pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), it might be easier to have a topical debate on IPSA rather than him applying for an Adjournment debate.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the difference between this Con-Dem Government’s rhetoric and reality? There has been lots of rhetoric about slimming down government, but so far they have created 33 commissions or other forms of inquiry—and that number is rising.

All the work will take place within a constraint on public expenditure, so it does not follow at all that those commissions of inquiry will lead to an explosion in public expenditure. The hon. Lady will recall from 1997 that the then incoming Government set up one or two commissions in order to clarify, get a better outcome from, and inform their policy.

May we have a statement from an Education Minister on the impact of a reduction in the subsidy provided by the teachers’ Training and Development Agency, which is causing severe financial hardship, especially to small primary schools in my constituency? They must find an additional £1,000 for each graduate teacher trainee that they take on, for which they could not have budgeted—and that at a time when they are already going through financial hardship. It would be helpful to have a statement on whether that reduction can be delayed until schools can budget for it.

My hon. Friend raises a good point which directly affects his constituency. During debates on the Queen’s Speech there will be an opportunity to raise education issues. He might seek either to intervene or to make a speech and make his point then.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the utter dismay felt by local people and businesses in Nottingham about the deferral of the planned widening of the A453, which links the M1 to the city of Nottingham from the south, and which is absolutely vital to our economic prosperity? Will he find time for a debate on that important issue?

As a former Transport Secretary, I should have been aware of the feeling on that issue. May I suggest that the hon. Lady apply for an Adjournment debate, which would be the appropriate forum to develop her case and explore with Ministers the possibility of a way forward?

First, does the Leader of the House accept that the larger demonstration in Parliament square represents a real security risk? At the start of this new Parliament, he must show the dynamism to do something about it. Secondly, when will the Embankment entrance between the Norman Shaw buildings open? It is inconvenient to Members that it is closed.

On the second point, I will raise the matter with the appropriate officials in the House and ensure that my hon. Friend gets a reply. On the first, I would be reluctant to comment on issues relating to security.

Is the Leader of the House aware that we need a very early statement on the question of Building Schools for the Future? Hundreds of schools up and down Britain are awaiting the knowledge of when the building is going to start, including two in my constituency at Shirebrook and Tibshelf. Instead of waffling on about welfare to work, would it not be sensible to get construction workers back into work, building those schools, and to start a new process—not this daft coalition?

The Chief Secretary did find extra resources yesterday for construction—he announced extra investment in affordable housing. There is a debate on education next week, when I hope the hon. Gentleman raises that matter with Education Ministers and gets an answer.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the appalling situation following the centralisation of A and E units throughout the country that was introduced by the previous Government? My constituents have to travel 15 miles to a hospital in Blackburn—there are now no A and E units in Burnley, Pendle or Rossendale.

I understand the concern, and during the campaign we proposed a moratorium on centrally driven closures of accident and emergency departments. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seek the opportunity of an Adjournment debate to raise that important local issue?

May I welcome the rowing back by the Leader of the House from the explicit commitment to extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants? It contrasted with “we will consider” finding ways to invest in new rape crisis centres. I also hear that we are now “considering” anonymity. May we have an early debate on the Stern review, which said that there was no compelling evidence that anonymity protects men, but that there is a case for more research on that?

If the hon. Lady recalls what Stern said, she will know that the report also said that nor was there a case for the opposite. I have some sympathy with the case she makes for a debate on this important subject. Without making any firm commitments, and in light of the fact that I hope that we will have a Back-Bench business committee, I would like to find time for that important issue to be explored. However, I am not sure that what I said warranted the description “rowing back”.

May we have a debate to provide an opportunity for the Opposition to do something that they have not yet done, which is to say sorry? The terms of the debate will need to be set with care, given that the Opposition need to move on from their present condition of denial and being sorry only for themselves to one of penitence, regret and being sorry for the damage that they caused to the country while in government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What was remarkable yesterday in the urgent question was the total absence of any contrition from Opposition Members for the shambles in which they left this country.

I am looking at a photograph of a British National party councillor, Steve Batkin, with some individuals he describes as loyal patriots who are doing Nazi salutes outside a war memorial while clutching the British flag. It is even more poignant today, given the commemoration of Dunkirk. Will the Leader of the House consider making time for a statement, perhaps from the Minister of State for Schools, about the appropriateness or otherwise of BNP councillors who hold such appalling views and who consort with such individuals serving on governing bodies such as that of Edensor high school in my constituency?

