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Business of the House

Volume 512: debated on Thursday 1 July 2010

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given notice to the shadow Leader of the House and to you, Mr Speaker, that he is attending a memorial service this morning. I will therefore be announcing the business and answering questions on his behalf. The business for the week commencing 5 July will include:

Monday 5 July—Motion relating to the Clear Line of Sight project, followed by opposed private business named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration.

Tuesday 6 July—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 7 July—Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a full day’s debate on Government support for jobs and the unemployed. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 8 July—General debate on defendant anonymity.

The provisional business for the week commencing 12 July will include:

Monday 12 July—Proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 1). At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 13 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill followed by proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 2).

Wednesday 14 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to counter-terrorism, followed by motion relating to police grant report, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the European External Action Service.

Thursday 15 July—Proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 3).

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

Thursday 8 July—A debate on energy security.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for the business statement. I think it is in order to welcome him to his first business questions. I know that he has a long record of campaigning for respect for Parliament. Indeed, I was looking through his contributions to the last Parliament and noticed that he said Ministers should remember that

“their first responsibility in terms of information is to the House and nowhere else”.—[Official Report, 3 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 657.]

I am sure that he was horrified when the Home Secretary was forced to come to the House to apologise for giving the media the statement on the immigration cap, which should have been given here.

Now at least the Home Secretary realised that this had been a step too far, but will the Deputy Leader of the House undertake to tick off the following offenders in respect of whom we would like to set up an early release of information scheme? First, there is the Defence Secretary for briefing on the departure of Sir Jock Stirrup. Secondly, there is the Secretary of State for Education for briefing on plans for schools. Thirdly, there is the Secretary of State for Health for briefing on the NHS operating framework. Then there is the entire Downing street staff for briefing on the whole Queen’s Speech. Then there is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has achieved a hat-trick here for briefing on spending cuts, financial reform and the Budget. Then there is the Secretary of State for Justice for briefing on prison reforms. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can assure us that he has checked with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that nothing has been said to the media this morning that should have been said to the House first. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will seize this opportunity to take up the cause for Parliament, as I know he would hate to be accused of saying one thing in opposition and another thing in government.

Speaking of that, I was leafing through the Conservative-Liberal Democrat programme for government only this morning and came across the section on Government transparency. It is well worth a read, especially the bit that says:

“We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public”.

Can the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether that right extends to Members of Parliament, particularly when they are asking for figures such as those produced by the Treasury which showed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been warned that measures in the Budget would lead to 1.3 million people losing their jobs?

Given the Prime Minister’s extraordinary performance yesterday, when he refused even to acknowledge that those figures existed, will the Deputy Leader of the House place the Treasury documents in the Library? Will he also ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement to the House telling us when he first saw those documents, and why he did not include them in his Budget statement? In that statement, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be able to confirm whether there was any contact between Ministers and their Office for Budget Responsibility before the publication of their job forecasts yesterday?

Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether there will be any report to the House on the Cabinet’s visit to Yorkshire? I noted that during that visit the Prime Minister was quizzed on how the Government’s protestations of support for manufacturing tallied with the withdrawal of the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will also explain why the Leader of the House of the House said last week that

“the Deputy Prime Minister is meeting Sheffield Forgemasters tomorrow in his constituency.” —[Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 433.]

I understand that no such meeting was planned, or took place. I can only imagine that the Leader of the House was misled by the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will want to clarify exactly what happened, so that Members can be clear about what support is actually being given to important manufacturing companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters.

Can the Deputy Leader of the House also help us out by telling us whether there will be a statement on the future of the Tenant Services Authority? Apparently the Housing Minister has called it “toast”, but the Chief Secretary has said that abolishing it would put the finances of housing associations at risk. It would greatly assist the House, and Opposition Members in particular, to know that there is absolutely no sense of disagreement between Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers. We certainly wish to be assured that the Liberal Democrats are 100% behind all Conservative policy, including putting up VAT, putting people out of work, and the huge cuts that are to be made in public services.

The shadow Leader of the House has asked me to restate a position that I stated many times in opposition, and I have no hesitation in doing so. It is entirely clear, not only to me but in the ministerial code of conduct, that announcements of substantive changes in policy should be made to the House in the first instance, and I know perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House brought that to the attention of the Cabinet yet again only this week. You, Mr Speaker, made it very clear in your statement yesterday, and it is our clear intention that it should be the case. I have to tell the shadow Leader of the House that occasionally there will be mistakes—[Interruption.] Even Government Departments sometimes make mistakes, and that is obviously what happened in the case of the Home Office announcement last week. What happened was that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary came to the House to apologise for that mistake, and that is the right way of dealing with it.

