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Business of the House

Volume 511: debated on Thursday 17 June 2010

The business for the week commencing 21 June will include:

Monday 21 June—General debate on the 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 and Thursday 24 June—Continuation of the Budget debate.

The provisional business for the week commencing 28 June will include:

Monday 28 June—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 29 June— Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Wednesday 30 June— General debate on the progress and prospects in energy efficiency.

Thursday 1 July—General debate on global poverty.

Hon. Members will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday 22 June.

I should also like to inform the House of business in Westminster Hall:

Thursday 1 July—A debate entitled “Supporting carers to have a life outside caring”.

I thank the Leader of the House for setting out the forthcoming business.

If there are any statements to be made next week, can we make sure that we do not have a repeat of last week’s discourtesy to the House, when General Sir Jock Stirrup’s departure was announced in the Sunday papers, and by the Secretary of State for Defence on television, but was not even mentioned in the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on Monday? That is hardly the way to treat the Chief of the Defence Staff.

If there are not any planned statements, could the Leader of the House check with the Cabinet whether there ought to be, given that this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is becoming something of a serial offender in this respect, again had to be summoned to the House because once again he wanted to make a key announcement, but not to Members of Parliament? We understand that the Chancellor had suggested that the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury might have an airing, but thought better of it on account of the Chief Secretary being a bit nervy under fire. We are quite pleased that the Chief Secretary is to turn out today.

As it turned out, the Chancellor was announcing yet another commission. Just so that we know whether any decisions remain that are likely to be made by Ministers as opposed to being outsourced to a commission or review, will the right hon. Gentleman place details in the Library of all the commissions that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government have set up, all the reviews that have been announced, the number of people who are involved in the reviews and commissions, their terms of reference and their cost? Will he give us a pointer as to whether the Government need so many Ministers to carry out the business of government, given that there might not be a lot left for them to do after all the commissions and reviews have been set up?

I see that the Leader of the House spoke at the Hansard Society last night about altering party conferences. Obviously, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences could be merged and simply called the Conservative party conference.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the shadow Leader of the House. Doubtless the subject is genuinely scintillating, but it is not a matter of Government responsibility. I hope that the right hon. Lady might want to move on to something that is.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I simply wanted to ensure that if the Leader of the House intends to refer us to the Procedure Committee, as his speech suggested, there will be discussions with all the parties before that is done. I certainly have not been consulted and, as far as I know, nor have other parties. Will he ensure that consultation happens?

On anonymity for defendants in rape cases, we are now getting increasingly confusing and contradictory comments from the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister. Three weeks ago, the Government pledged to give defendants anonymity. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister appeared to change that position to one whereby the accused would be named only if prosecutors brought charges, and this week the Justice Secretary blamed the Liberal Democrats, saying that they had adopted the policy in opposition. There was further confusion at questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities today.

Ministers keep saying that they want a proper, considered discussion, but it is extremely difficult for hon. Members to contribute to any discussion when it is completely unclear which Minister is speaking for the Government. The policy seems to be the victim of hasty negotiations, but the real victims will be women who have been raped. The need for a proper debate on the subject has now become urgent, and I ask the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that he will allocate one of the Government’s general debates—we have a lot of them at the moment—to it.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. On the Ministry of Defence, Sir Bill Jeffrey and Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup have announced to their staff that they will retire in the autumn. Both stayed on longer than they originally intended to see things through over the election period and to get through the strategic defence and security review.

The Government have made many statements—nine since the Queen’s Speech. We have been very open with the House, and about five, perhaps even seven statements have been made this week. The Speaker has indicated that he wants more urgent questions, and that is a useful way to hold the Government to account and keep the House informed.

The Chief Secretary is robust under fire and can give as good as he can take.

I have answered a written question on reviews, referring to the coalition agreement, which sets out the Government’s key reviews and priorities. It is then up to individual Departments to provide information about their reviews.

In my compelling speech last night to the Hansard Society, I said that perhaps it was time for an open and serious debate, in which hon. Members of all parties should be engaged, about sitting hours and sittings in September, to ascertain whether we have the right configuration and whether we are making the best use of our time.

Anonymity for defendants in rape cases is a serious issue, about which there is a wide range of views. The Government are determined to drive up the conviction rate for rape and ensure that those who are convicted get serious sentences. I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is right for the House to debate the matter seriously and calmly, and I will do what I can to provide for such a debate.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on planning guidance for local councils now that the regional spatial strategies have been abolished? In my constituency and many surrounding rural constituencies, there are many proposals to erect vast numbers of wind turbines the size of the London Eye. I greatly hoped that we could have some guidance about extending what happens in Scotland and many other European countries so that we have an exclusion zone of 2 km from dwellings.

