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Business of the House

Volume 513: debated on Thursday 15 July 2010

The business for the week commencing 19 July will include:

Monday 19 July—Second Reading of the Academies Bill [Lords]. At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 20 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by conclusion of proceedings on the Finance Bill (Day 4); to follow, the House will consider a motion relating to information for Back Benchers on statements. The subject for that debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 21 July—Proceedings on the Academies Bill [Lords] (Day 1).

Thursday 22 July—Proceedings on the Academies Bill [Lords] (Day 2).

The provisional business for the week commencing 26 July will include:

Monday 26 July—Conclusion of proceedings on the Academies Bill [Lords] (Day 3).

Tuesday 27 July—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee. The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.

Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise for the summer recess on Tuesday 27 July and return on Monday 6 September.

The House will rise again for the conference recess on Thursday 16 September and return on Monday 11 October.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 22 July will be:

Thursday 22 July—A debate on national lottery reform.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business and very much welcome the first debate that the Backbench Business Committee has initiated, on ministerial statements. I am very hopeful that it will provide an opportunity for Back Benchers to examine closely the right hon. Gentleman’s leak prevention strategy.

As the Leader of the House knows, we Opposition Members had high hopes that he would be able to solve the mystery of why Conservative and Liberal Democrat Secretaries of State seem addicted to leaking major announcements to the media rather than announcing them to the House. I had such confidence in the right hon. Gentleman’s investigative powers that I even likened him to Sherlock Holmes; after the events of this week, however, I am afraid that it is more a case of Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes.

I fear that the leak prevention strategy will have to be consigned to the dustbin of history unless drastic action is taken. After all, the Secretary of State for Health gave at least three interviews to the media, including an appearance on “The Andrew Marr Show”, before coming to the House to announce his £80 billion gamble with the NHS. This morning, we heard the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills making a major televised speech on the future of higher education policy. He did make an apology, it is true—not for ignoring the House of Commons, but for the fact that details of his policy had been leaked. He shrugged that off by saying that leaks are part of public life.

When the Labour Government launched a review of student finance, there was extensive involvement of the Opposition, including an agreement on the review’s terms of reference. We have seen none of that in the run-up to today’s announcement. The Business Secretary is trying to say that the policy is not really new, but the coalition agreement said explicitly that the Government would wait for the Browne report before reviewing future policy. Surely the future of student finance should be about what is best for students and universities, not what keeps the peace in the coalition.

Can the Leader of the House say when the Business Secretary will come here to tell us exactly what his proposals mean? Will he undertake to remind Secretaries of State that Evan Davis, James Naughtie and Sarah Montague, admirable though they are, are not Members of Parliament, and that John Humphrys is not the Speaker? It would be handy if Cabinet members understood the distinction between a BBC studio and the Chamber of the House of Commons.

I am not sure whether the Leader of the House is expecting to have to make time in the House for any more apologies over the next week or so, but perhaps he will consider dividing Prime Minister’s questions into 15 minutes for answering questions and 15 minutes for apologising for all the misleading statistics that the Prime Minister has been using and all the questions that he has been dodging. That could include, for example, apologising for using figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which Sir Alan Budd said was inappropriate. The Prime Minister could apologise for telling Parliament that violent crime had doubled under Labour, especially as Sir Michael Scholar, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, has made it clear that there is no basis whatever for that assertion. Today’s figures show that crime is at its lowest level since records began, thanks to the Labour Government.

The Prime Minister could also apologise for dodging the question—not once, but three times—on whether the Government were going to abolish the two-week cancer guarantee. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the House can expect a proper answer, in this Chamber, on that guarantee—not in interviews to the media or in unattributable briefings from Downing street, but in a clear statement to Parliament about a guarantee that he surely recognises saves lives? Patients, doctors and nurses need to know whether the guarantee is in place and they deserve an apology from the Prime Minister because he has kept them in the dark about it.

