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Business of the House

Volume 511: debated on Thursday 10 June 2010

The business for the week commencing 14 June will include:

Monday 14 June—General debate on UK policy on the middle east, followed by general debate on emerging economies.

Tuesday 15 June—The House will be asked to approve motions relating to the establishment of a Back-Bench business committee, September sittings, private Members’ Bills, deferred Divisions, Select Committee sizes and sittings of the House.

Wednesday 16 June—Opposition day [1st Allotted day]. There will be a full-day’s debate on Government support for industry. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 17 June—General debate on building a high-skilled economy.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 June will include:

Monday 21 June—General debate on strategic defence and security review.

Tuesday 22 June—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Wednesday 23 June—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Thursday 24 June—Continuation of the Budget debate.

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

Thursday 24 June—A debate on the future of local media.

May I offer my congratulations to the new Deputy Speakers who were successful in the ballot this week: the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr Hoyle), my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and the right hon. Member for Bristol South (Dawn Primarolo)? May I wish them every success in carrying out their important duties and pass on the thanks of the House to those they replaced for the undoubted service they offered over many years? May I also pass on my congratulations to those Members who you, Mr. Speaker, have just announced as having been successfully elected as Chairs of Select Committees? This is undoubtedly a landmark in the history of the House. I warmly congratulate those who have secured the approval of their colleagues to undertake the vital task of scrutinising Government Departments. This is an important reform—part of a process of transferring power from the Executive to the House, which I intend to progress in my role as Leader of the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for setting out the forthcoming business and I add my congratulations to the new Deputy Speakers and the new Chairs of Select Committees.

With regard to Tuesday’s business, the Government have today tabled proposed new Standing Orders on the new Back-Bench business committee. Frankly, however, no proper consultation took place with the Opposition on the detail of those before they were tabled. Would it not be right for the new Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, whose Chair has just been announced, to look at those before they are debated by the House? I hope the Leader of the House will give a detailed response to that.

Business questions always provide a good opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to bring us up to speed on how his leak-prevention strategy is going. Last week, he said it was going splendidly, but I am afraid that I must draw his attention to what he might regard as a slight seepage rather than a leak, although it is nevertheless alarming. The BBC seems to have been told by “sources” that the Liberal Democrats are doing a deal with the Government so that they continue to receive Short money, which was designed specifically for Opposition parties. On top of that, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has been elected deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats. Many congratulations to him; he was here a minute ago. In his manifesto, he said

“For those departments where there is no Liberal Democrat minister, we should have a shadow secretary of state in the Commons… For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat minister and a Conservative Secretary of State, then there should be a Liberal Democrat lead spokesperson in the Commons… For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, there should be a Liberal Democrat MP outside of government with particular responsibility for that department's business.”

There was a time, I believe, when the Tory and Labour parties agreed that the Liberal Democrats tended to say one thing but do another. This has taken that to a whole new level. The Liberal Democrats say that they are in opposition, but actually do government. The new deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats cannot have it both ways, and I hope that the Leader of the House can assure us that there are no such shenanigans going on with the Short money.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Justice Secretary, when he comes to the House for Question Time on Tuesday, to put right the comments made by the Home Secretary during the Queen’s Speech debate on Monday? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the British crime survey, which is widely recognised as the most effective way of measuring long-term crime trends, shows that under the Labour Government crime fell by a third. Violent crime fell by 41%, burglary by 54%, and car crime by 57%. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary to explain why she is still trying to avoid using the survey? Of course, the Tory party has form in this regard: the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) was rebuked by the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority for damaging public trust by manipulating crime figures. Not only is the Home Secretary in danger of misleading the House, but she is being very unfair to all those who worked so hard to reduce crime under the Labour Government.

I do not think the Leader of the House was in the Chamber to hear the Adjournment debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who spoke eloquently and effectively about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat proposals for defendant anonymity in rape cases. The response of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), was frankly disappointing, and showed very little understanding of the message that he was sending to rape victims. He did say, however, that the Government wanted informed contributions, and would consider all the options before formulating the proposals.

Given that legislation is not ready in a number of cases, and that we are having a number of general debates, may I urge the Leader of the House to allocate one of the future general debates to discussion of this important issue? If the Government are serious about listening before the proposals are presented, I really cannot see why Government time cannot be allocated to it.

