|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
On another issue that is of personal concern to many hon. Members, the Boundary Commission for England reported to the Department for Constitutional Affairs on new parliamentary boundaries on 31 October. In an answer on 24 October, the Under-Secretary of State for
Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice) said:
I would hope to be in a position to lay the draft order early in 2007.[ Official Report, 24 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1775W.]
The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland is reviewing its proposal and is likely to delay its report. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the delay in Northern Ireland will not be used as an excuse for delaying the process in England and Wales, and that the required order will indeed be laid before the House early in the new year?
I am conscious of the fact that we have just had Education questions, but there was no suitable question on the Order Paper to ask about the Ofsted Report on standards in secondary schools that shows that half of secondary schools are failing to meet the required standards. May we therefore have a statement from the Education Secretary on that Report?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of growing concern about the Governments response to the threat of pandemic influenza. Earlier this week, the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences accused the Government of failing to listen to expert advice, and of stockpiling a single drug that may not be effective in the doses originally proposed. On 3 July, my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Health Secretary, wrote to the Secretary of State for Health about preparations for pandemic influenza and, on 27 July, she replied:
you mention that many in Parliament would welcome a debate on pandemic influenza in Government time.
I am copying this letter to Jack Straw, the Leader of the House to bring this to his attention.
Why has there been no debate on the subject in Government time, and will the Leader of the House undertake to provide such a debate before the Christmas recess? That is, of course, if the Health Secretary can spare the time from her discussions with Yates of the Yard.
Transport is the subject for todays Queens Speech debate, but may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Transport and the Chancellor on the review of Britains transport needs over the next 10 years? Will they explain why the business man whom they appointed to conduct the so-called independent review, Sir Rod Eddington, moved back to Australia in the spring and took on numerous other jobs there, and why the review is now being conducted by a team of civil servants in the Department for Transport? It is hardly an independent review if it is being written by the Government. Or have the Government simply accepted that, like the three previous major transport studiesfrom the Deputy Prime Ministers 10-year plan onwardsand all the multi-modal studies, the latest review will lead absolutely nowhere?
May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the budget for the Olympics and the current status of the London 2012 project? In July 2005, the Leader of the House and I had the privilege of welcoming, in the House, the news that we had won the Olympic bid. However, there is now confusion between figures quoted by the Culture
Secretary and statements made by the Mayor of London, who, rather churlishly, complained that the Culture Secretary saw fit to give some figures to Members of Parliament. The Mayor also claimed that any extra costs would be recouped from sales after the Olympics, but he did not say whether the money raised would go back to the lottery and council tax payers. A statement to the House by the Culture Secretary would clarify the position, clear up the confusion, and allow Members to press home the point that although it was a wonderful coup to win the Olympics, and although they will be a great boost for this country and will leave a lasting legacy, that is not an excuse for a blank cheque, signed by Ken Livingstone and drawn on the national lottery and London council tax payers.
Mr. Straw: To take the points in order, in respect of boundary commissions, I see no reason whatever why the delays experienced by the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland should prejudice our considering the report for England and Wales as early as possible. If there is any change to that, I will, of course, let the right hon. Lady and the House know.
On the Ofsted report, I must tell the right hon. Lady that over the past 10 years there has been increasing rigour in inspections, and an increase in standards overall. Indeed, Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said yesterday:
International comparisons in recent years show that our pupils can increasingly hold their own alongside their peers in the developed world.
Of course, some schools are not up to standard, and that is why we have been so rigorous in pushing standards, as well as levels of inspection. However, overall, the result set out in her report is that schools, and the children in them, are doing better than they have ever done. It really is not appropriate given her partys record on education when in government for the right hon. Lady to try to minimise the progress that has been made by teachers, parents and, above all, children.
The number of flu vaccines available to GPs has increased from 7 million in 1997 to more than 13 million in 2006. I do not think that there is any particular need for a debate, but there will be Health questions next week.
