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Business of the House

Volume 519: debated on Thursday 25 November 2010

The business for the week commencing 29 November will include:

Monday 29 November—A motion relating to banking reform, followed by a general debate on the regulation of independent financial advisers. The subject for both debates was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 30 November—Opposition day (7th allotted day). There will be a debate on school sport funding, followed by a debate on tuition fees—both debates will arise on an Opposition motion—followed by a motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to the draft National Assembly for Wales (Representation of the People) (Amendment) Order 2010.

Wednesday 1 December—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, followed by a general debate on national policy statements.

Thursday 2 December—Motions relating to the publication of information of complaints against Members, power of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to initiate investigations, and lay membership of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, followed by a debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The subject for debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 3 December—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 6 December will include:

Monday 6 December—Opposition day (8th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Tuesday 7 December—Second Reading of the European Union Bill.

Wednesday 8 December—Estimates day (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on police funding for 2011-12 and the Department for International Development’s assistance to Zimbabwe. Further details of the second of those debates will be given in the Official Report.

[The information is as follows: “DFID’s Assistance to Zimbabwe” (8th report from the International Development Committee of Session 2009-10, HC 252); Government response, Cmd 7899.]

At 7 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Thursday 9 December—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No.2) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments.

The House will also wish to be reminded that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his statement on the autumn forecast on Monday 29 November 2010. I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 2 and 9 December will be:

Thursday 2 December—A debate on fisheries.

Thursday 9 December—A debate on the future of pubs.

I thank the Leader of the House for his answer. Will he confirm that there will be the debate on Europe that traditionally takes place before the December European Council? The Foreign Secretary said in the Queen’s Speech debate that it would happen in good time, and this one will be especially important given the problems affecting a number of eurozone countries.

We now know that the vote on lifting the cap on tuition fees will take place before Christmas—in other words, long before the promised White Paper on higher education. As the Government are clearly desperate to get this out of the way, will the Leader of the House assure the House that the necessary orders will be taken and voted on on the Floor of the House, so that every single voter can see every single Liberal Democrat MP who goes through the Aye Lobby and breaks the pledge that they made? It is not so much the new politics, but very old politics—say one thing, do another.

Talking of which, two weeks ago the Deputy Prime Minister said that he should have been more careful about signing the pledge. This morning, we learn that he now “massively regrets” not keeping his word. Can we expect a further statement next week from him that he is now really, really, really sorry about breaking his word, and if so, can we have a debate on crocodile tears and could he lead it?

Last week, the Bill that will reduce by 50 the number of representatives in this House—to cut the cost of politics, we are told—had its Second Reading in the other place. In the very same week, the Government decided to increase by 54 the number of new life peers in the other place. I make that a net gain of four parliamentarians, so can we have a debate on incoherence, and could the Deputy Prime Minister lead that one as well?

Two weeks ago, I raised with the Leader of the House the Education Secretary’s arbitrary decision to take away all the funding from school sport partnerships, which, as we know, have been highly successful in getting more children to take up sport, including 1 million more doing competitive sport. Yesterday, extraordinarily, the Prime Minister chose to describe that as “pathetic” and “failing”. I will give the Leader of the House some other words that have been used by those involved to describe the decision—“unforgivably cynical”, “despicable”, “catastrophic” and “heartbreaking”. May we have a debate on irrational decision making, so that the Prime Minister can first apologise for rubbishing the efforts of all the people who have made this happen and secondly explain why he has not told his hapless Education Secretary to think again?

Christmas is coming, and some geese are getting very fat indeed. I refer, of course, to the traditional start of the bankers’ bonus season. Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to confirm that he will enact Labour’s legislation to provide transparency on salaries and bonuses of more than £1 million a year, and yet in the very same week we were told that the Minister for Housing and Local Government wants local authorities to require new council tenants to disclose how much they get paid. Apparently, that is in case their earnings are too high, in which case they could be evicted from their homes after just two years. Given that the Government now have one rule for bankers and another for just about everyone else, can we have a debate on double standards? And could that be led by the Deputy Prime Minister as well?

