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6 Mar 2008 : Column 1910

Mr. Speaker: Order. I said that I wanted to get down the Order Paper, but it is getting difficult.

Angela Eagle: The right hon. Gentleman is being completely absurd, and he knows it. If it is such a terrible policy, why on earth are many other countries divesting themselves of their gold reserves to get a more balanced portfolio? He knows as well as anyone else that the then Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, when he was asked about it in 1999, said that it was a perfectly reasonable portfolio decision that spread risk and reduced the risk of the national reserves by 30 per cent.

Mr. Speaker: The only one who has not been called: Mr. Loughton.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I am grateful for your charity, Mr. Speaker.

I need to declare a personal interest, because yesterday I had cause to ring the late-filing penalty helpline of the Inland Revenue, having filed my tax return and had the cheque cashed on 30 January. The very helpful lady I spoke with said that she could not help me because the address she had for me was 12 years out of date, and for my wife 17 years out of date, despite our filing tax returns every year. She ended up by saying, “As you are an MP, perhaps you will take away from this call the complete chaos we are in.” Does the Minister share that view and, if she does, why are so many of her colleagues getting paid a bonus?

Jane Kennedy: I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman’s report of his experience with the self-assessment process. I shall take it away and investigate, but I point out that, despite the problems on the day, HMRC dealt with a very large number of cases. As he knows, people always leave it until the last minute, and HMRC experiences a huge surge in the number of self-assessments. All I can say is that I will investigate the hon. Gentleman’s case and look into exactly what reports he has made to HMRC in recent years.

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Business of the House

11.34 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for the week commencing 10 March will be:

Monday 10 March—Estimates [2nd allotted day]. There will be a debate on Northern Rock and banking reform, followed by a debate on London Underground and the public-private partnership agreements.

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

Tuesday 11 March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Wednesday 12 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 13 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 14 March—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 17 March will include:

Monday 17 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 18 March—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Wednesday 19 March—Opposition day [7th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 20 March—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by motions to approve changes to Standing Orders and other House business.

[Monday 10 March: Treasury Committee, “The run on the Rock”—Fifth Report of Session 207-08, HC56-I.

Transport Committee, “The London Underground and the Public-Private Partnership Agreements”—Second Report of Session 2007-08, HC45.]

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. This morning the Home Secretary issued a written statement to the House on changes to the Government’s policy on ID cards. She also made an oral statement to the media. Why has she not made an oral statement to the House?

The Prime Minister’s senior aide has now warned that closing post offices will have an appalling impact on rural areas. The Leader of the House promised my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) a debate on his Select Committee’s report on the post office closure programme. When will we have that debate?

Yesterday in the House, the Liberal Democrat leader flunked his first big test. He sat on the fence as a point of principle, divided his party after only a few weeks and created two classes of Front Bencher: those who have to resign for rebelling and those who do not.
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Weak, divided and vacillating—can we have a debate on the qualities of political leadership?

Two days after the Prime Minister declared that child poverty was

the latest report by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions found that the Government are set to miss their target of halving the number of children living in poverty, and that one in five families with a disabled child are so hard-up that they have to cut back on food. The Government talk about helping working families, but they have not done enough. May we have a topical debate on the Select Committee report?

Six years ago, the Government set up a project to restore historical footpaths and rights of way in the countryside. Now the project has been scrapped. Not one single pathway has been reopened, and the project has cost the taxpayer £15 million. No wonder the Government are losing their way. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that waste of taxpayers’ money?

On Monday, we learned that the NHS in England is heading for a surplus of £1.8 billion this year, but accident and emergency departments and maternity services face cuts, and average waiting times have risen from 41 days to 49 days, so may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on improving patient care?

May we have a debate on standards in public life? Last December, in the House, the right hon. and learned Lady supported Lee Jasper, the London Mayor’s former director for equalities and policing, who has been referred to the police for channelling public funds into organisations run by friends and cronies. The Labour Mayor has said that he trusts Lee Jasper with his life and would reappoint him, and the Prime Minister will not admit that anything is wrong, so will the Leader of the House make a statement on whether the Mayor and Lee Jasper still have the support of the Government over the scandal?

Lastly, may we have a debate on the Prime Minister’s “Government of all the talents”? After repeatedly embarrassing the Prime Minister on his business and tax policies, we learn that the noble Lord Jones of Birmingham—Digby to his friends—is cutting loose. According to an e-mail, he has set up an office outside his Department. Where can he be found? At It is a move from the big tent to the big blanket, but with this circus, I am surprised that it is not to the big top. The Government have lost their moral compass and their way, and cannot deliver on their promises. When will they start treating the House with the respect that it deserves?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady asked about the Home Secretary’s announcement on ID cards. The policy on them has not changed; the Home Secretary has announced the rolling out of the policy on ID cards. It makes sense for passports to have biometric data and for visas for foreign nationals to include such data. It also makes sense to extend ID cards next year to people working in secure areas of airports, as the Home Secretary has announced today. If there were a question of extending them on a compulsory basis, the
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House knows that that would be a matter for its consideration. The Home Secretary made it absolutely clear that there would be a roll-out on a voluntary basis, and that is what she is putting in place. [Interruption.] It is not a change of policy, so it does not require a statement in the House.

The right hon. Lady asked about the post office closure programme, and there will be a debate on that matter in due course. She also asked for a debate about the qualities of political leadership; I suggest that she makes that a topic for an Opposition day debate.

