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The Government would welcome a wider review into the work of Westminster Hall, which would provide an opportunity to examine whether further time for debates of this nature could be provided.

These opportunities will of course be in addition to any such debates that Select Committees table, through the Liaison Committee, for consideration on Estimates days. As noted in the second report of the present session from the Liaison Committee “Parliament and Government Finance: Recreating Financial Scrutiny” (HC 426), to which the Government will be responding shortly, the Treasury’s Alignment project on the financial documentation (including the Estimates) made available to Parliament will provide an opportunity in due course for the House to review further the pattern of Estimates days and the exact forms of motion which it would be appropriate to consider on Estimates days.

Through these means it will be possible for the objectives and plans of a range of Government Departments to be debated each year, as envisaged in “Governance of Britain”. Since there will be no single House procedure under which these debates will take place, the Government will monitor closely how this system is operating. As the Modernisation Committee has suggested, there could be scope on occasion for debates to be cross-departmental debates where the objectives (in the form of PSAs) link to more than one department and in some cases material and publications other than the departmental annual report will also inform the debate.

The Committee has also emphasised the importance of the relevant departmental Select Committee playing a central role in these debates, and proposes that debates should not take place until after the relevant Select Committee has completed its work on any departmental annual report. The Government certainly envisage that Select Committees will be key contributors to the debates and the Liaison Committee will be a major initiator of the debates in Westminster Hall. Many debates will take place on the basis of proposals instigated by committees themselves on the basis of work they have completed. For those debates not instigated by Select Committees, it is difficult to give a firm undertaking that debates should not take place until after a Select Committee has
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completed its work, since different committees examine Departments’ annual reports on very different timescales and there will be a range of factors influencing the timing of a debate; nevertheless the Government will seek to liaise with relevant committees and the Liaison Committee to try to ensure that any select committee work is taken into account in the timing of any such debate.

The Modernisation Committee emphasises that the new arrangements should be reviewed at the end of the current Parliament. The effectiveness of the new approach will no doubt also be reflected in the regular discussions between the Leader of the House and the Liaison Committee.

Topical Debates

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): Subjects proposed (other than in Business Questions) for Topical Debates (April 08-June 08) are listed.

The list includes all requests and whether they have been submitted by letter, email or another method. The list does not include requests made during Business Questions, or otherwise on the floor of the House, and which are already a matter of public record. Weeks where there were no such requests are not included.

Week commencing 21 April

Biofuels (letter)

Week commencing 28 April

Occupational health and safety (telephone)

Prescription of antipsychotic drugs to people with dementia in care homes (letter)

Week commencing 12 May

Two requests for Anti-Semitism (email)

Trade relations with Cuba (letter)

Week commencing 19 May

House of Commons Freedom of Information ruling (in person)

Week commencing 16 June

Review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (email)

Bangladesh (email)

Week commencing 23 June

Forced marriages and rules applied for overseas nationals marrying British nationals (telephone)

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): During the earlier public stages of scrutiny of the Crossrail Bill and more recently during the House of Lords Grand Committee stage on Thursday 26 June 2008, amendments were proposed that would have placed specific obligations on the Secretary of State, the Mayor and Cross London Rail Links (CLRL) to publish information on an annual basis about the project’s funding and finances.

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is a high level of transparency as to the progress and cost of the Crossrail project and we have already set out our intention in this area in the Heads of Terms which were signed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and Transport for London (TfL) last November. We are currently working with parties to turn the Heads of Terms into binding legal documents with the intention of including a requirement on CLRL to publish financial information on an annual basis, subject to protecting commercial interests.

However, in recognition of the fact that these agreements are still being developed, I am prepared to give an additional assurance that information will be made available.

Therefore, I offer the assurance to Parliament that a statement will be published at least every 12 months until the completion of the construction of Crossrail, setting out information as to:

The first statement will be published within 12 months from when the Act comes into force.

In disclosing such information, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or the nominated undertaker, will need to take account of any commercial interests.

This assurance will be placed on the Crossrail Register of Undertakings and Assurances.

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