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Business of the House

Volume 516: debated on Thursday 14 October 2010

The business for the week commencing 18 October will be as follows:

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

Tuesday 19 October—My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement on the strategic defence and security review, followed by proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill (Day 3).

Wednesday 20 October—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer plans 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.

The provisional business for the week commencing 25 October will include:

Monday 25 October—Proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and -Constituencies Bill (Day 5).

Tuesday 26 October—Second Reading of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill.

Wednesday 27 October—Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to economic policy co-ordination.

Thursday 28 October—General debate on the comprehensive spending review.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 28 October will be:

Thursday 28 October—A debate on the internet and privacy.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. May I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) and pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton). The House will be pleased to know that she has moved one seat along on our Front Bench, as a reward.

Mr Speaker, you have been clear and consistent with Ministers in saying that they must make major policy announcements to this House. On 9 September, the Leader of the House assured us that the Government would adhere to the ministerial code in this respect. Over the weekend, however, the findings of Lord Browne’s report on tuition fees were extensively leaked to the media, and this morning we heard the Minister for the Cabinet Office talking to the “Today” programme about the future of public bodies before talking to us. It seems that Mr Holmes and Dr Watson, as I understand the Leader of the House and his deputy were christened by my predecessor, have made no progress at all in dealing with this serial problem.

Following Tuesday’s statement, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Browne report, so that Liberal Democrat Members in particular—who, before the election, knowing about the deficit, signed solemn pledges to vote against lifting the cap on fees—can tell us whether they now intend to follow the Deputy Prime Minister and the Business Secretary in ripping up their pledges? I think that their constituents deserve an answer.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also find time for a debate on the decision to take child benefit away from so many middle-income families while leaving it in place for households earning nearly twice as much? It is unfair, it is unjust, and no credible explanation has been offered. We certainly heard none from the Prime Minister yesterday. Given the Prime Minister’s inability to answer the Leader of the Opposition’s perfectly straightforward question about the number of families who would be affected, will the Leader of the House ask him to do his homework, and place the information in the Library so that we can obtain the full facts and then have a debate? I am sure that that would be welcomed by the many members of the Cabinet who clearly had no idea that the decision had been made, because the Chancellor decided to tell the media before he told them. Should not the House show some compassion to those unfortunate individuals by giving them the chance denied by the occupant of No. 11 to tell us what they think about this terrible policy?

Earlier this year the Prime Minister said that the comprehensive spending review

“will affect our economy, our society—indeed our whole way of life…for years, perhaps decades, to come.”

In the light of that, a single day’s debate is wholly inadequate. Given the scale and extent of the cuts, the House must have the time that it needs to discuss the implications for the people whom we all represent. Will the Leader of the House provide that opportunity, and will he confirm that the House will have a chance to vote on the comprehensive spending review?

While the Leader of the House is thinking about his answer to that question, will he explain why he has not yet made time available for an Opposition day debate? Is it because he fears the holding of such a debate while all these bad decisions are being made? Can he also tell us why the Defence Secretary will not be making next week’s statement on the strategic defence review? Is it because the Government are afraid of allowing that as well, given the Defence Secretary’s well-publicised views?

Can the Leader of the House clear up the confusion about a statement on cold weather payments? On Monday the legislation was laid without the clause on higher-rate payments of £25 a week, and yesterday the Prime Minister refused to guarantee their future, saying that an announcement would be made next week. Today’s Guardian quotes Government sources saying a whole load of contradictory things. When will this shambles come to an end, so that the people who rely on those payments can have the peace of mind that they deserve?

Finally, can the Leader of the House tell us what chance the House will have to discuss the work of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in time to inform the current review, given the bureaucratic burden that it continues to place on all Members, and the cost of its operations to the taxpayer? Does he not agree that Members’ time should really be spent holding the Government to account, rather than doing accounts?

First, let me join the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) in paying tribute to the former shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton). She brought a ray of sunshine into the Chamber at 11.30 every Thursday, which will now illuminate the dark recesses of the Whips Office. We wish her luck in her new disciplinary role of enforcing Opposition policies, the moment they have some.