There is quite a lot there to respond to. On the Backbench Business Committee, I welcome the debate that is taking place on Tuesday, but I have to say to the right hon. Lady that it is no thanks to the Labour Government that we are having that Committee at all. At the end of the last Parliament, they consistently refused to make the time available to establish the Backbench Business Committee. If we are in apology mode, it would have been appropriate for her to have apologised for the failure of the outgoing Labour Government to set up that Committee.

I welcome that debate and hope that it will be well attended. There is a serious issue for the House about how we get the balance right between what Ministers can say outside the House and inside the House. The motion rightly refers not only to the past few weeks, but to a period that includes the last Labour Government. I welcome the proposal in the motion that the process should be looked at by the Procedure Committee to see whether we can come up with a sensible concordat that is acceptable to the House and liveable with by the Government, and that enables us to have a set of rules that we can all observe.

On health, if the right hon. Lady looks at the coalition agreement, she will see that much of what was in the Health Secretary’s statement on Monday was in that agreement. The proposals had been been mentioned in Health questions and in debates in the House. There was no leak of the health White Paper.

As for the Business Secretary, he went out of his way to explain that there was no policy change. I watched his speech on television, and he made it absolutely clear that he wanted Lord Browne, who is conducting a review, and whose terms of reference were set up by the outgoing Labour Government, to include the option of a graduate tax. There has been no policy announcement. When the Government have a policy on how higher education is funded, the House will be informed and there will be an opportunity to cross-examine the relevant Secretary of State. However, there has been no policy announcement whatsoever on the funding of higher education.

I think that the right hon. Lady will find that Sir Michael Scholar has had an opportunity to admonish those on both sides of the House about misuse of crime statistics. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering how crime statistics should be collected and published in future, and we are working with the UK Statistics Authority and others to consider the matter carefully. I welcome the reduction in crime—a trend that started in 1995 and has been replicated in many other western European countries—but the level of crime is still too high, and we must drive it down.

The right hon. Lady asked about the cancer guarantee. The revision to the NHS operating framework in June removed targets on the NHS that were without clinical justification. The cancer waiting time targets are clinically justified and have been retained.

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. In order to accommodate them, I require brevity, a textbook example of which will now be provided by Mr Lee Scott.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Will the Leader of the House speak to the Home Secretary about bringing forward a Bill to stop illegal clampers, who are responsible for a blight on our country that is spreading like wildfire through all constituencies and causing great grief to constituents?

I think that my hon. Friend speaks for Members on both sides of the House. At my advice bureau last Saturday, I discovered that the owner of an Indian restaurant who had advised his customers not to park in the car park, where they might be clamped, had been taken to court by the car-clamping firm and sued for loss of trade. Happily, the restaurant owner won the case, but it underlines the need to have another look at the regime that governs car clampers.

When can we have a debate on the lamentable state of the Afghan national army to establish that the threat to the safety of our troops comes not from a single rogue soldier but from an entire rogue army?

The Prime Minister made a statement on Afghanistan last week. We want to keep the House regularly informed on progress in Afghanistan, and I hope that there will be an opportunity, if not before the House rises, then perhaps when we come back, for a further update on the progress being made, including in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the coalition Government have cancelled the proposed 2010 review of the smoking ban? In view of that, may we have an early debate in Government time on the effects that the smoking ban, in its current form, is having on our pubs and clubs, which are still closing at an alarming rate?

I should have known that that had been announced, but I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I was not aware of it. I will raise his point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to take the matter up in the appropriate place.

Can the Leader of the House explain why we are rushing through the Academies Bill when no consultation has taken place with parents, with governor groups or, in particular, with staff? The consultation period will apparently be during the school holidays when people either will not be in the country or will not be getting paid. Surely there is no need to rush this through, so why is that happening?

I believe we have offered the House adequate time to deal with the Bill. It will be taken on the Floor of the House and additional time is being made available for Members to discuss it. It has also been through the other place, so there have been opportunities for the public to comment on it since its introduction there.

Will the Leader of the House require a Minister from either the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or the Treasury to come before the House to answer questions about why the South West of England regional development agency, which is due to be abolished, has announced this week the halting of vital economic development projects in the European convergence programme in Cornwall in spite of the fact that no UK Exchequer money is required for those projects to proceed?