We made child poverty a priority when the question of poverty was not on the agenda of the previous Conservative Government. Having a strong economy and high employment so that children are not brought up in workless households, as well as increasing financial support for low-income families, is the best way to tackle child poverty. We will press on with our commitment to tackling child poverty and we are glad that at last the Conservative party has joined us in that commitment.

The right hon. Lady talked about the question of footpaths, and I will refer that to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

There are not cuts in maternity services or accident and emergency; there has been record investment in our health services, including maternity services and accident and emergency.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the Mayor of London. During the past eight years, while Ken Livingstone has been Mayor, London has been transformed for the better. At the elections in May, there will be a clear choice for Londoners. [Interruption.] Yes, there will. It will be the man from Oxfordshire offering cuts in the police and in transport and risking London’s economy versus Ken Livingstone, who will put more police in all London neighbourhoods and who has massively increased public transport. When it comes to allegations of criminal offences, the police investigate, not the House, and the courts judge, not the House. That is not the business of the House—nor should it be.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In the autumn Budget statement, the Chancellor announced the launch of the competition for the carbon capture and storage demonstration project. Since then, an application has been made to build a new coal-fired power station—without any form of clean-coal, let alone carbon-capture, technology—at Kingsnorth in Kent. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is a clear contradiction between the expansion of new coal-fired power generation without carbon capture and the aspirations in the Climate Change Bill to reduce carbon emissions by at least 60 per cent. and possibly more? Would not the best way forward be to hold a public inquiry into that new application, and may we have a debate so that the contradictions can be explored?

Ms Harman: In the Climate Change Bill there is not an aspiration but a requirement by law to reduce carbon emissions, and our energy policy will make sure that that is the case. We want more carbon capture and
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storage, which is important, and we want to make sure that our carbon emissions are down overall. That will be kept under review.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I say to the Leader of the House that in the mayoral election, as in all elections, there are more than two choices? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the hon. Gentleman to speak.

Simon Hughes: Before we have the Budget statement next week, may we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or a debate to make sure that the Treasury has understood the concerns about the collapse in the bingo industry and the need for changes in tax regime to ensure that clubs in all our constituencies, which have hundreds of thousands of members, have a chance of survival?

On Monday night in the debate on the estimates, we have a debate on the failed private finance initiative scheme for Metronet. Will it be possible to debate then or soon afterwards the other apparent PFI scandal? Not only do we appear to have non-domiciled Members of the House of Lords, but it seems that because of the PFI scheme that the now Prime Minister brought in, the Home Office, the Treasury and other buildings have been built under PFI and the owners have moved to tax havens such as the Channel Islands and are not paying taxes. That is clearly scandalous and entirely inconsistent with other Government policy.

As we come to the end of the financial year, we gather that during the financial year the health service has made a profit of a sum approaching £2 billion. If that is the case, may we have a debate to explain how, at the same time as the health service is making a profit, many trusts are unable to fulfil waiting list targets and probably every local authority in England, including the one that the Leader of the House and I represent, must make cuts in social services for the vulnerable? The Department appears to be making a profit and at the same time pulling money in from local government, which is caring for people.

Can the right hon. and learned Lady explain the reports that there will be a cut in the budget for science and research, potentially leading to the closure of our seven radiotelescopes, including the world-renowned Jodrell Bank telescope, which costs only £2.5 million to sustain—the same as the expenses of the members of the Cabinet?

I have asked the Leader of the House three times, as Commonwealth day approaches, whether we may have a debate on the Commonwealth. I hope she will be able to give me a positive reply, given that Commonwealth day is next Monday.

I also ask, as last week, whether we could have a debate on Home Office matters, the citizenship Green Paper, and the immigration rules, which have come into force even though there is much opposition to them, and whether, as is illustrated by the case reported on the front page of one of our national papers today about a constituent of mine, the Home Office is still insisting that gay people should be sent back to countries such as Iran.

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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): I think they sacked the wrong one.

Ms Harman: As I said to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) last week, deportation of people to their country of origin is a matter for the rules and regulations laid down by the House and for the interpretation of the courts. People should not be sent back to their country of origin if they face torture or death there. If he wants to raise that individual case, perhaps he will write to the Home Secretary.

The hon. Gentleman raised three issues which I suggest he should raise in the Budget debate—tax in relation to PFI, our increasing investment in the national health service, and levels of investment in an area of great concern and importance to the Government, science and research. Those are three topics which he and his hon. Friends will have ample time to debate during the Budget day debate.

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of bingo, which I noticed caused a great deal of mirth and laughter among members of the official Opposition. I agree that bingo is an important matter, so I will draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is hoping that on the Liberal Democrat Benches he will be able to declare full house.

Mr. Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend. I see on the Order Paper today, under the heading “Memorandum”, that the Welsh Grand Committee is meeting on 26 March. She will recall that I raised the matter of the Scottish Grand Committee some time ago. Will she revisit that matter with her right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scotland Office, and ask them to stop colluding with the abstaining Liberals and the separatist nationalists to deprive me of my right as a Labour Back Bencher to attend my Scottish Grand Committee to ask Ministers about issues relevant to my constituency?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend raises an important point, and he has raised it with me on a previous occasion. I apologise for not getting back to him about it earlier, and I will do so expeditiously.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Leader of the House think that we could have a debate in the near future on the naming of political parties? She will be aware that in 19th-century America there was a party known as the Mugwumps. They were so called because they sat with their mugs on one side of the fence and their wumps on the other, and the iron entered into their soul. Would that not be a better description for that lot down there?

Ms Harman: That is not a matter for the business of the House. The naming of political parties and how they appear on the ballot paper is decided by this House under the Electoral Administration Act 2006.

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