I was disappointed by the right hon. Lady’s first request. She asked for the establishment of a business committee to be delayed yet further. The reason that the matter is on the Order Paper for next Tuesday is that the previous Government failed to make progress. We are honouring a commitment made in the last Parliament by me and by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, to set up a Back-Bench business committee as soon as possible. Referring the matter to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee would simply redo the work of the Wright Committee, and would further delay the establishment of a committee on which I want to make progress. What we are doing is relinquishing the grip of the Executive on the agenda of the House, and giving Back Benchers the power and the time to schedule debates on the matters that they believe are important. When we reach the debate next Tuesday, I hope the House will seize the opportunity with both hands and make real progress with parliamentary reform.

On the right hon. Lady’s second point, there has been no leak. I make it absolutely clear that Short money is available to Opposition parties. The Liberal Democrats are a party of government and therefore Short money is not available to them. I have no ministerial responsibility for what the newly elected deputy leader of the Liberal party wants to do in rearranging the internal machinery of that party.

So far as the Home Secretary is concerned, I was present when she made a fantastic speech to wind up Monday’s debate, in which she dealt with all the issues regarding crime and crime statistics and set out some robust policies from the Government to deal with crime.

Finally, on the Adjournment debate, I was not present but I have read it. The issue is serious and we want to get things right. We agree entirely with the Stern review that serious consideration of the issue is needed, but there is ample time to debate it because no legislation on it is proposed for this Session. One of the objectives of setting up a Back-Bench business committee is to enable it to respond to requests for debates on important issues such as rape, so that they can be debated without the House continuing to be wholly dependent on the Government to find time to debate them.

May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 188 in my name?

[That this House looks forward to the 2010 Trooping the Colour ceremony on Saturday 12 June 2010 to mark the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; notes with pride that the flags of all the nations of the Commonwealth are always displayed in and around Horse Guards Parade for this great occasion; calls on the Government to ensure that the flags of all Her Majesty's Territories are also flown in time for the ceremony, including Her Majesty's Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, together with Her Majesty's Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cuhna, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.]

My right hon. Friend will recall that on numerous occasions under the previous Government, I raised the issue of the failure to fly the flags of the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies on the occasion of Her Majesty’s birthday parade Trooping the Colour. Will the Government change that policy and ensure that the flags will fly this Saturday, and will he ask the relevant Minister to make an urgent statement on this before Saturday?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but he presents me with a challenging time scale if he wants me to do something by Saturday. He will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box yesterday, and I hope that he draws heart from that. I will raise with the appropriate authorities my hon. Friend’s robust request, which is backed up by others who have signed his early-day motion, and I will make sure that he gets a response.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect a debate on the revised police grant? As he will know, a £125 million in-year reduction has been made to the grant I agreed as the relevant Minister in only February of this year. I am anxious to explore how the Liberal Democrat promise of putting 3,000 extra police officers on the street is matched by the Conservative Government’s cut of £125 million.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have seen today’s written ministerial statement on the subject. He will find that it says that the matter is subject to the approval of the House.

The coalition agreement says:

“We will bring forward the proposals of the Wright Committee for reform to the House of Commons in full”.

Does the Leader of the House understand the concern of many MPs that the motion he has put forward does not represent the Wright reforms in full, particularly in the loss of days in the Chamber for Back-Bench business? Will he be open to representations on the issue with a view to improving the motion on the Order Paper?

The hon. Lady makes a good point. If she reads the Wright Committee report, she will see that it says right at the beginning that the proposals need to be implemented “in stages”. There is a real issue with moving straight to having 35 days in the Chamber: there would be implications regarding the amount of time for which the House sits and, more seriously, it would run the real risk of squeezing out time for the Report stage of Bills—an issue that concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that we can debate the matter more extensively on Tuesday, but I can say that at least 27 of those 35 days will be on the Floor of the House. That is an improvement on the 12 days for set-piece debates that we have at the moment.

I have recently received a letter from my local Age Concern expressing its deep concern about the axing of the future jobs fund. When can an early debate on the issue be timetabled?

The hon. Lady might have seen today’s written statement from the Minister with responsibility for employment, which sets out our strategy to move away from the current raft of different schemes, many of which do not provide good value for money, to a single work programme this time next year. We have set out our strategy. There is a debate on poverty that she might be able to use ingeniously to raise the issue. There are 5 million people on out-of-work benefits. We inherited a situation with rising long-term unemployment and we genuinely believe that the single work programme that we are introducing, with a tailor-made package for individuals, is a better way forward than the raft of regimes that we inherited.

Given that Labour left university funding in a mess and problems persist with the Student Loans Company, but record numbers are applying for university places, may we have a general debate on higher education in the near future?