I welcome the new shadow Leader of the House to his post. He has inherited from his father a deep affection for, and commitment to, the House of Commons, which will stand him in good stead in the job that he now does. We learnt from the excellent diaries of Chris Mullin that the right hon. Gentleman was once eyed as a contender to succeed Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2005. The House will be disappointed that he did not throw his hat into the ring. There was a time when there was always a Benn on the ballot paper. I look forward to working with the right hon. Gentleman and his new deputy, the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones), in our efforts to strengthen the House.

Let me now deal with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are making four statements this week, including the one that is to follow the business statement. We have averaged 2.8 statements per week: we have been very forthcoming in making statements to the House.

The Browne report was Lord Browne’s report; it was not the Government’s report. The moment it was available, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary came to the House and made a statement. I am sure the House will want to debate the report, and in addition to my Liberal Democrat friends clarifying their view, I hope that the Labour Opposition will explain exactly where they stand on student finance, because there is open warfare between the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary.

Our proposed child benefit changes are scheduled to be introduced in 2013, and there will be an opportunity to debate them. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned one injustice between two high-income households, but there is another injustice that he did not address: that between households on much lower incomes who are paying standard rate tax, and through that tax are subsidising the child benefit of higher rate payers. I thought the Labour party stood for the many, not the few.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the comprehensive spending review is an important issue, which is why the Government have found time for a debate, notwithstanding the Wright report recommendations, which implied that debates on spending reviews should be secured by the Backbench Business Committee. I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about making time available for a second day of debate, and the Chairman of the Committee has no doubt also noted that bid.

The Opposition will get their full quota of Opposition days, and in view of the extended length of the current Session we would be happy to enter into a dialogue on how we might increase the quota to reflect that additional sitting time.

On cold weather payments, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, the statement about the rate will be made after the CSR. We are committed to making cold weather payments to those on low incomes when the weather demands it.

I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the fact that it is the Prime Minister who is to make the statement on the strategic defence review, instead of complaining about it. Could there be a subject of higher priority on which the Prime Minister might address the House?

On the question about IPSA, I am not sure that the Government would want to find time for that debate, but it is perfectly open to the Backbench Business Committee, which has a quota of approximately one day per week, to find time for such a debate if the issue is thought to be a priority.

Order. A large number of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As colleagues will be aware, ordinarily I seek to ensure that all Members who wish to do so can participate, but I give notice that that is extremely unlikely today in view of the pressure on parliamentary time and the very important Back-Bench business that is to follow. I therefore merely reiterate my usual exhortation to Members to stick to single, short supplementary questions, and to the Leader of the House to demonstrate his typical pithiness in reply.

Why do we still have to go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back every autumn, thereby plunging the nation into darkness by mid-afternoon? Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the Government will not seek to talk out the private Member’s Bill on this subject that is due to come before the House shortly? If he does as I ask, I suspect the only opponents will be a handful of Scots. If that is the case, should they not be told, “You’ve got your own Parliament. If you don’t like it, go away and give yourselves your own time zone”?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that, and I note the suggestion of independence in respect of the time zone. If he looks at the record, he will find that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) introduced a private Member’s Bill in, I think, the last Parliament, and if he looks at the Hansard account of its Second Reading debate he will find a speech that I made setting out my views. Notwithstanding that, when the current Bill’s turn comes to be debated, my ministerial colleague who will be responding for the Government will make the Government’s position clear, and I will pass on my right hon. Friend’s strong views.

At the Commonwealth games closing ceremony in a few hours’ time, Prince Edward will be sitting alongside the head of a regime accused of war crimes: President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on whether the Commonwealth should be giving succour in that way to countries with such appalling human rights records, and on whether allowing a member of Britain’s royal family to sit next to Sri Lanka’s leader represents a change in Britain’s foreign policy to one that puts trade considerations ahead of human rights?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, and I understand the strength of feeling. I will draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and ask him to write to her with a response to the points that she has just raised.