It is important that we make sure that changes of policy are properly represented to the House, but I say gently to Labour Members that there is very little point in raising as points of order or at business questions issues raised by Ministers that are clearly set out in existing policy in the coalition document. I am so pleased that the shadow Leader of the House bothers to read that document. If it is policy set out in the coalition document, it should be no great surprise that Ministers adopt the policy and are prepared to speak about it. Therefore, it is not the case that that is an inappropriate way of addressing political issues.

I shall now deal with the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised. She mentioned an issue relating to housing associations. That is important and I shall take the matter back to the Departments and ask whether it is possible for a clear statement of the position to be given—we will ensure that that is the case.

The right hon. Lady asked about the position on the employment figures and the expectations set out by a variety of economists on what might happen. I have to say that I do not always have great faith in what economists predict; nevertheless this is an important issue. What I do have faith in is the newly established Office for Budget Responsibility, which is independent of Government and has set out the figures. I thought that the Opposition supported it. I thought that they saw it, as we do, as being a gold standard of accurate information presented to the House, but they prefer to bang on about figures that they want to choose instead. There will be an Opposition day debate next week, when the Opposition will choose the matters that we will be debating. So she asks for an opportunity to raise these issues with Ministers and she will have the opportunity to raise them with Ministers. Finally, I have to say to her that the figure that was given—the 1.3 million losses that she cited—was coupled with 2.5 million increases in employment in the very same breath. By my simple arithmetic that makes a 1.2 million increase, and the fact that Labour Members cannot do that simple sum explains to me why this country is in the position it is.

Order. Dozens of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As always, I should like to be able to accommodate every colleague, but brevity in both questions and answers will be essential if I am to have any realistic chance of doing so.

Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motion 328, which describes how Google allegedly mapped every wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes?

[That this House is concerned by reports that Google allegedly mapped every single wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes, for commercial purposes; is further concerned that the firm may have failed to disclose that it was building a massive database of wi-fi networks across the UK without people's consent; notes the reports that BT and other companies are using software to trawl social networking websites such as Facebook to identify anyone making negative comments about them; and therefore calls on the Coalition Government to balance innovation on the internet against individuals’ right to privacy and the new threat of a surveillance society.]

Is it not time for a debate on the balance of internet innovation, and on the individual’s right to privacy versus the new threat of a surveillance society, given that we have just got rid of the previous Government’s own one?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, I have read his early-day motion and it seems to raise a very important point about surveillance. The whole issue of the increasing prevalence of what was called “the surveillance society” is something that the coalition Government are very aware of and want to address. I cannot promise him a debate in the next couple of weeks on this subject, but he may try to ask a question at questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on Thursday 8 July. This subject may also be a suitable one for the newly constituted Backbench Business Committee to consider for future business.

May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Chancellor’s grossly disproportionate attack on the benefits system, not least on housing benefit, which is causing grave anxiety and disquiet among some of my most vulnerable constituents? These feelings are exacerbated by the Government’s attempt to present all benefit claimants as workshy scroungers. May we have a debate urgently so that this particular calumny can be disproved?

I invite the hon. Lady to ask questions of the Department for Work and Pensions on 19 July. She also asked for a debate on this matter, and I suggest that she will find opportunities to raise it during our debates on the Finance Bill on Tuesday 6 July, Monday 12 July, Tuesday 13 July and Thursday 15 July.

The shadow Leader of the House—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I apologise, I meant the Deputy Leader of the House. He will be aware of the WWF’s Rivers on the Edge campaign. There has been great concern in the House for some time about the condition of English chalk streams, and the debate on the subject that we had during the last Parliament was over-subscribed. Will he bear this in mind and see whether we can fit in a debate on the chalk rivers of England?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have great affection for the World Wide Fund for Nature because I used to work for it and promote its interests. I hasten to add that that is not a declarable interest. There might be an opportunity for him to raise this important issue at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 29 July. It would also be an entirely suitable matter for a Westminster Hall debate or an end-of-day Adjournment debate.

The next time—or perhaps the first time—the Deputy Leader of the House meets the Backbench Business Committee, will he raise the question of private Members’ Bills being discussed on Wednesday evenings to allow greater participation? Will he also consider doing away with the knives procedure under which such Bills can be talked out, and introduce deferred voting so that everyone can participate in the process?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I agree that we need to reform the process for private Members’ legislation. When we discussed this a week or so ago, it was agreed that the Procedure Committee would look into the matter and bring forward proposals. I hope that its members will also speak to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can have the benefit of the views of both Committees. It would certainly be to the benefit of the House if we could improve the way in which we deal with private Members’ business and put an end to the procedural nonsense that we have at the moment.

