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Business of the House

Volume 514: debated on Thursday 22 July 2010

The business for the week beginning 26 July will include:

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

Tuesday 27 July—The Backbench Business Committee has chosen the usual format for business in which a Member can raise any issue.

The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent. Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on Tuesday 27 July.

The business for the week commencing 6 September will include:

Monday 6 September—Second Reading of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.

Tuesday 7 September—Second Reading of the Superannuation Bill.

Wednesday 8 September—Opposition day [4th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 9 September—The House will consider a motion relating to UK armed forces in Afghanistan. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 13 September will include:

Monday 13 September—Second Reading of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill.

Tuesday 14 September—Second Reading of the Equitable Life (Payments) Bill.

Wednesday 15 September—Motion to approve Ways and Means resolutions on which a Finance Bill will be introduced, followed by remaining stages of the Identity Documents Bill.

Thursday 16 September—General debate on the future of the UK’s armed forces. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 9 September will be:

Thursday 9 September—A debate on future controls on legal highs.

As this is the last business questions before the summer recess, may I as usual thank the staff of the House for their hard work since the beginning of this Parliament, not least on the induction programme for new Members? I hope that the staff have a good break before we return in September.

I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement, which I assume is the actual business of the House as opposed to his personal view of what it ought to be. I also add my thanks to the staff of the House for all their hard work supporting us over the past 10 weeks.

As the Leader of the House said, on Monday next week we will debate the concluding stages of the Academies Bill. Against the fiasco of the abolition of over 700 Building Schools for the Future projects, the Bill has been rushed through its Commons stages. On Monday this week, the House debated the Bill on Second Reading, and the Committee stage began yesterday. That meant that Members had just over an hour after the debate had finished to consider the speeches made during it and to table amendments. Such timetabling of debate raises serious questions over the validity of the Bill, which has not been given sufficient time for scrutiny.

Mr Speaker, the Opposition Chief Whip and I have written to you about this, but I want also to urge the Leader of the House to look at this matter seriously to ensure that parliamentary scrutiny and proceedings are safeguarded.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the Deputy Prime Minister answers questions next Tuesday he tells us where he got the idea that the directors of Sheffield Forgemasters were refusing to dilute their shareholding and that that was a reason not to give them the loan? We now know that on 25 May a letter was sent to the Government by a major Tory donor, Andrew Cook, who started his letter:

“I am the largest donor to the Conservative party in Yorkshire and have been since David Cameron was elected leader.”

Indeed, he had given half a million pounds to the Conservative party and had provided flights worth £54,000 to the Prime Minister when he was in opposition. The letter stated that Sheffield Forgemasters management were refusing to dilute their shareholding by accepting outside equity investment. On 21 June the Prime Minister said in terms that the directors of the company were refusing to dilute their shareholding. On 22 June the Deputy Prime Minister repeated the allegation in the House.

I will not take points of order at this stage. I feel sure that the right hon. Lady is nearing the conclusion of her remarks.

We on the Opposition Benches knew all along that that allegation was not true, because it was a condition of the loan that the company look for additional outside investment. That point has now been admitted by the Deputy Prime Minister in his letter to the company of 2 July, but he still has not set the record straight in Parliament. The ministerial code says:

“It is of paramount importance that ministers should give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.”

Will the Leader of the House ensure that either the Deputy Prime Minister at his questions next week or the Business Secretary in a statement will tell us the following: first, whether the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) told the Business Secretary that he had given the letter of 25 May from the Tory donor to officials; secondly, whether either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State—[Interruption.]—informed the permanent secretary that officials had been given the letter; and, thirdly, whether the Prime Minister was aware of the Andrew Cook letter and its allegations and whether the Deputy Prime Minister was aware of the letter when he repeated the allegations?

Parliament needs answers to these questions, and we need them before we rise for the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we get them, and if he cannot get them, will he ensure that a proper inquiry is held into this matter?

The first issue was the time that we have allowed for the Academies Bill, and I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has raised that today. Last Thursday I announced the business for this week. On the Order Paper was the Academies Bill programme motion, yet she did not mention that even once in the many issues she raised with me last week. If she thinks today that the programme motion was an outrage it seems slightly strange that she failed to say so last Thursday when she had ample opportunity to talk about this week’s business.