The Leader of the House has given us the business until Thursday 28 October. The day after that, Friday 29 October, this House will be used for the second time for the UK Youth Parliament to hold a day of debate. I am sure that many hon. Members will be delighted to see that, as will I as a trustee of that organisation. I wonder whether this would be an appropriate time for this House to debate the important issue of how we can get more young people better involved in the political process, as that is something that everybody wants.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the fact that the Youth Parliament will sit in this Chamber on that date, and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be representing the Government. If the sitting is anything like last year’s, it will be a fantastic success. I agree with her on the importance of engaging young people in the political process. I think it would be worth while to have a debate, and she can either apply for one in Westminster Hall or catch the eye of the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee at one of her Wednesday sittings.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is estimated that there will be 1,000 job losses in every university in this country if we have the predicted cuts in university budgets? Is it not about time we had a serious debate on this essential element of our prosperity in this country?

The Government will be spending some £90 million on universities and student support this year. The hon. Gentleman will know that this was not a protected area for the outgoing Labour Government; they had pencilled in cuts of some 20% for that budget, and we need to bear that in mind. He will have to await the outcome of the comprehensive spending review to see the resources that we are making available to the universities in the next three years.[Official Report, 2 November 2010, Vol. 517, c. 10MC.]

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on fire safety linked to building regulations and materials? According to the chief fire officer for Kent, it takes a matter of minutes from ignition to collapse, and the lives of fire officers and members of the public are thereby endangered.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue about the safety of those in buildings. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and see whether he can respond to the point that my hon. Friend has made.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Ministry of Defence when it plans to come to give a statement on the compensation payments for nuclear test veterans? We have now been waiting five months for this Government to get their proverbial finger out and make a decision.

I am sorry if there has been any discourtesy in not making information available to the House. I will contact the Secretary of State for Defence today and see whether we can expedite an answer.

One of my constituents recently brought to my attention an extraordinary, but perfectly legal, tax avoidance scheme that shocked me as well as him. I am in favour of tax incentives for growth, but this particular scheme does nothing for growth. Given the welcome recent pronouncements on tax avoidance from the Treasury, will the Leader of the House consider having a debate where Members could highlight such schemes so that the Treasury could indeed make a bonfire of them?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Government are committed to tackling tax avoidance and we welcome any debate on the subject. The best way to deal with such schemes is to bring them to the attention of my ministerial colleagues at the Treasury. The Government are making improvements to a scheme called DOTAS—Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes—with which I am sure my hon. Friend is familiar, so that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs receives better and earlier information about tax avoidance schemes.

I hope that the Leader of the House will be aware of the collapse of Crown Currency Exchange, which has left people across the country, including some of my constituents, hundreds or even thousands of pounds out of pocket. Will he encourage Ministers to investigate the collapse, and in particular the fact that the company continued to accept currency orders when it had already gone bust? Will he also allow time for a debate on such matters?

In common with many other Members of the House, I too have constituents who have lost money through Crown Currency Exchange. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Financial Services Authority does not regulate retail foreign exchange services, so it did not regulate in any way the business of Crown Currency Exchange. The business model was exceptional and involved taking forward risks. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my colleagues in the Treasury to see whether there is any further legislative action that the Government might take.

The House will know of the wholly wrong-headed proposals made by the Sentencing Guidelines Council for a reduction in sentences for violent crime. Given that today we are examining the abolition of a number of out-of-touch and superfluous quangos, may I add the Sentencing Guidelines Council to that list?

My hon. Friend is right that the Sentencing Guidelines Council has made some proposals that would impact on short sentences. The Government’s view is that short sentences are appropriate in many cases, particularly those that involve assault, and the Government will respond in due course to the views of the council.

Hull has already seen the withdrawal of the university of Lincoln from its Hull campus. I am particularly concerned about the Browne recommendations on funding and their effect on Hull university. Will the Leader of the House make space in Government time for us to debate the effects on local constituencies of the withdrawal of funding to higher education institutions?

The hon. Lady makes a serious point. I am sure that the House will want to debate, in due course, the recommendations of the Browne report. When we have details of how much is being made available in resources for next year, there might be an opportunity in the debate on the CSR to make the point that the hon. Lady has just made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the necessary upheaval caused by the important work going on in many constituencies to amalgamate several special needs schools, their transfer on to the site often of other big schools and the traffic chaos that can ensue, understandably but regrettably? Will my right hon. Friend consult the Department for Transport to see whether there is an opportunity for a debate with Ministers from both the Department for Transport and the Department for Education to try to hammer out some of those difficulties and see whether a more effective protocol could be found?