There will indeed be a debate on transportI have just announced it. Next Thursday, there will be a debate on rail performance when there will be every opportunity to raise the issues to which the right hon. Lady referred. Everybody knew that Rod Eddingtona distinguished business man who led British Airways brilliantly for five yearswould return to his native Australia, but that did not stop him coming back to the UK to conduct his study, which he has been doing to great effect. Moreover, his proposals will be against the background of huge improvements in the numbers of passengers travelling on the railways in the past 10 years. Given that under the Conservatives there was inexorable decline and continued disruption in the railways and for the passengers carried, for there to have been a 40 per cent. [Interruption.] Even the shadow Secretary of State for Transport now accepts that privatisation was a disaster, in the way it went
forward. For there to have been an increase of 40 per cent. under Labour is astonishing.
On the Olympics, Ken Livingstone is a loyal member of the Labour party [Laughter.] From time to time, he has always been loyal. He was elected by the populace in London and we all have high regard for him. However, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the Olympics, I have to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was right, and not wrong, to publish detailed figures so that a judgment could be made.
Ken can write as many blank cheques as he wants, but they will not be banked, or paid, because it is for the Government to decide. One of the key decisions we made in pushing for the Olympics was that the Government had to stand behind the bid, so we will make decisions about the overall cost.
Mr. Straw: I know that is not what Ken is saying, but it does not alter the fact that what I am saying is the truth[Hon. Members: Oh.] Ken will not mind that, because he has always been fairly imaginative in his language. Before I get pulled up by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) for going on too long, I can tell the right hon. Lady that I, as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee, my right hon. Friends the Culture Secretary, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and indeed all those involved in delivery, are assiduous in bearing down on the costs. Progress is being made. Costs are being pushed down. Of course, we are right to be worried about cost overruns, but we are two years further ahead compared to the equivalent Olympics in Athens or Sydney.
Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing tendency of Departments in answers to Members of Parliament to refer them, when information is required, to websites? Is he also aware that often the websites are inaccessible, not only to Members, which might be understandable, but to their more computer-literate staff and, indeed, when that fails, even to the Library? Will he give a direction to Departments that when they provide websites in their answers they should also lay the information in the Library, so that it is readily accessible?
I am well aware of my right hon. Friends concern; indeed, this morning I signed a letter to him, which said that I was ready to revise the guidance we issue. When I answered many more written questions than I do nowadays, my approach was to excise references to websites and to provide the information, when that could be done in reasonable form, in the body of the answer. I believe that all Ministers and Departments should follow that practice. On occasions, information should be made available by reference to a website, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that that
should be only when the information can be, and has been, accessed in hard copy that has been made available both to the Member asking the question and in the Library.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I ask yet again for a debate in Government time on Iraq? Before the Leader of the House tells us that we had a debate yesterday in the context of the Queens Speech, may I say that that is no substitute for a structured debate on the Governments strategy in Iraq? There is a debate in another place on 5 December, notwithstanding the Queens Speech debate. May we have such a debate as a matter of urgency?
I ask in passing whether the Leader of the House will confirm what the Prime Minister said yesterday: that the White Paper on Trident will be published before the end of the year and that we will have a statement on it?
On a matter that is of great importance to the scientific and medical community, David Cookseys report on the future of the Medical Research Council and NHS research is to be published shortly. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on the basis of that report? I would imagine that that would come from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as it was he who originally announced the merger of the two research bodies. However, given that the announcement will please some and upset others, and knowing the Chancellors allergy to anything that might be construed as bad news, perhaps it will come from the newly appointed Minister for Science and Innovation.
The Attorney-General has a duty to give advice not only to the Government but to the House. Will the Leader of the House find a way for the Attorney-General to share with the House what he shared with a press conference this week: his opinions on future measures to deal with terrorism? He has supported views that have been expressed from the Liberal Democrat Benches and others over recent years on the use of intercept evidence and the possibility of qualified interview after charge. He has also rejected the view that we need to extend the 28-day detention period, saying that on
extending it any further we need evidence to demonstrate that that is needed.
Well, I havent seen it yet.
