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Business of the House

Volume 515: debated on Thursday 16 September 2010

The forthcoming business is as follows:

Monday 11 October—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Tuesday 12 October—Proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 1).

Wednesday 13 October—Remaining stages of the Superannuation Bill, followed by opposed private business for consideration named by the Chairman of Ways and Means, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to the draft Budget 2011.

Thursday 14 October—There will be a debate on a motion relating to compensation for NHS blood contamination, followed by a general debate to mark anti-slavery day. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 18 October will include:

Monday 18 October—Proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 2).

Tuesday 19 October—Proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 3).

Wednesday 20 October— My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to make a statement on the comprehensive spending review, followed by proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 4).

Thursday 21 October—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill [Lords].

Friday 22 October—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 14 and 21 October will be:

Thursday 14 October—A debate from the Scottish Affairs Committee on banking in Scotland.

Thursday 21 October—A debate from the Justice Committee entitled “Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment”.

I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business. It is good to see him back in a voluntary capacity, as opposed to having to be summoned as he was on Monday to explain why the Government had decided to abolish next year’s Queen’s Speech. I am sure that he is itching to apologise for ignoring us on that occasion, and itching to reassure us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s extraordinary smash and grab of Department for Work and Pensions policy last Thursday, which he was also summoned to explain on Monday, had nothing to do with deflecting attention away from the debate in this Chamber on phone hacking.

Once we got the Leader of the House here on Monday, he said that the Session could not end in May next year because the Government would have to guillotine all the Bills in their programme, which is an amazing justification considering that that is precisely what they are doing with almost all their legislation anyway. When was the decision to abolish next year’s Queen’s Speech taken? If it was being considered before Parliament rose in July, why did the Government not withdraw the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, subject it to proper pre-legislative scrutiny and consult on changing the length of parliamentary Sessions?

Although the Leader of the House said on Monday in his written statement that the Government had decided to extend the current Session to two years, he then said, when he came here in person, that the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill would be an opportunity to examine the proposal. Has a decision been made, or is it genuinely being consulted on? Which clauses in the Bill will enable discussion of the proposals, what time will be allocated to that discussion, and what other mechanisms is he using to consult on the abolition of next year’s Queen’s Speech?

Following the exchange at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on why the Government will not opt in to the EU directive on human trafficking? The Prime Minister said yesterday that the directive

“does not go any further than the law that we have already passed”.—[Official Report, 15 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 873.]

However, he agreed to look at further evidence, and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), who is the former Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, has now written to the Prime Minister setting out exactly how opting in to the directive would provide greater protection for UK citizens and allow prosecution of international criminals. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a debate on that in Government time and assure the House that the Government are not letting prejudice about the EU get in the way of ending this cruel and inhumane trade?

In response to the right hon. Lady’s first point, may I say that I am always happy to appear before the House whenever required. On the issue raised, I had in fact issued a written ministerial statement earlier in the day to ensure that the House was up to speed.

On programme motions, the right hon. Lady will know that there are extensive discussions through the usual channels to ensure that the House has adequate time to debate Bills. I am anxious to avoid the problems that we had under the previous Government, when Bills went through the House without proper consideration and had to be put right in the upper House. If she compares the seven days that we have allocated to this important constitutional Bill with the time we got under the previous Government to discuss the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, she must agree that we are being much more generous than she was with the time made available to the House to discuss legislation.

On the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, the right hon. Lady asked about the opportunity to discuss the issues she mentioned. There are clauses on Prorogation, and she is ingenious enough to devise amendments to them to get the debate she needs.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister could not have been clearer yesterday in his condemnation of trafficking. He said:

“From looking at the directive so far, we have discovered that it does not go any further than the law that we have already passed”,

but he went on to say:

“I am happy to go away and look again”.—[Official Report, 15 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 873.]

The right hon. Lady asked about an opportunity to pursue the matter further. As I have just announced, there is a debate on slavery, which I believe will be broad enough to deal with issues of trafficking. As my right hon. Friend said, slavery has not been abolished. The Government have decided not to opt in to the directive at the beginning, but we are perfectly entitled, if we so wish, to opt in at a later stage.