I understand the importance of those projects to the south-west, and of course I will make inquiries as to why they have apparently been abandoned, particularly if, as the hon. Gentleman says, there was no call on Exchequer funds to enable them to go ahead.

Eighty hours of rioting; a pipe bombing; three police officers shot; 80 police officers injured; the attempted hijacking of the Belfast to Dublin express railway—when will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland come to the Dispatch Box to speak about what he and the House can do to help bring calm back to the streets of Northern Ireland, and when will the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs meet to help address those matters so that the House can play its part in the affairs of part of the United Kingdom?

I understand the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. The violence that has happened in the past three days is wholly unacceptable and has no place in a modern, progressive society, and the people responsible must not be allowed to drag Northern Ireland back into the past. Many of the issues that he refers to are of course devolved and not the responsibility of the Secretary of State. It is important that those who try to create and exploit community tensions are not allowed to put the future at risk. I welcome the statement made by First Minister Peter Robinson, who has said:

“There is no excuse and no place for violence in a civilised society”.

The hon. Gentleman will also have seen the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who said:

“The Chief Constable and the Justice Minister should be justly proud of the incredibly brave men and women of the PSNI who held the line last night in the face of a sustained and violent assault”.

We recently had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on supporting carers, but sadly had time only to touch on the important issue of dementia. Given that one in three people will die from dementia, will the Leader of the House consider holding a debate specifically on supporting the social care and welfare of those suffering from it?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and congratulate her on her election as vice-chair of the all-party group on dementia. Raising the quality of care for people who suffer from dementia is a priority for this Government. Some £8.2 billion is being spent, but we need to ensure that it is spent effectively and that we break down the barrier that has often existed between health on the one hand and social care on the other. We are in the process of scrutinising the provision of dementia services across the country. The results will be available in October, and those data will drive forward action to accelerate improvements in dementia care.

On 5 July, the Government announced through a written ministerial statement a further £1 billion of in-year cuts to education capital. I asked the Education Secretary about that on 12 July, and I have found out that last night, the Department published the detail of those cuts on its website. May we have a debate in Government time before the recess so that all hon. Members can work out and talk about the effects that those education capital cuts, which are being made to fund the free schools programme, will have on the education of the children in our communities?

I understand that there will be a debate in Westminster Hall next Wednesday on Building Schools for the Future, so I hope the hon. Lady will have an opportunity to raise her concern. In the meantime I will alert Ministers in the Department for Education of the particular concern that she has mentioned.

May I ask the Leader of the House for a statement on the progress of clearing Parliament square of the demonstrations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he knows, the Mayor of London is taking action to clear the square, and I understand that the decision of the Court of Appeal will be announced tomorrow. Any enforcement action will then be down to the enforcement officers of the court. We have to strike a balance between the right to protest and the imperative to maintain what I think is one of the key heritage sites in the whole world, namely Parliament square, with the Houses of Parliament, Westminster abbey, Whitehall and the Supreme Court around it. My own view is that the square is defiled by a shanty town and we should try to restore it to the green that used to be there.

Three weeks ago, in response to a question, the Leader of the House spoke about meetings between the Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Forgemasters. I have received a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister, who is keen to get rid of any confusion. Has he also contacted the Leader of the House to enable him to correct the record? When does the Leader of the House expect the Deputy Prime Minister to correct what he said about meeting the chief executive of Sheffield Forgemasters?

I understand that there has been a meeting between the two. Next week there is an Adjournment debate on Sheffield Forgemasters, which would be the appropriate time to raise the concern that the hon. Lady has just uttered.

A few days ago, there was a report that a Cabinet Minister, no less, had compared the cost of Britain’s future aircraft carriers with the number of children who could be educated worldwide for that money. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence, explaining the role of Britain’s armed forces in general, and the Royal Navy and aircraft carriers in particular, in humanitarian intervention worldwide and the protection of our interests at home and abroad, and the fact that the Royal Navy has an important function to fulfil that should not be offset against other causes, no matter how worthy?