Lastly, may we have a debate and a statement on the future of the sub-post office network? We are told that decisions are imminent, but we have still not had that debate. When we do have it, will a suitable Minister explain what has happened to Postwatch, the body that was set up to monitor and express the views of the consumer? It tells me that it cannot do its duty in respect of attending protest meetings about sub-post office closures, or even getting around the MPs in its area, because its time is limited and it is not given the opportunity to do its job. If Postwatch cannot express the views of the community, and if we cannot, how can we defend our sub-post office network?
Mr. Straw: I accept entirely that Iraq is a profoundly important issue that needs to be the subject of regular debates, but it is slightly odd to demand a debate on Iraq the day after we have had a debate on Iraq, in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made some important announcements. However, I promise the hon. Gentleman that, of course, we will keep that under review.
Sir David Cookseys report is not ready for publication and I have not seen it, but I will certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentlemans request that there should be a statement. There will certainly be a written ministerial statement. Whether an oral statement is appropriate remains to be seen.
On the Attorney-General, it is not unheard of for current practice to apply, when the Attorney-General is in the other place and the Solicitor-General is in this place. We have just had questions to the Solicitor-General, who answers for the Attorney-General in this House. Of course, I note what my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General has said on a variety of issues. What he has said in respect of extending the 28-day detention period is no different from what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have said, which is that we await evidence. Of course, we would not propose to move unless and until there was good evidence in favour of moving. That is without question.
On the Post Office, in due course there will be an oral statement on the future of sub-post offices, but we have already had a number of debates on that matter. It is a proper matter to raise in business questions, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman, as I do other hon. Members, that I have yet to hear any serious understanding of what he and they know to be true: that the introduction of electronic banking and the availability of broadband internet in many and increasing numbers of homes, especially in rural areas, has profoundly and adversely affected the business of post offices. That is simply the case. We have put more than £2 billion to support post offices, and rural post offices have benefited by £500 million. Furthermore, contrary to the nonsense that we often hear, particularly in Conservative and Liberal Democrat areas, without any fear or favour for their constituents, it cannot be a sensible use of public moneyeven in a Liberal Democrat worldcontinually to subsidise rural post offices at such a level when 800 of them have on average only 15 to 20 customers a week.
Mr. Speaker: Order. May I remind the House that in this afternoons debate Back-Bench speeches are limited to 12 minutes, so there is pressure on time? I ask Back Benchers to put just one supplementary question to the Leader of the House. A brief question and a brief answer would help.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP):
Is the Leader of the House aware that the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland this morning issued a declaration, which must accompany the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006? That order is scheduled for consideration in Committee next
Tuesday, which does not give much time for parliamentarians to assess the implications of the declaration. Will the Leader of the House take steps to have that consideration deferred, given that the judge draws attention to the fact that a Grand Committee debate that was to take place never happened? Will he also ensure that copies of the judgment behind the declaration are placed in the Library for Members and that the European Commission letter of formal notice that was issued in respect of this legislation is also available to Members?
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): A campaign that started in my constituency to seek better protection for the fabric and artefacts of ancient churches from the ravages of bats is gaining support from parishes across the country. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on an issue that is causing distress, anger and frustration among the custodians of churches across the land?
Mr. Straw: I will do my best. I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman correctly raises about the effect of bats [Interruption.] People may mock, but it is a very important issue for those concerned about the preservation of our ancient churches.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend ask the Paymaster General to make a statement about the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on 14 November 2006, which may have implications for decisions about the overpayment of tax credits? At the moment, the decision is made by a group of civil servants with no independent appeal and the only recourse is judicial review. As I understand it, the ruling would make that inadequate under article 6. Will my right hon. Friend look at that matter?
Mr. Straw: Yes, I will. I know that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is studying the court judgment and its implications with care and I will invite her to make her response to the House in due course.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to congratulate members of the Press Gallery, who appeared to notice an announcement made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary in her speech that every single participant in the debate seemed to missnamely, that British forces are going to be withdrawn from Iraq in the spring? I have read what the Foreign Secretary actually said and I can see how a complexion can be placed on her words, but it was not the characteristically honest announcement for which this Government have become famed. Would it not be a good idea to have a properly structured debate on the matter of Iraq, so that we can hold the Government properly to account?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|