Previous Section Index Home Page

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1465

Business of the House

11.3 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give the business for the coming weeks?

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

Monday 26 June—Second Reading of the Charities Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 27 June—A debate on pensions reform on a Government motion.

Wednesday 28 June—A motion to approve the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Code of Practice C and Code of Practice H) Order 2006, which is the order relating to the extension of the detention period to 28 days, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Electoral Administration Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the National Lottery Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Childcare Bill.

Thursday 29 June—Remaining stages of the Commons Bill [ Lords].

Friday 30 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 3 July—Estimates [3rd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the work of the Electoral Commission, followed by a debate on human reproductive technologies and the law. Details will be given in the Official Report.

At 10pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Tuesday 4 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 3) Bill, followed by the Ways and Means resolution on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Wednesday 5 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Thursday 6 July—A debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 7 July—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 6 and 13 July will be as follows:

Thursday 6 July—A debate on the report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the analogue switch-off.

Thursday 13 July—A debate on the report from the Work and Pensions Committee on the efficiency savings programme in Jobcentre Plus.

Following is the information: In so far as they relate to human reproductive technologies and the law (Fifth report of the Science and Technology Committee, session 2004-05 (HC 7-1) and the Government response (CM 6641) and the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, A Public Consultation, Department of Health, 2005)

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the coming two weeks. I am sure that he will have seen the report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, which stated that the West Lothian question was now

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1466

As he will also know, my right hon. Friend Lord Baker introduced a Bill in another place to resolve that problem. Will the Government bring forward proposals to address the issue and will there be a debate on the report of the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Did the Leader of the House see the report today of head teacher Peter Brackley, who has been praised by Ofsted for his outstanding educational vision, but is quitting teaching because of too much Government interference? Mr. Brackley is reported as saying:

Can we have a statement from the Education Secretary on how he intends to reduce Government interference and restore trust in our teachers?

Yesterday, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) asked the Prime Minister:

The Prime Minister’s response was:

He did not comment on whether there would be a vote in the House, so will the Leader of the House tell us whether the debate on Trident and the future of the nuclear deterrent will take place on a substantive motion, thus enabling hon. Members to vote on the issue? When will that debate be held?

Of course, that question of timing is more relevant given that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Mansion House speech last night that he believed in retaining the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent in the long term. Of course, what the Chancellor said and what his aides briefed out were different. He talked about retaining the nuclear deterrent, yet the briefing referred to the replacement of Trident. The Financial Times reported:

I know that a defence debate is about to take place, but will the Leader of the House arrange for the Chancellor to come to the House to make a statement on Trident so that he may answer questions from hon. Members about his speech and Government policy in the area?

Of course, it is not unusual for the Chancellor to deal with matters that are not in his direct remit. In the past six months, he has spoken about liberty and the role of the state, Britishness, security and anti-terrorism, and the environment. Given that the Chancellor now has such a wide-ranging role, will the Leader of the House arrange for time in the parliamentary programme for questions to the Prime Minister-designate?

Finally, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the influence of popular culture on political life? I am sure that many hon. Members will be saddened to hear about the demise of “Top of the Pops”, which has played such a role in the cultural life
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1467
of the nation. Of course, pop songs can be very relevant to politics. For example, given the Home Secretary’s recent problems, I wonder whether he should listen to the U2 track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Perhaps we could have a touch of Dire Straits for the Deputy Prime Minister with the track “Money for Nothing”. I suppose that the Chancellor might look to Diana Ross with “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Perhaps the Prime Minister would like the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. Talking of clashes, perhaps the Chancellor would describe his relationship with the Prime Minister with the White Stripes track “Every Day I Love You Less and Less”. Or, given the Chancellor’s commitment to new Labour, maybe his track for him and the Prime Minister should be Elton John’s “Friends Never Say Goodbye”:

“There isn’t much I haven’t shared

With you along the road...

Who’s to say who’s right or wrong

Whose course is braver run

Still we are, have always been

Will ever be as one”.

Mr. Straw: The first question that the right hon. Lady asked me was about the West Lothian question and the report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, which I have indeed read with interest. We have no plans for an immediate debate on the issue. It has been debated at great length. What the Conservatives—who used to be called the Conservative and Unionist party and were concerned about the break-up of the Union—need to think about is that however superficially sedulous the West Lothian question may be, it is a very dangerous idea to argue that Members of this House should not be able to vote on issues that affect the whole of the United Kingdom. We determine in this House, with a vast majority of English MPs, total spending in the Scottish Parliament, because we decide the block grant. We decide many other issues for Scotland. It was we who decided to vote, again with a majority of English MPs, in favour of the Scotland Act 1998 and of the Government of Wales Act 1998. We are a unitary country and we remain so. I am proud to have been a member of an Administration which, with support from the Liberal Democrat party and others, ensured a good measure of devolution to Scotland and Wales, while preserving the Union.

The right hon. Lady’s second question was about the head teacher who is mentioned in one of the newspapers. Of course I am very sorry, as I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills is, about that particular head teacher and his concerns about education. However, we should not generalise from the concerns of one individual. Anybody who goes into schools across the country can see the dramatic improvement that is shown by many indicators. It is shown in the salaries of head teachers and in the professional support now given to head teachers. Above all, it is shown in the fantastic increase in standards being delivered by those head teachers to our schoolchildren. It is reprehensible of the Opposition to seek to denigrate
22 Jun 2006 : Column 1468
the fantastic performance of teachers across the country in raising standards for all our children.