My hon. Friend makes a forceful point. He knows that traditionally several debates take place about our armed forces, which will now be the responsibility of the Backbench Business Committee. He will have heard that I have not announced a debate on the particular important issue that he raised between now and the summer recess. Doubtless, the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee has noted that as a bid and there will, of course, be opportunities to cross-question Defence Ministers, though I see that will not happen until 13 September.

Given that I failed to get an Adjournment debate, will the Leader of the House allocate time to discuss the widespread concerns raised by hon. Members about the structure, scope and future funding of the independent panel reviewing documentation about the Hillsborough disaster in 1989?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been successful in getting an Adjournment debate on that subject. I can only suggest that, if he continues to apply, his number may come up one week. I am afraid that I cannot find time between now and the summer recess, but if Tuesday 27 July follows the usual pattern, and there is an Adjournment debate during which various subjects are raised, he may find it possible to share his concern then and press Ministers for the information that he wants.

Has the Leader of the House considered the possibility of legislation if the appeal about Parliament square fails? What will he do about the lone protester? Would not it be better if Parliament had authority over Parliament square?

I think that somebody made the same suggestion 10 years ago, and we legislated but it did not work. That is why we are where we are. It makes sense to await the Court of Appeal decision before considering fresh legislation. In the meantime, Mr Haw is allowed to continue to protest, so long as—speaking from memory—he remains on the pavement. Whether it would be appropriate to legislate just to deal with Mr Haw is something on which the House would like to reflect.

Given that the Minister for Police told the House that he did not expect any police officers’ jobs to be lost through the cuts but that the former chief constable of Gloucestershire is reported to have said that thousands of police officers’ jobs will be lost as a result of the cuts, may we have a debate on the Government’s dodgy assessments?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we had a debate yesterday on precisely that subject. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Police drew attention to the failure of the previous Home Secretary—now the shadow Home Secretary—to make any commitment about retaining police numbers. He was asked on 20 April if he could guarantee that there would no reduction in police numbers and he said no.

So that areas already hard hit by the Labour party’s broken promises on moving public sector jobs to the north do not suffer any more, may we find time for a debate on the distribution of Royal Mail jobs, particularly when we have a melée of a debate about privatisation, so that the 600 workers for Crewe’s second largest employer get the attention that they deserve?

I commend my hon. Friend’s actions to protect local jobs and I have read his comment on ConservativeHome, which records his concern about the Crewe sorting office. I have no time for a debate between now and the summer recess, but legislation about Royal Mail has been trailed in the Queen’s Speech, and that may give him an opportunity to press for the assurances that he seeks.

There are growing concerns that, despite declaring himself the fourth Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change as a symbol of his personal commitment to tackling climate change, the Prime Minister is already looking for a pretext to row back from the obligation to get the renewable heat incentive up and running by next April. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister whether he will come to the House to make a statement to assure us all that there is no rowing back, and that the obligation will be fulfilled? It is crucial for our renewable energy target.

I think that that question would be more appropriately put to Ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who, I hope, can give the hon. Lady the assurance that she seeks. They will be before the House on Thursday 9 September.

May I ask my right hon. Friend for a debate, for which legislation clearly provides, but that he seems not to wish to have on the Floor of the House, namely on motion 16 on the Order Paper about the new members of the Electoral Commission? Motion 8 on delegated legislation in his name seems determined to remove the subject from the Floor of the House of Commons, where it was originally intended to be debated. May I invite him to reconsider so that we can have a debate about the new Electoral Commissioners?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Clearly, we want to make progress on appointing the new members of the Electoral Commission. Of course, the House is entitled to scrutinise the proposals that are on the Order Paper, either by debate on the Floor of the House or through the appropriate Committee.

Given that many people in the country are having to take a pay cut, and that the coalition Government wish to reduce the cost of politics, will the Leader of the House look at early-day motion 453?