On the second point about Sheffield Forgemasters, I—and many other Members—spent from 10.45 to 11.15 last night listening to the Adjournment debate during which all the issues that the right hon. Lady has raised were dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who made it absolutely clear that the issue has always been commercial affordability. He took numerous interventions from Opposition Members, and he dealt wholly adequately with the subject, and I am surprised that the right hon. Lady has raised it again.

Order. More than 30 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and I would like to accommodate as many as possible, but we have a further statement to follow and heavy pressure on time. What is required is brevity, a textbook example of which will be provided by the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell).

Will the Leader of the House join me in commending the Secretary of State for International Development on his announcement today that the pause on the development of the airport in St Helena will be lifted and that an airport will be built, thus securing the economic future of that British overseas territory and best value for the British taxpayer? Does he agree that an annual debate on British overseas territories would be of great benefit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He refers to the written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announcing his “provisional conclusion” that an airport is indeed the right solution for St Helena, that the short-term cost is more than “outweighed” by the long-term benefit and that it will promote inward investment and the development of the tourist industry. I pay tribute to the work done by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), who chairs the all-party group on St Helena. They have consistently advocated that sort of solution.

Newham is to have an estimated 1,300 fewer secondary school places, due in part to the loss of 14 Building Schools for the Future projects. I attended yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate to request that the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) meet me to discuss the impact of that. Sadly, despite my numerous attempts, he refused to take my intervention. May I ask that we have a debate on this important issue on the Floor of this House? We need an opportunity not only to discuss the impact of that programme, but for the Minister to be more gracious.

As the hon. Lady said, we have just had a 90-minute debate in Westminster Hall on the Building Schools for the Future programme. I will convey her particular request for a meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I know that, as a rule, he is more than happy to meet hon. Members from both sides of the House, and I am sure that he will readily agree, particularly when he reads Hansard tomorrow morning, that a meeting with the hon. Lady would be appropriate.

The Leader of the House will know how important the post office network is to many of our constituents, particularly those receiving benefits. The Department for Work and Pensions has put out for tender on the cheques received by those who cannot cope with the card account. Will he ensure that we get a statement before the recess from the DWP on the access criteria it will use in judging that, so that those people can still use the post office network to access their benefits?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I will contact the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see whether my hon. Friend and the House can be given the relevant information before we rise on Tuesday.

The duty of the Leader of the House is to protect the interests of the House. When we have asked questions of Ministers at the Dispatch Box we have been labouring under the misapprehension that they have actually been speaking on behalf of the Government. Yesterday, we heard the statement from the Deputy Prime Minister which, it was later said, was a personal statement or a statement of Liberal Democrat policy. Will the Leader of the House make a statement about how we are to determine who is answering questions on behalf of whom on the Government Benches? While doing that, will he consider the suggestion that there should be a dress code for the Liberal Democrats? They should wear blue down one side and yellow down the other, so that when they turn the yellow side towards the Dispatch Box we know who is talking and when they turn their blue side towards it we know that they are speaking for the Tory Government. What we need to know is what—

I will not comment on the suggestion of a dress code for Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament. Ministers are accountable at this Dispatch Box for the work of their Departments, but it is not unknown for Ministers to make personal statements from this Dispatch Box. I have listened to many debates, on abortion and on other issues, where Ministers have made it clear when they are speaking about and representing their own views. I have made my own views known on many issues from this Dispatch Box, so it is not unprecedented—[Interruption.]

Order. We must have a bit of order. I want to the hear the reply from the Leader of the House. I am enjoying it.

It is not unprecedented for Ministers speaking at this Dispatch Box occasionally to make their personal views known.

For a long time, Harlow has had a major problem with rail fatalities, with eight in 2008 and one only last Thursday morning. Will the Leader of the House arrange an urgent debate on rail safety and consider establishing a system of special rail guards, similar to special constables, with volunteers from the local community?

We have just had Transport questions, and I do not know whether my hon. Friend was able to ask that question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. One rail fatality is one fatality too many and I shall certainly raise with the Secretary of State for Transport the proposition that my hon. Friend has just put to the House.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), it is clear that at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister was answering in a personal capacity. That denied the House of Commons the ability to hold the Government to account. May we have an extra PMQs in September so that we can try to get some accountability from the Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister’s views on the war in Iraq are well known and should have come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman.

One debate that would be welcomed by many of my constituents would be on Britain’s throwaway culture and the explosion in the cost of clearing up litter in this country to the tune of more than £850 million a year—a statistic made even worse by the mess left by the previous Government.