The whole House will share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the offensive nature of that photograph. Of course I will raise with the Schools Minister the specific issue about the appropriateness of certain individuals serving on school governing bodies.

First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment? I am sure that he will do a superb job.

I welcome his abolition of the regional Select Committees. However, will he consider reinstating an annual general debate on London, in Government time, so that we may have an opportunity to raise a wide variety of issues, as we used to have in the past?

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point as I used to be a London Member and take part in those regular debates. Without giving any firm commitment, I shall see whether we can move in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests.

May I thank the Leader of the House and his deputy for redeeming, in very short order, the promise to the House that Back Benchers should be able to decide which debates we have in Back-Bench time? We have heard today some very good examples from Members on both sides of the House. Does he accept that if Back Benchers can prove that they can run their own time effectively, and Parliament can run its own time effectively, it adds to the urgency of bringing forward a fully fledged business committee so that Parliament, not Government, decides the agenda of this House?

May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work in this and the previous Parliament on carrying forward the agenda for reform? I have seen the motions on the Order Paper that he has tabled. I hope that he will recognise that the commitment that we have given to introduce within three years a House committee goes further than we got in the previous Parliament. I want to get the Back-Bench committee up and running, and when that is firmly established, to move on to the next stage of merging it with a House committee. Therefore, I think that there is no difference between us on destination and I hope that there is no disagreement either on pace.

Could we have a debate as soon as possible on the allocation of health funding? Mindful, as I am, of the vote of the whole House shortly on the chairmanship of Select Committees, I must point out none the less that the Labour party put in place a gerrymandered allocation of health funding, which means that the good people of the East Riding, for instance, have only £1,200 per head spent on their health care, whereas the people of Hull, who are much younger and generally fitter, receive 50% more. It is simply wrong.

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and if he is quick he can table—I think—an oral question for 2 June, when the Health Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box and in a position to deal with the inequities to which my hon. Friend refers.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on advice given by civil servants to Ministers, with particular reference to the advice used by the Chief Secretary yesterday to say that the future jobs fund, which many of us regard as a major success of the previous Government, is not working? We would all like to see that advice. Will the Leader of the House assure us that we can have a debate on that matter?

There will be a debate on that matter, because the Department for Work and Pensions has a day in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The fund is not being abolished; it is being phased out and fed into—[Laughter.] It is not being abolished with immediate effect; it is being run down, and the new work programme will take over. As I said, however, there will be an opportunity during the Queen’s Speech debate for the hon. Gentleman to press the issue about the advice given to Ministers.

Can I ask for a debate on Government co-ordination of business unemployment support? The biggest private sector firm in my constituency has just gone into administration, leading to the immediate loss of 650 jobs in Hartlepool. I am concerned that those people will find it difficult to secure alternative employment, yet the Department charged with helping business has been asked to find the biggest cuts. We have just helpfully heard from the Leader of the House that the future jobs fund, which has been so important and successful in Hartlepool, is being phased out. What reassurance can he give me that those workers, who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, will be able to get support, despite the best efforts of the new Government?

All existing commitments under that programme will be honoured, and it will be replaced by a different programme that we hope will be more cost-effective. Of course, I will raise with Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the hon. Gentleman’s point about support being extended to those in his constituency who face the loss of their jobs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) has pointed out the uncertainty surrounding the future of One NorthEast, the regional development agency in the north-east. At the same time, the recent cuts targeted BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government. We all know that we need to build up manufacturing and industry, particularly in the north-east and the green industries. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we are to do that and how regional development agencies will be funded to support it?

The hon. Lady makes her point very forcefully. Next Thursday there will be questions to the relevant Minister, and she may like to table a question and use the opportunity during questions to that Department to get a substantive answer.

Given that Ministers of this Conservative Government, particularly those sporting a yellow tie, are positively salivating at the prospect of imposing swingeing cuts which less than a month ago they were campaigning against, when can we have a debate on the economic nonsense of the Government’s saying that they will fully fund the Crossrail project—a good decision—and yet, at the same time, significantly undermining Crossrail’s value for money by cancelling the third runway at Heathrow?

We made a firm manifesto commitment on the third runway at Heathrow, which the hon. Gentleman would expect us to honour. I welcome his support for what we said on Crossrail. It is an important project that we want to take through. However, if he wants to press the Transport Secretary more fully on the funding issues, there will be an opportunity to do so at Transport questions.