Finally, last week, Lord Young was sacked for saying that we have never had it so good. On the day that the happiness index is officially launched, would the Leader of the House like to take this opportunity to make it clear that the personal happiness that he expressed last week is not at an all-time high? Given that the Prime Minister is ruthless when it comes to people saying the wrong thing, but useless when it comes to Ministers doing the wrong thing, we would hate to lose the Leader of the House simply for being too cheerful.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the range of questions that he asked. On his first question, I would remind him of paragraph 145 of the Wright Committee report, which was accepted by both sides of the House and which we are implementing—something that his party refused to do. Paragraph 145 makes it absolutely clear that the days for the pre-European Council debates are now a matter for the Backbench Business Committee—something that we established, which he and his party failed to do in office. Therefore, the question of that debate falls to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and her Committee, not the Government.

On tuition fees, we hope that the motion that will be tabled by the Opposition on Tuesday will clarify whether the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Leader of the Opposition is in charge of Opposition policy, and whether there will be a commitment to a graduate tax. We wonder whether the shadow Chancellor will wind up that debate, so as to make it absolutely clear that his views are the same as those of the Leader of the Opposition. On the specific question that the shadow Leader of the House posed, the answer is yes: there will be a debate on the Floor of the House and a vote on lifting the cap on tuition fees.

I will take no lectures from the Labour party on the appointment of life peers. We could not conceivably match the record of the Labour party and Tony Blair in appointing people to the upper House, however long we were in office. I gently point out to the right hon. Gentleman that some of those nominated last week for the upper House came from his party. If they want to make a contribution to reducing the size of the upper House, to respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s injunction, it is perfectly open to them not to take their seats.

There will be a debate on school sports on Tuesday, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, but in response to the substantive issue I can tell him that the coalition Government are anxious to devolve decisions down to the local level. We have removed ring fences in local government and education, because we think that it is right to let local people decide how best to allocate the funds. That is what has happened to school sports.

On bankers’ bonuses, we are doing exactly what Sir David Walker recommended. Labour appointed Sir David Walker to look at bankers’ bonuses, and he is absolutely clear that this country should not take unilateral action. We are following the advice of the person whom the previous Government commissioned.

On tenancies, it is important that people do not go around saying that after two years people will be evicted. That is not the policy at all. We are suggesting that some tenancies be initially for two years, and the position reviewed. It is in the interests—[Interruption.] It is in the interests of those on the waiting list that there should be more mobility in the social housing stock, in order to make progress in allocating homes to those who desperately need them.

On the happiness index, mine went down this morning when I heard that England had been bowled out for less than 300, but I am sure that they will rebound. However, I would just ask the right hon. Gentleman how happy he is in a shadow Cabinet where his party leader is being undermined by fellow members, and where they are at war with each other on the 50p tax and the graduate tax, as well as on other issues, such as whether there should be one member, one vote for leadership elections. I think that the shadow Leader of the House will find that we on the Government Benches are far happier than he is.

May we have an early debate on the proposed cuts to the staffing hours and acquisitions budget of our Library? The Library is one of the few resources available to all Members in their work of scrutinising the Executive. Given that importance, there must be other areas where savings could be made, not least in the top-heavy bureaucracy of this House.

My hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee on Finance and Services is seeing how reductions of around 17% might be made in the House of Commons budget. I know that the Committee will want to pay serious attention to his view that, if reductions are to be made, they should not be made at the sharp end, and nor should they take away from the ability of Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account. I pay tribute to the work that the Library does in that respect.

In view of the launch of the happiness index—mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—on which the Prime Minister is so keen, will we get a statement in the near future on how happy are those who will be the subject of the savage cuts in jobs and services that are coming shortly? As far as yesterday’s demonstration is concerned, it was marvellous, and gives a lead to others to follow.

I do not think I have ever seen the hon. Gentleman look happy. Wherever the index is, it will be dragged down by his appearance in the House. I wonder whether, on reflection, he would describe yesterday’s demonstration as “marvellous”. Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage was done in Westminster, and the demonstration was ruined by a minority of irresponsible people. I pay tribute to the way in which the police responded.

