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Business of the House

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 11 November 2010

The business for the week commencing 15 November will include:

Monday 15 November—Second Reading of the Terrorist Asset-Freezing Etc. Bill [Lords], followed by a motion to approve a money resolution on the Sports Grounds Safety Authority Bill. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister plans to make a statement on the G20.

Tuesday 16 November—Consideration in Committee of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (Day 1).

Wednesday 17 November—Opposition Day [6th Allotted Day]. In the first part there will be a debate on health, followed by a debate on education. The precise titles are to be confirmed. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion. That will be followed by a motion to approve the draft Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2010 and the draft Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2010.

Thursday 18 November—A debate on immigration. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 19 November—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 22 November will include:

Monday 22 November—Remaining stages of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill.

Tuesday 23 November—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Wednesday 24 November—Consideration in Committee of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill (Day 2), followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) Order 2010.

Thursday 25 November—Remaining stages of the Local Government Bill [Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 November will be: impact of the comprehensive spending review on the Department for Transport.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

As we have just observed the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I am sure all of us present would wish to honour and remember those, including former Members and staff of this House, who have given their lives in the service of our country.

Next Tuesday we will consider the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House. Can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be injury time if there are any urgent questions or statements ? Also next week, we understand that the Deputy Prime Minister will make a speech about constitutional reform. Can we have a statement on whether this will cover restoring trust in politics, given the enormous sense of betrayal felt by many people who voted Lib Dem last May?

Before the election the Lib Dems made everything of their pledge to vote against the lifting of the cap on tuition fees, but after the election they could not dump it fast enough. This morning, we hear that the Deputy Prime Minister has said that he

“should have been more careful”

about signing the pledge. Anyone hearing that would think that some dodgy bloke had come up to him in the street and badgered him into signing it, whereas in fact the Deputy Prime Minister invented the pledge, was photographed holding the pledge, and even produced a video of himself making the pledge. He knew exactly what he was doing. Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that there will be no vote on any orders to lift the cap on fees before the promised White Paper has been published?

On the cuts in funding for higher education, I asked the Leader of the House last week whether the statement made by the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning that the Government

“will continue to support the arts through the subsidy for teaching in universities”—[Official Report, 3 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 315WH.]

was accurate or not, given that it did not square with what his boss had said. Yesterday, when asked specifically about this, the Deputy Prime Minister said:

“The statement we made was very clear.”—[Official Report, 10 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 285.]

That did not really help the House, because our problem is that two different statements of policy have been given by two different Ministers in the same Department. I am sure the Leader of the House has looked carefully into this since last week, so can we now have a definitive statement to clear up this mess?

On school sport, 20 years ago the previous Conservative Government, of whom the Leader of the House was a member, took great pride in selling off school playing fields. Under the Labour Government, by contrast, there was an increase in the time devoted to sport in schools. Given the importance that those on both sides of the House place on the Olympics and their legacy, can we have a statement on how the Government plan to increase participation in sport by young people when they are getting rid of the grant to the Youth Sport Trust?

I come now to the talk of cuts, the need for everyone to tighten their belts and the civil service recruitment freeze—in other words, the big picture. Following the Leader of the House’s answer last week on the Prime Minister’s personal photographer, who it turns out did not make the trip to China—it is true; he has been left behind, with the Foreign Secretary—it is reported that among those who have now also been put on the civil service payroll by the Prime Minister are a former Conservative candidate, a former fashion PR, and the former head of brand communications, whatever that is, at the Tory party. May we have a statement on whether the reports of those appointments are true?

Finally, we have all admired the painfully honest admission by the Children’s Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), that

“most people don’t know what the Big Society really means, least of all the unfortunate ministers who have to articulate it.”

In complete contrast, is the Leader of the House aware that the jargon-ridden statement made by the unfortunate Minister of State, Cabinet Office on Monday caused great consternation on both sides of the House? I know that the Leader of the House is a compassionate man, so can he put us all out of our misery, stand up at the Dispatch Box and—keeping an absolutely straight face—explain to the House: what on earth is a horizon shift?