When is the motion on the fixed-term Parliament, which was promised by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House on 25 May, going to be brought forward? He said that it would be put on the Order Paper at the earliest opportunity, and that we would have a debate on it before the summer recess. Is that still the position?

I think I am right in saying that the Deputy Prime Minister intends to make a statement on that subject in the very near future, so my hon. Friend will have to be patient for a little longer—[Interruption.] It will, of course, be made in Parliament, which is the right place for such statements.

A debate on police productivity would allow me to question Ministers on how much time police officers spend on the beat. Now that the policing pledge has been scrapped, how are we to guarantee that the police will spend 80 % of their time on the streets?

The hon. Lady will know that this has been a recurrent theme over many years, since long before she was in the House. Members on both sides have been concerned about the most effective way of deploying police officers and reducing the bureaucracy that often prevents them from doing the job that we want them to do—namely, being out on the streets catching criminals instead of sitting in a back room in a police station filling in forms. I hope that we shall be able to make rapid progress on these issues. As a former chairman of a police authority, I know that this has been a problem for a very long time. The hon. Lady is right to bring the subject up, and it is equally right that we should find time to debate it at some stage.

May I first declare an interest as a member of Portsmouth city council? That council, like many others, is heavily involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme. There is real anxiety about the delay in getting decisions on whether the plans are going to proceed as expected. The situation needs to be resolved quickly because of the amount of local authority money involved. Does my hon. Friend also agree that a shortage of parliamentary time prevented Labour Ministers from coming to the House to apologise for the number of times they briefed the media before speaking to us?

I hear what my hon. Friend says on the last matter. I could not possibly comment, but I am sure that some will recognise the issue.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue about Building Schools for the Future. I know that Members on both sides of the House are keen to hear the results of that review. We had hoped that there would be a statement this week and, last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he thought that a statement was likely to be made this week. He said that in good faith, but unfortunately it has not been made yet. I understand that it will be made very shortly—within days.

The hon. Gentleman has already explained why some information has been given not to this House but to other people. May I ask him to take up with his colleague the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), the fact that I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the important issue of housing benefit, asking for simple factual information, and received the response:

“The Department for Work and Pensions undertakes an assessment of the impact on specific groups as part of the policy development process”?—[Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 548W.]

We know that the Government have that information—they could not have published the Red Book without it—but we are being refused it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House take this matter up?

Well, I shall also assume that the question has something to do with parliamentary business—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] This is about business for the next two weeks; sometimes colleagues need to be reminded of that.

I do not think that I can guarantee that there will be a statement or a debate on the matter. However, I will mention the hon. Lady’s concerns to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and see whether more information can be obtained.

May we have a debate on supporting British citizens overseas? The Deputy Leader of the House might recall that last week I raised the case of my constituent, Ken Spooner, whose children have been abducted to Zambia. Unfortunately, the case has taken a turn for the worse and Mr Spooner is now in a Zambian jail, having not been charged. Can we possibly ensure that he gets the support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that he was promised?

Obviously, it is always a matter of great concern to hon. Members when their constituents find themselves in difficulties overseas. It is part of the consular duties of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide such support as may be provided in country. I shall certainly make sure that these concerns are passed on to members of the ministerial team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

May we have an urgent debate on pay for our brave servicemen and women, especially in the light of the written answer to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) this morning from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), which announced that 140,000 members of the armed forces will have a pay cut next year? That is in marked contrast to what we did when we were in office, when we honoured in full the recommendations of the independent pay review body for the armed forces.

I seem to recall that there was a significant increase in the allowances made available to members of our armed forces serving in conflict areas. That seems to me to be a significant development. However, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise these matters in the very near future, because Defence questions are on Monday 5 July.

Given the excellent agreement in New Forest East between leading Liberal Democrats and Conservatives that fluoridation should not be imposed on the community against its will, may we have a statement—not in the next two weeks, but perhaps in the next two minutes—from the Deputy Leader of the House, confirming that the fact that the Liberal Democrats have joined the Conservatives in government in no way vitiates the pledge given by shadow Conservative Health Ministers before the election that fluoridation should not and would not be imposed on communities that did not want it?