In the light of the imminent publication of the report of the Select Committee on Transport on the North review, can we have a debate on the future of drink and drug policy?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government will introduce a police Bill, which will cover issues relating to alcohol licensing, and that may provide the opportunity for my hon. Friend to clarify his views on those issues. We take the matter seriously, and we are moving towards publication of a document on drug policy.

In response to my question last week, the Leader of the House kindly agreed to arrange for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to publish a list of land owned by the Forestry Commission in each constituency. We now have that list, and it shows that more than 170 constituencies will be affected by the fire sale of our national assets. In view of the widespread concern on both sides of the House, can we have a debate in Government time on the way in which the sale is proceeding and its threat to our natural national assets?

The House will have an opportunity to debate the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill when it has completed its passage in another place, and that will be the right forum for the hon. Gentleman to make clear his concerns about disposal of national forests.

In the light of the announcement this week about the proposed cap on immigration, can we have an early debate on the need to provide skilled, ethnic cuisine training, because the curry industry and other ethnic cuisines will be particularly hit by that announcement?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That point may have been made on Tuesday during the exchange following the statement of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The point was well made, and there would be no need to import chefs from Bangladesh and other countries if we were able to provide the necessary skills in this country. My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

On Monday, the Government announced that a £200 million project to transform the Meadows estate in Nottingham will not go ahead. The estate suffers from serious deprivation, a poor reputation, fear of crime, and high unemployment. Although local people and community groups, such as the Meadows Partnership Trust, are doing wonderful work to tackle those problems, they are hampered by poor housing and poor quality infrastructure. The scheme would have transformed the area, making the Meadows estate a more sustainable community and a place where people would choose to live and work. Can we have a debate on the decision by the Department for Communities and Local Government to scrap the housing private finance initiative, which has so dismayed my constituents?

We have, of course, just had questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was able to ask her question then.

The Decentralisation and Localism Bill will devolve more responsibility to local authorities, but I say in response to the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) that, because of the legacy that we inherited, it is not possible to go ahead with all the projects that are being urged on us by Opposition Members. I remind Opposition Front Benchers that the shadow Chancellor has insisted on a nine-stage process before they enter any financial commitments.

Improvements in sporting facilities wherever possible and certainly in my constituency are always welcome. The coalition agreement states:

“We will use cash in dormant betting accounts to improve local sport facilities and support sports clubs.”

Will the Leader of the House agree to have a debate on that matter, which would be very beneficial to my constituency?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has asked my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) to do some work on dormant betting accounts, and I understand that he has made some inquiries and before the end of the year will produce a report suggesting how the matter might be taken forward. There may be a possibility of legislation later.

I note the response of the Leader of the House to the question from my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House on the Europe debate. We have exactly the same situation with the annual fisheries debate, which always took place during Government time, and provided a key opportunity for those of us with fishing constituencies to hold the Government to account. I have been advised by the Minister with responsibility for fisheries that his Department is no longer allowed to organise such a debate, which seems strange. Will the Leader of the House advise me why the Government have chosen to use the extension of democracy to Back Benchers to reduce Departments’ accountability?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the House of Commons Commission last night. I find this line of attack from Opposition Members astonishing. The Government decided to give up their responsibility for deciding what the House would debate, and we have allocated roughly one day a week to the Backbench Business Committee. Among the issues for which we are no longer responsible are the fisheries debate, the European Council debate and the four days of debate on defence. Those matters now fall to the Backbench Business Committee, and if the hon. Gentleman wants a debate on the European Council or on fisheries he has to go to the Committee’s Chair, the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who is sitting next to him. He will know that her Committee has allocated time for a debate on fisheries in Westminster Hall, which I announced a few moments ago.

May I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motions 1046 and 1047?

[That this House recognises the enormous contribution by members of Her Majesty's Armed Services from each of the UK Crown Dependencies in wars and conflicts over the years, fighting for Queen or King and Country; believes that the sacrifices of all these brave men and women should be fully acknowledged in a similar way to members of the Commonwealth of Nations, by granting representatives from the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark the right to lay a wreath in their own right at the annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, each year on Remembrance Sunday; and calls on the Government to ensure that all the appropriate arrangements for this to happen are in place in time for Remembrance Sunday to be held on 13 November 2011.]