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. There is important Back-Bench business to follow. As always, therefore, I request single, short supplementary questions and characteristically succinct replies from the Leader of the House.

In my constituency, we are campaigning for the reopening of the train station at Ilkeston. I note in the Chancellor’s Budget speech in June that he made reference to the value of future train projects. With that in mind, would the Leader of the House consider allocating time for a debate on the train network and the provision of train stations?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. As a former Transport Secretary, I am always anxious to have more stations opened. In the case of Ilkeston, the proposal for a new station is being developed by Derbyshire county council, and it is for the council to determine the extent to which the proposal is a priority in its overall transport investment. The Government’s view is that modern transport infrastructure is essential for a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy, as well as for improving well-being and quality of life. I wish my hon. Friend every success in getting the station reopened.

As it is the Government who allocate time to the Backbench Business Committee, could the Leader of the House ensure that our time is more fairly redistributed throughout the parliamentary week, and not just restricted to Thursdays? While we are on the subject of time, may I also ask him what he is planning to do now that he has doubled the parliamentary Session and thereby effectively halved the time available for Back-Bench business?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on totally dominating “Yesterday in Parliament” on the “Today” programme at quarter to 7 with her innovation of having an open session, where MPs were able to go along and ask for time for debates. I welcome that initiative—the reference to “Dragons’ Den” was, I am sure, meant in entirely complimentary terms.

If one looks at the days allocated to the Backbench Business Committee, one sees that two have been Thursdays, including today, and two have not. I hope that we will be able to maintain a balance in future allocations, without in any way devaluing Thursday, which should be an important parliamentary day. Last Thursday, for instance, 300 colleagues voted on a motion tabled by the hon. Lady’s Committee.

I should have said this in answer to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), but extending the Session will be conditional on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill going through. However, there will also be implications for Opposition days, private Members’ Bills and Back-Bench time. I recognise that, and I am happy to enter into negotiations to see how best to reflect the longer Session in increased allocations.

The coalition agreement makes a commitment to reaching

“a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics.”

Could the Leader of the House make a statement about what progress has been made on that issue, and say whether such measures will include looking at trade union finance and support for political parties?

There is indeed a clear statement in the coalition agreement to reach a conclusion on party funding policy. My hon. Friend will know that the Committee on Standards in Public Life recently announced that it is holding an inquiry into party funding, which I welcome. I hope that we will be able to do something that the previous Government were unable to do, which is to reach a satisfactory conclusion on the issue—one that is fair to all parties and donors, and, importantly, delivers a system that the public can trust.

A three-year-old girl on holiday near Swansea this August was brutally savaged by a dog, leading to major facial injuries and heavy bleeding; she was airlifted to Morriston hospital. When will the Leader of the House consider a debate on minimum fines of £1,000 for actual bodily harm and of £500 for grievous bodily harm against owners of dogs that make such unprovoked attacks?

We would all like to extend our condolences to the family who were involved in that tragic incident. Time for a debate could be made either by the Backbench Business Committee or on the Adjournment. However, I will contact my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice on the specific issue of the level of fines and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Will the Leader of the House issue a statement on his evaluation of September sittings and say whether it is the Government’s intention to continue the practice in future years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I would be interested to hear the views of the House on this matter, but my own view is that the past two weeks have been an unqualified success for the House. We have had four Second Reading debates on important Bills. We have also had an important debate on Afghanistan and we are about to have another on the strategic defence review. We have had three oral statements from the Government, five urgent questions and more than 60 Select Committee meetings. This opportunity for the House to hold the Government to account in what would otherwise have been a very long summer recess is a welcome improvement on what happened during the last Parliament.