May I begin by endorsing what the right hon. Gentleman just said? You, Mr Speaker, and many Members were in the House at 11 o’clock, when we remembered those who had died. In the forefront of our minds were the recent casualties who sacrificed their lives for the security of our nation. We must remember them, their friends and their families. Over the weekend many of us will attend Remembrance day services in our constituencies, showing our solidarity with our armed forces and our sympathy for those who have lost their lives and been injured.

Now let me turn to the issue of trust in politics. I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that his party said that it would not introduce tuition fees or top-up fees. It then proceeded to do both, so I am not sure that he is in a very strong moral position to lecture other people on what their policies should be. As he said, we are planning a debate on the Browne report before we vote on the order. I shall make inquiries about the timing of the White Paper to which he referred and get back to him.

There will be an opportunity the next time Business, Innovation and Skills questions come round for the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends to pursue the separate issues that he raised about the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and support for the arts.

On the question of selling off sports grounds and time spent on sport, I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman was comparing like with like. If he thinks about it, those are not totally comparable activities. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and the Olympics is very anxious that we should capitalise on the 2012 Olympics in order to engage young people in sport, and I am sure that at the next Culture, Media and Sport questions there will be an opportunity to press him on that topic.

Finally, on the subject of the photographer, the right hon. Gentleman may have seen what the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) said in his blog:

“It’s not only petty to attack Dave for putting his personal photographer on the payroll. It’s daft…We need not only a PM photographer but an opposition photographer, a Downing Street photographer and a Parliamentary Photographer.”

The previous Government spent more than half a billion pounds on communications and PR, and we are cutting that by two thirds. The people to whom the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) referred are brought in to do specific tasks, when it would be more expensive to hire them on a freelance basis day by day.

The big society means volunteers and their local community complementing what is done by central Government.

Order. As usual, a very large number of hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have two further important statements to follow, and a Backbench Business Committee debate that is heavily subscribed, so if I am to accommodate as many people as possible, brevity from those on the Back Benches and the Front Bench alike is required.

This House needs an emergency debate. What we saw happen yesterday was deplorable. We saw National Union of Students officials egging the crowd on, although today Aaron Porter, the president of the NUS, is attempting to remove himself from the situation. We need to know whether the police were incompetent or badly briefed. Yesterday somebody could very easily have died. The behaviour of the NUS officials and stewards on the ground was deplorable, and we need a debate in the Chamber to discuss that matter.

I entirely share the views that my hon. Friend has just expressed. She will know that after the business statement there will be an oral statement by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who will be in a better position than I am to respond to the points that she has just made.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 967 in my name and those of several other hon. Members, entitled “Inspector Damian O'Reilly, Community Police Officer of the Year 2010”?

[That this House congratulates Inspector Damian O'Reilly of Greater Manchester Police on his award as nationwide winner of Community Police Officer of the Year; and believes that this richly-deserved recognition is a tribute not only to the dedicated service of Inspector O'Reilly in providing effective policing and preserving law and order but also to the work of many other members of Greater Manchester Police in serving the community.]

Will he join me and other hon. Members in congratulating Inspector O’Reilly on the superb work he does in policing, together with those who work with him in my constituency? Will he also join me in congratulating all other Greater Manchester police officers who work for their community?

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his early-day motion. I have no hesitation whatever in supporting it, and in embracing within it the additional officers to whom he referred.

Mr Speaker, I forgot to reply to the earlier question about the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and injury time. The Government do not intend to add injury time should there be a statement on that day.

May we have a debate on food labelling? Is my right hon. Friend aware that imported meat packaged here can be labelled and sold as British, and that chicken injected with salt, water and, of all things, beef protein can still be marketed as “chicken”? Should we not seek to achieve more honesty in food labelling?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It should be made absolutely clear which food is genuinely produced in the UK and which is processed in the UK having been reared somewhere else. I shall pursue his concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to see what action the Government are taking to secure the ambitions that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) and I share.

The Leader of the House has added his name to two motions on the Order Paper laid by members of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges regarding two recently published reports. When will those motions be debated on the Floor of the House, thereby allowing us to take a decision on them?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for producing those two reports. I envisage that those motions will be on the operative part of the Order Paper next week. The House can then decide whether to let them through on the nod or to debate them.