[That this House recognises the enormous contribution by members of Her Majesty's Armed Services from each of the British Overseas Territories in wars and conflicts over the years, fighting for Queen, or King and Country; believes that the sacrifices of all these brave men and women should be fully acknowledged in a similar way to members of the Commonwealth of Nations, by granting representatives from Ascension Island, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands the right to lay a wreath in their own right at the annual Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, each year on Remembrance Sunday; and calls on the Government to ensure that all the appropriate arrangements for this to happen are in place in time for Remembrance Sunday to be held on 13 November 2011.]

They deal with the laying of a wreath on Remembrance Sunday by representatives of the British Crown dependencies and overseas territories. Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Chancellor to make a statement to the House on why our British territories are still refused the right to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday to remember their war dead, while other Commonwealth countries are allowed to do so?

My hon. Friend has pursued this issue with diligence. I think I am right in saying that the Foreign Secretary lays the wreath on behalf of the British Crown dependencies, but I will of course raise this important issue with him and others, to see whether we might make some changes in the future.

In previous years, questions about Europe and matters for debate prior to European Councils have always been dealt with in Government time. Instead of hiding behind the wording of the Wright report, will the Leader of the House explain the real reason that the Government are afraid to have a debate prior to the European Council on 19 December? Is it because of internal divisions with his Eurosceptics, or is it because he cannot get an agreement with the Fib Dems?

Again, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should criticise the Government for implementing a measure that empowers Back Benchers. We have given up the monopoly on deciding what the House debates. Paragraph 145 of the Wright report deals with set-piece debates, and one of the subjects mentioned is

“two days for pre-European Council debates”.

It makes it absolutely clear that the responsibility for fixing those debates transfers to the Backbench Business Committee. We have honoured our obligations and set up the Backbench Business Committee; it is now for the Committee to decide which debates are held and when. We cannot have a position in which the Government transfer the days to the Committee but remain responsible for fixing all the debates that would be held on those days. Even the hon. Gentleman must be able to see that that would be a very one-sided deal.

Will there be an opportunity for the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House about the use of kettling, particularly with regard to schoolchildren?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be answering questions in the normal way. As I have said, I think that the police handled yesterday’s demonstration well. It was an enormous improvement on what happened last time. I am not going to criticise from the Dispatch Box the tactics that they used in order to protect public property and prevent more extensive damage from being done, but there will be an opportunity at the next Home Office questions for my hon. Friend to raise that issue.

I welcome the fact that we are having a vote on tuition fees soon, but does the Leader of the House agree that, prior to that debate, it is vital to have a debate on the difference between a pledge and a promise, to assist Lib Dem Members?

There will be opportunities in the debate on Tuesday and in the subsequent debate on the Browne report and raising the cap on tuition fees. I remind Labour Members that they had a pledge not to introduce tuition fees—a pledge that they broke.

Yesterday, young violent thugs disrupted a peaceful protest. Those thugs were wearing face coverings so that they could not easily be identified by the police. At the next sitting dealing with private Members’ business, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) is introducing a private Member’s Bill—the Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill—to outlaw such practices. Will the Government make a statement on whether they will be supporting his Bill?

When that important private Member’s Bill is reached, there will of course be a Minister on the Front Bench, and, during the course of the debate, the Minister will make clear the Government’s response to the Bill.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Ministry of Defence on what progress, if any, has been made on compensation payments for the Christmas Island veterans, and, indeed, victims? I say this from a non-partisan point of view, because my own party, when in government, could and should have done more for those people.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and I will pass on his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether we can make some progress.

Order. I think the word for which the hon. Gentleman was vainly searching was probably “antidote”.

It is always good to get off to a good start, Mr Speaker. I stand corrected. The rules that you impose during the week are not being adhered to on Fridays in the Chamber. Next Friday, we will debate the Daylight Saving Bill, for which the excellent publication “Time to change the clocks” has been produced—I recommend it to all Members—but my worry is that the Bill will not see the light of day because Members will try to talk it out. Is it not time to change the draconian rules that apply on Fridays to ensure that good ideas are able to be debated by the entire House?