I commend the work that Bill Bryson and the Campaign to Protect Rural England are doing to prevent the additional costs on local authorities of picking up litter. I commend the Stop the Drop campaign that they are promoting at the moment. I hope that all citizens will take their responsibilities seriously and avoid putting extra pressure on local authorities by increasing the sums that they have to spend on clearing up litter.

So, now that we can assume that personal statements can be made as opposed to other statements, was the junior Minister who answered on Forgemasters last night making a personal statement, a statement on behalf of the Business Secretary, or a statement on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister? What we want are personal statements from the last two to tell the truth about the letters and the whole issue. Get them there at the Dispatch Box and stop this silly nonsense about personal statements.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had time to look at Hansard for the debate on Sheffield—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not chunter like that from a sedentary position. Let us hear the answer from the Leader of the House.

The hon. Gentleman may not have seen me, because I was sitting where the Dispatch Box might have obscured his view. He will have seen in column 532 that my hon. Friend the Minister referred to “the Government’s decision”.

Many of us would have been pleased to see the action of the bailiffs to clear the so-called village from Parliament square, but slightly dismayed to find the remnants still parked on the pavement. Does the Leader of the House agree that some time should be made available to debate robust measures to clear up the mess once and for all, so that the square is open for all to enjoy and for legitimate protest?

I commend the action that the Mayor of London has taken, supported by the courts, to enable the green to be cleared and, I hope, restored, so that it is a visual amenity and not an eyesore. Clearly there is work still to be done because the pavement is obstructed, and that is a matter for Westminster city council. I understand that a meeting took place recently between Westminster city council and the House authorities to discuss options for dealing with the encampments, but we are also considering amending the current legal framework governing protests around Parliament square and seeing how local byelaws might be strengthened.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of how much the prosperity of our regional towns and cities depends on the universities of those towns and cities? Is he aware that many vice-chancellors believe that they will have to cut thousands of teaching jobs and thousands of research jobs if this needless 25% cut goes right across the university sector?

I think that that would carry more weight if the hon. Gentleman explained to the House how the deficit that he left us might be addressed. Despite the horrendous deficit that we inherited, there are 10,000 more university places than there were last year and that is a tribute to our commitment to higher education.

Following the damaging comments and testimony of the former head of British intelligence about the Iraq war and the activities of the former Prime Minister, can we have an urgent debate on the representation of, and the confidence of the House in, the present middle east peace envoy?

If my hon. Friend is referring to the Chilcot inquiry, I think it would make sense to await the outcome of that before the House holds a debate on the issue that he has outlined.

I welcome the Department for International Development’s statement on the development of St Helena airport, as I have long argued that that makes sense in terms of value for money. Can we have a debate so that we can hear from DFID about the process that it went through to determine that making that investment now will save money in the long term? The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills might learn something from that in relation to issues such as Forgemasters.

I commend the ingenuity of the hon. Lady’s question. She will have seen the written ministerial statement setting out the reasons behind the provisional conclusion, which concerned whether an acceptable contract price was achieved and whether the risk of cost and time overruns were addressed. That is the right way to go and it represents the best value for money for the British taxpayer. Of course, that conclusion could not have been reached without the assent of the Treasury.

Notwithstanding the excellent efforts of the Combined Maritime Forces, the NATO naval force and EU NAVFOR—the European Union naval force Somalia—thousands of people remain captive in Somalia and the horn of Africa. Is it not time to have a review of and an urgent debate on the Government’s counter-piracy policy, which affects British interests?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He could raise that issue in Tuesday’s debate on the summer Adjournment. Now that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House knows that it might be raised, he will come equipped with a suitable reply.

Can we have a debate on the Irish economic crisis? Given that the centre-right coalition Government there introduced an emergency budget that has led to high unemployment, cuts in services and the loss of Ireland’s credit rating, such a debate would enable this centre-right coalition Government here to learn lessons.

The last time I looked at the opinion polls, the view in this country of what the centre-right coalition, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, is doing was rather favourable.

I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) about benefit cheques. If that contract is taken away from the Post Office, people on several of the islands and in many rural parts of my constituency will have nowhere to cash their cheques. Many of the people who receive those cheques are among the most vulnerable in society and they will not get the same help and advice in outlets such as petrol stations as they would in a post office. I hope that we will have an urgent statement on that next week.