Last month the shadow Leader of the House asked for a debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and was told that the Opposition could table it as the subject of an Opposition day debate. IPSA is of concern to MPs throughout the House: it is obstructing MPs in their duties, and the equivalent of 100 full-time jobs are now dedicated simply to MPs and their staff completing forms. Is it not time that the Government initiated a debate on this subject? The Leader of the House is fully aware of what is going on.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for articulating concerns that are shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The Government have no plans to allocate a day to debating IPSA, but it is open to him to go along at 4 o’clock and put his case for a debate on IPSA, as I think one of my hon. Friends has already done. I shall see the interim chief executive of IPSA later today, and I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to him. It is the objective of IPSA to support Members of Parliament in the performance—[Interruption.]. It is the duty of IPSA to support Members of Parliament in the performance of their duties, and not to obstruct them.

My virtual constituent Richard Prescott, a lecturer in Italy, has made a claim against the university of Bergamo that started in 1994. The university is appealing the case, although the European Court of Justice has said that Italy violated the law seven times. Will the Leader of the House make urgent representations to the Minister for Europe to ensure that recognition of the rights of British citizens is speeded up?

I am sorry to hear what has happened to the hon. Lady’s constituent. I shall pass on her concerns to the Minister for Europe, but it strikes me that she might usefully apply for an Adjournment debate so that her concerns can be developed at greater length.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 971, congratulating Harlow British Legion and Harlow council on the special memorial that they have built as a tribute to fallen soldiers who have died in action since the second world war?

[That this House notes the recent memorial service at the Netteswell Memorial Garden in School Lane, Harlow, to mark the building of the new memorial to fallen soldiers who have died in action since the Second World War; believes that it is a tribute to Harlow British Legion and Harlow Council that they ensured the memorial was built; concludes that for too long at remembrance services only the names of those in action before or in the Second World War have been read out; welcomes the fact that in future, all those who have passed away since 1945 will be remembered, including those who died serving recently in Iraq and Afghanistan; and therefore commemorates the day of remembrance for the UK's brave armed forces, which is also a day of dignity for Harlow.]

Will he join me in congratulating Harlow British Legion and Harlow council and find time for a debate to commemorate servicemen and women who have died since 1945, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and of course I congratulate Harlow British Legion and Harlow council on building a special memorial to the fallen. It is particularly appropriate that my hon. Friend should have raised that particular subject today. There will be opportunities in the future—certainly between now and Christmas—to debate issues concerning our armed forces, when I hope my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to develop his case.

A debate on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 would allow me to return to the subject of the ministerial wine cellar. Foreign Office Ministers, in refusing my freedom of information appeal, have asked the deputy director of protocol and assistant marshal of the diplomatic corps to write to me to say that she considers that

“the public interest is best served by withholding the details of the stock list”.

May I ask the Leader of the House: what is he hiding in the cellar?

Neither myself nor my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House has had an opportunity to taste the products of the Government’s wine cellar. I have to say that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are probably better placed than we are to know exactly how much was invested in wine, what the vintages were—and, indeed, how much wine was consumed.

Further to his answer to me on 14 October, will the Leader of the House update the House on his discussions with the Home Secretary about sorting out the problem in Parliament square? Will specific provision be made in the forthcoming Home Office Bill to ban tents there?

I admire my hon. Friend for his persistence. He may know that there was an exchange in the House of Lords earlier this week when this very issue was touched on. The Government’s view is clear: it is not acceptable for people permanently to take over a site of national interest. We support the action taken by the Mayor to evict the democracy village from the Parliament square garden. We are working closely with Westminster city council, the Greater London authority and the police to ensure that the law supports the right to peaceful protest, but we also support the rights of others to enjoy our public spaces. As my hon. Friend said, we are considering introducing legislation to address this issue; if we do not get it spot-on first time, I am sure that we will be interested to consider any amendments that he might table.

Given that this week’s “Dispatches” programme highlighted the fact that workers were being paid £2.50 an hour and that health and safety as well as immigration rules were being flouted by dozens of companies, may we have an urgent debate on what action the Government are going to take to deal with that national scandal?