My hon. Friend makes a forceful case. He will have seen the thoughtful speech that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science made today. It would be good if we could find time for a debate on those issues. Of course, we will need to hold a debate in any case when we have the report from Lord Browne, who is considering future funding for higher education.

I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Liberals applying for Short money. Every parliamentarian knows—including hon. Gentlemen sitting behind the Leader of the House; we all believe the same thing—that the Liberal Democrats are all things to all men. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that no money is available for them. May I press him to say that no money will be available for them? In due course, if there is to be a change, will the Conservative Government also apply for that money?

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement that we will get the Back-Bench business committee, but I am concerned that the proposals of the Wright Committee, on which I sat, will not be implemented in full and we will not get the full 35 days. Will he reassure me that, if the business committee recommends that the remaining eight days in Westminster Hall should be transferred to this Chamber, the Government will accede to that request?

I take the opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend on his election to the Chair of the Treasury Committee. There is a resolution on the Order Paper, asking for a review of the scheme at the end of the Session. I am happy to have that debate. It is important to have it with the business committee because the more days we have in the Chamber, the greater the pressure on Report stages or on the House to sit for longer into August. We need a sensible debate between the business committee and the House about how exactly we re-engineer the House’s time to get the best possible outcome. I do not rule out having more than the initial 27 days, moving up to 35, but I want the House to be aware that there are real problems with putting a quart into a pint pot.

Some £5 billion has been wiped off BP’s share price this morning as a result of the US Administration’s seeking to restrict dividend payments. May we have an emergency statement from the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister about the crisis that engulfs BP? With the company paying £1 in every £6, a serious crisis faces millions of pensioners in the UK. We need to say to our US allies that, yes, a British company made the mistake, but if it had been subject to a regulatory regime in the UK, it would not have been able to do that, and that the world’s insatiable appetite for oil is responsible, not British pensioners.

The hon. Gentleman makes a forceful point. My understanding is that there are more American than UK shareholders in BP. Although the company is called British Petroleum, the dividend policy has as much impact in the United States as it does here. What happened in the gulf of Mexico is a human and environmental tragedy. The Government will do everything possible, in consultation with BP and the American Government, to help in whatever way we can. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s question will have been heard by the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—all those who may be having a dialogue with the American Administration.

Right hon. Members and hon. Members have entered into contracts of employment with their staff. We are legally obliged to ensure that their terms are obeyed, but they were imposed on Members by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is unjust, unfair and potentially a legal minefield?

My hon. Friend raises an issue that, I know, is of concern to all hon. Members. Earlier this week, the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I held a meeting with the acting chief executive of IPSA. It was a constructive discussion and we outlined several possible solutions to the problems that confront hon. Members. There is a debate in Westminster Hall for an hour and a half next Wednesday, when my hon. Friend may want to raise the matter again.

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to a debate on the consequences of the moratorium on and eventual cuts in social housing, which were discussed earlier, on urban regeneration, and the practice that that encourages in registered social landlords to engage in property speculation by sitting on land that they are not developing, thus leaving it empty?

Will the Leader of the House also ensure that his ministerial colleagues agree, as a matter of urgency, to a meeting with me and the Save our Stow campaign to ascertain what can be done to prevent the iconic Walthamstow dog track from being left derelict, given the persistent commercial interest in restoring it and the 500 local jobs that represents?

I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing the request for a meeting. The hon. Lady may have just attended Communities and Local Government questions, when social housing was raised.

Perhaps a half-hour Adjournment debate on the future of the Walthamstow greyhound track is a suitable opportunity to share with Ministers the hon. Lady’s concern about its future.

May we have a reaffirmation by Health Ministers of the statement made in opposition that fluoridation would not be imposed on Southampton and Totton without the approval of the majority of the people concerned, given that South Central strategic health authority has put aside £400,000 to fight a court case, despite opposition to fluoridation from 72% of the community?

The coalition Government have no plans at this stage to change the legislation under which the health authority is proceeding with its plans to add fluoride to the water in Southampton and the surrounding district. My constituency verges on that district, and I am aware of the strong local feelings and the unhappiness among some people about the consultation exercise that was undertaken before the decision was made to go ahead. However, I would mislead my hon. Friend if I said that we were planning to do anything in the short term to change the legislative framework in which the decisions are made.