My hon. Friend makes a forceful point, and that sounds to me an ideal topic for a debate in Westminster Hall. I know that many local education authorities, when they are considering the amalgamation of schools or the construction of new schools, take into account the traffic that would be generated. Sometimes they make it a condition for approval of the expansion of a school that there should be a green transport to school policy. I can only encourage my hon. Friend to make a bid for a debate in Westminster Hall.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the Government’s significant decision to allow deep-water drilling off the west of Shetland, a decision that raises serious environmental concerns, and which was slipped out at a time when the House was not sitting and the relevant Select Committee had not yet reported, and the US investigation into the gulf of Mexico disaster still is not complete?

I am not sure whether that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change or whether it falls to the Scottish Administration to resolve it. I shall make some inquiries and ensure that the hon. Lady gets an answer.

When does my right hon. Friend expect Parliament square to be cleared of demonstrators? Is he aware that the situation is worse than it was in the summer, with 20 illegally placed tents on the pavement meaning that nobody can use the square at all? When is he going to deal with this situation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for once again raising this issue. I support the action that the Mayor of London took a few months ago to clear the green in the middle of the square, and I hope that that area will be restored to the condition in which it used to be. In the meantime, the camps have simply moved to the pavement. That is wholly unacceptable, and it is not what one should see in the centre of an historic capital city. We are going to consider legislation in the forthcoming Home Office Bill to put the situation right.

May we have a debate on the Air Force’s view that if it faces cuts, it is quite likely that it will be unable to protect Britain in the case of a 9/11-type attack in the future?

I said in my business statement that the Prime Minister would make a statement on the strategic defence and security review. I expect that there will be a debate shortly after that in which the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise his concerns.

As the Government strategy rests on raising £176 billion a year more tax at the end of this Parliament than last year, may we have an early debate on economic growth, the measures the Government can take to promote it, and how we can lift spirits in this country so that that is feasible?

My right hon. Friend will know that we have already introduced a number of measures to promote growth, such as reducing corporation tax and encouraging the establishment of new businesses in certain regions of the country. I hope that on the back of the CSR he will have the opportunity to make his points in the debate that I have just announced.

May we debate early-day motion 805 on the brutal, unfair and irrational proposal that would deny Wales and the west of England our only regional passport office and destroy the jobs of 250 loyal workers, who were recently commended by a Minister for their splendid can-do attitude?

[That this House regrets the proposal to close the Newport Regional Passport Office which would result in the loss of 300 jobs and leave Wales and West of England without the services currently available only from regional offices; notes the closure would make Wales the only devolved nation in the UK without a regional office; welcomes the Newport passport workers’ commendation for the high quality of their work and their can-do co-operation when faced with the new challenges; believes that moving work and jobs from Wales to London damagingly reverses the 50-year all-party policy of relocating public sector jobs from the South East of England to areas of high unemployment; and calls for the withdrawal of this irrational, wasteful proposal.]

Of course I understand the local concern about the proposed closure of the passport office in Newport. I will share that concern with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, so that she is aware of it, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

May we have a debate on the purpose and adequacy of the Office of Fair Trading, which today issued an extraordinary conclusion on the beer tie and the pub companies, whose conduct was widely criticised by the then Select Committee on Business and Enterprise? That criticism has been accepted by the previous Government and by this Government. May we have a debate on this important subject to see whether that body is fit for purpose?

I commend the work that the hon. Gentleman in the last Parliament did to safeguard pubs up and down the country. The question of the OFT might arise in the statement to be made shortly by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Earlier in the week, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said that it was a “constructive” suggestion from Sir Philip Green for the Government to save money by delaying payments to suppliers for up to 45 days. Small and medium-sized enterprises will find that highly concerning, as they work hard to prosper in these difficult times. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement on this issue to clarify the situation?

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the scope of our health and safety legislation, because it appears that now even the Scouts are being prevented from enjoying their usual games and activities?