Of course the health and safety regulations should be observed, as should those on the national minimum wage. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman provide detailed examples to Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions, who would be more than happy to pursue them?

May we have a debate on support for our veterans? At 11 am this morning I joined many fellow veterans in attending the Field of Remembrance service in Westminster abbey. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the Royal British Legion, it is clear that this service is now so popular that we simply could not accommodate several hundred veterans who had travelled many miles to attend it. Will the Government work with the Royal British Legion and endeavour to make sure that in future years they can attend?

I am sorry to hear that some who travelled to Westminster abbey were unable to attend the service. Of course I will be more than happy to take this up with the Church authorities, the Royal British Legion and others to make sure that we do not have a similar problem next year.

Can the Leader of the House arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to come before the House to explain why he is holding a referendum on the alternative vote system on the same day as elections for the Scottish Parliament? I say that in the light of today’s news that the Electoral Commission in Scotland is expressing deep concern about lack of staff and resources on that day. We do not want those serious elections to be hijacked.

This House has just spent five days in Committee and two days on Report on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The House has had adequate opportunities to debate all those issues. If the hon. Gentleman has any friends in the other place—where the Bill is now—he might be able to pursue his concerns through them there.

I commend Government Whips for allowing me to serve on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments next week when it considers making changes to legislation on houses in multiple occupation, knowing that I will vote against the Government. When will all the MPs representing seats like mine have the chance to debate this very important issue?

I must tell my hon. Friend that that may be the last time the Whips put him on such a Committee—but I understand his point. Perhaps he could either put in for an Adjournment debate or approach the Backbench Business Committee in order to have a serious debate on HMOs.

Can the Leader of the House advise us whether he has had any indication from his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about when they will bring forward their conclusions and recommendations following the consultation on dangerous dogs that we launched in March this year? Are those recommendations likely to include compulsory micro-chipping of puppies?

I am afraid that I do not have at my fingertips the date of that response, but I will raise the issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and see whether we can provide an answer on when the Government’s position will be made clear.

Businesses in the market town of Masham in my constituency are suffering from the removal by the Highways Agency of all six signs directing travellers off the upgraded A1. Can we have a debate about Highways Agency guidance on signs, and how it must take greater account of the need to promote Britain’s stunning market towns?

I will raise that particular issue with the Secretary of State for Transport. I know from my own constituency that many market towns depend on such signs to advertise their attractions, and that there can be a marked fall-off in visitor traffic if they disappear. I will pursue the matter with my right hon. Friend and ask him to write to my hon. Friend.

On 21 October I raised with the Leader of the House the issue of children having shotgun licences. I mentioned that statistics showed that 26 10-year-olds and 74 11-year-olds had such licences. The right hon. Gentleman promised that this would be fed into the forthcoming debate on shotgun licences and the report on the Cumbrian shootings. Can the Leader of the House tell us when we will have an opportunity to discuss this issue?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pursuing that issue. We have some of the toughest firearms laws in the world, but we are prepared to review and change them if necessary. What I said last time was that we need to await the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is looking at firearms legislation. When we have that report, we will honour the commitment I gave before the summer recess and find Government time in which to debate our gun laws.

The comprehensive spending review has cut costs right across Government Departments, and it seems to me that Parliament should not be immune from cost cutting. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a debate on reducing the cost of administration by IPSA? If so, should the debate be in Government time or in Backbench Business Committee time?

The second half of the question is easy: it should be in Backbench Business Committee time. On the first part, the House of Commons Commission has made it clear that over the period of the spending review we should reduce our costs by at least 17.5%. The House will have seen a document circulated by the Clerk of the House, outlining some possible economies—although that does not cover the IPSA budget, which comes under a separate heading.

The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday in the High Court the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was found to have acted unlawfully in revoking regional spatial strategies. Rather than come to this House to apologise for his unlawful actions, for the damage he has caused to the housing industry, for confusing local authorities and for the cost to the public purse, the Secretary of State simply slipped out a written statement, misleadingly claiming that nothing much had changed. In reality, everything has changed: regional spatial strategies are back in force and, as the judgment makes clear, they might play a decisive role in determining any planning application, as local authorities must have regard to them. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time so that the Secretary of State can account for his actions and the restored force of regional spatial strategies can be affirmed?