Seaham school of technology in my constituency is one of a number of schools that were to be rebuilt under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme. It is accepted that the school is in a worse physical condition than any school in County Durham, and that it serves some of the most deprived communities anywhere in the country. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education to come to the House and make a statement on what criteria are to be applied to determine which schools whose programmes have been cancelled are to be rebuilt, and whether that determination will be needs-based and take into account the physical condition of the schools concerned?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern for the school in question. To some extent, decisions on future resources for schools will depend on the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, but there will be an opportunity to cross-question the Secretary of State for Education the next time he appears at the Dispatch Box. In the meantime, I will alert Ministers to the hon. Gentleman’s interest, and seek to give him a reply to his question about the criteria that were used in coming to that decision.

The inclusion of cautions or reprimands on enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks can result in young people—several years on, when they regret their past behaviour—having great difficulty in finding placements in college or school. It is surely not the intention of CRB checks to prevent young people from completing their education. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the matter?

I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point. The Government have asked Sunita Mason, the independent adviser on criminality information management to conduct a review of the criminal records regime, the terms of reference of which will be announced in due course. I hope that my hon. Friend will give evidence to that review.

Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate on the serious situation facing the West Midlands police force, given that 2,500 jobs are due to go, including those of 1,300 police officers? That is a move that communities in the west midlands will fear and criminals will cheer. Will the Leader of the House allow the very important issue of the safety and security of our communities to be debated on the Floor of the House?

Of course I understand the concern of those who provide services funded by public expenditure, but it is important that the language used should not be unduly alarmist. After the comprehensive spending review, there will be an opportunity to debate the consequences, and, if my memory serves me correctly, there will be a separate opportunity when the House debates the police grant order later in the parliamentary year.

I was going to ask a question, yet again, about local authority decisions on fluoridation, but given the apparent leak to the BBC last night of an intention to postpone any decision on the replacement of our strategic nuclear deterrent from this Parliament to the next, may we have an urgent statement either from the Secretary of State for Defence—who will not, I understand, be taking part in the debate to follow—or from the Leader of the House himself on whether there is any prospect of such a breathtaking betrayal of the pledges offered by my party to the electorate and by the leadership of my party to members of my party when persuading us to join the coalition?

The coalition agreement makes it clear:

“We will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money.”

As my hon. Friend has just mentioned, there will be a debate shortly after business questions, in which he will have an opportunity to raise his concerns. His questions will be answered by one of my colleagues from the Ministry of Defence.

It is my understanding that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has announced the complete privatisation of Royal Mail—not a part-privatisation but a wholesale removal from public ownership—although it remains unclear, because he chose not to do so before the House. This causes real concern for the many employees and users of Royal Mail. Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on the future of Royal Mail?

Again, I refer the hon. Lady to the commitment we made in the coalition agreement and to what was said in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The Queen’s Speech said:

“My Government will modernise the Royal Mail, in partnership with employees, and will ensure it benefits from private sector capital and disciplines.”

That remains the position. In due course, legislation will be introduced and the House can debate it.

Will the Leader of the House find Government time for a debate to discuss the performance of National Express, following the decision to extend its remaining railway franchise? In addition to the cost from its wavering from its east coast main line commitment, it is about to spend more than £2 million of public money on building works at Marks Tey station in my constituency, yet, along with Passenger Focus, it has shown an utter disregard for the views of local commuters by failing to consult them on those works. It has also ignored a petition signed by more than 700 local commuters. The plans will force a local business man, Nigel Clark, to close his newspaper stall and coffee vending machine business.

I commend my hon. Friend for the energy with which she defends her commuters. I understand that the Government are aware of the concerns to which she just referred, particularly about Nigel Clark’s news stand and the works at Marks Tey. The rail Minister has ensured that those concerns have been passed on to National Express, which has responsibility for allocating the retail tenancies.

That spinning noise, which can be heard faintly in the distance, is the sound of David Lloyd George’s body spinning in its grave in response to the comment by the Deputy Prime Minister, as reported in this morning’s edition of The Times, that the job of the state is no longer to

“compensate the poor for their predicament”.

Will the Leader of the House invite, encourage and persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to lead a debate on that subject, specifically in order to allow Liberal Democrat MPs to show their full-throated support for this very peculiar redefinition of the word “fairness”?