I think that all hon. Members will share my hon. Friend’s view about the importance of the Post Office network maintaining its viability and the implications for its viability if the scenario that he outlines takes place. I shall certainly reinforce the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and I shall see that information is given to the House—if possible before we rise—on progress on the contract he mentions.

Thousands of Christmas Island nuclear testing veterans have waited many years for compensation. My understanding is that the Ministry of Defence has now accepted that there is a direct link between that testing in the 1950s and the cancers from which those people are now suffering. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House in September and update us regarding the compensation package?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. There will be questions to the appropriate Department on 13 September and I suggest that he seek to table a question for then, as that might be a suitable forum in which to raise the issue further.

This is my blue and, I hope, red side. May we have a statement as soon as possible on the courtesies that need not and should not be extended to leading members of the British National party, even if they have been elected under an appalling system of proportional representation? That would enable those of us who do not wish to rub shoulders with neo-Nazis at Buckingham palace garden parties to return our tickets even at the last minute.

My hon. Friend invites me to tread on delicate territory. The best response that I can give is that the responsibility for invitations to the garden party at Buckingham palace rests not with me but a higher authority.

When can we debate early-day motion 560 to praise the BBC for its unrivalled and fearless independence on the “Today” programme and to frustrate the plans of the coalition nomenclatura to shoot the messenger?

[That this House congratulates John Humphrys for his forensic questioning of the Foreign Secretary on NATO's strategy in Afghanistan, which added to the BBC's unrivalled reputation for fearless independent journalism.]

I am not aware of any plans in the coalition to curtail the editorial independence of the BBC. I pay tribute to the “Today” programme, which I listen to every morning.

Can we have a debate on the civil service compensation scheme? Although there is much agreement across the House and, indeed, among most unions on the need for reform, there remains a great deal of concern out there and it would be helpful if the House had an opportunity to discuss this issue with a Minister, particularly to underscore the importance of meaningful consultation between the unions and the Government.

My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to debate that issue, because I have announced the Second Reading of the Superannuation Bill for when we come back in September. The Administration are carrying forward the policy of the previous Administration in reducing the compensation available to civil servants who are made redundant.

Could we have a debate on the industrial relations problems in the aviation industry, particularly with British Airways? Without any recommendation from the leadership of the Unite union, BA cabin crew have now voted for a fourth time to take industrial action, which suggests that there is a serious industrial relations problem in that once proud and well-respected company. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to get both parties together and try to get this industrial relations problem sorted out?

I very much hope that there will not be any more industrial action on the part of British Airways, as that is not in the interests of either its employees or the travelling public. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is keeping an eagle eye on those discussions, but it is primarily a matter for negotiations between the employers and employees. I am not convinced at this stage that it would be right for the Government to intervene.

I am sure that many hon. Members will have noticed that the Members’ dining rooms are frequented by mice. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate on whether a tough Lancastrian cat could be obtained from Bleakholt animal sanctuary in Rossendale to repel those rodent invaders?

It is indeed the case that mice are seen on the parliamentary estate. I have actually seen an hon. Member feeding them out of kindness. I will pursue with the parliamentary authorities my hon. Friend’s generous offer of a cat, but there might be even more cost-effective ways of dealing with the mice than a Lancastrian cat.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Defence Minister comes to the House to make a statement on what steps are being taken to protect serving and former personnel from the risk of prosecution following the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement at the Dispatch Box? What steps can the House take to ensure that men and women who are doing their duty for the country are not put at risk by such statements?

I repeat what I said a few moments ago. It makes sense to await the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry before venturing into the debate on whether the war in Iraq was legal.

In view of the sudden outburst of indignation about the programming of motions, will the Leader of the House remind us when the routine programming of Bills was introduced?

The programme motion for the Academies Bill was tabled a week ago. I must say that I looked in at the opening of yesterday’s debate at six minutes past 2 and there were three Labour Back Benchers in the Chamber.

We need a statement on Forgemasters before the recess, because we need to know—perhaps the Leader of the House can give us the answers—whether the Prime Minister was aware of the letter sent by Andrew Cook. Were Liberal Democrat Ministers aware of it, or were they kept in the dark?

I am amazed that Opposition Members continue to flog this dead horse. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, explained in the debate yesterday what he did with the letter from Andrew Cook.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the crisis faced by many fishermen and women up and down our coast, and particularly in Suffolk Coastal? I absolutely commend the efforts of the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and of my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and for Waveney (Peter Aldous), but may I press for an urgent debate on fisheries management in our country, and perhaps the repatriation of powers from the common fisheries policy?