The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the written ministerial statement, which said:

“While respecting the court’s decision, this ruling changes very little”.

It went on to say that the chief planner had written to all the local planning authorities, confirming that they should

“have regard to this material consideration in any decisions they are currently taking”.—[Official Report, 10 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 16WS.]

The right hon. Gentleman will also know that later this month we will introduce the localism Bill, which will abolish regional strategies.

Tomorrow, the House will consider the excellent Sustainable Livestock Bill, but many MPs will be forced to choose between doing constituency work such as school visits, that can be done only on Fridays, and coming to the House to avoid the frustration of seeing a good Bill talked out by one or two MPs who happen to oppose it. On 15 June the Leader of the House said:

“The Procedure Committee ought to consider it”—

the issue of private Members’ Bills—

“in one of its first inquiries”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 785.]

but nothing has happened. Is there anything that he can do to help the House to make progress on that reform?

I understand the hon. Lady’s dilemma. She will know that the Procedure Committee has announced that it will conduct an inquiry into the calendar, and it is within the remit of that inquiry to look at Fridays, private Members’ Bills and whether they might be relocated to another part of the week. I therefore suggest that she pursue her case with my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), who heard what she said. It can be subsumed within the inquiry into sitting hours.

Could we have an urgent debate about the future of police community support officers? Those widely respected individuals work throughout the country to support policing in their local communities, but we now hear stories of police authorities considering making their entire staff of PCSOs redundant. The Government have decided to cut police spending, so what will they do to allow us time to discuss that very important matter?

Such decisions are essentially taken by local chief constables, but it is open to the hon. Gentleman to apply for a debate in Westminster Hall, where he can share with others his concern about the future of PCSOs. The Government’s position is clear: we believe that economies can be made without affecting front-line policing.

Will the Leader of the House consider instituting an annual debate on the military covenant, which, may I suggest, could be held as near as possible to Remembrance day each year?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will have seen the coalition’s programme for government document, which has a long paragraph about the military covenant. We are considering how best to rebuild and rewrite the covenant, and my hon. Friend has made an interesting suggestion.

The Leader of the House will know that the whole concept of the big society is supposed to be based on volunteers, voluntarism, the third sector and charitable intervention. Could we have an early debate about the fact that, only six months into this new Government, the sources of funding for the third sector right across the piece have either been frozen or disappeared? Such activity is essential to any society. What is he going to do about it?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point; voluntary organisations face the same pressures as many other organisations in accessing funds, but not all voluntary work involves expenditure. Many people give their time for nothing, and I hope that the voluntary sector can respond to the challenges in the same way as everyone else is having to respond.

Just after 1 o’clock on Millbank yesterday, I saw how some student leaders and some students reacted to the winding-up of people at the front of the tuition fees demonstration. It brought to mind watching 14 people crushed to death in El Salvador, and seeing 39 dead bodies at the Heysel stadium when I was out there. Can we have a debate about the responsibilities of the leaders of demonstrations, so that they know that, if large numbers of people are pushed together, with the people at the back pushing forward and with riots at the front, there will be fatalities?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and fortunately there were no really serious injuries yesterday, but there could have been. May I suggest that he raises his concern in a few moments’ time with the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice who is to make a statement about what happened yesterday?

Cumbernauld house is a magnificent piece of 18th century William Adam architecture situated in the heart of Cumbernauld new town, and the active local citizenry wishes to purchase it for the community and the long term. Can we have a debate about how the big society can help with such asset transfers?

If there is a role for any Minister to play in agreeing to that transfer, I shall draw it to the attention of whichever hon. Friend it might be, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman write to the appropriate Minister in order to pursue his case.