The right hon. Lady then asked me about Trident. Our manifesto at the 2005 general election stated that we—the Labour Government—are

In speaking about the longer term, as well as this Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was fully consistent with that manifesto commitment put before the British people at the last election. Decisions on Trident’s replacement have yet to be taken. When they have been taken, they will be put to Parliament in a White Paper. I cannot anticipate at this stage the most appropriate form of debate, but it will be in a form that shows proper respect for the House. I hope that by the time of our White Paper and the debate, the Conservative party will have determined not just what its policy is on Trident, but whether it has a policy.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Of course we have a policy: retain and replace.

Mr. Straw: If that is the policy, why was it not mentioned in the Conservatives’ 2005 manifesto? The 2005 Conservative manifesto was completely silent on the issue of Trident’s replacement.

The right hon. Lady asked about the Prime Minister-designate. I am glad to know that she believes that the Prime Minister-designate is the Chancellor, not the Leader of the Opposition. Finally—I congratulate her researchers on their efforts—she came up with some laboured quotations from titles of various pop songs. I will not try and compete with her—I apologise for that—except to say that, like her, I deeply regret the passing of “Top of the Pops”, which connected me, and no doubt her, to our youth.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will aware of the Friends of the Earth’s Big Ask campaign, which is about trying to get a Bill on climate change into the Queen’s Speech. It is a big issue—I had a huge meeting at Lambeth Friends of the Earth last week—and we want to set targets year by year. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on climate change before the end of the Session so that Members who have been involved with the campaign might influence what goes into the Queen’s Speech?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the issue, as I know of her constituents’ great concern and of the work that she has done. She, in turn, will know that it has become a major priority not only for the Government but, through our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for the G8, and it will be followed up at the forthcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg. I cannot promise a debate before we rise for the summer recess, but I promise that I will do my very best to see whether we can have a debate this Session before the Queen’s Speech.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): What are the right hon. Gentleman’s intentions regarding a welfare reform Bill? The consultation paper from the Department for Work and Pensions makes the process clear:

Is it the intention to introduce a Bill before the summer recess, and is it the right hon. Gentleman’s intention that it should be carried over to the next parliamentary Session, which is the only conclusion that we can draw from the statement in the White Paper?

Once again, can I ask for a debate on post offices? I accept that this is a well-worn track, as the issue has been raised by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, but it remains a pressing need. I will receive two petitions this weekend from constituents who are concerned about the future of their local post offices. I did not organise those petitions—they were organised by my constituents, who are worried about the future of their local post office. There is a pressing need to hold a debate, because the termination of the Post Office card account has been announced, and sub-post offices have lost the right to issue the BBC television licence. I understand that, next year, the contract with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for the issuing of the road fund licence is to end. Before a decision is made to give that contract to someone else, can we have a debate in the House on the future of the Post Office?

Finally, as the nights are now drawing in, may I set the scene for our consideration late in the evening and ask for a debate on the conundrum of ministerial responsibility, which puzzles all of us? Yesterday, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) asked a question about the new post of liveability Minister. The Prime Minister did not deny that he was going to make such an appointment, but he did not confirm it, nor did he give any indication of who would be the liveability Minister. However, he said:

I take the old-fashioned view that making sure that communities are free from crime and fear is the job of the Home Secretary, so is that a responsibility of which he has now officially divested himself?

Mr. Straw: On a welfare reform Bill, we hope to introduce such a measure. It is a candidate for carry-over, on which there will be consultations with the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on post offices, implying that there had not been any debates on the financing of rural post offices. However, there have been a great many, not least on the Adjournment and in Westminster Hall. He will know that because of changes to the way in which people communicate with one another and in banking practice, the Post Office operates in a more commercial environment. No, I cannot promise a debate before a decision is made by the Post Office—and not by Ministers—on whether it can win a contract with, for example, the DVLA, because that is a matter between the DVLA and the Post Office. Of course, issues of public service will be taken fully into account. Notwithstanding the closure of some post offices, 99 per cent. of people in urban areas—I accept that the figure is lower in rural areas—live within a mile of their local post office, and the network of post offices is still substantial. In addition, the level of subsidy from the public purse to support the network in rural areas is still very high.

22 Jun 2006 : Column 1470

On the interesting issue of ministerial responsibilities and liveability, we are all responsible for making sure that our communities are liveable, but I wish that a different word had been chosen—

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Out of respect for the English language.

Mr. Straw: The English language is always developing, but sometimes developments take place that we may not appreciate.

The Home Secretary remains fully responsible for our law and order policy. Government policies on health, housing, the built environment and education all contribute to whether an area is congenial, peaceful, quiet and enjoyable—in other words, liveable.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the present debate about Thames Water, which has decreased its capital spending while increasing prices enormously? May we have a debate on the whole saga since privatisation of the water companies by the Conservative party? The public not only in the Thames region, but across the country, feel that they are being ripped off by companies that shove up the salaries of their senior operatives—the chief executive and so on—and shove up prices for the consumer, but do not invest in order to provide the water supply that we need.

Mr. Straw: I will do my best. My hon. Friend is reflecting widespread concern, particularly on this side of the House, about the original water privatisation conducted by the Conservative party. Something has gone wrong with the balance between investment and profit. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has witnessed the huge waste of water that pours from an unending series of leaks which, after years and years of claiming to have put them right, Thames Water still allows to happen.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): The Leader of the House will be aware that the United States Senate is this week considering American policy in Iraq and that the House of Representatives had a similar opportunity quite recently. Does it not remain a disgrace that, in more than a year since the previous general election, the Government have not provided any time in this House for British Government policy on Iraq to be fully debated? Will the Leader of the House give us a categorical assurance today that such an opportunity will be provided before the House rises for the summer recess?

Mr. Straw: With respect, that is simply incorrect. Today’s main debate is on defence. [ Interruption.] The most important priority for our defence forces—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must be temperate in our language. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks a question, he must remain silent when the answer is given.

Next Section Index Home Page