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to prove himself an expert in verbal diarrhoea.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on a good recovery. If I may say so, Mrs Malaprop would have been proud of him. There is a serious issue about Fridays and about the procedure for private Members’ Bills, which he has touched on. The Procedure Committee is conducting an inquiry into the parliamentary calendar, which will include the use of Fridays. That will absorb the whole question of how we deal with private Members’ Bills, and will provide my hon. Friend with an opportunity to make representations to the Committee to determine whether there is another way of dealing with them, in order to overcome the problem that he, eventually, correctly described.

There is clearly surprise and unease on both sides of the House about the fisheries debate and the EU Council debate. The matter was raised last week, not only on this side but by Lib Dem Members, and it has been raised again this week. Given that clearly a number of people feel that this decision is wrong, may I ask the Leader of the House what we can do to bring about a change to the recommendations of the Wright report, and to take those matters out of the hands of the Backbench Business Committee?

I would regard it as a retrograde step if time were taken away from the Backbench Business Committee and given back to the Government. The whole direction of travel is the other way. I have announced the Second Reading of the European Union Bill, which will provide an opportunity to raise European issues. Also, there is going to be a fisheries debate. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, and I have made it absolutely clear that if Members want a debate on the European Council, they have to make representations to the Committee in order to secure such a debate. As I understand it, no such representations have been made.

May we have a debate on unaccounted Government spending, and on how that can happen? Bearing in mind the irrational decision making mentioned by the shadow Leader of the House, can we make the specific subject of the debate the £38 billion committed by the Ministry of Defence over 10 years without accountability?

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that we inherited a number of obligations from the outgoing Government, and that the resources were not there to honour them. The Ministry of Defence provides a very good example. We had an opportunity to debate that when we discussed the strategic defence review, but I am sure that there will be other opportunities for my hon. Friend and others to remind the House and the country of the irresponsible action of the outgoing Government and the unsustainable expenditure that they left us to sort out.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the lead story in the Western Mail last week, in which it was disclosed that powers have been transferred on numerous occasions to the Welsh Assembly Government without the corresponding financial resources. Will he ask the Chancellor to make a statement on how these liabilities will be addressed?

I understand that the Welsh Assembly has had a relatively generous settlement compared with that of other public bodies. Against that background, I am not sure how much substance there is in that suggestion.

The Leader of the House will be aware of the media coverage of the predatory paedophiles who were convicted yesterday of grooming and raping children. It is well documented that this vile and criminal activity has also happened in my constituency. Will the relevant Ministers make a statement outlining what the Government are doing to stamp out this abuse of children?

I am sure that everyone was appalled by what was revealed yesterday. I saw the interview with Emma on “Newsnight” and I was horrified by what had happened. It is crucial to learn the lessons and make sure that that never happens again. I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s request to the Secretary of State for Health to see whether some ministerial response might be made to what was revealed yesterday.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on British representation at the Oslo Nobel peace prize ceremony award to Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese pro-democracy dissident? The Chinese are bullying countries like mad not to turn up. Could we raise our representation to ministerial level and ask our EU and NATO partners also to send Ministers, because the only language bullies understand is that of someone standing up to them?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is important that we do not succumb to pressure from the Chinese and that this country—and, indeed, NATO countries and all countries—should send strong representations to the ceremony so that the Chinese understand that on this issue they are alone.

Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be better if large and volatile demonstrations were routed away from Parliament to end in a rally in a park, where just grievances and speeches could be heard? Does he agree that the Police Act 2005 has to be amended so that the commissioner can refuse a particular route?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My understanding is that section 12 of the Public Order Act 1986 allows the police to place conditions on a march, where they consider that without such conditions the march would result in serious public disorder. These conditions would include the duration, the location and the size of the march. I therefore think that the police may well already have the powers that my hon. Friend wants them to have.