As a former Scout, I would regret any curtailment of the activities that I used to indulge in. I shall raise my hon. Friend’s concerns with the appropriate Minister and get a reply.

May we have a debate in Government time on the need to update copyright law, especially to protect small businesses such as The Priory, which is a hair and skin clinic in Bridgend? It inadvertently downloaded from the internet images that were not properly identified and has subsequently faced horrendous bills from Getty Images demanding that it make exorbitant payment for the accidental use of ill-marked images—

It is disgraceful, as my hon. Friend says, and is damaging a number of small businesses that cannot afford to take legal action to protect themselves.

I share the hon. Lady’s concern. I thought that there had been legislation relatively recently to address that problem, but if there is a loophole in it, I shall raise that with my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

May we have an urgent debate on Burma? With the Burmese elections due on 7 November, does the Leader of the House agree that those elections need to be free and fair, and that if the Burmese regime is serious about engaging with the international community, it needs to honour its pledge and release Aung San Suu Kyi?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend’s point about the release, and I know that the British Government share that concern. He will have an opportunity on 16 November to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about this. Alternatively, he can apply for a debate in Westminster Hall or through the Backbench Business Committee.

I would like to ask the Leader of the House for a debate on the real consequences for women of the proposed loss of child benefit—just one example of which would be the effect on their state pensions.

The hon. Lady raises a legitimate point about whether the loss of child benefit will have an impact on the entitlement to a state retirement pension in the wife’s own right, and that is something that we will want to consider.

Thanks to a bizarre decision by the Planning Inspectorate, next year Tamworth faces the prospect of severe traffic chaos and potentially long-term congestion thereafter. Will my right hon. Friend give an indication of when it will be the business of this House to abolish the Planning Inspectorate and devolve power to local planning decision makers? In the course of that debate, will we be able to discuss and review some of the decisions made by the inspectorate that have yet to be implemented?

My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to address those concerns when we reach the localism Bill. We have no plans to abolish the Planning Inspectorate, which allows individuals a right of appeal against refusals by local authorities, but against that background we want to push down decisions, such as those that were previously taken by regional bodies, to a local level.

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 742, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy).

[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for Wales to propose a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss the implications for Wales of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.]

Under current proposals, Wales will lose 25% of its parliamentary seats, yet there will be little time for discussion on the Floor of the House of the implications of that for Wales. Will the Leader of the House discuss that matter further with the Secretary of State for Wales, so that legitimate questions and grievances in Wales are given a proper hearing in the Welsh Grand Committee?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has written to all Welsh Members setting out her decision not to refer the matter to the Welsh Grand Committee. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is the Minister with responsibility for political and constitutional issues, is giving evidence today to the Welsh Affairs Committee. The hon. Gentleman will also know that one reason why the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is being taken on the Floor of the House is to allow Members from all parts of the UK to make their contributions. We have provided five days for debate in Committee of the whole House and two days on Report, which is an adequate opportunity for all Members to make their points. The specific issues concerning Wales arise under clause 11, and I hope that he will have an opportunity to contribute to that debate.

May we have a debate on plans by the banks to phase out the cheque? Cheque guarantee cards are due to be phased out in June next year, which will cause enough problems, but that will be nothing compared with the problems that will be caused for small business people, charities, the housebound, pensioners and many others. They will suffer for the convenience of bankers, who seem to have forgotten what customer service is.

My hon. Friend has raised concerns that are felt in constituencies represented on both sides of the House. As I understand it, the Payments Council announced last year that it had set a provisional date of 2018 to close the cheque-clearing system, and it is keen to hear as many views as possible. I also agree that that would be a perfectly legitimate subject for a debate. Perhaps she will contact the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and see whether it catches her eye.

Will the Leader of the House confirm whether we can expect a statement on Monday by either the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary on the review of foreign and security policy? Does he share my concern at reports that that will be done by a written statement rather than by an oral statement in the House, which would be subject to proper scrutiny?

I announced in my business statement that the Prime Minister will make a statement on the strategic defence and security review, and I announced a further statement by the Chancellor; I did not announce any other ones.

