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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the coming weeks?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 May—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to future European Union finances, followed by if necessary consideration of Lords amendments.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Tuesday 9 May—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion—I assume ironically entitled—"The Need for the Government to Appoint a Turn Around Team to the Department of Health".

Wednesday 10 May—Remaining stages of the Police and Justice Bill, followed by motion to establish a Joint Committee on Conventions of the House of Lords.

Thursday 11 May—Remaining stages of the Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc Bill, followed by a debate on creating confident consumers on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 12 May—Private Members Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 15 May—Progress on remaining stages of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Tuesday 16 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Wednesday 17 May—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Thursday 18 May—Motion relating to the staging of Members and Chairmen's pay, followed by a motion relating to the association of former Members.

Friday 19 May—The House will not be sitting.

Mrs. May: The Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, on 31 January at column 245 of Hansard, expressed his hope to the House that there would be a debate on pensions before the publication of the White Paper. Can the Leader of the House confirm that he has been asked to find time for such a debate, and when will it take place? When will the Government's full response to the ombudsman's report on pension scheme failures, which found the Government guilty of maladministration, be available? Will there be a debate in Government time on the report and response before the summer recess?

Members will note that we will be having an Opposition day debate on the Government's operation of the inter-management of the health service. A debate on the health service has been refused resolutely in recent weeks by the Leader of the House. Two weeks
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ago, I questioned the accuracy of a statement made about the health service by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the House said:

I wrote to the Prime Minister. He did not reply. The Secretary of State for Health replied instead. Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week, telling Members what they should expect when they write to the Prime Minister about statements that he has made in the House? We realise that Ministers no longer take responsibility for what happens in their Departments, but is it also the case that the Prime Minister no longer takes responsibility for what he says in the Chamber?

For the record, on 19 April when talking about how many patients in the Thames Valley area were waiting more than 13 weeks for an out-patients appointment, the Prime Minister said that

The Secretary of State for Health tells me that the figures were from December 2005. So when the Home Secretary said that "very, very few" foreign prisoners had been released after he knew about the problem, he meant 288, and when the Prime Minister on 19 April said "today", he meant three months ago. Perhaps the Leader of the House could arrange for statistics and English lessons for No. 10.

Recently, when asked whether he was going to sack the Home Secretary if more of the foreign criminals released from jail reoffended, the Prime Minister replied:

Today we learn that a convicted criminal recommended for deportation and not deported is being sought for attempted murder and the rape of a 15-year-old girl. Does that count as sufficient reason for the Prime Minister to sack the Home Secretary? Surely enough is enough, and the Home Secretary must go.

That case shows the dangers to which the public have been exposed by the incompetence of the Government. In a recent poll 89 per cent. of people questioned said that the failure to deport foreign prisoners on release "reflects alarming incompetence". Can we have a debate on the Government's record on and responsibility for public safety? I also repeat my call for a debate on Government incompetence.

Today may well be the last time that the right hon. Gentleman attends business questions as the Leader of the House.

Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. Thomas McAvoy): Do you know something we don't?

Mrs. May: Probably quite a lot.

Over time, the Leader of the House has been tipped for many posts. In February it was Chief Whip. Then he was 26–1 on to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Earlier this week, sources close to Downing street said that

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Today I learn that his odds are 10–1 to be Home Secretary. However, perhaps the best bet was suggested by a Back Bencher, who claimed that the Cabinet Office was proving to be the best-run Department, and it has not had a Cabinet Minister for four months. Given the Government's appalling performance to date, maybe that is the answer.

Mr. Hoon: I shall attempt to deal with the serious points raised by the right hon. Lady. It may not take me quite as long as the various points that she made.

A debate on pensions would be useful, as I have previously told the House. I will have to look at the business that we have to fit in, to see whether that can be arranged before publication of the White Paper. I will certainly consider that, as it is an important subject for the House to discuss.

On corrections, when the right hon. Lady asked me for a correction, I indicated that that would be done in the usual way. She accurately described the usual process of correction, whereby a departmental Minister taking responsibility sets out the details in a letter, which is then placed in the Library. I commend her for the accuracy of her description, but I do not see how that amounts to some failure of responsibility. I may have missed the subtlety of her point.

As far as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is concerned, he has stood before the House on a number of occasions, including yesterday, and set out in considerable detail the efforts being made to correct what he has described as an unedifying situation. It is right for him to continue to do so. Despite the protestations from Opposition Members, I have seen no substantive criticism of what he has been doing to remedy the particular problem. As I made clear to the House last week, it was only as a result of impressive improvements in the working of the Home Office in this area of policy that the particular problem came to light. Before 1999, Governments were not in a position to know whether the problem existed, because no previous Government kept records. It is important for the Opposition to think about those facts before making the sort of blustering comments that we heard a few moments ago from the right hon. Lady, if she will forgive me for saying so.

The Government have already held a series of debates on the subjects of public safety and public security, but I regret to say that, from time to time, we have not received the full support of the Opposition in our efforts to promote them. With further regard to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the proposals that he set out yesterday, we look forward to finding out exactly what the Opposition's position is. They are certainly willing to criticise the Government, but when we make proposals to solve the problems, sadly, they do not always give us the support that we would expect.

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