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How many members of the public actually had their say and what difference did it make?

Ms Harman: Last year, for the first time, instead of merely producing the list of Bills that would comprise the Government’s legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech, we published our programme in draft in advance, in order to make transparent a process that had hitherto been carried out only behind closed doors. That allowed people to see what we were doing and to have their say. We conceded that we did that late in the day because it was brought in by the new Prime Minister, who had only taken up his office in June. We thus undertook to do it earlier this year in order to allow people more of a say, and that is what we intend to do.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Are we going to have a special referendum Bill relating to the future of the United Kingdom? I remind the right hon. and learned Lady that my constituents and hers have as much ownership of, and interest in, the future of the United Kingdom as do people in Edinburgh or Glasgow. If it is true that the United Kingdom Cabinet has not discussed this matter, then it should. Its failure to do so would be an abdication of its constitutional responsibilities, and this House has a duty, for the sake of the future of the United Kingdom, which needs to be addressed.

Ms Harman: The contents of the draft legislative programme will be announced shortly. However, on scrutiny by this House of English regional issues, my hon. Friend will know that the Modernisation Committee is conducting an inquiry into English regional Select Committees and will make its proposals shortly.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The Leader of the House said that the draft legislative programme would be published shortly. The Modernisation Committee report of January supported the proposal that she had put forward that the draft legislative programme should be published at Easter. I note she said that that would provide enough time for the Government to have sensible measures to put forward. Are we to read into the fact
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that the programme has not been published at Easter this year that the Government have nothing sensible to say?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady will have to make up her mind, along with everybody else, when we publish our draft legislative programme, but perhaps she will also remember that Easter was very early this year.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Crèche Facilities

29. Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): What recent consideration has been given by the House authorities to the provision of crèche facilities for staff and hon. Members. [204044]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): There are no current plans for a crèche, but if there is an unmet need or demand, this can be looked at again. Members’ staff and staff of the House are eligible for child care vouchers. The Members Estimate Committee has recently considered extending the voucher scheme to Members, and will return to the subject shortly.

Jessica Morden: Will the hon. Gentleman talk to the Commission about undertaking a survey of staff and Members to establish whether there is a demand for a crèche? Also, as an immediate measure, would it not be possible for staff and Members to be able to pay to use nearby departmental crèches as and when the need arises, given the nature of their jobs?

Nick Harvey: I am sure that the possibility of using nearby departmental facilities could be investigated. I will refer the hon. Lady’s remarks about having a more general survey to the Administration Committee. A survey was conducted in 2003, which led to the conclusion that it was more convenient, particularly for members of staff, to have child care vouchers that did not have to be redeemed here at Westminster, but which could be used nearer to where they lived, such as in outer London boroughs—or, indeed, in the constituencies, because Members’ constituency staff are eligible for the vouchers and can redeem them in the constituencies.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Topical Debates

30. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What the timetable is for her review of the method of selecting the subjects for topical debates. [204045]

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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): As set out in the written ministerial statement of 7 February announcing the review, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House has asked for comments to inform the review by 23 May. The results of the review will be published to the House before the summer recess. This will help to inform any decision of the House on whether to make permanent the Standing Orders that introduced topical debates on an experimental basis for the 2007-08 Session, or whether any changes to the Standing Orders may be necessary.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that the Procedure Committee is undertaking an inquiry into this matter, in addition to the review by the Leader of the House. Will the Deputy Leader of the House not concede that the current method of choosing topical debates is not transparent, and that it appears to be the decision of the Government when it should be the decision of Back Benchers—and would it not be sensible to have a Committee set up, under the chairmanship of a Back-Bench Member?

Helen Goodman: I will take the hon. Gentleman’s remarks as his contribution to the review. I have seen the Procedure Committee report on this question. I would like to point out to him that topical debates are held in Government time, and that if he were to look through the subjects that we have addressed over the past six months, he would see that they have been suggested by Members from across the House, including many Back Benchers. Therefore, until we have examined the matter, I cannot promise him that we will change the way in which the choice is made.

Private Members' Bills (Westminster Hall)

31. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): If she will propose to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons that it inquire into using Westminster Hall as well as the main Chamber for debate on Private Members’ Bills on Fridays. [204046]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The House has, from time to time, looked at the time made available to private Members’ Bills and the best ways for them to be considered. The issue is complex. For example, it includes the question of how much time hon. Members want to spend on parliamentary business at Westminster, and within that, on private Members’ business, and the place of that time within the working week.

I understand my hon. Friend’s proposal to involve parallel Friday sittings in the two venues so that more Bills can be considered. I am not aware that that specific idea has been proposed before, but it is clearly one that any Committee examining this issue could consider.

Hugh Bayley: I am very glad to hear that the issue may get consideration. Private Members have brought some very important legislation through the House, legislation that Governments of the day have been too frightened to introduce—one thinks of the abolition of the death penalty or the abortion law reform. Legislation on more of these difficult issues, including, perhaps, legislation to deal with the question of primogeniture,
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could be brought through by a private Member if more time were available. I urge the Modernisation Committee to examine my proposal seriously.

Helen Goodman: I agree with my hon. Friend that much private Members’ legislation has been extremely
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important and groundbreaking. I know that an hon. Member could apply every year for 10 years and still have only a 50/50 chance of being selected in the ballot, but sometimes issues that initially appear in private Members’ legislation find their way into Government legislation in the end.