May we have an urgent debate to clear up the mess that is Government policy on further powers for the Welsh Assembly? Yesterday, the Prime Minister was unable to tell us whether he was in favour. The Deputy Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) that he was in favour, but that was a slip of the tongue, and it turns out that, he, too, did not know. In the main, Liberal Democrat Members are in favour and Tory Members are not. Is all that any surprise when we have the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who does not even know who the First Minister in Wales is, as Secretary of State for Wales?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said yesterday. The referendum cannot be held in October because the outgoing Administration made no preparations for it, so it will be held next year. How people vote in that referendum is a matter for the people of Wales.

Many of my constituents were outraged when my predecessor, who was elected as a Conservative, defected to the Labour party and did not stand down to cause a by-election. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on whether hon. Members should be required to cause a by-election if they defect to a different party from the one on whose manifesto they were elected?

My hon. Friend says that many of us were outraged. I think that many people in the Labour party were rather surprised when that transition happened. He proposes a major constitutional reform of the role of Members of Parliament and their independence, and I do not think we should embark on that without thoroughly considering the implications. At the moment, we have no plans to do that.

Does the Leader of the House agree that, in this week of world oceans day, it has been strange not to have a debate on the state of the world’s oceans, particularly given the current state of the gulf of Mexico? Will he make time for such a debate so that we can consider the marine recovery strategy that international legislators agreed at the global forum in the House of Commons earlier this week?

The hon. Gentleman, who has a long-standing interest in the matter, makes a forceful case for a debate. Without giving any commitments, I agree that it is the sort of issue we ought to look at, and against a background of other demands I shall see what I can do.

May we have a debate on overseas territories? Perhaps then we could discuss the ongoing financial crisis on Ascension island, whose only school is facing closure. The cause is an internal dispute between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, and although it is very much a legacy of the last Government, will the Leader of the House join me in pressing Ministers to make an early resolution of the problem?

It sounds to me as though the matter might be a suitable candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall, where my hon. Friend will be able to raise his concerns at greater length.

In response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on affording anonymity to those accused of rape, the Prime Minister said that proposals would be brought forward, enabling debate. That led me to think that the Prime Minister believes that the debate should take place in Government time, in the House. Given the grave anxiety that the proposals are causing not only in the House, but in the wider community, the sooner that debate can take place, the better. Will the Leader of the House commit to holding such a debate, and very soon?

I heard what the Prime Minister said:

“we are promising…to bring proposals forward so that they can be debated.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 329.]

When we introduce the proposed legislation, that will be the opportunity for debate that my right hon. Friend referred to. However, I recognise the serious concern of Members on both sides of the House and it may be possible before we set up the Back-Bench business committee to find time for a further debate.

May I supplement the question put last week by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds)? I would like a debate in the House to reconsider the question whether a Member who was elected to the House should be able to use its facilities, and possibly take allowances from the public purse, without him or her taking the Oath of Allegiance.

Indeed. This reply may not make my hon. Friend’s pulse race. Nevertheless, issues about allowances are no longer a matter for the House. Issues about allowances, including to Members who may not have taken their seats, are now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Given that the Department for Communities and Local Government has just announced the end of ring-fencing for stroke strategy money, can the Leader of the House arrange for any Department of Health advice on the increase in disability and the number of hospital admissions that that is likely to cause to be placed in the Library? Will he allow time for a debate on the stroke strategy in Government time, given that stroke is a major cause of death and disability?

I am in favour of giving local government the maximum freedom to use its resources intelligently, without constraining its decisions by directions from central Government. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady and her colleagues who share her views will be able forcefully to make the case to the local authority in her area about the importance of providing resources for those who suffer from stroke.

The new chairman of the Sentencing Guidelines Council has called for hefty cuts in sentences to people who plead guilty to the police, which does not bode well for his term in office. May we have a debate about the Government’s approach to sentencing? Given that people already get a considerable discount for pleading guilty and prisoners are automatically released halfway through their sentence, many of my constituents would like the Government to move towards ensuring that prisoners are serving their sentence in full, rather than softer sentences or letting people out of prison even earlier.

That is a typically robust proposition from my hon. Friend. On 15 June there are oral questions to Justice Ministers, which may be an opportunity for him to raise the matter again.

May we have an urgent debate on the importance of diversity in news broadcasting in the UK? There is real concern in Wales, Scotland and the regions of England about the Government’s decision not to proceed with pilots for regional news programmes. What is the Government’s position and how will they ensure the diversity in news broadcasting that is so important?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue and I think it best that he comes along on 21 June and puts the question to Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The September G8 in Canada will pay particular attention to how the international community takes forward the millennium development goals. Between now and the rise of the House for the summer recess, will my right hon. Friend try to make time for a general debate on international development so that both sides of the House can reinforce the need for the international community to take forward the MDGs, as set out in early-day motion 179?