May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the article written by the Deputy Prime Minister rather than the interpretation of it in The Times? I have looked at it, and what he said about welfare being an engine for mobility seemed to me to be eminently sensible.

Documents placed in the House of Commons Library by the Foreign Office this week give us a fuller picture of the Government’s role in the lead-up to the release of the Libyan Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi and also confirm that the Libyan Government threatened British commercial contracts in Libya if al-Megrahi were excluded from the prisoner transfer agreement. Given that members of the US Senate are seeking to investigate these matters, will the Leader of the House consider having a debate in this House so that we can discuss them more fully?

My hon. Friend’s plea for a debate will have been heard by the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the release of Megrahi was a mistake and he has asked the Cabinet Secretary to review papers held by the Government to see whether more could be published about the background to the decision. The Cabinet Secretary aims to conclude that work as soon as possible.

I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, and the whole House will share my horror at the mass rape perpetrated in North Kivu province in eastern Congo over a four-day period during the summer, when more than 500 women and 27 children were systematically raped. May we have a debate in Government time about the impact of the comprehensive spending review on protecting women against violence and the prosecution of criminals both here and abroad? We need to debate the impact that 25% cuts could have on that work.

As the hon. Lady knows, the Department for International Development budget is protected, so any work in the third world funded by that Department will not be affected by any decisions in the CSR. I will certainly bring to the attention of the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary the concerns about the impacts of decisions taken in this country. There might be an opportunity to ventilate those issues at greater length in the debate announced for Thursday 14 October.

Yesterday, the Northern Ireland Secretary said that every Cabinet Minister had found a number of prawns stuffed behind the radiator. Will the Leader of the House encourage the commissioning, printing and publishing of a Command Paper to be put in the Library that sets out in full detail all the prawn sandwiches that previous Cabinet Ministers left stuffed behind their respective departmental radiators—from the lunacy of the Building Schools for the Future programme, where £250 million of expenditure was incurred without a single brick being laid, to the staggering £38 billion overdraft, completely unfunded, left at the Ministry of Defence?

My hon. Friend made good progress in his question in producing the list that he has asked the Government to provide. It is certainly the case that a number of Secretaries of State found unfunded commitments when they took office. When we come to the comprehensive spending review, we will have an opportunity to reveal in more detail just how those unfunded commitments are to be dealt with. The Labour party was committed to some 20% of cuts if it had come into government, so it would be helpful if we heard from Labour Members at some point exactly how they would have balanced the books if they had won the election.

The coalition agreement contains a clear commitment to bring forward

“measures to make the import or possession of illegally logged timber a criminal offence”

in the UK, yet I now have a letter from a UK Minister saying that the Government have no plans to bring forward “further legislative action”. Will the Leader of the House agree to find time for a debate on the issue of illegally logged timber, particularly to explore why a coalition commitment on such an important issue lasted for less than three months?

I agree that this is an important issue, and I hope that it is possible to find time for a debate. In response to the hon. Lady’s first point, let me say that any commitments given by the coalition Government on this subject will be honoured.

The Leader of the House is rapidly becoming my hero for the way in which he is putting Parliament first, but there are dark forces within the Government who cannot bear the loss of control. Will the Leader of the House—no, will Sir George—slay this dragon by ensuring that Back-Bench business is put on prime days of the week?

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. There are no dark forces whatsoever in this Government. We are all enlightened people determined to strengthen Parliament. I repeat for my hon. Friend the assurance I gave to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel). We are aware of the Backbench Business Committee’s concern to get access to other days of the week. We will bear that in mind when we take future decisions about which days to allocate to that Committee.

Can we have a debate on the Harper doctrine after the jaw-droppingly complacent performance by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) yesterday when he announced from the Dispatch Box that in future there will no longer be any penalty for anyone who fails to register to vote? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that some of us are starting to wonder whether there are certain citizens whom this Government do not want on the electoral register?

I heard my hon. Friend make that statement—and my jaw did not drop. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the legislation that his Government introduced on individual voter registration, he would find that there was no legal duty to register. That was the position under his Government; we are going to do exactly the same.