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Royal Assent

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

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Business of the House

11.37 am

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Helen Goodman): The business for the week commencing 12 May will be:

Monday 12 May—Second Reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 13 May—Remaining stages of the Education and Skills Bill, followed by motion to consider the statement of changes in Immigration Rules Order 2008 (HC 321).

Wednesday 14 May—Opposition Day [12th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “Pensioner Poverty”, followed by a debate entitled “Vehicle Excise Duty”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 15 May—Topical debate: Subject to be announced, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords Amendments, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 16 May—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 May will include:

Monday 19 May—Consideration in Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 20 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 21 May—Second Reading of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [ Lords].

Thursday 22 May—Topical debate: Subject to be announced, followed by motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

Following is the information: The 41st and the 42nd, and the 46th to the 65th, reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2006-07, and the Treasury Minutes on these reports (Cm 7275, 7276 and 7322); and the 1st to the 4th, the 6th, and the 9th to the 13th reports of the Committee of Public Accounts of Session 2007-08, and the Treasury Minutes on these reports (Cm 7323 and 7364).

Mr. Vara: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that information.

During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that Wendy Alexander, the leader of the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament, had not called for an immediate referendum on Scottish independence. However, on Tuesday evening, she was asked on Scottish television:

She replied, “Yes.” She was asked:

She again said, “Yes.” They cannot both be right, so which is it?

Today, the Health Committee published a damning report on the junior doctors recruitment crisis last year.
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It described the Government’s handling as “inept”. May I suggest a topical debate on the Government’s treatment of junior doctors?

During Prime Minister’s questions yesterday, the Prime Minister claimed that the Government had lifted 1 million children out of poverty. However, during Cabinet Office questions earlier, the Minister for the Cabinet Office cited the figure as “600,000”. Where did the Prime Minister’s extra 400,000 come from? May we have a statement from the Prime Minister to explain his exaggeration?

Sir Ian Blair has admitted that when giving evidence to MPs in support of 42-day detention without trial he gave misleading figures regarding the number of serious terrorist plots disrupted by the police since 2005. This is a matter of grave concern, as is the fact that the Government have asked both Sir Ian and Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick to argue the case for 42 days. Politicising the police in that way is unacceptable. It smacks of desperation and further undermines the Government’s position. We need a statement urgently from the Home Secretary on her manipulation of the police for political gain.

Last week, the Government chose the day before the local elections to slip out a written statement on the backlog of inquests into the deaths of our brave servicemen and women. It confirmed that, despite numerous assurances from the Leader of the House and others, the Government have failed to reduce the backlog significantly. This issue deserves an oral statement from the Secretary of State for Justice.

The Government have spent more than £1 billion on trying to tackle truancy. But data released this week show that more than 40,000 children are missing at least two days of school every week—an increase on the previous term. So if the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families can find the time to break away from his usual plotting and scheming, perhaps he would like to make a statement explaining why the Government are failing to tackle truancy.

The Government continue to dither instead of taking decisive action, they are incapable of giving straight answers to straight questions, and their Back Benchers are in open revolt over their policies—

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): No we’re not.

Mr. Vara: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should take more note of what the newspapers are saying about his colleagues, instead of making unnecessary interruptions from a sedentary position.

Is it any wonder that the Deputy Leader of the House said in the Northern Echo that

Last week’s council elections showed that voters from Sunderland to Southampton agree with her. The question is, does the Prime Minister?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman began by asking about Scotland. I do not know whether he is aware of the letter that the Prime Minister has sent to the Leader of the Opposition, but to clarify matters for
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the House I shall quote from it. The Prime Minister wrote to the Leader of the Opposition that his letter showed

The Prime Minister and Wendy Alexander are agreed on the importance of exposing the hollowness of the SNP’s position.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the recruitment of junior doctors last year. As he knows, the Health Committee produced a thorough report that examines the detailed management structures and makes suggestions about how they should be improved. As he may also be aware, the system for recruitment has changed.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned child poverty. He should recall that in addition to the reductions in child poverty that the Government have already achieved—unlike the increases that we saw under the previous Administration—the recent Budget will take a further quarter of a million children out of poverty.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about terrorist plots. As he knows, the Government take the subject very seriously. That is why we introduced the Counter-Terrorism Bill, which is upstairs in Committee. As he also knows, additional resources have been provided to the police to facilitate their work on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman talked next about inquests. As he knows, the Government have produced a draft coroners Bill. He also raised the question of the 10p tax rate. The Government are considering the need to review that situation and will come forward with proposals. Finally, he talked about truancy. As he knows, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has a positive action programme to reduce truancy among children.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): On the 10p tax rate, will the Deputy Leader of the House give us an early indication of when the Report stage of the Finance Bill will be? Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Question Time the Prime Minister yet again refused to give any indication of the time scale over which an attempt to deal with the problems of doubling the 10p tax rate would be made. He told my party that we should be willing to wait for the Chancellor. It is not only parties that have to wait for the Chancellor, but our constituents. The 10p tax rate was doubled in April and it hit them in the pocket then. They want to know how to budget for their bills. They will be able to do that only if they get the details of what the Government will do. By definition, as the lower earners in our country, they are the most unable to cope with sudden cash flow hits. We need details of what the Chancellor will do, and we need them before Report. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us when the Bill will be debated on Report, as that is the last chance that the House will have to address the issue through this Finance Bill, if the Government fail to do so?

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