The hon. Gentleman will not have a statement from me on a matter of health policy, but he can quite properly ask hon. and right hon. Friends in the Department of Health to give a response. It seems to me that this is a very important issue—I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s position—and I am sure that his constituents would like some clarity on the issue. However, I also know that the legislative framework under which these proposals are considered is the legislative framework introduced by the previous Government.

May I press the Deputy Leader of the House on his earlier answer about the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme? First, I was disappointed that there was not a statement this week, following the comments made by the Leader of the House last week to the effect that Members could expect a statement on the programme’s future and the huge uncertainty that it is being caused. Secondly, will the statement give specific details about which schools will be built and which will not be built?

I cannot possibly pre-empt the statement, but the hon. Lady is right to press us on this. We are very clear that we want a statement to be made at the earliest opportunity. I can only apologise to her through you, Mr Speaker, that we were unable to bring forward the statement this week, which we had certainly intended to do. I can promise yet again that it will be provided shortly.

The Deputy Leader of the House is aware of the impressive lobby of this place yesterday by the Huntington’s Disease Association. Will he give us time for a debate to consider the challenges facing the 6,700 people diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, particularly those to do with accessing insurance and the adequacy of research into a hitherto incurable disease?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I, too, yesterday met constituents who either had Huntington’s disease or who were caring for people with Huntington’s disease. It brought home to all Members of the House who had contact with those people how difficult the disease is to manage. It is a degenerative disease with a genetic component that imposes a great deal of stress both on those who contract it and those who care for them. I know that there are clear issues about future research and the sort of support that can be given at the point of diagnosis and the point of management in GP practices and elsewhere in order to help. I understand that an all-party parliamentary group on Huntington’s disease has been established and that is a welcome step forward. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the next two weeks, I am afraid, but he might care to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on this important subject.

May I press the Deputy Leader of the House to get his master, the Leader of the House, to come to the House and give the statement that he promised two weeks ago on progress on setting up the European Scrutiny Committee, and to scotch the rumour that is going about that Ministers intend to vote in the 1922 committee’s election of the Conservative chair of that committee? I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will say that even the gelded Liberals would not stand for the Government’s trying to elect a Back-Bench committee’s chairman.

Happily, I have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens in the 1922 committee and that is no doubt a situation that will continue. The important issue is the setting up of the Select Committees, including the European Scrutiny Committee, and I understand the urgency of that. I was very pleased that the motion was passed by the House last night to make the small amendments to the number of members on Committees. That means that the Committee of Selection can now proceed in good order to make appointments to Committees. We should have all the Committees of the House up and running as soon as possible.

May I ask a question in a similar vein to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for a debate on how our consulates aid and advise our residents abroad in extreme circumstances? I am thinking in particular about the Calder Valley resident who died last week, Sarah Royle, and her family. She fell off a balcony watching the England match in the World cup. Sarah lost her parents at a very early age and her two remaining sisters, who are of limited means, are being asked to sign an indemnity against the costs of bringing the body home and paying the bills, because the insurance company believes that she might have been drinking at the time.

Obviously, my condolences go out to the friends and family of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, who died in very tragic circumstances. Rather than securing a debate, the most effective thing I can do is to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that they can, perhaps, give support.

May we have an urgent statement on the release of the documents on the Hillsborough disaster? The last Government agreed that those files and documents would be released. The Deputy Leader of the House will understand the concerns about the Culture Secretary’s comments. As someone who was at Hillsborough and who has in my constituency families who lost loved ones there, this matter is of great importance to me personally. Rumours are circulating that the Government are thinking about not publishing the files and that there are arguments between Departments about the cost. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the situation or arrange for an urgent statement to be made as soon as possible?

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the clarification he wants simply because I do not know and there is no point in pretending that I do. I recognise the circumstances of Hillsborough—the tragedy that it was—and the continuing effect that it must have on a large part of the population, not least his constituents. It is extremely important that we provide as much succour and comfort as possible to those people. I will certainly take the matter he raises back to the responsible Ministers and note the force with which he makes his case.

May we have a debate on the Government’s new sentencing policy so that we can point out to the Secretary of State for Justice that the apparent premise that people who commit minor offences are frogmarched to a court and sent immediately to prison is a false one? What happens in the real world is that the police tear their hair out over arresting the same people time after time only to find that the magistrates courts do nothing but give them a slap on the wrist. The people who eventually end up in prison do so only after all the community service and drug treatment orders have been tried and tried again but have failed.