[That this House recognises the important contribution and commitment the UK has made to the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); welcomes the Government’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on overseas aid and to enshrine this commitment in law; further recognises that development benefits often remain out of reach of those who are poorest, most marginalised and affected by conflict; acknowledges that many of the MDGs are off track, especially those relating to maternal, infant and child health; further acknowledges the importance of the G8, G20 and MDG Review in mobilising the international community to achieve the MDGs; and trusts that the Government will show strong international leadership in encouraging others in the international community to work towards an MDGs’ rescue plan with clear political and financial commitments, and with every G8 country providing solid national commitments and timetables.]

My hon. Friend makes a forceful case. I will see whether between now and the summer recess we can arrange a debate along the lines he has proposed.

I thank the Leader of the House and his deputy for bringing forward with great expedition the proposals for a Back-Bench business committee. Sadly, that stands in contrast to the delay we experienced over the last year or so. Before we have too much of a love-in, however, I must tell the Leader of the House that there are a number of omissions in the decision of the whole House last year about how the committee should be constituted. To maintain consensus next Tuesday, and to keep all Back Benchers behind his proposals, will he meet me and a number of interested colleagues from all parties to discuss serious amendments, which we can table tomorrow?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I congratulate him on his election to the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform.

The debate on Tuesday is House business, and it will be for the House to decide whether it wants to proceed with the motions I have tabled or agree to amendments. Amendments to some of the motions have already been tabled. I should be more than happy to see the hon. Gentleman after business questions if he is available, to explain why we have constructed the motions as we have, why this is not the last word on implementing Wright, and why I believe that on Tuesday we should take an important step forward and build on it.

Last week, the Leader of the House told us that the Mayor of London had applied to the High Court for an injunction in respect of the demonstration in Parliament square. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the situation?

The Mayor did indeed apply for an injunction. The case has been adjourned. My understanding is that more people appeared wishing to make their case than was originally anticipated, so it is taking longer for the High Court to hear many of the people now on Parliament square before it reaches a decision, but I shall try to keep the House informed.

Members on both sides of the House who attended the annual meeting held by the all-party group on learning disability and Mencap will know that research was published showing that it costs £7,000 per place to support people with learning disabilities to go into employment. This morning, it was announced that there would be a £30 million cut in the supporting people element of the local government area-based grant. That will obviously fall on some of the most vulnerable people with learning disabilities, including those in my area, and will undermine their efforts to find employment. If we contrast that with the £17,000 cost per place for day care, we see that it makes no sense in economic terms, so may we have a debate on fairness and supporting people, and how to make the big society more inclusive?

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. He will know the background to the decision to reduce the resources available. Before the last election, the outgoing Chancellor said that the cuts that would be necessary would be deeper than those imposed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but I am afraid we have heard no details at all from Opposition Members as to how those economies might be made. Turning to the point the hon. Gentleman made, he says that the cuts will inevitably fall on the most vulnerable. I hope that the local authority will protect the most vulnerable from the impact of that decision and not seek economies from the client group he has just referred to.

The Leader of the House will know that my constituents and those of Members throughout the House have welcomed the proposal to abolish the regional spatial strategies set up by the previous Government. May we have a statement and a debate about when regional spatial strategies will be abolished in legislation?

If my hon. Friend had asked that question an hour earlier, he would have received a definitive response from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Later in the Session, there will be a planning Bill, which may be a forum for changing the planning regime. There has been a statement about regional spatial strategies. Speaking from memory, I think the guidance is being altered, but I shall arrange for a definitive reply to be forwarded to my hon. Friend.

It is my desire to help the Leader of the House to save money wherever possible. To that end, has he seen my suggestion that we hold the September sittings in Birmingham, rather than in the building site that the House will be in September? May we have an early debate on the obvious benefits and cost-effectiveness of moving Parliament to Birmingham?

Whether it would save money to sit in Birmingham, rather than in London, given some of the costs involved for some Members, is a moot point. So I am afraid that the motion on September sittings, which I have tabled, presumes that the House will continue to sit here. But may I commend the hon. Gentleman? He is the first Opposition Member who has made a proposal to save money.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the significant concerns among hon. Members about the business practices of banks, in which, of course, we now hold a substantial stake. The Royal Bank of Scotland in Partington—one of the most deprived areas of my constituency—has just announced closure plans. Will he ensure that there is time to debate the future of the banking sector and to discuss economic and social responsibilities, and emphasise to his colleagues in the Treasury team that the House will want that to be covered?