The Leader of the House will know that, in the previous Parliament, all parties supported the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London. In the light of the change of Government and the many new Members, may we have an early debate—perhaps a topical debate—about the future of the Olympics, given that the Government have announced £6 billion-worth of cuts, including some to the infrastructure relating to the Olympic games, and more worryingly, cuts in the departmental spending of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which could affect the ability of our athletes and para-athletes who are now in training to be successful?

The Government are determined to make the 2012 Olympics a success, but in view of the interest of a large number of new Members I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about a bid for a topical debate on the future of the Olympics.

I was going to welcome the right hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly to his new post, because he is a fine and decent man, and he will have a splendid deputy and wonderful staff to back him up. However, he has let himself down today. He should surely not be defending the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announcing elsewhere what he is planning to do about benefits, which will affect many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, rather than bringing that decision to this House. The Leader of the House also said that he deplored the leaking of the Queen’s Speech, but he is not announcing any practical measures to ensure that the person who did it is sacked. Is he really going to be a proper Leader of the House or is he just going to use all the phrases that we used in the past?

Order. I feel sure that there was a request for a debate or a statement and I just did not hear it.

I recall the hon. Gentleman answering business questions in the previous Parliament, when the Leader of the House was not here, and using some of the expressions that I may have used this morning. However, on his substantive point, there was nothing in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that announced any change of Government policy. It was a scene-setting speech about his approach to welfare reform, and it was perfectly appropriate for him to make his speech in that forum. He will appear before the House in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, when the hon. Gentleman can press him further.

This morning a journalist on the Sheffield Star, Richard Marsden, rang to inform me that a meeting to which local councillors in the east midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber had been invited to discuss the proposed route of the high-speed rail link to Sheffield and Leeds had been cancelled. That seems to be the clearest indication that the Government have decided to abandon the high-speed rail route to Sheffield and Leeds, and that the Deputy Prime Minister has abandoned my city of Sheffield. Once again a decision has been made with no statement to this House. Could we rectify the situation at the first instance?

I am always cautious when a reporter rings me up with a story, and I do not always believe everything that I am told. However, I will make some inquiries about the hon. Gentleman’s point and get somebody from the Department for Transport to contact him as soon as they can.

Can we have an early statement on the Government’s national planning statement, in view of the fact that they have scrapped the Infrastructure Planning Commission? The issue is particularly important to those of us on the Opposition Benches, on whom the Government will be relying for controversial decisions on nuclear power and energy projects, because they have decided that their junior partner can have the day off on those occasions.

There will be an opportunity to debate the Government’s proposals on housing and planning, because they will be in a Bill that will be introduced in this Session. That will be the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his points.

I welcome the suggestion by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for a debate about saying sorry, so that those of us on the Labour Benches can say that we are not sorry that we prevented the global recession from turning into a global depression; we are not sorry that we kept half a million people in work who otherwise would not be in work; we are not sorry that we kept businesses going that would have closed; and we are not sorry that we will never ever say that unemployment is a price worth paying.

Again, there was absolutely no recognition at all from the hon. Gentleman of the problems that this country now faces because of the irresponsible way in which the outgoing Government borrowed £3 billion a week, with no plans for rebalancing the country’s books.

Can we have a debate about the poor quality of the teaching of history in our so-called great public schools? What else could explain the Deputy Prime Minister’s comment that his reforms represent the most important reforms since the Great Reform Act of 1832, including universal suffrage, apart perhaps from his innate tendency towards sanctimonious hyperbole?

I am not sure that that directly related to the future business of the House, but the Deputy Prime Minister will be replying to one of the days of debate on the Queen’s Speech. I will make a point of drawing his attention to the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made and ensuring that he gets a robust reply.

Could we have a debate on the role, responsibility and competence of the Electoral Commission, following not only the well publicised problems during the general election but the less publicised problem that arose for Members such as myself who are historically described as Labour and Co-operative party candidates? We were told by the Electoral Commission that that description was no longer valid, which caused enormous confusion at a very sensitive time during the election campaign and could have disqualified us from standing.

I am sorry to hear that, and I wonder why that name had not already been registered with the Electoral Commission so that that problem need not have arisen. A large number of people were turned away from the polling stations at or around 10 o’clock, and that must never happen again. We must ensure that those who want to vote are entitled to vote. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate, before our memories of the recent election fade, to determine in what ways the quality of the election and the way in which it was delivered might be improved.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their co-operation, which has enabled 42 Members to question the Leader of the House in 41 minutes. That is a very good start indeed, and I hope that that will continue.