[That this House recognises that the economic situation means that many people are taking pay cuts; acknowledges that the Government has stated that it wants to reduce the cost of politics; appreciates the work that Select Committees do but notes with alarm that there are 35 such committees where the Chair can receive £14,582 a year on top of their Parliamentary salary, a total of £510,370 a year; and believes that this cost is becoming untenable.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider holding a debate on the fact that Select Committee Chairs are paid £14,500 over and above their MP’s salary? No matter how good a job Select Committees do, that might be an opportunity to review whether such payments are tenable under the current economic circumstances.

We had quite a long debate about that in the previous Parliament, and the House decided that it made sense to have an alternative career structure in the House so that the Government did not hoover up all the talent on the Back Benches. A salary for Select Committee Chairmen was seen as part of the development of an alternative career. We have no plans to change the remuneration of Select Committee Chairmen. Speaking from memory, I think that that is now a responsibility of the Senior Salaries Review Body.

Will the Leader of the House find some way to mark the first motion that the Backbench Business Committee, which is an achievement of the Government’s, has tabled?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I propose to respond to the debate myself—I am not sure that that goes quite as far as she hoped. It would be impertinent of me to suggest that you might want to be in the Chair to mark that historic occasion, Mr Speaker. If that is an impertinence, I apologise. However, it is important that Back Benchers of all parties show support for the concept of a Back-Bench Committee choosing its own subjects, and demonstrate that support by attending and seeking to take part in the debate.

The Leader of the House is never impertinent, and I can tell him and the House that nothing would more readily warm the cockles of my heart than being in the Chair for the debate.

For understandable reasons, the Leader of the House may not be aware of the growing international concern about the health of democracy in the Maldives. Opposition Members of Parliament there have been arrested, the judiciary are on strike and the army has been deployed on the streets of the capital. Will he speak to colleagues in the Foreign Office and invite them to make a statement—written or otherwise—on what they are doing to encourage a return to proper democratic processes in the Maldives?

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about what is happening in the Maldives. I will communicate with the Foreign Secretary and see whether there is any way he can communicate to the House the action that the Government are taking in response the serious concerns that he expresses.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 454 on the cost of Government conferences?

[That this House notes that the Department for Work and Pensions spent £115 million on management conferences and external meetings between 2000 and 2010; further notes that most departments have refused to supply similar figures in answer to written questions, arguing that statistics on conferences are not collated centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost; believes that the British public have a fundamental right to know how their taxes are spent by Government departments, and that Freedom of Information requests are being sent to every department which has refused to answer; and finally notes that the £115 million spent by the Department for Work and Pensions under the previous administration on management conferences and external meetings appears to be a gross waste of taxpayers money, given that the public debt increased to over £900 billion in early 2010.]

May we have an urgent debate on Government waste, given that the Department for Work and Pensions revealed to me in a written answer that it spent £115 million going to conferences in the past 10 years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for identifying areas in which central Government can reduce the cost of administration. I see that his early-day motion does indeed identify some very large sums of money that have been spent on conferences and external meetings. I will communicate with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and get a response on the issues my hon. Friend raises.

We have heard warm words from both coalition parties about mutualism and how to involve communities. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the role of football and other supporters trusts, and the Government’s attitude towards them, given the uncertainty in the written answers I have so far received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport?

I am sorry to hear of the uncertainty to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I will of course contact my colleagues at DCMS to see what they can do to resolve it.

The European investigation order would allow police and prosecutors throughout Europe to order British police to collect and hand over evidence. Fair Trials International and Justice are concerned that the measure would put great pressure on our hard-pressed police forces. Britain has until 28 July to decide whether to opt in or, like Denmark, to opt out. Will the Leader of the House indicate when the Government’s decision will be made, and will the House have an opportunity to debate the measure in advance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He says that the Government must decide by 28 July what action to take. I will certainly ascertain from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Home Office, whichever Department is the appropriate one, what action they propose to take in response to my hon. Friend’s question.