I understand that my hon. Friend is not a fan of wind turbines. The Government’s view is that communities should be protected from the unacceptable impacts of development. Current planning policy in England is that the distance between a wind farm or turbine and a home should be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, I will bring my hon. Friend’s concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on competition among providers of liquefied petroleum gas to householders in rural areas? My constituents in the village of Llannon find themselves in an impossible situation because when one person has a contract with one company, no one else can go to another provider. That needs serious reconsideration.

Like the hon. Lady, I have a rural constituency where many people are dependent on one supplier of LPG. Speaking from memory, I think that the Office of Fair Trading had been invited to conduct a review of the matter. I will draw her concern to the attention of the OFT and see whether the issue might be revisited.

My right hon. Friend will know about the great success of the south of England show at Ardingly recently. Does he also know that I am president of the hounds show at Ardingly? Will he see what he can do to lay aside some Government time for a debate on the future of farming, particularly getting more young people into the industry, the security of the food supply in this country and essential research and development for the future of farming in Britain?

I was not aware that my hon. Friend was president of the hounds show, but I am not surprised. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has attended several agricultural shows and I will draw her attention to the success of the one at Ardingly.

My hon. Friend makes a serious point about the future of farming and the need to increase young people’s interest in that career. I will do what I can to see whether we can provide a forum so that he can share with the House his important views on the subject.

Following my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House’s question, will the Leader of the House state when he took over responsibility for setting Labour party conference dates?

That is a wilful misrepresentation of what I just said. I said that I think the House should have a serious debate about its sitting hours, when it sits in the summer and whether the 82-day summer recess that we have had in the past is the right way forward. I think all parties might consider whether party conferences are immoveable or whether there is a more intelligent way of reorganising the political year. I accept that it is not a matter for one party, but one for all parties and the House. I hope that the House will engage in that debate in the spirit in which I launched it.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the actions of bailiffs? The subject was mentioned in the coalition agreement and I am sure that many hon. Members have examples of constituents who have been targeted by bailiffs. As I understand it, that area of law is unclear and it would be helpful to have a debate.

The coalition agreement is specific on the matter. We will provide more protection against aggressive bailiffs and unreasonable charging orders, ensuring that courts have the power to insist that repossession is always a last resort and to ban orders for sale on unsecured debts of less than £25,000. Better regulation of bailiffs will be one of the strands of that policy as we develop it.

Last week at business questions, the Leader of the House, in response to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), indicated that allowances issues are no longer a matter for the House. Of course the administration of allowances is now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, but is the question of who is entitled to allowances still a matter for the House? Will he therefore correct the record, and in addition confirm that the administration of Short money is still a matter for the House, and that it will remain so?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on that last point—the administration of Short money is a matter for the House—and I answered questions on that last week. IPSA is responsible not only for the administration of the allowances but for the policy on allowances, as a number of hon. Members said in yesterday’s debate in Westminster Hall. IPSA has simply carried forward the regime that it inherited from the House on questions such as whether Members are entitled to pay or allowances. Under the current legislation, it remains a matter for IPSA to make any changes in the allowance regime.

May I add to the calls for a debate on regional spatial strategies? The Government’s decision to scrap housing targets was most welcome, but it poses questions for the future of Milton Keynes Partnership—the unelected quango in my constituency—its role as a planning authority, the ownership of the land bank and the future of the local plan. A debate would help to clarify those points.

My hon. Friend makes a forceful case for a debate in Westminster Hall, so that Communities and Local Government Ministers can address the issues he has outlined, and see whether responsibility can be passed down to the locally elected local authorities in his constituency.

There is growing concern that further increasing student fees will deter students from poorer backgrounds. I am meeting Luke Young, the president of the Swansea students’ union, next week. When will the right hon. Gentleman timetable a debate on student fees, particularly when we should be tooling up all our young people, but particularly those from poorer backgrounds, for the recovery that we all hope is ahead?

That is a devolved matter in Wales. So far as England is concerned, we are awaiting the outcome of the inquiry by Lord Browne of Madingley. One of the key things that the Government will be looking at is exactly what the hon. Gentleman mentioned— whether any changes would impede or promote access to higher education by students from low-income families.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on Members who refuse to take their seats and fail to give proper representation to their constituents?

That is a candidate for debate, and a sensitive issue. I can give no guarantee that the Government will find time for such a debate, but it is a perfectly legitimate candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall.

Yesterday the North report, which recommends reductions in drink-driving limits, was published. An hour or so ago, the Secretary of State for Transport said that there would be consultation in Government Departments on the proposals, yet newspapers have been full of reports—inspired, it would appear, by ministerial briefings—that the proposals would be rejected. One headline states: “Motorists escape bid to lower drink-drive limit”. Will the Government agree to a debate in Government time to clarify their policy on drink-drive limits? The Leader of the House is a great supporter of road safety, so I hope he agrees to such a debate, and confirms that the Government will be positive about reducing drink-drive limits.