Earlier this morning, I met Karen Rastall, the chairman of Shoreline Housing, the principal registered social landlord in my constituency. She explained the difficulty that social landlords have in giving work to small businesses because of the criteria laid down for contractors, such as holding the Investors in People certificate. At a time when small businesses up and down the country are finding things extremely difficult, could the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the restrictions placed on social landlords?

I understand my hon. Friend’s point that local housing associations would like to allocate work to local builders to save them having to go through the problems of the process he has just outlined. I will, of course, draw his concern to the Minister for Housing and Local Government, but one has to strike a balance between on the one hand encouraging firms to register for IiP and have the requisite qualifications, and on the other hand seeking to pursue the objectives that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

With a skill that, frankly, a Jesuit in the Vatican would admire, the Leader of the House glossed over the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday about the EU sex slave trafficking directive, in which he said:

“We have put everything that is in the directive in place.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 873.]

However, I have the directive here, and it says that it allows

“extraterritorial jurisdiction (the possibility to prosecute EU nationals for crimes committed in other countries”,

which is not in our law. The Prime Minister, I think, inadvertently misled the House. I welcome the debate on 14 October, but will the Leader of the House talk to the responsible Minister and persuade him that opting in is the best thing that the UK can do, instead of standing on the side of the pimps and traffickers?

The right hon. Gentleman may say that the Prime Minister was wrong, but I will of course pass on his request that the anti-slavery debate should deal with the specific question of whether the directive—if we signed up to it—would add value to the provisions that we already have in UK law.

Can the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on witness anonymity? I have been contacted by two law-abiding constituents, Don and Anita Horton, who have suffered terrible harassment for four years because they reported a suspected benefits fraudster and the Department for Work and Pensions revealed their identity to him under the Criminal Justice Act 1967. My constituents did the right thing, and they should be protected by the state, not punished by it.

I am very sorry to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituents have been harassed after reporting a suspected benefits fraudster to the DWP. I think that the identity of a witness has to be known if a case is to come to trial. On the other hand, there is an issue about giving protection to witnesses, and not discouraging them from coming forward. I suggest that my hon. Friend seek a meeting with Ministers from the Ministry of Justice to establish whether we can have a look at the balance between those two imperatives.

Yesterday the Prime Minister said that public authorities should not simply resort to making “easy” cuts, but we also heard that the planned nationwide inquiry into police investigation of the crime of rape has had to be cancelled because the Home Office has removed the necessary resources from the inspectorate of constabulary. That sounds like an easy cut. May we have an urgent statement from the Government on precisely how the Prime Minister and the Cabinet define an easy cut as opposed to a difficult one?

I will bring that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. I can say, however, that Ministers in the Ministry of Justice are considering the findings of a research report on rape—in this instance, rape anonymity—and will publish it when the House returns in October.

Following the Chancellor’s statement on 20 October, would it not be helpful to the House if a series of consequential statements were made day by day, Department by Department, so that Members could quiz Ministers on where the future cuts are likely to have an impact?

My hon. Friend is right to make the point that the comprehensive spending review will be one of the most important statements made in the current Parliament, because it will set the parameters for public expenditure for the next few years. It is absolutely right that the House should have an opportunity to debate the CSR and its consequences. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Backbench Business Committee. I should like to reflect with the Committee on how we can best achieve the objective of providing adequate time for the House to debate the CSR and hold the Government to account.

When may we have a debate in Government time on the proposal to establish a review of the UK’s extradition arrangements, including the precise terms of reference, and the name of the former Law Lord who will chair the review? Will the Leader of the House also ask the Home Secretary when we can have a decision on the case of Gary McKinnon?

I hope that it will be possible for one of my right hon. Friends to answer all the right hon. Gentleman’s questions without his having to wait for a full day’s debate.

Would it be possible to find time before the spending review to discuss the vital importance of public transport investment in the UK, especially given that this week Nottingham was named in a survey as the least car-dependent city in England, partly thanks to our nine miles of tram network and the 10 million journeys that take place on the network each year? That investment is really important, and we must keep it going.