Mrs Dalia Nield, an experienced and respected surgeon, has apparently been threatened by Rodial Ltd with a libel suit because she told a daily newspaper that Rodial’s £125 “boob job in a bottle” cream was “highly unlikely” to work, “potentially dangerous” and might even harm the skin and the breast. Will the Leader of the House commit to libel reform in this Session? Libel threats against scientists and doctors, such as Mrs Nield, Simon Singh and Dr Peter Wilmshurst, have the effect of suppressing the advice of experts and doctors.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has raised a really serious issue. The coalition Government intend to introduce a defamation Bill during this Session.

Can we have a debate about the House’s attitude to the barbaric policy of ritual stoning to death in Iran, and can we use that debate to hear the Leader of the House’s response to the call by Birmingham Conservative councillor, Gareth Compton, for the stoning to death of the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown? Will such disgraceful behaviour be tolerated?

Stoning to death is a barbarous form of punishment, which the Government and I am sure all Members deplore. I hope that no elected person will threaten any member of our society with that sort of punishment.

Warming to the theme of the question on food labelling from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that many retailers sell halal food to their customers without telling them. Further to the request by my right hon. Friend for a debate about food labelling, will the Leader of the House add that issue to any such discussion?

Any debate that we have about food labelling will be broad enough to encompass the specific issue that my hon. Friend has just raised. It strikes me as a suitable subject for a debate in Westminster Hall.

We still need a debate about civil service recruitment. I have received a reply from the Cabinet Secretary, after raising that issue with the Leader of the House a couple of weeks ago, and the response makes it clear that the coalition Government have been trumpeting the fact that they have recruited fewer special advisers, while recruiting their cronies on two-year civil service contracts and sacking permanent civil servants. Is that not just immoral?

No, what we are doing is exactly what the previous Government did. There are some 90 people employed on short-term contracts in the Cabinet Office, and more than 50 of those were put in place by the previous Government. What we are not doing, which the previous Government also did, is putting civil servants under the line management of special advisers such as Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell—something that is now outlawed under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

Over the next five years our contributions to the European Union will increase by a staggering £17.5 billion. At the same time, we will be building aircraft carriers with no planes because of defence cuts. Can we have a debate entitled, “Subsidising Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain and Portugal at a time when we are making defence cuts is bonkers”?

My hon. Friend will see that the next business is the presentation of the European Union Bill. When we reach its Second Reading, he may be able to make his contribution and get a robust response from one of my right hon. Friends.

Can we have an urgent statement from the Government following their decision yesterday to overrule the advice of Ofcom and fail to grant STV independent production status? It flies in the face of the advice that they were given, and it represents the Secretary of State for Scotland’s abject failure either to stand up for or to represent the interests of an iconic and well-regarded broadcaster in Scotland, whose very future is now in doubt.

Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I shall raise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the point that he has just made and ensure that my right hon. Friend writes to him very soon.

Following the news in the past 48 hours from China that the Prime Minister’s trade mission has helped to secure a £750 million deal between Rolls-Royce, the biggest employer in my constituency, and China Eastern Airlines, can the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be an oral statement on the success of that trade mission?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on the G20 on Monday and of course will be available on Wednesday for Prime Minister’s questions. He did take the biggest ever UK ministerial delegation to China, and I am delighted to hear of the order that has been secured, which will provide employment for my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Another young life was tragically lost in my constituency last week owing to knife crime. Can the Leader of the House tell me what his Government are doing to tackle such heinous crime, and will he make a statement?

The Ministry of Justice will shortly publish a paper on sentencing policy, and that may be the right forum for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his concerns about victims of knife crime.

The European Union Bill will be presented after business questions. Despite the fact that, for some strange reason, its name has been changed from the “Sovereignty Bill”, will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is time for the European Scrutiny Committee to give the Bill its necessary pre-legislative scrutiny, and that there is no timetable motion for the Bill’s proceedings on the Floor of the House?

This is an important constitutional Bill that I would anticipate being taken on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee, has just handed me a letter asking for more time before we reach Second Reading so that his Committee can conduct an inquiry. I will of course reflect on that letter, which has only just reached me, and respond in due course.

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Home Secretary and tell her that it is unacceptable that she has not answered the questions put to her by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary during her statement on aviation security on 1 November? She said that she would write to him, but she has not done so, and the answers to some of those questions are now out there in the media. Is that not disrespectful to the House?

