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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the Leader of the House tell us when the housing and regeneration Bill will receive its Second Reading—or even when it will be published? The Co-operative estates division of the Co-operative society is one of the largest landowners in my constituency, and it proposes to build 20,000 homes on its own farmland and adjacent farmland
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belonging to English Partnerships. That will have a devastating effect on rural south-east Leicestershire. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early publication and debate?

Ms Harman: When the housing and regeneration Bill is brought before the House it will be subject to inclusion in my business statement for the previous Thursday. More affordable housing is one of our priorities. Too many people cannot afford to rent the housing they need or buy the home they aspire to. We will back people’s aspirations to have the housing they need—and it would be disappointing if the official Opposition were to try to stand in the way of people’s aspirations for decent housing.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I acknowledge that we will soon have a Westminster Hall debate on the structure of the Post Office, but may we have an urgent statement on the aftermath of the postal dispute? All Members will know of constituents who are still waiting for mail posted four or five weeks ago to be delivered. Many of them run small businesses or are waiting for items such as cash. We ought to know how many items of mail have been lost and how much is still delayed, and before we restructure it we ought also to know whether the Post Office management is capable of sorting out this mess.

Ms Harman: I will bring my hon. Friend’s important questions to the attention of the relevant Secretary of State. My hon. Friend knows that a review is being undertaken into the effect of market liberalisation on the Royal Mail and that we remain strongly committed to universal postal services. There will be a debate in Westminster Hall on 29 November.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): On the communications allowance, will the Leader of the House consider insisting that every Member place in the Library and the Press Gallery a copy of all the material that they print for circulation among their constituents?

Ms Harman: I will reflect on that suggestion.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the merit of the Government publishing in advance a statement—perhaps in the form of a written ministerial statement—on their objectives for the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference? Do the Government intend to make an oral statement in the House after the conference on what went on and what was agreed?

Ms Harman: That is the second time that that important point has been made. I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development.

Let me correct my answer to the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley): the response should, perhaps, have been not that I will reflect but “They are trying to nick our ideas.”

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): May we have a statement on the service provided to Members by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs when dealing with
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correspondence connected with tax credits? I have written on numerous occasions, and I finally received a reply to a letter sent in January. That is a wholly unacceptable service. Worried members of the public are asking for their tax credits to be regularised, but Members cannot obtain the information to assist them. I ask for an early statement on how this will be resolved.

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We must ensure that agencies working in the public interest are publicly accountable. I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a Treasury debate is taking place next Thursday, and it might be an opportunity to raise those points.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that we have just had the Competition Commission’s interim report on supermarkets. When we get the final report, will she make time for a proper debate on the role of supermarkets and on what the commission has had to say? Is it not also time that we had a proper inquiry into toy safety? Given the number of toys being taken off our shelves, I wonder whether kids are going to get any toys this Christmas. Is it not time that we examined this issue, including where toys are being manufactured and the standards that are being applied in their manufacture?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. This issue could well be worth a topical debate, which, as a Member, he could propose. Later today there will be a debate on issues relating to the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for trading standards officers, and there is a debate on business, enterprise and regulatory reform next Wednesday.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In her business statement, the Leader of the House announced the Second Reading of three Government Bills and went on to say that she was anxious that the House should have time to hold the Government to account. Against that background, will she reflect on her reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)? It may well be that, in opposition, she behaved as she described in Standing Committees. Time has moved on. Will she allow one Government Bill to go through un-timetabled, so that the House can properly hold the Government to account and demonstrate that there are better ways of proceeding than 20 years ago?

Ms Harman: I understand that the Finance Bill is not timetabled. We will all recognise that we must seek to achieve the right balance to make sure that every bit of a Bill can be scrutinised, and that there is enough time for scrutiny of each clause. That is a matter for discussion between all parties, and we should seek to get the balance right.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Should not the Home Secretary, as the Minister responsible for the Metropolitan police, come to the House next week and make a statement on the future of Sir Ian Blair? Most reasonable people share the view of the Greater London authority that he should no longer be in his position.

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Ms Harman: The Home Secretary has made a number of comments in this House and elsewhere about the work of the Metropolitan Commissioner, which she and the Government strongly support. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, unlike him, I am a Member of Parliament representing a London constituency. I have discussed this issue with my constituents, and, on the basis of an unscientific opinion survey, I would say that they are very supportive of the work that the Metropolitan Commissioner has been leading in the Metropolitan police. Despite believing that it was absolutely tragic that this innocent young man lost his life, they do not want the commissioner to resign, but to get on with his job of protecting Londoners. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is publishing its report this morning, and that this issue was debated yesterday.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House provide an opportunity for an early debate on the National Audit Office report, which was published today and is in the Vote Office, on how the Government managed to squander £33 million on an asylum centre in Bicester that was never built, where a brick was not laid and a sod was not turned? Is it not scandalous that, had it not been for my asking the NAO to undertake this report, none of this would ever have come out, and that no Minister has offered today to apologise? Like everything else with this Government, when they squander such a sum, I suspect that no Minister will apologise. They have been promising Bicester a new community hospital for nearly a decade, and £33 million could have built, staffed and run such a hospital for many decades to come. Will the Leader of the House apologise on behalf of the Government for the monstrous waste of money on this project?

Ms Harman: No doubt that report will be examined by the Public Accounts Committee and then debated in the House.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): May we have a specific debate in the relatively near future on the grave situation in Pakistan? I appreciate that the House will have the opportunity to debate this matter next Monday, but clearly the situation is continuing and deeply troubling, and the House will want to keep a close eye on it.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House yesterday on the grave issues in Pakistan and that foreign affairs is the subject of the Queen’s Speech debate next Monday. We would all agree that we want the elections confirmed for January, we want Musharraf to relinquish his military position, and we want the preparation for free and fair elections by the releasing of political prisoners and the freeing of the press.