The hon. Gentleman’s question is tied up with the CSR and the resources that will be available to the Secretary of State for Transport. However, I will convey to the Department his strong bid for continuing investment in light rail in Nottingham.

May we have a debate on Foreign Office finances before the comprehensive spending review is announced? In June the Foreign Secretary announced that there would be £55 million of Foreign Office cuts in the current financial year, and in a written ministerial statement he set out where £18 million of those cuts would be found. However, he has not told us the rest of the story. Will the BBC World Service be cut in the current financial year? Will the British Council be cut in the current financial year? Or—as has been suggested—has the Foreign Office budget received a £37 million bung from the Department for International Development, which would directly contradict what the Leader of the House said earlier about the DIFD budget being protected?

The hon. Gentleman says that we have not told the rest of the story. The people who did not tell the rest of the story were Labour Members, who went into the last election committed to a reduction of some 20% in public expenditure, while giving no indication whatsoever of where those cuts would come from. Until there is some honesty from Labour Members about how they would have confronted the legacy that they have left us, they will have absolutely no credibility on the issue.

May we have a debate on the island communities that make up the British Isles, and the positive contribution that they make in economic, social and indeed cultural terms? Such a debate would be timely, because the Government’s hybrid constituency Bill will put island communities under threat, unless an exception is made for Scottish Liberals. It is important for us to have such a debate, because although some islands are being exempted, no concessions have been made to others such as the Isle of Anglesey and the Isle of Wight.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but when the Bill is before the House there will be ample opportunity for Members to table amendments relating to the islands that he has mentioned.

With the greatest respect to the Leader of the House, his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) was completely irrelevant. The findings of the research on rape anonymity—we have been promised publication first before the recess, then in September, and now in October—are completely separate from the announcement by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which has been badgered by the Home Office, that it will not look into the way in which victims are treated by police in rape cases.

I think that the House deserves a debate on how we can secure better rape convictions, and how we can ensure that unnecessary cuts do not prevent that from happening. We have had assurances from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary about the seriousness with which they take the issue, but this week’s announcement in the press—not in the House—did not make that clear.

I understand the strong feelings on both sides of the House about the issue of rape, and I will ensure that the Home Secretary contacts the right hon. Lady in the near future to answer the question that she has raised about the report. I accept that that is different from the answer I gave to an earlier question. The right hon. Lady is entitled to an answer, and I will ensure that she receives one.

I am looking forward to presenting a ten-minute Bill on the afternoon of the comprehensive spending review. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than our returning to the days when Members slept outside an office in sleeping bags for 24 or 48 hours, it would be appropriate for slots to be allocated by the Backbench Business Committee?

It sounds as though my hon. Friend will have a very good attendance for his ten-minute Bill on 20 October. He has raised an important issue, and I hope that either the Backbench Business Committee or the Procedure Committee will see whether there is a better way of allocating those slots. My initial response, however, is that it is a matter for the Procedure Committee rather than the Government.

I am told that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions informed a Select Committee yesterday that the announcement of a £4 billion cut in welfare spending was nothing to do with him. May we have a debate on who exactly is responsible for welfare spending and welfare reform? Is it the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions gave evidence to the Select Committee at length yesterday, and he dealt with those issues then. We also heard a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer about welfare reform on Monday. The position is that some 30% of public expenditure is on welfare, and there is no way we can balance the books without examining that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has recognised that he will have to make some savings in his budget, and the House will have to await the outcome of the CSR to discover his conclusions.

I learned this morning that the Blake maternity unit at Gosport war memorial hospital will be closed for a few months over the winter, and I am very concerned that as budget cuts kick in maternity services throughout the UK will be affected, particularly small midwife-led maternity units in remote parts of the country. May we have a debate on maternity services throughout the UK?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and she may like to pursue the matter with the primary care trust in her constituency. She will know that this Government, unlike the previous one, have proposed to exempt the health service from the economies we have been talking about, so there is a better chance of making progress on the issues to which my hon. Friend refers under this Government than under a different one.