My hon. Friend raises an issue of great importance to her constituents. May I suggest to her what I suggested to an hon. Friend earlier—that on Tuesday, she raises that important issue in the debate on the summer Adjournment? Again, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will come equipped with a reply.

Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate on the Thornton relief road in my constituency? It was first mooted in 1934, and would not only boost the construction industry but provide much needed support for businesses and residents who face congestion every day in Thornton.

The hon. Gentleman asks for a debate in Government time, but I think that the issue would be best addressed in an Adjournment debate, and I suggest that he applies to Mr Speaker for one.

The last Administration used complex formulae for funding allocation to cheat rural areas of their fair share of support for education, health and other public services. They hid behind those formulae. May we have an urgent debate on the assessment of need in, and the allocation of funding to, rural areas, to ensure that they get a fair, not a skewed, share of national resources, having been so denuded by the Labour party?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. He will have seen in our proposals on health funding that in future, health resources will be distributed not by Ministers, but by an independent body. I hope that he applauds the pupil premium initiative, which will address some of the deprivation issues in rural constituencies.

Andrew Cook issued a statement this morning to the effect that he has offered funding to Sheffield Forgemasters. May we have an urgent debate on whether Government officials were involved in encouraging or negotiating any deal between Andrew Cook and Sheffield Forgemasters, in what seems like a takeover bid for the company?

I am not sure what responsibility Government Ministers would have for an offer to Sheffield Forgemasters from Mr Cook, but if the hon. Lady would like to table the relevant question to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I am sure that she will get an answer to her question.

The Leader of the House will be aware that there was a meeting earlier this week of a number of people to whom Barclays allegedly mis-sold the Morley—now Aviva—global balanced or cautious fund, which then turned out to be adventurous. Will there be an opportunity in the near future for a debate in Government time on the mis-selling of financial products?

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue. Perhaps he would initially like to raise it on Tuesday in the summer Adjournment debate, before perhaps having a Westminster Hall debate of greater length on the subject.

On the Order Paper this morning, notice was given of 28 written ministerial statements. By 11.15 this morning, only 15 of them were available. Will the Leader of the House instruct his private secretary to write to Ministers, reminding them that written ministerial statements should be made available to the House at the earliest opportunity? At 11.25, the statement on e-borders was made available to the Library. From it, we learn that the electronic borders system, which is responsible for keeping our borders safe, is to have its contract with the supplier finished. Does that leave our borders vulnerable, and may we have a debate on the subject?

I have noted the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate. On written ministerial statements, I hope that he will applaud the fact that today, some time before the House adjourns for the recess, we have got out 28 written ministerial statements, whereas in the old days, under Labour, they all came out on the last day before the recess. Of course, we will seek to make those statements available to the House at the earliest opportunity.

Last Friday, I visited an engineering firm in my constituency that, despite the recession, has refused to lay off any of its workers. It now has problems trying to access funding from its bank, which is trying to reduce the firm’s overdraft, despite the fact that the firm has £500,000 of orders on its books. May we have an urgent debate on how we can robustly encourage the banks that we own to lend to business?

Indeed. My hon. Friend reminds the House that part of the contract in supporting the banks was that they should increase the amount of lending. I will see what we can do to find an opportunity to debate the matter. Perhaps that is something on which the Backbench Business Committee would like to reflect.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the great privilege of being at the Government Dispatch Box is that one speaks for the Government—and the great constraint is that one speaks for the Government. How can he assure the House that, at the Government Dispatch Box, with the dignity that it affords to an individual who steps up to it, individuals do not, perhaps inadvertently, mislead the House into thinking that they speak for the Government, when actually they are speaking just for themselves? Speaking at it is a privilege, and it needs to be taken as such.

As I said in response to an earlier question, the views of the Deputy Prime Minister on the Iraq war are well known and should have come as no surprise at all to any Member of the House. Nor is it unusual for Ministers speaking from the Dispatch Box occasionally to let their personal views into the public domain.

Just for clarification, my yellow tie should not be taken to mean anything of significance.

Will the Leader of the House explain who will be in charge of the country, and acting Prime Minister, when the Prime Minister goes on his well-earned holidays or if he is incapacitated? Would it be the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Chancellor or, in fact, the Leader of the House?