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the Backbench Business Committee, on which he will have some responsibility for ensuring that these very important matters are debated in full. What I heard the Secretary of State for Justice say was that he wanted a justice system that worked, and that disposals for people who are convicted ought to be the most effective disposals that will reduce the likelihood of their offending again. He said that many of the recurrent offenders whom the hon. Gentleman mentions—those whom the police pick up time and again—serve short sentences in prison and then go on to reoffend. Surely it cannot be right to continue with policies that fail.

The Deputy Leader of the House will know that yesterday afternoon the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat by 21 votes to seven on the Welsh Grand Committee, which rejected the proposition on the Budget and the legislative programme as they apply to Wales. May we have another meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to consider these issues?

The hon. Gentleman is making an awful meal of the fact that he engineered a win of a vote in a Committee with 26 Labour members, three Plaid Cymru members, eight Conservatives and three Liberal Democrats. Not even the most incompetent Opposition could lose a vote on a Committee with those numbers.

Despite Tony Blair’s promise that they would result in a café culture, the late-licensing laws are having a visible impact in towns and cities across the country. In my constituency, in recent weeks, we have had a fatal stabbing of a young man and two brutal beatings, all of which involved late-night drinking establishments and late-night drinking. May we have an urgent debate on the failed late-licensing policy?

I certainly agree that the change of licensing policy that the last Government introduced has not produced the results that they claimed it would, whereby we would all sit sipping our chianti in perfect peace and serenity in our town centres until late in the evening. That does not seem to accord with the experience of most people in most parts of the country. It might therefore be opportune for the matter to be debated again. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in the next couple of weeks, but he could make an application to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on licensing laws, or he could seek a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate on the matter.

May I draw the Deputy Leader of the House’s attention to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) in Hansard on Stockholm syndrome? Can we have a debate on Stockholm syndrome given that it may affect the judgment of leading Liberal Democrat members of the condemned coalition? The evidence base includes their support for regressive VAT increases, thereby displaying irrational emotional feelings and loss of concentration. Those symptoms are associated with this condition, and I think it would be useful and instructive if we could have a debate.

I was rather hoping that there would be a punch line. There might be a case for a debate on Stockholm syndrome as it applied to those poor benighted souls who supported the Labour Government through 13 years of mismanagement, particularly the candidates for the leadership of the Labour party, who appear not to have agreed with anything they did while in government.

May we have a debate on the annual report of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, which was presented to the House on Tuesday? The report describes the position of treatment as “encouraging”, which is in stark contrast with the 30th report of the Public Accounts Committee in March, which concluded that £1.2 billion is spent on tackling drug misuse without the Government knowing the overall effect of that approach. Such a debate could focus on the fact that only 4% of addicts become drug-free and on the urgent need for reform of the drug treatment system.

We have known for a long time that the problems with substance, drug and alcohol abuse have not been sufficiently addressed in Government policy. It now needs to be addressed, and it is explicit within coalition Government plans that that will be the case. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate or a statement on this subject, but he might want to raise it by other means.

May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House for an early statement on potential venues for the next £100,000 Cabinet away day? The Cabinet could try Liverpool, which would have the beneficial side effect of enabling the Culture Secretary to explain in person to the people of Liverpool why, 21 years after Liverpool fans were exonerated from causing the Hillsborough stadium disaster, he suggested on live television that it was caused by hooliganism.

And he then apologised very clearly, which is an important point to note. It really is extraordinary for Labour Members now to complain about regional Cabinet meetings, having introduced them. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady was complaining about the cost of a regional Cabinet meeting, but it was much cheaper under the coalition Government than under the previous Government. She has put in a bid for the next such meeting to be in Liverpool, and I shall pass that on to the Cabinet Office. I have no idea where it intends to hold the next one, but Liverpool is always a splendid place to hold anything.

May we have a debate on the role of the Environment Agency’s policies on hydropower generation on our rivers? Two Secretaries of State have declined, on the Floor of the House, to comment on this matter, and I think that a debate would be fruitful in securing the resolve of Ministers to address it.

I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend, because I used to raise this matter very regularly. I have a whole series of micro-hydrogeneration plants on the Rivers Frome and Brue, so I know perfectly well the difficulties that those people have with the EA’s regulations on water abstraction. Of course, the bizarre thing is that no water is abstracted by hydro-turbines, as it is returned to the watercourse. I hope that he secures either a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate on this issue, because it would be well worth explaining the difficulties that many people who want to be engaged in micro-hydropower experience on the ground.