I was sorry to hear about the proposed closure of the bank in the hon. Lady’s constituency. She will have heard me announce that the Budget statement will be made on Tuesday week, after which there are a number of days to debate Budget resolutions. That will provide an opportunity for her to raise this concern with Treasury Ministers.

It might surprise the House to know that, among the letters that I receive, there are many asking me what I am doing to uphold the hunting ban in inner-city Hackney. They at least equal the number of letters that I receive about urban foxes. In the past week, nine-month-old twins in my constituency were the very unfortunate victims of a nasty attack by one of those urban foxes. Given that we have some idea of the Government’s plans about how to deal with fox hunting, have they any plan to consider either guidance or, if necessary, legislation on urban foxes?

The hon. Lady raises a serious issue, and the whole House has sympathy for the family of the twins who were mauled by a fox a few days ago. I will raise with the Home Secretary the issue of whether further guidance or, indeed, a change in the legislation is necessary, but I hope that there may be ways to deal with those risks other than primary legislation.

Surely the Leader of the House is washing his hands, Pilate-like, of the responsibilities that the House ought to have when it comes to the payment of Members’ allowances to a party and to Members who deliberately abstain and fail to do the work that they ought to do on behalf of their constituents. Surely, there should be not only a debate in the House but a statement by the Government and, indeed, an admonishment of those Members who fail to turn up to the House and to do the job as elected Members, but who are paid full allowances for coming here and for failing to do that job.

I understand the concern, but it was a unanimous decision of the last Parliament that decisions on the salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament should be taken no longer by the House, but by an independent organisation. That is where the responsibility rests. As I said a moment ago, there is a debate on Government policy on IPSA on Wednesday, and that may provide the hon. Gentleman with an opportunity to raise the issue again.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that, in Ealing, the Post Office is engaging in yet another consultation on a major proposal to close down a post office in one place and move it to another. Even while the consultation is going on, it appears that some of the preparatory building work is taking place at the proposed site. I wonder whether we can have a further look at how the Post Office conducts some of these so-called consultations.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Ealing is an area with which I am not unfamiliar. I am looking forward to sharing with her the party in my former constituency later today to celebrate her election to the House. I will raise with Business, Innovation and Skills Ministers the issue that she raises about whether the Post Office has gone through the appropriate procedures in apparently pre-empting a decision on closing one office and moving it to another location.

Returning to the economy, in view of today’s forecast that unemployment will rise substantially and stay there for the duration of the Conservative-dominated Government, will we have regular statements by the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary on the misery that will be undoubtedly inflicted on so many of our constituents?

The hon. Gentleman can raise that matter in the Budget debate. We inherited the largest fiscal deficit in the EU. Everyone agrees that we must take some measures to get it under control. The sooner that we get it under control, the better for securing a long-term, sustainable recovery and the better the prospect for interest rates. Unless we take those decisions to rebalance the economy and promote growth in the private sector, the situation will not improve.

Although I welcome the Government’s proposals to introduce individual voter registration, I wonder whether the Leader of the House could grant us an early debate on restricting postal and proxy votes, which have brought the electoral system in this country under so much criticism in the past.

The Electoral Commission is, I believe, doing a review of the recent election that will be published. It would be sensible to await the outcome of that review before we consider any decision on restricting postal or proxy votes. I recognise the concern that my hon. Friend expresses, but we need a debate set against the background of the work that is now under way.

I am sure that, as a very distinguished former Housing Minister, the Leader of the House will be disappointed in the appalling complacency of some of the answers and, frankly, the frightening delay in getting to the Dispatch Box of some Housing Ministers during Communities and Local Government questions today. May we have a debate in Government time on housing and planning policies, so that we can ensure that they are based on the needs and aspirations of those who live on council estates, not those who live on country estates?

The hon. Gentleman was also a good Housing Minister. Housing completions in the year that has just ended were the fewest since 1946. The last Labour Government built 26,000 fewer houses per year than the previous Conservative Government. That is not a record to be proud of, and as the hon. Gentleman will have heard from the Housing Minister who was at the Dispatch Box, he found that promises had been made to spend money that did not exist. That is why we had to take some tough decisions. None the less, when the Chancellor considered savings to be made in year, £170 million was found to make progress with social rented housing. We hope to do a lot better than the outgoing Administration in meeting housing need.