I am sure that it would not be the Leader of the House. As my hon. Friend knows, we have a Deputy Prime Minister, and that title makes his responsibilities clear. However, I see—[Interruption.]

Order. It is unfair of Members to heckle in this noisy, disruptive fashion. I am enjoying the Leader of the House’s responses and I want to hear them.

I see no prospect whatever in the near future of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister becoming incapacitated.

In view of all the written ministerial statements today, does the Leader of the House share my concern that the statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should have been a statement to the House? We could then have discussed the long-term implications of the abolition of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the withdrawal of funds from the Sustainable Development Commission—matters that are vital. I am pleased that the Environmental Audit Committee will have a role in reviewing all that, but we need those resources. As there are implications for the devolved Administrations, we need an overarching policy on green issues. When can we have a debate on the subject in the House?

On the hon. Lady’s first point, she wanted a statement to the House, but she has one. She wanted an oral statement. She will know that today we are debating the Academies Bill, and we already have one oral statement on Equitable Life. The more oral statements that the Government provide, the less time there is to debate important issues. However, I will see that the substantive issue that she mentioned is raised with the appropriate Minister, and that she gets a response.

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to the House that when the Chilcot inquiry issues its report, there will be a full day’s debate on it? Those of us who voted against the Iraq war did so because we always believed it to be contrary to international law and illegal. The only reasonable inference that one can draw from all the evidence that has emerged is that Blair took Britain to war on the basis of a lie.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful plea for a debate on the Chilcot inquiry. When the report is published, it would be appropriate to have a debate on it, in which hon. Members who took a different view from him at the time could share their views, and in which the House could debate the matter in a proper manner.

This week, there have been reports of potentially scandalous financial dealings at the top of Network Rail, just as Iain Coucher is leaving the organisation. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association has forwarded to the Government, on behalf of management staff in Network Rail, a report asking for a thorough investigation of those dealings by the appropriate authorities. Will the Leader of the House make sure that the Government arrange for those investigations to be undertaken, and that we have a debate on the Floor of the House on the issue?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity earlier this morning to raise that issue with the Secretary of State for Transport. Any allegations about anything illegal should, of course, be pursued by the police; I am sure that they will take note of the point that he has made. I will share the broader issues that he has raised about the responsibilities of Network Rail with the Secretary of State for Transport.

Hill farmers in Skipton and Ripon and across England are facing a bureaucratic nightmare as a result of the transition from the hill farm allowance to the uplands entry level scheme. Will my right hon. Friend advise me about the best route to represent their interests at this critical time?

There will be Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 9 September and an opportunity next Tuesday for my hon. Friend to share his concerns with the House.

Yesterday in my constituency, we learned that a number of Playbuilder schemes in children’s parks are to be cancelled. We are not sure whether that is because the funding has been removed entirely or whether it is merely because of the removal of ring-fencing. Will the Leader of the House encourage ministerial colleagues who make statements about financial plans to ensure that the House is fully informed about those plans’ impact on children, who are most deserving of our protection?

It is important that local authorities should know in advance what their budgets are likely to be. However, how they spend their budgets and balance their responsibilities for children with other responsibilities is essentially a matter for local government rather than central Government.

The Leader of the House has announced the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, two important constitutional Bills that will be debated in September. Will he explain why there will be no pre-legislative scrutiny of those important constitutional Bills?

It is our intention for there to be pre-legislative scrutiny where appropriate, but the hon. Lady will understand that in the first term of a new Parliament with a new Government, it is not possible for all the legislative proposals to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. There will be draft Bills on House of Lords reform, which is a constitutional measure, and on privileges, but if we want to make progress and improve the constitution of this country, there cannot be draft Bills on everything.

During last week’s business questions, the Leader of the House agreed to seek a statement from Foreign Office colleagues about the health of democracy in the Maldives. I do not believe that such a statement has yet been forthcoming. Given that the Foreign Office has issued a travel warning for British tourists to the Maldives, that opposition MPs there are still being detained and that the Chief Justice has been intimidated, will the right hon. Gentleman redouble his efforts to secure such a statement?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue again. As he will know, this country, the UN, the US and EU heads of mission have issued a public statement urging the political parties of the Maldives to engage in a constructive and open dialogue, to address the challenges to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We have stressed to the Government of the Maldives the importance of upholding the rule of law and we remain a strong supporter of the democratic reform process in the Maldives.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the body of scientific evidence indicating that military low-flying activity can have serious implications for the health of the subjected population. Will he allow Government time to debate the continued need for low-flying military tactical training areas—in particular the Welsh MTTA, which covers the north of my constituency? The practice has been banned in other states such as Germany.