I understand that that matter was raised on a point of order yesterday, and I know that inquiries were being made of the Home Office in order to make progress. I will pursue those inquiries with added urgency today.

The European Union Bill, about which I wrote to the Leader of the House earlier today, is a Bill of immense constitutional importance. We need to have adequate time to consider it, not least because the Minister for Europe has said that he will give one month’s notice, which is wholly inadequate. We will be taking evidence, on an even-handed basis, from those on all sides of the argument and from the public. I think that the public would be extremely concerned if they knew that adequate time for such consideration was not given, particularly in view of what my right hon. Friend has just said about the Bill’s consideration on the Floor of the House, which means that it will be the only opportunity for people to have a proper examination of this vital issue.

As I said a moment ago, my hon. Friend has just handed me a letter that makes the case for more time so that his Committee can examine the Bill. I will of course reflect on the contents of what he has said. I need to consult my colleagues, and I will write to him as soon as we have reached a decision.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 976?

[That this House notes with concern the removal of a fire engine from Leyton Fire Station by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) during the recent industrial dispute; further notes that the pump has not been returned to Leyton and remains in the hands of AssetCo; and calls on the LFEPA to return the pump to Leyton immediately.]

The EDM refers to Brian Coleman, the spectacularly charmless leader of the London fire authority, who has nicked 27 fire engines from across London and stuck them somewhere near Ruislip. I am not making this up. That is not only wrong but probably illegal. Can the Home Secretary come to the House and make a statement about this, because at least she is probably in a position to find out what the hell is going on?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I have seen the early-day motion. I think that we would expect him to urge the Fire Brigades Union to call off its strike so that that sort of precautionary action was no longer necessary.

Now that the Deputy Prime Minister should be regretting turning his back on making the pledge on tuition fees, is it not appropriate to have a debate on the recall mechanism for MPs, on which he was very keen? That would allow students and communities across the United Kingdom to pass judgment on the Deputy Prime Minister.

The Government will be bringing forward a Bill to permit the recall of Members of Parliament for serious wrongdoing, but I do not envisage that it will cover the activities that the hon. Gentleman touched on. There is a coalition commitment to having legislation on the recall of MPs.

Fishing remains an important part of this country’s economy, yet the operators of some under-10 metre boats in my constituency are struggling financially. It is traditional, around this time of year, to have the annual fishing debate on the Floor of the House prior to the setting of quotas. Can the Leader of the House confirm that that will happen this year?

The hon. Gentleman will know that under the recommendations of the Wright—no relation—Committee, responsibility for finding time for those sorts of debates has been transferred to the Backbench Business Committee. If he wants the annual debate on fishing and fisheries, he needs to make his case to the Chair of that Committee, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who is sitting two places away from him, because responsibility for finding the time now rests with her.

The House was expecting today a statement on rail electrification to south Wales. Can the Leader of the House tell us what has happened to that statement and when we will we see it? Is there any truth in the allegation that the delay in the statement is because rail electrification to Swansea is now going to stop at Bristol?

I do not think that there is any substance whatsoever in that allegation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement on roads a few weeks ago in which he said that there would be a statement on rail investment, and there will be such a statement shortly.

Will the Leader of the House be in his place at the beginning of Back-Bench business today in order to hear, for the very first time, the launch of the Select Committee Chair’s report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee? Furthermore, will he join the Backbench Business Committee in helping us to develop a procedure whereby we can ensure that whenever Select Committee Chairs want to launch a report, they do so in the Chamber as a regular feature?

I am delighted to see this item on the Order Paper. When I was in opposition, I advocated breaking the monopoly that Ministers have on making statements and allowing Select Committee Chairmen to present their reports on the Floor of the House. I am delighted to see that that recommendation is being carried forward and that there will be such a launch of a report later today. I am writing to the hon. Lady to ensure that we get the template and the Standing Orders right so that this exciting experiment can go from strength to strength.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House and to colleagues for their succinctness, which enabled everyone who wanted to contribute to have the chance to do so.