There is great concern in Cleethorpes, particularly among those who are employed in the tourism trade, about the spread of the salt marsh on Cleethorpes pleasure beach, and there is anger at the attitude of the Government agency, Natural England—an unaccountable and unelected body—in respect of overruling the local authority, which is, of course, democratically accountable and elected, in its desire to manage the beach. Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the role of agencies, such as Natural England, and their ability to overrule democratically accountable bodies?

My extensive briefing does not cover salt marshes in Cleethorpes, but my hon. Friend raises an important issue about the role of elected local authorities and that of the unelected quangos that sit above them. There may be an opportunity on 24 June, during Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, for him to press Ministers in more detail, and I will give them advance notice of his concern.

We will all have been horrified by the brutal murder on 28 May of nearly 100 Ahmadiyya worshippers in two separate attacks in Lahore. Britain’s Ahmadiyya Muslims work hard and contribute greatly to this country, and their belief in peace and religious tolerance is an example to us all. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore find time for Parliament to debate how we can help to stop the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan and what we can do to reassure them that they are safe to practise their faith in the UK?

Freedom of religious worship is an important principle, which I hope that this country will always defend. May I suggest that the hon. Lady find time for a debate in Westminster Hall, where this serious issue can be debated at more length and an appropriate Foreign Office Minister can respond?

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that a Minister can give us the Government’s views on the review set up by the previous Administration and hon. Members can set out in the Chamber what they believe are the benefits and disadvantages of the existing legislation?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his question and I am aware of a serious case in his constituency. I will, of course, contact the Home Secretary to ask where the review to which the hon. Gentleman refers has got to and to ensure that its findings are available to the House.

May I welcome the Leader of the House’s indication that he has some sympathy with the idea of an early debate in Government time about their proposal to extend anonymity to defendants in rape cases? When he decides how early a debate we may have, will he take account of the fact that the policy was in neither the Conservative nor the Liberal Democrat manifestos, but appeared in a mere nine words in the coalition agreement?

That is an ingenious approach on the case for a debate. I just say to the hon. Lady that a Labour Government adopted such a policy in 1976 when they introduced anonymity for rape defendants, so this is not wholly without precedent. However, regardless of whether the proposal was in the manifestos, this serious issue should be debated on its merits.

May we have a debate on industrial relations in the aviation industry? Most reasonable and rational people recognise that the British Airways cabin crew dispute has run its course and that serious discussions should be taking place. Earlier this week, several hon. Members met a cabin crew member who told us about the bullying, harassment and vindictiveness that is going on in British Airways, and an early debate would allow us to expose the corporate thuggery that is taking place in the company.

I hope that the dispute can be brought to a conclusion. It is a matter for British Airways, the trade unions and the staff to resolve, perhaps with the assistance of ACAS, but I note the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate.

In Swansea, where I am meeting the chief of police tomorrow, there is growing concern about the relationship between increased job cuts and crime, and between education cuts and drug abuse. Given the plans to cut the police grant by £125 million, when will the Leader of the House find time to debate those issues, especially given that the previous Government reduced crime by a third, whereas the former Conservative Government doubled it?

May I thank those people who supported my Select Committee candidacy, even though I was unsuccessful?

There will be more resources available to police authorities this year than last year, despite the reductions that have been referred to. As I said earlier, the written ministerial statement indicates that the grant reduction requires the approval of the House, so that might give the opportunity to debate it.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) on her election as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

May we have a debate soon, in Government time, about Network Rail’s contracts for rail track renewal? The Leader of the House will be aware that the rail track renewal firm Jarvis went into administration in April with the loss of 1,100 jobs, including 350 in my constituency. Network Rail has signed a contract with Babcock that will allow 25 of those 350 who were made redundant to be re-employed, but that is not good enough. Rail track needs to be renewed for reasons of public safety, and those skilled workers need jobs, especially if the Government are to fulfil their obligation to build new railways.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the loss of jobs in his constituency. A week today—on 17 June—we will have Transport questions, and I believe that he still has time to table a relevant question on the matter.

Did the Leader of the House knock any sense into IPSA when he met its representatives? Did they give an apology for the breach of security by sending these e-mails to the wrong Members of Parliament, because there was none in the letter that I received? Next time he sees them, will he tell them that a strange paradox is occurring in the House of Commons, as the Back Benchers are taking power to themselves—he referred to that today, right?—yet an oligarchy called IPSA is moving in the opposite direction? Tell it to get in tune!