This is an important issue and our priority is to tackle drink and drug driving in the most effective way. I listened to the Transport Secretary’s response a few moments ago, and I did not detect the equivocation that the hon. Gentleman alleges. The Transport Secretary said that the report covered a wide range of issues and made 51 detailed recommendations, which the Departments concerned need to consider carefully. He also said that the Government would respond to Sir Peter in due course. However, on top of that, I agree that it is an appropriate matter for the House to debate.

One of my constituents recently turned up for duty in court as a witness and spent most of the day there, but was then sent home because no other witnesses turned up. He wasted most of his day but, more importantly, the court case had to be delayed again. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to consider more measures to ensure that witnesses are made to turn up when they are required, so that cases are not postponed or even put off altogether?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important that we use the resources of the court system effectively, so that the sort of waste to which she refers does not occur. I will contact the Justice Secretary and share her concerns with him, and see whether the Government have proposals for making better use of the available resources.

On 26 May, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury came to the House and said in answer to an urgent question on the future jobs fund that Government

“policy…has to be informed by the facts, and…advice…from the Department for Work and Pensions”.

He added that that advice was that the fund

“was…not effective and that the money was wasted.”—[Official Report, 26 May 2010; Vol. 510, c. 164.]

However, when I visited my constituency’s district Jobcentre Plus office on Monday, I was told that it was far too early to judge the effectiveness of the scheme, because no data are yet available. May I suggest that we have a debate on the scheme, so that we can work out whether what we are being told about the DWP’s view of the matter is a reflection of what is happening on the ground?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good case for a debate. The future jobs scheme cost about £6,500 per place, which is about five times the cost of other components of a similar programme. Many of the jobs were relatively low-paid and insecure, and many were in the public sector. The Government believe that we have better approaches to dealing with unemployment—namely, the Work programme—but I hope that it will be possible at some point to discuss the issues that he raises. That could happen in the context of the Budget debate, because I believe that the Work and Pensions Secretary will speak then.

Mr Speaker, as the defender of the rights of MPs, I am sure that you were aware of the debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that took place in Westminster Hall yesterday, which about 50 Members attended, and of the excellent speech made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley). The matter cannot be allowed to remain there; we need to take it forward. The Leader of the House will know that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the

“interface between parliamentary privilege and IPSA’s decisions”


“the privilege of freedom from obstruction in the performance of parliamentary duties.”

He quoted pages 75 and 143 of “Erskine May”, and referred to what it says under the heading, “Obstructing Members of either House in the discharge of their duty”.

With that in mind, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that we had a Minister at the Dispatch Box for a debate, because the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling concluded that IPSA

“is obstructing Members in the efficient and effective discharge of their parliamentary duties”?—[Official Report, 16 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 144-145WH.]

I attended that debate and heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) make that speech. The debate was, of course, replied to by a Minister from the Cabinet Office. If any Member believes that there has been a breach of privilege, a procedure can be followed, which involves an approach to Mr Speaker.

During Transport questions, the Secretary of State made it clear that his priorities are encouraging economic growth and reducing carbon emissions, yet Transport for London is proposing massive job cuts and the closure of virtually every ticket office on the London underground. Those actions will impact directly against the Secretary of State’s hopes. May we have a debate on that, and not least on what seems to be a marked lack of communication between the coalition Government and the Conservative Mayor of London?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, but the staffing of individual underground stations is a matter for TfL, which may be having to do what Departments are having to do: coping with the economic legacy that we have inherited. Perhaps at some point Opposition Members will tell us where the £50 billion of cuts they identified before the election would have applied.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the big society? Many community organisations in Harlow are keen adopters of the big society reforms that will do so much to transform voluntary groups up and down our country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Prime Minister’s speech on the big society has indeed whetted the appetite of voluntary organisations up and down the country for further development of that policy. I agree that the question of how we engage the resources of the third sector is important. I am not making a commitment, but I should like to find time for a debate if we can.

Two weeks ago, I asked the Leader of the House if he would kindly urge the Home Secretary to update us on the review of dangerous dogs legislation initiated under the last Government. He said that the Home Secretary would do so during the Queen’s Speech debate, but unfortunately that did not happen. May I again urge him to ask the Home Secretary to come to the House and update us on the review of that legislation?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and if there has been a discourtesy, I apologise. I will pursue the issue further, and Home Office questions will be held on 28 June, when she may have an opportunity to raise the matter again.

What is my right hon. Friend’s thinking in changing the hours of Tuesday’s Budget day to those of a Wednesday sitting? Should we take that change as a pilot for changes to future Tuesdays?

It would be wrong to read too much into the changing of the time for the Budget debate. After consultation, we took the view that it would be for the convenience of the House to begin the debate a little earlier. My hon. Friend makes the point that at some stage we will need to look at the sittings of the House. We have many new Members and we have to operate within a slightly different regime, so there is an appetite for intelligent debate about how the House uses its time.