Earlier this week, we witnessed the spectacle of the unapologetic chief executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs admitting to even more mistakes with PAYE and trying to justify a £50,000 a month fat cat salary to the head of IT in that bureaucratic organisation. At the same time, she refused to take any responsibility for the misery that that organisation is causing my constituents. May we have a debate in Government time on that organisation’s failure to be more accountable and transparent?

Evidence has been given to the Public Accounts Committee by HMRC. The Government want to see the PAC report on HMRC before responding in due course. I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend’s criticisms.

May we have a debate on the implications of the Government’s changes to housing benefit? Many Members have raised serious concerns about the impact of those changes on driving up homelessness. In constituencies such as mine, where more than half of housing benefit claimants are over 60, the changes will hit pensioners particularly hard. In addition, the Government have been extremely unclear about the effect that the changes will have on homelessness provision, such as hostels and women’s refuges.

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern. There was a debate on housing benefit in Westminster Hall yesterday, but I am not sure whether she was able to attend. The proposed changes will require legislation, and there will be an opportunity as the legislation goes through Parliament to raise the issues that she touches on.

May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on the dreadful—I mean dreadful—state of much of the education in our youth offenders institutions?

There may be an opportunity to raise that particular subject at Justice questions, or it may be an appropriate topic for a debate. In the meantime, I will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Justice to my hon. Friend’s concern.

Will the Leader of the House inform us when we will get a statement on the future of the BBC World Service, particularly given my understanding that it is being treated not as a non-departmental public body or as a quango in the traditional sense, but as an arm’s length organisation? The matter is particularly important given the work that the BBC World Service does around the globe.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to the work of the BBC World Service. It may be that that issue is better debated after next Wednesday’s CSR.

I was selected as a parliamentary candidate by virtue of an open primary. The coalition agreement includes a proposal to conduct 200 all-postal primaries during this Parliament. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on progress on that issue?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House that the coalition agreement includes a commitment to fund 200 all-postal primaries over the course of this Parliament as part of our overall programme of reform to make our politics more accountable. As he knows, we have already embarked on a major programme of constitutional reform. We are considering how best to take forward the proposal on all-postal primaries in the light of other changes that will impact on our electoral process.

Can we have a debate in Government time on the appointment yesterday of the Prime Minister’s new military assistant, to clarify not only the role of the Chief of the Defence Staff, but, more importantly, the role of Her Majesty the Queen as head of the armed forces? Yesterday, the justification from No. 10 was that both President Sarkozy and President Obama have military advisers and therefore so should our Prime Minister, which does not recognise the fact that they are Heads of State, unlike him.

I am sure that the Prime Minister is entitled to military advice. I will give the Prime Minister notice that after his statement on Tuesday he can expect a question along those lines from the hon. Gentleman.

Last night, there was an absolutely splendid debate in the House: the Government Benches were packed; 44 Members spoke; and parliamentary history was made when for the first time the Government accepted an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) on a European matter. However, the Opposition Benches were empty—Opposition Members were absent without leave. Will the Leader of the House encourage the Opposition to hold the Government to account?

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) was, of course, here. I am sorry that Opposition Members were not here, because they missed a first-class performance by the Economic Secretary. They also missed a moment of history, when, for the first time in my life, I voted for an amendment on Europe tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone.

In light of the huge threat to hundreds of voluntary and community groups in my constituency and across the country because of cuts imposed by the Government, may we have a debate on the Government’s vision for the big society?

I say very gently to the hon. Lady that the cuts imposed by the Government—to use her words—are necessary because of the deficit that we inherited from the previous Labour Government, who had pencilled in 20% cuts. Until Labour Members are much more open than they have been to date about how they would deal with the deficit, they have no credibility whatsoever on financial issues.

The cull of quangos is welcome in enhancing accountability, but the corollary is that that accountability must go to Secretaries of State and Departments. Will my right hon. Friend instruct the Table Office and the departmental parliamentary Clerks to be more welcoming on the tabling of written questions to Departments? There should be a general principle that if a Department spends money on it, we should be able to ask questions about it.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, which relates to the announcement in the written ministerial statement that Ministers will have direct responsibility for a number of issues that were previously covered by quangos. It follows from that that there should be a change in process at the Table Office to recognise the changes announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

The Government efficiency tsar, Sir Philip Green, is famously efficient in organising his own tax affairs. May I add my voice to the clamour from across the House for a debate on the antisocial behaviour of tax avoiders?