I think that the hon. Gentleman is seeking either a statement—preferably now—or indeed a debate.

I raised the issue that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which should not have happened, with the interim chief executive of IPSA, who is apologetic about it. I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a letter from the interim chief executive to confirm what he said to the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and myself.

We are doing what the hon. Gentleman’s Government failed to do by taking power away from the Executive and giving it to the House of Commons and the Back-Bench business committee. On the question of setting up IPSA, if he looks at the voting record, he will see that he either supported it or abstained—he did not object to it.

Yes, the Labour Government made a terrible mistake more than 35 years ago with what they tried to do on anonymity for rape defendants. I do not think that this is about party political point scoring because more than 50 hon. Members, including 18 Government Members, attended a late-night Adjournment debate on the matter, which is pretty rare. It is becoming clearer day by day that there is confusion about the Government’s policy, where the priority came from and the basis for their approach, so may I entreat the Leader of the House to think about providing Government time to discuss something that is a Government plan?

The position of the Government is that we have put forward a proposal in the coalition agreement. That proposal will require the assent of both Houses before it comes into effect. We have made it clear that we would like a debate before we proceed with the proposal. I take seriously the right hon. Lady’s point, which has also been made by her colleagues, that we ought to find time as soon as possible to debate the matter at greater length.

Further to that, there is a lot of confusion about the Government’s position. The agreement says not, as the Leader of the House suggested earlier, that the Government will give “serious consideration” to introducing the proposal, but:

“We will extend anonymity in rape cases”.

Would he care to propose an amendment to the coalition document to reflect what he said, and perhaps to publish a White Paper or Green Paper on the proposal? Given what the Prime Minister said recently, is he suggesting that there will be consideration of a free vote on the issue when the Government introduce legislation? The coalition’s programme for government states that it “will extend anonymity”, so he cannot get away with saying that he is just running this idea up the flagpole—that is fag packet politics.

That, if I may say so, is a distortion of what I said. I said that the coalition Government have made a proposal, which is in the coalition agreement. That proposal cannot reach the statute book unless it goes through both Houses. Before it can do that, it is clear that there needs to be a serious debate about the pros and cons. I have taken on board requests for a debate before we make progress, and I will try to respond to them.

I listened with interest to the Leader of the House when he responded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) about Short money and the proposals made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), the new deputy leader of the Liberal party. However, may we have a debate about the seating arrangements in the Chamber, as some of us remain concerned that although the Liberal party is a signatory to the coalition document, its Members want the right to set out statements against certain policies, for example on nuclear power, and to make a principled abstention? As a precursor to that debate, may I suggest that we build a fence down the middle of the Chamber so that when the Liberals are sitting on it, we can at least see that they are doing so?

I am delighted with the new seating arrangements and so are my hon. Friends. May I amplify what I said earlier about Short money? It is for the Clerk of the House, as accounting officer, to ensure that Short money payments are made in accordance with resolutions of the House. As for the voting record, the hon. Gentleman will find that Members of the last Parliament who sat on the Government side of the House very occasionally voted against the Government.

Patients and NHS staff would have been as concerned as I was to learn yesterday that decisions on capital projects in the NHS that had already been announced, such as the vital rebuild of the Royal Liverpool hospital, will not be forthcoming until the autumn. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or one of his Ministers comes to the House to make an urgent statement about the delay?

That is probably better raised with the Secretary of State for Health, but I say to the hon. Lady that we were the only party at the last election to pledge an increase in real terms in spending on the NHS, so whatever the prospects are for her hospital, they are better than they would have been.

The Leader of the House said last week and again today that he has had meetings with IPSA, and I thank him for the overtures to IPSA that he has made on behalf of the House. Is there any point where he can make a statement to the House on the results of those discussions, before the byzantine bureaucracy of IPSA stops and prevents Members of this House from serving their constituents?

I understand the concern and repeat that, as Leader of the House, I would be concerned if the allowance regime stood in the way of Members discharging their responsibilities as constituency MPs. In addition to the meeting with the interim chief executive, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I held a meeting with the chairman of the 1922 committee, the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party and the leader of the parliamentary Liberal group. Discussions are ongoing about how we improve the dialogue with IPSA. I add as a footnote that, if the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) looks at the list of ministerial responsibilities, he will see that Government responsibility for policy towards IPSA rests with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and the debate in Westminster Hall will be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary from the relevant Department.