The Leader of the House may be aware of a campaign that I have been running for about 12 months on the need for a fair deal for service people returning from theatres of war. In that regard, the Government have acknowledged that much more needs to be done. I have applied for Adjournment debates, but so far I have been unlucky. May we have a debate in Government time on this very important issue?

Again, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been unsuccessful in the ballot, but he may have an opportunity on the last Tuesday before the recess to raise his concern. The Government take seriously our responsibilities under the military covenant. The issue that he raises may fall within that, and I will share his concerns with the Defence Secretary.

May we have a debate on the House of Commons Library? I understand that it intends to stock only one copy of Lord Mandelson’s new book, which I suspect will have to be chained to the wall. Many colleagues on both sides of the House will want to know which members of the Cabinet of the previous Labour Government thought which other members of the previous Labour Government were mad, bad and dangerous, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Library has a sufficiency of copies of the book so that we can all read it before the recess?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are of course trying to cut the cost of politics, and I am not sure whether buying many copies of Lord Mandelson’s book is compatible with that policy. I was interested to read today in The Guardian, which costs a lot less than Lord Mandelson’s book, this paragraph:

“Darling told…Brown…he was being ‘ludicrously over-optimistic, not only about growth prospects, but also about Britain’s ability to support such a large and expanding deficit’”.

I entirely agree that all Members of the House should be aware of that and other relevant paragraphs.

Yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister, in common with all Ministers in his Government, presented an image of housing benefit claimants living in vast properties and paying rents of £1,000 a week. He and the Government must know that nothing could be further from the truth. May we please have an urgent debate in Government time on the Government’s monstrous housing benefit proposals? If they are not reconsidered, they will not save any money but they will certainly put thousands of families on the street.

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. As a former London Member, I know the price of rents in the city. I am not sure whether she was at Communities and Local Government questions, which has just concluded, but I understand that London MPs have been offered a meeting with the Minister for Housing to discuss exactly the issues she raises. I very much hope that she can attend that meeting.

I hope the Leader of the House agrees that a modern Parliament should be family friendly. When will he be in a position to publish the dates of the Christmas and February breaks so that those of us who have children can align our breaks with school holidays?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes an ambitious request, because it was only a few minutes ago that I announced the dates of the summer recess and that of our October return. I understand his impatience. We want to give the House and those who work here certainty on the dates, and I will announce the dates of the Christmas recess as soon as I can.

The Leader of the House is an admired Member of the House, and he acknowledged this morning that crime fell under the Labour Government. I am very grateful to him for putting that matter right, but he also said that Sir Michael Scholar had admonished the Prime Minister for misrepresenting the crime figures. What action does he intend to take on that? Is he embarrassed by the Prime Minister’s mistake, or are we to assume that there is a deliberate strategy to misrepresent independent statistics?

I return the compliment: the hon. Gentleman too is a much-admired Member of the House. If he looks at exactly what I said in response to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), he will see that I did not use the words he says I used. He very much paraphrased what I said, if I may say so. I believe I said that Sir Michael Scholar had admonished both sides of the House for misuse of statistics.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s question, I would say that the credibility of crime statistics is an issue. At various times, various parties have used whichever set of statistics has best suited their case. In order to bring that debate to a satisfactory conclusion, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is engaged in a dialogue to find an agreed set of statistics that commands public confidence and represents what is happening in the real world.

Will the Leader of the House grant a debate on companies that buy up freeholds for properties, and then use clauses within them to force all leaseholders to insure their properties through a sole provider at an extortionate rate, or buy out the freehold? That is becoming an increasing problem in my constituency, particularly in the town of Nelson, where companies are buying up old ground rents, invoking those clauses and sending threatening letters to my constituents.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who raises an important issue. He will know that when leaseholders have reason to doubt the reasonableness of an insurance premium, they have a right to go to the leasehold valuation tribunal, which can resolve the matter. In the meantime, he might like to refer his constituents to Lease, which is an independent, Government-funded organisation that gives advice to leaseholders who face the sorts of problems facing his constituents

After the tragic events in Cumbria and Northumberland, may we have a debate on firearms? As the Leader of the House might know, this week the BBC obtained statistics showing that 1,000 under-18s have shotgun licences, and that people as young as 10 can obtain one. When can we have a debate on that important issue?