I think that that issue was raised and dealt with by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in departmental questions. As I said in reply to one of my hon. Friends, we welcome the initiatives of HMRC to close down tax avoidance. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific scheme in mind, perhaps he would like to contact the Treasury.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on houses in multiple occupancy owned by private landlords? A constituent of mine, Mrs Sullivan, has talked to me in my surgery about overcrowding and antisocial behaviour in some HMOs in Harlow that are becoming an urgent problem.

Local authorities have fairly extensive powers in relation to HMOs. My hon. Friend might want to establish whether his local authority is using those powers. If he believes that there is a deficiency in the powers available to local authorities, I would be happy to raise that issue with my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider having a word with the Secretary of State for Wales about holding a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee? I cannot remember an occasion in recent years on which there has been overwhelming demand for such a meeting and it has been denied by the Secretary of State. Not even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), who is in his place, would have done such a thing when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Rather than just face me down at this point, will the Leader of the House agree to have a word with her and to think again?

The Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister with responsibility for political and constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) discussed the Bill’s provisions and their effect on Wales with Members who represent Welsh constituencies at a recent meeting in the House. The Secretary of State has set out her reasons for not acceding to the request of the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy). There are Welsh-specific clauses in the Bill that will provide adequate opportunities for Members from Wales to have the same opportunity as other Members to raise their concerns in the House.

The regulators are placing great demands on the banks to build up capital reserves while, as we learned today, 125,000 small businesses are in danger of going to the wall. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time so that we can talk about ways of unlocking that money to ensure that small businesses can play their part in ensuring the success of the Budget strategy?

Of course the banks, particularly those in which the Government have a substantial stake, should help to promote recovery by lending to small businesses that have worthwhile propositions. I am not sure that there is a total contradiction between rebuilding the balance sheets on the one hand and lending to small businesses on the other. If one has a robust balance sheet, it should be possible to make more provision for lending.

It is quite clear that the comprehensive spending review will mean massive consequential cuts for the funding of the Scottish Government. We understand that a dirty deal has been done between the Conservatives and their new Scottish National party allies to postpone those cuts for one year. What will the Leader of the House do to ensure that the figures are published so that people will know what the double-whammy cuts will be in the second year, and how will they be scrutinised by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs or the Scottish Grand Committee?

The hon. Gentleman must await the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer next Wednesday. Perhaps he will catch your eye, Mr Speaker, and ask questions about the consequences for Scotland of the overall settlement in the UK.

May we have a debate about the recent Commission for Rural Communities report that highlighted major issues with access to services in rural North Yorkshire?

I have a rural constituency, like my hon. Friend, in which it is often more difficult to provide a range of services. I hope that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee, who heard that question, will add it to her list of bids.

My constituent James Goodman is a hard-working electrician who has invested in property in Egypt only to find that local builders have seized that property. His only advice from the embassy has been to get a lawyer. He has done that, and it has cost him more than £9,000. The Russian Government have looked after their citizens and have made representations to the Egyptian Government. May we have an early debate on what this Government are going to do to protect British citizens abroad?

I am sorry to hear what has happened to the hon. Lady’s constituent. I suggest that she applies for an Adjournment debate and seeks the support of a Foreign Office Minister in the cause that she has just espoused.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Despite what the Leader of the House said earlier, the rate at which emergency cold weather payments will be made this year was fixed on Monday when the regulations were made. As things stand, 4 million of Britain’s poorest families and pensioners are to have their benefits cut by two thirds and to receive just £8.50. Should not the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions come to the House at the earliest opportunity to clear up this shambles?

The rate of payment will be announced in the spending review next week. We are committed to helping vulnerable people and we will continue to make cold weather payments as and when they may be triggered, but we will not comment on the rate of those payments ahead of the spending review.

I am extremely grateful both to the Leader of the House and to all colleagues whose succinctness has meant that all 44 hon. Members who wished to question the Leader of the House have had the chance to do so. That shows what can be done when we put our minds to it.