May we have a debate on the Government’s cruel decision to cut the mobility component of disability living allowance for people living in residential homes, as the Prime Minister seemed totally to misunderstand the question asked about it at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday? We need to discuss the impact of this decision on severely disabled people like my constituent Pam Coughlan.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did understand the question yesterday. There will be an opportunity to debate this when the Government bring forward the necessary measures in the welfare reform Bill. My right hon. Friend’s answer yesterday was that if people are sponsored by the NHS, their mobility component is removed whereas it is not removed if they are sponsored by a local authority. That is an anomaly, which the Government’s proposals are designed to address.

A serious situation has developed this week in Korea. If the situation deteriorates, will the Leader of the House undertake to ensure that we have a statement? China is launching its first aircraft carrier and America is sending an aircraft carrier there. Does that not underline the fact that the procedures of this House and our defence configuration must be prepared for a very unpredictable and dangerous world?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The Prime Minister has been in touch with President Lee of South Korea, making clear this country’s condemnation of the unprovoked North Korean attack and offering condolences for the loss of life that has occurred. My right hon. Friend also agreed that we would work together on the next steps that need to be taken in the United Nations Security Council. We are now indeed in discussions with our Security Council partners on those next steps.

In Communities and Local Government questions earlier this morning, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), indicated that the localism Bill was likely to be published imminently. I listened carefully to the statement by the Leader of the House, but I heard no reference to the localism Bill in the business announced for the next two weeks. Given that the Government are clearly having increasing difficulty matching their actions to their words, will the Leader of the House tell us the meaning of “imminent” and whether we can expect a debate on this rather important and controversial Bill before Christmas?

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1090?

[That this House notes the Harrington Report, and its criticisms of the French multinational company ATOS, who have a £54 million contract to assess benefit claimants through medical checks; welcomes the Government's agreement with the Harrington Report and its promise to implement the Harrington proposals in full; concludes that ATOS has damaged the public perception of medical assessments, and has also created a serious risk of maladministration of incapacity benefit checks, following the shocking reports on their systems in the national media; further notes frequent complaints in this regard from Harlow constituents and others; and therefore calls on the Government to act swiftly so that medical assessments are more localised, humane and sympathetic.]

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the Harrington report and the maladministration of incapacity benefit checks, following the shocking report into the private company ATOS? A number of my Harlow constituents have been maltreated by this company. Does he agree that urgent action is needed?

We are grateful to Professor Harrington for publishing his report on the work capacity assessment and we accept all his recommendations. He did indeed find that improvements should be made. He has now started the next stage of the next review. We will improve the medical assessment conducted by ATOS by putting in place champions with additional expertise in mental, cognitive and intellectual conditions.

Given this week’s independent report indicating that the removal of speed cameras could lead to 800 extra deaths on our roads and the fact that some Tory councils have already removed their cameras, may we have a debate on the effects of the removal of those cameras and whether those individual councillors should be held directly accountable for their actions?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue relating to road safety, and it strikes me that it would be an appropriate subject for a debate either on the Adjournment, in Westminster Hall or through the Backbench Business Committee. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of Transport, who will be here shortly.

May we have an urgent debate on Burma? I am sure the whole House would welcome the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, but the fact remains that 7,000 political prisoners remain incarcerated. May we have a debate to put pressure on the Burmese Government to be more serious about political dialogue?

My hon. Friend is right that there are still a substantial number of political prisoners in Burma. I hope that the release of Aung San Suu Kyi will enable her to have a dialogue with the military regime to see whether a way forward can be found that introduces some sensible human rights measures in that regime which are absent at the moment.

In recent evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Gun Trade Association, the Countryside Alliance and others expressed concern about the violent content of video games and their effect on some people who buy firearms. At this time of year especially, it is important for parents to have an understanding of the content of some of these games. When can we have a statement or a debate on the Government’s response to the Byron inquiry?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the inquiry that his Select Committee is conducting into firearms. We have made a commitment to having a debate when his report is published. That would be a good context in which to explore further the impact on young people of videos and games that involve firearms. We could then establish whether any further legislation was necessary.