The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that we are in the middle of Co-operatives fortnight, celebrating the value of community ownership across society. The Baywind project in my constituency has blazed a trail for green energy, being locally owned and providing electricity to local homes. Will the hon. Gentleman agree to a debate on the barriers that such schemes still face when trying to get off the ground, even though communities want them?

It would be very useful to have a debate on that subject. There is a huge amount to be said for co-operative and mutual organisations. That sort of corporate structure has been in abeyance in recent years, and it is time that it made a reappearance. If the hon. Gentleman applies for a debate, I hope that he is successful in securing one at some stage. I have to point out that the case of Royal Mail offers the prospect of an enormous mutualisation and expansion in the co-operative sector, and I hope that Opposition Members will support that.

During the last Parliament, I was regularly concerned about the blood pressure of the previous Speaker, as he had to tick Ministers off regularly for leaking information to the press before they were brought to the House to make a statement. I am very concerned that your blood pressure is not affected, Mr Speaker, so will the Deputy Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Leader of the House next week setting out the punishment that can be meted out to Ministers who leak to the press before addressing this House?

First, may I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the Backbench Business Committee? I am not sure that the Leader of the House has any sanctions that he can apply, other than exhortation, but the Prime Minister does. Perhaps this is something that we need to draw to his attention.

May we have an urgent debate about the timing of reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility? If the OBR is to be regarded as genuinely independent of the coalition collaborators, then not only the content but the timing of reports must be absolutely free from interference.

I do not think that a debate would be worth while, because the OBR is independent of Government.

May we have a debate on the use of postal votes in our electoral system? It has been proved to be open to corrupt practices, and it is compromising our democratic process.

Concerns about the integrity of the postal vote process have been expressed for a long time. Postal votes form a useful part of our electoral arrangements, but nevertheless we must make sure that our electoral system has the highest possible integrity. The Government are committed to introducing the individual registration of voters, and that will go a long way towards dealing with some of the potential abuses of the current system. I hope that legislation will be introduced in due course that will enable the hon. Gentleman to make his points very forcefully.

The deadline for the payment to pleural plaques victims of compensation worth £5,000 has come and gone. On at least two occasions in this House, Ministers have said that the payment would be made by the end of June. Will the Deputy Leader of the House please ensure that the appropriate Minister makes a statement to the House to explain to victims of this dreadful disease in my constituency exactly why they are still having to wait for the much promised and expected £5,000 payment?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and also congratulate her on her election to the Backbench Business Committee. She raises an issue that I know is very important to a large number of Members and constituents. I will pass her comments on to the relevant Ministers. Hopefully, there will be statement in the near future, but I cannot promise it.

May I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to award the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) the debate that she sought? We would be able to examine in detail how the cost of the most recent Cabinet meeting in Bradford was one tenth of what was spent by the previous Labour Government on their away days.

The hon. Gentleman has almost persuaded me that we ought to find Government time for that debate. I will give it very careful consideration indeed.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer came here last week and declared that he would be the model of transparency. He said:

“I am not going to hide hard choices from the British people or bury them in the small print of the Budget documents.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 167.]

He added that the British public would hear those hard choices straight from him, in that speech.

The Deputy Leader of the House has already brushed aside concerns raised by the shadow Leader of the House about the memo that discloses Treasury predictions of 1.3 million unemployed. The Leader of the Opposition has already raised the matter with the Prime Minister, only to be ignored. Why can we not have full disclosure of this document, and a proper debate in this House? The Deputy Leader of the House is supposed to be a champion of Parliament, and there are clearly differences of view as to the content of the document. Why can we not have a debate on it?

I thought that I had made it plain that we are having four debates in the next two weeks on that subject. I would have thought that that would be sufficient to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we ought to debate the pre-Budget forecast based on the policies of the March Budget—a Labour Budget—which showed a reduction of around 500,000 public sector jobs by 2014-15. I think that that would be a very worthwhile debate.

The Deputy Leader of the House may have heard or read reports of an incident on Tuesday at the Lindsey oil refinery in my constituency. Sadly, there was a fatality and a number of injuries, and I am sure that the whole House would want to send our condolences in respect of the 24-year-old contractor who lost his life. In the immediate aftermath of the incident there are heightened concerns among the local community. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that a statement can be made to the House in the next week or two? The police and the Health and Safety Executive are conducting an inquiry. If it makes recommendations that relate to the Lindsey oil refinery and other refineries, will he arrange for a debate to be held?