The Leader of the House raised the issue of the recess. Midsummer’s day is in four days’ time, but Parliament does not start its so-called summer recess until five weeks later. May we for once have a summer recess in the summer, a shorter recess and one that takes place during the Scottish school holidays, which are, of course, actually in the summer? That could help MPs to be more available to their constituents at summer events. May we have a debate on the timing of the recess?

I do understand that for MPs with Scottish constituencies the summer recess does not coincide with the school holidays in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman reinforces the point made in earlier exchanges about the need to stand back and look at when the House sits and consider whether we make the best use of our time.

In opposition, the Leader of the House was always a supporter of enhanced post-legislative scrutiny and, in particular, of finding time for debates on Law Commission reports. Can he update the House on what plans he has in that respect, and does he think that there is too much legislation or too little?

I think that there has been too much legislation. We are determined to have less legislation and better drafted Bills, with proper time allowed for the House to reflect on them. That will be a transformation compared with what happened in the last Parliament.

Good governance involves post-legislative scrutiny, as well as the production of draft Bills and a pre-legislative stage. Every Department should produce a summary, a few years after legislation has been enacted, stating whether it has met its objectives, and Select Committees have a role to play in post-legislative scrutiny, as well as their other tasks. In a word, the answer is yes.

For several weeks, I have been attempting to obtain support from IPSA to offer jobs to people who want to work in my constituency office. The failure of IPSA to respond to me by phone or e-mail is putting tremendous pressure on my office’s ability to provide a service to the people of Chesterfield who sent me here. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on what support he can give to new Members who are attempting to staff their offices, but who are having to rely on voluntary contributions to provide a service to their constituents?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to provide the service that he wants because of difficulties with the allowance regime. The whole object of the allowance regime is to enable MPs to look after their constituents and hold Ministers to account. If it is not doing that, it is a serious matter. I will ensure that the interim chief executive is aware of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised and that he gets a prompt response.

The Leader of the House said that he wants less legislation, but there could not be any less legislation than at present, because he has announced none. When will we have a Second Reading on one of the many plans for legislation that the Government have announced, so that we can scrutinise it, and when will he set up the European Scrutiny Committee, so that we can scrutinise their plans on Europe?

In the Queen’s Speech, we outlined 22 Bills for an 18-month Session. We have already introduced three of them—one in the House and two in the other place—and I anticipate a finance Bill before too long. I also anticipate two more Second Readings before the summer recess.

Will the Government arrange, in Government time, a debate on the effects on employment of Government policies? I estimate that the recently announced cuts will cost at least 30 jobs in Slough—a town where unemployment has fallen month on month since the start of the year. Will the Government give us a chance to discuss the effects of what they are doing?

May I return the compliment and suggest that the Opposition use one of their Opposition days to explain where they would have found the £50 billion cuts that were factored into their pre-election statements? They never told us where those cuts would come from, and they would have included some £18 billion of cuts to the capital programme. They said that they would tell us after the election where they would find those cuts, and the time is now ripe.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for someone from the Government to come here and tell us why they are afraid of scrutiny of their behaviour in Europe and why they have not set up the European Scrutiny Committee, which was the first Committee set up in the last Parliament by the previous Government? Are they afraid of the Euroscepticism generated on their Benches when they were in pre-election mode, or are they afraid of the ESC, which of course won an inquisitor of the year award when we had a Labour Government and it had a Labour Chair?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done on the ESC. I am aware that documents continue to arrive from Europe that need scrutiny and that, at the moment, there is no ESC. There is no conspiracy along the lines that he suggests. Urgent discussions are taking place along the usual channels, and I hope that it will not be too long before we can establish the ESC. I am sure that whoever chairs it will do a fantastic job.

In the light of the Alston report to the United Nations, a debate on the conventions used in the deployment of advanced military technology would allow us to debate whether international law has to be reformulated as a result of that report. Do the Government believe that drone planes should be used for the targeted extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious question. I do not know whether it would be appropriate for him to make that point in the debate on the strategic defence review, but I will certainly pass his concerns on to the Ministry of Defence and ensure that he receives a reply.

Thank you for the introduction, Mr Speaker.

Last night, Europe’s Conservative party leaders and Prime Ministers met for dinner, with the exception of our Prime Minister, because he is in alliance with—as the Deputy Prime Minister puts it—“nutters, anti-Semites...and homophobes”. May we have an early debate on rise of nationalist, populist extremism in eastern Europe, the worries of Jewish communities and the extent to which the Conservative party—not the Liberal Democrats—are giving cover by their alliance with these people?

I am sorry that business questions are ending on that note. The right hon. Gentleman has been pursuing this issue for many months, but there is no substance in the accusations that he has made about our colleagues. I am sure that given more time he could have found a better question to ask on the business.