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): I am sure that everybody present was delighted to hear the Leader of the House’s opening comments about her commitment to ensure that hon. Members hear about matters in the House rather than through announcements in the press. Does she accept that it did her Government’s reputation for spin and for putting presentation over substance no good when, in responding to the question from my right
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hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about the foot and mouth disease statement issued as a press release, rather than as an oral or written statement to this House, she tried to dismiss the issue immediately and said that there will be a debate on it in a couple of days’ time? Surely that is just not good enough, and does not reflect the commitment that she was making earlier.

Ms Harman: I certainly did not mean to dismiss that important point, and I shall look into it.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): May we have a debate on single status, because there is a lot of concern among local authorities and the trade unions in particular about the lack of progress on it?

Ms Harman: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is on the Front Bench now and will shortly lead the main debate, so no doubt he and other hon. Members will be able to raise that important question with her.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Leader of the House recall replying to a debate in Westminster Hall on coroners’ courts last summer, in which she said that the system was badly in need of reform and that there would be a Bill in the Queen’s Speech? Is that not even more important now that we have had the Healthcare Commission’s report into the 90 deaths of people in Kent hospitals from C. difficile, none of which were reported to the local coroner? Will she look into that and tell the House why no Bill is coming before it in the near future?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that the health and social care Bill included in this Queen’s Speech will make further progress on improving provision for death certification. I still hope that if we can make progress on the other aspects of the legislative programme time will be found for the important reforms contained in the draft Coroners Bill, which has already been considered by this House through the relevant Select Committee.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I congratulate the Leader of the House on her first 25 years in this place and on the brevity of her answers; it makes a refreshing change and long may it last. May we have an urgent debate on the link between taxation and the funding of public services, because over the past 10 years, my constituents have paid more in national insurance, more in stamp duty and more in income tax due to this Government’s use of fiscal drag, yet they have faced the closure of two local hospitals and overcrowded trains, and they now face a reduction in police numbers? What has gone wrong? Why cannot this Government show my constituents a little bit of love?

Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about my 25 years. There will be a Queen’s Speech debate on the Treasury next Wednesday. I am sure that he will know, as his constituents do, that
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under this Government the economy has been stable, employment has risen and is full, and there has been record investment in schools, hospitals and other public services in his constituency. We intend to maintain that record.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): Will the Leader of the House speak to the Chancellor about his proposals for capital gains tax rises and small businesses? In my constituency and across the land, millions of small firms are unclear about where they stand. They are unclear because we have had spin from No. 10, changes in proposals from the Treasury and uncertainty from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The result is that small firms do not know how to make their arrangements over the next six months. Will the Leader of the House make it clear to the Chancellor that waiting to make a statement in the Budget will not do? Those firms need an answer so that they can plan. After all, they are the employers of nearly half the private sector work force. They deserve a debate and a statement from the Chancellor, so will she now ensure that that happens?

Ms Harman: I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. As the hon. Gentleman knows, he will have the opportunity to raise those issues in the Queen’s Speech debate on the Treasury next Wednesday.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph has been running an important campaign, called “Shout on a Lout”, to highlight the harassment, alarm and distress caused to both people and animals by the antisocial and sometimes criminal use of fireworks. May we have a debate in Government time about the effectiveness or otherwise of the Government’s legislation on fireworks, because—in my opinion and that of my constituents in Kettering—it is a growing problem?

Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue and I will bring it to the attention of the relevant Secretary of State.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked the Leader of the House about the Prime Minister telling some schools that he would be using their names in a speech and then not doing so, but she appeared not to address that particular issue. One of those schools is in the Bradford district and it has caused a lot of upset to those involved. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister comes to the House and makes a statement on why he told those schools that he was going to use their names in his speech, but then failed to do so?

Ms Harman: We would all want to back up the Prime Minister’s view that those schools that are working hard to increase the involvement of parents in their children’s education are to be congratulated, including those schools in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency that are doing exactly that.

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Point of Order

11.12 am

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to apologise to you and to the House for remarks made on “Newsnight” the other evening, in which I suggested, incorrectly, that you were asleep during proceedings on the Queen’s Speech debate. It was wrong of me to draw the Chair into a matter of political dispute and I hope that you will accept that I intended no personal offence and fully withdraw my comments.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman. It was too noisy to fall asleep that day. The matter is now finished.

bills presented

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions)

Secretary Ruth Kelly, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Hazel Blears, Andy Burnham, Tessa Jowell and Mr. Tom Harris, presented a Bill to make provision amending, and supplementary to, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 12 November and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 4].


Secretary Ruth Kelly, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Hilary Benn, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Ms Harriet Harman, Secretary Hazel Blears and Secretary James Purnell, presented a Bill to make provision for a railway transport system running from Maidenhead, in the County of Berkshire, and Heathrow Airport, in the London Borough of Hillingdon, through central London to Shenfield, in the County of Essex, and Abbey Wood, in the London Borough of Greenwich; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First and Second time without Question put, and (having been reported from the Select Committee in the last Session) stood re-committed to a Public Bill Committee, pursuant to Order [23 October 2007]; and ordered to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 5].

Sale of Student Loans

Secretary John Denham, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, Jane Kennedy, Huw Irranca-Davies, Ian Pearson and Bill Rammell, presented a Bill to enable the sale of rights to repayments of student loans; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 12 November and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 6].

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Third Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 November],

Question again proposed.

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