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman raising this point on behalf of his constituents, and I am sure that the whole House would want to express our condolences to the family and friends of Robert Greenacre, who sadly lost his life in the incident.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the HSE and the Environment Agency have launched an investigation, in conjunction with the police. I think that it would probably be unwise for us to debate the issue in the House until it has been properly investigated but, if there are then lessons that need to be learned that have a more general applicability, I hope that we will either have a statement or that the hon. Gentleman will secure a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. That will enable Ministers to consider the questions more widely.

May we have a debate on the Government’s fairness agenda? Recent announcements on tax increases, benefit cuts, education spending, pensions, capital funding schemes and police funding all seem to be at odds with the fairness agenda. Such a debate would enable the Government to explain why their policies do not have any element of fairness in them.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman what is fair. He mentioned pensioners, and it is fair finally to give them the triple-lock guarantee that their pensions will go up. That compares with the ridiculous 75p that we remember from the previous Government. Perhaps, therefore, we should have a debate on fairness, and on the inability of the Labour Government to introduce any element of fairness into their fiscal policies.

May we have a debate on the future of the UK’s financial services industry? That would allow me to highlight the plight of the 535 Chester-based employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who heard yesterday that they had lost their jobs, with the closure of the Premier House call centre in my constituency.

Obviously, it is a serious matter whenever we hear about job losses of this kind, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it in the Chamber. I am not sure that I can find an opportunity for a debate on the subject in the next two weeks, but he makes a very good point about the future of regulation in financial services. That is, of course, under active consideration in the relevant Departments.

May we have an urgent debate on sentencing policy and the construction of new prisons? There is real confusion in north Wales about whether a new prison is to be built. The Secretary of State for Wales says that she wants one, but the Secretary of State for Justice is not telling. I am still waiting for a meeting to ask a straight question. Is not it about time that this House was shown the respect of being given a statement on sentencing policy, as the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) requested?

The hon. Gentleman’s best opportunity to ask that question is at Justice questions on Tuesday 20 July. I suggest that he tables a question right away.

The children’s heart unit at Leeds general infirmary is one of the oldest in the country—it has performed life-saving operations for more than 40 years. May we have an urgent debate on the review of the 11 children’s heart units around the country to ensure that people do not have to travel miles for life-saving heart surgery?

Paediatric cardiac services are of considerable importance. Health Ministers are reviewing the situation at the moment—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is complaining that the Government are holding reviews. He was around in 1997, but let me remind him that the Labour Government announced 38 reviews between 1 May and 27 June 1997. One former Cabinet Minister said at the time:

“We have hit the ground reviewing.”

We have hit the ground reforming.

I am keen to help the Government to cut waste and extravagance. In that context, does the Deputy Leader of the House have an estimate of the cost to my constituents of the Government’s direction that Birmingham council must now publish all spending details online? Indeed, in these cash-strapped times, should we not have a debate on the cost to local authorities of that new Government imposition?

I think I hear from the hon. Gentleman that he does not think his constituents ought easily to be able to find out what a large council, which runs many affairs in his area, spends on their behalf. I differ from that view. I do not believe that a debate would be greatly useful, but perhaps he would like to apply for one.

May we have a debate on how we ought to deal with habitual criminals, given that most of my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington feel that if there is not enough time during a short prison sentence properly to rehabilitate persistent offenders, rather than not send them to prison, the solution is a longer sentence?

I say to the hon. Gentleman that we need a penal policy that stops people reoffending and that reduces crime. Sometimes, that will mean not prison sentences, but more appropriate disposals that work better. Sometimes, it will mean prison sentences, because those are necessary either for rehabilitation or for the protection of people in an area. I hope the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to put forward what are quite clearly firmly held views when the Justice Secretary brings forward his review of sentencing policy.

May we have an early debate on the role and responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister? Did the Deputy Leader of the House share with me the feeling of pity for him when he was on the “Today” programme this morning talking about the scourge of grey squirrels? What on earth is going on in his Department?

I do not find the difficulty that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because I believe that some of the legislation introduced by the previous Government is absurd and unnecessary. Whenever a Minister did not know what to do about a subject, they came to the House and introduced a new criminal offence. The fact that we are going to get rid of some of those criminal offences will be widely welcomed across the country, because we do not want unnecessary offences and regulation. The Deputy Prime Minister is doing an extremely good job of highlighting those issues. If he wants scrutiny, he does not lack it, given that a Select Committee has been formed for that purpose and that there are regular questions to him in the House. I do not think there are any such difficulties.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House agree to a debate on whether the law currently provides sufficient protection for telephone bill payers from being charged for calls made by an external hacker through their switchboard? Jolene Gregory, the practice manager of Pendle View medical centre in my constituency, has a bill for £4,700 for fraudulent calls made between September and December 2009, which to date, the telephone provider, Azzurri Communications, has been unwilling to cancel or reduce.