Given the recent revelation by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that the last Labour Government wasted nearly £81 million developing regional spatial strategies, and given the recent attempts by developers to raise these, zombie-like, from the dead, would it be appropriate to have a debate on regional spatial strategies and their current status?

This takes us back to the localism Bill. We will shortly, imminently and very soon introduce the localism Bill to Parliament. That will sweep away the last of the outgoing Government’s controversial regional strategies. It is clear that top-down targets have not worked; we propose to move to a different regime, giving local planning authorities some real incentives to get on with house building in their area.

(Walsall South): Alumwell business and enterprise college in my constituency has seen a 14% improvement in GCSE results by getting marked papers, but it has had to pay for them. May we have an urgent debate so that state schools can get the marked scripts free, just as they do with standard assessment tests?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on the good results in her constituency. I will raise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education the question of whether these documents can be made available without charge.

Over the past three years, failures in the cross-border commissioning protocol between the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly Government have caused NHS Western Cheshire to lose about £19 million. Despite having been involved in a formal dispute since 2007, they seem to be no nearer to ending it. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the operation of the protocol?

I am afraid that I shall not be able to find time for a debate. I understand that the shortfall to which my hon. Friend refers is not due to a failure of the protocol. A transfer was made from the Department of Health to the Welsh Assembly under the terms of the protocol, but discussions are now under way to review the protocol before it expires in March 2011. They will include discussion of the funding arrangement, and I will ensure that they are informed by what my hon. Friend has said.

May we have a debate in Government time on whether we really are all in this together, especially those of us who live in the north, in the light of the withdrawal of £160 million for housing from Orchard Park in Hull? Hull is the 11th most deprived area in the country, but its funds are being cut by 25%, unlike those of Reigate and Tunbridge Wells, which are being increased by between 25% and 37%.

Of course I understand how strongly the hon. Lady feels about her constituency. However, only a few moments ago, when I came into the Chamber, I heard the Government being criticised for focusing help on national insurance relief on the north and not extending it to London and the south-east. Opposition Members must sort out their priorities.

I suggest to the hon. Lady that the £1 billion regional development fund might be a suitable place for her to seek solutions to the problems that she has outlined.

May we have a debate on broadband? I strongly support the Government’s review of broadband and its focus on rural communities, but I fear that cities such as Milton Keynes may miss out. We have specific problems because of our 1970s infrastructure. May I simply ask the Leader of the House to ensure that Milton Keynes is included in the review?

That question is slightly beyond my pay grade, but my hon. Friend has made a strong case for a debate on rural broadband. I too represent a rural constituency, and I know that it is vital for those who live in rural areas to be able to compete on the same terms as those in towns and cities. I think that the issue is a strong candidate for a debate, but perhaps not in Government time.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his answers to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the shadow Leader of the House, and my hon. Friend the. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) on the subject of debates set up by the Backbench Business Committee? The Committee’s Standing Orders make no reference to the Committee’s having responsibility for those debates. A dangerous precedent is being set, because those on the Opposition Front Bench who are responsible for holding the Government to account cannot do so. The Government have avoided arranging the debates in Government time and Opposition Front Benchers cannot make representations to the Backbench Business Committee. The Government are thus dodging the issue. May we have those debates in Government time?

Labour Members must make it absolutely clear at some point whether or not they agree with the Wright Committee’s recommendations. They supported them throughout the last Parliament, although towards the end of that Parliament they did not implement them by setting up the Backbench Business Committee.

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Wright Committee’s report, he will see that it makes a distinction between Government business and House business, and makes it clear that the debates to which he has referred are House business. It is up to the Backbench Business Committee, which has been allotted 35 days, to find time for those debates—if it wants to hold them—in competition with other bids. We cannot allow a position in which the Government, having allotted 35 days to the Backbench Business Committee, are then held responsible for all the subjects included in the transfer.

Yesterday, when responding to questions about the education White Paper, the shadow Secretary of State for Education suggested that many young people could not be expected to obtain five C-grade GCSE passes in academic subjects. May we have a debate on the depressing poverty of ambition that affects Members in many parts of the House and our education establishments?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We must raise the ambitions of our young people. Following yesterday’s statement there will be an education Bill, which will give Members an opportunity to examine the issues in more depth.