After my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made her statement on Cumbria, she indicated that it would be appropriate to have a debate on firearms legislation. I think it would make sense to await the outcome of the police report on the Cumbrian incident, but I hope a debate on firearms will be possible when we have all the relevant information.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab)? The European investigation order allows foreign authorities to give instructions to the British police and allows foreign police forces to operate within the United Kingdom. That is a matter for decision by the House of Commons, not simply for notification by a Department of State.

I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. I think I said in response to my hon. Friend that I would contact the relevant Department and see what action the Government propose to take or recommend to the House before 28 July, which I understand is the operative date.

The whole House is fully aware of the Government’s vehement opposition to quangos. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on how many quangos and super-quangos will be established as a result of the announcements on the NHS and education, and of all announcements during the Budget and since?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to quangos or commissions, but it is certainly the Government’s intention to end up with many fewer quangos than we inherited from the outgoing Government—and quangos that cost a lot less.

May I echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) for a debate on the effect of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs? The Government are pushing a freedom Bill through Parliament, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will use his influence to ensure that the freedom of people to smoke in public places, and of pubs and clubs to allow people to smoke on what are their own premises, will be included in the Bill.

I have to disappoint my hon. Friend. I supported the smoking legislation and I encouraged the Government to remove the exemption for pubs that did not sell food. It was a sensible thing to do and I stand behind that policy. The benefit to public health has been welcome. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about his intentions in relation to the specific issue that my hon. Friend mentioned.

May we have an opportunity to debate the perplexing decision by the Minister for Housing to remove the powers of local authorities to regulate houses in multiple occupation? Many of my constituents in Nottingham are very worried that the freedom that local authorities have to grant planning permission will now be centralised in the Department—an odd attitude for supposedly localist Ministers to take.

We have just had an hour’s worth of questions to the Minister responsible, and I understand that the issue was raised in that time. The hon. Gentleman may therefore have to wait for another round of DCLG Ministers in order to press the matter.

Motion 7 on the Order Paper invites the House to agree to a summer recess starting on 27 July, which means that we will miss Prime Minister’s questions on 28 July. I know that the Leader of the House was intending that the House should rise on 29 July. Has he been approached by the Opposition Whips’ office to adjourn on 27 July to avoid the acting leader of the Labour party taking another battering at PMQs?

I agree with my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is an outstanding performer at Prime Minister’s questions and regularly wins the exchanges. We are rising on 27 July partly because—as my hon. Friend will know—those who represent Scottish seats have a different configuration of school holidays, and it was our judgment that we had made sufficient progress to recommend rising on that date as opposed to the original, provisional plans for 29 July. I wonder whether my hon. Friend is planning to oppose the motion—

May we have a debate on the role of the private sector in area-wide regeneration projects? In that debate we could discuss why Tory-Lib Dem controlled Birmingham council is spurning just such a project in the Stirchley area of my constituency, risking years of blight and costing us 300 badly needed jobs.

It sounds to me as though that is an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall. I believe in localism and local government, and if that is what the local authority wants to do, we should be cautious about second-guessing it here.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate following this morning’s Care Quality Commission report into out-of-hours GP services, so that we may learn the lessons from the unlawful killing of my constituent Mr David Gray and ensure that EU-qualified doctors working here are both medically competent to use NHS equipment and able to speak English to their patients?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, and I suspect that he may have seen the written ministerial statement this morning commenting on the CQC’s report. Out-of-hours care needs urgent reform and GPs are best placed to ensure that patients get the care they need when they need it. That is what our health reforms will deliver.

The Deputy Prime Minister has admitted that there was no prior consultation with the devolved Administrations about the date of the alternative vote referendum. As we know, it will clash with the elections for the devolved Administrations. May we have a debate on procedures that might be established to provide an effective dialogue between the Government and the devolved Administrations to ensure that such a mix-up does not happen again?