There are also low-flying aircraft in my constituency. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that our pilots need at times to fly low as part of their training. However, I will raise his concerns with colleagues at the Ministry of Defence to see whether there is any way in which we can address the problems that he has described.

The announcement of a timetable on Afghanistan is plainly wrong and will be welcomed by the Taliban. We have heard two different withdrawal dates and that withdrawal will depend on conditions. May we have a statement so that we can better understand the Government’s policy? It is important that we get the matter right on behalf of our armed forces.

There was a statement on the matter yesterday. Furthermore, I have announced a debate on Afghanistan in the first week back, at the initiative of the Backbench Business Committee. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity after the recess to raise the concerns that he has outlined.

In the light of the comments made by the Leader of the House today, might it not be appropriate to have a debate on whether the title of Deputy Prime Minister should be changed to “Deputy Prime Minister in a Personal Capacity”?

Last year, One NorthEast attracted £750 million-worth of inward investment into the region. In fact, 82% of inward investment into the north-east comes through that regional development agency. May we have a debate to expose the fact that abolishing the RDA is an act of economic vandalism?

If they want, local authorities can replace RDAs with local enterprise boards. If the hon. Gentleman’s local authorities believe in the value of regional development agencies, they are perfectly at liberty to recreate one as an LEB.

May we have an urgent debate on the right of Back-Bench Members to hold the Government to account? On 15 July, a Communities and Local Government Minister said that no local authority had faced cuts larger than 2%. That statement has not since been corrected, although it is not true. Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister said that the war in Iraq was illegal—apparently in a personal capacity, although without informing the House of that fact. What can Back Benchers do, faced with this uncertainty about how Ministers take responsibility?

The hon. Lady has raised that issue in a week when we have had the first debate in Back-Bench time in 400 years on one reckoning and in 12 years on another. We are anxious to give Back Benchers more powers. She is perfectly entitled to ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the question that she has posed about funding for Slough. She will get an answer.

Will the Leader of the House explain why the Prime Minister is making a statement about the national citizen service now to Downing street and not to the House of Commons? Given that there will be no Prime Minister’s questions until 8 September, can we arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the House on Monday to give a statement on that service, and also on Iraq, Afghanistan and Sheffield Forgemasters, so that he can clear up his Ministers’ mess?

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had time to look at the document “The Coalition: our programme for government”. He will see in it a clear commitment in the social action chapter to set up the national citizen service. There has been no fresh announcement of Government policy outside the House.

A constituent of mine who was the victim of a serious child abuse episode, and her family, came face to face at their local hospital with the paedophile responsible; he was sat grinning in reception. Will it be possible during this Session, perhaps after the summer recess, to have a debate on how the rights of victims are being subordinated to those of perpetrators of crime?

I understand how distressing that encounter must have been. We must see whether there are better ways of protecting victims of paedophilia from those who have perpetrated it. I have taken note of the hon. Lady’s bid for a debate. There could be a debate in Westminster Hall, or the Backbench Business Committee might like to take it on board.

I know that the Leader of the House wishes that the question of Sheffield Forgemasters would go away, but it will not. When we have a further debate or statement on the subject, will he get Ministers who respond to address the important question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith)? When Ministers took the decision—we understand that they were Lib Dem Ministers—and officials were engaged in the discussions, were they aware of Andrew Cook’s objections? Were they aware that Mr Cook was a major donor to the Tory party? Importantly, were they aware of his conflict of interest and that he was expressing an interest in personally investing in the company?

The issue of the Andrew Cook letter was dealt with extensively by the Minister of State in yesterday’s debate. The hon. Gentleman had a half-hour Adjournment debate but took only nine minutes to develop his case at the beginning. He has had ample opportunity on the Floor of the Chamber to raise the issue of Sheffield Forgemasters.

I am grateful to colleagues for their co-operation, which enabled no fewer than 48 Back-Bench Members to take part in business questions. We now come to the statement—[Hon. Members: What about points of order?] Points of order come after statements; we look forward to them with eager anticipation.