We need a debate on school sport partnerships. We know from his mother that the Secretary of State for Education hated games when he was at school, and avoided them as much as possible. Before we have that debate, will the Leader of the House persuade the Secretary of State to put on his tracksuit and perhaps a pair of trainers, apply some embrocation, get out into the real world—away from la-la land—with the school sport partnerships, and find out what great work they have been doing?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it absolutely clear yesterday that he was in favour of competitive sports and regretted the record of the outgoing Government in failing to promote them. If the hon. Gentleman is here on Tuesday he will have the opportunity to make a longer speech, which will be robustly rejected by whoever replies to the debate.

We have already heard Members refer to early-day motions this morning. EDMs are hugely important in enabling Members to raise the profile of issues for themselves, constituents and organisations. However, given that the House is seeking to reduce its costs, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the right time to arrange a debate so that we can examine the cost of publishing EDMs? The contract with The Stationery Office means that it is currently more than three quarters of a million pounds a year.

As I said in reply to an earlier question, the Finance and Services Committee is considering how economies can be made in the running of the House. As my hon. Friend may know, older EDMs have not been reprinted weekly since the start of the current parliamentary Session, which has saved 2.5 million sheets of paper and up to £300,000 a year in printing costs. I will pass his comments to the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee.

May we have an urgent debate on the Government’s migration policy? In response to questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and me, the Home Secretary said—I cannot do the French accent—

“Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once: we aim to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.”—[Official Report, 23 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 183.]

A few hours later, No. 10 Downing street issued a statement saying that that was an aspiration. If I may use the language of the new Government, is it an aspiration, a target, a milestone or a horizon?

Before she made those remarks, the Home Secretary said that she would “say this only once”, and I think that that was the right thing to do.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find Government time for either a statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), or the Lord Chancellor, or a debate about the cutting of civil legal aid for social welfare cases? In my constituency, the citizens advice bureau represented or advised 14,000 of the most vulnerable and economically and socially deprived people in the area. The Under-Secretary’s response was that people should go and see their Member of Parliament. I am a superwoman, but I do not think that that is the way forward.

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern, but it must be said that the legal aid regime in this country is relatively generous in comparison with those of most other countries. We were not able to exclude it from the difficult decisions that we had to make to control the deficit, but what we have announced requires legislation. There will be a legal aid Bill, which will give the hon. Lady an opportunity to press her concerns.

The North East illegal money lending team has helped communities in my constituency to beat loan sharks in communities such as Easterside. It has helped to set up credit unions, and to break up gangs selling counterfeit and fenced goods. Will the Leader of the House please press Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to allow a debate on the subject, and will he impress on them the need for me to have personal meetings with them, along with other Teesside Members, so that we can discuss the agency?

I commend the group in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency for what it has done. I will certainly find out whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government can meet him and his colleagues to take the agenda further forward.

This weekend, the Tamil community in the United Kingdom will commemorate the war dead and martyrs from the recent civil war in Sri Lanka. Next week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is due to come to this country on a private visit, reportedly to speak at the Oxford union. May we have a debate to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka and war crimes associated with its president?

The Government do not propose to find time for a debate on the issue, however important it is, but it strikes me that it would be an appropriate candidate for an Adjournment debate at the end of one of our sittings.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

My constituent Martine Taylor’s husband went missing one year ago. He left behind three young children and tens of thousands of pounds of debt, including two loans worth £34,000 from RBS, a bank which is 80% owned by the taxpayer. RBS has now sold that debt to bailiffs who may force Miss Taylor to sell her home to recover the debt, while RBS refuses to discuss my constituent’s case because the debt is not in her name. Please may we have an urgent debate on the debt recovery practices of Government-owned banks?

I am very sorry to hear of the misfortune of the hon. Lady’s constituent. I will raise the current regime for pursuing debts with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and ask him to see whether there is any action the Government can take to help this poor lady and to write to the hon. Lady.

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that points of order follow statements. We will hear from him later.