I am not sure that it is fair to describe it as a mix-up. The Deputy Prime Minister has been giving evidence all morning to a Select Committee, and I am sure that there was an opportunity to raise this issue. When the AV and boundaries legislation comes before the House, there will be ample opportunity to explore these issues in more depth.

The Government have said that they want to raise 20% of the money to cut the deficit from tax rises and 80% from budget cuts. The Leader of the House has announced that on Monday at 10 pm without any debate we will agree all outstanding estimates, which is how we decide how much money we will give to each Department. If four times as much money is to come from cuts as from tax rises, will he ensure that we have four times as much time to debate those cuts, and on amendable motions? The experience of the last two weeks has shown that when cuts are pushed through with more haste than is strictly speaking necessary, the House does not carry the nation with it. Also, which estimates are yet outstanding and to be agreed on Monday?

If the hon. Gentleman looks at Standing Order No. 55, he will see that that is the procedure under which we deal with all outstanding estimates. I agree entirely that the House should have adequate opportunity to question the Government on spending decisions. We have the Treasury Committee, the departmental Select Committees and debates on the Budget. We may also have debates on any public expenditure decisions that are taken. If the hon. Gentleman has better ways to hold the Government to account on financial measures, I would be interested to hear from him. In the past, we may not have spent enough time looking at such issues; perhaps we should refocus on them

I am concerned about the hasty way in which legislation is moving through the House. Have the coalition Government now abandoned pre-legislative scrutiny and evidence sessions before Bills go to Committee?

The answer is no, but, as she will know, if a Bill is taken on the Floor of the House, there is no slot for public evidence taking. I want to publish draft Bills in this Session to be considered in the next Session, but I hope she will understand that with a newly elected Government the opportunities for dealing with draft Bills in the first Session are not as much of an option as they will be later in the Parliament.

May we have a debate on sanctuary, so that Home Office Ministers can explain why Tamil Christians on pilgrimage to Walsingham on 11 July were targeted by the Home Office and arrested and detained, despite the fact that the individuals concerned had already been accepted under the legacy casework for consideration by the Home Office and that fact had been notified to their Member of Parliament?

I am cautious about commenting on the particular incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I understand his concern. I will contact Home Office Ministers later today to see whether I can get a reply to the issue he has just raised.

As a result of all the changes in the Budget, and those announced over the last few weeks, to health, education and local government, how many commissions are being set up in the next few months?

If the hon. Gentleman tables a question, I am sure that he will get an adequate answer—[Interruption.] I think I have already answered a question in relation to the coalition agreement, and he will find an answer that addresses the commissions set up there. If he tables an appropriate question about any commissions set up after that, I am sure he will get an accurate and prompt reply.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity briefly to respond to the bids for time made by Members to the Backbench Business Committee. We will shortly be producing an outline of how we intend to hear bids in public from Back-Bench Members for slots of time that the Committee has for them.

I want to mark the historic event next Tuesday and encourage all Back-Bench Members to put their names down to speak. It is historic, because it will be the first time that Back-Bench Members will have chosen a subject for debate in Back-Bench time. I hope that the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) will be the first to put her name down to speak, and I would like the Leader of the House to confirm his answer to her in which he said that he will be present at, and respond to, that debate, which will hopefully be opened and closed by Backbench Business Committee members. We hope to start at seven and finish at 10, but obviously that remains to be seen. We will be considering the pre-recess Adjournment debate and the defence days, which are now part of Back-Bench time. Again, however, I would be grateful if the Leader of the House could confirm that he will be present to respond.

I welcome how the hon. Lady is approaching her new and important responsibilities as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, and commend the way of proceeding that she has just outlined in encouraging Members to submit their suggestions to her Committee. I am more than happy to confirm what I said earlier—that I look forward to responding to the motion in her name and those of her colleagues—and I very much hope that this is the beginning of an important dialogue between the Government and the House and that the time will be used to enable the House to hold the Government to account more effectively.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and the Leader of the House.