Many hon. Members will be shocked by what has happened to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent—it is simply unacceptable. Many of us have found similar things in our constituency casework. Telecommunications companies in particular very often seem to have scant regard for the interests of their consumers. I am pleased that he had the opportunity to raise the matter today on behalf of his constituent, and I will ensure that it is brought to the attention of ministerial colleagues and the regulator. In due course, he may feel it worth while to approach the Backbench Business Committee to ask for a debate on the wider subject of consumer protection, which probably affects a large number of Back-Bench Members.

Yesterday, two of my constituents travelled from Hull to lobby me on the important issue of contaminated blood products. When they came through security, they were wearing campaign t-shirts, which they were told either to remove or turn inside out. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House is committed to freedom and civil liberties, so will he make a statement on that particular practice of the House?

I was not aware of that situation and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing it to my attention. I may have to refer the matter to you, Mr Speaker, in due course, for your consideration, but I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.

May we have an urgent justice debate on the devastating impact for local justice in Skipton and rural Craven should Skipton magistrates and county court close as a result of the forthcoming review?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have many questions to ask about the circumstances of their local magistrates courts. Far be it from me to use my position to raise the issue of Frome magistrates court—that would be inappropriate—but experience suggests that concern is felt by a large number of hon. Members. There is a genuine consultation on what should happen and legitimate questions need to be asked about court houses that are simply not fit for purpose and that cannot be brought up to the required standard economically. However, the Justice Secretary will welcome views from hon. Members about courts in their constituencies and their circumstances, particularly in relation to rural areas, where access to justice might be an issue. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but no doubt when the review has reached its completion, there will be an opportunity.

Last week, the Prime Minister said that our troops would be back from Afghanistan within five years, but yesterday he was contradicted by the Secretary of State for Defence. May we have a debate to clear up this mess as soon as possible?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are committed to regular debates on the conflict in Afghanistan and Defence questions are on Monday—there are questions on policy in Afghanistan on the Order Paper, which will give him the opportunity to raise that. It is absolutely clear that there is the intention of withdrawing our forces when the job is done, and we all hope that the job will be done at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not see any difficulty in reconciling that position.

Last week, when I asked for a Government statement on Equitable Life, the Leader of the House rather breezily told me that there was no need for a statement because there would be a Bill, but there was no mention in today’s business statement of the Bill’s introduction. Given the time it takes for legislation to go through both Houses of Parliament, is not the reality that any legislation is unlikely to be enacted until the end of this year at the earliest, which means that payments will not be made until some time in 2011? May we have not only a statement but a debate on that cruel betrayal of Equitable Life policyholders by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, given the promises they made before the election? That is also a betrayal, incidentally, of Members such as myself, who misguidedly voted for a Liberal Democrat motion on the matter a few weeks before the election.

The hon. Gentleman has been a doughty supporter of Equitable Life policyholders over the years, as have I and many hon. Members on both sides of the House. It does not really help if he now uses the terms that he has for this Government, who are trying to deal with the issue after year after year of prevarication from the previous Government. They set up Sir John Chadwick’s review. He has not yet completed it. He is now talking about reporting in mid-July, so we have to await the end of the review. There is no question about that.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said that legislation will be introduced at an early opportunity, and it will be.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House consider his reply to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) about the redundancies announced by the insurance arm of Lloyds Banking Group. Lloyds is, of course, largely owned by the Treasury. Of those posts, 198 are going from Nottingham. What can be done to help with retraining and redeployment of those made redundant? Many of our constituents in Nottingham are very concerned about this matter.

The hon. Gentleman may want to raise that in the context of the Opposition day debate, because it is clearly relevant to that. I perfectly understand the concerns that he expresses on behalf of his constituents. We want to make sure that every possible assistance is given by the Government to the individuals made redundant. We bandy around percentages, but someone who loses their job is 100% unemployed until they find another job. That is the human tragedy that we always have to have in mind.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use that opportunity. If he feels that there is more that can be done, I hope that he will seek a debate on the issue either in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. Such issues are very important. I leave the hon. Gentleman with one parting shot. He is right: this is a bank in which the UK Government have a significant holding. I wish that the previous Government had applied some effective constraints on the way banks operated when they took that equity in the banks.

I am grateful to colleagues for their co-operation, which has enabled everyone who wanted to contribute to do so.